Photography by Tilley Photography
“At Gulf Coast Woman magazine, we live and work to create platforms to elevate and celebrate women! We look forward to this annual edition, where we’re able to recognize so many who are successful on the Coast. You deserve to be seen, spotlighted. Your hard work and all the juggling you do to pursue your career, take care of your family and serve your community is appreciated.
In this annual special edition, we introduce you to our 100 Successful Women to Know Class of 2022. This annual recognition is important because many of these women work quietly behind the scenes. Many of them are not the ones who show up to make the speeches or pick up the awards. They were selected from among 691 nominees. Indeed, these 100 are special, but actually all of the nominees are. They are all winners.
Please celebrate with us …”
Dorothy P. Wilson, Publisher
Confidence is Krystal Ben’s superpower
By Jennifer Gentile
To Krystal Ben, success doesn’t have a particular “look” — but it does have a feeling.
Ben, the owner and founder of Hair Fetish Glueless Wigs, is familiar with that feeling, which comes with changing someone’s life for the better.
“When I did my first transformation on a woman who was battling cancer, the fullness it put in my heart — I knew at that moment this was my calling,” she says.
The Flint, Michigan, native seemed destined for a cosmetology career, as she loved watching family members get services. A master beautician for 15 years, Ben learned and performed numerous techniques, including semi-permanent makeup.
About 10 years ago, she began making wigs because she was tired of dealing with her own fine, thin hair.
“I would sit for hours getting my hair done only to walk outside and (see) the style wouldn’t hold due to my texture and humidity,” Ben recalls. “At that point, I started experimenting with making wigs until I got it right.”
Although she enjoyed the various facets of the beauty industry, wigs ultimately won Ben’s heart.
“I love the instant transformation,” she says. “Not only that, but to be able to help someone battling hair loss is so rewarding.”
Seeing a woman regain her confidence through one of her creations is the ultimate thrill for Ben, who believes that everyone deserves to look and feel beautiful. Not to be deterred by COVID, the determined entrepreneur put a mobile wig vending machine in the exchange on Keesler Air Force Base, where military women could buy wigs that they could wear in uniform.
About two years ago, Ben also started investing in real estate, and she’s now owner and founder of KB Rental Properties.
“Being 34, I want to make sure when I retire from it all that income will continue to flow,” she says.
Ben also is intent on giving back. She donates wigs regularly and remains active in community functions. She also is a founding member of Movers and Shakers — a social group on the Coast focused on empowerment through philanthropy, social events and education and awareness efforts.
Although she has accomplished much so far, Ben says she still has a long way to go. Knowing her “why” is the secret to her success and keeps her grounded.
“I’m most proud of being a young Black woman who is not afraid to dream big and go for everything I want,” Ben says. “It doesn’t matter what is going on around me; as long as I can see it, I can do it!”
Kathy Brown van Zutphen is a legal force for good
By Cherie Ward
As a successful insurance defense attorney, Kathy Brown van Zutphen always showed a passion for protecting the most vulnerable.
However, little did she know just how uniquely her litigation talent would intertwine with her circumstances at home.
“My father developed Parkinson’s disease, and I became his caregiver,” van Zutphen says. “Now, the areas where I practice law are the areas that I have had to deal with in my personal life.”
This new role revealed a different, and much more personal, side of the law to the dedicated attorney, and she knew exactly what she needed to do to protect her loved ones, as well as other families.
Van Zutphen opened Coastwide Law LLC in Gulfport and focused on individuals and families while specializing in elder law and adoptions. She also addresses trusts, estates and other general civil litigations.
“Whatever your current situation, we promise to be accessible when you need us,” she says. “We are compassionate and give you straightforward guidance to find your way out of the storm.”
Her father also influenced her enthusiasm for adoption law.
“I firmly believe in fostering children and adoption,” van Zutphen says. “My father grew up living with another family from the time he was 13 years old. My husband was adopted, and we have adopted two girls. It is perhaps the happiest legal work that I can do to help form families.”
She has made a point of serving the whole Gulf Coast with her legal skills. She holds licenses in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana and never misses a chance to give back or change someone’s world by volunteering in numerous nonprofit organizations and offering legal perspectives.
“These organizations cannot function without members of the community being willing to serve,” van Zutphen says.
She’s seen a lot of adversity in her line of work and considers persistence the key to overcoming barriers.
“I most admired individuals who overcome great obstacles to persevere and succeed,” van Zutphen says.
For anyone striving toward personal and career goals, she offers the following advice:
“Don’t wait for someone else to give you what you want, and do not worry if you are afraid; do it anyway,” van Zutphen says. “Being brave is not about not being afraid. It’s being afraid and doing it anyway.
“Do not try to play it safe so you will not lose. You absolutely cannot succeed without failing first, so stare down your fears and keep trying.”
Kerri Pellegrin took leap of faith to found Coast’s premier bridal business
By Cherie Ward
Kerri Pellegrin built a successful wedding planning brand by betting on herself
A zeal for event planning resided deep in her heart before she even realized it.
“It’s funny, how jobs you didn’t know had a purpose in molding you play such a role in you actually becoming your future, “ Pellegrin says.
She spent 21 years with five retail companies and gleaned entrepreneurial knowledge from each. Somehow, with each step she took up the corporate ladder, event planning always was front and center. She learned how to be a director, coordinator and consultant long before her dreams of opening any kind of business manifested.
When tackling even a small task, Pellegrin turned it into an entire production that involved as many people as possible and made it a complete success.
“It was never just a corporate thing,” she says. “It was a ‘Kerri’s store’ thing.”
While her coworkers considered the moves fun and risky, Pellegrin just thought she had a passion for entrepreneurship and a zest for customer service.
“I was enthusiastic about having events, regardless of the roles or responsibilities” she says, “and after planning, designing and executing my own wedding, I knew that’s what the rest of my life would be.”
So, she untied her corporate retail knots, opened The Wedding Collection in Bay St. Louis and hasn’t looked back. The business offers help with anything a bride could need for her big day, from planning to the dress.
“I am a project person,” Pellegrin says. “I knew there were voids on the Coast that I wanted to fill. I wanted wedding planning to be easy and fun and to make it accessible for everyone to find what they need all in one place. I love people, and my hobby is working, so I strive to see happy clients and create new opportunities for my employees.”
She considers her team the heart of the business.
“I would not be where I am, creating a collection of businesses, without them,” Pellegrin says. “They are loyal, hard-working and creative. They truly love The Wedding Collection as much as I do, and I can’t believe I have such great people to work with every day.”
Pellegrin also has wise words for future risk-takers.
“Find a way and take the risk,” she says. “Confidence is worth more than a dollar. It goes a long way in making your path strong.”
The Relationship Builder
Christian Hartley puts people and her faith first
By Jennifer Gentile
She’s now a leader in the financial services industry, but when she was in school, Christian Hartley wasn’t fond of numbers.
As a high school senior, Hartley worked at Chick-Fil-A in Gautier, and some women employed at a credit union in the same mall often dropped in for lunch and encouraged her to apply for a teller position.
“My logic was that I could dress really nicely for work and would never have to miss church,” she says, “so I applied and received a teller position at that credit union. What kept me in the industry was the knowledge that I could promote from within, and by the grace of God, I did that over the span of the 18 years I was there.”
Today, as community bank president with BancorpSouth, a division of Cadence Bank, Hartley says she is living “in the midst of so many answered prayers.” She must be flexible in her role, as one minute, she may be answering questions about a quarter-million-dollar loan, and the next, taking a call to support a new youth program in east Jackson County.
“Both of those relationships are crucial for this community, my community, to prosper,” Hartley says.
She candidly admits that she’s in the industry not because numbers are her favorite thing, but because people are. To her, the process of forming relationships in banking is special.
“People want to do business with people they know, who they see around town or at church or in a restaurant,” she says. “People want to know that you care about them long term. So many of my current customers have known me since I began my career almost two decades ago, and I know them and value the trust they put in me.”
Wanting to get involved in the community, Hartley became an ambassador with the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce. That role prompted her participation on other civic organizations and boards, including Coast Young Professionals, The Bacot McCarty Foundation, Lighthouse Business and Professional Women, United Way, Rotary Club International and several others.
“Being an ambassador opened so many doors for me,” she says, “and I found that everything I wanted was on the other side of service.”
In all she does, Hartley strives to set an example of success coupled with integrity and rooted in faith. She has found that true fulfillment comes from embracing your God-given purpose, not acquiring material wealth.
“I grew up in a trailer park, and my mom made almost every item that I owned growing up; we cut coupons from the big Sunday morning paper, and I looked forward to things like the summer reading program and acting in plays at the local community theaters,” she recalls. “We weren’t rich, and I experienced some challenges growing up. But at the core of it all, I knew I was safe and loved.”
As an adult, Hartley finds herself quietly thanking God for things she prayed for growing up that are now a reality — namely peace, stability and joy.
“Oh, and a very cool job with a fancy title,” she says, “but that’s been a bonus.”