By GREGORY ZELLER //
From the Long and Winding Road File come the Long Island Gems, a story of power women, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, a born-again marketing veteran and a Long Island networking group like no other.
It’s been a rough stretch for Valentina Janek, following a decade-plus of steady professional and extracurricular progress. Janek logged 13 successful years at Manhasset-based CMP Media (now CMP Technology, a piece of London-based UBM Ltd.), where she focused on digital publishing and other verticals, and in 2010 cofounded the Long Island Breakfast Club, a self-described “socialpreneur” network promoting workforce development for midlife professionals.
But the club only relaunched this month, after “going virtual” for two years while its cofounder and torchbearer fought off a serious illness. And Janek’s husband, Ronald, recently passed away, further splitting the innovator’s once-sharp focus.
Janek is now on the comeback trail. And true to form, she gives credit to a fantastic support system, in this case starting with her own flesh and blood.
She’s about six months into a fresh marketing-executive stint at Baldwin-based QS2 Training and Consulting, where her sister, Elizabeth Box, is vice president – and there’s still plenty of time “to do what I do best,” Janek told Innovate LI, which of course involves the company of others.
Among her earliest tasks at QS2 Training and Consulting, a health-and-safety licensing and accreditation organization, was the promotional marketing of CPR programs, including training programs for teenagers and classes instructing proper CPR techniques for use on babies – “a big mission,” Janek noted.
During speaking engagements and other mission-related events, Janek met the four women who would soon become her partners in a unique regional networking effort, one that leverages Janek’s lengthy digital-marketing résumé (and talent for schmoozing) with the substantial life experiences of her four new associates.
The five fast friends – including Linda Catalano-Procactio, Jacqueline McDermott, Heidi Shaw and Rosemarie Toria – bonded quickly. While each had notched above-average achievements in her professional career, they all lamented the lack of decent networking opportunities, not only for professional women but Long Island professionals of every stripe.
“So, we said, ‘Let’s do a different kind of networking group,’” Janek noted. “‘Let’s build a network that’s not the same old jazz.’”
They’d certainly assembled a talented enough band to riff on old business-networking standards. Two of the five founding board members are in real estate: Catalano-Procactio is an associate broker at Island Advantage Realty and Torla is managing partner of Jericho-based Altor Realty Group, following a decade-plus as a business consultant on projects for MorganStanley, Lehman Brothers, UBS Financial Services and others.
Networked together, the “power women” boast an impressive array of business expertise, according to Janek, including loads of real estate savvy, Shaw’s extensive social media and graphic-design skills, McDermott’s “background dealing with high-wealth solutions” and her own lengthy marketing experience.
The team has solidified its bond by volunteering en masse for Operation Gratitude, a recently launched Long Island Breakfast Club/West Hempstead High School effort to collect gum, mints and socks – “Simple is better,” Janek noted – and ship the donations to servicemen and women stationed overseas.
But their primary focus is Long Island Gems, the new networking group being polished for a June 26 launch event. The idea, Janek said, is “five women who are basically dedicated to supporting others, increasing their clients and building their network” – though the founders, while devoted to the strength-in-numbers philosophy and focused on business development, are also very serious about lightening the mood.
“We’re obviously going to have speakers,” Janek said. “But we’re not only going to have speakers who can elevate their business – we’re going to have speakers who bring flair and fun, instead of just being so serious all the time.
“We might have a funny speaker to lighten the load,” she added. “And if you’re running a small business and you’re under stress, you just might enjoy that.”
Membership is not limited to female entrepreneurs – “It’s just run by power women,” Janek noted – and while the same was true of the majority-female-membership Long Island Breakfast Club, Janek believes the gender rolls will even out this time around.
“Some men were afraid to come to the Breakfast Club because it was more about talking about what happened to you on the job and ways to change it,” Janek noted. “The Long Island Gems is different – it’s about real business people.
“We are all high-level businesspeople,” she said. “And we believe the best way to build a professional network is with high credibility and interacting with thought leaders in Long Island’s diverse industries.”
The group is slated to meet monthly – a schedule will be ready by the kickoff event, according to Janek – and in line with the founders’ keep-it-simple mantra, there will be no membership fee or even an official application process.
“You’re not going to get saddled with a lot of things,” Janek noted.
The first meeting, slated for June 26 at Piccola Bussola restaurant in Mineola, is BYOB, Janek added, “but organized” – kind of like the new networking group itself, which was founded solely on the “unique perspectives” of five professional women who believe, in business and in life, it all comes down to who you know.
“Participation with us will put you elbow-to-elbow with people who can help you and have good ideas and are willing to share information,” Janek said. “You can come and give an elevator speech, or just talk to people and be relaxed and share.
“Two hours with the right person can make all the difference to you, your business and your clients.”
The Long Island Gems
What’s it? Long Island professional networking, with the edge off
Brought to you by: Linda Catalano-Procactio, Jacqueline McDermott, Heidi Shaw, Rosemarie Toria and Valentina Janek, “power women” on a mission
All in: $0, but a virtual fortune in business perspective
Status: The fun begins June 26