50 Most Powerful People in Orlando

The people on our 11th annual 50 Most Powerful List are a diverse group, from political leaders, university presidents, business owners and attorneys to bank executives, tourism officials and community activists.

To read the whole feature and more, download our digital edition on Magzter here, or pick up a copy on your local newsstand.

#1 Buddy Dyer

Still on Track

SunRail and the performing arts center head the list of accomplishments that have made Buddy Dyer the No. 1 power player.

By Barry Glenn

There’s a popular saying on local media message boards about Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, usually written by critics as they try to dissect the myriad projects that Dyer has tackled over the years: “What Buddy wants, Buddy gets.’’

Lately, he’s pretty much gotten it all—the start of SunRail service, a new performing arts center opening in November, the halfway-done renovation of the Citrus Bowl, a new soccer stadium for our major league team (scheduled to open in 2016), and a $200 million Orlando Magic sports and entertainment complex about to be built across from Amway Center.

“It’s the culmination in the last year of a lot of things our community has been working on for the better part of a decade,’’ Dyer says. “It’s been a pretty tremendous 12 months for Orlando.’’

It’s that ability to get things done and persuade others to buy into his vision that lands Dyer at No. 1 on our 50 Most Powerful People list for the second consecutive year. He also topped the list in 2008 and 2010. On the cover of the Most Powerful issue four years ago, the Democratic mayor posed on an empty railroad track to symbolize the theme of the story, “Staying on Track,’’ about his efforts to make SunRail a reality. 

Today it is literally on track, with the opening two months ago of the first phase of the commuter train, which will eventually extend 61 miles from DeLand to Poinciana. While many leaders, including U.S. Rep. John Mica, fought hard for the rail service, Dyer was its biggest champion.
“It’s been a long labor of love,’’ says the 55-year-old mayor. “Think about how the discussion has changed from ‘Do we need SunRail?’ to ‘How do we expand the service?’ It’s nice when you tell people that something’s going to happen and it actually occurs.’’
So is it time to take a breather? “We never take a breather,’’ Dyer says. “I tell my staff we never take time to celebrate successes because we’re moving on to the next thing.’’ That includes Creative Village, the 68-acre high-tech educational-residential-business mecca planned for downtown. Dyer says there are currently “active negotiations’’ with a prime tenant, and the realignment of Livingston Street is about to get under way. Plus, the University of Central Florida and Valencia College are talking with the city about a huge presence downtown. UCF is even considering relocating an entire college, with Creative Village the most obvious site for such an expansion.

Yet there are serious challenges for Dyer. A budget shortfall means a tax increase for residents is likely to avoid cuts in services (the city hasn’t raised its tax rate in six years). Another priority: Dyer wants to focus on the plight of the 900 chronically homeless people—particularly veterans—who live in the city. His goal is to take a third of them off the streets, put them into permanent housing within the next three years, and provide them with jobs, mental, health and other services—“an ambitious goal but I think an achievable goal,’’ he says. 

As far as his political future, Dyer is “pretty sure’’ he’ll run for a fourth term as mayor in 2016. “I would feel remiss if we didn’t have Creative Village a little further along. And I want to make sure the financial shape of the city is better when I leave it than when I got here.’’

And what would make him leave it? If the Democrats lose to Gov. Rick Scott this fall, Dyer says he’ll seriously consider a run for governor in 2018.

#6 Harris Rosen

Hotelier, Philanthropist | Age: 74

A hotel empire builder who continues to give back

By Mark I. Pinsky

It’s hard to go anywhere in Central Florida without seeing something that bears the name or fingerprints of Harris Rosen. There are the seven hotels—this year, he’s celebrating the 40th anniversary of that empire—as well UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management. He was the driving force and donor behind the Jack & Lee Rosen Southwest Campus of the Jewish Community Center. The Orlando Sentinel chose him as its 2011 Central Floridian of the Year, and the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center in Maitland honored the hotelier with a tribute dinner in April.

Rosen’s success story has its roots in a methodical climb up the hospitality ladder: graduation from the famed School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University; after the Army, an entry-level industry job at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, and then some time with the Hilton chain; a stint with Disney in California (where he worked on the design and development of the Contemporary Resort and Polynesian Village), before moving to Disney’s Central Florida attractions.

After being fired from Disney—he says his superiors told him he was unlikely to become “a fully integrated Disney person” despite voluntary weekend gigs playing Winnie the Pooh at Disney World—Rosen jumped off the ladder. Striking out on his own, in 1974 he purchased the bankrupt 256-room Quality Inn on International Drive, where he lived and worked for 16 years. With that, his area hotel operation was launched, culminating with the opening of the Rosen Shingle Creek resort in 2006.

After Disney, Rosen says, he realized that to be successful, “you have to do it yourself. Work hard and respect others. You have to dream, and I was a dreamer. That will get you off to a good start.” And belief in God, or “some force that gives you direction and puts you on the right path.”

In the Jewish tradition, the Yiddish term mensch means a person of integrity and honor, which his admirers say best describes Rosen. Those in the Christian community might cite the Book of Matthew, which says, “By their fruits you will know them.” The fruits from Rosen are abundant: He has distributed more than $30 million through his charitable foundation. In Central Florida, he established a medical clinic for his employees, many of whom are immigrants, in addition to providing free healthy meals, language and education support, and preparation for the citizenship exam. His hands-on philanthropy has stretched to Haiti, where he donated school and medical supplies and launched a rural village housing project. His multimillion-dollar effort in Orlando’s Tangelo Park neighborhood supports underprivileged students financially from pre-school through Florida state colleges and vocational schools.

Yet, “I don’t think I’m powerful—not at all,” says the father of four grown children as he nears his 75th birthday. (He says this, even though in a recent New York Times article, Rosen was credited with helping Florida bounce back economically by investing $130 million to renovate his hotels and aggressively marketing his business internationally in the throes of the 2008 recession.) He laughs easily during an interview at his modest office, but also shakes his fist to emphasize a point. He acknowledges an intense dislike of bureaucracies. (“That’s true,” he says with a laugh.) He prefers to be in charge, which critics say means he isn’t always easy to work with. Rosen initially opposed using tourist tax dollars to build Orlando entertainment and sports venues, which ended in a rare defeat, and he remains a staunch opponent of casino gambling.

He is, says longtime acquaintance, developer Jonathan Wolf, “a person without airs, principled but tough. He has tremendous respect for his employees. His notion is, ‘What’s good for them is good for me.’ While others were discussing, he was doing.”

Adds U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who counts the hotelier among his supporters, “Harris Rosen has improved virtually every life he has touched.”

#10 Barbara Jenkins

Orange County School Superintendent | Age: 53

Putting a love for learning to work

By Jay Hamburg

Barbara Jenkins spent her elementary, middle and high school years in the same educational system she leads today. “I loved school. I loved my first-grade teacher. She ran a very organized classroom and she taught us to read,” says Jenkins, who as superintendent is now responsible for the 187,000 public school students in Orange County.

“I remember an anticipation about learning and going to school,” she says. “I want every student to come to school with that expectation.”

Her enthusiasm is getting results. Just two full years into overseeing the nation’s 10th largest school district, Jenkins has led the school system to becoming one of two finalists for the $1 million Broad Prize for Urban Education. The other finalist is Gwinnett County schools in Georgia.

The prestigious Broad award recognizes urban school districts for overall improvement in student achievement while reducing achievement gaps in low-income students and students of color. First place means $750,000 in scholarships. The winner will be announced in September.

Regardless of outcome, Jenkins knows the school system, which includes students from 7,000 homeless families, will continue to have its challenges. “We have a pretty good trajectory going, but we still have a distance to go.”

Growing up, Jenkins attended Eccleston Elementary, Lakemont Elementary, Winter Park Junior High and Winter Park High, where she graduated in 1979. Rising through the education ranks in Orange County as a teacher, principal, administrator and deputy superintendent, Jenkins also developed a big-picture view of public education.

“It is the only means by which many of our children have a brighter future. In that way, it is the linchpin of democracy,” says Jenkins, who has undergraduate, master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Central Florida.

While that statement on democracy, along with Gov. Rick Scott’s interest in Jenkins becoming lieutenant governor last year, might legitimately raise more speculation on her future interests, Jenkins says she remains focused on improving local schools.

“I’m not a politician, so that is not something I would immediately aspire to,” says Jenkins, who says she is content to leave the political dynamics of education to school board Chairman Bill Sublette, who is an attorney and former state legislator. “We’re a good team.”

But Ron Blocker, the former Orange County superintendent who coaxed Jenkins back home about eight years ago after her stint as an assistant superintendent in Charlotte, N.C., public schools, put it this way: “Anybody with Barbara Jenkins’ moral convictions should be in politics.’’ As for Scott’s interest, he says: “It would have been Orange County’s loss.”

Blocker, who was superintendent from 2000 to 2012 and is now interim president and CEO of Florida Virtual School, says Jenkins is committed to keep striving for improvements. “She has a driven type of personality. She is going to keep her foot on the accelerator.” She combines a long-range vision for goals with great “peripheral vision in the ever-changing educational and political landscape.”

Jenkins believes improvement programs must be “research-based and data-driven” to ensure the best use of limited resources. Those strategies led to initiatives to encourage students with strong PSAT scores to enroll in advanced placement programs to improve their readiness for college. It also led to a program that took a closer look at students who dropped out despite having a good record. The school system was often able to bring those students back and keep them on track to graduate after assessing the problems, which ranged from homelessness to pregnancy.

“We sent our teams out to knock on doors,” says Jenkins, who accompanied some of the teams on their searches. “Sometimes it feels like a mission or a calling.”

#37 Carol Wick

CEO, Harbor House of Central Florida | Age: 47

Battling domestic abuse one day at a time

By Jim Leusner

Carol Wick is the face of the local battle against domestic violence. And as CEO of Harbor House of Central Florida, she is on a mission to eradicate it, spreading the word to anyone who can help: government leaders, corporate executives, civic groups, ministers and journalists.

“The ultimate goal is to get everyone to understand what domestic violence is,’’ Wick says. “It’s not just a couple getting into a fight and someone threw a lamp at somebody, as a congressman told me. It’s not a problem law enforcement can fix. By the time law enforcement gets involved, someone can die.”

The domestic violence toll last year in Orange County: 18 homicides, 8,400 related offenses ranging from stalking to assault, 4,400 arrests and 3,875 crisis hotline calls. And when a woman is the victim, it presents numerous social, government, law enforcement and family issues: protection and housing needs, displaced children missing school, unsheltered pets, unborn-child health and absences from work.

That’s where Harbor House comes in. Over the past eight years, Wick has made it a safer haven, with a staff of 68 advocates answering a hotline, obtaining injunctions and providing food, clothing and shelter for victims and their families. She oversees a $4.2 million budget and a 102-bed facility badly in need of expansion. On a recent day, there were 88 residents—half of them children and most under age 4.

Wick, a licensed marriage and family therapist, is a blend of confidence, logic and charm—defending a government grant for continuous funding one day; meeting with judges to discuss court problems on another; and sitting in front of TV cameras on yet another as she spreads the word about breaking the cycle of abuse. Last November, her Harbor House staff and 745 community volunteers went door-to-door to 20,000 homes in two hours to educate Orange County residents about domestic violence and the importance of calling police before disputes escalate.

“Carol Wick is a person who works behind the scenes and in front of the scenes to protect women,” says Orange-Osceola Chief Judge Belvin Perry. “To me, she is one of the unsung heroes around here. And she knows how to work with people.’’

Says Wick: “Once I set my sights on something, I’ll get it done. I just have to convince you to get it done, too. My style is to educate people that my issue is their issue, too.”

Growing up in Missouri, Wick watched her mother care for foster children and other families. “I think that’s where the advocate side of me came from,’’ Wick says. “She fought for people who didn’t have a voice.”

The family moved to Orlando in 1980 when Carol was in ninth grade (she played four years on Oviedo High School’s basketball team). Her college major was psychology and she studied in a marriage and family therapy master’s program at Auburn University. A stint with North Carolina’s family counseling agency exposed her to battered women. Then her mother began having flashbacks about being brutalized as a child.

“It was almost like I became a therapist so I could be there for her,” Wick says.

After a break-up with a boyfriend in the mid-1990s, Wick experienced the terror of being stalked herself and was forced to obtain an injunction. Later, she ran the PACE Center for Girls Inc., an alternative education school for at-risk girls in Daytona Beach, before moving to Orlando in 2006.

Wick acknowledges that failures of the court system drive her to hold offenders accountable for their actions. The headlines about women killed by estranged husbands and boyfriends weigh heavily on her and her staff. But she savors the successes of women who have sought shelter at Harbor House and have turned their lives around, or the newest class of high school students being trained to spot abuse.

Ending domestic violence is a monumental challenge, and she knows it. “Maybe not in my lifetime, but maybe in my daughter’s lifetime,” she says. “Certainly in the United States, we can make huge strides.”


To read the whole feature and more, download our digital edition on Magzter here, or pick up a copy on your local newsstand.
Categories: Features