50 Most Powerful: 1-10

Dyer, Morgan, Houmann, Hitt, Jenkins, Jacobs, Gardiner, Downs, Rosen, Kalogridis

50 Most Powerful: 11-20

50 Most Powerful: 21-29

50 Most Powerful: 30-40

50 Most Powerful: 41-50

A Dozen Years On, The Legacy Continues

By Jim Leusner

1 Buddy Dyer
Orlando Mayor »Age: 56

​Over the past few years, rumors circulated that Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer was interested in exploring bids for governor, U.S. Senate and president of the University of Central Florida.

Ask Dyer if he’s getting antsy and ready to move on and he artfully answers that the only job he’s concerned with is his current one.

“I have so much fun as mayor,” he says, the day after announcing he will seek a fourth term. “I do a lot of fun stuff. I love my job.”

Dyer, has come a long way in his 12 years in office, assuming the mayoral reins in the midst of a 2003 budget crisis and later navigating through the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression.

“In the first couple of years, I was signing travel requests and down in the minutiae,” he says. That hands-on managing style has since changed to delegating among his now-veteran advisers.

“Now I have a team around me which makes the same decision I would make 95 percent of the time. And the other five percent, I have their back.”

The team, known as “C4+1,” is made up of his four top advisers: Chief Administrative Officer Byron Brooks; City Attorney Mayanne Downs; Chief Financial Officer Rebecca Sutton; Chief of Staff Frank Billingsley. Deputy Chief of Staff Heather Fagan also is part of the mayor’s inner circle.

Dyer is most proud of the nonpartisan “culture of collaboration” created with all segments of the community. That approach resulted in the UCF College of Medicine; SunRail; the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts; and a new soccer stadium—all pieces to boost the area’s economy. And those public-private-business partnerships also helped in bringing Major League Soccer to Orlando; the planned downtown Creative Village and downtown UCF campus; the Canvs creative high-tech startup workspace; and a plan to house the chronically homeless.

Dyer knows how to play hardball with opponents and is keen to rise to the challenge and overcome obstacles. When a small Orlando church was holding up the proposed $110 million downtown soccer stadium last summer in an eminent domain case dispute, Dyer and his staff had the city buy another tract of land and shifted the site one block west, eliminating the problem.

In late May, Orlando City Soccer Club announced it would fund the stadium entirely, eliminating the need for money from  the Legislature or local governments.

“Somebody called me a GPS the other day,” Dyer says. “When you come to a barrier or the end of a barrier, you re-route.”

Interestingly, he seems to be all things to all groups. Dyer appeals to neighborhoods east and west; environmentalists; gays; business; the tech industry; and sports groups. For example, after a federal judge overturned Florida’s ban on same-sex marriages last fall, Dyer performed 44 gay marriages at City Hall in January. It was “the right thing to do,” morally and economically, Dyer says.

The city’s embracing of diversity also is a strength that he believes serves as “one of the protections” against what happened with riots in Baltimore a few months ago.

“I consider myself an Ivy League redneck,” he says. “I went from Kissimmee (where he was raised) to Brown (University). I’m as comfortable in a camp as at the ballet, the country club, on Bruton Boulevard or riding with OPD. And I can ride and shoot.”

As for the “fun stuff,’’ Dyer has adopted common man workdays, patterned after popular former Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham. The mayor calls them “work-alongs” with his 3,000 city employees. His eyes widen, like an excited kid, when he reels them off.

“I got to use a flame thrower” to burn vegetation off of wastewater treatment cells, he says, smiling. “That was the coolest thing… I’ve welded. I’ve installed solar panels. I’ve lined and painted the field for the Citrus Bowl for one of the bowl games. I’ve driven the street sweeper. That was fun.”

And he chuckles: “The employees always enjoy that they can do their job a lot better than I can.’’

As downtown construction projects fill in gaps in the landscape, Forbes lists Orlando in top rankings such as the nation’s No. 4 happiest place to work—another step in validating the Dyer vision of a bustling, livable city.

Dyer, a former state senator for 10 years, notes that he has long worked with former opponents and appointed several to various boards. His first statewide challenger, Candy Crawford, is now his campaign treasurer. But there remains one opponent he has refused to support, former Gov. Charlie Crist. Ever since Crist defeated Dyer in the 2002 Florida Attorney General’s race, there has been bad blood.

When Dyer attended a campaign event at Orlando Science Center last fall with Crist’s opponent, incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott, the mayor said he was never told the gathering was campaign-related and thought it was just a chance to tout the region’s high-tech and biotech industries. Dyer also refused to endorse Crist, who lost to Scott by about one percentage point. That, too, further upset some top area Democrats.

Dyer says he agreed with fellow Democrats such as Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown to stay neutral and not support Crist, a Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat. Meanwhile, Dyer has maintained a cordial relationship with Scott while seeking support for Orlando downtown projects.

But make no mistake, Dyer is keeping score. He notes that he has eclipsed the time in office of former Orlando Mayors Bob Carr, Glenda Hood and Bill Frederick. If he serves another term, he will surpass the record of 14 years in office held by Carl Langford.

“B.D. and A.D. is how Orlando mayors will be listed—Before Dyer and After Dyer,” says friend and fellow lawyer John Morgan. “He’s been a transformative mayor.”

Down-To-Earth Master of the Inner Circle

By Jim Leusner

2 John Morgan
Attorney, Businessman, Philanthropist »Age: 59

​Walk downtown to lunch with John Morgan and in the space of two blocks from his Orange Avenue office to a Church Street restaurant, he is stopped by a dozen people on the street.

“Thanks for supporting medical marijuana!” one bald, tattooed guy says as Morgan strolls by.

A disabled man in a wheelchair, sitting with a jar of a half-dozen $1 dollar bills inside, makes small talk while Morgan peels a $100 bill out of his pocket. Morgan neatly tucks it into the man’s fanny pack.

“You’re so good to me, John,” he says.

Then Morgan shakes hands or poses for selfies with a few star-struck passers-by and a local chef.

“John Morgan! Morgan and Morgan!” screams a woman from the back seat of a passing car.

He takes a few moments with each inquirer, politely answering their legal or political questions. Morgan knows that each of them is a potential juror or source of business.

The Kentucky transplant, who moved to Winter Park in 9th grade in the early 1970s, smiles and marvels. “It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?”

The attention affirms Morgan’s image as the “For the People” lawyer, 27 years in the making thanks to seemingly endless television, radio and billboard legal ads he helped pioneer. His firm, now 280 lawyers strong, operates from Florida to New York with new offices opening in Toronto, Canada, and Amsterdam, Netherlands. Adding up to 7,000 new potential clients monthly and his law firm owing no debt, it is a financial juggernaut.

“It’s a great job. Where else do you go to work and see your family?” Morgan says.

Over the past year, he has stepped back some at the law firm, taking more extended vacations as his two lawyer sons, Matt and Mike, assume a larger role. A third son, Dan, is finishing law school this year.

Morgan is now spending more time with his family and a new grandson. He enjoys summers at his lakefront New Hampshire home; winters in Hawaii; lives at his beachfront Ponce Inlet home in the spring and fall; and in between “wheels through Lake Mary,” his longtime residence.

Meanwhile, Morgan continues to build on his financial empire, including hotels, banks and tourist attractions. Instead of hobbies, he’s an admitted “business junkie,” branching out into a small California television station; an Internet broadcast project; and a fledgling high-protein, lactose-free milk product company in China. Recently, Morgan sold his billboard company, which displayed his firm’s ads as well as those of customers.

Morgan is expanding more into real estate, recently partnering on 1,500 acres in Flagler County and other undeveloped tracts around Central Florida. Then there is the $100 million investment fund he operates with former NBA star Grant Hill, the private Penta Mezzanine Fund. A new equity fund is in the works.

Along the way, Morgan has amassed serious political clout with the Democratic Party locally, statewide and nationwide. Candidates seek him out for his blessing, advice and contributions.

Last year, Morgan’s medical marijuana ballot provision—funded with more than $4 million of his own money—gathered nearly 58 of the required 60 percent to pass. He again is chairing the United for Care campaign to have the question placed on the 2016 ballot.

“The kids didn’t vote,” Morgan says of the measure falling short, adding that some voters simply didn’t want a vice issue in a constitutional revision. Bashed by law enforcement and well-funded marijuana opponents over ballot language with potential loopholes, Morgan promises to correct those defects and to get older voters onboard. “We will get it passed next time.”

As for Crist’s defeat, Morgan explains: “That election wasn’t about which candidate they liked the most. It was about which candidate you liked the least.”

With the 2016 fight for the White House gearing up, Morgan will play a key role in the Hillary Clinton presidential run. He has longtime ties to her husband, former President Bill Clinton. He said he fears a “Koch Brothers America” if Clinton is not elected and a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court to infringe on people’s rights.

Morgan and his wife, Ultima, continue to be serious philanthropists, but have shied away from glitzy projects such as the downtown performing arts center. Rather, they prefer supporting numerous charities for the needy and donate about $2 million annually, including a recent $1 million donation to the Harbor House domestic violence shelter.

“What I want to focus on is to go—at the end of my life—from success to significance. I want my last quarter to be way more philanthropic than successful,” Morgan says. “I want to enjoy my family, enjoy my homes and give money to my four (charitable) pillars: food, shelter, clothing, water.”

3 Lars Houmann
President and CEO, Florida Hospital and Florida Division Adventist Health System »Age 57

By Jim Leusner 

As the head of Florida Hospital, Lars Houmann’s personal and business philosophy is rooted in The Bible’s Book of Jeremiah, Chapter 29, Verse 7: 

Work to see that the city where I sent you as exiles enjoys peace and prosperity. Pray to the Lord for it. For as it prospers you will prosper.

And to Houmann, president and CEO of Adventist Health System’s Florida division since 2006, that means economic, social and personal prosperity for all. Everyone, he says, deserves a chance to be as healthy as possible.

Armed with that approach, common economic ground among various groups and a low-key, humble manner, Houmann has excelled in community outreach efforts—locally, around the state and in Tallahassee, according to government and civic leaders.

“The community work really can’t be separated from the mission of the organization, because the mission of the organization is to ultimately create a healthier community,” says Houmann, a Seventh-day Adventist.

In July, Florida Hospital was ranked No. 1 in the state and also in Orlando for the second year in a row by U.S. News & World Report.

Houmann oversees 23 hospitals and 23,000 employees statewide—19,000 of them at the eight Orlando-area hospitals. The Orange, Seminole and Osceola county facilities are considered one entity, Florida Hospital, under state and federal regulatory rules. It treats more patients and Medicare recipients than any other hospital in the nation.

Over the past year, Florida Hospital donated $6 million to house and treat the chronically homeless in Orlando; approved plans to build a new hospital in Apopka and an emergency room facility in Winter Garden; and garnered national recognition for its Bithlo medical and economic transformation program partnership.

Houmann also won approval for same-sex benefits for his employees and is overseeing the 172-acre Health Village development surrounding his Orlando campus with more living, research, teaching and care facilities resembling a medical city of sorts.

Earlier this year, Florida Hospital joined the new IQ Orlando innovation-focused business partnership concentrated on recruiting and launching new life science companies.

“Leadership isn’t about being boss, being CEO or telling people what to do or making brilliant tactical strategic decisions,” Houmann says. “It’s really about how well you serve people so they can be their best.”

But perhaps his most impressive role was being a key strategist and cheerleader for Florida to accept $2 billion in federal Medicaid expansion money for the 800,000 uninsured, many of whom flood emergency rooms around the state.

A year ago, convincing a Republican-controlled Legislature seemed laughable. But after Houmann and his staff met with local businesses and government leaders, they showed how not accepting the Low Income Pool money would cost them money through higher insurance rates.

Eventually, he won over the Florida Senate. But as of early June the Florida House remained a holdout, at the start of a special session. 

The irony of Houmann’s Medicaid expansion battle is that he is a Republican. He also is former president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which backs Medicaid expansion. Houmann shrugs off his political affiliation.

“It’s easier to stand by and wait for things to happen, than to actually do the hard work in creating the challenges when you become activists. This is not something that is simple, in political and economic terms… It makes sense to resolve this issue.”

4 John Hitt
President, University of Central Florida »Age: 74

UCF trustees scheduled a meeting in January to discuss a succession plan for when Hitt decides to retire, but the president says he has no plans to step down and is seeking an extension when his June 2016 contract expires. (Hitt said he heard rumors that Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer had an interest in the job. Dyer told the Orlando Sentinel he had no indication Hitt was leaving, but said he would not rule out the opportunity.) UCF has boomed under Hitt’s reign since 1992, becoming the nation’s second largest institution, adding a medical school, successful athletics and a reputation for computer and high-technology research. Last October, UCF and various industry and government partners broke ground in Osceola County on the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center, a $270 million project to develop sensors for assorted electronic devices. Hitt also unveiled plans for a $200 million downtown UCF campus that could create 4,000 jobs. He received the Historical Society of Central Florida's 2015 John Young History Maker Award for lifetime achievements making a historic impact on the community.

5 Barbara Jenkins 
Orange County School Superintendent »Age: 54

Three years into her job, Jenkins keeps racking up honors for the nation’s 10th largest district. Co-winning the coveted Broad Prize for Urban Education last year brought in $500,000 in 2015 graduate scholarships. In February, Gov. Rick Scott presented Jenkins a $10.3 million check under Florida’s School Recognition Program, rewarding 111 Orange County schools keeping an A grade or improving by one letter grade. Over the past year, Jenkins was named to the College Board AP Honor Roll for significant increases in students taking and passing college-level courses and exams. She also was tapped as 2014 Women’s Executive Council Woman of the Year Award and named Girl Scouts Woman of Distinction in the Visionary category. Jenkins serves on numerous boards, including the Central Florida Regional Commission on Homelessness. A Democrat considered by Scott for lieutenant governor two years ago, Jenkins has a rising star quality that may lead to a higher office.

6 Teresa Jacobs
Orange County Mayor »Age: 58

In the Orlando-Orange County power structure, Mayor Buddy Dyer is the spending visionary, and County Mayor Teresa Jacobs is the conservative, deliberate partner. While Dyer takes the political risks ranging from downtown venues to promoting gay marriage, Jacobs is the careful steward protecting the public’s interest—and caretaker of the county’s huge Tourist Development Tax pot. That resource provided $260 million for the downtown performing arts center, Citrus Bowl expansion and ongoing convention center improvements. Re-elected in November without opposition, the county mayor represents 1.2 million citizens and a $3 billion budget. Jacobs has been focused on improving the quality of life in the county and diversifying the economy, which catered to 62 million visitors last year. She has been a key proponent in the county’s economic development and branding campaign, “Orlando. You Don’t Know the Half of It.” Priorities for Jacobs have included programs to assist the chronically homeless, along with pushing continued growth in the International Drive corridor, at Medical City, in the high-tech industry and at Orlando International Airport. 

7 Andy Gardiner
State Senate President »Age: 46

In the first year of his two-year term as Senate leader, Gardiner has unified a Republican-dominated body. He appointed Democrats to chair some committees, and most bills passed unanimously. Gardiner’s team approach and bipartisanship received high marks from the League of Women Voters. A vice president at Orlando Health and veteran legislator elected to the Florida House in 2000 and Senate in 2008, Gardiner was expected to work with a surplus of $1 billion this year to craft a state budget with House Speaker Steve Crisafulli of Merritt Island, a fellow Republican. But the Republican-controlled House, unwilling to accept a Senate proposal on federal Medicaid money for 800,000 uninsured, low-income residents, walked out in an unprecedented move before a state budget agreement was reached in the regular, 60-day session. Despite bickering between the Senate and House, Gardiner promised to get a budget done to avoid a government shutdown. Also at stake is funding for a downtown UCF campus. 

8 Mayanne Downs
Orlando City Attorney, Shareholder and Chair, Litigation Department, GrayRobinson »Age: 58

If Mayor Buddy Dyer makes a major decision, you can bet it has been vetted by trusted adviser Downs. Her legal fingerprints are all over city projects, including the proposed Orlando Magic Sports and Entertainment Complex; relocation of the Orlando Police headquarters building; and the Orlando City Soccer Club’s new stadium. She was a key player in an eminent domain dispute over the stadium site with the Faith Deliverance Church, which initially sought $35 million and later $15 million for a piece of property that the city valued at $4 million. When negotiations dragged out, the city quietly purchased another tract for $2 million and moved the soccer stadium one block west. Outside of her city work, Downs chairs the litigation department statewide for the GrayRobinson law firm and represents clients such as Adventist Health System; Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh; Orange County Clerk of Court Tiffany Moore and several celebrity clients. She also sits on the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, which investigates state judicial misconduct. 

9 Harris Rosen
Hotelier, Philanthropist »Age: 75

The founder of Rosen Hotels & Resorts has been a perennial leader on our Top 50 list because he holds two types of power. First is the fact that his seven hotels and nearly 6,500 rooms and suites are a critical part of the area’s tourism engine. Right now Rosen is focusing on refurbishment of existing properties rather than expansion. But just as important as his business might is Rosen’s power of giving. The recipients of his generosity over the years have included the Jewish Community Center, and UCF’s hospitality management school, which is named after him. And his contributions have boosted the low-income, predominantly black Tangelo Park community—for 21 years he has provided free preschool and daycare to all neighborhood children, and ensured that upon graduation from high school they are awarded full scholarships to any Florida state university or vocational school. He recently announced that he will do the same for Orlando’s Parramore neighborhood. 

10 George Kalogridis
President, Walt Disney World Resort »Age: 61

The Mouse continues to set records with attendance, revenue and number of employees—74,000 local “cast members’’ at last count. Kalogridis, who got his start with Disney four decades ago busing tables at the Contemporary Resort, has been in charge of the growth for the past 2½ years. Recently opened is a project just down from the Contemporary—a re-imagined Polynesian Village Resort, featuring over-the-water luxury bungalows. Then there’s Disney Springs, the Pleasure Island replacement that will offer new options in dining, retail and entertainment, opening in 2016; and notable additions at Animal Kingdom, including a nighttime show called “Rivers of Light’’ and after-dark excursions on Kilimanjaro Safaris. A philanthropic highlight: Disney paid for every eight-grader in Orange County Public Schools to enjoy a play at the new Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. 

Categories: People