Power 100: N – Z

NJBIZ STAFF//February 21, 2022

Power 100: N – Z

NJBIZ STAFF//February 21, 2022

Taneshia Nash Laird

Some of the world’s greatest performers have taken the stage at Newark Symphony Hall – the Metropolitan Opera, Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis and the Rolling Stones to name just a few. But the century-old venue in the heart of downtown Newark has seen better days, and as its president and CEO, Nash Laird is in charge of returning it to glory. She is overseeing a five-year, $50 million renovation project and the fundraising to make it all happen – even during a difficult economic environment. “One of the things that I’ve been hearing is that other than us in Newark there is the New Jersey Performing Arts Center — I’m just talking about the elephant in the room – there is the Prudential Center. Those are both beautiful, amazing places … but neither one of those venues existed when Newark Symphony Hall was built,” she told NJBIZ. “And I’m from New York originally so I’m going to confess that I’m not a native New Jerseyan. The Prudential Center reminds me of Madison square Garden and NJPAC reminds me of Lincoln Center and Newark Symphony Hall is Carnegie Hall. And I think we all work together.”

Philip Norcross

Law firm Parker McCay and lobbying firm Optimus Partners might represent the epitome of politically connected firms. Philip, an executive at both, is the nexus of those connections, while maintaining a much lower profile than his brother George, the South Jersey political kingmaker. Their other brother is Donald who represents the First Congressional District. Out of the hundreds of lobbying firms that did business in New Jersey in 2021, Optimus ranked ninth in terms of receipts, having raked in $2.3 million according to public data. One of its recent clients was CarePoint, which attempted to push through a bill that would have shielded it from eviction amid a years-long involvement in the legal and political dispute around the Bayonne Medical Center in Hudson County. “He’s really managed to stay in the middle of most of the important legal stuff” despite ongoing political scrutiny of George, said one person in the know. “I think he continues to be really effective.”

Kevin O’Dowd

After serving as chief of staff to Gov. Chris Christie, O’Dowd took over as co-president/CEO of Cooper University Health Care in 2018. Since then, Cooper posted record-breaking financial performances, according to one observer, and garnered national recognition as a top health system for both clinical care and as a top place to work. The system has grown to 100 locations throughout seven South Jersey counties and now has active patients from all 50 states and 35 countries. O’Dowd also serves as a trusted confidential advisor to business leaders, and elected and government officials throughout the state. At the start of the pandemic, the governor named O’Dowd as the southern regional coordinator in the fight against the pandemic. Of O’Dowd’s role, Murphy tweeted that “as the state’s southern regional coordinator for our covid19 response, Kevin has helped saved the lives of countless New Jerseyeans.” Murphy recently appointed O’Dowd to the Governor’s Health Care Affordability Task Force. In addition to serving on multiple nonprofit boards, O’Dowd also serves on the board of directors for the Folsom-based South Jersey Industries, a publicly traded energy services holding company

Kevin O’Toole

O’Toole is chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the powerful bi-state agency that owns and operates the Hudson River crossings as well as Newark Liberty International Airport, a major employer in North Jersey. A managing partner at the law firm O’Toole Scrivo, O’Toole was a close ally for former state Senate President Stephen Sweeney and former-Gov. Chris Christie. He staunchly defended the Republican governor when he sat on the state Legislature’s Bridgegate committee, which investigated the George Washington lane closure scandal in 2013 – an affair that rattled the Christie administration. The agency made headlines throughout the holiday season as Port Authority officials boasted the ability of its seaports to avoid some of the worst of the shipping delays and supply chain snags that befell most of the nation. For a port that handles goods reaching as far west as Chicago – and according to some estimates upwards of 40% of last year’s Christmas presents – that was a major feat.

Sheila Oliver

Steven OrohoThe singular Sheila Oliver,” as her boss Gov. Phil Murphy calls her, is lieutenant governor and second in command for the state of New Jersey. When Murphy leaves the state, or in the case two years ago when he underwent surgery to have a tumor removed, it’s Oliver who takes the helm as New Jersey’s acting governor. Under state law, Oliver also heads another executive branch in Murphy’s cabinet, in this case the state Department of Community Affairs. Under her watch, the DCA has managed several tenant protection and eviction prevention programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps most notably, the DCA has been in charge of the finances and governance for Atlantic City since 2016 when the struggling resort town teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. Oliver was the state’s second African-American Assembly Speaker and the second African-American woman to lead any state Legislature in the U.S. She has her work cut out for her as head of the DCA in the oversight of Atlantic City, and making sure the resort town is self-sufficient. During the Murphy administration, city and state officials are opting for what they characterize as a collaborative partnership, rather than the top-down approach during the Christie years.

Steven Oroho and John DiMaio

Before the dust even settled after the November elections, New Jersey’s Republicans were declaring victory. Although they failed to unseat Murphy, they scored a net win of seven seats in the Legislature, including an upset loss of powerful Senate President Stephen Sweeney and six seats in the state Assembly. And Murphy’s victory was closer than anyone predicted. Republicans charged that voters felt New Jersey was too expensive to live in or do business, and that Democrats in power had done nothing to remedy their pain. In the months to follow, Murphy and Democratic leadership from both houses have conceded the point. The governor has promised future property tax relief and several bills moving through the state Legislature are aimed at increasing affordability. Enter Oroho and DiMaio, the head of the Republican caucuses for the state Senate and Assembly, respectively. With Republicans chipping away at the Democratic majority in both houses, the pair can make the case for more moderate, middle-of-the-road proposals. Figures like Oroho have laid out a number of cost-cutting and affordability measures. “After the November election, the governor and legislative leaders of both parties said addressing affordability would be a priority,” Oroho said in January. “After all that talk, it’s time to show people some real action.”

Dean Paranicas

As president and chief executive officer of the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey, Paranicas oversees the trade association for the leading research-based biopharmaceutical and medical technology companies in New Jersey. HINJ works to ensure life sciences companies have a supportive innovation ecosystem to discover and develop new cures and treatments, patients have access to the medicines they need, and that New Jersey remains a global life sciences hub with all of the attendant economic and quality of life benefits. Paranicas acknowledges that New Jersey faces some challenges in an evolving landscape. “It’s not surprising to see competitors — including California, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Texas and other states — step up and try to snare this attractive industry,” Paranicas told NJBIZ. “It can be expensive to be located in New Jersey, with its high taxes, real estate and cumbersome regulatory structure. But there are still many advantages to being here, and work can always be done to make the state even more attractive.”

Judith Persichilli

The woman who needs no introduction” was thrust from relative obscurity to a national spotlight in a matter of weeks back in 2020 when the pandemic crashed into New Jersey. She’s been a fixture at the hundreds of state COVID-19 press briefings Gov. Phil Murphy hosted these past two years. Persichilli, the state’s health commissioner, earned the No. 2 spot on the 2021 NJBIZ Power 100 list and the No. 1 spot on 2021 Health Care Power List. Over the past two years, COVID-19 has ebbed and flowed with the rise of new variants, vaccine resistance and mandates, and now boosters. A career nurse, Persichilli previously served as the state-appointed monitor to oversee the finances of University Hospital in Newark. She essentially swapped places with Shereef Elnahal, who left his post as health commissioner to become University Hospital’s chief executive officer. Under Persichilli’s watch the state’s health care industry was repurposed to deal with the public health emergency. That included a three-month ban on elective surgeries, which raised concerns among medical professionals. And it meant the dramatic expansion of bed capacity and a desperately needed supply of ventilators, masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment. Health care executives are warning about a slew of unaddressed issues that simmered during the pandemic and in the years before. Mental health care and opioid addictions were ravaging communities and families across New Jersey. And the ban on elective surgeries triggered a spike in non-COVID, preventable deaths in 2020. It’ll be up to figures like Persichilli to map out how health care in New Jersey could navigate this strange, new landscape.

Christopher Porrino

Porrino left his job as New Jersey’s top cop – state attorney general – more than four years ego, but remains dedicated to the law enforcement cause. He has continued to advocate for bipartisan criminal justice reform around the country and recently re-started the Newark Police Foundation, making good on his promise to provide opportunities for friendly interactions between police and Newark’s young people. The effort is proceeding apace, with its centerpiece a contest among precincts to design a program that will enhance community policing. Porrino reports that the department has responded enthusiastically and has been excited by what he sees. With all that, Porrino remains atop the list of go to lawyer for clients with government-related challenges, regardless of political affiliation, as chair of the Litigation Department at Roseland’s Lowenstein Sandler. On top of that, his former partner, Matt Platkin, is now acting attorney general, with a confirmation hearing upcoming.

Aaron Price

As president and CEO of TechUnited New Jersey, Price is a central figure in efforts to promote technology, entrepreneurship and small businesses in the state. He founded NJ Tech Meetup in 2010 and in 2016 created Propelify, a Hoboken tech festival that’s brought thousands of tech pros to town (and thousands of people together virtually earlier in the pandemic). TechUnited rebranded under Price, and more recently launched the women and minority business owners mentorship cohort in partnership with Fort Lee’s Cross River Bank in October. By providing additional resources to women and minority business owners, the cohort is geared to propel New Jersey’s tech sector as a whole forward.

Suuchi Ramesh

Ramesh is the founder of Carlstadt-based Suuchi Inc., a next-generation supply chain platform provider for fashion brands and retailers. The company’s revenue jumped 598% from 2019 to 2020, from $6.3 million to $44 million. In recent months, few issues have been more front-page and hot-button than the supply chain issues ubiquitous across industries. Enter Suuchi and her premier product the Suuchi GRID: a cloud-based, end-to-end supply chain management platform for businesses across industries that connects the supply chain from ideation through logistics, providing real-time analytics, streamlined communication, and minute-to-minute updates.

Christina Renna

The former Christie aide leads the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey, a nearly 150-year-old organization representing businesses in the seven counties of South Jersey, Greater Philadelphia and Northern Delaware. The CCSNJ primarily represents small businesses in the region but also counts larger entities such as Subaru and American Water among its members. Renna goes to bat for these companies with her advocacy. She also serves on the advisory board of the Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs at Rutgers University-Camden and on the board of Habitat for Humanity of Burlington County and Greater Trenton-Princeton.

Ed Russo

The president and CEO of Russo Development is regarded as a top developer in all of the asset classes that he and his firm are involved with, including data centers, industrial, multifamily and mixed-use projects. Throughout the course of the firm’s ascension, Russo has transformed the business his father founded in 1969 into one of the state’s most active development companies. With his family’s legacy largely surrounding industrial projects, Russo continued that trajectory, kicking off the New Year by acquiring a Bergen County site with partner PGIM to raise a Class-A industrial property, the likes of which continue to be in record-high demand throughout the state. Before that, at the end of 2021, Russo and partner Onyx Equities announced plans to eliminate 900,000 square feet of vacant office space – part of a 62-acre acquisition at Novartis’ 202-acre East Hanover campus – to build up 826,800 square feet of industrial space, accounting for one of the largest new industrial projects in Morris County. In other sectors, Russo has delivered 3,000 residential units in Harrison, Union, Garwood and Kearny under its Vermella lifestyle community banner, which continues to proliferate. Under his tenure, Russo Development has completed projects adding up to more than 2 million square feet of mission critical space for clients including JP Morgan Chase, NYSE Euronext, Credit Suisse and Bloomberg. He’s also overseen the development of built-to-suit industrial facilities for various clients including the Pepsi Bottling Group, Macy’s, and HD Smith. In Hackensack, Russo is part of a partnership with The Hampshire Cos. and the Borg Family’s Fourth Edition Inc. that is redeveloping the former home of The Record newspaper into the site of nearly 700 apartments and 30,000 square feet of commercia and retail space.

Richard Saker

Saker, a longtime member and former chair of the New Jersey Food Council, is the biggest stakeholder in Wakefern Food Corp., the largest retailer-owned co-op in the country. He serves thousands of New Jerseyans through the more than 30 grocery stores and 30 pharmacies he owns, and at the end of 2021 acquired seven more stores through his purchase of fellow Wakefern member Perlmart. Saker Shoprite ranked No. 7 on NJBIZ’s Top Privately Held Companies in 2020 (parent company Wakefern was No. 1) with over $2 billion in revenue and 9,000 employees.

John Saraceno and Jonathan Schultz

John Saraceno and Jonathan Schultz are the co-founders and managing principals of Onyx Equities LLC, the firm that is currently revamping Gateway Center in Newark, and opening the project to the city’s streets for the first time in its more than 50-year history. Located adjacent to, and physically integrated with, Newark Penn Station – which is set for its own $190 million restoration – the potential for the area cannot be understated. “The transformation at Gateway complements the vision that NJ Transit has circulated for its mission to revitalize the area around Newark Penn Station,” Saraceno said last month when the transportation agency awarded the first contract for its work. “In our consultations with NJ Transit’s leadership and our neighbors, we have been inspired by the common interest and commitment that the property owners have to not just their own projects, but to the environment that welcomes visitors and residents to Newark’s front door.” A multimillion dollar renovation at The Junction, Gateway’s 100,000-square-foot retail and hospitality area, is almost complete. In the state’s industrial sector, Onyx closed out 2021 announcing that it would eliminate 900,000 square feet of vacant office space to build up 826,800 square feet of industrial space at what used to be part of Novartis’ headquarters in Morris County. And the company continues to lay the ground work for what a return to work will look like – it started rolling out protocols two summers ago – as the omicron wave ebbs and warmer weather lessens the impacts of COVID-19. To that end, the firm recently completed a comprehensive health-focused repositioning of a downtown Morristown property. “COVID obviously stopped everything for a while, but I see an unbelievable change and how people are looking at now what work will be. And I see it slowly but surely picking up and occupancy is picking up,” Shultz told NJBIZ in December. “Every company has a different way they’re going to look at it. Every division within a company is going to have a different way they look at it. But, all in all, I see a nice push forward on everyone getting back, reuniting with each other and it all moving forward in a positive way.”

John Schreiber

As president and CEO of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Schreiber leads one of Newark’s anchor institutions, which makes him a critical actor in the city’s rebirth. But that role extends beyond entertainment, and the walls of NJPAC. The organization is embarking on a $152 million project to create an arts neighborhood in the state’s largest city that will break ground this year. “Contributing to the ongoing revitalization of Newark’s downtown has always been central to the Arts Center’s mission as the city’s anchor cultural institution,” Schreiber said in June. The project will bring housing – multifamily buildings, townhomes and condos – along with retail outlets and restaurants to the riverfront. NJPAC is providing the vision – and a ground lease – for the new district. Also getting started in 2022, construction of the new Cooperman Family Arts Education and Community Center. NJPAC closed 2021 announcing the launch of a research hub and incubator – the Colton Institute for Research and Training in the Arts – making it, according to the organization, the first performing arts organization to house something of its kind.

Dan Schwartz

Schwartz spent the last six years as managing member of Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi, now CSG Law, leading the firm through tremendous growth in revenue, headcount and geographic footprint, as well as strategically adding new practices to better advise clients. While he recently passed the baton to Patricia Costello—who, given the firm’s prominence in New Jersey is a shoo-in for future power lists—he currently serves as the chair of strategic planning and development for the firm, and will lead the custom design and build-out of CSG’s new 110,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art headquarters.

Nicholas Scutari

No one was expecting Scutari to be the next Senate President, not even Scutari himself. The defeat of his predecessor, the union ironworker Stephen Sweeney, came as a shock to the entire state and garnered national headlines. Now, Sweeney’s brash style has been replaced by a leader with a more reserved demeanor and an aversion to public conflict. When a deal broke down between Murphy and lawmakers in January on how to extend the governor’s public health emergency, Scutari told NJBIZ that he’d “always prefer to work with everyone.” The day before, Sweeney in his last day as Senate President had more choice words when announcing that he would pull the vote on extending the public health emergency. “You’re going to have an easier time with Scutari,” one observer said. “He’s a very tenacious, smart politician.” And whereas Sweeney was closely tied to George Norcross’ South Jersey power center, Scutari “doesn’t have to answer to anybody” in a similar fashion. Scutari, like Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, has the final say in what bills are posted in his chamber. But Scutari, a career trial attorney and former Senate Judiciary chair, has even more power because the Senate must confirm Murphy’s appointees. With Republicans ramping up scrutiny of Murphy’s attorney general nominee Matt Platkin over his alleged role in a hiring scandal, Scutari could quickly face his first political test as Senate President.

Michele Siekerka

As President and CEO of the 20,000-member New Jersey Business & Industry Association, Siekerka has her finger on the pulse of what business owners need to succeed here. While they are no longer bound by the tough COVID-19 restrictions that hurt the national economy in 2020 and 2021, many of them are still struggling to find workers while dealing with rising prices, shipping delays and the omicron variant. Businesses have also complained of the high taxes and cost of living and doing business in the Garden State, something policymakers have vowed to address. None of those problems will go away quickly, so Siekerka and her organization will be called upon to provide insight and guidance. Fortunately, Siekerka possesses a thorough and nuanced understanding of the issue and has eschewed simple answers and easy criticisms. “There’s no one silver bullet,” she told NJBIZ last summer in an interview on the hiring shortages. “I truly believe there’s a lot of pieces to a comprehensive plan, and it can just be everything from the right working conditions — without throwing money at it for some people — because you will hear from next generation workers all about mission-driven jobs and good work flexibility, not necessarily about money. They’re not going to leave for money. They’re going to leave for a mission-driven organization, good culture and good flexibility in the workplace.”

Gary Small

Small wears a number of closely related hats. He is chairman of Hackensack University Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry and serves as physician-in-chief for Behavioral Health at Hackensack Meridian. And inaugural H. Hovnanian Family Foundation Endowed Chair in Behavioral Health at Hackensack Meridian Health, which was created with a $3 million donation from its eponymous philanthropy. Small joined HMH in November 2020 and oversees educational programs and training, is responsible for his department’s clinical operations, develops and expands research and academic programs, and develops and maintains quality initiatives. He also leads recruiting efforts for physicians within the behavioral health field. In an interview with NJBIZ not long after he arrived at HMH, Small said he was impressed by the health system’s commitment to behavioral health. “What drew me to psychiatry and mental health is how our minds and our brains affect our bodies,” he said. “And if you can take care of your brain, take care of your mind, that’s going to have tremendous impact on not only your overall health but your wellbeing and quality of life.”

Nancy Erika Smith

Smith is co-founder of Smith Mullin in Montclair and one of the best-known civil rights attorneys in the country, having represented plaintiffs in several high-profile cases. She represented Gretchen Carlson in her sexual harassment suit against Fox News and Roger Ailes, which settled for $20 million. She’s spent 30-plus years fighting and winning employment law cases and is a sought-after source on discrimination and harassment cases appearing on CNN, NBC, and CBS, with her expertise quoted in The Washington Post and Forbes. Smith has argued and won several cases before the New Jersey Supreme Court and thanks to a history of significant victories is perennially honored on best-lawyer lists. Among her most important victories were cases involving New Jersey Transit, the Essex County Sheriff’s office, WWOR-TV, Prudential Insurance Co., Rutgers University, and IBM Corp. Smith also speaks widely on employment law issues and lectured at Oxford University.

Bob Sommer

Sommer is the CEO of Awsom Associates and an adviser and confidante to anyone who matters in Democratic politics in this state. And some Republicans, including those at high levels.  Sommer can always be counted upon to make connections and provide important context to what might seem like arcane political disputes. He knows the personalities, the histories and the motivations of the state’s most important political players, including South Jersey boss George Norcross. Media consumers’ understanding of what happens in the state and why is shaped largely by Sommer’s guidance. And his experience extends beyond politics. Sommer is a former president of Rock Entertainment Group; president of Observer Media Group, oversaw business operations for such properties as The New York Observer and PolitickerNJ; and was a partner and executive vice president of national PR firm MWW. In addition to running his own communications, government relations and public affairs firm, Sommer teaches a class called Public Policy Advocacy at Rutgers University’s Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, where in 2011 he was awarded Alum of the Year.

Gary D. St. Hilaire

St. Hilaire is president and chief executive officer of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the region’s oldest and biggest health insurance company. More than 1 in 3 New Jerseyans have Horizon BCBSNJ coverage—likely including many on this list. Under his leadership, Horizon BCBSNJ aims to transform health care across the state by collaborating with physicians, hospitals and health systems to deliver innovative, patient-centered programs. The company website reports $13.6 billion in annual revenue, leading to 70.4 million in claims paid in 2019 alone. St. Hilaire’s health care industry career spans three decades, including eight years at Capital BlueCross, most recently as president and CEO. St. Hilaire serves on the boards of directors of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and of America’s Health Insurance Plans, advocating for health care companies across the nation. He also serves on the board of directors of BCS Financial, the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation, and Ernest Health.

Brian Stack

Stack is a popular Hudson County politician, serving both as mayor of Union City and as a state senator. Before his time in government, he was a community activist and tenant advocate. Stack is a former county freeholder and served in the Assembly from 2003 to 2008, when he moved up to the Senate. A Democrat who can turn out Democratic votes, Stack will also play a role in shaping the other two branches of government as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold confirmation hearings for at least two Supreme Court justices and an attorney general.

Brian Strom

Strom is the inaugural chancellor of Rutgers School of Biomedical and Health Sciences and along with Perry Halkitis, the dean of the university’s School of Public Health, has been among the most prominent sources of information about the COVID-19 pandemic in the state. And that, given the recent omicron wave, doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. The academics will continue to be sought out for information about vaccines, variants and boosters. Among his achievements over his six years at Rutgers is the establishment of a formal partnership with RWJBarnabas Health to create New Jersey’s largest and most comprehensive academic health system. Expanding access and bridging academic divides, Strom is set to play a part at the $665 million New Jersey Innovation and Technology Hub coming to New Brunswick, which Princeton University will also use. There, the Rutgers Translational Research Facility and a new academic medical building will be components of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, under Strom’s guidance. As steam begins to pick up around transforming University Hospital in Newark, which is also affiliated with Rutgers, the once beleaguered facility stands to become a national model for public health and research. “The design of a future-focused University Hospital will facilitate innovative training for our students and support life-changing medical breakthroughs for our patients,” Strom said in January after Gensler was chosen to create a master plan for the project. “We are excited to assist in the development of a plan that will so greatly enrich the lives of our patients and community members.” Heading into the New Year, Strom said that his wish was “for the world to truly embrace the importance and value of science in informing our public policies and personal actions – achieving a uniform acceptance of vaccination, accepting community-oriented public health countermeasures, and advancing the clinical and research initiatives needed to decisively contain and control the COVID-19 pandemic.” All resolutions we’re sure Strom will be at the forefront of pushing, and creating understanding, for.

Chris Sugden

Sugden, the managing partner of Edison Partners, is one of New Jersey’s most prominent private capital executives. With more than 244 investments and 197 exits, Edison Partners focuses on fintech, health care IT, and enterprise solutions. Edison recently led an investment round for end-to-end real estate brokerage and homeownership platform Houwzer, raising $118 million in Series B financing, including $18 million in equity funding. Sugden has led dozens of new investments at Edison and nearly 50 rounds of financing. He’s served as director of more than 25 portfolio companies and currently sits on the board of six of them.

Tim Sullivan

Gov. Phil Murphy has for years touted a “stronger and fairer” New Jersey economy “that works for every family.” It’s up to figures like Tim Sullivan – president and CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority – to act as the boots on the ground for that vision. During the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sullivan oversaw an agency that handled hundreds of millions of dollars in grants, low-interest loans and other forms of state aid meant to help businesses stay afloat. And under his watch, the state agency has also managed billions of dollars in state subsidies meant to bolster certain industries and nurture their growth. That ranges from clean energy and fintech; to film, television and digital media productions; advanced manufacturing and logistics; and to pharmaceuticals and life sciences. The programs have just started to roll out over the past 12 months, and the Garden State has scored some wins. Offshore wind is showing promise to make New Jersey a national leader in the industry. Netflix is eyeing the old Fort Monmouth army base for several studios, while other major film productions and film studios have already set up shop. Fintech giant Fiserv said it would move several thousand jobs to Berkeley Heights in exchange for a $109 million state subsidy under the newly launched NJ Emerge program. Meanwhile HAX tech accelerator in Newark – announced in October – has the potential for an added 2,500 jobs in the years to come. Skeptics of New Jersey’s tax break programs have long questioned the ascribed economic benefit of state subsidies for large corporations. Proponents nonetheless contend that the statewide and community economic benefit could take years to materialize, just as had been the case for those communities’ economic downturn. It’ll be up to Sullivan for these next few years to make sure that the state sees those returns on investment ultimately materialize.

Michael Tardugno

With 40 years of experience in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, Tardugno’s career has been devoted to health care. A decade ago, the president and CEO of Celsion Corp. relocated the biopharmaceutical company to Lawrenceville from Maryland, looking to develop and commercialize life-saving chemotherapy and immunotherapy agents where he could recruit the best talent. He’s been instrumental in developing the company’s pipeline, which represents a comprehensive, integrated portfolio of targeted therapeutic agents in the areas of chemotherapy, immunotherapy and RNA-based therapy, largely focused on first-line treatment in combination with the standard of care. In January the company announced a partnership to begin non-human primate studies for Celsion’s DNA-based approach for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. “Over the past 14 months, Celsion has substantially expanded its vaccine competencies, resources and capabilities, reinforced with the addition of several key scientists skilled in immunology and vaccine development,” he said. “Rapid turnaround of novel vaccine expression systems leveraging in-house capabilities and strategic business collaborations have allowed us to refine and focus on promising formulations.”

Peter Torcicollo

Torcicollo just took the helm at Gibbons PC as managing director Feb. 1 after longtime leader Patrick Dunican became executive chair. But Toricollo is far from a newbie. He’s been with the firm as a litigator for nearly three decades and for a long time has co-chaired its commercial and criminal litigation group. Torcicollo’s legal accomplishments include securing a settlement allowing the American Dream megamall to move forward without inconveniencing the New York Jets or Giants, who had raised alarm bells that the mall may cause major traffic and parking problems. But his inclusion on this list is more to do with his new leadership position at the firm that the state Election Law Enforcement Commission determined has been the top lawyer-lobbying firm in the state for well over a decade.

Mark Tritton

Bed Bath & Beyond today looks much different than it did when Tritton took over in October 2019 after executive shake-ups, the sale of all non-core businesses, the introduction and expansion of numerous programs like buy-online-pickup-in-store, and the launch of several owned brands. Moody’s recently downgraded Bed Bath’s corporate credit rating to B1 from Ba3 and gave the retailer a stable outlook following a third quarter that didn’t meet its marks, largely due to supply chain woes and issues related to its reorganization. “The customer comes online, they want to buy a great item from us. They see it on our assortment. They want to buy that to pick up at their local store. The inventory is not in the right place to be made available. It’s actually locked in a warehouse,” Tritton said in January CNBC interview. “Or they want to buy it from us online, and it actually hasn’t been replenished because our vendors are also starved for that key inventory, so we actually had the physical data of customers coming to us in store and online and us not being able to meet them.” While he said it “absolutely kills” him that Bed Bath hasn’t been able to meet customer demands, he said “it’s a real opportunity for” 2022.

Bob Unanue and Peter Unanue

Goya is the largest Hispanic owned company in the country and one of New Jersey’s largest food producers. The Unanue brothers are CEO and executive vice president, respectively, and together they run the company their grandfather Prudencio Unanue Ortiz started in 1936. CEO Bob made a big splash with some political commentary several times in 2020 and 2021, but he also earned a humanitarian award this fall from 77 WABC Radio for his company’s long-standing charitable work. Goya has always given away plenty of food, including more than 4.5 million pounds since the start of the pandemic.

Kevin Walsh

A longtime affordable housing advocate, Walsh now holds the position of New Jersey’s acting state comptroller, a watchdog figure tasked with rooting out fraud, abuse and waste at all levels of government. Gov. Phil Murphy tapped Walsh in early 2020 just before the COVID-19 pandemic began. In the past two years, his office has scrutinized what it says are lingering holes in the oversight and governance of New Jersey’s multibillion dollar corporate incentive programs. And his office homed in on 15 of the state’s poorest-rating nursing homes which, despite their poor performance, have gotten more than $100 million in Medicaid funds and faced no consequences. Other reports from the comptroller’s office over the past year have focused on government misuse of public funds at the local level, and abuse of the state pension system. As long as Walsh is in his position, even if just in an acting capacity, he has the power to be a formidable public watchdog.

Steve Williams

Arts organizations, particularly those presenting live events, suffered mightily during the worst days of the pandemic. But like many businesses, some were able to find opportunities during the outbreak, or at least make the best of a bad situation. Put WBGO Jazz 88.3 FM in the latter category. The Newark public radio station was forced to go completely remote — including its on-air hosts. Management scrambled to upgrade technology and keep the broadcast going. Williams, the station’s CEO was responsible for tackling that challenge. Williams, who returned to New Jersey after a career that took him literally coast to coast, knows what WBGO means to the region generally and its hometown specifically. “We are part of the reason why people view Newark in in a variety of great ways. We know how some people view Newark and maybe that has some cultural or ethnic implications, but in the end, believe me, you know it ain’t all good,” he told NBIZ. “But the fact that WBGO represents something so progressive and so meaningful, honest in the lives of so many people, and will continue to do that — that’s where we are, we are firmament, we are anchor, we are real.”

Jerry Zaro

Zaro is commissioner and former chairman of the Gateway Program Development Corp., and he chairs the Banking and Real Estate Services Department at Sills Cummis & Gross PC. He has routinely made the case to repair and replace the 108-year-old Hudson River rail tunnels that connect New Jersey and New York City, and the 110-year-old Portal Bridge in New Jersey. Now, after years of the project being stalled, the state is beginning to see the light at the end of the, well, tunnel. The environmental impact statement for the Hudson Tunnel Project was approved last May. In January, its priority was updated to medium-high by the Federal Transit Administration; a move that could make a combined $23 billion available for the project. Transit officials expect construction to start in 2023. Meanwhile, NJ Transit approved a $1.59 billion contract for the replacement of the Portal North bridge in October. Zaro and other supporters of the Gateway project note that 20% of the American economy depends on the Hudson River tunnels carrying trains between Washington, D.C., New York City and Boston. “The thing I think he did really better than anyone … as chairman was delivering the message and spreading the message of the importance and urgency of the project to lots of different audiences,” a source who works closely with him told NJBIZ. “He was very committed to being out publicly at a time when the projects themselves hit significant roadblocks. We needed to keep stakeholders, elected officials, and everybody else motivated and on board and rowing together for the project. Jerry did a great job with being out there and being an advocate for them and an evangelist to keep people’s motivation and interest up.”

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