Law firm Parker McCay and lobbying firm Optimus Partners might represent the epitome of the politically connected firms – if the news headlines and government watchdogs are to be believed. Philip, an executive at both, is the nexus of those connections. That became evident in 2019, when activists and a task force put together by the Murphy administration outlined Optimus’ and Parker McCay’s alleged influence over the creation of the 2013 tax break program, and in helping businesses win lucrative incentive awards. Philip is the brother of both George Norcross, the South Jersey political kingmaker, and Donald Norcross, a U.S. congressman representing the First Congressional District. With the creation of a new massive tax break legislation, Trenton insiders have been speculating about just what kind of role Philip could play in helping businesses win incentives.
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. Under his leadership, the Camden medical center has shown increases in patients and revenues, according to a person familiar with the institution. And that role became even more critical with the onset of the pandemic. His reputation for competence put him at the center of the response his part of the state. “Phil Murphy leans heavily on O’Dowd as the COVID operations guy in Southern New Jersey,” one insider said. “And that takes [courage] for Murphy because he worked for the predecessor administration. That speaks volumes about what Murphy thinks about Kevin O’Dowd.” In February Folsom-based South Jersey Industries, an energy services holding company, named O’Dowd to its board of directors.
O’Toole is the chairman of Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a close ally of Senate President Steve Sweeney and managing partner at the law firm O’Toole Scrivo. A longtime friend of former Gov. Chris Christie, O’Toole, a former Republican state senator, will remain at the helm of the powerful bi-state transportation agency through the entire four years of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s term. For nearly a century, the Port Authority has been transforming the region, O’Toole told NJBIZ in February 2020. “It connects more than states; it connects people to jobs, families and homes, and business to markets near and far,” he said. Earlier this year the Port Authority rolled out the long-awaited replacement design for the infamous Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, one O’Toole himself told the USA TODAY Network “[W]ill be as transformational to this region as was the building of the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln Tunnel. As the region reels from the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic, some may question why build now. The answer is because now is the time to build. Now, when the region needs the economic boost that comes with major infrastructure projects.”
In December 2020, the New Jersey Schools Development Authority NJSDA completed the Sheila Y. Oliver Academy in East Orange — a fitting tribute to the self-described “Jersey Girl” born and raised in Essex County, who has served as a member of both the East Orange Board of Education and the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders. In addition to her role as lieutenant governor, she serves as commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, where she’s led efforts to strengthen and expand initiatives for fair and affordable housing, community revitalization, homelessness prevention and local government services that support New Jersey’s 565 municipalities. 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. Whenever Murphy leaves the state, Oliver takes the helm as acting governor.
Eleven acute care hospitals, three children’s hospitals, a pediatric rehabilitation hospital and multiple outpatient facilities, ambulatory care centers, geriatric centers, a free-standing behavioral health center, and New Jersey’s largest statewide behavioral health network all have something in common: They’re all under the RWJBarnabas Health umbrella, led by President and Chief Executive Officer Barry H. Ostrowsky since 2016. Also within the system are a satellite emergency department, trauma centers, comprehensive home care and hospice programs, pharmacy services, multi-site imaging centers, an accountable care organization and the Combined Medical Group of RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Health with nearly 3,000 providers and clinical staff. Through Ostrowsky’s leadership, RWJBarnabas Health has expanded and strengthened its efforts to address equity and systemic racism and promote an antiracist culture throughout the organization and the communities it serves through its Ending Racism Together initiative, which is focused on creating racial, ethnic and cultural equity by prioritizing communities that are most disenfranchised and experience poor health, and social, economic and educational outcomes due to the generational effects of racism.
As president of the New Brunswick Development Corp., Paladino has set the standard for what it means to be a developer in New Jersey. Under his leadership, DEVCO has initiated, developed and managed nearly 5.4 million square feet in residential, commercial, academic and institutional activity valued at over $2 billion by focusing on a unique brand of public-private joint venture partnerships. With Paladino at the helm, DEVCO and Pennrose LLC opened the $172 million, 23-story New Brunswick Performing Arts Center and residential tower in September 2019 — a partnership with Rutgers University, the George Street Playhouse, Middlesex County, the Crossroads Theatre and American Repertory Ballet. Paladino is also in the midst of completing the $220 million Atlantic City Gateway project, now at Phase 2, which includes a new dorm for Stockton University. The public-private partnership produced a city campus for Stockton, and the headquarters for South Jersey Industries—a utility giant whose board of directors Paladino joined last August. The financial pain caused by COVID-19 was felt acutely in 2020. Despite that, local and state officials, as well as Paladino, were confident that the pandemic was but a brief delay of the city’s inevitable renaissance. “We need to find a way to … take that one note and make lyrics out of it, to be able to get small businesses and get people to actually live here, work there long-term,” Paladino said in an October interview.
Pallone, one of the longest-tenured members of the state’s congressional delegation serves as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The panel’s broad remit includes health care making Pallone a key figure in the debates over critical issues, COVID-related and otherwise. And his experience on environmental issues makes him critically important to his oceanfront and bayshore district. And with a friendlier White House and Senate, Pallone might actually see some of his priorities enacted.
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. Along with BioNJ chief Debbie Hart, Paranicas leads an organization of companies critical to the nation’s pandemic response. “Both the biopharma companies and the medical technology companies, they’re on the ground, they’ve been at this hard,” Paranicas told NJBIZ over the summer. “They’ve been at this from the beginning. They never close. They kept on working through, developing diagnostic tests and working on therapies and, of course, working on a vaccine.”
Porrino was the attorney general under Gov. Chris Christie, but he doesn’t keep his professional connections strictly red. Now a partner at Lowenstein Sandler, political agnosticism serves him well; one insider noted that the fact that Christie, south Jersey political boss George Norcross, and Gov. Phil Murphy all respect what he says speaks volumes about Porrino. “I don’t think there’s a more important corporate lawyer in New Jersey today. His client list isn’t public, but it’s the most impressive client list of any lawyer in New Jersey,” this person said.
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. The newly rechristened TechUnited runs some of the most well-attended and highly regarded programs about the world of startups and tech, both in New Jersey and elsewhere. “With TechUnited New Jersey, we will focus on New Jersey, primarily, but I want to make sure that those the innovators around the country, especially those that are there are neighbors feel welcome, are included and can get value out of the organization,” he said in an interview shortly after the organization’s rebranding. “What I mean by that is, we’re leveraging our strengths, in the region … leaning in around health tech with an effort with Hackensack Meridian and clean tech with an alliance that we formed PSE&G and a few others. If there’s an early stage or if there’s an entrepreneur or an innovator in any other part of the planet who thinks that they can get value in being part of our organization. We want to welcome that we don’t want to see the borders as the doors.”
New Jersey has a long history as a center of manufacturing. With Suuchi Inc., a next-generation supply chain platform provider for fashion brands and retailers based in Carlstadt, Ramesh is refocusing the sector in a 21st century way. Tall people’s online clothing store American Tall recently began partnering with the company to implement the outfit’s proprietary Suuchi GRID platform software to streamline its processes and increase visibility across its supply chain, joining a roster of more than 300 other brands using Suuchi to do the same. Like other manufacturers, Ramesh retooled early in the COVID pandemic to manufacture masks and other protective gear for health care professionals. At the time, Ramesh told NJBIZ that she believes her company has a responsibility to assist health care workers during the crisis. “As the world continues to navigate these dark times, we want to be the light that helps medical professionals be able to keep our communities safe and healthy without having to sacrifice their own well-being and safety.”
The Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey has seen big changes with Renna taking the helm. As the new president, Renna is able to call upon her experience as the chamber’s senior vice president and her time working at the Governor’s Office under Chris Christie. She 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. South Jersey may not be as industrialized as the north, but it is home to some of the state’s most iconic corporate names and important industries; the region’s biggest employers are situated in Atlantic City, Camden and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. Like her counterparts at the other main business advocacy groups across the state, Renna continues to be among a handful of figures in Trenton opposing such moves as stricter independent contractor and worker misclassification laws, a $15 minimum wage, and severance pay requirements.
As head of the state’s largest public workers union for over a decade, Rosenstein has shown that she is not one to be trifled with in Trenton. Closely aligned with the governor’s office, the CWA has seen several of its staffers tapped by Murphy to sit on boards, commissions and task forces. For the past decade, Rosenstein has been a vocal opponent of any proposals that would slash health and retirement plans for public workers, of which at least 35,000 are CWA members. Her organization and the Murphy administration in 2019 agreed on a $120 million contract covering health plans and annual raises for its workers. The administration said the health plan changes would save the state upwards of $70 million. And those changes, Murphy then argued, are cheaper for the state than the cuts proposed by Senate President Steve Sweeney, a foe of Rosenstein. The CWA, which has donated over half a million dollars to the pro-Murphy group New Direction NJ, has Murphy’s ear in the pension and health care fight. “I respect Hetty,” Sweeney told NJ Advance Media in April 2019. “She’s smart. She’s tough. She’s shown a willingness to negotiate on health care when the other unions did not. And she negotiated a very good deal for her union.” With Sweeney setting his sights once again on cutting costs for state employee pension and health care costs in a post-COVID economy, Rosentein is certain to be a key voice at the table.
As chief executive of Russo Development, Russo oversees all day-to-day operations including land acquisition, design/engineering, entitlements, construction, leasing, finance and property management. He has also overseen the development of built-to-suit industrial facilities for clients including the Pepsi Bottling Group, Macy’s, and HD Smith. In addition to over three million square feet of commercial and data center projects in its pipeline, Russo has more than 1,500 units of multifamily apartments under construction and another 2,000 units planned during the next three years. Russo has focused on strengthening the company’s core competencies and in-house capabilities, as well as its growth and expansion across all property types including industrial, retail, data centers and multifamily residential. With an aggressive acquisition strategy and more than $300 million in development projects planned through 2021, Russo Development is well positioned for future growth.
There’s nothing green about Richard Saker, whose family entered the grocery business more than 100 years ago when his great granddad opened a “mom-and-pop” store in Freehold. Grocery has been his life, and he’s made a big one of it: 30-plus stores in every corner of the state, feeding thousands of New Jerseyans daily. 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. Saker is currently secretary of the New Jersey Food Council, for which he served a term as chair through last February.
Saraceno is co-founder– with partner Jonathan Schultz – and managing principal of Onyx Equities LLC. Since its establishment in 2004, Onyx has acquired more than $3 billion worth of real estate assets throughout New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, and executed more than $400 million in asset repositioning projects across all property types. In addition, he oversees Onyx’s investment fund arm, which has historically and continues to generate fund-level returns in excess of 25%. Onyx is currently working on a revamp of the Gateway Center in Newark, introducing modern sanitizing technology and opening the project to the city’s streets. The office and retail complex sits in the center of the city’s commercial district adjacent to Newark Penn Station and was originally oriented indoors. “These improvements to Newark’s front door will be transformational not only because they enhance the commuter experience with a compelling retail environment, but because they provide a new customer base to Newark’s local business community,” Saraceno said. “Other notable Saraceno deals include the acquisition of a Mack-Cali Bergen County portfolio and 30 Montgomery St. in Jersey City. The firm remains active in the metropolitan area despite the pandemic. “We believe this is a moment in time. And in times like this, it is important to take a deep breath and ask, ‘What are you building? Is it still the right thing to do in a changing environment?’ We’re making educated guesses about what the future holds,” Saraceno said during a recent NAIOP post-pandemic return to the office webinar.
As president and CEO of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Schreiber leads one of Newark’s anchor institutions. That makes him a critical actor in the city’s rebirth, a role that goes beyond entertainment. If he succeeds, Schreiber’s work will reverberate well beyond Newark. “For a guy whose business doesn’t exist right now [the entertainment venue NJPAC], he found a way to make the PAC stamp last beyond his tenure,” said one person familiar with the situation. “Two apartment buildings he built totally changed those neighborhoods.” And Schreiber used the entertainment tax credit to build a gigantic film studio to compete with those in New York. “That’s good for New Jersey and Newark,” this person said.
What pandemic? Schwartz spearheaded another record breaking year at Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi. The firm surpassed $80 million in revenue for the first time. The firm’s Short Hills office was built out in the spring and its New York City office expanded over the summer. Meanwhile, no one at the firm was furloughed or endured pay cuts. Coupled with a diversity initiative empowered by Schwartz and led by Member Shirley Emehelu, CSG showed limited turnover despite the socially distant circumstances. In fact, more than 25 attorneys and staff have joined the firm since the pandemic’s onset.
As President and CEO of the 20,000-member New Jersey Business and Industry Association, Siekerka has her finger on the pulse of what business owners need to succeed here. Broadly speaking, the challenges for the state’s businesses are enormous. Even going into the pandemic, figures like Siekerka worried that high taxes and onerous regulations, the march toward a $15 an hour minimum wage and political tensions over the prior economic incentive programs have made businesses second-guess if they want to stay in New Jersey, or if they might want to leave the state. “Under Michele’s leadership, NJBIA has been on the frontlines of stopping, stalling or mitigating policies that serve as a detriment to small and large businesses,” a source who works closely with Siekera told NJBIZ last year. Now as the pandemic forces many of them to operate at reduced capacity and intensive sanitization rules in place, and as it disrupts supply chains and depresses consumer demand, many are struggling to survive. If the vaccine efforts go well, then Murphy and governors across the nation will begin to gradually loosen pandemic-centered mandates on how businesses can operate. But Staying afloat while following those mandates is diffiuclt, and figures like Siekerka and the NJBIA are in a position to provide insight on how businesses can navigate that reality.
Nancy Erika Smith
When it comes to protecting employees from the bad guys they work for, Smith gets it done. Employers hate going up against her and employees love having her on their side. She represented Damara Scott early last year against her former employee PNC Bank for failing to protect her from a customer well known to managers as a serial harasser of African American women and the court awarded Scott $2.4 million. She’s currently in litigation in two widely publicized cases; one representing Gina Bilotti, a Johnson & Johnson employee who allegedly faced career-ending discrimination after rising through the ranks for 25 years; and the other representing former carpenters’ union members who allegedly suffered retaliation for fighting against a toxic work culture. Smith is perhaps best known as the lawyer behind Gretchen Carlson’s sexual harassment case against Fox News and Roger Ailes, which settled for $20 million in the national spotlight.
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. Ordinarily a consummate and discreet insider, Sommer burst into view in January when the New York Times reported on an email exchange he had with friend and former client Charles Kushner — the father of former White House adviser Jared Kushner — about the riot at the Capitol and then President Donald Trump’s actions. “Got it and beyond our control,” Kushner replied. In normal times, Sommer can be counted upon to make connections and provide important context to what might seem like arcane political disputes and infighting. He knows the personalities, the histories and the motivations of the state’s most important political players, including South Jersey boss George Norcross. He previously served as 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.
The founder and managing partner of Princeton-based Edison Partners, Sugden is, perhaps, the most prominent private capital executive in the state. So occupies a unique position in the economy, one that gives him visibility into a wide range of developments. For example, even during the pandemic Sugden and Edison were able to identify sectors that were thriving in the face of adversity. “The good news is if you’re an innovator around supply chain, around health care, it’s really had an impact of accelerating some businesses that otherwise would have had to sort of get older industries to come along,” he said in a recent interview. “And all those older industries are moving fast too.” In addition to its investment successes, the firm is known for its operating platform, Edison Edge, which brings an integrated team of investors and operators to every portfolio company, providing guidance on sales and marketing effectiveness, financial planning and controls, human capital management, board leadership, capital formation and M&A strategies. Though its roots are firmly in New Jersey where three of its five largest successes were realized, the firm plans to continue gradually expanding its geographic footprint with investments other regions of the country.
As CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, Sullivan is one of the biggest cheerleaders for Gov.Murphy’s economic priorities and his agenda to create a “Stronger and Fairer” New Jersey. That’s especially pertinent in 2021, as the public focus shifts toward distributing vaccines and finally kickstarting a nationwide economic recovery.
During the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sullivan oversaw an agency that handled tens of millions of dollars in grants, low-interest loans and other forms of state aid meant to help businesses stay afloat.
Now, his agency will handle the implementation of the New Jersey Economic Recovery Act of 2020, an incentive package clocking in at more than $14 billion, that will set the stage for what types of industries will be prioritized by state officials and business executives over the next decade.
The incentive programs are controversial in and of themselves after they sped through Trenton in just a matter of weeks. That process was criticized by good government advocates worried about just what may lie in the details of the hundreds of pages of legislation. But Sullivan, Murphy, sponsoring lawmakers and, more important, the business leaders who state officials want to keep in New Jersey think it’s just what the state needs for a post-COVID economy.
Arguably the second most powerful elected official in the state, Sweeney has been seen as one of the only officials with the clout to take on Gov. Phil Murphy himself. The longtime union ironworker controls the votes in Trenton. And Murphy’s years-long delays in enacting many of his key policy proposals – such as a millionaire’s tax, marijuana legalization and corporate incentives reform – have largely been attributed to resistance from Sweeney. Most of those ultimately got the sign-off from Sweeney, but with major concessions from the governor. So relations have largely thawed between Murphy and Sweeney, and between the governor and George Norcross, a political powerbroker in South Jersey and close ally of the Senate President. Perhaps most important to the business community, Sweeney and Murphy struck a deal on a new corporate incentive program. Still, Sweeney, like his lower chamber counterpart Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, will ultimately act as the gatekeeper for all of Murphy’s policy priorities. Whatever spending or tax increases Murphy might ask for this year, he’ll have to get through the two of them. “There’s still only three people who are driving that decision – the spending priorities,” said one Trenton insider.
Tardugno relocated biopharma company Celsion Corp. to Lawrenceville from Maryland a decade ago. At the time, he was looking to develop and commercialize life-saving chemotherapy and immunotherapy agents and needed to recruit top talent. Two years ago, Celsion—where Tardugno serves as president and CEO — received $10.6 million via the State’s Technology Business Tax Certificate Transfer Program from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and the Department of Treasury’s Division of Taxation. The company is developing products targeting advanced ovarian cancer and earlier this year applied for a provisional U.S. patent for a novel DNA-based, investigational vaccine aimed at preventing or treating infections including COVID-19 using its Placcine DNA technology platform.
Bed Bath & Beyond today is hardly the same retailer Tritton took over in October 2019. The executive shakeup he started by firing a half-dozen people from high-level positions mid-holiday season 2019 has been followed by almost biweekly appointment announcements, the sale of all of Bed Bath’s non-core business, and the introduction and expansion of numerous programs like buy-online-pickup-in-store before and throughout the pandemic. Recently, the retailer has doubled down on owned brands with the appointment of Jim Reath as senior vice president of marketing, who will oversee the springtime launch of new such lines; and Kristi Argyilan as senior vice president of brand innovation, a role in which she’ll expand Bed Bath’s customer insights capabilities, introduce a new loyalty program and develop and make work new strategic partnerships. With Tritton’s leadership, Bed Bath is aiming to not only be synonymous with the store you buy your home and bath products from, but the brand on the box, too.
Bob Unanue and Peter Unanue
Say what you will about CEO Bob Unanue’s political preferences, but family member and part-owner Andy Unanue told the New York Post in January that his and the rest of the family’s political points of view are irrelevant. Many Americans don’t agree, though, as some publicly boycotted the brand and others flocked to stores to support it. At any rate, Goya was a heavy hitter during the pandemic, managing to sell enough beans to invest $80 million into its manufacturing and distribution facility in Brookshire, Texas according to an October announcement. While other companies faced supply chain issues, Goya products were consistently on shelves. “This isn’t our first rodeo … we have a history [of] being first responders. In Puerto Rico, there was no help to be had [during Hurricane Irma] being an isolated island … So we had people knocking on our door, even though we were hit and down several days, we have our own generators. We’re used to working in emergency situations even though there isn’t one all the time.”
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. Murphy tapped Walsh in January 2020, and he still serves in an acting capacity, but could continue to serve for an entire six-year term. In the past year, his office has scrutinized what it calls a loophole in the worker’s compensation policy for public employees, which officials contend lets insurers off the hook for the financial obligation and instead kicks it to the public worker pension fund. Other reports from the comptroller’s office over the past year have focused on government misuse of public funds, such as allegations that health benefits were given to the Roselle Park mayor and councilmembers despite no eligibility. 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.
Zaro is a trustee 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 is routinely making 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, which might see some funding now that the Biden Administration is in office. More than 200,000 people travel through the tunnels and across the bridge each day. 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. Zaro has cautioned that the project is being held hostage, calling it “a national disaster happening in slow motion.” Part of Zaro’s job is to stop that disaster. “Jerry is a tremendous advocate for the projects,” a source who works closely with him told NJBIZ. “The thing I think he did really better than anyone last year as chairman was delivering the message and spreading the message of the importance and urgency of the project to lots of different audiences. 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.” Gov. Phil Murphy saluted Zaro in a statement to NJBIZ. “Jerry Zaro’s extensive career in public service, under the last eight gubernatorial administrations, has made him one of our state’s most well-respected public policy voices,” Murphy said. “As Chairman of the Gateway Program Development Corporation in 2019, Jerry’s expertise was instrumental to delivering a revised financial plan, passing the bi-state Gateway Development Commission Act, and strengthening partnerships with key stakeholders at the state and federal level. I will continue to call upon Jerry’s tireless advocacy to help bring the Gateway Program across the finish line.”
In May 2020, Zaro was appointed as a member of Murphy’s Restart and Recovery Advisory Council and served on the Facilities and Construction Subcommittee.