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Columbia Business Monthly

Columbia 50 Most Influential 2023

Jan 16, 2024 05:28PM ● By Donna Walker
Columbia 50 Most Influential 2023

2023 Hall of Fame


Charlie Banks

Co-Founder and

Managing Director


Charlie Banks is co-founder and managing director of VentureSouth, an early-stage investment firm with a membership of nearly 600 investors. Based in South Carolina, VentureSouth has invested more than $80 million in over 100 companies.

Banks also serves as executive director of Venture Carolina, a nonprofit organization that envisions a well-educated entrepreneurship ecosystem supporting development of early-stage growth companies throughout the Southeast. It aims to bridge the gap between angel investors and entrepreneurs by providing workshops and conferences.

Prior to founding VentureSouth and Venture Carolina, Banks was a successful serial entrepreneur with significant experience starting and scaling companies across myriad industries.

To earn money as a kid, “before I knew what an entrepreneur was,” he pushed a lawnmower around the neighborhood, asking residents if they wanted their lawn cut. 

“While I am certainly honored to be personally recognized by our regional business publications, I’m most proud when VentureSouth garners the recognition,” Banks says. “The organization has grown into one of the largest and most active early-stage investment organizations in the country, and that caliber of growth cannot be achieved without a world-class team.” 

A Camden native, Banks received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Newberry College. He lives in Chapin, South Carolina, with his wife and four children.


Sharon Bryant

Regional Executive Vice President

First Citizens Bank

Sharon Bryant, regional executive vice president for First Citizens Bank, is a Columbia, South Carolina, native. She is responsible for retail, business and commercial banking in South Carolina, Northeast Georgia, Augusta, and Savannah.

Bryant joined the company in 1999 as executive vice president and director of human resources. She was executive vice president and division executive from 2001-2010. In 2010, she assumed the dual roles of regional executive vice president for Central South Carolina and director of the bank’s Wealth Advisory Group, while continuing to serve as president of First Citizens Securities.

In 2012, she was named South Carolina Banking Executive prior to being named South Carolina regional executive vice president in 2014.

She is a board member, Palmetto Business Forum; board member, Business Development Corporation; board member, South Carolina State Museum Commission; chair, Main Street District; and board member, Congaree Land Trust.

She was a 2021 recipient of the Order of the Palmetto, the highest civilian honor awarded by the governor of South Carolina.


Scott Garvin


Garvin Design Group

Born and raised in Aiken, South Carolina, Scott Garvin graduated from Clemson University in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in design. He received his master’s in architecture in 1986 from Clemson and spent a semester in Italy for overseas study. After working in Greenville for a few years, he relocated to Columbia and established Garvin Design Group in 2003. He has been involved in the design and management of more than $1 billion worth of projects and launched Garvin Design Group to provide client-driven design solutions, utilizing more strategic delivery models.

From master planning and programming to interior upfits and new construction, Garvin Design Group strives to provide client-driven design solutions throughout South Carolina. GDG’s contributions to the community and the profession earned it the American Institute of Architects – South Carolina’s (AIA SC) 2019 Firm Award, the Columbia Chamber’s 2020 Small Business of the Year Award, and recognition as a 2021 and 2022 Top 3 SC Best in Business Awards winner from Greenville Business, Columbia Business Monthly and Charleston Business magazines.

Garvin is directly involved with every project with a particular focus on the client’s objectives, schedule, and budget. He also spearheads the corporate business and marketing functions of the firm. Garvin has been involved with significant projects around the state, including the revitalization of Columbia’s Olympia and Granby Mills and Palmetto Compress, the renovation and expansion of the Peace Center for the Performing Arts in Greenville, and myriad projects for the state’s largest institutions of higher education.


Leighton Lord

President and

Chief Strategy Officer

Maynard Nexsen

Leighton Lord is president and chief strategy officer at Maynard Nexsen, a full-service national law firm. An accomplished corporate and real estate attorney, Lord has given his legal practice a special emphasis on siting economic development projects, real estate transactions, real estate financing, general business law, and formation and opinions on Delaware entities.

Prior to joining the firm, Lord clerked for the prestigious Delaware Chancery Court before practicing corporate litigation in Wilmington, Delaware. He served for three years as staff counsel to the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He formally served on South Carolina’s Coordinating Council for Economic Development and is the former chairman of Santee Cooper, South Carolina’s electric and water utility.

He has served or is serving on many state and local boards, including Heathwood Hall School and the Columbia Museum of Art. He also has been recognized among Columbia Business Monthly magazine’s Legal Elite of the Midlands.

He draws his favorite quote from Roger Milliken, the late textile magnate and South Carolina industrialist: “Operational excellence secures the present.  Innovation excellence secures the future.”

Lord’s education includes the University of Delaware and Vanderbilt Law School.


Susie Shannon

President and CEO

South Carolina Council on Competitiveness

Susie Shannon is president and CEO of the SC Council on Competitiveness – SC Competes – a business-led, nonprofit organization driving South Carolina’s long-term economic growth through initiatives/industry clusters like SC Aerospace, SC Logistics, SC Tech, Palmetto AI Corridor, TransformSC, and SC Fraunhofer USA Alliance. Her early policy work helped introduce cluster-based economic development in South Carolina that led to SC Competes’ creation 20 years ago.

She practiced for many years in administrative/regulatory law before veering off the legal beaten path, developing an extensive history leading innovative, forward-looking organizations and initiatives throughout South Carolina designed to transform local areas into economically vibrant communities by nurturing existing local assets.

Her Service has included EPSCoR State Committee, Governor’s Cybersecurity Working Group (Economic Growth chair), South Carolina Housing Authority (vice-chair), Broadband Advisory Council, SCRA (Program Committee chair), Central Carolina Community Foundation, SC Thrive (chair emeritus), College of Charleston President’s Council on Industry Innovation/Engagement, TogetherSC, and SC Bar Committees on Technology (Cybersecurity chair), and Intellectual Property/Innovation.

Lifelong experiences include Riley Institute-Diversity Leaders Initiative, Francis Marion University-Nonprofit Leadership Institute, and Liberty Fellowship.

She has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of South Carolina and a Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law.

Shannon served in the U.S. Army Reserves and is a Gulf War veteran.

Columbia 2023 Most Influential


Michele Abraham

State Director

South Carolina Small Business Development Centers

Michele Abraham’s job is to manage 20 Small Business Development Centers across the state, offering business consulting and training to entrepreneurs and businesses. Since she joined the organization in 2010, it has broken records on economic impact performance and earned two national accreditations with exemplary ratings. Before coming to South Carolina, Abraham worked for the Ohio Department of Development, serving as state director of the Ohio SBDC.

Prior to her SBDC service, she worked in the private sector in sales, business development, marketing and management. Abraham has more than 20 years of experience in advanced materials and products for aerospace, as well as automotive, sporting goods and other industrial products. Her entrepreneurial spirit also led her to found and operate two successful businesses. Her business advice: “Find and utilize mentors. There is no substitute for the advice that experienced professionals can offer in helping you achieve your dreams.”


Michael Amiridis


University of South Carolina

In 2022, Michael Amiridis returned home to become president of the University of South Carolina. He had spent seven years as chancellor of the University of Illinois-Chicago, but before that USC was his home for more than 20 years. A chemical engineer, Amiridis held positions as a professor, department chair, and dean of the College of Engineering and Computing, as well as serving as USC’s executive vice president for academic affairs and provost.

All of these experiences help make him a better leader. Amiridis is committed to using two of the university’s greatest strengths — education and research — to improve prospects for all South Carolinians. Holding a doctorate in chemical engineering from University of Wisconsin-Madison, Amiridis has published 110 peer-reviewed articles and has received more than $22 million in external funding. A native of Greece, he was recognized in 2022 by Carnegie Corp. of New York as a Great Immigrant.


Allen Amsler


McCrory Construction LLC

After graduation from the University of Florida in 1987, Allen Amsler joined McCrory Construction as an assistant project manager — and never left. He shepherds a company, founded in 1918, that is known as a leader for management and services in commercial construction in the Southeast.

Amsler believes in being committed to whatever he decides to do, and that commitment led to serving in various positions during his 32 years at McCrory culminating in CEO and board chairman. His dedication also extends to serving in the community and the professional world, as he is incoming board chairman for ABC Carolinas (the Associated Builders and Contractors). Previously, he served seven years as board chair of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and has led the board of such organizations as the National Kidney Foundation of South Carolina and Special Olympics of South Carolina.


Steve Baker

Executive Vice President and General Sales Manager

Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of South Carolina

Before taking on a top leadership role at Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, Steve Baker held various managerial positions at the business, spanning from the coast to the Midlands. In March of 2023, Southern Glazer’s celebrated plans to open an $80 million state-of-the-art distribution facility in Lexington County. The company operates across 44 states, Washington D.C., and Canada.

Baker began his career in the wine and spirits industry in 1975 at a Charleston package store, later joining Pearlstine Distributors where he spent a decade as a sales representative in Charleston.

He is a College of Charleston graduate and currently serves as board president of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Association of South Carolina. The association actively lobbies the state house and policymakers to educate and promote the safe, legal and moderate consumption of wine and spirits across the state.


Russell Bauknight

Managing Shareholder

Bauknight Pietras & Stormer, P.A.

As a founder of Bauknight Pietras & Stormer, Russell Bauknight traded a career with a Big Four accounting firm for the opportunity to become an entrepreneurial CPA with his brother Ken and an assistant. Over 30 years, 16 partners and 100 employees later, he has built a solid Estate and Trust administration and advisory practice. BPS is a full-service accounting and advisory firm primarily serving closely held businesses and their owners.

In 2018, Bauknight was elected to the board of directors of Prime Global, a top accounting association in the world. While Bauknight’s term as managing shareholder of BPS will soon end, he looks forward to helping the firm continue to grow. About our state, he says, “South Carolina is blessed with great people. Our state will continue to thrive because of the tireless dedication of the many leaders who take us to new heights each and every day.”


M. Malissa Burnette


Burnette Shutt & McDaniel, PA

A founding partner at Brunette Shutt & McDaniel, attorney M. Malissa Burnette has devoted her career to moving the law forward for others, including women wanting to attend state-supported military academies and same-sex couples seeking marriage equality. Her most recent battle is to protect reproductive healthcare rights.

Burnette is part of the legal team, along with firm co-founder Kathleen McDaniel and attorney Grant Burnette LeFever, that has represented Planned Parenthood in several successful challenges to laws and policies aimed at eroding abortion rights. The most recent case asks the courts to clarify medically ambiguous language in the state's six-week abortion ban.

It's the latest chapter in a five-year fight that has seen the legal team win numerous challenges in both state and federal court.

Since 1993, Burnette has been a South Carolina Supreme Court Certified Specialist in Employment and Labor Law.

She favors this quote by the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: "When there are nine," in relation to women’s representation on the high court. Burnette also has earned numerous professional and community honors since graduating from the University of South Carolina School of law in 1977.


Frank Cason


Cason Development Group

Frank Cason has worked in commercial real estate markets along the East Coast throughout his 20-year career. Since founding Cason Development Group in 2015, he has collaborated on projects for a variety of national retailers, in addition to lending his expertise to projects closer to home. Cason’s projects have received historic-preservation awards and also been featured in popular publications including Garden & Gun and Food & Wine magazines.

Cason and his team work to forge creative strategic partnerships with a focus on producing designs that will drive long-term value for both the clients and the community.

Cason is an active member at First Presbyterian Church and has served in numerous leadership roles in the church, including as an elder and a deacon, chair of the property committee, chair of the media committee, pastoral search committee, and officer nominating committee. He and his wife, Kristin, have three children.


Jody Chastain

President and CEO

The Ritedose Corporation

Jody Chastain and his team at the Ritedose Corporation are responsible for manufacturing medications used by millions of patients around the country. His company is one of the leaders in manufacturing and packaging single-dose medications for the health care market.

Chastain joined the company in 2005 and has been its president since 2018. Under his leadership, the company has undergone tremendous growth, becoming the largest nebulized solution provider in the United States. And the company has increased its footprint in Richland County from 16 acres to more than 130.

In 2023, the company completed the first phase of an $84 million expansion that will add capacity and capabilities.

A graduate of Limestone College, Chastain says that his favorite quote comes from Booker T. Washington: “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.”


Holt Chetwood

Manager of Commercial Banking

First Citizens Bank

As a 27-year veteran in banking and financial services, Holt Chetwood serves as the manager of commercial banking for First Citizens Bank.

The Winston-Salem native and Clemson University graduate advises new graduates to find a great mentor – someone they want to emulate in their industry knowledge and in how they treat others and handle difficult situations.

Chetwood has a long history of working to improve his community. He is an executive board member and past chairman of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, an executive board member of the Columbia Urban League. and board member of the Central SC Alliance. He has previously served as board and campaign chair of the United Way of the Midlands and a past board member of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities.

Chetwood received the South Carolina Bankers Association's highest honor, the Outstanding Young Banker Award in 2011, and was named Young Professional of the year by the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.


Michael T. Dawson


River Alliance

Providing a gateway to the Midlands’ three beautiful rivers is the driving force for Michael T. Dawson as he leads the River Alliance, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to river-related community development in Columbia. The Alliance’s overarching goals are public access and downtown residential infill. Dawson, a former Infantry officer in the U.S. Army, has led the Alliance since its formation in 1994.

Its Three Rivers Greenway started with citizen input and opened its first project in 1998. Since then, 15 miles of greenway have opened in Cayce, Columbia, and West Columbia, with the most recent additions the Saluda Riverwalk and the Boyd Island Sanctuary. Dawson sees the measure of success in the thousands of citizens of all activity levels who come to the rivers to enjoy the natural environment. Dawson’s career advice: “Take the hard jobs you are not really prepared for.”


Mike Farmer

Regional Vice President of Commercial Banking, Midlands

TD Bank

Columbia native Mike Farmer has been in the banking industry since 1989, most of that time spent in South Carolina. He joined TD Bank in 2019 and serves as regional vice president, overseeing commercial banking in midlands. Farmer is active in the community, having served as chairman of The Cooperative Ministry and finance chair for Harvest Hope Food Bank.

He is currently on the executive board of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce and a member of Midlands Business Leadership Group.

Mike is a graduate of the University of South Carolina, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with concentrations in finance and marketing. His proudest accomplishment is his 18-year-old daughter, MoMo, a first-year University of South Carolina Student. He gives much of the credit for her success to her mother, Carol Ann.


Sara Seitz Fawcett

President and CEO

United Way of the Midlands

Sara Seitz Fawcett has served as president and CEO of United Way of the Midlands since June 2017.

In 2020, United Way of the Midlands received a $10 million gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. It’s believed to be the largest unrestricted gift in the community’s history.

Under Fawcett’s leadership, United Way has embarked on a mission to leverage Scott’s gift to create affordable housing, improve workforce development, and create community change that will last for generations.

The organization has already leveraged $3 million of the gift to create $68 million in project costs for 375 units of affordable housing, created Young Men United to promote workforce development, and built capacity within United Way and its impact partners.

Fawcett has earned multiple awards, including being honored as one of Columbia Regional Business Report’s 2019 Women of Influence. She was also recognized as an “Icon” as part of the 2021 Columbia Regional Business Report’s Icons and Phenoms list.


Terrance Ford

Vice President

AT&T South Carolina – External Affairs

Terrance Ford began his career with AT&T 24 years ago as an electronics technician. Today, he serves as vice president of external affairs for AT&T South Carolina.

Ford moved into management in 2005 and quickly ascended the ranks, eventually leading the installation and maintenance of advanced services such as high-speed broadband across the state.

His increased responsibilities led him to external affairs, where he served as external affairs regional director for the Upstate, leading the company’s economic development and community affairs activities. Prior to taking on his current position, Ford was director of external and legislative affairs, serving as the primary liaison with state policymakers.

Ford is engaged in the community, serving on the executive boards of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, the Central SC Alliance, the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center, the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, and the boards of Central Carolina Community Foundation, the United Way of the Midlands and the Columbia Urban League.

A native of the Charleston area, Ford holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Webster University. He is also a graduate of Leadership South Carolina and a Riley Fellow. Ford believes South Carolina’s greatest asset is its people.


John C. Griggs III

Region Executive

Synovus Bank

When an employee has the chance to work in the office, rather than remotely, John C. Griggs III recommends taking advantage. “Working in an office setting allows so many opportunities to learn from experienced colleagues. You will gain first-hand experience of the culture of the organization on a consistent basis.”

In banking for more than 22 years, Griggs joined Synovus after graduating from the University of South Carolina. Working in Columbia, he has served the community in many ways. He is chair of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce board and chair-elect of the Prisma Health Midlands Foundation Board. A graduate of the S.C, Bankers School, he is the current course coordinator and is also on the board of trustees for the Midlands Technical College Foundation.

As South Carolina grows, Griggs says he is excited to see newcomers come and invest their talents and resources alongside those born and raised here.


Robert Hughes III

President and Chief Executive Officer

Hughes Development Corp.

Robert Hughes III, president and CEO of Hughes Development Corp., is leading a new iteration of the full-service real estate development firm that dates back three-quarters of a century.

Under Hughes’ grandfather, the company’s work included residential development and building big box stores for retailers and grocers. Hughes’ father gained notice for developing key structures in and around Greenville. Robert Hughes III has continued to expand on the success of his father and grandfather, and today Hughes Development is taking on projects across the Southeastern United States.

The Greenville-based company focuses on urban mixed-use developments. One of the highest-profile jobs involves the company serving as master developer of the BullStreet District in Columbia. When completed, BullStreet will consist of up to 3.3 million square feet of commercial development and more than 3,500 residential units. BullStreet is already home to retailers such as REI and Iron Hill Brewery and features the corporate offices for Scout Motors and several other businesses.

Hughes began his career with financial services firms Lehman Bros. and Barclays before joining Hughes Development in 2012. He was named president in 2016 and later added CEO responsibilities to his duties.


Anthony Jackson

President of Prisma Health Baptist Hospital; vice president of external affairs and accountable communities

Michael Bundy

CEO, Midlands Market

Prisma Health

With 14 hospitals, 1,600 physicians and 29,000 team members, Prisma Health is South Carolina’s largest not-for-profit health organization.

Anthony Jackson, a veteran of more than three decades in health care, has consistently focused on building strong, competent teams that provide excellent patient care while promoting health equity awareness.

Prior to Prisma, Jackson had leadership roles at Roper St. Francis Healthcare System in Charleston, and HealthSouth Corp. He has received numerous honors during his career, including the Columbia Urban League’s President’s Award.

Michael Bundy has worked for more than 20 years in health care leadership roles, focusing on implementing LEAN principles and metrics management, and on creating high-performing teams to improve qualitative outcomes for patients.

Prior to joining Prisma, Bundy was senior vice president and COO at Cape Cod Healthcare in Massachusetts. Bundy also serves in community roles, including serving on the board of the United Way of the Midlands.


Ray Jones


Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP

Ray Jones is a partner at Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP, a full-service regional law firm with offices in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Washington D.C.

Jones joined Parker Poe in 1999 and discovered that he most appreciated collaborating with great people, both clients and colleagues, to solve problems.

Over the past 25 years, the firm has celebrated the growth of its office, its practice, and the founding of Parker Poe Consulting, “all of which represent career milestones for me,” said Jones, who has been married to his college sweetheart, Christi, for 29 years. The couple have three children.

Jones said his professional life can best be described as “a team sport working with gifted colleagues, local government officials, business professionals and community organizations to advance Columbia and the greater Richland County region. It is truly gratifying when the team wins,” he said.


W. Keller Kissam


Dominion Energy South Carolina

As president of Dominion Energy South Carolina, W. Keller Kissam leads a utility that serves 1.1 million electric and gas customer accounts. In 2024, his goal for the company is to provide safe, reliable, and increasingly clean energy to power South Carolinians every day. Kissam joined Dominion’s predecessor SCANA in 1988 as a new utility professional. He has served as president-Electric Operations, president and CEO of SCE&G, and president-DESC Electric Operations.

In the community, Kissam serves on the boards of the S.C. State Chamber of Commerce and the S.C. Manufacturers Alliance. He is also a board member and past president of the Southeastern Electric Exchange, past president of the S.C. Independent Schools Association, and past chairman of the Central S.C. Economic Development Alliance. An alumnus of The Citadel, he is a member of that college’s Business Hall of Fame.


Jim Lehman

Managing Partner

Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough

Jim Lehman has been Managing Partner at the century-old, 1,000-lawyer law firm, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, for 12 years.

"Grit is more important than talent," Lehman says.

A graduate of Bob Jones University and the University of South Carolina School of Law – where he graduated magna cum laude – Lehman joined the firm in 1996, leaving to serve two years as general counsel for Safety-Kleen Corporation before returning to the firm in 2004.

Lehman has been recognized by Best Lawyers in America since 2009 and is a longtime member of the Claflin University Board of Trustees. He has also served as a member of the United Way, Columbia Urban League, Midlands Housing Alliance, the South Carolina Philharmonic, Central Carolina Community Foundation, City Center Partnership, and the Governor's School for Science and Math.

If you enjoy a good read, he recommends "On Desperate Ground: The Epic Story of Chosin Reservoir – The Greatest Battle of the Korean War."


Harry M. Lightsey III

Secretary of Commerce

South Carolina Department of Commerce

Harry M. Lightsey III and the S.C. Commerce team work to create economic opportunities to increase choices for all South Carolinians. Under his leadership, the department has secured economic development deals resulting in announcements such as emerging battery materials supply chain developer Redwood Materials’ $3.5 billion investment in Berkeley County and Scout Motors’ $2 billion investment in Richland County, reviving a classic American brand as an electric vehicle.

Earlier in his career, Lightsey served as president of BellSouth Telecommunications for South Carolina prior to its merger with AT&T. Then he became president of AT&T’s Southeast region. Other endeavors included working with General Motors Corp. and Hawksbill Advisors. His advice for business success: “Always be willing to learn from others and listen to their ideas. Listening creates opportunities. Not listening creates obstacles.”


David Lockwood

Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer

Colliers International South Carolina, Inc.

Once David Lockwood had a taste of working in real estate, he set his sights on becoming a commercial broker working on office towers. And that’s exactly what he did, helping build Colliers into South Carolina’s largest commercial real estate brokerage, property management, and construction project management firm, with offices in Columbia, Charleston, Greenville, and Spartanburg.

Lockwood serves as president of SIOR Global, the Society of Industrial and Office REALTORS with members in 725 cities and 45 countries. A past chair of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, he recently completed nine years as an S.C. Real Estate Commissioner representing the 2nd District. Lockwood says, “I strongly believe that I have a duty to give back to the community that I live in and make an active effort to be involved in organizations about which I am passionate.”


Curtis Loftis

State Treasurer

State of South Carolina

Since 2011, Curtis Loftis has served as the state of South Carolina’s “banker,” managing, investing and retaining custody of nearly $70 billion in public funds. The Office of the State Treasurer is responsible for the safety and security of the state’s money, as well as ensuring that the state maintains its high credit rating.

Loftis takes his commitment to the state’s taxpayers seriously, fighting for accountability, transparency, and fiduciary responsibility. He is administrator of the Future Scholar 529 College Savings Plan — you may recognize him in its TV commercials — as well as the Unclaimed Property Program and Palmetto ABLE Savings Program for disabled individuals. Chairman of the State Board of Financial Institutions and vice chairman of the State Fiscal Accountability Authority, Loftis has championed many causes to benefit state government and all South Carolinians, including financial education in K-12 schools.


Wes Lyles


Studio 2LR Inc. Architecture + Interiors

Architect Wes Lyles loves Columbia, and as a business owner and partner in Studio 2LR with Gretchen Lambert and Tripp Riley, he has the opportunity to lead a team in solving complex problems that affect not just the capital city, but also construction environments around the Southeast.

The firm Lyles helped found in 2005 provides architectural, planning and interior-design services built on the cornerstones of integrity, professionalism, and a commitment to client satisfaction.

Recent Studio 2LR projects include the Orangeburg County Library and Conference Center; Nephron Pharmaceutical’s Inject EZ facility; Kraft Heinz Newberry; South Carolina Departments of Education and Natural Resources; and Savage Craft Brewing. The group’s goal with each project is to positively impact the building owner, the people using the building and the community the building serves.


Madeleine McGee

President and CEO

Together SC

With four decades of nonprofit experience in South Carolina, Madeleine McGee is a fierce believer in collaborative partnerships and community advocacy. She currently serves as president and CEO of Together SC, a nonprofit that brings together other nonprofits and philanthropic organizations to strengthen the sector.

McGee led Georgetown, South Carolina’s downtown revitalization program and established the nonprofit Coastal Community Foundation of SC that she ran for 10 years. Since 2011 when she was appointed president of Together SC, McGee helped build South Carolina’s network of “Allies for Good,” serving more than 800 member organizations across the state.

She received a bachelor’s degree and MBA from the University of Virginia. The Charleston native is a South Carolina Liberty Fellow and member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond’s Community Investment Council. Outside of work and community service, McGee loves to garden. She and her husband have three children and two Boykin spaniels.


James T. McLawhorn Jr.

President and CEO

Columbia Urban League Inc.

James T. McLawhorn Jr. has been president and CEO of Columbia’s Urban League for more than 44 years. The organization has been lauded for its advocacy and programming expertise, as well as its role as the largest nonprofit provider of youth career work experience in South Carolina.

McLawhorn, who has long advocated for social justice, diversity, equity, inclusion, and equal opportunity, has twice received the Order of the Palmetto, the highest award South Carolina gives to its citizens.

He serves on the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce board and the South Carolina Medicaid Advisory Board.

McLawhorn holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from North Carolina A&T State University, a master’s in city and regional planning from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and an MBA from University of Miami. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from College of Charleston.

He says his favorite quote is Elbert Hubbard’s “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing and be nothing.”


Ernest McNealey, Ph.D.


Allen University

Serving as the 30th President of Allen University since 2017, Ernest McNealey, Ph.D. first came to the historically Black university as interim president in 2016. Under his tenure, the university completed its 10-year reaffirmation of accreditation and received approval to offer a graduate program. The university also began offering new majors and revived its football and marching band programs under McNealey’s leadership.

Prior to leading the university, McNealey was the principal officer in Atlanta-based consulting firm the McNealey Group, specializing in accreditation, planning, financial modeling and NCAA compliance. He brought his knowledge from his consulting group to Allen.

Formerly serving as president of Alabama’s Stillman College, McNealey has served on the NCAA D-II Presidents Council, the HBCU Capital Financing Board and in many other professional organization boards and committees. He holds a master’s degree from Indiana University, a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, and he graduated from the Harvard Management Institute.





Greg Middleton, Sara Middleton Styles, Scott Middleton


LTC Hospitality Services

Scott Middleton, Sara Middleton Styles and Greg Middleton are the owners of LTC Hospitality Services, a company redefining the concept of hospitality. Their group boasts restaurant concepts ranging from contemporary elegance to tropical escapes. Some of their restaurants have become household names in Columbia, like Good Life Cafe and The Grand on Main.

Siblings Sara and Greg learned the restaurant business from their father, Scott, whose family business has evolved from senior care to property development and hospitality. The siblings’ first official partnership was opening the fine-dining spot Smoked after some hands-on experience helping their dad run The Main Course and The Grand eateries and entertainment venues.

Together, their properties have been awarded the South Carolina Historic Preservation Award, the Historic Columbia Preservation Award and the Columbia Chamber of Commerce Impact Award


Tem Miles

Mayor, West Columbia

Attorney, The Miles Firm LLC

Tem Miles stands at the convergence of two careers: mayor of the growing city of West Columbia and attorney at his own firm. His service to West Columbia began when he was elected to city council in 2013. In 2019, he was elected mayor and was re-elected in 2023. His legal career began as law clerk to the Honorable Paul E. Short Jr. of the S.C. Court of Appeals.

He then served as staff counsel for the S.C. Senate’s Office of Senate Research before entering private practice. In 2020, Miles started his firm where he continues to practice civil litigation throughout the state in all levels of state courts, federal courts, and before the S.C. Workers Compensation Commission. He was elected in 2023 to the board of directors for the Municipal Association of South Carolina, where he represents all cities within the Central Midlands Council of Government.

Michael Mizeur

President and Chief Executive Officer

BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina

As president and chief executive officer of BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, Michael Mizeur leads more than 20 companies with more than 15,000 employees.

The operations Mizeur oversees are involved in health insurance services, the U.S. Department of Defense health program, Medicare, Medicaid, and a philanthropic foundation that funds programs to improve health care and access for all South Carolinians.

Mizeur began his career at BlueCross BlueShield of S.C. in 1998 after seven years with accounting firm Ernst & Young. He served in a variety of senior leadership roles, including chief financial officer for 10 years, prior to being named chief operating officer in 2021. He was named president and CEO in 2022.

Mizeur earned a bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University and a master’s degree in business administration from Duke University.


Dominik Mjartan

President and CEO

Optus Bank

More than 100 years ago, visionary African American leaders founded a bank in Columbia to serve those underestimated and underserved by mainstream financial institutions. In 2017, Dominik Mjartan took the helm of the troubled $47 million bank, and under his leadership Optus Bank transformed into a $500 million innovative digital mission-driven bank.

Optus Bank is a Community Development Financial Institution and a Minority Depository, on a mission to empower its communities and customers to build wealth and live better financial lives by providing them with relationship banking services. Mjartan is also founding director of Climate First Bank, a Florida-based bank offering personal and commercial banking services with a focus on environmental sustainability. He is a director of the FDIC Community Bank Advisory Board, Community Development Bankers Association, and the National Bankers Association.


Steven W. Mungo

Chief Executive Officer

Mungo Homes

Steven W. Mungo is the CEO of Mungo, a regional homebuilder that in 2023 will close over 3,200 new homes with a revenue of $1.3 billion.

The price of success is passion: "Find what you are passionate about before investing too much time in something," Mungo advises.

Mungo joined the family business in the 1980s after graduating from Wofford College. Under his leadership, Mungo Homes has grown to 600 employees, 10 markets in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Virginia, and has become the most award-winning and largest private builder in America.

In 2018, Mungo successfully negotiated and closed the sale of Mungo Homes to Clayton Properties Group, Inc., a Berkshire Hathaway company. Mungo remains as CEO of Mungo Homes.

Mungo's business leadership philosophy is encapsulated in "The Four Disciplines of Execution."

Mungo serves on the board of directors for the Charleston Chamber of Commerce, Roper Hospital Foundation, Wofford College Board of Trustees, and others.

Brenda Murphy


NAACP, South Carolina State Conference

Brenda Murphy has long been an advocate for justice, and it’s what led her to join the NAACP more than 40 years ago. She has held many positions with the organization, including State Conference Committee Chairperson and Youth and College Division Adviser.

She is the first woman to hold the office of president for the NAACP’s South Carolina Conference, and she has received many awards for her service, including the National NAACP Juanita Jackson Mitchell Award for Legal Activism.

Murphy is a nurse by profession, and her nursing career has included positions in nursing administration, education, and therapy.

She also served in the United States Army Reserves Nurse Corps, advancing to the rank of major, and she retired from the Department of Veterans Affairs as an associate chief nurse.

Murphy’s community involvement includes her work with United Way of South Carolina and the American Red Cross Regional Diversity Committee.


Kristian Niemi

Chef and Owner


An accomplished chef in Columbia’s food and beverage industry, Chef Kristian Niemi is the name behind Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Café, Gervais + Vine, Solstice Kitchen + Wine Bar, and his newest restaurant, Bourbon. Prior to opening Bourbon, he founded The Great American Whiskey Fair, which quickly became the largest whiskey show in the nation.

Niemi is also a partner and chef with the Farm to Table Event Company, specializing in dinners and events focused on local, sustainable food sources. His restaurants have been spotlighted by Bon Appetit, Southern Living and other renowned food publications and TV shows. Niemi also leads the South Carolina Chefs Collaborative chapter and is a founding member of the local U.S. Bartender’s Guild.

He can often be found giving cooking demonstrations or slinging drinks across the state. His most recent concept, Bourbon, is a whiskey bar and Cajun-Creole restaurant that’s become a Main Street mainstay.


J. Ted Nissen

President and Chief Banking Officer

First Community Bank

J. Ted Nissen leads a Midlands-headquartered community bank that was founded on the belief that everyone matters, and that service is essential to all the bank does. “Every interaction matters and by valuing each individual or connection, you are building relationships that can last a lifetime,” he says.

His commitment to the community extends to leadership in many organizations. He is chairman of the Lexington Medical Foundation and of the SSBCI and SBA 7a Loan Committee of the Business Development Corporation of South Carolina, a leader in providing loans to small businesses. In 2023 he was honored by the Independent Banks of South Carolina with their Leadership Award. When not working at the bank or in the community, Nissen enjoys spending time with family or in South Carolina’s beautiful outdoors.


Doug Quackenbush


Quackenbush Architects + Planners

Doug Quackenbush founded Quackenbush Architects + Planners, a full-service architecture and planning firm, in 2004.

The firm specializes in educational and community projects and has won more than 50 design awards for its work.

Quackenbush, who holds a Bachelor of Design and a Master of Architecture from Clemson University, recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Learning Environments (A4LE), the highest award given to an individual A4LE member.

He is a member and past president of the South Carolina Chapter of the American Institute for Architects and is a LEED Accredited Professional.

Quackenbush is a member of the Society for College and University Planning, and he sits on the boards of the Historic Columbia Foundation, the 701 Center for Contemporary Art, and the Clemson Board of Visitors.


Barbara Rackes


S.C. Women’s Leadership Network

Barbara Rackes saw a need to encourage more women to step up and lead corporations, boards and governments in South Carolina. In 2018, she joined with other leading women to found a nonprofit corporation, S.C. Women’s Leadership Network, doing business as S.C. Women in Leadership.

SC WIL is a statewide, multipartisan group of women and men working to move the state forward by including women in leadership. Rackes came to the organization with years of experience in business and community leadership. She built a $10 million company in the women’s apparel industry, then launched the first S.C. company doing business online and ultimately several technology companies.

She appreciates the blend of skills learned across those platforms — from finance to customer service, marketing to technology — that now enable her to invite other women to do as she did. Rackes has chaired or served on many organization’s boards in South Carolina and beyond.


Mark Rapp

Jazz Musician and Executive Director

ColaJazz Foundation

Jazz trumpeter and ColaJazz founder and director, Mark Rapp, has performed in jazz clubs and festivals from Croatia to California and Brazil to Canada.

He has released numerous recordings as a leader and sideman. Notably, Rapp is featured on Disney Jazz releases Vol. 1 & 2 "Everybody Wants to be a Cat" alongside some of the biggest names in jazz.

Rapp brought his own perspective to Columbia by establishing the ColaJazz Foundation.

Under his direction, the ColaJazz Foundation has created tens of thousands of dollars of work for local musicians, reached thousands of kids through jazz outreach concerts, established summer jazz camps for all ages, hosts a statewide radio show, presents an annual jazz fest on Main Street and frequently produces community-minded events steeped in cultural enrichment.


Daniel Rickenmann


City of Columbia

Daniel Rickenmann moved to Columbia from Spartanburg to attend the University of South Carolina. He liked Columbia so much he never left. In fact, he decided to run for mayor and was elected in 2022. Rickenmann began professional life as an entrepreneur, opening his first restaurant in Columbia, Birds on a Wire, shortly after graduation. He brings that entrepreneurial spirit to the job of mayor, working to expand housing options, strengthen public safety, enhance cleanliness, and improve the city’s customer service.

A strong advocate for parks and green spaces, he is striving to create more outdoor recreation opportunities and to promote environmental sustainability, especially on the city’s rivers. In his business life, Rickenmann has co-founded Forbidden Bourbon, a Kentucky-based company with the first female master distiller. He strives to live out his mother’s advice to work hard, see challenges as opportunities, try new things, and always give back.


Jeff Ruble

Director, Economic Development

Richland County Economic Development

Jeff Ruble has enjoyed a number of successes during his career in economic development. One of his most recent is also one of his biggest.

Ruble, director of economic development for Richland County, helped bring Scout Motors Inc. to South Carolina. Ruble and his team worked to recruit the company to Richland County to build its first electric vehicle assembly plant. The $2 billion investment has the potential to create more than 4,000 permanent jobs, making it Richland County’s largest economic development project to date.

As a result, it was hardly surprising when Ruble won the 2023 Local Developer of the Year award, handed out by the South Carolina Economic Developers’ Association.

Ruble joined Richland County in 2015. Before that, he spent nearly a decade with the South Carolina Power Team, the economic development organization representing South Carolina’s 20 electric cooperatives. His roles with the SC Power Team included senior vice president, business development and director of business recruitment.

Ruble has served as president of the South Carolina Economic Developers Association, and he serves on the executive committees of the I-77 Economic Development Alliance, the Central SC Alliance and the Columbia USC Incubator.


Bob Ruff

Senior Vice President, Group Voluntary Benefits Division


Since being promoted to senior vice president in March 2022, Bob Ruff has been responsible for Aflac's strategic, operational, and financial aspects of the business. Before this, Ruff was the senior vice president of Growth Solutions, from August 2018 until March 2022. In that position, he was responsible for the development and execution of key growth initiatives for Aflac U.S.

Ruff's 15 years of leadership experience in the employee benefits industry was recognized in The States Top 20 Under 40 rising business stars.

Ruff, who has an MBA from Clemson and played defensive end for the legendary coach Frank Beamer's Virginia Tech football team, has this advice to young people starting their career: "Find something you love and work hard to be great at it!" And it might help them to read a book that Ruff finds inspirational, titled "Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable," by Tim S. Gover.

A big believer in giving back to his Lexington community, Ruff is a member of the Midlands Business Leadership Group (MBLG). He also serves on the boards of EdVenture, South Carolina Chamber, Central Carolina Community Foundation, and Central SC Alliance.


Katrina Shealy

State Senator

State of South Carolina

When Katrina Shealy was first elected to the South Carolina Senate in 2012, she was the only woman serving there. More than a decade later, the Republican Shealy is one of five women in the legislative body.

They call themselves the “Sister Senators,” and in 2023, the bipartisan group of women banded together to filibuster against a near-total ban on abortion in South Carolina. The effort led to the five women receiving the 2023 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.

Shealy also was named to Forbes 50 Over 50 list of influential women. An insurance executive, Shealy founded the 501 (c) (3) group Katrina’s Kids to help children in foster care and group homes in South Carolina. The program raises money to send kids to summer camp or allow them to participate in extracurricular activities.

She has served as chairman of the Lexington County Republican Party and is a member of the Friends of Juvenile Justice Advisory Board and the National Foundation for Women Legislators.


Bill Stern

President and CEO

Stern Development

At the helm of Stern Development, Bill Stern owns, manages, and invests in real estate across the Southeastern United States. He currently serves as the board chairman of the South Carolina Ports Authority, where he’s served on the board since 2001.

Stern has been with his firm for more than 35 years and dedicates time to community service beyond real estate work. In 1999, Stern was awarded South Carolina’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the Palmetto. He serves on the corporate boards of Ameris Bank and Ameris Bancorp and is active in his synagogue, the South Carolina Coordinating Council for Economic Development, and the United Jewish Welfare Federation.

He studied business at the University of Miami and the University of South Carolina.

Justin Strickland


First Reliance Bank

With more than 35 years of banking experience, Justin Strickland serves as president of First Reliance Bank, overseeing the bank’s overall operations and expansion throughout the Carolinas.

The Walterboro native graduated from the University of South Carolina with a finance degree and began working in the banking industry in 1985.

Also a graduate of Louisiana State University’s Banking School of the South, Strickland serves on the South Carolina Board of Financial Institutions and Lexington Medical Center’s board of directors. His past civic experience includes chairman of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, Palmetto Health Foundation chair, and as a member of the South Carolina Banker’s Association.


Thomas K. Stringfellow

President and CEO

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden

With more than 40 years in the zoo and attractions industries, Thomas Stringfellow is just the third executive to oversee Columbia’s Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in its 50-year history. During his tenure as president, Riverbanks has been named Best South Carolina Attraction by readers of USA Today and welcomed more than 8 million guests, making it the most visited zoo in the Southeast.

After graduating from Winthrop University, Stringfellow worked at Paramount Parks Inc. and Six Flags Entertainment Corp. in operations, sales and marketing. His service to the community includes the Board of Advisors for Prisma Health’s Camp Kemo, the River Alliance board, and the Midlands Business Leadership Group. Stringfellow’s long-term focus is on Riverbanks’ continued growth and lasting impacts on conservation, the economy and vibrancy in the community.


Jim Stritzinger


South Carolina Broadband Office

S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff

Jim Stritzinger’s task is to rapidly deploy broadband infrastructure in South Carolina, especially in rural areas where the need is so great. Working closely with internet service providers and state and community leaders, his team is responsible for more than $1 billion in state and federal grant investments.

The S.C. Broadband Office was formed in July 2021. Before joining the Office of Regulatory Staff, Stritzinger was a successful entrepreneur, leading to establishment of a consulting firm specializing in the analysis and mapping of broadband infrastructure in rural communities. His firm, ClearView Software, was acquired in 1998 and ultimately became a part of Microsoft in 2001.

His broadband mapping technology has been published in the Esri Map Book (2021) and honored for its achievement. His advice for career success: “Invest time early in your career and build your social network before you need it.”


Brian Taylor

Vice President of Business Development

Miller Valentine Construction

Brian Taylor serves as vice president of business development for Miller Valentine Construction, a commercial general contractor with offices in Columbia and Charleston.

Taylor has more than 20 years of experience in design and construction. Miller Valentine regularly handles projects ranging from $9 million to $60 million. The company’s commitment to excellence was rewarded with the firm being long-term recipients of the Accredited Quality Contractor designation in addition to other awards.

He is responsible for business development in the Southeast market with an emphasis on South Carolina. His Palmetto State focus goes beyond work as Taylor serves on the boards of several local, state, and regional organizations, including the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Columbia, and the Central SC Alliance Committee of 100 board.

Taylor serves as chair of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce’s Military Affairs Committee, and he works to strengthen ties between the business community and military personnel. He is also a founding board member of the Congaree Riverkeeper Organization.

He earned a degree in chemistry from Wofford College in 1995.


William “B.J.” Unthank

Director of Economic Development

City of West Columbia

B.J. Unthank took on the role of economic development director for the city of West Columbia in February 2016, and under his leadership, the city’s geographic footprint has increased by more than 21 percent.

The city’s growth has encompassed both residential and commercial developments, including such projects as Brookland Development, WeCo Bottle & Beer Garden, corporate headquarters for Infrastructure Consulting & Engineering, and the recent announcement that the LS3P architecture firm will move its Columbia offices to 4West.

A West Columbia native, Unthank spent 11 years on the city council representing District 6. During that time, he was active in economic development, advocating for responsible development that aligns with the region’s distinctive character.

Unthank, who graduated from University of South Carolina, worked in sales before his career in city government. He spent 32 years with Standard Register Company and Image Resource Group, experiences that he says prepared him for his current role.


S. Creighton Waters

Chief Attorney, State Grand Jury Division

Alan Wilson

Attorney General

State of South Carolina

In 2023, much of America was riveted by the murder trial in South Carolina of disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh, who was eventually convicted of killing his wife Maggie and son Paul. Murdaugh was also convicted of a number of financial crimes.

The successful prosecution of Murdaugh was led by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and Chief Attorney State Grand Jury Division S. Creighton Waters.

Wilson is serving his fourth term as the state’s attorney general, leading a staff of 300 employees and 90 attorneys. During his tenure, Wilson has challenged the federal government on such issues as the federal health insurance mandate, and in 2012, he established a Human Trafficking Task Force.

A graduate of Francis Marion University and University of South Carolina School of Law, Wilson joined the National Guard after college and earned the Combat Action Badge for his service in Iraq.

Waters has worked in the attorney general’s office for his entire career, becoming Chief Attorney in the State Grand Jury Division in 2017. In addition to the Murdaugh case, Waters has led prosecutions of drug traffickers, gang members, and government officials accused of corruption.

He is a graduate of USC and the USC School of Law.


Mark Williams

Founder and President

Strategic Development Group, Inc.

Mark Williams founded Strategic Development Group Inc. in 1999 in the historic Sylvan Building on Columbia’s Main Street. The firm conducts site selection across the U.S. and advises public officials, railroads, and utilities on economic development matters.

Strategic Development Group also provides incentive-negotiation services to medium and large U.S. and foreign firms establishing manufacturing and headquarters facilities.

Prior to starting SDG, Williams served as chief development officer for the South Carolina Department of Commerce. A 45-year-resident of Columbia, Williams is a past president of the South Carolina Economic Developers Association and past chair of the Site Selectors Guild.

Williams’ company has worked with numerous high-profile clients, including BMW, Boeing, and Bridgestone.

Williams earned his bachelor’s and MBA degrees from University of South Carolina and went on to the University of Oklahoma Economic Development Institute. He is a certified economic developer and recently published his first business book, “Site Selection and Economic Development: a 30-Year Perspective.”


Bradley Wright


Burr & Forman LLP

Brad Wright is a partner and the Columbia office managing partner for regional law firm Burr & Forman LLP. His duties include representing clients with legislative and regulatory issues before the South Carolina General Assembly, the governor’s office, and state agencies.

Wright is well prepared for his role representing clients. Before joining Burr & Forman, he was general counsel and chief of staff to the office of the South Carolina Speaker of the House.

His experience also includes serving as legal counsel to the Judicial Merit Selection Commission, the House Rules Committee, the Ways and Means Committee, and the House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee.

Wright, who focuses on governmental and corporate matters, drafts legislation and amendments for consideration by the General Assembly. He also advises clients in the merger and acquisition of businesses, including asset purchase and stock purchase transactions, as well as assisting clients with corporate and transactional matters.

Wright has represented clients before the S.C. Supreme Court, the South Carolina Court of Appeals and circuit courts in South Carolina.