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Successful marketing executive to speak at Biennial Conference

It was one hell of a hamburger--a $34 million hamburger to be exact.

Christine Clifford Beckwith tells the story about landing a $34 million contract in her most recent book, "You, Inc.: The Art of Selling Yourself." She will speak May 8 at the 2008 Biennial Conference for Women at the Krannert Center for Performing Arts in Urbana.

When Beckwith was working at SPAR Marketing Services, an international merchandising and information services firm in Minneapolis, her company was bidding to become one of two companies to provide Proctor & Gamble with exclusive retail support.

Two executives flew into Minneapolis at the end of 1993, and it was Beckwith's job to wow them. She had made reservations at a fancy restaurant to take them to lunch.

"When I picked them up at the airport, I asked them where they wanted to go to lunch," she said.

In fact, she said, "Where would you love to eat?"

One of them had been to Minneapolis before and remembered a delicious hamburger he tried at a small deli, but he couldn't remember the name of the deli. Beckwith just happened to know what he was talking about and took them to the Lincoln Deli in St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis, where one of them ordered a special hamburger with pimentos and melted cheese.

"What I really felt like I did was listened to what they really wanted," Beckwith said.

The burger helped land her the $34 million contract to take her company from a million dollar per year loss to more than $54 million in sales.

She said she was a bit lucky, but that "luck is defined as when preparation meets opportunity."

After landing the Proctor & Gamble contract, Beckwith was working hard to keep the client happy, traveling so much that she spent 257 nights of 1994 in hotel rooms. By the end of the year, she was exhausted. In December 1994, at age 40, Beckwith was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her mother had died at age 42 of breast cancer.

For her, the diagnosis was a turning point.

"My cancer is such a gift to me because it threw the treadmill that I was on to such a screeching halt," she said.

She started thinking about spending more time with her young children and her own dreams. Since a young age, she had always dreamed of becoming an author.

"I truly never thought that I knew enough about any single subject to write a book about it," she said.

After surgery and during chemotherapy treatments, Beckwith sat down one night and starting making sketches about different humorous and strange experiences that had occurred while she was fighting cancer.

The next day she went to the public library and Barnes and Noble and asked for help finding all of the humorous books on cancer.

"One of the clerks said, 'Humorous books about cancer. You're sick,'" Beckwith said, finding it ironic that she truly was sick, although the clerk didn't realize that.

She did find one at the library, "I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Grow Up, I Want to Go to Boise," a paperback by Erma Bombeck about children surviving cancer.

So Beckwith decided to write her own book, "Not Now. I'm Having a No Hair Day" about her cancer experience and to create the inspirational Web site for people with cancer,

She stopped to think one day and realized she was living her dream.

"I often think if I hadn't got cancer, I would still be at SPAR," she said. She said maybe she would have worked herself into a heart attack.

She will talk about her life experiences in a poignant lecture, "The Blessings of Misfortune: Learn to Spin Straw into Gold" during the 2008 Biennial Conference for Women in Urbana. The presentation embraces laughter, positive thinking, exercise and inspiration as ways for people to live with adversity. She stresses the importance of laughter as therapy.

Beckwith will speak May 8 at the 2008 Biennial Conference for Women at the Krannert Center for Performing Arts in Urbana.

To register for the conference, visit or call (217) 333-8342.

Jane Hays wins Athena Award

Recipient recognized for service,
career in estate planning

By Don Dodson, The News-Gazette

CHAMPAIGN -- Jane Hays was 38 and a managing partner with the Champaign law firm of Thomas, Mamer & Haughey when she was given a chance to change careers.

David Downey, whose business provides life insurance services to high-worth individuals and firms, suggested she join his firm and help with succession planning for clients.

"I was not at all looking to move or change careers," Hays said.

But Downey was persuasive, hinting his firm could use succession planning of its own. According to Hays, clients had told him, "When I'm gone, you may be gone. Who's there for the kids?"

Hays didn't know Downey well. She had worked with him on estate planning cases, and like most of the community, knew of his stellar accomplishments as a University of Illinois basketball player. (He still holds the UI's single-game scoring record of 53 points.)

"I did some research and quickly found he was nationally known as one of the iconic life insurance experts," Hays said.

Hays knew if she left the law firm, there would be no easy way to come back to the job she had and keep her major client, the State Universities Retirement System. Should she stay or go?

"What's the worst that could happen? I could go back and practice law," she said.

And the best? "I'd have a wonderful new challenge, but in a different industry."

Fourteen years later, Hays is managing director of The Downey Group. That achievement and her civic activities--ranging from the University of Illinois Alumni Association to the United Way of Champaign County--earned her the 20th annual Athena Award, which she accepted at a luncheon in February.

The award, sponsored by the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce and Worden-Martin, is given annually to someone who excels professionally, devotes time to the community and encourages women to become leaders.

Nominator Donna Greene, who won the Athena Award last year, said Hays expressed confidence in her when Greene was unsure of her capabilities.

"Her inspiration has allowed me to reach further than I ever thought I could," said Greene, president and CEO of Busey Wealth Management.

Lyn Jones, president and CEO of the United Way of Champaign County and the 2001 Athena winner, said Hays was a role model for her.

Hays helped organize a working mothers' special interest group.

"It was nothing short of inspirational to learn that even Jane found herself at loose ends just like the rest of us in the group," Jones said in her nominating letter.

At the Downey Group, Hays' roles include marketing, compliance and client service at the high-end insurance advisory firm.

As a life insurance producer, Hays calls on law firms and other clients, listens to their needs and tries to solve their problems. As an attorney, she deals with regulations that govern variable life insurance.

Hays grew up in Champaign, the daughter of Dr. Edward Hays, a Carle Clinic doctor, and Mary Hays, a one-time nurse who became a stay-at-home mom. But Jane Hays didn't consider a career in health care.

"I'm too squeamish," she said.

Upon graduating from University High School in Urbana at age 16, she enrolled in the University of Illinois and in 1976 received a bachelor's degree in English literature, with a minor in history.

"When I began to think about law school, I realized you couldn't make much of a living in Champaign-Urbana majoring in Dickens and Shakespeare," she said.

Hays said her first-semester law professor, John Cribbet, is "responsible for my entire career." Cribbet told Champaign attorney Stuart Mamer about Hays, and Mamer invited her to become a law clerk with his firm.

Hays received her law degree from the U of I in 1979.

"It was the beginning of a real increase of women in law," she said, noting her era produced the likes of Ann Einhorn, Heidi Ladd, Traci Nally, Holly Jordan and Gina Haasis.

"I definitely did not feel the discrimination and mistreatment that the previous generation felt," she said. "In some ways, I thought it was an asset to be a woman. If you did a good job, you would be noticed."

This year Hays is United Way board president and in 2006 she was campaign co-chair. Last fall she joined the board of the Carle Foundation.

"I'm pretty loyal to Carle because my dad is one of my heroes," she said.

Hays has also been a past president of the Champaign County Freedom Celebration, a former member of the Champaign Public Library board of directors and a past member of the UI Alumni Association board of trustees.

"I'm about as orange and blue as you can get," she said.

In 1994, Hays was appointed by former Gov. Jim Edgar to the State Universities Retirement System board of trustees and served until 2004.

Hays has three children.

She said her primary goals relate to her role as a mother.

"I want my kids to grow up to be productive, happy people," she said.

Business in the news

Champaign & Springfield form combined American Advertising Federation of Central Illinois

HIPE!, the Ad Club of Champaign-Urbana and the Central Illinois Advertising Association of Springfield have merged to form the American Advertising Federation of Central Illinois (AAFCI).

"We think the larger membership base will only give advertising in our region greater exposure and allow us more extensive networking opportunities with advertising peers from across the region," said Jeremy Viscomi, president of AAFCI and director of client services at G.M.Anderson Advertising in Springfield.

Deal ending writers strike scores victory for unions

By Jan Dennis, business & law editor,
The U. of I. News Bureau

CHAMPAIGN - The deal that ended the three-month strike by Hollywood writers is a rare victory for unions because it gives workers a financial stake in new technology, a University of Illinois labor expert says.

"Advances in technology frequently harm employees by devaluing their work," said Michael LeRoy, a professor in the university's Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations. "Many unions have lost out when employers exploited a new technology, but in this case the writers union used the Internet to its advantage."

Members of the Writers Guild of America approved a three-year agreement that gives the union a piece of revenues when television shows and movies are streamed or downloaded over the Internet.

How to divide digital revenues was a key issue when 10,000 writers walked out Nov. 5 in a dispute with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.