The Top 10 10-6

NJBIZ STAFF//January 27, 2015//

The Top 10 10-6

NJBIZ STAFF//January 27, 2015//

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His star is rising — there’s no denying that — but our sources were split on whether it’s rising too quickly.

10. Steven Fulop (20)

His star is rising — there’s no denying that — but our sources were split on whether it’s rising too quickly.

The second-year mayor of Jersey City earned praise for building on what was a good foundation there, his savvy use of state incentives and his strong relationship with developers.

When it comes to whether he’s ready to run for governor?

“I think he’s putting together the political alliances where he could be the person (in 2017),” one political junkie said. “If you get Hudson, Bergen, Essex aligned, it’s going to be tough to overcome.”

He’s certainly stepping up his interest.

“You hear about members of the Democratic party in Bergen getting birthday cards, and he’s down the Shore at some sort of pancake breakfast,” one insider said. “Is that smart or desperate?”

Either way, he doesn’t have to rely on spin for a record of accomplishments.

He’s doing so much in Jersey City that even his biggest announcements  — such as last week’s news about the plans for the biggest building in the state coming to the city  —  are almost considered routine now.

Another source called him “an emerging leader in the state who may be realizing that his time is not yet.

“And he also recognizes he’s building something in Jersey City that could be an enduring legacy for him.”

So is his time now or later?

“He could always run to lose,” another said. “If he runs and runs a good campaign, that’s not necessarily a loss for him. He’s still a young guy.”

With a pretty good sense of humor.

When asked how he thought Fulop would feel if he were paired with Sweeney on our list, one insider didn’t hesitate:

“He would laugh hysterically.”

9. Ralph Izzo (11)

Social media.

Leave it to Ralph Izzo, who many call “the smartest guy in the room” to try and figure out social media.

But that is just one of the many things the PSEG chairman and chief executive has his company doing.

Makes sense.

After Hurricane Sandy, utilities learned two very important lessons: They need to dramatically upgrade their infrastructure. And they need to increase their ability to talk to customers in the worst of times.

“We’re actually one of the nation’s leaders in utilities with Twitter followings,” he recently bragged.

Other top leaders just like to brag about Izzo.

“Izzo is the visionary,” one fan said. “He’s an elegant genius.”

He’s figuring out a lot more than just Facebook, too.

“I think they have some really big plans for building out our infrastructure,” another source said.

“Sandy was a big wake-up call for the state,” another said.

“But if you’re looking for a positive, it’s this: Without it, we likely would have been putting all this off as we did so long with transportation.”

So it makes sense that Izzo is not only on our list, but in the Top 10 for the second time.

“Obviously, Ralph is an incredibly important person in the state,” said one insider.

“When you look at the pillars of business that exist here, it’s PSE&G, it’s Prudential, it’s the health care industry.”

Chairing the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce doesn’t hurt, either.

But we’re more impressed with his ability to tweet.

8. Robert Marino (7)

We can’t really explain why Marino drops one spot on our list.

After all, among all the other business people on here, his Newark-based company can point to a substantial rise  — as least in terms of customers — thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

Already the dominant health insurance company in the state, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield now covers 3.7 million lives in New Jersey.

That’s not easy to do. One insider credits Marino, its CEO and president.

“(He was a) steady hand on the tiller” during the Medicaid expansion that began in 2014,” they said. As the largest provider of the Medicaid program under a contract with the state, Horizon has signed up thousands of new members under the ACA.

In these volatile times, the insider said, Marino’s deep operational expertise has served the company well.

On his watch, the state’s largest health insurer “implemented health reform pretty smoothly” — successfully selling thousands of health care plans directly to the public via HealthCare.gov, the online health insurance exchange created by Obamacare,” one close watcher of health care in New Jersey said.

Marino is mainstreaming innovative practices, such as their “patient-centered models,” another fan said.

Previously, these innovations had been “siloed in a subsidiary — causing internal tensions.”

His work is not done.

Marino contends the ACA did little to stem the rising cost of health insurance in the state.  More people got covered, but they didn’t necessarily get a better deal.

That’s Marino’s next challenge.

“Bob has been ahead of the game throughout,” one insider said. “That’s why he needs to be high on the list.”

7. Jamie Fox (NR)

He’s the man at the center of trying to save the state’s depleted Transportation Trust Fund, a task so critical this year that Christie tapped a full-fledged Democratic political operative to help find a solution in Trenton.

The proven dealmaker — now in his second run as the state’s transportation chief — was confirmed almost instantaneously, by Trenton standards.

Why? One insider said that, for once, his selection had nothing to do with politics.

“This was just about getting the person in there who can get the job done,” the person said. “That’s what Jamie does.”

And he does it by playing a game many in politics don’t know how to play.

He just wants to make deals.

“That’s all it’s about with him — making the deal,” the insider said. “He is very methodical and only worries about the end result.

“And he’ll be ruthless about getting there.”

In other words, don’t misinterpret his sometimes easygoing personality.

“He doesn’t want to play politics, and if you do, he’ll want nothing to do with you. You better be ready to make a deal — and make the best deal possible for the situation, not for your political party. Jamie is not interested in that.”

Infrastructure advocates can only hope this solve-the-situation policy is what is needed to solve the seemingly hopelessly bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund.

The state’s aging roads, bridges and tunnels desperately need the help.

If they don’t get it, all businesses will suffer.

That’s why Fox was the right man for this job.

“It was an easy pick,” an insider said.

6. Stephen Sweeney (5)

The state Senate president and gubernatorial hopeful remains powerful, even if he may have a tough road ahead.

His bipartisan victories may be fewer and farther between now that Gov. Christie, his longtime dancing partner, seems more focused on his national ambitions than New Jersey politics.

“They’re not giving Sweeney now what he used to get,” one insider said. “It’s harder for him to make a deal with the governor and deliver. … He could before, now they’re not going to let him do it.”

But before you think all of this blocking comes from Christie, realize some of it comes from Sweeney’s own party, too.

“North Jersey guys may not want to do things to help Sweeney,” the insider continued. “I think it’s going to be harder for Sweeney to position himself now because (Jersey City Mayor Steve) Fulop is now trying to create this North Jersey bloc.”

But don’t underestimate Sweeney. He didn’t get where he is by crumbling under pressure.

In fact, he’s doing what he can to stay ahead in the game.

“He was smart to get out early on North Jersey gaming,” another insider said. “I thought he would wait a while on that, but I guess he got religion quick and said, ‘I can’t be parochial for much longer. I’ve got to get up there and get in that issue.’”

All while redefining himself (his relationship with Christie, once a positive, is now viewed as a liability) and redefining himself in unfamiliar territory.

“He’s got a lot of ground to cover,” said another insider, more literally then figuratively.

“It’s easier for a North Jersey guy to go down south and campaign. It’s much harder for a South Jersey guy (to come north).”

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