Red Carpet Affair: The 2015 40 Under 40 Class
From the pages of In Business magazine.
Each year, we solicit nominations for a new class of outstanding professionals under the tender age of 40, and each year we find that the Madison business community is blessed with scores of accomplished young leaders. When you read their brief bios, you’ll feel even better about the future of Madison’s business and residential communities.
With a nod to the Oscars, the Emmys, and the Grammys, we’ve also asked this year’s class for their favorite movies, TV shows, and music. To find out what their favorite books are, please check out the window display at the Barnes & Noble at East Towne Mall.
Community Coordinated Child Care Inc. (4-C)
Jody Bartnick will never forget Aug. 13, 2008, her first day as the executive director of 4-C in Madison. “The building burned down,” she stated. Bartnick headed up an emergency response, quickly learned all about insurance protocols and construction, and under her leadership, the child care resource and referral agency had a temporary home within two weeks. Since then, 4-C has expanded staff and services into three surrounding counties. “I am most proud of beginning a new position during a crisis situation, facing adversity head on, and turning crisis into opportunity,” she said.
When not at work or out in the community, Bartnick may be found bowhunting, a hobby that has earned her recognition in the Pope and Young Club’s records program for her success in harvesting elk, whitetail deer, and antelope. “I am proud to be recognized as a female bowhunter,” she said.
Movie: Sweet Home Alabama
TV show: The Following
Music: Classic country
Saris Cycling Group
Ryan Birkicht has already accomplished more than most young professionals his age. While at All Comfort Services, he won a national Suzi Award for his BOGO marketing campaign, which guided customers through a unique online user experience, and he recently completed his first triathlon.
But the accomplishment he’s most proud of had more to do with following the Golden Rule than gilding his résumé.
On Jan. 1, Birkicht launched a social network called Operation Generosity (www.operationgenerosity.com), which is dedicated to “generating and spreading great ideas of how to make the world a better place.”
With more than 2,500 Twitter followers, the site is off to a great start, and it’s helped establish Birkicht’s bona fides as one of author Malcom Gladwell’s celebrated “connectors.”
“I love to work with people, and I know that one day I’d like to lead,” said Birkicht, whose ultimate goal is to be a vice president of marketing at a large corporation.
Movie: Man on Fire
TV show: Frontline
Music: Indie, jazz, soul
The Hovde Foundation
For most people, learning to speak Spanish fluently and traveling to nearly 70 countries before the age of 40 would be impressive in itself. For Jeffrey Boyd, it’s a means to save young lives around the world.
Boyd helps identify local partners, develops projects, and oversees financial operations for the Hovde Foundation’s safe homes for vulnerable children. One rehabilitation shelter in Ghana cares for up to 70 children rescued from slavery.
“In 2011, I had the privilege of participating in a rescue operation of three brothers (ages 6, 8, and 10) in Ghana,” Boyd reported. He drove the getaway car for 10 hours to deliver the boys to freedom. They became the first residents of the Hovde House, which prepared them for reintegration into their families.
“Since opening, more than 200 children have rediscovered freedom, medical care, and love at this facility,” said Boyd, who dreams of becoming a U.S. ambassador to a Latin American country.
Movie: The Princess Bride
TV show: White Collar
Community Relations Manager, Middleton Outreach Ministry
Co-owner, Half-Pint Resale
Several years ago, Ellen Carlson and Lisa Seidel, two Madison-area mothers, identified a need for low-cost kids’ clothing for families on a budget, and soon after Half-Pint Resale was born.
The biannual children’s consignment sale draws hundreds of area families, and all the money raised stays in the community. “I’ve worked tirelessly over the years to create a business that bolsters families, local organizations, and businesses,” said Carlson, a mother of two boys, ages 6 and 9.
While Carlson has made a difference in the community through her business, her primary employer is Middleton Outreach Ministry, which created her position in recognition of her consistent advocacy on behalf of the nonprofit human services provider.
When she’s not working, Carlson enjoys spending time with her husband and kids, sewing, trying new recipes, running, studying astronomy, eating melted cheese (“in any form”), and going to amusement parks. “I live for roller coasters,” she said.
Movie: “Changes by the month, especially after every Wisconsin Film Festival!”
TV show: Friday Night Lights, Scandal
Music: Pop, top 40
Karen Menéndez Coller
Centro Hispano Inc.
Karen Menéndez Coller worked in public health for 20 years in California, including at UCLA as part of the university’s research faculty, and in 2009 she received a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University, graduating with honors. But she’s most proud of her work at Centro Hispano in Madison, where she is helping to reduce racial disparities in the Latino community. “I’ve reached my career aspiration,” she said.
The mother of two has her hands full. After changing the agency’s emphasis from youth-centered to family-centered services and increasing collaboration in the Latino community as well as with county agencies, Centro has diversified its funding sources, creating long-term stability to advance quality programming.
She admires Dora Zuniga, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters, “for her authenticity and passion for the Latino community” as well as Findorff’s Rich Lynch and American Family Insurance’s Jack Salzwedel for not only being savvy businessmen but also “quality human beings.”
Movie: Saving Mr. Banks
TV show: Top Chef
Senior Director, Sales
The StayWell Co. LLC
As the top sales representative at The StayWell Co., Laura Dettmann works with health plans and hospitals to promote healthy outcomes, but her passion for healthy living extends into the local community as well.
As members of United Way’s Tocqueville Society, Dettmann and her husband contribute annually to child-centered programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters, 4-C, and the Center for Families. Through their personal initiative, Play for Life, they provide new children’s books to United Way agencies for distribution to families.
“Although [we] do not have children, we are very interested in the children in our community and their welfare,” Dettmann said.
She stepped out of her comfort zone years ago when she moved from Florida to the Midwest and changed careers, and she looks forward to taking another leap soon as CEO of a new winery and wedding venue she and her husband plan to open on land they own in Cross Plains.
TV show: Shark Tank, Homeland
Music: R&B, hip-hop
Madison Investment Advisors
For a man with such an impressive litany of accomplishments, Ben Dickey is pretty humble when it comes to the professional laurels he’s collected. “I don’t put much stock in titles,” said Dickey. “Perhaps that’s the result of having had ones that were considered either ‘big’ or ‘small’ at various points in my career.”
Maybe he should put more emphasis on the “big” achievements in his curriculum vitae, because they’re plentiful.
After graduating with honors from the University of Chicago, he earned a J.D. and MBA from UW-Madison in 2004. Just four years later, he was named managing director of the U.S. Bank Private Client Group in California, Arizona, and Nevada, overseeing a business with more than $28 million in revenue and thousands of clients.
He also became the first person to simultaneously represent Blackhawk Country Club as its president and Men’s Club champion, but he’s most proud of his personal accomplishments: marrying his wife, Elizabeth, and helping raise his daughter Vivian.
Movie: Top Gun
TV show: The Wire
Music: Rock, Bruce Springsteen
Vice President of Operations-Madison
Centare Holdings Inc.
In 2012, Milwaukee-based Centare Holdings Inc., a software development and business-coaching firm, decided to expand. Tim Eiring agreed to lead the charge in Madison, where few were familiar with the company. It took patience, strategy, and a grass-roots mentality to grow the business, he explained, including the scheduling of several “Lunch & Learns” designed to address technology issues and bring him face to face with the business community.
That first year, the Madison branch generated more than $1 million in revenue. In 2014, with a staff of 12, revenues hit $3.2 million.
Eiring, a former competitive BMX racer, is more focused on being a good husband and father these days, though he’s thrilled that his two young daughters are showing interest in the sport.
His guilty pleasure? “Pretending to be asleep” while his wife watches reality TV shows. “I am equally addicted,” he confesses.
Movie: Saving Private Ryan
TV show: Breaking Bad (“I’m the one who knocks.”)
Music: Classic rock
Vice President, Treasury Management Officer
Melissa Fellows always knew what career path she wanted to follow, and she was determined not to be talked out of it. “At a very early age, I knew I wanted a successful career in business,” she said. “I never let my rural farm roots or the fact that I was a first-generation college graduate intimidate me.”
That grit and tenacity led to a successful career in finance, and it’s put her in a position to help others as well. Just a year out of college, she participated in the United Way’s Loaned Executive Program, which connected her with local leaders while opening doors to the nonprofit world. “Most importantly, I found an organization that I passionately feel is improving our community.”
Now well established in the banking industry, Fellows remains enthusiastic about her chosen path. “In addition to meeting inspiring, influential executives, I get to add value to their businesses by providing new ideas and solutions,” she said.
Movie: Frozen (“Wait, there are other movies out there?”)
TV show: Keeping Up With the Kardashians (“It’s a guilty pleasure, too.”)
Business Development and Commercial Brokerage
Alexander Real Estate Services LLC
Eagle Scout Gregory Frahm has reinvented himself several times. By the time he was 25, he’d already spent several years as a staff planner and zoning administrator for the Village of DeForest before becoming the municipality’s first director of economic development, a position he lobbied hard to create.
“I like to dive headfirst into new opportunities, even if the qualifications to do the job come after I’m hired!” he said.
Since joining the Alexander Co., Frahm has zeroed in on real estate, earning his real estate and broker’s licenses and helping launch the company’s real estate arm. In the community, he serves as board director for both Dane Buy Local and O.P.E.N, and is a member of Downtown Madison Inc.
Frahm enjoys the flexible work schedule his job affords because it allows him to leave earlier on Fridays to work on his 100-year-old home, head out on adventure canoe trips, or practice his “toe drag” as a player in the Madison Gay Hockey Association.
Movie: Life as a House
TV show: The Property Brothers
Music: Rock, folk
For Kellye Golden, personal and professional growth have gone hand in hand, and she seems to know better than most how intimately the two are linked.
“About three years ago, I stopped and took a sort of personal audit of myself,” said Golden. “I asked myself if I liked the person I had become, the decisions I was making, and the direction my life was taking. … Instead of focusing on all the reasons I wasn’t succeeding that were ‘out of my control,’ I asked myself what I needed to change within myself.”
That approach seems to have paid off. 2014 was Golden’s most successful year since she started at M3 seven years ago — and that success was definitely earned.
“Building a book of business from the ground up has been more challenging than I expected. While we are given access to many great resources at M3, gone are the days of a company handing you a book of business.”
Movie: (None listed)
TV show: The Blacklist
Jason C. Gonzalez
Attorney/Counselor at Law
Gonzalez Law Office LLC
As the owner of his own law firm, Jason Gonzalez is proud to have tried more than 10 cases to verdict in less than three and a half years — a number that, he says, proves he is an aggressive trial attorney. “I aspire one day to grow my law firm into a larger minority-owned, full-service law firm,” he said.
Named to both the top 100 Trial Lawyers list and the Top 40 Under 40 by the American Trial Lawyers Association, he says his role models include defense attorneys Dennis Melowski of Sheboygan, who focuses on drunk driving defense, and Stephen Hurley of Madison, whom Gonzalez lauds as “an effective litigator and business professional.”
A Fitchburg alder up for reelection in spring, Gonzalez is also a paid-on-call firefighter with the City of Fitchburg. In his spare time, he volunteers with area youth organizations and enjoys trips to the dog park with his puggle, Rocky.
TV show: Law & Order
Director of Client Services
State Collection Service Inc.
If you want to lose, bet against Tim Haag.
The director of client services for State Collection Service Inc., Haag has embraced a leadership role in his family’s firm, which his grandfather, Hilding Haag, started in 1949.
But when Tim was growing up, he had plenty of doubters, and his path to college seemed littered with obstacles. As a child, he was diagnosed with a learning disability that affected his reading and writing skills. During his senior year of high school, he worked with a reading specialist who helped prepare him for college, and eventually he proved his doubters wrong, attending Northern Michigan University and making the dean’s list four semesters.
And the kids and teachers who told him he’d never amount to anything? They were fuel for his journey to success.
“To most, graduating from college is the norm, but for me it was an achievement because of the people that told me I couldn’t do it,” said Haag.
TV show: Chicago Fire
Music: Pop, rock, hip-hop, R&B
Co-host, Discover Wisconsin; Marketing and PR Strategist
She’s a former Miss Wisconsin Central and was a top-10 finisher at the Miss Wisconsin Scholarship Pageant (2012), and now Mariah Haberman co-hosts the Discover Wisconsin television show.
In her parallel role as the marketing and PR strategist at Discover Mediaworks, Haberman created and manages a syndicated Discover Wisconsin column, has increased the show’s social media presence significantly since April 2013, and recently started a Discover Mediaworks social media department.
“I switch gears constantly,” she explained. One day, she’ll be on camera, and the next she’ll be found promoting the show on a local news station or crafting a social media strategy.
She’s also traveled the state speaking to groups about her experiences growing up in a family that “endured the toxic effects of alcoholism.”
Haberman considers her roommate, Kari, an ER nurse at UW Hospital, one of her role models. “No matter how tough of a day I’ve had, she inadvertently reminds me of the things that truly matter in life.”
Movie: Now & Then
TV show: Discover Wisconsin (“C’mon. You knew that was coming!”)
Music: Depends on mood (ZZ Ward, Lindsey Stirling, Beyoncé, Lana Del Rey)
Internal Audit and Compliance Manager
Summit Credit Union
Like everyone on our list, Tania Ibarra is driven, energetic, and determined to succeed. But in reading her 40 Under 40 application, one is tempted to conclude that she may not actually have an off switch.
Even her hobbies betray a mindset that values forward momentum above such base urges as “rest” and “sleep.”
She loves sports, traveling, and dancing, and above all, she enjoys discovering and trying new things.
Even her guilty pleasure — “being a busy bee” — is more about cultivating a good work ethic than indulging in gooey pop culture confections like rom-coms or romance novels.
But her positive attitude has taken her places — and supported the community in the process. She’s a founding member of the Latino Professional Association of Greater Madison and currently serves as its strategic plan advisor. She’s also served as treasurer for the Latino Chamber of Commerce and Centro Hispano.
And by all appearances, she’s just getting started.
Movie: Life Is Beautiful
TV show: The Amazing Race
Music: “I like anything that makes my feet move.”
Sunseed Research LLC
When his former employer, Chamberlain Research Group, became a casualty of the Great Recession, Adam Jacobson and several coworkers immediately committed to starting a new market research firm. A week after co-founding Sunseed Research LLC, Jacobson presented a business plan, decided on the company name, designed the logo and website, and created business cards and promo materials.
Two years hence, Sunseed is a multimillion-dollar firm with a clientele that includes local, national, and Fortune 500 companies. His hands-on role includes using data visualization to help deliver data-driven recommendations to clients.
Jacobson looks up to Edward Tufte, a statistician, artist, and author whom he describes as “one of the most influential data-visualization experts in the world,” and Jonathon Ives, lead industrial designer at Apple.
But as an amateur astronomer, he looks up even further. “The moment I saw the clouds of Jupiter with my own eyes, I was hooked,” he said.
Movie: The Secret of My Success
TV show: Through the Wormhole
Music: Electronic dance music
Cottingham & Butler
Mike Johnson has always excelled in sports. A natural athlete, he was a two-year starter at linebacker for Southwest Minnesota State University’s football team. He was good enough, in fact, to pique the interest of a couple of NFL teams, but the injuries he sustained in college ultimately kept him off the gridiron.
But that didn’t mean he was ready to throw in the towel.
As an account executive with Cottingham & Butler, Johnson is hoping to build a Hall of Fame career.
In 2014, his first year in the insurance brokerage industry, he received the company’s 100% Club award — a distinction that puts him in the top 17% of all benefits brokers in the country.
But while he may have left football behind, he still has a keen interest in sports. One of the business moguls he admires is Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. “Love him or hate him, you have to admire his discipline and intensity,” said Johnson.
Movie: A River Runs Through It
TV show: The Wire
Music: Country, rock
Alyssa Kenney is an advocate for nonprofits and, in particular, families in poverty. She aspires to one day be known as a “nonprofit advocate” or “special agent of social change” who brings more power and credibility to the nonprofit community.
Kenney started with DANEnet on Feb. 1. Before then, she’d spent nine years working at the Kennedy Heights Community Center, most recently as its executive director.
“For the past 15 years, I have led community development work in two of Madison’s most economically distressed neighborhoods,” she said. Under her leadership, the community center emerged from “financial insolvency and organizational collapse to a thriving focal point for the community, making positive impacts on the children, youth, and families who live there.”
An ultimate Frisbee enthusiast, Kenney exercises regularly, loves to cook, and has two egg-laying chickens. Her guilty pleasures? Eating a second breakfast every day and coloring in children’s coloring books.
Movie: The Usual Suspects
TV show: The Good Wife, Modern Family
Music: Broadway musical soundtracks
Director of Marketing and Communications
The EPIC Life Insurance Co.
Prue Lotharius has set high goals for herself, but with a business role model like Yahoo CEO (and fellow Wisconsinite) Marissa Mayer, it’s no surprise that she’s reaching for the sky.
“I look at Marissa, her career and life accomplishments, and it’s easy to say that she is my idol,” said Lotharius.
While Lotharius may have some distance to travel before she can follow in Mayer’s footsteps, she’s accomplished plenty in her short career.
In 2012, while working with Aetna, she led a marketing campaign that generated more than $1.2 million in gross profit.
“Probably the best takeaway was that it’s okay to go big and try new things, even if they are expensive,” she said.
She’s hoping for even bigger things on the horizon, of course. Lotharius’ top career aspiration is to one day start her own marketing consulting firm.
“I’m blessed to have found my fit within marketing so early, so all I can do is continue to improve and one day run the show!”
TV show: Shark Tank
Vice President of Marketing
Madison Region Economic Partnership [MADRep]
“I call myself a tireless champion for the Madison region,” says Betsy Lundgren of the Madison Region Economic Partnership. As part of the organization’s five-year Advance Now Strategy for economic growth, she helped lead an organizational rebranding from Thrive to MADRep, and website changes she instituted helped increase traffic by 68% between 2013 and 2014 while increasing social media followers by 10%.
Her marketing efforts helped the region grow from “little to no brand awareness within the economic development world … to receiving headline coverage in Forbes as the No. 5 location for high-tech job growth,” among other distinctions. Three of her marketing projects were finalists in the MidAmerica Economic Development Council’s Annual Marketing Awards, with one, the 2014 State of the Madison Region Report, taking top honors among entries from 10 Midwestern states.
Lundgren has been a grant review panelist for the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission since 2012. She also serves on two committees at Red Caboose Daycare and is a member of several economic development trade organizations.
Movie: When Harry Met Sally
TV show: The Cosby Show
Music: Christmas music
Foley & Lardner LLP
Matt Lynch has faced major obstacles from a very young age. At the age of 10, when most kids’ biggest challenge is learning how to add fractions, Lynch was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. “Mustering the courage to deal with what was a frightening, confusing, and demanding disease at that age seemed beyond me,” said Lynch.
With the support of his family, however, Lynch persevered, and he seems determined to pay it forward. He currently serves on the board of directors for the Wisconsin Equal Justice Fund, an organization devoted to ensuring access to legal services for Wisconsin’s 500,000-plus low-income residents.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that one of his professional role models is Branch Rickey, the Dodgers GM who threw open the door of opportunity for thousands of athletes by signing Jackie Robinson.
“Amid threats of boycotts and violence, Rickey had the courage to put his business at the forefront of social change,” said Lynch.
Movie: The Godfather
TV show: Seinfeld
Music: ’80s hair rock
Ten years from now, Kathy Maher wants to be a leading partner at a global CPA firm, and she’s working toward that goal at McGladrey by developing her management and communication skills and mentoring both colleagues and students (including one at the University of Colorado–Boulder) whenever possible.
Maher is a member of the Junior League and Leadership Greater Madison (2014), and she serves as board treasurer for the Madison Community Montessori School. Her financial analysis and business recommendations helped with the school’s debt refinancing.
Making her most-admired list are Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook, for working to eliminate workplace barriers for women, and Vicki McCarthy, the local head of school for Madison Community Montessori School.
A fun-loving adventurer, Maher has traveled to more than 15 countries, including Peru, where she hiked to Machu Picchu (taking “the more scenic and challenging route”). She’s also hang-glided in Switzerland and zorbed in New Zealand (think inflated hamster ball for humans).
Movie: The Dark Knight
TV show: Law & Order SVU
Music: Classic rock
Commercial and Industrial Marketing Account Manager
Madison Gas & Electric
Part of Mayra Medrano’s job is community outreach, and you might say she’s not afraid to take her work home with her.
She’s dedicated to improving our community on many levels through her participation in organizations such as the Latino Professionals Association, Leadership Greater Madison, the United Way of Dane County’s Rosenberry Society Council, the YWCA of Madison, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the Latino Chamber of Commerce’s executive board.
And she’s making a difference in the Greater Madison business community as well. As a member of MG&E’s commercial and industrial team, Medrano provides local businesses with information on renewable energy programs and assists them with energy-efficiency initiatives to help them lower their costs.
It’s no surprise, then, that she views her community work as a vital part of her life’s goals.
“I want to be able to leave a legacy in this world,” said Medrano. “My career aspiration is one that requires community involvement and career success to be in tune with each other.”
Movie: The Sandlot
TV show: Scandal
Music: Blues, Latin
Wisconsin Financial Group Inc.
Marisa Menzel has spent her career helping people plan for life’s most important milestones.
Today, she’s a financial advisor who helps people create income streams for their retirements, but straight out of college she founded her own wedding consulting business, Marry Me Marisa, and became something of a pioneer in the process.
“I built it from scratch, including teaching myself to build our website, which was relatively new at the time,” said Menzel. “In fact, it allowed me to have an advantage over my competitors who did not yet have a website at a time when more brides were planning their weddings over the Internet.”
She’s still keeping busy, and with a list of volunteer commitments as long as a wedding dress train, she shows no signs of slowing down.
“[Volunteering] is a great way to get to know people, have fun, learn about our community, and give back, all at the same time.”
Movie: Love Actually
TV show: Shark Tank, PBS documentaries
Matthew B. Mikolajewski
Economic Development Division Director
City of Madison
Matt Mikolajewski has worked in economic development for the City of Madison for years, and he was recently named director of the city’s Economic Development Division, following in the footsteps of Aaron Olver.
Over the past six years, Mikolajewski has played a lead role in the city’s efforts to redevelop the Capitol East District, including the relocation of Shopbop to East Washington Avenue and the redevelopment of the former Don Miller auto lots into the Constellation and the soon-to-be-completed Galaxie.
A representative on several boards and organizations, Mikolajewski is proud to “help foster growth within the state I love while supporting the development of one of the best cities in the country.”
His role models include George Austin, president of AVA Civic Enterprises Inc., and John Stibal, director of development for the City of West Allis.
When he’s not “sleeping in way too late on the weekends,” Mikolajewski enjoys biking and travel.
Movie: The Godfather
TV show: Modern Family
Music: Classic rock
Owens & Freeman LLC
As a newly minted UW Law School graduate, Sam Owens traveled the world. But he wasn’t seeking his own fortune.
After graduating from law school in 2007, he traveled to Ethiopia to work as a consultant for the Ethiopian Ministry of Education and the Ethiopian Justice and Legal Systems Research Institute, helping to develop the country’s infrastructure for the training and licensing of legal professionals.
After leaving Ethiopia in 2009, he moved to South Africa, serving as a research fellow with the South African Department of Correctional Services.
Throughout his travels abroad, his income was modest, and when he returned to Madison, he and his wife were forced to live frugally as he launched his practice. Now established in the community, he still finds time for pro bono work.
“I continue to carve out time to serve the legal service needs of my community,” he said, “particularly the needs of individuals who require more affordable assistance in order to enforce their constitutional rights.”
Movie: Dr. Strangelove
TV show: House of Cards
Madison Area Sports Commission
After earning degrees from both the University of Nebraska and Gonzaga University, Jamie Patrick landed in Madison and has been a part of the development, launch, and implementation of the Madison Area Sports Commission.
As MASC vice president, he took over the local host agreement for Ironman Wisconsin and extended its run through 2018; created the MASC Youth Grant Program to get kids more involved in sports; and through his relationship with USA Cycling, helped attract six national championship cycling events to Dane County, including cyclo-cross national championship events to Verona.
Patrick also serves on the Madison Sports Hall of Fame board and the Madison Festivals board, which operates the Madison Marathon, Taste of Madison, and other events.
The games continue on weekends, when this husband and father enjoys making pancakes into fun shapes for his kids. But after they’ve eaten, he’ll sneak chocolate chips into the batter for himself!
Movie: Good Will Hunting
TV show: Seinfeld
Music: Folk, rock
Modern Woodmen of America
Modern Woodmen of America had already celebrated its centennial when Joseph Pometto was born, and the venerable company was nearly 125 years old by the time he joined its ranks.
But it didn’t take him long to establish himself as a valuable member of the team once he got going.
At the age of 28, he became the firm’s youngest regional director in its 131-year history. And he was just getting started. Last year, his region saw 25% growth, ranking it 16th out of the company’s 75 regions.
Heady accomplishments, but for this former Eagle Scout, they’re all part of a lifelong process of self-improvement.
Indeed, one of Pometto’s role models is Christian self-help writer and business coach Matthew Kelly.
“His message is about becoming the best version of yourself,” said Pometto. “It’s by becoming the best version of yourself that incredible things are accomplished.”
Movie: Star Trek Into Darkness
TV show: The Blacklist
Music: Hard rock
Greg Reinhard has done what many sports enthusiasts might only dream about. He was named the NCAA Division III National Pitcher of the Year for UW-Whitewater in 2005, the same week the team won the national title. A week after that, he was drafted in the sixth round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Now in Madison, Reinhard is continuing the dream as a coach and founder of GRB Academy and the Wisconsin Premier Baseball Organization.
GRB Academy is an indoor baseball and softball training program focused on youth development, and since its launch in 2012, 52 of its players have gone on to receive college scholarships, including 34 from Division I schools. Two players have been drafted by MLB teams, and one, Danny Jansen, is on the Toronto Blue Jays’ roster.
Reinhard’s company is currently working to develop its own field of dreams: a large indoor/outdoor field complex for baseball and softball in the Madison area.
Movie: Major League
TV show: Shark Tank
Farrah N.W. Rifelj
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Making partner at a major law firm is an impressive accomplishment for any young attorney, but when asked about her most memorable professional achievement, Farrah N.W. Rifelj hearkens back to the very start of her career.
“Hands down, winning my first trial as a first-year associate involving an employment contract case,” said Rifelj. “Hearing the late-night verdict in our client’s favor was worth all the work and was the ultimate proof that it was worth throwing — and catching — my cane at graduation!”
The two-time Boston Marathon runner is still making major inroads in her industry, and she cites former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and current U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb as role models.
“As a member of a profession historically dominated by men, I look up to those women who have paved the way, overcome significant obstacles, and risen to the top of their field,” said Rifelj.
Movie: The Pursuit of Happyness
TV show: The West Wing
Music: Latin, solo piano
Director of Business Development and Communications
MIG Commercial Real Estate
After working in sales and events planning for ESPN Radio in Chicago and the National W Club in Madison, Tara Saleh has quickly made an impact in her new job at MIG Commercial Real Estate.
Within her first six months, she developed more than $8 million in commercial real estate transactions (either closed or in progress). Also in her rookie year, she launched the MIG
Legacy Foundation and helped create the MIG Charity Golf Classic, which raised $25,000 and sent half the proceeds to a local charity.
Her mentors include Larry Wert, president of the Tribune Company, where she got her start in sports radio, and UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez. “I admire his confidence and strength,” she said.
Although born without a sense of smell, Saleh enjoys eating (a lot, she admits), which helps give her the energy she needs to raise twin 10-year-olds. “I have four breakfasts before my first of three lunches.”
Movie: Goodfellas, Anchorman, Pitch Perfect
TV show: Seinfeld, SportsCenter
Industrial Division Manager
JP Cullen & Sons
Through his development of JP Cullen’s Steel Task Force, which created process improvements in the field by soliciting the advice of the company’s ironworkers and steelworkers, Chad Schakelman has significantly increased the production of JP Cullen’s workforce.
In fact, he’s increased the industrial division’s profits by 90%, effectively doubled the size of the division, and increased the customer base by 50%.
The process improvements Schakelman spearheaded eventually helped the company tackle the largest steel project in the state of Wisconsin, Epic’s Deep Space Auditorium, which recently received the Steel Erectors Association of America’s Top Project of the Year award.
“Chad turned our inadequate structural steel operation around in just a couple of months,” said JP Cullen President Ron Becher.
So what will he do for an encore?
“I would like to make sure I make an impact on whatever I do in the industry,” said Schakelman. “Being respected and having values are important to me as a leader.”
Movie: Top Gun
TV show: Shark Tank
Music: Country, rock
Tax Credit and Real Estate Attorney
Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren
Joe Shumow recently represented Forward Community Investments in its new markets tax credit allocation to Milwaukee’s Sojourner Family Peace Center, which provides respite for victims of domestic abuse. It was a complicated legal matter, he noted, but the project has received national attention and is seen as a game-changing model in the industry.
“I aspire to continue to advise developers, nonprofits, and governmental entities on how to best create housing opportunities and economic development,” he said.
Shumow is on the board of directors at Forward Theater Company in Madison and serves on boards for the Jewish Federation of Madison and the Rodney Scheel House Foundation. At home, his guilty pleasure is watching sports in his man cave (on three TVs at once), but his professional goals are loftier.
“Over the next couple decades of my life, I want to be able to drive around Madison and see a skyline of developments that I’ve had a small piece in helping bring to fruition.”
Movie: The Usual Suspects
TV show: Modern Family
Crisis Intervention Services Manager
Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS)
During her time at DAIS, Meghan Sohns has been instrumental in launching the organization’s Law Enforcement Advocate Partnership (LEAP) program.
In the past, when Madison police officers responded to domestic violence incidents, they referred callers to DAIS, putting the onus on the victims. Now, through the LEAP program, DAIS takes the initiative, following up with victims to offer free and confidential support, safety tips, and other resources.
Since implementing the program, DAIS has made contact with more than 55% of the domestic violence victims referred to the organization, many of whom would have otherwise never been in touch with an intervention group.
“I am excited at the prospect of growing this program even further to reach more victims of domestic violence in Dane County,” said Sohns.
While Sohns says she’s already doing her dream job, one day she’d like to serve as executive director of a small rural domestic violence agency.
Movie: Gone With the Wind
TV show: Scandal
Sokol Advanced EyeCare
As the first person in her family to earn a college degree, Tessa Sokol considers herself “self-made.” She owns an independent eye-care clinic and serves as president of the Madison Area Optometric Society.
In September, Sokol received the Wisconsin Young Optometrist of the Year award from the Wisconsin Optometric Association. As part of the WOA Legislative Committee, she’s advocated both in Washington, D.C., and at the State Capitol on issues affecting her industry.
A member of Wisconsin’s Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity and Medical Wings International, Sokol has taken international medical mission trips to Honduras, El Salvador, Cameroon, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic, and she will head to Gambia in December. Back home, she’s taking flying lessons — something she’s wanted to do since attending EAA AirVenture as a child.
A self-proclaimed “Madison foodie,” Sokol supports farm-to-table events whenever possible and is known for baking and decorating quirky cupcakes — which she gives away to friends, of course.
Movie: The Pursuit of Happyness
TV show: Grey’s Anatomy
Music: World music
Senior Vice President — Strategy and Operations
Legacy Advisor Network Ltd.
Cammie Sorensen has plenty of notable professional achievements to put on her résumé — including recently publishing an e-book, Savvy Business Secrets for Creative Entrepreneurs — but it’s her top personal achievement that really stands out.
In September 2014, Sorensen traveled to Nashville to record an album of her favorite Christmas songs. While there, she got to work with drummer Gene Chrisman and pianist Shane Keister, who both performed with Elvis Presley, as well as Doyle Grisham, Jimmy Buffett’s steel guitar player.
“I remember so clearly sitting perched on an old wooden stool in the Hilltop Studio just outside Nashville, listening to these music geniuses play their parts for the album,” said Sorensen. “I had my eyes closed, willing myself not to forget a thing.”
But while she enjoyed her moment in the spotlight, when it comes to her professional life, she’s more interested in helping others shine.
“My greatest aspiration is to work hard and long to make other people’s lives better,” she said.
TV show: The Profit
Vice President-Wealth Specialist
BMO Private Bank
Guy Stratton has been on his current career trajectory ever since starting as a banking trainee 15 years ago. Now he is the primary point of contact for BMO Private Bank and five different groups within BMO Harris Bank, including branch bankers in more than 30 branches.
But community is equally important to Stratton, who personally logged more than 250 volunteer hours over 10 weeks in 2014 for the Wisconsin Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Together with the volunteer team he assembled, he raised $25,500 for the charity. “I chose to volunteer because I knew I could be successful and raise a lot of money,” he said.
It may be no surprise, then, that Stratton is also an Optimist. He was president of the Optimist Club of Downtown Madison from 2010-11 and a member of its board from 2008-13.
In his downtime, he can be found at home watching reality music shows, especially The Voice.
TV show: The Voice
Music: ’90s music
Director of Marketing and Communications
Wisconsin Physicians Service Insurance Corp. (WPS)
Stephanie Tervort isn’t ashamed to admit that her proudest career achievement started out as “a humiliating failure.” After earning her teaching degree, she got a job at a high school in Las Vegas. But she soon discovered the profession wasn’t for her.
“I have always prided myself on being brave and strong,” said Tervort. “Staying in a job I knew was wrong for me wasn’t brave or strong.”
Tervort moved back to Wisconsin and found what she thought would be a temporary job as a coordinator in WPS’s marketing department. However, she soon discovered she enjoyed the work, so she stayed with the company and was eventually promoted to director of marketing and communications.
Last year, WPS faced major challenges as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Tervort responded by leading the largest marketing campaign in the company’s history.
“It worked,” said Tervort. “We tripled our sales goal, and marketing leads directly contributed to over $8.9 million in premium revenue.”
Movie: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
TV show: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Music: Classic rock, alternative, pop
Thysse Printing Service Inc.
Operating a family business comes with inherent risks, but at Thysse Printing Service, the future appears bright. Representing the company’s third generation, Jason Thysse is carrying on a printing legacy built by his grandfather and father.
Thysse purchased the family business in 2008 before moving it to a new facility in Oregon in 2012. “We needed more space for the growth we were forecasting,” he said. When he first took over, the company employed seven people. Now it has 47 full-time and eight part-time employees.
His professional role models include Ted Straus, CEO at Suttle-Straus. “Although he is a competitor, I have high respect for how he runs his company and for what he has achieved in the printing industry,” said Thysse.
He also looks up to Steve Peotter at Oregon Community Bank: “I admire his organizational skills and how he never forgets a name.” But his three children are his top priority. “I can’t think of anything else I could achieve in life that is more important.”
Movie: The Shawshank Redemption
TV show: Breaking Bad
Music: Heavy metal
Chief Marketing Officer
Before taking on his current role as chief marketing officer for AltusMedical Group, Mike Wagner worked with software startups on both coasts for 16 years, growing ideas into viable businesses.
After returning to his native Wisconsin, he served as CEO of Forkforce, an online social network that facilitates hiring for the food and beverage services industry. While there, he guided the company through its beta stage to market launch, including raising $350,000 in seed funding — which, he notes, “wasn’t easy to do in Wisconsin.”
Today, more than 300 restaurants are using the service to find workers, mostly in Greater Madison and Milwaukee.
In 2008, Wagner became the youngest director ever at DocuSign, helping to position the San Francisco-based electronic technology signature provider for growth.
Now he’s set his sights on helping the Greater Madison area solidify its reputation as an entrepreneurial hub. “I want to continue to build young companies here in Madison with successful track records and/or exits,” said Wagner.
Movie: Apocalypse Now
TV show: Family Guy
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