Gail Iwaniak

Gail Iwaniak, President and Chief Stuffologist at Presence Incorporated
Gail Iwaniak, President and Chief Stuffologist at Presence Incorporated

I was born in Buffalo, NY on April 20, 1955. I come from a strict Polish-Catholic family. I went to an all girls Catholic high school and graduated with straight As as a junior.

At the age of 17, I left for Spalding College (in Louisville). I received scholarships and was on work study. I graduated cum laude in chemistry in 1976 and began working for Brown & Williamson. I never smoked or even liked smoking, so I left B&W after a few years and went to work for Bechtel Engineering where I tested the "crud" coming off scrubbers at one of the LG&E plants. After my tires got slashed during a union strike, I decided a new career was in my future.

In 1977, I got married and had the option of not working. That was definitely not for me. I went back to school and got my master's in Human Resource Management, and in 1983 was hired by LG&E. I had several HR positions there until I left in 1987 to work as the Professional Personnel Administrator for Wyatt, Tarrant and Combs Law Firm.

In 1988, my 11-year marriage ended, and in 1989, I decided to leave the corporate world, take the plunge and start my own corporate gift business. On November 1, 1989, Traditional Expressions began. I put my house up as collateral, got the word out to all my contacts, and off I went.

On December 31, 1990, I married my second husband. He was a divorced father with custody of two young sons. I became an instant "mom."

Six months into the marriage, my husband had a falling out with his business partner (they co-owned a restaurant), and the court battles lasted five years. During that time, my husband wasn't working, so I took a part-time job while trying to keep my business going.

In 1992, I decided it was time to move the business out of the house. That also meant that the part-time job had to go, and my husband had to commit to working with me until he found something else.

I applied for a Metco loan. I had a bank that would back me but the Metco loan committee denied my request. I asked to address the committee, and they said that was not usually done. After much persistence, they agreed to meet with me. Well, they granted me the loan and the business moved to Barret Avenue. Between then and now, the name of the business was changed to Presence Incorporated, I added promotional products, bought into a franchise to have more clout with vendors, and moved the company back into my home.

In July of this year, we moved my 80-year-old mother in with us. She is on oxygen and needs moderate care. When I'm not working, tending to my mother, husband or dogs, I love to roller blade (and dance) to fast music, work outside in the yard and read new age books.