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2014 Power List

Updated: May 6, 2014 - 9:40 am

Posted: April 23, 2014

The 2014 Power List
75 people who shape and influence Hampton Roads

By Edward Power

A $5,000 Rolex.

For me, that became the defining symbol of the imbroglio in which former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell found himself during the final 12 months of his four-year term, which ended in January. Sure, there were other details in the complicated mess involving McDonnell, his wife Maureen, and the owner of Star Scientific, a company ensnared in a tax dispute with the commonwealth. There were expenses-paid shopping trips for the governor's wife, and a $15,000 wedding gift to the McDonnells' daughter from Jonnie Williams Sr., Star Scientific's chief executive. There were questionable stock purchases and real estate loans - all told about $150,000, or enough money changing hands quietly that the stains, once they were made public, were pretty hard to wash away. McDonnell's fall seemed almost Shakespearean it was so uncomfortable to watch.

The really unfortunate aspect of all this was that McDonnell did a lot of good for the commonwealth. He improved the state's finances; he championed transportation and education initiatives; and he was a tireless campaigner for jobs.

But it was the Rolex that Maureen McDonnell presented her husband (after admiring one on the wrist of Williams, who then promptly procured one for the governor) that stood out as the symbol of the whole affair. Here was Gov. McDonnell, arguably on a pathway to national office - perhaps to the White House - accepting a Rolex, the origins of which for even the most gullible person had to be questionable.

For me it came down to a simple question: Is that the value of a reputation, a career? A $5,000 Rolex?

I think most, if not all of the readers of Inside Business would agree that the value of one's reputation is a lot higher than $5,000, and for that matter can't be pegged to a dollar sign. Spend decades building a reputation and you know it's priceless, irreplaceable, as dear as oxygen.

I cite all this because Bob McDonnell was No. 1 on the Inside Business "Power List" last year, a distinction published just before the Star Scientific story began to break. Now McDonnell has left office, has been indicted and faces an uncertain future, his political career almost certainly over, his opportunity to wield power as a force for the good at least partially squandered.

It's a cautionary tale to be sure. And it's one that sharply illustrates the way that a mishandling of power can be like carrying mercury in one's palm - make the wrong move and it ends up in a thousand silver beads on the floor, irretrievable, wasted.

Occupying the top slot of this year's "Power List" is mega developer Bruce Thompson, a familiar name in these pages and much of the reason the Inside Business staff felt he had earned the slot. Everywhere one turns, Thompson has a new project - a convention center hotel in Norfolk, a refurbishing of Virginia Beach's historic Cavalier Hotel, plans to build a new, Miami-style, glass-faced, Oceanfront icon across the street. Thompson is also serving as a consultant to one contender to build Virginia Beach an 18,000-seat arena.

The CEO of Gold Key | PHR has continued, with an almost military-like purpose and execution, to profoundly reshape the Hampton Roads cityscape. His 31st Street Hilton hotel at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront set a new standard for lodging excellence in the region when it opened in 2005.

Since then, he has opened two more Oceanfront hotels with a third rising above the beach. His company will soon begin work, along with John Lawson, the CEO of Newport News-based W.M. Jordan, on a new Norfolk convention hotel.

As if all that weren't enough, Thompson quietly traveled the country last year, painstakingly knitting together, with Lawson and Philadelphia-based Comcast, a deal to resurrect plans for a major sports and entertainment arena in Virginia Beach.

Meanwhile, Thompson exercises the same business focus in his philanthropic pursuits, raising millions of dollars to help find a cure for Lou Gehrig's disease, which afflicts his son.

For all these reasons, Bruce Thompson rose from No. 3 on last year's Power List to the No. 1 slot.

In the No. 2 slot is John O. "Dubby" Wynne.

By his own choice, Wynne has shied from the limelight, going about his work with a spotlight not on himself but on the issues facing the community. An exception to Wynne's low visibility has been his recent role as both the chairman of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation and as one of the founders of the Business Roundtable, a group of leaders who came together last year as a catalyst for positive change around issues critical to the future of the community.

For those reasons and others, Wynne also received in December the Civic Leadership Institute's Darden Award for exemplary community leadership (Full disclosure: As a Civic board member, I chaired the event, but the award was voted on by Civic's full board of nearly 20 trustees).

Finally, moving up from No. 16 last year to this year's third slot is John Lawson. Already noted for his partnerships with Thompson, Lawson isn't defined by what he does with Thompson. The former rector of Virginia Tech, a key founder of TowneBank and a champion for a major high-tech office park on the Peninsula, Lawson has a statewide reach. He's a leader, and, for anyone who has spent time around him, he establishes himself as a deep thinker and a creative force, always challenging the status quo.

Notable for their continuing achievements in Hampton Roads last year, and justification for their new appearance in the top 25 of the Power List are: John Rein-hart, the new CEO of the Virginia Port Authority; Stephen Ballard, president of S.B. Ballard construction company, and whose name appears on the football stadium at Old Dominion University, his alma mater; Alonzo Brandon, vice president of University Advancement at Old Dominion University, where he has successfully spearheaded major fundraising initiatives and strategic vision for the university's future; Charles Barker, who rose from last year's emeritus list to the top 25 as a result of recent expansion of his auto dealerships, and continuing, significant philanthropic efforts; Deborah DiCroce, who had slipped off our top 25 list after leaving the helm at Tidewater Community College but has re-emerged as the CEO of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, where she is overseeing major community initiatives; and finally U.S. Navy Capt. Mary Jackson - about to be Rear Adm. Jackson - who may soon leave Hampton Roads for a new assignment, but who, in her time here, has defined herself not just as a military leader, but as a leader in any setting where she invests her time and considerable talents.

Just as there are falls from power like Bob McDonnell's, there are also reversals, stories of people who may suffer a challenge to their power more through philosophical differences than through ethical transgressions.

One such story is that of Helen Dragas.

In 2012, Dragas, as chair of the University of Virginia's board of visitors, attempted to engineer the termination of U.Va. president Teresa Sullivan. A bungled effort that raised an indignant outcry from both U.Va. professors and legions of alumni, Dragas' campaign was ultimately overturned. Sullivan remains president, and Dragas, despite demands for her resignation, remains on the U.Va. board.

And therein is the critical point about Helen Dragas: She didn't resign. Tenacity has been a hallmark of her career in business and in service to the community and state. She's publicly acknowledged that things could have been better handled, but she has stuck to her principles and her reasons for calling for Sullivan's ouster: U.Va. needs a strategic vision and plan to confront the issues facing it, just as they are facing all higher education institutions.

One can disagree with how Dragas rang the alarm. But it's hard to deny that it was a wake-up call sounded with genuine concern about an institution she cares about deeply. While some may still disagree with Dragas' instigation of the attempt to force Sullivan out, it's hard not to admire her tenacity, and her loyalty to her own judgment and heart.

As uncomfortable as it all was - Dragas herself called it a "near- death experience" - that's what leaders sometimes have to do.

Dragas would do well to employ her ferocity in helping the region combat some of its problems with economic growth, education and workforce development. She sets an example that someone in McDonnell's situation could learn from. For that reason, Dragas has moved up 11 slots on this year's list to 14, a considerable reversal from her fall last year, from number 11 in 2012, to 2013's ranking of 25.

These stories - McDonnell's fall, Thompson's and Lawson's continued ascent, Wynne's quiet, persistent leadership, and Dragas' determined, redemptive march - all speak to the vagaries of power. In steady, altruistic hands, it's a magic wand, a transformative tool for change. It shines a light toward a higher purpose. Mishandled - and particularly so when it's for personal gain - power is tantamount to a gambling addiction. The thrill may be intoxicating, but somewhere down the road there's a bitter bill to be paid.

Fortunately for Hampton Roads, the community enjoys a surfeit of civic-minded business leaders and citizens increasingly working in unison to place this region at the forefront of the metropolitan revolution. That's what the staff of Inside Business concluded when they assembled this year's Power List.

Hopefully, as you review our 2014 roster, you'll reach the same conclusion.

You'll find those on the list starting with the Top 25 on the right and below.

01. Bruce Thompson view
02. John O. "Dubby" Wynne view
03. John R. Lawson II view
04. Gary McCollum view
05. J. Morgan Davis view
06. Brad Schwartz view
07. John Broderick view
08. Wick Moorman view
09. Paul Fraim and Will Sessoms view
10. Vincent Mastracco Jr. view
11. Ramon Breeden view
12. Aubrey Layne, Molly Ward and Maurice Jones view
13. John Reinhart view
14. Helen Dragas view
15. Hampton Roads congressional delegation: Randy Forbes, Scott Rigell and Bobby Scott view
16. Dennis Ellmer view
17. David Mele view
18. Rod Rodriguez view
19. C. Michael Petters view
20. Bob Boyd view
21. Stephen Ballard view
22. Alonzo Brandon view
23. Charles Barker view
24. Deborah DiCroce view
25. Mary Jackson view

Scroll down to meet the honorees.
Learn more about each honoree by clicking on their name or photo.

  • 01. Bruce Thompson

    Updated: May 3, 2014 - 7:45 am

    Posted: May 2, 2014

    Oh what a difference a year can make.

    Twelve months ago, official plans for a Virginia Beach arena were effectively dead, and the Cavalier Hotel properties at the Oceanfront were tangled in a legal squabble.

    Today, Bruce Thompson is leading a quarter-billion-dollar redevelopment at the Cavalier site and he's the orchestrator of one of two $200 million arena proposals the city is considering.

    Those and other changes helped improve Thompson's ranking on the Power List. The CEO of Gold Key PHR | Hotels & Resorts now holds the No. 1 spot.

  • 02. John O. "Dubby" Wynne

    Updated: May 3, 2014 - 7:42 am

    Posted: May 2, 2014

    John O. "Dubby" Wynne holds his place at No. 2 again this year.

    The former CEO of Landmark Communications and current chair of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation is a behind-the-scenes kind of guy, and prefers to keep it that way.

    He often quotes the late philanthropist and civic leader Joshua P. Darden Jr., "If you don't worry about who is getting the credit, it's amazing what you can accomplish in life."

  • 03. John R. Lawson II

    Updated: May 3, 2014 - 7:43 am

    Posted: May 2, 2014

    W.M. Jordan Co. Inc. is remodeling the Cavalier Hotel in Virginia Beach, building the $126 million, 22-story Hilton Hotel and Conference Center that will break ground in Norfolk on May 9 and recently finished the Hilton Garden Inn, which was expected to open at the Oceanfront at the end of April.

    The company, and more specifically its president, John R. Lawson II, has become Bruce Thompson's chosen partner in local developments.

  • 04. Gary McCollum

    Updated: May 8, 2014 - 11:20 am

    Posted: May 2, 2014

    Gary McCollum, the senior vice president and general manager at Cox Communications Virginia, continued to make his presence felt outside his day job over the past year, climbing up two spots on the Power List.

    The 2014 recipient of the Volunteer Hampton Roads Lenora Mathews Lifetime Achievement Award has been involved in a variety of civic endeavors and was named to board of the Virginia Port Authority in mid-April.

    One issue near and dear to his heart is early childhood education, which has far-reaching implications for workforce development, crime and more.

  • 05. J. Morgan Davis

    Updated: May 8, 2014 - 11:21 am

    Posted: May 1, 2014

    Forget Coastal Virginia. J. Morgan Davis suggests another name for the area, something he thinks better identifies the region for people not from here.

    “We ought to combine all seven cities and the greater Richmond area – the whole dang thing – and call it Atlantis,” Davis said. “A new area is rising out of the East, and there it is, Atlantis.”

  • 06. Brad Schwartz

    Updated: May 8, 2014 - 11:22 am

    Posted: May 1, 2014

    Monarch Bank had a reason to celebrate this year.

    The Chesapeake-based community bank turned 15 in April. It was also named the best Virginia bank to work for in 2014 by Virginia Business Magazine.

    CEO Brad Schwartz said part of the bank's celebration was running a TV ad that showed its employees dancing, shouting and, well, being happy.

  • 07. John Broderick

    Updated: May 8, 2014 - 11:22 am

    Posted: April 30, 2014

    John Broderick is at the helm of the area's biggest post-secondary institution, and developments at Old Dominion University over the past year have catapulted Broderick 11 spots on the Power List from No. 18 last year.

    One of the most significant events for the school since last spring was the announcement that alumnus Mark Strome and his family have donated $11 million to help integrate and nurture entrepreneurship throughout the university.

  • 08. Wick Moorman

    Updated: May 2, 2014 - 12:37 pm

    Posted: April 29, 2014

    Business isn’t just booming at Norfolk Southern Corp. According to company Chairman and CEO Wick Moorman, it’s breaking records.

    After a sluggish first economic half last year, the railroad giant saw significant turnaround in the second half. Net income was up 9 percent in 2013 and earnings per share were up 12 percent – personal bests for the Norfolk-based rail giant.

    The company also saw operating revenues reach $11.2 billion, marking its third consecutive year at $11 billion-plus. On top of that, Moorman has maintained his No. 8 position on the Power List.

  • 09. Paul Fraim and Will Sessoms

    Updated: May 8, 2014 - 11:25 am

    Posted: April 24, 2014

    Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim and Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms have tied again, the fourth year in a row for this political pair.

    "I'll be damned," Sessoms laughed.

    "What a shame," Fraim jokingly lamented.

    Good-natured jabs aside, crossing the political divide is serious business for these two.

  • 10. Vincent Mastracco Jr.

    Updated: May 8, 2014 - 11:23 am

    Posted: April 24, 2014

    Vincent Mastracco Jr. moved three spots down on this list this year from number 7 to number 10, but it’s not for his lack of involvement.

    The partner at the Norfolk law firm Kaufman and Canoles specializes in the legalities of public private partnerships and recent projects he’s been a part of include the new

    Jordan Bridge, the redevelopments of Norfolk’s Wainwright Building and the Union Mission, Peninsula Town Center and the new Hilton Hotel and Conference Center in downtown Norfolk, which is expected to break ground in May.

  • 11. Ramon Breeden

    Updated: May 2, 2014 - 1:56 pm

    Posted: April 24, 2014

    While Ramon W. Breeden Jr. might not be as active in civic organizations as others on the list, his financial success carries weight in the community and he's been generous with his donations.

    The real estate developer, who founded The Breeden Co. in Virginia Beach, remains at No. 11 this year. In the last five to six years, his company has built 7,000 units. Under construction now are another 1,175 units totaling $1.5 billion in construction costs, and another 1,400 units are in the pipeline.

  • 12. Aubrey Layne, Molly Ward and Maurice Jones

    Updated: May 2, 2014 - 1:39 pm

    Posted: April 24, 2014

    This trio from Hampton Roads has Gov. Terry McAuliffe to thank for their recent rise in rank on the Power List.

    Aubrey Layne, Maurice Jones and Molly Ward joined the Democratic governor's cabinet earlier this year.

    And while they will serve the entire state in their official capacities, McAuliffe has tasked all three with "opening up the Hampton Roads region" - to jobs, to travel and to the people of Virginia.

  • 13. John Reinhart

    Updated: May 8, 2014 - 11:24 am

    Posted: April 24, 2014

    John Reinhart is new to the Power List, but the Virginia Port Authority's new director is not a new face to the Hampton Roads business community.

    The former Maersk Line Ltd. CEO has been more than blunt discussing his plans to turn around the area's long-struggling port.

  • 14. Helen Dragas

    Updated: May 8, 2014 - 11:26 am

    Posted: April 24, 2014

    Helen Dragas is working her way back up the list. The president of The Dragas Cos., a well-known home builder in Virginia Beach, jumps from No. 25 to No. 14 on the Power List this year.

    The former rector of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors made headlines in 2012 when she tried to oust the university’s first woman president, Teresa Sullivan.  Her efforts were initially successful. Sullivan stepped down but was later reinstated after alumni, students and faculty rallied for her return.

  • 15. Hampton Roads congressional delegation: Randy Forbes, Scott Rigell and Bobby Scott

    Updated: May 8, 2014 - 11:26 am

    Posted: April 24, 2014

    Although fiscal cliffs and sequestrations never delivered on the apocalyptic visions promised, Congressmen Scott Rigell, Randy Forbes and Bobby Scott are still fighting a tide of budget cuts due to roll in to Hampton Roads later this year.

    “And the delegation is really working across party lines to do that,” said Rigell, R-Virginia Beach.

  • 16. Dennis Ellmer

    Updated: May 2, 2014 - 12:51 pm

    Posted: May 2, 2014

    After a year hiatus, the annual Charity Bowl Football Game will return next year for its 48th game, thanks to Dennis Ellmer.

    The president and CEO of Priority Auto Group took over as the event organizer four years ago after Orlando Goodhope, a former employee and former two-time All-American running back from Norfolk State, came to him for help.

    "He said, 'This thing is going away. Can you help us?'" Ellmer said.

  • 17. David Mele

    Updated: May 2, 2014 - 12:59 pm

    Posted: May 2, 2014

    David Mele, publisher at The Virginian-Pilot, didn't take a career path often traveled by newspapermen.

    Mele, who rose six spots to No. 17 on the Power List this year, dates his career in Norfolk back to 1999 when he worked at The Pilot's parent company, Landmark Media Enterprises.

    Eventually Mele was named general manager of Pilot Interactive, where he was responsible for The Pilot's online and digital operations.

  • 18. Rod Rodriguez

    Updated: May 2, 2014 - 3:21 pm

    Posted: May 2, 2014

    Business took a dip last year for Rod Rodriguez's Bay Mechanical Inc., but things appear on the mend.

    The Virginia Beach-based firm had about $18 million in revenue last year, down from $30 million in 2012. But about $35 million in projects are in the pipeline, Rodriguez said, including a new tower at Sentara Leigh Hospital and a new convocation center at Virginia State University.

    "We're looking at this new arena they're talking about building in Virginia Beach," said Rodriguez, the company's president and CEO.

  • 19. C. Michael Petters

    Updated: May 2, 2014 - 3:22 pm

    Posted: May 2, 2014

    As president and CEO of the nation's largest shipbuilder and the state's largest employer, C. Michael Petters has steered Huntington Ingalls Industries through some choppy waters.

    Since 2011, when Newport News Shipbuilding became a division of Huntington Ingalls after being part of Northrop Grumman since 2001, the company has survived a fiscal cliff and sequestration.

    The payoff has been substantial.

    Stocks have trended upwards over the last three years and net profits were up 79 percent in 2013 to $261 million.

  • 20. Bob Boyd

    Updated: May 2, 2014 - 1:52 pm

    Posted: May 2, 2014

    After a Hampton Roads Community Foundation-led study, the Hampton Roads Partnership - an economic think-tank - dissolved last year and the Hampton Roads Regional Council was formed this year.

    The council is not intended to replace the partnership. Instead, it's aimed at advancing the area's priorities by pulling together leaders from key nonprofit organizations. The Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance is one of those organizations, so its chair Bob Boyd will represent the group on the new council.