The 25 Most Influential People in Greater Madison
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Tory Miller: Chief of Chefs
They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but a corollary could be the way to a community’s appreciation is through creative dining. Few people are more creative in producing dining experiences than Tory Miller, the James Beard Award-winning executive chef at L’Etoile and Graze.
He will add to Madison’s culinary destinations in July, with the opening of a new casual Asian restaurant in the Constellation Building on East Washington Avenue. The restaurant, Sujeo, is the answer to Otto Gebhardt’s prayers, for he turned down perfectly fine chain restaurants for some strictly locally owned flavor.
Sujeo will play a critical role in helping the Constellation “activate the street,” and Miller’s vision for the new Madison Area Chef’s Network could do the same for the local food system. The Network, a collaboration of local chefs such as Miller, Johnny Hunter of the Underground Food Collective, and Patrick DePula of Salvatore’s Tomato Pies, is designed to meet the community’s demand for great dining with the limited number of chefs who live here and work at Madison-owned and operated restaurants.
Miller likens such collaboration among competitive chefs to herding cats, but there is definitely enough interest in fine dining for these cats to feed on.
Pleasant Rowland: Reading Partner
Pleasant Rowland is deserving of a spot on our Most Influential list for several of the same reasons Jerry Frautschi, her husband, is: Being part of the investment group that closed a $16 million funding gap and made possible the $100 million renovation of the Edgewater Hotel.
Donating $205 million to build the Overture Center, a philanthropic contribution that took place more than a decade ago yet continues to pay huge dividends when it comes to local arts programming.
Contributing $11.6 million to the redevelopment of the 100 block of State Street.
But we can’t overlook the many things that set her apart, such as the business excellence that made so much of this generosity possible. She built the Pleasant Company, now American Girl, into such a success story that Mattel was willing to pay $700 million for it in 1998. Her belief that young girls would become interested in history by identifying with dolls based on historic periods was the foundation for a remarkable company.
But it was her understanding of the fundamentals of education that led to the establishment of the Rowland Reading Foundation, which concentrates on teaching children to read by the end of the second grade, when they ideally stop learning to read and start reading to learn.
Rebecca Ryan: Truth Teller
You’ve heard the term “inconvenient truth”? Well, author, futurist, and entrepreneur Rebecca Ryan has uttered some uncomfortable truths about our country and our community, and we’d be wise to take them to heart.
Ryan, the founder of Next Generation Consulting and author of ReGENERATION: A Manifesto for America’s Next Leaders, claims we’re in a winter of discontent, but a warming period might be in reach if we can face the truth. She notes that we’ve faced several winters before, especially the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the Great Depression, only to emerge stronger. And she says we can do it again, but first people on the political right and left have to slaughter a few of their own sacred cows.
Those on the left must stop resisting changes to federal entitlements that threaten to bankrupt the country, she says, while those on the right should stop resisting changes in the health care system that address the transition from the “long job” era to the “gig economy” in which workers change jobs more frequently.
The city of Madison can point to growing diversity, but educationally it’s failing many of the people who make it more diverse. If Madison truly is going to be a place for all people, she notes, it has to do right by more nonwhite people.
Carole Schaeffer: Persuader
Facing a competitive disadvantage in economic development, especially in relationship to its suburban neighbors, the Madison City Council basically did what Carole Schaeffer and others had asked. They liberalized the city’s tax increment financing policy.
The advocacy of Schaeffer, executive director of Smart Growth Madison and owner and president of her own firm, Schaeffer Consulting, played a prominent role in this new direction. The city not only changed its so-called “50% rule,” which limited TIF loans to half of the new property taxes a project generates over the life of a TIF district, it also eliminated a rule mandating that the city participate in developer profits.
Schaeffer called the latter rule an “equity kicker” that resulted in the city getting paid back twice what it invested in a TIF project. It was a deal-breaker for many developers and a disincentive for growth in Madison, especially because neighboring communities had no such provision in their TIF policies.
In her current position, Schaeffer works with individual businesses and developers as a consultant and government relations professional. The city’s new TIF policy and its more streamlined process for reviewing proposed commercial developments certainly make her job easier.
Kathryn Smith: Arts Envelope Pusher
It was quite a coup for Kathryn Smith, general director of the Madison Opera, to stage two performances of Dead Man Walking, which were the highlight of the 2014 season. But possibly more impressive was the community conversation the opera created about love, forgiveness, justice, and the death penalty — all punctuated with local appearances by the opera’s composer, Jake Heggie, and Sister Helen Prejean, whose book by the same title was made into a Hollywood blockbuster.
The celebrated work, which debuted in 2000, is considered one of the most thought-provoking operas ever produced. The Guardian (London) says it makes the most concentrated impact of any piece of American musical theater since West Side Story.
During the performances, maestro John DeMain conducted Heggie’s score with dramatic flair, and a fine cast brought a searing human tragedy, based on the stark realities of capital punishment, to life. The opera would not have come to Madison, where it was well received by local audiences, without Smith’s tireless recruiting efforts.
Part love story and part issue art, Dead Man Walking leaves quite a lasting impression on both new and diehard opera connoisseurs. “I am indeed honored, as well as very happy, that our community embraced Dead Man Walking the way it did,” Smith stated. “It was an incredible experience for everyone involved.”