Years of leadership, community involvement and a persistent entrepreneurial spirit have earned Mary Catherine Van Bortel the 2011 Athena Award.
Van Bortel, president of Van Bortel Ford, Van Bortel Subaru and Van Bortel Used Car Center, was honored Thursday at a luncheon at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center.
“I don’t feel I deserve this but I’m really glad to have it,” said Van Bortel with a laugh, while accepting the award.
Sponsored by the Women’s Council of the Rochester Business Alliance Inc., the Athena Award recognizes women of achievement for their professional excellence, community service and for actively assisting women in their attainment of professional excellence and leadership skills.
For this year’s award, 18 women were chosen as finalists. They came from a mix of backgrounds including business, education and medicine. The event, which placed the spotlight on this year’s finalists and past recipients, also marked the 25th anniversary of the Athena Award in Rochester.
Van Bortel, known as Kitty, has grown her business over more than two decades from just one used vehicle to roughly 200 employees and nearly $110 million in gross sales, annually ranking among the area’s top woman-owned businesses and the top auto dealers.
She began her automotive career in 1975, working as a salesperson for area dealerships, before starting her own in 1985. Van Bortel sold used cars until she was granted the Subaru of America Inc. franchise in the early 1990s.
Van Bortel’s grit and determination to be a successful, thriving business helped make a mark for the dealership. Her community leadership reaches across organizations. Van Bortel is chairwoman of WXXI Speaking of Women’s Health, as well as marketing chairwoman of the Harley School. She also serves as honorary chairwoman of the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester’s Artrageous Affair fundraiser.
In her acceptance speech Van Bortel reminded the audience that the onus to move ahead to achieve “authentic success” lies with each individual.
In addition to saluting the 2011 Athena Award recipient, the Women’s Council this year recognized founding sponsor Susan Holliday with an Honorary Athena Award. Holliday is president and publisher of the Rochester Business Journal. She was honored for her support of the Athena program and for her community leadership.
Holliday serves on the board of directors of Financial Institutions Inc., and is a member of the executive committees of the boards of trustees of the University of Rochester Medical Center and Rochester Institute of Technology.
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