Welcome to Women's Finance Exchange, Houston

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The mission of the Women’s Finance Exchange is to develop professional women working in financial areas by providing networking and learning opportunities in a relationship-driven environment.

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Board of Directors
Ashley Smith, President

Ashley is Senior Vice President, Frost Corporate Banking. In addition to serving on the board of WFE, she serves as Board Member, Treasurer for the Houston Tri Delta Alumni Organization as well as Board Member, VP Legal for the Organization of Women in International Trade. Ashley is also a member of the Greater Houston Partnership and the Risk Management Association. She received her BS in Finance from Louisiana State University. Geaux Tigers!

To contact Ashley, email her at ashley.smith@frostbank.com.

Laurie-Leigh White, President Elect

Laurie-Leigh White is a Senior Vice President with The BVA Group LLC. As a Senior Vice President, Mrs. White is responsible for overseeing the execution of a variety of valuation engagements. Laurie-Leigh has been involved in over a hundred valuation projects for a wide variety of purposes, including financial reporting, employee stock ownership plans, valuations for tax purposes, transaction advisory, and fairness opinions. Additionally, she has been involved in litigation consulting assignments related to economic damages, financials forensics, and valuation matters.

Laurie-Leigh received a Master of Science in Accounting, a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Southern Methodist University, where she graduated with highest honors. She is a Certified Public Accountant who holds the designation of Accredited in Business Valuation, and is an Accredited Senior Appraiser of the American Society of Appraisers. Laurie-Leigh is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants. In 2007, She was awarded the Accounting Excellence Award by the Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants.

To contact Laurie-Leigh, email her at lwhite@bvagroup.com.

Stasa Cushman, Communications

Stasa Cushman serves as Director, Corporate Communications for AIG's life insurance business. In this role, she is responsible for public relations, crisis communications, media relations, and executive and internal communications. She joined AIG in November of 2007.

With 25 years of corporate communications experience, Stasa was previously employed by Encore Bank (now Cadence Bank) for three years in the role of Vice President and Director, Corporate Communications where she supported Encore's private banking, business banking, wealth management, mortgage, trust and insurance businesses. Previously, she was Manager, Corporate Communications for Air Liquide, the world leader in industrial and medical gases. Before that time, she served as HR Communications Advisor for Dynegy, and previously was associated with VALIC as Employee Communications Specialist. She began her corporate communications career at Van Kampen Investments.

Stasa earned her bachelor's degree in English from the University of Houston. She is a member of the Greater Houston Partnership's Women's Business Alliance, and an active member of the Women's Finance Exchange where she served as President of the nonprofit organization in 2013 and today serves as Communications Chair.

To contact Stasa, email her at stasa.cushman@aig.com.

Christina Lyons, Membership

Christina M. Lyons is a partner in the Corporate & Securities section at Jackson Walker. Her practice is broad and includes counseling both profit and nonprofit entities in matters involving business formation, entity selection, corporate governance, director and officer liability, and fiduciary duties. Ms. Lyons regularly assists clients in the structuring and negotiation of joint ventures, mergers, and stock and asset acquisitions on both the sale and buy side. Ms. Lyons also has experience in private placement of securities and contract negotiation. Her clients are engaged in various industries, including health care, restaurant services and manufacturing and distribution.

Ms. Lyons is also a registered nurse and has worked at one of Ohio's largest hospitals in its cardiac and level 1 trauma intensive care units.

To contact Christina, email her at clyons@jw.com.

Colleen Nichols, At Large -- Programs Implementation

As a Middle Market Banker for the Chase Commercial Bank in Houston, Colleen Nichols is responsible for leading an integrated team of advisors who assist companies with managing their complex balance sheet and cash flow needs. Colleen advises commercial clients across diversified industries on treasury services, credit and international banking and specializes in the construction industry.  Prior to rejoining JPMorgan Chase, Colleen was a Private Lending Underwriter at Goldman Sachs where she worked on a team responsible for developing the firm's credit platform for ultra high net worth clients. Colleen began her career with the JPMorgan Private Bank, where she worked in the Capital Advisory group and was responsible for structuring complex credit facilities for ultra high net worth clients. She also served as a Relationship Manager, advising clients on their credit, banking, investment and trust planning needs. Colleen holds a BBA in Finance from Southern Methodist University.

Colleen is actively involved in the Houston community and is a Vice-Chair of the Greater Houston Partnership Ambassadors and is a member of the Leadership Team for the SMU Houston Alumni Chapter. Colleen also serves as Treasurer of JPMorgan Chase Women's Interactive Network-Houston.

To contact Colleen, email her at colleen.n.nichols@chase.com.

Deborah Barron, Programs

Deborah Barron is a native Houstonian who has served in business development and sales roles throughout her career. Since she joined Achilles Group, Deborah has helped the company grow. Having a great desire to serve others, Deborah is a team player, leads by example and helps clients and the organization to reach their goals.With a diverse professional working in financial, legal, publishing and accounting arenas, Deborah has a passion for meeting new people, understanding what they hold important and building long term relationships. Deborah earned a BA in Marketing from Sam Houston State University. In her free time, she enjoys being with her family and friends and enjoys spending time outside.

To contact Deborah, email her at deborah@achillesgroup.com.

Elizabeth Johnson, Special Events

Elizabeth is a partner at the law firm of Hanszen Laporte LLP. Her practice encompasses all types of transactional matters, including commercial real estate, contract negotiation and drafting and banking. She was previously General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Camden Property Trust and a partner at Winstead, Sechrest and Minick- now known as Winstead, P.C. Elizabeth earned a Bachelor of Arts and Juris Doctor at the University of Alabama.

Elizabeth has volunteered extensively with numerous non-profit organizations, including Christian Community Service Center, Medical Bridges, Star of Hope and Easter Seals. She was very involved in her daughters' schools, serving on the boards of St. Agnes Academy, Lanier Middle School and West University Elementary. She also served as the President of the Heart of Texas Chapter of National Charity League.

To contact Elizabeth, email her at ejohnson@hanszenlaporte.com.

Faith Allen, Treasurer

Faith Allen is Senior Vice President of corporate and commercial relationships with Bank of Texas, providing financing for Houston area commercial, industrial, and energy service businesses. A lifelong Houston resident, Allen has more than 30 years of banking experience, including officer and manager roles with other banks in the Houston market. She most recently served as senior vice president and mid-corporate relationship manager for the Houston office of Citibank and earlier served 16 years at JP Morgan Chase in middle market banking.

She earned a BBA degree in finance from the University of Texas at Austin and an MBA from the University of Houston Bauer College of Business. She is actively involved in the community, serving as a member of Victory Houston, a branch of the American Cancer Society, on the finance committee and on the advisory board for The Woods Project, Inc., which has a mission to create wilderness education and exploration experiences for disadvantaged students.

To contact Faith, email her at fallen@bankoftexas.com.

Meresa Morgan, Sponsorship

Meresa has more than 20 years of experience providing audit and consulting services to mid-sized private businesses and employee benefit plans. Some industries served include manufacturing, distribution, wholesale, professional services, construction, shipping and nonprofit organizations.

Meresa thrives on the success of her clients and believes that is the reason for their loyalty and glowing recommendations. Her connections within the business community allow her to make appropriate introductions that make a real difference to her clients.

She currently oversees the ERISA practice for the firm, which consists of audits of approximately 100 employee benefit plans, including 401(k), ESOPs, defined benefit pension plans and health and welfare plans.

She is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and its Employee Benefit Plan Audit Quality Center. She serves on various boards such as The Entrepreneurship Institute, Women's Finance Exchange and is chairperson for BKR International's Employee Benefit Plan Auditing Committee. Meresa is also a member of the ERISA Industry Group of Houston.

Meresa earned a B.S.B.A. in Accounting from Auburn University.

To contact Meresa, email her at mmorgan@bvccpa.com.

Barbara Stewart, Secretary

Barbara Stewart is Principal and founder of Accelus Partners, LLC, providing business and personal coaching to financial services professionals. Barbara has been coaching individuals in business and personal finance for the past twenty years both in the United States and abroad. Her 20 year career as a financial advisor includes work in investment and insurance sales, trading, money manager due diligence and private client advising. She became a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional while in Tokyo as an advisor to US citizen expatriates. Barbara has also owned and managed a Registered Investment Advisory firm that she later sold to a private wealth management group.

In 2010 she established Accelus Partners to broaden her scope of work with clients beyond merely financial. She supports financial services professionals in growing their business and improving the quality of their lives. Barbara holds a B.B.A in Management from Sam Houston State University. She is certified by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) as a Professional Certified Coach (PCC). In addition to her service to WFE, Barbara is active in the Houston Financial Planning Association and the ICF Houston Chapter. She also competes with her horse Usache in local dressage competitions.

To contact Barbara, email her at barbara@acceluspartners.com

Rzan Swaidan, Assistant to the President

To contact Rzan, email her at rzan.swaidan@aig.com.


Power of Deep Water: Port of Houston
Phyllis Saathoff, Chief People Officer of the Port of Houston Authority, joined the WFE on October 15 to provide an overview of the Port of Houston and global trade.

21st Annual Duck Hunt - Fired up for Fashion!
We had a great time at the 21st Annual Duck Hunt, at Neiman Marcus, where we raised record amounts benefiiting Dress for Success. Check out the fashionistas in the photo album!

2015 Membership Kickoff
On Thursday evening, February 5, current and prospective members were welcomed into the beautiful home of one of our WFE members, Margaret Ceconi, for our 2015 Membership Kickoff.