The Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual “Women in Business” breakfast Friday morning at Sonoma Golf Club and honored three Sonoma women who were also featured speakers.
The first speaker was Claudia Mendoza, president of the La Luz board of directors and head of MC2, a multicultural communication business. Mendoza, who is a native of Colombia, also spearheads the Latino programs at the Sonoma International Film Festival.
“It’s been quite a journey from (Colombia) to here,” Mendoza said at the start of her speech.
From a young age, Mendoza had to be strong, she said, explaining that her father drowned when she was 9-years-old. Mendoza’s mother became one of the first patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in Colombia at the age of 35. Mendoza, who was just 17 and a new high school graduate, went straight to work to support her family. “I became the señor de la casa,” she said, “I never had a chance to think about what I wanted to do.”
Mendoza said her success in business has been a series of “being in the right place at the right time” moments, although her hard work ethic is what made those opportunities last.
She went on to work for UNICEF and as a national news broadcaster for one of the first cable stations in Colombia. “I was working in news in a very dark time for Colombia, when Pablo Escobar (the drug cartel kingpin) was in charge,” Mendoza said.
She met her first husband, a professor at UC Davis, in Colombia and moved with him to Davis in 1991. After she “acculturated” to American life, Mendoza said, she and her husband divorced.
Then she worked for the Sacramento Small Business Exchange and eventually met her current husband Kevin Carruth, who was the undersecretary for the California Youth and Adult Correctional Agency at the time. In 2007, Carruth retired and the two moved to Sonoma.
Mendoza credits Carruth as the driving force behind her achievements. “They say every great man has a great woman behind him, well every great woman has a great man behind her and mine is my husband.”
Mendoza said the highlight of her career has been serving on the board of La Luz because of the direct impact she and the center have on the community. “This freelance life of mine now in Sonoma is all about community involvement,” she said.
The second distinguished woman to speak was Sharon Cohn, who was married to B.R. Cohn Winery owner and founder Bruce Cohn, and was instrumental in launching the company’s olive oil and vinegar lines. Sharon Cohn now owns the local Massage Envy franchise (and one in Santa Rosa) and created a line of sparkling wines with her sisters called Breathless Sparkling Wines.
At the beginning of her speech, Cohn held up a sign that her daughters had given to her for a recent birthday present that read, “Don’t ever let anyone dull your sparkle.” Cohn went on to read a list of 20 defining life moments.
Her parents were teachers, she said, and instilled in her and her siblings the urge to be the best they could be. Her fondest memories as a child were summers the family spent traveling and backpacking in the Sierra Nevada.