Meet A New Generation Of Triangle Leaders

By David Ranii and Paul A. Specht
The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.).

Power couple Brooks Bell and Jesse Lipson, both successful entrepreneurs, are committed to creating an ecosystem that offers support to other entrepreneurs.

Bell, 35, is the founder and CEO of a 36-employee marketing analytics company in Raleigh that bears her name.

Lipson, 38, is the founder of ShareFile, which Citrix Systems acquired for $54 million in 2011. As a result of the deal,

Citrix moved into Raleigh’s warehouse district — which revived the fortunes of the former industrial zone.

Lipson and Bell also partnered with others to form HQ Raleigh and ThinkHouse Raleigh. The former offers affordable, flexible space and business advice for entrepreneurs. The latter is an inexpensive co-living space for young entrepreneurs that offers mentoring.

“When you see people as young as them saying, we’re going to take a substantial part of what we’ve earned through our own efforts and pay it forward for the next group … it’s impressive,” said Joan Siefert Rose, head of entrepreneurial support group CED.

“Starting young is a great time to be an entrepreneur because your ability to take risks at that time in your life is really high,” Lipson said. “We’ve been trying to figure out how we can build a better on-ramp to entrepreneurship for recent college graduates.”

Bell on leadership: “I think, ultimately, leadership is helping others grow in their skills. You think about the best leader in your life and how that person treated you and everyone always says, that person grew me, they enabled me to do great things.”

Lipson’s wish list for the region: “I would love to see more large-enterprise companies create a presence here, like Facebook and Twitter and Google and Apple and others. … I think that’s an important part of the ecosystem because it attracts talent to the area.”

When Ed Boyd reaches out to majority-owned companies about doing business with minority-owned enterprises, the all-too-common response is: “We would work with minority-owned companies, but we don’t know of any.”

Boyd, 42, has set out to change that. Working with a group of student interns from N.C. Central University, he’s developing a database of every minority-owned business in Durham County.

“We want to make this information as public and accessible as possible,” he said.

Boyd is co-owner and managing partner of Invictus Office Center, a co-working space for minority-owned startups in Durham that opened June 30. The 6,000-square-foot space on Fayetteville Street grew out of a 5-year-old mentoring program for minority entrepreneurs — mentoring that today is provided to the more than 60 companies that work out of Invictus.

“Our goal is to create more minority-owned, successful businesses,” said Boyd, a former middle school studies teacher. “We look at what we’re doing basically as … community redevelopment. The most plausible way to become upwardly mobile within one generation or one lifetime is through entrepreneurship.”

Invictus also aims to develop a pipeline of future entrepreneurs by working with students at Southern High School. And it’s developing a two-week program for Neal Middle School that it plans to offer next summer.

Boyd also is the co-founder of Durham H.A.W.K.S. (Helping All Willing Kids Succeed), a youth basketball league that stresses good citizenship.

“He is not somebody who just talks about things but is somebody who is ready and able to put his ideas into action to help promote and support minority entrepreneurship,” said Christopher Gergen, CEO of Forward Impact and a fellow in innovation and entrepreneurship at Duke University.

Boyd on leadership: “I don’t look at it as a noun. I look at it as an action word.”

Before the November 2014 election, Matt Calabria’s claim to political fame was his tenure as UNC-Chapel Hill’s student body president.

Fast forward: Calabria, a Fuquay-Varina resident, now represents southern Wake on the Board of Commissioners. He is perhaps its most influential progressive voice on the board, which governs everything from property tax rates to public school funding.

Calabria, 32, was part of a board majority that in June raised property taxes 6 percent — 3.65 cents per $100 in property valuation — to boost funding for Wake County public schools. He also helped create the Food Security Working Group, which looks for ways to aid those who don’t have consistent access to “nutritious and adequate amounts of food necessary for an active and healthy life.” The Wake board this year gave $90,000 to the school system to expand the Universal Breakfast program, which provides all students a free breakfast, into 13 more schools.

Calabria in November ushered in a new minimum wage for county employees, boosting base pay to $13.50 an hour from $11.08 an hour for full-timers. Wake became just the fourth North Carolina county with a wage ordinance, and the move gave raises to 75 workers. And Calabria has traveled to every Wake town gathering input on a countywide transit plan that the board hopes to approve this year.

Calabria’s wish list for the region: “Passing a referendum (this) year that would help create a robust transportation system, continuing our support for public education … improving affordable housing throughout the county and creating a stronger economic development plan that can help municipalities and benefit businesses of all sizes.”

There’s not a bigger name in the Triangle’s food scene than Ashley Christensen.

Since 2007, Christensen has opened four restaurants, a liquor bar, a coffee joint and an event space in downtown Raleigh. And she’s known far outside of Raleigh, having won the James Beard award for best chef in the Southeast in 2014.

Her businesses employ 260 people and are a destination in downtown Raleigh. The 39-year-old also regularly teams up with Raleigh philanthropist Eliza Kraft Olander to raise money for charitable causes. Together they’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for various organizations, especially those that work toward helping those with special needs, ending pediatric cancer or ending childhood hunger.

She’s a board member of the Frankie Lemmon Foundation, Raleigh’s Contemporary Art Museum and the Downtown Raleigh Alliance.
Christensen’s wish list for the region: “I’d like to see more affordable housing in downtown Raleigh. Without this, we threaten our economic and cultural diversity. So many of our employees and guests contribute to the vibrancy of downtown but increasingly struggle with the price tag to truly make their city their home. Diversity is key.”

After struggling in ninth grade to understand moles — units of measurement for chemical substances — Tashni-Ann Dubroy never thought she’d enter the science field. In 2002, Dubroy graduated summa cum laude from Shaw University with a degree in chemistry and now holds a doctorate.

Once she climbed the ranks of chemical research giant BASF, overseeing a project budget of $35 million, Dubroy didn’t see herself in her childhood dream job as a teacher. But in 2011, she returned to her alma mater as an associate professor and, before long, chaired Shaw’s department of natural sciences and mathematics.

This summer, the Jamaican-born Dubroy became the university’s 17th president.

Seven months into her new role, Dubroy, 35, and her team have already made headway at the financially embattled university.

“Our fundraising efforts have been so effective that we’ve tripled donations compared to this time last year, reaching $1.5 million,” Dubroy said.

As a millennial, Dubroy offers hope to a university whose sole purpose is to attract and teach young people. As a black woman, Dubroy is an inspiration to young women who have trouble imagining themselves in fields dominated by men.

Dubroy also is the founder and leader of the Brilliant and Beautiful Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to mentoring women in science. More than 1,000 middle school-aged girls have gone through the foundation’s summer program since 2012.

“Every year, we get to speak to them about what it’s like to be a scientist and to change their idea of what a scientist should look like,” Dubroy said.

Dubroy on leadership: “It takes tenacity and empathy. It’s important to have a vision, to have strength of character.”

When Tim Giuliani was named CEO of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce last year, he was just 33 — half the age of his predecessor, Harvey Schmitt, who retired at 66.

Giuliani previously headed the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce in Florida. He turned 34 last month.

“My new joke is, if somebody wants to ask if I’m too young, I just tell them that Jesus died when he was 33,” Giuliani said. “It puts things into perspective.”

At the Gainesville chamber, which he had led since 2012, Giuliani was instrumental in raising more than $6 million for economic development efforts — twice as much as its prior campaign.

Jill Wells Heath, president and CEO of Mulkey Engineers & Consultants and chair of the Raleigh chamber, said the search committee interviewed candidates who were 10 and 20 years older. But Giuliani stood out.

“I think he represents the future of Raleigh,” Heath said.

Giuliani, who started in his new job in June, is moving deliberately.

At Guiliani’s request, the chamber has convened a task force that, with the help of a consultant, is engaged in an across-the-board assessment of the organization.

“The world continues to change, and I want to make sure that the chamber is on the cutting edge and will be as relevant tomorrow as it is today,” Giuliani said.

One change that he has presided over already is doubling — from 50 to 100 — the number of people who will go through Leadership Raleigh, a program that prepares the leaders of tomorrow, in 2016.

“It doesn’t matter what the issue is; the community long-term is going to be better off with more informed leaders,” Giuliani said.

Giuliani’s wish list for the region: “One is a functional, regional, state-of-art transit system. Second, more corporate headquarters. Third is a Stanley Cup. Fourth, keeping the unemployment rate somewhere between 4 and 5 percent, meaning that despite what the global economy wants to throw at us, we’re diversified and innovative to the point that we continue to have a strong economy. And then, fifth, is the expansion of the convention center and the supporting amenities in downtown Raleigh.”

Adam Klein has become the face of the entrepreneurial movement that is coursing through downtown Durham.

Klein, 33, is the chief strategist at the American Underground, which houses 227 startups at three sites — two in Durham, one in Raleigh — where entrepreneurs also can access free mentoring and other amenities.

Under Klein’s leadership the Underground, one of 10 “tech hubs” in North America chosen by Google to be part of its entrepreneurial program, also sticks out for putting the welcome mat out for female and minority entrepreneurs. Female-led companies account for 29.4 percent of the Underground’s startups, up from 7 percent at the start of 2014. Minority-led companies account for 22.4 percent of the startups.

“Diverse leadership builds better businesses,” Klein said. “The most diverse C-suites (CEOs, CFOs, etc.) of Fortune 500 companies outperform their homogenous counterparts.”

In 2014 Klein and the Underground teamed up with others who, with financial backing from Google, formed SoarTriangle, a mentoring and community outreach program for female entrepreneurs.

And last year, in conjunction with a national nonprofit group and Google, the Underground named an Entrepreneur in Residence to boost the number of technology startups founded by blacks, Latinos and Latinas.

Klein also is on the boards of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Durham Inc. and the Durham History Hub.
Klein on leadership: “In leading a team, it’s critical that you have their trust and that you’ve earned their trust … that the leader is going to deliver on what they’re saying. Character is the other side of that coin, if you will. A leader who is of high character is really critical because I think people want to know you’re the same person at home as you are at the office.”

There’s a high demand for art in the Triangle, and few are as capable of delivering it as Sarah Powers.

Powers, 40, is executive director of Visual Art Exchange, a nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote visual arts and artists in the Triangle.

Under Powers’ leadership, the exchange has grown in prominence and as a resource for local artists, helping them improve their skills and promote their work.

Outside of running the SPARKcon arts festival in Raleigh, perhaps VAE’s most well-known endeavor, Powers has created new opportunities for artists in ways few have before, said artist Thomas Sayre of Raleigh, a North Carolina Arts Council board member.

VAE has added classes, fundraisers and members and moved into a new space on Martin Street since she took control. Her success as a business leader and an artist is a rare combination that’s given VAE unprecedented credibility in both political and artistic circles, Sayre said.

Sayre and others who know Powers describe her as driven and energetic but fun. While she rides a child’s scooter through downtown Raleigh to check on various events during SPARKcon, she’s also an influential voice in meetings.

“I’ve seen her be effective politically. I’ve seen her lead her organization. I’ve seen her lead the (Raleigh) City Council, the (Raleigh) arts commission and actually accomplish things,” he said. “It sounds easy, but it’s not.”

In its 10th year last year, SPARKcon’s participation tripled from the event’s inaugural year.

“We had our biggest budget, attendance, number of volunteers and number of participants ever” in 2015, Powers said.

Powers’ wish for the region: “To make this area attractive for creative people to continue moving here, we need to expand our definition of downtown. There should be other areas of town where there should be creative centers and affordable housing. We need to expand what we think that looks like. Artists are supposed to take over the old box buildings. … We don’t have that.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t make this an interesting place for artists to live and work.”

Matt Tomasulo, 33, put himself on the map as a local innovator and healthy living activist by putting Raleigh’s map on a T-shirt.

In 2011, he launched CityFabric, a company that prints city maps on posters and apparel to encourage discussions about urban design. The next year, he garnered international attention for the way he encouraged walking in downtown Raleigh. Without approval from the city government, he posted directional signs — with the time it would take to walk to them — along downtown sidewalks.

The city removed the signs but later adopted Tomasulo’s idea in some areas. In 2014, he helped create a popular beer garden known as The Wander Box. Carved from an old shipping container, it’s as much art as it is a mobile bar and can often be found outside Raleigh’s CAM.

Tomasulo lost his bid for an at-large seat on Raleigh’s City Council last year but landed on the city’s planning commission where he’ll put to use his dual master’s degree from UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State in city and regional planning and landscape architecture.

Tomasulo’s wish for the region: “We need to become a national leader in exploration, experimentation and investment in new housing options while continuing to focus on innovative ways to become a more inclusive, age- and culture-friendly community. It is critical that we continue to lead in our educational pursuits and grow as a community of lifelong learners — helping our academic institutions continue to play a larger role in our community.”

Torry and Terrence Holt are making a name for themselves in their second careers — and in philanthropic circles.

The brothers, who grew up in a small town in Guilford County, are accustomed to the spotlight. Torry, 39, and Terrence, 35, were football stars at N.C. State and then made their mark in the NFL.

Their new careers involved starting their own company in Raleigh, Holt Brothers Inc., whose flagship enterprise is Holt Brothers Construction. Today that business serves as construction manager — in partnership with other firms — on projects that include the city of Raleigh’s new central communication center and the $35 million renovation of Reynolds Coliseum.

Their Holt Brothers Foundation provides emotional support to children who have a parent with cancer, and it is their way of paying respect to the memory of their mother. She was diagnosed with lymphoma when they were 10 and 6 and died a decade later.

“We had always vowed to do something in honor of her name,” Torry Holt said.

More than 100 children who have a parent with cancer are currently enrolled in the foundation’s KidsCan! support program, which operates in conjunction with three area hospitals. The foundation, which this year raised about $200,000 — more than double the amount of a year ago — also has sent 80 children to a week of sleep-away camp over the past two years.

The Holts on leadership: “A true leader is OK standing alone,” Torry said.

“They look up and everyone’s on that side,” Terrence chimed in, “but they believe in the plan so much that they are willing to stand up for it.”

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