50 Missourians You Should Know

Across nearly 70,000 square miles, more than 6 million people call Missouri home. Deeply diverse in culture, even harkening back to the Old South in some parts, they comprise a fascinating study in what makes a state tick. Bankers, educators, lawyers, farmers, elected officials, artists, athletes, humanitarians and more, they are all part of the rich fabric of life in the Show-Me State. Here are 50 of our finest: 

Scott Anderson 
St. Louis

Think about the core values Scott Anderson grew up with in St. Louis, thanks to family, teachers, and community leaders: Honesty. Integrity. Hard work. Those are not industry-specific traits, so one shouldn’t be surprised that this Mizzou journalism grad was able to succeed in public affairs and investigative reporting for both print and broadcast outlets, then move seamlessly into the path that made him president of the benefits and insurance division for CBIZ’s St. Louis region. Back at Parkway North, he says, a journalism instructor “sparked a love of effective communication that I continue to practice every day.” After five years in newspaper and TV work, he shifted into corporate communications roles, settled into health-care disciplines, and jumped at the opportunity to join CBIZ. His leadership also allows him to view operations through the lens of an entrepreneur; he previously owned a health-care IT company that rose to $10 million in revenues before selling it. That success was due in part to being in the right field—electronic medical records—but in the right location, too. “St. Louis has an extraordinary lineup of consultants and advisers (banks, accountants, attorneys) who provide invaluable assistance to start-ups,” Anderson says. “But you absolutely need a strong and vibrant network to succeed.”

Laura Angst Gartin 
Live 2 Give Hope

January 2017: After career stops doing marketing and supply-chain work for large and small companies in her native Missouri and off to Arizona and back, Laura Angst Gartin has an itch she needs to scratch. And thus was born Live 2 Give Hope. “I didn’t really know what we wanted it to look like; I just wanted to help people,” says the non-profit’s founder. That spring, she started a class to become a foster parent, and “I realized what needs existed in the foster community, and moved in that direction,” she says. By autumn, she launched the Fostering Hope Closet in the back of her boutique shop in Lebanon, and within a year, it took up more than half the floor space. She moved it to another building and started five related programs, switching to non-profit work full-time. It’s an extension, she says, of the experience of growing up surrounded by missionaries affiliated with her father, a pastor, and his congregation. Once into the foster mindset, she saw the challenges for homes in rural areas. “We have much higher than state or national average numbers of kids in foster care in Lebanon and Laclede County,” owing to drug abuse, poverty, and child neglect. Her programs now help foster children and families with basic needs like driver’s education and financial literacy, home management, and basic life skills to attend and hold a job.

Richard Barohn 
University of Missouri

The irony is not lost on Richard Barohn, who headed to medical school at 17—not long after UMKC launched a six-year program combining college and medical school classes. “At 17, your brain isn’t even fully formed yet,” says Barohn, who, as it turns out, would go on to make a career in neurology and an understanding of the science of the brain, even as so much about it remains a mystery. Over the past half-century, he’s established himself as an authority in neurological clinical work and education at two major venues: The University of Kansas School of Medicine, and since 2020 at MU as dean of the School of Medicine and executive vice chancellor for health affairs. He came to Columbia to put a capstone on his career, overseeing the final construction and start-up of the $214 million NextGen Precision Health Institute. “With this one-of-a-kind building in the U.S., and the financial resources to hire talent from around the country, it’s almost too good to be true,” Barohn says. “We’ve been hiring like crazy—amazing talent.” It means a lot that this Creve Coeur native can wrap up his career with a project of such importance for his home state as the ultimate leader for a health-care system and its academic instruction. “I’m able to bring together the clinical side, with the hospital and outpatient clinic, and the education and research side,” he says. “It’s my dream job, to be honest.”

Brad Beckham 
O’Reilly Auto Parts

It’s a long way from working the counters as an auto parts specialist in Wagoner, Okla., to the C-suite of a $13.3 billion publicly traded company, but Brad Beckham completed the journey earlier this year when he became COO of O’Reilly Auto Parts, one of Missouri’s biggest entrepreneurial success stories. In that capacity, he is responsible for store operations across the board for a company that currently has 5,873 stores in 47 U.S. states and 27 ORMA stores in Mexico. After taking that first position just about the time that the ink was drying on his high school diploma back in Muskogee, he worked his way up the ladder one rung at a time—store manager at various sites in Oklahoma and Texas, district manager in Texas, Kentucky, and Georgia, regional manager for four southeastern states, and then divisional vice president based in Atlanta in 2007. That’s not a bad track for slightly more than a decade after high school. In 2012, the corporate offices came calling, and he split time between Springfield and Atlanta, overseeing eastern store operations and sales as vice president; and earlier this year, took the next step to his current role as executive vice president and chief operating officer. The company, founded with a single store in 1957, went public in 1993 and now provides jobs for 84,000 employees.

Max Buetow 

On any given day, CoxHealth providers are saving lives and extending them. In that is an energy Max Buetow can feel in the C-suites of the Springfield health-care system. “I may never take care of a patient, but it is powerful and humbling to be close to life-changing, life-altering moments every single day,” says Buetow, who earlier this year became CEO. A Denver native, he’s part of what he calls “a tightly knit, but ultimately a very open and accepting community” because it’s his wife’s hometown. “I love the people here in southwest Missouri and this is a region that is growing rapidly. Springfield has an entrepreneurial nature in the fabric of who we are that helps keeps us fresh and cutting-edge, and always wanting more.” The city, he says, teems with “highly invested local civic and business leaders and people who want to see the community progress. I am also addicted to progress, so I love driving through this community and watching a new business open or a new service offered. I love being here because of the welcoming environment and the relationships I have built.” he’s grateful that his work contributes to that environment. “I take a lot of solace when I drive by our hospitals in the middle of the night and see the lights on,” he says. “They are open 24/7/365, no matter what the emergency is. There is a safety and comfort in that.”

Shawn Burcham 
Holts Summit

Born in Columbia and raised in Farmington, Shawn Burcham headed off to Springfield for his business degree at Missouri State University, then immersed himself in operations for both a big business and a small one—the bigger being what is now Dairy Farmers of America; the smaller one a Nixa-based company, where he managed sales of equipment and branded chicken products. In 1998, he decided it was time to apply his real-world education by working for himself. That’s when he launched Pro Food Systems, now PFSbrands, with more than 1,500 branded food-service and retail locations. That performance has put his company on the Inc. 5000 list of fast-growth firms for nine straight years. “I’ve always had a passion for entrepreneurship, and I always wanted to be my own boss,” Burcham says. “I’ve also always been an avid goal setter and was never scared to take risks.” He developed his love for the food business while still a junior at MSU, working for what is now DFA. “I’m a warped entrepreneur and I love starting, and investing in companies,” says Burcham, who is also the author of “Keeping Score with GRITT; Straight-Talk Strategies for Success.” “Missouri offers a good pro-business environment. Cost of living, cost of labor, cost of land and buildings, and utility costs could be reasons to locate or start up companies in Missouri.” 

Brett Carolus 
Hillyard, Inc.
St. Joseph

Seven generations deep in family ownership, Hillyard, Inc. is now working on a second generation of the Carolus family in its leadership ranks. That would be with Brett Carolus, chief administrative officer, following his father’s footsteps to the St. Joseph company who retired as its president after 45 years there. So Brett is no stranger to the mission, whose only extended time out of St Joseph took him to the University of Kansas. Still, Carolus says, “I didn’t know I’d be working for Hillyard until after graduating from KU.  I assumed I’d go the public accounting path, but an opportunity with Hillyard became available, and I took it.” His path to leadership included work with an ERP implementation team that took him to each of the cleaning-products company’s 24 distribution centers nationwide, where he absorbed the finer points of operations and met hundreds of Hillyard employees. St. Joseph has always prided itself in being a “tweener” city, not too big, as with Kansas City, and not constrained by small-town challenges. “Our city, county, and chamber have worked hard to create an environment that helps grow our existing businesses and attract outside businesses,” Carolus says. That’s one reason the company is committed to expanding its footprint there, with a 140,000-square-foot distribution center opening in the fall of 2023, a move that not only helps the company, but adds to redevelopment of the city’s historic downtown.  

Arvan Chan 
St. Louis

Think Globally/Act Locally is a mind-set that closely describes Arvan Chan. A Hong Kong native raised and schooled in Southern California, he came to St. Louis for graduate school at Washington University, works as COO-International for the nation’s largest Medicaid managed-care organization, has his own consulting firm, and is a member of the World Economic Forum, comprising thought leaders addressing some of the planet’s thorniest challenges. St. Louis and Centene, where he worked as a graduate intern while launching his own company, kept him here with what he calls a “mission-driven, entrepreneurial culture, along with the vibrant St. Louis entrepreneur scene.” Chan’s interest in health-care policy stems from his background—he was raised in a family of doctors—and what he discovered after majoring in biology at UCLA. “I noticed that my passion lies in the intersection of business and health care, particularly on how we can transform our health-care systems to improve affordability, access, and quality,” he says. An MBA and master’s in health administration at WashU, he says, “helped me to pivot into my new business career after years of doing HIV and cancer research.” He’s also a model of civic engagement, with a service history that includes board roles with for-profit and non-profit organizations, as well as advisory and selection committees, including his alma mater, Arch Grants, United Way, and others.

Jeff Cook 
ARCO Construction/AEG
St. Louis

Even as his company was wrapping up its third decade in business—with a massive, 10-figure revenue baseline—Jeff Cook had ARCO Construction in beast mode for growth, earning a spot on the Inc. 5000 last year. That’s a long way from where he and co-founder Dick Arnoldy were when they broke ground on their first project in Chesterfield, Mo., back in 1992.  Cook was just 31 at the time, but he knew he wanted to do more than just build things; he wanted to imbue his company with a purpose grounded in the right culture and the right core values. It’s hard to argue with that strategy: annual revenues for the design/build construction firm, specializing in senior housing, are now north of $2.5 billion. Cook wears another leadership hat as a principal of Aligned Equity Group, a private-equity company that feeds the construction business by bringing in investors with the senior living and multi-family communities ARCO is raising from the ground up as the sole contractor for all AEG facilities. Cook traces the company’s success to its prime directive:  “Treat people fairly and do the right thing. “We are committed to building and sustaining a culture that supports diversity and inclusion,” the company says. “From recruiting, training, and hiring practices, to the selection of our subcontractors, we understand that the diversity of all those involved in the construction process enhances our ability to deliver the best solutions to our customers.”

Rodney Crim 
St. Louis Partnership
St. Louis

Rodney Crim made early career stops in economic-development roles in Minneapolis and Chicago, but when he arrived in St. Louis in 2001, he found a place where he could make a long-term impact. That he’s done, most recently leading the St. Louis Partnership, where he applies his skills to build a better business ecosystem. He does that by drawing from a deep understanding not only of the economic-development mission but the financing tools needed to achieve the vision—in addition to his economic developer certification, he’s certified in ED finance and previously was a certified public accountant. Since late 2019, he’s been president and CEO of the partnership, a regional organization established nearly a decade ago to help retain, expand and attract businesses to the city and county, and to drive new investment and job creation. Crim is also living a civic commitment with board and volunteer service, a philanthropic resume that includes a seat on the advisory board for Webster University’s George Herbert Walker School of Business; the International Economic Development Council, which establishes best practices for economic development; the finance and planning committee for St. Louis Children’s Hospital and the United Way of Greater St. Louis board; and the Urban Land Institute. Crim is a University of Minnesota graduate with an MBA from St. Thomas University.

Dennis Curtin 
RE/MAX Regional Services
Kansas City

The RE/MAX brand in residential real estate was just two years old when a recent Rockhurst College graduate named Dennis Curtin became that Colorado-based upstart’s first franchisee. Over the course of the next 50 years, he’s done as much as anyone to make it a power brand in Kansas City, across Missouri, nationally and even globally. It all started with a single office in the Northland, where Curtin grew up learning about hard work at the small diner his mother operated. Flash forward 50 years, and Curtin is a highly regarded, award-winning real-estate industry pro whose agencies have groomed thousands of agents carrying the RE/MAX flag. By the time he sold his individual franchise operations in 1990, opting to focus on development of a much broader region, he and his affiliates consistently held more than 40 percent of the residential market share in the KC region. Eventually, he would extend his organizational reach from Missouri and Kansas to Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and as far away as Ireland. Never one to forget his roots, Curtin has impacted tens of thousands of food-bank recipients through collaborations with Harvesters-The Community Food Network, and Mimi’s Pantry, which he founded in honor of his mother to help put food on the tables of needy families. “When you see the impact that receiving good, nutritious food has on a pantry client,” he said, “it makes you realize all the hard work is worth it.”

Joan Daleo 
Ole Tyme Produce
St. Louis

Joan Daleo vividly recalls waking in the middle of the night as a youngster—we’re talking 3 a.m., even earlier—to help her father make his early rounds with his food-service company, Ole Tyme Produce, loading goods and running the wholesale delivery route. As a young adult, that work would not be her first choice, but fate has a way of intervening. She moved to Portland for college, then went to work in mergers and acquisitions for a holding company with interests in energy and utilities. A search for deeper meaning in her work led her back home and the MBA program at Washington University, and she returned to Ole Tyme to help out, taking on expanded duties after her father had heart surgery in 2001. Over the years, she has built a program that brings to market all sorts of fresh and organic grocery items from growers within seven hours of St. Louis. As supply chain dynamics go, “where we’re headed is a good direction for the state,” Daleo says. “We are moving to a much more localized food system: harvest it today, box it tomorrow, and it’s literally on the shelves in two days or at a wholesale distribution center.” Thinking back to her exit interview in Portland way back when, she remembers saying she wants to change and affect people’s lives. “I didn’t know what that meant at 26,” Daleo says, “but that’s the beauty of time: I changed people’s lives by what I chose to do. From that perspective, I’ve come to know this is where I’m supposed to be.”

Stephen Davis 
Kraft Heinz

Can the biggest private employer in Kirksville, and one of the biggest in northeast Missouri—take on greater relevance to a community of 17,600 people? If you were to ask former Marine Stephan Davis, you might get an emphatic: “Oorah!” Just this summer, the Kraft Heinz plant he manages in town reached an agreement with city officials to finance a $33.5 million expansion at the food-processing plant, a project that will improve storage facilities and improve overall efficiency with the purchase of new equipment. It will also cement that plant’s place in the production hierarchy, making it the first of 29 locations across North America to undertake digital analysis of production metrics. By the time that’s completed next June, the plant will have 50 more of the manufacturing jobs seen as so vital to the economies of Missouri’s rural areas. “This expansion is an important element of our long-term strategy to revolutionize the way we operate,” Davis said as the negotiations with the city wrapped up. It’s the second significant expansion to occur on Davis’s watch; Kraft Heinz conducted a major site upgrade after striking a $229 million deal with the city in 2016, bringing its employment capacity to nearly 500. Davis started there as a business unit manager in 2014, then assumed the leadership role two years later. Previous career stops included U.S. Pet Nutrition, Royal Canin, and Nestle. 

John DeHardt 
Kessinger Hunter
Kansas City

In four decades with one of the Kansas City region’s biggest commercial real-estate entities, Kessinger Hunter, and 30 of those as managing partner, there isn’t a lot John DeHardt hasn’t seen: Some brokerage work here, some sales there, overseeing property management and accounting, and serving as managing partner for roughly 40 real-estate partnerships. Along the way, there have been some big deals, but almost nothing compares to what he’s been tied to for the past 17 years, which, he says, “we’re trying to get it ready for development, finally.” That would be the old Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant near DeSoto, which recently won one of the nation’s hottest economic development projects when Panasonic announced intentions to build a plant to supply makers of electric vehicles with batteries—eventually employing 4,000 directly, with the potential for many ancillary jobs. DeHardt and Kessinger Hunter have been tied to that site since acquiring it from the Army to oversee environmental remediation. The only problem was, after spending $100 million on that work across 9,000 deeded acres, it was clear the Army would need to pony up several times that amount. It’s taken that long to clean up enough of the land to position Kansas as the Panasonic Sweepstakes winner. DeHardt is a native of Independence who majored in accounting and economics at Rockhurst University.

Gene Diederich 
St. Louis

“My father was a CPA, so I grew up around that,” says Gene Diederich, reflecting on his youth in Salina, Kan. “He was definitely my most-admired person; I wanted to be like him.” Gene—yes, he’s a CPA—is a partner for the Diederich Simmons Perez team at wealth-management firm Moneta, where he came on board as CEO in 2009. That followed a long run in financial services with such prominent firms as KPMG, A.G. Edwards, Wachovia, and Wells Fargo. Being a CPA would be a vocation; what really got his blood moving, and at an early age, was the investment side. “In college, I always had an interest in investments,” the KU grad says. “And I worked on the farm as a kid, made a little money doing that, so, at a young age, I bought a couple of stock positions, and I got the bug.” Those shares have long since been sold off, he says, “but they got me watching the markets, I took a finance class at KU, and I loved being in the business.” As a firm, Moneta has nearly $33 billion in assets under management for more than 6,300 clients, nearly two-thirds of them falling in the high-net-worth category. When he’s not busy attending to their needs, Diederich also spends time learning to fly. “I’m working on my instrument rating,” he says. “I have about 150 hours in the air, so I’m still very much a baby pilot. … You always want to be super safe, but I also wanted something to challenge myself.”

Mitch Dolloff 
Leggett & Platt

Leggett & Platt is a $5 billion company whose products go into furniture and vehicles worldwide. So last year, when the time came to identify a successor to CEO Karl Glassman, it would have been a snap to find a new chief executive from the outside. Instead, the publicly traded company’s board turned to Mitch Dolloff, a company veteran of more than 20 years, to lead a business that is a major employer and point of civic pride in southwest Missouri. Dolloff succeeded Glassman in January, completing an ascendancy that began when he joined the mergers and acquisitions unit in 2000. That put him on a path to operations, then leadership of various divisions, including the global automotive-products business and then the global bedding business, before becoming president and taking his seat on the board of directors in 2020. He’s a graduate of Westminster College in Fulton, where he earned an economics degree, and then picked up a law degree from Vanderbilt University, where he later earned his MBA. Before coming to Carthage, he was in private practice with the Los Angeles-based firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, working in securities cases, mergers, and acquisitions. In his new position, Dolloff has oversight of a nearly 140-year-old global enterprise with 15 business units and more than 20,000 employees in 135 manufacturing facilities in 18 countries.

Bob Gilbert 
Bartlett & West
Jefferson City

Problem-solving as a skill presented itself to Bob Gilbert when he was growing up in Cedar Hill., Mo., and observed how his father practiced it as an engineering technician dealing with electrical systems. The intrigue deepened in high school, under the influence of teachers and guidance counselors. “Problem-solving was something in my nature and something I was pretty good at in school,” says Gilbert, chief operations officer for Bartlett & West’s Jefferson City office. And as a high-school distance runner, logging 70 miles a week, he incorporated aspects of the “determination and perseverance that are absolutely part of who I am today.” After picking up his civil engineering degree from Mizzou, he spent seven years with HNTB in the Kansas City area before jumping to Topeka-based B&W. Along the way, he was exposed to projects in roads, water systems, waste/stormwater, and water-resources development from collaborations with state transportation projects. A road that crosses a bridge, after all, touches on issues of a drainage system, bridging, water quality, bioretention, wetlands, and other disciplines. “It’s not just lines, grades, and simple geometry; it’s more tied to the environment, with lots of different possible solutions where I could be more creative,” he says. He also helps smaller communities find solutions to intractable problems of aging infrastructure and sparse populations to finance repairs.

Peg Griswold 
St. Louis

Peg Griswold is living proof that in business anyway, the sequel can be a much bigger hit. After the widowed Topeka retiree reconnected with Lynn Griswold, an old high school friend, and married him in 1993, they founded Medical Transportation Management in St. Louis in 1995. Transitioning away from her duties as MTM’s chairman, she leaves behind the largest woman-owned company in town, with their children as owners. “Lynn and my legacy will forever be to show that in America, an average couple who only have a small savings of seed money, but an attitude of working long, hard hours, maintaining a desire to only offer integrity and a quality product, could fulfill their desire to provide for their family and grow their business beyond their expectations,” Griswold says. Their initial $10,000 CD has blossomed into a corporate value of $1 billion. “We provided the start-up framework, the direction, established core values, developed the people-first culture and the hands-on example of leadership,” she says. “We were then smart enough to pass the torch to the bright, fresh, energetic, fearless, and innovative second generation (including daughter Alaina Macia, the CEO) who ran with that opportunity. We are proud to say that to this day, MTM faithfully improves health outcomes, removes community barriers, and promotes independence.”

Steven Harris 
St. Louis

Engineering was the original plan when Steven Harris set foot on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Then a fun thing happened. No, not a funny thing, a fun thing. “I took some accounting classes, and had this great professor, David Ganz, who made it fun and practical,” says Harris says the managing partner for the RubinBrown accounting firm. “Learning that, and applying it at home with the family business, made me think this is something I wanted to do. The courses were more collaborative, compared to engineering, and I loved working with people.” Harris is a St. Louis native who grew up watching the way his father comported himself running a drapery installment business, and some of the lessons learned then inform his leadership today. “I got to watch him develop a strong work ethic and strong network, work with people, see how he treated people, his humility,” Harris says. “It taught me that you have to be a servant leader, lead from the heart, lead with empathy, and if you do, good things will come to you.” In his case, good things also flowed from a stable of mentoring influences at the firm, where he started as an intern and never strayed. “I look back at every stage of my career, and someone at the firm was encouraging me along the way,” Harris says.

Tracy Hart 
St. Louis

Tracy Hart had a plan: First, the degree from the University of Michigan in English and communications, a career in public relations and advertising in Chicago. She even found a role with a general contractor, familiar territory for someone who grew up in a family with a construction business. So it was all working out—right up to the time her husband got a job offer in St. Louis. “Hmmm,” she thought. “I know a general contractor there …” Cue the movers. This time, though, she started on the side that does the heavy lifting, as project manager, then into line services, business development, strategy, and now the chief executive’s role, where she’s led the company to revenues approaching $200 million and a ranking as that metro area’s third-largest woman-owned business. “Our best customer is the sophisticated buyer of construction, and our best project is something with hair on it, a difficulty factor that others might not be able to do,” she says. She shares ownership with her brother (who’s executive vice president) and sister; a brother-in-law also works there in business development. That ownership qualified Tarlton for WBE designation; a factor Hart cites in its growth. “We lucked out,” she says. “If I’d had a brother and no sister, things would have been different. But being a diverse-led company works in our favor. We’re doing very well in terms of exceeding the national averages in diversity, especially with women.”

Garrett Hawkins 
Missouri Farm Bureau
Appleton City/ Jefferson City

Garrett Hawkins’ family has been farming for five generations, and he is the third to own the farm they have near Appleton City, mainly focused on raising beef cattle, with some row crop and dairy production. But he’s as steeped in agriculture policy as agricultural output, immersed in the legislative process, policy, and personalities for the better part of the past 20 years. Most recently, he’s been serving as president of the Missouri Farm Bureau. Garrett’s professional experience is rooted in service and spans the bureau, state government, and agribusiness. He also has done a private-sector stint as account manager for a company that distributes agricultural chemicals across west-central and northwest Missouri. Hawkins went to work at the bureau 20 years ago after earning an ag business degree from Missouri State, directed its national legislative program, then went to work for the state as deputy director for the state Department of Agriculture until the bureau summoned him back in 2020. He heads a statewide organization that was the first of its kind upon its founding in 2015.
A membership-based organization, it gives voice to more than 143,000 member families, and its reach is extensive, both geographically and politically. There’s an office in every one of Missouri’s 114 counties, and the bureau’s position will be articulated whenever policy considerations arise, whether in Jefferson City or Washington.

Rachel Hollman 
Les Bourgeois Vineyard

“Missouri wines,” attests Rachel Hollman, “are strong and gritty, just like Missourians. Harsh winters, hot and humid summers, early freezes, and rocky soil are a unique combination that can create some incredibly dynamic and surprising wines.” And she should know: All but two years of her career have been an immersion in the Show-Me wine industry, from the marketing staff at Les Bourgeois to its leadership role in 2013 and, since 2019, owner. When you’re going head to head with Napa Valley and French imports, the competition can be bracing. “We are constantly battling poor consumer experiences and preconceived notions of only making sweet wine,” Hollman says, but adds that “our industry is collaborative, and we strive to provide an environment in which wineries can all be successful.” She grew up in St. Charles County “and found a deeply rooted work ethic from a very young age. I was very active in my community and never had less than two or three jobs at a time. I learned early on that you don’t get what you don’t go for and that nothing is handed to you.” Leadership there has produced another benefit, she says: “I saw the people that I once called colleagues turn into my family. I saw an opportunity to continue to support them and their families.  … The type of work we do is hard, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Jena Holtberg-Benge 
John Deere Reman

If you’re not the kind who thinks of liberal-arts icon Vassar College as the cradle of executive leadership in the manufacturing sector, we challenge your assumptions with Jena Holtberg-Benge. She earned a degree in international studies in 1995 and has put the “international” part of that instruction to good use in roles that have taken her to Europe, Australia, India, Russia, South and Central America, and China, all on behalf of John Deere, whose farm implements can be found all over the world. More than two decades after joining the company, she’s been in Springfield for the past five years, serving as general manager for the company’s remanufacturing operations in both Missouri and Canada and overseeing a local workforce of roughly 400 people as of last year. The Springfield plant remanufactures engines and drive trains along with components for hydraulic, fuel, and electronic systems. Highly regarded within that sphere, she previously served as vice-chair for the Remanufacturing Industries Council and is well-known throughout the industry for her collaborations with other manufacturers to address industry issues and concerns. Holtberg-Benge also engages with the state business community as a board member for Associated Industries of Missouri and with the Springfield Chamber, including a term as president. She supplemented her Vassar experience with an MBA from Arizona State University.

David Humphreys 
TAMKO Building Products

If you’re reading this at home, stop what you’re doing. Look up. Is there a roof over your head? Then chances are, you’re covered by what David Humphreys and his crew turn out at TAMKO, where he’s president and CEO of one of the nation’s largest makers of residential roofing products. The company is one of the nation’s biggest producers of asphalt and steel shingles, along with sheeting, waterproofing materials, and underlayments, and it not only owns the production facilities but has vertically integrated operations managing the processing of raw materials for its factories. Humphreys earned a degree in English from the University of the South before picking up his law degree at the University of Miami and following that up with his LLM in taxation from New York University. He joined TAMKO in 1989 and served as general counsel and vice president of finance, manufacturing, and legal. Fiercely dedicated to the power of individual liberty and free-market principles, he co-founded, along with his wife, Debra, the Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School in Joplin. The independent, private liberal-arts school serves students in kindergarten through secondary school, and the Humphreys commitment to the school’s mission shows up with financial aid or scholarships they fund for nearly half the 345 students.

Brad Jones 
Jefferson City

“The thing that impresses me most about small business in general in Missouri is their guts and their resiliency,” says Brad Jones. Easy to understand, then, what drew him to a career in business advocacy, the past three decades leading the Missouri chapter of the National Federation for Independent Businesses. “When you have an idea and put a second mortgage on it to make that idea work, that’s hanging it out there,” Jones says. “That’s the kind of thing I really respect about entrepreneurs—the small business owner who goes out to do what others won’t do, and doesn’t work for anyone but himself. They can succeed or fail, but they’ll do it on their terms.” Jones is a Jefferson City native who chanced into a business advocacy role with the Associated Industries of Missouri after earning a political science degree at Mizzou, traveled the state extensively and built a network, then joined NFIB 31 years ago. His days at AIM were the perfect training for where he was headed. “I ran the association myself, just me,” he says. “I had an assistant, but it gave you the feeling of running a small business, doing the budget, check dues coming in and all that.” The past three pandemic years and economic roller coaster have been tough, he says, with supply-chain breaks, inflation, labor issues and more. “It’s just been one body blow after another for the small business community,” he says. “But yet they keep going. How can you not admire that?”

Elizabeth Kennedy 
Missouri Western State University
St. Joseph

Elizabeth Kennedy was drawn to psychology by the mystery of the human brain. In higher education, though, she’s shaping minds, not just studying them. As president of Missouri Western, she leads an undergraduate enrollment of nearly 4,400 students—many of whom helped lure her here from Ohio two years ago. “Once I interacted with the students, faculty, and staff, I knew I needed to become part of this amazing university,” she says, and having been raised in Kansas City—she’s a Ruskin High grad—was also a bonus. “The opportunity to come home to Missouri was just too great to pass; I am much closer to family, and that means the world to me,” Kennedy says. Her attraction to higher education was part of a lifelong pursuit for understanding. “I have always been a ‘why’ person; even as a little girl, I can remember wanting to understand human behavior,” she says. “Learning, memory, language, problem-solving, creativity, perception, emotional regulation—exploring how our brains engage in such complex functioning, and many times without conscious direction to do so,  has always been fascinating to me.” Her journey through various administrative roles at other colleges, she says, “provided opportunities to enhance my administrative skills and, most importantly, develop my own vision for and philosophy of the role of higher education in our society.” 

Todd Keske
Earth City

Flame met fuse when Todd Keske’s parents launched Foam Supplies, Inc., now FSI, from their home in Creve Coeur in 1972. Boom. “The company quickly outgrew the house and relocated to a 1,000-square-foot rented warehouse down the road,” Keske says. They bought a warehouse in Earth City, he says, “and we’ve been expanding our footprint in Earth City, but also around the world, ever since.” They had to do without his assistance for a while; his father wanted him exposed to other retail settings before coming on board. And when he did, it was nowhere near the leadership. “My earliest experience here was working on the jobs nobody in the warehouse wanted, like cutting metal in 105-degree weather,” Keske says. “My dad always wanted me to comprehend the value of hard work and enjoy that great feeling of stepping away feeling tired but proud of what you did that day.” FSI is a global chemical supplier that creates polyurethane foam systems for industrial applications, and Keske has been recognized by EY in its annual Entrepreneur of the Year awards for his spirit of innovation. “Innovation is one of our core values at FSI and has been the foundation of our success over the past 50 years,” he says. “It takes vulnerability to think of new ways and try new things. FSI has been privileged to have an incredible team of courageous leaders who work hard and are dedicated to the vision of building a better tomorrow.”

Terry Kilroy 
Kansas City

What does it take to excel in labor law? Terry Kilroy knows, and he can tell you: It ain’t all about what you find in law libraries. “My favorite day of work is in collective bargaining on behalf of companies with their unions,” says the shareholder at Kansas City’s biggest law firm. Being successful in negotiations, he says, “requires a combination of competitiveness, theatrical skills, good judgment and the ability to relate to hourly and blue-collar workers to persuade them that management’s position on an issue is reasonable. In my view, to succeed in labor law, you should like people issues more than you like financial/money issues—as labor and employment law is all about people.” Kilroy, who grew up in Johnson County and attended college and law school at Washburn University and KU, said he once considered a career in teaching after studying history, but his family has practiced law in this area since 1897. “I’m a third-generation lawyer,” he says, “so I always thought I’d ultimately end up practicing law.” A looming book of work for business law may be presenting itself today with a labor market almost unprecedented in its tightness. “Shortage of personnel is going to be a problem until the economy really softens,” Kilroy cautions. “COVID caused so many employees to retire early. As a result, management is scrambling to staff their work forces and making concessions to applicants that they won’t make after the economy softens or we have a recession.”

Janette Lohman 
Thompson Coburn
St. Louis

Sunday nights at the Lohman house in Warrenton, Mo., presented a special treat for young Jan: Mama Lohman would let her stay up late to watch Perry Mason eviscerate ne’er-do-wells on the witness stand. So I earned a degree at William Jewell College and went to law school, but “I realized that I wasn’t trial attorney material,” Lohman says.  Instead, she “fell in love with a federal income-tax class, and decided to make tax law my career.” She earned her law degree and MBA while working for a former Big Eight accounting firm, then passed the CPA exam and secured an LLM. in taxation from Washington University. Lohman wields that instruction and nearly four decades of tax experience, half as a partner with Thompson Coburn, a premier national law firm, where she represents influential clients and earned a spot on Law360’s list of “14 Women Influential in Tax Law.” Earlier in her career, she represented all Missourians as the director of revenue back when lawmakers opted to reduce the sales tax on food rather than eliminate the corporate income tax. The latter, she says, “likely might have encouraged more large businesses to move to Missouri, bringing with them more high-paying jobs and ensuring a better living environment for everyone. Over the years, I’ve watched Missouri’s extremely large companies either move away from or merge out of Missouri and have always wondered if that single decision could have mitigated this trend.”  

Mark Long
Newmark Zimmer
Kansas City

The Hallmark influence in Kansas City is strong, but Mark Long’s ties to it had little to do with greeting cards: His father was the corporate real-estate director there for 30 years, and when Long was growing up, he made careful note of the caliber of people his dad worked with. “Some of those he did business with in commercial real estate were very interesting to me,” Long recalls. “They were well put-together, smart; they understood relationships, they were genuine.” Commercial realty, then, “was really the only thing intriguing to me. It just seemed so challenging, and then you had this ability in some fashion to impact not only the city’s skyline but some of the fabric of the community you were in. Being a part of the fabric that brings in jobs, investment, the whole downstream benefit and impact of what we do.” And he’s done it well: He’s managing partner for a leading commercial realty firm with pre-pandemic sales north of $300 million. Some of his success over the past 28 years, he says, followed from the mentoring of the firm’s founder, Hugh Zimmer, and some to the entrepreneurial mindset of the firm itself, even as it transitioned from a property-ownership model to client representation. He’s also had a front-row seat to see the powerful growth in Missouri’s logistics sector over the past decade.

Casey Lund
Collision Leaders

Casey Lund’s father, who owned an auto body shop in Warrensburg, once offered some pointed career advice to his son: “Stay the hell out of the body business.” And for a while, it looked like that guidance took hold: Young Casey attended the University of Central Missouri, studied international business, and even spent time studying in Sweden. Casey stepped in to help temporarily after his father had a heart transplant in 2005. “Fast forward 20 years,” he says, “and I own it.” This, however, is not his father’s body shop. Warrensburg Collision has morphed into Collision Leaders, as Lund has set a vision for an organization with multiple locations in Missouri, something of a rarity in the car-repair sector where mom-and-pop operations dominate. He rebranded as Collision Leaders, made five acquisitions this year,  and has plans for even more. Absorbing those, he says, “is hard, but Collision Leaders has a unique culture in the auto-body industry that encourages collaboration, rather than internal competition. Working together toward a common goal and empowering people has been key to our success.” That last point is important because outside the shop, Lund has been a whirlwind of civic activity, including a stint as mayor. Allowing others to step into leading roles helped free up time for that high level of engagement, he says. “Every business,” Lund says, “has people capable of doing so much more.”  

Steven Mackin
Mercy Health
St. Louis

Steve Mackin represented a very big get for Mercy Health when he came on board in 2017 after nearly 20 years with Cancer Treatment Centers of America. But Mercy Health wasn’t a bad get on Mackin’s part, either: with 44 hospitals, 900 physician practices and outpatient facilities, 3,400 Mercy Clinic physicians and 40,000 employees across an eight-state region, it ranks among the 25 largest health-care systems in the nation. Moving swiftly through the leadership ranks, Mackin served as executive vice president, president of the system’s east region, president of its flagship St. Louis hospital, and senior executive for business line development. Thus acclimated to the Mercy mission and culture, Mackin was an easy choice last fall when Mercy’s board designated him to succeed the retiring CEO Lynn Britton, taking over those duties earlier this year. In the run-up to that transition, Mackin logged more than 13,000 miles visiting communities Mercy serves. “It was very important to me that I was able to spend time in our Mercy communities,” he said. “We are a diverse organization focused on delivering compassionate, quality health care as close to home as possible for our patients. No matter where we went,
I heard from our co-workers how determined they are to do the very best for their communities.”

Ross Malone

You think you know Missouri history? If you don’t know Ross Malone, chances are you’re missing a few key pieces. Malone can tell you about Harold Schrier; the young lieutenant tasked with assembling the men in that iconic photo of the U.S. flag being raised over Iwo Jima; he went to school in Lexington, Mo. Or Sacred Sun, the Osage woman from Missouri who was a tribal emissary to France in 1827. Or the Guy Stern and the other so-called Ritchie Boys, Jewish immigrants from Germany who provided key intelligence for the military during World War II. All of them live on in the works of Malone, who has authored nearly a score of books for adults and children, exploring all facets of the Show-Me State’s history. He was raised in Laclede County, growing up in Lebanon, where he “rode bikes everywhere, as close to a Tom Sawyer boyhood as you could imagine,” Malone says. He turned an elementary education degree into a teaching career in the St. Louis area, from kindergarten classes to GED instruction and adult literacy, and while the youngest students were his favorites, he found the most life-shaping work in teaching history, science, and math to older students. Along the way, he discovered the instructional power of story-telling. “Jesus taught with parables, Aesop with fables, Shakespeare with details and implications,” Malone says. “That’s what did it for me for most of my career.” 

Brandon Martin
University of Missouri—Kansas City Kansas City Athletics

Basketball was a lifeline that Brandon Martin seized to get clear of south-central Los Angeles 30 years ago. The thing about lifelines, though, is that someone has to be on the other end. In Martin’s case, that was Southern Cal coach George Raveling. “He was a Renaissance man, a model of success, a model of excellence,” says Martin. “He was who I wanted to be as a professional.” Raveling would bring books, newspaper articles, and periodicals to practice, and “he stretched our minds every day after practice. He forced us to be critical thinkers.” With that foundation set, Martin wrapped up his playing career (he was an 85 percent free-throw shooter at USC; if you get a chance ask him why that’s so hard for players today), finished his degree in education, and moved into athletic administration. His career stops included his alma mater, working under Mike Garrett (a name dear to vintage Chiefs fans), Cal State-Northridge, and Oklahoma before coming to UMKC in 2018. One of his biggest initiatives there—other than overseeing every facet of a multi-sport Division I program—has been to rebrand the sports programming as Kansas City Athletics. “I’m in a unique role,” says Martin, fresh off a whirlwind spring that included interviews and hires of three coaching-staff members. “People know me as the director of athletics, but I’m also vice-chancellor. It really was a case of being in the right place at the right time.”

Jim Mauer
Mayson Capital Partners
Cape Girardeau

A point of community pride in Cape Girardeau is its status as the hometown of the late Rush Limbaugh, so earning the Rush H. Limbaugh Award, as Mayson Capital’s Jim Maurer has done, is no small achievement. The award is given to recognize an honoree’s efforts to support the Mississippi River city over the course of a career. Mauer has done that in multiple ways. He leads a Cape Girardeau private investment firm that invests in a diverse portfolio of business lines, primarily in convenience stores, restaurants, and hotels, but also in a community bank, a construction company, a self-storage business, and an urgent-care clinic. Spin through that list again, and you’ll see a common denominator in nearly all of those: they are companies that are part of everyday life for most people. Mayson also has a commercial real estate portfolio that includes both property ownership and development, with other investments in technology and venture funding for companies with high-growth potential. The firm’s strategy is to be among the first into an investment, leading with its own capital, then raising additional funds as needed from a network of high-net-worth individuals. The foundation for that capital formation was PAJCO, a company Maurer co-founded, operating the Rhodes 101 Stops chain of convenience stores across southeast Missouri and Illinois.

Abram McGull
McGull Law Firm

Abram McGull’s lifetime of service—to country, to community, to law enforcement, to business, and most recently, to his law-firm clients—can be traced back to the lawn mower that was his Saturday-morning nemesis as a boy in New Orleans. “My mom made me get up and mow the lawns of widows in the neighborhood,” McGull recalls. “I hated those Saturday mornings.” But over glasses of cold water, he heard stories of the deceased husbands and what they had done in life, “and those stuck with me the rest of my life,” McGull says, “and they carried over to my service as a public official. I’m so happy my mother taught me that valuable lesson.” McGull knew early that he could leverage a journalism graduate from Louisiana State into law school, which he did after earning a master’s in communication. Then came a career as a federal prosecutor and in the Navy Reserve, including Bronze Star-winning service in Iraq. “That took me all over the world, and it gave me a broader perspective of where we are in this country in relation to other parts of the world,” he says. “I’ve been in places where people are leaving, and I was going in.” Invariably, people he met would ask him: “Tell me about America.” McGull, former mayor of Pleasant Valley, is now on the Springfield City Council, retired from the Department of Justice and the Reserve, and sits on the board of Guaranty Bank.

Scott Meierhoffer
Gen5 Holdings
St. Joseph

“It’s impossible,” says Scott Meierhoffer, “to talk about the influences which shaped my career without talking about my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.” That’s to be expected from someone who represents the fifth generation of a family business that has been part of his hometown St. Joseph for nearly 130 years with Meierhoffer Funeral Home & Crematory. “That legacy of caring for families, along with seeing their commitment to both the business and the community, really shaped how I think about not just business, but also the importance of leaving a legacy,” Meierhoffer says. He earned his business degree from Westminster College, but before coming back to the family business after a bit of a detour, working at a funeral home in Melbourne, Australia. “At the time, they were the largest privately owned funeral home in Australia,” Meierhoffer says. “Again, it reinforced my belief in the importance of building a sustainable business that will leave a legacy long after I’m gone.” That also shaped the way he views innovation in a millennia-old business line, especially with explosive growth in cremation services. In addition to that line, Gen5 owns and operates 10 other brands in Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa, with plans to expand.

Echo Menges
Edina Sentenel

Early life was not particularly kind to Echo Menges, who describes it as “moving around a lot” before entering foster care at age 11. Not until high school did the adults around her realize two key things: No. 1, she was pretty darn smart, and No. 2, idle time was not a good way to leverage No. 1. Once out of foster care and living with a grandmother, she was placed into a gifted program and a calendar packed with most any extracurricular activity available, including volleyball, basketball and Upward Bound. As an audience member for a teen-produced television show in Reno, she was invited to test her broadcasting skills, and her piece on administration resistance to a black student union at school led to a policy reversal, “and that had a big impact on me,” Menges says. It inspired a career in both print and broadcast journalism before she and her future husband decided it was time to leave Reno for someplace new. By chance, that was Missouri. In 2010, living in Edina’s only motel, she reached out to the local newspaper editor, offering a commentary for publication. Impressed by her work, he offered her a job a few months later, and before long, she was editor of The Sentinel. In a town of 1,253,  “if I’m in the courthouse sweating elected officials today, there’s a high probability I’ll be standing in line next to them at the grocery store this evening,” she says. But “it’s nice,” she says, “to be remote from the brow-beating and hate-mongering” of a bigger city.“

Kirk Presley
Presley & Presley
Kansas City

It came to Kirk Presley in a flash during a high-school field trip to observe oral arguments in a case before the Missouri Southern District Court of Appeals. “I knew that day that the law would be my career,” says Presley. A Springfield native, he earned his degree in business administration from hometown Drury University in Springfield, recognizing its value as a stepping stone. “I felt a business degree would give me some insight on running a successful legal practice,” he says. He eventually decided that he would wield his law degree in the rigorous competition of litigation. “It isn’t for the faint of heart, particularly the kind of practice I have, which deals with severe and disabling injuries as well as wrongful death,” Presley says. “It’s never good news that someone needs my help, but I always felt I could give my clients one less thing to worry about by making a significant financial recovery for their benefit.” In addition to his legal practice, he sits on the Appellate Judicial Commission, tasked with delivering to the governor its recommendations of three candidates for any appellate or Supreme Court vacancy, and he’s also volunteered time with the Victim’s Compensation Fund. “Our obligation as lawyers doesn’t end in the courtroom,” Presley says. “It seems as if we, as a profession, are constantly combating a negative perception, and I believe the more we do in the community, the greater our inroads at turning that belief around.”

Michael Rader
Bartimus Frickleton Robertson Rader
Kansas City

Among the life lessons regularly reinforced by his parents during Michael Rader’s youth, two stand out: “They always explained there weren’t many aspects of the world not impacted by the legal profession,” says Rader, who, sure enough, went into the practice of law. Just as important, though, “I was also raised by my parents to always stick up for those who couldn’t defend themselves and always help those in need.” That would dovetail nicely with the mission of Rockhurst High School and its mandate for each student to live his life as “a man for others.” “I decided being an attorney was the best avenue to pursue the ‘stick up for the little guy’ and ‘help where you can’ ideologies that I’d been taught growing up,’ he says. The tools he uses to do that are courtroom skills for one of the region’s best-known litigation firms. Rader is a Blue Springs native who studied political science and history at Mizzou, then earned a law degree from UMKC. “Litigation is the absolute best arena to even the playing field when someone has been wronged or harmed by a larger, stronger bully,” says Rader, who also helped administer justice during five years as a Jackson County prosecutor. “I am extremely proud of the opportunities I’ve been given (and hope to be given in the future) to help those who have been taken advantage of or harmed by wrongdoers,” Rader says.

Kathleen ‘Kitty’ Ratcliffe
Explore St. Louis
St. Louis

Kitty Ratcliffe’s career in hospitality and tourism has included stops in Denver, Baltimore, Jacksonville and New Orleans—and St. Louis. Twice. Coming back to the Gateway City in 2006 after a 16-year cross-country trek was not a difficult decision: “I didn’t need to be sold on St. Louis,” says the president of Explore St. Louis, which promotes convention business and tourism for the city and county. “St. Louis,” Ratcliffe says, “is a great convention destination because it has everything; it’s the best family destination in America.” She ticks off a healthy roster of amenities that make the city a family tourism magnet and an unmatched place to live and work: Forest Park (“The best urban park in America,” she says), superior air service, robust hotel brands and price points, and plenty of new and improving facilities to attract convention business. She found the regional convention strategy particularly compelling: “In other cities where I’ve worked,” she says, the destination-marketing entities and city-run convention centers “were separate entities, with budgets and missions that didn’t always align. Sometimes that difference was enough to interfere with winning new business.” She’s been a key to unifying those efforts in St. Louis, and the result is a revenue stream that helped justify the current $210 million upgrade of the convention center. And now in the works: a new MLS stadium Downtown, and upgrades at City Foundry, Union Station and Westport Plaza. “It’s a very exciting time to be in St. Louis!” Ratcliffe says.

Natalie Redmond
St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce
St. Joseph

Not many communities of 75,000 souls can lay claim to an international airport. So you have to appreciate the wry wit of people in St. Joseph who look down Interstate 29 and smile, knowing they’re closer to Kansas City International than folks in the southern suburbs like Olathe and Lee’s Summit. “We tell everyone it’s St. Joseph National Airport,” Natalie Redmond chuckles. “My significant other works for a company based in Detroit, and we’re in the perfect location.” Naturally, someone with a direct interest in promoting business and economic development will happily tout the aviation access, but there’s a lot more going for St. Joseph, says the new CEO of that city’s chamber. “With our lower cost of living and hometown feel, there are 120,000 people here in Buchanan County, but it still feels like a small town, just one with bigger-city amenities, like the airport so close.” She’s a Boonville native whose father farmed 2,000 acres outside of town, and from him came the work ethic she clings to. From him and the farm-life experience, she says, “I learned the values of sacrifice and hard work. While all my friends were going to the lake on the weekend or vacationing in the summer, we got to work.” Her communications degree prepared her for the kinds of contacts she would have to make in her new role this year. “It translated very well because I have to have the ability to build relationships, and this is a relationship game,” she says.

Stephanie Riven
The Riven Company
St. Louis

The desire to do good comes to many who succeed in business. The tools to act on that desire can be harder to come by. In too many cases, Stephanie Riven can tell you, “They don’t really have the knowledge and experience to work on it. They know the product development side, they understand things on the non-profit side and the delivery side, but they’re not as good at building the infrastructure, the business side of a non-profit.” Helping them attain that kind of sustainability is now her mission with the consultancy she operates in St. Louis. Riven’s is a name familiar to many in the arts community there. Outside the billionaire-philanthropist space, she may have done more to elevate appreciation for the arts in St. Louis than anyone else. She was the first director of COCA, the Center of Creative Arts, and over the course of 23 years there, took an $85,000 budget and built it into a regional force; today, it’s the fifth-largest multidisciplinary community arts center in the country, serving 50,000 kids. She moved to New York for a spell, then returned in 2010 and launched her firm. Riven grew up in Nashville in what she calls “a family of leaders,” and they provide the inspiration and guidance for her own leadership goals. “We have a great tradition of philanthropy in St. Louis,” she says. “This community is extremely generous and interested in bringing stability and quality to these organizations.”

Fred Ross
Custom Truck One Source
Kansas City

Creating a business environment with a family feel wasn’t the biggest challenge Fred Ross has ever undertaken: His parents had 12 kids, and nine of them have been part of Custom Truck One Source as employees, owners, or both since he co-founded it with a business partner in 1996. Today, it’s a $1.6 billion publicly owned titan of construction and earth-moving heavy equipment, with Ross as its CEO. But neither the company nor his career have been overnight successes. As a kid, he spent plenty of time, with occasional chores, at his grandfather’s gas station, became a partner in it at age 18 after the elderly man’s death, then expanded into towing services, salvaging trucks for repair resale, then selling trucks and parts. Building from almost nothing and doing it with family, Ross says, “Teaches you a sense of family and drive. And not to accept no or failure. Having a close-knit family, that’s a big deal.” Why? “Everybody had a job and did that job; that’s the main thing. They understood and worked as a team because work was an extension of family. At some companies, they struggle to work with family; we didn’t have that problem—as a matter of fact, it’s our greatest strength.” Last year, the Ross family enterprise was acquired for $1.47 billion by Nesco Holdings, a public company that kept the Custom Truck brand. Other than that, he says, not much has changed, other than “now, I have to deal with investors, not bankers.”

Jeff Russell
Russell Cellular

A northern Arkansas turkey farm would present quite the culture shock to most California transplants, but Jeff Russell was only five when the family made that move. And one upside was that he learned what it meant to work hard “and how to take the initiative to get a job done.” By the time he married, Russell and his bride, Kym, decided a better opportunity lay in a more tech-driven industry, so they moved to the Springfield area and launched Russell Cellular in 1993. And from that point on, to borrow the turkey farm parlance, the feathers flew. Organic growth and an inspired commitment to strategic acquisitions have turned Russell Cellular into a national telecom beast. It’s one of the biggest Verizon affiliates, operating more than 720 retail locations in 43 states, with more than 2,500 employees. “Initially, our vision was small,” he says, “but the more we grew, the more impact we realized we could make in each of those focuses.” Poised to cross the $1 billion revenue threshold soon, Russell attributes the success to a family culture grounded in communication and “making sure we are having transparent conversations/meetings with our leaders, trusting each with their own aspect of the business, multiple annual meetings across the company, and holding strong to the foundations of how this company has been built.”  

Shelley Seifert
First Bank
Creve Coeur

Why banking? Let Shelley Seifert walk you back on her career path: “Banking just resonated,” she says. “It represented a wonderful blend of finance, people, strategy, and community.” Notice anything missing in there? None of those factors involve personal gain, rank, or status. The latter were products of a focus on the former. That’s something one might expect from a community banker working for family ownership four generations deep—even if First Bank, where she’s chairman and CEO, is a tad larger than most community banks, with $6.9 billion in assets. A St. Louis native, she worked at large banks throughout the Ohio Valley until 2014, when First Bank’s Dierberg family came calling and made her COO, and three years later, gave her the keys. Her value set runs right back to lessons from Mom, “who believed anything was possible,” Seifert says. “My brother and I grew up understanding the importance of supporting the community in which we lived and cultivating relationships. We learned at an early age the importance of giving back and being grateful for what we have.” Perhaps as never before, the community-banking dynamic has come shining through since the pandemic onset, which, she says, especially with
the Paycheck Protection Program and its small-business impact. “It was natural for the community banks to lead this effort,” Seifert says, “because we know our clients and our communities well and are structured to build relationships rather than conduct transactions.”

Rusty Shadel
Shadel’s Colonial Chapel

Growing up in a family with a funeral business, Rusty Shadel took in some early life lessons rarely available to someone before kindergarten. “I don’t like suffering, but I got to see what people go through at a time of loss, and I came to realize that this life is only temporary and very precious,” he says. “That humbles you pretty quick and gives you a desire to serve others. Being around that at a very young age did more to shape life than anything—that and the church—and I still adhere to those values today.” Other influential experiences on his life’s path were his father’s stripe of entrepreneurship, owning multiple businesses in addition to the funeral home, and football—Shadel was a high school standout who earned a spot in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame for his work on the field there. His high school coach, he says, “taught us how to win. My sophomore year, we were 0-10, but he taught us how to believe in ourselves.” That, he says, “absolutely” became a life trait. “The biggest part of the puzzle in business is building that team, that solidarity, that feeling that if I go down, my buddy does, too, so we can’t go down. I stress that in our business today.” He never really considered any other line of work, save for a brief stint as a radio disc jockey, he says —“a fun job, but low pay, and I had a wife to support.” After taking over the family operation, he began branching out, acquiring other funeral homes in small towns, “and never really looked back.”

Leigh Anne Taylor Knight
DeBruce Foundation
Kansas City

Environmental design and education are fairly distinct career pathways to most casual observers. Leigh Anne Taylor Knight isn’t your typical casual observer. She looks at both as tools to improve the quality of life for others—they just come at it from different directions. As a former K-12 teacher and administrator with a double major in design back at Mizzou, she has the ideal job of combining the two approaches and helping people improve their lives as executive director and COO for the DeBruce Foundation. She’s a native of Fayette who says her earliest understanding of what it means to serve others came from watching her father at work as a veterinarian. At MU, she wrote a mission statement about using environmental design to improve the quality of life for others and make the world a better place. Her degree in education and work in school districts—Columbia, North Kansas City, and Park Hill—showed her how kids’ lives could be bettered. “Each time I made career changes, it was a unique opportunity to have an impact on a greater number of people,” she says. It fits neatly with her work helping others improve their lives through the foundation’s work. “We’re a ‘do-tank,’ not a think tank,” she says, with programs to increase career literacy and understand the power of networking. Those tools help increase employment stability across one’s lifetime, she says. “These are game-changers for individuals and families,” she says.

John Twitty
Missouri Public Utility Alliance

You have to look hard to find a slice of Missouri that John Twitty hasn’t lived in: He was born in St. Joseph, raised in Camdenton, but also got to see Springfield and Rolla as his father’s hardware-store chain expanded, with additional stops in Kansas City, Hermann, and Cape Girardeau before earning an education degree at Mizzou and spending time in secondary education, teaching history and geography. But education wasn’t where he’d make his mark—that would come in the utility sector, with long stints directing city departments in Rolla and Springfield. That helped establish his leadership credentials and build a network to assume his current role as president and CEO of the statewide utility alliance. With nearly 40 years in the sector, Twitty has a keener appreciation than most of what must happen for light to come on when you throw a switch. “Everybody has an important role to play in society, but you can’t live modern life without electricity,” he says. He’s also keenly aware of the infrastructural challenges facing the state, especially smaller communities. “There are three cornerstones we talk about for providing service: it has to be reliable, affordable, and responsible, which speaks to environmental impact. They’re all really important,” he says. “But if they are not affordable, what good is it? We need to be smarter about our energy policy, so it looks across the board, as opposed to siloing.”

Ryan Wiebe
Bison State Bank
Kansas City

In 2018, when he orchestrated the acquisition of tiny Bison State Bank in west-central Kansas, Ryan Wiebe put the Kansas City banking competition notice: Here we come. Wiebe, who grew up in Blue Springs, is no stranger to shaking up existing business models—he had a long streak in fast-growth mode with his First Mortgage Solutions, which morphed into First Mortgage Direct, which itself is being absorbed into Bison as its mortgage-lending operation. So why relocate a small community bank to one of the most competitive banking markets in the nation? “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” says Wiebe. He goes back to the Dodd-Frank act of 2010, which further tilted the playing field in mortgage lending. “It created some inequities and inequalities between independent mortgage banking and traditional banking,” Wiebe says. “Same product, same process, different ball game.” So it was easier—and considerably cheaper, given the costs of licensing independent loan officers—to use a banking structure. And small community banks like Bison are eager to sell. In just three years, his team fortified Bison’s financials by roughly doubling deposits, assets, and the size of the loan portfolio; can a return to high-growth mode be far ahead? “I hope in five years to have an additional location, likely on the Kansas side,” he says. “We hope by then to be around the $150-$200 million total asset size.”