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NJBIZ Power 100: N-Z

Phil Norcross
Phil Norcross
It’s been eight years since South Jersey Democratic Party leader George Norcross’ younger brother and Jeff Michaels, former chief of staff to Republican Gov. Donald DiFrancesco, formed Optimus Partners LLC. Their founding goal: advising private businesses and other organizations looking to invest in New Jersey or expand their current holdings or operations in the state. Optimus has since become one of the leading lobbying firms in the state, with clients including the Casino Association of New Jersey.
It’s been eight years since South Jersey Democratic Party leader George Norcross’ younger brother and Jeff Michaels, former chief of staff to Republican Gov. Donald DiFrancesco, formed Optimus Partners LLC. Their founding goal: advising private businesses and other organizations looking to invest in New Jersey or expand their current holdings or operations in the state. Optimus has since become one of the leading lobbying firms in the state, with clients including the Casino Association of New Jersey. It’s no surprise the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia 76ers each find themselves on an upswing this season and likely for campaigns to come. CEO O’Neil and President Weber have associated themselves with a seasoned basketball man in Bryan Colangelo and Stanley Cup winner in Ray Shero to make the 76ers and Devils, respectively, making those teams ones to watch. Meantime, the Prudential Center in Newark continues to be one of the most active venues in the U.S. with an array of world-class events. With O’Neil and Weber at the helm, Newark is leading the charge in New Jersey as the place for top-flight entertainment. For the CEO of RWJBarnabas Health, it’s not enough that the hospital system continues to be one of the largest and most powerful entities in the state. And its partnership with Rutgers University’s Cancer Institute this year allowed it to become one of the biggest cancer treatment providers in the tri-state region. But Ostrowsky says RWJBarnabas’ biggest accomplishment this year has been working with various community leaders to launch its social determinant program. “This is a pillar of our strategy going forward,” he said. The program seeks to make communities healthier by improving employment, increasing access to healthy foods and improving living conditions. The system has committed to hiring 350 people in Newark, and it recently launched a “boot camp” to train the unemployed for full-time careers. As president of the New Brunswick Development Corp., Paladino has set the standard for what it means to develop a town in New Jersey — some might even say the U.S. His ability to orchestrate public and private partnerships has continued to change New Brunswick’s skyline for the last couple of decades. In 2017, Paladino and the New Brunswick Development Corp. broke ground on 1.8 million square feet of mixed-use space near the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center. Elsewhere, among other cities he’s involved in transforming, Paladino is helping to marshal clear progress at Atlantic City’s $225 million Atlantic City Gateway Project. Indeed, it’s Paladino’s consistent leadership skills that place him among the power elite. Chief innovation officer at Hackensack Meridian Health, Pecora continues to earn his reputation as one of the true innovators when it comes to health care delivery in the state. Among many accomplishments, Pecora integrated the technology he launched, called Cancer Outcomes Tracking and Analysis, with IBM’s artificial intelligence to tackle cancer care. He also helped HMH’s John Theurer Cancer Center become the first hospital to offer bundled payment options to breast cancer patients in sync with Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Pecora also became the first doctor to win the Dr. Sol J. Barer Award for Vision, Innovation and Leadership from BioNJ in February. Platkin is chief counsel to Gov. Phil Murphy, having served as policy director during the gubernatorial campaign. So while he advises the state’s new chief executive on legal questions, he also will play a key role in helping to shape the administration’s policy initiations. Platkin has a long-standing working relationship with Murphy; he was part of the progressive New Way for New Jersey group Murphy organized in 2015 when he first began jockeying to run for governor. As a practicing attorney, Platkin worked at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP in New York and also held a position at The Brookings Institution. In 2013, he joined the campaign team of New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. He’s vice president and Eastern regional manager of the Laborers International Union of North America, an organization he’s been a member of for 60 years. If that doesn’t make him a powerful enough, Pocino today oversees activities affecting 40,000 union laborers in New Jersey, Delaware, New York City, Long Island and Puerto Rico. He’s credited with boosting the region’s stature within the 550,000-member international with initiatives such as establishing a regional organizing fund, the international’s first-ever. This is a guy who knows what he’s doing, with the membership muscle to back up his directives. ADP CEO sounds a little bit like a nursery rhyme, which is funny since Rodriquez is chief exec of a company that makes company payroll as easy as 1-2-3. One of the most prominent Cuban-Americans in the nation’s CEO ranks, Rodriguez is considered a leading example of the kind of executive diversity that’s been too slow in coming but sure to expand. He’s led the payroll-processing company since 2011 after arriving at the company two years earlier. The Harvard MBA is a member of the Business Roundtable and Economic Club of New York. Oh, and if you’re a fan of CNBC, you’ll know him as a regular guest dishing on Wall Street and public companies like Nasdaq-listed ADP. Saker, of Saker ShopRite, owns a bigger piece of the Wakefern Food Corp. pie than any other owner in the co-op. His 31 stores employ 9,500 people, and in 2016 his grocery empire was worth an estimated $1.91 billion. He also owns Holmdel-based Dearborn Market, a purveyor of fine foods and home and garden fare. Saker chairs the New Jersey Food Council, the leading alliance of food retailers and their suppliers. That and his philanthropy — Saker ShopRite donates millions of dollars to 1,300 local charities annually — proves his investment in New Jersey goes far beyond the walls of his grocery stores. The Bergen Democrat has served in the state Senate since 2003. He chairs the Budget and Appropriations Committee, giving him a tight grip on the purse strings, and also serves on the Higher Education, Judiciary Committee and Legislative Oversight committees. If that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, the engineer by training also is chief operating officer of general contractor and construction company Joseph M. Sanzari Inc. Sarlo is among the members of the newly formed Economic and Fiscal Policy Working Group, whose mandate is to analyze government efficiency, spending and taxation, and come up with recommendations for how to overhaul future funding. Schwartz became managing member of Chiesa, Shahinian and Giantomasi PC in 2016 after 30-plus years with the law firm’s Corporate & Securities Group. He is one of the state’s go-to attorneys for counsel on mergers, acquisitions and project finance and practices in the areas of corporate and securities, mergers and acquisitions, banking and finance, and health care and hospital law. CSG serves a diverse cross-section of clients, from Fortune 100 companies to family-run businesses. And since Schwartz stepped up as managing member, CSG’s practice areas have swelled. The firm launched a Professional Liability Group this year and a Food & Beverage Group in 2017. A year earlier, it added Equipment Leasing and Hedge Funds groups. The CEO of the New Jersey Innovation Institute, a corporation of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, applies NJIT’s intellectual and technological resources to challenges identified by industry partners. Through its Innovation Labs (iLabs), NJII brings NJIT expertise to key economic sectors, including health care delivery systems, biopharmaceutical production, civil infrastructure, defense and homeland security, and financial services. Sebastian became CEO after 15 years leading research at NJIT, during which time the R&D enterprise grew to over $110 million, placing NJIT fifth among all polytechnic universities in the country, and fourth among all universities in patent productivity. Hackensack Meridian Health recently became the first member of NJII’s Ideation Program for Healthcare. The CEO of New Jersey Business & Industry Association wants to know what her constituents are thinking and therefore uses a variety of platforms to make sure the nation’s largest employer organization has the ear of the 20,000 member businesses and million-plus employees it represents. Issues such as health care costs, increases to the minimum wage and outmigration of millennials are routinely under study at NJBIA, whose membership is dominated by small businesses. Her understanding of business and government — she received a bachelor’s in political science from Rutgers University — made her uniquely qualified to assume her post in 2014. Siekerka served for six years as president and CEO of the Mercer (County) Regional Chamber of Commerce, the second-largest regional chamber in the state, where she significantly grew membership and revenue. Smith, co-founder of the law firm Smith Mullen, made headlines in 2016 as the attorney who represented Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson in her sexual harassment case against the network and its late chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, settling for a sum of $20 million. But she’s been fighting and winning employment law cases for almost 30 years. Her repertoire includes landmark cases like Seddon v. DuPont, in which the New Jersey Supreme Court established that a victim of retaliation for whistleblowing is entitled to economic damages if the retaliation causes disability. Smith’s legal reputation indeed precedes her; she recently appeared on MSNBC’s “The Beat with Ari Melber” to discuss porn star Stormy Daniels’ alleged tryst with President Trump. Anyone who has the ear of George Norcross and Jared Kushner has got some juice. That’s Sommer, the CEO of Awsom Associates and an adviser and confidante to anyone that matters in Democratic politics in New Jersey. Now running his own communications, government relations and public affairs firm, Sommer has seemingly done it all: senior adviser to Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop; president of Rock Entertainment Group; president of Observer Media Group, overseeing business operations for such properties as The New York Observer and PolitickerNJ; and partner and executive vice president of national PR firm MWW. Sommer also lectures at the Rutgers University Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, where in 2011 he was awarded Alum of the Year. Spencer has seen and done it all in a career than spans four decades as a carpenter, union officer, community activist and elected official. The dapper Philadelphia native was elected second general vice president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters in 2015. But it was 40 years earlier when he got his start in the working world as a union carpenter. Using his increasing stature in the union as political base, Spencer served for a period as a Camden County Freeholder, and he continues to be a prominent fixture in state politics. You know you’ve entered Newark when you see the majestic 20-story, 740,000-square-foot Prudential Financial tower. The financial services company is the city’s bellwether corporate entity, and it’s led by Strangfeld, who has been chairman and CEO since 2008 and helped it grow to $1.4 trillion in managed assets as of the end of 2017. Prudential earned the No. 1 ranking in Fortune’s 2018 listing of the World’s Most Admired Companies, its third consecutive year atop the Insurance: Life and Health category. Strangfeld chairs the board of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and serves as a member of the board of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Insiders agree Gov. Murphy’s pick for CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority will be a power player in the state for some time. The reason: He will help shape and execute the governor’s agenda over the direction the EDA takes under Murphy. The governor has spoken at length about the role of government in attracting industry to the state, noting he favored attracting and keeping jobs in the state with more than economic incentives. So many expect the EDA to evolve in line with those expectations, and it will be Sullivan’s role to see that evolution through. With $1.4 billion in annual sales and 2,500 products on the market, Goya Foods, the Unanue family business, is the largest Hispanic-owned food company in the U.S. and one of the biggest private companies in New Jersey. Bob Unanue serves as its president and Peter Unanue as executive vice president. After opening their Jersey City headquarters in 2015, the company invested $250 million in facilities throughout the state. Goya has roughly 3,500 employees worldwide, but it’s New Jersey where its heart and soul resides. Its Goya Gives portfolio benefits myriad New Jersey-based organizations with real homegrown help — including 100,000 pounds of food it donates each month to Community FoodBank of New Jersey. The executive director of Fair Share Housing Authority recently scored a victory in Mercer County that’s set to nudge the needle further in the state’s effort to create affordable housing settlements. Walsh and FSHA continue to play a large role in how residential development takes place in the state. Simply put, no affordable housing settlement is being undertaken without the FSHA having a say. And in a broader sense, both FSHA and Walsh could play a role in the retention and growth of the state’s working economy. As such, Walsh and Fair Share Housing Authority hold significant sway in the future of New Jersey. Weldon is well-accustomed to wielding a high level of corporate influence. Not yet 50, he’s already served as president of Bell Labs for five years. He holds a dual role as chief technology officer of Finnish tech company Nokia, now the corporate parent of Murray Hill-based Nokia Bell. Toting a doctorate in physical chemistry from Harvard University and a computer-science whiz at undergrad alma mater King’s College London, Weldon hit his professional stride running, rising quickly through the research ranks at Bell and other innovation centers in the company. In 2016, he was awarded the New Jersey Medal for Science and Technology. This is a fellow with a limitless future, which should carry powerfully positive benefits for his home state as well. Ted Zangari, a member of the law firm Sills Cummis & Gross, continues to be one of the most prominent attorneys in the state for his role in policy and commercial real estate. He has led the Smart Growth Coalition, is a member of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s executive committee and the Rutgers Center for Real Estate, and continues to do work with the state’s top developers. And when it comes time to forge positions on important industry issues, Zangari is likely to have had his opinion heard by the state’s top business leaders. Like co-founder Adam Kaufman, the managing partner of Kaufman Zita Group had for years worked for a long list of New Jersey lawmakers. So it was a natural when the two formed their lobbying firm in 2007. In the ensuing 10 years, Kaufman Zita doubled its annual revenue and now ranks as the No. 4 contract lobbying firm by revenue in the state. The firm’s clients have included a wide range of companies, from RWJBarnabas Health and New Jersey Chamber of Commerce to the Brewers Guild of New Jersey. Zita began her lobbying career with the Chemical Industry Council of New Jersey.

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