The List (21-30)
21. Phil Dubois
In 2006: 23
Still considered somewhat of a newcomer despite three years on the job, Dubois has worked hard to ingratiate himself with Charlotte’s business ruling class, and he has been welcomed. In stumping for the light rail, he has shown himself to be open to better integrating the campus with the city. His profile will only grow once UNCC’s business school moves into the downtown building under construction. Thus far, he has deftly handled the football decision, which multiple people told us would be his defining issue.
22. Pat Rodgers
President and CEO, Rodgers Builders
In 2006: 24
Her firm has built some of Charlotte’s most visible structures, including ImaginOn and Carolinas Medical Center Northeast, and she is generally recognized as the heaviest hitter in local construction circles. She is also lauded for her good judgment and philanthropic efforts, and she’s often a top choice when a key local institution needs a steadying hand. Because of that, she plays in multiple fields, from arts and culture to business. She guided the Mint Museum board as it planned for a new building, and she’s slated to be Charlotte Chamber chair in 2011. She’s also currently the chair of the Charlotte Symphony board (which demonstrates that she doesn’t shy away from a challenge) and serves on the board of Foundation for the Carolinas. Few folks on this list have pull in such a diverse array of fields..
23. Jerry Richardson
Owner/Founder, Carolina Panthers
In 2006: 44
We’re willing to bet that Richardson wins the whose-phone-call-would-you-return-first game. He doesn’t get too involved in local affairs, but he has a gravitas and charisma that can’t be matched. The Panthers are one of the most respected franchises in the NFL, and Richardson is perhaps the league’s most powerful owner (Commissioner Roger Goodell tapped Richardson to lead labor negotiations with the players union). Earlier this year, a private equity group led by Richardson and Hugh McColl bought Bojangles, and Richardson installed his guy as CEO.
24. Michael Smith
President, Charlotte Center City Partners
In 2006: Unranked
Smith has earned a lot of local fans for his work in two years as head of CCCP, but, assuming he stays in the position, the next couple years will be his make-or-break time. Although he’s close, he still hasn’t quite pulled off the complicated deal to bring minor league baseball back downtown (see number fifty, Bill Diehl). This year was supposed to be the Year of Retail in the center city, but the economy put that on hold. And then there’s this little issue with Wachovia. Smith prefers the back room to the spotlight, and he’ll have to do a lot of wheeling and dealing to keep downtown moving forward, whether it’s wooing Wachovia’s eventual purchaser or partner, recruiting new businesses to fill the void, or just trying to keep the positive vibes flowing.
25. Rick Thames
Editor, Charlotte Observer
In 2006: 36
Certainly, the Observer is dealing with huge financial struggles. New job cuts are announced seemingly every month, and the paper has been shrinking in physical size and page count. But the fact remains: the Charlotte Observer is the dominant player in local media. Local radio and television news take much of its cues from news stories in the Observer, and almost every source we spoke with had read the paper the morning of our interview. It helped break the national subprime lending crisis story (running Beazer Co. out of town in the process), aggressively covered the United Way situation, blanketed the Wachovia story, and has practically crusaded against N.C. Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry. Give Thames credit for keeping the staff focused while their industry is in turmoil. Meanwhile, the Rhino Times ceased publishing, and Creative Loafing‘s parent company filed for bankruptcy (the paper is still publishing, but is moving toward an online focus). Outside of the Charlotte Business Journal and, ahem, this magazine, there are no other print outlets for serious coverage of the city.
26. Jennifer Roberts
Chair, Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners
In 2006: Unranked
“As chair,” a top local Republican told us, “Jennifer Roberts is a player.” We heard variations on that theme over and over. It’s a polite way of saying that Roberts has surprised a lot of people with how effective she’s been as chair of the county commission. A relative political novice, Roberts, a Charlotte native who was a Morehead scholar at UNC, has been a steadying influence on a sometimes-contentious board. A Democrat, she has crossed party lines on occasion to get things done, and she is growing more comfortable with the bully pulpit (her public remarks that local leadership could have done a better job managing the gas crisis being the latest example). If she chooses to, expect Roberts to stay in her role for a long time and become a powerful political force.
27. Peter Gorman
Superintendent, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools
In 2006: Unranked
He has one of the toughest jobs in the city, but Gorman has received generally positive reviews for his work leading CMS. The business community adores him for his practical, no-nonsense style, even if his blunt manner has earned him media criticism along the way. Of course, he has to deal with the perennially dysfunctional school board, which somewhat limits his power, but he won his first big bond campaign, and he has the support of the county commission, which provides the lion’s share of CMS funding.
28. Steve Luquire
CEO, Luquire George Andrews
In 2006: 50
A fixture on Charlotte’s civic scene, nice guy Luquire is Charlotte’s king of PR (one observer called him “the Michael Marsicano of PR”), and he has built one of the top advertising and PR firms in the region. He’s Jerry Richardson and Johnny Harris’s go-to guy, and when the United Way went into crisis mode, they called Luquire. The firm also counts Center City Partners, Novant Health, National Gypsum, Piedmont Natural Gas, and N.C. State University among its clients.
29. Ronnie Bryant
CEO, Charlotte Regional Partnership
In 2006: 30
With the Wachovia fallout, Bryant has his work cut out for him. Essentially, he’s the chief economic developer for the sixteen-county region that includes Charlotte. So his job is to sell the region to companies shopping for a new home—and by most accounts, he’s pretty decent at that—and, as one source put it, “to work behind the scenes, keeping the counties from eating each other.” But over the years, the partnership has struggled to find an identity—is it a recruiter? A facilitator? So even though it has a powerful board, funding has become a challenge, and the current corporate climate doesn’t help matters.
30. Lee Keesler
President and CEO, Arts & Science Council
In 2006: 34
Even though he announced that he’s leaving the ASC by next summer, Keesler is the most powerful leader in the local arts and culture world. The council gave out almost $13 million in grants last year, including a hefty percentage of the operating budgets of two dozen organizations. Keesler recently helped engineer a new strategic plan for the ASC, which will extend its reach to the entire county, including support for individual artists and smaller groups beyond the traditional core recipients. Keesler came from the corporate world, and his large board is full of influential leaders from the business and philanthropic community. It will be interesting to see where he lands after he leaves the ASC.