Asheville's Achievers 6

The Female Leaders of Asheville

Kit Cramer

President & CEO, Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce

It may take a village to raise a child, but in Asheville, it takes Kit Cramer to run the village. Her resume is astoundingly lengthy, a dizzying list that culminates in her current position as President & CEO of our Chamber of Commerce.

Over the past six years, Cramer has settled into Asheville, but her definition of “settling” includes working tirelessly at the forefront of our revitalization. “I am so thrilled with what we’ve accomplished in terms of job growth here,” she says. “I love this place. It feeds my desire to be impactful in a community, and it feeds my soul too.”

Cramer’s work has coincided with a time that’s proven particularly fortuitous for women. “Frankly, I didn’t realize I was the first female president of chamber,” she says. “There’s some girl power going on, which is great,” she continues, pointing out the various offices recently held for the first time by women, like the Chair of Economic Development and Mayor.

Cramer can see so much opportunity for women in Asheville, fostered by great programs like the Chamber’s own Woman Up initiative, and the city itself. “Given we’re a community largely made up of small businesses, women leadership is a possibility. It’s truly viable for women to start and own businesses here,” she says.

Cramer encourages women to tackle their aspirations with intention. “Don’t sit back and wait to be asked. If you want something you have to go after it.”

Q&A
1. What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
You don’t have to be completely and totally prepared for something to succeed.
2. What’s one thing you can’t live without?
My Audible account.
3. What’s one source of daily inspiration?
When I look out across the mountains, I will frequently think how very fortunate I 
am to live here. This beautiful setting, it’s inspiring in so many ways and makes me 
want to do good things, for business and families.

Julie Klipp Nicholson

Coordinator, Buncombe County Family Justice Center

“One of the skills that women really bring into leadership is collaboration, and building relationships of trust and respect,” says Julie Klipp Nicholson. “I think it’s a model of leadership where the leader doesn’t have to know all the answers, but creates a climate where people can ask the right questions, have a learning mindset and work together to solve problems.”

Her sage words ring particularly true given her position as Coordinator of the Buncombe County Family Justice Center, a collaborative project that seeks to provide assistance to survivors of domestic and sexual violence in the Asheville area by uniting several organizations under one roof. In this role, Klipp Nicholson is the exact kind of female leader she describes, one that creates a climate that nurtures answers.

It’s a path Klipp Nicholson’s been on for a long time. “I think my Mom knew I was going to go to law school when I was 6 and would walk into a room and say ‘that’s not fair,’” she says with a laugh. “I’ve always had a deep sense of justice and fairness. I wanted an opportunity to have a voice in the justice system for people who don’t have a voice.”

After law school, she worked for nine years with Pisgah Legal Services and offered civil legal protections for victims of domestic violence. And now, her voice is even stronger, carrying over the county and organizing a host of experts to provide assistance to those in the community who need it most.

Working with women from all walks of life every day provides Klipp Nicholson with a unique perspective when it comes to offering advice. “I would say don’t be afraid to ask questions,” she says after a pause. “That’s how you get to learn more information and see things from a different perspective. Find other women that you respect and build a relationship where you can give each other feedback that helps you grow.”

Q&A
1. What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
I would tell her to believe in herself a little bit more.
2. What’s one thing you can’t live without?
Bubbly water. La Croix, Apricot.
3. What’s one source of daily inspiration?
Prayer meditation.

(For more information on the Bumcombe Family Justice Center, 
please visit BuncombeCounty.org/FJC) 

Murphy Funkhouser-Capps

CEO, Creative Director & Chief Brand Strategist, Kudzu Brands

It’s true that many women experience an existential dichotomy, a culturally-driven divide between their soulful creativity and their mind’s business practicality. But who says those qualities have to be mutually exclusive?

“I’ve always had this tension in my life between my creative pursuit and the world wanting me to take a business role,” says Capps, who founded Kudzu Brands with her husband some six years ago. She veered far down both paths—first as a manager in the service industry, then as a playwright and actress—before settling at the axis. Capps found harmony in her role in marketing, where she’s able to simultaneously take charge and feel free. “This is where that tension belongs,” she says of both her career and her location in Asheville.

For Capps, Asheville isn’t just home. It’s a community that fosters her best attributes—and the best attributes of other women, too. “I am just enchanted by the cultural, artistic, entrepreneurial, business blend that is in Asheville,” she notes. “Asheville’s culture is a little more liberal, more open-minded,” she says. “Women feel more comfortable in their empowerment in this market. Asheville is the perfect community for women to come into their power.”

Q&A

1. What would you tell your 
20-year-old self?
You are much prettier than you think you are. And stop taking things so seriously, relax!
2. What’s one thing you can’t live without?
My quiet time.
3. What’s one source of daily inspiration?
My girls, my daughters.

Dr. Megan Schuler, D.M.D., M.S.D.

Orthodonist, Blue Ridge Orthodontics

Asheville’s a city of transplants these days, and that includes in the realm of woman leaders. Dr. Megan Schuler of Blue Ridge Orthodontics, a transplant herself, recognizes the untold benefits of such a migration. “Asheville is growing exponentially, so a lot of people and a lot of females have come to the area, and with the growth the city attracts new people with new perspectives,” she says with her signature smile.

It’s that smile that inspired her entire career and, in many ways, her move. “I was one of those really shy kids that was incredibly self-conscious,” she remembers. “Braces really changed everything—including a huge change in my personality. I loved the entire experience. So I decided in 8th grade I wanted to be an orthodontist.”

With unrivaled tenacity, Schuler saw that dream through. And when, after completing years of school and training, she discovered a new dream—moving to our mountain town—she made that come true, too.

Fostering big dreams is Schuler’s approach to life, and her advice to aspiring women. “Dream big, but then break up your big goals into smaller pieces. Focus on the smaller piece at hand, then the next small goal, then you’ll look back and see that you’ve really changed everything.”

Q&A
1. What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
Have a little bit more fun!
2. What’s one thing you can’t live without?
My puppy!
3. What’s one source of daily inspiration?
Being able to come to work and knowing I’m going to make someone feel good.

Laura Sullivan

Principal, Lead Interior Designer, Allied ASID, CAPS, CGP at ID.ology Interior Design

Laura Sullivan is a woman in a man’s world. It started as a child, when she’d accompany her father to job sites, getting her hands dirty throwing materials in the dumpsters at his investment properties. It continued during school, when she combined her passion for art with her experience in real estate to earn a degree in interior design (and a minor in art). Upon graduation from college, Sullivan invested even further in that traditionally masculine world, as she received both her real estate broker’s license and her contractor’s license.

All of that experience finds a more feminine home in her interior design business, ID.ology, which she founded in 2012. She could sling a hammer with the deft skill of any contractor, but Sullivan chooses to invest in the prettier side of design, leaving the dirty work to her husband at Living Stone Design + Build (the two companies often work in tandem).

“Be courageous,” the bold designer offers as advice for any aspiring women. “Courageousness and confidence are really invaluable, and although sometimes in leadership roles we might come against some friction in the community, persevere.”

Sullivan’s quick to recognize the uniqueness of her path, as well as the blessings it entails. “God has blessed me with an amazing, supportive, husband who is an inspiration and wonderful partner, and an incredible team of strong, talented ladies at ID.ology.”

Q&A

1. What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
Don’t hesitate, just do it. Don’t dream and not act.
2. What’s one thing you can’t live without?
My family.
3. What’s one source of daily inspiration?
The Bible.

Denise Pesce

Principal, The Mountain Community School

(By Terri Kelly)

Few fifth graders are certain about their future; Denise Pesce was the exception.Growing up in Chicago, she had a zest for learning yet never felt inspired by her instructors. She remembers great teachers as well as teachers who mocked kids. Both examples influenced her decision to become a teacher. “I remember thinking—I’m going to do this better than they’re doing.”

Pesce taught middle school for nine years, earned her master’s, and became an assistant principal in a community known for their crazy-love of the Chicago White Sox. But something was missing. Pesce asked the superintendent, “Just give me a little school.” Instead, they promoted her to Curriculum and Technology Director. Next, she moved to Florida to work with the administrative teams of a school for the handicapped and a Montessori school.

Then Pesce moved her family to Asheville and joined The Mountain Community School, a charter school in Hendersonville, as principal. Her dream had come true. She worked at a sweet little school with people who “nurture not just the cognitive side, but the social-emotional side of development in kids.”

Denise lives with her wife, Dee, and daughters in Asheville. And she believes dreams really do come true.

Q&A
1. What would you tell your twenty-year-old self?
Practice patience.
2. What’s one thing you can’t live without?
I value family. Dee, my daughters and my parents— family is really core for me.
3. What’s one source of daily inspiration?
I’m really inspired by children, their simplicity, and how they live in the moment. 
I see their little faces in the morning and it’s a constant reminder that working with 
them is the greatest gift.