Exceptional Leadership in Texas 2020

 Exceptional Leadership in Texas 2020

It is common practice for magazines and organizations like ours to publish lists of honorees. I am not generally a fan of lists such as these. First, how does one pick the metrics by which these honorees are chosen? These things are often rather subjective. Second, such lists inevitably leave off some spectacular people who are just as notable and worthy of honoring as the honorees. Third, I think that many of the people who deserve the most credit never receive it because they are busy doing the type of good things that rarely make it into the limelight.

Nevertheless, here we are, compiling a list of honorees for exceptional leadership in 2020. Given the circumstances of this year, it felt appropriate to honor the challenges, sacrifices, and triumphs of 2020, and name a few of the people who have done exemplary or notable things. They stand as representatives for all business leaders in Texas, as we work to rebuild our economy into a powerhouse that provides options and opportunities for Texans.

Alongside the hardships and challenges of 2020 have come some magnificent accomplishments. Sometimes those magnificent accomplishments have been as simple yet profound as staying in business during the biggest economic upheaval of our lifetimes. Sometimes they have been finding clever ways to pivot. Sometimes they have been keeping people employed, which is so impactful on those employees’ lives and their families’ lives, especially during a massive healthcare and economic crisis. And sometimes these accomplishments have been serving as an advocate for important causes in their communities.

Many of the people who deserve recognition for their work in 2020 will never be known or recognized for it. So, before we move on to our honorees, we want to take a moment to honor them here. To all of those people, from leaders to frontline workers, in companies of all sizes, who worked tirelessly this year to help keep their business afloat, to help keep their teams safe and employed, to continue serving their customers and communities—we honor you, thank you, and recognize you.

—Lauren Daugherty, Publisher, Texas CEO Magazine

See our cover feature on exceptional leader Chris Savittiere here.

Abid Abedi

Founder & CEO, iCode | Frisco

Over his career as a serial tech entrepreneur, the startups founded by Abid Abedi have generated more than $1.5 billion in revenue. Abedi’s most recent venture is all about preparing young people for the jobs of the future: iCode offers K–12 students computer science and coding classes, delivered on-site and virtually. As COVID-19 hit the US, iCode had to quickly reformulate how it interacted with students, shifting away from all in-person contact.

Within two weeks of the coronavirus outbreak, the brand centralized all of its education resources and launched a comprehensive online education program. And they did it quickly, efficiently, and well: 85 percent of parents were highly satisfied with the new online courses after the brick-and-mortar iCode locations temporarily suspended operations in accordance with local requirements. The move online wasn’t easy, but as Abedi told the Dallas Business Journal over the summer, “sitting around, twiddling your thumbs is not the answer.”

Luis Alvarez

President & CEO, ReadyOne Industries | El Paso

ReadyOne Industries manufactures apparel for the military and general public, with an entirely US-based workforce. And it operates with a distinctive mission: to give individuals with disabilities employment opportunities in an environment that supports their self-determination and growth.

As president and CEO of ReadyOne, Luis Alvarez remained committed to that mission as the pandemic destroyed Texas jobs at a staggering rate. In the spring, ReadyOne shifted gears from apparel and activewear and began manufacturing tens of thousands of antiviral face masks each week. As demand increased from hospitals, the military, government agencies, and other entities, the company was able to give El Pasoans much-needed work at the sewing machines, regardless of their background or disability status.“We’ll take somebody with a lot of experience and we’ll take somebody with no experience whatsoever,” Alvarez told MEXICONOW in June. He’s a shining example of the many leaders who used a quick business pivot to get PPE into the market and offer people part- and full-time work during a time of skyrocketing unemployment.

John Boerstler

CEO, Combined Arms | Houston

As a former US Marine, John Boerstler understands the challenges of transitioning from military to civilian life. That makes him a fitting leader for Combined Arms, a nonprofit that helps Texas service members make this shift. When COVID began ravaging the United States, many common veterans’ issues—such as access to employment, housing, and community—were significantly amplified. Like any effective leader, Boerstler immediately saw an opportunity to serve embedded in crisis.

In a moment when most organizations contracted, Combined Arms expanded. Cooperating with its 70+ member organizations, the nonprofit launched a phased COVID response on March 13. In addition to immediately transitioning its workforce online, Combined Arms reached out to thousands of older veterans with the latest information on COVID symptoms and testing, advocated to fill gaps in financial assistance programs, and mobilized hundreds of veterans to serve in frontline healthcare roles. This fast, comprehensive response was modeled on Combined Arms’ Hurricane Harvey response, and put Boerstler and his team’s valuable crisis-response training to use for the greater good.

Beth A. Bowman

President & CEO, Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce & the Irving Economic Development Irving Partnership | Irving

In her role as head of the Greater Irving–Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce, Beth Bowman is committed to the economic growth of her region. Naturally, once the pandemic threatened businesses in every sector, Bowman was called to action—and has proven herself a fierce advocate for the health and prosperity of North Texas.

As an acknowledgment of Beth’s expertise, she was appointed by Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins to the Dallas County Economic Recovery Advisory Committee, where she helped mold reopening guidelines for Dallas County, as well as securing grant funding for businesses most affected by the pandemic. Among her other achievements as part of the committee and as head of the chamber: aiding in the creation and retention of thousands of jobs in the region; helping secure tens of thousands of N95 masks and other PPE equipment for hospital staff; and surveying local employers to report their needs directly to public officials. It’s thanks to advocates like Bowman that Texas communities are weathering the ongoing storm of COVID-19.

Michael Brown

President, Childrens Lighthouse Franchise Company | Fort Worth

The childcare industry has been hit extremely hard during this pandemic, with an estimated 40 percent of centers at risk of closing their doors for good, according to a survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Despite that trend, Childrens Lighthouse Franchise Company, which franchises almost 60 early childhood educational schools, has continued to grow. As the pandemic raged, Brown and the Childrens Lighthouse Franchise Support Center team proactively halved royalty payments owed by franchisees, giving them a lifeline during an extraordinary crisis. Meanwhile, several franchises in Texas passed on the relief to families with discounts for children of essential workers during the first wave of the pandemic.

Not long after, the Franchise Support Center further helped franchisees keep their doors open — so to speak — by quickly launching a Virtual Learning Assistance program that features customizable scheduling options and a more connected environment for young learners as they get their school year started. This was also crucial for many parents who could not work from home and who rely on public schools to assist with their child’s care and development.

Julia Cheek

CEO and Founder, Everlywell | Austin

As CEO and founder of an at-home sample collection lab testing company, Julia Cheek found herself uniquely positioned to assist her fellow Texans through a globe-spanning pandemic. Everlywell offers at-home testing kits for cholesterol, metabolism, fertility, STDs, thyroid levels, colon cancer, vitamin deficiencies and more, but at the very earliest stages of the crisis, Cheek’s team was already working on a PCR test for COVID-19, something of a dramatic pivot for the company. By mid-May Everlywell had received authorization from the FDA for its COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit—the first such authorization for a digital health company. Today, Everlywell’s COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit offers consumers a safe, in-home option for knowing whether they have been infected, via a short, self-administered nasal swab. “Americans deserve safe, convenient options to keep themselves healthy,” says Cheek, and she has shown that, despite the pushback, she’s willing to fight to give them those options.

Chef Jordan & Ramzi

Owners, Chops & Eggs Hash House | Corpus Christi

Last year, brothers Jordan and Ramzi purchased and reopened the Southside homestyle eatery Chops & Eggs. It had been two and a half years since the original closed following a devastating fire, but now its organic, breakfast-all-day menu of flapjacks, crepes, chicken and waffles, and of course, steak and eggs was newly available. When COVID-19 struck its first terrible blow, Chops & Eggs struggled along with the rest of the food service industry. In the first week after lockdown, the brothers decided to do everything in their power to keep employees on payroll—and that meant giving up their own salaries. “I would split my last dollar with you guys,” Chef Jordan told his employees, according to Corpus’ Action 10 News. Chef Jordan and Ramzi gave all employees two and a half dozen eggs and quickly began selling other lockdown supplies—toilet paper, orange juice, more eggs—to keep some revenue coming in. Months later, Chops & Eggs’ restaurant was still showcasing its community spirit: For the weekend of 9/11, first responders got a meal on the house.

Mark Cuban

Owner, Dallas Mavericks | Dallas

When the NBA suspended its 2019–2020 season, it was one of the first signs that COVID-19 would have previously unthinkable effects in the United States. The news rolled out during a Dallas Mavericks game, and cameras caught Mavs owner Mark Cuban’s dropped jaw as he read the headline.

Two days later, the Shark Tank star and ever-present encourager of entrepreneurs announced that the Mavericks would continue paying hourly employees— security staff, parking attendants, housekeeping teams, and many others—for the initial six cancelled Mavs home games, preserving their livelihoods during a highly uncertain time. “I’ll keep on paying and I’m doing it not just for the Mavs, but other companies as well,” he said in an interview with KDKA Radio. “It’s just the right thing to do.” It was the beginning of a blitz of initiatives from Cuban and the Mavs, ranging from reimbursing employees for meals bought at independent local restaurants to major donations to healthcare workers and North Texas COVID relief funds.

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, as protests against police brutality and systemic racism spread, Cuban spoke his mind on that matter too. He bluntly challenged white Americans to shift their behaviors and mindset to address ongoing racism in this country, calling it a “moral imperative” to do so. That, once again, was strong leadership—speaking up when it matters, whether it’s popular or not.

DeAnne Cuellar

State Director–Texas, Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) | San Antonio

As a tech equity advocate, DeAnne Cuellar believes that every person deserves equal access to technology, including seniors who face social isolation in the era of COVID-19. Through her work as state director for Texas at Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), she helps bring free, dynamic programming to adults over 60 in San Antonio—giving them the opportunity to become thriving members of the digital world.

When COVID hit, OATS programming had to move fully online, a dramatic shift that Cuellar and her team pulled off quickly and effectively. These efforts kept seniors engaged and connected at the precise moment when they faced the solitude of quarantine. Since March, Cuellar’s team has offered 60+ hours of online programming each week to more than 54,000 older adults. Classes range from virtual grandparenting, acting (with Ugly Betty’s Tony Plana), and How to Use Zoom, Gmail, Google Docs, and Social Media. A longtime advocate for historically underrepresented communities, Cuellar also serves as Mayor Nirenberg’s digital inclusion appointee to the City of San Antonio’s Innovation & Technology Committee.

Chloe Dao

Owner, Dao Chloe Dao | Houston

“What can I possibly do to help?” Chloe Dao asked herself as she temporarily closed her boutique in March due to the erupting COVID-19 pandemic. The Houston-based designer and Project Runway winner came up with a logical answer: apply her design skills and team to producing personal protective equipment for those in need.

Dao took a strong lead. Though the boutique was closed, she continued to pay her staff and, with their help, produced about 150 face masks a day, which she then gave away to frontline healthcare workers and others in the Houston community. The washable, 100 percent cotton masks include a pocket where the user can insert a filter or additional material. Dao even put a mask-sewing tutorial up on her Instagram account for those stuck at home. To date, she has donated over 5,000 masks in Texas and throughout the US.

Now that the shortage is long over and masking is a way of life, Dao’s boutique offers a whole line of designer masks to keep people safe— including one that allows the wearer to safely sip an iced coffee or smoothie while wearing.

Tony Gerbino

CEO, ErgoGenesis | Navasota

When many Texas homes transformed into makeshift offices last spring, few were equipped with ergonomic solutions. ErgoGenesis, a leading manufacturer of ergonomic office seating, tools, and workspaces, makes those solutions—but had historically been a B2B organization, selling its BodyBilt products to clients like Boeing, Southwest Airlines, and Raytheon.

Given this “new normal,” however, it was time for a shift. Under Tony Gerbino’s leadership, ErgoGenesis took a few short months to launch a number of ergonomic work-from-home solutions geared toward the individual—and priced accordingly. Individual consumers now have access to BodyBilt ergonomic and customizable solutions that have proven to increase productivity and comfort. And as industry innovators, ErgoGenesis developed several of these solutions with antimicrobial and copper-infused fabrics for an added layer of protection during this heightened time of health and safety.

Through it all, ErgoGenesis operated as an essential business, especially for DOD companies such as Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, keeping its plants open on a reduced workweek while adhering strictly to CDC guidelines. Gerbino’s twin priorities remain the same: to keep the employees and the business safe and healthy.

Paula Gold-Williams

President & CEO, CPS Energy | San Antonio

Paula Gold-Williams took the helm of San Antonio’s CPS Energy—the largest public natural gas and electric company in the United States—in 2015. Leading a team of over 3,000 and serving as the nation’s only Black female energy CEO, Gold-Williams describes her leadership philosophy as People First. Earlier this year, the San Antonio Business Journal recognized how well she lives that philosophy, naming her Woman of the Year in its 2020 Women’s Leadership Awards.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, Gold-Williams stepped up to the toughest test of her career. CPS Energy quickly rolled out protocols for three different employee groups, ensuring that the safety of team members and the public remained top priority while continuing to provide reliable service. The utility also worked to further protect their customers by suspending disconnections while looking for resources to increase funding for utility assistance programs. Gold-Williams points out that these decisions were a team effort and not solely her own. “My general philosophy is the team is exponentially wiser than the individual,” she told the Business Journal. Nevertheless, Gold-Williams has proven herself a strong and steady presence through an unprecedented crisis.

Kareem Hajjar

Partner, Hajjar Peters | Austin

Kareem Hajjar is widely known as an exceptional attorney for Texas bars and restaurants. In the era of COVID-19, he’s taken his advocacy to the next level, working diligently to not only keep his clients’ doors open but lobbying for solutions that benefit the broader food service industry. Hajjar’s efforts include helping bars restructure as restaurants (allowing them to stay open during lockdown) and launching the MargsforLifeTX campaign, which advocates for the extension and expansion of Governor Abbott’s waiver on to-go alcohol.

Via MargsforLifeTX (7.9k Facebook followers and counting) and in local media, Hajjar has tirelessly argued that restrictions on to-go alcohol sales, such as forbidding mixed drinks or containers over 375 milliliters, caused further damage to already struggling Austin restaurants. In June, MargsforLifeTX celebrated a win when these restrictions were lifted—offering Texas restaurants a lifeline through their most difficult time on record. But his work is only beginning: On the MargsforLifeTX Facebook page and elsewhere, Hajjar offers resources and news (often multiple times a day) for an industry still persevering through a punishing year.

The H-E-B Team

From top to bottom, the H-E-B team has modeled excellent leadership and crisis response in 2020. In the early, frenzied days of the pandemic, the sight of bare grocery shelves and long lines of masked shoppers looked borderline apocalyptic, but behind it all was a team working hard—and with long preparation—at keeping Texas communities supplied and healthy.

H-E-B has been iterating its pandemic and influenza plan for over 15 years, and employs a full-time director of emergency preparedness. Through each crisis, from H1N1 to Hurricane Harvey, the H-E-B team strengthens and grows its response protocols. They were already thinking ahead about COVID-19 back in mid-January, running simulations, considering supply chain adjustments, and watching trends in customers’ purchases.

When the pandemic hit full-force in March, H-E-B already had the ball rolling. With abundant communication to customers, partners, and the community at large, the store implemented purchase limits on certain items, reduced store hours, enforced comprehensive safety guidelines, and set employees up with a $2 raise and a COVID-19 information hotline. Not everything was foreseen: “I don’t think anybody saw the toilet paper rush coming,” Justen Noakes, director of emergency preparedness, told Texas Monthly in March. Nevertheless, H-E-B opened its Emergency Operations Center in San Antonio and partnered with suppliers and distributors to keep its stores stocked with essentials and more.

True to its community-minded nature, H-E-B did not skimp on relief efforts outside its stores. It committed $3 million to local organizations supporting people in need through the pandemic; it delivered free meals to frontline healthcare workers; and it dropped off extra truckloads to Texas food banks. It also began selling prepared meals from local restaurants—like Fresa’s Chicken in Austin and Rosario’s in San Antonio—in its stores, with 100 percent of the proceeds going straight back to the restaurants.

Watching a Texas original like H-E-B lead through this crisis has inspired many during a difficult year. And today, many Texans now have a deeper appreciation for every grocery store checker, bagger, manager, stocker, shopper, and delivery driver, the people who keep so many of us fed, and safe—pandemic or no pandemic.

Erika & Randy Herman

Delta Restoration Services of Northeast Dallas and Southeast Collin Counties | Dallas

When Erika and Randy Herman met—and later married—they were both franchisees of a carpet cleaning company, a career that gave each of them a greatly cherished independence. This entrepreneurial couple now jointly owns Delta Restoration Services of Northeast Dallas and Southeast Collin Counties, where their team fixes damage from fire, water, and weather of all types.

The Hermans deep expertise in cleaning and repair didn’t sit unused through the COVID pandemic. They partnered with their local fire and police departments to offer deep-cleaning of stations, vehicles, and quarantining areas as needed. In the course of their work, many Dallas law enforcement officers and firefighters were exposed to the virus, and several tested positive for it. Through the process, the Hermans would be there to clean and disinfect environments where the exposed person had been—including the hotel rooms they quarantined in. It’s just one of many examples of private-public partnerships that helped to keep Texans safe and healthy in the heart of the pandemic.

Jim Hinton

CEO, Baylor Scott & White Health | Dallas

Jim Hinton is the CEO of Baylor Scott & White Health, Texas’ largest not-for-profit health system. Since joining the system in 2017, he has focused leaders on building toward a consumer-centric digital future—work that has paid dividends during the pandemic.

In March, the system converted its MyBSWHealth app into a “virtual front door” for services, adding access to a free, online COVID-19 screening tool, eVisits, and drive-through specimen collection sites. In the first eight months, the system provided over 265,000 free screenings and 65,000 eVisits—including 6,000 in a single day. To promote care for those recovering at home, it launched adult and pediatric COVID-19 remote monitoring within MyBSWHealth.

In recent weeks, Safe Care was introduced to educate consumers about precautions implemented in healthcare facilities and the importance of routine care and chronic condition management. Under Hinton’s leadership, the system’s longstanding employee emergency assistance fund grew by more than $2.6 million to meet the needs of frontline caregivers experiencing hardship during the pandemic. The system has also enrolled thousands of patients in more than two dozen COVID-19 research studies.

Bobby Jenkins

Owner, ABC Home & Commercial Services | Austin

In 2017, the Austin Chamber of Commerce named Bobby Jenkins Austinite of the Year—and Jenkins has certainly kept up his track record of exceptional leadership in 2020. For nearly 40 years, he has led ABC Home & Commercial Services, which offers everything from pest control to pool services, and its now 850+ employees. (Most Central Texans know ABC’s anteater-with-a-magnifying-glass logo like an old friend.) Jenkins is also a prolific advisor and mentor who’s served on the boards of the Alzheimer’s Association, United Way, RecognizeGood, Caritas of Austin, and several other organizations.

In May, as COVID-19 threw countless Central Texans into uncertainty and loss, ABC stepped in to help with a new program, Project Help Our Neighbors. Under this initiative, the company pledged to donate a portion of sales to local food banks through June 2020, resulting in $82,380 in donations— providing nearly 330,000 meals—across Texas.

T. Doug Lawson, PhD

CEO, St. Luke’s Health | Houston

T. Doug Lawson, PhD, serves as the CEO of St. Luke’s Health and senior vice president of operations, Texas Division, at CommonSpirit Health, leading an integrated health network of 16 acute care hospitals and over 270 access points serving Greater Houston and the Southeast Texas region through the COVID-19 pandemic. With a team of 11,000 employees and caregivers and more than 5,000 physicians, Dr. Lawson’s dedication to improving lives has been palpable during the COVID-19 response. Under his leadership, Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center—St. Luke’s flagship hospital located in the Texas Medical Center—was recognized nationally as a Best Hospital by U.S. News & World Report, ranking nationally in five adult specialties.

Dr. Lawson has steered the health system through months of increasing COVID-19 caseloads and he continues to do so. From the onset, Dr. Lawson looked ahead when preparing for the pandemic by ensuring the hospitals had appropriate staffing, strict infection control processes, and appropriate personal protective equipment to keep staff safe. Dr. Lawson has fully supported the use of innovative technologies, such critical care ultrasonography, which has become instrumental during the pandemic because it is easier to perform than an X-ray, CT scan or a laboratory test. Another important innovation has been the rapid adoption and expansion of virtual care to provide care to patients in the safest and most convenient way possible. 

Beyond physical health, Dr. Lawson remains focused on supporting the mental health of frontline workers by prioritizing spiritual care, financial assistance, and various resiliency initiatives that would further address the mental health of employees.

Clint Lee

Cofounder & CEO, OneDay | Dallas

In 2020, many Texans grew tired of the inside of their homes. While many were lucky enough to have jobs that allowed us to work from home, the grinding monotony still took (and may be taking) its toll.

Feeling that WFH burnout, Clint Lee, cofounder and CEO of video technology company OneDay, relocated for a few weeks with his family and worked from a remote cabin in Colorado. After leaving refreshed, Lee was immediately inspired to share this experience with his team—so he launched OneDay’s “New Digs” program. Each month, New Digs now offers four OneDay employees and their families the chance to work from an Airbnb or vacation rental in the location of their choosing.

“As business leaders we must find ways to ensure our people are supported, even when they don’t see each other every day,” says Lee. “While our New Digs program can’t solve all the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic and all its side effects, it is something we can offer right now to support our employees and prioritize mental health for our team members.”

Warburg Lee

Founder, Alen Air Purifiers | Austin

Andy Graham

CEO, Alen Air Purifiers | Austin

Since COVID began, there’s been an upsurge of interest in air purifiers and filters. But rather than just capitalizing on increased demand, Alen Air Purifiers saw an opportunity to serve healthcare workers and first responders who were suddenly on the frontlines of a global pandemic. Founded by Warburg Lee and led by Andy Graham as CEO, Alen makes purifiers that are known for effectively removing particles and germs from the air. When logistic and regulatory roadblocks hampered purifier donations, Alen found a creative solution to another breathing-related problem: shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE). Alen staff and volunteers deconstructed purifier filters to harvest high-grade HEPA material to donate.

Alen then partnered with local volunteer sewing group “Sew Sisters” to create upwards of 1,300 homemade masks offering N99-grade protection. These masks helped protect local nurses at St. David’s and Seton hospitals, as well as area firefighters and hospice caregivers. Lee has founded three profitable companies in the past fifteen years and has championed clean-air technologies since 2005. His team’s demonstrated care for the community certainly factors into Alen’s ongoing success.

Dr. Laura G. Murillo

President & CEO, Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce | Houston

Since she stepped into leadership of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in 2007, Dr. Laura Murillo has been an energetic advocate of Hispanic entrepreneurs in the region. Her commitment and visibility have earned her broad respect in the community, including a designation as “Most Admired Nonprofit CEO” by Houston Business Journal in 2018.

As Houston’s Hispanic community — the largest ethnic group in the region — suffers disproportionate negative effects from the pandemic’s fallout, Dr. Murillo has only redoubled efforts to empower them. She has not only led the chamber’s efforts to create a robust set of COVID-19 resources (including a comprehensive report on COVID’s effects on Hispanic entrepreneurs, researched in partnership with the Hobby School of Public Affairs); she has also been an ever-present voice in the COVID era. Whether leading the chamber daily, writing op-eds for the Houston Chronicle, or broadcasting calls with the mayor, Dr. Murillo offers a compelling example of everything a chamber of commerce, and a community leader, can be.

Jola & Emmanuel Olanipekun

Owners, ATC Healthcare of Central Dallas | Dallas

Jola and Emmanuel Olanipekun opened a new healthcare staffing business, ATC Healthcare of Central Dallas, at a precarious time: March 2020. Opening at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the new business owners were determined to make it work and experienced an incredibly strong start staffing hospitals and other medical centers with essential healthcare personnel at a critical time. Within months, they wanted to expand their business and purchased an existing ATC Healthcare location serving North Dallas. The North Dallas location opened in 2017.

On the front lines of the pandemic, the Olanipekuns have played a vital role in staffing area hospitals and medical facilities throughout the pandemic since opening in March 2020.

“Launching our business during COVID has been a unique experience. We’re honored to help out our community with critical healthcare staffing needs right now,” said Emmanuel. The entrepreneurial duo brings a dynamic set of skills to their new business — Emmanuel is an experienced businessman and Jola is an accomplished nurse who previously worked as an RN at Baylor Scott & White Health in Plano.

Julie Caruthers Parsley

CEO, Pedernales Electric Cooperative | Johnson City

In its 80-year history, Pedernales Electric Cooperative has never faced challenges like it did in 2020. But under the leadership of Julie Caruthers Parsley, PEC — the largest electric cooperative in the nation — continued to provide safe, reliable electric service from the onset of the pandemic, all while experiencing record growth.

In late February, Parsley saw the impact COVID-19 could have on PEC’s operations and immediately began meeting regularly with her executive team and other leaders to review PEC’s existing emergency pandemic plan. By March 16, PEC had activated its Emergency Operations Plan, which included the unprecedented measure of closing district offices to member interactions and instituting remote work where possible. Media and internal communications were distributed, signage was posted, and new guidelines were enacted for in-office employees and those in the field. By acting quickly and assembling a team of experts around a bold, decisive plan, Caruthers made PEC a true leader in the field, sprinting ahead of other businesses and cooperatives in the steps that would later be widely adopted — providing a model for those organizations to follow.

Fred Perpall

CEO, The Beck Group | Dallas

Fred Perpall took over as CEO of the architecture and construction firm The Beck Group in 2013. But Perpall, a registered architect since 2003, extends his leadership well beyond the 108-year-old company: He also serves as chairman of the Dallas Citizens Council. And in June, he was appointed by Mayor Eric Johnson to Dallas’ COVID Economic Recovery Task Force.

Through 2020, Perpall has been a guiding voice not just through the chaos of COVID but also through the United States’ overdue re-examination of racial injustice in our country. Even as he’s steered The Beck Group and its 1,100 employees, he’s worked closely with Dallas Regional Chamber chair John Olajide, with whom he strategizes on a near-daily basis, to provide active and ongoing support to the Dallas business community. That includes helping the council and chamber raise $3 million for the Revive Dallas Small Business Relief Fund, benefitting minority- and women-owned small businesses. And he’s argued unflinchingly—as he did long before 2020—about the need for public and private entities to address the persisting wealth, health, and educational disparities between North and South Dallas.

Joey Seeber

CEO and Cofounder, Level Legal | Richardson

Joey Seeber is an experienced litigator, successful entrepreneur and CEO and cofounder of Level Legal—a legal services company based in Richardson, Texas, that works with AmLaw 200 and Fortune 1000 companies. Prior to founding Level Legal in 2009, Joey served as mayor of a growing city in Texas known as the “Rose Capital of America” (Tyler, Texas). 

Under his leadership, as part of their comprehensive Business Continuity Plan in response to COVID, Level Legal implemented their Remote Workforce Plan on March 17, transitioning 100 percent of their team members to work in the protection and safety of their homes with the best in security, software, and equipment. In March, he guaranteed the jobs of all employees (70, at the time) providing pay and benefits through the end of May despite work levels to honor his commitment to take care of them.

Along with the health and well-being of employees and their families, the commitment to staff and clients has been driven to new levels under Joey’s leadership as the Level team leans on each other for new roles and responsibilities and gives their clients the excellent service they deserve in new work environments. 

Joey, in collaboration with team members, developed the Level Legal trademarked tagline and spirit of the company—”Yours to Count On”—based on a true battle story he read about one of the most trusted soldiers in American history. With each completed mission, this solider would submit his reports to the commanding general with the closing salutation “Yours to Count On.” Joey believes there are no better words to convey his commitment to the Level Legal team and their clients.

Mark A. Wallace

President & CEO, Texas Children’s Hospital | Houston

Under the leadership of Mark A. Wallace since 1989, Texas Children’s Hospital has consistently ranked among the best children’s hospitals in the nation. During the pandemic, Texas Children’s 16,000-strong workforce proved themselves, like so many frontline healthcare workers, to be among the true heroes of this turbulent chapter in US history.

Wallace and the rest of the hospital’s executive team certainly demonstrated their appreciation, even as circumstances called for belt tightening during the spring. Sixty of Texas Children’s executives took a 20 percent pay cut in April, even as Wallace announced a special thank-you bonus to all full and part-time staff in the same month. “Leaders lead in a bull market, and leaders lead in a bear market,” said Wallace at the time. “Leadership looks different in a bear market.” Despite the obstacles, the hospital has forged ahead, announcing an Austin expansion in May and ranking number one in cardiology and heart surgery by US News & World Report for the fourth consecutive year in June.

Tracy Yellen

CEO, Paso del Norte Community Foundation | El Paso

Through her leadership of Paso del Norte Community Foundation—which includes the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, Fundación Paso del Norte para la Salud y Bienestar, and El Paso Giving Day—Tracy Yellen has overseen a suite of funds and resources aimed at meeting the needs of those most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By early April, the foundations had put together a comprehensive COVID-19 Information Hub (epcovid19.org) to provide a centralized place for information on everything from virus testing to food insecurity to mental health. Yellen has been a prominent, informative voice in her community, getting the word out about the foundation’s COVID-related funds and letting people know how they can create their own. One example: the El Paso Food and Beverage Workers Fund, established by Salt + Honey Bakery Café owner Maggie Asfahani. The Health Foundation has further invested in nonprofit organizations to support their recovery, preparedness, and transformation. Thanks to Yellen and the PDN Community Foundation and Health Foundation, giving and applying to funds is easy— ensuring assistance is available to El Pasoans in need.

David Zuefeldt

Owner, Rocket Banners | Austin

Austinites know the sign well by now: bold persimmon capitals reading “OPEN FOR TAKE OUT.” In the early days of the pandemic, these 3’ x 2’ posters sprung up outside numerous local restaurants, many of which were (and still are) struggling for survival. It wasn’t an opportunistic salesforce that drove the proliferation of the signs, but the quick and generous thinking of the team at Rocket Banners, led by owner David Zuefeldt.

When SXSW was called off in March, Rocket Banners found itself holding more sign-making material than it could use. Rocket Banners designer Evan Farias quickly created a trio of signs (“Open for Take Out,” “Open for Dine In,” and “Now Open for Business”) and the team used the extra materials to print hundreds of copies, which they began dropping off at local restaurants — for free, before the restaurants could even ask. “We’re just cranking them out; it’s easy for us,” Zuefeldt told Community Impact in April, when they’d already given out around 750 of the signs. “As long as people need them, we’ll keep making them.” Today, they’ve added a 12” decal to their giveaway (“Keep Your Space—Protect Your Face”), and banners are still available 24/7 on a table outside their office’s back door.

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