BABE #296: TONI BOUDREAUX-GODWIN, Director, St. John’s County Chamber of Commerce
Toni is the director of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce in Ponte Vedra, FL where she’s responsible for helping strengthen the economy through advocating for small businesses. With a jam-packed schedule of meetings, ribbon cuttings, luncheons, and event planning, her work hours oftentimes start early and end late, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. Toni thrives on helping others succeed and watching her community grow. She loves where she lives and is grateful to have a job that allows her to share this love with others — and we can't think of a more fulfilling career than that.
Hometown: Austin, Texas
Current city: Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
Alma mater: University of North Florida
Degree: B.A., Communications; Master’s, Public Administration (MPA)
Very first job: Ladies dress shop
Hustle: Director, St. John’s County Chamber of Commerce - PVB; Gallery Assistant, Stellers Gallery
Babe you admire and why?
I think it's what I admire in babes—I would be doing a disservice to so many ladies who have made major impact in my life to simply name one. There are certain traits and characteristics of ladies I interact with on a daily basis. We have inspirational women all around us. When we take a moment to listen and be present around women who can impact us is really where the lessons are learned.
How do you spend your free time?
On the beach, trying new recipes, spending quality time with my husband or grabbing dinner with my girlfriends.
Current power anthem?
"Express Yourself," by Madonna. So classic.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Literally anything on the menu from this little Italian restaurant in Carmel, called Porta Bella. My husband took me there the night before we got married.
What’s something you want to learn or master?
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
I wish I could bring my grandparents back for this—together, how they were in the 50s. That would be priceless. They were so worldly, savvy and fabulously fashionable.
Tell us about your hustle.
When people say their days are different every day, I can relate. I run a Chamber office, so people are in and out everyday learning about the area, wanting to relocate, here for treatment at Mayo, needing resources, planning their wedding—you name it. We’re responsible for helping to strengthen the economy here in Ponte Vedra, through advocating for small businesses while ensuring the residents stay receptive and supportive to the decisions we are making. They are a lot of people to consider when running this office. I have a board to answer too, as well. I’m also charged with facilitating the fifth largest auto show in the state state, as the major fundraiser for the chamber. I also write grants for support. When you sit back and write it out, it can be daunting—to say the least.
What does your typical workday look like?
There is absolutely no typical day. My calendar is comical to my friends and family. They look at it and cannot understand how I can possibly fit in all in. Meetings on public policy, ribbon-cuttings, board meetings, luncheons, before hours, after hours, event planning, meeting with new members, new residents to the area. The list is very long.
How did you get involved with the Chamber of Commerce?
I started in Leadership St. Johns, which is a year-long leadership program that connects and develops leaders to facilitate the success of our local economy in St. Johns County, while confronting the opportunities and challenges facing the county. I also served on the division board for the Chamber before coming on the division director. I am given goals, and it's my nature to not just meet them, but exceed them. I don’t settle for meeting goals—I have to crush them. Sometimes I have to take a step back (or my senior coordinator tells me to take a step back) and just relax a little.
What’s your approach to fostering and maintaining relationships professionally and personally?
It's necessary for me in my life to make sure I’m continuously cultivating healthy relationships with the people around me, whether it’s my girlfriends, mentors, my life coach or, most of all, my husband. I’m a communicator, so keeping tabs and having my people keep tabs is a must. After every visit I make sure we get another date on the calendar. If we have to cancel as it gets closer, we make sure to get another date scheduled. It helps to make sure we don’t lose touch with what’s happening in each others’ lives. It's easy to do.
How have your past professional and academic experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
Real life does not typically rely heavily on memorization, whereas college does. Real life demands critical-thinking, problem-solving, collaboration and creativity. That’s one of the reasons I’m on the Speakers Bureau at UNF. Bringing in experienced professionals and/or recent graduates to speak to and mentor students helps by giving students access to real people working in their desired field. Something else I‘ve learned is that a good reference is gold, and having mentors throughout all stages of my academic and professional careers has been priceless. A mentor maximizes your professional development in more ways than you ever imagined.
What’s been your biggest career milestone?
Being recognized at one of the St. Augustine inaugural 40 Under Forty awards was pretty special. Being surrounded by such a fantastic group of young professionals was truly inspiring. However, the highlight was definitely receiving one of the eight top awards which was a totally surprise. Being chosen as the “most charitable young professional of the year” for SJC was, by far, the icing on the cake.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
I think we can all agree that 2018 was big year for us. Our collective awakening reminded us what it means to be female and why we should be proud of it. When we work together to uplift, empower and support one another, it can be electric. We become better leaders, lovers, teachers, mentors—you name it. Being a woman in my career has not been an obstacle for me. As a nonprofit, the pay (regardless of gender) is not amazing, but there are equal opportunities for growth, which is plus. I chat with my husband about this often. He tells me the women in his field (insurance) do more business than men, because typically women are more trustworthy—therefore, people feel comfortable buying from a women. However, men are still holding 62 percent of manager positions to women’s 38 percent—and don’t get me started on the wage gap. That has to change with a quickness. We can do our part by voting, encouraging others to participate, evaluating where you work, advocating and talking with other women—especially our daughters.
What would you say is your biggest strength in your role?
It's important for me to be a leader and to make sure everyone has opportunities where they can feel they are making a meaningful impact, therefore contributing to the overall goal and mission of the organization. Empowering people is a key ingredient to the success of any business. I need to learn to say no when it comes to adding things to my life plate. I have the hardest time with those two little letters.
Beyond your job, how else are you involved in your community?
I dedicate a lot of my personal time contributing my leadership skills for the Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach. I was named the Rotarian of the Year by the club. My volunteer work includes The Salvation Army, Big Brothers Big Sisters, K9s for Warriors, Beaches Habitat for Humanity, Operation New Uniform, Wounded Paw Project and Wounded Warrior Project. I am also a member of the University of North Florida Speakers Bureau and serve on the advisory board for the University of North Florida Communications Department.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
There are so many ladies I interact with on a day-to-day basis who are boss ladies to the tenth degree. A few of them include: my lovely friend who owns Stellers Gallery in Ponte Vedra, Hillary (Schneider) Whitaker; one of my mentors, Michele McManamon, who is the executive director at Operation New Uniform; and I cannot forget my yogi friend Ashley Hanna, the founder and owner of Titanium Yoga. These are just a few of the ladies who inspire me to be a little extra amazing every day.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Go easy on yourself; the world is hard enough on us as it is. I just read something that said “finding your passion” is terrible advice. It kind of got me thinking—and, you know what? It is. Your passion is something you have to develop over time. Most of us aren’t great at anything the first time we try it. We have to work at it. Don’t sleep with your makeup on, and eat your veggies. Mom was right.
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