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Columbia Business Monthly

Columbia Business Monthly 50 Most Influential and the Hall of Fame

Columbia Business Monthly celebrates another year of honoring the region’s most influential people. The selection of our 50 individuals is a result of staff research and community nominations.

We also are celebrating our fourth year of selecting entrants to our Hall of Fame. This year, we’re adding five new members who have continued to make a lasting difference in the Midlands.

The Hall of Fame

Donald W. Beatty

Chief Justice

South Carolina Supreme Court

Justice Donald W. “Don” Beatty is a native of Spartanburg, South Carolina. He attended public schools in Spartanburg County and is a cum laude graduate of South Carolina State University. 

After his active duty military service as a commissioned officer, he continued his education and earned a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law, Columbia.

Admitted to the practice of law in South Carolina in 1979, he began his legal career by working for the Neighborhood Legal Assistance Program, thus fulfilling a personal commitment to use his legal training to benefit those who could not afford paid legal representation.

Following his tenure with the Neighborhood Legal Assistance Program, he established a private practice in his home town, Spartanburg. Beatty maintained a commitment to public service with his election to Spartanburg City Council, later moving to the state level with his election to the South Carolina House of Representatives.

His dedication to his community led to his service on the Piedmont Legal Services Board of Directors, Spartanburg Residential Development Corporation, Southside Neighborhoods Association Partnership, Boys and Girls Club, BB&T Advisory Board, BMW minority Advisory Board/BMW Construction Project, the Commission On Continuing Legal Education, Access To Justice Commission, the Sentencing Reform Commission and many community organizations.

He has received numerous awards for community service and leadership.

After five years of service in the South Carolina General Assembly, he was elected to the Circuit Court in 1995 where he served as a trial judge until he was elevated to the Court of Appeals in 2003. In 2007,  Beatty was elected as an associate justice for the South Carolina Supreme Court.

In May 2016, Beatty was elected by the South Carolina General Assembly to become the next chief justice of the Supreme Court of South Carolina. He began serving as chief justice on Jan. 1, 2017.

Carl Blackstone 

President and CEO

Columbia Chamber of Commerce

Since 2014, Carl Blackstone has led the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, advocating for its 1,200 partners in the regional community.

He oversaw the Chamber’s relocation of its headquarters to the booming Main Street District and stayed on top of efforts to inform business owners of resources and ever-changing regulations related to Covid-19. Part of that effort came in the form of regular Zoom meetings dubbed Coffee with Carl. Partners had an opportunity to ask questions and hear updates, which were later posted on social media and YouTube.

With an extensive background in government relations, Blackstone calls for accountability and transparency in all business practices and of all elected officials. His background includes serving as the government relations advisor for clients of Copper Dome Strategies, LLC, a subsidiary of Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd, P.A., and acting as senior legislative advisor to Governor Mark Sanford. Previously, Blackstone worked as the manager of state government relations for the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce.

Blackstone currently serves on the national Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) Board of Directors. In 2021, he and his staff will continue to navigate these uncertain times while promoting business-friendly practices and facilitating a prosperous climate for all. 

Peter Brews

Professor of Management

Dean of the Darla Moore School of Business

His professional career started in investment banking/corporate finance and then moved into higher education, where after earning graduate degrees in both law and business and two doctorate degrees, he taught business law, economics, finance, corporate strategy/strategic management and international business while conducting research at three leading universities (the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Duke University and UNC – Chapel Hill). 

His accomplishments range from world class researcher/teacher as individual contributor (he holds multiple awards for both), to academic entrepreneur in the proposal and leadership of innovative high value academic programs, to transformational leader of DMSB, the 6,100-student premier academic brand of the University of South Carolina. 

By transforming its 5,300-student undergraduate program and restructuring its No. 1 ranked IMBA program, Brews has better positioned DMSB to compete. Equipping students to disrupt through data and now achieving stellar student outcomes, DMSB may be the first business school in the United States to ensure every undergraduate leaves data proficient, analytically capable and functionally based, ready for high-value complex 21st-century work. Further, with five of seven departments in the top 25 worldwide for research productivity, DMSB also leads in research, teaching and student services.

Melanie Huggins

Executive Director

Richland Library

Melanie Huggins is the executive director of Richland Library in Columbia, which received the 2017 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor. 

She has received recognition from several local and state entities. Her work is influenced by her belief that libraries are uniquely positioned to make communities more livable, resilient and inclusive. 

She is a recognized leader and speaker in the library profession, having held trustee positions with both the Urban Libraries Council and the Public Library Association, and has recently been named incoming president for PLA. 

She is a Liberty Fellow, member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network and a member of the spring 2018 class of Furman University’s Riley Diversity Leaders Institute. 

Huggins has served as past chair of the TogetherSC Board; past president of the University of South Carolina’s University Associates Board, and former City Center Partnership board member.

Pamela Lackey

Former President

AT&T South Carolina

When Pamela Lackey was named Columbia Chamber of Commerce Ambassador of the Year in 2018, Tim Arnold, president and CEO of Colonial Life, the award’s sponsor, said this: “Whether it be in business, arts or education, Pam uses her skills and knowledge to make positive changes that last.” 

Lackey became president of AT&T South Carolina in 2007; she retired in 2018, but her work on the job and in the community will undoubtedly last. With a master’s degree in library science, Lackey was a professional educator prior to her telecommunications career. Naturally, she was dedicated to perpetuating success. Joining AT&T’s predecessor company, BellSouth, in 1997, Lackey was instrumental in establishing the state’s first broadband network to provide high-speed internet services to schools and libraries. 

Lackey’s history of service includes numerous leadership roles in community and civic affairs. In 2019, the United Way of the Midlands named her Humanitarian of the Year. Currently, she is co-chair of TransformSC, an education initiative that brings business leaders, educators, students, parents and policymakers together to transform public education so that every student graduates prepared for careers, college and citizenship. She was the first female to chair the Palmetto Business Forum and the South Carolina Ports Authority.

50 Most Influential

John Andoh

Executive Director & CEO

Central Midlands Regional 

Transit Authority (The COMET)

Providing transit services to the Midlands is a passion for Andoh, who was already interning in public transit at age 13. The COMET board recently reviewed progress based on vision and strategic plans adopted in 2010 and 2015; COMET service has expanded throughout Lexington and Richland Counties, increasing ridership to more than 2.7 million annual trips. Additionally, they’ve provided continuous essential travel service throughout the pandemic,  upgraded the fleet with environmentally responsible and technologically progressive equipment and partnered with Uber and Lyft to connect low-income residents in food desert areas and provide transit during hours when it isn’t cost-effective to run bus service.

Roslyn Clark Artis


Benedict College

Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis became the 14th president of Benedict College in 2017, the first female president in the 147-year history of the college. She has led an unprecedented transformation of the institution that has earned national recognition, including the 2019 ACE Fidelity Institutional Transformation Award and the 2019 HBCU of the Year Award. In the spring, the college helped struggling students get home amid the shutdown, and in the fall, Benedict adopted the bubble concept with universal testing, keeping Covid-19 numbers low as many colleges struggled.

Tod Augsburger

President & CEO

Lexington Medical Center

In 2015, Augsburger became the CEO of Lexington Medical Center, making him one of only four people to serve in that position in the 44 years since the hospital was established. Recently, LMC became one of 30 healthcare organizations in the country to receive HeartCARE Center National Distinction of Excellence recognition from the American College of Cardiology (ACC). In 2020, LMC became the first hospital in the state and the second in the country with an accredited ACC cardiac cath lab and the ACC’s first certified transcatheter valve program in South Carolina, one of 14 nationally.

Linda Bell

State Epidemiologist


As the first healthcare facilities in the state began receiving the Covid-19 vaccine, Bell issued a statement in December saying, “When it’s my turn, I’ll be among the first waiting in line to roll up my sleeve and get vaccinated.” A number of South Carolina organizations including medical groups signed an open letter last summer in support of Bell to draw more attention to her warnings about the virus. She has attempted to dissuade skepticism about the vaccine and has been a consistent champion of strict safety measures, underscoring the need to wear masks and maintain physical distancing even after the vaccine is more readily available. 

James A. Bennett

South Carolina Mid-South Area Executive

First Citizens Bank

In 2020, Bennett became the first African American to be elected chairman of the South Carolina Bankers Association. He is the area leader for a 30-branch region stretching from Camden to Augusta, Ga. In a competitive industry challenged by regulatory compliance and rapidly changing technology, Bennett prioritizes the security of customers’ accounts and their satisfaction. His community involvement includes serving on the board of Claflin University, SCANA Corp. and Palmetto Health Alliance.

Sue Berkowitz


S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center

For more than 30 years, attorney Berkowitz has been a voice and a source of help and hope for South Carolinians struggling with hunger, healthcare, public benefits and more. The Appleseed Legal Justice Center provides valuable information and works through the court system, the legislature and other agencies to bolster low-income residents. In September 2020, the organization joined others in advocating for a temporary hold on evictions. As the order was set to expire at the end of December, the Appleseed Center presented extensive information about tenants’ rights on its website and offered an online tool to help tenants’ develop declaration paperwork to submit to landlords.

Rodney Blevins


Dominion Energy South Carolina

Blevins, who serves on the boards of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, the Charleston Chamber and the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance, oversees Dominion Energy’s regulated utility in South Carolina, covering over a million electric and gas customer accounts. In 2020, Dominion’s solar portfolio was ranked third by S&P Global Market Intelligence among utility holding companies in the United States. With a goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, they are shifting from fuel sources such as coal and investing heavily in low- and no-carbon energy such as natural gas, nuclear and solar. Among the 13 largest utilities in the Southeast, Dominion Energy South Carolina ranks second – with 807 solar watts per customer, which is 2.5 times the average for the region.

Mary Beth Sims Branham, AIA

Principal and Vice President

LS3P - Architecture Interiors Planning

Principal and Vice President Mary Beth Sims Branham, AIA, serves as Columbia office leader for the architecture, interiors and planning firm LS3P. With more than 35 years of experience in designs for office/commercial, educational, healthcare and civic clients around the state, Branham is highly involved in professional and community outreach activities and served as the 2004 president of the South Carolina American Institute of Architects. Branham opened LS3P’s Columbia office in May 2004 to expand the firm’s presence in the state capital. Celebrating its 16th anniversary in 2020, the office has become one of the premier architecture and interior design offices in the Midlands. Notable projects in the community include the new S.C. Law Enforcement Division’s Forensic Lab, the Richland Two Institute of Innovation, the UofSC Pastides Alumni Center, the Fireflies/Segra Stadium (designed by LS3P in association with Populous), the AllSouth Federal Credit Union Headquarters and the City of Columbia Cannon Parking Garage.

Peter Bristow


First Citizens Bank

During 2020, First Citizens Bank has worked diligently to assist the customers that they’ve built strong relationships with over the years. For example, the bank helped more than 5,300 customers in South Carolina secure funding through the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for a total of $581 million. This funding allowed these businesses to meet their short-term ongoing expenses, including payroll. Through the First Citizens Foundation, the bank has given approximately $730,000 to support local nonprofits and community groups in South Carolina.  First Citizens also received a total of 20 prestigious Greenwich Awards in the areas of small business banking and middle market banking.

Renee Brooks


SouthState Bank

Brooks has spent 24 of her 28 years in banking with SouthState. In 2020, SouthState Bank announced a merger of equals with CenterState Bank that created one of the leading financial institutions in the Southeast. Under the leadership of Brooks and the SouthState executive team, the company has earned accolades such as being named in the top 50 of Forbes’ 100 Best Banks in America and being the only bank in S.C. named Best-in-State Banks by Forbes. Brooks started at SouthState as a branch manager and took on roles of increasing responsibility within the organization to learn as much as possible. She has served as Commercial Banking Manager, Head of Retail Banking, Corporate Secretary, Chief Risk Officer and Chief Administrative officer prior to her current role.

John Carrington

CEO and Founder


Responding to direct pleas from healthcare workers for personal protective equipment, Carrington rapidly mobilized his company in the fight against Covid-19. He started ZVerse in 2013 and became known for 3D printing software and innovative problem-solving. Shifting focus, he moved from 3D printing to injection molding, completed the first manufacturing run in 14 days and shipped 4 million reusable protective face shields for healthcare workers by early June. ZVerse then introduced a new generation of protective face shields for workers in service industries.

Robert L. Caslen Jr.


University of South Carolina

In his first State of the University Address in 2020, Caslen, UofSC’s 29th president, announced a tuition freeze for the 2021-22 school year and said freshman class numbers were “remarkable” given early projections about the pandemic’s effect on enrollment. Crediting many others for their dedication, he noted that in fiscal year 2020, faculty garnered $279.5 million in research and sponsored awards funding, the sixth record total in six years, and the Office of the Vice President for Research invested more than $877,000 in Covid-19 research by faculty. He also stated that the university had made a historic investment in IT under the leadership of Vice President Doug Foster and that the pandemic had catapulted the university to develop the infrastructure that future students will demand.  

Mike Crapps

President & CEO

First Community Bank

In 1995, Crapps and Jim Leventis founded First Community Bank with the intention of giving local business owners the support and individual care they deserve. Today Crapps points to quality employees who know how to be nice when measuring the bank’s success. Customers are used to in-person conversations, often over a cup of coffee—or a bag of popcorn on Fridays. Although they haven’t been able to interact that way throughout the Covid crisis, Crapps and his employees have provided timely information on pandemic assistance and listening ears for those navigating their options. With more than 20 locations and 250 employees, Crapps continues to assert that everyone matters and service is essential. 

Tameika Isaac Devine   

Council Member

Columbia City Council

Devine is a founding partner in the law firm of Jabber & Isaac, PA, where she practices in the areas of real estate, probate and business transactions. The first African-American female to serve on Columbia City Council, she is the founder of The Possibilities Institute, a peak performance consulting, coaching and public speaking firm that specializes in working with women leaders and mothers. Her perspectives of work-life integration have been spotlighted by Forbes, Jet, The New York Times and more.

Bobby Donaldson


Center for Civil Rights History and Research, University of South Carolina

In the wake of the George Floyd protests and the racial tumult that characterized 2020, Donaldson’s scholarly and personal insights were treasured by many. An associate professor of history and African American studies, he is an expert on African American life and culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In a series of articles posted on the university’s website, Donaldson said, “While these histories are featured in the Civil Rights Center’s ‘Justice for All’ online exhibit and in an upcoming permanent display in the Booker T. Washington High School Auditorium building, we strive to do more beyond the campus to connect these past events with contemporary struggles. That is precisely why we have worked in public schools, trained teachers and conducted workshops, tours and presentations with youth groups, churches, state agencies and social justice organizations.”

Bill Ellen


Experience Columbia


With hundreds of canceled events in 2020, Ellen and the staff of the organization that operates the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center and promotes travel to the region remained focused on their mission of strengthening the area’s economy by marketing and selling it as a premier destination for conventions, tradeshows, special events and leisure travel. Hemispheres, United Airlines’ in-flight publication, named Columbia the country’s Coolest Up-and-Coming City in 2020. When large public gatherings and normal travel patterns resume, Columbia is ready for more visitors to enjoy what the magazine called its “blend of old-school charm and urban cool.” 

Dan Ellzey

Executive Director

S.C. Department of Education and Workforce (DEW)

In a November 2020 news release, Ellzey said his agency’s dual focus since the pandemic began had been helping those in need temporary financial assistance with unemployment insurance benefits while simultaneously looking for new ways to promote workforce opportunities. Noting a significant decrease in unemployment, he also pointed to 81,000 jobs posted in the SC Works Online Services (SCWOS) portal. A nationally recognized employment and labor attorney with experience centered around economic and workforce development, he stated, “Ultimately we all understand that prosperity for the citizens of South Carolina equals prosperity for the state.” 

John W. Folsom

President & CEO

Colliers International South Carolina

Folsom is president and CEO of the state’s largest commercial real estate firm, one that is tied to major economic development projects. In October, it was announced that Colliers’ Columbia industrial brokerage team would handle leasing and marketing efforts for Magnus Development’s newest industrial speculative development, Midway Logistics VI, in Lexington County Industrial Park. Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE) and Magnus Development Partners also announced Colliers’ involvement with 803 Industrial Park, a new speculative industrial development adjacent to CAE, consisting of nearly one million square feet. CAE Executive Director, Mike Gula, citing the experience and industry knowledge of both Magnus and Colliers, said that the economic possibilities and regional benefits are endless.

Tiffany Freeman   

Senior Public Counsel for Government Affairs

BlueCross BlueShield of S.C.

Freeman was named by Gov. Henry McMaster to the 29-person advisory panel known as accelerateSC in April 2020. Their task was to address the havoc caused by the pandemic and generate solutions for South Carolina’s economy. Freeman’s experience was fitting for the multifaceted group. A former administrative hearing officer for SCDEW, she served for nearly six years as an assistant solicitor in the Seventh Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office. In 2010, she became an associate with Sowell Gray Stepp & Laffitte in Columbia. She also served as a staff attorney for the South Carolina Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Chuck Garnett

S.C. Division CEO


Garnett began his banking career in 1984. In December 2003, he was appointed president and CEO of NBSC, which continued to operate under its legacy name until June 2018, when the bank was rebranded as Synovus. He says their bankers believe in giving back to their communities as well as playing a role in helping their communities grow and prosper. Born in Columbia and raised in Charleston, he has vast knowledge of the state and strives to further develop it and support its people. 

Mike Gula

Executive Director

Columbia Metropolitan Airport


Gula has stated that he once dreamed of being a fighter pilot, but Columbia residents are thankful he’s piloting efforts to grow CAE’s services and partner with community leaders to drive development in the Midlands. In late 2020, it was announced that Silver Airways would be offering low-cost flights from Columbia to Florida. Gula was pleased to add a low-cost carrier to the small hub airport and is also looking forward to the positive impact of 803 Industrial Park, a new speculative industrial development adjacent to CAE.

Mark Hood

President & CEO

Hood Construction

Hood founded his firm, a full-service construction management company, in 1986. Headquartered in Columbia, the company employs professionals with deep experience in all facets of their industry. Hood’s business philosophies are best characterized by his focus on strategic analysis of the methods and means of the construction and project management process. He has excelled in creating long-term relationships by consistently working to build winning teams focused on optimized cost and total quality measures. His community involvement includes serving in leadership roles for Camp Cole, Hammond School, Citizens For Sound Conservation, The Oliver Gospel Mission, The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Shandon Baptist Church and many others.

Dr. Tim Hardee


S.C. Technical College System

As president of the South Carolina Technical College System, Hardee oversees programs designed to attract new companies to the state and provide comprehensive workforce solutions for them. South Carolina’s technical colleges have 160,000 students enrolled in degree, diploma, certificate and continuing education programs at 16 campuses and 64 satellite campuses statewide. As the state’s largest higher education system, the technical system’s schools serve more than a quarter million South Carolinians each year, and its leaders are dedicated to accessible and affordable quality education.

Sara Hazzard

President & CEO

South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance

The South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance is the state’s preeminent industrial trade association, working on behalf of manufacturers in South Carolina to advance policies and provide services that help create economic strength and jobs. Since the coronavirus began, Hazard said the SCMA has continued advocating on their behalf and has adjusted to the virtual environment to provide the latest information about responding to Covid-19. She is confident SCMA and its member companies will continue to be leaders and innovators in South Carolina’s manufacturing community. She is a member of the South Carolina Economic Developers’ Association, an executive committee member of the South Carolina Coalition for Lawsuit Reform and a board member for the Palmetto Center for Women.

Robert Hughes III


Hughes Development Corporation

Returning to Greenville to work in the family business in 2012, Hughes led the acquisition of the Bank of America Tower and had a leading role in major developments projects such as Greenville ONE and Aloft Greenville. Hughes Development Corporation was also responsible for the 181-acre BullStreet District in Columbia, a walkable lifestyle district  with amenities including retail, entertainment, residential and office space. Changes in the retail industry due to Covid-19 warrant taking the project in stages, but Hughes is confident they will still attract the type of businesses they hope to see while navigating market conditions.

Jim Hodges


McGuireWoods Law Firm

President and CEO

McGuireWoods Consulting

Former Governor

State of South Carolina

“On a professional basis, 2020 was a great year,” Hodges said. He was selected for Best Lawyers in America for the 13th consecutive year, and was chosen Lawyer of the Year for Government Relations for Columbia by Best Lawyers. In addition to his work, he continued to serve on the board of the S.C. Institute of Medicine and Public Health and the Business Partnership Foundation at the UofSC Moore School of Business.

Thornton Kirby

President & CEO

South Carolina Hospital Association

In 2020, Thornton’s team at SCHA worked with Gov. McMaster, DHEC, the SC Emergency Management Division and the National Guard to coordinate the statewide response to Covid-19. In addition, the Hospital Association awarded its 1,000th Zero Harm Award in 2020 to recognize hospitals that have worked to eliminate harm to S.C. patients.

Ivory N. Mathews

Chief Executive Officer

Columbia Housing & Cayce Housing

Under Mathews’ leadership, Columbia Housing is putting residents first, rebuilding public trust, increasing organizational efficiency and creating a climate of transparency and accountability. Using these principles, Columbia Housing has launched an aggressive portfolio repositioning and redevelopment strategy with a focus on the preservation and creation of quality affordable housing for the families they serve. She serves as senior vice president of the Carolinas Council of Housing, Redevelopment & Codes Officials, as well as on the legislative committee of the Southeastern Regional Council of NAHRO (National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials) and the City of Columbia’s Affordable Housing Taskforce.

Nicky McCarter


Defender Services

Founded in 1958, Defender Services has expanded to 11 states, providing janitorial needs as well as staffing, security, landscaping material handling and more. The company has been able to offer cleaning and disinfecting guidance for companies grappling with Covid-19. He was named to accelerateSC, a group named by Gov. Henry McMaster to lead the state’s Covid-19 response. 

Gov. Henry McMaster


State of South Carolina

McMaster has announced thousands of new jobs and billions in capital investment since he became governor in 2017. He dealt with shutting down schools and businesses statewide in the spring, and in the fall months, urged superintendents throughout the state to keep schools open. While he stopped short of a mask mandate, he encouraged masking, social distancing and other safety measures. In December, McMaster hosted Vice President Mike Pence in Greenville to discuss the state’s vaccine distribution plan. 

Tracy McMillin

Interim President & CEO

Central SC Alliance

For over two decades, McMillin has been an integral member of the Central SC Alliance (CSCA) staff, and as of summer 2020 assumed the role of interim president and CEO. The CSCA is the region’s lead economic development organization focused on cultivating economic advancement in the communities of nine member entities, including the counties of Calhoun, Clarendon, Fairfield, Kershaw, Lexington, Newberry, Orangeburg, and Richland and the state’s capital city of Columbia. Working alongside members and stakeholders, the CSCA provides a diverse portfolio of marketing, research and business recruitment services, and develops targeted programs and initiatives that take the message of the Central SC region worldwide to assist in the recruitment of some of the world’s most renowned global brands. 

Virgil Miller

Executive Vice President; 

President, Individual Benefits Division


As a result of Miller’s strategic direction and leadership, Aflac’s U.S. Operations and Digital Service teams have continued to execute on their One Digital Strategy, which includes more digital innovation that benefits customers and employees. Despite the impacts of Covid-19, Aflac did not slow down operations, and in many areas accelerated efforts to deliver more innovation and flexibility to their customers. In 2020, Aflac implemented solutions like Virtual Assisted Chat, which allows policyholders to get policy information, help with filing a claim and even make a payment all through smart AI technology that can provide responses based on information provided from the customer. Aflac expanded their virtual enrollment technology through the launch of their Everwell platform, which helps their sales teams and payroll accounts enroll in coverage safely. Aflac also expanded their mobile solutions to create greater self-service flexibility for their sales teams and policyholders.

Dominik Mjartan

President & CEO

Optus Bank

Since the beginning of this year, Optus Bank’s total assets, loans and earnings are on track to more than double the previous year totals while facing many Covid-19 related challenges.  However, Mjartan said the accomplishments of his team mean nothing without the real impact they have had on more than 500 small businesses and families who Optus Bank has helped preserve and even grow wealth in a middle of a pandemic. “Our bank was founded to ensure that all people have opportunities to build wealth and we are proud to serve our communities with that mission,” he said.

Elise Partin


City of Cayce  

First elected in 2008, Elise Partin is a nonpartisan leader who holds the distinction of being the first female to serve in the office of mayor in Cayce, South Carolina. A leader on numerous boards, including the Joseph P. Riley Jr. Center for Livable Communities and a past president of the Municipal Association of SC, she is known as a servant-leader who builds consensus and has transformed her city’s livability, making it a low-cost high-quality place to live, work and play.  Partin is passionate about helping others find their voice, set and achieve their goals and gain leadership skills. As senior counsel with Mackey Strategies, she creates customized trainings that empower leaders and their teams to successfully express ideas and gain influence through effective oral and persuasive communication including managing crises, drawing from her extensive real-world experience. In recognition of her accomplishments and her many contributions, she has received numerous awards and honors including being the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce 2019 Public Servant of the Year.

David T. Platts

Executive Director

South Carolina Arts Commission

The Arts Commission responded quickly to the pandemic, creating an Arts Emergency Relief Fund and awarding $506,736 in grants to 346 arts organizations and artists around the state. This work was in addition to its grants program, which awarded an additional $5 million to 489 organizations, schools and artists and supported more than 4 million arts experiences for residents and visitors. Pre-pandemic, the organization completed a statewide planning process, visiting 17 locations around S.C. to gather input for our new strategic plan, which launched in October.

Shawn Regan

Co-founder and CEO

RhythmLink International LLC

Rhythmlink International designs, manufactures and distributes medical devices and provides packaging, labeling and contract manufacturing. Regan helped create Rhythmlink after more than a decade of experience in the medical device and medical services fields, with the goal of meeting the needs of neurophysiologic end-users, which he saw as underserved by medical device companies. Throughout the pandemic, the company continued production and kept its products available, and also donated masks and PPE to support medical communities. 

Dr. Akil Ross

Professor of Education Leadership

University of South Carolina



Ross was named 2017 S.C. Secondary Principal of the Year and was NASSP National Principal of the Year in 2018. Currently teaching at UofSC, he is owner of HeartEd, an educational services company that shares his lessons and strategies to empower every child. He was named to the accelerateSC team to help guide initiatives as the state tackled Covid-19. 

Katrina Shealy

State Senator

South Carolina

Shealy, an insurance consultant at Keenan Suggs, was elected to the Senate representing Lexington in 2013. She is currently chairman of the Family and Veterans’ Services Committee, and also serves on the banking and insurance and judiciary committees, among others. In addition to her insurance consulting work, she is a small business owner, operating Leola’s This and That in Red Bank. 

Bakari Sellers


Strom Law Firm

Political Commentator


Sellars, now a political analyst on CNN, served in the S.C. state legislature from 2006 to 2014, and was the youngest African American elected official in the country at age 22. He heads the strategic communication and public affairs team at Strom Law Firm and recently added diversity, equity and inclusion consulting to the list of services offered. This year, he published “My Vanishing Country: A Memoir,” which was a New York Times bestseller.

Susie Shannon

President and CEO

S.C. Council on Competitiveness

Lately, it seems that every day presents new challenges and opportunities to figure out what it looks like to grow South Carolina’s economy during a global crisis. With the support of its industry and public partners, the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness rolled out three industry research studies over the past year, inaugurating the technology sector’s $89 billion economic impact on the state, capturing the more than 130,000 aerospace-related employees, and documenting the explosive expansion around logistics (rail, roads, maritime, air freight) as people rely more on e-commerce, with all three of these sectors paying well above the state’s average wage. Next, the Council is taking these findings from exploration to action to develop strategies to propel South Carolina’s economy and companies to move faster than ever before, even in the midst of the traffic jam that this public health crisis has caused.

Nancy L. Smith, CFE

Secretary/General Manager

South Carolina State Fair 

With a desire to give back to the community, the fair hosted its first ever drive-through event  in October. The fair was free, very well received and very much appreciated. Even in the midst of a pandemic, the fair continues to support education through its Ride of Your Life scholarship program, awarding $300,000 in scholarships annually to graduating seniors attending an in-state school or university. Smith is honored to serve as the 2020 Chair of the International Association of Fairs and Exhibitions, an umbrella organization representing more than 1,100 fairs around the world, along with 900-plus members from allied fields. 

Jane S. Sosebee


AT&T South Carolina

Under Sosebee’s leadership, AT&T helped keep students and educators connected during the pandemic by developing wi-fi solutions for students’ homes, as well as mobile wi-fi for use on buses. The company carried 20 percent more data on its network than before the pandemic, enabling work-from-home for a growing percentage of American workers and business owners, while supporting first responders as public safety’s partner with FirstNet. AT&T South Carolina also helped tackle the problem of hunger across the state, launching the Believe SC initiative, part of the company’s nationwide campaign to make a difference in communities.

Christian L. Soura

Executive Vice President

South Carolina Hospital Association

Soura worked with the General Assembly to establish a Hospital Relief Fund as part of a broader effort to help hospitals weather the financial storm of Covid-19. He engaged with state and federal policymakers to provide hospitals with the regulatory relief that allowed them to adapt to the pandemic. In 2020, he also continued his service as the national board chairman of Nurse-Family Partnership, a nurse home-visiting program that improves health and economic security for low-income first-time mothers and their babies. This year, NFP merged with Child First to offer a broader continuum of services to even more vulnerable families in South Carolina and nationwide.

Molly Spearman

Superintendent of Education

S.C. Department of Education

For more than 18 years, Spearman was a classroom music teacher and assistant principal. She was elected to four terms as a member of the S.C. House of Representatives, where she championed education and children’s issues, and then was elected superintendent of education in 2014. During this challenging year, she has advocated for each district to make school attendance decisions based on the viral spread in that district, and is working on pay increases and other efforts to retain teachers. 

Thomas Stringfellow

President and CEO

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden

Stringfellow says Riverbanks continues to be humbled by the incredible support of the community, even during the Zoo and Garden’s historic two-month closure. In addition to continuing to contribute to conservation locally and globally despite significant challenges, Riverbanks was thrilled to open a new Southern White Rhinoceros habitat in 2020.

Greg Thompson

President and CEO

Thompson Construction Group Inc.


Thompson Industrial Services LLC

Thompson Construction Group, based in Sumter, provides construction and maintenance services to industrial, commercial and government clients. Greg Thompson has overseen the growth of the company from three employees in 1986 to more than 2,500 today. Thompson has been offering advanced industrial cleaning for 33 years, and is now offering disinfecting and sanitizing services per CDC guidelines to help clients keep employees and customers safe. The company frequently partners with the community to help organizations including the American Heart Association, Little League teams and schools. 

Andrew Lee and Qian Wang


Integrated Micro-Chromotography Systems Inc. 

This biotechnology company delivers tools and services that pave the way for the future of precision medicine. The company strives to address the needs of clinical and research laboratories through advanced technologies that increase testing efficiency and accuracy - never more important than this year during Operation Warp Speed. As Covid-19 surged in the spring, the company produced hundreds of liters of hand sanitizer to distribute to healthcare systems.

Eddie Wilder

President and CEO

ERA Wilder Realty

Wilder founded his real estate company in 1995, and teamed up with ERA in 2001. He and his team work with landlords, tenants, buyers and sellers on a variety of commercial real estate brokerage services, including retail, office, land, medical office, marina and more. He has been named Chapin Chamber of Commerce Businessman of the Year and served for 12 years as chairman of the Lexington Planning Commission. 

Kim Wilkerson

South Carolina President

Bank of America

This year Bank of America pledged $1 billion of support to help local communities address economic and racial inequality accelerated by a global pandemic. In South Carolina, the company has deployed more than $3.1 million to 120 local organizations addressing issues fundamental to economic mobility and social progress. They also donated 356,000 PPE masks to communities disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, including communities of color.

Robert “Bobby” E. Williams Jr.


Lizard’s Thicket 


Restaurant and Lodging Association

Williams is CEO of Lizard’s Thicket Restaurants, which has multiple locations throughout Columbia, and serves as chairman of the S.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association. This year, he was chosen by Gov. McMaster to represent the restaurant and hospitality industry on the AccelerateSC committee created to build the state’s Covid-19 response.