John Paul Orr
You may never have to hunt for a salesperson again, thanks to husband-and-wife team John Paul and Kelly Orr, founders of Sarasota-based Cast. The couple has developed Sellavision, a touch-screen technology now heading to stores such as Walmart and CVS. Sellavision uses motion gesturing and face and product recognition to help you make a purchasing decision. Or you can talk to a real live person via videoconferencing, right there among the product shelves. “This is the first major change in customer experience, giving customers a richer, more immersive experience,” John Paul says. “You’re no longer chasing the guy in the orange apron.” Cast, a shopper marketing agency, launched five years ago with a menu of merchandising and retail services, and has grown to 1,000 employees in Florida, California and Arkansas with management systems in 50,000 U.S. stores. John Paul, 55, is the mind behind the technology and marketing; Kelly, 47, oversees the office. “I’m the boss at work; she’s the boss everywhere else,” he says.
In the last year, Mike Gough and his Athletic Edge Sports, based in Lakewood Ranch, have been scoring big. Elite pro and amateur athletes—players in baseball, tennis, soccer, golf, lacrosse, rugby and 85 NFL football players—have trained with Gough. This spring 14 of his athletes were either drafted or signed as free agents in the NFL draft. Gough, 37, is a former strength and conditioning coach for the Cleveland Indians baseball team and basketball’s Toronto Raptors. His program, which uses Schroeder-Manatee Ranch’s huge Premier Sports Campus, is similar to IMG Academies, he says, “but more personalized. I work one-on-one and with small groups.” Gough is also partnering with Dr. Chris Sforzo of the Orthopaedic Center of Southwest Florida to open a satellite medical office inside Athletic Edge. And he’s developing personalized training programs for “executive athletes—the highly motivated executive who wants to be challenged like he is in the business world.”
For 17 years, Patrick Redmond, 51, was a top executive at St. Petersburg’s $18 billion electronics firm Jabil Circuit. Then, last year, he retired—briefly. In two weeks, he was tapped as president and CEO of Tervis. The insulated cup manufacturer has been a staple in the local business community for 66 years, but it’s now poised to launch into superstar status, having hired 400 of its 650 employees last year. “We’re kind of a 66-year-old baby,” Redmond says. “Our significant expansion hadn’t really occurred until the past five years.” Tervis sales were $100 million in 2011, up 317 percent since 2006. Redmond’s focus is on developing the brand into the next Nike or Apple. “They’re able to separate themselves as an iconic brand and bring more to their products than just the underlying hardware itself. It’s an experience,” he says. “That’s the direction we see ourselves heading.”
Sarasota-based Cammie Longenecker, 36, is at the epicenter of homebuilding renewal in Southwest Florida. As vice president of sales and marketing for Taylor Morrison’s West Florida division, the energetic Longenecker manages sales teams in eight counties from Hillsborough to Collier, including Manatee and Sarasota. Boomer buyers are “coming from the Northeast, Midwest, even the Pacific Northwest, and they’re purchasing now [before] retirement, because they’re realizing this is the bottom of the market,” she says. Taylor Morrison pulled 264 permits for new homes in Sarasota and Manatee in the first half of 2012 vs. 74 permits in 2011. Among her projects: the 450-unit active-lifestyle Esplanade in Lakewood Ranch, Verona Reserve in Venice, and Harbor Reserve in south Manatee County, a joint venture with Ryland Homes. “Several others will be coming out of the ground in 2013,” she says. With an inventory of 9,000 lots from north Tampa to Naples, “It’s a wonderful challenge,” she says.
Mimi Steger, 44-year-old owner of North Port Tae Kwon Do, is one of North Port’s biggest champions. Involved in numerous civic and business organizations (she’s been president of the North Port Chamber and was named a North Port Citizen of the Year), Steger is most recently the passionate co-founder and brand-new president of the North Port Economic Development Corporation. The North Port EDC differs from the city’s economic development office, Steger says, using a private sector, entrepreneurial approach—absolutely no tax dollars—to kick start the economy. It’s not about attracting outside companies, she says. The NPEDC wants to connect local businesses and individuals to tackle big goals, such as creating a downtown cultural and entertainment district, a unique retirement center, and developing a plan for Warm Mineral Springs. Eventually the group wants to hire an executive director. “We’re focused on the positive development of North Port,” says Steger.
Dr. Eva Berkes,
Dr. Nicholas Monsul
Drs. Eva Berkes, 41, and Nicholas Monsul, 50, are conducting groundbreaking research on microbacterial cells. These tiny bacteria form biofilm, which coats the surface of the human body, and can become a barrier to antibiotics that fight infections. “We’re trying to understand this bacterial mass and how it functions for both good and bad,” Monsul says. The husband-and-wife team, an oculofacial plastic surgeon and immunologist, respectively, are creating a topical agent in their Quorum Biofilm Research Laboratory that’s attracting attention from industry leaders and researchers around the country. They’re aiming to get an over-the-counter product on shelves within a year. “We’re applying science to the compounds and natural products that are being used routinely every day, and seeing how the science bears out in terms of clinical results,” Monsul says. They believe it has big implications for their hometown. “Frankly, I don’t see why Sarasota couldn’t be another Scripps Clinic center,” Berkes says.
New Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota general manager Brad Jencks, 63, is making changes. While he formally calls his 500-plus employees “ladies and gentlemen,” he’s otherwise shaking up the resort’s national image of exclusive luxury by creating a comfy home away from home for local residents. Debuting in December is an overhaul of the Vernona restaurant and lobby and Ca d’Zan lounges into a more “friendly, approachable, comfortable” dining experience, he says. “They’ll have a lot of life to them, with a new name, new look, new menus. We want to be more relevant to our customer.” Hotel guests have not been shying away; the March 2012 occupancy rate of 96 percent was a record for the 11-year-old resort, and Jencks says July occupancy was a solid 82 percent. “That’s a tribute to Sarasota,” he says. “The market has matured; you don’t have the huge peaks and valleys that you had in the past.”
When Carlos Buqueras, 58, took the helm at Port Everglades 22 years ago, the Fort Lauderdale port looked like Port Manatee does today: lots of space and untapped opportunities. “When I left, I didn’t have a square yard to lease,” Buqueras says. Now, as Port Manatee’s new executive director, he hopes to diversify business by adding a passenger and car ferry service, becoming a distribution center for large retailers like Walmart and Target and even preparing the port for trade with Cuba. This summer, Pennsylvania-based Air Products & Chemicals announced it would build a 300,000-square-foot manufacturing plant next to the port, eventually creating 250 jobs. “Port Manatee is the best situated with the best infrastructure in Florida to take advantage of growth and international trade,” Buqueras says. “I am trying to fill this port to the point where we cannot accept any more new business, and to do that as quickly as possible.”
Manatee Players executive director Janene Witham credits her staff for bringing the company’s new home along Bradenton’s Riverwalk into being. But the high-energy Witham has been the driving force behind the fund-raising required to get its doors open for next March’s Miss Saigon. Of the $12 million goal, the Players only need another $1 million or so, having gotten huge boosts during last spring’s Giving Challenge (where they raised the largest amount of any regional nonprofit) and from other recent sizable donations and grants. Witham, 42, says that if their campaign were a fund-raising book, “We’ve read every chapter,” with a grassroots approach that included knocking on doors, benefit performances and even issuing the Players’ first Christmas CD. The mother of two, Witham says she’s thrilled “about leaving a legacy for my kids” with the performing arts center, which will also host other arts and community organizations.
Now that his company, Floridays Development, has been selected to build the much talked-about downtown Sarasota hotel beside the new Palm Avenue parking garage, Angus Rogers, 53, has his hands full working out the details, including completing complex financial negotiations with the city for the $40 million project and creating a design for the 180-room hotel that will fit into its urban setting. Rogers, whose past projects have included Sarasota’s own upscale Grande Riviera on Golden Gate Point and the lavish Floridays Orlando Resort, is convinced his non-brand, independent hotel (which will include an 8,500-square-foot ballroom and a restaurant) will bring new visitors and excitement to downtown. The hotel business is always a risk, but in a perfect world, he says, construction would begin next summer, with doors open for the 2014 holiday season. And he promises “a white-glove experience, without the white gloves,” for his hotel guests.
Music fans can thank Jack Sullivan for bringing the blues to Bradenton. In his role as circulation director and COO of the internationally distributed Blues Revue magazine, Sullivan decided to move his company’s offices from California to Manatee County’s Village of the Arts, in part, he says, because of affordable living costs here but mostly because of the many blues societies, venues, musicians and festivals around Florida. As co-founder of the Bradenton Blues Festival, which will debut along the redesigned downtown Riverwalk this December, Sullivan, 58, along with Realize Bradenton’s Johnette Isham (a 2011 Person to Watch) and longtime friend and festival organizer Paul Benjamin, is working “80 hours a week” for the magazine and to promote Bradenton’s new festival. “At first we were hoping for 800 to 1,000 tickets sold this first year,” he says, “but it looks much bigger than that.”
How appropriate that Tom Esselman, first-ever CEO for Sarasota’s Institute for the Ages, comes from 22 years with the greeting card industry. Since June, the former Hallmark exec has been on a meet-and-greet tour to educate locals about the institute and its goals. The upbeat Esselman, 51, wants to make Sarasota “the world’s largest and most actively engaged community catalyst for positive aging.” His first priority is to meet with outside organizations to let them know that Sarasota, with its older demographic, is perfect for research on everything from age-related technology to how social connections improve our senior years. “We’re going to offer up best practices and showcase them all over the world,” Esselman says. For now, the institute is using start-up money from foundations and county government, but the plan is for the institute to eventually generate its own revenues.
For years, Donal O’Shea, 60, watched New College of Florida from his post as dean of faculty at Massachusetts’ Mount Holyoke College. He admired New College’s small size and quirky nature, its brainy students and faculty, its devotion to the liberal arts. Only the presidency of New College, he says, could have wooed him from New England. A brilliant mathematician with expansive charm, O’Shea has a quick-witted, self-deprecating humor. He’ll need all that as he takes over one of Florida’s top-ranked educational institutions during tight times. “Money is key,” he acknowledges about New College’s need to find new donors and friends in Tallahassee. He also aims to raise the college’s national profile. Business should get behind the liberal arts, he says. “Liberal arts education is what has made American business so strong and prepares students for the things that aren’t so easy to see in strategic plans,” he says. “It supports the entrepreneurial nature.”
Jason Puckett, 29, who until recently had been the director of sports for the Sarasota County Sports Commission, has been focused for years on keeping sports tourism growing in the county. In fiscal year 2011, the SCSC brought in 54 events for a $34.3 million economic impact. This year, the SCSC is on track to beat those numbers and will host events in more than 20 different sports, including a nationally televised triathlon in October. The Sarasota County Sports Commission, a division of Visit Sarasota County, also received the Member of the Year award from the National Association of Sports Commissions. But starting in September, Puckett will be growing a new type of business. He’s the new event manager for IMG Academy’s C360, a sports performance training program that was once developed for elite athletes and will now be available to all levels of ability. Puckett will be part of the team which will be training coaches and trainers across the country.
Frankie Soriano, the new managing director of the nonprofit UnidosNow, is putting a lot of miles on his car. As the co-owner of NeoClean, a damage reconstruction company in Boynton Beach on Florida’s east coast, he commutes across the state, splitting his time between his growing business and trying to integrate the region’s growing Latino population into the U.S., economically and culturally. Soriano, 27, whose mother emigrated from Cuba and whose father was born in Brazil, started volunteering with UnidosNow almost two years ago under friend and former director Kelly Kirschner. Soriano’s priorities are educating Hispanics about banking and credit (too many rely on cash only, which keeps them from financing businesses and makes them targets for crime), building a team of attorneys who can help with immigration issues and getting out the vote. UnidosNow, which serves Orlando to Naples, recently moved into the Glasser/Schoenbaum Human Services Center in Sarasota.
Edward James III
In the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, Pine View graduate Edward James III was president of the NAACP Sarasota County Youth Chapter, charged with registering as many young voters as possible. This time around, James, 22, is a Sarasota County field organizer with Organizing for America, President Obama’s re-election campaign. He graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in political science in December, and despite attractive job offers in other cities, had no question about returning to Sarasota “to get involved in what I think is the most important election of my lifetime,” he says. Speculation about his own political future is already growing, but James maintains the reticence of a seasoned politician when talking about his career after the election. “For right now I’m married to the Barack Obama campaign,” he says. “That’s all I’m focused on.”
Sharon Hillstrom was named president and CEO of the Manatee Economic Development Corporation last December, after joining the EDC in 2007. Before that, she was business manager at her husband’s practice, Hillstrom Facial Plastic Surgery. “I can relate to business owners because I have been in their shoes,” she says. Her first EDC task was overseeing the organization’s separation from the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, a process that had to be handled carefully. “Change is difficult,” says Hillstrom, “and we needed everybody to understand we were still going to work closely with the chamber.” Hillstrom says victories like Feld Entertainment’s move to Manatee County are establishing the county as a business destination, and the EDC is playing a major role. “We’re employing best practices, creating a new brand and launching a 24-month marketing plan,” she says. “I want us to be recognized as one of the best EDCs in the state.”
Sam Davidson, director of marketing at Westfield Southgate, wasted no time getting involved when he moved here in 2011. He was named the Sarasota Chamber’s 2012 Young Professional of the Year and the next chair of the Sarasota Young Professional Group, helping to grow its membership by 30 percent in one year.After graduating from DePaul University, Davidson, now 30, managed marketing for Chicago-based SourceOne Global Partners, a large dietary supplement company. “I had terrific friends, a rewarding job and a gorgeous home,” he says. But after visiting Sarasota as a child, and again in 2009 and 2010, “I knew deep down that there was something better for me in Sarasota,” Davidson says. “Sarasota is more than just a retirement haven. If we can showcase Sarasota as a place to thrive after college, we’ll have one of the most talented and innovative young workforces in the country.”
Watch them Now
A glimpse of some People To Watch alums today.
Avinash and Kanak Bal
Lakewood Ranch resident and international food franchiser Avinash Bal launched the North American headquarters of his company, Hot Brands International, in Sarasota last year with his daughter, Kanak Bal. The pair will be opening their first restaurant, Wok Chi, serving fresh, authentic Chinese food, in early 2013 in Brandon.
Brand-new to Sarasota in 2009 as the executive director of U.S. Masters Swimming, Butcher was instrumental in securing the big deal Pan-American Masters Championship for a June 2013 tournament to be held at the Sarasota Family YMCA. The two-week tournament will bring in 2,000 athletes from more than 40 countries.
The founder of ROBRADY remains at the helm of his growing industrial design company based in Sarasota, which is designing products for clients all over the world, and manufacturing and funding new start-ups as well. ROBRADY is now in Atlanta and Shanghai, and last year opened a satellite studio at the Innovation Hub at the University of Florida.
Rob Campbell and Trey Lauderdale
The founders of Sarasota-based Voalté, a point of care communications system on smartphones, have grown the business from its 2009 launch to 23 hospitals, 7,000 iPhones and 20,000 users.
At New College of Florida, Godinez-Samperio worked on campus to tell the story of undocumented immigrants; now fighting to be allowed to practice law in Florida, he’s the national poster boy for changing U.S. immigration policies.
Dr. Arthur Guilford
USF Sarasota-Manatee’s regional chancellor landed here five years ago with ambitions to expand programs; this summer he announced plans to add freshman and sophomore students to the campus, double enrollment to 10,000 and take on major facility construction.
Mike Kennedy and Jacki Dezelski
This married couple remains influential in Manatee. Jacki remains vice president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce; and Mike, formerly the director of the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority, is now president and CEO of Suncoast Community Capital.
This Peace Corps volunteer became the youngest mayor of the city of Sarasota and is now dean of special programs at Eckerd College.
Former editorial page editor of The Bradenton Herald, he became the first director of USF Sarasota-Manatee’s Institute for Public Policy and Leadership, then—briefly—a commissioner on Florida’s Public Service Commission, and is now executive director of the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College.
Lana Cain Krauter
Former Beall’s president; now senior VP and president of Sears Apparel.
Former director of The Wellness Community of Southwest Florida (now Center for Building Hope), Lockaby is now the senior vice president, Affiliate Relations and Strategic Growth for the national headquarters of the Cancer Support Community.
Formerly the communications manager at the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County, Sperling now heads up ShelterBox USA.
Steven and Yelitza Staley
This husband and wife launched Sarasota sports club SoCo Sports in 2009 and have grown it to 1,251 members and 14 leagues.