Melinda Rath Sanderson spent more than half her 47 years away from Buffalo pursuing business interests throughout the country. Returning in 2003, she became executive director of the Women's Business Center at Canisius College.
A wife and mother of three children -- ages 16, 15 and 12 -- Sanderson is the daughter of former New York State Supreme Court Justice Edward Rath and former State Sen. Mary Lou Rath.
>PeopleTalk: Why did you leave?
Melinda Rath Sanderson: I needed to leave Buffalo in 1980. I needed to know I could be successful because I work really hard and I was smart, not because of anyone I knew. Did I run away to New Hampshire? Did I run away to Denver to escape that? Professionally I watched other people get where they got because of who they knew, not what they did.
>PT: But you did return.
MRS: I thought I'd never come back. I never, truly, honestly felt Buffalo held anything for me professionally. Being a competitive skier, I loved Denver and the beautiful mountains, but there were no opportunities, so I put myself out there nationally. When I left Denver and moved to Cleveland in '84, Cleveland had bottomed out.
>PT: What did you take from Cleveland?
MRS: What made Cleveland work and how they did it were two things: Check your ego at the door, and a true, significant and deep private partnership. The politicians here have been unable to get off their own agenda, and there's not the depth in the private sector here that there was in Cleveland.
>PT: You gave no thought to entering politics.
MRS: I'm all about making money. I'm a real capitalist at heart. I'm good it.
>PT: How good?
MRS: Well, when I was in the hotel division of Stouffer, I was a $16 million a year producer.
>PT: As director of the Women's Business Center, how many businesses have you helped launch?
MRS: I would say around 4,000, and people still don't know about us. We've had over 13,000 program participants, a little over 2,000 a year.
>PT: Job aside, what do you like to do?
MRS: I love going places where I don't know anybody. That jazzes me. I can't tell you how much it jazzes me to walk into a room alone where I don't know anyone. I want to meet everyone and ask them questions. I also love to dance. Music is a passion of mine.
>PT: If you were to open a business, what and where would it be?
MRS: I would buy a hill in Colden and open a ski resort, which would be my passion. When I think of my happy place I think of my garden, but when I'm having trouble sleeping at night, and I have anxiety or stress, I go on top of the mountain. It has to be sunny, high up with big vision.
>PT:: Personally, what is your overly ambitious goal at this moment?
MRS: I think it's realistic, because I've learned to try and be realistic. We were just funded by the New York State delegation for $125,000 to start a virtual minority women's business center. There are nine women's business centers in New York, so we'll have one collective voice, one lobby effort and we can help each other leverage the state's resources and capture the data we all just send to Washington.
>PT: Now tell me a personal goal.
MRS: I have three kids. It's really to push them out of the nest and let them fly. I'm that mother eagle sitting on top of the cliff and I have these babies needing to be pushed. That push will allow them to soar.
>PT: I get the impression you have not failed much.
MRS: Oh, I've failed. My goal as a young athlete was to be an Olympic ski racer, and I was not. I fell. I broke my leg, tore my ligaments. My husband and I owned a second business -- a multilevel marketing business, American Communication Network -- and it failed. My husband was the technician. I was the visionary. In both situations, I grew. No regrets ever about anything, just growth.
>PT: Your mom and dad were engaged under the signal light at Elmwood Avenue and Allen Street. What's your story?
MRS: My husband and I were members of the Jaycees in Cleveland. I was 23. We were involved in a number of community service projects for elderly shut-ins and underprivileged children. The Fourth of July '86 is when he proposed.
>PT: Describe your life.
MRS: Love, passion and soul. It's kind of a Zen thing. I believe in mind-body-spirit balance. If I'm out of balance and if I'm not physically letting it all hang out, I have a tendency to get real mental.
>PT: Do you practice yoga?
MRS: I want to do Ashtanga yoga. That would be very good for me because it's very slow. I play squash and racquetball. I'm in a softball league with a bunch of moms from Snyder. Obviously I have issues with speed.