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NJBIZ Power 100: 70-41

70. Jeff Gural (91)
70. Jeff Gural (91)
It’s really quite simple with Jeff Gural. “He is a player now,” one insider said. “If the casino happens, he is the key guy.” At least in the Meadowlands. Gural has positioned himself nicely to get one of the two potential casinos in North Jersey. And if he doesn’t, he has an option to get back his investment in the area. Now there’s a bet that can’t lose.
It’s really quite simple with Jeff Gural. “He is a player now,” one insider said. “If the casino happens, he is the key guy.” At least in the Meadowlands. Gural has positioned himself nicely to get one of the two potential casinos in North Jersey. And if he doesn’t, he has an option to get back his investment in the area. Now there’s a bet that can’t lose. The managing partner of McCarter & English is not nearly as visible as the heads of some of the other top firms in the state, but make no doubt about it, his firm is as visible as any. “Their group of lawyers are top-notch,” one insider said. “And visible in many different fields.” The mayor of Camden is proving to be a force. “She’s a player,” one insider said. “What she has done, particularly in workforce development programs — as a complement to bringing in these corporations — has really been impressive to me. She is advancing her community’s interest aggressively so that there are jobs on the property for Camden residents. She works well with labor and industry to put together innovative approaches.” Easier said than done, especially in an urban setting many are reluctant to commit to. Selling the city is one of her strongest skills: “She is a pleasure to deal with and no B.S.” The state senator from Wood-Ridge continues to impress the business community. “Paul Sarlo is an incredibly astute, pragmatic guy. He does understand business,” one insider said. Another agreed. “(He) seems to be getting what he wants, for the most part.” The next step, all agree, could bring more political power. “You can see the battle lines are being drawn. Paul and (state Sen.) Loretta (Weinberg) are with (Senate President) Steve (Sweeney) and right now (Assembly Speaker Vincent) Prieto is with (Jersey City Mayor) Steve Fulop.” Said another: “For Paul, the big play is what happens in ’17. He wants to be Senate president, and it’s just a matter of backing the right person. It’s very challenging.” How good has Nancy Cantor been as the head of Rutgers-Newark? Many wonder if she should be the next head of the entire system when and if Robert Barchi steps down in a few years, as expected. One insider said don’t count on it. “She doesn’t (want to be president),” the source said. “She’s very happy with that little city school, making a difference there, highly respected, growing in a tough community to grow in from the outside.” Newark is lucky to have her. “The community loves her,” a fan gushed. “She’s smart, lives in the city. She’s a player.” Said another: “If you talk about business, Nancy Cantor is probably more involved than anyone in revitalizing the business side of a geographic area. Everyone loves her, she’s a sparkplug, she’s wonderful.” Unions may be on the decline nationwide, but they still pack plenty of punch here. The support of Bill Mullen, president of the state’s Building and Construction Trades Council, for the casino bill was key. “It wasn’t a surprise that he released a statement shortly after the deal was struck.” And Analilia Mejia, the leader of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, continues to be the leader on issues such as paid sick leave and raising the minimum wage. “She’s someone that everyone in business needs to deal with. That’s impact.” And then there’s Spencer, the Eastern District vice president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners, who “might be the most powerful labor person in the state of New Jersey,” according to one top political player. At a time when many institutions of higher education are struggling over finances (both their own and their students’), Seton Hall is surging as a growing power locally and nationally. The campus has had too many upgrades to list, the profile of incoming classes gets better every year, and now it’s adding a medical school to go along with its law school. “He’s a player,” one insider said of the university president. “What they’ve done is groundbreaking. And they’re flush with cash.” The praise for Esteban was unanimous. “It’s all about their admission strategy and their financial aid package. And it’s genius. What they’ve done is groundbreaking in the way that they’ve doled out money to the valedictorians of the New Jersey high schools, and that attracted that next group of people at those same high schools.” “He may be the last county power boss in the state,” said one political insider. We’re not sure about that, but we do know this: No county executive has more influence in their area than Joe D. It remains to be seen how much influence he has outside of the county. Many feel the Essex suburban vote will go a long way to determining the Democratic nominee for governor. Is that true? The voters will tell on Election Day. But before then, you can be sure the top candidates will be doing whatever they can to get his endorsement. NJIT has long been hailed on these pages for the innovative ways it’s working with the business community. Not just to prepare its students for the STEM-based work of the future, but collaborating with business to find solutions. There’s the Innovation Institute (capably run by Don Sebastian) and an increasing connection with nearby Panasonic. And we hear some bigger connections are coming. Joel Bloom, the president of the school, has been in front of it all. “Joel is pretty impressive with what he’s doing there, particularly with Panasonic,” one fan said. Some call it a thankless job: communications director. But insiders say Comella does it well — and shines in the only way the job can truly be measured. “She should get a credit with the fact that, every time you turn around, the governor is on television,” one insider said. “If you got Christie on the phone driving through Iowa and there’s someone sitting next to him, it’s Maria.” For good reason, said another. “He trusts her a lot and she does outstanding work,” the source said. “You can see that just from watching what’s happening.” The patriarch of the long-running New Brunswick-based Boraie Development firm is proving it can be a force throughout the state. It just had a long-awaited groundbreaking in Newark for its Rector Street project (a 23-story residential tower that will be Newark’s first new high-rise in decades) and received a state incentive for a mixed-use project in Atlantic City. And Boraie is still going strong in New Brunswick, where it just opened The Aspire, a high-end luxury apartment building. Boraie is developing more than just buildings. In Newark, Boraie hopes to use workers from IMPACT Newark, a program designed to help minorities, women and veterans get jobs in the construction industry. In New Brunswick, Omar — trained originally as a biochemist — donated $1.5 million to establish the Omar Boraie Chair in Genomic Science at Rutgers. It’s been roughly 18 months since Scott O’Neil and Hugh Weber were brought on to right ship that is the Prudential Center and its main tenant, the New Jersey Devils. Hard work, led by a major transition is leadership, is starting to pay off. “They have invested heavily in the Prudential Center and the increasing number of dates shows impact.” O’Neil, as CEO of the organization, and Weber, president of the arena, have both aggressively interacted with the business community, which has led to an increase in suite sales and corporate sponsorships. Weber is ubiquitous at Newark-area events and causes, even sitting on the board at St. Benedict’s Prep. “He’s the New Jersey orbit of the whole conglomerate.” O’Neil has hands full with both the Devils and organization’s other pro team, the Philadelphia 76ers, including the Sixers’ new practice facility in Camden, which the team hopes to open before the start of next season. Above all else, the Devils’ surprising success — they are battling for a playoff spot — is inspiring optimism. “At least the Devils have a winning record, which is a lot better than the NBA team they own.” The name Norcross is synonymous with power, especially in South Jersey. “Phil Norcross is still the lawyer to the stars,” began one insider. “Philip Norcross does all of George’s work down there on the business deals,” said another. If that’s the case, he’s certainly keeping busy in both Atlantic City, where he represents the casinos, and Camden, where Phil was given a lot of credit for helping companies make the move. The pair, along with Armen Shahinian, have transformed the old Wolff & Samson firm into Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi, a growing power in West Orange. “These guys have taken a firm that most people thought was dead in the water and not only saved it, but turned it into one of the most formidable in the state,” one insider said. “Chiesa obviously has the name recognition and a relationship with the governor, but you can’t forget he’s one of the best lawyers in the state. And Giantomasi is a key player in real estate in Newark and Jersey City — and well-connected in all the circles that matter.” The West Orange-based firm has added more than three dozen lawyers to a healthy list of industry pros that already were in the building. It’s hard to go anywhere in the state and not see a PNC location. They are everywhere. So is its leader in the Garden State. A master networker, Bowden can be found at many events and involved in many causes. “Her presence is a huge plus for that bank and something that clearly helps it separate themselves in such a crowded field,” an insider said before explaining how. “Get a group of business executives together and ask them to name the heads of 10 of the biggest banks in the state. All could name a few, but everyone would name Linda. That’s power.” Few are as good at working Trenton than Castner. And few are more respected or well-liked. “Castner is one of the most important people in the state of New Jersey and has been for a long time,” one insider said. “As the executive director of the Assembly, as the chief counsel to Gov. Jon Corzine, his relationships with the critical decision makers, whether it’s George or Sweeney or now Bob Marino — he’s just in the middle of the vortex. It’s a really interesting career that he has developed, and now look at where he is.” Where he’s at is with Horizon BCBSNJ, handling the fallout of the OMNIA rollout. “I don’t think Bill alone will be the silver bullet, but he will certainly help them,” said another observer. And he won’t be going it alone. Look for Castner to introduce an impressive team in the coming weeks. As for the future? “He is the Rich Bagger, potentially, of the Democratic administration,” another insider said. “Is there anyone better at working Trenton?” one insider asked about the head of Princeton Public Affairs Group. “There are a lot of people doing good work down there, but Dale’s group is clearly the leader, has been for some time.” Florio’s group is deep and knowledgeable, but our insiders feel his leadership and personality mean as much as anything. “He’s a player,” one insider said. “If you’ve got Dale representing your interests, you know they are going to be represented well.” He has been the head of New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Co. for nearly a decade — and a big part of Choose New Jersey since it started. In many ways, he’s the quintessential Jersey guy. Honest, dedicated, hardworking. “Bernie is a great complement of great leadership of a respected company and civic mindedness,” one source said. “He’s just that great blend — almost an old world blend, but not to suggest that he’s mired in the past. He’s just got that commitment.” Thankfully, said another. “They’re the pre-eminent insurance company, and if they ever left the state, we’d be toast.” He is the managing partner of Gibbons, but his role doesn’t stop there. Dunican is active in the business and higher ed communities, all while running one of the state’s biggest and most influential firms. “Dunican really is mixing it up,” one insider said. “You’ve got managing partners in some law firms that you rarely hear from,” another insider said. “Dunican should be on the list because not only is he the managing partner, but he’s actually hands-in.” The Motorola head is based in Chicago, but he’s playing a huge role here as head of the board of governors at his alma mater, Rutgers. His impact, insiders say, is everywhere, including the hiring of football coach Chris Ash and athletic director Pat Hobbs. “(His) base is in Chicago, but he is a more active CEO (here than others),” one insider said. For good reason. The governor wants him to be. “Greg Brown and the governor have a good rapport,” one insider said. “(He) is a major force with the governor,” said another. Now, with Hobbs, he can be a major force in business, another surmised: “If Hobbs is able to fund himself through Brown, they’re going to take those athletic facilities off like a rocket — all the new jobs, all the new construction jobs. If they do a new RAC and the practice facilities they’re talking about, he’s the point.” It’s hard to have a list of business leaders without this group. They are the heads of some of the state’s biggest billion-dollar companies: Dave Brandon (Toys R Us), Kenneth Frazier (Merck), Alex Gorsky (Johnson & Johnson), Thai Lee (SHI International) and Carlos Rodriguez (ADP). Combined, they have revenues of roughly $150 billion while employing some 30,000. Their presence and impact in the state is unmistakable — and not just for being sponsors of seemingly every business event in the state, as is the case with J&J. If you need proof of their power, look to last week, when J&J announced it was going to let go of 3,000 employees worldwide (it’s uncertain how many will be in Jersey). Such an announcement from any of these companies would have real impact. And if any gave even the slightest hint that they were considering moving, you can be sure the state would step in with incentive packages rivaling any given out. Their power — and their potential power — is unmistakable. As is their incredible level of success. J&J and Merck are among the global leaders in their sector. Lee has one of the top women-owned companies in the world. Rodriguez is annually recognized for his commitment to diversity and inclusion while making ADP the leader in its field. Brandon is just getting started at Toys R Us, but he starts with the No. 1 brand in the toy industry. When it comes to leading businesses in the state, these are some of the best. So, there’s the indictment … but that didn’t stop many from speaking highly of the senior U.S. senator while detailing the power he still has. “Despite the cloud that’s hanging over him ... he is an articulate, informed, ruthless senator,” one insider said. “Ruthless.” And there’s no consensus on whether the charges will stick. “I think he could very well get out on all sorts of technicalities,” said an insider. “The problem is the feds would probably come back a second time on new grounds … and that takes you closer to re-election. Right now, it’s a distant memory.” So, for now, it’s Menendez the master politician. “I would put on my Top 5 all-time list of incredibly talented (politicians) — just a master of everything. Sort of in the Bill Clinton league.” How’s this for power? One source says LeFrak, son of Richard, played a key role in the more than 2,000 new jobs that JPMorgan Chase committed to Jersey City last year — namely, by being willing to sell 575 Washington Blvd. to get the deal done. “It wouldn’t have happened without Harrison. It wouldn’t have happened without incentives, too, but you wouldn’t have been able to get the (jobs) out of JP without the LeFraks,” the source said. “They don’t sell things. They’re generational wealth people and they don’t sell real estate. And in order to make that deal, he sold the first building to them.” The family isn’t done dealing. Not by a long shot. Some, in fact, feel they have the best site for a new casino. His family is behind the American Dream Meadowlands, one of the biggest development projects in state history — the true scope of which isn’t completely known. (Some feel a casino could become a part of it.) This much is clear: As CEO of Triple Five Group, Don is now the face of a family that is known for staying out of the limelight. “Don is as important as anybody, because he represents the next generation,” one insider said. “He’s the guy that you’re really looking at. The heir apparent.” Business leaders wonder what his next act will be after opening Prudential’s magnificent new skyscraper in Newark. They also wonder if it will be in New Jersey, as some say he has increasingly turned his focus to Manhattan. That remains to be seen, but most agree that if a major company in the state of New Jersey needs a new headquarters, the SJP Properties chairman and CEO will be on the short list of developers who get a call: “He’s a big player. There’s no way around that.” How does the business community grade this duo in their first year at the helm of Mack-Cali? Here’s one leader’s take: “The bottom line is their stock is up 22.5 percent. It’s good, because it was down because the market wasn’t reacting to their leadership and what was going on.” The source notes that “something needs to be done” with their portfolio of office buildings, which are two, three or four decades old other than their properties on the Gold Coast. But many feel they’re up to the task: DeMarco, as president and COO, “is the guy doing the deals and Mitch is being the CEO.” “Very quietly, Finn is a major player,” one business leader said, echoing the sentiments of many other sources. That’s a nod to both his real estate business — he is a founder of Normandy Real Estate Partners — and his support of Gov. Christie’s run for president. Another source summed it up like this: “He does a lot of his business out of state, but he’s very involved in it. He’s taking the lead as one of the state fundraising heads with Jon Hanson, but that’s just one of many things he’s involved in. He’s very smart and skilled — that’s why so many people want him on their team.” You need money to get things done in business. Mandelbaum has a lot of it — and plays a major role helping to finance so many business dealings around the state. “He's involved in so many deals it's amazing,” one insider said. Some wondered if Booker was more about style than substance when he was mayor of Newark. Our insiders said you can put that idea to rest with his work as a U.S. senator. He was given high marks from every corner for his work to get the Gateway tunnel project back on line. “I think Booker is really working hard to make himself relevant,” one insider said. “Absolutely key in the tunnel and key in the right way.” And, said another, perhaps a sign of things to come: “Senators can do things like go and secure funds to build a tunnel. That’s a pretty good exercise in executive leadership, even though he’s in the legislative branch.” At least for now. Moving from mayor to senator hasn’t stopped people from trying to predict his next stop, with some hinting he could enter the already crowded field of gubernatorial hopefuls or take on a bigger role on the national scene. “Cory is a player,” another insider said. “In the Democratic presidential race, he won’t be a candidate, but he will speak at the convention. He’s a star — and will be for as long as he wants to be.” This is an easy one, said a number of our insiders. If the governor is allpowerful because of the influence and impact he can have with one decision, the head of the judicial branch is, too. Numerous cases are working their way through the system and may or may not reach the state Supreme Court. From affordable housing to the nonprofit tax issues (and not just hospitals; universities could be headed there, too) to Bridgegate. “You could say this is another example of power,” one insider said. “You don’t know when or if it will be used, but if it is, the whole state stops and absorbs its impact.”

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