Our Wunderkinds

Meet the future superstars of Westchester’s business world—the county’s brightest, most accomplished, and most entrepreneurial professionals under age 30.



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,
White Plains 

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.”

 

Legally Bound
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.”

 

 

Cabinet Minister
Anthony Maucieri, 26
President and Founder, East Hill Cabinetry, Briarcliff Manor

In 2006, after graduating from SUNY Albany with degrees in sociology and business, Cortlandt Manor native Anthony Maucieri went to work for his father at the venerable Maucieri Marble & Tile, today in Briarcliff Manor. The experience gave him not only an interest in construction but a business idea.

By the following summer, Maucieri, then 23, had secured enough funding through Chase to found East Hill Cabinetry, a cabinet, kitchen, and bathroom design and installation company. In that first year, he brought in less than $100,000 in revenue, but, by 2010, he’d grown that figure to more than $650,000.

East Hill started as a one-man company. Today Maucieri has four full-time employees and works with more than 10 subcontractors. The 26-year-old lives in White Plains (he calls local sports bar Bob Hyland’s Sports Page his “old-man guilty pleasure”).

“Out of all the younger guys I’ve met, he’s the most mature in his thinking,” says Roger Dean, president of Rye Ridge Tile. “He thinks like a guy who’s been doing business for twenty-five years. I can’t say enough about him.”

Maucieri says he hopes to expand his showrooms to lower Westchester, Fairfield, and Manhattan eventually. His age, he says, is an advantage. “I’m at a place in life where I can take risks, financially and personally. Sometimes, being a little naïve is invaluable.”

 

The $500 Million Man
Brandon Tarpey, 24
First Vice President of Sales, Westchester County,
Massey Knakal Realty Services, New York

When New York City’s number-one commercial real estate firm set their sites on Westchester to expand their burgeoning empire, they chose 24-year-old Brandon Tarpey, who had been planning to become the next Donald Trump—since age 13. “It sounds nerdy,” admits Tarpey, “but I've always gotten an adrenaline rush just thinking about real estate.”

A commercial real estate broker who was a family friend stoked his nascent interest. “I’d go hang out with him at his office. I really loved what he did.” While studying finance and marketing at Wagner College, Tarpey founded the Wagner Student Investment Group, a student-run hedge fund. He also spent time in Dubai, founding an exchange program for future Wagner students to study global finance and investing there. In his senior year, he interned at Morgan Stanley, doing market risk assessments. Upon graduation, Tarpey founded a real estate consulting business for clients in the Middle East, while working for Hillswick Asset Management as a marketing and client-service specialist. “But I didn’t have much to do. So I went to them with some new ideas, and, in two years, I doubled their assets, raising over a half-billion dollars for them—unfortunately not on a commission-based structure.”

Goldman Sachs soon came calling. “I really thought I was going to spend the rest of my life at Goldman.” But late last year, “I got a call from Massey—they said they were looking to expand into Westchester, and they knew I was very familiar with Westchester. I spent all my free time reading about real estate." Now, he’s poised to create new fortunes in Westchester for Massey. “If I didn’t have to wear a suit every day, I really wouldn’t feel like I was working.”

 

Must Love Dogs
Michelle Brier, 28
Events and Marketing Manager, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Yorktown Heights

In 2006, after graduating college, Michelle Brier traveled to New Zealand, where she found a job with the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind and discovered that she loved working with guide dogs. “I was a horse rider, and I thought the horse and rider relationship was the most intimate human/animal connection,” she says. “But this is even deeper.”

Back stateside, she landed a job with Guiding Eyes for the Blind. In three years, Brier has grown the Guiding Eyes Golf Classic, the organization’s biggest fundraiser; it raised more funds last year than it had in the previous 32. She also increased the number of volunteers for its puppy-raising program, growing it from 75 percent of the organization’s goal number to 95 percent.

“Michelle Brier is an example of the very best type of nonprofit professional,” says Lisa Deutsch, the organization’s vice president for marketing and development. “Her passion is the key to her success."

Brier's own German Shepherd was recently admitted to the organization’s elite breeding colony. “She’ll be a mom to future generations of guide dogs,” Brier says. Is it hard to give up a dog that you’ve raised since puppyhood? “It’s always hard. But a puppy-raiser once told me that when she sees a blind person with a guide dog, they have such a look of independence. It’s like you gave them wings.”

 

The Social Networker
Lindsay A. Rego, 23
Oral Healthcare Consultant, GlaxoSmithKline, Hastings-on-Hudson

Lindsay Rego started marketing for teen clubs when she was 13. “I thought about how many kids were applying to college each year,” she says. “I wanted to figure out what I could do to stand out.” She later moved on to clubs in New York City, where she had a group of 30 promoters working under her, despite the fact that she was still in high school. She also finagled her way into being the youngest intern at New York advertising agency Berlin Cameron United. Her superiors thought she was a senior in college. She was a senior—but in high school.

Throughout college, she worked—bartending, babysitting, and interning. “I always had one job to make money and one for my resumé,” she says. One of those internships was at pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, where interns were ranked according to productivity. Out of 400 students, Rego ranked in the top ten percent. When a full-time spot opened up at the company’s Oral Healthcare division, Rego became one of GlaxoSmithKline’s youngest oral care consultants in North America. Today, she travels to dental offices, conventions, and hygiene schools, educating industry pros on such subjects as acid erosion and dry mouth—all while promoting products like Aquafresh and Poligrip. “She’s very much a go-getter,” says Peter Schreck, the division manager who hired her.

And a master networker. Rego has the most Facebook friends of any Westchester resident. "The more people you know, the more people you can influence.” She adds, "I have so much room to grow in the company. By the time I’m forty, I want to be president of expert sales Oral Healthcare—and I think I can make it.” In the meantime, there are perks to her present job. “The dentists are always trying to introduce me to their sons,” she says. “I take it as a compliment.”

 

The Brewmaster
Keith Berardi, 29
Owner, The Peekskill Brewery, Peekskill

“My brother’s always been a creative, unconventional person,” says Keith Berardi’s sister, Morgan. “So when he asked me to be a partner in the brewery, I said yes. I knew it would be an original place.”

Original and successful. Since the Peekskill Brewery opened in September 2008, annual revenues have increased around 30 percent each year and Berardi has tripled his brewing capacity, from producing seven kegs of barrel-fermented brew a week to 14.

The concept for the brew pub started on a cross-country trip Berardi took with a friend after graduating from Lakeland High School in Shrub Oak. "We would sneak into bars that had their own brew tanks on premise and that put equal weight on beer and food. There weren’t any places like these in Westchester or even Manhattan.” Once back home, Berardi took classes in international studies at Westchester Community College and City College of New York. The latter’s presence in the culinary bastion of Harlem was “a food broadening experience.” Berardi eventually worked in restaurants as a busboy, dishwasher, waiter, line cook, host. “I was focused on knowing the business from the ground up.”

By age 25, he was managing Susan’s Restaurant in Peekskill (today 12 Grapes Music & Wine Bar) and, by 26, he was at BLT Steak in White Plains, eventually as its maître d’. “I had to fill the restaurant, take care of VIPs, book private rooms, and meet with the Ritz-Carlton GM and BLT owners. My BlackBerry became my most important tool.” After two years at BLT, and just days after the Brewery’s official opening, Berardi decided to devote himself full-time to the new venture.

“We opened Peekskill Brewery in a Budweiser town. So we had to win a lot of hearts with our craft brews—that’s done by turning customers onto gateway beers like light lagers or cream ales. From there, we step them up to vanilla bourbon stouts or Indian Point ales. Before you know it, we’ve turned another everyman beer drinker into a beer geek. It’s my mission, my passion.”

 

The Entertainer
Mike Allan, 24
Owner, Extreme Music Productions, LLC, Ardsley

Mike Allan got his first set of turntables at age 13, and his first gig DJing the student-activity night at his middle school shortly thereafter. He went on to work with a professional DJ company at 14, putting in long hours weekends. (His parents often had to pick him up at 1 am or so.)

He broke out on his own at age 16 and still in high school. “I remember being at the bank trying to open a business account, and not being taken seriously," he says. Now, he does 40 to 60 events each year—with clients that include Harry Connick, Jr., Kelly Ripa, and Rob Thomas. Extraordinarily well. He recalls doing a wedding in New Rochelle, where the guests lifted up a guy in a chair who fell and "really hurt his jaw." The paramedics had to come. "But,” Allan remembers, “he was having so much fun, he refused to go to the hospital. He had his shirt unbuttoned, and there was gauze taped all over his jaw, but he stayed."

 

The “IT” Girl
Lauren Rella, 27
Lead IT Analyst, WESTMED Medical Group, Purchase

Soon after Lauren Rella's 2005 graduation from Penn State, she took a summer job as a file clerk in WESTMED’s medical records department. Soon, she scored a full-time, permanent position, quickly followed by two promotions—first to department coordinator and then to department supervisor. And then…

“I tried giving her a couple IT tasks, and she was exceptionally proficient at them,” recalls WESTMED’s Chief Information Officer Merin Joseph. “We usually hire only people with a degree in computer science or information systems. But here was someone who didn’t have that foundation but was able to pick it up and run with it all by herself.” So Joseph offered Rella the opportunity to reinvent herself in the IT department. In no time she became the 25-member department’s lead informatics analyst, overseesing the creation of customized financial and clinical reports for 800 people throughout the company. “She’s a key player in our IT team,” Joseph says.

Rella is scheduled to graduate this month with a master’s degree in information systems. “I see her becoming the manager as the company continues to grow and we hire more people,” Joseph says. “There’s definitely a bright career path ahead for her here.”

 

The $90 Million Woman
Joanna Rotonde, 25
Assistant Vice President/Acquisitions, Urstadt Biddle Properties Inc., Greenwich, CT

At 25, Joanna Rotonde is one of the youngest female officers of one of the oldest shopping center real estate investment trusts in the country, Urstadt Biddle Properties (UBP) Inc., which owns or manages more than 50 properties—most of them in Westchester. She rose up the ranks quickly by helping to identify and underwrite more than $90 million in acquisitions for the company since she started in 2008 (and we sure hope she gets travel points for that), with Westchester a primary area of responsibility.

“I called the company every week for three months to see about the job,” recalls the Westchester native, who lives in Rye Brook. “I talked to the president, the vice president, the receptionist. They told me my tenaciousness was one of the reasons they decided to finally hire me.”

Rotonde has always been driven. As a child, she helped her mom, a commercial real estate broker, make fliers. She got her first job at 14, working at a real estate law firm and, by 18, she’d earned her broker’s license. She worked her way through college, taking classes at night and on weekends.

“Honesty and tenacity are the cornerstones of my success,” she says. “I never give up.” Being a first-rate schmoozer also helps. “So much of what I do revolves around creating personal relationships.”

She declares, “I love my job and I enjoy coming to work each day. Even when I’m out with my friends, we’ll be driving and I’ll spot a building and say, ‘Hey, this one is for sale!’”

 

Jack of All Trades
Sean Gallagher, 24
Freelance Videographer, Editor, and Journalist plus Technology Staff Member at Jacob Burns Film Center, Pleasantville

Sean Gallagher landed a job as a web designer right out of SUNY Oneonta, moved to an apartment in Albany, and was well on the path to responsible adulthood, when he decided to buck conventional wisdom. “I did what everyone tells you not to do. I quit my job without finding another one first and moved back to Westchester.” Bad move? Not at all. He quickly landed at Patch.com, where he wrote local news articles and shot and edited videos, meeting a whole lot of people on the way. Many eventually became clients, including Nancy Shenker of the ONswitch, a marketing company in Yonkers.

“Sean produced a short film for me about the evolution of journalism.” she says. “He wrote it, starred in it, and shot it on a budget of less than two hundred dollars. At the age of twenty-four, he is already a soulful and accomplished filmmaker and poet.”

Gallagher caught the film bug early. “My parents got me a camera in high school.” While still in college, he was a co-director and editor for The Black List, a civil rights documentary about the longest, continually litigated civil rights case in American history, which was a finalist in the 2008 Westchester County Film Festival. He was the SUNY Oneonta Grand Slam Champion in 2008; his slam team went on to finish fourth in the nation at the College National Poetry Slam. In addition to his freelance career, he is a member of the technology staff at the Jacob Burns Film Center.

With all his accomplishments, what is he most proud of? “Having the guts to leave a steady job to do the work I love. The key is to have fun at work." Indeed, he is having so much fun at Jacob Burns, he believes he could very well still be there in 10 years. “I love it.”

“One day we will be seeing Sean at Sundance and/or on the Oscar stage,” Shenker says. “His range is amazing—from the short, corporate film to the heartfelt documentary. He is the ultimate ‘next generation storyteller,’ using a range of media—words, pictures, and electronic techniques—to educate, inspire, influence, and inform.”

 

The Charitable Hustler
Nat Mundy, 29
Vice President and Co-Founder, Grand Prix New York Racing, Mount Kisco

Nat Mundy of Bedford gave up a successful career as a Wall Street sales trader to take a chance on a dream he’d had since attending Hobart College: to open up a karting facility. (He had spotted one in London.) Thus, in 2007, he “gathered a team of business partners” and convinced Diamond Properties to pave 118,000 square feet of its newly purchased property in Mount Kisco, a former Grand Union warehouse, and launch Grand Prix New York, an indoor racecar-track-cum-entertainment-wonderland for kids and adults. “I’ve been a hustler since the age of eleven,” says Mundy, who has hustled over 250,000 people to GPNY in the last three years. “I worked at delis stocking shelves, and eventually started my own businesses in high school and college. I know Westchester like the back of my hand, and I used to hang out in the parking lot of the place we now call GPNY. I have worked hard to get to where I am today and love being part of the community.”

Mundy plans to continue to grow and develop GPNY. “In the next five to ten years, I see myself doing this interview once again for 914INC., reflecting on this moment and being proud of how far GPNY has come. Hopefully I’ll have grown up a bit, maybe have a family.”

 

All the Right Moves
Marissa Salemi, 29
Director and Owner, Breaking Ground Dance Center, Pleasantville

Marissa Salemi, whose mother and grandmother were both dancers, started taking toe-tapping classes at age four. By adolescence, she was criss-crossing the country to study with the best dancers and choreographers. “I was a dance nomad following these teachers around,” she says.

She received the Performing Arts Scholarship at Manhattanville College and started teaching dance for extra money. “I fell in love with passing on my passion.” She found space in Pleasantville and opened a dance studio in 2009. In its first year, her school grew from 60 to 100 students. Today, she has 14 or so instructors who teach more than 100 classes per week.

“Without Marissa, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” declares Larissa Crecco, who has danced in videos for Missy Elliott and Gnarls Barkley and performed on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew. “My daughter is there five or six days a week—and so is Marissa,” says Mechelle Brooks. “She’s so dedicated and so highly motivated.”

Does she watch those ever-popular dance-competition shows? You bet. “My personal favorite is Dancing with the Stars, because I like seeing how the professional dancers work with the people who haven’t danced before, and I like seeing that growth.”

 

The Numbers Cruncher
Michael Benjamin, 27
Controller, Certified Site Safety Inc., Purchase

Michael Benjamin, the youthful controller of Certified Site Safety in Purchase, a construction management firm, is not just good at crunching numbers—he’s passionate about it. “It’s in my nature to crunch and audit numbers,” says Benjamin, a Rye resident who earned a master’s with distinction in business marketing from the New York Institute of Technology in 2004. It’s that passion coupled with expertise—Benjamin has been working since the age of 16 and was previously the business manager at Lola, a private import retail management firm in Los Angeles) that convinced CSS President and CEO Penny Gianatasio to hire Benjamin in early 2010 and to entrust him with the company’s financial health.

Good move on CSS’s part. Since Benjamin came on board, the company has reduced overhead costs by changing to an electronic payroll system. “There’s less room for manual errors, which has kept our costs down,” he says. Benjamin has also helped reduce insurance costs. “I do what a typical CFO does for a large firm.”

 

The Human Touch
Christie Verschoor, 28
Human Resources Specialist,
Stew Leonard’s, Yonkers

When you’re in the top 20 of Fortune’s 100 best places to work and 82 percent of your management is recruited from within, it isn’t easy to get hired. But when Christie Verschoor interviewed for a position with Stew Leonard’s in 2005, she so wowed management, they made an exception. “With Christie, we found someone with a great attitude, tremendous organizational skills, and exceptional knowledge in HR—we knew we had to take a chance and test out bringing in someone from the outside,” says Jill Leonard Tavello, executive vice president of culture and communications for Stew Leonard’s. “And it has completely paid off for us.”

Verschoor tends to the HR needs of more than 600 employees (and upwards of 800 during the holidays season), including employee safety, wellness initiatives, and even store fun. "I’m the cheerleader for the store," she says. "Any time there’s something to celebrate or a party to be had, I’m the planner. A lot of our team members haven’t even been out of Yonkers. I remember a couple years ago taking a group horseback riding, and ninety percent of them had never seen a horse in person."

“Christie is smart, knowledgeable, loves a challenge, takes the initiative, and dives into everything she’s given to work on with enthusiasm,” says Karen Mazako, Stew Leonard’s vice president of human resources.

Apparently to her it isn't work. Says Verschoor: "I remember something Mr. Leonard, our founder, told me: ‘If you enjoy what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.’ I live and breathe that every day.”

 

The Smooth Operator
Ashley Vozza, 25
Operations Manager, Stark Office Suites, White Plains

In 2007, when Ashley Vozza interviewed for a receptionist position with Stark Office Suites President Adam Stark, he assured her that a young person could grow professionally with his company, which provides turnkey office set-up and operations services to professionals and entrepreneurs. Still, neither might have imagined that Vozza would be reporting directly to Stark and overseeing operations of the 18-person company in Westchester, Manhattan, and Fairfield in a little over a year.

Within a few months of becoming the company’s receptionist, she’d written an operational manual for employees and restructured their schedules to increase efficiency. She later re-structured the company’s invoicing procedure and by October of the same year she was promoted to site manager. By the time Stark Office Suites was opening a fourth location in Scarsdale in 2009, Vozza was meeting with contractors and training manager for the new space.

Today, she oversees operations in three counties, manages 15 of the firm’s 18 employees, and runs day-to-day operations in the company. “She’s really my right-hand person,” Stark says. “I think someone who is twenty-five and can be trusted with the level of responsibility that she has is outstanding.”

 

The Sandwich Maven
Kristin Hall, 26
Co-Owner, Melt Sandwich Shop, White Plains

Look up Melt Sandwich Shop on yelp, Urbanspoon, Chowhound, or TripAdvisor, and your screen will be flooded with positive online customer reviews. The 650-square-foot lunch spot in downtown White Plains opened in the summer of 2009 serving sandwiches filled with in-house slow roasted/ smoked meats and fish, fresh tossed salads, and grilled pizzas to 50 or so people a day. In not even two years later, the number is up to 250.

And 26-year-old co-owner Kristin Hall declares proudly, “We have done absolutely zero advertising.”

While she has no formal culinary training, Hall had worked in restaurants since high school, including at Mystic, Connecticut’s Azu Restaurant, which was then owned by the person who would become her husband and business partner, Bill Hall. “Working with Bill, my culinary interest grew exponentially.” The two worked on Melt’s three-step, build-your-own-sandwich concept together—“choose your bread, choose your meat, choose your combo topping”—and pooled their personal savings to bankroll the eatery.

“I don’t know if eighty-hour work weeks is a life that every twenty-six-year-old desires,” Hall says, “but it’s definitely one that I am more than passionate about.”

In 10 years, she hopes to own and operate numerous Melt locations across the country.