Peopel to Watch

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AnneMarie Mitchell
By Beth Krueger

It was the gift of an erector set when she was a child that sparked AnneMarie Mitchell’s career path.

This past January, this co-founder, president and CEO of Stillwater-based Legacy Timber Frames was installed as President of the Capital Region Builders and Remodelers Association (CRBRA). Women comprise 7 percent of the 740 presidents of local builders associations across the country.  In February, she was in Las Vegas, discussing building industry issues with colleagues from around the country for the convention and board meeting of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Mitchell also credits her supportive parents. Interested in creating and crafting from childhood, Mitchell asked for and received that erector set so pivotal in her life. That’s not all. Her parents also championed her request to take shop in school, rather than the usual home economics route.  She began college in culinary arts and hotel management. Further college studies in interior design led to work in that field in Montreal.

But it was a job upon her return to the Capital Region that really unleashed her creative passion – design for a timber frame business. “I immediately loved it.” She notes that designing someone’s home is a very personal process, ensuring that goals and visions mesh. The opportunity to design and to interact with customers – “helping them to create their dreams” – was an ideal blending of roles for Mitchell.  “How cool is that?”

Conversation, planning and a “perfect combination” of skills led to the decision by Dan Roseberger and Mitchell to establish their own business, Legacy Timber Frames, 26 years ago. Roseberger brought extensive field and framing experience; Roseberger was versed in design and sales. They taught each other their special skills, taking Mitchell into the field for hands-on work in pouring concrete, installing frames and shingles. Her focus today is primarily on design, business operation, and sales.

Legacy Timber Frames works from creation to frame raising, providing an original design for the frames or working with an architect, then creating and installing the custom timber framework. The timbers are brought together with pegs or joinery, rather than nails or other metal connectors. This skeleton carries the weight of the building. The frame is enveloped in a protective covering.  Supportive insulation panels, known as SIPS, create this snug blanket for the frame.  Legacy’s portfolio of residential, agricultural and light commercial buildings includes award-winning creations.

The team follows in the footsteps of craftsmen for thousands of years in hand-designing and constructing these dramatic and durable structures. Recognition of this heritage is the genesis for the company name and its tagline, ‘Why build a house when you can create a legacy.”

The company’s projects range from complete structures, to a portion of a building, to the addition of decorative or structural trusses for rooms, porches, and garden structures. The process involves close coordination with architects, contractors, and, of course, the homeowners.

An advocate of lifelong learning, Mitchell was drawn to business and industry organizations for professional development programs and informal education that comes through conversation and networking with colleagues.  She is member of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce and also the Timber Framers Guild, traveling to China in 2010 with the Guild to learn about and see buildings constructed through this ancient craft.

CRBRA was “welcoming, relevant to the business” and she “felt right at home” when introduced to the association’s Green Building Resource Group. She became an ambassador for the group, which provides professional development for healthy and sustainable building processes and promotes consumer understanding of green construction. Mitchell has received NAHB-certification as a green professional and also as an aging in place specialist. 

Volunteering for participation in the Capital District Home Show became not only a great time to educate, learn and network, but also an incubator for an idea, hatched during a chat with other women in the industry. What if there was a forum for women in the industry to get to know one another, share experiences and ideas? That thought was not left on the show floor but, through a partnership of CRBRA and the Builders and Remodelers Association of Northern New York, resulted in the establishment of the Professional Women in Building Council of Northeastern New York. Council status was approved by NAHB in 2010. In addition to being a catalyst for involvement of women in the association, the council has presented scholarships to women students at Hudson Valley Community College, conducted public education programs, and participated in advocacy meetings in Albany and Washington.

Mitchell enjoys the advocacy aspect of her association involvement. She sees informing lawmakers about the issues and impact of proposals as a critical role for the collective voices of experience from the building industry. Running a small business in general and a construction company is much more complex and challenging today, she observes and “this is an opportunity to make a difference.”

Beyond growing her own professional knowledge, Mitchell shares her passion for timber frame in public education programs and sessions for architects and other professionals – and the younger generation. Nurturing future builders and association leaders also is of keen importance to her and a key initiative of CRBRA. She and her colleagues visit area schools and colleges to help students understand what’s involved in building from concept to construction and the satisfaction gained from seeing an idea become a carefully crafted reality. They seek to increase students’ awareness as homeowners down the road and consider careers in the field.

For Mitchell, her career and association involvement continue to provide wonderful opportunities to learn and grow, to make friends, to create, to help people realize their vision – and to build legacies.

Legacy Timber Frames is located at 691 CR 70, Stillwater. For more information visit www.legacytimberframes.com


Kathy Sheehan

By Barbara Pinckney

Before she became the first female mayor of Albany, Kathy Sheehan was a communications director, a lawyer, and an executive at one of the region’s largest public companies.

All of this, she said, has prepared her to take on the challenges of running a state capital with a $171 million annual budget and a $16 million deficit.

Sheehan, who is 50, became Albany’s 75th mayor on January 1, succeeding Jerry Jennings, who had retired after 20 years in office.

As Sheehan sees it, her role as general counsel of the former Intermagnetics General Corp. prepared her to build a workforce and manage the operations of several departments. Her journalism background taught her how to ask questions and deliver an effective message. And her legal background trained her to look at things from multiple perspectives.

Then there is the fact that she is a woman, and a mother. She and Bob, her husband of 21 years, have a 13-year-old son, Jay.

"Absolutely!" she said. "I believe that my perspective as a mom, as a caretaker for my parents when they were both very ill, as a sister, as a friend, as the only woman on the senior management team at Intermagnetics…The way I problem-solve and look at issues, it does make a difference.

"I think all of those things will help me as mayor of Albany at this point in its history, when we have tremendous opportunity but we also have tremendous challenges."

Mark Eagan, president and CE0 of the Albany Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce, expects great things of Sheehan. He got to know her during her four years as city treasurer and chief fiscal officer under Jennings. The two served together on The Albany Promise education partnership and an economic task force, and have met, on such issues as business taxation, since her inauguration.

"She is a very high-energy person, but she is also a very focused, and very strategic person," he said. "She asks a lot of questions. She wants everyone’s perspective. And I think that once she gets all those perspectives she will jump right in and get things done."

Sheehan does pride herself on being a good listener, and on taking a pragmatic approach to problems. She said she learned from the business world to break things down into achievable tasks, and to not move forward until the right team is in place to accomplish something.

She describes her leadership style as collaborative, although, "I am tough, too."

"I mean, I know that ultimately a decision has to be made and you can’t please everyone," she said.

The city’s fiscal situation is Sheehan’s biggest, and most immediate, challenge. Not only is there a deficit, but the city’s "rainy day fund" will be virtually depleted by the end of this year. Roughly $8 million will remain, but will be untouchable if the city is to maintain its credit rating.

Development in downtown, including a long-awaited convention center and private projects on eight acres known as Liberty Square, will increase the revenue base. But it will not be enough. Therefore, Sheehan has turned to the state, requesting a change in the city’s aid to municipalities formula.

"We receive less per capita than virtually any other city in the state," she said.

Other possibilities include receiving payment from the state for its use of the Harriman Campus on Washington Avenue and compensation for the costs associated with being a state capital.

"Some states provide impact aid to their capital cities, which reflects all of the tax-exempt properties as well as the additional wear and tear," she said.  "We have 70,000 people coming into the city to work every day and we have to make sure we maintain the public safety services and general services, and make sure the streets aren’t full of potholes."

She also expects to bridge the budget gap by finding cost savings in such areas as health insurance and workforce management.

"But even with doing all of those things there will still be a gap, and we can’t ask the property owners to pay any more," she said.

Other top concerns include public safety and the condition of the city’s neighborhoods.

Because the city school district is a separate taxing authority, the mayor is not directly involved in its operations. But education is very important to Sheehan.

"We have some outstanding programs, outstanding teachers and outstanding students," she said. "But we also have a school district with a lot of challenges, because we have a population of children who struggle with a number of issues."

She noted, for example, that one-quarter of the city’s residents live in poverty. While this may contribute to the 53 percent graduation rate, Sheehan does not believe in making excuses.

"Every single child, if they are provided with the opportunity, can learn," she said. "So I am committed to making sure that we provide that pipeline of services and support for every child in our city so they have the opportunity to succeed."

Sheehan herself was one of six children in an Irish Catholic family. She was born in Chicago, but moved around a lot as her father advanced in the insurance industry. She believes this is one reason why she and her siblings, none of whom live locally, are so close.

Her parents – both of whom passed away last summer, while Sheehan was in the midst of her campaign – stressed the importance of education, and by the time she was in junior high school, the future mayor was already saving for college.

"We were always encouraged to work and save money so I started baby sitting when I was about 12," she said. "My sisters and I even did a little day care in the summer. I had a paper route, I worked at an amusement park and as a soda jerk at an old-fashioned soda fountain, I waited tables….whatever it took."

She put herself through Bowling Green State University working in the school cafeteria, and later, as a reporter. Her degree was in journalism, with a minor in political science.

It was a job opportunity in television production that brought Sheehan to the Capital Region. She worked for a time as communications director for the Catholic Diocese of Albany, and then decided to become an attorney. Because she and Bob were already planning on getting married, she stayed in Albany and attended Albany Law School. In 1994, she graduated Magna Cum Laude and went to work for Bond, Schoenek and King.

Sheehan joined Intermagnetics General, a manufacturer of superconducting wire, in 1996. As vice president and general counsel, she helped grow the company from 500 to 1,200 employees and from $90 million to $300 million in sales. In 2006, she helped negotiate the $1.3 billion sale of Intermagnetics to Philips Medical.

"I’m a hard worker," she said. "I am happiest when I’m working hard."

She reenergizes by reading, spending time with her family and a close circle of friends, and rooting at her son’s hockey games.

"I think people might be surprised to know I’m a hockey mom," she said.

Although Sheehan’s job is focused on the city of Albany, she is always looking at the bigger picture.

"I think this is just such an exciting time in the Capital Region, and I really put it out there to our business community, our not-for-profit community, our community-based organizations, our residents, to think broadly about the Capital Region, " she said. "How can we work together in order to move our entire region forward? "


Aliki Serras

By Barbara Pinckney

When Aliki Serras took over her father’s 30-year-old Colonie restaurant, she heard a lot of "Oh, you’re LeGrande’s daughter."

That was to be expected. LeGrande Serras has been a fixture of the Capital Region restaurant scene for more than four decades. His establishments included The Lexington Grill, Kirker’s Steakhouse and, most notably, The Reel Seafood Co.

It is Reel Seafood that 28-year-old Serras now owns. She and a private investor spent more than $1 million to purchase and renovate the fine-dining restaurant on Wolf Road, which opened in late January, with fresh decor, a new menu, a larger bar, an expanded raw bar and a banquet room.

Serras, who lives in Guilderland, knows the community is watching her, and she has felt the pressure.

"Initially I would get some anxiety," she said. "People would say ‘You have big shoes to fill,’ and I would think ‘how am I going to do this?’ Then I had a revelation of sorts. I realized that I didn’t have to fill his shoes, per se. I could create my own path, my own identity."

Donna Purnomo, co-owner of Yono’s, a fine dining restaurant in Albany, has known Serras since she was a little girl. She said that while it is evident that "the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree," Serras has her own strong qualities.

"She is such a smart, well-rounded, warm, personable young woman," she said. "She also strikes me as a very practical young woman. I think she will do very well."

Purnomo was impressed with how much Serras and her team, including TMP Construction Services of Clifton Park, accomplished in the three weeks the restaurant was closed.
 
"That renovation was major in that period of time," she said.

The new Reel Seafood is very much a reflection of its young owner. Serras hates clutter, so designer DeLaCruz Enterprises of Niskayuna created an unencumbered look with clean lines. The blue and white Mediterranean theme was inspired by a photo Serras took on the Greek island of Santorini, which she visited as a child and remembers as "the most beautiful place on earth."

Since her overarching goal was to attract young professionals like herself, Serras thought about what she looks for in an establishment when developing her business plan. She also considered what needed to be done to make Reel Seafood stand out among the 55 restaurants, including some popular seafood chains, that operate on Wolf Road. Many have opened just in the past few years, and have made their mark.

"I’m going to be very candid with you, it’s been tough. Especially when Bonefish Grill came in, we took a hit."

The revised menu, by new chef Dustin Aipperspach, includes more smaller-plate, lower-priced items, updates some classic Reel Seafood dishes, and highlights the expanded raw seafood bar.

The cocktail bar doubled in size and was made sleeker and more contemporary.

"I think people by nature want to be in an environment that is hip, where there is a lot of energy, where you can people-watch and be seen," she said. "That is the environment we looked to create in the bar area."

Serras also put Reel Seafood in the banquet and meeting business, a market in which it never competed before.

But she has not changed everything. All of the employees, half of whom have been with the restaurant for more than a decade – including five who have worked there for 25 years – stayed through the transition. Serras is committed to maintaining the warm atmosphere that has kept not only the staff, but many customers, coming back.

"The biggest thing I am keeping is the way [my father]treats people," she said.

Like Purnomo, these long-time employees and customers have watched her grow up. She began helping out in the restaurant as a child.

"As young kids we would go in there on Sundays after church," she said. "At first it was scary, being in this big space with all these customers around. My dad would say ‘Okay, you go portion pasta’ and my brother would peel potatoes. We had a ball with it, though."

Even so, Serras went off to Ithaca College with no intention of coming back and joining Reel Seafood. She studied Spanish with the thought of possibly becoming an interpreter.

But the restaurant business kept calling to her. Even when she did a semester abroad in Spain, she found herself befriending people in the industry.

"I knew I was legitimately being drawn back to it," she said. "Coupled with the fact that this restaurant, in particular, has afforded me the life that I have been privileged to have. And you can’t really get away from the familial obligation because that’s a big part of it – the opportunity to carry on a legacy and a name."

She is actually the fourth generation of the Serras family to own a restaurant.

But her father never pressured her to keep that legacy going.

"Quite the opposite, really," she said. "He almost tried to talk me out of it. ‘Are you sure? Are you sure?’ He, more than anyone, knows what a commitment it is."

She closed on her purchase of the restaurant in early December, with financing from her investor and Berkshire Bank.

Prior to that, she spent five years working as a server, a hostess, a bartender, a kitchen helper and weekend manager.

"I said ‘Okay, I am going to immerse myself in this business and work in every possible capacity,’" she said. "I wanted to understand the lifestyle, the hours, the level of commitment, and figure out for myself if I was going to be happy and healthy living and working in this way."

As much as she takes after her father, Serras also has much in common with her mother, a reiki massage practioner and sound healer who introduced her daughter to new-age thinking and yoga.

"I don’t think I would be able to work the schedule I do if I didn’t make a conscious effort to maintain balance in my life and yoga helps me create that balance," she said.

She is an avid reader, a passion developed while living in her first post-college apartment on Madison Avenue in Albany with no television or Internet. One favorite is Mists of Avalon, a fantasy novel that allows her to escape to a world far different from the one in which she lives.

Serras also has acquired her mother’s taste for holistic nutrition, which she realizes may seem odd for the owner of a fine-dining establishment.

"I am very much a product of both my parents," she said. "I enjoy eating a really good piece of foie gras and I don’t feel bad about that. But I’ll also drink my green juice in the morning. I am a walking paradox, but that is okay. You can be this contradiction, this person who loves yoga and reading Mists of Avalon and still achieve success in business."

Purnomo agrees.

"I would hope that every restaurant has someone like Aliki," she said.

For Aliki Serras, success in business may eventually go beyond operating a flourishing seafood restaurant on Wolf Road. She sees possibilities in catering, as well as in other area cities.

"I have always envisioned this kind of spinoff, a smaller bistro version of Reel Seafood Co.," she said. "Even if it is just seasonal, wouldn’t it be great to have an oyster bar, a few entrees and some interesting cocktails and have it be in Saratoga Springs or downtown Troy or Schenectady?"

But that is in the future. For the moment, Serras’s focus is on making Reel Seafood a destination for both young professionals and the not-so-young customers who have patronized the restaurant for decades.

"I still have a long way to go, but this is the first step," she said. "And it’s a big step in allowing the community to see me as Aliki rather than LeGrande’s daughter."
 

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