As a young associate at a cable provider in Kentucky, Rhonda Fraas struggled to convince her employers that she had the skills to handle more responsibility. "This was back in a time when women were new to the office," Fraas said of the early '80s.

"People were struggling with women's roles and how they viewed you. You were dealing with developing the credibility to be given the work." So she dug in and learned everything she could about every aspect of the business. And at the end of each day, Fraas-who had taken the cable job soon after high school-traded one kind of learning for another and headed to night classes at Sullivan Junior College. While she didn't finish her degree, she clearly impressed her bosses.

"I always went back on what my mother said: 'You can do anything you want.' "
And Fraas has. She stayed in the cable world, leaving Kentucky for Austin, Texas; jumping from there to Mobile, Ala.; and eventually landing in Columbus-her home for the past 23 years.

At each level, she convinced higher-ups that she could not only handle more, but that she could thrive under pressure and inspire those around her to do the same. (She also returned to school in the late '90s and completed an executive education program at Northwestern University.)

Today, she's responsible for serving Time Warner Cable's roughly 3 million residential customers scattered across seven Midwestern states, including Ohio.

"Rhonda has a very caring heart," said Mary Jo Green, who is Time Warner's regional vice president and has worked with Fraas for more than 16 years. "First and foremost she's concerned about people, whether they're people that she works with, or customers, or people who work on the causes she supports."

Green remembers a period during the mid '90s when cable technology was going through changes that unsettled many customers. "My office was right outside the call center," Green said. "I could hear these customer service reps taking these calls all day from people who were upset and unhappy. And the reps were still happy. They loved their jobs. I think that reflected a lot on Rhonda and the job that she did."

Fraas' ability to lead in times of adversity has made her an appreciated and respected president of the board of Action for Children, a resource and referral agency that matches parents with quality childcare, early-learning programs and other services.

Carole Watkins, the most recent past president of the same board and the chief human resource officer at Cardinal Health, credits Fraas with successfully guiding the organization through a difficult financial environment for nonprofits. "Rhonda, as president, served as a tremendous stabilizing force for the agency," Watkins said.

She actually took an interest in early-childhood issues watching her own employees, said Diane Bennett, Action for Children's CEO. "She saw the need for not only quality childcare, but support for parents in their search and developing their own knowledge on how children grow and learn," Bennett said. When she became a mother herself, she became even more passionate about children's issues, Bennett added. "She is determined and generous and has provided strong leadership to keep this going," Bennett said, "even in this slow down period."

Her own children, Henry, 8, and Evan, 6, inspired Fraas to do even more for kids. She also has joined the board of Flying Horse Farms, a camp in Mount Gilead for seriously ill children that is equipped and staffed to handle their medical conditions. The nonprofit camp allows the children to run obstacle courses, ride horses and swim, among other fun activities. In January, Fraas became the board chair.

"The mission is so compelling," Fraas said. "They can't go to a regular camp. They need medical oversight. It's a transforming life experience for them."

Fraas said she's able to cultivate a demanding and successful career and give back civically because of the support of her husband, Charlie Fraas, who she met through friends and married 13 years ago. As an executive at Casto, Charlie Fraas has a notable career himself in commercial development.

To juggle their many responsibilities, the pair set guidelines to keep the focus on family. If they go out on weekends, it's only one night. And they try to not travel away from home more than two nights a week.

"People talk about a work-life balance. It's definitely a challenge," Fraas said. "There's no magic ingredient to get it all right." But when you're being pulled in several directions, Fraas advised, just put family first.

"That's what the world is all about," she said.