Meet the S.L.E. Lupus Foundation’s 2014 Bag Ladies Luncheon Honorees!


These three exceptional women will be recognized as Women of Achievement at the upcoming 2014 Bag Ladies Luncheon April 28.  From left to right: Desiree Gruber, Lisa R. Sammaritano, MD and Michelle Gadsden-Williams

Desiree-RankinDesiree Gruber
Desiree Gruber has parlayed lifelong interests in fashion, culture, art, entertainment, and technology into a thriving media empire. With her agency, Full Picture, as a foundation, Gruber embodies the modern entrepreneurial spirit. Gruber has been instrumental in building some of the world’s most prestigious brands and properties, ranging from 15 years with Victoria’s Secret to the launch of three hotels with Ian Schrager, as well as guiding the careers of high-profile personalities including Heidi Klum and creating the hit television show Project Runway.

Gruber’s career first took shape at Rogers & Cowan, a national public relations agency, where she rose to Vice President of Entertainment and managed various publicity and marketing accounts within the entertainment, music, fashion, and beauty industries while spearheading the overall growth of the firm’s New York office. It was during her tenure there that she helped to conceptualize and develop the landmark Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, an annual project in which she remains an integral partner.

Establishing her own agency, Full Picture, in 1999, Gruber set out to synergize the traditionally separate fields of public relations, management, and production. Under her guidance, Full Picture has become a creative force and evolved into a full-fledged multimedia company at the crossroads of the fashion and lifestyle industries. Its many successes include Lifetime’s Project Runway and the trendsetting HSN shopping shows Curations with Stefani Greenfield. Gruber also works with online portals such as MSN and top-line brands including Kraft, Special K and Tylenol to create award-winning branded entertainment.

Gruber’s expertise in marketing and branding campaigns, for which she has received over twenty awards, has positioned her among the most respected figures within the media industry. Her experience in forecasting and developing trends has also helped her create an innovative approach to producing original film, television and Internet programming. She was selected as one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs of 2010, and has received a Peabody Award and eight Emmy nominations for executive producing Project Runway.

In addition, she is Co-Founder of Theodora & Callum, her latest collaboration with Stefani Greenfield. Born out of a love for collecting beautiful things from all over the world, Theodora & Callum is an accessories-based line featuring scarves, jewelry, dresses, tops, pants and caftans inspired by their travels.

Ms. Gruber has been awarded an official Mayor’s Proclamation by the City of New York for her professional and civic accomplishments. She serves on the Boards of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF in New York and God's Love We Deliver, an organization that delivers nutritious, freshly prepared meals to people living with HIV/AIDS or other serious illnesses. She has been profiled in such publications as O: The Oprah Magazine, Variety, New York magazine, Gotham and PR Week.

Lisa SammaritanoLisa Sammaritano, MD
Dr. Lisa Sammaritano grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1981, Dr. Sammaritano moved to New York to attend Weill Cornell Medical School and has studied and worked at Cornell ever since. She completed a residency in internal medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital and fellowship in rheumatology at Hospital for Special Surgery.

 After doing research with Dr. Michael Lockshin during her residency and fellowship, she realized she shared his love for caring for patients with systemic lupus erythematosus and antiphospholipid syndrome (APS) and studying reproductive and pregnancy issues in these patients.

Dr. Sammaritano joined Hospital for Special Surgery as an attending physician in 1991. She maintains a busy clinical practice and participates in clinical research geared towards patients with SLE and APS. She was part of the multi-center SELENA study that demonstrated that oral contraceptives do not increase risk of flare for stable SLE patients, and is currently an investigator for the ongoing PROMISSE study evaluating pregnancy outcomes in patients with SLE and APS. She is currently writing and editing a textbook focusing on contraception, pregnancy, and reproductive medicine issues in patients with rheumatic diseases that will answer common questions for doctors caring for lupus patients, such as choice of contraception, risks of pregnancy and safety of in-vitro fertilization.

Michelle Gadsden WilliamsMichelle Gadsden-Williams
Michelle Gadsden-Williams is Managing Director and Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion and New Markets Segment Leader at Credit Suisse.  In this role, she provides strategic direction, thought leadership and champions the development of an inclusive environment by integrating diversity practice into all aspects of the business on a global scale.  Michelle is a member of the Human Resource Management Committee at Credit Suisse.

Michelle is a seasoned Diversity Practitioner with more than 20 years of experience working in the pharmaceutical industry before transitioning to Financial Services.  She has held positions of increasing responsibility in the Diversity Management and Staffing functions at Merck & Co., Inc. in Whitehouse Station, NJ.  Prior to her tenure at Merck, Michelle has also held positions in Human Resources and Product Management at Philips-Van Heusen Corporation and Wakefern Food Corporation in NJ.

An exemplary role model and advocate for equality and social justice, Michelle works tirelessly at refining processes, policies and programs that support an inclusive work environment. Examples include the design and deployment of global diversity strategies, the re-constitution of global diversity councils and diversity training curriculums and her role in the start-up of over 50 Employee Resource Groups around the world. Michelle has acquired a number of community service awards and accolades for her work as a diversity practitioner. She has been profiled in Black Enterprise Magazine, DiversityInc, Diversity Executive, Ebony, Essence, Fortune, Heart & Soul, Jet, New Vision, Science Magazine, Sister to Sister, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Target Market News and was recognized as one of 40 Outstanding Executives Under 40 in America by the Network Journal early on in her executive career.  In 2010, Michelle was ranked (#6  as one of the Top 25 Women of Substance in Healthcare by Heart & Soul Magazine and more recently ranked (#48) in 2011 and (#31) in 2012 as one of the Top 100 Executives in America by Uptown Magazine. Her most notable accolade to date is being named the 2010 recipient of the Maya Way Award for Diversity Leadership by the incomparable Dr. Maya Angelou, the 2008 recipient of the Harvard Black Men’s Forum Businesswoman of the Year Award, the recipient of Rainbow Push Coalition’s Bridge Builder Award by the honorable Rev Jesse L. Jackson and she also received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters Degree from Kean University for her outstanding personal and professional accomplishments in the field of Diversity and Inclusion. More recently, Michelle has been appointed as a member of the Global Advisory Council on Values for the World Economic Forum.

Michelle has a B.S. in Marketing, a B.A. in Communications from Kean College and an M.S. in Organizational Dynamics (with honors) from the University of Pennsylvania. Michelle is an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, a Board Member of the Jackie Robinson Foundation and the SLE Lupus Foundation in New York City and an Executive Committee Member of the Women’s Leadership Board of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Michelle and her husband, David, live in New York City.