Merchant, Hughes among 30 top businesswomen honored by PBN

Updated at 11 a.m. on May 26.

CHERYL MERCHANT, CEO of Taco Comfort Solutions, delivers her acceptance speech after receiving the 2022 Career Achiever award in the Providence Business News' 2022 Business Women Awards program. / PBN PHOTO/MIKE SKORSKI
CHERYL MERCHANT, CEO of Taco Comfort Solutions, delivers her acceptance speech after receiving the 2022 Career Achiever award in the Providence Business News' 2022 Business Women Awards program. / PBN PHOTO/MIKE SKORSKI

PROVIDENCE – Taco Comfort Solutions CEO Cheryl Merchant, the Career Achievement winner in Providence Business News’ 2022 Business Women Awards program, said Wednesday she does not focus on her own success.

Merchant, who worked in multiple industries and several career roles before in 2020 becoming head of the Cranston-based HVAC manufacturer, said she works on “everybody on her team,” and pushes for them to shine in their roles within the company.

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“I want them to achieve their greatness,” Merchant said. “I want them to feel good every single day, and feel successful.”

Tami Hughes, senior associate for DBVW Architects Inc. and the 2022 Outstanding Mentor, spoke about her 14 years with the ACE Mentor Program, which exposes high school students to architecture, construction and engineering. With many students in the program part of underrepresented communities and 30% of them women, Hughes said she’s “passionate” about addressing and correcting systemic issues regarding diversity and equity in the industry.

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“I believe this is one way to break the barriers by providing access to the industry insight, technical skills and college scholarships to … students that may not have the ability to do so easily,” she said.

Merchant and Hughes were among 30 honorees – 18 industry leaders and women to watch, and 12 achievement honorees – recognized in a lunchtime ceremony at the Providence Marriott Downtown as leading women in various business, government and nonprofit sectors. The honorees will also be profiled in a special section that will be published as part of PBN’s May 27-June 9 print edition.

In addition to Merchant and Hughes, the other 2022 PBN Business Women award winners are:

Creative Services Industry Leader

Jennifer Canole, Trinity Repertory Company interim executive director and director of development

Creative Services Woman to Watch

Kimberly Fraser, International Game Technology PLC senior manager of global communications

Education Services Industry Leader

Katharine Hazard Flynn, University of Rhode Island Business Engagement Center and URI Foundation and Alumni Engagement Office of Corporate and Foundation Relations executive director

Education Services Woman to Watch

Christy Ashley, University of Rhode Island College of Business associate dean and professor of marketing

Financial Services Industry Leader

Terri Monjar, Bank of America Corp. senior relationship manager

Financial Services Woman to Watch

Julie Hencler, Falvey Insurance Group corporate controller

Government/Quasi-Government Industry Leader

Kara Lachapelle, R.I. Housing and Mortgage Finance Corp. chief financial officer

Government/Quasi-Government Woman to Watch

Chelsey Dumas Gibbs, North Kingstown recreation director

Health Care Services Industry Leader

Mary Marran, Butler Hospital president and chief operating officer

Health Care Services Woman to Watch

Christina Pitney, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island senior vice president of government programs

Professional Services Industry Leader

Theresa D’Orsi, Starkweather & Shepley Insurance Brokerage Inc. senior vice president

Professional Services Woman to Watch

Suzanne Morrow, InsureMyTrip senior vice president

Social Services/Nonprofit Industry Leader

Katje Afonseca, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rhode Island CEO

Social Services/Nonprofit Woman to Watch

Amy Chaunt, Boys & Girls Clubs of Pawtucket director of development and communications

Technical Services Industry Leader

Patricia Eno, Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport department head of sensors and sonar systems

Technical Services Woman to Watch

Nishita Roy-Pope, Tribe Academy founder

The 2022 Achievement Honorees are (listed alphabetically):

  • Kris Bradner, Traverse Landscape Architects LLC principal
  • Phyllis Cannava, Office Direct Cannava Design Ltd. president
  • Angela Craig, former Admiral Fitzroy Inn innkeeper
  • Jan Faust Dane, Stock Culinary Goods owner
  • Jessica Kennedy, Beeline Loans Inc. cofounder and chief operating officer
  • Clare King, Propel LLC founder and owner
  • Kathleen Moren, Healthy Babies, Happy Moms Inc. president
  • Diep Nguyen, Elite Title & Closing Services LLC managing member
  • Harmony Oschefski, The Bodhi Spa LLC co-owner
  • Kimberly Pucci, Kimberly Pucci LLC owner and creative director
  • Manya Rubinstein, Industrious Spirit Co. CEO
  • Valerie Southern, Valerie J. Southern Transportation Consultant LLC owner

Amgen Rhode Island and Starkweather & Shepley Insurance Brokerage Inc. were the partner sponsors for PBN’s 2022 Business Women Awards program.

(Update: An earlier version of this story indicated that Valerie Southern is retired. At the time of the posting of this article, she has not retired.)

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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