2018 40 Under 40
Celebrating Southwest Florida's best young leaders
Photography by Mila Bridger
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Southwest Florida cities are among the fastest-growing in the country. And with those increases, driven largely by sun-seeking baby boomers, come challenges that will be tasked to our younger generations.
Lucky for us, the next gen comes with some pretty impressive talents.
Meet this year’s 40-under-40 honorees, a collection of young professionals who have the vision and are quickly developing the know-how to keep Southwest Florida thriving.
Since 2003, Gulfshore Business has recognized the rising stars who have distinguished themselves in their professions and communities though their contributions to our economic, charitable and civic well-being. They hail from a variety of occupations, including education, law, medical, real estate, public service and the arts, as well as entrepreneurship.
Chosen from roughly 160 nominations, this year’s winners represent the talent Southwest Florida needs to move forward. The judges considered professional accomplishments, volunteer work and other plaudits from their nominators.
Please read on to learn more about the 2018, 40-under-40 honorees.
Regional Director of Sales and Marketing
SantaFe Senior Living
As a young professional in the senior living industry, Anthony Alongi’s biggest challenge was earning the trust of senior residents and their adult children.
“Both groups are much older than I am and have a lifetime of experience,” he says. But the idea of blending hospitality, senior living and health care excited him.
“Over my first year [in my career], I began to develop some great relationships with our residents and quickly learned that I didn’t need to be a 30-year veteran of the industry to be successful,” Alongi says. “However, I did need to be a good listener and an effective communicator. The ability to follow up when promised will make or break your reputation even if you don’t have an immediate solution. Residents trust that if I say I’m going to do something I’ll make it happen.”
That trust came in handy when Hurricane Irma roared through Southwest Florida. As interim executive director at the time, Alongi had to ensure residents and staff at The Terraces at Bonita Springs, a SantaFe Senior Living Community, were safe, fed and comfortable.
“Every business or profession has its challenges,” Alongi says. “I believe my value is defined by my ability to be a good problem solver.
Alongi was the first person in his family to graduate from college. And he completed the Leadership Bonita program through the Bonita Springs Chamber of Commerce.
Chief Strategy Officer
Vectra Digital and Stickboy Creative
Harrison Ambs learned a lot from his experience transitioning from a team member to team leader with Vectra Digital and Stickboy Creative. He was entrusted to take broad visions and translate them down to items that could directly contribute to the company’s success. He’s proven to not let the company down. Ambs has led the efforts behind winning eight Addys for advertising and four Davey Awards for digital work during the first year with the company, plus Sand Dollar Awards for web design.
“This significant personal growth has given me a heightened sense of pride and responsibility toward my team,” Ambs says. “The amount of time and energy that this role demands challenges me to do my absolute best each day, which is one of the most exciting and fulfilling aspects of my career.”
Ambs loves carpentry and outdoor activities. He spends his time with his wife and three children.
Bruce Barone Jr.
Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District
Bruce Barone Jr. has recently been tasked to lead the Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District into a new era of development and national recognition. It’s a lot to rest on one’s shoulders, but Barone Jr.’s self-described entrepreneurial spirit and passionate and willful approach to business gives him the right tools for the job.
“I am an entrepreneur at heart, which has taught me how to be pragmatic. Having the ability to adapt as information and circumstances change gives me an advantage over my competition. This allows me to pursue the best possible solution, instead of being bound by ideology or ego,” He continues: “One simple thing I've learned is that the quickest way to tell if you're heading in the wrong direction is when someone says, ‘This is how we've always done it.’ I’m not interested in letting arbitrary limits dictate my approach.”
Barone comes from a diverse background that includes politics, architecture, media and marketing, real estate, management and fundraising. He is married with one child and two dogs.
Apex Property Restoration LLC, Inari Industries and Bucci Studios
At 24, Jonathan Bucci has learned firsthand one of most important things for entrepreneurs to remember: success doesn’t come overnight. Apex Property Restoration LLC, which started out as a door-to-door side business is reportedly nearing annual revenue of $500,000. Bucci, who recently won the Governor's Young Entrepreneur Award, says the next goal is to hit $1 million in sales.
Bucci’s achievements came with patience and perseverance. The young entrepreneur, who also owns Inari Industries and Bucci Studios, says his overall business approach is like a steady drum.
“I internally understand that nothing can be rushed. Any goal worth having, especially in business, is ironed out piece by piece over—usually—a very long period of time,” he says. “The trick is to stay focused and never sway.”
Bucci is a sports devotee who earned six letters at Barron Collier, where he was varsity football captain.
GCG Construction, Inc.
Teely Byrd, vice president of GCG Construction Inc. was on the path to construction from an early age: he grew up in the industry and donned his first hard hat at age 2. Still, that didn’t stop him from feeling intimidated when he first started in the business due to his age.
“I was often the youngest person in the room,” Byrd says. “Being surrounded by seasoned professionals was intimidating and it often kept me from realizing my potential.”
In time, the American Society for Healthcare Engineering-certified professional overcame his fear and began to trust that he deserved to be where he is. Now, he’s helped guide GCG Construction Inc. to numerous awards for commercial construction projects.
To others just beginning their careers, Byrd says: “Learn everything you can, know that mistakes will happen—consider them valuable lessons and not failures. Its only failure when you give up trying.”
Byrd enjoys boating, fishing, and proudly cheering on the sidelines of his children’s athletics.
President and CEO
Community Resource Network of Florida Inc.
Cole Caruso’s passion to serve those with disabilities began at age 11, when he was involved with Florida Studio Theater in Sarasota working with disabled and underprivileged children. As a teenager, he used his acting background, advocacy and tools to make a difference in the world through educational plays, videos and talks that toured throughout North America.
Years later, he’s still active in that mission. “I am compassionate and determined to provide the best dependable care to all individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Caruso says. He gives $15,000 annually to the same scholarship fund at Florida Studio Theater that benefited him as a child, so it can continue making a positive impact on children’s lives, and also supports the arts in schools with his donor-advised Cole Caruso Family Fund at the Community Foundation of Collier County.
At Community Resource Network of Florida Inc., Caruso helps provide life skills programs for the disabled in Lee and Charlotte counties.
“My goals are to expand our reach and functionality with great efficiency everyday, so that we can impact lives who do not have access to providers, supports or services that will ultimately provide them with a better quality of life,” Caruso says. “My heart is driven by their needs.”
Caruso loves to travel, visiting places such as Los Angeles, New York City—anywhere near the water. He plays dad full-time to two Yorkies, Samantha and Preston James.
State Farm Insurance - Javed Kapadia Agency
At 20, Ashley Causey left the cosmetic retail world for a job as a receptionist at State Farm Insurance - Javed Kapadia Agency. Today, she’s approaching 11 years with the company, now as office manager, and plans to open up an agency of her own.
Causey’s been a self starter most of her adult life. She bought a home at 24 just a few weeks after giving birth to her daughter and went through a series of promotions to assume the role she’s in now. Along the way, she’s won awards and been involved in a number of community organizations, including Junior Achievement of SW Florida, St. Jude's Hospital, Florida Sheriff's Association, Toys for Tots and Growing Associates in Naples.
“The most important lesson I have learned in my career is to always believe in yourself. If you don’t, how can you expect others to?,” Causey says.
Originally from Maryland, Causey is a single mother to her 7-year-old daughter, Aubrey. She enjoys traveling, cooking, fashion, relaxing on the beach and boating.
Chief Revenue Cycle Officer
Florida Cancer Specialists
“As a Naples native, I’ve grown personally as the community has matured,” Cevallos says. She had her first child two months after she turned 18 and was determined to prove she could still be successful despite the demands of single motherhood.
She started college soon after giving birth to her son while working full time and raising him. She graduated four years later from Nova Southeastern University and worked a series of jobs before accepting an entry-level position at Florida Cancer Specialists (FCS) in 2008.
Cevallos wasn’t done learning. She obtained her MBA from Healthcare Administration from Western Governors University while climbing the ranks at FCS and eventually becoming chief revenue cycle officer, managing a team of 550.
“My career has progressed rapidly largely due to my desire to never stop learning,” Cevallos says. She’s learned many lessons of the years, she adds. Among the most critical? “Businesses are driven by the people. The network of those around you is one of the key components in establishing a successful career while having fulfilling life.”
Cevallos seeks out community functions that promote business leadership and economic growth by sitting on the Chamber of Southwest Florida Board of Directors and Workforce Task Committee. She loves biking, playing tennis, and traveling with her kids.
Litigation Attorney and Partner
Hahn Loeser & Parks LLP
Allison Christensen’s life is like a careful balancing act—of her job as litigation attorney and partner at Hahn Loeser & Parks LLP, dedicated community member contributing to Humane Society Naples Pawfessionals Young Executives and more, and wife and mother.
“The transition from working woman to working mom was a huge challenge,” Christensen says. “With a lot of support from my husband, our nanny and our family, I have been able to strike a comfortable balance between my professional life and my home life.” But, “Not even the best day at the office compares to coming home to a ‘mama!’ and smile from my daughter,” she adds.
It also helps that she’s passionate and precise in her profession.
“You have to enjoy what you do. You might not always want to go to work every morning, but if you find yourself not wanting to go more frequently than you want to go, it’s time to give your career a long, honest look,” Christensen says.
Christensen is mom to Anna and wife to Soren Christensen, founder and CEO of Advanced Wealth Advisors and Advanced Wealth Asset Management. Allison and Soren are also proud and excited to welcome their newest addition, another daughter, later this year.
Robert L. Codie III
Executive Director of Transportation Services
School District of Lee County
Growing up in the housing projects of Fort Myers, Robert L. Codie knew he wanted more out of life, regardless of any odds stacked against him.
As one of the youngest administrators in the school district’s history, Codie now leads more than 1,200 employees and oversees a $57 million budget. But he needed to trust in his decision-making to get to this point.
“One major challenge I have had to overcomes is a fear of failure,” Codie says. “It took me about four years to realize that failure is just a building block to success. I was so afraid of failing that I overanalyzed every scenario in both my personal and professional life.”
He overcame it—just like other obstacles in his life—while staying humble and true to his roots.
“Having an ego or a sense of entitlement is not an option for me because the community I grew up in will not allow it,” he says. “It only takes one drive through my old neighborhood to remind me of where I come from, where I want to go and what it will take to get there.”
Codie and his wife have three girls. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling and going to the beach. Robert is a cigar aficionado and also enjoys writing.