Some of Central Florida's youngest business leaders feel like they have moved up in their careers, thanks to a little help from local influential mentors.
A panel of 13 of the Orlando area's young leaders came together to discuss local progress and challenges as part of the Orlando Business Journal's Next Generation roundtable on Aug. 5. Those topics included everything from workforce retention to what the city needs for young professionals, how Orlando has succeeded in drawing a diverse workforce and who has helped them succeed the most.
Here, seven of the panelists share the individuals who helped them develop in the local workforce to get where they are today:
Adam Wonus, owner, Atrium Management Co.: "For me in development, [Ustler Development President] Craig Ustler always has been a person who has helped me. From the time I moved here when I was 21 years old, I read about him and reached out to him the first time. He’s always been willing to give me advice, point me in the right direction and tell me if I’m doing something wrong or right."
Stephanie Darden Bennett, president and chief creative officer, Prismatic: "There have been many, but [former Central Florida Commission on Homelessness CEO] Shelley Lauten sticks out to me as one. She’s someone who really embodies what is special about Orlando, along with her background being at Disney. Just seeing how she has been able to evolve, shift and grow the Orlando community, but most importantly the type of work she’s been doing that needs strong relationships."
Jorge Rodriguez, executive managing director, Colliers International Central Florida: "For about 11 years, I’ve had long-time clients and a lot of them are local business. One is Jim Caruso with Pineloch Management Corp. When I was in my early 20s, they stuck with me, believed in me and we had a lot of success together. Another family would be Richard Lee with LeeVista, I’ve been lucky to work with them on a couple of projects by the airport."
Kathleen Plinske, executive vice president, Valencia College: "I would say [Valencia College President] Sandy Shugart. I am very fortunate he took the chance on hiring me as a campus president at the age of 29. I’m very thankful he took that risk, but also because of his deep commitment to providing access to higher education."
Reginald Burroughs III, youth employment coordinator, city of Orlando's Families, Parks & Recreation Department: "I have to pick two: [Orange County Administrator] Byron Brooks and [Orlando City] Commissioner Regina Hill. They both share a passion to invest in people from traditionally underserved communities in Orlando. Whether that’s through economic opportunities, entrepreneurial skill courses or mentorships — like they did for me — they empower and encourage people to rise, which is something I want to return to the community."
Adrianna Sekula, manager for government relations, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S.: "It’s Orange County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey. When she was still in the private world, she was an influential person to me and my career in terms of where I was going and coming to Disney, she was at the DRMP Inc. at the time. She was a woman who pulled herself up by the bootstraps at a young age as a single mother of several children and really made a career for herself in engineering and development."
Bridget Keefe, executive director, Downtown Orlando Partnership: "In that political space, I feel like we have to mention Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. I feel like everyone here has been impacted by his leadership, and certainly he is a big advocate for the downtown space. His vision and desire for Orlando to be part of the next generation with our population is something I think longterm is going to have a great impact on our community."