The Ties that Bind a Community
The first class of Ingram’s 40 Under Forty, in 1998, proved prescient: among its members were high achievers who would validate their selections by going on to become president of the region’s biggest bank, owner of an influential ad agency, executive director of a prominent foundation, police chief in Kansas City, court of appeals judge, newspaper publisher, and many more.
The common thread binding all of them together? Leadership. Not just at the office, but civic engagement that is a hallmark of life in Kansas City. (Now that we think about it, Hallmark North America’s president, David Hall, was in that year’s class too …)
That group established a standard by which succeeding classes of 40 Under Forty have been measured. Their work on non-profit boards of directors, their work as volunteers, their history of outsized financial support for charitable causes, their contributions to churches, schools, youth sports teams, Scouting programs and many more threads in the fabric of this area’s life—all of it has become a defining characteristic of subsequent honorees.
This year’s class brings to 640 the number of people recognized in 16 installments of 40 Under Forty—we’re just four years away from the next round-number milestone, 800, and nine years from hitting 1,000.
What’s the significance behind any of those numbers? For one, we believe that leadership matters. We believe there is a special value in the examples that these people set by contributing so much without being required to do so—in many cases, without even being asked to do so. And we believe it’s especially important to recognize those who are able to do that while managing to excel in the workplace and balance everything, in most cases, with family demands at a point in their lives where family concerns are paramount.
If, by virtue of recognizing their achievements, we have created an ideal for more people to seek, then the Kansas City region in decades to come will be the better for it. Please join us in saluting the 40 Under Forty for 2014, as well
as the 15 classes who came before them, and all who strive for a better quality of life in this special place we call home.
Perceptive Software liked what it saw so much in Brian Anderson that it hired him—twice. A decade ago, he joined the Shawnee-based company as a software engineer and quickly rose to development manager and principal architect of Perceptive’s enterprise content management products. He left in 2009 for Tradebot Systems, but less than three years later, Perceptive CEO Scott Coons came knocking on Anderson’s door again.
Today, the 35-year-old Anderson is chief technology officer for a global tech firm with a broad range of business process management offerings. In that role, he oversees a global network of R&D initiatives, technologies and diverse workers to yield a seamless suite of business offerings. “With a global team of over 500 software professionals on four continents, I measure my success in the value our customers get from the solutions and platforms we deliver,” Anderson says.
He and his wife, Becci, have four children ages 2–11 in a blended family, and he also volunteers at schools in the Gardner and Blue Valley districts. That work is important to him, he says, because “Kansas City is a place where I grew up, and where I plan for my children to grow up.” He also sits on the board of KC Next, the technology council of greater Kansas City and frequently returns to his alma mater, KU, to assist in student orientation and as a guest lecturer in computer science courses.
Robyn Anderson has two tough jobs. She’s not quite sure which is tougher: “I remember telling my sister it was easier to negotiate a $40 million insurance claim than to get my 2-year-old to nap!” says the 39-year-old lawyer for Lathrop & Gage.
Charles, Henry and Oliver, the young ones she has with husband Matthew Roberts, are now well beyond the Terrible Twos at 8, 6 and 4, but Anderson is still knocking out high-value deals, and at a high level: She’s been recognized by Benchmark Litigation as one of the Top 250 female litigators in the nation.
She’s been part of a legal team negotiating complex insurance claims worth hundreds of millions of dollars, served as lead counsel for a Fortune 500 company’s national employee benefits litigation, and co-authored a treatise on environmental insurance litigation. She also has chaired the firm’s insurance department, and—no surprise here—worked with the executive committee to implement one of the legal industry’s most progressive maternity policies.
“Many young professionals strive to have it all, and I’m no exception,” Anderson says, “For me, that meant being brave enough to reduce my work schedule while having the confidence and ability to keep the respect, trust and recognition of my clients and peers. Less can be more, and finding that balance was a significant accomplishment in its own right.”
“I have always been an entrepreneur,” says Ryan Anderson, co-president and head of acquisitions for Mariner Real Estate Management. That was evident as early as age 18, when, as a Rockhurst University student, he formed Anderson Realty and began buying rental properties around the college, juggling those duties with his studies and baseball schedule. Three years later, he and brother Terry Anderson formed Anderson Property Development Co., expanding into condo redevelopment, land development, construction management and real-estate brokerage.
Anderson is still only 31, but nearly six years into the affiliation that he and his brother forged with Marty Bicknell’s Mariner family of investment companies. Since founding MREM in 2008, “we have raised three opportunity funds that focus on debt investments,” Anderson says, and “we have bought over 1,500 loans and assets totaling over $1.3 billion of real estate debt in over 30 states.” In the process, he’s helped take a small firm of four employees up to a staff of 115. And in 2010, MREM acquired a majority interest in Cohen Financial, a national commercial real-estate mortgage banking and loan-servicing firm.
Away from the office, Anderson is a prolific fund-raiser (at least $580,000 to date) for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a cause he embraced after one of his grandfathers was diagnosed with lymphoma. He and his wife, Annie, have two children, Sienna and Brent.
Whether it was with management consultant Accenture, at tax-preparation giant H&R Block, or in his current role overseeing information technology functions for Beauty Brands, Chris Bix has been about one thing: performance. He flat-out solves complex problems with a healthy application of people skills, an innate sense of leadership, a gift for communicating, and integrity.
You see those values over and over again in performance evaluations for the 38-year-old Bix. But it all starts with integrity. “My word is my bond,” says Bix. “If I say I will do something, I’ll do it.” As the head of the IT operation for Beauty Brands, he has access to all systems and sensitive data, and as treasurer of Give Hope Back, a charitable organization he co-founded, he prizes that integrity above all. His list of achievements at Beauty Brands is impressive: he led a nationwide upgrade in computer systems for the retail chain, his team developed a fully automated backup and recovery system for the most critical systems, and his efforts led to a 50 percent reduction in contacts from store locations to the company’s call center, and he was responsible for launching the chain’s e-commerce center.
A graduate of the University of Missouri–Rolla with a degree in engineering management, Bix has three children with his wife, Beth—Gabe, 12; Katie, 9; and Kassidy, 6. Bix also serves as an executive board adviser to the Boy Scouts of America’s Pony Express Council.
If there’s a big deal in the works at Stinson Leonard Street—emphasis on “big”—there’s a chance Jack Bowling has a seat at the table. The 39-year-old has his fingerprints on transactions totaling more than $36 billion in combined worth. Start with more than $20 billion in mergers, acquisitions and divestitures both foreign and domestic, then add in $14.9 billion in private and public offerings of equity and debt securities, and more than $1.4 billion in venture capital financings, and you get a sense of scale on deals that Bowling helps cut for the firm known until recently as Stinson Morrison Hecker, where he’s a partner in the corporate finance division.
His clients have included Fortune Brands Home & Security, in a $300 million acquisition; DeBruce Grain, in the $4.6 billion company’s 2010 acquisition by Gavilon; EPR Properties, with more than $1.8 billion in public securities offerings; and in lead attorney roles for H&R Block and Waste Management, Inc. He’s a current board member for the Community Health Charities of Kansas and Missouri, served six years on the board for the Brain Injury Association of Kansas and Greater Kansas City, and is a graduate of the Civic Council’s Kansas City Tomorrow program.
He also was named to the CleanTech 100 list by Legal Media Group last year, recognizing the 100 top attorneys in the fields of clean technologies and renewable energy. He and his wife, Anne, have three daughters—Grace, 9; Kate, 6; and 4-year-old Caroline.
Just six years after picking up his diploma from Knob Noster High School—with a detour through nearby Warrensburg and the University of Central Missouri—Eric Campbell became project management director for VML. Within a decade, he’d risen to chief engagement officer, then recently becoming business officer for the digital marketing and advertising company.
His clients read like a stock exchange’s membership roster—Microsoft, MillerCoors, Bridge-stone and SAP, plus local monoliths like American Century Investments. In addition to providing executive leadership to key accounts like those, he’s responsible for the agency’s business-development practice. “I’m incredibly passionate about the growth of our company and running through walls to solve our clients’ toughest business challenges,” says Campbell, 39. The source of that passion can be traced back to the Midwestern values he embraces and what he calls his “can-do approach.” Campbell has also applied that can-do spirit to philanthropic work as a founding member of the VML Foundation, the company’s charitable arm, since its inception in 2005.
“It’s amazing to see how this VML cultural pillar has positively impacted so many Kansas City-area charitable organizations,” says Campbell, who also backs efforts for Head for the Cure, the personal inspiration of VML chairman Matt Anthony, and the American Cancer Society’s Shave to Save. Campbell and his wife, Stacie, have two daughters, Jacqueline, 12, and Cecilia, 5.
Teamwork. Accountability. Making employees see the connection between their roles and the company’s success. Those are the values Laura Brady holds dear as CEO of Medical Positioning, Inc., which makes beds and tables that improve diagnostic imaging in medical settings. And they work: in four years at MPI, Brady has overseen a threefold increase in earnings.
Before that, she ran Wolferman’s Gourmet Foods, a division of Williams Foods, and scored sales increases of 50 percent and an impressive 1,500 percent increase in earnings in six years, sandwiching those two roles around a year with Three Dog Bakery. Jumping from one sector to another was challenging enough, but when the landing strip is in a field like contemporary health care, the difficulty factor grows exponentially.
“Navigating the choppy waters of health care reform has made my current position all the more challenging and rewarding,” says the 37-year-old Kansas City native. After earning hear bachelor’s in economics from Trinity University in San Antonio, she picked up an MBA from the Kenan–Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina, then came home to start her career at Wolferman’s, which was eventually acquired by specialty gourmet retailer Harry & David.
Two key traits she values are lifelong learning and work ethic, and as a Kansas City native, she’s a fan of the Chiefs and Royals, First Fridays in the Crossroads, and spending time on the Plaza.
He spent 35 years assembling an identity you can discern from a business card: James Clarke. Partner. Fiduciary Research & Consulting. Then, 3 ears ago, life came calling in the form of young Matthew Clarke. “It sounds trite, but having children really does change everything,” says Dad, who’s now 38. Up until then, “I would have reflexively described myself as a professional investor, occasional entrepreneur and frequent editor and author” with a particular yen for re-crafting poorly written Wikipedia entries. And he still is all that. As head of private equity and real asset strategies for FR&C, he helps provide asset allocation, manager research and risk-management services to clients with a combined $9 billion in assets. He previously worked at Nations Media Partners, a boutique investment banking firm focused on telecommunications and media, and at the Kauffman Foundation, where he was responsible for structuring and tracking the foundation’s investments in private equity, venture capital, real estate and energy holdings. But since December 2010, “I’m now the father who feels guilty for missing a few nights at home when I have to travel for work,” Clarke says, and he’s graduated from games of peek-a-boo and readings of The Foot Book to hide-and-seek and water-slide-centric vacations. “I still keep a lot of balls in the air at any one time, but I am learning that most of them are just a distraction from what really matters,” Clarke says. “Who am I and what matters? I’m Matthew’s dad and Jen’s husband.”
Digital advertising is not the act of posting a print ad to an on-line Web site. It is a fast-passed, complex, highly technical and technological environment, in a competitive arena that demands a pirate’s lust for combat.
She swings that broadsword for Adknowledge, which has grown to mammoth proportions—more than $300 million in sales last year—in less than a decade. She’s been with the Madison Avenue company for eight years, moving from account manager to her current role as vice president for sales operations, overseeing offices in nine countries from Kansas City to Shanghai.
In addition those duties, Cody also has responsibility for the company’s cross-selling initiative, its leading growth strategy, which includes staff training, breaking down silos and creating powerful incentives for a work force scattered around the planet.
She’s equally engaged out of the office, as mother of two girls, Charlotte and Victoria, and wife of Brian Cody, and she serves as research assistant on the fund development council for the Junior League of Kansas City. She also volunteers with various organizations including Harvesters-The Community Food Network, Operation Breakthrough, Ronald McDonald House, the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired, and Children’s Therapeutic Learning Center, and she’s preached good nutrition and physical fitness to first-graders at University Academy.
At 18 years old, Brian Dunn went to work for the family business. His business references—CEO Terry Dunn is his dad—didn’t get him very far up the ladder; he started as a laborer while on summer and winter breaks from Benedictine College. Starting at the bottom, he says, “has really helped me understand the business better overall and be able to relate to employees at all levels.” After earning his degree, there still were no short-cuts. “I’ve been given some opportunities along the way based on being a Dunn, but I’m always expected to perform at an effective and efficient level, just like all other JED employees,” Brian says. “There is added pressure at times to live up to the Dunn last name … but I’ve focused on keeping my nose to the grindstone, treating others with respect, and striving to provide positive leadership.” In 2012, he became vice president of risk management, and is now the company’s national director of planning and scheduling.
Meshing with a corporate culture of service, the 38-year-old Dunn has had an impressive 12-year run with Kids TLC, where he’s on the board and serves as vice chair of its finance committee. “Once I joined the board, Bob Drummond’s leadership and personal touch won me over, along with the other great board members and Kids TLC key staff members.” Dunn says. He also serves on the board of the Family Conservancy, and sits on the advisory board for Operation Breakthrough.
He and his wife, Lynn, have three children, 6-year-old Ella, and sons Max, 4, and Charlie, 2.
Greg Fendler is both an engineer and an entrepreneur. In the former, he’s part of one Kansas City tradition as a center of excellence in engineering. As an entrepreneur, he’s carrying on a family trait, but on his own terms—his father, Kermit Fendler, is the chairman of the hugely successful MedTrak Services, but Greg answered a different call. He’s an architectural engineer, a specialist in electrical engineering systems, and co-owner of Lankford + associates Consulting Engineers, based in Kansas City.
“As an administrator, I am responsible for our firm’s business development, marketing, human resources and technology systems,” says Fendler, 38. “As an engineer, I have been the principal in charge for some of our firm’s largest and highest-profile projects.” Among those are the new Polsinelli PC headquarters, the EPA Region 7 headquarters in Lenexa, and the national support center for Applebee’s restaurants. His clients also include J.E. Dunn, Stinson Leonard Street, Johnson County Community College, Centric Projects and other architectural and contracting firms, but his work can take him, as he says, “from Hawaii to Maine.” At age 29, just five years after joining the firm, he became co-owner with Alan Lankford. Fendler and his wife, Sylvia, have a 7-year-old son, William, and a daughter, Libby, 4, and he’s active with Ronald McDonald House, Cristo Rey High School and the Pillars, professional leadership-development program.
It’s hard to pigeon-hole Chris Ford. Yes, he’s vice president of sales for Cretcher Heartland, a consulting firm specializing in insurance, employee benefits, retirement planning and HR consulting. But he’s also CEO for Physician Management Partners, a management firm he founded in 2011. And he’s the owner of IVXpress, a Lee’s Summit-based company that operates IV therapy suites for patients on infusion therapies. And with his wife, Aimee, he has two children—11-year-old Logan and 8-year-old Lauren. How anyone packs all that into a time frame of 38 years and change is a mystery to us—especially considering he spent eight years in the Army, including a tour in Iraq, where he earned a Bronze Star for combat and took part in more than 250 infantry company operations in Baghdad’s notorious Haifa Street area.
We’d bet that Ford is the only member of the Overland Park South Rotary Club with a top-secret security clearance from the Department of Defense. “I left the service in 2006 to spend more time as a husband and father,” Ford says. “While I miss the fulfillment I received from serving my country, I have never regretted the decision to make family the most important matter.” From the day he walked into Cretcher Heartland in 2009, Ford has been the company’s top salesman, besting a crew of 26 other producers each year through 2012. “While professional success is rewarding,” he says, “family and servitude are where I gain the most satisfaction and sense of achievement.”
The jury may still be out on Zaarly’s staying power as a consumer-purchasing application, but this much is certain: Founder Bo Fishback knows entrepreneurship, and how to build an investor network. Among the $30 million he’s raised for the company founded in early 2011 are contributions from Hollywood figures like Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore and LeVar Burton, tech insiders and young executives from around the nation. Heck, even of Meg Whitman, of eBay/Hewlett-Packard fame, sits on the company’s board.
“It’s still unclear if we’ll pull it off or not, but it won’t be for lack of effort,” Fishback says. That spirit of determination has put this 35-year-old Harvard MBA grad on a fast track of local entrepreneurship. “The whole reason we started Zaarly was because we believed in working with people who love what they do is special,” Fishback says. “We spend our days helping small businesses in Kansas City grow, and if they are successful, we’ll be successful. That’s pretty much what gets us excited to come to work every day.” Before diving into Zaarly, Fishback was the Kaufman Foundation’s vice president for entrepreneurship and president of Kauffman Labs. He started his career at Cerner Corp., where he was director of e-health, and has also held director’s duties or advisory-consulting roles with half a dozen other ventures.
He and his wife, Shelby, have two children, Pierce, 2, and 3-month-old Merritt.
“I can’t remember how old I was when I decided I wanted to work in the field of marketing and advertising,” Brad Gibbs says. “I know it was at a young age, definitely before high school.”
Good call: Just two years after earning a degree in communications and advertising from Fort Hays State University, Gibbs found the secret of his own success at Plattform Advertising. It was called digital marketing. At 24, he was given the keys to the car with a new business line at what had been a traditional media-placement agency, and the products he developed for clients in higher-education systems now account for 90 percent of annual revenues that are approaching $200 million.
But his motivation lies not with revenue figures or marketing technologies. “I never thought my love for advertising would bring me to something else that I am extremely passionate about—changing people’s lives,” he says. “We get to help those who don’t get a chance to go to a traditional university, like so many of us do, and the end result is so rewarding.”
He has two children, Cole, 7, and Jensen, 4, with Nickie “my wonderfully understanding wife,” he says. The 39-year-old has a seat on Plattform’s board of directors, and he serves on the membership committee of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities. He also supports Team Phil, the agency’s philanthropic wing, which benefits Ronald McDonald House, Kids TLC, Della Lamb Community Services and various other area non-profits.
Maybe it’s because she’s from the fifth-generation of a Kansas wheat-farming family, but Maria Flynn likes to make things grow. She’s the 38-year-old president and CEO of Orbis Bio-sciences, a 6-year-old Kansas City, Kan., company that serves large pharmaceutical clients and other companies dependent on controlled-release processes for drugs and other usages. Flynn was on board at Orbis almost from the start, first as vice president of business development, then as chief operating officer after just 18 months, then rising to her current role in 2011. She helped the life-sciences company shatter sector norms by attaining profitability in just three years.
Concurrent with most of that, she had two children—3-year-old Declan and 4-month-old Teddy—with her husband, Robert. Yet another branch shooting off from the Cerner Corp. entrepreneurial tree, Flynn spent five years with the health-care software giant, forming new business units or turning around ones that were under-performing. She also spent three years with Camp Dresser & McKee, designing water-treatment systems in the U.S. and abroad, and she’s a walking monument to the power of education: Bachelor’s in civil engineering from K-State, master’s in environmental engineering from Stanford, MBA from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. An officer with the Pipeline entrepreneurial program, she was also a co-founder of Eden Renewal, a non-profit that promotes environmental stewardship among faith communities.
In 2011, Spring Venture Group co-founder and COO Jeffery Anderson recruited former colleague Chris Giuliani to help launch a subsidiary of their direct-to-consumer insurance operations. But with Giuliani’s innate ability to think strategically, increase revenue, and improve operating margins, “he was moved into the CEO position,” Anderson says. The result? A 208 percent increase in senior health product sales from 2012 to 2013, coupled with a 270 percent improvement in the life insurance product line.
“I’ve had several opportunities to have a great impact on multiple companies,” Giuliani says. These opportunities have included launching and growing four start-ups within the Spring Venture Group platform. Last year, the fast-growing company leased 28,000 square feet at Crown Center, its burgeoning staff of 100 having outgrown the offices in Leawood. The new digs will allow for planned growth that is expected to swell the payroll to 300-plus by 2017. Spring Venture Group is realizing the benefits of snagging a proven performer from the likes of Capital One, TARP Worldwide (no, it’s not related to bank bailouts), and Galderma. An MU grad with a degree in hotel-restaurant management, Giuliani also pitched for the baseball team and earned a 4.0 GPA and an MBA from Baker University. “I describe myself as a family man and a man of faith,” says the 38-year-old. He and his wife, Dara, have two girls, 8-year-old Sofia and 5-year-old Lauren.
Wes Grammer loves his work. Really. So no disrespect is intended to the boss when he tells you: “I can’t wait to get home every day.” The reason for that has to do with his wife, Jennifer and their 1-year-old son, Grant. Of fatherhood, Grammer says, “It’s the best.”
But Dad still has to go to work in the morning, and Grammer does that as managing partner at RED Legacy, the retail real-estate development company spawned by RED Development. He’s been part of the team there since 2004. “I walked away from a comfortable six-year management consulting career to enter the commercial real-estate world,” Grammer recalls.
Leaving a predictable paycheck for a commission-only brokerage was a gamble. “But I felt passionate about the opportunity and the resulting experience has been rewarding,” he says, and what he’s found there has been a family of sorts. “I come from a large family, and have been fortunate to meet a fantastic group of friends,” he says. Grammer helped establish RED’s office division, completing transactions totaling over $100 million, and has traveled throughout China and the Pacific Rim—more than 45 countries in all—pursuing development opportunities.
Grammer holds a master’s degree in entrepreneurial real estate from the Bloch School of Man-agement’s Lewis White Real Estate Center at UMKC, and he’s a licensed real estate broker in Missouri and Kansas.
No assessment of Kansas’ emergence in the field of life sciences would be complete without recognizing the contribution made by the Kansas Bioscience Authority, which has committed $272 million to nearly 90 bioscience companies and institutions in the decade since it was formed. Its maturation has been marked by a move from a grant-making organization to a venture-funding model, and that’s where 39-year-old Keith Harrington has done his heavy lifting.
The KBA’S managing director previously served as its director of commercialization and played a key role in transforming the funding model. “I’ve been fortunate to play a part in the pivot toward a more focused venture-investment model,” he says. “I get to work with smart and talented people with big ideas and ambitions that are changing the way business is done in health care, agriculture and animal health.” A lot is riding on that success for the state; the average job created through KBA’s involvement pays more than $73,000—roughly twice the state’s average salary. “I’m passionate about fostering innovative companies in Kansas, and I thrive on helping entrepreneurs in any way I can,” says Harrington, who previously worked at Quintiles and Birch Telecom.
A single dad, he’s deeply involved in school and extracurricular activities for his 11-year-old son Jack, volunteering with him at Heart to Heart International, and he also works on behalf of various youth mentoring and entrepreneurship-development programs.
At $40 million, it’s not the biggest redevelopment deal that the Kansas City region will ever see. But for sheer neighborhood-changing impact, does anything top the 39Rainbow mixed-used development? It’s completely altered the character around the University of Kansas Hospital and the Rosedale district in Kansas City, Kan., thanks to Hunter Harris and his team from LANE4 Property Group. Harris has been the tip of the developmental spear that has changed Rainbow Boulevard from a collection of fast-food outlets and marginally successful retail ventures into a thriving commercial district that is also fueling growth across nearby State Line, along the 39th Street corridor in Kansas City’s Midtown section. He has also played key roles in the Mission Crossing project and the development of Woodside Village, a mixed-use development not far south of 39Rainbow.
“I take great pride in taking these projects from conception to completion and making Kansas City a better place,” says the 34-year-old. “What is most rewarding is being able to dream big and work diligently to make those dreams a reality.” Last fall, he was named partner at LANE4, where he serves as vice president of development and acquisitions. Harris and his wife, Annie, have a 3-month-old son, Hayes, and have logged volunteer hours with Harvesters-The Community Food Network. He’s also a board member with the Friendship Inn, a not-for-profit that gives families free or reduced-cost lodging while their loved ones are being treated at the nearby medical center.
For a lot of working mothers—OK, some working dads, too—the whole work-life balance riddle is simply impossible to crack. Not for Liz Hawks. She feasts on the dual challenges of executive and parental duties, and makes it all work for FleishmanHillard, one of the world’s biggest public-relations agencies. Hawks is not just a partner and senior vice president; she invented the communications space she inhabits there as founding chair of the Global Marketing-to-Moms Practice.
“I researched and wrote the business case to launch a global practice focused on the $2 trillion ‘moms market’ while on maternity leave,” Hawks says. In that role, she provides strategic counsel to big-name brands like Tropicana, Google, Dow and EA Sports, trying to connect them with moms responsible for an estimated 85 percent of household spending decisions. The practice she created now accounts for 100 communications professionals at the agency. She and her husband, Thomas, have three children—Graham, 7; Reid, 6; and Blair, who’s not quite a year old.
Outside the office, Hawks applies her marketing acumen to non-profits like Children’s TLC (creating the organization’s first marketing and public-relations committee), the Foundation for Inclusive Religious Education and the PTA at school, where she’s chaired the birthday books and health and wellness committees. “Motherhood,” Hawks says, “fuels my personal priority to model goal-setting and achievement for my children.”
Downtown Kansas City is a well-defined center of gravity for business in the region, but there’s plenty of commerce going on in eastern Jackson County, and that’s where Brian Hutchin has carved out a home-field advantage for the past seven years. In that span, his team at UMB, where he’s community bank president, has more than doubled the bank’s line of commercial business. He attributes that, in part, to determination.
“I am never happy with meeting the minimum requirements,” says Hutchin, 39, “and it is this determination that has let me to my most significant career achievements.” Getting it done as a commercial banker means rolling up your sleeves outside the office, and Hutchin does that, serving as treasurer on the board of directors for the hometown Lee’s Summit Parks and Recreation board as well as the city’s Chamber of Commerce, where he’s now vice chairman for business and economic development. He’s also past president of Lee’s Summit’s Rotary Club, serving as treasurer there, too. Hutchin and his wife, Megan, have two girls, 11-year-old Emma and Ellie, 7. “I have had wonderful role models in my life who have taught me the importance of giving back and helping others,” says Hutchin. But back to that Downtown gravity: Its pull reaches into the suburbs, too. Hutchin was recently promoted to director of commercial business development for UMB, and he’ll soon be working from a Downtown office.
She worked for some of the biggest names in their fields—Saatchi & Saatchi, Western Auto, American Century and H&R Block. But when Michelle Jacobs looked into the future of marketing, she saw an opportunity as an entrepreneur and jumped all over it. She co-founded Alight Analytics in 2007 with a mission to help other companies take control of their integrated marketing efforts.
“I love to help others by solving their problems,” says the 39-year-old. “Luckily for me, there are a lot of people out there who need help understanding how their marketing portfolio is performing.” Growing a company without any funding is a challenge, she says, “but when I hear stories from my clients about how we are contributing to their success, it is the ultimate reward.”
From a humble start with business partner Matt Hertig, launching from a guest room in her home, she’s now managing partner for a multi-million-dollar firm with 15 employees and 28 clients. That took some doing for someone inclined to be an introvert, but focusing on the problems helps build the foundation for successful client relationships. “After making our clients happy, my joy comes from traveling the world and evangelizing analytics,” Jacobs says. To that end, she’ll speak at two international data conferences this fall, in Rome and Austria. Her community-service interests include time on the marketing committee for Community LINC, and managing a $120,000 annual Google AdWords Grant for the friends of Mexican Animal Welfare.
Meet Quentin Jennings, Exhibit A in the case for demonstrating that you can be entrepreneurial without actually owning a business. A shareholder at Polsinelli PC, Jennings concentrates on corporate transactions, startup ventures, and mergers and acquisitions. From small businesses to Fortune 500 companies, he’s worked with a client based on deals ranging from $100,000 to $250 million, drawing on a skill set that includes effective communication, problem-solving, leadership and team play.
The second in his family to earn a college degree—and the first lawyer—Jennings traces the roots of his success to “my single-mother’s work ethic,” which inspires him to excel in every task. “I consistently employ a Can-Do management style, with a vision and tenacity to achieve superior results in the most efficient and timely manner,” Jennings says. He and his wife, Melissa, are parents of 1-year-old Braylen, and Jennings balances work and home life with additional duties as a governor’s appointee to the Kansas City Board of Elections, and as a member of Power Connections, a mentoring program for businesses owned by minorities and women. He has logged volunteer service with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Kansas City, is a graduate of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Missouri program, and the 36-year-old Jennings, a skilled interviewer and recruiter, is also chairman of the Polsinelli Diversity Committee.
Matt Johnson is not an “I” kind of guy. “My most significant career achievements,” says the 37-year-old, “come from watching others around me succeed.” Johnson is manager of assurance services for CliftonLarsonAllen, the national accounting firm with offices in St. Joseph, where he has a get-it-done reputation for tackling complicated projects, demonstrating superior communication skills with clients and internal staff, and training associates and interns. “I love teaching, showing others what I know, what mistakes I have learned from, providing them with real-world examples and helping them get started in their careers,” he says.
He has taught at more than a dozen conferences and training sessions dealing with assurance, fraud detection and audit-software use, and he’s a member of the firm’s national instructor program. Outside the office, “faith, family and fitness are the foundations of my personal life,” says the deeply religious Johnson. In addition to service with his church as deacon, finance committee member and basketball coach, he’s been a flag-football coach for the YMCA, volunteered for the St. Joseph United Way, graduated from Leadership St. Joseph, and is an active member of the Buchanan County GOP and Optimist Club. An avid runner—he has competed in five marathons to date—Johnson is particularly committed to fitness not for its own sake, but to maximize the quality of time spent with wife Becky and their three children, Haley, 10; Torren, 7; and Kane, 2.
He’s the youngest statewide officeholder in the United States. That distinction alone sets 32-year-old Jason Kander apart, but Missouri’s Secretary of State, a Democrat, has a far lengthier list of achievements to his credit. Before winning that office in 2012—and doing it in the face of an electorate that backed Republican Mitt Romney for president by a 9-percent margin—Kander spent a pair of terms in the Missouri House, including work on the budget committee.
That service was preceded by work in a far tougher venue: Afghanistan. He ended up as an intelligence officer there after joining the Army in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks. “My job over there was to investigate corruption in the Afghan government,” Kander says on his Web site. “When I came home and got elected, I found that there was plenty of anti-corruption work to do in Jefferson City too. I’ve been taking it on from Day One.”
His body of work flows from childhood influences: “I am the son of a juvenile probation officer and a police officer who adopted or fostered each of my brothers when they needed a home,” Kander says. “My upbringing taught me to seek justice and protect those in danger—values that led me to the Army, the courtroom and the legislature” before making the move to the administrative offices. He’s also the other half a rising power couple in the region—his wife Diana, is a senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation, and together they have an infant son, True.
No, we did not start 20 in Their Twenties to ensure a stable crop of strong candidates for 40 Under Forty. Ramsey Mohsen was a lock for inclusion in that first batch of young honorees in 2008 on his own merits. Even then, it was clear that his entrepreneurial zeal, his embrace of the digital age and his command of a then-emerging field called social media would punch his ticket to success. And they have. He was employee No. 11 at Digital Evolution Group when he started there, and he’s now DEG’s director of social media, directing a practice that accounts for nearly $3 million in revenue, serving brands like Hallmark, Lee Jeans and Hyatt Hotels.
“Growing this business has been hugely challenging, and I’m incredibly proud of all the DEG team and I have been able to accomplish,” says Mohsen. His keyboard-pounding does not stop at 5 p.m., either—he’s been recognized as one of the top bloggers in Kansas City, and his YouTube videos have attracted a combined 4 million viewers.
The baby of this year’s 40 Under Forty class, Mohsen turns 31 this year, but already has a finely-tuned sense of social responsibility. He was a founding organizer of the area’s annual Ugly Christmas Sweater Party, which has raised over $110,000 for Operation Breakthrough, and he’s stepped up for DEG’s corporate philanthropic efforts on behalf of Jazzoo, Treads & Threads, HillOWeeen, Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Red Ball.
“Find what speaks to your heart, and get involved.” That saying has framed James Landrum’s outlook on life and on work—in his case, as executive director of the Harry S. Truman Children’s Neurological Center. Which is something of a misnomer; some of the clients at TNC Community, which provides care in group homes to adults diagnosed with intellectual-development disabilities, haven’t been children for quite a while. Several have lived in those settings for 25 years, and one resident for 47 years. The security they enjoy from something as simple as a place to live is a tribute to the work Landrum took on when he joined the center in 2000 amid trying circumstances and fears that the center might have to close.
“Over the past 10 years, the organization I have had the privilege of serving has come a long way,” he says. In that span, Landrum has worked with a strong board and dedicated staff to address the challenges, and today, the number of individuals served is twice what it was when he started, and TNC has earned the highest levels of accreditation from national regulatory bodies. The 38-year-old Landrum, who earned his masters in social work at KU, says his outlook on life is shaped by faith, family and friends, and he counts on all three during difficult times, particularly after the deaths of his father and three close friends in recent years. “One’s legacy is established upon what we do and how we treat those we interact with every day on this journey we call life,” he says.
Seven years after moving to Kansas City to become a partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, Mat Larsen has one eye on today’s caseloads, and the other on the next cohort of lawyers needed not just at Shook, but throughout the nation. He’s deeply engaged in efforts to attract and retain talent that will lead to a more qualified, diverse and inclusive profession, working with the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, a national organization; helping establish an individual mentoring program for diverse students from area law schools, organizing the first group-mentoring event in Kansas City, and serving as a member of Shook’s search committee and the diversity-writing program committee. And, in 2008, he notes, “I worked with Operation Breakthrough to form a high school mock-trial competition team composed of students from Kansas City’s urban core” and coached the team in competitions for several years.
That’s a lot to take on, but he still has to help the firm represent clients, and does that by specializing in toxic tort and environmental litigation. He’s well-versed in legal issues relating to the Clean Water Act, state environmental statutes, regulatory compliance and environmental audits and air and water permitting issues pending before state and federal agencies.
He’s an active youth sports coach as a partner in the family concern you might call Larsen & Larsen: He and his wife, Lindsay, are parents of Derek, 8; William, 6; and Sophie, 4.
Five years ago, fast-growing pharmacy-benefit consultant MedTrak Services set up a new business unit, Tria Health, and put Jessica Lea in charge as president. This was a good call. In just its first two years, the medication-management services company saw year-over-year revenues double, and the growth hits just keep coming, testament to the innate entrepreneurship the 38-year-old brings to work every day.
While she held a doctorate in pharmacy, she didn’t pick up her MBA until completing Rockhurst University’s executive program last spring, four years into her role at Tria. Entrepreneurship, though, runs in the family—her husband, Darren, has been owner of Albers Medical Pharmacy since 2007, where he’d been a member of the pharmacy staff for eight years before buying it from the founder.
Their children are ages 6 and 9 and Mom’s commitment to a balanced work life and home life means she’s there to make sure they get home-cooked meals and have a fan in the crowd at school functions. She also volunteers at school, and as a Sunday school teacher. Her other ventures include time with the Central Exchange’s Mentor Program, participation in various professional associations, and support for non-profits like Operation Breakthrough, the Kansas City Care Clinic, the AIDS Foundation, Folds of Honor and Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired.
Corporate legal departments, says Lynn Price, too often are places where deals go to die. That’s why Price, who manages the legal department for the Terracon Consultants engineering firm, wants her department to be “not a roadblock, but a resource.” In her nine years with Terracon, “the overall percentage of signed contracts—our primary risk-management tool—has increased from 62 percent to 89 percent,” Price says. As a result, she and her team have earned recognition as Terracon’s No. 1 corporate department, determined by an annual company-wide survey of managers.
Price, 39, counsels Terracon’s leadership to help assess potential risks and rewards. “It’s my role to be responsive, resourceful and reliable in providing this support,” she says. “I work with our company leadership to ensure that our response to legal matters is consistent with the core values of the company.”
She does all that as a working mother of son Jack and wife of Todd Jacobs, who heads a legal team of his own at Missouri Gas Energy. Family and community service, Price says, are her two greatest passions. In addition to navigating the slip stream of an active 6-year-old, “I enjoy finding creative ways to help community organizations,” Price says. Those include leading a corporate CANstruction competition and toilet-paper drive to benefit Harvesters, and founding Team Shock and Thaw, which takes a mid-winter swim to raise money for Special Olympics of Kansas.
The Winter of ’14 was long, nasty and brutish. For most of us, the inconvenience was limited to a higher heating bills and a couple of snow days or working from home. For Travis Ochs, it meant pulling out all the stops with his team at Ferrellgas to make sure propane was on hand for delivery to millions of customers. He’s the vice president of supply and wholesale for Ferrell North America, a division of the nation’s second-largest propane company.
“I’m proud of the way my team performed during one of the coldest and most challenging winters the propane industry has ever seen,” says Ochs, who knows a thing or two about teamwork. He was a four-year linebacker at K-State, the last Big 8 Defensive Freshman of the Year before the conference became the Big XII, so “being a team player and performing in a pressure-packed environment is nothing new to me,” Ochs says. Securing the propane used by homeowners, businesses and farms across the country, he says, is a tremendous responsibility, so the pressure last winter was indeed packed: “Ferrellgas delivered 103 million more gallons during the trailing 12 months ending Jan. 31, than we did the prior trailing 12-month period,” he notes. Ochs is also part of a strong team at home, too: He and his wife, Megan, an attorney with Armstrong Teasdale, run two-on-two drills with their 6-year-old twin boys who, Ochs says, “are capable of keeping me on my toes as much as any propane supply shortage.”
“We did it!” That’s what Alan Voos exclaimed when his son, James, was accepted into medical school in 2000. It was a fitting moment of triumph to realize one man’s dream for his son, but also a fleeting one—before James’ first year of medical school drew to a close, his 53-year-old father died unexpectedly. The dream, however, lived on. After finishing medical school at the top of his class, James finished his internship, residency and fellowship in surgery and orthopedics, and is now a very busy partner in the Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Clinic of Kansas City, shareholder at the Kansas City Orthopaedic Institute, co-founder of Voos Milroy Innovations, clinical assistant professor of orthopedics at UMKC’s School of Medicine, and a team physician for the Kansas City Chiefs. He’s also a consultant for the Kansas City Ballet and serves as team physician for Pembroke Hill and his high school alma mater.
“Playing football at Shawnee Mission Northwest and Drake University inspired my passion to serve as one of the youngest team physicians in the NFL,” said Voos, who worked with players from the New York Giants while on fellowship at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, one of the nation’s premier orthopedic settings. He and his wife, Kristin Voos, a neonatologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital, have two children, Kalli and K.C. “Even though we each maintain busy professional careers,” Voos says, “our children and faith are the priorities of our life.”
When it comes to 40 Under Forty protocols, it does indeed take one to know one. So when Nate Orr, a partner with Spencer Fane Britt & Browne, came under consideration with independent nominations from three of our Forties’ alumni, it was clear he would be a formidable candidate.
Two passions make Orr tick: Family and community. Family always comes first, and in this case, it means his wife, Liz, and their two children, 5-year-old Madeleine and Henry 2 But after that, the 38-year-old Orr says, “my greatest passion is Kansas City. Growing up in the KCMO public schools and watching my parents be civic activists, I developed a passion early in life to tirelessly promote and work to better this community.” His practice concentrations include banking and financial services law, class-action cases, litigation and dispute resolution, and employment law.
Successful casework, though, isn’t the only way he hopes to contribute to improving the quality of life here. He’s thoroughly engaged in civic and non-profit activities, as well, including service at work as chairman of the firm’s charitable contributions committee, outside of work as vice chairman of the board for the Salvation Army of Western Missouri and Kansas, and professional-services work as past president for the metropolitan bar association’s young lawyers section board. Whether chairing a gala or helping clients create jobs in our community,” Orr says, “being part of the civic fabric and securing this city’s future is my most rewarding accomplishment.”
For 7 ears, Matt Ralston toiled in the field for Burns & McDonnell—and when your field, the construction practice, touches most every discipline in the company, you get a 360-degree view of things. Ralston has worked on major refineries, electrical transmission and power-generation stations, aviation facilities, large-scale manufacturing systems and infrastructure projects.
“It’s given me a good insight into how each business unit operates,” says Ralston, 37. “And I look at each of them as internal clients, and treat them like client to make sure they’re successful.” Those projects were among the largest and most complex in the firm’s 116-year history, and helped make him one of the youngest employee-owners ever promoted to the officer’s level, company officials say. He’s been vice president of procurement for the firm since January 2013, responsible for a team of about 70 procurement professionals who purchase more than half a billion dollars’ worth of equipment, materials and services for the firm every year.
When it comes to traits like personal character and integrity, Ralston is also able to preach what he practices: He’s an ordained minister for the Community of Christ Church. His community service includes three years on the board for the Girl Scouts of Northeast Kansas and Northwest Missouri, and coordinating the annual Chiefs charity preseason game benefit for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Kansas City. He and his wife, Jessica, make their home in Lee’s Summit.
Melissa Ver Meer
If you’re not a chemical engineer, it might be tough to appreciate Melissa Ver Meer’s contribution to efficient oilfield and energy production, but trust us: This 38-year-old technical manager in materials engineering at Honeywell’s Kansas City plant knows her stuff. She holds four patents, and has others pending approval, in various applications related to oil drilling and electrical power transmission.
She got her start with a chemical-engineering degree from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and a master’s in materials science and engineering from Iowa State, then worked nearly four years for Fisher Controls and nearly a decade with Schlumberger’s office in Lawrence. She continued studying and researching material composites, eventually earning her doctorate from ISU in 2009, and Honeywell brought her on board in September 2012. Ver Meer is also the working-mom champion of this year’s 40 Under Forty brigade, as co-inventor of four children—Alexander, 15; Liam; 8; Stella, 2; and 8-month-old Pierce. Her husband, Michael, is a senior engineer with Black & Veatch.
Outside the lab and applied chemical engineering, her community service includes duties with St. Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church as a Friday Night Meal volunteer and supporter since 2007, and in professional-development circles as a member of the Chemical Engineering Advisory Board at NU. She also helps promote STEM careers as a volunteer for the Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day and Girls IGNITE, and as a mentor for the KC STEM Alliance and Society of Women Engineers.
She’s chief administrative officer for Pioneer Services, which means Jodi Vickery’s work helps military families with their financial-services and education needs. In this, she is by no means a detached observer: Her husband, Steve, is a career soldier in the Army, which means his occasional deployments leave her to quite literally to hold down the Vickery fort for 9-year-old Holden and Maddie, 5. Her long-term efforts to assist with spouse and family groups in Steve’s battalion earned her honors as its volunteer of the year.
Her career with Pioneer, a division of MidCountry Bank, reflects a seamless rise, including running the company’s retail field operation, improving customer service by establishing a Web banking site, lowering call-center times with new integrated voice-response system, and—this could be two jobs—interpreting Dodd-Frank regulatory changes for the division, plus the organizational changes needed to meet compliance standards. Her own service record shows two years with the Council for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and three years with the Soldier Family Readiness Group, a support organization for military families. “In business, at home or in the community, each of us has an obligation to make a positive difference, be it with our children, church, volunteer efforts, or commitment to corporate social responsibility,” Vickery says. “A mentor shared this lesson with me early in my career, and I’ve never lost sight of it.”
“The past few years in the banking world,” Matt Webb observes, with large dollop of understatement, “have been very chaotic.” That’s especially been the case in the financial-services corner he occupies, commercial real-estate finance. “Declining real-estate values, increasing government regulations and a general lack of credit availability made it very difficult to maintain banking relationships,” he says. Well, not for everyone: Top real-estate developers have been happy to keep in touch with this 31-year-old, who in a 30-month window during the downturn generated more than $200 million in new loans for their projects. In doing so, he doubled the bank’s expectations for that metric while still maintaining not just profitability but—this is key—a low-risk profile.
Last year, he was appointed to the bank’s leadership team, and over the past six months, he’s doubled his staff, and the bank is poised to capitalize on further signs of recovery. Webb brings one of the more unusual bents for community service to this year’s class; he’s a trained auctioneer and donates those skills and his auctioneering services to various charities each year, including the United Way of Greater Kansas City, Powell Gardens, the Olathe Chamber of Commerce and considerably more. And he’s evidently gifted at forming strategic alliances to launch new ventures, at home too: Webb and his wife, Elizabeth, are expecting their first child in June. They are, he says, “thrilled
for the excitement and challenges it will bring to our lives.”
When people talk about Cerner Corp., they point to a culture of innovation, strong shareholder returns and mammoth sales figures. What should never be forgotten is that the medical software giant produces programs whose end-users may be health-care providers, but whose real beneficiaries are patients. Matt Wildman does not forget. “I am very proud of the last nine years I’ve spent with Cerner,” says the 35-year-old director of ambulatory sales.
During that time, he launched Cerner’s $25 million diabetes initiative to connect Type-1 diabetic children with their care providers. “We enabled nearly 20,000 kids suffering from this disease to better manage their health and connect with their providers electronically,” Wildman says. Since graduating from the company’s Fast Track program in 2007, he’s led a unit with top-line sales approaching $100 million. In some ways, his work performance mirrors his service life, following the guidance of the late Rep. Shirley Chisholm of Texas: “Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.” And Wildman’s rent is paid in full, with four years on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, where he’s treasurer and sits on the executive committee, and co-founder and co-chairman of a the KickFall Classic, an annual kickball tournament that raises funds for charities designated by the top three winning teams.
Wildman and his wife, Laura, have two children, 6-year-old Cade and Paige, 4.
He started at Creative Planning in 2005, when the wealth management firm had $171 million in assets under management. Today, Jim Williams is co-chief investment officer for the Leawood firm, and the asset figure there has ballooned by a factor of nearly 52, exceeding $9 billion. That places the firm among the Top 10 wealth managers in the Kansas City region, and the 36-year-old Williams is a key driver of that growth and success.
Those who have benefitted as investors might well consider themselves the lucky ones, but Williams is the one counting his blessings. “I have been fortunate,” he says, “to have had the opportunity to work personally with many of these clients, as well as perform a variety of roles for the company during my tenure.” Among those he’s held on his way to his current role were chief compliance officer and head of operations, training and investments.
Outside the office, he’s been building relationships as an active Big Brother for the past five years with the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kansas City, and he previously served three years with KC CAN!, the Kansas City Children’s Assistance Network.
Williams and his wife, Shannon, “have three wonderful kids who always keep us on our toes,” he says of Allie, 14; Lillie, 3; and 1-year-old Sam. “We have been truly blessed with healthy kids and a wonderful life together.”
Kendra Wright’s managerial toolbox is packed with measured leadership style, relationship-building, cross-functional teamwork generation, communication skills, execution—and results.
Her skills were assembled throughout an 18-year career that started as an accountant and project analyst in the finance department. Accelerated performance was a hallmark from her youth; she earned her bachelor’s degree in 3 ears before joining Sprint. Just five years later, she landed her first management role in a 175-seat call center, helping cut employee attrition in half and slashing cost per contact by 25 percent in three years. Subsequent roles placed her at the helm of a $1.7 billion book of business with the business care unit, co-leading the iPhone launch for Sprint in 2011, directing the reverse logistics and device quality team in 2012, then becoming vice president of customer service last fall. Wright, 39, is responsible today for 13,000 call center representatives at 50 sites. A Nebraska native who grew up on a cattle ranch, Wright says that beginning “gave me the foundation of hard work, integrity and drive to make the most of difficult times.”
Faith, family and work provide structure for her life with husband Jason and children Taylor, 14, and Jenna, 11. A choir accompanist and organist at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church for 17 years (and assistant track coach for the school for three), she says “it is very important to our family to use the blessings we have been given to give back to others through volunteer work or financial support.”