Extraordinary times call for certain folks to step up and be counted — for better or worse — in the greater Tampa Bay business community. Environmental calamity in the gulf, political skulduggery in Tallahassee and economic struggles aplenty right here. Who ya gonna call? Our leadership ranks feel a bit more frazzled than usual as we rocket into the latter part of 2010. But here are 10 people to watch and, frankly, a few to watch out for, who can help or hurt a wide range of key issues this year. Will they deliver?
1 ROXANNE AMOROSO, 51, Senior vice president, Community Real Estate Development, Bank of America, Tampa
She's an integral part of the team building Encore, a 29-acre mixed-used downtown Tampa redevelopment project that will replace a tired and worn Central Park Village. It's a big commitment in this economy to a blighted area that geographically connects the city's downtown and Ybor City. A 20- year commercial real estate veteran, Amoroso says the project is leaner than once envisioned, with 800 planned housing units, down from 1,300, but such is the sign of the times. It is a coup that Encore, whose main boulevard will be named after music great Ray Charles, is charging ahead and has an advocate like Amoroso to make it happen. Downtown Tampa needs this project to be a winner.
2 SEAN HELLEIN, 37, Whistle-blower, former WellCare employee, Tampa
Cynics in the Florida media who overdosed on rampant health care fraud in this state may consider Hellein one notch above a gold-digger, a whistle-blower gunning for a big payout as undercover spy for the FBI inside Tampa's WellCare Health Plans Inc. I see a more positive tale. WellCare was raided by the FBI in October 2007 and ever since has been unable to shirk the regulatory blame and legal allegations. What's needed there is a genuine purge of a corporate culture still tainted by past ripoffs of the nation's already-overwhelmed health care system.
A University of Central Florida grad, Hellein joined WellCare in 2002. By 2006, he realized he was in fraud central and cut a deal with the FBI to wear a video camera and record more than 1,000 hours of company conversations. After the FBI raid, Hellein quit the company and now works in Atlanta. The Justice Department is trying to settle with WellCare for $137 million, though Hellein and Tampa attorney Barry Cohen are fighting for a bigger penalty. By law, whistle-blowers can collect up to a 25 percent of the settlement. Either way, Hellein and perhaps some other whistle-blowers in the case will collect a well-deserved bundle. But here's a question: Does this end WellCare's bad habits?
3 MATT MATTILA, 28, Project Get Ready manager, Rocky Mountain Institute, Snowmass, Colo.
The youngest among the "10 to watch" here heads a multicity speed-up to share best practices and build enough infrastructure for personal electric vehicles to start running (and recharging) sooner rather than later. Last month, Mattila attended the "Get Ready Tampa Bay" pep rally in St. Petersburg that kicked off this metro area's official joining of the national Project Get Ready. It's an initiative of the Rocky Mountain Institute, which advocates the most efficient use of resources. In this case it means promoting transportation by electric battery is good if it reduces reliance on gas-powered vehicles.
"Infrastructure is a critical element for mass adoption of plug-in vehicles, and this is considerably different from getting hybrids on the road," Mattila states. "You need collaboration across sectors: government to provide permitting of charging stations, utilities to integrate them into the electric grid, and groups to educate consumers." Area leaders insist they are up to the task.
4 VAL HARWELL, 49, CEO, The Omnia Group, Tampa
"I am such a big believer, if you get the right people and right seats on the bus, you will create an organization or team that will exceed every expectation." That's Harwell's vision at Omnia, a 25-employee firm that helps companies find the best person both for a job and for a corporate culture. Omnia tests job applicants on what makes them tick best, but it also analyzes each client company's culture. It even benchmarks a company's best people to see what makes them most successful. Why do we care? Because companies crawling out of the recession looking for best hires are drowning in applicants. Firms like Omnia cut through the clutter.
Harwell's full of enthusiasm and passion to make things happen. After running Wachovia (now Wells Fargo) Insurance Services to record sales, she retired briefly only to be enticed earlier this year to turn around Omnia. She says it all boils down to understanding one another and communicating effectively. "It is," says Harwell, "the epitome of success."
5 ANTHONY EVERETT, 47, Senior vice president, ActivoFirst Savings Association, Tampa
He's been involved in Florida real estate all his life, which is only natural given mother Toni Everett's decades of influence selling luxury South Tampa homes. But Anthony's on to a new strategy as Florida/southeastern U.S. executive and director of a Houston-based wholesale savings association called ActivoFirst. Its strategy: to buy up and resuscitate some of the abundant distressed real estate loans once held by failed banks. Everett laughs when asked his business plan: "To follow real estate cycles by investing at low points and selling at the highs." Why didn't we think of that?
ActivoFirst's main source of loans belong to Florida's plentiful crop of "zombie" banks waiting their turn to be taken over by the FDIC. Bank loans and others assets are then put on the market for Everett and other scavenging shoppers. "There is a tremendous backlog of assets out there," he says.
6 JAMES MILLER, 60, BP's defense attorney, Akerman Senterfitt law firm, Miami
Call Miller the Anti-Yerrid. If Tampa attorney Steve Yerrid's been tapped by the state of Florida to fight for all of the compensation it can get out of BP for its unprecedented gulf oil spill, Miller's leading the team defending BP's interests. The Akerman law firm will handle all of BP's civil litigation in Florida, which promises to be vast, long and lucrative. Did Miller hit a grand slam? Experts say litigation from the BP oil spill will quickly surpass Chinese drywall as the biggest modern treasure chest of litigation in Florida.
Miller's legal resume covers quite a spectrum. He's defended major financial institutions against shareholder suits and Blockbuster Video Stores against consumer class actions.
7 MIKE BENNETT, 65, State senator, Republican, Bradenton
Tallahassee politics too often descend into the sordid, so I don't usually go out of my way to offer more coverage of a dysfunctional state Legislature. But Bennett's role as head of the nominating committee for the Florida Public Service Commission inspires inclusion in this list of people to watch — or should I say to watch out for? Rarely have the interests of Floridians been so brazenly cast aside in favor of remolding the PSC, which decides critical issues like electricity rates, to the liking of the big electric utilities in the state. That especially means Miami's Florida Power & Light and St. Petersburg's Progress Energy Florida, two industry giants that got snubbed at the start of this year by a PSC that refused their applications to raise electric rates. Their revenge has been swift.
For his part, Bennett has said his panel wants a "more congenial, more cooperative" — read docile and malleable — PSC. As others have chronicled, a review of campaign contributions shows Bennett has received $42,000 in campaign donations from utilities. He even heads up a political committee called the "Committee Supporting Utilities and Competitive Commerce." Bottom line: Powerful industries still call the shots way too much in this state.
8 MARY LALLUCCI, 57, interim CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce
Depending on whom you talk to, John Long's midyear resignation after 41/2 years as an award-winning St. Pete Chamber CEO was a case of "personal mission accomplished" or "it's just the right time to go hunting for a new chamber chief." Lallucci, who in her real job is senior vice president of Right Management, was supposed to succeed current chamber chairman and area Humana executive Sid Morgan. Instead, she's shifting gears, taking the chamber's top staff spot until Long's successor is found.
Chamber politics can make the Russian Politburo look tame. Small-business members claim they don't get enough attention. Big businesses join only if they get the spotlight. And then there are those murky membership dues, which can ebb and flow during tough recession times — all in the name of preserving big membership numbers. Lallucci's a trouper to keep the chamber on track. You might remember her as one of the creators of Florida's Silver Alert system to help find missing seniors.
9 KEN ATWATER, 58, new president of Hillsborough Community College, Tampa
What's Atwater got to do with Tampa Bay businesses? Well, he's the new guy in charge of more than 44,000 community college students in the metro area's core business county. That means he's about to play a big role in preparing this area's next-generation work force. And that's not going to be an easy task.
What we need are sharp thinkers willingly trained in the types of jobs Tampa Bay will be seeking in droves. That includes registered nurses and folks in related nursing professions, young people well versed in the coming electronic medical records world, medical technicians, IT specialists, accounting experts, engineers … you get the picture. Retiring HCC chief Gwen Stephenson set a pretty high bar, but Atwater needs to raise it. Just ask the business community. Our work force needs to be stronger, smarter and more disciplined than ever before. Welcome aboard and good luck, Mr. Atwater. Make us proud.
10 SUSAN GLICKMAN, 51, Director, Florida Business Network for a Clean Energy Economy
For years, she's fought the good fight in Tallahassee for the environment and alternative energy. Now things are happening. If there's a silver lining in the devastating BP oil spill, it's that it serves as a wakeup call to those calcified state legislators who muttered "drill, baby, drill" and little else before the BP well blew. What Florida so desperately needs, Glickman says, is a bona fide energy policy that encourages development of a diversity of energy sources. As coal and oil become yesteryear fossil fuels, the state needs to start encouraging solar, biomass and any number of other new sources of energy, she argues.
Last week, Glickman watched a few Tallahassee leaders see the light while attending a clean energy forum in Orlando. There's a clean energy industry emerging in this country, but Florida won't benefit from attracting new energy business, investment or up to 40,000 industry jobs, unless the state sets alternative energy goals. If not, the 29 states that already have energy policies will eat our lunch. Environmentalists for years have pushed for a so-called "renewable portfolio standard" to require 20 percent of the state's energy to come from renewable sources by 2020. The Tampa-born, beach-living Glickman remains hopeful. "The unique catastrophe in the gulf has created a political opportunity," she says.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at email@example.com.