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Focus on outstanding women in business

Outstanding Women in Business 2018: Sharry creates a fun, inclusive business community

October 29, 2018
Kate Sharry, president of Group Benefits Strategies in Auburn

What makes Kate Sharry – owner of Auburn business consulting firm Group Benefits Strategies and chairwoman of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce – a powerful leader? Her friend Kate McEvoy has an anecdote that helps sum it up.

McEvoy, the vice president for Central and Western Massachusetts for insurer Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, attended the chamber's Women's Leadership Conference with Sharry earlier this year.

"She bought us T-shirts that said 'You can sit with us,'" McEvoy said.

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For women in early stages of their careers, McEvoy said, that invitation provides a needed sense of welcome.

"You go to these networking things, and you don't know anyone, and you're very intimidated," she said.

McEvoy said it's part of the way that Sharry's friendly personality is an asset both in her day job and in her work promoting economic development.

"She's one of the funniest people I know," McEvoy said. "She is absolutely hilarious."

Sharry – who has served on the Worcester Business Development Corp., Worcester Homeless Youth Task Force and Planting the Seed Foundation, and is involved in local politics – is following in the footsteps of her father, Jack Sharry. He founded Group Benefit Strategies, which she bought from him in 2012, and he was a politically engaged civic leader. Sharry has been grateful for his assistance, first as her boss, then as her employee, and even now in his retirement as a trusted adviser.

But Sharry said one lesson she's learned as a business owner and local leader is to embrace her own way of interacting with colleagues and clients.

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"It's part of how I've build my confidence – just be myself, not take myself too seriously," Sharry said. "I used to try to act like my father, or act like other business leaders I've seen."

Sharry said she sees women taking bigger roles in Worcester's business community, and she sees more men taking women's ability to lead for granted.

"I feel respected and valued by a lot of the men in our business community,' she said. "I see a lot of town or city managers come on board – it just seems to be less of a challenge with them."

As an insurance consulting firm, GBS works mainly for municipal clients, helping cities and towns to find insurance for their employees and retirees. It's tough work, sometimes involving negotiations with multiple unions representing different groups of city workers.

"You have to factor all of these into whatever kind of strategic solution I'm trying to offer," she said. "I like being able to go in and have, really, sometimes very tough conversations about benefits. Health insurance is so personal to so many people."

Sharry said holding a leadership role with the chamber and being involved in business development is especially rewarding to her since she grew up in Worcester and still lives in Paxton. The first concert she ever went to was a Cyndi Lauper show at the Centrum – now the DCU Center – and she's seen the region change around her.

"I'm so thrilled with the direction that the city is going," she said. "I'm honored to be a part of that."

For McEvoy, who grew up in Worcester, Sharry's understanding of the community is key to her success.

"There's something about coming from here that makes it really unique," McEvoy said.

Going forward, Sharry plans to continue working for the local business and civic community, and supporting the success of women and girls in particular.

"She's incredibly committed to focusing on boosting up other women, supporting people in pathways to leadership," McEvoy said. "Always when you call her and say 'Look, I'm working on this, can you help?' She's a very ready and willing partner, and always over-delivers."

Read more about the 2018 Outstanding Women in Business:

Kate Sharry, president of Group Benefits Strategies

Carla McCall, CPA, CGMA, co-managing partner of AAFCPAs

Laurie Masiello, president of Masy Bioservices

Jennifer Luisa, vice president of marketing and communications at The Hanover Insurance Group

Marianne Lancaster, president of Lancaster Packaging Inc.

Sandra Brock, PE, vice president and chief engineer at Nitsch Engineering

Read about this year's judges

Read about the nine previous years of Outstanding Women in Business award winners:

2017 alumnae

2016 alumnae

2015 alumnae

2014 alumnae

2013 alumnae

2012 alumnae

2011 alumnae

2010 alumnae

2009 alumnae

Check out a column from this year's Innovative Business Leader of the Year on the importance of women business leaders in the Central Mass. community

Successful women shape our community