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The Class of 2014

40 Under 40 Cover Story The Class of 2014
The Young Business and Community Leaders of Western Massachusetts


In 2007, BusinessWest introduced a new recognition program called 40 Under Forty. It was intended as a vehicle to showcase young talent in the four counties of Western Mass. and, in turn, inspire others to reach higher and do more in their community.

Seven years later, it has accomplished all that and much more. The program has become a brand, the awards gala has become one of the most anticipated events of the year, and the 40 Under Forty plaque that sits on one’s desk has become both a coveted prize and symbol of excellence, recognized by all.

On June 19 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke, 40 more plaques will be handed out, to members of a class that is both distinguished and diverse. It includes bankers, lawyers, and accountants, but also a Holyoke city councilor, a contractor who specializes in blitz building, and Springfield’s senior project manager. And it represents virtually every business sector, from healthcare to education; from technology to the nonprofit realm.

With that, we introduce the Class of 2014 with words (enough to explain why they’re an honoree) and pictures that tell a big part of each story, whether the winner is captured with his or her children, dog, or even boxing gloves or a giant candle. The stories are all different, but the common denominator is that these young individuals possess that most important of qualities: leadership.

Click here to download a PDF flipbook version of the 40 Under Forty Class of 2014

Sponsored by:
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2014 40 Under Forty Winners:

Tamara Blake
Sandy Cassanelli
Robert Chateauneuf
Nick Colgin
Izabela Collier
G. David Condon IV
Jose Delgado
Justin Dion
Garett DiStefano
Patricia Faginski
Sean Gouvin
Nicole Griffin
Lee Hagon
Denise Hurst
Justin Hurst
Sean Jeffords
Danielle Klein-Williams
Dr. Andrew Lam
Angela Lussier
Ruby Maddox
Kevin Maltby
Andrew McMahon
Geoff Medeiros
Alex Morse
Meghan Parnell-Gregoire
Orlando Ramos
Jason Randall
Liz Rappaport
Robert Raynor
Alfonso Santaniello
Michael Schneider
Paul Silva
Michael Simolo
Noah Smith
Seth Stratton
Geoff Sullivan
Kyle Sullivan
Anthony Surrette
Jessica Wales
Francia Wisnewski

Meet the Judges — Click Here

Photography for this special section by Denise Smith Photography

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Assistant Vice President, Commercial Lending, PeoplesBank, age 39

Meghan-Gregoire-01Meghan Parnell-Gregoire says she just “fell into banking.” And she’s glad she did.

“It wasn’t planned; I just needed a job with benefits,” she explained. “So I got a job with Northampton Cooperative Bank.” She started as a teller, then moved into work as a processor, then an underwriter, then a mortgage originator. But that latter role meant long hours and too much time away from her young children, so she applied in 2008 to be a branch manager for PeoplesBank in Amherst.

“It was a huge shift; I had not really been in management — or in retail banking, except for five short months as a teller. So the bank took a huge risk on me, and I took a risk on them.”

The risk worked out well for both. In 2012, she was promoted to the commercial-lending arena, working closely with the bank’s Business Lending Center, a unique PeoplesBank program that focuses on small, local businesses.

“The Business Lending Center collaborates with branch staff and allows us to provide a higher level of services to businesses in our geographic footprint,” she said, adding that she finds a great deal of satisfaction helping commercial clients reach their goals.

“We might be helping small businesses in the growth stage and providing the financing needed to do that, or working closely with a business owner to identify ways to improve cash flow. On the flip side, with more mature businesses, they might need help sustaining cash flow, or maybe they’re getting ready to hand things over to the next generation,” Parnell-Gregoire said, adding that, in any case, it’s all about nurturing relationships, not making deals.

Being a single mother with a full-time job leaves limited spare time, but she still manages to work a number of volunteer efforts into her schedule, serving with the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, the Paolo Friere Social Justice Charter School, Family Outreach of Amherst, the Holyoke Children’s Museum, and the Holyoke Youth Soccer League, where she coaches preschoolers.

“I feel lucky,” she said. “I’ve been given a tremendous amount of opportunities, professionally and personally, and I want to take opportunities to give that back.”

— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Director of Residential Dining, UMass Amherst, age 39

Garett-DiStefano-01It’s called the ‘missed meal factor.’

As the name suggests, it’s a statistic that tracks the number of meals that students enrolled in the dining program at UMass Amherst miss — for whatever reason or reasons. Going back 15 years, the percentage of meals missed was around 40%, said Garett DiStefano, director of Residential Dining at the university since 2010, adding that it’s now about 10% or less, because — and to make a long story somewhat short — the students don’t want to miss any meals because of the quality of the food, the service, and the experience.

That’s why, of all the numbers concerning the dining program, this is the one he’s most proud of, although there is some serious competition in that regard.

Start with 1 — that’s where UMass finished in University Primetime’s ranking of the “50 Best Colleges for Food in the U.S.” for 2013. Or 3, where the school finished in the prestigious Princeton Review’s “Best Campus Food” ratings the past two years. There’s also 5.5 million, the number of meals the department serves per year, and even 15,291 — the number of pounds of fruit salad UMass Dining produced last September to shatter the Guinness Book of World Records mark in that category.

Since arriving at UMass after working as a Wall Street analyst — work he found “unfulfilling” — DiStefano has had a huge hand in generating all those numbers and many more. The career move was a nod to his childhood and work he started doing at Captain Nemo’s, a burger and fried-clam shack run by his father and uncle that has been a fixture at the Big E for 40 years.

“I didn’t even know there was a giant slide at the Big E,” he joked. “I spent my youth there peeling potatoes.”

Today, he directs the second-largest self-operating dining operation in the country, and professes to love every minute of his job. “Food is so dynamic, and you always have a different take on it,” he said. “And the customer base we serve is here 16 weeks in a row, every day. So we have to continue to make it interesting for them and keep it fresh, and make it so they want to come to the Dining Commons.”

— George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Regional Program Manager, Raising a Reader Massachusetts, age 37

Francia-Wisnewski-01Francia Wisnewski takes pride in doing all she can to increase literacy and help families and children. “I’m a firm believer that providing high-quality, enriching opportunities for young children is critical for laying a strong foundation for their long-term health, well-being, and success,” she said, “and I am passionate about advocating for and promoting legislation that supports families and children.”

Passionate … and busy. The regional program manager for Raising a Reader is a 2008 Schott Fellow, an elected member/chair of the Greenfield School Committee, member of the Greenfield Democratic Town Committee, a three-time winner of Community Action’s Caught in the Act Award, an advisory board member of District Attorney David Sullivan’s Franklin County Children’s Advocacy Center, a 2012 participant in the Early Educator Fellowship Initiative, and a 2012 Emerge Massachusetts Fellow.

Wisnewski grew up in Colombia and worked as a biology teacher before moving to this country to pursue a master’s degree in education at UMass Amherst. After settling in Greenfield, she immersed herself in volunteer work and selflessly continues to give time and effort to causes she believes in. “You have to do whatever you can to be part of the community, and I enjoy being involved in an inclusive process,” she said, adding that she believes it is important to educate children to their full potential and raise the quality of life for families.

The wife of Mark Wisnewski and mother of Luke, 11, and Corin, 8, she was a developmental specialist for the REACH Early Intervention program at ServiceNet in Franklin County and served as coordinator of Family Center Programs for Community Action in Greenfield for 10 years before assuming her current job at Raising a Reader.

Wisnewski said her work at the Family Center, which included promoting literacy events, taught her that she could make a difference and empower others. “I learned the value of networking and building support,” she explained. “There are many people with voices that are unheard who just need a little push.”

She knows communities will always face challenges. “But when they come, you need to be flexible, make the best of everything, and move forward.”

— Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Mayor, City of Holyoke, age 25

Alex-Morse-01Looking back on his first 27 months in office, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse says there’s been progress logged in many areas and some notable accomplishments for the team he’s assembled.

The Mass. Green High Performance Computing Center has opened its doors, a creative economy is taking shape, a long-awaited urban-renewal plan — a sweeping initiative to revitalize the downtown through the reincarnation of the Holyoke Redevelopment Authority — has been introduced, an Innovation District has been created, a Community Literacy office has been established, and a tax-incentive program to stimulate new growth has been launched.

But Morse, the youngest mayor in the Paper City’s history when he was elected in the fall of 2011, said that perhaps the most important development — and it results in part from all of the above — has been his administration’s ability to “change the language around Holyoke,” as he put it.

“The number-one thing we’ve done, and in a relatively short period of time, is change the perception of the city,” the Holyoke native told BusinessWest. “And it had to start from within — we needed the residents of the city to feel there’s a sense of progress and that the city is going to get better, and that’s happened.

“The most humbling, and exciting, thing for me is going around the Valley and across the state and hearing people talk about Holyoke in a positive way, with this energy and excitement,” he went on. “I promised to be the chief marketing officer of Holyoke, and I’ve fulfilled that.”

There is considerable work still to be done, but Morse believes the foundation for progress has been laid. And the process of doing so has been a fascinating learning experience for the Brown University graduate and urban studies major.

He said every day is different and uniquely fulfilling, that he’s encouraged by the way in which all those on his team are working toward the same goals, and that perhaps the biggest downside is the slow pace of government, something he wasn’t fully prepared for.

“I’m oftentimes impatient when it comes to implementing new things and programs and seeing changes,” he explained. “Sometimes it takes longer than you’d like.”

But he believes the needle is moving in the right direction and this city, steeped in history, is ready to write some more.

George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Attorney; Chair of Legal Studies, Bay Path College, age 39

Justin-Dion-01Justin Dion was on what’s known as the ‘partnership track’ at the Springfield-based law firm Bacon Wilson, P.C. He had established himself as one of the leading bankruptcy lawyers in the region, and it was only a matter of time before he was to be named shareholder.

But then, he took a position as an adjunct faculty member at Bay Path College, and his career path took a turn he couldn’t have foreseen years earlier.

“The more I did it, the more I really enjoyed teaching,” he told BusinessWest. “I found it to be a very empowering experience. And the fact that Bay Path is a women’s college, I found that I was really having a strong impact on these women’s lives, giving them a chance to improve themselves and the lives of their families.”

And now that he’s at Bay Path full-time, as chair of the Legal Studies department, he’s found that he actually has the best of both worlds, or three worlds, to be more precise. Indeed, through his work to create and now direct the Bay Path College Bankruptcy Clinic, Dion can blend teaching with legal work — in an advisory role to students — and also do volunteer, or pro-bono, work, something he found he really enjoyed while at Bacon Wilson.

Working in conjunction with an agency called the Mass. Justice Project, the clinic takes on bankruptcy cases, providing services free of charge to those who cannot afford them.

“This program allows my students to get some real, first-hand experience on what it’s like to deal with clients, and there’s a lot to be said for that,” Dion explained. “You can read about law in a textbook, but until you’re sitting across the table, holding someone’s hand who’s crying, and explaining to them that it’s OK and helping them through the process, you’re not getting the whole experience.”

While Dion enjoys life in those three worlds, the one that matters most is his family — his wife Kathleen, son William, and daughters Bethany, Madison, Sophia, and Charlotte.

“I spend most of my free time as a dad,” he explained, “and that’s the job I enjoy most.”

— George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Consumer and Business Banking Center Manager, PeoplesBank, age 36

Jessica-Wales-01Associates at PeoplesBank are never surprised when Jessica Wales asks if they can volunteer for a special event or fund-raiser, and know it could mean they end up serving hot chocolate on a freezing day or wearing an elf suit.

“I have a lot of great friends and co-workers who are up for anything, and especially around the holidays, when you can make a difference in kids’ lives; everybody just wants to help out,” she said.

While donning an elf costume last fall, Wales helped lead one of the most successful branch openings in the history of PeoplesBank, and in the weeks leading up to the opening of the new LEED-certified branch in Northampton, she created and led TeamPossible, a group of branch associates that visited local businesses to perform random acts of kindness, treating customers to free burgers, ice cream, and coffee.

The effort resulted in a record $6 million in new deposits during the initial four months of operation. A driving force in efforts to implement environmentally friendly technology at the new branch, including iPad account opening and video drive-up teller service, Wales has applied those same leadership qualities to Northampton Area Young Professionals, securing speakers for its Leadership Luncheon Series, as well as assisting the FDIC Money Smart program at Junior Achievement and serving as a past member of the fund-raising and marketing committees for the United Way of Hampshire County. For the past seven years, she’s helped the United Way’s Allocation Committee, a group that qualifies organizations’ request for funds.

“You get your heartstrings tugged at these interviews,” Wales said. “I don’t know if people in Western Mass. understand all the services available to them, but there are amazing volunteers out there who put their heart and soul into the organizations they’re representing.”

It’s her love of her hometown of Northampton that has her recruiting PeoplesBank associates to volunteer at Santa’s Train and Earth Day Clean Up in Look Park, the Hot Chocolate 5K Run, and the Northampton Center for the Arts’ annual First Night event. Her own personal time has her sharing afternoons with her partner, Jeremy Cotton, scuba diving or skydiving.

By land, sea, or air, Wales is always up for a challenge and making a positive difference in peoples’ lives.

— Elizabeth Taras

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Vice President, Brand, Yankee Candle Co., age 39

Geoff-Medeiros-01Geoff Medeiros says he’s not the one who comes up with the scents for Yankee Candle, such as the one that recreates the aroma of sizzling bacon — one of the so-called ‘man candles.’ No, there’s a committee of five or six devoted to that. Nor does he come up with the names for these products, such as ‘Luau Party,’ one of the offerings in the Exotic Escapes collection; there’s another team that handles that assignment.

But you might say that it’s his job, as vice president of Brand, to position these products, myriad others, and the stores that sell them for success.

That’s a simple way to break down a rather long and quite deep job description, one that includes everything from brand positioning to media planning to global consumer research. It was his decision, for example, to use the company’s highly visible billboard on I-91 to promote the scent called MMM, Bacon! “It definitely drew some PR for the company,” he said with a laugh.

Overall, Medeiros manages a number of brands for the company. Beyond the Yankee Candle label, there is the Home Classics brand sold at Target; the Simply Home brand, sold in Kohl’s outlets; and new offerings including Pure Radiance and Relaxing Rituals, both sold in the company’s retail stores.

Medeiros, who leads an 11-member Brand team, has honed his skills in a 15-year career in brand management, one that also included stints with Hasbro and Nestlé. He joined Yankee Candle in 2006, working first as director of Brand Management and then general manager before assuming his current position.

At all those stops, and especially with Yankee Candle, he has balanced his professional career with a passion to give back to the community. A Big Brother while attending Providence College, he currently sits on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampden County, and was instrumental in helping the agency increase its social-media presence for the 2013 Valley Gives event. Meanwhile, he has been an active member of the Mentor Program at Yankee Candle, which was established to create an environment that develops and advances talented young women at the company.

— George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Mayoral Aide, City of Springfield, age 28

Jose-Delgado-01Jose Delgado says he cares deeply about Springfield. “There is so much potential here, and I want to highlight the positive, bring more jobs to the city, and help make it a destination where people want to live.”

Delgado told BusinessWest that his parents taught him the value of education, while President Obama inspired him to get involved in politics and the community. “I’ve had many mentors and feel the need to give back. A lot of what I enjoy is related to education and working with young people,” he said, adding, “my bachelor’s degree is very important to me because my parents never made it to college, and my 2-year-old son, Jonah, adds to my motivation to continue fighting to improve Springfield.”

Delgado is volunteer chair of the Buy Springfield Now program that provides services and incentives to potential homeowners. “We also show off beautiful housing and neighborhoods in Springfield and have started an Open House series,” he said.

Delgado completed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Springfield Department of Urban Studies Fellowship, which is focused on cultivating young area leaders. “It’s important to me to keep young professionals here,” he said, explaining that he understands the lure of large cities because, when he was in college, he obtained an internship in New York with Russell Simmons, who co-founded the hip-hop music label Def Jam and created clothing lines.

After graduation, Delgado’s volunteerism led him to become program coordinator for the Mass. Latino Chamber of Commerce in Springfield through the AmeriCorps VISTA program.

Today, the mayoral representative is a committee member of the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, the Puerto Rican/Latino Leadership Council, the Atwater Park Civic Assoc., and the Springfield Ward 2 Democratic Party.

In addition, he assisted with tornado-relief efforts in Springfield and the creation of a city resource guide for residents, is working to streamline the constable application process, and serves on the North End Counter Criminal Continuum.

“There is opportunity in Springfield,” Delgado said. “It’s a place where a kid who grew up on welfare in the North End can become a mayoral aide.”

— Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Principal, Corbin & Tapases, P.C.; Entrepreneur, age 31

Tony-Surretle-01Anthony Surrette has always juggled multiple roles with seeming ease. But maintaining balance in life is important to him, and he believes three factors pave the road to success. “If you’re passionate about what you do, have a solid work ethic, and put your family first, you can be successful,” he said.

The certified public attorney and certified fraud examiner, who has attained the title of principal at Corbin & Tapases, P.C., also owns real estate, is co-owner of 16 Acres Coin-Op Laundry, as well as the Nerdy Spoon in Springfield, and is a dedicated family man.

He loves people, enjoys working with start-up companies, takes pride in his ability to explain things in a simple or highly technical matter, and has an entrepreneurial spirit himself.

“I love working with new clients who are passionate about their interests,” he said. “You can seize their energy.”

During college, Surrette discovered that accounting and business were a good fit for his talents and personality. “Business is in my DNA. But the force that drives me is my family. It’s always been family first,” he reiterated.

After his 3-year-old daughter Andrea was born, Surrette became involved with the nonprofit group known as Angels Take Flight, which provides essential items, including luggage, to foster children moving from home to home. Surrette used his business expertise to establish the agency as a 501(c)3 organization, and served as vice president and treasurer.

Surrette recently became a member of the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, and is involved with several organizations focused on business, entrepreneurship, and accounting. In addition, he mentors young people — he’s currently working with an accounting major at Western New England University who works for Corbin & Tapases — and has worked as a business consultant to help companies expand.

Surrette and his fiancée, Nicole, are expecting their second child, and it’s important to him to give his family every opportunity possible, especially since his own father died when he was 10.

“I care about what I am doing and don’t see myself as limited,” he said. “My family has always been very supportive, and I just want to give back.”

— Kathleen Mitchell