By Dennis Boone
There’s something about 40.
It’s mentioned nearly 150 times in the Bible (from Noah’s 40 days and nights of rain to the Israelites’ 40 years of wandering to the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert) and it’s cited in key passages of the Quran, with a few Buddhist references to the number as well.
And in many cases, those references have to do with the concept of trial and renewal, with overcoming incredible odds to obtain spectacular results. Think about that when you consider Ingram’s annual classes of 40 Under Forty: What they’ve had to do to position themselves for success, and what they are poised to do, not just for themselves, but for the communities they are part of. They have been tested, and they have passed the tests.
Bankers, lawyers, health-care professionals, non-profit leaders, builders and designers, technology whizzes, business consultants and sales professionals, they come from many career paths but, invariably, they are living lives that are far larger than their careers.
It’s a given that all are successful in those careers. But beyond that attainment, almost every one is married, with children. This is a status that continues to astound, given where demographic trends have taken the nation over the past, oh, 40 years or so. There’s no question: Children complicate career achievement. Ask anyone who ever had to cut short a crucial meeting, or reschedule one, because the school called to report a fevered child.
For another, the depth of their civic engagement spawns a hint of guilt in those of us who know we should be—could be—doing more. The 40 Under Forty almost to a man or woman is taking time away from those family concerns to build better communities for their companies and their families by serving on non-profit boards, volunteering at community events and fundraisers, providing manpower for PTA initiatives, coaching youth sports or supporting their church programs. It is a long and varied list of personal interests that have been converted into action, to the benefit of all.
In 17 years, Ingram’s has been able to identify 680 such individuals. A few have since retired, several have moved to other cities, and a couple have passed away, but many—ranging from the mid-30s to mid-50s—are still here, still working, still volunteering, and still making this city a better place to live. To this year’s honorees, and to all who proudly wear the 40 Under Forty badge of honor, you have our congratulations, our admiration, and our thanks.
A passion for excellence, says Todd Bauer, helped make him a managing partner at KPMG, where he provides tax services and audit support to large public and private clients at the accounting giant. “While public accounting is at times a means to fulfilling an experience requirement for your CPA license, it is where I have enjoyed building my career over the last 15 years,” says Bauer, who turns 38 this month. He also has a key role developing the people who make KPMG tick, serving on the people strategy team—21 partners and managing directors across the firm who focus on ensuring that employees can grow and succeed at KPMG. That also means roles in recruiting from both new college graduates and experienced hires, and mentoring professionals here and firm-wide. He’s no stranger to big numbers at home, either: He and his wife, Melissa, keep busy with five children, ages 10 years to 8 months. “While time is a valuable commodity when chasing five kids,” he acknowledges, “I volunteer at our children’s schools and coach and teach kids youth baseball.” He’s also part of the firm’s efforts to support the Midwest Foster Care and Adoption Association’s adopt-a-family holiday program and its Family for Literacy program, which raises funds and delivers books to students at inner-city schools. His past service includes stints on the Overland Park Friends of the Arts committee and several years as a team leader for United Way’s Community Giving Drive, and this summer he’ll start a three-year stint as treasurer for the board of Horizon Academy.
Business isn’t just business for Andrew Brancato—it’s personal. The president of Brancato’s Catering runs not just that operating unit, but is part of an executive team with three other thriving divisions, and the common denominator for all is family. “Growing up in a family-owned business not only instilled the values of hard work, dedication and loyalty, but also galvanized my commitment to family, faith and community,” Brancato says. A graduate of Rockhurst High and Kansas State, where he was Phi Delta Theta president, he went to work in the family’s catering business and All Seasons Rental. From day one, he says, “it was made clear that my position was in no way entitled. With hard work and dedication, I have been able to expand my role in the company while helping the company grow.” And grow it has: Since 2010, he says, it’s up between 55 percent and 110 percent for those units, and the company is extending its reach to international markets. Such success, he believes, stems from a dedication to developing a qualified and successful team, an unwavering commitment to customer service, exceptional product innovation, and a willingness to embrace marketing and public relations initiatives that create local and international brand awareness. He and his wife, Melissa, have two children, 2 years and 4 months old, and he also keeps active with service with Catholic Charities of Kansas City and St. Joseph, the Native Sons and Daughters of Greater Kansas City, and KC Cause.
How far will Andrew Brummel go? That’s about the only question left unanswered by an impressive list of accomplishments in the first decade since he graduated from Truman State University in 2003. He followed that up as a procurement agent at the Boeing Co.—while also earning his law degree from Saint Louis University—four years with the Bryan Cave law firm, and, since 2012, he’s been with the region’s largest private company as vice president-legal for Dairy Farmers of America, the nation’s largest dairy cooperative. The latter role, Brummel says, “was earned by playing a key role in the most significant transactions within the organization,” including the lead legal role in a merger with the fifth- largest cooperative in the U.S. Through his work, DFA now sells and exports shelf‐stable milk and other dairy products worldwide, for a growing global middle class insistent on more dietary protein. He’s on DFA’s executive team, directs an in-house team of attorneys, outside counsel, paralegals and support staff, all focusing on matters like mergers and acquisitions, commercial transactions, corporate governance, and membership for a company with $17.9 billion in revenues last year. “There is no substitute for hard work, dedication, and attention to detail,” Brummel says, assessing his success. Throughout his career, he says, “I have approached each task and project with intensity and focus, a goal of maximizing results, and a mindset that failure is not an option.”
When Milbank Manufacturing sought someone to lead PowerGen, a new venture in 2009, it turned to Chris Buelow. The goal was to introduce new power generation and energy-management products and create a new revenue stream for the Kansas City manufacturer. Mission accomplished: Buelow and his 16-strong team have been responsible for the design and commercialization of more than 100 new product SKUs and a $15 million business platform for Milbank, which produces a wide range of electrical devices, from metering to power-regulation and generating units. While that was going on, he also managed strategic manufacturing and private-label partnerships with companies like Briggs & Stratton and Westinghouse, and in 2011, was tasked with creating a certification program for electrical contractors to provide technical and installation support for the PowerGen line. From that came a technical support and training team that serves more than 600 certified contractors, 800 distributors and thousands of end users. Two years later, Buelow teamed up with Milbank’s chief financial officer to lead a product acquisition from a Canadian company, which he says had “led to new, unchartered markets for Milbank.” Despite all those success markers, he measures his contributions in terms he considers more meaningful. “The most rewarding experience is mentoring our younger employees and seeing them excel,” he says. “Over the years, I’ve been able to promote five of my employees to management positions.”
In his comparatively short career, 35-year-old Eric Buer has been all about numbers with firms like KPMG and now Tradebot Systems, where he’s held titles like manager, director of finance and now CFO for one of the largest high-frequency trading firms in the world. What one might not expect from such a background is the ability to create a real estate portfolio, build a high-speed telecommunications network, or design and run—really—an Arizona gold mine. Buer has done all of that and more, sitting on the boards of directors for all companies under the Tradebot umbrella. For the equities-trading operation, he’s responsible for all aspects of financial and SEC reporting, capital management, and oversight of the CPA team. Just two years after joining the firm in 2009, he was tasked with helping diversify the Kansas City firm’s portfolio, and within three years, the team had created 15 real-estate partnerships and invested more than 10 times the initial capital plan, primarily in Class-A industrial space and multi-family developments. In 2013, he headed up an initiative to bring the firm’s wireless network infrastructure in-house by launching Tatora LLC, a wireless communications provider. He took on that task, he confesses, “with no background in wireless millimeter wave technology,” yet produced what the firm bills as the fastest wireless communications company in the world. He’s on the advisory council for Youth Entrepreneurs and for a decade has been actively involved with the Midwest Foster Care and Adoption Alliance.
The law firm of Franke Shultz & Mullen is based in south Kansas City, but partner Nikki Cannezzaro could almost be paying office rents in Downtown Kansas City, for all the time she spends in court. She’s part of a relatively small number of attorneys who are active at both the trial court and appellate level, and her impressive list of nearly 50 cases argued on appeal includes more than three dozen in the Missouri Court of Appeals, where she served as a judicial clerk before joining the firm. She’s a litigation specialist who can fluidly move from cases involving fatal car accidents to product or premises liability, from business disputes to insurance litigation. And she’s collected armloads of legal association honors for her performance. “I’m confident that in my 15 years of practice, I’ve tried more civil jury trials than any other lawyer in Kansas City under the age of 40, and likely been involved in more appeals than most lawyers in an entire career,” she says. The hard work that went into generating clients, revenue and reputation helped make her a partner at the firm in just four years. Cannezzaro is also an active booster of her profession, a past president of the Association for Women Lawyers of Greater Kansas City, and of the Diversity Section of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association. She’s now treasurer and executive committee member for the local bar association. At home, she and her husband have two preschool-age children, and one more on the way.
After earning her law degree from UMKC in 2001, Mara Cohara set up shop at Lathrop & Gage and got down to business—the business of defending business, that is. She’s now the chair of the toxic and mass tort practice group for one of the largest law firms in Kansas City, leading more than two dozen attorneys and 10 paralegals in offices nationwide. Mission: to defend companies in jury trials, mediations and arbitrations, in those cases that have earned, in law-firm speak, the “bet-the-company” designation.The tort practice group has grown considerably both in size and gross revenue, contributing to the firm’s $84 million in 2014 revenue from the Kansas City office, more than half the firm-wide total of $145 million. She’s also in the trenches as a skilled litigator, with experience in jury trials, mediations and arbitrations. Cohara, 39, manages all that while raising two children, ages 7 and 3, with husband Ben. “My daily planner is often almost frighteningly full with professional and civic engagements,” she says, but family time is the most important part of those hectic days. That calendar has been crammed with roles as past-president of UMKC Law Alumni Association, secretary of Lawyers Encouraging Academic Performance, director of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Foundation, and a member of the Heartland Women’s Leadership Council. She’s also involved with the Harvest Ball Society, 100+ Women Who Care, and the Greater Missouri Women’s Leadership Foundation, among others.
Greg Davis has been running with giants for most of his 18 years in the consulting business, at such nationally and internationally known firms as Arthur Andersen, PriceWater-houseCoopers and IBM. His career took a more local turn when he signed on with MarketSphere Consulting in 2005, but he ended up in with a global firm once again when Grant Thornton acquired Marketsphere’s JD Edwards practice in 2013. Davis, 39, is managing director in GT’s technology-solutions practice in Kansas City, where he leads a team that provides financials, distribution and supply-chain solutions for corporate clients in varied sectors, including construction, energy, hospitality, life sciences and telecom. “Helping dynamic organizations make transformational changes and improve their operations gives me pride and appreciation for the outstanding team of people that I work with,” Davis says. “None of our projects are easy, and it always takes a special team to overcome adversity and deliver value to our clients.” He served nearly six years on the board for Ozanam, which serves troubled children and their families, and has actively supported fund-raising golf tournaments for area charities, as well as serving as a fund-raising adviser for Infant Toddler Services of Johnson County/Friends of Infant Toddler Services, and more recently, on the board for FITS. Davis, who earned a business degree from K-State, has two daughters, ages 5 and 8, with his wife, Kathryn.
Dave and Jill Deppe married at 21 and became parents a year later. “Neither of us came from money,” Dave says, “so we scraped and fought to survive in our early days.” Deppe, then, has a keen sense of what it takes to succeed, building UnitedLex from scratch into a nine-figure operation serving client law firms in six countries around the world. In a word: It takes faith. “To wake up one summer morning in 2008, full of life and energy, run down to my basement and start building what today has become one of the largest and most professionally impactful legal services organizations in the world, required faith,” he says. “Convincing successful law firm attorneys and other legal professionals to join me, to believe and trust and to have faith, required faith. The Lord led my steps then and continues to today.” And yet his greatest achievement, the 39-year-old says, wasn’t building the company. “It is having built leaders,” he says. “Continuing to push people through their self-imposed glass ceilings to consistently accomplish things beyond their dreams is who I am.” Combined year on year growth over the past 6 years is over 1,250 percent, Deppe says, and the company has 17 offices worldwide, with more than 1,800 legal professionals and technologists. He’s a father to three children, ages 10 to 16, and says of their mother, “my wife is my best friend and if not for her, I would not have the opportunity to share this with you.”
After earning his business degree from the University of Richmond, Tim Dunn explored a bit of the world outside of his native Kansas City, working in the insurance sector for the likes of KPMG, Chubb and the Hartford, and at various times in North Carolina, Texas and California. But frequent and eventually, persuasive discussions with relatives brought him home in 2006 to work at J.E. Dunn Construction Co., which was founded by his great-grandfather, Ernie, and where his father, Steve, is chairman. The younger Dunn, trained as a property and casualty broker, earned his master’s in entrepreneurial real estate from UMKC in 2012 and is now the contractor’s senior vice president and director of risk and finance. He’s responsible for developing and implementing risk management strategies, oversight of company investments, and real-estate strategies for the $3 billion company, which has since become employee-owned.The company has long been known for its high level of philanthropy and civic service, from the C-suites on down, supporting a wide range of charitable causes in the region. Dunn himself is actively engaged with the board of Junior Achievement and as a past volunteer teacher educating youth about entrepreneurship, work readiness, and financial literacy. Tim has also been involved in a variety of the Dunn family community campaigns, including the American Heart Association, Salvation Army and the United Way. He and his wife, Ali, have three children, ages 7 months to 3 years old.
She hit her personal trifecta as a physician: A career in academic medicine that allows her to provide endocrinology care to patients, allows her to collaborate with researchers at the University of Kansas on various projects, and allows her to train new cohorts of internal medicine physicians. “While each area of my career is rewarding and stimulating,” says Lee Eck, “my role as the program director for the internal medicine residency program is the most critical.” There, she leads a physician team that provides the educational curriculum for 78 internal medicine residents. Those residents, Eck says, “are the heart and soul of the patient care activities for our department of medicine of the University of Kansas Hospital.” For the past decade, Eck has been a Diabetes Night volunteer at the Jay Doc Free Clinic near the hospital, she volunteers for various activities with the PTA from Highlands Elementary, and she’s part of a monthly effort to deliver food to needy families through Grace United Community Ministries. She and husband Steve have two daughters, ages 8 and 10, and both her work and volunteer efforts translate to the home front. “In my resident physicians, I hope to nurture a strong work ethic, a kind and empathetic personality, and an internal drive towards the achievement of excellence with maintenance of humility,” says the 38-year-old. “Luckily, these are the same traits I aim to instill in my beautiful daughters—making the difficult task of work/family balance a bit easier, given a similar agenda.”
Remember the adage about finding something you love and never working a day in your life? It’s personified in Tyler Epp, whose workplace shows up on your TV most Sunday afternoons in the fall: He’s vice president of business development for the Kansas City Chiefs. For 15 years, he says, he’s been blessed to work in venues like Arrowhead Stadium and NASCAR tracks—he was general manager of a Sprint Cup series team at age 29. He’s been part of championship seasons, celebrated in victory lane, and has negotiated more than $650 million in various transactions. He’s experienced the best of what sports has to offer, whether it’s college athletics, auto racing, baseball or football. “I’ve seen sports bring grown men to tears, have heard family matriarchs refer to race cars as members of their family, and I have witnessed the most tender family reunions in the bleachers of a Sunday afternoon at the ballpark,” Epp says. The flip side? “I have also missed the playoffs on the last day of the regular season. I know what it’s like to watch a 30-point lead dissolve in the playoffs. I have lived out of my car and worked for free just to get my foot in a door.” Sports, he said, can impact lives and can change communities. “But those individuals who overcome the greatest of odds and adversity—and show again and again that perseverance, faith, and commitment can overcome any obstacles—are the true heroes.” He and his wife Melissa have a 2-year-old at home.
Ted Murray, the CEO of Colliers International, knows exactly what’s coming when Rollie Fors approaches his office just off the Country Club Plaza. “There is not a day that goes by without Rollie poking his head into my office with a new idea,” Murray says. “Rollie, by his own initiative, strives to bring newer technologies, business practices and talent to our office.” That’s exactly what propelled Fors to partnership status seven years after joining the commercial realty firm in 2001, and what has earned him the firm’s Everest Award, which recognizes the top 10 percent of all commercial realty brokers in the nation, and a seat on the firm’s executive board. He also has earned Colliers International’s award for the most multi-city assignments by referring business to markets in other regions of the United States and Latin America. Success in his line of work and in his specialty of office brokerage, Fors believes, is grounded in the values of honesty, integrity and hard work. Fors, 36, is a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa—with dual degrees in finance-real estate and in marketing—and is raising a pair of preschool-age boys with his wife, Emily. He’s co-chair of the local Coaches vs. Cancer initiative, has served on his alma mater’s Real Estate Program Advisory Council board for six years, and is membership chair for CoreNet Global, a worldwide association of commercial realty professionals.
“I really consider myself lucky,” Renee Gartelos says. “Not every new graduate lands at the right company at the right time, but it happened to me.” The time was 1998, after she’d earned her degree in human resources management and marketing from the University of Iowa, and the company was Burns & McDonnell, one of the region’s—and nation’s—biggest engineering firms. “I was given the opportunity to work on a variety of projects and wear multiple hats—developing new processes, implementing new programs and technology, helping to grow and lead teams,” said Gartelos, 39. The firm has hired thousands of engineers, professionals and staff members in her 16 years there, and she’s now director of human resources. “I am proud that I helped develop programs that established Burns & McDonnell as a best place to work,” she says. “While it’s always fantastic for the company to receive such recognition, it’s even better experiencing it and seeing it make a difference for our employee‐owners.” She also has roles on the HR advisory board for the Bloch School of Management at UMKC, as board member for the KC STEM Alliance, and on the Workforce Advisory Board for KU’s Edwards campus, all while raising three children with her husband, Chris. “It is also important to me that the success in my career has run alongside my busy, growing family life,” Gartelos says. “I hope that I set a positive example for how women can chose the path of being a mother and have a successful career.”
In an occupational track where relationships are everything, Katie Gray understands that timing is everything: “All day long, I get to help people in their finest moment—when they are giving!” says the 38-year-old senior vice president of finance for the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. A decade ago, after accounting stints at Aquila and KPMG, she started at the foundation, which is now the largest in the region in terms of assets. “We have worked hard to build an investment program that encourages philanthropy,” Gray says. “Creating a flexible program that allows donors to continue working with their own trusted financial adviser has propelled a tremendous increase in new philanthropic dollars.” She leads a team that built the infrastructure for that program, under which more than 70 percent of the foundation’s $2.5 billion in assets are managed. Whether its through the sale of a closely held business, managing an inheritance, or updating estate plans, when donors articulate their charitable passions, she says, “I am there to help within a structure that will make giving easy and fun.” Gray, 38, and her husband, Walker have three children, and at this stage in my life, she says “their interests are my interests,” which means youth baseball and swim meets. “Someday, I’ll once again have hobbies of my own,” Gray says, but for now, “I delight in these little personalities and soak in all they teach me.”
For most managers, the task would be daunting: Develop a new organization with 100 team members, from the ground up, defining roles and responsibilities for each, and ultimately providing management and support for 1,200 projects, along with the business systems and tools for more than 1,000 employees in the engineering wing of Honeywell. Well, Kelly Hass wasn’t in the MBA class at UMKC the day they taught “daunting.” She led the establishment of a mission and vision for that unit, developed roles and responsibilities, implemented all of it, and nearly doubled a target cost-avoidance goal of $5 million. “I am very dedicated and passionate about achieving results personally and professionally,” says Hass, 35. “In my role as a manager, I place the utmost importance in the success of the team,” which means working to ensure that both personal goals and team goals are met. Family and faith, she says, have enabled her own success. “My parents demonstrated the importance of relationships based on love, faith, and trust, and I strive to show the same to my children.” She has two of them with husband Jay, and works to help them understand the importance of helping others. “They gather toys they want to give to children who cannot afford them and participate in the Salvation Army Adopt an Angel,” says a proud mother, who herself has been involved with Harvesters’ Back Snack program for eight years, and previously aided Habitat for Humanity’s Christmas in October program and fund-raising for the Ronald McDonald House.
There is no “W” in S-T-E-M. But Elise Kirchhofer thinks there’s room for one, and it should stand for Women—more of whom should be represented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. “Being a strong female leader in a male-driven industry gives me a unique opportunity to encourage and influence young women and help them to reach their fullest potential,” says the 38-year-old vice president at Henderson Engineers. Nearly six years ago, she became the youngest person—of either gender—to make vice president of the Lenexa-based firm, where she has helped develop a network to bolster the careers of women in the field. “Personally and professionally,” says Kirchhofer, “giving back and helping others is at the core of my values. It is something my mom impressed upon me as a child, and I’m working hard to pass those values along to my daughter.” That would be 3-year-old Liesel, whom she’s raising with husband Eric. She also has compiled a robust roster of other causes for giving back, including work with Kansas City Hospice, tutoring at the KIPP Endeaver Academy, and working with the child-life group at Children’s Mercy Hospital, and professionally, through a number of engineering-related associations. “I am fortunate to be able to take this personal passion and apply it as head of the Henderson Foundation,” Kirchhofer says. “I am working to expand and refine Henderson’s giving, to improve our involvement in the community, and to better engage employees in the process.”
He’s only 33, but Brennan Lehman has got this service thing all figured out. In addition to his duties as chief information officer at Mosaic Life Care in St. Joseph, he’s involved with five non-profit civic, charitable and educational groups in various roles, from the local parks board to the local United Cerebral Palsy chapter to advisory boards for his alma mater, Northwest Missouri State University. Those groups are strewn between St. Joseph, Maryville and Savannah, where he now lives with wife Nikki and their four children, ages 1 to 7. “Being a part of the northwest Missouri community is AWESOME,” Lehman says. “Watching what small communities can do with so little is such an inspiration, and should be a model for the rest of the country.” So should his zeal in the workplace. He graduated from Northwest in 2004—then earned his MBA there in 2010—spent a year at Cerner Corp., then joined Heartland Health, now Mosaic, in 2005. From clinical application analyst to director of technology applications to vice president of projects and clinical support, Lehman steadily advanced to CIO in January. “The most significant career achievement for me has been the ability to mentor and develop a world class IT business unit, transitioning from episodic to consultative support,” he says. He’s helping redefine health care, transitioning from typical fee-for-services models into shared savings, and developing the technology to aid these new workflows.
In 2009, Chris Long founded Palmer Square Capital Management, and by Christ-mas that year, sold controlling intereset to Mariner Holdings, tying Long’s entrepreneurial vision with a fast-growing family of wealth-management specialty firms. Today, Palmer Square manages $3.3 billion in assets and has 24 employees. “I am so proud of the experienced investment team we have methodically built and the different funds we manage which help clients meet their investment goals,” says Long, 39. “Palmer Square is honored to be able to work with a tremendous list of clients which include global insurance companies, pension funds, foundations, and other investment advisors and financial firms.” In addition to a long and impressive roster of board service, youth sports coaching and volunteer work, Long has impeccable academic credentials. He graduated cum laude in economics from Princeton, and secured a Harvard MBA, moving to the Kansas City area after stints with firms in New York. His goal, he says, is to build legacies at work, in the community and at home with the four children, ages 4 to 9, he’s raising with wife Angie. “Ideally, I am able to accomplish all three legacies,” Long says. “My parents instilled in me the value of learning and education and drove home the fact that the most rewarding things only come through hard work, perseverance, and humility. We are working hard at instilling this same intellectual curiosity and love of hard work in our children.”
The world’s appetite for energy isn’t going to go away, but the means of sating it are changing. And that’s where Eric Loos makes a living as an electrical engineer for DLR Group, based in Overland Park. He’s played key roles in implementing energy-reduction strategies and creating renewable-energy systems in widely varying settings from coast to coast, including leading the design of the world’s second-largest rooftop solar array, atop the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. It consists of more than 21,300 panels across an 11-acre expanse of rooftop, and it yields more than 6.4 megawatts of clean energy, satisfying 20 percent of the hotel’s power demand. Before joining DLR, he was leaving his mark on NFL stadiums with electrical design of onsite renewable power systems at the homes of the Washington Redskins, New York’s Jets and Giants, New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans. His expertise is in incorporating LEDs with solar energy at stadiums, and he’s been a featured speaker in national and global conferences on that topic. An electrical engineering graduate of South Dakota State University, he is registered to work in 16 states. Loos, 36, and his wife, Jessica, have two daughters, ages 5 and 8, and he also assists with community outreach programs like Christmas in October and Gifts for Christ Child at St. Michael the Archangel, works with St. Mary’s Food Kitchen, and teaches his girls about global citizenship by supporting an 8-year-old girl in Kenya through Kansas City-based Unbound.
His path to a law career wasn’t exactly a straight line—it included stops teaching at-risk school students, and five years in management with AT&T. But wherever he’s gone, Blane Markley has done it with excellence: He earned District Teacher of the Month honors in the Independence school district, and a review rating reserved for the top 1 percent of AT&T’s employees. No surprise then, that after securing first his MBA from KU, then his law degree there, that he’d make a quick impact—he joined Spencer Fane Britt & Browne in 2012, and made partner in less than 2½ years and now chairs the firm’s health-care practice. As third careers go, this one’s a charm. “My passion for practicing law and helping organizations and people has allowed me to develop a successful practice representing hospitals, physicians and other health-care providers, and counseling them on issues in an increasingly complex industry,” Markley says, and those duties entail regular stints as outside general counsel, in multi-million-dollar transactions, and in litigation that can have just as much as stake financially. Wait: Did we say three careers? OK, three paying careers. But anyone with kids—and especially with twin daughters—knows the demands of that unpaid gig. “While I do have a passion for the law, my real passion is my family and our community,” Markley says. “My wife Autumn and I stay very busy with our fourteen year-old twin daughters, Kristen and Lauren and our youngest, Jillian.”
Right up front, we’ll admit: Korb Maxwell has fingers in more civic pies than we could possibly list here, from serving as counsel to the Argentine Neighborhood Development Corp. in Kansas City, Kan., all the way up to the Republican National Committee’s finance committee. The list of organizations he’s promoted is all the more impressive when you consider the hours he logs as one of the region’s busiest development attorneys for one of its biggest law firms, Polsinelli, PC. He’s an expert in economic development issues who has negotiated and secured approval of hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives across a broad sweep of real-estate asset types. That work fulfills the goal set by this native son when he returned home after earning his law degree from the University of Texas in 2003. Polsinelli, the 37-year-old says, “has proven to be the perfect firm and practice for me. The firm strongly encourages entrepreneurism, and the practice is at the intersection of law, politics, and business.” Maxwell’s legal fingerprinhts are on the Hollywood Casino in Wyandotte County, the American Royal’s Agricultural Events Center, the Bass Pro store in Olathe, and the redevelopment of the Elms Hotel in Excelsior Springs—all of which helped make him a partner in just six years. He’s also been involved with fund-raising or finance chairmanship for candidates in city, county, state and national elections, including helping raise more than $2 million to help elect Rep. Kevin Yoder to Congress in 2010.
How’s this for getting it done? “Over the course of a weekend in July 2004, we got married, moved to Kansas City and started new jobs,” says Miles McCune, a principal and office brokerage specialist for Kessinger/Hunter & Co. “That was a lot to take on at the time, but we are glad we made the move. We love it here and are proud to call Kansas City home.” He comes from a line of sales professionals—his father and both grandfathers were in sales he said, “and I grew up knowing I would end up selling something.” That started with tickets and luxury suites for the Class AA baseball team in Frisco, Texas, which probably isn’t regarded in sales circles as a target-rich environment. But he did it better than anyone in the organization, and “the job taught me about hard work and persistence,” says McCune, 36. “In many ways, it was a great training ground for my real estate career.” And how. He made waves at Kessinger/Hunter & Co. from Day One: He was recognized as a Kansas City Commercial Real Estate Rookie of the Year by the Kansas City Regional Association of Realtors in 2005, posted a string of CoStar Power Broker Awards, and in 2011, he was named principal and part owner of the firm—the youngest person to serve in that role. He’s also been a member of the the Metropolitan Board of Realtors Million Dollar Club every year since joining the firm. His real success, he says, starts at home, where he and his college sweetheart, Katie, have four children, ages 18 months to 8 years.
Stress? That’s for wimps. Jason Parks is in the advertising business to eat stress, not simply manage it. As managing director for Barkley, he understands that stress is just part of the game—the long hours, the finicky clients and the challenges of reaching consumers in an ever-changing digital world. How do you subject those stressors to another world view? “I would argue that I’m not really in the advertising business,” says Parks, 39. “Yes, my team at Barkley develops advertising, but I would argue that our clients really want ideas—ideas that change the course of their business, or that could even change the world.” Cast in those terms, being in the idea business does sound less stressful than advertising, doesn’t it? Parks started at Barkley after earning his degree in business from William Jewell in 1998, and seven years later, headed to St. Louis as principal at Adamson Advertising. He came back when Barkley acquired Adamson in 2010, and his rise up the ladder—as vice president and senior VP of group accounts, then as managing director in January 2014—reflects his successful collaboration with senior executives from some of the best-known brands in the nation (even internationally), including Dairy Queen, Quizno’s, Krispy Kreme, Rawlings, Kawasaki, Coleman and many others. “My most significant achievements are tied to the ideas I’ve helped develop with my partners at Barkley,” Parks says. “So while it may be stressful, I think I made a wise career choice.”
Do not approach Rob Persaud with preconceived notions of who he is. “I’ve never quite fit the mold,” says the 39-year-old with CommunityAmerica Credit Union. He’s half-Guyanese, born to Jewish/Hindu parents, and says “I select ‘other’ on demographic surveys. … Evading categorization is a source of pride for me.” In his case, if you can’t fit neatly into a box, it’s easier to think outside one. After earning his degree at Washington University’s Olin School of Business in 1997, he went to work for Deloitte, Kraft Foods and Pepsi, handling brands like Cool Whip, Gatorade, Aunt Jemima and Quaker cereals. Persaud broke away from the food chain by coming here from Chicago in 2009, first to lead the rebranding of Sunlight Saunas as Sunlighten, then working at American Italian Pasta Co., where he had P&L responsibility for $515 million in sales. Since 2013, he’s been with the credit union as senior VP of marketing, part of a leadership team that has achieved record-setting net income on its way past the $2 billion threshold in assets. Outside the office, he’s been a youth soccer coach for Sporting Blue Valley (he and his wife, Alison, have two elementary-school age children), and a Top Dog volunteer at Cedar Hills Elementary. So much about him defies pigeon-holing, “but when I turn 40,” Persaud says, almost as if writing an epitaph, “my greatest source of pride will be something I can categorize: my creative, adventurous, funny, generous, loving and supportive family.”
The numbers get Jared Poland up in the morning—the ones he deals with from the perspective of a CPA and Level 1 chartered financial analyst. But what really gets him motivated as managing director at C3 Capital, the region’s largest private-equity firm, are relationships. “The most rewarding accomplishments” he says, “have developed through my work. … I have the opportunity to work with an experienced and successful group of professionals at C3, as well as business owners, executives and other finance professionals from all over the country.” Those connections, he says, have produced some powerful lessons. “Each day, the challenge or task at hand is different, along with the people you are tackling the problem with,” Poland says. “Through these challenges, I have learned the importance of being flexible, open-minded and working as part of a team to achieve a positive result.” His colleagues at C3 cite his combination of brains, work ethic and personality as pillars of his ability to build relationships with entrepreneurs who run each of the firm’s portfolio companies. Poland is also responsible for training and development of the firm’s younger staff members. Before setting up shop at C3 in 2006, Poland had worked at Deloitte and Kansas City Life Insurance Co. A Rockhurst University graduate with a degree in accounting, Poland and his wife, Lori, have an 8-year-old son who keeps Dad involved with the community as a coach in youth baseball, soccer and basketball activities.
Everything you need to know about Hoddy Potter’s strength—the inner kind, not the kind she helps others achieve with her Bar Method fitness studios—can be gleaned from a Facebook post she tossed out a little more than a year ago: “I was recently diagnosed with a type of cancer called lymphoma. I plan on giving it an ass-whooping.” Throughout last summer, she underwent chemotherapy—while continuing to teach fitness classes and run the studios she opened after moving to Kansas City in 2010. A native of San Francisco, she spent six years as a litigation attorney for a large law firm there. But the fit wasn’t right. She longed for the personal contact she’d had with customers at the Bar Method studio where she’d worked during law school, and started making plans for a studio of her own. When she and husband Mit (an attorney at Polsinelli) became parents, they decided they wanted to raise their young ones in his native Kansas City. Potter, 34, opened her first studio in Leawood’s Park Place in 2011, then a second two years later west of the Plaza, and has wedded her business success with her philanthropic goals. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society recognized her as its largest single fundraiser for its Light the Night Walk last year, topping $50,000, and with her brother, she started a business, Sock Playground, selling fitness stockings. A portion of those proceeds goes back to the Lymphoma Society, as well. She and Mit have three children, a 6-year-old and 4-year-old twins.
Health care and education are two huge factors in the life of a community, and in Kansas City, Melissa Robinson is standing at the intersection of those two forces. At 35, she’s the youngest executive director in the 26-year-history of the Black Health Care Coalition, and she also sits on the Kansas City school board. Those roles are outward expressions of her own experiences with education and health care. She holds an MBA from Webster University, and has drawn on her business skills to transform things at the coalition, which offers programs and resources to help improve health and wellness in the city’s core. Among her achievements there she cites “significant strides in attracting multi-sector partnerships, including the business community, Police Department, education and non-traditional government partners.” The latter include faith-based organizations, which have served as sites for free medical services. Robinson used that programming to expand those services to small businesses that don’t offer employee health insurance, increasing service delivery to clients by 57 percent in the first year and 37 percent in the second year. She also developed the agency’s first earned-revenue source. The mother of a 1-year-old special needs child and 6-year old, she is a mayoral appointee to the city health Commission and the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City’s Community Advisory Committee, and sits on Jackson County’s Developmental Disability Board and the Neighborhood Development and Tourism Fund.
One metric above all stands out for Patrick Sallee. “The measure of our success in philanthropy and the non-profit sector,” he says, “is in lives impacted.” Sallee has been impacting lives for more a decade as fund-raiser and administrator for organizations like the Hartsook Companies, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kansas City, the American Red Cross and, most recently, as chief external relations officer for the Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center Foundation. “In each role, the organization has seen an increase in philanthropic support, improved systems and greater impact,” the 35-year-old says. His current role entails managing external relationships for the health center—from fundraising and philanthropy to volunteer coordination, government relations and community engagement. Sallee, who holds a master’s in public administration (emphasis: non-profit management) from UMKC, recently wrapped up eight years of service on the board of Nonprofit Connect, most recently as immediate past president. He also has served for three years on the Bloch School of Management’s advisory council for the Department of Public Administration, and recently took a seat on the board of Genesis Academy, a K-8 charter school. He’s also a regular contributor to The Good Men Project, a Web site dedicated to conversations about fatherhood, family, relationships and cultural issues. “Beyond the work and community involvement,” Sallee says, “the center and most important piece of it all, are my 4-year old twin daughters.”
“I would describe myself as a family man and help-others-first type of guy,” says Brandon Scarborough. This is impressive, because if Scarborough’s career achievements are an indication, he must be a terrific family man and others-first helper. He was just 24 when he started Benefit Design Group, a full-service voluntary benefits enrollment and communication company that within three years merged into the Power Group. There, he’s been an annual fixture on the Power Council, which recognizes top sales achievement. “I am also responsible for forming PowerEnroll, Power Group’s internal enrollment system and enrollment team,” says Scarborough, 35. He works with companies that have 100 to 15,000 employees, and has been recognized as Benefits Selling magazine’s 2012 national Benefits Broker of the Year, and by Employee Benefit Advisor magazine as one of its rising stars in employee benefits. He joined Baker University’s board in 2011, serving on committtees dealing with strategic planning, advancement, enrollment and a presidential search, developing relationships with prominent business leaders throughout Kansas City. Outside the office, “it is my personal philosophy to pay it forward, big or small, in some way every day,” he says. “With my wife Courtnay (a pediatric anesthesiologist at Children’s Mercy) and three children (ages 2 months to 6) we are actively involved in our children’s schools.” He’s also involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters, ReStart, Mission Southside and Rose Brooks among other activities.
Kansas City’s claim to being the Entrepreneurial Capital of America is rooted not just in its business base, but in its ability to project an understanding of how entrepreneurship works on national and global stages. A key figure in that particular brand of evangelism is Dane Stangler, vice president of research and policy at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. He leads a team of 18 and oversees grants, agreements and research for what’s generally regarded as the world’s top entrepreneurship research organization. “Helping develop a well-functioning team of talented individuals who are able to grow personally and professionally has been one of the best things in my career so far, albeit an unfinished task,” says Stangler, 35. He’s spoken at different forums around the country, including Gov. Sam Brownback’s Council of Economic Advisors in Kansas and Gov. Jay Nixon’s conference on economic development in Missouri, he’s testified before Congress and he’s spoken at high-profile national and global events. All fulfilling for the father of children ages 2 to 8 with wife Katie, but as he notes, “what matters is raising four children with the idea that the most important thing you can give them is time, and spending time with my grandmother.” He’s also held active roles with the Center for American Entrepreneurship, where he was a founding board member, and with the Manhattan Institute’s selection committee for its social entrepreneurship innovation awards.
We knew Davyeon Ross was destined for big things back in 2008, when he made the inaugural class of Ingram’s 20 in Their Twenties with his savvy blend of IT skills and his love for sports. A native of Trinidad and Tobago, Ross departed from an IT path that had taken him, over seven years, to Sprint Corp. and eVergence Partners as a software engineer and tech consultant. When he formed AthletixNation in 2007, it was a taste of what was to come with a company engaged in on-line publishing and distribution of Division I college sports videos. That morphed into Digital Sports Ventures, which was acquired by Digital Broadcasting Group in 2011. In May 2013, Ross co-founded ShotTracker, which has developed a wearable device that tracks basketball shooting acumen, yielding real-time shooting statistics to help improve on-court performance. He’s currently chief operating officer there. As if his schedule weren’t full enough, Ross has been affiliated with the KTEC Pipeline since 2009, and is a partner in Avendis Solutions, which develops software for ad agencies and other organizations. The intersection of sports and technology, Ross says, provides unlimited opportunities for entrepreneurial thinkers. He graduated from Benedictine College (where he’s served on the Alumni Board) and earned his MBA at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe. His non-profit interests have included support for or service with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City, and the NAIA’s Champions of Character.
The regional apartment building boom has been superheated in recent years, but Jeff Stingley is one cool customer in that space as senior vice president for the Kansas City office of CBRE, the national brokerage firm. Since 2006—a span that includes a killer downturn in real-estate markets nationwide—Stingley has facilitated the sale of over 10,550 units with an aggregate value of more than $785 million in consideration—and more than two-thirds of that volume, $545 million, has come since 2012. Through last month, his year-to-date sales volume stood at $132 million, with an additional $250 million in contract or on the market. Those could make 2015 the best year on record for the office’s top producer in 2012 and 2013. He attributes much of that to the organization; CBRE sold more than $26 billion in apartments in 2014, allowing him to “tap into the minds of some of the industry’s top multifamily brokers and apply their best practices to my own. I am constantly looking for ways to improve.” That, plus singular focus on apartments, a penchant for multitasking, a voracious appetite for real-time market trends and solid relationships with property owners, he says, creates a love for his job that “allows me to bring 100 percent enthusiasm to every assignment.”A graduate of Pembroke Hill School, he majored in finance and entrepreneurship at the University of Arizona. And he’s having a pretty good year at home, too: This summer, his wife, Gina, is scheduled to give birth to a baby sister for their 2-year-old son.
Business schools don’t offer courses titled Humility 101, but if they did, Kylee Strough, president of the United Way of Greater St. Joseph, would have aced it. “By the very nature of the work of United Way, achievements are never my own,” says the 34-year-old. Instead, she credits the hard work of co-workers, employees of partner agencies, passionate volunteers, and generous donors, without whom “there could be no achievements in my career or at United Way.” And yet, she’s had a pronounced impact since joining the organization as a campaign manager in 2005. On her watch, the number of volunteers is up 114 percent, as are the opportunities to engage volunteers. The number of leadership donors is also up, by 38 percent, and she’s worked to create new initiatives and improve relationships with partner agencies, organizations and community leaders. She also has helped raise more than $27 million in an MSA that, with 123,000 residents, is just a fraction of the KC area’s size. “Serving as a conduit to help connect the caring power of our community to strategies that improve lives,” she says, “is my most significant career and personal achievement.” Her work is a reflection of her belief that “each of us is called to leave things better than we found them,” says Strough. “Often, people can feel torn between family, work and volunteering, but I believe that all three should sync and when they do, that is when you can truly make a difference in the community and the world.” She and husband Brett are parents of a 16-year-old son.
Since joining McCownGordon Construction in 2003, a year after earning his degree at Missouri University of Science and Technology, Chris Vaeth has moved from project engineer to senior project engineer, project manager to senior project manager. In February, he was named director of preconstruction. That’s five promotions in 12 years, including one that made him a key leadership figure for the contractor. The secret of his success? According to company officials, it’s a combination of his leadership, passion and entrepreneurship, plus his focus on relationships with clients and subcontractors, a high level of performance, and his efforts to establish a presence in the community.He’s done that not just with his work, but by supporting a broad array of non-profit organizations and causes, including the United Way, Arts KC Fund, Ronald McDonald House, the Design-Build Institute of America, United States Green Building Council, and the Kansas City Zoo’s annual Jazzoo. Taking that a step farther, he co-founded Give Hope Back and serves as vice president of the non-profit, which develops events for the research, safety and health of children in Kansas City. To date, the $125,000 it has raised has gone to the cancer auxiliary at Children’s Mercy Hospital. “Being involved and giving back is part of my commitment to the community where I live and work,” says Vaeth, 35. “I helped found the Give Hope Back organization to inspire individuals and organizations to take an active role in their community.”
After 10 years with CBIZ MHM, Candace Varner joined Leawood-based Creative Planning with a mission: Grow the tax practice. Bear in mind, she had turned 30 only a month before, and Creative Planning was on a growth rocket of its own. Too much, too soon? Hardly. Since she signed on, the staff, client base and revenue have all increased over 100 percent, she says. And the keys to that? “By making changes in all areas of the department, including our internal processes, fee structure, software, staffing and deliverables,” says Varner, who’s still only 31. “I love the challenges this role offers and the opportunity to help clients better understand and plan for the complexities of their tax situation.” At CBIZ MHM, she worked with clients in the construction industry, large corporations and trusts, and with the national tax office, updating the training curriculum and training younger staff. She has also worked outside the office as financial adviser for four years for the Chi Omega sorority at KU, and for three years a community representative for the advisory board of the Blue Valley school district’s business department. Defying mathetmatic probability with this group, Varner is the fifth member of this year’s class to be a parent of twins, 4-year-old girls “who keep us very busy,” she says of herself and husband Zack. “They are my top priority and I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to watch them grow … they make me laugh every day and remind me what’s really important.”
The Kemper family is known for producing some very successful—and very tall—bankers, so Nick Warren fits right in as senior vice president for agribusiness at Commerce Bank. He was listed as a 6-foot-7 tight end during his playing days at Kansas State, where he earned a finance degree in 2002. The 36-year-old directs a nearly $1 billion book of business with clients in agriculture and food processing in the heart of America’s farming center. “I’ve been very fortunate to have great teammates and leadership at Commerce, along with tremendous support from my family,” says Warren, who started as a management trainee in the bank’s credit department 12 years ago. “Watching how our bank was positioned and responded before, certainly during, and following the Great Recession and financial crisis has been an invaluable lesson for me early in my career.” He also credits the bank’s support for his first runner-up finish in the Man and Woman of the Year competition for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in 2012, part of a team that raised $23,000 for that event, a considerable chunk of the $550,000 overall total. A native of Eudora who lives on the Country Club Plaza, Warren is a member of the Mercy Ambassadors for Children’s Mercy Hospital, and serves on the board of directors for the Shadow Glen Golf Club. Away from the bank, it’s not unusual to find him on the links, or working on the family farm in northeast Kansas.
Year in, year out, the number of 40 Under Forty honorees with precisely three children defies mathematical probability. Rob Willard deviates from the pattern a bit, and not just because has just two at home with his wife, Jeri. But in a way, Willard has more than 300 other Platte County children, too, through his work as county treasurer. His office takes funds generated through court and administrative fees and distributes them to domestic-violence shelters. After winning a contested election in 2012, he discovered that because of a lapsed funding agreement, that money wasn’t reaching its targets. He drafted an ordinance to create a county domestic-violence shelter board, lobbied for its passage by the county commission, and restored the funding. “Just as I wouldn’t ignore what gave my life meaning, and let my own children go without what they needed,” he says, “I wasn’t about to cut the lifeline to 300 Platte County children. … That’s who I am.” Willard’s father had raised him to understand that the meaning of his life would change with time, and it did—in a hospital delivery room. “The meaning of my life, and who I was, changed when I became a dad,” he says. Before taking office, he found meaning in his work as an assistant prosecuting attorney for the county, in charge of going after financial crime, and followed that up with a stint in private practice. Today, he oversees the county’s investments, a $25 million-plus portfolio, and manages accounts for its $60 million annual budget.
Since assuming responsibility for overseeing MRIGlobal’s insurance portfolio seven years ago, Brenda Williams has encountered some unique challenges for securing coverage of cutting-edge operations. That’s part of the drill at a research organization specializing in defense, life sciences, energy, agriculture and food safety. Few challenges, though, rose to the level of the one Williams faced last year: procuring federally-mandated insurance coverage for staff traveling to west Africa as part of the federal Defense Threat Reduction Agency. In laymen’s terms, that would be the War on Ebola. The killer virus. Obviously, one does not just Google up “insurance carriers” to find such specialized coverage. For Williams, it was just another task in the role of manager of financial planning and analysis, which entails minimizing corporate risk. And that means juggling the competing demands of government contract work with the challenges of scientific research to ensure that those varied research lines are properly covered. She has worked with brokers and underwriters to give them a better understanding of MRIGlobal’s work, yielding more effective, targeted coverage, with more realistic pricing—her work has contributed to savings of more than $100,000 a year in insurance premiums. A finance major at the University of Central Missouri, she went on to earn her MBA from Rockhurst University in 2005. She’s recently engaged and also helps her fiancé by serving as business manager for his hardwood flooring company.
Ed Wilson has worked with some big-time clients on some big transactions, which one would expect from a partner in the food and agribusiness practice at a law firm the size of Husch Blackwell. But more than any one deal he can think of, he says, he measures his own success with a couple of different yardsticks. One is the process—“through time and trial and error,” Wilson says—of learning to manage large, sophisticated mergers and acquisitions. But maybe the most rewarding aspect of his work, he says, “has been my good fortune to work with long-time friends and develop some great new relationships in the process.” Wilson earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Kansas, and his only job since law school has been with the Husch firm. He’s worked with multi-billion-dollar agribusiness giants like Triumph Foods and National Beef Packing, and with smaller niche companies like LatteLand and Honolulu Coffee, tackling general business transactions, negotiating joint ventures, partnerships and contracts, and with business start-ups. Wilson, 39, has been on the board for Head Start of Shawnee Mission since 2008, and on its executive committee since 2010. He’s also served on behalf of Hello Art, which connects artists with art lovers in the region; PREP KC, which encourages college preparation among inner-city students; and serving as a mentor for first-year law students at his alma mater.