In 2010, Ten People To Watch as they influence Tampa Bay's challenging business scene
Wake up and good morning. Trying to pick a Top Ten list of People To Watch in the Tampa Bay business scene for 2010 is tougher than ever. The economy's tough. It's unclear if more people are going to leave this struggling state (11.5 percent unemployment) and this metro region (12.3 percent unemployment) while jobless benefits are running low. We're watching a fundamental debate over the limits to growth in a historically pro-growth state. We've begun a historic year in which a new regional mass transit plan may be born. And we're awash in brand-new top executives running challenging companies here. On with the Top Ten. Got your own idea on other business people to watch in Tampa Bay? Leave comments below on your picks and tell us why.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist
1 ELIZABETH "LIZ" SMITH: The ex-Avon Products president, 46, is about to finish Month 2 as the new CEO of OSI Restaurant Partners, Tampa's privately owned parent of casual dining chains Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba's, Bonefish Grill and several other brands. They are all in need of a freshening and revenue boost. So it's not a stretch to say Smith, who lacks direct restaurant experience, is in turnaround mode.
What an odd twist that the naming of Smith, the company's first female CEO, was followed so soon by an agreement by OSI to settle an EEOC-driven sex discrimination class lawsuit for $19 million and a promise to improve the promotion of women. Smith's presence at the top job should have sent an immediate signal of unlimited opportunities for women. Instead, her quote captured by media across the nation sounds defensive: "There is no glass ceiling at OSI, and we do not tolerate discrimination in any form." The good news is Smith had the settlement behind her before 2010 began and now seems ready to flex her specialty: brand building.
2 JAMES UTTERBACK: He's finishing up Week 5 as CEO of Tampa's M2Gen, the for-profit subsidiary of the Moffitt Cancer Center with a brand new building of its own near Moffitt and USF Tampa. M2Gen's a joint venture with pharmaceutical giant Merck. Utterback's mission? To grow M2Gen's tissue repository, find ways to make the clinical trials for cancer more efficient and deliver improved treatment protocols to cancer patients sooner. It's all part of the M2Gen/Moffitt strategy of personalizing treatment by "molecularly matching" patients to new treatments.
Utterback, 54, came here with 25 years of experience building startups and organizations in health care software, products and services. He was founder of a consulting firm to CliniRx, a clinical trial service firm that's part of an Indian conglomerate called the JK Organization. We care about M2Gen because it's a local startup, because it has powerful partners in Moffitt and Merck, and because M2Gen is perceived as part of the early wave of creative, biotech-type businesses like Draper Lab and SRI Florida just setting down roots in Tampa Bay.
3 CHUCK SYKES: Suddenly Sykes, the CEO of Tampa's global call center business Sykes Enterprises, is The Man of the Hour when it comes to economic expansion. At Sykes Enterprises, he's riding high after consummating a quarter-billion-dollar deal in 2009 to buy a fellow outsourcing firm — a rare transaction in such a down economy. Now he's this year's chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. He's leading the regional charge to bring World Cup soccer matches here as Tampa Bay Bid Committee chairman for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Sykes, 46, also serves as a member of A Baseball Community, or ABC, group of area executives recommending a potential site for a new Tampa Bay Rays baseball stadium. And he's poised to chair the Tampa Bay Partnership in two years. Bottom line? It's as if Sykes, son of Sykes Enterprises founder John Sykes (the philanthropist turned brokerage firm investor) strapped Get Involved Rockets on his back and ignited them all at once. How high will he soar?
4 PAUL REILLY: There's been plenty of anticipatory coverage, but on May 1, Reilly the outsider officially succeeds the 40-year legend Tom James as CEO of Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg. No pressure, Mr. Reilly. You're only stepping into the shoes of Tampa Bay's best-known, longest-lasting, philanthropically celebrated and one of the most respected CEOs of this region. The tennis-playing, chess-gaming Reilly, 55, will take charge of a reasonably healthy regional brokerage in a period of great uncertainty.
First, Wall Street nosedived and giant brokerage firms disappeared during the market collapse of 2007-2008. Second, federal regulators and legislators began a vaguely concocted overhaul of the financial services industry in response to the market meltdown. Third, Raymond James has retained a mostly enviable record of performance and growth. Can Reilly sustain it?
5 KAREN HOLBROOK: She's not a household name here. But I do remember Draper Lab business development chief Len Polizzotto making sure to credit Holbrook, 67, as an influential player in helping bring the MIT spinoff based in Cambridge, Mass., to both USF Tampa and to St. Petersburg in recent months. Holbrook carries an impressive title: University of South Florida vice president of research and innovation.
A former (and first female) president of Ohio State University and a Ph.D. scientist, she's now part of the machinery that leverages USF scientists and university zeal to assist in the commercialization of research (known as technology transfer). Hopefully, that may lead to more recruiting of firms like Draper.
6 TIM TANGREDI: The CEO of Dais Analytic Corp. in Pasco County's Odessa has come a long way from the mid 1990s when his upstate New York business was tinkering over a fuel cell idea at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The firm was lured to Pasco in 1998 thanks to tax breaks and assistance. Now comes the promise of company jobs. Lots of jobs.
In September, the 18-employee maker of nanotechnology-based air filtration systems unveiled a $200 million deal to export its product to China and, in the process, create 1,000 jobs over the next five years. That's a big number to deliver anywhere in Tampa Bay, but especially so in Pasco's bedroom communities where the November jobless rate was a depressing 13.2 percent.
Tangredi, 54, says Dais is gaining recognition for its nanotechnology expertise to solve "vexing energy and water infrastructure problems." His air filtration systems reduce the energy required to heat and cool buildings. As for those 1,000 jobs, the company isn't hiring yet. But when that time comes and Dais delivers, it could prove a transformative economic event for the Odessa area.
7 ED TURANCHIK: Activism is not dead, though sometimes you have to look hard to find it in Tampa Bay. That's why Ed Turanchik's rallying cry to start and serve as president of a statewide, pro-high-speed-rail, nonprofit group called ConnectUs last summer is worth noting. Turanchik, 56 and a Hillsborough County commissioner from 1990 to 1998, is known for progressive quests. After all, he was a big promoter of Tampa Bay and its Interstate 4 corridor as a site for the 2012 Olympics; London eventually was selected. And Turanchik was involved in ambitious though unrealized efforts by a group Civitas to rebuild the Central Park Village area near Tampa's downtown. Turanchik's ConnectUs will be critical to keep the momentum for rail in Florida. A federal decision should be made early this year.
8 MARTY PETTY: She left the publisher's job at Times Publishing Co., parent of the St. Petersburg Times, but Petty can't leave newspapers. After Ben Eason and family lost control of the Creative Loafing alternative newspaper chain in bankruptcy court, the six-paper chain fell into the reluctant hands of financing firm Atalaya Capital Management. In November, Atalaya turned to Petty as CEO to revive the alt paper chain, which includes the weekly Creative Loafing here in the Tampa Bay area.
Petty has her work cut out for her. Any newspaper is a business challenge in these lean days. Creative Loafing faces direct competition from tbt* Tampa Bay Times, the free, Monday-through-Friday alt-like tabloid that belongs to the St. Petersburg Times. But Petty, 57, now controls a geographically diverse audience with five other alts published in Sarasota, Charlotte, Atlanta, Chicago and Washington, DC. Let the games begin.
9 PAUL SANBERG: We don't know yet if the antidepressant alternative drug TC-5214 developed by Sanberg, 55, and his fellow USF researchers will be a blockbuster with university royalties akin to Gatorade for the University of Florida or cancer drug Taxol for Florida State University. But the early signs are encouraging, given last month's major licensing deal between global pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca PLC and Targacept Inc. This is, of course, what university researchers dream of. And it is what keeps universities like USF — still young, still looking for respect and always looking for major new revenue sources — forever on the hunt.
10 LESLEY BLACKNER: She's not local, but a Palm Beach lawyer whose influence transcends geography and is already shaking up the Tampa Bay economic development scene. Blackner, 49, is one of the founders of the Hometown Democracy movement, the bane of pro-growth developers and the newfound love of Floridians tired of the state's sprawl and history of perpetual expansion. Why watch Blackner in 2010? Because her group has managed to get sufficient backing to get a citizen reform now known as Amendment 4 on the November ballot. In a nutshell, Amendment 4 gives voters veto power over growth plans in their own communities. Let's just say pro-growthers are apoplectic. What a battle!