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Jeannie Lynch helps women succeed in business

Sept. 29, 2011

By Steven Frank

Observer staff

NBT Bank Williston branch manager Jeannie Lynch, 48, is a local advocate for female business owners. She is co-founder of the Williston chapter of the Women Business Owners Network, a nationwide organization that helps its members develop business management skills and professional contacts. (Observer photos by Steven Frank)

Jeannie Lynch has been in the banking industry for more than two decades, devoting much of that time to helping prospective female business owners get their companies off the ground.

The backbone of that effort comes from above, in the spirit of another female who — if alive today — would have been just a teenager. Lynch managed KeyBank’s Williston branch when her 8-year-old daughter, Ila, was killed in a car accident in 2005. At the time, Lynch was about to help launch the bank’s Key 4 Women program, which helps women start or expand their businesses with tools including education and networking.

“I was home grieving but I went into work one day and at the time I only planned to stop in to let my team know I was coming back,” said Lynch, 48. “I really only saw one e-mail and it had to do with this (Key 4 Women) program. They were going to try to find someone else to do it. I felt my daughter’s presence and felt my hands (move towards the keyboard). I responded: ‘Stop the insanity. There is no one else who is better suited for this job than me. This gives me a sense of hope.’”

Today, Lynch is the manager of NBT Bank’s Williston branch on U.S. 2 and spreads hope to others — particularly women. She is co-founder and coordinator of the Williston chapter of the Women’s Business Owners Network. The organization, which exists nationwide, allows members to develop business management skills and professional contacts. It meets the first Wednesday morning of each month at the Williston firehouse.

One of the businesses Lynch helped establish is none other than Girlington Garage in South Burlington, a female-owned auto repair shop with female mechanics that opened two years ago.

“(Lynch) was my cheerleader from the beginning to the end,” said Demeny Pollitt, Girlington Garage Owner. “She helped put me in contact with other business people, gave me homework. One of them was contacting SCORE (a small business counseling service). Another one was to call a business broker and ask what I need to start a business … Every time I felt discouraged, she stood behind me and gave me advice.”

Lynch believes she and female business owners like Pollitt represent a shattering of the so-called “glass ceiling” that has limited business growth by women in traditionally male-dominated industries.

But she thinks women haven’t reached equal status.

“Demeny is a woman tech working on cars. In banking, managers were typically not women. They were men. So we have come so far in that,” Lynch said, “but where we still see the glass ceiling is in the pay scales … There is a statistic out there that women will get the job and get the promotion based on what they’ve done and that men get the job and the promotion based on potential. So when you say ‘the glass ceiling,’ I say, ‘until employers start looking at those two things equally … we won’t even it up.’ I think we’re still 20, 30, 40, 50 years away.”

In Lynch’s case, her contacts — there are six boxes of business cards underneath her office desk at NBT — have helped her get ahead.

“I’m known in the community as the connector,” Lynch said.

That reputation attracted the interest of NBT last year when the upstate New York-based bank looked to open its second Vermont branch in Williston.

“It’s the skills Jeannie brings to the marketplace in terms of small business, especially with women. And her enthusiasm,” NBT Bank vice president and regional manager Dan Johnson said of why he hired Lynch.

Johnson, whose bank is set to open its third Vermont branch in Essex next week, added that Lynch and the bank have been “proactive for all business owners, including men.”

“Things have been working out well and (Lynch) has done a good job,” Johnson said.

When asked what advice she can give to a young woman who wants to own a business someday, Lynch stressed the importance of hard work, believing in themselves and education — especially finance classes. She also thinks young women need to find mentors and conduct informational interviews with current business owners.

And speaking of young women, the one that first inspired Lynch to travel down this path remains a vital part of the journey.

“I think (my daughter) is still with me. I think she is very proud of my work,” Lynch said. “And I honor her every day with my work.”

At NBT Bank’s Williston branch, which opened in January, manager Jeannie Lynch (center) refers to herself as the ‘past’ with assistant manager Jessica Gooden (right) representing the ‘present’ and teller Linda Goodell (left) being the ‘future.’

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