Nominees, Please: BusinessWest Readies for Its Second Annual
Entrepreneurs, corporate achievers, community leaders — 40 of the best and brightest young people in Western Mass. came together last year to form BusinessWest’s inaugural Forty Under 40, a group whose collective strength surprised even the winners. We’ll introduce the second Forty Under 40 class this spring — but first we need your help. Nominations are officially open, a panel of judges is being lined up, and we’re looking forward to sharing 40 more inspiring success stories with our readers.
When Erica Walch showed up at last June’s reception to honor BusinessWest’s inaugural Forty Under 40 class, she didn’t know what to expect. But it certainly wasn’t throngs of people gathering to celebrate the best and brightest of the Pioneer Valley’s younger professional set.
“I was amazed to see so many people at the party,” said Walch, the founder of Speak Easy Accent Modification, which helps non-native English speakers achieve more fluent and less heavily accented speech. “I didn’t know it would be such a big deal, and I was shocked to see hundreds of people there.”
But the organizers of the program at BusinessWest weren’t so shocked. The business journal’s editor, George O’Brien, said at the heart of the program is the idea that these are people worth celebrating, and the reception attendance only reinforced that notion.
“We learned that we have a number of bright, young, and talented individuals in Western Mass.,” O’Brien said, “and we learned a lot about these people through interviews that were as enlightening as they were fun.”
BusinessWest is gearing up for more such interviews once the second annual Forty Under 40 class is chosen — a process that begins right now.
Walch can testify to the value of being recognized as one of the rising stars on the Western Mass. business scene.
“I got a lot of feedback,” Walch said. “So many people read BusinessWest, and a lot of people told me, ‘I saw you in the Forty Under 40.’ I met a lot of people through that — some of the other winners, and people in the community.”
Sarah Tsitso, another of last year’s honorees, said she felt like she was in “pretty impressive company” when the 2007 list was revealed.
“Even though I’m in that age group, I wasn’t really aware of how many people — and from how many diverse backgrounds — there are in the business community that fit that category,” said Tsitso, who was an editor for Turley Publications at the time.
“Western Mass. is a pretty small world, and there were still so many people I met that I hadn’t known,” she added. “It was a great opportunity to meet many people and learn what kinds of work they do. I was surprised at how many innovative entrepreneurs we have in that age group.”
In fact, the inaugural Forty Under 40 class included men and women from the fields of law, media, finance, education, medicine, retail, and philanthropy, to name a few. A good number started their own companies, using their skills — as in Walch’s and many other cases — to create business opportunities by identifying unmet needs.
“Just to be recognized by the premier business publication in the area was very special, and to attend a first-class reception was something I’ll never forget,” said Tad Tokarz, owner of the Western Mass. Sports Journal and another of the inaugural 40. “It’s nice to see that younger people are starting to take more responsibility and going great things and becoming leaders in the community.”
In fact, all of the 2007 honorees, without exception, are individuals who also serve their communities by sitting on boards, granting time and energy to business groups and nonprofit organizations, or, in a surprising number of cases, working with children. Or perhaps that’s not so surprising, given the caliber of character that typifies these 40 professionals.
That dual success — both in one’s chosen field and in community service — will again be necessary to be considered for the second annual Forty Under 40.
“I think that’s important,” Tokarz said. “These are people who do more than their job; they also give back to Western Mass. and continue to make our community a better place to live.”
|Last Year’s 40 under Forty|
William M. Bither, III
Katherine Pacella Costello
A. Rima Dael
Nino Del Padre
Antonio E. Dos Santos
Michael S. Gove
Dena M. Hall
Francis J. Hoey, III
G.E. Patrick Leary
Daniel F. Morrill
Joseph M. Pacella
Craig D. Swimm
Mark A. Tanner
Sarah Leete Tsitso
Michael K. Vann
Michael W. Zaskey
Edward G. Zemba
O’Brien described last year’s Forty Under 40 compilation as an intense learning experience — on a number of levels. Like the most successful businesses in this region, he said, BusinessWest believes in continuous improvement and constantly looking for better ways to do things.
“We learned a few things about how to stage a program like this,” O’Brien said. “Year one went smoothly, but we knew there were some things that we needed to do better.”
Promotion of the event is one of the items on this list, he explained, adding that the magazine will take some additional steps to ensure that the community is aware of the Forty Under 40 program, and also its mission, timetable, rules, and nuances.
“One thing we learned during year one is that people looking to nominate individuals for this honor have to be thorough and include as much information for the judges as possible,” he said. “Perhaps because this wasn’t thoroughly explained last year, some nomination forms were vague, and others could diplomatically be described as incomplete.”
The roster of judges will also be expanded from three to five, O’Brien said, to handle what will likely be a larger pool of nominations.
“The judges may be aware of some of the people who are being nominated,” he continued, “but they probably don’t know enough to properly weigh their talents and contributions to the community. Those who are nominating individuals can help by including resumes or quick biographical sketches, press clippings, if there are any, and maybe even some testimonials from friends and co-workers.”
Some of the class of 2007 have seen their exposure lead to greater businesses opportunities, while others have moved to completely different challenges. Tsitso, for instance, was recently hired by Fred Astaire Dance Studios as its first national copywriter, working at the company’s Longmeadow headquarters. Forty Under 40, she said, was invaluable in helping her build relationships with people she might not have otherwise met.
Walch agreed, noting that she has seen Speak Easy grow with new contracts, as she also continues her work with groups that promote Springfield as a viable home address for young professionals.
“It’s been a wonderful business networking experience, and I’m very honored to have been a part of it,” said Walch. “And, I already have somebody in mind to nominate when the form comes out.”
That moment has arrived: It’s time to name the next Forty Under 40. Grab a pen.
Joseph Bednar can be reached at[email protected]