Our History 2017-10-04T20:15:29+00:00

Where It All Began

In 1978, civic leaders Beth Smith and Marjorie Powell Allen sat down for lunch together. Allen, at the time President of the Powell Family Foundation, wanted Smith’s help in creating a space for women to interact with each other and support each other in improving their careers. The two studied the idea for two years before they opened The Central Exchange in a Crown Center office.

At the time, women were prohibited from joining both the Kansas City Club and the University Club — places where business was conducted by men. They envisioned a place where women could exchange ideas and opportunities.

The pair set out to gather an intentionally diverse group, in ethnicity and in age. When The Central Exchange opened its doors for the first time, it opened with 12 initial members: Terry Saterlee, Kay Barnes, Anita Butler, Joan Dillon, Adele Hall, Mamie Currie Hughes, Dorothy Johnson, Linda Moore, Linda Hood Talbott, and Judith Whitaker.

“Women needed services to help them get on track; then they needed opportunities. Other women, with funds to contribute, could offer this specialized support.”

~Marjorie Powell Allen

Central Exchange History
1979
September 6

1979

Marjorie Powell Allen and Beth Smith form a task force to determine how to make a difference for women in Kansas City
1980
September 6

Crown Center

The Central Exchange opens in Crown Center, drawing 160 members in its first year — including Kay Barnes, Anita Butler, Joan Dillon, Adele Hall, Marnie Hughes, Dorothy Johnson, Linda Moore, Terry Saterlee, Linda Hood Talbott, and Judith Whittaker. Toni Watson was named Executive Director.
1981
September 6

Radisson Muelbach

The Central Exchange moves to the Radisson Muelbach in May. The first Woman of the Year Award goes to Ruth Margolin, “a woman who epitomizes networking.”
1982
September 6

Linda Doolin Ward

Linda Doolin Ward is named Executive Director
1983
September 6

Oleta Adams

Oleta Adams cuts her first album at a Central Exchange fundraiser
1984
September 6

1020 Central

The Central Exchange moves to 1020 Central, to the historic downtown fire station, in January. 250 members join over the course of this year and Casey Eike is named Executive Director
1986
September 6

Savvy Magazine

Savvy Magazine reports, “There is no other place like it in the country; a club just for women, for meeting, eating, business entertaining; for sharing power…” (October issue)
1991
September 6

Bobbi Herring

Bobbi Herring hired as Executive Director
1992
September 6

Executive Director

Central Exchange Executive Director, Bobbi Herring, testifies before the Glass Ceiling Commission on the role of a professional organization to advance women in the workplace
1993
September 6

Woman of the Year

The first public Woman of the Year event is held
1996
September 6

Gabrielle Kaniger

Gabrielle Kaniger is named President and CEO
1997
September 6

Women’s Foundation

The Central Exchange creates a leadership fund at the Women’s Foundation and a scholarship endowment at UMKC
1998
September 6

Renovation

Renovation takes place at the downtown facility
2000
September 6

Education Center

The Central Exchange turns 20, and opens The Central Exchange Education Center, a second CX facility in Overland Park. The Growing Season Campaign Council is formed to raise $500,000 for the facilities and services of both the Central Exchange and the CX Education Center. A $250,000 endowment established to honor Adele Hall — the Adele Hall Endowment for Advancement and Development (AHEAD) allows women in the community access to CX membership who could not otherwise afford it
2001
September 6

CEO Series

Our most popular series, the CEO Series, kicks off with Landon H. Rowland, CEO of Stilwell Financial Inc. More than 200 new members join
2002
September 6

Ellen D’Amato

The first CX website goes live. Ellen D’Amato is named President CEO
2003
September 6

Women’s Lyceum

The Central Exchange launches the Women’s Lyceum, an annual leadership conference for women, founded by member Beth Zollars and chaired by Joan Strewler Carter. More than 900 attend the luncheon keynote, and nearly 500 attend the day-long conference. A new dues structure enables members to attend unlimited programming at no additional charge. Program attendance increase 60 percent in the first year of this initiative. The first issue of the quarterly newsletter is published
2004
September 6

Revitalization

The Revitalization of Kansas City series debuts, with underwriting from the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation
2005
September 6

Silver Anniversary

The Central Exchange celebrates its Silver Anniversary with a stellar year. A record 775 attend the Women’s Lyceum. At the conference, a partnership with the Kansas City Star is announced to annually publish a scorecard of the number of women in executive positions and on boards of directors of the Star 50 regional public companies. A new series kicks off, “Opening Doors and Rising to the Top: Leadership Development for Women of Color.”
2006
September 6

Emerging Leaders

In partnership with Right Management, The Central Exchange pilots an intensive, yearlong leadership development program called “Emerging Leaders”
2007
September 6

Women’s Lyceum

The Central Exchange Women’s Lyceum celebrates its fifth anniversary with a sellout crowd of more than 1,000 women. Membership reaches an all-time in June
2008
September 6

The Enlightened Leader

The Executive MBA program at the Bloch School-UMKC presents a four-part, eight-hour series called, The Enlightened Leader: Strategies for the 21st Century Professional, for which attendees receive a certificate of professional achievement. CX begins podcasting some programs, launches an e-mentoring program, and initiates a board intern program.
2009
September 6

Social Media

CX groups form on LinkedIn and Facebook; a social media special interest group starts. Groundwork begins for a community-wide initiative to increase gender diversity at the top of area businesses and firms. The Executive MBA program at the Bloch School-UMKC presents another professional development series as does the Hauptmann School for Public Affairs at Park University, both offering certificates of professional achievement
2010
September 6

30th Anniversary

The Central Exchange celebrates its 30th Anniversary. During this milestone year, a new state-of-the-art website was activated and the organization officially launched a community-wide initiative called “win | win, a business case for Kansas City.” The goal of the initiative is to increase gender diversity at the top results in greater profitability and more innovation.
2011
September 6

New Logo

Central Exchange rebrands with a new logo, a modified name (dropping “the”), and a new tagline: Connect. Achieve. Transform.
2012
September 6

WiSTEMM

Central Exchange launches WiSTEMM, an initiative designed to put a well-deserved spotlight on women in Kansas City working in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and Medicine. By focusing on successful STEMM leaders, WinSTEMM hopes to draw attention to the resource shortfall in these careers and provide inspiration for others to pursue careers in these areas. CEO Ellen D’Amato retires and board member Joan Cohen steps in as interim President and CEO
2013
September 6

CiCi Rojas

CiCi Rojas is named President and CEO
2017
September 6

Courtney Thomas

Courtney Lee Thomas joins Central Exchange as President and CEO and later announces new tagline, “Where Women Shape the Future”

Central Exchange Today

Our membership of more than 700 women and men from the Kansas City metro includes managers and executives, business owners, nonprofit and civic leaders, and community volunteers.

With more than 400 programs a year, CX offers a wide variety of professional development opportunities and networking events that provide resources and connections for members to advance their careers and build their businesses. Central Exchange leadership development programs create a pool of highly qualified leaders available for executive positions in the Kansas City area. This supports our strategic initiative win | win — a business case for Kansas City —  to increase gender diversity at the top of area companies.

Learn More About Our Impact