The Top 10 5-1

NJBIZ STAFF//January 27, 2015//

The Top 10 5-1

NJBIZ STAFF//January 27, 2015//

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If you’re looking for variations on the definition of powerful, consider this one: You are wanted by everyone.

5: Michele Brown (14)

If you’re looking for variations on the definition of powerful, consider this one: You are wanted by everyone.

That may be the best way to describe why Michele Brown moves into the Top 10 on our list for the first time, coming in as the top-ranked woman in the state.

A little more than two years after Gov. Chris Christie handpicked her to run the powerful and influential Economic Development Authority, Brown was lured away last week to become the CEO and president of Choose New Jersey.

“Michele Brown is the perfect choice for this evolving role,” one fan said. “Michele will take Choose to the next level of sustainable growth and impact.

“She brings a triple threat of strengths — successful experience leading the EDA, an enviable network of relationships and a combination of intellect, persuasiveness and persistence.”

How good is she? Consider this: She was at the top spot of the NJBIZ Power 50 Real Estate list (along with EDA COO Tim Lizura).

The EDA, after all, is coming off of a banner year, thanks to its revamped incentive programs — and the recent news that Mercedes-Benz is leaving the state for Georgia actually may have bolstered the case for strong subsidies.

And then there’s this: She is one of Christie’s most trusted advisers. One source called her “the person who makes sure the stagecoach doesn’t go off the cliff. … I think that her subject matter expertise is not what he relies on — he goes other places for that — but for the common sense, ‘How do you see this?’ ”

And if you think this new role will change that, think again.

“She’s still going to have those connections,” one insider said. “And she’ll have more flexibility on the political side because now she’s out in private enterprise.”

4: Robert C. Garrett (17)

Garrett already leaped into our Top 10 when he helped orchestrate Hackensack University Health Network’s pending merger with Meridian Health — a move that will create the state’s biggest hospital system in terms of revenue and reach when it’s fully integrated later this year.

Then he helped Hackensack be a leader during the Ebola scare as it became one of three hospitals in the state designated to handle a patient  — a move that necessitated some serious preparation and planning.

And, if that wasn’t enough, he helped put together the Hackensack-Seton Hall school of medicine and research center  — a move that will provide an enormous economic boon for the old Roche campus in Nutley and Clifton that many feared would become another of the state’s white elephants.

“Who’s done more in the past 12 months?” one admirer said.

And here’s the catch: These moves will keep on giving.

The private school will turn all 11 hospitals in the Hackensack-Meridian system into teaching hospitals, which will help attract top students and top physicians from around the area and the country.

And the research facility could create a cluster of biopharma companies the state would love to lure.

All of this figures to make the Hackensack-Meridian system among the very best in the country.

Garrett is never one looking for credit, always crediting his staff for enabling the organization to do so much in so many areas. But after this, one insider said anyone in the state will be happy to lend a hand.

“Garrett was high anyway, but obviously with the news recently, probably Top 5,” one insider said. “He’s got the ear of everyone right now — whatever he wants.”

3: Jon F. Hanson (3)

If your choices were figuring out how to stop the bleeding in Atlantic City or trying to complete the American Dream Meadowlands project, which one might be the less grueling task?

Unfortunately for Hanson, he doesn’t get to choose — he’s Christie’s point man for both, so he’s immensely important even without his day job as a real estate magnate.

“His biggest challenge is figuring out how to move all the pieces around,” one insider said of the Hampshire Cos. founder. “He’s so busy right now between the Meadowlands and what he’s doing down in Atlantic City. And he’s doing it for free; he’s a volunteer.”

So how does he do it?

One source said it’s his loads of “dough and credibility” that make him the right man for the jobs. “And he’s a combination of a public-spirited guy who’s got a gravitas because of his balance sheet and his performance.”

Some wonder if even Hanson has the magic to save Atlantic City. One source notes the resort town is “going down the tubes.” Another says, “It is beyond multigenerational repair. It makes me think of Detroit — you’ve got to go bankrupt and reboot it.”

Hanson, as always, has a plan. He is credited for much of the ideas around last week’s Atlantic City summit when the state decided to install an emergency manager.

And he will likely keep plugging away as long as Christie is around.

There may, in fact, be a light at the tunnel when it comes to American Dream — construction crews have long since set up shop at the Meadowlands Sports Complex, both to begin changing the hated Xanadu-vintage exterior and start work on the project’s new water and amusement parks.

Of course, then it will be on to the next project.

This is the second consecutive year he’s been No. 3 on the list — and the third time in four years.

2: George E. Norcross III (2)

It was hard to miss the attention given to Camden in Gov. Chris Christie’s recent State of the State address — the schools, the drop in crime, the unprecedented steps toward economic development.

Would he have those feathers in his cap without Norcross, the South Jersey power broker?

Insiders say don’t bet on it, and we’ve certainly heard that before when it comes to some of Christie’s other past success stories.

“Steve Sweeney made Chris Christie, in my opinion, which means George Norcross made Chris Christie,” said one source, who was lobbying for Norcross to be No. 1. “If Steve Sweeney had been Mitch McConnell or John Boehner to Chris Christie, there would never have been Chris Christie. And why did he do that? Because of what George could get in Camden.”

Norcross carries the torch for Camden as well as anyone could for a city, proving that again last year. The likes of Holtec International, Subaru and Lockheed Martin all have committed to moving there, thanks to the outsized incentives that became part of the Economic Opportunity Act. That’s not to mention the planned Philadelphia 76ers’ practice complex and expansion of his beloved Cooper University Hospital.

Norcross makes it look so easy. But don’t be fooled — it all starts with hard work.

“The thing that sets him apart from anyone I’ve ever met in any endeavor, business or personal, is follow-up and follow-through,” one admirer said. “There’s no one more relentless than he is. No one. That’s why he’s so successful. He just never leaves it alone. It’s a great message for business people to understand.”

Norcross looms large as the state turns its focus to 2017. It might be too early to gauge the race between frontrunners Steve Sweeney and Steve Fulop, but we know that whatever “life after Chris Christie” means for New Jersey, Norcross will be a part of it.

1. Chris Christie (1)

It’s the only spot Christie has ever known on this list, but this seemed like the year he could finally be ousted from his perch atop New Jersey’s business community.

The state’s economy continues to lag, and the governor seems to have one foot out the door en route to a run for the White House. And, as one high-level executive lamented recently, “Trenton is shut down on the executive side.”

So you’re saying it’s time for a new No. 1?

Not so fast.

“First of all, who would be No. 1 but him?” the source said. “He controls everything.

“I didn’t say he’s not powerful.”

It’s the same dilemma voiced by many of the insiders we spoke to for this year’s Power 100. That’s why Christie holds onto the top spot — he still commands the attention of every decision-maker in the state.

And he still has the ability to make things happen — or not happen — and there’s no shortage of key business issues that may still be addressed on his watch.

All signs point to Christie staying in office while he runs for president.

That puts him at the helm as Trenton tackles the bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund, another pension showdown and the deepening crisis in Atlantic City.

Insiders say he’ll be there with a dwindling inner circle in the Garden State. And with the specter of Bridgegate still looming, Christie’s power doesn’t seem quite as absolute as it did in his first term.

But, as one source reminded us, being the governor is still being the governor.

“If I’m the man on the street and you put the mike in front of me, I would think that the guy who controls the Statehouse is always No. 1,” the person said.


NJBIZ Power 100: No. 100 to No. 71 (click here)

NJBIZ Power 100: No. 70 to No. 41 (click here)

NJBIZ Power 100: No. 40 to No. 11 (click here)

NJBIZ Power 100: No. 10 to No. 6 (click here)