With resumes listing some of Cincinnati’s most prominent corporations and extensive volunteer histories, Paaras and Sean Parker are a couple you might want to watch.
“Paaras and Sean are a YP power couple in Cincinnati,” said Tracy Wells, vice president of development for YWCA Greater Cincinnati and a friend of the couple. “They’re super engaged in their community, super engaged with their family, super engaged with their friends. They’re that couple that does it all.”
For the Parkers, doing it all has included rising through the ranks in their chosen professions – public relations for Sean and human resources for Paaras. On top of that, they’ve been involved, often in a major way, with a whole host of local nonprofits, from the Cincinnati Public Schools’ Board of Education to the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens.
All the while, they’re raising two young children (Layla, 8, and Elijah, 4 1/2) and are committed to supporting each other in a marriage they say makes them stronger than they would be on their own.
But it took a lot for them to get together at all. Coincidentally, Sean and Paaras both grew up just off Montgomery Road (Paaras in the Montgomery/Symmes area, where they live today, and Sean in Silverton). They even went to the same pediatrician. They became friends during their junior year at different high schools, when both attended a summer program at Miami University.
But they might not have stayed in their hometown or become a couple were it not for illnesses in each of their close-knit families.
Sean left for Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he found his calling in public relations. The summer before his senior year, his dad needed heart surgery, so he returned to Cincinnati and got an internship at Procter & Gamble. Little did he know he would spend the first 10 years of his career there.
“They gave me a job offer that summer. All I had to do was graduate,” he said.
Meanwhile, Paaras (then Paaras Hussain) stayed closer to home, pursuing a degree at Miami. She took a nontraditional path, holding down a full-time management position at Victoria’s Secret while pursuing her studies.
After graduation, she planned to move to Columbus for a role at the company’s headquarters. But her mom was diagnosed with cancer, and moving away didn’t feel right. Instead, she got a job at U.S. Bank and moved on to talent consulting company Global Novations about a year later.
That put her on the path to work at Macy’s in human resources, the profession she has excelled in since.
Keeping in touch paid off
Had it not been for those family illnesses (fortunately, both parents recovered), Paaras and Sean may never have reconnected. After meeting in high school, they had kept up casually via instant messaging.
“Dating wasn’t a thing in my culture,” said Paaras, who was born in Pakistan. (Her family moved to the U.S. right before she started kindergarten, and she became a citizen at 13.)
But after graduating from college and starting their careers in Cincinnati, they kept bumping into each other. They started spending time together (intentionally) in 2007, became engaged in 2008 and were married in 2009.
“I don’t think it would’ve worked if we would have had the modern dating apps, because we’re similar but we’re also very, very different,” Sean said. Initial differences that might have made it easy to, as he puts it, “swipe left” turned out not to matter in the long run.
“I don’t think it would’ve worked if we would have had the modern dating apps, because we’re similar but we’re also very, very different. Initial differences that might have made it easy to, as he puts it, “swipe left” turned out not to matter in the long run. We’re definitely stronger because we’re together.”Sean Parker
“We’re definitely stronger because we’re together,” he said.
One thing they do have in common is career ambition, and they have been highly successful in that regard. Both have been named to the Cincinnati Business Courier’s “Forty Under 40” list, and Sean has been part of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Leadership Cincinnati and C-Change, among other recognitions.
Paaras found HR a good fit because it let her work with people.
“Watching people be successful in something they love is a great feeling,” she said. “And watching people – when it’s not the right fit – walk away with pride and energy to go after the next thing is really great, too.”
After nearly six years at Macy’s, she sought a new challenge at 84.51°, a wholly owned subsidiary of Kroger. (“If I have to spend all that time away from my kiddos, who are my favorite thing, I don’t want to be bored,” she said.)
In 2018, she became head of human resources for Kroger Digital, and in October, Kroger’s technology pillar came under her purview as well.
Sean also chose his profession because it involves working with people.
“Public relations at its most basic level is all about relationship building,” he said. “Personally, I have relationships with people that go as far back as when I was 8 or 9 years old. … It’s a natural part of my personality that lends itself to being useful in my professional role.”
During his 10 years at P&G, he held three distinct roles: corporate communications; beauty care PR; and Ohio government and community relations, managing P&G’s local philanthropy and sponsorships. He thought the latter role was his dream job, but it didn’t turn out that way.
“I thought it would be easy giving away money, but it’s actually really hard,” he said.
So he left to start his own business, a credit-card processing company. After two years, he said, he “missed the thrill of public relations.” He joined the communications team at Fifth Third Bank and spent five years there. His last role was vice president/PR director.
Like his wife, Sean recently sought a new career challenge. (“I started to see some of the same issues, so I was getting really comfortable,” he said.) As it turned out, his search also led him to Kroger: In March, he became head of the organization’s financial communications, a new focus area for him.
While Sean and Paaras now work for the same company, they don’t work in the same building, and they sometimes work on projects they can’t even discuss. But they do make time for each other during the work week: They have a standing lunch on Thursdays.
Giving back is a priority
Even through the busy-ness of building successful careers and raising a young family, the Parkers have made giving back a priority. Both are involved with YWCA Greater Cincinnati, where Paaras is a new board member. She previously served on its HR committee, and she completed its Rising Star Leadership Program in 2017. The latter program “empowers and equips high-performing women to become equity leaders,” according to Wells.
“Her leadership is just extraordinary,” Wells said of Paaras. “When she speaks, people listen. What she’s behind, people want to get behind.”
Wells recently recruited Sean to the YWCA’s Men On A Mission Task Force for 2020, which gets men involved in the organization’s work to end domestic violence. His effect is not unlike his wife’s, Wells said: He’s great at connecting and influencing.
“He draws people in,” Wells said. “People listen to him. And what he says is of substance.”
Paaras has always been drawn to supporting women and children, so the YWCA was a fit. Such causes are particularly significant now that she has a daughter.
“It’s really important that Layla looks back and says ‘look at all the things my mom did for kids and women,’” she said.
Before joining the YWCA board, Paaras served on the board (and, before that, the board development committee) of Girl Scouts of Western Ohio, from which she recently stepped back.
“She’s a valuable board member because she brings a lot of vision and a strategic focus to the work,” said Roni Luckenbill, the organization’s CEO. “She really is able to see the bigger picture.”
Additionally, Paaras’ large network, which helps bring others into the fold, and her personality serve her well in such roles.
“She’s a very good connector. She connects people with missions,” Luckenbill said. “(And) she has so much energy and enthusiasm for what she does. She’s just a joy to work with.”
A range of interests
Additionally, Paaras is a sustainer with Junior League of Cincinnati; a member of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Advisory Council; a volunteer and committee member with Cincinnati Parks Foundation; a member of the marketing committee for the Greater Cincinnati Foundation; a volunteer with Karen Wellington Foundation; and a past committee member and current volunteer with Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. She’s also a past member of ArtsWave’s YP board. On top of all that, she coaches Layla’s cheerleading squad.
Beyond the YWCA, Sean is a Cincinnati Reds Diversity Advisory Board member. He has been involved with many other organizations, including serving on Cincinnati Public Schools’ Board of Education. He was a founding board member of entrepreneurship hub Mortar; a NextGen Advisory Board member for Google; and a board member for Cincinnati Parks Foundation, Easter Seals and Freestore Foodbank. He served on the United Way’s Campaign Cabinet, Marketing Cabinet and Tocqueville Society.
But when his children were born, he took a step back. “I like to call myself a board-free agent,” he joked. “I’ve had a few years where I’ve been off. Now, I’m rejuvenated and ready to start looking at those opportunities again.”
As in the past, he hopes to get involved with organizations that focus on education or advocating access for marginalized groups. He also wants to connect organizations with people who haven’t previously been tapped to help. After all, one person – or one couple – can’t do it all, even when they’re as passionate as the Parkers.
“Do I enjoy doing it? For sure,” Paaras said. “(But) I feel a commitment to make sure we’re doing what we can so the world is the type of place we want our kids to experience. That’s the magic.”