These are the 50 most powerful people in Kansas City right now
Illustrations by Neil Jamieson, David Babcock | Photography by Samantha Levi
In Kansas City, power comes in many forms. Sheer wealth can mold the city with the stroke of a pen. Athletic heroics can bring our city together. Charismatic community organizers can shake up the system. Here is an unranked list the 50 people shaping our city right now.
The former political prodigy turned his focus to helping fellow veterans after disclosing his PTSD.
In August 2018, Jason Kander’s bestselling memoir Outside the Wire was published and quickly became a New York Times bestseller. Two months later, Kander unexpectedly dropped out of Kansas City’s mayoral race, despite being the frontrunner.
Kander, Missouri’s former Secretary of State and a veteran of the War in Afghanistan, left the race to pursue treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I wouldn’t be able to outrun trauma or defeat it on my own,” Kander says. “I have to stop running, turn around and confront it.”
Kander says he went public for two reasons: Honesty would help him better manage PTSD treatment, and he wanted to help fellow veterans with mental health issues realize they don’t have to face challenges alone. It was a powerful show of leadership in a country where psychiatric disorders carry a social stigma.
Kander gave up what likely would have been a successful run for the most powerful position in the city to lead a movement to help fellow veterans.
In August, Kander returned to public life, drawing a splashy New York Times profile that delved into his battle against PTSD with support from professionals and his wife, Diana.
Kander is focused on advocating for veterans through the Veterans Community Project, which “exists to fill the gaps in veteran services” with a walk-in clinic for all veterans and a village of tiny houses for homeless veterans.
In Kansas City, the project has “effectively ended veteran homelessness,” Kander says, and the plan is to expand it from here, starting with eight additional locations around the country.
“Long-term, I want VCP to be available to every American who has ever raised their right hand and taken the oath,” Kander says. PD
Kander on the nature of power:
“I don’t ever think about power really. In all my roles, I’ve thought about it in terms of influence — as in the opportunity to influence people and events. We almost always overestimate the degree of influence we have over how things unfold around us. I’m trying to get more comfortable with that. Having a 6-year-old helps.”
The president and CEO of Hunt Midwest has her eye on data centers.
The late Lamar Hunt’s family fortune begins with Texas oil. In Kansas City, the family’s best known property is the Chiefs, but his biggest is SubTropolis, a 6-million-square-foot underground business park built inside a former limestone mine. For comparison, Arrowhead is only 1.6 million square feet. Ora Reynolds, a Chicago native and veteran executive of Hunt Midwest, became president and CEO of the family’s real estate empire in 2015. She’s currently taking the lead in the company’s push to get involved in the data center business, including an effort to draw Google to the Northland. MC
The new mayor of Kansas City oozes charisma — and faces intractable problems.
Quinton Lucas doesn’t want to build any new stadiums. The new mayor of Kansas City, who won election in a June landslide and took over in August, knows that most mayors stake their legacies on major capital improvement projects. But Lucas has different ideas.
“Everybody’s happy if you’re building a stadium. Everybody’s like, ‘Man, things are booming; what an exciting place!’ But then people are still getting shot,” he told 435 back in August.
Lucas, who is only 35, instead plans to build his reputation off a push to lower the city’s epidemic of violent crime and take care of the little things, like potholes and trash pickup.
The city’s murder count has continued to climb in the first months under Lucas, including several horrific incidents like the murder of an 8-year-old boy in a drive-by shooting.
The entire region is rooting for Lucas and hoping his steady hand sees progress. MC
The new governor of Kansas finally ended the school funding fight.
For the past decade, the way Kansas finances its public schools has been the subject of a lawsuit working its way up and down the court system. Democrat Laura Kelly ran for governor promising to solve the crisis, and within six months of taking office she did just that, brokering a deal with the Republican-dominated legislature and then winning court approval for the plan. She’s also struck a fragile bargain with Missouri’s governor to end the border war of tax incentives. Up next for Kelly are tough battles over Medicaid expansion, prison reform and sports betting. MC
W. Michael & Rekha Sharma-Crawford
Attorneys at the center of the immigration issue.
For nearly two decades, lawyers Rekha Sharma-Crawford and W. Michael Sharma-Crawford have been among the city’s top immigration lawyers. As immigration issues have pushed to the forefront of the national dialogue, they’ve found themselves among the city’s most watched attorneys.
In January 2018, ICE took Lawrence, Kansas, chemistry professor and Bangladesh native Syed Jamal right in front of his U.S.-born children. Jamal is an esteemed professor who has lived in the region for more than 30 years without a criminal record.
Rekha Sharma-Crawford won a temporary stay of deportation before Jamal’s trial scheduled for 2022. The case drew worldwide attention and prompted calls to Rekha’s desk from CNN, the Washington Post, and BBC News.
If Jamal’s case continues, you can count on the Sharma-Crawfords being there — in 2015, they took a case to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. PD
The KU film professor won an Oscar last year and is now working with Barack Obama.
In February, Kevin Wilmott found himself standing on stage at the Academy Awards next to Spike Lee, jointly accepting the Oscar for their screenplay for BlacKkKlansman. If you listened carefully, you heard Willmott utter “rock chalk, Jayhawk!” as he exited the stage. It was the culmination of a persistent 20-year rise for the filmmaker, who made his feature debut with 1999’s Ninth Street, about his hometown of Junction City, Kansas. After years in the trenches of indie filmmaking — including the satirical documentary, C.S.A.: Confederate States of America — Willmott is now working on projects with Spike Lee and on a script about Frederick Douglass for Barack Obama’s production company. JCT
Anita B. Gorman
Gorman has been shaping city and state parks for 40 years.
Throughout the Kansas City area, you’ll see Anita B. Gorman’s name on city parks, a major nature center, a hiking trail, a fountain, a Court of Honor at Starlight Theatre and even a public swimming pool.
It’s a fitting tribute to Gorman, 87, who has done so much to bring the outdoors to the city.
Gorman grew up on a farm in northeast Missouri and moved with her family to Kansas City in 1943. In 1979, she became the first woman appointed to the Kansas City Board of Parks and Recreation Commission, serving until 1991. She was instrumental in efforts to expand the Kansas City Zoo, acquire land for parks and establish new fountains.
Gorman was later appointed to the Missouri Conservation Commission, which oversees regulations, policy and planning strategies of the Department of Conservation.
Gorman’s crowning achievement was the establishment of a major conservation center in the center of Kansas City. She led a campaign to raise half the funds from the private sector and the Department of Conservation provided matching funds. Today, that Department of Conservation facility on Troost Avenue bears her name — the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center. BF
The president of the urban league just produced a game plan for creating equity in KC.
Before solving any problem, you have to understand it.
That’s the task that Gwendolyn Grant has been focused on as the head of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, which published its latest installment of the State of Black Kansas City report in October.
The report, published every five years, includes both essays and a wide array of hard data. The release drew 300 people to the Plaza Branch of the library to gauge the progress African Americans have made in economics, health, civic engagement and social justice.
“We gather that information, and then we use that in the process of informed policy making, philanthropy and education so that we can work collaboratively,” Grant says. “We want our work and our advocacy to be data-driven, being that we are a civil rights organization and a social services organization.”
The Urban League is celebrating its centennial, and one current focus is getting African Americans ready to work in the booming local construction industry.
“The job market in construction right now is good,” Grant says. MC
If she could do any one thing in Kansas City:
“If there was just one problem I could solve in greater Kansas City, it would be to address this longtime structural poverty that exists…When you have the resources and the means to invest in a quality education for your child or to afford quality housing, to be able to partake in various social- and health-promoting activities, the overall quality of your life improves. If you’re trapped in poverty and hypersegregation, it’s pretty much just structurally impossible
to find a way out for many people.”
The new head of Hallmark has been with the company for 30 years.
In June, Hallmark got a new boss, Mike Perry. The new president and CEO of privately held Hallmark is only the second person outside the Hall family to lead the 110-year-old company. But after 30 years with Hallmark, Perry is pretty close to being family.
Perry is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City who worked his way up the company. Former top execs Don and Dave Hall, the grandsons of founder Joyce Hall, stepped aside for positions on the board. MC
The native-born son curates many of the city’s art collections.
When Paul Dorrell opened a local art gallery 28 years ago, he wasn’t just looking to sell art — he wanted to help local artists make it.
“I was tired of watching this city import art from New York and Los Angeles and Chicago and London,” Dorrell says. “When you import art, you have a negative impact on local talent. You don’t build it; you break it down.”
Dorrell has been wildly successful in this endeavor. As the owner of Brookside’s Leopold Gallery, he’s represented regional artists and become arguably the city’s top visual arts tastemaker. But beyond his gallery, he’s been hired to curate art collections for H&R Block, Arrowhead Stadium, Saint Luke’s, Kauffman Center, KU Med and more, all the while persuading Kansas City corporations and collectors to support local.
“The ride has been fantastic,” Dorrell says. “We bent a few rules along the way, and the ones we didn’t bend, we damn well broke.” SW
Paul Dorrell on helping high school artists:
“Teachers have told us that many more students are going to college as a result of our program, and they’re getting grants and scholarships — not just student loans. That’s my small contribution to this corner of the world.”
Aiding the Kansas City art scene one donation at a time.
When Helzberg Diamonds sold to Berkshire Hathaway in 1995, heiress Shirley Helzberg and her husband, Barnett, used the wealth in support of philanthropic efforts — especially in the arts. Helzberg formerly served on the boards at the Kansas City Symphony and Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and is currently on the Kauffman Center Board of Directors. The jewelry store proprietor also dabbles in real estate development, particularly in the Crossroads Arts District. Most recently, Helzberg showed avid support of the reopening of Tivoli Cinemas at Nelson-Atkins after the independent movie theater closed its historic Westport location in April. NB
Missouri’s junior senator has already made waves in D.C.
Pop question: Before Josh Hawley, who was the most recent Missouri senator who grew up in the Kansas City area?
That’d be Harry S. Truman, who served in the senate until becoming vice president in 1945.
Not that we’re comparing Hawley to Truman. But the Lexington, Missouri, native and Rockhurst graduate has made waves since becoming the youngest sitting senator at age 39.
Hawley has fired off shots at “cosmopolitan elites” and taken on big tech by proposing sweeping changes to Section 230, a tort reform act that immunized social media giants like Facebook and Twitter from lawsuits other publishers can face. Already, pundits for the New York Times and Washington Post have mused about whether Hawley is the future of the GOP. MC
Shalonn “Kiki” Curls
Proponent of a diverse political community.
Longstanding Missouri state senator Shalonn “Kiki” Curls is a driving force behind Freedom, Inc., a team of African American political activists who endorse and support candidates. The organization was started by her grandfather, Fred, in 1961 and is known for its ability to play kingmaker in Kansas City politics. NB
The moderate Democrat is the new face of Kansas in Congress.
She’s not your typical Member of Congress. But maybe she should be.
Rep. Sharice Davids represents all of Wyandotte and Johnson counties and parts of Miami county, after she flipped Kansas 3rd District from red to blue last fall. Davids (full disclosure: I spent a day volunteering for her campaign) thinks of her job as being in “three big buckets.” The first is legislation — voting on bills and such. The second is lesser-known; constituent services. If you live in Davids’ district and have problems with, say, Medicaid or the IRS, she can help.
“The third piece is really intangible,” Davids said.
She speaks of wanting “to normalize your member of Congress” through her own lived experience.
Unlike a lot of politicians, Davids didn’t come from privilege. “I was raised by a single mom,” she says. “I worked while I was going to school. I started off with an associate degree. I have student debt.”
That background, she hopes, helps her be more attuned to constituents with similar concerns — and maybe even similar aspirations.
“It would be weird for me to say that I don’t have any power because, I mean, I’m a Member of Congress” she laughs.
But true strength, she believes, comes from helping others find their own voice. Davids happily recounts how many people from her campaign have run for office themselves.
“It’s more to do with us being able to lift each other up and help each other.” HS
The city is eager to see what the new royals owner has in store.
When word got out that David Glass was selling the Royals, the city had a collective freakout. Was it time for KC to say goodbye to MLB?
In came John Sherman. The Inergy founder and CEO bought the baseball team in an estimated $1 billion deal.
Sherman has long been a civic and business leader in Kansas City. He and his wife contribute to local orgs like the Truman Presidential Library and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, as well as national groups like Teach for America.
While ownership isn’t necessarily attributed to wins and losses, let’s hope this acquisition opens a door to more seasons like 2015. NB
The president of Union Station plans the city’s biggest and best parties.
When Kansas City needs to throw a grand party, it looks to George Guastello. As the president and CEO of iconic Union Station, the second largest operating train station in the country, Guastello helps host more than 400 events a year, including several of the city’s biggest. In November and December, the station turns into a busy Christmas wonderland. Come summer, the century-old train station is home to Celebration at the Station, the largest free Memorial Day party in the region. And when a Kansas City team wins a championship — as the Royals did in 2015 and as the Chiefs might well do this year — Union Station is called upon to host the revelry. MC
Port KC has lots of power and a low profile.
For as long as it’s existed, Kansas City has been a shipping town — from western-bound conestoga wagons to its current status as the second largest rail hub and third largest trucking hub in the country. Port KC is one of 15 port authorities in Missouri and is charged with promoting development and commerce in the city. The agency is somewhat obscure, but it has broad authority to issue tax breaks, condemn land and set up special tax districts.
Port KC’s purview even extends to attracting tenants like uber-popular Bar K.
“We redeveloped Berkley Riverfront Park from brownfield to a 55-acre mixed-use development,” says Port KC president and CEO Jon Stephens. “We’re working on a one-mile northern extension of the KC Streetcar to the riverfront starting next year. We’re developing 6 million square feet of new offices and housing within 55 acres.”
The Port is responsible for generating about 10,000 jobs in Kansas City and investing $1 billion in new facilities. PD
The co-owner of Made in KC is effectively the city’s brand manager.
Made in KC started in 2015 when three local guys started a weekends-only pop-up shop concept in the Prairiefire shopping center. Fast forward four years: Made in KC has six shops in high-profile spots around town, including downtown, the Crossroads and Country Club Plaza.
“In that first year, we went from working with 15 initial artists to over 100 and today over 300,” says Keith Bradley, who owns the company with Tyler Enders and Thomas McIntyre. “After the success of the first store, we felt there was an opportunity to expand.”
Made in KC promotes Kansas City’s brand as a thriving city. It also helps it thrive by selling a bounty of local artists’ work to help fuel the local arts scene.
“Buying goods from an artist for one store makes an impact. However, buying goods for six stores and an online store has the opportunity to really make an impact on local art and the local economy,” Bradley says. “Our success is driven by the high-quality products the artists create and the Kansas City community who knows the importance of shopping local. We feel that the quality of those goods makes it easy to represent our great city.” PD
Keith Bradley on the importance of local retail:
“Not only does shopping and supporting local mean your dollar is more likely to stay local, but it also creates this great feedback loop that generates more creativity in the city. It gives artists and small businesses more confidence to expand, to start to try new things. It also generates great experiences for us all like festivals, concerts and others that make our city fun. It’s great to say that KC has created things that can only be found here in KC.”
C. Mauli Agrawal
The president of UMKC forges ahead despite a rocky start.
By the tweedy standards of academia, C. Mauli Agrawal has had a wildly turbulent start to his tenure as the president of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Agrawal was hired to turn the traditional commuter school into an elite urban public research university — a stiff challenge.
Just a few months after assuming the role, he came under fire by conservatives after a right-wing extremist speaker at the university was sprayed with a water gun.
Then, he had to preside over the dismissal of two School of Pharmacy professors, one of whom was accused by Indian graduate students of using them like “slaves” to provide forced labor. He also had to fire the school’s softball coach following allegations of sexual harassment.
Can Agrawal keep his bold plan to transform the essence of the university on the rails despite cascading distractions? It will be interesting to watch. MC
The developer leading the way on the new airport terminal.
You could say that the journey to the new terminal at KCI airport was a turbulent one. Concerns about the terminal’s climbing price tag, the lengthy construction time and the environmental impact weighed heavily. Nevertheless, Geoffrey Stricker persisted.
Stricker is senior director at Edgemoor Infrastructure and Real Estate, the team behind the project, and Stricker has successfully and purposefully developed partnerships with minority- and women-owned firms. Although Edgemoor isn’t local (the developer is based out of Bethesda, Maryland), the group worked on another area project, the 55-acre Central District Development project for the University of Kansas.
As of right now, the $1.48 billion airport terminal is expected to be finished in 2023. NB
The CEO of Garmin pivots in a changing GPS market.
Olathe-based Garmin made its fortunes from the exploding popularity of handheld GPS devices. The rise of smartphones means fewer people are using traditional GPS systems. That requires a pivot, which the company has been executing admirably. Garmin has become a major player in the wearable tech market and has seen its share prices nearly triple in the past three years.
Give some credit to Garmin CEO Clifton Pemble, who has been there for the whole ride. Pemble started at Garmin as a software engineer when there were just six employees (there are now 13,000). His team is currently making some of the coolest wrist wearables out there, such as watches that track blood oxygen levels and aviation routes and provide predictive weather analysis. NB
The Cerner CEO just cut a big deal with Amazon.
Brent Shafer became the CEO of the area’s largest non-government employer, Cerner, in February 2018, replacing co-founder Cliff Illig and the late Neal Patterson. The former CEO of electronics company Phillips North America has been overseeing layoffs to streamline the company and secured a collaboration with Amazon Web Services as the electronic medical record company’s cloud provider, which allows researchers to build more complex algorithms to make better informed patient decisions, like earlier detections of congestive heart failure. NB
The KC Streetcar executive lays ground-work for expansion.
Shopping for fall apples at River Market, eating a burger in Power & Light and strolling through Nelson-Atkins seems like a pretty ideal Saturday agenda. And thanks in part to KC Streetcar executive director Tom Gerend, that perfect weekend day could be a few stops away.
Gerend says the streetcar’s project management team is securing a federal matching grant to stretch the streetcar rail south to UMKC. Gerend was responsible for the start of the KC Streetcar system.
“Standing up on stage for the grand opening of the KC Streetcar back in 2016 was the most memorable moment,” he says. “That milestone was the culmination of years of effort by many and was a defining moment for our city.”
Progress continues on the expansion project. “Once complete in late 2024, this project will connect the heart of our city and will serve as a central spine for an improved regional transit system,” Gerend says. NB
The Sporting Kansas City CEO helped make the club a success.
Jake Reid was named president and CEO of Sporting Kansas City in 2018 after eight years with the club. His results-oriented mindset has shaped the team, fans and stadium into the successful brand that it is today, as evidenced by the 125-match sellout streak that only ended earlier this year.
MLS commissioner Don Garber once called Sporting Kansas City “the biggest success story in league history,” according to Reid, which was “a remarkable testament to how far Sporting has come as a soccer club. This resonated poignantly with so many associates and fans who had been tied to the club through several challenging years.” NB
The developer has made Kc a thriving cinema town and aims to connect the east and west sides.
It seems that Butch Rigby has always had a reel of film in one hand, a law degree in the other, and the glint of a real estate entrepreneur in his eyes. They have worked together all his life in the common cause of keeping Kansas City history alive. As a movie exhibitor, he established the Screenland Theatres. He brought the city’s legendary Film Row distribution district back to life with the purchase of the Commonwealth Building.
Through his nonprofit company, Thank You, Walt Disney, he’s kept the Disney name before the public with guest speakers, events and civic projects. Moreover, he’s rescued Disney’s old Laugh-O-
Gram building from the wrecking ball. And these days you will find him more often than not strolling along E. 63rd Street, where he’s making a big bet on the creation
of a corridor that bridges what he calls “the Troost divide.” So far, this landscape-shifting project involves 160,000 square feet across nine buildings with a near $16 million investment. JCT
The MVP of the NFL carries a city’s hopes and dreams on his shoulders.
Nothing in American life can unify a city like football — especially when the city’s team happens to have an extraordinary, generational athlete like Patrick Lavon Mahomes II.
Relatively unheralded out of Texas Tech, after a year of tutelage under Alex Smith, Mahomes exploded into the league with a jaw-dropping array of bombs, flips, flings and frozen ropes. In essentially his rookie season, he threw 50 touchdowns, took his team a hairsbreadth from the Super Bowl and won league MVP. That. Just. Isn’t. Done.
But is he really among our most powerful? He has a boss, after all — coach Andy Reid. He and Reid both answer to team owner Clark Hunt. True, but nobody ever bought a $200 Clark Hunt jersey or wore a Clark Hunt wig to Arrowhead. That’s because Hunt never made a left-handed, shot-put chuck on the run to keep a Broncos-beating drive alive.
Mahomes’s power is visceral. In any given moment, through the sheer force of his body and mind, he can be the difference between a heartbroken city and a metroplex exploding in the wildest celebration. He can literally make us jump for joy. What power is greater than that? HS
The director of a tenant advocacy group is organizing renters.
At 27, she’s already been featured in the New York Times and Washington Post. But the Shawnee Mission East and Harvard grad cares more about the common good than the pursuit of personal glory.
Tara Raghuveer is the director of KC Tenants, a grassroots group that’s working to organize renters and give them agency as they battle unjust evictions and push for affordable housing. She’s already made a splash in local politics and has earned notice from officials in the city.
Raghuveer believes she can empower people through collective action. “Existing power structures disempower collectives and prioritize individuals and special interests,” she says. “Existing power structures operate best in the dark — in the absence of tension, in the absence of confrontation. We exist to turn all of that on its head.” HS
If Tara Raghuveer could have any superpower:
“The power of everyday people to organize and demand change is like magic. It’s how we make what may seem impossible into something inevitable. Only people in power can challenge the status quo that preferences wealth, access and racial privilege. When regular people have the audacity to claim their collective power… watch out, ’cause the world is about to change.”
The director of the Nelson-Atkins taps the power of art.
Born in Mexico, educated at the Sorbonne, and a speaker of six languages, Julián Zugazagoitia is closing in on a decade at the helm of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, a period of remarkable growth for the city’s definitive arts institution. When he arrived, the museum welcomed some 250,000 visitors a year. Today, that number is near half a million.
Zugazagoitia runs the city’s definitive arts institution but sees true power as the ability to change lives. “Art is powerful,” he says, when it “grabs people’s imagination.”
“It’s a powerful piece of art if it moves you, shapes you, pushes you to think differently; if it soothes you, brings you to a place you wanted to be or longed to be. Power, from an arts perspective, is something that affects you and generally uplifts you.”
That transformative power of art is at the very core of his mission. “The reason the power of art is so important,” he says, “is because it defines who we are as a civilization.” And a city. HS
No one in media does more to set the agenda than the KCUR host.
In March 2006, California-based publishing company McClatchy spent about $6.5 billion to acquire newspapers from Knight Ridder — the Kansas City Star among them. A year later, the iPhone came out. The years that followed have brought a long, slow hemorrhaging of talent from the glass house on McGee Street as McClatchy struggles under the heft of its weighty debt load.
Among the most recent departees was the venerable Steve Kraske, the city’s top political reporter. But Kraske didn’t cede his perch atop the heap of local politicos. He stayed on as a professor at UMKC and expanded his role at public broadcasting outfit KCUR, where he hosts the city’s most important political program, Up to Date.
Through his show and newsletter, Kraske is still the journalist most responsible for setting the city’s agenda and spotting people and trends to watch closely. MC
The former JE Dunn Construction CEO uses his power for the “Common Good.”
In his 16-year tenure as CEO of JE Dunn Construction, Terry Dunn helped the company become the 22nd largest contractor in the country. Although he retired in 2013, Dunn is still a leader in the community. He’s a partisan behind KC Common Good, an initiative of the American Public Square that aims to reduce violence and create worthwhile affordable housing, education and healthcare in Kansas City. NB
The former mayor’s top lieutenant is now his business partner.
When former mayor Sly James was looking for a gig after being term-limited out of city hall, he turned to a familiar face — Joni Wickham, his former chief of staff.
All you need to know about the partnership is in the name: Wickham James Strategies & Solutions, with Joni’s name first.
“Joni wouldn’t know what to do if she wasn’t telling me what to do,” James cracked in a press release at the time. MC
The Academy Bank CEO innovates the realm of community banks.
Academy Bank CEO Paul Holewinski puts in work to set his banking company apart. Holewinski oversees more than 70 Academy Bank branches in Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and Arizona. The newest Crossroads branch opened in September and brings fresh takes on community banks with walk-up video banking, community workspaces and partnerships with local organizations like ArtsKC to display local artwork. NB
Rev. Adam Hamilton
The pastor leads the largest Methodist congregation in the United States through a likely split of the denomination.
The Past few years have been a tumultuous time for mainline protestants as churches grapple with tensions between conservative and progressive factions on issues like gay marriage.
As the leader of Leawood’s United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, the largest Methodist flock in the country with 22,000 members on four campuses, Rev. Adam Hamilton has been in the middle of that battle. He has also authored dozens of books that are used in churches across the country and has been called the “Pied Piper for Methodists in the middle.”
In February, a church conference in St. Louis narrowly voted to prohibit gay and lesbian members from marrying or serving in the clergy, over Hamilton’s objectections.
The progressives have subsequently started laying the groundwork for a schism, with 600 engaged church members from across the country meeting at Hamilton’s church in May to discuss the possible split. MC
Ruben Alonso III
The president of AltCap funds grassroots entrepreneurship.
Ask anyone with deep ties to underprivileged communities, and they’ll point to a lack of access to capital as a factor that keeps people in a cycle of struggle, as would-be entrepreneurs are denied access to loans.
A number of people are working on this problem, none with more prominence than Ruben Alonso III through AltCap, a Community Development Financial Institution committed to supporting minority and women entrepreneurs along with business owners who have historically been denied loans or burdened with higher rates.
AltCap’s various innovative financing products include the area’s first “character-based” microloan and a partnership that helps rehabilitate housing in Kansas City’s urban core by offering title clearance and loans to rehabbers. MC
The Kansas City Public Schools superintendent is a role model for students.
DR. Mark Bedell has been the superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools for the past three years, and he knows he has work to do.
Bedell has worked and lived in Houston, Baltimore and Nashville. When it comes to racial division, he says Kansas City features unique challenges. He points out the conference room window to the street where the Kansas City Board of Education office stands. “We know that Troost tells a story,” he says. “It’s unlike any other city I’ve lived in.”
Coming down the pipeline in his school system is Blueprint 2030, a plan to maximize resources and enhance the overall educational experience.
Bedell says the future will also bring a newcomer center for immigrants living in the KCPS district. “We have one of the highest immigrant populations in the state of Missouri,” he says. “Creating this newcomer center for all of our English language learners and their families could be a game changer. It’ll help them transition into our school systems in a seamless manner.” NB
On the biggest lesson Mark Bedell has learned:
“Maintain humility. It’s so easy to lose it. You can’t lose perspective of the very essence of why you got into this work in the first place. I’ve seen a lot of people who fall into that trap of success and everyone singing their praises. The thing I’ve learned is that people love you ’till they don’t love you anymore.”
The city’s largest credit union has grown quickly.
Before being named to the top leadership post at Lenexa-based CommunityAmerica, Kansas City’s largest credit union, Lisa Ginter worked there for 20 years — she was chief operating officer before being tapped as the CEO. It was an eventful time for the organization, with the bank expanding from five to 28 branches.
“When you get the fortunate opportunity to be handed the keys to an organization you were part of building for 20 years, you immediately feel this incredible sense of responsibility, not only for all of the employees but for their families, too,” she says. “It is important that I ask them if we need to be doing any more for them and their families.”
Ginter has sought to make the company a bigger part of the community, including forging a recent partnership with the Chiefs and signing Patrick Mahomes as a spokesman.
“I believe we should show our city how much we love it,” she says. “If the people in Kansas City thrive, we all win.”
Happy credit union members have been a big part of the company’s growth, Ginter says, and CommunityAmerica wants to be “more than a financial institution.”
“Everyone is on their own life journey, and we are here to help them navigate and thrive no matter what life throws at them,” she says. “Think of it like the Game of Life, only real life. We are their trusted partner and want to help our members with life plans to prepare them for every pivotal juncture, every crossroad in their journey.” MC
What power means to Lisa Ginter:
“When I think of power, I think of a strong sense of movement: moving people forward, moving the community forward, moving ourselves forward. If we lock arms and take one step forward together, just think of what can be possible. It can yield a powerful impact. I want to be part of that impact.”
The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce president looks to the future.
Carlos Gomez spent 18 years working in management at a Best Buy in Topeka, where he was credited with pushing the company’s dynamic Latino music section.
Fast forward 12 years: Gomez has helped jump-start hundreds of Latino-owned businesses in Kansas City. As president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Gomez leads small business communities (particularly Spanish speakers), lobbies for small business legislation and immigration reform and aims to connect corporate America and the government to the Hispanic business community.
Gomez also heads the Hispanic Collaborative, the 501(c)(3) sister organization to the Hispanic Chamber. The Collaborative serves KC Bizfest, Latinos of Tomorrow, Young Latino Professionals and the Latino Leadership Institute. NB
The largest law firm in town is lead by a former pharmacist.
Madeleine McDonough began her five-year term as chairperson at the city’s largest law firm, Shook, Hardy & Bacon, in 2017.
The 130-year-old firm is headquartered in Kansas City and has offices in 15 cities after adding Atlanta, Boston and Los Angeles offices in the last year. Its largest clients include big pharmaceutical, tobacco, automotive and food and beverage companies. The firm’s web site states, “For over half a century, the world’s largest cigarette manufacturers have relied on Shook, Hardy & Bacon.”
McDonough is a former clinical pharmacist and previously chaired the firm’s pharmaceutical and medical device practice. The company has pushed hard to elevate women, minorities and members of the LGBTQ community and is proud of getting a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s 2019 Corporate Equality Index. NB
The CEO of AMC Theatres transforms movie night.
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone with a resume as varied as the CEO of Kansas City-based AMC Theatres.
Adam Aron has been the CEO of the Philadelphia 76ers, run Norwegian Cruise Lines and spent a decade atop the ski slopes of Vail Resorts. Since 2015, he’s been leading AMC, presiding over a $3 billion acquisition splurge and the development of multi-sensory cinematic experiences with cutting-edge in-theater dining and lounge seat retrofitting.
Publications like Variety have hailed Aron for “Transforming AMC and shaking up the movie theater business.”
So far, Aron’s been very successful. Although movie-going is not increasing in popularity in the age of Netflix, AMC’s profits are.
“We don’t take bodies to the bank; we take dollars to the bank,” he told Variety. MC
The milk man running a $15 billion operation.
You may not have heard of Dairy Farmers of America, but you’ve almost certainly sampled their wares. “The nation’s largest milk marketing cooperative” is based in Kansas City, Kansas, where the farmer-owned group takes milk from tens of thousands of dairy farms to make milk products. DFA’s total production accounts for about 22 percent of raw milk in the United States. At $15 billion, it’s the top-grossing private company in the area.
The head of the operation is Rick Smith, president and CEO, who recently oversaw the DFA’s move from Missouri to Wyandotte County after securing a lucrative tax break for its $34 million, 110,000-square-foot headquarters building. MC
Rosana Privitera Biondo
A prominent electrical contractor keeps close tabs on development.
Rosana Privitera Biondo took over her family’s business, Mark One Electric, 25 years ago, with her three brothers joining her as vice presidents. It’s been a fruitful quarter of a century. The company became the second largest electrical contractor in town and landed most of the city’s top-tier projects, among them the streetcar, Sprint Center, Arrowhead and the Kauffman Center.
Biondo is also a prominent member of the Kansas City Area Development Council and the Chamber of Commerce. Earlier this year, she quietly became the landlord of the Kansas City Star. MC
The whiskey legacy lives on.
Before Prohibition, the nation’s largest mail-order whiskey distillery was here in Kansas City.
The company started by Jacob Rieger in 1887 stood proudly on the state line in West Bottoms until the 18th Amendment forced it to shutter in 1919. (However, if you’re familiar with Kansas City’s Prohibition history, you know that the liquor still flowed throughout town.)
Andy Rieger, great-great-great grandson of Jacob, attended Crossroads restaurant The Rieger’s opening night celebration in 2010. A brief introduction with owner Ryan Maybee (who had always been fascinated by the Rieger dynasty) led to an idea and a plan to resurrect J. Rieger & Co.
From that meeting until July of this year, the company manufactured and distilled whiskey, gin, vodka and absinthe out of the East Bottoms, a mere six miles from where Rieger’s great-great-great grandfather’s original distillery stood.
In October 2018, Rieger and his team bought the historic 45,000-square-foot Heim Brewery’s bottling house. Their new home, opened in July of this year, is a whiskey-soaked playground with an adult slide and opulent furnishings. NB
Barth leads one of the top local commercial lenders.
Kevin Barth has been with Commerce Bank for 30-plus years. Today, the Rockhurst alum leads the Kansas City region of the bank conglomerate covering Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas.
Commerce Bank traditionally ranks as one of the top area commercial lending banks and has almost 30 branches in Kansas City. Barth also serves as the executive vice president of the Commercial Line of Business for Commerce Bancshares, Inc. MB
KU’s iconic basketball coach is host unto himself.
The numbers are gaudy and well known: During his first 16 seasons as head coach, Bill Self led the Jayhawks to a share of 14 consecutive Big 12 titles, three appearances in the Final Four and a championship win in 2008.
In 2017, Self was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. As of last season, he has the 23rd most wins all-time for a Division I coach and ranks 8th among active head coaches. Along the way, while winning with every conceivable style of play, he has turned KU into an NBA pipeline. And he’s still just 56. Self could have 15 or more years of coaching left in him.
Even his reaction to recent allegations of wrongdoing by the NCAA speaks to a certain swagger. While not exactly confrontational, Self has not-so-subtly communicated his disdain for the NCAA and their hypocrisies.
Because he can.
Big-time college coaches aren’t like coaches in the pros. They can stay for generations and become cultural institutions. That’s particularly true in a town like Lawrence, with a program as storied as KU, where basketball is something akin to religion. Win like Self has and they’ll treat you like a god. HS
The University of Kansas Health System continues to thrive and innovate.
The president and CEO of the University of Kansas Health System has been with the health care group since 1996. Bob Page helped navigate the system through choppy seas. In 1997, it was reported that KU Health System was in an extreme deficit. When the hospital became an independent medical authority in 1998, Page’s strategic work as vice president in organizational improvement was vital in turning things around.
Today, KU Health System ranks as the No. 1 Kansas City hospital in revenue and sees over 800,000 patients a year. KU is the only regional hospital with a level-one trauma center, and it’s working on new technological advancements such as proton therapy, which delivers targeted tumor radiation treatment to cancer patients without harming surrounding tissues. NB
An emerging leader of the local LGBT community.
In September, the Kansas City Royals hosted their first ever Pride Night at Kauffman.
The Royals were the last MLB club to host a pride night, and the event went off without the backlash seen in some cities, such as St. Louis.
It was a watershed moment for the local LGBT community and for the organization Eric Thomas leads — $5 of every ticket sold went to the AIDS Service Foundation of Greater KC, where Thomas serves as the board president.
Thomas is also a fan of sports, having founded the Stonewall Sports league “to provide the LGBT community with a healthy sports atmosphere where we could connect and enjoy the camaraderie of organized sports.”
“Many LGBT persons struggle with sports due to poor experiences in their youth, so this is a great way to show people that sports are fun and for everyone,” he says. “Our main goal is fun while also building a strong community.”
Thomas grew up in Independence, Missouri, and went to Truman High School and, later, UMKC, where he graduated with a degree in interpersonal communication studies. He now lives in Brookside with his fiancee and two golden retrievers. Thomas is a business development leader for Zurich North America, a Swiss-based multinational insurer. MC
Eric Thomas on building a community:
“Many LGBT persons struggle with sports due to poor experiences in their youth, so this is a great way to show people that sports are fun and for everyone.”
The real estate mogul heads high level projects.
Ken Block of Block Real Estate services is a juggernaut in Kansas City commercial real estate. To date, Block has developed over 300 buildings with a total value of more than $4.2 billion, including Pine Ridge Business Park, CityPlace and Corporate Woods Office Park.
A powerful man himself, Block thinks those who are truly powerful don’t need to say it — they’ll simply be recognized by others as leaders. “Power is the ability to influence others around you in positive ways in order to create a more successful business, a more desirable community, or a more successful outcome to the task you undertake,” he says. NB
Ken Block on the definition of power:
“Power is the ability to influence others around you in positive ways.”
The Evergy CEO was a key player in two companies becoming one.
Kansas City Power and Light Company is a household name in Kansas City, but as of October, customers will be getting energy bills from Evergy.
Electric companies Westar and Great Plains Energy, parent company of KCP&L, joined forces in May 2018. Their new name, effective in October, is Evergy. The combined company serves 1.6 million customers in Kansas and Missouri.
Terry Bassham was a key player in the merger and now leads the $15 billion (literal) power house into a new era.
Bassham’s role as a civic and business leader has also put him at the helm of boards and campaigns for neighborhood-minded orgs like the Urban Neighborhood Initiative, GKC United Way and Guadalupe Centers. NB
The city staffer that brings communities together
Troost Avenue has long been recognized as a racial and economic divide in Kansas City. Crissy Dastrup is working to blur that line. Dastrup, city council legislative aide by day, owns Dastrup Creative Group, a marketing firm focused on building relationships across the community and bringing neighborhoods together. Some of her biggest projects are Troost Market Collective and Troostapalooza, an annual festival at the up-and-coming intersection of 30th Street and Troost Avenue. NB
The highest paid local executive runs an ATM empire out of Leawood.
Who’s the highest paid executive of a company in the Kansas City area?
Surprisingly, it’s not the big names you see on the news. It’s Michael Brown, founder and CEO of Euronet Worldwide. The Leawood-based electronic finance company started in 1994 after Brown observed that there weren’t a lot of ATMs in Eastern European countries. Today, the worldwide company has a network of 40,000 ATMs worldwide with five million transactions a day. The Kansas City Business Journal reported that Brown made almost $15 million in total compensation in 2017. NB