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Class of 2009

40 Under 40 Class of 2009 Cover Story


Back in 2007, when BusinessWest’s inaugural 40 Under Forty honorees gathered for a group photograph outdoors, the sky was clear and bright — appropriate, since the clouds that now darken the nation’s economic outlook were a long way off.

It was an impressive group of entrepreneurs, innovators, and community leaders — in short, success stories that any region would be proud to tout. Last year’s group of honorees — in the second go-round of our annual celebration of the region’s young talent — was equally impressive, even if the economy was growing shakier by the week.

This year, economic bad news is everywhere, and the clouds only seem to get darker by the day. But guess what? Our third 40 Under Forty class shines just as brightly as the first two.

Not that this should come as a surprise to anyone with a finger on the pulse of the region. In fact, the vibrancy of the area’s young achievers — and getting younger; this class includes more 20-somethings than either of the previous two — gives those who care about Western Mass. plenty of optimism about the future. Even in the midst of perhaps the worst recession in 70 years, these individuals are starting and expanding companies, growing profits and creating jobs, seamlessly taking the reins of family businesses … and, in most cases, staying intimately involved in their communities through service on boards and volunteer efforts with charitable organizations.

Better yet, they’re creating lasting legacies that will inspire others to follow in their footsteps. Check out Kathy LeMay, this year’s highest-scoring honoree, who is cultivating philanthropic connections that will make a difference throughout the region for years to come. Brenda Wishart has worn a number of hats over the past decade, all aimed at building the next generation of entrepreneurs. Corey Murphy takes time away from his insurance agency to help kids read and do well in school — maybe giving a leg up to a future 40 Under Forty winner along the way.

By most expert accounts, the clouds will clear. And when they do, what will be left standing are the 40 Under Forty and others like them, who are working hard to build a buzz — and a foundation for long-term economic health — in the Pioneer Valley and beyond.

And now, we’d like to tell their stories, so you can be inspired, too.

—Joseph Bednar

The Class of ’09

40 Under 40 Class of 2009
Age 29: Owner, Minuteman Press

Michael Weber knows a secret about how to succeed in business.

“It’s such a cheesy statement,” said the 29-year-old, who owns and operates Minuteman Press in Enfield, Conn. with his wife Lindsey. “It’s the more you give, the more you get. Givers gain. If you want to succeed, you have to help out and contribute something.”

The formula has worked — the Webers have increased sales by 450% in the five years since they purchased the business.

Weber takes his volunteer work seriously. He is vice president of the North Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, a director of the Young Professionals Society of Greater Springfield, and a member of the Home Builders Assoc. of Western Mass. and the Affliliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield.

He joined these organizations immediately after moving from Boston to Connecticut and taking over the Minuteman franchise. His motivation was to make friends, make a difference, and form relationships that would result in business accounts.

Although his approach has worked, Weber’s intent is always focused on the greater good. “I want to do my part by helping people out and genuinely contributing,” he said, adding that he has supported beneficial initiatives even when they were not good for his business.

Many of his volunteer activities involve working with people who are much older, so Weber especially enjoys his affiliation with the YPS.

“It’s refreshing to be on board with so many like-minded people. I truly have good intentions and try to contribute,” he said.

His background is in information-management systems, and his wife was an assistant buyer for Filene’s Corp. prior to their venture with Minuteman, but both know the value of networking.

“We don’t wait for people to come in,” said Weber. “You have to get to know people. We set quality standards, volunteer, and participate on committees. You have to get involved, and if you show up to help, you get to know everyone.”

—Kathy Mitchell

40 Under 40 Class of 2009
Age 29: Co-owner and Co-founder of Jackson & Connor

Tara Tetreault says she’s flattered by comments from those who applaud her entrepreneurial spirit and her first-year success with the men’s clothing store Jackson & Connor in Northampton — especially with the economic downturn and the negative impact it’s had on all types of retail.

But she’s more proud of the feedback she’s getting for her work within the community, and how it seems to be generating momentum and more energy for causes and organizations ranging from Best Buddies to the Northampton Chamber of Commerce; from Clarke School for the Deaf to Northampton Area Young Professionals.

“I think that my actions have, in some ways, spawned other people to act,” she said. “I’ve seen it amongst my peers, with people saying, ‘I never thought to do that,’ or ‘I never thought to get involved with that.’”

Elaborating, Tetrealt said she and her partner, Candace Connors, have taken the attitude that, if they are going to do business in the Greater Northampton area, they need to be actively involved with that community.

This mindset has translated into actions ranging from hosting a Northampton Chamber ‘Arrive at 5’ event coinciding with their first anniversary in business, to active involvement with Best Buddies, a group that is committed to enhancing the lives of those with intellectual disabilities.

“It’s all about making connections,” said Tetreault, who told BusinessWest she is humbled by those who remark on her success in business to date, but is more energized by the words and actions of those who want to work beside her within the community.

“It’s nice to see other people get motivated by what we do — it gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling,” she explained. “It comes when other people decide to act in kind — to look in the mirror and see not just themselves, but also the larger picture, and how it’s not just about you, it’s about all of us being in this together and supporting each other, making it work, and making the area a better place.”

—George O’Brien

40 Under 40 Class of 2009
Age 32: Operations Manager, United Personnel

Michelle Sade grew up in Ohio, near where that state borders West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

“You could see all three states from the house where I grew up,” she said, adding, in a voice tinged with diplomacy, that people are “more neighborly” there than they are here in the Northeast.

“I’ve been living on my street in Springfield for four years,” she continued, “and I still don’t know some of my neighbors; people keep to themselves here.”

Sade credits her upbringing and the ‘more-neighborly’ attitude that prevailed in the Bible Belt with her many and varied attempts to bring some of that hospitality to the 413 area code, especially in her work with the Young Professionals Society of Greater Springfield. She is credited with co-founding the group in 2007 and helping turn it into a powerful force in efforts to engage young people (those under 40) in the goings-on in the Pioneer Valley — and, hopefully, convince them that they don’t have to leave it to find personal and professional fulfillment.

“I see myself as being a real cheerleader for this region,” Sade, the operations manager for Springfield-based United Personnel, told BusinessWest, noting that she had that role in a literal sense while she was growing up in Ohio. “It’s a great place to live and work … we just need to promote it more.”

Still a member of the YPS board, among many other community-based activities, including work with the American Cancer Society and Children’s Study Home, Sade said she is actively involved with helping to take YPS to the proverbial ‘next level.’ This refers to membership, visibility, and influence in Western Mass. — and also finding it a home, meaning a small office, preferably in downtown Springfield.

If Sade has anything to do with it, YPS will be a good, friendly neighbor — wherever it lands.

—George O’Brien

40 Under 40 Class of 2009
Age 27: Founder, Stinky Cakes

Stinky Cakes, Stinky Cakes, Stinky Cakes …

It’s a mantra that 18-month-old Aidan Connelly launches into when he sees a pile of disposable diapers rolled into the arms of a stuffed animal.

It’s a mission for his father, Mychael Connelly Sr., who had long had entrepreneurial urges, and experienced the sweet smell of success one day when his older son, Mychael Connelly Jr., walked into the room and announced, “I did stinkies.”

“I knew it was what I was born to do,” said Connelly, adding that people expecting babies need practical gifts.

The former graphic artist handles the marketing and dresses in a baker’s suit to deliver stacks of Stinky Cakes to homes and businesses. The diapers are formed into towers of fun — complete with personalized, colorful ribbons — by his wife, Adrienne, in their Springfield home.

Connelly, who grew up in the Bahamas, always wanted to own his own business, and became motivated to do so after Mychael was born.

“Everyone should be able to get a Stinky Cake,” he said, adding they keep their prices reasonable.

But no one should have to use diapers before they are ready, and Connelly is also working to address the issue of teen pregnancy.

He and his wife have been foster parents to two children, and are still involved in their lives. “We are dedicated to doing foster care and devote a lot of time to it,” he said. “These kids really need help and need to be in a loving home.”

Many of the childen in foster care are born to teens, Connelly said, and his next goal is to start a foundation to combat teen pregnancy and provide teens with life skills to help them secure a bright financial future.

“Stinky Cakes is more than diapers. It’s about empowering parents and mothers. It’s a movement,” he said.

Not such a stinky idea.

—Kathy Mitchell

40 Under 40 Class of 2009
Age 36: President, Owner, and Sales Manager, Park Square Realty

Ted Cassell jumped right from college into his mother’s family business, joining Park Square Realty in 1994 as a sales agent. Apparently, he was a quick learner.

“After about seven years,” he said, “I purchased the company from them with the idea of taking it to the next level.”

For starters, Cassell moved the Westfield office from East Silver Street to Elm Street, effectively doubling its space and increasing visibility and traffic, while also recruiting more agents and building market share. Then, at the end of that first year, he got a call from one Barry Boccasile, who had worked with a local Coldwell Banker office before it was sold off.

“He liked the idea of working with a locally owned company, so together we opened up an office in Feeding Hills,” said Cassell. “Overnight, we doubled from 12 to 24 people. At the time, I was still wearing a lot of hats — I was an owner, active in the field, managing … it was a hectic time.”

That’s when he made a key decision to be a non-selling manager-broker-owner, with Boccasile playing a similar role managing the Feeding Hills site.

“I think that’s been fundamental to our growth,” said Cassell. “We’re not competing against our own agents; we help problem-solve, grow the company, recruit, train, and manage the direction of growth and development.”

In doing so, Cassell saw Park Square grow from a $10 million company to $138 million between 2000 and 2005. He attributes part of that success to his enthusiasm for his work.

“It’s a great field because it’s always challenging, and every day is different,” he said. “We really enjoy helping people accomplish their real-estate needs. Right now, it seems like the market is starting to pick back up. Interest rates are low, and first-time buyers get an $8,000 credit from the government. We’re seeing a lot of activity. It’s an exciting time.”

—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2009
Age 35: Marketing Director, GetSet Marketing

Everyone has a story of how they found their rhythm in life. Dan Bessette found his through music. In college and during the years after, he played drums with his brother in a blues band.

The Wayfarers, as the band was called, played in venues all over Springfield, with frequent appearances at the downtown club Theodore’s. Bessette, who earned a degree in Business Administration at UMass Amherst, managed and promoted the band, while his brother, a graphic artist, designed the outfit’s eye-catching posters, which became the envy of all the other bands in town.

To support his drum habit, Bessette held down various day jobs. He worked three years as a marketing director at Falcetti Music, a company that sells musical instruments, and later sold airtime at radio station WRNX, until one day he, his brother, and a Web developer friend decided to launch their own gig.

“We started working for the music market,” said Bessette. “I spun that into other businesses, and it grew from there.”

In 2003, the trio rented some hip office space in an old mill building in Springfield (where the first monkey wrench was made) and formed Get Set Marketing, a full-service firm that keeps prices low by printing multiple jobs on a single press plate. The company’s slogan, “Apart from the Herd,” is personified by a rubber cow that travels around the world.

Bessette is a board member for the Young Professionals Society of Springfield, and was an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in Boy Scouts. “It’s something I’ve always been proud of,” he said.

While he may not be in the music business anymore, Bessette still keeps a set of drums in his office for whenever he needs to let off steam.

“My music,” he said, “keeps me sane.”

—Amy Castor

40 Under 40 Class of 2009
Age 39: Senior Relationship Manager, NewAlliance Bank

Brandon Braxton hasn’t forgotten the excitement of buying his first home.

It happened in 2004, about a year before his adopted daughter, Caterina, was born.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” he said. That meaning has been hammered home to Braxton since he joined Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity in early 2007 and met some of the grateful homeowners.

“Knowing where your children will grow up is something many folks take for granted,” he said. “But for those who don’t have that luxury, it’s life-altering.” The graduate of Amherst College signed on with Habitat when he heard his alma mater was donating land for four homes, with the goal of having up to 10 classes of students work on their construction. “It seemed like a great project, and the mission of providing affordable housing and home ownership is something I believe in,” he said.

By September of 2007, Braxton was president of the board of directors. He is dedicated to the progam’s expansion, which has taken on personal meaning as he has gotten to know and witness the excitement of the homeowners and their children. “The mission becomes very tangible,” he said. “We are making the community a better place, but it’s far more personal.

When you ceremonially hand over the keys, it’s an amazing feeling. And it’s nice to have 0%-interest mortgages, which I can’t do in my day job.” His position as senior relationship manager at NewAlliance Bank in West Springfield makes him acutely aware of developments in the area housing market and the difficulty of finding affordable housing in the Pioneer Valley.

He is dedicated to Habitat and says he is lucky to work for an organization that supports his volunteer work. His wife, A. Rima Dael, is also dedicated to making a difference and was in BusinessWest’s inaugural 40 Under Forty class in 2007. “We are proud to be a 40 Under Forty couple,” said Braxton.

—Kathy Mitchell

40 Under 40 Class of 2009

Scott MacKenzie

Age 33: President and Owner, MacKenzie Vault Inc.

As sure as we are born, we all have to go sometime. That somber fact explains the livelihood of Scott MacKenzie’s business. He owns and operates MacKenzie Vault, an East Longmeadow-based family business that makes cremation urns — and wasn’t exactly his first choice for a career.

Indeed, as a young man, MacKenzie wasn’t sure whether he wanted to get boxed into the family business. After graduating from high school, he was itching to get out of Western Mass. He envisioned lights, cameras, and himself on stage, so he headed to California to take acting classes.

Eventually he returned to the Bay State, not to push urns, but to go to college. He earned a Communications degree at Boston University and took a job as an account supervisor with the public relations outfit Schwartz Communications in Boston.

He was content in that role, but when his father began looking for an exit strategy in 2001, MacKenzie realized he couldn’t sit back and watch the business expire. Plus, after four years of working for others, he was ready to be his own boss. He moved back to Western Mass., spent a year thinking about it, then got onboard.

As it turned out, MacKenzie found the family urn business to be a tremendous outlet for his creative energies. In a relatively short period of time, he tripled sales, increased the employee headcount from seven to 18, expanded the company footprint from 5,000 to 20,000 square feet, and updated the brand.

“I essentially put a new twist on an old classic,” he said. He also added services, such as custom laser etching and engraving.

In his spare time, MacKenzie also volunteers for the Make-a-Wish foundation, Ronald McDonald House, and DARE.

As far as that theater career goes, “that’s dead,” joked MacKenzie. “I found out I enjoyed working behind the scenes more than being in front of the camera.”

—Amy Castor

40 Under 40 Class of 2009

Paul Stallman

Age 39: Owner and Creative Director, Alias Solutions

Paul Stallman can tell you a thing or two about Hummers. After all, he compiled a welding specifications handbook “a mile thick” for the armored parts of the military vehicle — not what you’d expect for someone who now runs a marketing outfit.

Stallman, who grew up in the Midwest, kicked his career off as a mechanical engineer. He wrote the Hummer book in 1990 as an engineer for GMP Metal Products in St. Louis. Later he switched over to Ford Motor Co. in Detroit, where he also met his wife, who happened to be from Chicopee.

Working five years at Ford gave Stallman a taste for Web development. He left to co-found a Web design company with several partners. They worked for big guns like Anheuser-Busch and Boise Office Supplies, but eventually the partners parted ways.

Stallman relocated to Western Mass. to be closer to his wife’s family, and launched Alias Solutions in 2003 to serve the design needs of smaller businesses.

“I don’t need the ego boost of big-company names,” he said. “I would rather be more important to my clients.”

He has since grown his company from a one-man operation to a full-service design agency with five employees and an office in Indian Orchard.

Amidst his busy schedule, Stallman, who has three young boys (including a set of twins), still finds time for the community. He an assistant scout leader for Chicopee Scout Pack 138. He’s also involved in a school program called Crash! that teaches kids responsible driving habits via science. His company, Alias, has also contributed its services to local nonprofits, including YEAH! Network, which works to stem the tide of teen pregnancy.

The Hummer tome, however, is unfortunately no more. “My wife made me throw it out,” said Stallman. “She asked me when I was planning on welding up a Hummer.”

—Amy Castor

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