2019 40 Under 40: An impressive class

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Nineteen years and counting. That’s how long In Business magazine has honored the achievements of 40 stellar professionals under the age of 40, and the 2019 class certainly doesn’t disappoint.

These are young leaders primed to take Dane County into the future. Their qualities include exemplary personal and career achievements, problem-solving skills, and a persistent “why not me?” attitude reflective in the companies they launch, the initiatives they champion, and the boards they serve.

Over the next several pages, you’ll read about their notable achievements. They are administrators and executives, attorneys and entrepreneurs representing companies of all sizes. They range from a Latino fruit carver who earned the respect of an entire police department to a young CEO whose college hunch resulted in a multimillion-dollar grocery-shopping app.

We’re also encouraged to honor women in the construction industry, and a male nurse/hospice administrator, signaling (we hope) that gender-defined roles are leveling off.

The achievements of the this year’s 40 Under 40 class will be celebrated at a networking reception on Wednesday, March 6, from 5 to 7 p.m., at the Madison Club, 5 E. Wilson St.

Ben Wierwill

AVP-Director of Business Strategy
The Finley Hird Group, Morgan Stanley
Age: 35

Ben Wierwill is on a mission to lead and serve others, as an assistant vice president and director of business strategy at The Finley Hird Group at Morgan Stanley. He designed a four-point Standard of Care model that helps clients navigate topics common to their specific age, net worth, goals, and business needs. Wierwill consulted with over a dozen financial, law, and real estate professionals before developing a wealth management Standard of Care checklist the group uses to help clients avoid “blind spots” that could be missed in estate planning.

Described as “a true professional,” Wierwill puts faith and community first as an active member of Blackhawk Church, where he leads a team dedicated to improving the Madison area through donations or volunteerism. He works to reduce homelessness as a member of The Road Home, and supports the Evans Scholar Par Club, which promotes education and ethics through golf to children with limited financial means.

Wes Schroll

Fetch Rewards
Age: 25

In his sophomore year at UW–Madison, Wes Schroll devised a business plan that would eventually evolve into Fetch Rewards, a digital grocery shopping app that allows consumers to receive free gift cards by collecting points from scanned grocery receipts.

Sensing the idea had legs, Schroll dropped out of college in 2013 — a lucrative strategy in this case. The idea generated over $180,000 in cash, office space, and other prizes from business plan competitions, and since then has brought in over $28 million in funding, as well.

“We break down the traditional barriers that prevent brands from owning a one-to-one relationship with their end consumer,” Scholl explains.

Fetch Rewards now reports 1 million downloads and 30 million scanned receipts, and has saved customers $5 million. The company also has grown to 61 employees across three states.

Another of Scholl’s surprising talents? “I’m a really good morel mushroom hunter.”

Anne Norman

SVP/Chief Marketing Officer
UW Credit Union
Age: 37

With a career resume that includes some of the area’s most iconic companies — Culver’s, American Family Insurance, and now UW Credit Union — Anne Norman has assembled a marketing team focused on taking the financial institution to “the next level.” Her digital-first approach, she reports, has increased membership and social media exposure.

Before joining UWCU, Norman was the driving force behind American Family’s central DreamBank — the insurance industry’s first flagship store — a concept that completely changed the way AmFam interacts with the community.

The experience made her realize her own dream — to run a marathon — which she accomplished in Phoenix, Arizona. Now, she combines her love of travel with early morning runs, and snaps photos along the way. Among her favorites: Dragon’s Back Trail near Hong Kong and the Mt. Vernon Trail along the Potomac River in Washington, D.C.



Casey Koenig

VP-Business Banking
Oregon Community Bank
Age: 27

When Casey Koenig first joined Oregon/Waunakee Community Bank, he boldly told his manager that he’d be a vice president by the end of his first year.

In his first-year review, he was promoted.

Now at Oregon Community Bank exclusively, Koenig’s admirable climb to VP was the result of hard work, from attending four to five networking events every week to serving on numerous boards to working weekends to make up for time lost during the week. It also likely had something to do with his ability to grow the organization’s deposit base by over $20 million, and he’s certainly not stopping there.

Koenig’s transitioned himself, too, from being “terribly out of shape” to a fit 27-year-old man who religiously works out several times each week. He begins each workday by getting pumped up to motivational audio books during his 30-minute drive to work. For fun, this enthusiastic karaoke singer enjoys embarrassing his wife to strains of “Unchained Melody.”

Ami Myrland

Capitol Bank
Age: 33

Keen readers may recognize Ami Myrland from the pages of In Business magazine’s Executives on the Move column, because this rising young star has been featured several times as she climbs the executive ladder in the area’s banking community. Last month, she joined Capitol Bank.

Myrland attributes much of her career success to her college education. She was the first in her family to obtain a bachelor’s degree and worked three jobs while in school to afford tuition.

“I know I’m not the only person to ever put herself through college,” she notes, “but looking back, it was difficult and pushed me to mature in ways I never knew.” She graduated from Edgewood College in 2008 with a double major in accounting and finance.

Myrland is a member of the Government Relations Committee with the Wisconsin Bankers Association, and also a member of the finance committee of Habitat for Humanity of Dane County.

Adam R. Erdmann

Senior Community Affairs Program Manager
Alliant Energy Foundation
Age: 37

Recognizing that time is a major factor in getting employees to sign up for corporate volunteer events offsite, Adam Erdmann decided to bring volunteer opportunities to them.

At Alliant Energy, he created micro-volunteer activities that employees can do over their lunch hour without ever leaving the company’s rotunda. For example, employees helped Junior Achievement repackage classroom teaching supplies at one event and folded more than 500 T-shirts for the GSAFE Trick or Trot Run/Walk at another.

“We’ve engaged a number of employees who have not traditionally participated in other corporate volunteer programs,” Erdmann reports.

He’s served on the board of the Association of Fundraising Professionals-Greater Madison Chapter; is a member/mentor at the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce; volunteers with Lake Edge Lutheran Church; and is on the steering committee of United Way’s Business Volunteer Network.

Tara Conger

Chief Operating Officer
QTI Human Resources Inc.
Age: 39

With all the success that Tara Conger has brought to her employers thus far, one wonders how far this HR dynamo can go. In just eight months with QTI HR, her division’s profitability grew 525% over the prior year.

Previously, Conger received the Light of Leadership Wellness Award from the Wellness Council of Wisconsin for her five-year effort to take her former employer, Palmer Johnson Power Systems, from a fully insured health plan to a self-funded plan.

The company had suffered three unexpected employee deaths in 2012, and medical costs were skyrocketing, surging
to No. 2 on the company’s P & L.

The switch to a self-funded plan had impressive results: employee tobacco use declined by two-thirds and total health plan costs per employee per year dropped from $13,500 to $9,300. For the first time in two years, Palmer Johnson employees received not only a bonus, but also a company trip to Vail, Colorado on the savings.



Janine Wachter

Director-Convention & Event Services
Destination Madison
Age: 36

Last year, Janine Wachter stepped out of her comfort zone to co-lead the Bucky on Parade operations committee. The coordination involved in placing 85 artistically painted Bucky Badger statues around town was massive and stretched the limits of her day-to-day role as concierge of Madison, she admits, but proved wildly successful.

At the same time, however, Wachter was the project lead on a new fall initiative, Essential Madison Experiences, promoting quintessential Madison experiences — for example, a Betty Lou Cruise, tours of Sassy Cow Creamery, Olbrich Garden’s conservatory, or the Mustard Museum. To date, nine partners created 12 experiences, and each has reported a new revenue stream as a result of her initiative.

“Here in Madison, we don’t have an Eiffel Tower, we have a vibe,” Wachter states. She hopes visitors will love that vibe, as well, and choose to visit again, or better yet, become a part of this flourishing community for years to come.

John Hintze

Vice President
U.S. Bank N.A.
Age: 38

John Hintze always worked for financial institutions, but in 2008, at the age of 27, he accepted a VP-commercial banking role for a small northeastern Wisconsin bank that was struggling to survive after the Great Recession. His ability to turn it around earned him plenty of industry kudos.

That bank was sold in 2017, when Hintze accepted the U.S. Bank position in Madison, and he’s embraced his new role and community with gusto, increasing new business by more than 10 percent since arriving.

He lends his financial expertise on committees and boards of directors, including Evergreen Retirement Community, Care Wisconsin, Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS), Muskies Inc., Madison Children’s Museum, and Madison Development Corp.

When he’s not running from meeting to meeting, Hintze runs for the challenge. In 2016, he took first place in a Fox Cities half marathon for his age group (35-40), completing the course in 1 hour and 25 minutes.

Jessica Hutson Polakowski

Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren s.c.
Age: 37

One of Jessica Hutson Polakowski’s proudest career moments thus far oc-curred last year, when her team informed their client, Milwaukee Tool, that they’d received a total judgment of just over $31 million in a landmark patent infringement case. It was the highest dollar amount ever awarded by a jury in the Eastern District of Wisconsin, and she played a key role.

Years earlier, a more personal case pitted her dad’s 50-year-old auto dealership against the financing arm of General Motors Corp. When GM filed for bankruptcy, his dealership was also forced to close. With the support and supervision of her Reinhart colleagues, the young attorney successfully obtained summary judgment against GM’s financing arm on behalf of her dad’s dealership. “It taught me how to keep emotions in check in a difficult, heated battle and focus on the issues that matter,” she states.

Hutson Polakowski especially enjoys hiking and boating with her family — and beating them in euchre!



Naomi Kroth

Project Manager/VP
Bachmann Construction
Age: 35

Naomi Kroth may be single-handedly taking 65-year-old Bachmann Construction where it has never gone before — into a technological future. “I was annoyed at the existing process and tools,” the third-generation Bachmann admits, so in true millennial fashion, she made some improvements.

Kroth developed trackers to help project managers monitor labor and material costs and pay applications — something the company performed manually before — and she’s about to launch a new pilot program that will scan invoices and subcontractor pay applications.

In 2017, Kroth founded a quarterly Millennial Members of Family Business Happy Hour, and last fall she was one of 22 individuals honored in The Daily Reporter’s inaugural, “Rising Young Professionals of Construction” event in Milwaukee.

Kroth has been a longtime supporter of the YMCA and serves as both an advisory board member and a certified instructor of a Les Mills BodyPump [barbell] class.

John J. Laubmeier

Attorney (Member/Partner)
Stroud, Willink & Howard LLC
Age: 39

After litigating many multimillion-dollar commercial-construction cases that have resulted in significant wins for his clients, John Laubmeier is building a name for himself and his law firm. One case with a favorable outcome was a complex commercial dispute he and a partner litigated involving about 30 witnesses across four states, over 1 million documents, thousands of exhibits, and dozens of witnesses.

Laubmeier proudly assists military veterans and their families, pro bono, through the Veterans Law Center, and in June he becomes president of the Dane County Bar Association after being elected by his peers.

His role as husband and storytelling dad, though, may be the most satisfying. “Every day, I tell my kids an original story putting them in an adventure with pirates, solving a mystery, or helping the Ninja Turtles.”

Adults may be equally transfixed by his recall of sports trivia and his claim to have memorized the lyrics of “virtually every popular song from the 1990s.”

Ashley Hein

Exact Sciences Corp.
Age: 34

With Exact Sciences Corp., Ashley Hein leads a team charged with ensuring the molecular diagnostics company is well capitalized and in a good cash position to support the growth of Cologuard, its non-invasive colorectal cancer screening test.

Last year, when the company decided to structure two deals around convertible debt rather than common stock offerings, she played a vital role and coordinated due diligence requests. When completed, the deals increased the company’s cash position by $908.5 million and supported a number of growth initiatives, including the acquisition of San Diego-based Biomatrica, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Exact Sciences.

In 2010, as the company’s United Way campaign manager, she encouraged executives to match employee donations dollar for dollar, and is proud that it still does, as part of its corporate gift to the community.

Besides thrift shops and garage sales, Hein’s favorite way to unwind is sewing — with a bourbon Old-Fashioned in hand.



Christopher Ivanov

Manager, Forecasting and Optimization
Madison Gas & Electric Co.
Age: 37

One of Christopher Ivanov’s most important duties at Madison Gas & Electric is quantifying, very accurately, how weather affects consumer behavior, energy use, and impacts MGE’s bottom line. It’s a very complex and time-consuming process that can tie up his entire staff for as long as a month.

Ivanov has taken the initiative to introduce artificial intelligence (AI) into the process to simplify and shorten the data-gathering process. AI, he explains, uses an algorithm that can cluster similar customers to determine their weather sensitivity, vastly increasing the speed and the amount of data the utility can consider.

“We’re still refining this,” Ivanov notes, “but fully expect to reduce this month-long process to just a few hours — and get better data to boot.”

In his off-hours, the father of three coaches youth sports, enjoys traveling, and loves to cook, grill out, and experiment with ingredients — the more challenging the recipe, the better!

Haben Goitom

Director-Business Transformation
Alliant Energy Corp.
Age: 37

Recently promoted at Alliant Energy, Haben Goitom helps the utility company re-imagine how it can better create value for its customers.

Among her personal achievements, Goitom is proud to have obtained an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management while working full-time for the Madison utility.

In the broader community, she’s on the board of the Urban League of Greater Madison and is a peacemaker for Dane County Community Restorative Courts.

Early in Goitom’s career, she worked as a corporate attorney at a large New York City law firm. Among her pro bono work, she represented a Cameroonian political activist seeking asylum in the U.S. and an author and activist from Gambia who was doing the same.

“We are a nation of immigrants,” Goitom states. “It was an honor to be able to help these individuals pursue a life and their dreams in our country.”

Brody Richter

DeWitt LLP
Age: 38

Brody Richter has completed many successful projects as a transactional attorney for DeWitt, but two in particular stand out. He represented TRI Holdings, a developer, to secure the Duluth Trading Co. world headquarters in Mount Horeb — a complicated matter that took nearly a year to complete; and he assisted on the development of The Sylvee entertainment venue in Madison.

As chair of DeWitt’s Associate Review Committee, Richter helps the next generation of attorneys and leaders progress from associates to partners.

In the community, Richter is the founding board member of both the Emerging Leadership Board for the Carbone Cancer Center and the Leadership Council for Community Around the Children’s Hospital (CATCH). He’s also on the board at Tri 4 Schools.

No relation to either Pat or Barry — this Richter, from Ohio, played competitive hockey in high school and was an “outstanding Bubble Hockey player” in college.

Jordon Geiger

VP/Trust Officer, Wealth Management Division
State Bank of Cross Plains
Age: 38

A member of State Bank’s wealth management team, Jordon Geiger helps clients on a daily basis keep their businesses healthy and their personal lives focused on financial success, but his heart is truly in impacting the local community.

When a local business owner with a special-needs daughter shared a personal dream to open a nonprofit for children with Down syndrome, Geiger delivered, providing business advice from leasing, to budgeting, to reserve requirements. That dream was realized in 2016 with the opening of the local GiGi’s Playhouse in Madison, where Geiger has served on the board of directors for the past two years.

He’s an executive board member at WisPact, an organization that currently manages $125 million in trusts established by parents or relatives of people with special needs.

Crossfit and racquetball fuel his competitive drive. Just don’t ask Geiger to hit the links. “I really hate golf,” notes the former teenage groundskeeper.



Shyla Gorham

Specialty Leasing Manager
CBL Properties
Age: 31

Retail is tough business, as online shopping increases and legacy stores around the country shutter operations, but those struggles haven’t impacted Shyla Gorham.

After five years in retail management, Gorham was hired by CBL Properties to lease specialty retailer carts at East Towne Mall. Within two years, West Towne Mall was added to her oversight, just as the holidays approached. Gorham flourished, leasing 100 percent of the combined 46 carts.

She’s introduced Denim & Diamondz, a black-owned clothing boutique, to East Towne Mall; and Go, an online car insurance company, to both, and her sales prowess hasn’t gone unnoticed.

At an annual conference in Tennessee, Gorham facilitated a sales workshop and was selected to run biweekly sales calls with retail leasing managers from five U.S. states.

In Madison, she’s on The Business Forum’s programming committee, volunteers with her Sun Prairie church, and enjoys hot yoga, knitting, and traveling.

Kennedy Turner

Blueprint Events LLC
Age: 32

Blueprint Events’ business will be up at least 25 percent in 2019, but Kennedy Turner’s true claim to fame may be the award-winning Business Walk Series, a program she developed to help economic development organizations conduct large-scale retention and expansion programs and build stronger connections between the business community and local government.

Without the time or resources, many city staffs might visit only 15 or 20 businesses a year, Turner notes. In contrast, Business Walks allow local civic leaders to visit 200 local businesses in three hours.

For example, after Oscar Mayer closed, the city of Madison wanted to get a pulse on how neighborhood businesses were doing, so it hired Blueprint Events to conduct a Business Walk on the north side of Madison. In three hours, 150 businesses received visits from 47 volunteers.

At last count, Turner had planned 27 Business Walks and trained 1,823 volunteers who visited over 6,150 businesses.

Andy Fieber

Aldo Partners LLC
Age: 37

Starting his own construction company was a difficult decision for Andy Fieber. At the time, he had a promising career at a large construction firm, financial stability, and a wife expecting their first child. “I questioned everything,” he recalls.

After much contemplation, he co-founded Aldo Partners in 2012, an environmentally conscious construction firm. Since then, the company has received accolades for its mostly-residential designs, including an award from Wisconsin Focus On Energy for the most energy-efficient home in south central Wisconsin — two years in a row.

Acutely aware that the housing boom could change at any moment, Fieber recognizes the importance of remaining nimble and open to diversifying, which led to the recent launch of Bruce Street Real Estate in Verona, a real estate holdings firm.

A member of the Aldo Leopold Foundation, Fieber and his wife are raising three young children who can still appreciate their dad’s real talent: juggling.



Erin Vranas

Parthenon Gyros
Age: 31

Parthenon Gyros is an iconic Greek restaurant on Madison’s State Street. In 2017, Erin Vranas and her husband Dimitri bought the business from his parents with bold dreams — to expand and eventually franchise the business — ensuring that it will be around for decades more.

By decreasing the restaurant’s open hours and adding delivery and a catering division, sales and starting wages have increased, Vranas reports. Staff doubled and turnover decreased from what she describes as “a sad but industry standard 83 percent down to 20 percent.”

The restaurant added health insurance for employees working 30 hours or more per week and offered paid time off to those who stay at least a year.

An accomplished skater, Vranas launched her first business at the age of 14 as a private figure-skating coach. “I was a proud little girl who was determined to work for herself and be successful,” she relates. She taught for another 14 years.

Leah H. Ziemba

Partner/Industry Group Co-Chair, Agribusiness, Food & Beverage (AgFaB)
Michael Best and Friedrich LLP
Age: 39

Leah Ziemba is a lawyer, farmer, and perfectly suited for her role representing and making connections in the AgFaB industry.

Being raised on a third-generation dairy farm prepared her for a leadership role.

Food safety and traceability is a primary focus for many clients, she says, and as a known practitioner, Ziemba makes presentations around the country addressing the legal requirements related to food traceability and how technological advances will impact food safety issues.

She’s proud to serve on the board of the National Dairy Shrine organization and be an advisor to the board of the Dairy Girl Network.

Ziemba stands out in her field as a National Intercollegiate Dairy Cattle Judging Contest Winner, comparing it to the Westminster Dog Show for dairy cows.

“My cattle judging skills give me the credentials to say that I know a good dairy cow when I see it.”

Jennifer Herritz

SVA Consulting LLC
Age: 39

Jennifer Herritz once doled out burgers and cones at Michael’s Frozen Custard in Verona, and now she doles out sound business advice in SVA’s business intelligence practice — affectionately referred to as “all things data,” she reports.

Herritz recently earned a certificate in leadership from Harvard Business School, a nine-month course that required both distance and on-site learning, and in her data-driven world, nothing pleases her more than to see a process or template she created being used successfully by another individual or team.

She is most proud of how she’s “managed the journey” at SVA, rising through the ranks over the past 17 years while deciding to remain close to home to care for family members when they needed her most.

Always game for learning something new, Herritz says she has a “hobby of finding hobbies,” but her secret talent is naming all the U.S. presidents in order.

Just ask!



Derek N. H. Notman

Intrepid Wealth Partners
Age: 38

Derek Notman could give “The World’s Most Interesting Man” (Dos Equis’ ad campaign) a run for his money. His story reads like a novel, from the highs of being named the state of Vermont’s top new financial advisor; to the lows of a failed business dream after relocating to Madison; to being threatened by a New York City hedge fund over his former business name, Steadfast Capital Solutions.

Now rebranded, the five-year-old Intrepid Wealth Partners is a testament to Notman’s perseverance and decisions he made along the way, like building a team of virtual, rather than in-house employees, and choosing to specialize exclusively on entrepreneurs in “an industry flooded with generalists.”

Born in Dublin, Ireland to a South African-raised mother, Notman and his wife established a South African foundation for young business entrepreneurs; he’s flown on the world’s longest flight on a two-engine plane; and proudly owns one-square foot of the Laphroaig Scotch Whisky Distillery.

Molly Walsh

Groundwork Events
Age: 39

Molly Walsh co-founded Groundwork Events in 2013, and her ability to organize events for the betterment of others is heartfelt. Walsh’s mother suffers from progressive multiple sclerosis and her two brothers were born with Usher syndrome — hearing impaired and legally blind.

Walsh created a resale event, “My Sister’s Closet,” to sell high-end clothing she collected from friends and neighbors at discounted prices. Proceeds helped the MS Society and the ALS Foundation. She also helped establish the MS Society Scholarship Program, which awards college funds to Wisconsin high school students diagnosed with MS or with family members afflicted by the disease.

Fueled by a great love and appreciation of reading, she and her siblings co-founded the Walsh Family Professorship at UW–Madison to support a world-class researcher in the field of retinal diseases.

Walsh enjoys “spoken word,” a poetry-based performance art, and finds the rhythm of language fascinating.

Jay C. Sodey

SVP/District Manager-Consumer Banking
Associated Banc-Corp
Age: 39

Better colleagues drive better customer experiences, and with that in mind, Jay Sodey has been leading a team at Associated Bank dedicated to developing growth opportunities for colleagues and creating a measuring system to track that progress. Their efforts resulted in 11 internal promotions and improved the bank’s customer experience survey results by 8 percent year over year.

Sodey also launched a Cultural Awareness Network (CAN) in Madison aimed at awareness of cultural differences both in Associated Bank branches and in the Madison community at large. Since it began in late 2017, 33 employees have joined on.

Together with Rev. Dr. Alexander Gee, president and founder of the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership, Sodey is working to prepare and connect emerging African-American leaders with opportunities throughout Greater Madison, and he’s also championed an active sponsorship of the Justified Anger Leadership Institute.

Kristen Parent

Marketing & Training Director
MassMutual Wisconsin
Age: 37

Few will argue that the office people who prop up a company deserve the most — but often get the least — recognition. Kristen Parent, marketing and training dynamo with MassMutual Wisconsin, may finally be getting well-deserved recognition.

In 2018, Parent received the Nilsson Paul Award, a staff award voted on by her colleagues. She won a competitive corporate leads contest, and was one of the first staff people ever invited to a corporate conference where she led four sessions on leads programs. Now, as chair on a Leads Super Committee, she’s helping develop policies and procedures that will be implemented from the MassMutual corporate level.

Parent is an organizer, a member of the Middleton Chamber, active in REACH-A-Child, and on the fundraising committee for the Black Earth Home Talent Booster Club.

Her self-deprecating nature and humor is endearing. “I’m so clumsy that I once dislocated my knee while brushing my teeth!” And for the rest of that story, ask Kristen!



Laura Doolin

Policy Initiatives Advisor
Wisconsin Dept. of Workforce Development
Age: 28

Government isn’t known for acting quickly, but don’t tell Laura Doolin that!

Known as an out-of-the box thinker, she’s proposed and developed innovative new job hiring strategies at DWD, such as an RV-sized Mobile Job Center to serve rural Wisconsin (being developed) and to alleviate transportation barriers. The concept, she explains, “would serve rural parts of the state where in-person services were less concentrated and residents had a longer distance to travel to receive assistance.”

In addition, a MySkills Career Exploration Grant she championed connected over 900 students to career paths before exiting high school.

This civic-minded doer is on the board at Madison MAGNET and launched a young professionals board for Second Harvest Food Bank in Madison last June. “Young professionals want to be engaged in the community and connected to local causes,” Doolin states, “but often don’t know how to access those opportunities.”

Nicole Sandoval

President/Bilingual Recruitment Coordinator
Latino Professionals Assoc./Madison College
Age: 26

By day, Nicole Sandoval works for Madison College in recruitment and outreach, but her after-hours volunteer efforts as president of the Latino Professionals Association (LPA) may elevate Latinx professionals well into the future.

Sandoval emigrated to the U.S. from La Paz, Bolivia at age seven. She graduated from Edgewood College in 2014 with an international relations and ethnic studies degree, and at LPA, her proudest career achievement to date has been launching November’s inaugural Building Our Legacy Professional Development Conference. The by-Latinx, for-Latinx professionals event was the state’s first, she reports, and attracted over 100 attendees. Its goal was to arm professionals with tools needed to grow, network, and succeed, while exposing Madison-area employers to a diverse, skilled talent pool.

Sandoval is proud to have learned to read 750 words per minute with a minimum comprehension rate of 80 percent.

“In seven days I completed 16 books!”

Eric Plautz

Senior Project Manager
J. H. Findorff & Son Inc.
Age: 39

Eric Plautz has had a storybook career, quite literally. He led Epic System’s Storybook Campus, the largest project ever completed in Findorff’s history, requiring nearly half of its tradespeople. The project resulted in a 3,000-stall underground parking garage — the second largest in the U.S. — coupled with Epic’s uniquely themed office buildings, bridges, and tunnels.

But his proudest moment, though minuscule in comparison, likely had more emotional impact. After a June 2014 tornado caused massive damage to Country View Elementary in Verona, Findorff asked Plautz to lead the rebuilding effort, which had a very tight 12-week deadline before classes resumed in the fall. His oversight and planning allowed the team to finish two weeks ahead of schedule.

A gadget guy, woodworker, and sour-dough breadmaker, Plautz is also an accomplished home brewer whose party guests now bring their own cups rather than their own beer.

Matt Shefchik

COO-Strategy & Engagement, QTI Consulting
The QTI Group
Age: 39

Matt Shefchik has spent nearly 14 years at The QTI Group in Madison, climbing the ladder from senior consultant to COO.

Last May, Shefchik launched a proprietary technology platform focused on driving employee engagement in QTI clients. “My push to automate our work, drive efficiency, and ultimately profitability got the platform off the ground,” he explains.

Shefchik serves on the executive committee of the Emerging Leadership Board for the UW Carbone Cancer Center and joined the board of the Waunakee Area Education Foundation to support groups and teachers who may not necessarily receive adequate funding.

He’s proud to be a five-time champion of the Waunakee Men’s Basketball League, and he’s competed in six Tough Mudder competitions, each involving challenges like fire and electrocution in a mind-over-matter race to the finish.

He enjoys family time, fly-fishing, scuba diving, and coaching his kids’ sports teams.



Emily Mills

Our Lives magazine
Age: 37

Madison’s LGBTQ+ community is lucky to have Emily Mills on its side.

But then, so are the Mad Rollin’ Dolls, Madison’s roller derby league, where she serves as general manager, and so is Madison’s music scene, where she sings and drums in the punk duo, Damsel Trash.

With little formal training on what it takes to be an editor of a print magazine, Mills has proven that drive and a passion to learn makes any dream possible. It’s not always easy to tackle what some might consider controversial or sensitive topics, but she’s thrived as a reporter and digs deep to earn the trust and understanding of those she interviews.

As a Mad Rollin’ Doll, aka “Hammer Abby,” Mills is proud to have recently been named to the all-star charter team, allowing her to travel, compete, and represent Madison on a competitive and international level. In Madison, she also moonlights as a deejay, and describes herself as a Civil War history dork who once participated in reenactments.

Mark McFarland

Financial Advisor
Edward Jones
Age: 31

As if being a father of three children under the age of four isn’t challenging enough, Mark McFarland has managed to crack the work-life code to succeed in business, as well. In fact, McFarland’s virtual trophy case is stacking up.

He’s the president of Waunakee’s Rotary Club; received an award for the village’s businessperson of the year; he’s led ethics workshops for troubled youth; and at Edward Jones, his proudest achievement was being voted the Region 114 Financial Advisor of the Year by 85 of his peers.

“My challenge is that I always say yes to new challenges and opportunities,” McFarland says, and between family and business, he’s finally learning how to delegate.

He and his wife have traveled the world, including a favorite trip to to Kenya where they were able to deliver suitcases full of books to a school.

Is there anything McFarland can’t do? Dance, notes his senior office administrator, “but he is a marvelous person.”

Jessica Martin Eckerly

Age: 39

Coworking spaces usually involve desks, telephones, and common areas designed to alleviate financial burdens on new startup companies. With Forward BIOLABS, Jessica Martin Eckerly has taken that idea and applied it to science in a whole new way.

Formerly on the WiCell leadership team, she co-founded Forward BIOLABS in 2018, a fully functional life sciences laboratory, to encourage more innovative biotech startups that may not have the working capital to fulfill their STEM dreams. BIOLABS, she explains, offers the fastest, most flexible, and least expensive option for innovative startups by eliminating the need to find, lease, design, equip, and operate their own lab.

In just 10 months, Martin Eckerly has accomplished what many never thought she could, and she’s been managing the entire project, from financing to forecasting to legalities, ever since.

At home, she and her husband enjoy music nights with their three children and reading about new scientific discoveries.



Alicia Greer

Berndt CPA LLC
Age: 36

By the time she was 20, Alicia Greer was managing 20-plus call center employees. After joining Berndt CPA LLC in 2014 as a senior CPA, she advanced five levels in four years and was promoted to partner last November at the age of 35.

Her fast track to success could be rubbing off on others, as well, as two of Greer’s clients have been recognized on Inc. magazine’s “Inc. 5000” list for fast-growing private companies.

A nominee for the 2017 ATHENA Young Professional Award, Greer serves as an ambassador with the Fitchburg Chamber and she also co-chairs The Short Game, a 14-hole golf event that raised $11,000 in its inaugural year for the American Family Children’s Hospital. A member of the Doyenne Group, she mentors others looking for business accounting and tax guidance.

This proficient musician also enjoys karaoke and has an uncanny love and knowledge of song lyrics, from the Shirelles to Tupac.

Michael J. Lisle, Jr.

Dane Manufacturing Co.
Age: 39

Dane Manufacturing CEO Troy Berg describes Mike Lisle as “one of the most capable people I have ever had the privilege to work beside.” Berg hired Lisle about four years ago to take the sheet-metal manufacturer to new heights in just three years, and Lisle delivered.

Sales have tripled from $10 million to over $30 million, due to Dane’s acquisition of Dantherm Cooling in South Carolina.

Staying positive and focused throughout the ups and downs of the 15-month ordeal, while keeping the core business on track, was Lisle’s greatest challenge. Tariffs and supply chain continuity could have added to Berg’s sleepless nights, but with Lisle’s help the company had forged a solid relationship with its largest metal supplier.

The Dane-Dantherm deal was finalized last June, one week shy of Berg’s deadline. “We expect Dantherm… to be doing $30 million in business in three years, and Dane overall having revenues of $65 million to $70 million,” Lisle reports.

Erin Summers

Director of Operations
Sketchworks Architecture LLC
Age: 36

Over the past year, Erin Summers revised her company’s organizational structure, implemented new project management software, and increased marketing efforts and corporate social responsibility with local charities and businesses. As a direct result, the company has experienced increased profits and business efficiencies.

Summers is especially proud to have led Sketchworks through a recent name change and rebranding effort that was completed in only six months.

Active with the Twenty-First Century Africa Youth Movement Inc. (AYM) since 2005, Summers helped establish the first Wisconsin chapter and a volunteer base to help raise funds for an AYM youth center in Sierra Leone.

A worldwide traveler, she’s climbed to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and swam with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands.

This mother of three is now rediscovering an old love — gymnastics!



Ryan Klaustermeier

In Home Health, dba Heartland Hospice Svcs​
Age: 33

For 13 years, Ryan Klaustermeier was a hospice nurse. “To be invited into the sanctity and intimacy of an individual’s dying moments and last breaths is a humbling experience,” he says.

When he left direct patient care to pursue a leadership role at Heartland Hospice, he shifted the organizational focus to a worker-first mentality without lowering standards of care. “If a hospice agency is too focused on patients only, leadership will lose sight of how that care becomes possible in the first place — the team.”

The changes were palpable. Heartland’s “would-refer” and “overall satisfaction” scores are well above state averages, and in 2018 Heartland Hospice was recognized as one of the best places to work in Madison.

He and his wife foster children with lifelong medical needs, including twin boys who will soon become Klaustermeiers! “When their adoption is complete, it will be my greatest nonwork accomplishment.”

Jon Hepner

Development Manager
T. Wall Enterprises LLC
Age: 29

Jon Hepner, part owner in T. Wall Enterprises LLC (TWE), a multifamily residential and commercial real estate development firm, has secured municipal approvals for over 1,000 multi-family housing units and 100,000 square feet of retail/office in the Middleton and Windsor areas.

He’s especially proud of pioneering renewable energy (solar) implementation at TWE. To date, his efforts have resulted in contracts for more than 2,340 solar panels on six multifamily properties with a combined projected energy savings of more than 775,000 kilowatts, enough to power about 74 single-family homes every year.

In the community, Hepner has a seat on the Sustainable Madison Committee; he’s a member of Smart Growth Greater Madison; and he’s active in Downtown Madison Inc.

Hepner also volunteers with Gilda’s Club and Take A Vet Fishing, and he enjoys caring for humans, plants, and animals, including Barry, a rescued Great Pyrenees.

Eder Valle

Owner/Chief Designer
Artesan Fruit
Age: 33

The artistic centerpieces that Eder Valle carves from fruit will add punch and pizazz to any event table.

Since IB featured his startup business in October 2016, he’s doubled sales, decreased packaging costs by 50 percent, increased production, learned to focus on core clients, and narrowed product expansion.

Running the business, though, may be his easiest challenge. Valle has survived skin cancer, been shot at on the streets of L.A., had his car burst into flames while driving, and was t-boned in a minivan-bike accident. He was on the bike. With a history like that, carving fruit is a piece of cake!

Recently invited to speak to the entire Sun Prairie Police Department on race and bias in police training, Valle scheduled four lectures, having never spoken publicly before. Upon completion, the department presented him with a special coin for displaying character, competence, and leadership.

That, he says, is his greatest career achievement.

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