2017 Influential Women in Business

Somehow, they make it all look easy. The high-pressure careers. The growing families. The service on local boards and volunteer efforts at area nonprofits.
The 2017 Influential Women in Business balance all these demands, and more, with grace and humility. But, of course, it’s not easy—and it hasn’t been a leisurely climb for any of this year’s nine honorees. And while their personal and career paths are varied, there are a few common threads that emerge when speaking with the honorees about how they’ve reached this point in their lives.
They take risks. They persevere in the face of failure. They have strong support networks, both at work and home. They believe in themselves. They are compassionate. They pray. And at the end of a long day, they know how to decompress and recharge for the next challenge that awaits them.

Sonia Perez

Life doesn’t always go according to plan, and that’s part of the adventure, says Sonia Perez. After all, if her career went according to her college plans, Perez would be a journalist.
Instead, she went where opportunity led: All the way to the helm of AT&T Louisiana, where Perez has served as president for seven years. Although she earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin, Perez landed a career in telecommunications that allowed her to rise through the ranks and become a leader in the industry.


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Julie Laperouse

Julie Laperouse recently shared some of her best advice with her four daughters: “Look people in the eye and ask for what you want.”
Laperouse has followed that advice in her own life to land jobs throughout her career, beginning at the age of 15 when she applied at a radio station in her hometown of Jennings.


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Karen Holden

Two career decisions have significantly shaped Karen Holden’s life. The first was her decision to take a risk, leave her job and join a startup company. The second was a more personal decision to balance her life as a mom and her work as an engineer.
Laperouse has followed that advice in her own life to land jobs throughout her career, beginning at the age of 15 when she applied at a radio station in her hometown of Jennings.


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Sarah Broome

At just 26 years old, Sarah Broome launched the first residential charter school in Louisiana—and one of the first in the nation—with THRIVE Academy in Baton Rouge.
Since its inception in 2012, THRIVE’s mission has been to serve at-risk students from underserved Baton Rouge communities. With legislation passed in 2016, the academy will become the first public boarding school in Louisiana in July. Laperouse has followed that advice in her own life to land jobs throughout her career, beginning at the age of 15 when she applied at a radio station in her hometown of Jennings.


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Kelly Hurtado

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say Kelly Hurtado has been working her entire life.
Beginning at about 6 years old, Hurtado remembers working at the Lamp Post on Government Street, a gift shop owned by her family, who adopted her as a baby. During busy holiday seasons, she greeted customers and learned how to address invitations, write thank-you notes and wrap gifts. In the summers, Hurtado babysat at the Piedmont Club.
Since its inception in 2012, THRIVE’s mission has been to serve at-risk students from underserved Baton Rouge communities. With legislation passed in 2016, the academy will become the first public boarding school in Louisiana in July. Laperouse has followed that advice in her own life to land jobs throughout her career, beginning at the age of 15 when she applied at a radio station in her hometown of Jennings.


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Helena Cunningham

Helena Cunningham’s career has been inspired by strong women who came before her, starting with her mother. HARDEST LESSON | To take risks and be confident. Although I had a great support system of family and close friends who encouraged me to become an entrepreneur, initially I lacked confidence to venture outside my comfort zone and open NHCS.


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Gaye Sandoz

The driving force behind the many locally made food products popping up in grocery stores and markets around Baton Rouge has been Gaye Sandoz and the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator. Since its launch in 2013, the Food Incubator has taken on 35 tenants to help develop and market their products. Sandoz says some of its proudest success stories include Hanley’s Foods all-natural salad dressings and Hydra-Guard all-natural sports drinks.


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Camille Conaway

Camille Conaway knew early on that whatever she did in life, she wanted to make a difference. But she never imagined how far her influence would reach, as her career led her to the nation’s capital to work on U.S. foreign policy and eventually back home to Louisiana to impact policy at the state level.


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Monique Scott-Spaulding

One of Monique Scott-Spaulding’s greatest passions, both as a businesswoman and community leader, has been helping others achieve their dreams.
As the franchise owner of Jani-King of Baton Rouge, Spaulding has been able to pursue her passion. Since 1998, she has grown her business into one of the top Jani-King franchises in the region, winning multiple sales and Franchise of the Year awards. But Scott-Spaulding says she’s most proud of the hundreds of employees she has hired and trained through the years, several of whom have since started their own businesses.


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