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The second annual Sego Awards recognized nearly two-dozen Utah women business founders and CEOs at a Sundance Resort event on Friday. Women own some 84,000 businesses in the state and collectively create $14 billion in annual revenues.

SALT LAKE CITY — Hale Centre Theatre co-founder and artistic director Sally Dietlein knows a thing or two about building something out of nothing and was honored Friday evening at the second annual Sego Awards ceremony for her accomplishments in growing the 34-year-old community theater.

The Segos were started last year with the goal of recognizing and increasing the visibility of Utah's female business founders and CEOs. Dietlein, who won first place in the Community and Culture category, said she was thrilled with the award but the real power of the event for her was being a part of the gathering of women leaders.

"As I stood at the podium I was able to say, 'There’s something you all understand that very few people do, which is how to begin,'" Dietlein said. "These women know that is the toughest thing to do when it comes to becoming an entrepreneur. I know. I’ve been there and you don’t soon forget.

"Beginning is a breathtaking leap of faith."

The full tale of the Hale theaters spans three generations and tracks back to before World War II, but the Utah branch began in 1985 in a converted South Salt Lake lingerie factory. The theater's first production there drew 25 patrons. Dietlein said in 2018, the first full year of operation for the new, high-tech Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy that boasts two performance spaces, more than 560,000 customers attended 751 sold-out performances.

Even with the four-decade mark in business on the near horizon, and having achieved a remarkable level of success, Dietlein said she isn't ready to call it quits

"I love standing at the top of that mezzanine and watching people pouring out of the doors and seeing smiles and laughter and sometimes tears," Dietlein said. "It just feeds me. That’s the thing that makes me say, 'I need to stay on the merry-go-round.'"

Shauna Smith, co-founder and president of Utah-based restaurant conglomerate Four Foods Group also received an award Friday and, like Dietlein, said she was inspired by the event.

"The fact that the founders of Sego are doing something that no one else has dared to do is really admirable," Smith said. "This is very brave ... taking on the task of recognizing and honoring women leaders."

Smith's first foray into the restaurant business came some 11 years ago when she and her husband opened a Kneaders location. Smith noted that while neither of them had any experience or training in the food service realm, her own penchant for providing hospitality thanks to her Southern roots made it a natural fit.

"We were probably about eight months into it and realized how much we loved it," Smith said. "We decided to go all in and made the plan to try to open 10 new restaurants. At the time, it really felt like we were shooting for the moon."

That moonshot plan, as it turns out, would only be the first baby steps for Four Foods. The company is operating 162 restaurants in 13 states and includes the Kneaders, Little Ceasars, Mo'Bettahs, R and R and Swig brands. Oh, and the company brought in over $180 million last year, which led to Smith's first place Sego Award for Highest Overall Revenue.

Smith said the leadership sharing that she and her husband have engaged in since launching the business is reflected in the company's overall demographic. Of 100 employees in Four Foods' administrative office, including the executive staff, the gender distribution is 49 percent women and 51 percent men. Among the 5,500 employees of their restaurants, including management personnel, the break is 52 percent women and 48 percent men. Smith said she's proud of the equity reflected in the ranks of Four Foods and noted that it's a shared challenge for female leaders to champion equity and fairness.

"For us women, the challenge remains to get into these leadership positions and show the world how we can lead with courage and elegance, and put together remarkable teams," Smith said. "A diversity in workforce and management contributes to a vibrant work environment ... and businesses that thrive."

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Sego Awards co-founder Trent Mano said the program's effort is driven by the goal of highlighting the presence of highly successful women business leaders in Utah.

“Even though women-owned companies make up over 84,000 businesses in the state, only 6 percent of awards in Utah are awarded to women," Mano said in a statement. "Our hope is that the Sego Awards start to change this. We’re pleased to honor these inspiring women for the work they’re doing.

"Every single one of them deserve the recognition they’re receiving.”

For a full list of the 2019 Sego Award recipients, visit www.segoawards.com.