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Women Bisnow
February 28, 2008

Scout Leader

This issue of Washington Women is presented by
Reznick Group:
"Building Business Value"


By Karin Tanabe for Bisnow on Business

"For 39 years I've been working on the same mission," says Jan Verhage, head of this region's Girl Scout Council, "improving the odds for girls and helping them become the best they can be." Those odds have soared since Jan took the helm in 1985, after working with Girl Scouts in LA, Chicago, and Boston (and earning a business degree along the way). On her watch, the number of scouts and troop leaders here has doubled to 80,000, partly due to growth in the African-American population, where Girl Scouts have a time-honored tradition, as well as in the Hispanic population. Thirty percent of the girls come from low-income families, with the organization taking a need-blind approach to membership. "My board congratulates me when I overspend our financial aid budget," says Jan.


Don't be fooled by those innocent (and adorable) faces. These entrepreneurial girls and their compatriots sold 4,103,700 boxes of cookies in 2007, more than any other metropolitan region. Nabisco beware.


They may be selling cookies today, but Washington's Girl Scouts may one day run Fortune 500 companies. At their "Camp CEO," high school girls spend a week gleaning wisdom from female business luminaries. A minimum CEO stay of 36 hours is required, with 30 women rotating throughout the week. Sleeping bags replace Egyptian cotton sheets and s'mores stand in for canapés as each morning the women and Girl Scouts join for "Dreaming Your Future" sessions to share their stories. Past CEO participants include Cardinal Bank's Kate Carr, L & L Consulting's Marie Johns, Marriott's Kathleen Matthews, and Pat McGuire of Trinity University. Now 10 years old, Camp CEO has spawned an active advisory board of Washington female power players who open their homes for dine-arounds and offer internships to bolster the "old girls" network.


Jan was pictured in the Girl Scout calendar of 1959. She began working for the Girl Scouts straight out of college, and says the female pioneering spirit has always been with her. Not surprising for the fifth-generation Californian whose great-great-great grandmother crossed the plains in a covered wagon.


Is that scout ringing your doorbell a future Marie Curie? "We've been putting the emphasis on math and science since the American Association of University Women issued reports on the gap between boys and girls. We've done programs in statistics and physics that were standing room only," says Jan. "We help girls gain self-confidence. The gap had nothing to do with a girl's capacity to learn but with her confidence, her fear to raise her hand."


Booz Allen has worked with Girl Scouts on business programs, Capital One ran a program on financial literacy, and Marriott is helping create the next generation of "hospitality hotshots."


When Jan finished her business degree, she sat down with a friend whose annual bonus was equal to her annual salary, to discuss her future. "We agreed that if I was going to make a change it would be at this point in my life." Jan chose to stay in the non-profit sector. "The reality is, I go home happy every day and I know that what I do makes an impact for kids. How many people are that lucky?"

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