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
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
|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|
|Arthur Moye Jr.||view|
|C. Larry Pope||view|
|Daun Sessoms Hester||view|
|Elizabeth "Boo" Twohy||view|
|F. Nash Bilisoly||view|
|Jack J. Ross||view|
|Linwood Branch III||view|
|Rev. Harold Cobb||view|
|Robert L. “Bobby” Freeman Jr.||view|
|Robert W. Cross||view|
|Susan H. Kelly||view|
|W. Sheppard Miller III||view|
|William E. Harrell||view|
|William Van Buren III||view|