BizWest presents 30 Most-Influential Business Leaders, 2022
For the first time ever, BizWest has identified and named the 30 most influential business leaders in the Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado. They hail from communities across the region. A few are household names, but all of them have demonstrated out-sized influence over the business community of their communities and the region as a whole.
Ann Hutchison assumed the CEO role at the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce after working with the organization since 2003, first as the policy committee coordinator and then as executive vice president. Those two positions provided her with a wealth of experience in community building, advocacy, events and in representing the business community in municipal and legislative issues. Hutchison continues to focus on Northern Colorado Prospers, a five-year initiative focused on improving Interstate 25, workforce talent, and connecting with employers. For those reasons and many more, Ann is one of the Most Influential Business Leaders in the region.
NAACP of Boulder County president Annett James provides a powerful voice for social justice while working to advance diversity and inclusion within the region. The organization has developed a corporate membership program that can help employers diversify their employment bases, as well as provide a link for local companies to recruit people of color, including from historically black colleges. She says that the private sector represents one of the most powerful entities in ending systemic racism. For those reasons and others, Annett ranks as one of the Most Influential Business Leaders in the region.
Berenice Garcia-Tellez serves multiple roles, and is influential in each. Until last month, she was an economic sustainability specialist with the city of Longmont. She is now equitable implementation administrator for Denver’s Energize Denver program. Garcia-Tellez provides outreach and collaboration with various community stakeholders to achieve goals in environmental stewardship, social equity and economic development. As chair of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Boulder County, Berenice has supported Latino businesses throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and works constantly to advocate for Latino businesses and residents.
Bianca Fisher serves as executive director of the Greeley Downtown Development Authority and is helping carry forward a revitalization of the historic downtown district. She represents a key contact for developers, property owners, business leaders and municipal government on projects that continue to bring new residents and businesses into the area. She also is leading efforts, with the city, to develop a new strategic plan for downtown, and is a key player in organization of events that support downtown merchants.
Brad Feld has transformed the technology and startup landscape not only in Boulder but also around the world. From his venture-capital investments through Mobius Venture Capital and the Foundry Group to Techstars, an accelerator program with 47 accelerators in 12 countries around the world, Feld constitutes a leading voice on how to create and foster an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Feld also is a renowned author and blogger on innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as a philanthropist.
Few individuals can say that they launched a multi-billion-dollar enterprise from their garage, but Curt Richardson is one of them. As founder of Fort Collins-based Otter Products LLC, makers of the ubiquitous OtterBox, Richardson has led the company to capture a substantial share of the global mobile phone-case market. Through Blue Ocean Enterprises and Blue Ocean Holdings, Richardson and his family invest in businesses that align with their focus on innovation and economic growth. In these roles, he discovers, creates and invests in business opportunities and makes strategic investments in commercial real estate. And the Otter Cares Foundation seeks to inspire students to become entrepreneurs and philanthropists.
Ella Fahrlander leads community engagement efforts including fund-development, community initiatives, events and communications at the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado. During her tenure with the foundation, she established the foundation’s Nonprofit Loan Program, and led the effort to launch its flagship program, the Hach Center for Regional Engagement. Since 2019, foundation assets have more than doubled, with Ella implementing the organization’s first formal fund development plan, reimagining fundraising for operations, establishing the foundation’s first impact investment program, and formally launching and expanding community leadership efforts. Fahrlander is clearly influential not only in the nonprofit sector but also in the region as a whole.
Eric Wallace knows a lot about beer. As founder and president of Left Hand Brewing Co. in Longmont, he ranks as a leading proponent statewide and nationally for the craft-brewing industry. Wallace took what started with a homebrew kit and built one of the leading craft breweries in the country. “When the Mainstream goes right, we go left,” reads the company website. When others were adding concentrates to wheat beer, Left Hand hand-juiced ginger for Good JuJu. When no method for bottling nitro beer existed, the company invented it. And the company’s Left Hand Brewing Foundation is one of the leading providers of disaster relief. Today, Left Hand remains employee-owned, with Wallace at the forefront of efforts to strengthen the craft-brewing sector not only in Colorado but around the world.
Gerry Agnes joined Elevations Credit Union in 2008 and quickly challenged his organization to reach the pinnacle of quality, namely winning the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the only presidential award for program excellence. This award had never been won by a credit union before, and Agnes’ efforts were rewarded in 2014, when the organization received the coveted honor. Not content with that award, he subsequently challenged the organization again, and Elevations Credit Union in 2020 became the first Colorado institution to win the award twice. Agnes also has spurred Elevations’ philanthropic efforts, with the Elevations Foundation providing scholarships, support for other nonprofits and disaster relief.
Giovanni Ruscitti is one of the founding members of the largest locally based law firm in the Boulder Valley, Berg Hill Greenleaf Ruscitti LLP, and serves as its managing partner. He is comfortable in the courtroom and the boardroom. With 25 years of experience in the construction, mining, power and energy-related matters, he represents owners, developers, general contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, insurers and sureties. He has negotiated and drafted design-build projects up to $2.2 billion in value. He has litigated a number of cases to successful result, including federal and state jury and bench trials, as well as arbitration cases. He routinely advises clients on organization of business entities, mergers and acquisitions, structuring of strategic alliances, commercial and intellectual-property transactions. Ruscitti also serves on the Boulder Chamber board of directors and is chair of the Boulder Economic Council.
Iffie Jennings assumed the role of Boulder area manager for Xcel Energy in late 2020, just as Boulder voters were deciding whether to separate from Xcel and form a municipal utility. Boulder voters ultimately voted to halt the municipalization effort and proceed with a new franchise agreement with Xcel. Jennings now is tasked with building that new relationship as the utility seeks to take the city to 100% renewable electricity by 2030. Xcel has formed a Community Advisory Panel to guide the city and utility in that effort, as well as through building electrification. She stands to influence not only the city of Boulder’s climate-change goals but also commercial and residential property owners and consumers. And the lessons that Xcel learns in Boulder will influence the rest of the Xcel territory.
Jana Sanchez has been a leader in building and advocating for Northern Colorado’s startup and innovation economy. And she does it by wearing multiple hats. As executive director of LaunchNo.Co, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing and supporting entrepreneurship and small businesses in the region, she oversees strategy, programming, events, marketing, communications, partnerships and fundraising for the organization. And, as manager of the Business Accelerator Services of Estes program, or BASE, for the Estes Park Economic Development Corp., she seeks to transform Estes Park into the premier mountain town in the United States to start and grow a business. Jana’s efforts in the startup, innovation and entrepreneurship space truly make her a deserving Most Influential Business Leader honoree.
Jay Dokter’s LinkedIn profile clearly shows that he’s an overachiever. He serves as CEO of Vergent Products, a Loveland-based electronics manufacturer. He is on the board for Bongo, a Loveland company that provides video assessment solutions. He serves as a founder and board member of The Warehouse business accelerator. He’s the CEO and principal of The Forge Campus, a multitenant reuse of the former Hewlett-Packard campus in Loveland. And he is president of the Loveland Business Partnership, an economic-development organization. Through each of these roles, Dokter is helping transform Loveland’s economy, building its base of high-tech, startup and manufacturing businesses.
Mention philanthropy, nonprofits or charitable giving in Northern Colorado, and one of the first names that comes to mind is that of Jeannine Truswell, president and CEO of the United Way of Weld County. Through a role that she has held for almost 36 years, Jeannine helps bring together complementary charitable activities of multiple organizations, stitching together what she calls “a quilt of support” for vulnerable members of the community. She has been a leader in addressing homelessness in Northern Colorado, establishing a tutoring corps to help children read and in responding to COVID-19 and numerous natural disasters, including the floods of 2013. Truswell influences not only nonprofits but also businesses and individuals, encouraging each to help solve problems, not just address them.
Jessica Erickson has served as president and CEO of the Longmont Economic Development Partnership since 2015 and has overseen a redesign and rebuilding of the organization around a collective impact strategy that champions growth, prosperity and inclusion as pillars of economic development. She has led LEDP as it spearheaded projects to attract or retain 150 businesses, secured more than $1 billion in new capital investment and influenced creation of more than 2,000 primary jobs. Erickson influences not only the Longmont community but also the broader approach to economic development in Colorado and beyond.
John Tayer often can be found on Boulder’s running trails, a disc-golf course or at concerts of Grateful Dead cover bands, but the CEO of the Boulder Chamber also stands at the forefront of any public-policy debate, response to natural disasters, or efforts to move the city forward in response to climate change or supporting the entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem. Tayer responds quickly to the needs of the business or philanthropic community, whether it’s helping to build a coalition of regional partners to weigh in on legislative issues, or responding to crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic or Marshall Fire. Ask most Boulder business leaders whom they would consider the most influential in their city, and Tayer’s name would undoubtedly be among the top.
Modern Healthcare noted in 2009 that Kevin Unger lacked a traditional background when he took over as CEO of Poudre Valley Hospital in 2005. At the time, Unger had just two years’ experience in hospital operations. He got the job because the hospital’s physicians lobbied for him. Now, as leader of both UCHealth’s Poudre Valley Hospital and Medical Center of the Rockies, Unger returns the favor, lobbying for those same physicians, staff and patients in the UCHealth system. From helping the hospitals transition to the Affordable Care Act to the current challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, from supply-chain issues to staffing shortages, he ranks as one of Colorado’s leading voices for the health care industry.
Just try to say “no” to Leona Stocker. The former Longmont mayor is widely known as a force of nature in that city and beyond. She led the city from 1993 to 2001, and most agree that she would have been re-elected easily if not for term limits. She spent several years working with the Longmont Area Economic Council and has dedicated years of her life to philanthropic causes, including her beloved Imagine! Foundation, the fundraising arm of Imagine!, the agency which provides services to people with cognitive, developmental, physical and health related needs. She has served on numerous boards and commissions, including the Longmont Water Board, the Platte River Power Authority, Longmont United Hospital and many others.
Mark Retzloff has challenged norms throughout his career, as evidenced by his LinkedIn profile, which lists 25 different roles that he’s held since 1979. First came his role in founding and leading the original Alfalfa’s Market, which helped bring healthy, natural foods to consumers. He subsequently lobbied for the organic-foods industry and founded and/or led many natural-foods companies, including Horizon Organic Dairy, Rudi’s Organic Bakery, Aurora Organic Dairy and many others. He is regarded as one of the most influential voices in the natural and organic sector, and even today challenges that industry to improve its own environmental practices, including promoting sustainable packaging.
Martin Lind has been at the forefront of Northern Colorado’s growth for decades, building Water Valley in Windsor into a coveted residential and entertainment destination. As he moves forward on development plans for another vast acreage spanning Windsor and Loveland, Lind will influence the region’s growth cycle for decades more to come. From industrial and distribution projects near Northern Colorado Regional Airport to retail, residential and entertainment projects, to his ownership of the Colorado Eagles hockey team, Lind demonstrates why he’s among the Most Influential Business Leaders in the region.
Mike Freeman works in what he calls the “fascinating intersection” of startups, venture capital and economic development. As CEO of Innosphere Ventures, a science and technology incubator that accelerates the business success of startups and emerging-growth companies, Freeman plays a critical role in the innovation ecosystem of Colorado and other states, helping Innosphere’s most-recent cohorts raise $220 million and create 1,400 Colorado jobs. Freeman and Innosphere have helped many Colorado high-tech companies ramp up their businesses, including Solid Power, AMP Robotics, Aspero Medical and many others. His efforts influence the growth of many key sectors, including bioscience, energy tech, software, hardware and others.
Nicole Staudinger is market president for FirstBank, leading the Colorado-based bank’s Northern Colorado market, including eight branch locations and more than 120 employees. But her influence extends far beyond banking, serving as the chair of Colorado State University’s Leadership Council and as chair of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce. She is the co-chair of Northern Colorado Prospers, a five-year, $4 million fundraising campaign to promote and address regional issues, including the expansion of Interstate 25, reviving the economy after the pandemic and understanding the talent needs of the region. She chaired Housing Catalyst, formerly known as the Fort Collins Housing Authority, and worked with Homeward 2020 and Junior Achievement.
As CEO of Upstate Colorado Economic Development, Rich Werner ranks as one of the leading voices for economic development in the region. He assumed his current role in 2015, and works to attract and retain businesses, as well as facilitate expansion. Werner has also been a leader in the formation of the Northern Colorado Regional Economic Development Initiative, or NoCo REDI, which won a bronze Regionalism and Cross-Border Collaboration Award from the International Economic Development Council. The award recognizes the strong partnerships, collaboration, data dissemination, communication, and regional marketing initiatives among NoCo REDI’s partners throughout Weld County and Larimer County.
Rich Wobbekind probably ranks as the most-sought-after voice on the Colorado economy. As associate dean for business and government relations at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business and faculty director of the Business Research Division, Rich leads preparation of the university’s Business Economic Outlook publication, which provides detailed analysis of the national and state economies, as well as specific regions and industries in Colorado. He presents well-attended economic forecasts not only for Colorado but also for specific regions around the state, including BizWest’s Economic Forecast.
The Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado have been blessed with many talented leaders in health care, and that is particularly true with Robert Vissers, CEO of Boulder Community Health. Vissers leads one of the state’s only remaining independent hospitals and health care systems, helping to navigate through the challenges of COVID-19, staffing shortages, supply-chain disruptions and the ongoing transformation of health care, including telemedicine, cybersecurity, price transparency and patient care.
Robin Thurston has taken the outdoor industry by storm. Just a year and seven months after being named CEO of Pocket Outdoor Media, a Boulder-based sports-publishing company, Thurston orchestrated the acquisition of many titles, including Outside magazine. His company, now known as Outside, employs more than 600 people and seeks to become the Amazon Prime of the outdoors, a one-stop shop for everything people might want to know about the outdoors.
Sandra Hagen Solin doesn’t actually live at the Colorado Capitol, but it sometimes seems that way. As founder and CEO of Capitol Solutions, a government affairs and lobbying firm representing business clients at the local, state and federal level, Solin keeps well-tuned to legislative initiatives and the politics behind them. She works closely with the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance, the lobbying arm of the Fort Collins, Greeley and Loveland chambers of commerce and Upstate Colorado Economic Development. Solin is an influential voice on legislative matters, advising the organization on policy initiatives and then advocating for its positions before governmental bodies.
Tatiana Hernandez became CEO of the Community Foundation Boulder County in July 2020, and she’s already making a big impact. That has been particularly apparent in the Community Foundation’s response to the Marshall Fire, the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history. Under her leadership, the foundation already has raised more than $20 million for those affected by wildfires, and has already distributed millions in funds. She is a tireless voice not only for victims of natural disasters but also for the socially or economically disadvantaged.
Throughout his career, Will Toor has specialized in transportation electrification, sustainable transportation, smart growth, regional planning, local government and electric-vehicle policy. Those areas of expertise helped land him the position of executive director of the Colorado Energy Office under the Polis Administration, a position that provides him with enormous influence in the state’s energy policies. Toor has served as mayor of Boulder, a Boulder County commissioner, and in many other capacities. His current role enables him to influence energy and transportation policies for the entire state.
Yvonne Myers was already influential before a certain announcement in December. As the longstanding health systems director for Columbine Health Systems, she was a well-regarded voice on issues of health care finance, staffing and the aging population, and helped the organization navigate through two years of response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In December, it was announced that Myers would leave Columbine to join the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce as vice president of strategic initiatives, a position she recently began. She has already been influential outside of the health care area, but she now occupies a broader platform and will influence a wide variety of business issues.
People to Watch
Al Manzi, Publisher Prairie Mountain
Alyssa Harding, Anthesis/Naturally Boulder
Bahavna Chhabra, Google
Bill Capsalis, Naturally Boulder
Bill Meier, United Power
Brandon Wells, Group Real Estate
Brett Kemp, Flood & Peterson
Carrie Baumgart, Markley Motors
Chad McWhinney, McWhinney
Chantelle Ludski, Anthesis Group
Chris Otto, Plante Moran
Dana Query, Big Red F Group
Dani Grant, The Mishwaka, Chippers Lane
Darin Atteberry, Elevations Credit Union
Dawn Paepke, Kaiser Permanente
David Cohen, Techstars
David Yowell, MM Solutions
Debbie Davis, Independent Bank
Deirdre Sullivan, United Way of Larimer County
Doug Erion, Desk Chair Workspace
Doug Radi, Good Karma Foods
Doug Campbell, Solid Power
Doyle Albee, MAPR.Agency
Jaime Henning, Greeley Area Chamber
José Luis Ramos, City of Fort Collins
Kelly Jones, City of Loveland
Landon Hoover, Hartford Homes
Lauren Hansen, IRES
Lise Aangeenbrug, Outdoor Industry Assoc.
Margo Karsten, Banner
Marilyn Schock, UCHealth
Mat Dinsmore, Wilburs Total Beverage
Matt Gorr, First Western Trust Bank, Northern Colorado
Matt Robenalt, Fort Collins DDA
Mike Bergerson, OCR
Mindy McCloughan, Loveland Chamber
Nathan Ewert, FNBO
Nick Armstrong, WTF Marketing
Nick Forster, etown
Roy Otto, Weld Trust
Sam Taylor, Broomfield Chamber
Scott Cook, Longmont Chamber
Scott Holten, Element Properties
Shawn Osthoff, Bank of Colorado
Shawnee Adelson, Colorado Brewers Guild
Stephanie Ianonne, Housing Helpers
Steve Tool, NCLA Immediate Past Chair
Theresa Szczurek, Technology Management Solutions
Tim Reeser, Lightning eMotors
Tom Gendren, Woodward
Troy McWhinney, McWhinney
Jay Kalinski, RE/MAX of Boulder
Stephen Tebo, Tebo’s Garage