40. Dana Redd (NR)
It’s the question that follows anyone who works closely with George Norcross — how much are you controlled by him? Redd, the mayor of Camden, generally earned strong reviews. “We know that she’s George’s buddy, but she has her own mind,” one insider said. “She’s in the game at the beginning of the game and handles herself well.” Another put it another way: “Can you imagine working for George?” the person asked, before answering: “Your level of competence and skill has to be extremely high in order to survive. So the team that he’s put together are all first-class in their own right.” With so much pouring into the effort to revitalize Camden, Redd becomes a big player.
39. Christopher Eisgruber (53)
With all due respect to all the other universities in the state, none can touch Princeton, where Eisgruber is president. But if you want to know how important Princeton is to business, feel free to look past the fact it was named the top school in the country by U.S. News & World Report (again) and that its campus draws some of the top students and professors in the world, and consider this: Companies go out of their way to get a Princeton mailing address, even if they are not exactly in the confines of Princeton proper. Being associated with the name is that important. If you want a magnet for business attraction, look no further.
38. Robert Barchi (15)
It was a quiet year for the Rutgers president, but all he did was continue to execute the higher ed restructuring that began three years ago. “I think he has done a herculean task of putting this thing together with not a lot … of hiccups. He’s been able to attract some extraordinarily talented people to (Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences),” one source said. “Has he rubbed some people the wrong way? Certainly, but that’s a positive in this case: It’s not the same old Rutgers. He has totally shaken up the bureaucracy, which is all a good thing”.
37. Stuart Rabner (NR)
You could make a case for the chief justice of the state Supreme Court any year, but perhaps now more than ever. “He would be an interesting add because all issues that are going to be important come before the New Jersey Supreme Court,” one legal analyst said, ticking off the pension issue, Atlantic City happenings, gaming, among others. This could be a spot for all the judges in the state, but we’ll hand it to Rabner, whose influence extends far beyond one case. “He’s a player for sure,” said a legal insider. “And he’s going to be around for a while.”
36. Robert Unanue (26)
With $1 billion in revenue, Goya is one of the biggest companies in the state. And no one is bigger in the Hispanic community, which can’t be overstated. “They have a huge impact,” one insider said. “Everyone wants to hear their story. It’s important when companies make it, especially a Hispanic company that’s gone through the travel that Goya has gone through, it’s really important that they give back. I don’t necessarily mean monetarily, they need to give back their time and let them be accessible to other Hispanic companies to show them that they can also make it.” Unanue makes sure Goya does just that.
35. Kevin O’Dowd (14)
Perhaps O’Dowd should be on the list just because the state’s two top players both love him. He jumped from being a go-to guy for Christie to one for Norcross, taking over as CAO of Cooper University Hospital. “Cooper is at the epicenter of a lot of economic moves in Camden,” one insider said. “It seemed natural (for him to go to Cooper after John Sheridan’s untimely death) because Norcross and Sweeney really like Kevin, and they really respect him. It was a logical place for him to land.” And a nice intersection between business and government.
34. Christopher Porrino (NR)
Another Christie insider whose stock is up during the second term. “He is becoming more and more of a player as chief counsel (on) the big stuff, whether it’s American Dream, whether it’s this (Meadowlands) merger bill,” one source said. “I think the governor relies on Porrino because of his intellect,” said another.
33. Raymond Lesniak (39)
The state senator from Union County is all business, leading the sports gaming fight, among other issues. “He is the go-to guy on the Democratic side of the ledger for any business issue — period,” one insider said. “There’s no one who holds a candle to him.” He gets high marks for being a primary sponsor of the Economic Opportunity Act, which showed its enormous impact last year. And he’s rumored to be thinking about taking a shot at running for governor, too, which could make for an even more interesting campaign season.
32. Jeff LeBenger (NR)
It’s easy to say health care is changing on the fly — but tough to be in the business and stay ahead of the game. LeBenger, head of the ever-growing Summit Medical Group, is doing just that. “Innovative, preventive care is part of their equation; (they are) unafraid to use technology aggressively, deep into the IT side,” are just some of the things one insider rattled off about LeBenger and SMG. And, the source said, don’t forget about the most important thing: “They are very much near the top of the list (when you look at quality of care).”
31. Josh Harris/David Blitzer/Scott O’Neil (54/NR/76)
They are the owners of the Devils and Prudential Center (and don’t forget the Philadelphia 76ers): Harris and Blitzer. And then there’s the CEO, Scott O’Neil — the point person in a very aggressive campaign. “They’ve come into Newark like gangbusters,” said one. “There’s been no retrenchment, there’s been no holding back. They’re very active and participatory and looking for other ways. They’re actively out there saying, ‘Suggest how we can be helpful.’” It hasn’t been easy. The teams are struggling and it’s a fight to get more control in the city. “I think you’re going to start seeing them trying to use their muscle to create some redevelopment around the arena, which is really what’s needed,” another said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they started owning stuff.” The reason: All agree they are in this for more than themselves; they are committed to New Jersey. Paying to shut down the Izod Center will fill more dates in Newark, but this group clearly is looking beyond city borders. “I think you’re going to see them get involved in Atlantic City,” said one executive. “I think you already see them involved in Camden (with the Sixers practice facility).”
30. Ras Baraka (NR)
Everyone had something to say about the mayor of Newark. “He’s powerful in the city of Newark and that, by definition, means something,” said one. Many others agreed — and many others agreed the start has been rocky. “I don’t know what he does for business; I haven’t seen anything yet,” said a Newark power player. “Newark needs a business recruitment strategy, and at the moment it’s missing one,” said another. All, however, are willing to give him a chance to grow. One noted how he always does his homework before dealing with an issue, a pleasant surprise. Another put it this way: “He’s growing as a young leader and understanding that, No. 1, you don’t have to be trapped in your past; No. 2, there’s a better way of doing things.”
29. William Mullen (29)
You may have heard about all the issues with the Transportation Trust Fund — and the big push in the state to get it fixed and find money for needed projects. Because of it, figure it to be a big year for unions in the state, which means it will be a big year for Mullen, the president of the state’s Building and Construction Trades Council. “I think his stature continues to rise with all the infrastructure work and building trades,” one insider said.
28. Anthony Coscia (28)
One of the “good guys” of business in New Jersey. You know the type: Big impact, little self-promotion. “Tony’s always a player because he’s respected on all sides,” one insider said. He’s a player because he does so much. Being chair of Amtrak and a partner with Windels, Marx, Lane & Mittendorf are just two of his many duties. Of course, his role with Amtrak gives New Jersey a key figure in one of the biggest transportation agencies.
27. Vincent Prieto (31)
He may have landed his role as Assembly speaker in a political deal, but he’s made the most of it. “Prieto is still learning how to be the speaker, but he knows his stuff about policy,” one political junkie said. “You can talk to him about the Transportation Trust Fund or pensions or anything else and you can have a real conversation with him. He’s been at this job for a year, so he needs a little more experience, but Prieto is not going to get pushed around. He’s on the way up.” He may not need that much more time. His skill in getting the bill consolidating the Meadowlands’ agencies drafted and through the Legislature — and doing it right before the holiday break — showed some veteran leadership skill. “When you call a special session on the Monday before Christmas, and you get this kind of a bill passed — this never would have happened without Prieto,” one government insider said.
26. Kevin Cummings (45)
“Kevin is the lead banker in the state at this point; no one is doing more than him today,” one fan said of the head of Investors Bank. But, they were quick to say, Cummings has great people at his side. “(Tim) Touhey, Kevin and (Rich) Spengler — it’s a troika. And don’t forget about VP John Nietzel, too.” This is a deep group. It’s why Investors’ IPO took off. And why most people feel this is just the beginning. “They are only going to get bigger and better and gain more influence,” said one insider.
25. Mary O’Dowd (8)
The health commissioner role in New Jersey cannot be understated, not with the impact meds have on jobs and growth. “When you think about nonpublic employment in this state, it’s health care,” one insider said. “Mary O’Dowd is very important.” In more ways than many realize. One insider lauded her for her behind-the-scenes handling of the Ebola situation. “She took control and had everyone organized,” the person said. “We were on top of it from the beginning.” It was just one of the ways her office interacts with health care. “Does business have to deal with her? One hundred percent,” another said. “She has influence.”
24. Ralph LaRossa (NR)
Some say you can’t separate the two Ralphs at PSEG. Others say this: “The face of PSE&G New Jersey is LaRossa. If you talk to people in government and people in the business world, day to day, you’re dealing with LaRossa.” And then there’s his role as chair at Choose New Jersey, which should only increase with the arrival of Michele Brown.
23. John Strangfeld (24)
He’s the head of Prudential and that alone — well, you know the drill. “John Strangfeld always should be high on the list because he’s the head of probably the most influential company,” one insider said. He works closely with the governor — and seems to share Christie’s rough-and-tumble style. “John is kind of the classic get-the-job-done guy,” one insider said. “I think he’s this way on the property, too, with his own people: ‘I don’t care if you love me. I just care that, the next time we tally the score up, that we’re ahead and the other guy is behind.’ ”
22. Timothy J. Lizura (32)
The COO of the state’s Economic Development Authority (for now) is one of the biggest players in the real estate game (he joined Michele Brown at the No. 1 spot in our Power 50 Real Estate list), and that means he’s a player here, too. “Tim is the dealmaker,” an insider said of his relationship with Brown. “He’s the blocking and tackling guy.” And no one has been making bigger deals of late than the EDA. Brown’s departure to Choose New Jersey should only increase Lizura’s role and influence in the state’s economic development.
21. Barry Ostrowsky (27)
A lot of people had a lot of good things to say about the head of Barnabas Health. “He is intelligent, experienced and visionary,” one said. “He is the personality that you want at the controls in the management of health care because what Barnabas has done, unlike other systems, is more aggressively attacked the urban delivery systems.” And it’s still working to do more. “There is a large conversation going on (with Horizon) about the movement toward population health.” Another fan just raved about what he has done in his short time in the top job: “Barry is, to me, playing above the rim right now.”
20. Kim Guadagno (16)
Underestimate Guadagno at your own risk, some say. While she won’t simply step into the role of the next Republican gubernatorial candidate, don’t discount what she has done with a new position in state government. “She’s crisscrossing the state,” said a political junkie. “(Christie) has given her an unbelievable perch. Everybody pooh- poohed the role. … She’s been doing that for years. She’s probably hit saturation by now. But she’s been doing these ribbon-cuttings all over New Jersey: a little winery in some (out-of-the-way) part of South Jersey, where nobody from state government ever cared to show up.” It’s hard to imagine many with more business connections. “Every corporation that’s looking to either expand or attract or be interested in New Jersey comes through her, so she’s got to be (high) on the list,” another said.
19. Maria Comella (94)
The communications director for Christie takes a major leap forward this year — and for good reason. “Maria is way inner circle,” said one. “She’s tough to work with, (but) she’s really good. You may not like a lot of what Maria does, but she built a really effective communications office.” Being with Christie nonstop helps. “She’s always with him,” the source said. “On all these trips, I dare say she’s probably on every one. He really relies upon her.” As Christie’s inner circle in state government becomes smaller — and his aspirations outside of the state larger — her role in his day-to-day interaction in the state will only grow.
18. Kenneth Frazier (12)
It would be impossible to keep the head of Merck off our list. Even though it remains a Jersey company, Merck’s move from Whitehouse Station in 2013 showed just how important it is to the state economy. “There are a dozen corporate executives, who, because of the nature of the company, have to be on a list of 100.”
17. Steven J. Pozycki (13)
Another example of why developers can be so important to the state. Pozycki’s SJP Properties has high-profile projects all over New Jersey — and is doing business that is keeping jobs in the state. “He gets a star because he wowed UPS (in Parsippany),” one insider said. “He did a good job at selling his property. It was a big win for New Jersey that UPS stayed.” Said another: “Quality guy and quality work.”
16. Regina Egea (83)
The governor’s chief of staff always seems to be the second-most powerful position in an administration. Is that the case with Egea? “Top 15 without a doubt,” said one insider. Another said she gets high marks for simply remaining. “Is she influential?” the person asked. “Absolutely, because I think that she’s part of the management of what’s left there, as I think people would naturally bail during any kind of second administration.”
15. Ghermezian family (18)
We’re still not sure who is calling the shots with this ever-secretive family that is in control of the American Dream project — we just know they remain true power players. Just ask the Giants and Jets what it’s like to battle them. And though they may have missed out on Izod Center (for now), sources say the Ghermezians are still players for the arena in the long term. “I think they want to have a significant footprint beyond even the presence that they’re at now,” one insider said. “I don’t think their plans end with American Dream,” said another. “They want to be big players here. Their push for the Izod Center was significant. And that’s not over.” Said another source, after dealing with the family: “They are really, really smart.”
14. William Palatucci/Mike DuHaime (4/9)
Perhaps the toughest placement on this year’s list — the two men most considered to be the keys to Christie’s presidential ambitions. Palatucci remains a close confidant of the governor and will be the point man for his national strategy. “He’s got the Rolodex to open the doors in at least 35 states where the governor’s been and then a few where he hasn’t been,” one insider said. “So I think that’s where his relationship is strongest.” Some call him simply, ‘The Money Man,’ but others said that’s not a fair assessment of his value. “Bill is really the organizer of relationships and really providing a special role to the governor.” DuHaime, meanwhile, is the political organizer. “It’s probably him assembling the political team and doing the political outreach around the country.” This is clearly a one-off from state business, but some suggest — even though Christie’s national star has faded a bit — it still shines on the state. “It’s been a long time, since Bradley, that we have had a legitimate presidential candidate — that means something.”
13. Christopher Paladino (23)
What he’s done in New Brunswick — mastering the art of public-private investment — is so impressive that it’s seen as one of the few things that can turn around Atlantic City. The president of New Brunswick Development Corp., or Devco, remains one of Christie’s and Hanson’s top advisers on the resort town, and his involvement is perhaps more important than ever. And this is as he continues to churn out transformative, dynamic projects in New Brunswick that will make the most out of Rutgers’ ambitious growth plans. The Devco-led transformation of the school’s College Avenue campus is moving along as quickly as any project in the state. It will be a difference-maker.
12. John Degnan (NR)
The chair of the Port Authority, a Democrat appointed by Christie, has a tough task ahead. “The pendulum has swung to New York, big time,” said one source. But if you think Degnan is there to play second fiddle, think again; despite his nice guy persona. “His demeanor is soft, and the tendency is to think that he was there to be somebody to just make sure the ship doesn’t sink, but (not) try to move anywhere with it,” one insider said. “(That’s) not his style at all.” Said another: “He’s a very good guy, (but) not someone you ever want to cross.” Ah, yes, that personality. “He is somebody who looks at things analytically all of the time,” an insider said. “He does not fool himself.” Another put it more bluntly: “A tough son of a (gun); a very good trial lawyer.”
11. Paul Fishman (22)
OK, we all know it. At any given moment, Fishman could drop the hammer on the Christie administration or anyone else associated with Bridgegate — a move that would have an impact around the state and across the country. “He controls (Christie’s) destiny,” said … well, just about everyone. That makes the U.S. Attorney pretty powerful. But it’s not the only reason. “Even if there were no indictments, if you look at the issues that are facing the world, the nation, New Jersey — security, to me, is the No. 1 issue,” one insider said. “Paul Fishman is going to play a prominent role in whatever comes next. Put the bridge aside; it’s a scary time that we’re living in and I think the U.S. Attorney is going to have a prominent role.”
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NJBIZ Power 100: No. 5 to No. 1 (click here)