Athena YPLA nominees: Andrea Todaro and Katie McKenna
blog by Sarah Burke • November 08, 2012 @ 10:10am
Welcome to the final installment of Buffalo.com’s 2012 Athena Young Professional Leadership Awards nominee series. Today, we’ll feature Andrea Todaro of Innovative Placements and Katie McKenna of Tops Friendly Markets, two of the eight local women under consideration for one of Western New York’s top honors. The winner will be announced at noon today in a special ceremony at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo.
Andrea Todaro: president, Innovative Placements
President of Innovative Placements WNY for 12 years, Andrea Todaro works in all aspects of job placement and workforce preparedness with the company.
“I work with about 120 clients at a time with all different types of disabilities that are often re-entering the workforce,” she said in a recent interview.
Todaro described Innovative Placements as “a full service organization that assists individuals with disabilities in all aspects of finding employment.”
“We start with resume development, developing their portfolio and garnering their letters of recommendation and performing interview coaching,” she said. “We also market their credentials to area employers and work directly with those employers in hiring them.”
Todaro feels that the difference between Innovative Placements and other human service organizations is their additional concentration on health and wellness aspects of the individual. “I meet with them very often at Ashker’s Juice Bar and Café, and we have a health and wellness clinic here with massage wellness, a reflexologist, and empowerment groups,” she said.
These empowerment groups, she explained, consist of 30 to 40 women who discuss ways to help each other achieve their goals, work together in business, overcome roadblocks and create a positive support group.
“I feel that the work that I do with women with disabilities is really important,” she said. “The most wonderful experience for me is seeing the final product—seeing that woman who has gone from having no job, living in impoverished conditions, to making a gainful living and seeing them completely remade.”
Todaro is the co-host of a 1520 WWKB-AM radio show on Sundays at 10 a.m. called The Dale Martin Jobs and Business Report with co-host Andrea Todaro. “We talk about economic development, how to find jobs, where the jobs are, job search strategies, what is and isn’t working in Buffalo,” she said. “We create a positive dialogue for change.”
Todaro is also the founder of Employers for Diversity, an organization she created only six months ago and already consists of 60 to 80 active companies. She describes it as “a business advocacy body that is committed to the exchange of best practices when employing individuals with disabilities and sensitivity awareness in the community.”
Todaro offered advice for young professionals on developing the necessary skills to become a leader in Western New York.
“First, flexibility and the ability to adapt to new times and ever-changing conditions in our current business climate,” she said. “Adopting new tools and strategies and staying current of new technology trends. Keeping your hand on the pulse of what’s new in Western New York and staying connected to other business professionals to do that.”
Todaro saved one of her most powerful tips for last.
“One of the most important things in a leadership role,” she concluded, “is not to ask what someone can do for you, but how you can serve that person.”
Katie McKenna: communications and public relations manager, Tops
As the communications and public relations manager for Tops Friendly Markets, Katie McKenna works heavily with internal and external communications for the organization, including social media, reputation management and crisis communication.
“I predominantly work with new media, answer inquiries, conduct media training and handle crisis communication, mainly for product recalls that need to be communicated to the media, customers and associates.,” McKenna said in a recent interview.
Tops Friendly Markets has approximately 15,000 associates, making McKenna’s internal communication duties a daunting task. To ensure all of the associates are aware of what’s going on in the business, McKenna oversees the company’s associate website to keep employees informed of current Tops news, promotions and contests.
Beginning her undergraduate career at SUNY Potsdam as a music education major, McKenna soon changed her path to public relations, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and writing. “I really enjoyed the writing aspect of PR,” she said. “I took quite a few writing classes in my undergraduate, so I knew that when I graduated I wanted to pursue a career in public relations.”
McKenna later went on to complete her master’s degree in public relations management from Buffalo State College.
Although she said her education provided her with a foundation required to create strategic communication plans, it was her eight years of experience at Tops that best prepared her for her management role.
“A lot of the work that I’ve done at Tops has kind of been a ‘learn as you go’—what prepares me for the next issue or crisis or strategy is basically my history with the company” she explained.
With the fast-paced and ever-changing nature of the grocery industry, McKenna always has to be on her toes. She said it’s critical to “keep up with industry trends and try to understand every facet of the industry because you never know what you’re going to have to speak on and you never know what kind of media inquiries will come in.”
For young professionals just beginning their career endeavors, McKenna offers some tips for success. “No opportunity that is presented to you is too small or should be overlooked,” she said. “Always think about where you want your career to go, what direction you feel is right for you, and don’t pass up an opportunity just because you don’t know or don’t think it will be a right fit.”
Make sure you take a look at our previous 2013 Athena Young Professional Leadership award nominee profiles, including the first installment featuring Therese Hickok and Hadar Borden , the second installment featuring Dr. Keli-Koran Luchey and Megan Burns-Moran, and the third installment featuring Detra Trueheart and Danielle Kuroski.