In honor of the awards’ 20th anniversary, we sat down with four former winners of the coveted Austinite of the Year award.

By Justine Harrington, Photos courtesy of Cara Caulkins

Each year, the best and brightest of Austin’s young leaders are recognized at the Austin Under 40 awards, a prestigious black-tie event hosted by the Young Women’s Alliance and the Young Men’s Business League. Winners are selected based on their achievements and contributions in fields such as architecture, engineering, journalism, sports, government, health care and education. In addition to Austin Under 40 honoring community individuals, it also honors the organizations that continue to build a better Austin.

All proceeds from the event are donated to the YWA’s and YMBL’s philanthropic endeavors: Austin Sunshine Camps, which serves low-income children through year-round leadership and mentoring programs, and the YWA Foundation, which provides academic scholarships and professional-development opportunities to women in Central Texas.

Since the event’s inception in 1998, it has become a high-profile affair, selling out each year. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, {Austin Woman} caught up with four past Austinite of the Year winners: Margo Weisz of the Austin Community Development Corporation (Austinite of the Year 2003), Susan Dawson of Athens Group (Austinite of the Year 2002), Carolyn Schwarz of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Texas (Austinite of the Year 2009), and Kendra Scott of Kendra Scott Jewelry (Austinite of the Year 2013).

Austin Woman: What did it mean to you to be named Austinite of the Year?

Margo Weisz

Margo Weisz: My parents happened to be out visiting the night of the awards ceremony, so winning was extra special. No matter our age, we always want to please our parents. The recognition of Austinite of the Year created a moment to appreciate that staying the course with discipline, patience and diligence paid off in a meaningful way for our city.

Susan Dawson: To be honored as Austinite of the Year, along with some amazing other young leaders from across many fields and experiences, was humbling and indicated what strength of human capital we have to take advantage of in our region.

Susan Dawson

Carolyn Schwarz: Being named Austinite of the Year in 2009 was an incredible honor, both personally and professionally. At the time, Health Alliance for Austin Musicians was a startup nonprofit and only 4 years old. I felt like being named Austinite of the Year was a recognition to everyone who played a part in making HAAM possible.

Kendra Scott: It was such an honor to be named Austinite of the Year. Austin is my home, and this supportive community gave me the wings to fly. My company would not be where it is today without this city, and that achievement in 2013 was a moment I will remember forever.

AW: What have you accomplished since winning?

MW: Now I have a strategic consulting firm called City Lights Group and I focus on the nexus of entrepreneurship and social mission. I have helped conceptualize new nonprofits, such as AustinUP to serve the older adult community, and Texas Energy Poverty Research Institute to address a variety of energy needs for low-income people in Texas. My heart still lies in addressing the needs of underserved communities, and I work on a variety of issues, from workforce development to lending and impact investing.

Carolyn Schwarz

SD: I am most proud that E3 Alliance has been able to show we can take system changes in education to scale. In 2016, education initiatives led or facilitated by E3 directly impacted 122,785 students in our region. We have now restructured to take proven efforts across the state, and we plan to double our impact within three years.

CS: In 2013, after almost nine years at HAAM, I transitioned to serve as CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Texas. At RMHC CTX, I get to impact the lives of critically ill or injured children and their families every day. As a mom of a child with a chronic illness, I am proud to be able to pay it forward and support other families going through pediatric medical crises.

KS: We have grown quite a lot in the last few years. We launched into four new product categories: beauty, home décor, fine jewelry and bridal jewelry; moved into our beautiful home office in the heart of Austin; reached a nationwide count of over 70 Kendra Scott stores and so much more.

AW: What advice do you have for others in the Austin community?

Kendra Scott

MW: Be curious, be nice and do what you say you’re going to do.

SD: When you are young is exactly the time to have a positive impact on your community. Don’t wait. Work for the common good now, and perhaps your efforts will be recognized through an Austin Under 40 award.

CS: Think outside of yourself and give to others every day, whether through an act of kindness or volunteering or making a monetary donation. When everyone plays a small part, together, we build a great community.

KS: [Knowing] the struggles will make you stronger. You will definitely encounter roadblocks on your road to success. The key is learning to push past them. With this mindset, you will soon come to realize that each failure and each struggle is a bridge to get you to another even greater opportunity.



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