IBJ honored 23 accomplished business and community leaders last week during our annual Women of Influence event, which took place at the Indiana Roof Ballroom.
I’ve written here before that this is one of my favorite events because it’s always so inspirational. I say that even though I sometimes wonder how appropriate it is to even do an event that focuses only on women. Then I go and get fired up. I always leave the Women of Influence awards determined to be a better leader and overall person.
I was especially moved this year by words from Mel Raines, president and chief operating officer of Pacers Sports & Entertainment. Raines was a Woman of Influence honoree in 2020 and this year’s keynote speaker.
First, a bit about her. A South Bend native, Raines got into politics working for former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, later serving as assistant for political affairs for Vice President Dick Cheney and chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks of Indiana.
For the Pacers, she has been overseeing the planning and management of a three-year, $360 million renovation of Gainbridge Fieldhouse that included the new Bicentennial Unity Plaza, which opened in August, and is president of the 2024 NBA All-Star Local Organizing Committee.
It’s quite a resume, which is why IBJ Media put Raines on its Indiana 250 list of influential business leaders.
But Raines didn’t inspire just because of the amazing things she’s done and is doing. Instead, it was her humility about her accomplishments and her stories about the journey that led to where she is today that were so moving. It was even just the way she got started.
“I watched videos of some of the incredible women who’ve given this speech before. Then I got super intimidated by that, so I stopped watching those videos,” she said.
That made the entire room laugh—because we’ve all been there. We’ve all taken on an assignment or accepted an invitation or even jumped into a new job and thought: “Oh, wow. What have I done?”
She talked about the time while interning for Coats that she hung up—twice!—on then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. Coats had to have her move from the reception desk to take the call. Later, of course, both men hired her.
Still, she said, her rise in politics wasn’t fast. She was an assistant or a scheduler until she was 30. But by 37, she was in the White House—thanks to hard work, long hours, dedication and a willingness to face fears and rise to challenging situations.
“What is it like to work at the White House?” she said that people ask her regularly. “It is incredible and surreal every day, and it is absolutely terrifying. One minute, you’re a regular person working in a regular job, and the next minute you’re in a motorcade getting on Air Force Two.”
She added: “But in the back of your mind, every time you walk into the West Wing, you wonder … whether you belong.”
I think that kind of insecurity is familiar to most women—and maybe most men, too—even if the situation doesn’t involve the White House. At every step in my career, I’ve wondered whether I was talented enough or smart enough or driven enough to do the job. Hearing someone as accomplished as Mel Raines express similar feelings of self-doubt and then learn how she overcame them is both comforting and encouraging.
Want to be inspired, too? Listen to Raines’ remarks at IBJ.com/videos.•
Weidenbener is editor of IBJ. Reach her at email@example.com.