Talent to Spare
Nominations Are Now Open for the 40 Under Forty Class of 2013
Since BusinessWest launched its 40 Under Forty program in 2007, we have recognized 240 young professionals who have made their mark across Western Mass. — not only for their career success, but their commitment to their communities. Several winners who later made the transition to judge — last year, that meant poring over a thick stack of almost 120 nominations — say that dual perspective gives them an even greater appreciation for the depth and breadth of talent that continues to make 40 Under Forty a coveted badge of distinction in this region.
Five years ago, Hector Toledo was chosen for an exclusive fraternity in Western Mass. — the BusinessWest 40 Under Forty.
Three years later, he relived the experience from the other side, when he was asked to be one of the judges selecting the class of 2011.
“It was pretty difficult,” said Toledo, vice president and retail sales director at Hampden Bank. “So many of them had multiple nominations, and it was tough, not having been through the process before, to get a sense of what was exceptional and what was ordinary.”
Fortunately, he said, the ‘exceptional’ side was well-represented. He was especially struck by the quality of very young talent in the region — those honorees who are nowhere close to pushing 40. Indeed, while many winners over the past six years had been in the professional world for a decade or more, some were just starting out when BusinessWest came calling.
For instance, in 2008, Toledo’s fellow honorees included both 20-year-old Brendan Ciecko, president of Ten Minute Media; and 21-year-old Delcie Bean, president of Valley Computer Works, now known as Paragus Strategic IT. Perhaps more strikingly, in 2011, the year Toledo served as a judge, the class included 16-year-old Stephen Freyman, whose volume of community service sets a high bar for other high-school students to match.
“That was fascinating to see,” Toledo said of the region’s youth movement. “This area is just so full of high-quality young individuals, it gives you a lot of hope for Western Mass.”
Each year’s nominations — typically well over 100 — are carefully examined by an independent panel of judges. Over the years, several of those have come from the ranks of former winners, like Toledo.
Jaimye Hebert, an honoree in 2011 and a judge last year, said she looked for nominees with a strong work-life balance.
“That was the biggest thing — someone with success in their career, maybe raising a family, but also contributing to their community on top of that,” said Hebert, vice president at Monson Savings Bank.
She noted that she was impressed by people equally committed to where they live and work — “for example, somebody who lives in Belchertown and works in Springfield, and they’re not just involved in Springfield because they work there, but also involved in the town where they live.
“I’m also big on helping children, community sports, things like that,” said Hebert, who counts coaching soccer among the many ways she stays invested in others. “I think it was really apparent, looking at the nominations, which people are really putting themselves out there, which is fantastic.”
We Are Young
The 40 Under Forty program was launched in 2007 as a way to spotlight the accomplishments of younger professionals throughout Western Mass. — not only their on-the-job achievements, but their often-extensive volunteer work with organizations that benefit their communities.
There were many motivations for creating the program, said BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien, listing everything from a desire to identify rising stars to encouraging individuals to get involved in the community and, in short, do the things needed to become a 40 Under Forty winner. And while the bar was set high, expectations have been exceeded, he said, noting that there was a record number of nominations last year, and the annual June gala to salute winners has been sold out well in advance for the past several years.
“In six short years, 40 Under Forty has become a brand, as well as a goal for many young people in the business community, nonprofit sector, and public-service realm,” said O’Brien. “It’s become a benchmark, if you will, a symbol of excellence that, above all, identifies someone as a leader.”
Over the years, the program has highlighted individuals from a wide range of businesses and industries, including nonprofits. In addition, a healthy number of honorees each year are true entrepreneurs, individuals who have taken risks, developed their own business plans, and built companies that in turn create jobs.
Fairly ranking each nominee was a challenge, Hebert said, but one she welcomed.
“I did a three-part process,” she explained. “The first night, I read everything — every single page. The second night, I scored them all. Then, on the third night, I rescored them to make sure the scores were consistent. I know how important it is to a lot of people. It’s an overwhelming honor and a distinguishing mark people want on their résumé. So I took it very seriously.”
Toledo took his time as well. “I had to go through a few times to make sure everyone got a fair shake,” he recalled, noting that he’d be impressed by an entry, then would have to go back and adjust his scale when he saw the “extraordinary” work of nominees further down the pile.
Toledo said community service was a very important factor in judging nominees. “I was really impressed with some of the individuals who were doing things before work, after work, on the weekends … spending time doing things they were passionate about, that often have little or nothing to do with their jobs.”
Toledo’s own involvement in the community — he serves on multiple boards and committees — was noted when he was honored in 2008, and he’s gratified to see that so many young professionals share the same enthusiasm.
“I do a good amount of nonprofit activities, some work-related and some that’s important to me on a personal level,” he told BusinessWest. “That means a lot to me, so it’s good to see so many people giving up their private time, their family time, to help out in the community.”
Michael Vann, a 2007 honoree who judged nominations for the class of 2011, said he built a spreadsheet to rank nominees according to the criteria that mattered most to him, including leadership and entrepreneurship.
By taking a completely objective approach, Vann, president and CEO of the Vann Group, was surprised when some nominees he was familiar with — and that he assumed would rank high — were surpassed in his ratings by others he was just learning about. “I didn’t play favorites,” he noted.
Set the World on Fire
Although he enjoyed his experience as an honoree six years ago, “I actually enjoyed being a judge even more,” Vann said, comparing it to being asked to be a baseball Hall of Fame voter.
Indeed, others who have transitioned from winner to judge say they took on the challenge partly because they’re proud of their association with the region’s most prestigious award for young professionals.
Hebert is especially gratified that not many financial-services professionals were chosen for her 40 Under Forty class in 2011, a year when, instead, many individuals from the nonprofit sector were chosen. Indeed, the makeup of each class is very different, but there’s usually at least some representation from fields including education, law, finance, media, medicine, creative arts, nonprofits, government, retail, restaurants, and green business, among others.
“We definitely have an abundance of talent, and we have a great network of people coming up in this area, who have chosen to stay here and really contribute to this region as a whole,” she added. “That’s huge; not every region in the country has that, so we’re fortunate here.”
As with the past six installments of 40 Under Forty, this year’s winners — chosen, again, by a judging panel of area business leaders and previous honorees — will be profiled in the April 22 issue of BusinessWest (always a must-read edition) and toasted at the annual gala reception on June 20.
The nomination form can be found HERE. It will appear in upcoming issues as well. The deadline for entries is Feb. 15.
Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]