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Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Climbing the Corporate Ladder ...From the pages of South Jersey Biz magazine...

Whether working in finance, health care, education, construction, technology or any number of industries that our area is home to, our 2016 Executives of the Year make an impact on the South Jersey economy every day. These 19 professionals shared with us insights on what they’ve learned, obstacles that lie ahead and advice for their compatriots. Their stories provide valuable lessons on how to move up the chain of command and inspire others.

DAVID ANTRILLI
President and CEO, AAA New Jersey
Years in the industry: 25-plus
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
Being appointed CEO of AAA South Jersey would stand as my greatest professional accomplishment. I am honored that the board of directors has the confidence in my ability to bestow upon me this responsibility.

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Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
The advice I would give to any new leader is to surround yourself with talented individuals that you trust, and support a team culture. Then, while providing guidance and support, don’t be afraid to let them do their jobs.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
Leadership is not about you. It is the people you have been called to serve. Happy employees equal happy customers. Happy customers make for a successful organization.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
Competition, changes to the auto industry and resonating with millennials are our greatest challenges. It seems everyone is out to provide road service these days. Unfortunately, people do not realize that not all road service providers are created equal. I am proud to say AAA still stands far and away as the best-in-class. The autonomous car will undoubtedly act as a disruptor in the auto industry. Being proactive versus reactive will be essential to remain relevant as these changes come into play. Lastly, our products and services will need to expand to appeal to the younger demographic who are not as reliant on the automobile.

DR. PATRICIA CLAGHORN
Dean of the Business School, Rowan College at Gloucester County
Years in the industry: 17
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
My greatest professional accomplishment is connecting students to the workforce. RCGC provides outstanding academic options so that our students can obtain certificates and degrees that will allow them to be successful in life. Moreover, we have real-world experiences via our cooperative education programs that enhance our students’ résumés and assist them in making the most important decisions of their lives. I believe that we assist students in answering the most important question, “What will I do after I graduate?”

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
I wish that I had known about the amazing changes that were going to happen in education. If I had known, I would have transitioned into education sooner. In the last 20 years, our industry, education, has become so much more dynamic and connected to the needs of the business community. In the community college sector, we are holding ourselves accountable for cost, retention and completion—concepts that are well understood by employers.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
I would advise executives in our region to partner with education, especially community colleges, as an integral part of their recruitment strategy. In the next 10 years, as the baby boomers retire, there will be a shortage of well-qualified college graduates to fill the positions in demand. Those employers that take the opportunity now to nurture partnerships with educational institutions will build applicant pools that will help them to succeed.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
In my opinion, there are four major challenges facing our industry—cost, retention, completion and technological change. Fortunately, in the community college sector, we are embracing these challenges to provide higher education to students at a price they can afford without significant debt. Most importantly, we are also focused on the individual, providing small class sizes and support services so that they complete their degrees. Technology is both a challenge and an opportunity. Given that we keep up with the pace of technological change and leverage those opportunities to provide services to students, technology is a benefit that makes education more accessible and affordable. The challenge to maintaining a technological advantage is cost. We need to make investments in technology, infrastructure and personnel so that we can meet the needs of our students and prepare them for the demands of the workforce.

PAMELA COLLINS
Chief Development Officer, Oaks Integrated Care
Years in the industry: 11
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
My biggest role at Oaks is managing our marketing, public relations and fundraising. While I take pride in my accomplishments in these areas, I would have to say opening and operating our two food pantries has made the greatest impact in our community. The pantries serve 800 food insecure families a month and this November we will distribute 1,500 Thanksgiving meals.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
I have always been a perfectionist but I’ve found that challenging myself and taking risks outweigh the possibility of failure. I’ve learned more from failing and rising above it than I have from success.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
Be passionate, love what you do, work hard and surround yourself with others who do the same.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
Oaks has successfully navigated two mergers in the past three years and will soon finalize an affiliation with Preferred Behavioral Health Group. In the changing health care landscape, our future success relies on strategic planning and the strength of state-wide partnerships. While we cannot predict all that lies ahead, we must consider innovative approaches to ensure we will be here to help those who desperately need our services.

FRANK CRINITI
NCARB, LEED GA, Principal, Anchor Point Architecture and gesso project & construction management
Years in the industry: 29
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
My greatest professional accomplishment is being able to develop and grow as a professional in all aspects of the industry. Evolving from design to a project and construction management firm, offering our clients creative and cost-effective solutions to their facility needs.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
Over my career I have learned that finding out what our clients struggle with early on in the process is critical to a successful project and client relationship. If I knew this when I began my career I could have better conveyed how GESSO Project & Construction Management is positioned to respond to the issues that our clients seek us out to solve.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
The best advice I was given was to listen first, talk second. Always listen to what your clients’ needs and concerns are and work with them to determine solutions that suit their needs. It’s a team effort with all working together to ensure success.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
The changing economy and its limitations on project budgets and design originality is a great struggle. As executives we need to find creative ways to solve new problems on budget in a creative way and on time.

GARY DAHMS
President and CEO, T&M Associates
Years in the industry: 40
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
For 30 years, I have been with T&M Associates. Over that time, I have formed relationships with clients, colleagues and communities that have spanned decades. It is those long-lasting relationships that I feel are my greatest professional accomplishments.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
For young engineers, it is easy to develop a laser-like focus on resolving the technical issues at hand. What makes an employee truly valuable to any company, though, is taking the time to understand what the overarching mission and business goals of your organization are and to make sure there is balance between taking care of your day-to-day responsibilities and promoting the mission and business goals of the company.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
Embracing technology is critical to any successful business. But, nothing is more important than the personal connections you form with your clients, colleagues and employees. Don’t let technology disrupt that connection.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
There is a real shortage of qualified STEM professionals in the United States. Professional services companies that are looking to grow, like T&M, face significant challenges in finding the right technical professionals to fuel that growth.

GARY DEVICCI
President, Advisory Services and Chief Financial Officer, CPI Companies
Years in the industry: 40
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
Together with my two business partners and our small-in-numbers but large-in-talent staff, having helped many people and businesses avoid financial disaster and enrich the quality of their lives. We have guided generational transitions of businesses and secured people’s retirement income. We have kept area farms from being sold to pay estate taxes. We have even designed planning that allowed one client to give $50,000,000 to a university during his lifetime with no loss of inheritance for his family.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
That combining drive, persistence and integrity is the foundation of success. With this you can face every challenge and overcome every perceived obstacle to that success.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
Begin planning for your business succession at least five years before you think you need to.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
We are supposed to be the guardians of our clients’ financial well-being. Today we see that too many have forgotten their childhood “Golden Rule” lessons. From major corporations to the least experienced financial advisor, too many people make decisions based on what they can do, instead of asking what they should do.

EDWARD M. DIEHL
President, Seabrook House Inc.
Years in the industry: 40
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
Keeping Seabrook House growing in a health care reimbursement marketplace that does not adequately support families with addiction.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
I wish I could have anticipated how the societal stigma about addiction disease would continue, presenting itself in ever-changing ways, persisting in thwarting a full embrace of the need to respond to addiction like other health care problems.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
Work to anticipate future challenges and position the organization to respond quickly to adversity, as well as opportunity.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
Adequate health insurance reimbursement, guaranteeing access to care similar to other major illnesses.

ROBERT GRAY JR.
CEO, Gray Trucking
Years in the industry: 36
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
Having the ability to reinvent ourselves and adapt to a new business landscape.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
I find this a difficult question to answer because I feel I learn something new almost every day.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
Ultimately you are responsible for your successes and failures. If someone is wrong for your organization, cut them loose sooner than later. That goes for clients and vendors as well.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
Our greatest challenge is to attract the next generations of people into our industry. This is still an industry with all kinds of opportunity for those who want to work smart and hard. We need to be able to find ways to compensate our people better and continually improve the quality of work life for our people.

DAVID J. HEMPLE
President and CEO, Century Savings Bank
Years in the industry: 35
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
Taking the reins of a quiet, relatively un- known institution in 2006, and surrounding myself with a supportive board of directors and strong management team. These changes have allowed Century Savings Bank to become a leading community banking institution in southern New Jersey.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
That giving back to the community around you can have such a positive impact on business. For 140 years our company provided good products, but did not reach out and really connect with the communities where our customers lived. In the last 11 years we have reached out and provided direct support to a large number of community organizations. Our employees sit on boards and provide hands-on support to many of our partners. The result: The bank has become the predominant community banking institution in the area.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
Surround yourself with the best talent that you can find, take part in the inter- viewing process for all key employees, form a team concept and keep that team focused.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
The stigma that all banks caused the economic woes that we are still trying to recover from today. The thousands of community banks across this country never wavered from responsible underwriting when the economy got heated. The excesses of a few have labeled us all.

RAHUL KACHRU
CEO, South Jersey Federal Credit Union
Years in the industry: 27
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
Accomplishments are subjective, however always striving to be better, learn more and do more to positively impact employees, members of this institution and surrounding communities is something each of SJFCU’s leaders embody; and that is a great accomplishment for all of us.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
Education is of the utmost importance.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
Openly communicate with staff, ask questions, learn more, do more and achieve more through communication.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
The financial industry has seen its fair share of ups and downs. ... [We must] embrace challenges and find solutions that meet the needs of the workforce and the consumers.

DR. HARVEY KESSELMAN
President, Stockton University
Years in the industry: 35-plus
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
I am most proud of becoming president of Stockton University after having started in Stockton’s inaugural class in 1971 as the first member of my family to go to college. I am living proof that pursuing your love of learning leads to a fulfilling life.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
It is so important to build a strong team that you can rely upon, since you cannot do everything yourself.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
Put the interests of your students first and align the institution’s vision and strategies with that.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
New Jersey needs greater budgetary commitment to higher education so that the citizens of the state we serve can obtain an affordable education while our residents remain in N.J. for their education.

ART LEIBY
President, The Lerepco Group
Years in the industry: 30
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
Over the course of my career, I’ve been involved in two successful start-up organizations. Being able to create a business that provides for my family and my employees is very gratifying.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
When you’re young, you tend to be confident in your technical skills and energy level, and you think that is enough to grow a business. Technology expertise was only the beginning. Marketing is so important to selling a software product and/or IT professional services. Unlike Field of Dreams, if you build it, they still might not come.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
Focus on what you do best. All too often, it’s tempting to deviate from your core set of skills.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
Striking a balance between keeping data safe while allowing maximum productivity for our customers. As IT folks, we have to protect our clients’ networks from ransomware, malware, etc. At the same time, internet usage and cloud computing have become so critical that we can’t impede small and medium-sized organizations from embracing and leveraging the benefits of technology.

WAYNE MEYER
President, New Jersey Community Capital (NJCC)
Years in the industry: 18
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
Helping underwater homeowners stay in their homes through principal reduction mortgage modifications and creating much-needed affordable housing opportunities for New Jerseyans by being the first nonprofit in the country to win auctions from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA)/Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in two different markets—Newark, N.J., and Tampa, Fla., through the Distressed Asset Stabilization Program’s (DASP) Neighbor- hood Stabilization Outcomes (NSO) pools. As well as being the first nonprofit to successfully complete the direct sale of an NSO pool (not through a public bid) for the nine New Jersey counties most impacted by Hurricane Sandy, helping these homeowners and communities recover from the storm and foreclosure crisis.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
Low- and moderate-income communities need a broader and deeper set of interventions and strategies beyond conventional community development and market strategies than I could have imagined. Complex and intractable community problems require collaboration between private, nonprofit, philanthropic and government sectors.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
We are undergoing seismic trends and changes in our economy that have great impact on our communities. At NJCC, we strive to create a culture of innovation and adaptive change. Technical expertise is critical, but we need to also focus on transformational systems change, which is more difficult.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
The community development field is at a critical point. Many of the models that were effective in the past have become obsolete. We need to rethink the system, create programs and collaborations that do more to build vibrant and self-sustaining communities, where residents can thrive and access greater opportunities for themselves and their families. But this requires a major shift in thinking and behavior by stakeholders at all levels. Despite challenges, the community development model continues to represent the best strategy to address place- and people-based community revitalization in an equitable fashion.

SHAWN O’NEIL
Co-founder and Principal, Argosy Management Group
Years in the industry: 20
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
With 20 years experience in business development and sales training, there came a point in my career where I had to decide if I was going to “work” every day or if I was going to take the road less traveled. Needless to say, I took the road less traveled, and started AMG from the ground up six years ago with my business partner, Paul Sipera.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
The personal and professional relationships you make over a lifetime are either going to be your biggest asset or your biggest downfall. I can honestly say that I consider our long-time clients to be close friends, and anything AMG can do to support those businesses is a win-win for all of us.

What’s one piece of advice that you would give to other executives?
I’m not sure I would give others advice, but one thing I find that helps me feel energized about the day-to-day grind is to stay curious. I thrive on meeting new clients, and developing new ways for AMG to improve. If you’re not learning something new, then you’re not growing.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
There are unique challenges with every start-up, but Paul and I have a great synergy, and working together we’ve man- aged to overcome them all to take AMG from a well-regarded regional transportation logistics-management company to an industry leader on a national scale. We’ve set our sights on the international market next, but I can guarantee you that the business relationships we’ve developed over the years right here in South Jersey will always be our top priority.

STEPHEN R. RANKIN
Executive Vice President, Brown & Brown
Years in the industry: 10
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
Working with members of my team to help them grow personally, professionally and financially.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
I learn something new every day so to pin-point any one thing would be difficult. If one thing sticks out to me, it would be the importance of a solid team to help grow the organization and keep with our corporate culture. I have been extremely fortunate to be surrounded by supportive people who have guided me and helped me develop into the businessperson I am today. I cannot thank those people enough for what they have taught and shared with me over the years.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
It takes a team effort to have a successful organization. Every team member within the organization is an integral part of that company’s success.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
Recruiting new talent. As we enter into another cycle of retirement, we don’t necessarily see a large enough pool of talented people to fill the roles of teammates who are nearing the end of their career. Mentoring and development of new talent is imperative to the continued success of businesses.

CHARLES ROMANOLI
Principal Partner, NEW ROAD Construction Management
Years in the industry: 32
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
My greatest professional accomplishments have been growing successful businesses, assembling teams of quality professionals and earning the respect of my clients through loyalty and successful results.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
The advice you need to give a client is not always the advice they want to hear. Be candid.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
The advice I would give to other executives is to always make decisions that are in the best interest of the company, to conduct all your business with integrity and to take time off to enjoy your family and your hobbies.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
The greatest challenge our industry must overcome in the future will be the need for experienced construction trade foremen that understand how a project is built from the ground up. The complexity of our building components and advances in technology are creating silos of expertise and outpacing the education afforded to our trade workforce.

HARRY SROLOVITZ
CEO, Praxis Data Systems
Years in the industry: 32
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
Building a growing company and a team that has endured the worst and best of economic times. Also, having provided an environment that allows our employees to make a great living which allows them to support their families and personal goals.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
I wish I had invested the time and money in building a strong management team earlier instead of trying to do everything myself.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
Put your ego aside and trust your management team.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
Human resources. Hiring and retaining employees who have the wisdom, integrity, commitment and ability to uphold the values of the company. We want team players that truly care about working for our company and respect their co-workers as well as our clients. Additionally, since technology changes at break-neck speed we continually need to evaluate an endless array of solutions and make a far-reaching decision as to which technologies will survive and be of the greatest benefit to our clients and our company. The cost of training, certifications and infrastructure to best support our efforts is incredibly high and requires constant change and commitment by everyone in our company. Lastly, planning our strategic growth—we are continually exploring new partnerships and acquisitions to enable our growth and continued success.

DAVID WAGSTAFF
Co-founder and CEO, Alfrea Inc.
Years in the industry: 20-plus
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
The privilege of helping people and organizations move forward. There’s nothing more rewarding than mentoring younger staff to solve business problems, helping business owners and managers gain in- sights into challenging business problems, or dramatically impacting an organization’s mission. By leading a financial turnaround at ActionAids in Philadelphia, I was able to help the group raise over $500,000 in new grants while reducing expenses by over $500,000.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
No matter how digital and virtual our world becomes, it’s still all about one-on-one relationships. Build professional friendships and stay in contact with people. Carving out the time can be challenging, but the value is endless.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
Value people regardless of seniority or role. Take the time to listen and help others whether it is a brief encounter in a hallway or a conversation in a meeting.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
It's easy to call oneself a business consultant or business advisor but it's difficult to provide true insights that produce measurable results. The quality of advice provided varies widely. The industry needs a way to distinguish quality professional advice from someone between jobs. Per- haps a trusted website with verified clients and consulting rating systems would help.

ROBERT B. WORLEY
Senior Vice President/NJ Market Manager, Republic Bank
Years in the industry: 35
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
Helping businesses in South Jersey grow, and training others to do the same. As a native of South Jersey, I am invested in its ultimate success. Being able to work with small business owners as they seek to expand their companies is exciting for me, and I am glad to be able to play a role in the growth and development of southern New Jersey. I make myself available to offer guidance to colleagues, and pride myself on having a reputation for taking people under my wing. So many people who were on my team in their early careers have gone on to become exceptional leaders here in South Jersey, and it excites me to see those I’ve mentored go on to become so successful.

Tell us one thing you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started in the industry.
When lending, trust your gut and ask very pointed questions. Pretend that the money you are being asked to lend is your mother’s full retirement fund and ask yourself, “Do you trust the person on the other side of the table, do they know what they are talking about, can they deliver what they promise, work through any problems that may occur, and ultimately live up to their agreement to repay what they borrow?”

What’s one piece of advice you would give to other executives?
Always keep your promises. Get back to customers in a timely manner, delivering what you said you would. Stay in touch with your clients, and over-communicate to keep them informed and aware of key developments/next steps.

What do you see as the greatest challenge your industry needs to overcome?
We need to overcome the thinking that bankers and bank products are at best, simple commodities requiring ever stricter regulation; or at worst, bad people with predatory products, as portrayed in the myriad articles throughout the great recession and continuing today. There are many excellent bankers here in South Jersey with best-in-class products and services, who provide trusted advice and sound solutions for their clients.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 6, Issue 11 (November, 2016).
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Author: Michelle Boyles and Catherine DeMuro

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