2009 People To Watch

By staff Photography by Gene Pollux July 1, 2009

Rob Campbell and Trey Lauderdale

Trey Lauderdale, 26, a technology entrepreneur from Miami, found a mentor and CEO in Sarasota’s startup guru Rob Campbell, the founder of PowerPoint and FileMaker, who’s worked with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Now 58, Campbell decided after more than a decade of quiet investment, consulting and teaching that he has “one more big lift” left in him. At first, Lauderdale wasn’t eager to leave Miami. “I told Trey I’m 58 and you’re 26, and I’m not moving,” says Campbell. The new company, called Voalte (pronounced Volt), has developed an all-in-one voice, alarm and text message system on an iPhone (and eventually on other smart phones) that can help hospitals communicate better with doctors and nurses on the floor—a vital part of care. The pilot will be tested at Sarasota Memorial Hospital this summer. Both men say Voalte could go public and become a huge multinational. “The sky’s the limit,” crows Lauderdale. So far, he adds, being in Sarasota is just fine—“There’s not much temptation for a young guy, so I stay out of trouble.”


Tim McGonegal, 51, may be just the right man at the right time. The new superintendent of the Manatee County School District, McGonegal has no classroom experience, but he was the district’s former financial director, and in this era of deep budgets cuts—he faces $50 million in cuts over the next two years—financial savvy is essential. McGonegal also has a master’s degree in educational leadership (“the same as a principal would have,” he says), and sees himself as a “servant leader.” In Manatee County the ever-positive McGonegal, who has two children in district schools, says minus the cutbacks, he’s inherited a good situation—“great teachers, great schools, student achievement is increasing.” Among his goals are the implementation of a countywide core curriculum, a rainy-day fund for increased financial self-sufficiency and a lower level of FCAT anxiety. 


In less than three years as executive director of the Gulf Coast Latin Chamber of Commerce, Cesar Gomez, 30, has more than quadrupled membership. A commercial and human rights lawyer in his native Colombia, Gomez took over the Latin chamber’s top position in 2006, a year after arriving in the United States. “My English was terrible,” he admits. He immediately enrolled in English and paralegal courses at MCC and began meeting face-to-face with government leaders and the heads of every local chamber—in addition to interviewing every member of his own organization. The result of his tireless networking is a Latin chamber that bridges the gap between Hispanic and non-Hispanic businesses, benefiting both. “We’ve become a source of information, of jobs,” he says. “People come to me who want to work with Latinos more.” Gomez believes next year’s membership could reach 350 businesses. His ultimate goal: 1,000. 


Dawn Van Lanen, 39, vacationed in Sarasota after graduating from high school in Wisconsin. She fell in love with the beaches and never left. Now the bubbly Van Lanen manages Siesta Key’s largest resort hotel, Tropical Shores Resorts, 70 units comprised of three buildings. A constant networker who “attends seminars all the time,” Van Lanen says adapting to change is critical these days. “When our European travel slowed, we turned to guests as close to home as possible,” she says, while maintaining the customer service that has earned Tropical Shores the White Glove Award for Superior Small Lodging and its sister building, Tropical Sun, recognition as the No. 1 Family Resort by the Discovery Channel. Van Lanen says she never tires of seeing the beach at sunset. “That’s why it’s so easy for me to market it.” 


For Healthy Chocolate Florida’s founder Aharon Friedman, 51, a physicist and former high-tech company owner, the decision to develop a high-quality, sugar-free chocolate was very personal: He shed 110 pounds and his diabetes after a program of weight loss, exercise and herbal supplements. Alarmed at the prevalence of obesity and diabetes in the U.S., the Israeli-born Friedman and his late partner, Dr. Bill Coury, came up with a process using Xylitol, close to natural sugar but without its negatives, to sweeten a brand of healthy chocolate they’re now producing in Manatee County. “It took about three years to develop,” Friedman says, but only three days to obtain the permit for his 6,000-square-foot facility, which was ramping up production in May. The company plans to expand its customer base through a network of healthcare professionals, nutritionists and “opinion leaders.” 


Don’t let Joe and Patrick Seidensticker’s young ages (26 and 23, respectively) fool you; they’ve been working in the restaurant business with father Steve (who ran Boca Grande’s Gasparilla Inn for 30 years) since they were old enough to reach the sink to wash dishes. That experience may help account for the family’s success since opening Libby’s Café + Bar last October in Southside Village, in the space formerly occupied by Fred’s. “Our concept was not to be a ‘fine dining’ place,” says Joe. “Our goal was good prices, a big menu and a neighborhood feel.” The plan seems to have worked; Joe says Libby’s has “tons” of repeat customers of all ages. He also helped girlfriend Tatyana Sharoubim open downtown’s upscale T. Georgiano’s shoe store, and says the Seidensticker clan is always looking for opportunities to expand in other businesses here—although he’s keeping mum for now about details. 


BioDiesel2go founder Dusty Swartz, 39, has driven his 2007 Jeep Cherokee cross-country twice on biodiesel fuel to promote its use. Now he’s taking his passion and his training (a degree in environmental science and lab experience at Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson) to the next level with Pura-Vida-Ventures, hoping to get eco-conscious businesses in general and bioDiesel2go specifically—and first—off the ground. Swartz plans to distribute biodiesel fuel at kiosks throughout Florida in the next three months, starting here. “In Sarasota-Manatee alone, we use 46 million gallons of diesel fuel a year,” he says. “If [my company] could tap into just 1 percent or 2 percent of that market, especially with the trucking industry, we could decrease emissions and oil consumption significantly. It won’t solve all our problems, but I see it as a bridge until we get to the point where future technologies take over.” 


After more than a decade in banking at SunTrust, a stint in development at the Ringling College of Art and Design, and more than 10 years heading the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation, Debra Jacobs, 58, is a familiar local leader. But she’s assumed a new and powerful role as president and CEO of the Patterson Foundation, which was formed in 1997 with a base of about $2 million but will, when foundation creator Dorothy Patterson’s estate is settled later this year, exceed $150 million. The fledgling foundation hopes to disburse about $7 million a year, but Jacobs says the grant-making mission is still being determined. “Patterson cannot be all things, and we have a responsibility not to duplicate what others are doing,” says Jacobs. “Mrs. Patterson created a unique opportunity with this blank slate, and I look forward to sharing our plan later this year.”   


Cruise Car’s Ken Chester’s “aha” moment came when his electric golf cart conked out on the 16th hole of SaraBay Country Club. “I said, ‘I live in the Sunshine State. There is no logic behind having a vehicle that is not powered by the sun,’” says the retired pharmaceutical company marketing exec. What started in 2004 as “a little whim” in a storefront on Stickney Point Road has blossomed into a company that sells thousands of solar-powered golf carts and trams annually—at $7,000 to $32,000—to individuals, eco-friendly resorts, airports and businesses all over the world. (Sarasota County just bought five to use as maintenance vehicles.) Chester, 62, gets the parts from China and his 15 employees assemble them at a 30,000-square-foot Northgate Center warehouse. He’s even getting political respect: Sen. Mel Martinez demonstrated a Cruise Car to the Senate Energy Committee in Washington, D.C. on Earth Day. 


U.S. Masters Swimming executive director Rob Butcher, 36, moved from Charlotte, N.C., to Sarasota this summer, and he’s bringing all 50,000 members with him—at least virtually. It’s the first-ever permanent HQ for the 40-year-old nonprofit organization (annual budget: $1.5 million). Sarasota beat out nine other cities, partly for its warm weather, culture, tourism, enthusiasm, and excellent masters swim program (the Sharks) and pools (Arlington Park, Sarasota Family YMCA). A top swimmer who qualified for the 1997 U.S. Olympic Trials, Butcher says, “Sixty-three million people in America do some form of regular swimming, and we’re on a trajectory to 100,000 members.” A few key employees will relocate with him, and he’ll hire more locally for a total staff of 15 to 20. “We’re going to sponsor more camps and more events [beyond the 500 already sanctioned each year],” Butcher says, “some of which may come to Sarasota.” 

Christina Pitchford 

Was anyone surprised that Christine Pitchford, 32, won with the Florida Association of Realtors 2008 Newcomer Award? Pitchford helped found the Sarasota Young Realtors and Green Realtor Alliance of Sarasota, recently graduated from the Sarasota Association of Realtors’ first leadership program and serves on four of its committees. She volunteers on two more weighty committees for the Florida Association of Realtors. A Sarasota native and 1995 Pine View grad who hails from a long line of local realtors and real estate attorneys, Pitchford has parlayed her “Your Hometown Consultant” brand into a thriving career, first at RE/MAX Alliance Group, now at Allen Real Estate Services. “It’s more than just real estate to me,” she says. “I really love Sarasota.” Business, she told us in mid-May, is “fabulous. Last week was my busiest week ever. I had six offers, four contracts, and I’m waiting to hear back on another one.”

Kelly Morrell

Kelly Morrell wants to change the way young people think about philanthropy. Morrell, 25, program manager at the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice, is spearheading the foundation’s new Future Fund, looking to recruit 100 young professionals to contribute at least $100 each year, and then to decide what worthy projects to give that money to. A triathlete in her spare time, Morrell grew up in a service-minded family in Brevard County (her dad’s an Air Force general, her mom worked at their church) and earned a master’s degree in administration and nonprofit management at UCF. Undaunted by peers who ask her, “You do what?”, Morrell is an example of nonprofit passion in action. “Initiatives like the Future Fund are so important to introduce young leaders to philanthropy,” she says. “The more creative and easy mechanisms like the Future Fund there are, the stronger our community will be.”

Olivia Bono 

Juno & Jove’s Olivia Bono, 31, selects only eco-friendly and ethically produced fashions and home goods for her upscale Sarasota shop, which opened in 2008 along with an online store ( that now comprises 20 percent of her sales. A Cardinal Mooney grad, Bono got a degree in film and television at NYU and worked in TV production in L.A. for four years, then earned a law degree at Saint Louis University. A summer in Brussels studying international law opened her eyes to the socially conscious fashion design movement. “We’re asking people to put in a little thought about the products they bring into their home,” she says. The message is getting through; Bono has customers who want her to open Juno & Jove outposts in their own communities, and she’s planning to do just that. “They’ll be corporate owned to maintain that level of quality,” she says.

Courtney Wise

Courtney Wise, 28, manager of Take Care Advisor, learned early to listen to her elders. Her mom, Susanne founded Take Care Home Health in 1995 (now mentioned as one of the best in the nation) and then encouraged Courtney to study gerontology at the University of Florida. After earning a master’s degree in gerontology at USC in Los Angeles, Wise returned to Sarasota in April 2008 to run Take Care Advisor, a part of her mother’s company, which helps older adults and their families manage every aspect of their healthcare. Wise says the company is poised for growth, especially as baby boomers age. “The best part of my job is getting to meet clients and their family members,” says Wise, who is also involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Sarasota Young Professionals Group. “I’m looking forward to growing this business and finding my place not only as a professional, but as a young person here in town.”

Maggie Mooney-Portale

Maggie Mooney-Portale, 34, who practices environmental and governmental law with Lewis, Longman & Walker, is a woman of action. The outgoing past president of the Young Lawyers Division of the Manatee County Bar Association, Mooney-Portale led the group in obtaining grants and donations to help build the new children’s waiting room in the Manatee County Judicial Center . “There was no place [in the courthouse] where someone could bring their child,” Mooney-Portale says.  “Now kids can walk in and be in a safe place until whatever proceeding they’re there for.” Mooney-Portale is also president of Legal Aid of Manasota, and chaired the recent Justice is Served Cook-off, which raised more than $10,000 to benefit Legal Aid’s pro bono programs. Mooney-Portale’s biggest goal is to encourage lawyers to volunteer. “I hope local lawyers will test their boundaries a little,” she says, “and give their intellect and their degree back to their community.”

Alan O’Neill

Last December Alan O’Neill, CEO of Totalamber Software Consultancy Group, moved his U.S. office to Sarasota from Manchester , England , after vacationing here for years. “For as long as I’ve been coming to Sarasota , I’ve said to my wife, ‘I will have a business with an office in One Sarasota Tower ,’” says O’Neill. True to his word, O’Neil now oversees his U.S. division from the third floor of that building. A software consultancy company, Totalamber has 500 clients in 23 countries, and O’Neill, 39, hopes to add 100 employees by the end of this year. An IT headhunter before starting Totalamber, he’s also growing another company, Webquarters, focused on building and monetizing Web sites, and is writing two books. “A very proud daddy” to three children, O’Neill loves exploring Sarasota with his wife, who’s expecting their fourth child in October. “ Sarasota is the best place on earth,” he says. 

Jason Krywko

When Jason Krywko graduated from Manatee High School he set a few goals: to marry his high school sweetheart, have several children and run an international business—all before he turned 30. Now 29, Krywko, still filled with boyish enthusiasm, has accomplished all three. He’s the chief operating officer of Sleek Audio, a Palmetto-based maker of customized earphones named Best of What’s New in 2008 by Wired magazine. Created by Jason and his father, Mark, who both came from the hearing aid industry, the SA6 in-ear earphones have a global market, and Krywko now travels and does deals in Europe, Australia, China and the Middle East. This year the company moved into a larger facility, will be hiring 15 employees, is bringing its manufacturing back to Palmetto from China and expects sales to triple. “We’ve gone from small scale to exploding,” he enthuses. 

Eric Basinger

It can’t be easy stepping into the shoes of Nancy Engel, the popular executive director of the Manatee County Chamber’s Economic Development Council for 25 years. Plus, Eric Basinger, 33, is taking over at a challenging time as companies and jobs leave the region. A native of Alabama, Basinger was executive director of the Elmore County Economic Development Authority in Wetumpka, Ala., where he helped to create 1,292 jobs and $97 million in new capital investment. Business leaders there mention his strength in recruiting international companies, and Basinger says that’s partly because of his talent for building relationships. “I don’t ever lose track of people I’ve contacted,” he says. Despite his languid Southern drawl, Basinger says people shouldn’t assume he’s not aggressive: “I may come off as laid-back,” he says with a laugh, “but I’m always figuring out my next move." 

Charles Nechtem

Fed up with dark, cold Newark, N.J., winters, psychologist Charles “Chuck” Nechtem last year moved his Charles Nechtem Associates and his two cats, Good Girl and Good Boy, to Longboat Key. The seventh-largest mental health company in the country, Charles Nechtem Associates provides 24-hour counseling and employee assistance programs and manages mental health programs for more than 1,000 companies and five million people around the world. An unpretentious, accessible CEO, Nechtem, 54, has offices in several cities, 200 employees (18 of them on Longboat) and a network of 75,000 clinicians. And he’s putting roots down fast. He’s partnered with the Longboat Key Club to offer counseling and wellness services to members, and sees Longboat Key as a wellness destination. He’s also opened a business that will manage condominiums and provide counseling services to residents. Maybe next: a run for the Longboat Key Commission. 

Barry and Kate Grayson

In 2001, Kate Grayson, a computer systems expert with clients in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, consulted for a company that had stored hundreds of thousands of lab specimens at various sites and couldn’t keep track of them or their accounting charges. Studying the mess, Grayson realized, “I could create a better system.” Kate, now 45, and her husband, Barry, 44, started Steelgate Inc. on Long Island, N.Y., in 2002 and relocated it in 2004 to Manatee County. A complicated business that requires precise tracking and transport systems and secure facilities, Steelgate today is at the forefront of the growing bio-repository industry, storing samples for the top pharmaceutical companies in the world. It just opened an office in Belgium. “No one was doing this,” says Barry, “and it’s worked out phenomenally well.”

Isaac Turner

When controversial Venice city manager Marty Black retired last August, his successor, Isaac Turner, knew he was going to have his hands full. At the time, the city was entangled in an open government lawsuit and in trouble with the Federal Aviation Administration over its airport plan, not to mention facing budget cuts due to the tough economy. But Turner, the city’s first black city manager, says his ultimate goal is to move forward. He’s hopeful that in the next year, the city will be able to focus on implementing projects as opposed to dealing with the transition issues that come with a new city manager. “Bridging some of [the city’s] divides has been the major challenge,” he says. “But there is a passionate love for the community here, and that’s been pretty universal.” As for his favorite part of his new job? “It’s always the people; they set the flavor for the community," Turner says. "I consider my profession a calling, and I believe that Venice is the place I’m supposed to be right now.”

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