Meet the future superstars of Westchester’s business world—the county’s brightest, most accomplished, and most entrepreneurial professionals under age 30.
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Photography by Cathy Pinsky • Makeup by Valerie Guglielmo
Over the past several months, 914INC. has scoured the county seeking the most successful twentysomething business minds and entrepreneurs in Westchester. We called scores of companies. We emailed countless business organizations. We set up an online nomination form. And we asked and asked around. Our goal was to find men and women under age 30 who are, well, business wonders. We found 24. (Actually, 25, but the PR department of a certain retail company—you know who you are—doesn’t allow its employees to do press interviews, ever. Boo!). Over the following pages, get acquainted with Westchester’s future movers and shakers.
Go-To Real Estate Guy
Michael Snyder, 29
Associate Broker, Houlihan Lawrence, White Plains
Even though his mother was a county realtor, Michael Snyder never considered it as a profession for himself. “I wanted to be a stockbroker, make lots of money, and lead a glamorous lifestyle of courtside seats and power lunches,” says Snyder, a White Plains resident. But during his first semester at Hofstra University, his mother died suddenly of cancer, and Snyder took a leave of absence from school and got a job at Agar Truck Sales in Yonkers. Five years later, he took a few courses at Westchester Community College and realized “higher learning wasn’t for me.” It was then he decided to try his mother’s vocation. “I’m a good networker like she was.” He got his license and, in 2004, his first job at Century 21 Future Homes in the Bronx.
Today, he is an award-winning realtor (awards and recognition include Prudential Presidents Circle 2008, Westchester Male Executives of the Year 2008, and Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty Achievement Award 2009), selling properties including multi-million dollar residences at the Ritz-Carlton, Westchester, in White Plains. “I’d found my niche, what I’m good at,” says Synder, who completed a career-high 24 transactions in 2010. There are no courtside seats or power lunches for Snyder, just a soon-to-be mortgage (he and his wife are set to close on a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath center hall Colonial in the Highlands section of White Plains), a website (michaelsnyderhomes.com), and big 10-year plans. “I hope to have my own team of agents to take out the buyers and manage listings so I have time to spend with my family. And I want people to answer the question ‘Who’s your broker?’ with ‘Michael Snyder. He’s my go-to guy.’”
Social Media Butterfly
Kristen Ruby, 23
CEO and Founder, Ruby Media Group,
Kristen Ruby graduated from Boston University’s College of Communications less than two years ago. In that time, the Waccabuc resident, social media and PR maven, and personal branding consultant has led workshops at Columbia University, lectured to Microsoft, written for the likes of Forbes and the Wall Street Journal (she blogs for Westchester Magazine too), and, oh yes, founded Ruby Media Group. “I never stop working,” she says.
“She’s incredible,” declares David Cingari, 49, founder of David’s Soundview Catering in Stamford, Connecticut. “She’s accessible twenty-four/seven. If I want something posted, it’s up there in seconds. She’s incomparable even to people my age.”
Ruby says she wants to grow her business to the national level over the coming years. “You have to conquer the world when you’re young and you haven’t been run down by corporate America.”
The Transition Expert
Caitlin Snyder, 28
Associate Director of Alumni Relations and Student Engagement, Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry
Caitlin Snyder’s success in helping create Mercy College’s PACT (Personalized Achievement Contract) program to increase freshman retention rates led to her current position with the college’s Office of Institutional Advancement, where she works to encourage young alums to reconnect with the college. It is certainly a natural progression, from working to help freshmen stay at Mercy to keeping recent graduates involved as well.
“The PACT program combined a variety of student services— academic advising, counseling, financial aid—to help ensure a more positive first-year experience,” Snyder says. And a more positive freshman year leads to better retention rates, a challenge all colleges face. It seems to be working. “Our PACT students are staying in college at a twenty percent higher rate than non-PACT students,” reports Andy Person, executive director of Institutional Effectiveness.
Now Snyder’s helping recent graduates become re-involved with the college. “One way to do that is to have our juniors and seniors meet up with recent alums for job advice and career mentoring. I’ve found that being young is definitely a positive in this position—both students and new alumni can better relate to someone closer to their age.” Particularly when that person was recently named one of Mercy College’s 60 Successful Alumni, where she stands in good company with MTV COO Alex Ferrari.
The Magic Touch
Vinny DePonto, 24
President/CEO, Vanishing Vinny Productions, Dobbs Ferry
When Vinny DePonto was six, his dad handed him a shoebox full of his late grandfather’s belongings. Combing through the box, DePonto discovered his grandfather’s penchant for performing magic tricks to entertain the family. “He had these old tricks from the thirties and forties in there,” DePonto recalls. “My dad showed me one, and it was just unbelievable to me.”
DePonto quickly mastered a slew of tricks to perform for his family. “I started to do a show at every Thanksgiving. It became a tradition.”
At age 13, he founded Vanishing Vinny Productions—“I put up signs in the local delis and stores advertising a magician for hire”—and began performing shows...for pay. As a student at Manhattanville, he performed to sold-out audiences at the campus theater. At 19, he came in third place at the annual 300-plus magicians' competition held in Las Vegas. That same year, he won the prestigious Lance Burton Award for Excellence in Magic. In 2009, his one-man show, Mysterious Delights, had a sold-out run in Brooklyn; another run is planned for this year.
Today, his eponymous production company employs three and produces upwards of 15 shows a month for big-name corporate clients including IBM, Gap, and United Way; colleges such as NYU, Penn State, and UConn; local restaurants including Rainwater Grill, and even municipalities (DePonto headlined the entertainment at Hastings-on-Hudson’s annual summer street fair last year, and he has been asked back this year). “Vinny was amazing,” says Irene DellaCorte-Dulin, manager of support services for PepsiCo in Purchase. “He performed at our annual holiday event last year, and absolutely stunned everyone."
He wants to stun as many as he possibly can. "I want to change the way people perceive magic. A lot of people still think top hats and doves. I want to make magic relevant to my own time.”
Paint By Numbers
Paul Viggiano, 28
Director of Business Administration & Marketing, A.G. Williams Painting Company, Pelham
Paul Viggiano of Yonkers began working at Pelham’s A.G. Williams Painting Company when he was in high school, continued during college vacations, and, once he transferred to SUNY Farmingdale, would rush to the office at 6:30 am to shadow his mentors, owners George and Arthur Williams.
“I felt like I grew up in it,” says Viggiano, who joined the company as director of business administration and marketing upon his 2005 graduation. Two years later, A.G. Williams increased sales from $3.2 million to $4.4 million. Today, Viggiano manages the company’s new Connecticut division. “Paul’s an incredibly smart, talented individual,” says Arthur Williams, president of A.G. Williams. “He’s miles ahead of his peers."
Setting the Stage
Jessica Malone-Atkinson 27
Founder and Creative Director, The Spark Group LLC, Mohegan Lake
Jessica Malone put herself through SUNY Purchase by waitressing for a catering company. She also racked up an impressive roster of paid internships and gigs, including six months with Disney Entertainment in Orlando, a few Broadway productions with famed set designer Robert Brill, scenic painting on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and designing the props for Michael Bloomberg’s annual summer party for his eponymous company. “Bloomberg’s parties opened my eyes to the idea that just scenic design was not what I wanted to do,” Malone says. “I wanted to have more creative control over the production.”
After graduating with a degree in theatrical scene design, Malone in 2007 joined Victoria Dubin Events in Purchase as an associate event planner. By 2010, she set up shop for herself, launching The Spark Group—in the middle of the Great Recession. “I thought that, if I could create a successful company on the heels of a recession, it would only continue to flourish in the future.” And flourish it has. Currently, she has 20 clients, including Macy’s, and The Westchester, and a staff of five.
The company scored a huge coup when it was selected by Macy’s to produce the department store’s iconic Christmas window displays for seven of its stores, including its flagship. “It was a huge honor," she says. Macy’s couldn’t have been more pleased. “I look forward to working on future projects with Jessica,” says Paul Olszewski, Macy’s director of windows. So, too, does Simon Malls, which owns The Westchester and The Galleria—another happy client. “Jessica is one in a million,” says Paula Kelliher, Simon’s area director of mall marketing. “Jessica knows what ‘bells and whistles’ to bring to an event.”
A Brisk Ascent
Jamal Henderson, 29
Brand Manager, PepsiCo, Purchase
Talk about a social networker. In just two months, Jamal Henderson’s efforts on behalf of Pepsi’s Brisk Iced Tea brand resulted in a 3,100(!) percent increase in social media presence, reports his manager Eric Fuller. “Jamal is a top performer,” Fuller says. “He was a key contributor to the dramatic turnaround of the Brisk brand—a fifty-seven-percent sales volume increase—and improvement in appeal to the twenty-year-old-plus male consumer target.”
“Brisk was a sleepy brand, launched twenty years ago,” says Henderson, a Cornell undergrad with an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg. “We went from zero to the Super Bowl in just eighteen months.”
Henderson and his team made the packaging edgier with cool graphics, garnering a 2010 American Package Design Award; they launched a slew of new flavors; and they spread the word. “We tried a lot of things—grassroots stuff, like having Brisk reps on colleges, evangelizing for the brand. We went from having no Facebook page to having four-hundred-and-sixty-thousand fans; we started a partnership with foursquare. We leveraged the digital in a big way.” And they revived and freshened the brand’s iconic Claymation commercials with a new series featuring celebs from Eminem and Ozzy Osbourne to Danny Trejo tied together with the slogan “That’s Brisk, baby!” They’ve all gone viral.
“I’m passionate about branding, finding ways to connect to culture and digital media—and connecting back with the consumer.”
Gina M. DeCrescenzo, 28
Staff Attorney, Child Advocacy Unit Legal Services of the Hudson Valley (LSHV), White Plains
Gina M. DeCrescenzo always loved children and always wanted to be an attorney. It didn’t take her long to combine those two interests—successfully. After graduating from Pace University School of Law in 2007, DeCrescenzo joined Legal Services of Hudson Valley, a nonprofit organization that serves the region’s least fortunate residents. She initially worked in its housing unit but eventually—and quickly—worked her way into the child advocacy unit where today she practices special-education law.
As a one-woman department, DeCrescenzo is responsible for all special-education cases in Westchester, Putnam, and Rockland Counties. “I represent children with disabilities and their families in lawsuits against school districts to ensure that they provide the necessary services and programs a child needs to succeed in a school setting,” she says. “Every child is entitled to a free and appropriate public education.”
Her mentor and colleague, Mary Jo Whateley, a senior staff attorney in the Newburgh office, says: “Gina is beyond amazing as an advocate. I see her being a top litigator in this area of law in a very short time.”
Where does DeCrescenzo see herself in the future? She dreams of opening a school for special-needs kids—and ultimately writing the book on special-education law. “I have very, very big dreams for myself,” she says.
A Prominent Idea
Noel D’Allacco, 29
Founder, Operation Prom, Bronxville
When Noel D’Allacco was a senior in college, she worked as an event planner, often learning that bridesmaids had no intention of ever again wearing their bridemaid dresses. D’Allacco rounded up 10 bridesmaid dresses and took them to her alma mater in Yonkers to be reused as prom dresses. The dresses were warmly received, and she continued to collect donations—receiving more and more every year—until, after the fifth year, she turned her efforts into an official nonprofit. Last year, Operation Prom received 1,200 dresses and distributed them to students who had demonstrated good grades and financial need in Westchester, Rockland, and the Bronx. (Operation Prom also awards a $1,000 scholarship annually to a student who has exceptional leadership qualities.) D’Allacco’s efforts have won her recognition from the New York State legislators and the Zeta Phi Beta sorority, which put her name on a chair at a school the organization sponsors in Africa.
And yet, 1,200 dresses are not enough. D’Allacco has plans for expansion. She created partnerships with Maybelline and the Westchester County Department of Social Services to extend the reach of the program locally, and she’s working to expand it nationwide.
And this year, she launched a for-profit business, promologist.com, that has "more high-end dresses," she says. And she’s passing her experience on to the next generation of business leaders, teaching event planning, marketing, and business part-time at the College of Westchester.
As for her own prom dress: “It was a simple, long, gold dress. I still have it in my closet. I keep wondering if I should donate it, but my prom was ten years ago, so I’m not sure if it’s still in style.”