The 2020 class of 40-under-40 winners shares a key trait: they never give up.
Noemi Perez learned grit at a young age, when she worked in the produce fields of east Collier County, picking tomatoes and other vegetables and then selling the goods at farmers’ markets.
That never-quit ethos has served Perez, 39, well: she’s now CEO of The Immokalee Foundation, which helps young people in the area build skills for professional careers. It’s also served Perez well in the pandemic — when up-and-coming business leaders in all fields, for-profit and nonprofit, have had to find innovative ways to solve problems and reach their goals.
That dedication to a cause — in many cases bigger than themselves — is a central trait inherent in all the winners of the Business Observer’s 2020 40-under-40 issue. The theme of this year’s issue is Game On, a recognition that 2020 has been a year where resilience, fortitude, and for sure, grit, is a must-have to win at business. Despite the obstacles, the pandemic hasn’t kept this group down.
For some, like Perez, pandemic-based dedication — her Game On — is largely doing a lot of what she was doing before, just a lot more of it, be it fundraising or communicating with donors. For many others, it’s shifting to a new way of working, at home and not on the road, and juggling kids and families in a way they’ve never done before.
And for some, their Game On is a whole new game. Consider LaKendria Robinson, director of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee’s Business Connect program. Robinson, 32, had to totally switch from in-person events to webinars and virtual calls. But she’s found ways to make it work, in some cases better than she ever imagined.
As in past years, the 2020 40-under-40 winners come from a diverse group of industries, backgrounds, colleges and even countries. On that last point, seven winners were born outside the United States, from Turkey to Peru to Sri Lanka. Several winners, in interviews with Business Observer editors, talked about how they were inspired by their parents, immigrants who came to the United States to chase the American Dream.
Nearly half the winners, 18, either run or launched their own company, from a real estate developer and a homebuilder to a protein pancakes pioneer and a radiation oncologist. One winner is a former NFL player: Vincent Jackson, a wide receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Diego Chargers for 12 years who now, at 37, runs several businesses in the region. Another winner, Ashley Drummonds, 32, of ABS Protein Pancakes, has appeared on Shark Tank.
One final commonality among many winners is a competitive drive, from games like Monopoly to new clients, deals and courtroom trials, and, for one 40-under-40 recipient, fantasy baseball. (Dr. Arie Dosoretz, 38, a physician and managing partner at Fort Myers-based Advocate Radiation Oncology, competed in the Fanduel World Fantasy Baseball Championship in 2019.)
Lindsey Epting, 36, an executive insurance adviser for Sarasota-based Al Purmort Insurance/Shepherd Insurance, sums up that spirit well. “I have never, from childhood, taken no for an answer,” she says. As an adult, Epting says she relishes challenges — her Game On. “Bring me something that doesn’t meet the mold,” she says. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Tampa Bay — Lakeland
Sarasota — Manatee