Meet Cary Magazine’s 2022 Women of Western Wake

From corporate success to selfless service, these dynamic leaders have accomplished great things in their chosen fields.

Here, our honorees share their stories about taking risks, finding rewards, following your heart, and working hard to better our world.

Jackie Ferguson

Co-founder, The Diversity Movement; Host, Diversity: Beyond the Checkbox podcast

It was 3 A.M. on June 11, 2020, and Jackie Ferguson was wide awake. In just a few hours, she would be leading a virtual interactive presentation for more than 300 people attending the North Carolina Chamber’s Diversity and Inclusion Conference. It was her first speaking engagement, and she was terrified.

“I questioned, why do people want to hear from me? I did that for a really long time,” Ferguson said. “Now, after more than a hundred speaking engagements, not only am I confident that I have something valuable to contribute, I am focused on how what I do impacts people, businesses, and communities every day.”

Ferguson has been advocating for equality and inclusion for more than 20 years. The Apex resident is one of four co-founders of The Diversity Movement and oversees content and programming at the award-winning diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) consultancy. Ferguson also hosts a world-class business podcast and is the co-author of The Inclusive Language Handbook: A Guide to Better Communication and Transformational Leadership.

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Cary Heise

Founder and Executive Director, Designed for Joy

The nondescript gray metal building sitting on a hill in downtown Raleigh blends into the Cabarrus Street landscape, and behind its bright pink doors and plate glass window decorated with a cheery mural is a haven for women seeking a pathway to a better life.

The building houses Designed for Joy, a nonprofit organization formed in 2017 dedicated to providing women in crisis with stability and dignity through immediate employment and support. “We hire at-risk women and give them jobs as artisans, making jewelry, handbags, accessories, and home furnishings, which we sell,” said founder and executive director Cary Heise. “Each woman who works here has a unique story to tell.”

Artisans range in age from 20 to 70. Most are mothers, many are single, and 68% are from underrepresented minority groups, said Heise. “They come to us as victims of sex trafficking and domestic violence,” she said. “They’re suffering from generational poverty, addictions, and homelessness, and some have criminal records.”

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Irena Krstanovic

Economic Development Director, Town of Holly Springs

It’s hard to introduce Irena Krstanovic, the economic development director for the Town of Holly Springs, without immediately touting her recent accomplishments. Under Krstanovic’s leadership, the Town of Holly Springs landed two giant biotech companies within the same year: Fuijifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies and Amgen. The two companies will add a combined 1,000 jobs to the area over the next few years, solidifying the town’s reputation as a hub for biotechnology and life sciences. Because of her unparalleled success, Krstanovic was recently presented with the Economic Developer of the Year Award by the North Carolina Economic Development Association.

“These processes are extremely competitive and very confidential,” said Krstanovic. “We are really competing globally. When these searches start, they’re looking at Denmark and Japan and multiple sites in the US. To be able to score these tremendous companies is truly transformational for the region and the state, not just for Holly Springs. You can be in the world of economic development your whole life and not work a deal of that magnitude.”

Krstanovic started her career in economic development almost 22 years ago with the Town of Holly Springs, joining former director Jenny Mizelle in a dynamic two-woman team.

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Charmaine Riggins

Chief Executive Officer, Loparex

Cary resident Charmaine Riggins has turned her good fortune in life into helping others achieve the same. Her professional accomplishments are impressive and long. She is currently the chief executive officer for Loparex. She joined Loparex from the Parker Hannifin-LORD Corporation, where she built her career over 27 years in various global roles leading company integration, human resources, enterprise systems, and as vice president over several global regions.

The first member of her family to graduate from college, Riggins earned a chemical engineering degree from The Ohio State University and an MBA in Innovation and Supply Chain Management from North Carolina State University. She then went on to earn an Advanced Management degree at the Chicago Booth School of Business. She claims she has had three essential mentors in her life. The first was her grandmother.

“Sometimes you need someone who tells you, you can do it,” said Riggins. “It’s motivational, but it also helps you to have more confidence in yourself. I had a counselor at school who introduced me to a woman who was a Procter & Gamble leader. She said with my grades I should get my degree in engineering. That stretched me. From a business perspective, LORD Corporation brought on a different kind of CEO, Rick McNeil, who was business and engineering-minded. ‘How do we change the corporation to include inclusivity?’ That stuck with me.”

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Karen Russell

Chief Financial Officer, TrialCard

As a standout basketball player for Georgia Tech in the early 1990s, Karen Russell developed a strong work ethic, an understanding of teamwork, and the ability to rally in the face of adversity. When she left the court, those traits didn’t disappear, she just channeled them into her career.

Russell is Chief Financial Officer of TrialCard, one of the fastest-growing businesses in North Carolina. Companies hire the pharmaceutical services company to perform services from helping patients find ways to afford or gain access to their medication, to helping doctors in the same realm, Russell said.

Since she became CFO in 2019, the biggest part of her job revolves around providing financial analysis and insights to help TrialCard grow, be profitable, and best serve its customers and shareholders.

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Mark your calendars for the annual Women of Western Wake Forum at The Umstead Hotel & Spa on Friday, September 30.

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