International Women’s Day – Celebrating Women in EPI

International Women’s Day – Celebrating Women in EPI


In honor of International Women’s Day today we are highlighting some of the amazing and talented women in the Exit Planning Institute community. We have the privilege of working with women who are industry leaders in Exit Planning, Marketing, and Business. Last week we shared the strides women have made towards parity in the business world and the positive impact mentors have had on women in business. We interviewed some women in EPI to see how role models and mentors shaped them into who they are today.

The Women of EPI

Julie Keyes

As a Certified Exit Planning Advisor (CEPA) with more than 28 years’ experience in business planning, development and management, Julie has plenty of stories to share that her audiences can relate to, whether they are business owners or the advisers who represent them. They learn from and are engaged by the content she delivers and at a very actionable level.

Julie Keyes, founder of KeyeStrategies, is a national speaker, teacher, and Certified Exit Planner. As a life-long entrepreneur and current faculty member for Hoopis Performance Network and the Exit Planning Institute, she brings an uncommon set of skills and talent to every speaking and consulting engagement. Her mission with every client or audience is to unpack the mystery of business transition planning, explain the process and provide a road map for business succession that owners can understand and advisers can implement.bKeyeStrategies is a business advisory firm providing business exit planning consulting services to business owners and educational services to business advisers.


Kiley Peters

Kiley Peters is the Founder and CEO of Brainchild Studios, a boutique digital content marketing and website creation agency primarily serving brands targeting millennial moms through customer research and digital strategies. She is also the Founder of the Work From Home Playbook, a series of online courses guiding aspiring entrepreneurial moms through the steps of starting a virtual business. In 2018, Brainchild Studios won the Wisconsin Marketplace Governor’s Rising Star Award for a Women-Owned Business. In 2019, Brainchild Studios was awarded international recognition as Business Services Company of the Year for a company with less than 10 employees by the Stevie Awards.

Kiley is a serial entrepreneur, with over a decade of industry experience. She has worked on digital marketing strategies for over 100 B2B and B2C brands ranging from small local businesses to global companies. While she has an extensive background in digital marketing, her primary areas of expertise include strategic business consultation, digital content strategy, and consumer research and analysis. At the beginning of 2019, Kiley was elected into TEMPO’s Emerging Women Leaders program and began as an Adjunct Professor at Marquette University teaching Digital Content Strategy.


Jayne McQuillan

Jayne founded Journey Consulting in 2007, combining her passion for business with her passion for people, to comprehensively serve the needs of family owned and privately held businesses. Her passion for business has roots in her extensive experience – first at Price Waterhouse in Milwaukee and later in executive roles with several family owned and privately held businesses. Those experiences gave her incredible perspective on the needs and challenges business owners face in an increasingly competitive and uncertain environment. They also taught her how to be successful despite external conditions.

Jayne’s passion for people is life-long. She is driven to help people succeed. This often manifests itself in transformational change and growth that not only corrects current issues but positions people for future success. Her passion and energy come from a desire to make things work and accelerate growth by developing people and organizations to their fullest potential.

Journey Consulting, LLC, is a leading strategic management consulting firm in northeast Wisconsin serving clients in manufacturing, construction, distribution, service and health care. Jayne’s financial, business and human capital acumen uniquely position her to work with owners and executive teams to grow the value of their business. She has expertise in strategic planning, organizational development, budgeting and business planning, succession and transition planning, and leadership development. With over 30 years of experience, she knows how to work with organizations to transform their business models, create efficiencies, solve systemic issues and develop their leadership for increased growth and profitability.


Shanda McFadden

Shanda is a financial advisor with the Oberlander Timmerwilke Group, a well-recognized, Chicago-based team who has helped individuals and families pursue their financial goals for more than 40 years. She brings nearly 10 years of experience as a commercial banker, primarily focused on credit and cash management for middle-market businesses. With her transition to private banking and wealth management, Shanda leverages this experience for the benefit of business owners, high-net-worth individuals and families, providing customized and strategic investment guidance.

As a Certified Exit Planning Advisor, Shanda holds unique expertise in helping business owners transition their businesses to the next generation, employees or a third-party. Employing an owner mindset honed by her graduate degree in business and an empathetic approach, she works with business owners to assess what they need to retire, determine the value of their business and work toward that goal of entering a new and financially secure phase of life.

Shanda is passionate about shrinking the racial wealth gap and focuses her non-profit involvement on financial literacy. She is a Bank of America Better Money Habits Champion and volunteers her time teaching Chicago’s youth about money management and introducing them to careers in banking and financial services. Shanda earned her BS in Economics from DePauw University and her MBA from Indiana University. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc – Chicago Metropolitan Alumnae Chapter and Social Venture Partners, Chicago (SVP). Shanda lives in Northwest Indiana with her husband, children and 80-pound Pit Bull, Rocky. She’s an avid photographer and enjoys exploring the city (while logging steps for Fitbit challenges) with her family.


Colleen Kowalski

Colleen joins the EPI team after years in the hospitality marketing industry. Her experience in social media marketing and content creation is an asset to our team as we continue to grow our brand. Colleen is responsible for creating engaging and unique content for our website, generating organic communication between EPI and the Exit Planning community, and conducting targeted market research.


Paige Koerper-Wysocki

Bringing fresh perspective and modern techniques to the table, Koerper-Wysocki plays a key role in the EPI marketing and fulfillment teams with content branding, website enhancements, and client experience research. In fact, she is a project lead on a research project to help EPI Global better understand the evolving needs of the rapidly growing CEPA community, that will help the organization further understand and tailor customized, individualized industry solutions.


Jocelyn Bires

In her career Ms. Bires has established a reputation for advanced organization, granular attention to detail, and warm customer service. In addition to invaluable executive support, Jocelyn works with sponsors and universities from across the network in curating information and coordinating research efforts to further advance the effectiveness and visibility of ongoing owner research reports.


Alex Hooker

Alex Hooker is EPI’s new Marketing Assistant. She is an energetic and pragmatic person who is recognized for attention to detail and exceeding customer and employer expectations. She brings to the table impeccable time management skills, which makes her a huge asset to our team. Her background in restaurant service is where she discovered her passion for customer service and helping others.


Who are your female role models? Why?

Julie Keyes: St Teresa of Kolkata (Mother Teresa) is number one. She accomplished so much at such great odds. Being a woman and a nun were not usually in her favor. She had many motto’s, one was “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.”  She was a peaceful warrior and had great influence among world leaders her whole life. She always thought of others before herself and used her power and love for God to impact the poorest people in the world, while shaping the faith of all who followed her.

Queen Elizabeth I, who chose to “marry her country instead of a man”.  She was never supposed to be allowed to reign, especially since her mother was the ex wife of Henry the VIII. She became one of the greatest female leaders of all time. A quote that resonates the most with me is “Though the sex to which I belong is considered weak you will nevertheless find me a rock that bends to no wind.”

Kiley Peters: One of my role models is Sarah Blakely, Owner/Founder of Spanx. She’s a total inspiration. She bootstrapped her way up, she did it her way, she seems super grounded, she’s dedicated to supporting women in business and women and general, and she seems super fun. I think we should be best friends. Another role model of mine is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The original badass. I took her passing really hard because she paved so many paths for equality that never existed before. Our lives are fundamentally different and have more opportunities than they did before she fought tooth and nail for them. I commonly ask myself, “What would Ruth do?” when in difficult situations. She is a constant beacon of light guiding my heart. Finally, Paige Peters, my little sister, is my role model. She’s also an entrepreneur and engineer innovating technology that can save people’s lives. I’m so incredibly proud of her every day and I strive to make her proud in return.

Shanda McFadden: My Mother, Gwen Green. When she found herself a single parent of two daughters, she put her head down and went to work. She modeled a rigorous work ethic and financial discipline for my sister and I. My Mother never took no for an answer! Her fighting spirit resulted in her sending her two daughters to private universities and later becoming a Private Lender for small real estate investors. 

Instead of using her circumstances as an excuse, she changed her socio-economic position by being tough, uncompromising, and even intimidating. (She’s the only person that still makes me shake in my boots!). While her accomplishments are impressive, it’s her willingness to reach back and help others that solidified her as my role model. She continues to help and inspire young single mothers, pushing home ownership as a key to building wealth.  

Colleen Kowalski: My role models are my sisters. I am the youngest of four girls and have looked up to and learned from my sisters my entire life. One is a teacher, another sister started her own design company, and my other sister is a pediatric nurse. They all inspire me to be the best I can in both my professional and personal life and to fully commit to everything I do.

Paige Koerper-Wysocki: I have a few different role models for different aspects of my life. From a business standpoint, I have recently been following Kindra Hall. I had never heard of someone being a storyteller before as a job title, but she found that storytelling is what she excelled at and made it into her career. It is inspiring to me that she let her passion guide her and built a life around it, instead of settling for a ‘typical’ job and letting go of her passions. From a personal standpoint, my role model has always been my grandma. Her parents were immigrants who came to America and started businesses that ended up being successful thanks to her and her siblings. My grandma spent all her life juggling her education and working at those businesses every day, as well as helping run their home. I have her to thank for my work ethic, grit, and determination, in addition to my love of family.

Jocelyn Bires: One female role model that I admire, and I feel should be known by every woman and girl now and in the future, is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She paved the way for women’s rights and equality in so many ways. Because of Ruth, women are able to attend university, serve on juries, and get credit cards and mortgages on their own without a male co-signer. She also helped to make strides towards equal pay and was a key component in granting same-sex marriages. Because of Ruth, women have so many more opportunities than they did just 20 years ago and opened the door for women to continue and improve on the work she started and contributed to. Her influence will always remain with us.

Another female role model I admire is entrepreneur, blogger, author, and motivational speaker Rachel Hollis. Personally, her books have been very inspiring to me. As someone who has mentally struggled with self-confidence and body image for years, she has presented insights that have allowed me to rethink how I view myself and ways in which I can work to be the best I can be, personally and professionally. 

Alex Hooker: My first female role model is Kelsey Elizabeth. Kelsey runs a pretty well known bakery here in Cleveland, Kelsey Elizabeth Cakes. I have been following and supporting her journey for years. If anyone knows me, they know I love sweets! Kelsey makes the most unique, prettiest and tastiest deserts. Her bakery is one of the few places in Cleveland that makes amazing macarons. One of the reasons I look up to Kelsey is because she started her business from the ground up and has taken all of the challenges in stride. Especially through this last year with Covid, she has been very candid with her followers on how much of a struggle it has been. Another reason I find Kelsey so inspiring is because of her branding. She has the most adorable branding. Everything is pink and fun and she does a great job of bringing this to life with everything she does. The third thing I love about Kelsey, is that she is so creative. For every holiday she releases a special menu that features the most fun and unique deserts, and they usually sell out in minutes. She is one of the most creative people I have ever seen.

My second role model is none other than Shonda Rhimes. If you don’t know who Shonda is, you must have been living under a rock for the last 15 years. She is the creator, head writer, and executive producer of shows like Greys Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, and most recently, Bridgerton. Shonda is an amazing writer and really brings her stories to life in her TV shows. I really love the strong, powerful female characters she develops. I mean, it would be weird to say that I look up to fictional characters like Meredith Grey and Olivia Pope, so instead, I look up to the woman who created them.


How have you been mentored by your managers or bosses to get to where you are today?

Julie Keyes: Honestly, I have not had a ‘boss’ in many years, and the few I’ve had in my life were not notable. I’ve been my own boss (and not always the best boss) for most of my adult life.  However, I will say that my mentor in those early days when I was “trying to decide what I wanted to be” before I owned a business, was Zig Ziglar.  I had numerous cassette tapes (dating myself here) and books of his. I listened in my car nearly every day and read all his books. I attended many of his seminars. He truly was the kind of person who I aspired to become. A motivating, joyful, confident professional who believed you could “get everything in life you want if you help enough other people get what they want”. In other words, what you sow, you reap. I almost went to work for him. The story is that when I was 21, I sent a resume (with not much on it) to his headquarters in Dallas. I got a call for a phone interview (they must have liked my cover letter :). Then they called again a few weeks later (the longest weeks of my life) to set up an in person interview with one of their account exec’s traveling in MN. I had two in person interviews and was offered a job, but I had to move to Dallas. I couldn’t think of leaving my family and friends at that time.  Yet, I knew I was blowing an opportunity, so I tried hard to convince them I was ready to hit the road and sell for the company, but they insisted I learn the ropes for a while in Dallas (and they were so right). This is probably the only thing I regret not doing in my life and it taught me a tough lesson about opportunity. When it knocks, it’s best not to let fear stop you. The ‘way’ and ‘how’ will come with each step, as long as you believe. As Zig used to say, “if you wait for all the lights to turn green you’ll never leave home.”

Kiley Peters: I have had many amazing mentors, both men and women, over the years and I’m incredibly grateful to all of them and each lesson they’ve taught me. A few memorable lessons include “Don’t forget, we’re all replaceable,” “You look young, you have to dress older so you’re taken more seriously,” and “Slow down.” And my mom always taught us to not care what anyone else thought. Which has probably played a larger role in my life than I even realize.

Jayne McQuillan: One of my most influential mentors was an individual by the name of Jack. Jack served on the boards of two companies that I was a part of. From day one, Jack took a vested interest in my success and was an advocate for me within the organizations I worked for. He also encouraged me as I embarked on my consulting practice. He connected me with those individuals that could help me in my professional career and continuously supported me in my endeavors, pushing me to be the best and making sure that I didn’t settle. I owe a lot of my success to him!

Shanda McFadden: I’ve had great mentor/managers throughout my career – both men and women. Notably my first Corporate Manager, who thought it important for me to apply for the Commercial Banking Development Program versus going directly into lending; and the Vice Chair of Commercial Banking who helped me navigate a large corporate firm and Chicago’s Business Community. During that time, I was most impacted by my mentor Leslie Anderson, a phenomenal leader in Chicago’s bustling Business Community. Not only did she help me realize the value of my own life experiences in my work, but she also served as a guide on navigating the world of Commercial Lending as an African American Female.

As I continue to strategically shift my business to Exit Planning, I am fortunate to be mentored by Sharon Oberlander, of the Oberlander Timmerwilke Group at Merrill Lynch. With over 40 years of experience helping Business Owners and their families meet their financial goals, she has been a great resource for me professionally, and for the clients we serve.   

Colleen Kowalski: I worked under an extremely strong woman in my last job. She taught me how to stand up for myself when I was not being taken seriously by other managers in the company. As a young woman working in a large business, mostly dominated by male bosses, I loved having a female mentor in my office. I could lean on her and bounce ideas off her in a judgement free way. She taught me how to stand behind my ideas and for that I will be forever grateful. She also taught me to not diminish who I am and how I feel to make a male coworker feel more comfortable. One of her favorite sayings was: “I’m not bossy, I’m a boss”, and I think about that every time I start to worry that my confidence and determination could come off as “bossy”.

Paige Koerper-Wysocki: Simply put, the lesson was to burn the boats. Completely paraphrasing the story I was told: When Julius Caesar and his armada ventured out to conquer England, they approached the coast and saw the Celtic soldiers lining the Cliffs of Dover. If Caesar and his men were to retreat, they would have to sail back across the channel. Instead, Caesar ordered his men to burn their ships, sending the message to both his men and their enemy that he did not intend to sail away without conquering the land. The burning of the boats signified their unwavering commitment as the only way home was forward. Translated into professional business sense, whatever you are doing, put everything you have into it and do not look back. When you set goals, the only way to achieve them is to commit and push forward, if you have a fall back option, you are not putting everything you have into your goal.

Jocelyn Bires: Coming to work for the Exit Planning Institute in July 2018 was honestly one of the best decisions I could have made as it provided me with bosses who care about my well-being and advancement in my career. Before coming to work at EPI, I was working multiple part time jobs, mostly in the food industry, in order to put myself through my undergraduate and graduate degree programs. In those jobs, I never really had bosses or managers who cared about me; they cared more about themselves and their business. Since coming to EPI, I have been given opportunities I never would have expected, especially since I had no professional work experience. I have been fortunate enough to have bosses at EPI who want the best for me and do whatever is necessary to make sure I am able to be the best I can be. I have had the opportunity to learn on the job, be promoted after only a year, travel, participate in professional and personal development, and be chosen to be a part of a leadership team. I feel very lucky and cannot wait to see what the next few years have in store!

Alex Hooker: Before coming to EPI I had been in the restaurant industry for most of my career and to be completely honest, I never had any real mentorship from any of my former managers or bosses, because, there wasn’t any room to advance. When I came to EPI and began working with the managers I have now, I was shocked by how much they cared not only about my career and the advancement of that career, but me as a person. There are two things that really stood out to me when I first came to EPI. The first was when I was asked where I wanted to take my career. The sky was the limit and I was going to be provided with not only the resources and support, but also the time to make that happen. The second was after I had been here for a few months. I was working a lot of late nights and my boss scheduled a meeting with me where we sat down and analyzed my time and then came up with a plan to tweak things so I wouldn’t have to work so much overtime because work/life balance was important. This was not normal for me and truly stood out and represents what I believe to be who EPI is as a company. In the past I was never given any opportunities like I have been given at EPI, and for that, I am grateful.


How have you acted as a mentor for young women?

Julie Keyes: I recently recorded a podcast for a nonprofit called “Emerging Women” where I tell the story about my professional journey, with all the obstacles, speed bumps and glories. I’ve also done many speaking engagements for women’s organizations whose members are younger. I don’t directly mentor anyone, but it’s on my bucket list and as a new member of the DELL Women Entrepreneur program, I’m sure to get my chance. I have spent many years in the past as a Youth Leader, so even though the girls were teens, I think I helped them along in their life’s journey anyway.

Kiley Peters: It’s a personal goal of mine to support as many women, especially women entrepreneurs, as possible. I am a mentor at the Wisconsin Women’s Business Corporation (WWBIC). I also founded the Brainchild Fund to support women business owners and entrepreneurs in 2020. I run a company that is largely comprised of women and try to find ways to encourage and grow them on a daily basis. And I have taken a few women under my wing and always keep a watchful eye on them, providing them guidance on business and entrepreneurship as they’re working their way through starting their own businesses.

Jayne McQuillan: Recently, I’ve been doing more mentoring of women within the organizations I consult with. This has been very rewarding to help them see their potential, encourage their ambitions, and help them achieve their goals. This is something I wish I would have had early on in my career. I think it’s a great opportunity to give back!

Shanda McFadden: I have always made myself available for coffee/lunch with young women as often as possible to discuss managing work life balance, navigating Corporate America, and the importance of building solid business relationships. I am also very passionate about shrinking the racial wealth gap, and focus a lot of my free time on helping Black Women Owned Businesses increase business value, and convert that value to personal wealth. I would not consider myself a mentor, but like my Mother, I am focused on empowering women, both young and old!


What do you wish someone had told you before you entered the business world?

Julie Keyes: Choose your partners and employees wisely, using values as the foundation. Hire competent, reputable advisers and consult with them often. Know your numbers.

Kiley Peters: Don’t try to find a seat at the table. Build your own. 

Jayne McQuillan: Being a woman in the business world can be very difficult. What I wish someone would have told me before I started my career is that being a professional woman in the business world can be very lonely. As I took on executive roles, my peers were primarily, if not exclusively, men. I’ve had very few peer women in the organizations I’ve been a part of and/or consulted with. I’ve had to chart my course a lot on my own. I wish I would have had more women mentors as part of my journey.    

Shanda McFadden: “Be your authentic self” 

Before entering the business world, I wish I knew that the blending of your business and personal lives did not always spell disaster! During these times, I have built more meaningful connections with clients and colleagues as I’ve been more open to bringing my “whole self” to those interactions. I’ve been intentional about discussing my passions and what drives my work. As a result, I’ve had much more meaningful conversations with clients, especially those starting the process of separating from their life’s work and starting new adventures.

Colleen Kowalski: I wish I knew that a career path does not have to be a straight line. I began my career in the hospitality field managing social media accounts for hotels and restaurants, and now I am a content writer for an Exit Planning education company. I know now that there will be many twists and turns in my life and career, and it is completely normal to work in a variety of industries along your career path.

Paige Koerper-Wysocki: Something I wish someone had told me before I entered the business world is to use your voice. Whether it be to express your opinions and ideas or advocate for yourself and ask for help. Being in a room with people who have far more experience and seniority can feel intimidating, but you are there for a reason. Do not be afraid to speak up, challenge the norm, and break the mold because that is how ideas are born that can take a company from good to great.

Jocelyn Bires: As I had no professional work experience before coming to EPI, I had no idea what to expect when it came to working in an office. One thing I believe that would have been beneficial to know coming into the business world and an office environment is to make sure you don’t let work take over your life.

I tend to be a people pleaser and struggle to say no when someone says they need me to do something. I should also mention, I don’t like asking for help. In all of my previous jobs, I never took work home with me; I worked my shift, did as much as I could, and people could always pick up where I left off. While I may have had stress from work or I may have had a bad day, I never physically took work home with me. Now, there is a constant running to-do list of tasks or projects I could be working on. As such, working late became a common occurrence for me. However, I eventually realized it was cutting into personal time and was affecting my mental health.  I have now made work/life balance one of my top priorities and I do my best to always remember:

(1) No one is perfect. Embrace your mistakes and learn from them.
(2) No one can do it all.  Ask for help when you need it.
(3) Your well-being should always be your top priority.

Alex Hooker: For me, entering the business world was terrifying. I came from restaurants where I had enjoyed what I did. I enjoyed catering to and talking with the customers, getting to know them and their families as they came in to eat every week. I enjoyed the fast pace and the schedule. So when I was considering coming to work for EPI, I was worried that I would hate it. I was worried that it would be slow and monotonous, that I wouldn’t be feel challenged. I had worked evenings for most of my career, and quite frankly, I was not a morning person. So many people told me I would hate it. I wish someone would have told me all of the benefits. I wish someone would have told me to make the leap and try it out sooner, because I love it. I am very structured so for me, having a set schedule, which you never had in the restaurant industry, was a godsend. I get to spend holidays with my family now instead of working. I wish someone would have told me how nice it would be to have PTO and health insurance. I wish someone would have told me about all of the benefits and opportunities instead of how much they hated their office job.

Thank you to all the amazing women in the Exit Planning Institute Community! We hope you have a wonderful International Women’s Day!