As a high school student, Alicia Cannon never dreamed she would climb to the highest rung of the corporate ladder. But after pursuing her degree in engineering and earning her MBA, she did just that. And she’s still learning and growing.

Cannon, who is Chief Executive Officer of Michigan City-based manufacturer Apex Filling Systems, delivered the keynote address during the 2021 N.E.W. (Nontraditional Employment Opportunities for Women) conference at the A. K. Smith Career Center in Michigan City. Eighth-grade girls from middle schools across LaPorte County attended the conference, which was held on October 20 and was sponsored by the LaPorte County Career and Technical Education program.

Her secret to success? “It’s about who you are, the relationships you have, and the experience you bring,” she told students, urging them to continuously challenge themselves.

“Take the hard classes,” she said. “Get in over your head and then figure it out. It’s much better to work your butt off for a C than to take the easy A. Seek out experiences that will help you grow and learn.”

She also shared some of the personality traits held by 57 leading female CEOs, based on a study by the Korn Ferry Institute. They included drive, inner courage, optimism, and resiliency. “None of these are out of reach for you,” she said. “You may even have them now. This is a journey, and you are standing at the very beginning.”

Humility, she emphasized, is also essential. “Strong leaders respect the insights of others,” she said. “If I surround myself with people who know more than I do, the entire team benefits.”

Following Cannon’s keynote, the girls took part in roundtable discussions led by professional women from across the region. Special guests leading the roundtables included women from Edward Jones, United States National Guard, Michigan City Area Schools, Tonn & Blank, Cleveland Cliffs (previously Arcelor Mittal) Tapestry, United Airlines, Lubeznik Center for the Arts, Superior Ambulance Service, La Porte County Prosecutor’s Office, IN/KY/OH Regional Council of Carpenters, 5/3 Bank, Sullair, Michigan City Police Department, Apex Filling Systems, Economic Development Corporation Michigan City, United States Navy, La Porte County Solid Waste District, One Region, and Ivy Tech Community College.

The conference concluded with an afternoon of hands-on “try it” activities in career fields in which women are traditionally underrepresented. These sessions gave girls an opportunity to try their hand at welding, machining, firefighting, electronics, construction, criminal justice, automotive, and more.

Funding and support for the conference was made possible by Women in Leadership of LaPorte County and Apex Filling Systems.