Ten years ago, you once again helped us discover the top talent, the biggest community advocates, the most successful and praiseworthy 40 Leaders Under Forty. This year we’ve caught up with seven of these leaders from the class of 1997, and we’ve found the same still holds true. They’re still out there volunteering their time and talents to central Illinois, they’re earning awards and recognition for their leadership, and they’ve managed to maintain the professional quality that got them recognized in the first place. And they’re all bound by the common belief that the Peoria area is the finest place around in which to live, work, and play.
Now marketing manager for Cullinan Properties, Brian Buralli has kept himself active both professionally and in the community. He’s been appointed to a number of boards, does committee work for not-for-profit organizations and events, and has been involved in the development of a number of new events such as Junior Achievement’s Business Hall of Fame and Festival of Trees. And Buralli’s professional life is forever evolving. “I’ve been involved with some fantastic projects, and am still amazed by how much I continue to learn, despite my years of experience.”
Buralli said one of his most rewarding moments since becoming a 40 Leader came in 2005 when he received the President’s Award from the Peoria Youth Hockey Association for his service as a volunteer head coach and his contributions to the organization. “The recognition brought to mind the involvement I’ve had as a mentor and role model in the lives of over 200 young men over these years. What was even more touching was reflecting on the role these young men and their families have played in my own life and the gift I’ve received through these relationships,” he said. “It brought into perspective why I do what I do.”
Originally from Chicago, Buralli moved to Peoria in 1985 and says central Illinois has become his home. “There’s such a fantastic mix of people and lifestyles, a blending of old and new, and a quality of life that’s difficult to find anywhere else. In this community, you know people and people know you. You can make a difference in the community and in the lives of others.”
Buralli acknowledges positive role models and mentors for his success, but also commends our community for helping him advance. “My associations and relationships continue to provide inspiration and motivate me to stay involved in our community. In the business model, my success is due to following simple principles of ethics and passion. My true success is that my life has been enriched by those around me.”
He encourages young professionals to find something inspiring and use that inspiration to make a difference. “Understand you have the power to make a difference and pursue it with a passion.”
A true advocate of the many opportunities central Illinois has to offer, Vickie Clark was with the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (PACVB) 10 years ago as director of finance and administration, and is now its senior vice president/COO, a capacity she’s held for three years. She’s also the director for the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway, which achieved federal designation in September 2005.
Peoria holds a special place in Clark’s heart—she’s been a steadfast supporter of the area, and helps improve our community through many volunteer roles: the Peoria Area Community Foundation Board of Directors, its Distribution and Education committees, the Illinois Bureau of Tourism LTCB/CVB Effectiveness Study Advisory Committee, the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce Government Task Force, the Bulletproof Vest Campaign for Peoria Police Officers, the Dress for Success Board, the Illinois River Coordinating Council’s Economic Development Task Force, the Illinois River Country Nature Trails Steering Committee, and the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway Steering Committee.
Clark said that after she was named a 40 Leader, “my focus became more broad-brushed.” She’s held the position of Interim President at the PACVB three times, and said her perspective is now more about vision and how the PACVB can strategically position itself for regional growth. She also recently was asked to serve on the advisory committee on International Tourism for the Illinois Global Partnership and on the planning committee for the Governor’s Conference on the Management of the Illinois River. And her efforts haven’t gone unrecognized—she received the 25 Women in Leadership Award in 2003, the Athena Award in 2004, and more recently, the Friend of the Industry Award from the Heart of Illinois Hospitality Association.
Although Clark loves the seasonal changes and the natural assets surrounding the Illinois River, she believes what really makes Peoria special is its support system. “We have a deep-rooted sense of value. How many communities can provide over 2,000 volunteers to host an IHSA tournament? How many can support multiple charities and still find a way to contribute more? How many regions have community components that can set aside their individual ambitions to join together in collaborative projects that make us all stronger? Call it leadership, call it basic midwestern values, call it what you want—that’s what makes central Illinois so meaningful…and that’s why we’re here.”
For Clark, success isn’t about position or accomplishments; it’s about having integrity no matter the situation, and it relies heavily on collaboration. “Any success I’ve had is directly attributed to my faith, family, and friends. We don’t succeed alone. Recently, the most invigorating accomplishments are seeing what collaborative efforts can achieve. I’ve seen it happen with the regional efforts related to Illinois River Country and the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway. These efforts haven’t been successful because of an individual—it’s been a collective effort. And when that synergy is developed, the possibilities are endless,” she said.
Her advice to future leaders: “Pursuing excellence is easy; it’s simply a mindset to accept nothing less. There’s always a way to accomplish goals, especially if you’re willing to think positively and creatively. Treat everyone with respect. Balance is crucial—so many people get caught up on trying to climb the ladder they forget what’s really important: relationships.”
From product manager to global process optimization manager, Julie Hammond has remained with Caterpillar Inc. since we first spotted her 10 years ago. “I’ve taken increasingly challenging and diverse roles with Caterpillar, but always with an emphasis on process and improvement. My last three positions have been very global in scope, yet located here in Peoria.”
Hammond helped found and continues to lead the Women’s Lifestyle Educational Fund, a scholarship fund for area women pursuing advanced educational opportunities. The volunteer organization raises money through a silent auction at the Women’s Lifestyle Show, awarding between 10 and 25 scholarships each year. And five years after her sons’ graduations, Hammond continues to volunteer her time at Richwoods High School and was a member of the Bradley University Alumni Board for three years. She said awards and recognition aren’t a priority for her. “Every time an RHS student thanks me or hugs me, that’s the best recognition I can get.”
She and her husband both have careers and deep roots in the community, which is why they’ve chosen to remain in central Illinois. “It’s an enjoyable place to live, with a vibrant array of things to do and many opportunities,” she said. “Our families are nearby, and both our sons have chosen Peoria as the place where they’ll pursue their careers.”
A great work ethic instilled by her parents and her central Illinois upbringing played major roles in Hammond’s road to success, as well as what she calls “an ability to see past the way we’ve always done things for innovative improvement.”
She offers this wisdom to young professionals: “Don’t be afraid of change; embrace it. Relationship-building is the foundation to your career and must be nurtured. Work hard, but don’t neglect life. Volunteer. You’ll experience more growth and satisfaction in a shorter period of time than any work assignment will provide.”
Karen Jensen has served in many major roles for successful companies. She was president of Environmental Science & Engineering (ESE), a national consulting engineering firm headquartered in Peoria; Industry President at AFFINA, a customer relationship management company also headquartered here; and she’s currently president & CEO of Farnsworth Group, a national engineering and architecture firm headquartered in Bloomington.
She’s been on a number of board and chair positions for profit organizations (ESE, Farnsworth Group, Keck Instruments, ESE Biosciences, Chemrox and Katalyst Analytical Technologies), as well as several not-for-profit organizations, including the Center of Prevention of Abuse, YWCA, and Peoria Production Shop. She’s also been recognized with the Charlotte Danstrom National Award, Women in Management, and Women of Achievement Award in the Corporate Category, Women in Management.
Jensen remains in central Illinois because of what it offers her entire family—her husband and she have both found progressive, satisfying careers here, and it’s an ideal location to raise a family. “I’ve been able to use the skills and experiences from my earlier professional life to make a broader impact in a number of organizations, and to experience how networked I am with the business associates and friends I’ve met over the years,” she said. “Another 10 years of being in the community provides more opportunities to interface with others and develop relationships.”
Her success is due in part to “wonderful mentors, broad educational opportunities, the support of my family, hard work, and terrific opportunities presented at various times in my career and from which I was able to grow and learn,” she said.
Jensen advises young professionals searching for success to “always do your personal best in all you do, take initiative, grasp opportunities to stretch and grow your skills, be involved in the community in meaningful ways, build relationships, and find enjoyment in what you do.”
Pat Taphorn originally started with The Unland Companies in Pekin in 1989 as a controller, then moved into sales in 1994, where he’s still providing insurance program consultation for both business owners and individuals in property and casualty, employee benefits, and personal needs. On January 1, he’ll be promoted to vice president with The Unland Companies.
Taphorn served on the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors from 1996 to 1999, and as its president for the 2001–2002 fiscal period. He’s also served as a varsity basketball assistant coach at Pekin High School—this will be his 11th year in that position. “I truly enjoy working with the kids in this community and feel I can have a positive impact during their high school years and beyond,” he said. “Being around them daily keeps everything else in perspective.”
In September 2005, Taphorn accepted a board position for the Peoria Area Sports Commission to help further the progress it’s made over the years. “The Peoria area is blessed to have so many sports activities for all ages, and it’s our challenge to promote those events, think of ways to enhance current events, and bring new events to our area that’ll have a positive financial impact to the community.”
Other than the Chamber of Commerce service awards and the successes of the Pekin basketball program over the last 10 years, Taphorn said his biggest achievement is the growth of his insurance career. And he’s certain to give due credit to his support staff, customer account managers, and claims manager, all of whom he said are outstanding in handling the day-to-day needs of Unland’s customers.
Aside from his college years in Green Bay at the University of Wisconsin, Taphorn has lived in Pekin his entire life. “This area is a great place to live, work, and raise a family. The school districts, park districts, social environment, and business opportunities are tremendous. The pride the people in central Illinois have is reflected in the way our area continues to grow. Family is also very important to me, and all of my family members continue to live in the area.”
Taphorn said his family is responsible for much of his success. His wife, Lisa, is supportive and takes care of the daily schedules of their four children, allowing him the time necessary to keep on top of things at the office and to volunteer for the community. His parents instilled certain qualities in him and were very supportive of his activies growing up. And Taphorn also keeps in mind the opportunities Unland has given him. “With that position comes an expectation of me to also serve in many volunteer roles in the community.”
Taphorn counsels future leaders to not take talent for granted, be patient, and share your abilities with the community. “Prepare yourselves now to be leaders of companies, but have patience because there’s no magical timeframe in which those opportunities will present themselves. While you’re growing professionally, take time to offer your talents in the community. Help support the community with your time, talent, and treasure.”
An attorney and corporate labor arbitration manager for Caterpillar Inc., Henry Vicary is responsible for all aspects of labor arbitrations, settlement negotiations, and arbitration risk management, as well as for additional strategies and initiatives within the company. He’s accepted many challenging leadership roles with Caterpillar in the areas of workers’ compensation and labor relations. “These opportunities have allowed me to grow as a lawyer, leader, and manager.”
Vicary’s been quite busy over the last several years helping the community in various aspects. He and his wife, Jill, were co-chairs on a major gifts committee with the Salvation Army capital campaign in 2000–2001. He served on the steering committee for Justice Daniel Schmidt’s 3rd District Court Appellate campaign in 2002. And in 2005, he was on the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Executive Committee for workers’ compensation reform, and he also served as co-chair of the Children’s Hospital of Illinois telethon with his wife and her family.
Three things have helped Vicary grow as a professional. “First, Dan Schmidt (attorney and now 3rd District Appellate Judge) taught me how to be a lawyer during the time I worked for his firm. Second, Caterpillar gave me an opportunity to do things as a professional I never dreamed possible—it’s truly a world-class company and my opportunities there mean a lot to me and my family.”
Vicary said the third catalyst for his success is his wife and children. “I want to set a good example for my kids—I want them to think I’m a champion. My most important leadership role is husband and father. Leadership starts at home, and I work each day to be a better husband and dad.”
And Vicary prefers the term champion over successful. “To me, being successful means you’ve reached all of your goals. I need to work hard and improve each day to achieve success. My son Connor and I are already discussing what it takes to be a champion. My wife and I believe one of our biggest goals is to provide an environment where our children can reach their personal best, be happy, and be champions. When that happens, we’ll have achieved success,” he said.
The Vicary family has remained in Peoria because of its opportunities and advantages. “Peoria is my home—my career, family, and friends are all connected to central Illinois. With Caterpillar’s headquarters in Peoria, I have the opportunity to work for the best company in the world right here in central Illinois. I believe there’s also a distinct advantage to raising our children in this area.”
His advice for future leaders is to begin at home. “If each person strived to be a great leader within his or her own family, we’d solve many of today’s societal challenges. Our children’s role models should be Mom and Dad. You also must demonstrate leadership at work each day. Set goals for yourself, achieve your goals, then set higher goals. Ask yourself each day, ‘What have I done today to be a champion?’ I ask my son that question all the time. If he can do it at 4 years old, you can do it, too.”
Mike Zeller is now vice president with National City Bank of the Midwest, serving as a relationship manager with the Upper Middle Market Group in its Wholesale Banking Division. He’s responsible for a portfolio of clients with approximately $200 million of credit committed to them, so it’s a good thing he has a lot of experience in the field (he was VP at First of America Bank when we featured him as a 40 Leader). He was named one of National City’s Corporate Sales Champions in 2002, and he received local Excel Awards from National City in 2002 and 2005.
Volunteerism is an important aspect of Zeller’s life. He’s involved with the Morton Youth Baseball Association and the Morton Youth Soccer Organization, and has served as a volunteer coach for over 14 years. He’s also in an advisory role to the Finance Committee for the Central Illinois Chapter of the American Red Cross. “I’ve largely stayed involved with the same local organizations over the last 10 years,” he said.
Zeller attributes his professional success to working within a great environment that’s been stocked with some of the best commercial lending talent in central Illinois. “That environment was in place when I started with Commercial National Bank in 1981 and has continued during my tenure with First of America and now with National City. For 25 years, I’ve worked with some great individuals and I’ve tried to adopt the characteristics that made each of them successful in their careers.”
Another reason for his success in the industry is that his job description has changed drastically in regards to how bankers interface with their clients. “Our approach now is to be much more consultative in our discussions and dealings with our customers,” he said. “The expectation is for us to be critical thinkers and to bring ideas and solutions to our clients.”
In addition to mentors in the banking community, Zeller gives credit to his wife for supporting his career choice. “Along the way, she’s helped me greatly in keeping a proper perspective with my career and a good balance in my life.”
The Zeller family has chosen to stay in central Illinois largely for quality-of-life reasons. “The Peoria area is large enough for plenty of opportunities both professionally and personally, but small enough so a person has an opportunity to have an impact within the community. My clients are my neighbors, and consequently, I’m able to get to know them very well,” he said.
“Find a career field in which you enjoy working,” Zeller advises. “Then charge hard after it. Give it your full effort. But along the way, remember to enjoy the benefits and opportunities the Peoria area provides.” IBI