Power People of Kansas City 2017

Super powers, dynamic duos and wonder women of KC



 Welcome to our annual Kansas City Power List. This year we did something different. Instead of compiling one big list, we decided to break it down into micro categories. Our rationale was threefold: We thought that by dividing the list into themed sections, it would give you, the reader, a chance to find your area of interest while opening some new avenues of power to explore, like power volunteers. It also gave us the opportunity to bring to your attention some different names beyond the usual power players.

   Additionally, we shared with you some "secret powers.” These are people you may not know about, but they are proven influencers in their respective industries.

   Power, of course, is a subjective topic, and power itself can be a chameleon — ever-changing. Consider this list more of a sampling, not a comprehensive report, of KC's movers and shakers.

   One thing is certain: Kansas City's power is growing on a national scale, and if the metro were a comic-book hero, we’d like think it would be called…SuperKC!

   Faster than a bid on the second Amazon headquarters, more powerful than the Chiefs' win record this season and able to leap economic hurdles in a single bound.





Media & Arts









   Cliff W. Illig (Chairman of the board, interim CEO, co-founder of Cerner)

   If the KC metro were a monarchy, Illig would be royalty. He has an estimated net worth of $1.2 billion and is the head of a company currently valued at $24 billion. Cerner is also Kansas City’s largest private-sector employer, with 16,000 more employees slated to be hired over the next decade. Add in his ownership share in Sporting Kansas City, and we’re ready to give him a crown or at the very least a curtsey.


   Cliff Pemble (CEO, Garmin)

   Pemble joined Garmin on Day Two of the company’s inception. The self- proclaimed math nerd and MidAmerica Nazarene graduate was a twentysomething software engineer when he started a job that would eventually lead to him being CEO. Pemble has successfully broadened Garmin’s market base from GPS units to high-end, sophisticated fitness-tracking devices, proving the company won’t get lost in an ever-changing market.


   Marcelo Claure (CEO, Sprint)

    Claure doesn’t need to ask, “Can you hear me now?” because everyone is listening to the charismatic Sprint CEO. After taking the helm of multi-billion-dollar company in 2014, Claure is in Year Three of what he calls Sprint's five-year turnaround goals. If you want to experience Claure up close and personal, all you need to do is follow his very active Twitter account.


   Don Hall Jr. (CEO, Hallmark)

   Is there a greeting card for successfully navigating a family business through rough waters? If so, Hall might want one. Hall is at the helm of overseeing an almost $4 billion company that’s had to adapt to an industry that has experienced a turbulent metamorphosis in the last decade. Through it all, Hall has had a steady hand and has remained passionate in his philanthropic outreach to Kansas City.


   Jeff Jones (CEO, H&R Block)

   He’s not a chip off the old block; he’s literally the new kid on the block. Jones just took over the tax giant and iconic Kansas City business this October. He comes straight off a tumultuous stint as president of Uber and before that he was the chief marketing officer at Target. Jones says his plan is to continue growing H&R Block’s digital tax prep business.






   Dr. Roy Jensen (Director, University of Kansas Cancer Center)

   When it comes to finding a super sleuth on the medical front, look no further than Jensen, whose cancer center is all about research, research, research to help discover a cure. The center projects an economic impact in cancer research investments through 2020 at $1.23 billion. That’s billion, folks. Since taking over in 2004, Jensen has recruited a world-class leadership team and serves on numerous grant review panels, study sections and site-visit teams. We’re happy to have this medical Columbo in our city. 


   Marshaun Butler (Vice President, Children’s Mercy Hospital Kansas)

   Always going above and beyond, Butler is in charge of Children’s Mercy’s Overland Park hospital and Blue Valley and College Boulevard clinics. If that weren’t enough, this health-care dynamo also finds time to serve in leadership roles for community organizations ranging from the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City to the Black Achiever’s Society. She leads by example, and for that, you’ll find us applauding.


   Patrick Sallee (CEO, Wyandotte Community Health Center)

   Named in February as the head honcho for this new but vital community health center, Sallee is already doing great things by being an energetic, passionate and committed force in helping the underserved. He’s been a major player in Kansas City’s nonprofit landscape over the past decade. From Big Brothers Big Sisters to the American Red Cross, Sallee’s thumbprint has made our metro a kinder, gentler and healthier place to live.


   Dr. Tim Pluard (Medical Director, Saint Luke’s Cancer Institute)

   Wow. Pluard is a man with a plan regarding cancer treatments. A year ago, he launched the Saint Luke’s Koontz Center for Advanced Breast Cancer, the only one of its kind in the nation designed to exclusively treat and care for women with metastatic breast cancer. This month, he’s launching the institute’s Center for Precision Oncology, bringing together a multi-disciplinary team with expertise in advanced genomics, bioinformatics and medical oncology to review each patient’s case to find the best possible treatment. We want Pluard on our medical team.


   Secret Power

   Dr. Rick Randolph (Chief Medical Officer, Heart to Heart International)

   This hero in health care is a gem of an asset not only here, but to places all over the world. A force behind global disaster response, rural health care programs, medical exchanges through Rotary International and ebola treatment in Liberia, this exceptional human being is also an exceptional physician with a family practice in Lenexa. His big heart and selflessness make Kansas City proud.





   Toby Rush (CEO, EyeVerify)

   Remembering passwords is a thing of the past thanks to Eyeprint ID, the biometric technology created by Kansas City-based company EyeVerify. Rush, alongside chief scientist Dr. Reza Derakhshani, provides a secure, password-free mobile experience through the tech, which uses existing mobile device cameras to match blood vessel patterns in the whites of your eyes, making your eye the key that protects your digital life. And on top of that, the company sold to Chinese e-commerce subsidiary Ant Financial for $100 million.


   Danny Wajcman and Brian Gruber (Lucky Orange, LLC)

   Dynamic duo Wajcman and Gruber help small businesses and Fortune 500 companies alike minimize that “one that got away” feeling and usher them toward making the most out of every customer site visit with Lucky Orange. Through the toolkit, which acts as a screen recorder, companies pinpoint what works and what doesn’t with detailed analytics of user behavior including heat maps, real-time historical analytics of web traffic, polling and a live chat system.


   Lyndsey Padget (Senior Software Engineer, FreightView)

   Padget is one of the reasons Kansas City has been ranked as the second-best city in America for women in technology. She loves writing code, and she shares her enthusiasm throughout the metro by mentoring young girls to embrace math and science. She's also one of the masterminds behind the Kansas City Women in Technology’s Coding & Cocktails program.


   Adam Fichman (Lifted Logic)

   If you want to know what it’s like to be on the cutting edge of technology, ask Fichman, whose first start-up 1dawg, was the very first company to push videos from the Internet to a cellphone. Nowadays, the Blue Valley North alum and partner Rob Scott helps businesses make their mark with Lifted Logic, a full-service web development and design firm.



Erin Smith


   Emerging Power

   Erin Smith (Founder, FacePrint)

Smith, a 17-year-old senior at Shawnee Mission West High School, is gaining national recognition with her research and development of an app called FacePrint. The innovative and accurate diagnostic tool uses an algorithm along with facial recognition software to detect the early stages of Parkinson’s.

She found the inspiration two years ago in a video by the Michael J. Fox Foundation. She noticed that whenever Fox or other Parkinson’s disease patients would smile or laugh, there seemed to be an emotional disconnect. Smith also talked with Parkinson’s caretakers and clinicians who made similar observations in loved ones years before their diagnosis. Her findings, coupled with medical studies, served as the foundation for her novel idea.

Smith began working with local Parkinson’s patients and launched a study with the Michael J. Fox Foundation Trail Finder. Through this, she scaled up her data collection and was able to digitize facial expressions, using facial recognition software to capture the patients’ responses to Super Bowl commercials and attempts to replicate emojis.

With help from mentors, who she says are critical to her research, Smith hopes to be able to track the difference in facial movements between people with and without Parkinson’s. FacePrint isn’t available to the public just yet, but she hopes to have it ready for release by the end of the school year.

Smith is optimistic that the development of FacePrint will spark a much-needed conversation about the role of innovation in health care. As she continues to revolutionize medicine, she hopes to make a positive impact on the health and well-being of others.






   Kathy Nelson (President and CEO, Kansas City Sports Commission and Foundation)

   The Kansas City Sports Commission and Foundation does incalculable behind-the-scenes work in town, and Nelson has been its president and CEO since 2011. Nelson and the Sports Commission have been influential in bringing such diverse sporting events as the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and December’s NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship while keeping the Big 12 Tournament a Kansas City tradition.


   Bob Kendrick (President, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum)

   The museum wouldn’t be what it is without Buck O’Neil, nor would it be the same without Kendrick, who was welcomed back as the museum’s president in 2011 and has put it on steadier footing. Under his eadership, the legacy of the Negro Leagues remains at the forefront.


   Tony Severino & Terry English (High school coaches)

   Before Severino won seven state championships at Rockhurst High School, he won another at Shawnee Mission Northwest in 1982. The man and Rockhurst football are synonymous with one another as he leads a state title contender (again) in 2017, his 35th season with the Hawklets. What Severino is to high school football in Kansas City, Terry English is to high school basketball. Last year was his 40th season coaching the girls’ basketball team at Bishop Miege High School, highlighted by two milestones: his 800th career win (820-162 overall) and his 20th state title.


   Secret Power

   Rob Thomson (Executive Vice President, Sporting KC Communications & Digital)

   Thompson is one of the very few Sporting KC associates to be with the club since its inaugural 1996 season (except for a brief one-year hiatus) and has played a leading role in transforming the club into a model MLS organization — especially since the rebrand from the Kansas City Wizards to Sporting KC in 2011. Under Thomson’s guidance, Sporting KC has set the standard for a fan/fam-friendly experience.


Earl Santee (Center)


    Iron Man

   Earl Santee

  Kansas City is a mecca for stadium architecture, and Santee, the founder of Populous, has revolutionized the way America views games in the stands. With the completion of SunTrust Park in Atlanta, Santee's company has designed or renovated 20 of the 30 major league ballparks. Santee, a University of Kansas graduate, is a central figure in modern baseball without stepping to the plate for a major league at-bat.

  And when Kauffman Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium needed facelifts and upgrades, it was Populous that was selected for each project. The firm helped co-design Sprint Center, which turned 10 years old in October. What about Children’s Mercy Park, the home of Sporting Kansas City? You guessed it: That’s a Populous stadium, too.

   Santee and Populous have their hand in virtually every sports cookie jar. College football stadiums, soccer stadiums, and even tennis venues like Margaret Court Arena for the Australian Open have trusted the Populous touch.

   The sheer number of buildings around the world have made Santee a preeminent figure in the industry. A company that started with only seven employees has grown into a force with headquarters not just in Kansas City, but in London and Brisbane, with offices in cities such as New York, Beijing and a new office in Tokyo.

   Santee says every design process starts with a narrative. “It’s a story about the culture, the history, the traditions, the future of a community. And of course, the fans. When I see all the fans together for the first time on opening day, I get goosebumps every time. It’s the moment of seeing them fall in love with their new home, a home that we created unique for that moment.”





   Steve Kraske (Editorial board, The Kansas City Star; host, KCUR's Up to Date; associate professor, UMKC)

   Kraske is the modern-day KC version of Walter Cronkite. You believe him. And after his work as a newspaper reporter for almost three decades, you trust that he not only knows what’s he’s talking about, but he also knows where the bodies are buried. If it happens in Kansas City, we want to know what Kraske has to say about it.


   Nick Haines (Executive producer, KCPT)

   He makes public affairs sexy. Is it his Welsh accent or his sartorial fashion sense? We can’t decide, but we do know that he’s the only one on TV doing the Lord’s work of not only producing public affairs programming, but making it must-see television. Kansas City Week in Review does a deep dive into city issues, and you feel smarter after watching.


   Sam Zeff (Education reporter, KCUR)

   If you’re not listening to Zeff’s political podcast, Statehouse Blend, give yourself a smack upside the head. Zeff is one of our city’s most skilled reporters. From covering education to politics, he’s got the inside scoop. When he’s on the radio, we turn the volume up so we don’t miss a thing.


   Dana Wright and Scott Parks (Hosts, KMBZ's Dana and Parks)

   This talk radio duo’s show is 75 percent middle-school bathroom humor, so it’s the other 25 percent we care about. When Wright, a former TV reporter who had some serious investigative chops back in the day, and Parks, who’s a lot smarter than his radio persona would have you believe, get serious about issues in the metro, it’s radio you can’t stop listening to.


   Secret Power

   Tony’s Kansas City

   He’s brash. He’s bitter. He loves typing in all caps. And if you can get pass the photos of lingerie models, you’ll usually find some compelling information. Tony, with the help of his merry band of tipsters, breaks legitimate news stories. They may not admit it, but checking the Tony’s Kansas City website a couple times a day is a must-do for every newsroom in the city.



   Julián Zugazagoitia (Director and CEO, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)

   Zugazagoitia is entering his eighth year at the helm of the Nelson-Atkins. He’s been brilliant in telling the museum’s story to the people of Kansas City. In his tenure, he’s made art not only more accessible, but more appealing to the masses.


   Bill Lyons (Board chairman, Kansas City Symphony)

The symphony keeps meeting and surpassing fundraising goals with Lyons as board chairman. The Masterpiece Campaign successfully generated the desired $55 million, and top-notch programming that Lyons helps sponsor makes the Kansas City Symphony one of the most exciting and financially secure orchestras in the country.


   Jeff Bentley (Executive Director, Kansas City Ballet)

   Twenty years at the KCB proves that Bentley is adept of pirouetting around challenges. Under his leadership, the Kansas City Ballet has grown dramatically. In his two decades, the Bolender Center has been built, the KCB has successfully transitioned to performing at the Kauffman Center, and the KCB is coming into its own as one of premiere ballet companies in the country.


   Charles Bruffy (Artistic Director, Kansas City Chorale)

   In 2018, Bruffy marks 30 years as artistic director of the Kansas City Chorale, and the quality musicianship in the choir continues to earn plaudits. Once a singer for the great Robert Shaw, he has helped the Kansas City Chorale win Grammys in 2007, 2012 and 2015, solidifying its reputation as one of the nation’s most technically sound choral groups.


   Deborah Sandler (General Director and CEO, Lyric Opera)

   Pulling double duty of the Lyric Opera is no small task. But Sandler, who’s been with the Lyric since 2012, is also the co-chair of the Women’s Opera Network, which strives to increase the involvement of women in leadership positions within the historically male-dominated opera community.


   Secret Power

   Rusty Sneary and Shawnna Journagan (The Living Room)

   If you’ve never heard of The Living Room, you’re missing out. In 2010, Sneary and Journagan founded what is a hybrid theater space and incubator for local talent. Since that time, The Living Room has produced more than 50 shows and has focused their mission on new works written and performed by Kansas City artists.






Bobby Watson

Bobby watson


 Bobby Watson (Saxophonist, composer, arranger and UMKC Conservatory’s Director of Jazz Studies)

   Considered one of the best alto saxophonists in the world, Watson is Kansas City’s jazz powerhouse. His illustrious career spans more than 40 years and includes more than 100 recorded compositions, an Emmy nomination and a stint as musical director of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Our recommendation? The Gates BBQ Suite, an ode to all things KC which Watson produced, composed, arranged, conducted and performed with the UMKC Conservatory Concert Jazz Orchestra in 2011.



Joyce didonato


 Joyce DiDonato (Mezzo-soprano opera singer)

   Proclaimed “perhaps the most potent female singer of her generation” by the New Yorker, DiDonato has entranced audiences around the world. The Grammy Award-winning singer has held residency at Carnegie Hall and has toured extensively in South America, Europe and Asia. Celebrate DiDonato’s first 10 years of recording with ReJoyce! The Best of Joyce DiDonato, which includes 31 tracks ranging from Baroque opera to The Sound of Music.


   Hermon Mehari (Jazz trumpeter)

   Hermon Mehari’s resume reads like a legend in the making: winner of the 2008 National Trumpet Competition, second place in the 2010 International Trumpet Guild competition, semifinalist in the 2014 Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition (only the biggest jazz competition in the world), winner of the 2015 Carmine Caruso International Trumpet Competition. Mehari, a 2010 graduate of UMKC’s Conservatory of Music and Dance, travels the world to participate in clinics and panels. His debut album as a leader, Bleu, debuted at No. 1 on iTunes’ jazz charts and features fellow jazz greats Aaron Parks (piano),  Logan Richardson (alto saxophone), Peter Schlamb (vibraphone), Ryan J. Lee (drums) and Rick Rosato (bass).


   Secret Power

   Angelus Matthew Changho Roxas (Pianist)

   At 16, most teenagers only hope to drive a car; Roxas already had four solo piano performances — the first of which was at age 13 — at Carnegie Hall under his belt. The Leawood native, now 18, has been taking piano lessons since he was just 3 years old, and he has consistently placed in the American Protégé International competition series. Roxas also sang in his church and school choirs at Rockhurst High School, and he is a gold medalist second-degree black belt in karate with the U.S. National Sport Karate Team. What can’t Roxas do?


Chen Yi and Zhou Long

Chen Yi (Left) and Zhou Long (Right)


   Dynamic Duo

   Chen Yi and Zhou Long

   One of classical music's great power couples, Chen Yi was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2006, while her husband, Zhou Long, won the Pulitzer in 2011. Both professors at UMKC, their works for various ensembles have been recorded by such venerable labels as Naxos and Albany Records.

   Writing music that draws upon their Chinese heritage and Western influences comes easily to this couple. During their 34 years of marriage, their individual musical outputs have been diverse and prolific, but they’ve also composed a major orchestral work together.

   In 2009, Dr. Chen and Dr. Zhou co-wrote Symphony ‘Humen 1839’, a musical depiction of events that were a prelude to the First Opium War between Great Britain and China from 1839 to 1842. It would later be recorded by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra with two of Zhou’s other orchestral pieces, The Rhyme of Taigu and The Enlightened, the latter of which was commissioned by the Kansas City Symphony in 2005.

   The album was released in 2015 to widespread critical acclaim and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.

   Like her husband, Chen has also composed music for the Kansas City Symphony. Her piece Fountains of Kansas City made its world premiere in September 2011 alongside such heavy hitters as Stravinsky, Beethoven and Respighi on the program. Another nod to Kansas City can be found in her KC Capriccio for wind ensemble, inspired by a tune she heard a bagpiper play on the lawn at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

   Chen and Zhou embrace Chinese instrumentation such as the erhu, a “Chinese violin” with only two strings, and the pipa, commonly known as a Chinese lute. Their chamber music repertoire especially employs these traditional instruments strongly. But it’s an opera that won Zhou his Pulitzer Prize (Madame White Snake) and a piece for orchestra that made Chen a Pulitzer finalist (Si Ji – Four Seasons), solidifying their reputation as influential voices in the world of classical music while educating the best and brightest composition students at the UMKC Conservatory.






 Colby and Megan Garrelts (Chefs/Owners, Rye and Bluestem)

   This foodie power duo has raised the restaurant bar in Kansas City. Rye and Bluestem are prime examples of fine Midwestern dining. Besides being award-winning chefs (Colby won Best Chef Midwest from the James Beard Foundation in 2013, and Megan was nominated this past year for the James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef award) they are passionate entrepreneurs and have plans to grow their food empire with a second location of Rye opening on the Plaza.


   Rob Magee (Q39)

   Magee’s gourmet take on old-school barbecue is changing the landscape of ‘cue, even leading some to argue that Q39 is home to the best smoked meat in town (but that could just be the sauce talking). Magee and crew have been continuously killin’ it with their tender, flavorful, award-winning smoked meats, which are also available at a second location in Overland Park.


   Nicholas and Leslie Goellner (Chef/Owners, The Antler Room)

   As soon as this husband-and-wife team opened their restaurant, it started receiving accolades. Bon Appetit recently selected it as a finalist for its “Best New U.S. Restaurants” list. The couple are KC natives who traveled the world working in restaurants before returning home to begin dominating the local foodie scene.


   Carlos Falcon (Chef/Owner, Jarocho Pescados y Mariscos and Jarocho South)

   Falcon’s buzzing seafood destinations are popular for their omakase multi-course dinners, which means you’re at the mercy of the chef, and we’re more than happy to be. The Veracruz, Mexico, native marries the rustic Mexican dishes of his childhood with his French-classic techniques, resulting in a risk-taking yet elegant seaside experience that has us feeling like we’re not in Kansas anymore.


   Secret Power

   Bob Shin (Chef/Owner, Bob Wasabi Kitchen)

   This slept-on connoisseur of sushi and sashimi doesn’t get enough credit for supplying KC with authentic and delectable offerings in a world where cheeky-named sushi is king. His gold standard of taste, craft and serving only the freshest fish — seriously, this guy knows the quality of fish with one look and smell — is evident in every flavorful bit of his limited menu. Purists and newbies are hard-pressed to find an experience like it anywhere else.





   Barbara Spilker

   She’s the grande dame of Kansas City volunteers. Spilker has chaired so many galas for so many organizations that it would tax our math skills to count that high. Her success in getting things done is why her friends call her a “tenacious spirit,” which is code for this woman will not take no for an answer. As one colleague put it, “It’s like she doesn’t even hear the word.”


   Katherine Schorgl

   Just call her Wonder Woman. To our knowledge, she doesn’t own the lasso of truth, but if she did, Schorgl would probably use it to procure more donations to charity. This tireless volunteer has done a lot of the heavy lifting to improve Kansas City and somehow made it all seem effortless.


   Rosilyn Temple 

   No one is doing more boots-on-the-ground work to stop inner-city violence than Temple. After her son was murdered in 2011, Temple founded the Kansas City chapter of Mothers In Charge. Temple and the MIC volunteers are on call to provide support for grieving families immediately after a murder and organize vigils. They even canvas neighborhoods to gather information that might help the police. One KCPD officer called Temple a “one-woman change agent.”


   Rachel Sexton

   Sexton personifies the saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” This multi-tasking volunteer never slows down. She has a passion for volunteering that makes the rest of us look like sloths. Sexton recently finished a tour of duty as Junior League president, chaired the Cattle Baron’s Ball, is chairing the Kemper Fundraiser, and you can find her working tirelessly behind the scenes at several medical-related fundraisers.


   Secret Power

   Dolly Wood

   We wonder if Wood ever gets tired. She’s a full time occupational therapist at KU Med and yet finds time to volunteer just as many hours as she works. Fellow volunteers describe Wood as “consistently hitting it out of the park.” Here secret power derives from Wood’s ability to do anything from galas to grunt work. She’s equally comfortable in an evening gown as she is literally getting her hands dirty at the Humane Society. One non-profit director says, “If you have Dolly volunteering for you it’s like you’ve won the lottery.”


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