The Power List is our way of saluting people at the heart of the Hampton Roads economy. We all benefit from the work of the esteemed members of our Emeritus List, the Top 10 and the 75 other movers and shakers noted in this issue.
This year’s Top 10 is organized in a new way. The traditional numerical ranking has its merits, but nuance isn’t one of them. Instead, we are presenting the Top 10 according to the type of power they project.
If we looked at power in a way that’s as old as mankind, how could we deny the No. 1 spot to Rear Admiral Charles “Chip” Rock? Under his command lie personnel and weapons that could lay waste to the entire region, if not all of Virginia and beyond. Under his watch, those same resources help defend our nation from attack and give us the freedom to go about our business. He bears an awesome responsibility.
So does Gov. Ralph Northam. Besides his normal duties at the top of a state government that wields vast power through laws, regulations, licenses, taxes, grants and marketing, he has shouldered the burden of fighting the coronavirus pandemic. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, he has used emergency powers to restrict large swaths of our lives, pulling levers and switching things on and off according to the whims of the virus, the advice of scientists, the cries of frightened citizens and his best judgment.
But power has elements far older than war and governance. Two of those are hunger and healing.
We work to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. Ruth Jones Nichols, president and CEO of the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, is one of many people in our region who work every day to help others meet basic needs. Her agency brings relief to many thousands of desperately hungry people. Shouldn’t the value of that food to those individuals and our society earn her votes for the No. 1 spot?
Without our health, we have nothing. Howard Kern leads Sentara, the largest health care system in the region. How many people owe their vitality, if not their lives, to the thousands of caregivers in the Sentara network — and might say that Kern should top the list?
Let’s turn to power centers where profit is the measuring stick.
Brian Skinner represents the power of capital. He has been rising up the ranks of TowneBank, which enables large amounts of business activity in the region through its financing. Just this month, Skinner was named president and CEO of Towne Financial Services Group and now leads the company’s non-bank divisions, including mortgages. The bank’s mortgage division completed more than 20,000 originations last year, uncorking an incalculable amount of economic buzz.
For the power of manufacturing, we look to Jennifer Boykin, president of Newport News Shipbuilding and executive vice president of Huntington Ingalls Industries. She leads about 25,000 employees who make nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines. It would be interesting to know how many other people are employed making the things that her company uses to make its behemoths.
John Lawson II runs W.M. Jordan, the largest construction firm in Virginia. He says he tries to live by the philosophy that you can either watch things happen or make things happen. Buildings are lasting evidence that someone has exercised their power and made something happen.
Typically, before builders can go to work, they need a plan. Virginia Beach developer Bruce Thompson has shown repeatedly that he can size up a landscape and see a way to transform it. Plenty of people can come up with plans, but until someone rolls the dice, gathers the resources and drives a project to completion there is no transformation.
The last two power sectors are less concrete than the others, but no less important.
It might seem odd to pair up the head of a nonprofit, public-private economic development partnership and the power of dreaming big, but here we are. As leader of the Hampton Roads Alliance, Doug Smith has become the point man for an ambitious dream: That the many parts of Hampton Roads can work together as a region and come out of the coronavirus funk with a stronger, more vital economy. He helped develop and is vigorously promoting the 757 Recovery and Resilience Action Framework. In the darkness of a global pandemic, a lot of talented people dreamed of a way for Hampton Roads to come out of it ahead. We hope they succeed.
Finally, we come to a new member of The Power List — Pharrell Williams. If the name wasn’t already taken, we might call him Pharrell the Creator. He creates music, he creates music festivals, he creates fashion lines, he creates businesses and nonprofits. He’s part of a group developing a $325 million surf park and entertainment venue at the Oceanfront, and part of another group that’s interested in redeveloping the Military Circle Mall area. It seems that if Pharrell thinks of something and wants it to become a reality, it does.
And he has a lot of powerful ideas.
I would like to take this opportunity to say goodbye to the readers of Inside Business. I am leaving the company after 26 years to take on an exciting new opportunity, and this issue marks the end of my tenure as IB editor. It has been a great joy and honor to cover the local business community.
I also must thank the talented journalists who have helped me so much in this job: reporters Trevor Metcalfe, Sandra Pennecke and Tara Bozick, and designer/editor Carol Barna. And I have been blessed to work with great free-lance writers, including Joy Vann, Sonja Barisic and Linda Lamm English, who produce weekly items like Public Records and Business Notes, plus news articles.