Who To Watch Northeast Ohio

A look at the men and women poised to shape our region in 2017 and beyond

The 2017 Smart Business Who to Watch represents an exciting, talented group of people who are strong leaders with an ability to set goals, develop plans and get things done. Some of the names you’ve heard while others may not be as familiar. But rest assured that each person is poised to make a difference and build something that has the potential to make Northeast Ohio a better place to live and work.

As we thought about the men and women most likely to influence what happens in Northeast Ohio in 2017, we considered a few factors: Does this person have a platform to make things happen? Is there a pattern of accomplishment that suggests this individual is positioned to have an even bigger impact in 2017? Is this impact likely to stretch beyond this person’s organization and possibly affect positive change for the entire region?

As you read through the profiles, think about the goals you’ve set for yourself and your business in the year ahead. While 2016 was one of the best ever for Northeast Ohio, the calendar has flipped and a new year has begun. What will you do to make 2017 the best year ever?

 

Business

neo_wtw_samfalletta_incept_bwSam Falletta
CEO
Incept

Falletta has introduced a charity program called InceptGives. Each year, the company strives to make a difference in the lives of others by committing up to 10 percent of its yearly earnings to local, national and multinational charitable organizations.

Falletta is active in the community as the founder of TEDxAkron; founder of Kanga Communications, a student-run content marketing agency at the University of Akron; and a board member of several local and national nonprofit organizations.

He has received the Akron Chamber of Commerce 30 for the Future award, yStark! 20 Under 40 award, the Professional Association of Customer Engagement’s Spirit of Philanthropy and CXE Community Impact Award, and Workplace Dynamics Top CEO of a Mid-sized Company.
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neo_wtw_nicholasbrowning_huntington_bwNick Browning
Akron region president and CEO
Huntington National Bank

Browning is responsible for coordinating the activities of Retail, Wealth and Commercial Banking for the Akron region and has direct responsibility for all aspects of Akron Commercial Banking. He joined FirstMerit Bank, now part of The Huntington National Bank, in 1992 and was named regional president in 2003.

Following the January 2016 announcement of both corporate boards approving the acquisition to merge FirstMerit into Huntington, Browning played a role underscoring the incredible talent and capabilities of the local workforce who have built their careers with the bank.

He has a passion for Akron and wants the community to succeed. Browning does his part by rolling up his sleeves and getting involved. His involvement includes a role as trustee for the Greater Akron Chamber, Akron Community Foundation and Downtown Akron Partnership, and he chaired the 2012 Summit County United Way campaign.

He says he’s excited about being a part of the Huntington Akron Foundation, which will add $20 million in philanthropic giving within the next 10 years
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neo_wtw_tomwilliams_parkerhannifin_bwThomas L. Williams
chairman and CEO
Parker Hannifin Corp.

Parker is a Fortune 250 global leader in motion and control technologies and is poised to continue growing through the Win Strategy that was implemented in 2016. The goal of the initiative is to combine a highly engaged workforce with the company’s unique capabilities and a premier customer experience to drive strong growth. Williams is confident that as sales stabilize in 2017 and his team embraces Parker’s ambitious long-term goals, great days are ahead. Parker has made roughly 350 additions to its global distribution network and will continue to strengthen that channel to grow sales and improve margins.
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neo_wtw_triciagriffith_progressive_bwTricia Griffith
president and CEO
Progressive Corp.

When Griffith was appointed as president and CEO at Progressive in July 2016, she brought with her a wealth of experience from multiple levels of the fourth largest auto insurer in the country. She joined the $21 billion company as a claims representative in 1988 and has also been chief human resources officer, personal lines chief operating officer and president of customer operations, among other managerial positions. An article published in Repairer Driven News quoted Credit Suisee analyst Ryan Tunis calling Griffith “the ideal candidate” for the leadership position.
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neo_wtw_gloriaware_jumpstart_bwGloria Ware
principal, inclusion
JumpStart Inc.

Ware has a long track record of building pathways to entrepreneurial success. Prior to joining JumpStart, she was vice president of public funds at FifthThird Bank where she participated in the sourcing, execution and maintenance of more than $100 million in debt underwriting and interest rate hedging transactions to help both public sector and nonprofit entities achieve their missions. Last fall, she was invited to the White House to participate in a panel discussion on inclusive entrepreneurship.
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neo_wtw_bobbygeorge_townhall_bwBobby George
president and founder
Corporate Management Group

TownHall Ohio City worked hard to create a menu free of GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, and has gotten rave reviews for its offerings. George plans to open a second TownHall in 2017 and strives to continue growing revenue and earnings without taking on debt. He’s also focused on building the private equity segment of his business.

“My five-year plan is for us to be a very powerful private equity company,” he says. “Right now we’re in a couple different industries. I’d like to continue to diversify into the private equity business. We have a hospitality division, a real estate division and a private equity division. My vision is that our private equity division will oversee all those divisions.”
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neo_wtw_jonathonsawyer_bwJonathon Sawyer
chef and entrepreneur

The James Beard award-winning chef has established himself as a successful restaurateur with The Greenhouse Tavern, Noodlecat and his latest venture, Trentina. Sawyer has been on numerous culinary TV shows and competitions and served as a mentor and investor on the CNBC TV series, “Cleveland Hustles,” which was produced by LeBron James and Maverick Carter.

“For the new year, I tend to focus on my path of the next 365 days,” Sawyer says. “In 2017, I want to focus on personal growth through meditation, which I have started practicing this past year, as well as a focus on giving back to our communities with my family.”
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neo_wtw_dougprice_kdgroup_bwDoug Price
CEO
K&D Management LLC

The Terminal Tower is an iconic building that has defined the Cleveland skyline since it was formally dedicated in 1930. In September, the 52-story skyscraper was sold from Forest City Realty Trust Inc. to K&D Management LLC. K&D is Northeast Ohio’s largest privately owned property management and development firm, managing over 40 apartment and condominium communities that comprise nearly 13,000 units. Price has a plan to convert 12 of the Terminal Tower’s lower floors into apartments while maintaining the office space and observation deck that are part of the building’s upper floors.
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Public Sector/Government

neo_wtw_mayorfrankjackson1_bwFrank G. Jackson
mayor
City of Cleveland

The past year saw some exciting new projects wrap up in downtown Cleveland. A $50 million renovation of Public Square was part of an effort by the city’s Group Plan Commission, appointed by Mayor Jackson, to better connect the city’s signature public spaces. Another highlight of 2016 was the opening of the Hilton Cleveland Downtown, which connects to the Huntington Convention Center and served as the official hotel for the Host Committee of the Republican National Convention. One of Jackson’s goals for 2017 is to find ways to bring economic prosperity to other parts of the city, says Dan Williams, media relations director for the mayor.

“There are certainly a lot of things going on downtown,” Williams says. “You’ve got communities that are able to invest a dollar and get $8 or $9 in return on that investment. You have other communities where you put $1 and you’re not going to get anything, or very little back. We want to even that boat and have everybody floating on the same economic prosperity. That’s the hard work we’re going to continue to do across all the communities in the city of Cleveland.”

He will also focus on education reform and enhanced services for citizens, businesses and visitors to Cleveland.
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neo_wtw_mariannecrosley_clevelandleadershipcenter_bwMarianne Crosley
president and CEO
Cleveland Leadership Center

Crosley joined The Cleveland Leadership Center in 2010 and was named president and CEO six months later. The Leadership Center offers civic education and leadership development programs for leaders of all ages and stages of life, and serves over 800 individuals every year. Previously, Crosley served as the founding executive director of Summer on the Cuyahoga, an economic development initiative that successfully attracts young talent to the region. CLC’s mission is to build a continuum of civic leaders who can continue to make Cleveland a great place to live, work and play, and Crosley will play a prominent role in enabling that to happen.
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neo_wtw_jasonsegedy_cityofakron_bwJason Segedy
director of planning
and urban development
City of Akron

Segedy has been called an informed, intelligent, forthcoming person whose interest centers on Akron’s neighborhoods and history — Segedy was the editor of The Akron Anthology, a collection of essays about the city.

He helped organize the Better Block project in 2015, which, for a weekend, sought to demonstrate what a neighborhood could look like by erecting temporary bike lanes and pop-up businesses in open retail spaces with the aim of inspiring people to make those amenities permanent.

Segedy has and is expected to continue to improve the landscape for Akron residents. His goal, in part, is to reverse decades of population loss, wanting to see the population climb back over 200,000 by 2020 and hit 250,000 by 2050. His focus is on creating quality housing by rehabbing the existing stock and providing new single-family and multi-family structures, making neighborhoods more attractive to residents, working with entrepreneurs to start businesses in the city, among other initiatives.
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neo_wtw_theodorecarter_cuyahogacounty_bwTheodore Carter
chief economic development & business officer
Cuyahoga County

Carter came to Cuyahoga County last March from Jacksonville, Florida, where he worked with public/private sector partners to facilitate nearly $700 million in projected capital investment and a projected 2,500 new jobs. Those results have Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish thinking big about Carter’s new role.

“One of my core strategic initiatives as county executive is job growth and opportunity, which means we need to create, grow and attract more businesses,” Budish says. “With the addition of Ted Carter to our leadership team, I am proud to say that we have gained a tremendous resource for our county and I am looking forward to working with him on the very important matter of adding jobs in our county.”
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neo_wtw_senatorsherrodbrown_bwSen. Sherrod Brown
D-Ohio

Sen. Brown is focused on creating jobs, strengthening the middle class and protecting earned benefits like Medicare and Social Security for seniors. Brown plans to use his positions as the top Democrat on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, and as a member of the Senate Finance Committee, to hold President-elect Trump to his promises to overhaul U.S. trade policy so it works better for Ohioans. He also wants to strengthen American infrastructure and prioritize tax reform.
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neo_wtw_lindahale_akronlibrary_bwLinda Hale
microbusiness specialist
Akron Summit County Public Library

Hale is a doer. From a $190,000 Knight Foundation grant to the library, she built out the Microbusiness Center and Makerspace, both of which opened in the first half of 2016. The Microbusiness Center now has more than 145 clients that regularly visit and use the co-working and meeting space.

The library’s maker space is designed to complement the co-working space and includes a 3D printer and laser engraver for making prototypes, a vinyl printer and cutter for making banners and other items, a button maker and more. She is working with the Small Business Development Center in Akron, in addition to other area startup agencies, to add to the library’s business-oriented programming. She also hosts and runs the monthly Caffeinated Ideas program, done through library’s Microbusiness Center, which offers people a place to discuss business ideas before they launch.

Outside of the library, Hale is the coordinator of the Akron chapter of Sundown Rundown, a pitch event for entrepreneurs and those willing to help them get their companies started in the region.
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Academia

neo_wtw_alexjohnson_tric_bwAlex Johnson, Ph.D.
president
Cuyahoga Community College

Cuyahoga Community College launched a two-year project last fall to reshape the outdated Campus Center of Tri-C’s Metropolitan Campus. The new design will add 11,000 square-feet of usable space, allowing for an expansion of social areas as well as classroom and meeting space. There will also be a reconstruction of the Metro Campus walkways that carry visitors across the grounds and the conversion of a concrete canvas into an urban oasis lush with greenery, according to a Tri-C news release. Johnson served as president of the Metropolitan Campus from 1993 to 2003. Since being named president of the college in July 2013, he has led Tri-C to record numbers of graduates. In addition, more than 3,000 high school students enrolled in classes for the 2015 fall semester, a 50 percent increase from the 2014 fall semester.
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neo_wtw_ericgordon_clevelandschools_bwEric Gordon
CEO
Cleveland Metropolitan School District

Gordon was presented the 2016 Green-Garner Award, the nation’s highest urban education honor that recognizes outstanding contributions in urban education. Gordon, a graduate of Bowling Green State University, has helped the Cleveland Schools increase graduation rates, strengthen parent participation and boost district enrollment.

“Eric Gordon has made a profound difference in the lives of thousands of Cleveland’s students, helped propel a once-struggling school system forward and significantly contributed to the future of the great city of Cleveland,” says Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, which presented the award to Gordon.
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neo_wtw_parajones_starkstatecollege_bwPara M. Jones, Ph.D
president
Stark State College

Jones, the first female president of Stark State College, is driven by her belief that students are best served by affordable, quality education that leads to rewarding careers. Jones is working to prepare the college to take advantage of today’s opportunities, identify the right leadership to understand the needs of the community, and determine what the college’s role could and should be to serve its students, the businesses in its community and the region. To that end, under her leadership, the college has opened an Akron campus of Stark State College. The 50,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility on 11 acres of land is designed to attract commuter students from throughout Summit to the county’s first community college.

Jones received the 2013 Greater Stark County ATHENA Leadership Award honoring her for professional excellence, community service and for actively assisting women and men in their attainment of professional excellence and leadership skills.
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neo_wtw_annalvyas_universityofakron_bwAnnal Vyas
visiting assistant professor of clinical law, co-director of the EXL Center
University of Akron

Vyas, visiting assistant professor of clinical law, teaching business planning law and cyber law, and co-director of the EXL Center at the University of Akron, is in the middle of many of the events that bring people together in Akron. The biggest of which is Pecha Kucha Akron, an event he founded that draws hundreds of people a few times a year to hear storytellers talk about topics of interest through a rapid-fire PowerPoint presentation.

Vyas joined The Akron Global Business Accelerator in 2014 as an adviser and serves as legal counsel for The Bit Factory, and assists with the Small Entrepreneur and Economic Development (SEED) Clinic.

He started NEXTOhio, a tech startup conference for founders, programmers, investors and the broader community with the goal of showcasing Northeast Ohio as a place to start a tech company. He says he wants to change the perception of the area from being part of The Rust Belt to being The Tech Belt.
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neo_wtw_tedginn_bwTed Ginn Sr.
executive director
Ginn Academy

Ginn Sr. is proof that one man can make a difference. His goal is to make connections with at-risk young men in the Cleveland area and help them get on a better path in their lives. Each student has his own mentor, a full-time life coach who is on staff at the school and ready to help when help is needed.

“I wanted to make sure that our kids got a proper shot,” Ginn says of the school, which opened in 2007 as the only single-gender, public high school in Ohio. “Love is shown any way you give kids what they need to be successful. Every day we tell them we love them and we give them what they need. We spend time with them and we have a relationship with them.”

We can only hope that Ginn’s efforts to help these young men find their path in life will continue to succeed in 2017.
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Health care

neo_wtw_jennifersavitski_akrongeneral_bwDr. Jennifer Savitski
program director and vice chair, department of OB/GYN; medical director, PATH center and program
Cleveland Clinic Akron General

Savitski has led the charge to bring an integral service that had been discontinued. The hospital’s SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) program provides quality, trauma-informed, compassionate care to Summit County victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, elder abuse and neglect.

Nurses go through 40 hours of base training, as well as clinical training to help sexual assault victims, and also have been trained on the neurobiology of trauma and how that may affect a patient’s response to the sexual assault or domestic violence that they may have experienced.

The program is said to improve the quality of evidence collection, and is important to strengthen the ability to prosecute the person responsible for the crime, while allowing nurses to focus their care directly on victims without having other responsibilities as distractions.
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neo_wtw_tomzenty_uh_bwThomas F. Zenty III
CEO
University Hospitals

University Hospitals has received a $500,000 grant from the Ohio Third Frontier Technology Validation and Start-up Fund, part of the Ohio Third Frontier, to support the UH Technology Venture Fund. UH will match the grant with an equal amount of money to create a $1 million pool of funds that will in turn support validation projects for technologies or devices that already have achieved proof of concept and have the potential for licensing to Ohio startup companies. On a personal note, Zenty has been named honorary chairperson for the 2017 World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational to be held Aug. 2-6 at Firestone Country Club in Akron.
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neo_wtw_akramboutros_metrohealth_bwDr. Akram Boutros
fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE), president and CEO
MetroHealth System

Boutros took his current post at MetroHealth in June 2013 and has helped bring the hospital back from the brink of financial disaster. Plans were announced in late November to seek the funding needed to rebuild the hospital at West 25th Street. Boutros’s No. 1 goal is to secure that financing and then begin construction on MetroHealth’s new home in the city of Cleveland. In addition to these organizational goals, he’s set a personal goal to lose weight.
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neo_wtw_tobycosgrove_clevelandclinic_bwDr. Delos “Toby” M.
Cosgrove
president and CEO
Cleveland Clinic

In December, Cosgrove was named to President-elect Donald J. Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum designed to grow and strengthen the U.S. economy. “I applaud his efforts to bring together leaders across industries to gain insight that will assist the new president in making important decisions that will impact every American,” Cosgrove says in a news release. “I am deeply committed and take this role very seriously.”

Under Cosgrove’s leadership, Cleveland Clinic has been consistently named one of the country’s top hospitals. As an innovator, Cosgrove has 30 patents filed for developing medical and clinical products used in surgical environments and he has performed more than 22,000 operations.
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Sports

neo_wtw_dangilbert_clevelandcavaliers_bwDan Gilbert
majority owner
Cleveland Cavaliers
founder and chairman
Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures

When Gilbert arrived in Cleveland as the new owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, he had a vision for what took place in Cleveland on the night of June 19, 2016. As the Cavs finished off their comeback from a 3-1 deficit to dethrone the Golden State Warriors and won Cleveland’s first pro sports title since 1964, thousands of people poured into downtown to celebrate the moment. Gilbert’s team at The Q quickly had to switch gears, however, and clear out in preparation for the 2016 Republican National Convention, which turned out to be a shining moment for Cleveland. As the Cavs continue to work toward what they hope will be a repeat in the 2017 NBA Finals, Gilbert has his eye on a remake for The Avenue Shops at Tower City Center, which he purchased in March 2016. He also continues to make a difference in the Cleveland community through the Cavaliers Youth Fund, which has made grants totaling more than $23 million to deserving nonprofits and charitable groups.
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neo_wtw_kenbabby_akronrubberducks_bwKen Babby
owner and CEO
Akron RubberDucks

Babby has completely transformed affordable family fun in Akron. Since taking over the team, he’s invested more than $7 million in the franchise. That’s translated in part to a complete rebranding and physical improvements to the ballpark, which have helped rekindled the city’s interest in the minor league team and improved attendance from an average of 3,772 per game in 2012 to an average of 5,074 in 2016.

Akron-area State of Ohio Reps. Emilia Sykes and Greta Johnson in November 2016 honored the Akron RubberDucks’ Eastern League Championship win and the organization’s dedication to the community with a House resolution. That same year the team was the Eastern League nominee for the John H. Johnson President’s Award, which honors a franchise that has demonstrated stability while making significant contributions to its community. In 2015, the team won Larry MacPhail Award, symbolizing the top promotional effort in all of minor-league baseball.

In April, Sports Business Daily named Babby among its 40 under 40.
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neo_wtw_davidbaker_halloffame_bwDavid Baker
president
Pro Football Hall of Fame

Baker is making huge strides with the Hall of Fame, leading the Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village project, a nearly $600 million development of the Hall’s campus. The project, which is expected to be complete in 2019, includes nine main components that improve the museum, build a brand-new stadium, add a hotel and conference center, restaurants and retail, a youth sports complex, and a virtual reality venue and rides.

The project is expected to create over 13,000 new jobs by its peak, and its economic impact to Stark County alone is projected to be $15.3 billion over the first 25 years from its completion while creating $1 billion in tax revenue for the state in same span.

The deal with Johnson Controls for naming rights to the Hall of Fame village is reportedly worth more than $100 million, and has been called the largest ever naming rights deal for this size market. The 18-year deal will create the first entertainment and sports “smart city.”

Baker’s strong leadership is said to be integral to the project, which is being created based on the mission to honor the heroes of the game, preserve its history, promote its values and celebrate excellence everywhere.
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neo_wtw_chrisantonetti_clevelandindians_bwChris Antonetti
president of baseball operations
Cleveland Indians

Antonetti may find it difficult to top 2016. The Indians came within one game of the franchise’s first World Series title in 68 years, taking the Chicago Cubs to Game 7 before falling short in an epic final showdown at Progressive Field. It was difficult to go anywhere in October without seeing fans wearing their Tribe gear. But there are already positive signs for 2017. Reports indicate season ticket sales are up and fans are already counting down the days to the beginning of spring training in Goodyear, Arizona. Antonetti goes into the new season as the reigning Executive of the Year by Baseball America. Here’s hoping Antonetti can keep making the right moves to keep the Tribe in contention for years to come.
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Arts

neo_wtw_markmasuoka_akronartmuseum_bwMark Masuoka
executive director and CEO
Akron Art Museum

Masuoka, Akron Art Museum’s recently hired executive director and CEO, is renowned for heightening community engagement, increasing accessibility and developing a model for the next generation of art museums by connecting the community to artists and the creative process. Fueling that effort is a multi-year, $750,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, which has helped the museum bring art out of its galleries and directly into the community with Inside|Out. This community activated art project, headed into its third year, brings high-quality reproductions from the museum’s collection out into Akron area neighborhoods.

The museum also built the Bud and Susie Rogers Garden, a one-acre urban garden that serves as the museum’s outdoor gallery, community space and a new civic commons. Masuoka is helping the Akron Art Museum set a course for the future that has reframed the museum’s position and message.
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neo_wtw_williamgriswold_clevelandmuseumofart_bwWilliam M. Griswold
director and president
Cleveland Museum of Art

Griswold arrived at the Cleveland Museum of Art in May 2014 at a time of great anticipation as the museum had just completed a $350 million capital campaign that transformed everything about the museum. In 2017 and beyond, Griswold’s focus will be to “build on the momentum we’ve achieved during our centennial year and to leverage the museum’s world-class collection and spectacular architectural legacy, as well as the extraordinary expertise of its staff and community partners.”

“We will deepen our visitors’ engagement with art through a host of exciting public programs, enhancements to our innovative Gallery One, and such important upcoming exhibitions as ‘Basquiat,’ ‘Alex Katz,’ ‘Japanese Art from the Collection of George Gund,’ and ‘The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s,’” Griswold says.
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neo_wtw_nicolemullet_artsnow_bwNicole Mullet
executive director
ArtsNow

Mullet is the executive director of ArtsNow, an organization that, in a little more than a year, has brought arts culture to the forefront in Summit County. Its creation is a direct result of the recent Summit County Arts Assessment, which engaged more than 1,000 individuals around questions about the county’s arts and culture scene.

In addition to her work with ArtsNow, Mullet currently serves as president of Torchbearers, a service and leadership development organization. She has a special interest in talent attraction and retention, and in 2014 launched InternEdge in conjunction with Torchbearers and Leadership Akron, a program that connected 60 interns from colleges around the state to the greater Akron area with the goal of retaining them after college.

The Greater Akron Chamber selected Mullet as one of its 30 For the Future recipients of 2014, identifying her as a young professional who positively impacts her industry and the Greater Akron Region.
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Nonprofit

neo_wtw_kristinwarzocha_clevelandfoodbank_bwKristin Warzocha
president and CEO
Greater Cleveland Food Bank

Warzocha has a number of goals that will guide her work at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank in 2017. She wants to establish four community food resource centers spread throughout the nonprofit’s six-county service area, which includes Ashland, Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake and Richland counties. Greater Cleveland Food Bank provided 47.8 million meals in 2015 to hungry people in these counties. Warzocha also has plans to develop and pilot at least one additional meal type to reach a special need population (children, senior citizens or those with health issues), as well as build operational capacity so that it is never a barrier to the growth of new programs.
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neo_wtw_debbieberry_universitycircle_bwDebbie Berry, PE
vice president of planning & real estate development
University Circle Inc.

Berry and her team at UCI will be embarking on a new strategic plan for the organization to further shape its future in the coming years.

“With relatively little land left to develop in the Circle proper, we want to focus on collaborating with our surrounding neighborhoods to further strengthen the district in terms of housing, jobs and public amenities,” Berry says.

Berry will also help lead the 100-year anniversary celebration for Cleveland Metroparks.

“We have just released a coffee table book detailing our history and incredible investments in the community,” Berry says. “It’s available online and at all Metroparks stores and kiosks.”
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neo_wtw_tommybruno_the-summit_bwTommy Bruno
general manager and executive director
The Summit

Bruno is the general manager and executive director at The Summit. The non-commercial public radio station opened a KIDJAM! Radio Broadcast Recording Studio at Akron Children’s Hospital. It offers young patients a unique radio broadcast recording experience to augment the healing and coping process through its focus on media education, self-reflection and fun. The studio is wheelchair-accessible and bed-bound patients may participate from their rooms through a hand-held recording device. Summit-trained volunteers help operate the KIDJAM! studio and guide patients through the recording experience.
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neo_wtw_erinvictor_akronsnowangels_bwErin Victor
founder
Akron Snow Angels

Victor founded Akron Snow Angels at the end of January 2015 after she noticed many homeless people were going through the winter without socks and other basics. She started placing items such as socks, gloves and scarves in plastic bags in public places where homeless people seem to congregate that carried tags that read: “I am not lost! If you need this to keep warm, please take it. Be safe and know you are loved.” In August 2015, the Akron Snow Angels received nonprofit, tax-exempt status. Her organization is picking up traction quickly.

Today, the Akron Snow Angels has more than 2,000 volunteers and has to turn people away from its delivery efforts in the winter so as not to intimidate the people who are receiving the clothing items. Special requests are always accepted and every effort is made to grant them, whether it’s someone who needs a coat, a mattress to sleep on, toothpaste or a Bible.
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Erin Victor galvanizes Akron to spread warmth to those who need it

Philanthropy is supposed to warm your heart, but that’s not how Erin Victor felt after volunteering at St. Bernard Parish in Akron. Victor is part of Torchbearers Akron, a group that seeks to strengthen the connection between Akron-area nonprofits and emerging leaders in the community. It was a night that would change Victor’s life.

She met a man who once worked as a car porter, but lost everything after suffering a stroke. He had no insurance, no family and was trying to get buy on minimum wage. She also met a woman who was wearing several layers of clothing to keep warm on a bitterly cold winter night.

“She started taking layers off and I just thought she was a larger lady,” Victor says. “But underneath all those layers, she had a baby strapped to her. I had a brand-new niece that was just born, so it totally hit home. I thought, ‘What if she fell on the ice? How can a baby breathe under there?’ It blew my mind.”

Victor returned home that night in January 2015 with a heavy heart.
“I just felt horribly sad,” Victor says.

She had to act, so she got on Facebook and explained that she wanted to conduct a clothing drive that weekend, which just happened to be the weekend of the Super Bowl.

“I said, ‘I’m embarrassed to have so many pairs of winter boots and drawers full of socks and enough coats that I could wear a different coat for a whole month and not run out, and yet these people don’t have anything and are freezing,’” she says.

An immediate response
The response to her Facebook post was immediate and enthusiastic.

“All these people started sharing it with their contacts,” Victor says. “I had a friend of mine from high school, Julie Farris, who said she wanted to help me with it. Her brother is a manager at Annabell’s in Highland Square and got permission to be a donation drop-off location. It was an all-day Saturday drop-off. By noon, he said, ‘You guys need to come do a pickup. It’s absolutely crazy.’ That night, we ended up picking up three carloads of donations that filled a good portion of my kitchen and living room.”

The Akron Snow Angels were born. The manner the group uses to deliver hats, gloves, coats and scarves to the homeless and those in the Akron area who really need these pieces of clothing is a bit unconventional.

“We went out that Super Bowl Sunday and hung items on the trees or went to bus stops or other places downtown and handed them out to people who really needed to get warm,” Victor says. “We made tags that said, ‘These items are not lost. If you need this to stay warm, please take it.’”

Victor and her group of volunteers were out delivering warmth for seven hours. When the day was done, she felt like she had done something important, something that would make a difference. But she thought that would be the end of it.

Two days later, she got a call from a friend in Cleveland. While Victor was collecting items on Saturday to pass out, she had met a writer from Cleveland.com who told her he intended to write a story about what she was doing. Her friend was calling to let her know that the story had landed on the front page.

“I walked into a gas station and the first thing the clerk said was, ‘Hey, you’re that girl in the paper,’” she says. “So I grab a handful of newspapers. It was on the middle part of the front page and there was a whole write-up inside. By the end of the day, my inbox was full, LinkedIn, Facebook. Our one-weekend mission to do something good in the community turned into every single Sunday for the entire winter.”

Building relationships
Today, the Akron Snow Angels has more than 2,000 volunteers and has to turn people away from its delivery efforts in the winter so as not to intimidate the people who are receiving the clothing items. A handful of people delivering a coat or a pair of gloves is much more welcoming than a crowd of 50 or 100 people.

Special requests are always accepted and every effort is made to grant them, whether it’s someone who needs a coat, a mattress to sleep on, toothpaste or a Bible.

Victor’s perception of the homeless has changed a great deal in the past two years.

“The stigma around the homeless is that they are all mentally ill and they are all drug addicts,” Victor says. “So I was scared and nervous that first time. We were also worried we might get in trouble by the city for hanging items in different places.”

Fortunately, Victor’s fears were not realized. The city supported her group’s efforts to help. And the people helped by the Akron Snow Angels were grateful for the show of compassion.

“A lot of it is building relationships and learning what these people actually need,” she says. “If we’re getting to know them and they trust us and they start coming to us to help them with getting an ID or finding housing or getting the support they need to turn their life around, that’s when we know we’re doing a good thing. That’s where we have success. They know we really care about them.”

The group’s Christmas in July event was a huge success and Victor is now gearing up for another winter.

“This has made me a completely different person,” she says. “The compassion and heart I’ve seen from everybody is just amazing.”