Pam Sherman

photo by Brandon Vick

photo by Brandon Vick

by Sue Tomchin

In 2011, Pam Sherman was invited to speak to business leaders in Lebanon, Oman and Saudi Arabia. The prospect of traveling to the Arab world might have made most Jewish women hesitate (and certainly made her mother anxious), but not Sherman. 

As the founder of Business Advantage, she has brought her EDGE™ Leadership, Communications and Business Development Programs around the world, coaching leaders – many of them women – to share their story and their vision in a way that ignites passion for their mission. A compelling conference keynoter, Sherman also develops group and individual communications programs for organizations and companies.

Growing up on Staten Island, the daughter of an OB-Gyn father and psychotherapist mother, Sherman, 55, dreamed of becoming an actor. “In my family being an actor was akin to being an ax murderer so I went to law school instead,” she says laughing. Graduating from American University and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, she worked at a law firm in Washington, D.C., but acted part-time, running “from auditions to depositions.” 

When her firm closed, she returned full-time to acting, and performed in theater, film, and television, including NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Streets and in the play Shear Madness at the Kennedy Center. People magazine even wrote about her unconventional career leap. Sherman branched into playwriting, collaborating on Pumping Josey: Life and Death in Suburbia, a one-woman show in which she played 10 women whose bravery inspired her, including Jewish hero Hannah Senesh and friend Randi Waxman, an attorney, professor and philanthropist who died prematurely. (Sherman will return to the stage in 2018 in a one-woman show about another of her heroes, columnist Erma Bombeck.)

Fifteen years ago, Sherman’s husband, Neal, decided to relocate their restaurant facilities and equipment business to Rochester, N.Y. “I was very cranky about moving to suburban upstate New York, thinking I had left the center of the universe, Washington D.C.,” she says. But then, as possibilities emerged, she realized that by “moving to a smaller place I actually have a bigger world.” 

In 2005, she accepted an offer to write a column in Rochester Magazine which she called “The Suburban Outlaw.” It became so popular that it is now nationally syndicated by Gannett. As she explains in the introduction to a book-length collection of her touching and ironic columns, a “suburban outlaw has an edge in the best possible way:  the ability to explore, dream, grow and excite.” 

"It can be the ordinary woman... who makes a better life for her family because of the work that she does and how she contributes to her household."

Appreciating her outlaw self has helped Sherman recognize and inspire that quality in others. Drawing on her business background as an attorney and her acting talents, she founded her communications firm. Companies such as Bausch + Lomb, Kodak and University of Rochester Medical Center soon asked her to help their current and aspiring leaders achieve their potential and further the company’s work by teaching them how to make compelling presentations enhanced with authentic, from-the-heart storytelling. 

“You can’t build a company, organization or nonprofit without emotionally connected followers,” she says. “How do you connect to them? You meet their needs, address their concerns, share your heart.”

She is especially dedicated to working with women. “One of the biggest issues in corporate America is building women’s presence in leadership,” she notes. “We know that companies with more women have a greater ROI [return on investment]. Helping women rise in the corporate world, find their voice and articulate a career vision, is one of my passions.” 

Sherman, who has a son and a daughter, both in college, sees leadership as more than becoming a CEO or the president of a company. 

“It can be the ordinary woman who makes a difference in her children’s classroom, who makes a better life for her family because of the work that she does and how she contributes to her household. She has the ability to balance having her children follow their dreams while she is somehow figuring out how to follow her own.”

Sherman is herself deeply involved in making a difference in Rochester, one of the poorest cities in the nation. She supports a number of local groups and many have asked her to serve as an emcee for their fund-raising events. She and her husband of 33 years, whom she calls her “champion and biggest cheerleader,” have focused a significant portion of their philanthropy and advocacy on two projects: the Young Women’s College Prep Charter School, founded by 2016 Woman to Watch Laura Rebell Gross, and the Center for Youth, a shelter for homeless teens.

Whether speaking to teen girls, working with the leaders of nonprofits, or addressing business people at home or abroad, Sherman weaves together an infectious brew of humor, insight and inspiration. “When you follow your dreams and make them work for your real life,” she says, “that’s when you have the greatest impact in the world.” 

The 2017 Women to Watch Honorees: