Star Volunteer Award Remarks by Daria Blackwell

Daria Blackwell HBA 2011 Star Volunteer
Daria Blackwell HBA 2011 Star Volunteer

Three events changed my life forever: 1) losing my sister to cancer, 2) serving as HBA president, and 3) moving to Europe by sailing across the Atlantic.

How you deal with things that come your way makes all the difference in living a life to its fullest. My remarkable sister and best friend, Dr. Oksana Korzeniowski, passed away in 2002 after a long fight with peritoneal cancer. She said, “I thought I’d have more time… make sure you do what you really want before you run out of time.” A few months later, I also lost my mother to advanced breast cancer.

As healthcare businesspeople, we deal daily with such heart-wrenching stories. Yet, when they become personal, it changes everything.  I was serving on the HBA board of directors at the time. How would I have coped without HBA? Kathy Giusti, former WOTY, gave me courage. The Board gave me strength. My clients, many of them HBA members, kept my business strong.

I am eternally grateful. I know now that you have to lead yourself to what you really want without wasting time.  When I was elected HBA president in 2004,I was ready to give back. I learned more about leadership in the subsequent years in HBA than in my entire career.  It was a challenging but hugely rewarding year.

We dealt with the sudden decision of the then board of the new San Francisco chapter to step down and become independent. Within one month, amazing women stepped in, rebuilt the chapter board, and continued superb programming. As you saw earlier, we have a vibrant San Francisco chapter and for the third year in a row they are hosting WOTY west. A remarkable achievement in crisis management and an event that propelled the HBA into change.

We restructured HBA that year into a global non-profit umbrella corporation enabling easier formation of chapters throughout the US and Europe. We then hired our first employee, CEO Laurie Cooke. We became stronger and healthier.

There were about 1,500 members then. There are over 6,000 today.

HBA led me to other opportunities, too. It was my HBA board seat and the people I met as a result, that secured my first independent corporate board appointment to Agile Therapeutics, a start-up biotechnology company dedicated to women’s health… seizing a venture capital-backed opportunity. HBA helped me make yet another transition. My husband’s family was in Ireland and we wanted to be there for them. To keep working trans-atlantically, I needed to extend my network. So I started a European affiliate of HBA, together with women from Novartis in Switzerland. Under Florence Manger’s leadership and with an enthusiastic board, HBA Europe became a full chapter in 2009. They now nurture the careers of women across an entire continent. I was honoured to serve as mentor to the affiliate and as past president of the Europe chapter board.

From a regional… to a national… to a global force, together we bridge the continents and mobilize thousands of women, clearing the way for each one to achieve her very best. That’s the power of volunteering.

Welcome to the board of directors of the HBA Europe Chapter and all the executives joining us by live link from Paris.

In 2008, I resigned as managing partner of Sudler & Hennessey. My husband Alex and I set sail across the Atlantic on our 57-foot sailboat. Here we were, responsible for our entire universe in the middle of a vast ocean. It was another life-altering experience, teaching me leadership on a new scale. I was the captain of my ship. I had to sail it well, with serious consequences if I didn’t. Conquering fear of the unknown was a great reward. I have since crossed the Atlantic three times and am now starting my own new business in Ireland.

Take calculated risks. Reach for what you want and lead your own life well. If it’s there, take advantage. If it’s not there, build it. If you are in a dark corner, remember that opportunity lurks there. Grasp it, things often change for the better. Although you may not understand its relevance in the moment, you will benefit from a seemingly irrelevant experience when time comes.

Volunteering is an amazingly easy way to uncover these opportunities. Join me in celebrating the European Commission’s Year of Volunteering by getting involved with HBA and stepping up to leadership roles in your own organizations. Remember, leadership is the trait you develop most when you volunteer.

Without it, I may never have had the courage to cross oceans and stand here before you today. Thank you again for the privilege. Bonsoir Paris!

This speech was delivered at the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association‘s Woman of the Year Luncheon in New York City on May 5, 2011. The speech was broadcast live to Paris, France and San Fransisco, California.

Daria’s HBAdvantage article from 2008: This article describes her trans-Atlantic sail.

Photo by Claire Allison Photography

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