When Laura Neuman heard that an Annapolis salad dressing maker was planning to move his business out of state, she arranged to meet with him.
Neuman listened to Greg Vetter's story and made some calls.
"She just said, 'Dude, you are NOT leaving Maryland,'" recounted Vetter, CEO of Tessemae's All Natural. "I don't know the nitty-gritty of how she did it, but she did it. And now we're in this insane, awesome space, and we don't have to move to Kentucky."
Keeping Vetter's company in Maryland last year became the latest success for Neuman. The Annapolis woman has specialized in turning around businesses in her work as a technology executive, a venture capitalist and head of the Howard County Economic Development.
Now she begins her latest venture: rebuilding Anne Arundel County government.
Neuman, 48, was appointed by the County Council this week to complete the term of former County Executive John R. Leopold, who resigned midway through his second term this month after he was found guilty of criminal misconduct. She was sworn in Friday.
Neuman said she would work to restore integrity to the office (which she decided Friday should lose the blinding white walls in favor of a warmer, friendlier beige), create a more transparent government, improve services and make the county more attractive to businesses.
"There isn't any question that Anne Arundel County has so many resources," she said, and named the Chesapeake Bay, BWI-Thurgood Marshall International Airport and Fort Meade.
"We should be known for excellence."
Right now, Anne Arundel County is known for the Leopold scandal. The former county executive was found guilty of misconduct last month for directing members of his police protection detail to put up political signs, collect campaign checks and compile dossiers on his adversaries, and for having officers and his scheduler drain the urinary catheter bag he used after back surgery.
Neuman asked at-will employees in the executive suite and department chiefs on Friday to tender their resignations pending a review of budgets, services and employees.
"Scandal doesn't happen without support," she said.
A registered Republican, Neuman has never held elected office. She says she has supported Democrats, including a campaign donation to Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, who named her to the economic development post there, and Republicans — she once attended a fundraiser for former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.
She's taking a $100,000 pay cut to leave Howard County. The Anne Arundel County job pays $130,000 a year.
"I think there has been a real challenge there in leadership," she said. "And I think there is a need for Anne Arundel County to have a new approach in leadership in government, and a new approach to business in the county."
An MBA graduate of Loyola, Neuman has held positions with T. Rowe Price, Digex, Global Payment Systems and CAIS Internet. She helped to turn around Matrics Inc., a Columbia-based technology startup that eventually sold for $230 million.
A survivor of rape, she started a foundation to advocate for sexual assault victims after pushing successfully for the conviction, years after the assault, of her own attacker.
Ulman said Howard County's loss is Anne Arundel County's gain. O'Brien Atkinson, president of Anne Arundel's largest police union, said the council chose "the best person to heal our broken county."
"We need somebody who is collaborative," he said.
Under the county charter, the seven-member council was required to pick an Anne Arundel resident of the same party as Leopold to succeed him.
Neuman was selected Thursday on a 4-3 vote that included one member of the Republican council majority and the three members of the Democratic minority. She beat such better-known applicants as Del. Steve Schuh, acting County Executive John Hammond and former Maryland first lady Kendel Ehrlich.
"This absolutely makes her a very interesting figure politically," said Dan Nataf, director of the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College. "The hope, I believe, is that her drive, motivation, her ability to communicate with the council and with department heads, to say nothing of any ethical issues, will provide a sharp contrast with the Leopold situation."
And if she's successful?
"Now you have an incumbent woman candidate [in 2014]," Nataf said. "And women incumbents almost never lose in Anne Arundel County."
Neuman declined to discuss plans beyond her current term.
"We are not at that point yet," she said.
Council Chairman Jerry Walker said Neuman seems to offer the county a fresh and promising start.
"We need somebody who isn't a political insider," Walker said. "And we need someone who is going to make the changes I think we need to make. We need a housecleaning."
Family: Son Alexander, 8; daughter Avery, 6. Separated from husband, Paul Volkman.
Born Baltimore, Feb. 3, 1965
Education: GED; MBA, Loyola University; certificate, Stanford
Profession: Business executive
Employers: T. Rowe Price, Digex, Global Payment Systems, CAIS Internet, Matrics Inc., Howard County Economic Development Authority