Celebrating Southwest Florida’s best young leaders
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.
Real Estate Investment, Realtor, Restaurant Owner, Entrepreneur
Cozza Investment Group and Society
Brad Cozza found success during the real estate boom, but his career could have ended shortly after taking off during the market downturn some 10 years ago, had it not been for his adaptability.
“During the mortgage crisis, Southwest Florida became the No. 1 foreclosure market in the country,” Cozza says. “I was fortunate to adapt quickly to reorganizing my business model and corporation to take advantage of incredible foreclosure deals.”
Cozza acquired more than 400 properties and successfully sold them since the start of the foreclosure crisis. Now, he’s focused on the food and beverage industry and is a major investor in Society American Modern Kitchen and Cocktails.
The entrepreneur’s best advice for up-and-comers? “Don’t be afraid of calculated risk. Obtaining my degree in business management with a concentration in entrepreneurship, I have trained myself to identify niches and market voids, conduct the appropriate due diligence, and pull the trigger.”
When he’s not working, Cozza enjoys spending time on the beaches of Captiva with his girlfriend and miniature Australian shepherd, as well as playing golf.
Vice President, Commercial Loan Officer
Sanibel Captiva Community Bank
Kyle DeCicco has led Sanibel Captiva Community Bank to close $65 million in loans in just over two years and helped launch two new Lee County branch locations within a month of each other. But a four-year stint working with a larger bank on commercial loan workouts during the Great Recession left him wondering if the field was really for him.
“Ultimately, through persistency and focus on my long-term career goals, I changed my attitude and eventually worked into the position with a bank that I really wanted,” DeCicco says. “Those times in my career were a vital part of my professional development and have helped shape me into the individual I am today.”
Now, DeCicco enjoys helping a greater range of clients within the community, like the several commercial clients he helped provide relief to in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
“I am committed to both this community and Sanibel Captiva Community Bank, as they have given me the opportunity to serve my community and advance in my profession,” he says.
DeCicco is married to his high school sweetheart, Jennifer. In addition to CrossFit, he enjoys spending time in Southwest Florida’s outdoors. He is an avid bicyclist, fisherman and boater.
DeMine Immigration Law Firm
Indera DeMine is determined to change the narrative of what it means to be an immigrant. DeMine came to the U.S. from Guyana at 15 in pursuit of the “American Dream,” she says. She completed high school at 17, graduated college at 20 and became a lawyer at 24.
“When I first started out in my career, I was very aware of all of the things that made me different from my colleagues and I was embarrassed by them,” DeMine says. “I am a woman, a minority, an immigrant …” She adds: “I heard, ‘where are you from,’ so many times that I had rehearsed what to say.”
But she learned to make her differences stand out in a good way and encourages others to do the same with theirs.
“Find the things that separate you from the pack and highlight them. Be uniquely you when others try to fit in and watch how the universe responds,” DeMine says.
DeMine advocates for immigration reform on state and national levels. She’s been named a Top 10 Immigration Law Attorney in Florida by the American Jurist Institute, among other accolades, and hopes to share positive stories of immigrants in Southwest Florida as a member of The News-Press Young Professional Advisory Board.
In her spare time, DeMine enjoys traveling and has visited places around the world. She and her husband, attorney Thomas DeMine, have one son. And they are into craft beer.
Vice President of Events and Development
The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce
When Nikkie Dvorchak cares about a cause, she jumps right in. She’s a part of several committees, including the events and outing and diversity outreach committees of Leadership Collier Foundation, and the mission and outreach committee of the American Red Cross. She’s also the co-chair of the 2019 Zoobilee event, benefitting the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens.
The 2017 Growing Associates in Naples graduate also volunteered to help injured animals at von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, participated as an auction spotter with Scott Robertson Auctioneer and joined panels that taught how to conduct successful fundraisers.
“I have always been willing to try, to step up, to take on a new challenge or opportunity,” Dvorchak says. “I think it is important to put yourself out there and take each experience you are given as a chance to learn and grow, both professionally and personally.”
Dvorchak and her husband, Mike, have two young boys, Talon and Dax. She’s a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and enjoys spending time at the beach, cooking, trying new restaurants, good wine and learning new things.
William Raveis Real Estate/Limitless Development
At 32, Dante DiSabato is one of the youngest members of Who’s Who in Luxury Real Estate, a global collection of luxury real estate brokers. He has made more than $250 million in sales in less than five years and was recently named one of William Raveis Real Estate’s Top 10 agents.
“One of the biggest challenges I have worked to overcome—and continue to overcome—is to separate myself and stand out among South Florida agents. I do so by trying to be on the cutting edge of marketing properties,” DiSabato says.
Though DiSabato was a star baseball player while attending Miami University (Ohio)—where he roomed and became best friends with current Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay—he spends what little free time he has playing golf. He is a 3-handicap golfer and member of Grey Oaks Country Club.
Tina M. Ekblad
Morris-Depew and Associates Inc.
To Tina M. Ekblad, keeping a cool head in the face of criticism is imperative. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.
“Generally, we are taught that our work is a reflection of ourselves. As a result, when we hear criticism about our work product and we equate it to criticism about us as individuals and often times don’t take it well. However, we have a choice in how we react to these situations,” the two-time Florida Gulf Coast University graduate says. “For a long time, I didn’t actually hear the words being offered and wasn’t able to react in a manner that enabled the criticism to be constructive. Learning to unpack what people were sharing and identify the positive elements that could be implemented the next time was a game changer.”
Ekblad values open conversations and collaboration, especially when it comes to working with other consultants on land-planning projects. By utilizing this strategy on multiple projects, more than 1,000 acres on private property in eastern Lee County have been preserved, which interconnect with existing public acquisitions to improve regional connectivity for wildlife and native habitat, while also providing development opportunities to support the county’s population growth.
Ekblad recently finished her second Half Ironman. She is a dedicated triathlete and has competed in numerous races, often finishing in the top of her age group. She is married to Mike and has a German shepherd named Bella.
Director of Behavioral Health and Licensed Psychologist
Healthcare Network of SWFL
Dr. Victoria Frehe-Torres is consistently striving to provide integrated care to the community, facilitating access to behavioral health services within the primary care center and destigmatizing mental health and other behavioral problems. Outside of the office, she furthers this mission as a member of the Collaborative Family Healthcare Association (CFHA), an organization devoted to making integrated behavioral and physical health the standard of care nationally.
“I believe in dedication, engagement, and love for the things I do,” she says. “When I’m working with patients at the clinic, I am always present. Active listening skills, empathy and productive feedback can facilitate change.”
For overall success, Frehe-Torres says she has to have balance in her personal life as well.
“I need to make sure I take care of myself—physically and mentally—so I can best take care of others,” she says.
A native of Bogota, Colombia, Frehe is fluent in English and Spanish, a skill that she has used in Univision appearances, speaking for HCN. When she is not doing CrossFit or Zumba with her co-workers, she is at home with her husband and two children cheering on her alma mater, the University of Kansas.
Stephanie C. Gomez
Co-founder, President and CEO
Stabilized Steps LLC
When Stephanie C. Gomez was a commercial banker, she used to tell clients to “take the time to have a solid foundation for their company, as that was the base of whatever they were building.” Now that she’s building a company from the group up, “I realize that it takes a lot of work and discipline and it is easier said than done.” She continues: “But if anything is worth doing, it is worth taking the time to do it right.”
Many ups, downs and unknowns come from starting a new company, Gomez says, be she’s learned to seek guidance when needed. “There is no room for pride in this journey,” she says.
Gomez seems to be doing things right. Under her guidance, Stabilized Steps earned a third place Innovative HME Retail Product Award and a New Product Pavilion Providers’ Choice Silver Award at the 2017 Medtrade trade show in Atlanta. These awards recognize the new product’s ability to provide quality of life enhancement to the users, which is the passion behind her work.
Gomez likes to spend quality time with her husband and her young son, going on walks, watching movies, playing cars with him and reading books.
Gravina, Smith, Matte & Arnold Marketing and Public Relations
Whether creating public outreach initiatives to help high schools achieve success, brainstorming with other professionals on new leadership programs, or sharing a client’s story, Jennifer Hamilton always aims to help others achieve their full potential.
Hamilton recently worked with FutureMakers Coalition to create a new educational campaign encouraging high school seniors to apply early for federal funding. The FAFSA first! campaign helped increase the region’s rate in Free Application for Federal Student Aid completion.
She received an award for the FAFSA first! campaign by the Southwest Florida Chapter of Florida Public Relations Association and has earned a number of other accolades over the years for her professional efforts.
Hamilton says she’s driven most by her passion and creativity. “I’m passionate about all things related to communications, public relations and marketing, and I strive to bring that passion into everything I work on,” she says. “I love that my line of work challenges me to be creative, to constantly push the bar in how I can tell a story, share a message and spread information on behalf of my clients. That’s what keeps me engaged and energized about what I do.”
Hamilton married her high school sweetheart, Billy, after college. Together, they’ve made a home for their identical twins, 5-year-old boys in Estero. They enjoy hosting evening dinners and drinks for friends and neighbors, along with spending the weekends boating, camping or visiting family back in Englewood.
Commercial Insurance Consultant
Risk Management Insurance
Max Haney has learned lots of lessons in his professional career, but the biggest challenge he had to overcome happened at 21, when his father died.
“There are so many life unknowns, impossible to prepare for in the wake of losing a parent,” Haney says. “The loss was affecting everything in my mind, including my career. I needed a different approach, even just for my own health and sanity.”
Haney learned how to process his grief and now helps others do the same at Valerie’s House, which helps children and families through the loss of a loved one. He’s even given a TED Talk based on his experiences and was the first person in Fort Myers to do so.
Haney’s newfound clarity has led to other life successes. He received recognition for his high insurance sales and, in 2016, earned the The Ruebin O’D.Askew Award from Florida State University, his alma mater.
“The past two years have had the kind of impact on my growth as a person and professional that would be impossible to put into words,” Haney says. His advice to others? “Find something you are passionate about in the community, and find a way to contribute and advance the mission, there is no greater reward in life.”
Max returned to Fort Myers to begin his career in the insurance industry. He’s the proud owner of Mister, his 7-year-old chocolate Lab. He an avid golfer and boater, as well as a cheap wine connoisseur.
In addition to owning MARISSA COLLECTIONS, Jay Hartington owns or co-owns four other companies in the consumer product space. He’s also chairing the Naples Zoo’s $25 million capital campaign and sits on the board of directors.
It’s a full load for one person, but Hartington is particular in his approach to making his business endeavors works.
“I attempt to create a balance of core competences that set the standard for everyday operations and calculated creative projects that help my business stay current and excite our clients,” he says.
It’s all about time management, he adds. “I’m constantly trying to improve and find the perfect balance.”
It helps Harington to keep a notepad handy—something he advises to others as well.
“I think it is important to always bring a notepad to meetings and take notes. You will learn a ton by observing and listening, and it’s great to review what you heard. You might catch things later on that you overlooked that day, and you can hold others accountable to what they said.” He adds: “Also, check your work repeatedly. Basic mistakes are a reflection of your attention to detail and seriousness about your position.”
When he’s not working, Harington enjoys tennis, traveling, cooking, reading and spending time with his daughter, wife and the rest of rest his family.
Stephen A. Jones
While most spend Thanksgiving with family and friends, Dr. Stephen Jones chooses to spend every year in Mexico, helping its impoverished residents fight blindness. When Jones is on these trips, he witnesses the moment when people realize they can see for the first time in years. In Fort Myers, Jones uses a holistic approach to diagnose and treat his patients.
“Every patient deserves my best, whether they are having a minor problem or a major surgery,” he says. “They have come to see me and are putting their trust in me, and I don’t take that lightly.”
Originally from Ohio, his love of the west coast of Florida drew him to the Fort Myers area where he enjoys archery, motorcycles and cooking.
Ross A. Kupitz
Beverage Director, Full-Service Restaurants
D’Amico & Partners
If you enjoyed a craft cocktail at a restaurant in Naples recently, it’s likely that you have Ross Kupitz to thank for it. Kupitz was one of the key drivers behind the city’s craft cocktail movement. He established the first true craft cocktail program in the Naples area at The Continental. Kupitz has had some of his original recipes published in cocktail magazines and Bartender Magazine featured him as beverage director of the month earlier this year.
“Providing our guests with the best quality ingredients and preparing and serving them in specific ways allow them to, even for a brief moment, be transported to anywhere else in the world,” Kupitz says.
Kupitz is an avid golfer and sports fan in general. He is also a dog lover with two of his own that he likes to bring to the Humane Society Naples events and on walks at Naples Botanical Gardens, when it’s allowed. He thoroughly enjoys traveling and exploring new places and cultures.
Director of Major Gifts
Florida Gulf Coast University
Altony Lee brings innovation to philanthropic giving, from helping Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) accept Bitcoin for scholarship dollars to launching the university’s first Give Day campaign, which raised more than $1.3 million. His efforts have helped increase annual giving to over $20 million.
This money impacts not only the students of FGCU in need of financial assistance, but the school’s economic impact regionally.
“I approach each day as an opportunity to use gifts to change the lives of deserving students. Eliminating the barriers and access to education is both a passion and point of pride,” Lee says.
Lee is chair-elect of the Bonita Springs Chamber Foundation. In his spare time, he enjoys watching college sports with friends (he is immediate past-president of the Seminole Club of Naples) and attending cultural events with his wife.
Director of Retail Operations
Norman Love Confections
Life is sweet for Ryan Love. As the son of Norman Love, he was raised learning the craft of pastry-making from his father. After graduating from the University of Central Florida, Love continued his education at the French Pastry School in Chicago. With his current position, Love oversees all stages of the creation of new products, as well as developing training programs for new staff.
“My approach is to lead by example,” Love says. “Being part of a team and working towards a common goal is extremely important to me. As the leader of a team at Norman Love Confections, I will never ask my team to do something I would not personally do.”
In 2015 and 2016, SWFL Children’s Charities honored Love with a “Pan of Appreciate,” as a thank you for his contributions to the Florida Food & Wine Fest’s Chef Vintner Dinners.
Outside of the kitchen, Love enjoys watching and playing hockey and is a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He enjoys long walks with his wife, Meghan, and dog, Sherman. He is also interested in video games and astronomy.
Accounting and Business Consultant
Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Co.
Future accountants look to Victoria Loyola for advice on how to succeed professionally and balance family and career. In 2016, she worked with Florida Gulf Coast University to create a mentoring program for the university’s accounting students.
Loyola, a certified public accountant, earned both her undergraduate and master’s degrees from Florida Gulf Coast University and has stayed connected to her alma mater since graduation.
“Ultimately, you are in control of where you career goes, so dive in, seek challenges, pursue new opportunities and do not be afraid to take chances,” Loyola says.
Loyola sits on the board of directors for Valerie’s House, which provides children and families a place to grieve, share, and grow following the loss of a parent or caregiver. She serves annually on the Allocations Committee for the United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee Counties, and she was recently appointed to the board of directors for the United Way.
Director of Programs and Planning
Area Agency on Aging
At one point in her life, Becky MacKenzie balanced cancer, a full-time job and school. College took almost 15 years to complete, but earning that diploma proved to MacKenzie that she can accomplish anything.
Today, she helps monitor state and federally funded elder and disability programs to ensure that regulations are being followed and the programs are effective.
As a member of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, she also works to pass legislation that helps people with cancer and emphasizes the importance of cancer research funding.
“I feel as though my diagnosis and my college experience provided me with just that, an education and life lessons that no one can ever take away from me—not even cancer. I will be grateful for the rest of my life that I was able to accomplish that,” MacKenzie says.
MacKenzie is a passionate runner who took up the sport after her cancer diagnosis and never stopped. She loves the outdoors and is passionate about snorkeling, kayaking and paddle boarding. She loves to dive in the springs of central Florida and kayak/paddleboard the beaches, canals and mangroves around Southwest Florida.
Manager of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital
Conservancy of Southwest Florida
When Hurricane Irma took a turn for Naples last year, residents evacuated, but a team of seven conservancy co-workers stayed behind. Joneé Miller led the team as they cared for hundreds of animals through 10 days of no power and no air-conditioning, and it was one of the biggest challenges of her career.
“However, with proper planning and an amazing, dedicated team of people, I am proud to say that by the time the storm had passed, every single one of the 200-plus animals in our care was still alive,” Miller says.
Miller also has created a public awareness campaign on YouTube to teach people how they can help prevent injuries for wildlife.
Miller is an avid hiker, birder and loves to spend her time surrounded by nature here in Southwest Florida. She is passionate about singing and has recorded a few songs with a local artist.
Associate Director of Education & Visitor Experience
Naples Botanical Garden
A six-month internship at a nature center brought Britt Patterson-Weber to Florida. She loved the job so much that she cancelled plans to return to the Northwest and has spent 15 years in Florida and the Caribbean working in environmental education.
By listening to the interests of youth and adults, she has created educational programs such as Collier Greens, a school and community garden network that reaches more than 50 schools and organizations. This program serves as a model within the U.S. and abroad to help groups understand the variety of lessons learned from using gardens as an educational tool.
“In the long run, you save so much time and resources by just listening,” she says.
Patterson-Weber enjoys participating as a volunteer coach and running buddy for Girls on the Run, a local non-profit working with elementary and middle school girls. Her expertise in butterflies, especially Florida’s native butterflies, proved invaluable when the Pfeffer Butterfly House was created inside the Smith Children’s Garden.
Lindsay Krol Pursglove, Ph.D., MBA, MS
Owner & Operator
Swimtastic Swim Schools of Southwest Florida
After earning her Ph.D. in sport management from Texas Woman’s University in 2015, Lindsay Krol Pursglove returned to Southwest Florida to open a swim school franchise. Swimtastic Swim Schools serves Naples, Bonita Springs, Fort Myers and Cape Coral with indoor, year-round swim lessons. Recently, thanks to a grant from USA Swimming Association, Pursglove was able to provide free swim lessons for foster children in Cape Coral.
She also volunteers as a swim coach for Special Olympics Collier County and a lifeguard for Special Olympics Lee County.
“Anyone starting their career needs to realize that an opportunity you thought you might not like or might not be relevant to your career goals can open doors you never imagined,” Pursglove says.
Pursglove loves to go to the beach, movies, conferences, and volunteer, conduct sport-management research and travel.
The Nolte Wealth Management Group of Wells Fargo Advisors
One day, Al Rich made a life-changing move: He picked up a personal finance book. From that point, he decided to end his decade-long career as a police officer to explore the world of finance. He believes his change in career will help his children make smarter financial decisions in the future.
The career change also connects with his community involvement: Rich serves on the allocations committee of the United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee Counties, helping ensure that funds goes directly where they are needed.
“You have to decide whether failure fuels fear or growth, it can’t be both,” Rich says.
Rich’s priorities in life are God, family and service, in that order. He loves watching his 11-year-old daughter, Karmen, and 8-year-old son, Garett, play sports, and going on trips with them and his wife, Erica. He enjoys running, biking and swimming.
Wells Fargo Advisors is a trade name used by Wells Fargo Clearing Services, LLC, member SIPC.
Ernest A. Ricci
The Boatman Law Firm P.A.
At a very young age, Ernest A. Ricci learned the importance of having humility from working with his family’s Pittsburgh-based Italian sausage company.
“Humility has taught me to always respect and never underestimate others,” Ricci says. “Without humility, I would not be where I am today.”
Now, Ricci is a Martindale-Hubbell AV-Preeminent-rated attorney who practices primarily in commercial litigation. He previously interned with the office of the general counsel for the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania, before serving as staff counsel for the judges of the Twentieth Judicial Circuit.
Although Ricci pursued law over the family business, he says: “It does not matter what career you choose, there are three constants if you want to be successful: You must have strong work ethic, be passionate in what you are doing and, most importantly, treat others with respect.”
Ricci enjoys volunteering and is particularly passionate about mentoring. He has served as a mentor for Champions for Learning/Take Stock in Children and law students of Ave Maria School of Law. While attending Dickinson College, he was a four-year athlete participating in football and president of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity.
Merchandising Manager, Woven Tops and Jackets
Chico’s FAS Inc.
When Jessica Ridgeo was faced with taking a down-trending business category and turning it around, she did not back down. By creating strong teams, setting high expectations and constantly pushing for innovation, Ridgeo was able to create two years of consecutive growth.
“I’m very solution-oriented and collaborative. You’re not going to make great progress and have success by working in a silo. I believe it’s best to utilize business partners with various areas of expertise so you can develop the best solution, together,” Ridgeo says.
Ridgeo is married to Jeremy, who is a high school teacher and volleyball coach. She is a mom to her 3-year-old daughter, Sloane, and 3-month-old daughter, Quinn. She enjoys spending time with her family and taking advantage of the beautiful Florida lifestyle: staying active outdoors, spending time at the local beaches and parks, and paddle boarding.
Founder & CEO
Bjorn Rosinus grew up in Southwest Florida, leaving briefly to earn his bachelor’s degree from Southern Methodist University before returning to Fort Myers. Rosinus has since founded Endeavor Workspaces, a company that strives to boost community and collaboration by reinventing co-working. Endeavor combines modern co-working with state-of-the-art facilities to provide a better business option.
He offers this advice to someone starting a career: “In the beginning, only you know what you are truly trying to accomplish. Learning to delegate and take help and advice can be one of the most challenging things as an entrepreneur.”
Rosinus is married to Kristin and is a father to three children. He enjoys offshore fishing, golf and spending time with his family and close friends.
Co-Founder and Managing Partner of B3 Marketing
Manager of the Customer Satisfaction Team at ASG Technologies
When Dimitrios Settos was 28, he left his hometown of Stuttgart, Germany, and moved to Southwest Florida for a six-month internship. He had hoped to get out of his comfort zone and improve his English. Six years later, Settos is co-founder and managing partner of B3 Marketing in Naples.
To Settos, his work at B3 Marketing—which provides social media, graphic design, websites and public relations—is about more than just promoting a business. The three pillars the company was founded on are to “be known, be social, and be personal.”
“We use those marketing tools to tell our customers’ story in the most authentic way, so people can connect with them,” Settos says.
Settos married Amanda in Greece last June. His hobbies include meditation, martial arts, books and soccer.
Rev. Dr. Dawson B. Taylor
Naples United Church of Christ
At 39, the Rev. Dr. Dawson B. Taylor is the youngest United Church of Christ senior minister in the nation. He is the head of one of the largest congregations, too. He has transformed the Naples congregation into a mission-driven church to make larger impacts in the local community. Taylor raised $250,000 to fund the dental expansion for the Neighborhood Health Clinic, passing the original goal of $140,000.
“I remember the charge that was given to me at my ordination: ‘When it is all said and done, what people will remember most is that you showed up and loved them,” Taylor says.
Taylor enjoys international travel, reading and spending time with his family, including doting on his three nieces and two nephews. In April, he welcomed the newest addition to his family, a chocolate Labrador retriever puppy named Max.
Rachel Toomey has been giving back and volunteering since she was in high school. Now she serves as the president-elect and public relations chair for the Fort Myers
Metro-McGregor Kiwanis. This is alongside her current position at Priority Marketing, where she was recently promoted to media director.
“I approach business with a mindset of mutual respect and collaboration. We are all working to increase the economic impact of business in Southwest Florida, improve our community and provide for our families. If you can rally behind a common goal, take strategic initiative, and do what’s right, then you’re most likely to find solutions and achieve success with any project,” Toomey says.
Toomey and her husband, Matt, are proud parents to a 4-year-old son, Adam, and recently welcomed to the world a new baby girl, Sadie. She is an avid soccer player and is on several female and co-ed outdoor and indoor soccer leagues.
People & Culture Manager
Logan Wallick has a hand in all human resources processes for Suffolk Construction. He works with employees in numerous cities, but still finds time to be involved in the community.
“My approach to human resources and leadership has always been to combine functional knowledge and expertise with the ability to motivate and develop others, all while being relatable as a person,” Wallick says.
Wallick has been on the board of directors of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) of Southwest Florida since 2015. Under his leadership, the organization has begun to donate to one local nonprofit each quarter.
In 2018, he received FGCU’s Soaring Eagle Outstanding Alumni Award for his contributions to the university.
Wallick enjoys the outdoors, traveling with the intent to hit all seven continents, spending time with his two miniature dachshunds, Maddie and Blue, and physical fitness.
Community Projects Manager
Stephanie Wardein works to create a healthier tomorrow. She has helped implement community initiatives, such as the 5210 Pledge and the Million Mile Movement, which have motivated residents to get active and watch what they eat.
Among the positive results: A 22.5 percent increase in Lee County residents who meet physical activity recommendations and a 29 percent decline in the number of heart disease-related deaths, exceeding the U.S. average.
“I approach my profession as a member of the community with a care for its betterment. Together we have the opportunity to make a lasting impact,” Wardein says.
Wardein is married with five young children age 11 and under, the youngest of which arrived recently this year. The entire family is active with multiple nonprofits in Southwest Florida, including, but not limited to: The American Heart Association, Harry Chapin Food Bank, Gigi’s Playhouse, United Way, Pace Center for Girls, Healthy Lee and various ministry opportunities through their local church.
Jeff D. Wynn
Wynn Properties Inc.
Jeff Wynn is the third generation to operate the family-owned Wynn Properties, which has 400,000 square feet of commercial property in Naples and Bonita Springs. And he’s seen his family show how to give back, which impacts him personally and professionally.
“Working as a family business that has been part of the Naples community for 80 years, the Wynn family brings strong family values and ethics into the running of our businesses,” Wynn says.
Wynn Cos., which includes Wynn Properties, also gives tens of thousands of dollars each year to the Junior Diabetes Research Foundation Gulf Coast Chapter, as well as numerous other sponsorships in the community.
Born and raised in Naples, Wynn is married with one child. He is an avid runner who enjoys running with his wife in local charitable road races. He serves as the president of the Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District board of directors.