Betty Bezemer believes in celebrating life each day!

Find the celebration of life in each day! That’s the motto of Betty Bezemer, a top real estate agent at Keller Williams Memorial. She has been working there since 1992, when she was recruited by the firm.

Bezemer credits her philosophy and appreciation for living each day to the fullest to her journey as a breast cancer survivor.

“I realized that each morning, I could wake up and say, ‘I want to go back to bed; suck my thumb and pull the covers over my head,’ or I could live the day with as much love and joy as possible,” she said. “Even in the worst of times, there is something to be celebrated; we grow from adversity.”

As busy as her real estate career keeps her, she still finds time to give back to the community by  serving on the Houston board of the Susan G. Komen organization and by mentoring other young real estate agents.

“By helping them find the best in themselves, they can do the best for their clients,” she explained.

“When I became a licensed agent, I had the privilege of being mentored by established agents,” she said. “I always       acknowledge my jump start in the business by following the examples they set.”

A Dallas native who attended Southern Methodist University, Bezemer came to Houston with her husband, Willem, in 1990. Before joining Keller Williams, she had already established herself as a powerhouse in the real estate industry.

In 1973, she co-founded the first real estate research firm in Texas. During the late 1970s, she also worked undercover to help the FBI expose financing fraud in the savings and loan  industry.

By working as an agent, she realized hydrostatic testing –– checking pipes and plumbing for leaks — was not covered under home  inspections; thereby, creating potential problems for homebuyers. To remedy this, she helped her Keller Williams colleagues and legal team convince the Texas Real Estate Commission the test needed to be required and written into real estate contracts.

“When I see a need, I say let’s not just sit around and gripe about it,” she said. “Let’s be as proactive as possible and get   the right people to legislate change.”

Like anything else, being successful in real estate is all about communication, mainly listening and understanding a client’s needs and the other agent in a transaction, she said, which is what she does as a Master Certified Negotiations Expert. Being certified as a Luxury Specialist gives her the opportunity to close higher-end properties.

“I go out and hunt and drag the prize back, and my team takes it and runs with it,” she said, explaining her Rain Maker status. “These are all examples of my  taking my career to the next level,” she added.

Bezemer and her husband have seven children and 17 grandchildren between them. Besides family, one of her passions is snorkeling and scuba diving. Her most memorable –– and metaphysical –– experiences have been underwater, swimming with sea turtles in Hawaii and scuba diving at night with giant manta rays.

Deborah Quinn Hensel is a freelancer journalist and staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.

Bayou Land Conservancy renews accreditation

Since 1996, Bayou Land Conservancy (BLC), has been saving open spaces for the Houston region. Now, BLC has renewed its land trust accreditation – proving once again that, as part of a network of 398 accredited land trusts across the nation, it is committed to professional excellence and to maintaining the public’s trust in its conservation work.

“Renewing our accreditation shows BLC’s ongoing commitment to permanent land conservation in the Houston region,” said Jill Boullion, executive   director. “We are a stronger organization than ever for having gone through the rigorous accreditation renewal process. Our strength means special places – such as The Spring Creek Greenway – will be protected forever, making the Houston region an even greater place for us and our children.”

Accredited land trusts must renew every five years, confirming their compliance with national quality standards and providing continued assurance to donors and landowners of their commitment to forever steward their land and easements. Almost 20 million acres of farms, forests and natural areas are now conserved by an accredited land trust.
Bayou Land Conservancy protects land along streams for flood control, water quality and wildlife. BLC is an accredited, community-sponsored land preservation organization working to permanently protect land, with a focus on the 13 watersheds that feed Lake Houston, the primary source of drinking water for millions in the region. Its vision is a protected network of green spaces that connect people to nature.

BLC has protected nearly 12,500 acres at 59 preserves in the Houston region, including about 2,500 acres on the Spring Creek Greenway. The greenway is the longest, contiguous, urban, forested greenway in the country and welcomes thousands of visitors each year on its scenic trails. BLC is currently constructing the 13-mile Spring Creek Nature Trail, which is  expected to be complete later in 2018.

BLC is one of 1,363 land trusts across the United States, according to the most recent National Land Trust Census,  released December 1, 2016 by the Land Trust Alliance. This comprehensive report also shows that accredited land trusts have made significant achievements.

• Accredited land trusts have steadily grown and now steward almost 80 percent of conservation lands and easements held by all land trusts.
• Accredited land trusts protected five times more land from 2010 to 2015 than land trusts that were not accredited.

• Furthermore, accreditation has increased the public’s trust in land conservation, which has helped win support for federal, state and local conservation funding measures.

A complete list of accredited land trusts and more information about the process and benefits are detailed online at
Founded in 1982, the Land Trust Alliance is based in Washington, D.C. and operates several regional offices.

Tenacity of persistent women led way for women leaders of today

Thanks to the dogged tenacity of generations of persistent women, the future is bright for business women in the 21st century; generations of women who shaped my journey as an entrepreneur in the present, and who inspire my dreams for the future.  

I was born and raised some 8,500 miles away from the bright lights of Time Square, in the Philippines.  I was named after my grandmother, Salud, a Spanish word meaning, “good health.”

Good health seems to have been her only advantage in life.  Salud was orphaned at age six and never finished high school. To survive, she worked as a maid making the princely sum of $1 per day. She dreamt of a better life and woke up each dawn, driven to work hard and save every peso in order to eventually build her own rice milling business.
She became an entrepreneur and a working mom with seven children. Through the money earned from her business, she was able to pay for her kids’ college and graduate school educations.

I remember eating dinner with my grandmother and being harshly reprimanded when I left grains of rice uneaten on my plate.  

She said, “Every minuscule grain of rice is the product of my blood, sweat and tears; don’t ever waste it.”

Growing up, I ate the rice from my grandmother’s mill.  In doing so, I was being fed the lessons from her drive, hard work, grit and determination to build a business and a family.  These seeds were the beginning of my journey as an entrepreneur.

When I was three years old, our house burned down from a terrible gas explosion. At the time, I was helping my mom bake a cake when our gas stove exploded. Thankfully, my mom and I suffered only third-degree burns on both legs and arms, but sadly my grandfather succumbed from complications of the burns.  I don’t have memories of the accident itself, but I vividly remember being made fun of in school because my legs were scarred. I cried the first time kids pointed and laughed at me.

When I got home, my mother taught me to tell those kids “I can walk, run and dance like everybody else.”

The scars are still on my legs and, every day, I am reminded of two things: I survived that fire, and I am different, but no less than anyone else. I would persist.

My mother was a fierce single mother who worked full-time while attending graduate school at night. To earn extra money, my mother always had a side hustle selling all sorts of things — from Tupperware to underwear — and, as her sidekick, selling became my after-school activity.  My mother also taught me the value of education. She believed if I could go to school in the United States, I would have a brighter future than our family before me.  So, I did just that.

I immigrated to the United States as a teenager, leaving my friends and my familiar, albeit humble, beginnings to start a new life. Again, I stuck out like a sore thumb. At first, I wore all the wrong clothes and had an awkward way of speaking to my new American classmates.  Yet, even as an outsider trying to find my way in a whole new world, I worked hard to graduate at the top of my class in college and went on to an Ivy League business school.  I was given an opportunity that none of my family before me had, and I dared not waste it.

My grandmother and mother were both breadwinners. They tirelessly hustled, working day and night; they made the most of whatever talents they had and overcame whatever obstacles were in their way — through sheer grit and unstoppable persistence. As a young girl, that was all I knew.
Then, it was my turn.

My first job out of college, at the age of 21, was managing my family’s home healthcare business.  I faced the pressure and sobering responsibility of making payroll for employees who had families and who were more than twice my age. I knew those people were depending on me, like my grandmother once depended on her employers.
Later, I worked at several other healthcare startups where my role was limited only by how fast I could learn, so I learned quickly. I did not always meet success. There were layoffs and failures but, undeterred, I kept moving forward.

Wanting to understand how health care is paid for, I joined one of the largest insurance companies in the country. I spent eight years building everything I could. I built insurance products for millions of people, I built my expertise. I built my network, and I built my passion for the people the healthcare system serves.  It was a great job. I loved the work. I had a nice office. I had an even nicer paycheck.

At age 40, I gave birth to my second daughter. Not long afterwards, I had a crystal-clear moment and heard my calling; it was the time for my next act, it was time to start a new company. As a product person, I know that one should never, ever launch two big products at the same time; in this case, my new daughter and a new startup. It was time to persevere. 
Now at home, I am the mother of two daughters; a teenager and kindergartener.   It is a challenge to balance family and business, but I believe I am a better entrepreneur because I’m a parent, because I’m a mom.  I have earned a Ph.D. in multi-tasking, managing chaos and improvising — all critical skills in successful entrepreneurship.
Now, it is my turn to instill in my daughters and the future what was instilled in me. Our adventures in the playground are the first steps towards business and life success. Kids fall down, so that they can pick themselves up and dust themselves off. I encourage them to climb a taller slide than they are used to and remind them it is okay to color outside the lines.  My children learn it is okay to take chances, try new things and to push the envelope.

These are also my daily reminders in leadership.

Learning can also be a two-way-street. From my teenage daughter, I am learning the humbling lessons that, apparently, moms don’t know very much. I get giddy when she teaches me a thing or two about technology in the same way my youngest team members at work come up with bright new ideas for very old problems.
Clearly, in an ever-changing world, I must change. I must embrace the new. I must persist.

Most days, I still eat rice.  When I do, I remember that I am from a lineage of women made of steel at their core, that only I have control over how hard I hustle with the gifts I have been given. I am passing on the legacy of the older women before me to the young daughters at home, and colleagues at work. I naturally get asked “What’s it like to be a       female entrepreneur?” as there are so few of us in my field of digital health. The numbers speak for themselves. There simply are not enough women CEOs in healthcare, technology, business and government. The bias, discrimination, and harassment that women face is real and is painful. I have encountered my share of bias in my life. I’m the kid with burn scars on her legs, the immigrant teen who talked funny, and the minority woman health founder and CEO. None of that even slowed me down, much less stopped me.  I persisted.

Sally Poblete, CEO of Wellthie, is an Asian immigrant, mother of two and successful entrepreneur.

Mary Benton newly appointed press secretary

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner recently appointed Mary Benton as his press secretary. The appointment came just two months after Benton stepped into the job on an interim basis.

“To no one’s surprise, Mary adapted well to the demanding job since the very first day and has already demonstrated her integrity, dedication and the benefits of her experience,” Turner said. “As a key addition to my communications staff, she will ensure we effectively use every available pathway to keep the public informed about my agenda and what the city is doing for all of its residents.”

Benton, a seasoned communicator, was a news reporter for KPRC Channel 2 for 20 years before joining Harris County government in 2014.

She has managed media relations and public affairs at the  Harris County Toll Road Authority, worked in the precinct offices of two Harris County commissioners and served as a communications, education and public engagement coordinator at the Harris County Public Health Department.

Benton is a member of the Houston chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, a board member of Undies For Everyone, a member of the Texas Association of Broadcasters, a member of the Gulf Coast Apollo Chapter of Links, Inc. and a member of the Texas Association of Municipal Information Officers.

Benton earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from The University of Texas at Austin. She is now a Texas Exes Life Member.

Benton said, “I am thrilled to join Mayor Sylvester Turner’s communications team as press secretary, and the work has been nonstop since day one. After a busy day of meetings at city hall, the mayor is committed to attending various community events in the evening to meet and listen to Houstonians throughout our diverse and welcoming city. He is focused on improving the quality of life for all citizens. My job is to make sure the public and media understand his priorities, which include building a stronger Houston after Hurricane Harvey flooding, restoring the city’s financial health, public safety, economic development and much more.”

Doerr Institute redefining how leaders are trained

Rice University is using a $50 million gift from John and Ann Doerr to redefine how leaders are made. The Ann and John Doerr Institute for New Leaders opened last July, with retired Army Brigadier General Tom Kolditz as executive director. Kolditz, a genuinely chipper guy with an engaging, outgoing personality, is an internationally recognized expert on crisis leadership and leadership in extreme contexts. He has more than 25 years in leadership roles, including positions at West Point and Yale University, where he was a professor in the practice of leadership and management.

Kolditz quickly developed a professionally executed leader-development experience with a scope and scale unprecedented among major universities. The program revolves around three broad initiatives with initiatives within each – initiatives aimed not just at students, but at faculty and the very fiber of Rice University.
Individual leadership training will be available – for free – to all 6,200 graduate and undergraduate students and will occur in environments the students are already in, rather than relying on extracurricular “leadership events.” For example, a student athlete is going to get coached in the context of his athletic team; the youngster who runs the student-led coffee shop is going to get coached in that role; an engineering student is going to get coached in the context of an engineering project team.
“We’re not a little program that takes 50 or 100 or 200 students and does workshops,” Kolditz said. “We are really responsible for every student at Rice who wants leader development.
“This is unheard of, to basically tell students who are coming to a good-sized research university that if they want to have a leadership coach while they’re here, it will be provided free of charge. It’s an incredible benefit to Rice students.”
Participation is voluntary for students, Kolditz said.
“People come here ’cause it’s a great research institute,” said Lillie Besozzi, the institute’s associate director for operations. “The idea of taking these fantastic minds and great researchers and then giving them these additional resources is really exciting. I geek out over it.”
Two Early Programs
During the fall and spring semesters, the institute, which is housed in McNair Hall, ran a small pilot program, which  provided a one-on-one, elbow-to-elbow leadership coach from the Houston business community and International Coach Federation to 278 sophomores, 52 percent of which were women. Those sophomores are the coaches’ clients, and the coaches, who are paid by the institute, are required to work around their schedules, Kolditz said. 
“Our coaches never judge them or grade them,” he said. “They put them in the driver’s seat and just coach them in better and higher levels of performance. 
“This is something that usually doesn’t happen until you’re a senior vice president in a company, but we’re doing it on a grand scale with these young people. Frankly, you can have more impact doing this with young people than you can with senior executives, because those executives already have habits that are almost impossible to break.”
Three to five sessions with a professional coach can change a student’s future trajectory forever, Kolditz said.
The institute also has an ongoing coach certification course taught by the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies that is open to the entire Houston community. The first class had 10 undergraduate students and 12 members of the community, including some Rice faculty.
Measurable Results 
The institute does not do anything that doesn’t have a measurable impact on a person’s capacity to lead, and a four-person “metrics team” measures those impacts, Kolditz said. They use a full range of research measures –   including surveys, interviews, focus groups and 360 assessments – to gauge impact. 
Measurements from the coaching pilot show greater self-awareness, more assertiveness, more open-mindedness and improved framework for open-ended problem-solving among participants. 
The institute focuses on a flat, non-hierarchical concept of leadership – the kind of models used by Facebook, Google and tech companies, where there are a lot of bright, creative people.
“This is already happening in the business world,” Kolditz said. “We saw this initially with businesses going to matrixed organizations as opposed to the classic hierarchies. Even the military has gone to a more matrixed format, especially in the special operations forces. There are times when you’re part of team when, based on your expertise, you need to be the leader. Then, there are other times when you have to follow, and our students have to be able to pass in and out of that role comfortably. We’re not trying to produce a bunch of pinnacle leaders, CEOs and so forth; that’s not what we’re about. We’re about getting the best version of our students out there.”
While the leadership coaching pilot had 278 students – 12 in the fall and 266 in the spring – Kolditz estimates the program will have about 600 sophomores enrolled in the fall, putting it around 50 percent of the Class of 2019.
The institute has grown to 14 full- and part-time employees and, in the fall, former Houston Mayor Annise Parker will join as a fellow.
“You can see how, across the university, this is going to impact every student here in some way,” Kolditz said. “We want to change the nature of a Rice degree.
“It will still be one of the best research and educational college degree on the globe. But, we want people to understand we’re graduating some fabulously trained leaders, as well. Leaders who go out in the world with their degrees and are much better able to be good stewards of their professions. It enables someone not only to be a creative genius but a creative genius who has some idea about how to move forward by developing teams and making things happen.”
Dave Schafer is a staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.
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