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  1. Business

From the cafeteria to the chamber, Patel emerges as leader

TAMPA — It was his first day of high school in September 1998 and Aakash Patel, awkwardly holding a lunch bag, didn't know where to sit.

"I'm in the cafeteria and I don't have anybody to sit with because I didn't go to middle school here," he said. The only non-freshman in the room was the student body president, Mike Griffin, who flagged Patel down and offered him a seat.

"We talked that whole period," Patel told a crowd of 200 people nearly 20 years later, recalling how Griffin inspired him during that lunch to get involved in student government, which he did.

Patel returned to Tampa after graduating from Florida State University in 2011, and Griffin again encouraged him, inviting him to get involved in the Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

"I was fortunate enough to follow him at Sickles High School and fortunate enough to follow him here," he said.

Now the Tampa Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman, Griffin beamed on Thursday night as he presented Patel with the Deanne Dewey Roberts Emerging Leader Award, which highlights a young Tampa professional who stands out as a community builder and advocate. Griffin was the first to win the award in 2012.

The award celebrates the legacy of Roberts, a business leader who served as the Chamber of Commerce chair and helped found the Chamber's Emerging Leaders of Tampa Bay program in 2004. The organization now boasts a membership of more than 500 young professionals, many of whom were in attendance Thursday evening.

Patel, 33, is owner of Elevate, a business consulting firm with eight employees. A Republican, he is also running for the Hillsborough County Commission's District 1 seat.

"I'm not seeing this level of leadership and activity from young professionals, future leaders in other markets around the country," said Keynote Speaker Brian Lamb, the executive vice president and chief corporate responsibility and reputation officer at Fifth Third Bank. Lamb, who relocated to Cincinnati last year, is also chair of the University of South Florida Board of Trustees.

During his 21-minute speech, which he delivered without written notes, Lamb told the crowd that the most important tools for young leaders are purpose, strategic agility, courage, reputation, and being self-aware.

"If you get that right it will cascade around the country so that great business and great talent will want to call Tampa Bay home," he said. "What you've built in your reputation is impressive... I think you are at the tipping point. You can make it the most competitive region in the country."

Lamb also reiterated his support for the region, which he said he still considers home.

"I wear a suit and in my day job I'm a banker, but if you really want to know what I am… is a public servant. It's what I'm passionate about. It's what I'm good at," he said. "Whether I'm in Cincinnati or wherever I am in the country, this chamber, its emerging leadership program has a very special place in my heart and you will absolutely always have my support."

The Emerging Leaders organization also expanded its mentorship program this year, increasing to 82 mentors and protégé's with the goal of empowering young professionals to be active in the community and advance the region's economic footprint.

"All of you in the room represent the future leaders of our community," said Marie Chinnici-Everitt, Chief Marketing Officer for event sponsor DTCC (the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation). She pointed to a recent article published in Forbes Magazine which named Tampa as the second-best city in America for young entrepreneurs.

"The success of our community relies on creating opportunities like these," she said. "This is an exciting time to do business in Tampa."

The group also announced leaders for the 2017-18 year: Andrew Smith of JPMorgan Chase & Co., program chair; Raechel Canipe of DEX Imaging, program vice chair. Professional Development Committee: Eric Ortiz of McKay Advertising + Activation, chair; Morgan Holmes of USF, vice chair. Public Policy Committee: Chris Chambers of TECO, chair; Wyatt Krapf of HFF. Community Outreach Committee: Megan Wade of Guardian ad Litem, chair; Josh Wilson of USF, vice chair. Ambassadors: Lucielle Salomon of Lucielle Salomon, LLC; Elizabeth Calos, Scytl; Amanda Bolli, BDG Architects.

Contact Alli Knothe at