As Southwest Florida continues to grow and prosper, keeping the momentum alive will be dependent on future generations of talented professionals who will not only provide the vision, but also meet challenges and solve problems as they arise.
Since 2003, Gulfshore Business has recognized young leaders who have distinguished themselves in their professions and in their communities. And many of these individuals have made significant contributions to the region’s economic, charitable and civic well-being.
Once again, we are pleased to acknowledge 40 rising stars, under 40 years old, from a variety of occupations, including law, education, medical, finance, public service and the arts, as well as entrepreneurs.
Chosen from dozens of nominations, this year’s winners represent the leadership our region needs to move forward. The judges considered professional accomplishments, volunteer work and other plaudits from their nominators. With all of the talent represented, there were some tough decisions, but we finally selected our final 40.
Please read on learn more about the 2017 40-under-40 honorees. (Photography by Craig Hildebrand)
Joel Andersen (30)
Vice president of operations, M Room Company USA; project manager, Local Greens Co. and Ilme Advertising
Some might say Joel Andersen was born to build. Whether it’s in the form of teams, companies, or outreach programs, Andersen constantly sets his sights on how to develop his community even further. Professionally, he’s helping expand the U.S. presence of three Finnish firms: M Room USA, Local Greens LLC and Ilme Advertising, in various leadership roles. And when he’s off the clock, he’s serving as a Volunteer Boy Scouts of America youth leader and Cub Scout den leader, and as Southwest Florida Enterprise Center Advisory Board member, to help entrepreneurs reach their full potential. He’s also had a hand in developing Naples Accelerator and been recognized by the likes of Naples SCORE, David Lawrence Center, and Greater Naples YMCA.
In his downtime, Andersen enjoys sports, cycling, and cinematography. He’s married with an infant daughter. —Melanie Pagan
Marin Asher (38)
Director of marketing and business relations, Larue Pest Management
To Marin Asher, family is everything. The wife and mother of one currently serves as board vice president of Our Mother’s Home of Southwest Florida, spreading awareness about the mentored-living program for young mothers in the foster care system and helping its girls and their children stay together and achieve self-sufficiency. She joined Our Mother’s Home board of directors 10 years after purchasing the home of the program’s late founder, Helen Coppage. In addition to her roles with Our Mother’s Home and Larue Pest Management, Asher serves on the Cape Coral Technical College Digital Design Department Advisory Board and Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce Golf Tournament and Women in Business committees.
Asher comes from a long line of artists, including her mother, an accomplished watercolor painter, and also enjoys the hobby. When she’s not creating, she’s out on the water with her husband and 5-year-old daughter. —Melanie Pagan
Kristi Bartlett (39)
Vice president, economic development, Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce
There is a strong working force behind much of the economic success and growth of Collier County, and that would largely be due to the efforts of vice president of Economic Development for Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, Kristi Bartlett. In addition to leading the chamber’s public-policy program, Bartlett is also responsible for planning and implementing the yearly program for Opportunity Naples. She was a main force behind the local expansions of Arthrex and ACI Worldwide.
When difficulties arise in her efforts for workforce development, Bartlett relies on the term “falling up” as inspiration to push through. “I try to take my frustrations or disappointments and turn them into a positive. It is very motivating,” she says.
Bartlett stays motivated in her personal life as well, serving as a co-caption of the local chapter of the Women’s March on Washington, and being a devoted mother to her daughter, Logan. —Tess Raines
Jason H. Becker (37)
Co-Founder of Golf Life Navigators; PGA of America Golf Professional
Becker has always been determined to be successful and make a difference in the community. After moving from a small town in Michigan, Becker ended up in Naples and became involved with Florida Gulf Coast University. He developed a student organization from scratch for the Professional Golf Management Program, and in 2011 accepted the position of program director for the First Tee.
The First Tee is a non-profit organization that helps children learn valuable life skills through golf. Becker passes on the key to his success to every young fellow entrepreneur he works alongside: “Surround yourself with people who won’t let you give up…the reward is too special to turn away from.”
When he isn’t busy helping others, Becker enjoys heading to the soccer fields or playing golf with his kids, Brendan and Ava. —Tess Raines
Ryan Benson (36)
Principal/owner, A. Vernon Allen Builder
You’ve likely seen some of Ryan Benson’s work driving through the area, and you may have even commented on its artistry. As the principal of A. Vernon Allen Builders and a 15-year veteran of the construction industry, Benson knows exactly what a custom home or building should entail. His professionalism is reflected in his approach to business, in which he states, “Treat people well, be honest, and give people the opportunity to do what they are best at.”
He is a graduate of Stetson University and FIU, a LEED Green Associate accredited building contractor, and a heavily involved volunteer with The Boys and Girls Club of Collier County.
Benson enjoys boating with his friends and family and making beer. —Tess Raines
Matt Bernhardt (37)
Chief executive officer of Stickboy Creative and Vectra Digital
When it comes to the most valuable lesson he has learned in his career, Matthew Bernhardt would attribute it to “how crucial it is to focus on what your strengths are and focus on growing those.” It is likely his concentration on his own strengths that made him the successful CEO of Stickboy Creative & Vectra Digital. In addition to this role, Bernhardt is an entrepreneur that manages three technology companies and is also currently attending Harvard University’s Business Executive Education Program.
He won the 2014 Technology Innovation Award by Southwest Florida Regional Technology Partnership and multiple Sand Dollar Awards for his work in business technology.
Bernhardt has traveled to more than 30 countries (and counting!), with his wife, and enjoys reading. —Tess Raines
Joseph Bidwell (37)
CEO, Home Instead Senior Care
In 2016, Joseph Bidwell and his staff at Home Instead Senior Care helped deliver more than 12,000 gifts to seniors who were housebound or in nursing facilities all across Southwest Florida as part of the franchise’s Be a Santa to a Senior program. That’s just a fraction of good Bidwell is involved in. As CEO of Home Instead, Bidwell facilitates home senior care for those in Collier, Lee and Charlotte counties.
Prior to leading the company, Bidwell served as an aerospace engineer at the National Air & Space Intelligence Center in Dayton, Ohio, and at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, California. In this career, Bidwell led business development efforts on a space-designed ballistic missile defense system. He also completed a master’s degree in aerospace engineering and architecture from USC and traveled often to brief high-level military leaders. Bidwell has been recognized by Northrop Grumman, a global security company, with its Program Management Award and Future Leaders: Lead1NG Award.
When he’s not working, Bidwell enjoys spending time with his wife and three young children, Eliza, Fitz and Lochlan, and volunteers in his daughter’s kindergarten classroom. An avid rock climber, Bidwell hopes to one day open a rock-climbing facility in the area. —Melanie Pagan
Andrew Blitch (32)
President, “A” Locksmith
In 2014 at the age of 29, Andrew Blitch left behind a career as a police officer in Houston and, in an entrepreneurial leap of faith, returned to his hometown of Naples to purchase “A” Locksmith with his wife, Angelique. The company had been around since 1973, and Blitch took over as the youngest of 10 employees. Under his leadership, sales have nearly doubled and staff and service quality has grown. Angie’s List even recognized the business with a Super Service Award in 2016.
As a police officer, Blitch obtained nine Letters of Commendation, highlighting his integrity, heroism and efforts to save multiple lives. The Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) alumnus is a member of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce and 2017 Growing Associates in Naples (GAIN) class. He graduated cum laude with a major in criminal justice and minor in mathematics and hopes to further benefit Naples with his specialized knowledge of law enforcement, home and business security, and crime prevention.
Blitch and his wife have two children, Genevieve, 5, and Lucas, 1. —Melanie Pagan
Tabatha Butcher (39)
Chief of EMS, Collier County Emergency Medical Services
Tabatha Butcher has aided the people of Collier County for the last two decades. An employee of Collier County Emergency Medical Services for 20 years, Butcher has served in roles such as flight paramedic, captain, battalion chief and assistant chief, before being promoted to chief of EMS in May 2016. The Naples native has accomplished many things in her latest position, including placing power lift stretchers on ambulances to assist in patient safety, purchasing laptops for all ambulances to facilitate better dispatch communication, creating a program to help train existing employees to replace retiring supervisors, and promoting department officers who had not had pay raises in eight years.
Butcher is also a 2016 graduate of Leadership Collier and active with with David Lawrence Center, Collier County Emergency Medical Authority, Drug Free Collier, Safe and Healthy Children’s Coalition of Collier County and more. She recently became a member of the EMS steering committee and she’s a two-time nominee of the Naples Daily News Distinguished Public Servant Award.
Butcher has two children—Dylan, 13, and Ashlyn, 9—with her husband, Michael. —Melanie Pagan
John Thomas Cardillo (39)
Attorney, Cardillo, Keith, & Bonaquist Attorneys at Law
John Thomas Cardillo is a well-known figure in the Collier County justice system. The attorney has served as president of the Collier County Bar Association and its Young Lawyers division, chair of the Collier County Public Schools Mock Trial Program, on the Florida Bar 20th judicial circuit grievance committee, Collier County Legal Aid program advisory board, and more.
In his career, Cardillo has helped families successfully come to estate and legacy agreements, saying, “our clients’ interests and objectives are paramount.” He’s earned several awards for his efforts, such as Florida Trend‘s Legal Elite Up & Comer and Florida Super Lawyers Rising Star, and has been named Collier County Legal Aid Attorney of the Month.
Cardillo is married with two daughters and enjoys fishing, golf, gardening and cooking. —Melanie Pagan
Luis Cartagena (34)
Vice president and bank manager, Florida Community Bank
Fort Myers-born Luis Cartagena has held the role of vice president/branch manager of Florida Community Bank’s Immokalee banking center for the past four years. In that capacity, he leads the largest retail team in the company’s footprint. However, Cartagena’s beginnings were humble.
He remembers not being able to receive help from his parents in school due to their lack of education and working his way up from a part-time bank teller to the position he’s in now. Today, he’s focused on helping children break the cycle of poverty, just as he did.
Cartagena is a member of The Immokalee Foundation (TIF) board of directors, and through the program he’s conducted networking sessions for high school seniors and prepared them to meet Southwest Florida business leaders. He currently mentors two high school students—Elizay Bravo and Lodjina Louis—and stays in contact with his previous mentee, who’s now in college. Last year, he delivered the keynote address at TIF’s graduation celebration at Ave Maria University. He’s since inspired some of his colleagues to become TIF supporters and Florida Community Bank to be a past presenting sponsor of the foundation’s Charity Classic Celebration.
Cartagena is an accomplished musician and signer, who made it through a series of The Voice callback auditions prior to airing. He has three sons: Trey, Jayden, and Xavier. —Melanie Pagan
Laura Dal Santo (37)
Personal trainer and lead diva, Bella Diva Fitness
Laura Dal Santo specializes in women’s fitness, helping clients find their strongest selves both physically and mentally. She takes a multifaceted approach to fitness, educating women on weight loss, strength gaining, nutrition and meal planning, so they can adopt long-term healthy lifestyles outside of the gym.
A past National Physique Committee bikini competitor and figure champion in Maryland, Dal Santo also provides weekly personal training sessions to teen girls in the Wellfit Girls program and mentally coaches them through journal writing and feedback. She also gives the girls occasional cooking demonstrations in her home. She’s a strong believer in encouraging healthy habits at an early age.
DalSanto is certified by the American Counsel on Exercise and International Sports Science Association as a master personal trainer, sports nutritionist, and hormone and health expert. She’s also a level one cross-fit coach and TRX group trainer. She is an avid world traveler. —Melanie Pagan
Tracy Duhaney (27)
Senior catering and convention services manager, Hilton Naples
For Tracy Duhaney, it’s all about going the extra mile. The senior catering and convention services manager is not only known for providing exemplary hospitable service and well-planned events within Hilton Naples, but she’s also deeply involved in the community. Duhaney is a member of the Naples Area Young Professionals, Naples Zoofessionals, NAACP, Women’s Network of Collier County and has assumed various roles with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Naples. She also contributes to the United Way of Collier County, Gulf Coast Humane Society and PACE Center for Girls, and can be found helping out in the St. Matthew’s House soup kitchen from time to time.
Duhaney has been recognized numerous times for her professional and personal efforts, earning the 2017 Q1 Hotel Bronze Shining Sales Star Award from Cooper Hotels, which owns Hilton; and the 2015 Spirit of Blue Energy Award, a Hilton Hotels corporate social responsibility award. She’s also a 2016 GAIN graduate.
Duhaney likes to spend time with her dog, Biscuit, and family in Jamaica in her spare time, in addition to advocating for homeless animals. —Melanie Pagan
Tiffany Esposito (30)
President and chief executive officer, Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce
Tiffany Esposito has had a longstanding passion for the growth and sustainability in her hometown of Southwest Florida, so she became a natural fit with the area’s chambers of commerce after graduating from FGCU with her Bachelor of Arts in communication in 2009 and MBA in 2012. Esposito served in key leadership roles with both the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce and Bonita Springs Chamber of Commerce before being named president and CEO of the Bonita Springs chamber in 2016. She’s also been involved with the FGCU Alumni Board, Leadership Bonita, and Bonita Springs Estero Economic Development Council.
Esposito is accredited in public relations and holds a designation from the Institute for Organizational Management. She’s also earned the FGCU Soaring Eagles Society Award and FPRA Rising Star Award. She travels with her husband in her downtime and played hockey for many years. —Melanie Pagan
Barrett Farmer (37)
Director of the Naples Winter Wine Festival
When it comes to helping local underprivileged and at-risk children, it is comforting to know that much of their success is in the caring hands of Barrett Farmer. As the director of the Naples Winter Wine Festival, Farmer cites the importance and dedication that is involved with “putting together a world-class event that inspires guests to bid with extraordinary generosity so the [Naples Children & Education] Foundation can continue to transform the [children’s] lives.” In addition to the importance of the organization, Farmer’s passion and the fulfillment of the experience is what keeps her motivated every day.
When she is away from the office, Barrett takes care of her own wellbeing by engaging in yoga, working out and spending time with her family and newborn niece. —Tess Raines
Rafael J. Feliciano (28)
Co-founder, Naples and Fort Myers Restaurant Week and SWFL “First Bite.” Co-owner, Food Idea Group
Rafael Feliciano has a lengthy history of creating organizations and movements that make a difference. Before co-founding Naples and Fort Myers Restaurant Week, which raised more than $20,000 for local charities from 2016 to 2017, and Food Idea Group, a marketing company aimed at busy chefs, he co-founded the First Multicultural Greek Organization at FGCU, which is now the largest multicultural men’s organization in Southwest Florida. Also at FGCU, he started a program called “Betas Wrap It Up,” where fraternity brothers and other students would partner with Miromar Outlets to wrap and deliver gifts for underserved Immokalee preschoolers during the holidays.
In 2016, Florida’s Paradise Coast granted Feliciano with the Innovative Star Award for the positive impact Restaurant Week had on the region’s tourism industry. In his downtime, Feliciano enjoys traveling, sports, and spending time with his two dogs, Bourbon and Kahlua. —Melanie Pagan
Penny Fisher (36)
Editor, Naples Daily News
Many of Penny Fisher’s coworkers view her as the go-to person for help due to her problem-solving abilities. She’s been called on to fill in gaps when the company has had openings and served as interim executive editor before being named news director. Fisher has since created several internal taskforce groups to focus on writing style and audience growth.
Fisher, who oversees four robust community publications and a magazine, is credited with changing the paper’s newsroom culture to create a collaborative team environment that supported the production of each publication with an even workload.
Fisher regularly speakers to civic groups, fellow media professionals and students on the impact of local journalism in the community, and she’s always trying to find more ways to make the newsroom an integral part of the community. Fisher, who is part of the GAIN class of 2017, is married to Adam Fisher, a sports reporter at the Naples Daily News. They have two children, Audrey and Alec, and she has gotten active with families affected by Nephrotic Syndrome after her 2-year-old son was recently diagnosed with the disease. —Melanie Pagan
Brian Galligan (38)
Director of horticulture, Naples Botanical Garden
Part of what makes Southwest Florida special is its subtropical landscape, and Galligan is all about expanding and preserving it. He’s responsible for every plant that grows within Naples Botanical Garden, and helped developed it from a 170-acre wasteland of invasive plants to the nationally recognized botanical garden it is today. The certified arborist is especially skilled with ornamental plants and tropical fruits and offers his expertise to many community organizations, guiding their efforts in sustainable landscaping. In addition, he’s volunteered with the National Park Service to eradicate invasive exotic species and preserve natural ecosystems.
Galligan loves all things outdoors, including mountain biking, fishing, hunting, hiking, backpacking and camping. He has two children with his wife, Rebecca. —Melanie Pagan
Kiranjeet Gill (38)
Plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Aesthetic Surgery Center
Since moving to Naples in 2015, Dr. Kiranjeet Gill has quickly become a respected plastic surgeon by providing an avenue for the women of Collier County to undergo breast reconstruction. She customizes treatment plans for each patient, whether they seek aesthetic surgery or reconstruction after breast cancer. Gill also participates in the Physician Led Access Network of Collier County (PLAN), a referral network program of 250 volunteer physicians, clinics and health care providers who provide quality healthcare for qualified low-income and under-insured adult residents in the region. She joined PLAN specifically to provide breast reconstruction for women after mastectomy.
Gill is an accomplished volleyball player and has three children—Kayden, 6, Kaleb, 4, and Kareena, nearly 2, with her college sweetheart, whom she married in 2010. —Melanie Pagan
Sarah Hawes (29)
Director of community relations, Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida
With a long list of accomplishments and community involvement at the ripe young age of 29, it’s no wonder that Hawes is quickly ascending the professional ladder. She works tirelessly to maintain communication and incorporate new programs within the 21 Naples locations for Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida. Sarah, who holds degrees from Clemson University and Florida State University, is currently enrolled in a course at University of South Florida to obtain her Executive Masters of Business Administration.
When she and her husband aren’t cheering on the Clemson football team, Hawes enjoys playing pickleball and tennis, or doing yoga. —Tess Raines
Keegan Hodges (38)
Co-owner of Best Home Services
Since 2007, Keegan Hodges has provided Southwest Florida with award-winning air conditioning, electrical, plumbing and drain services. But his dedication to the industry started even before that. Keegan began helping out with his father’s electrical company when he was just 13, and by 17 he had excelled to a full-time electrician while being groomed by his dad to one day take the company reigns. Keegan and his brother, Chadd, purchased their family’s business in 2010 and transformed the 25-employee electrical firm into the 150-plus employee home services operation it is today. He urges his staff to see Best Home Services as not just a business, but rather a family helping other families in need.
This year Keegan received the Business Ambassador Award—presented by Gov. Rick Scott—and has won the Carrier Corporation President’s Award for six consecutive years.
In his downtime, Keegan volunteers as treasurer of the Southwest Florida Family Businesses Foundation and supports local charities. He’s also a founding athletic sponsor of the Florida SouthWestern State College Foundation. He holds a Master HVAC and Master Electrical state license and is married. —Melanie Pagan
Jan-Erik Hustrulid (35)
Business development coordinator, Owen-Ames-Kimball Company
Real-life experience, passion and drive have allowed Hustrulid to build his career and reputation. During his formative years in his native Sweden, he participated in a practical occupational experience (PRAO) program that set him up with different employers and hands-on job experience. These experiences gave Hustrulid the tools to realize his potential in sales and customer service.
His family relocated to Colorado and eventually to Southwest Florida—he is a graduate of Estero High School and Florida Gulf Coast University. In 2004, not long after graduating from FGCU, he and his twin brother, Björn, opened a real estate office in Bonita Springs appropriately named Twin Realty Inc., and by 2006 they were selling property throughout Florida. But when the market softened in the following years, he decided to join O-A-K in 2011. He was named the News-Press Young Professional of the Year in 2016.
Hustrulid is married his high school sweetheart, Caitlin, and they have a baby daughter, Juliana. —Allie Taylor
Nadia Keric (35)
Partner, family wealth advisor at Family Wealth Planning Group | Raymond James
Family wealth is a complex matter, which is why after a few years of advising affluent families at a nationally acclaimed financial planning firm in Minneapolis, Keric and her business partner, Tom, decided to establish the Family Wealth Planning Group of Raymond James in Naples.
Today Keric helps clients solve financial issues while allowing them to maximize wealth, enhance their lifestyle, and empower their loved ones. She’s written several articles on financial literacy and planning and continues to find ways to make the message readily accessible to everyone, from teaching children involved in Junior Achievement how to start planning young, to holding a course at Avow for recent widows who need to learn how to manage finances.
Outside of the office, Keric has been involved in organizations such as the Shelter for Abused Women & Children, Unity of Naples congregation, Champions for Learning and more. She and her husband recently adopted her niece, Hope, after Hope’s biological parents lost custodial rights. “She has brought more joy to our lives and the lives of our two children than we could have ever imagine. We are blessed,” Keric says. —Melanie Pagan
Kristalyn Loson (34)
Assistant city attorney, City of Fort Myers
Kristalyn Loson has accomplished many things since graduating from Mariner High School in 2001. She obtained her Bachelor of Business Administration, cum laude, from the University of Miami, followed by her Juris Doctor, with honors, from George Washington University Law School. She then went on to work as an attorney with a top 100 firm in Washington D.C., training several national nonprofit organizations on topics like bylaw-creating and mitigating risk management. Loson also helped establish DC Diaper Bank, a prominent organization serving children and families, before returning to Southwest Florida in 2015. Now, she’s one of only three attorneys working to represent the City of Fort Myers, providing legal guidance to the city council, mayor, city department and advisory committees daily.
Shortly after returning to Fort Myers, Loson became a founding board member of Valerie’s House, a nonprofit dedicated to young children who have lost their parents. She now serves as a founding board member of Lee County Bar Association Foundation and board member of Lee County Association of Women Lawyers and Lee County Bar Association’s Young Lawyer division. She’s also one of only 21 2017-18 graduates of The Florida Bar Wm. Reece Smith Jr. Leadership Academy, a statewide leadership academy for Florida lawyers.
Loson is an avid runner and enjoys University of Miami football and spending time with her fiancé, Scott, and his two teenage daughters. —Melanie Pagan
Buddy Martin (38)
Chief operating officer, Entech
Many Managed Service Providers across the country have fewer than 10 employees. Not Entech. As COO, Buddy Martin has grown the business from a three-man computer shop to nearly 40 employees with three locations across Southwest Florida. He’s regularly invited to guest speak at various industry conferences as a leader in the field, and has received awards from the University of Florida (his alma mater), and the MSPmentor 501 designation. He also holds ITIL and Project Management Professional certifications.
When Martin is not sharing his expertise to peers, he’s volunteering for various school events in Lee County and serving as a coach for youth soccer and baseball. He’s a former board member and past secretary for the Southwest Florida Regional Technology Partnership and is actively involved in the HTG Peer Groups service executives organization.
Martin is married to Annabelle Tometich and has two children, Lincoln and Penelope. —Melanie Pagan
Mark Matos, CFP, CLU (39)
Senior financial advisor, HBKS Wealth Advisors
It’s easy to view Mark Matos as a leader in the community: the financial planner has served as president of the Financial Planning Association of Southwest Florida and The Rotary Club of Naples, director of Meals of Hope and Greater Naples Planned Giving Council, on advisory councils for Community Foundation of Collier County and FGCU’s Lutgert College of Business, and many more roles in between. But Matos remembers when he first relocated to Fort Myers from Connecticut in 1998, determined to further his education with more affordable college.
He’d walk more than two miles just to get to the bus stop that took him to Florida SouthWestern State College, where he attended school. After his first semester, he obtained a full-tuition scholarship to FSW, followed by a second full-tuition scholarship to FGCU. He graduated with full honors from the FGCU Lutgert College of Business while working full time, and now pays it forward by fundraising and creating awareness for Learn2Earn scholarship program, which supports 27 students with scholarships and a mentor program.
Matos enjoys digital media and photography, martial arts, flying drones, fencing and otherwise staying active. —Melanie Pagan
Traci McKee (39)
Stockholder and litigation attorney, Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt, P.A.
Traci McKee’s longtime mentor Michael Corso says Mckee “has always been a rising star and that star just keeps climbing higher.” But you don’t need to take his word for it. The proof lies in her many honors, including being named an “Up and Comer” by Florida Trend Magazine’s Legal Elite, a Rising Star by Florida Super Lawyers, and AV rated by Martindale Hubbell, the highest rating a lawyer can achieve. Soon, she’ll serve as the first female president of the Florida Defense Lawyers Association (FDLA) in over a decade (she’s the secretary and treasurer now).
McKee currently organizes and oversees committees within the FDLA and mentors its young defense lawyers, along with other duties. She also serves as treasurer of the Southwest Florida Federal Court Bar Association, and plans to become its president in a few years. In this role, Mckee focuses on federal court practice and local procedures. She’s currently working on a grant project to create an attorney’s lounge and conference center in the local federal courthouse.
McKee is married with two young boys, and the family often cheers on the FGCU baseball games coached by her husband. —Melanie Pagan
Daniel Miller (39)
Captain and firefighter with the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District
Miller’s passion for the last 20 years has been keeping the community informed and safe. With 23 certifications under his belt, Miller dedicates his time to teaching others both in his department and across the county about fire safety and prevention. The Fort Myers fire captain also doubles as the training officer of Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 6, further educating others on safety rescue and response to natural disasters and perilous situations. And, he works with the Department of Defense traveling the country to instruct the United States military on multiple rescue tactics.
Miller also is a dedicated mentor in the community. Not only does he spend his time at work educating his peers and colleagues on fire safety, prevention and techniques, often taking addition shifts so his expertise can be used for the training of new employees, but he also volunteers in his free time to teach county-wide training programs to better the skills and abilities of fire service professionals and first responders. His volunteer time is spent making the community safer and keeping county employees well-trained.
Miller also enjoys mentoring children. He is a past big brother through Big Brothers, Big Sisters Suncoast Chapter and instructs students at Fort Myers Beach schools while they’re at the fire department acting as “firefighters for the day.”
In his free time, Miller enjoys spending time with his wife, Jaimie, lifting weights and being a devoted cat dad. —Tess Raines
Elizabeth Muniz (34)
Founder, licensed mental health counselor and registered play therapist supervisor, Thrive Therapy
Elizabeth Muniz is serious about playtime. The Thrive Therapy co-founder is one of the few registered play therapists in the region specializing in the treatment of children through play therapy interventions. In a few short years, she and her partner have grown the business from a small office space with just one client to seeing hundreds of families per year. When she’s not helping clients, Muniz presents at annual conferences to bring awareness to mental health for children, and has spoken at the children’s mental health conference at FGCU and the Florida Association for Play Therapy’s annual conference on domestic violence and play therapy. She serves on the Florida Association for Play Therapy’s awareness committee and was sponsored to participate in the Leadership Academy for the Association for Play Therapy, a program for play therapists that help enhances their leadership attributes.
The Miami native graduated from Nova Southeastern University and is married to John Muniz, who works for the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. She has two daughters—Scarlett and Victoria—and a silky terrier named Coco. She likes cross fit, spinning, and being outdoors. —Melanie Pagan
Associate head coach for the Florida Everblades, general manager/owner of Florida Jr. Blades/U.S. Premier Hockey League and owner of Athletic Republic Performance Sports Training at Germain Arena
Like many entrepreneurs, Tad O’Had needed to practice time management in order to be successful, which he did by pursuing his first business while still in a senior in college. At graduation, he remembers even answering calls and texts from clients. “At that moment I realized I was capable of great things,” O’Had says.
By 35 he was working four jobs—coaching Florida Everblades hockey, operating the Florida Jr. Blades and Athletic-Republic Germain Arena and directing the Junior Everblades Youth Hockey Organization—when he was diagnosed with leukemia and his career came to a screeching halt. “Having cancer has forced me to reflect on others, cherish the people around me and not fear failure,” O’Had says. “It has given me a great understanding of the depths I will go to achieve my goals.”
Today O’Had continues to balance multiple professional titles and has been recognized as the most influential member of Athletic Republic, a network comprised of more than 5,000 trainers and staff. He’s also been involved in outreach programs with the the Florida Everblades and Jr. Blades and mentored young children with cancer. In his spare time, O’Had enjoys golfing, strength training and traveling with his girlfriend. —Melanie Pagan
Andres Paz (39)
Local sales manager at Univision/DLatinos
Andres Paz is the kind of worker that’s the first to arrive in the office and last to leave. He admits to not being the “most talented, smartest or best at a particular skill,” but it’s his dedication that has led to his success. The Univision/D’Latinos sales manager puts extra focus on his client relationships, and is known for his likeability and professionalism.
Paz also finds time to make a difference in the community. In the past few years, he’s been involved with or donated to more than 20 organizations, including the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Boys and Girls Club, David Lawrence Center, Conservancy of SWFL Council of Hispanic Business Professionals and more.
The RAB-certified radio- and integrated-marketing consultant graduated cum laude from Kean University and was named a Growing Associate in Naples (GAIN) by Leadership Collier Foundation in 2015. Paz is married to his wife, Carolina, and has a daughter named Paulina. He enjoys playing soccer and is in several competitive leagues. —Melanie Pagan
Jenna Persons (34)
Partner, Strayhorn & Persons law firm
No goal seems to be too large or too scary for Jenna Persons. In September 2009, the sixth-generation Southwest Floridian ran for mayor of Fort Myers, and though she did not win, she still earned 34 percent of the vote. She’s also a founding member of the Tiger Bay Club of Southwest Florida and has managed to raise thousands of dollars to support Abuse Counseling and Treatment Inc. (ACT Women’s Shelter) by chairing Arts for Act three years in a row. Early in her career, she even spent two years assisting U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and has managed and assisted political campaigns throughout the region.
Persons has been involved in a number of other organizations in the area, including the Lee County Bar Association, Lee Republication Women’s Club, Edison Kiwanis and Southwest Florida History Museum. She’s been nominated multiple times for the the Apex Award with the Greater Fort Myers Chamber Woman in Business, recognized as as a Florida Super Lawyers Rising Star, and featured in Gulfshore Life as one of Southwest Florida’s young professional impact players. She likes hunting and fishing in her spare time. —Melanie Pagan
Jeff Poirier (32)
Chief operating officer at AXI International
Jeff Poirier is a firm believer in education, whether or not it’s through established channels. “Education should continue throughout your career,” Poirier says. “Your education is the hidden giant on whose shoulders you stand.” Poirier, who holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from University of Maine and an MBA from Davenport University, admits to changing directions many times in his life, but continuing his education even outside of college has helped him better understand himself and get to where he is today.
He’s since paid it forward by speaking to Dunbar High School students about furthering their education and careers and helped youth in other ways, too. Poirier has sponsored high school sports teams through AXI International, and hosted a mentoring day at AXI for AMI Kids. He’s also sponsored Junior Achievement of Southwest Florida through the business.
Poirier specializes in a number of engineering topics, from new green technology to fuel management solutions, leading his team at AXI to many significant advancements in the fuel industry. He fosters a cross-functional team environment to increase employee’s capabilities and opportunity to always learn something.
Poirier is newly married and enjoys computer programming, traveling, SCUBA diving, fishing, snowboarding, playing golf and boating with friends and family. —Melanie Pagan
Ryan C. Reid (36)
Founder and CEO, TerraSmart
Ryan Reid founded TerraSmart after running the marketing and sales department of another local solar and pool company and learning about the government’s 2009 investment in renewables. He saw holes in the solar industry and envisioned building a company that aligned with what was being funneled from the government down. Like many entrepreneurs, the first few years were rough, but the end of 2012 became a turning point for the business, and the company grew from grossing sales of $40,000 per year to more than $70 million in 2016.
With TerraSmart, Reid created the first utility-scale project on U.S. tribal lands with Moapa Southern Paiute Solar and earned the Solar Builder’s 2016 Project of the Year award as a result. He has led company efforts to volunteer and donate to Susan G. Komen, Habitat for Humanity, and Pitching in for Kids Inc. Reid has also presented to Hodges University business and marketing classes.
Reid has three children with his wife, Courtney. He’s an active golfer at The Club at Renaissance and enjoys being outdoors with his family and two dogs. —Melanie Pagan
Kelly Rhoades (32)
Volunteer and guest services manager at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Following a memorable piece of advice from a wise boss, Rhoades believes that “if you show acts of kindness every day you will feel better about your work and feel more fulfilled.” Working for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida has made her no stranger to kindness.
Being actively involved in the community as a choreographer and a devoted worker among beloved volunteers at the Conservancy, Rhoades relies on compassion and hard work to steer her in the direction of success.
The talented dancer enjoys spending her free time with family, fiancé George and her puppy, Rocky. —Tess Raines
Lynette Rhodes (36)
Owner, Platinum Dry Cleaners
Platinum Dry Cleaners is not your average clothing cleaner. Over the past three years under Lynette Rhodes’s leadership, the company has doubled in size, making it the largest operation of its kind in the Southeast U.S. It’s been consistently ranked as a top business for customer satisfaction by Gulfshore Business, SWFL Choice and more. Rhodes says the success of the business largely depends on how she treats her employees and that’s why, through the company, she’s purchased nearly 200 hours of private English lessons for staff members and pays above industry-average wages.
She’s just as dedicated to her family as she is her company, “consistently balancing the needs of three children and a fourth on the way with an extremely demanding business,” according to her husband, Andrew Rhodes, who co-owns Platinum Dry Cleaners. “Her selfless commitment to teamwork, honesty, her clients, family and relationship with God enables her to find excellence in all areas of her life,” he adds.
Rhodes has volunteered in various capacities with the Boys and Girls Club, Girl Scouts of America, and Dress for Success and Women of Initiative. She enjoys reading, traveling, sewing, theater, and spending time with her family in her downtime. —Melanie Pagan
Nicole Roland (29)
Director of operations and owner, Crave Culinaire and Venue Naples
If you’ve attended a charitable event catered by Crave Culinaire, you’ve likely seen Nicole Roland working the crowd. She makes it a point to be present during each of these dinners, donating her time for the benefit of various nonprofit organizations around town.
You’ll also catch Roland organizing gatherings at Venue Naples. She opened the multi-use venue earlier this year with her husband, Crave Culinaire Chef Brian Roland, for special events ranging from pop-up dinners to private galas, and designed it to reflect an elegant and modern urban loft.
Providing hospitality comes naturally to Roland, who graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in event management. Before embarking on her journeys with Crave Culinaire and Venue Naples, she served as private dining director for Fleming’s Steakhouse & Wine Bar, director of events and marketing for Naples Humane Society, and then director of events and marketing for Gulfshore Life.
But it’s her “dedication to making each event something special and unique” that makes her so successful within her current roles, her husband says. Roland also serves on the Culinary and Hospitality Education Foundation (CHEF) board of directors, with the mission to serve the culinary and hospitality arts professions by providing scholarships, awards, financial incentives and skills development opportunities to deserving individuals in Southwest Florida. And she’s on the gala committee for Girls on the Run.
In her spare time, Roland enjoys working out, cooking, exploring new restaurants and traveling the world. —Melanie Pagan
Christopher A. Rozansky (39)
Executive director, Naples Airport Authority
Christopher Rozansky’s love for aviation stems back to his youth, when he was involved with the Civil Air Patrol. Since then, he’s come to manage one of the busiest general aviation airports in the country, overseeing 80 employees, an annual budget of more than $20 million, and driving the airport’s annual economic impact of $283.5 million throughout Naples and Southwest Florida. He’s also developed a set of skills that let him communicate and coordinate with proper authorities on regulations related to safety, noise and specific procedures.
In 2012, the Florida Department of Transportation named Rozansky Aviation Professional of the Year. That same year, Airport Business named him among its top 40-under-40 class.
In addition to supporting the local Civil Air Patrol chapter, Rozansky is spearheading a student initiative to have local high school students shadow Naples Airport Authority management and help them hold a mock board of commissioners meeting. The goal is to give the students a taste of aviation and government while they’re young, just as he had.
Rozansky is married with a 1-year-old son, Caleb, who he often brings to watch planes take off and land via the public observation deck at Naples Airport. —Melanie Pagan
Melissa Vogt (35)
Director of sales, marketing and public relations, Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre
Melissa Vogt says she’s dedicated to making a positive impact on everyone she comes in contact with. “Working in the arts and entertainment field makes maintaining that positivity pretty easy, as the theatre’s goal is [to] provide entertainment that makes you smile, laugh and forget about your worries for a few hours,” Vogt says. And she’s definitely experienced a few worries of her own.
Vogt had her son when she was just a teen, and raising him alone as a single parent while balancing a demanding job and being active in the community has been challenging at times, she says, but she’s since managed to find a good rhythm. She’s even become a “group buddy” at Valerie’s House twice a month, supporting the group’s children and keeping them engaged in their activities.
Vogt is also planning for her role as incoming chair of Leadership NEXT, where she’s a founding committee member. In her spare time, Vogt enjoys staying active and spending time with her son, Austin. —Melanie Pagan
Jessica Walker (38)
Marketing and public relations manager at Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Co., P.A.
As the marketing and PR manager of Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Co., P.A., Walker realizes the importance of having an honest and understanding relationship with people. She has worked with a number of vastly different scenarios and industries that have allowed her to gain a good understanding of what people are looking for, and adapt to that specific need.
When it comes to performing well at her career, Walker gets into the mind of her clients. “I try to imagine whom I will be working with and what I would want if I were in their position.”
She doesn’t leave her big heart at work at the end of the day. In her free time, Walker values spending time with her family, enjoying everything the Gulf has to offer and completing jigsaw puzzles. —Tess Raines