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Spheres of influence: 2015 most influential people in Greater Madison

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Dan Rashke: Redefining Leadership

Successful companies often thrive — financially and culturally — around a visible, dedicated leader. As CEO of a privately held, third-party administrator of employee benefits programs, Dan Rashke leads the charge on every aspect of Total Administrative Services Corporation’s strategy, mission, and culture.

Rashke, winner of the Brian Howell Excellence in Innovation Award, joined TASC in 1983 as chief executive officer and has been integral to TASC’s transformation to a nationally admired company. He built the firm into a $100 million entity with more than 900 employees, but that’s not really why TASC is so admired. It’s Rashke’s dedication to the broader industry and community that has elevated the company brand and also redefined what it means to be a leader.

The IB Executive Hall of Famer’s work in the community, and his enabling of employees to do the same, sets him apart. Rashke is committed to TASC’s philanthropic policy, where employees are given up to five days a year of paid time off to contribute their time, money, and minds to bettering the community. He also practices what he preaches, serving as the 2015 campaign chair for the United Way of Dane County.

Jack Salzwedel: Corporate Entrepreneur

Internet-enabled, disruptive business models have taken down established companies worldwide, and American Family Insurance has no desire to be the next Eastman Kodak, Borders, or Blockbuster. Its acquisition of smaller online businesses such as Homesite and its foray into venture capital with American Family Ventures are signs that it’s determined to stay one step ahead of Moore’s Law, as well as nurture local entrepreneurship.

The man behind this vision is CEO Jack Salzwedel, who knows full well that old customers have moved on from technology’s corporate casualties. So rather than be disrupted, he’s decided to lead disruptive change, investing roughly $1 billion in the acquisition of online businesses, launching a data science and analytics lab, ramping up American Family Ventures’ investment activities in companies such as Networked Insights and programs such as the gener8tor accelerator, and engaging in innovative partnerships with the likes of Microsoft.

He’s also committed to nurturing small businesses, which is why American Family is backing entrepreneurial thrusts such as StartingBlock Madison. Wisconsin has a difficult time adequately funding its startups, which is a corporate responsibility that Salzwedel and American Family are eager to fulfill.

Paul Soglin: Financial Sage

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin has a reputation as one of the shrewdest municipal finance experts serving in government, and while that might not always be the first thing that comes to mind about him, it has served Soglin and Madison well — well enough for him to be re-elected to yet another term (we’ve lost count) as mayor in a landslide victory over alder Scott Resnick.

This is why his financial acumen is so important to the functioning of this city: Madison has a large number of tax-exempt properties in the form of government and university buildings. Upwards of 50% of the properties in the city are off limits in terms of the property tax, which is why it’s vitally important for the city (if it intends to maintain or improve the level of services it provides) to increase the value (and therefore the tax base) of remaining properties through renovation or new construction.

When the value of property increases (i.e., the several-fold increase in the property value of the Constellation site), property tax collections also rise. So as long as Soglin is the mayor, expect to see many more new, modern, and attractive structures dotting Madison’s landscape.

James Tye: Lake Lover

In 2013, local organizations were able to prevent 4,900 pounds of phosphorus from entering local lakes, resulting in an 11% reduction in phosphorus. Among those local organizations was the Clean Lakes Alliance, and given the importance of our lakes to commerce, recreation, and the overall quality of life, it has emerged as one of the most important not-for-profit organizations in the community.

Led by Executive Director James Tye, the Clean Lakes Alliance has an ambitious goal of 50% phosphorous reduction to the lakes by 2025. That would double the number of days that local lakes can be enjoyed and move us further away from a near embarrassment. It wasn’t that long ago that Madison faced a crisis that could have wounded civic pride as a high level of phosphorous in the Yahara Lakes — Mendota, Monona, Wingra, Waubesa, and Kegonsa — led to a large algae bloom that put the lakes on the cusp of being considered for a federal impaired water list.

The upside would have been federal attention and resources; the downside would have been a loss of local control. So while progress is encouraging, Tye knows the Clean Lakes Alliance must continue to steer a clear course.

Gary Wolter: Economic Visionary

When Gary Wolter, chairman and CEO of MGE Energy Inc., announced the organization’s support of StartingBlock, it surprised no one. Under his direction, Madison Gas & Electric, a subsidiary of MGE Energy, has been promoting entrepreneurism, and Wolter views StartingBlock, an entrepreneurial hub planned for the 800 block of East Washington Avenue, as a facility that could change our corner of the world.

That’s essentially what he’s been doing throughout his tenure. From MG&E’s commitment to renewable energy to his work with Thrive (now MadREP, the Madison Region Economic Partnership) and organizations such as the United Way, Wolter has worked to help Madison live up to its potential. The fact that Madison hasn’t always done that is a point of contention with Wolter, a past chairman of Thrive who has encouraged more regional collaboration on the economic development front.

Through the years, you could find Wolter serving on business boards for organizations such as American Transmission Co., Meriter Health Services (now Meriter UnityPoint Health), and University Research Park. In each endeavor, he’s had the interest of the business community and the broader community in mind, and even a controversial proposal to raise fixed utility rates can’t obscure his efforts to advance entrepreneurship, innovation, and competitiveness.

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