October 26, 2015
2015 Outstanding Women in Business

2015 Outstanding Women In Business: Roberta Brien, Worcester Business Development Corp.

Matt Volpini
Roberta Brien Vice President of Projects Worcester Business Development Corp.

VIEW: 2015 Outstanding Women In Business: Roberta Brien, Worcester Business Development Corp.

Roberta Brien is vice president of projects for the Worcester Business Development Corp., an organization designed to promote the city as an economic leader in Massachusetts. She started with WBDC as a project manager 11 years ago, bringing to fruition one of the most complicated projects in its history: 20 Franklin St. in Worcester.

"No matter what the project, she is an out-of-the-box thinker, a problem-solver," said Ed Augustus, city manager of Worcester. "Where other people get bogged down by what can't work, she quickly moves onto what can work."

Brien is a graduate of Westfield State University, and after obtaining her degree in regional planning, started working as a transportation planner for the Southeast Regional Planning and Economic Development District, then as a commercial real estate broker, and then for the Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management & Maintenance. While working on the Grafton State Hospital public land disposition, Brien began her working relationship with WBDC. Known for her strategic thinking, problem-solving and strong leadership by example, Brien has been a driving force in developing the CenTech Park in Shrewsbury, the Hanover Theatre in Worcester, and the 20 Franklin St. project for Quinsigamond Community College.

"She is a consummate professional," Augustus said. "Whatever project she takes on, she doesn't do halfway."

In addition to her role at WBDC, Brien is the chair of the Paxton Zoning Board of Appeals and serves on the Hanover Theatre Development Committee, the Worcester Business Resource Alliance, the YWCA, and the Venture Forum. She lives in Paxton with her husband, Paul, and her children Quinton, 9, and Madelyn, 8.

Who is your most influential role model?

My parents certainly provided me with my morals and taught me not only to question things, but how to question things. I remember many times early on in my career when I was overly suspicious and easily offended, tending to think I was being taken advantage of either because of age or gender. My father taught me that it is better to surprise someone with your knowledge rather than intimidate them with your temper, and my mother taught me to be gracious in my words and actions no matter the outcome.

What has helped you achieve success in your career?

I have been successful because of relationships with incredibly hard-working people. WBDC is composed of a team of people who work very well together to accomplish some very heady goals. Throughout my years in Worcester, I have been fortunate to work with and for people very dedicated to making Worcester a great place. Success takes many forms, but it also takes many hands. Worcester is successful because of great teams of people.

What is your primary motivation?

I am motivated by the power of an idea. When I hear someone speaking with passion about creating change, or starting a new business, or growing a company, I can easily get swept up in the excitement. Helping out a cause, finding a solution to a problem, making something better — those things keep me motivated.

What role have you played in your organization's efforts to give back to the community?

WBDC is a very civic-minded organization. Our work provides opportunities for jobs and revenue for both individuals and communities. On an individual basis, the employees at WBDC freely contribute time during as well as beyond the workday. Giving back and investing with personal effort where we work are a part of our mission. Personally, I like to volunteer for organizations that create change in people's lives, such as the YWCA and the Worcester Community Action Council. I also volunteer in my hometown of Paxton on the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Town Hall Renovation Committee, and at my children's school in Princeton. I am an avid supporter of raising funds for cancer research and over many years have volunteered my time to further that cause.

When the stress level gets too high, how do you ease the pressure?

I create a huge to-do list! When things get a little crazy, I create a to-do list and organize the issues into "life threatening and non-life threatening." Being able to organize the chaos into a list helps give me perspective, and crossing a few things off the list makes it easier to keep going. It's also helpful to step back and look at the things that matter: I am healthy, my family is healthy and I have a great job. Once I think about the importance of the items on the list, it's easier to regain some control.

How have you tried to balance your career and your personal life?

I am so fortunate to work in a very family-friendly environment and live in a work-friendly home. I have learned the importance of talking about my job with my kids so that they know what I do and why. I have also learned the importance of prioritizing. I make sure I get to the important events for the kids and explain to them why I have to go to work early or stay late. Fortunately, they love to go to the office, so I can often squeeze in an extra hour or two with them.

I have the added benefit of being married to a man who doesn't separate "his" work and "her" work. He bears the burden of all duties, including renovating our 300-year-old home. I couldn't do it without him, and most times he does it all without me.

Meet the rest of the 2015 Outstanding Women in Business

Linda Cavaioli, executive director, YWCA of Central Massachusetts

Susan Gunnell, executive vice president & COO, Southbridge Savings Bank

Susan Lawrence, co-owner, Pepper's Fine Catering

Naureen Meraj, senior global director, NTT Data

Joyce A. Murphy, executive vice chancellor and chief executive, Commonwealth Medicine

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