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Unsung Heroes

Meet five whose behind-the-scenes leadership makes their companies tick.



SOUTHWEST FLORIDA is brimming with successful business owners and CEOs—people who are the public faces of their companies and driving forces in the community. But any good CEO will tell you that his or her success hinges on the efforts of others. Here, then, are profiles of a few of Southwest Florida’s “unsung heroes,” people who’ve helped to propel their companies or the business community at large and who don’t always make it into the spotlight.

 

For the Love of Chocolate: Dan Forgey​

Dan Forgey, the production manager for Norman Love Confections, was recently named the U.S. Chocolate Master at a competition hosted by Cacao Barry, a French brand of chocolate and cocoa products. He’ll represent the United States at the Cacao Barry World Chocolate Master competition this fall in Paris, squaring off against chocolatiers from 19 countries.

The win was an affirmation for Forgey—who’d once had reservations about switching from his first love, pastries, into chocolates. But Forgey knows he’s not doing this for himself alone. “Competing with [Love’s] name... you can’t hope for the best, you have to be the best,” Forgey, 37, says.

World competitions are pretty high-profile stuff. Even so, Forgey’s biggest influence is felt not in the limelight, but in his daily work at the South Fort Myers factory. He oversees a 12-person crew that produces as many as 40,000 to 45,000 pieces of chocolate a day, manages inventory, sources products and determines daily output, among other things—including concocting the recipes behind the famous chocolates.

Forgey develops all of the fillings and the ganaches for the 36 pieces in the standard line plus invents 20 new pieces every year for holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

“The biggest thing I have to focus on when I make a ganache is when you bite into it, you have to know what it is,” Forgey explains. “If it’s strawberry and cheesecake, it has to taste like strawberry and cheesecake."

He once remade an apricot piece 25 times before it tasted like the fresh fruit. Another time, he worked for three months perfecting marshmallows for a s’mores piece. He recently spent five days at a workshop on caramels because he wanted to understand the chemistry of the sticky treat. “You can follow a recipe but if you don’t know how things work, you can’t troubleshoot,” he says. 

Love had pursued Forgey some eight years ago when Forgey was working as a pastry chef at the Waldorf Astoria in Naples (now the Naples Grande Beach Resort). “His commitment to creating excellence and brand integrity is a big reason for our success and international recognition,” Love says. Forgey is simply glad he’s landed in a place that strives to innovate even when it sits at the top of the chocolate-making world. “If you’re not innovating, people are going to catch up to you,” he says.

 

Connecting the Dots: Susan Evans

Florida Gulf Coast University President Wilson Bradshaw and his predecessors may be the public faces of the institution, but Susan Evans is the internal engine that keeps the place running. Evans is not wholly unfamiliar to the public—as university spokeswoman, she’s the one quoted when FGCU hits the news—but few off campus know about the extent of her influence. Evans, a vice president, also serves as chief of staff, corporate secretary and liaison to the university board of trustees and unofficial university historian—she was one of the first five employees hired to start up FGCU in 1993. 

“Susan is usually the first person I speak to in the morning and the last person I speak to on my way out the door,” Bradshaw says.

Evans lives with one ear to the ground and another tuned to the media. She listens to the buzz of faculty, staff and students, filtering it and bringing to Bradshaw’s attention the matters he needs to address. She checks some 12 statewide and local media outlets daily, reviews the university police log every morning and monitors all incoming public information requests—some eight to 10 new topics each week—ranging from sales of Dunk City merchandise to employee records to contracts. In reviewing all of that information, she tries to predict and stave off problems before they take root.

“I connect dots,” she says. 

Bradshaw relies on her insights. “What I value so much is her clear thinking and her ability to really anticipate the things we need to attend to—that I need to attend to,” he says. Evans, who had been the Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce executive director when founding FGCU President Roy McTarnaghan tapped her for his team, helped hire the founding deans, served as the university’s lobbyist and contributed to the establishment of the athletic program—a particular joy for this former high school basketball MVP. “Dunk City,” she says, is synonymous with FGCU’s spunk: “We do big things from nothing. We start things from scratch and we do things in big ways."

Evans marvels over FGCU’s growth—from subtropical woodlands to a miniature city of some 15,000 students, 1,250 faculty and staff, and 100 on-campus buildings, including housing for 5,000. “I think we are light-years ahead of what people would expect that an 18-year-old university would be,” she says.

An Eye for Research: Cheryl Kiesel

Cheryl Kiesel joined the staff at Retina Consultants of Southwest Florida in Fort Myers while she was still in college, studying elementary education, and in need of a job. She landed a position as a so-called “people mover,” ushering patients around the building and assisting them during exams. It’s about the lowest-ranking position there, but the experience was enough to utterly intrigue her. 

She scrapped her initial career plan and threw herself into her newfound profession, becoming an ophthalmic medical assistant, an ophthalmic photographer and then a certified ophthalmic assistant. 

“I don’t like not knowing,” says Kiesel, 42, explaining her eagerness to learn. “I’m a tad bit competitive.” 

Kiesel in 2002 earned certification as Registered Ophthalmic Ultrasound Biometrist—one of the first 30 or so people in the United States to earn the distinction and the only person in Southwest Florida to hold it for approximately 10 years. In 2013, she completed a Certified Diagnostic Ophthalmic Sonographer certification and remains one of two people in Southwest Florida to have the designation, as far as the practice knows. 

Dr. Joseph Walker, the practice’s founder, says Retina Consultants isn’t the only beneficiary of Kiesel’s advanced knowledge; she’s trained others at local, national and international conferences. 

“Cheryl Kiesel has shown incredible ability to master the techniques of ophthalmic diagnostic ultrasound and also to convey them to other technicians to try to enhance their ultrasound capabilities,” Walker says. “She has really worked tirelessly to educate technicians on this valuable, but difficult to master, technique.” 

When the practice decided to delve into clinical trials, Kiesel laid the groundwork for the National Ophthalmic Research Institute (NORI), its research arm, learning federal regulations and patient safety standards, writing NORI’s standard operating procedures and marketing the institute to pharmaceutical companies. The physicians named her research director. Today, at any given time, Kiesel oversees some 20 experimental drug studies, giving Southwest Floridians access to the cutting-edge medicines most often associated with academic medical centers. 

NORI has tested some of the industry’s most significant new drugs, including Lucentis, Eylea and Macugen. It was also selected for the federal CATT study testing whether Avastin (priced at about $65 per dose) was as effective as Lucentis (about $1,800 per dose). The trial was hugely significant for its potential cost savings (both drugs were deemed effective) and because it spurred legislation requiring private and government insurers to cover treatment costs associated with clinical research. 

“It was a high honor to be selected,” Kiesel says.

 

​Turning Tin Into Gold: Vin De Pasquale

Vin De Pasquale’s title does not include the word “developer”— he’s the owner of two popular restaurants, the Dock at Crayton Cove and Riverwalk at Tin City—but those two places spurred the development of their respective shopping districts and make him an unsung hero in keeping Old Naples vibrant and relevant. 

De Pasquale, 71, arrived in Naples in 1971. He landed a job at the Naples Sailing and Yacht Club, which is where he met Kenney Schryver, a businessman who saw potential in the Crayton Cove area.

Schryver’s initial goal was developing the Cove Inn, but the duo knew companion businesses were a must. In 1974, they created The Club at Crayton Cove, a private club that grew to 1,200 and attracted the community’s movers and shakers to the under-utilized district. The Dock followed, born out of an old office building.

“We had to create excitement and interest,” says De Pasquale. He ran a contest in the local media called “I Bet You Can’t Find Us,” dropping hints about his soon-to-open establishment. On the Dock’s opening day, Feb. 13, 1976, more than 100 people waited outside the front door.

The post-season desolation, though, came as a shock. “The stores were closed, the residences were shut down. I remember asking, ‘Where is everyone?’”

Around that time, a colleague introduced him to a canoe race in Miami. “I came back and said, ‘We can do this,’” says De Pasquale. The Dock celebrated its first full season in 1977 with its own race—an effort to drum-up off-season customers that evolved into an annual tradition and community fundraising effort.

“With Vin, he just does so much for the community, but the thing that always stands out is the canoe race,” says Naples Mayor John Sorey. “It’s his legacy, as far as philanthropy is concerned.”

And it has helped solidify Crayton Cove, which today is home to 33 businesses, including a growing artist community. The ever-busy De Pasquale and Schryver simultaneously developed Tin City, starting in 1975. “We had no money, but Kenney was the vision in the whole project, and my job was to create businesses to afford us cash flow and continue the development,” De

Pasquale says. De Pasquale reimagined a former clam processing plant as Riverwalk.

Originally, the founders had dubbed their project the “Old Marine Marketplace,” until De Pasquale off-handedly one day referred to it as “tin city.” “Kenney, being a great marketing person, grabbed it and renamed it,” De Pasquale remembers. The rest, as they say, is history.

 

Environmental Protector: Nicholas von Hofen

The greens at Collier’s Reserve are lush and rolling, the clubhouse and common areas picturesque and

meticulously kept—exactly what one demands in this international mecca of golf. 

Maintaining all of that is more than enough of a job, but Nicholas von Hofen, the director of golf grounds and building maintenance for the North Naples country club, has an additional layer of responsibility that’s critical to his company: protector of all things environmental.

Collier’s Reserve is legendary in the country club circuit for being the nation’s first Audubon Signature Cooperative Sanctuary, making the greens both an area for sport as well as a refuge for wildlife and foliage.

Von Hofen, 35, came to Collier’s Reserve in 2009. Upon taking the job, he read a stack of the club’s annual Audubon reports and told his new employer, “We could do better—we could do a lot better.”

Since then, von Hofen has reconstructed and added a total of 25 birdhouses, including a wood duck house, a resident favorite. He’s led members on “BioBlitzes,” 24-hour inventories of native plant and wildlife species on the 450-acre property. He and resident bird expert Pete Thayer put out a newsletter detailing bird sightings on the property.

Von Hofen has worked with grounds crews to get landscaping waste down to a mere trash bag per day; the rest, some 40 to 50 bags worth, is hauled away to a green recycling plant. And here’s the biggie: Von Hofen directed a $2 million irrigation renovation that slashed overall water usage and increased the amount of effluent—treated wastewater—used on the grounds. A typical Florida golf course uses 500,000 to 700,000 gallons per day of water. Collier’s Reserve uses approximately 350,000, primarily effluent. 

“Just last year alone under Nick’s leadership, we saved over 15 million gallons of surface water with the help of our new irrigation system,” says General Manager Don Crowe. “Nick and his team do a great job documenting these environmental initiatives that truly tell our story at Collier’s Reserve. There is no doubt that Nick should be commended for his leadership in environmental stewardship.”

Now, von Hofen is working on energy efficiency. He’s installed motion sensors in bathrooms and energy efficient light bulbs, saving 10,000 kilowatt hours and $5,000 a year on energy. His next goal is an energy inventory to find out when and where the club uses power.

“Everything we do has a bigger impact than we think,” he says. GB

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