Article

People To Watch

By Hannah Wallace June 30, 2008

In 2002, when Patrick Kilbane moved to Sarasota after college to join his brother as a financial advisor at Baker & Company, “I thought I’d moved to the retirement capital of the world,” he says. Now at Smith Barney and poised to chair the 635-member Young Professionals Group of The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce in October, Kilbane has a different take on the town. “It’s amazing how much Sarasota’s changed in just six years,” he says.  “I see a lot of entrepreneurial spirit among young people.” The affable Kilbane, 28, is also slated for presidency of the Downtown Rotary Club in 2011 and sings lead with a barbershop quartet. As YPG chair, he plans to help steer members toward community service and such tailor-made programs as “Wine Tasting 101” and “How to be a Better Speaker.” His motto: “You can’t please all people all the time, but you can try.” 

Earlier this year, baby “onesies” from OBLI Organics were featured in swag bags gifted to expectant stars at the Academy Awards, winning the Sarasota-based company glittering national exposure. Run by indefatigable siblings and marketing pros Michelle Young of Sarasota and Melissa Blanco of Aventura, Fla., OBLI is one of only a few clothing companies certified 100 percent organic, from the cotton in its T-shirts to its Fair Trade manufacturing processes and the non-PVC inks used to print slogans like “I Only Ride Hybrid” or “Eco Princess.” “We want [our clothes] to be the best you could possibly put on your child,” says Melissa, 32. Adds Michelle, 37, “We want people to know that you can be green and still be hip.” OBLI’s clothes are now sold at boutiques in eight states (including right here in town at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota) and in Canada, and in their online shop, www.obliorganics.com.

With state education dollars the scarcest in recent memory, it’s a good thing Dr. Lars Hafner, incoming president of Manatee Community College, knows his way around Tallahassee so well. Voted into the Florida legislature from his native Pinellas County at 27, Hafner served as a lawmaker for 12 years, including serving as chairman of the finance and programs subcommittee on higher education, until term limits forced him out in 2000. He’s spent the last two decades at St. Petersburg College, most recently as provost. Hafner, 47, says his goal is to continue strengthening MCC’s responsiveness to the community’s needs. “That’s easy to do,” he says, “because of the strong foundation [outgoing president] Sarah Pappas and her team have developed there.”

High-energy Icard Merrill real estate lawyer Anne Weintraub, 30, serves on the boards of the Sarasota Boys & Girls Club and the Wellness Community, chairs the Boys & Girls Club’s Women’s Leadership Council and is president of the Stetson University College of Law’s advisory committee. She’s also endowed a scholarship at Stetson, writes a real estate column for Lakewood Ranch’s Living Out East magazine and prides herself on being a concierge attorney, which means her clients have unlimited access to her all the time. “I keep a full plate,” she admits. Make that a heaping plate—she also wants to take the bar in another state (Colorado, maybe), travel more, do more public speaking, sing the national anthem at a sporting event and, eventually, become a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist and a legal commentator on her own TV show. Still, she insists, “This will always be my home base.”

To Carlos Cardenas, an economic downturn presents the opportunity for growth. As president of the Gulf Coast Latin Chamber of Commerce, the Columbian-born Cardenas, 41, grew membership from 64 to 170 in the past year, with a goal of 325 members by the end of 2008. The chamber’s new energy is palpable at Conexiónes, a monthly networking party that draws more than 100 people with good food, lively music and the opportunity to connect with other businesspeople. “People like to do business with people they know,” Cardenas says. As senior director of marketing and business development for Progressive Employer Services, he also forges connections between Hispanic and non-Hispanic businesses. “When times get tough you have to look at nontraditional ways to do business,” he says. “We’re opening a door to the Hispanic market and the potential buying power and huge opportunity for growth.”

KC Quaretti-Lee, AGE?, executive director of Venice MainStreet since 2007, says the same skills she used in sales in the garment business (including co-owning and selling a successful blue jeans company) come in handy in promoting downtown Venice. “A nonprofit like Venice MainStreet is still a business,” she says, “and you need to have your organization set up with budgets and realistic goals, just as you do in a for-profit business. And since we’re always looking for new members, I’m still selling, in this case, the organization.” After years spent in Europe raising two children with her husband, an Italian artist, Quaretti-Lee is now intent on bringing more events, and more people, to downtown Venice, with free Friday night concerts, crafts fairs, garden shows and a recent Iron Chef competition in the mix. “I just want to keep supporting our downtown,” she says. “It’s a beautiful place to be.”

 

German-born Thomas Heimann, 42, has started and sold several tech businesses, including the world’s first Web-hosting company, but what really excites this self-described “serial entrepreneur” is “sensing paradigm shifts”—like the one his three-year-old Bravo Realty is positioned to ride. All the real estate information on the Internet, Heimann says, has reduced the role of agents and made their hefty commissions “ridiculous.” By streamlining the buying and selling process with a staff of salaried specialists, Bravo offers full service but slashes consumers’ costs. Even in the down market, he says, business is growing—“the worse it is, the better we do.” Soon, he predicts, traditional real estate companies will go the way of AT&T, losing their dominance to newcomers who’ve adapted to today’s realities. A runner and avid student of success lit and seminars, Heimann wants Bravo to emerge as a national leader in the change.

Dr. Lisa Merritt scoffs at friends who exclaim about her energy. “I’m 48 and a single mom [to an eight-year-old girl]!” she says. “I get tired like anyone else.” Maybe not. In the year since she moved here from Atlanta to be close to her mother, Eleanor, a well-known artist who’d been in ill health, Merritt, a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation, has taken on a host of community initiatives, serving on Newtown’s health advisory council, volunteering at Genesis Medical Clinic and helping found a program to train laypeople to provide AIDS testing and counseling. A believer in complementary medical approaches that “empower people to do well,” Merritt says she learned at Howard University’s College of Medicine that doctors should heal their communities. “Opportunities present themselves and I do my best to be of assistance,” she says. “I tell people I work for God.”

Sarasota County has a national rep for progressive, even visionary government, and no one illustrates that better than Bob Hanson, 47, chief information officer for Sarasota County and its schools. As the architect of collaborations—including creating a shared network for county government and the schools—that have increased tech services and saved millions, Hanson has been named to several lists of the nation’s most influential people in public service technology. “Sharing costs and technologies is the future for the public sector,” he says. He’s helping the county pursue that future, marketing tech services and applications to other municipalities. A 24/7 e-mailer with “a BlackBerry permanently affixed to my head,” Hanson loves the “rapid pace of change” in technology and admits he’s often courted by other organizations. So far, he’s happy here—especially since he and his family moved to a new downtown condo, where they’re loving the urban lifestyle.

From her new studio in Towles Court, Maestro Events president Jennifer Grondahl orchestrates the venues, vendors and myriad details that go into some of Sarasota’s glitziest charitable galas, such as the Sarasota Polo Ball and the YMCA’s Going for the Gold, as well as major corporate events and lavish private parties. After a start in politics with a Washington, D.C.-based public policy organization, Grondahl, 33, got “bitten by the charity bug” when a friend was diagnosed with leukemia. She left Washington and became executive director of the American Cancer Society for Manatee, Hardee and Highlands counties. Now active in the Junior League and Lakewood Ranch Rotary and on the board of the Sarasota-Manatee Association for Riding Therapy, Grondahl would welcome the chance to revisit Washington—but not politically. “I’d love to coordinate an event at the White House,” she says.

Retired after 32 years as a General Motors exec, Tyrone Hill moved here three years ago and invested in Newtown real estate, paying $1.2 million for a run-down, 14-unit apartment complex in 2006. Next Hill, 56, poured nearly $100,000 into renovations, ridding the property of drug dealers and taking a hit financially as he absorbs the cost of vacant units. Now he’s investing his business savvy in Newtown as chairman of its TIF/CRA Advisory Board. With law enforcement and government ranking redevelopment as a top priority and several long-awaited projects finally getting under way, Hill’s timing is good. “I have a vision of Sarasota as a culturally diverse city that sets an example for other urban areas,” he says. “People say a lot of things about moving ahead, making change, but you have to be willing to actually invest your time, labor and energy.”

When Ruden McCloskey environmental lawyer Nick Gladding brought together 180 community leaders as chairman of the Summit for Environmental Action last February, he hoped to unite diverse groups behind eco-friendly initiatives. He was so successful the Summit won a $10,000 award from the Case Foundation of Washington, D.C. Gladding also serves on the board of SCOPE (Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence), chairs the Chamber of Commerce’s new Green Business Leadership Committee and is vice chairman of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program. “What’s happening is a tidal wave I’ve been getting ready for my whole career,” he says. “I want to make sure that before the wave breaks, the businesses and citizens of this community are positioned to take advantage of it. Sarasota has an opportunity to be one of the leading small cities in the United States on going green."

Wanderlust led David Lerhman, 40, to the $100 million Hyatt Siesta Beach Club, where he captains the sales team for the region’s first luxury fractional project. A Miami native, Lehrman spent three years after college with his wife, Kathryn, working their way around the world. Then they headed to Key West, where Lehrman signed on as a salesperson at the original Hyatt Vacation Club. Hyatt later sent him to Lake Tahoe, Puerto Rico and the Hyatt Coconut Point Resort in Naples, where he led sales and marketing for six years. Of the 44-unit Siesta Beach Club, he says: “Luxury fractionals are an alternative to a luxury second home. We built them substantially larger [than our timeshares] and sell them in larger six-week increments, furnished and finished as if they were $3 million homes complete with concierge amenities.” Initial response has been “tremendous,” he says, with completion scheduled for late 2009.

No second acts in American life? Don’t tell that to David Klement, 68, who this fall retired from his 30-year stint as the widely respected editorial page editor of the Bradenton Herald to sign on as director of USF Sarasota-Manatee’s Institute for Public Policy and Leadership. Already he’s making the institute a major player, partnering with businesses, charities and the media to produce forums on such critical issues as growth and the economy, civility in an election year and the healthcare crisis. Despite his thoughtful demeanor, Klement has the energy—credit his early-morning runs and Pilates classes with Manatee power brokers—and sense of mission to do the near-impossible: build consensus and spark positive action among the region’s famously combative special interests.

Sarasota newcomer Veronica Brandon Miller, 40, raised $3.3 million for Take Stock in Children scholarships for 400 Boys & Girls Clubs members in three lightning-quick months. Like a mini tornado, she’s stirred up the youth club in her role as development vice president. Miller moved here last year from Washington, D.C., where she had raised money for the Navy League Foundation and the Smithsonian. (Thank Miller for helping to raise the $10 million that brought those baby pandas to the National Zoo.) Already, she’s created the 200-member Women’s Leadership Council to engage new donors and forged marketing partnerships with local businesses. Collaboration is her watchword: “You’re more powerful when you’re creating a coalition to help people,” she says. How fast is her trajectory? She just announced she’s taking over the executive director position at Take Stock in Children.

Newcomer Michael J. Beaumier has to help make good on Suffolk Construction’s audacious promise: to complete half a billion dollars statewide in gross billings by 2010. The commercial construction firm did $345 million in gross billings statewide in 2007, including the high-profile Ave Maria University in Collier County, and recently tapped Beaumier, 46, to lead its new west Florida office in Sarasota. Undaunted by the challenge, Beaumier views it like coaching his daughters’ soccer and basketball teams—“being able to instill a sense of teamwork, cooperation, fair play.” Commercial construction has slowed, but “we think the Sarasota marketplace is in a position to come back,” he says. Up next: Suffolk will be building The Wilder Companies’ The Loop—1.2 million square feet of retail, office and hotel on 200 acres at I-75 exit 161 in Punta Gorda. Construction starts at the end of 2008.

Abel Band attorney and Sarasota native Douglas Cherry fell in love with computers and the law during his high school days, when his aunt and uncle were starting a grammar-checking software business and he got to see what was involved, including protecting trademarks, patents and business names. “I saw them as visionaries,” says Cherry, 33, who went on to study decision and information sciences at the University of Florida before obtaining his law degree there. One of just 80 Florida lawyers the Florida Bar has certified as specialists in the important and rapidly growing field of intellectual property law, Sarasota native Cherry frequently presents seminars on this topic and has served as president of the Young Lawyers Division of the Sarasota County Bar Association. With wife Brooke, he’s a new parent who says of his hometown, “There’s just no place else in the world I’d rather live.”

Robert Ludwig, 37, values tradition. His family has headed the Ludwig-Walpole Insurance Agency for more than 75 years, and John Ringling was among their early clients. But vice president Ludwig, a Florida State University grad in the field of risk management, knows that times change—part of the reason the company is leaving its longtime

Orange Avenue
office building to move to newer, bigger quarters on
Fruitville Road
within the next few months. Ludwig has served on committees for the Chamber of Commerce and the UnGala Gala and helped form the Florida Association of Insurance Agents Young Agent’s Council; he’s grooming the next generation of young agents with his own two toddlers. The industry’s biggest challenges? “Legislative bodies are regulating more than necessary,” he says. “Clients are getting artificially low premiums, but if we have a repeat of the ’04-05 hurricane season, we’ll all pay for it then.”

Lana Cain Krauter, the new president of the retail division of Bradenton-based Bealls Inc., says she’s ready to live, just like the Bealls tag line, “the Florida lifestyle.” She’s moved to downtown Sarasota, “living in a big little city,” and she’s thrown herself into her new job. Past positions for this University of Texas grad have included merchandising with major players Sears and J.C. Penney, but she loves the size of Bealls, because it can react more quickly. She also feels Bealls understands this region and its shoppers. “In retail, every day is a report card, because the customer’s going to tell you if they like what you do,” says Krauter. And at 56, she thinks she’s well positioned to meet the needs of her fellow 77 million baby boomers, who are driving growth for Bealls. Look for some new brand introductions come tourist season.

Allan Lane
isn’t taking any downtime during the downturn. Instead, North Port’s new economic development manager is getting Florida’s largest (102 square miles) small city ready for its next wave of development. Lane, 59, assumed his new role in January after revitalizing the
Old National Highway
corridor in College Park, Ga., near Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport. As an economic development specialist with the city, he was able to attract new hotels and nearly $200 million in public and private investment over five years. This year, North Port’s major roads are being widened and its wastewater system upgraded through a $50 million bond issue. The city has approved zoning for its future major activity centers and is undertaking a branding campaign this summer.  Lane’s dream is even grander: to create a hotel/convention center trade and to craft a real downtown at the up-and-coming intersection at Sumter and Price boulevards.

When the Sarasota School Board voted unanimously to elevate 30-year district veteran Lori White to Superintendent of Schools, a sigh of relief rippled through district staff and the community. White, 53, didn’t seek the position, but says she’s ready for the challenge. Most feel she’s the right person to maintain and expand Next Generation reforms—and to guide a cantankerous elected board. A Wichita native who always wanted to be a teacher, White started out teaching special education at Ashton Elementary. She’s a careful listener who encourages staff, students and parents to speak up, and although she’s portrayed as a calming presence, “It’s clear when I’m peeved,” she says. What peeves White? Unfairness, especially in the treatment of “people who don’t have the capacity or power to stand up for themselves,” and bureaucracy—“letting the mundane, things that shouldn’t matter, get in the way of important work.”

For years, John Neal, the 33-year-old son of longtime Manatee County developer Pat Neal, “didn’t want to be in the business.” But after rising through the ranks at a large mortgage company in Virginia, he reversed course in 2004 when his father asked him to give development a try. “It suited me,” he says. Now the married father of two young children has purchased Pat’s 50 percent ownership of University Park Country Club and is a developer in his own right (Wisteria Park, Forest Creek and Rivers Reach), and broker for University Park Lifestyles, the residential real estate sales division for University Park. “I have to work harder,” he admits of following in his dad’s giant footsteps. But he’s definitely a chip off the old block, with the same speaking voice, friendly demeanor and fanaticism about details (the two recently spent a morning taste-testing the hotdogs at University Park Grille).

With his impeccable manners and soft British accent, Anand Pallegar, 29, the founder and president of atLarge, an interactive advertising agency, has irresistible charm. Pallegar moved to Sarasota in 2004 to be near family while recuperating from a near-fatal car accident, then decided he didn’t want to return to Detroit, where he had a Web business. He launched the region’s first daily business e-newsletter and began designing marketing campaigns using new Web strategies. Pallegar’s IT reputation leapfrogged this year when he won the big-deal International Davey Award out of 4,000 applicants for his Sarasota Film Festival online campaign and another international award for his work with the Sarasota Film Commission. His revenues grew 165 percent in 2007, and he added eight staff for a total of 10. On his wish list? Medical school. “I see the convergence of technology and medicine as a frontier for developing future cures,” he says.

“Communications is definitely a ‘found’ profession for me,” says Emily Sperling, who, as the super-organized, whip-smart communications manager of the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County, is raising the organization’s profile. Sperling moved back to her native Sarasota to work for the EDC after earning degrees in food and resource economics and mass communications at the University of Florida and working with the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association and as director of student relations and alumni affairs for UF’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “My passion is managing relationships with stakeholders,” she says. She’s also passionate about the Boys & Girls Club of Sarasota and its Women’s Leadership Council, and she’s chairing the clean-up of

Dr. Martin Luther King Way
as part of the Sarasota Citizens Academy. And this summer, she’s joining 10,000 other cyclists on a 500-mile ride across Iowa. 

 

By Susan Burns, Kim Cartlidge, Pam Daniel, Ilene Denton, Kay Kipling, Megan McDonald and Lori Uzzo

 

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