The Power of Women: Kathleen Shanahan

Written By: Maren Auxier

It is an exciting time to live in the Tampa Bay region as the area continues to improve and offer new experiences for residents and visitors alike. Tampa’s ongoing growth and development also coincide with reinvigorated attention nationwide to women’s rights and empowerment. In this ever-changing landscape, both accomplished and aspiring women throughout our community play a critical role in Tampa’s thriving professional sphere, and their community leadership continues to inspire and facilitate the growth and success that attracts others to Tampa from all over the nation.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with three women whose impressive accomplishments and current roles make them true pillars of the Tampa community. They have graciously shared their insights, experiences, and inspiring initiatives on issues affecting women in the professional world and particularly in the Tampa Bay area.

Kathleen Shanahan for The Junior League of Tampa's 1926 Blog

Kathleen Shanahan is a prominent Tampa businesswoman, as well as a Sustaining member of The Junior League of Tampa. She is Co-CEO of Turtle & Hughes, one of the nation’s largest independent electrical distributors, and she previously served as the Chief of Staff for both Florida Governor Jeb Bush and for Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, as well as Special Assistant to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. Kathleen’s prior service also includes positions as Chair of Florida’s State Board of Education, board member of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART), and board member of Tampa General Hospital.

Greatest Accomplishment

While it is difficult to select one in particular, Kathleen is proud of her ability and success in transferring her skillset from working in politics to business. She was not initially sure that she could accomplish that transition, and she now encourages others to find ways to utilize skills acquired in one’s current roles to create new opportunities.

In her current position, Kathleen appreciates the ability and opportunity to apply her past political experience toward meaningful community impact by actively participating in public policy matters, while also maintaining focus on business development and employee growth as her professional livelihood.

Impacting the Community

During her tenure as Chair of Florida’s State Board of Education, Kathleen was particularly impressed with the commitment and advocacy of women and mothers statewide in their efforts to ensure that their children have access to the best education and resources Florida can offer. “I saw such passion, drive and focus on behalf of their children,” she said. “It was motivating to stay involved.”

Advancing One’s Career

“If you can run a carpool, you can run a business.” Kathleen believes that women in particular often resign themselves to the fallacy that they do not have the requisite skills to tackle a certain job, role or other challenge simply because they may lack prior experience. Rather than dwelling on what a person has not done or accomplished in the past, she recommends focusing on what one has done (such as running a carpool!) and how those skills and experience could be utilized as part of a new opportunity.

Kathleen also advises women to emphasize the importance and value of networking, as well as finding a mentor and being a mentor for others. “Your network inside and outside of your organization can help you.”

The Workplace Environment for Women

Kathleen believes that the recent “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” cultural movements have helped spur improvements in the workplace environment for women. However, the progress has been relatively minimal in many contexts, and there is still significant room for improvement.

Balancing Work and Home

“I really work at it. I [am] a big believer in taking time off, working out, setting down technology and making time to unload,” she said. Kathleen added that she has always has her best ideas when out riding a bike or going for a hike, with a firm belief that clearing one’s head creates space for creativity and new ideas.

Traits of Great Leaders

Kathleen offers three traits of a great leader: a good sense of humor, the ability to work hard, and being a good listener.

Recommended Reading

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin


This post is the first of a three part series The Power of Women: How Three Tampa Leaders are Making a Difference. The article originally appeared in the Fall 2018 edition of The Sandspur.

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