Much has changed since we initiated the 1998 class of 40 Leaders Under Forty. After 10 years, we caught up with five of these worthy recipients and found that they all shared the same vision: Peoria is a forward-moving city, and one well worth our community’s investment. Each of these talented men and women continues to nurture and believe in the Midwestern values that make central Illinois such a wonderful place to build a career and raise a family.
Ten years after she was recognized as a young leader in the Peoria area, Alma Brown continues to deliver hard work and a sense of community pride. Brown is currently the City Communications Manager, a position she says is wonderful because it changes every day and allows her to multitask on a range of issues. Acting as a city spokesperson, responding to both citizens and legislators and overseeing budget and website projects comprise just a few of her daily tasks. Brown also continues to exercise her business, Basic Business Services and Event Planning, by coordinating events and meetings.
Although Brown is not native to the area, having moved to Peoria in 1980, her continued involvement with local organizations suggests otherwise. The Junior League of Peoria, sorority Delta Sigma Theta, Peoria’s Covenant with Black America and the Tri-County Urban League are just a few of her commitments. For her work, Brown was inducted into the African American Hall of Fame Museum and received a community service award from the Peoria Park District in 2003.
Each year she coordinates the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Luncheon through Public Employees for Community Concerns in an effort to bring all races together in fellowship. This event has seen tremendous growth, earning Brown the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Awareness Award in 2005, which has been one of her most rewarding experiences.
“Sixteen years later, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Luncheon has grown in attendance from 200 people to 2,000,” she said. “We feel so fortunate to be able to have Martin Luther King III as our guest speaker in 2008. This will truly make our event even more special.”
While living in Peoria is part of her job, Brown maintains that she would stay in the city regardless. “Coming from a community of 1,500 people, I like the fact that Peoria is a large city but has a small-town feeling. I enjoy living in Peoria because I’ve had the opportunity to work with and meet so many wonderful people, from neighborhood leaders to elected officials, from business leaders to Dr. Maya Angelou,” she said.
A member of St. Paul Baptist Church, Brown said her greatest inspiration is her faith. “I think our beliefs are the foundation that strengthens us and keeps us on the right path,” she said. Brown also attributes her success to individuals who have helped her throughout her career: family members, friends and mentors.
Brown’s advice for up-and-coming leaders has, in her case, proved to be tried and true. “Volunteerism is the backbone of a community,” she said. “I would advise anyone who wants to really be a leader to get involved. It is important to participate on boards and stay informed about community issues. There is no better way to show commitment and initiative than to share your talents with the numerous agencies throughout our city.”
For over 12 years Tim Butler has dedicated his communications talent to assisting U.S. Congressman Ray LaHood through press and local relations to multiple re-elections. In January he was promoted to District Chief of Staff, a position in which he manages the 20-county 18th District, a staff of 10 and three district offices. Butler also visits several communities regularly, especially Peoria and Springfield, and those places inspire him to make a difference.
“My job for Ray keeps me incredibly involved with communities and community organizations throughout the 18th District,” Butler said. “My work entails dealing with myriad interest groups throughout the district as well as many local and state officials. Working in this office is a tremendously satisfying way to make an impact on our region.”
Butler relocated to Springfield with his wife just as he became a 40 Leader and has since turned an old hobby into community service. He served as president of the local running club in 2002 and 2003 and directed Springfield’s largest running race, Abe’s Amble. Currently he co-directs the state capital’s half-marathon, the Lincoln Memorial.
Though living in Springfield, Butler continues to keep tabs on the progress of Peoria. “I believe Peoria has changed for the better in the past 10 years, and certainly in my lifetime,” he shared. “The resurgent downtown area is something of which all Peorians can be proud. We have many forward-looking people in Peoria, with an excellent foundation of experienced community activists and a great corps of up-and-coming leaders. Peoria’s future is very, very bright.”
Part of Butler’s inspiration comes from his parents—two people he calls “Peorians through and through.” The Butlers, according to Tim, were greatly involved in the local Catholic community, enjoyed boating at the IVY Club and ran (although unsuccessfully) for City Council.
“I look at their roots in Peoria and the pride they took in their community as something on which I can base my own life,” Butler said.
A second inspiration for Butler is his boss, Ray LaHood. “He has taught me how to be a professional, what the true meaning is of public service and why you should give back to your community,” he said.
His advice for future leaders: “Raise your hand, ask questions and don’t be afraid to get involved! There are many great leaders in our area from which you can learn. Seek them out, talk with them and use them as inspiration for making a difference.”
Since 1998, Bill Kwon has continued to serve the central Illinois financial community at Morgan Stanley. In 2001 Kwon was promoted to Vice President, and he has since received many distinctions. Within Morgan Stanley, Kwon received the appointment of International Wealth Specialist, which designates him as one of 50 financial advisors around the country who are authorized to conduct international business within the Global Wealth Management division. Kwon also achieved the status of Director’s Club winner eight times in 10 years.
However, it’s not the titles and distinctions which keep him motivated, but rewards of another type. “The most rewarding part of this career is developing such good relationships with people who entrust (to you) a very significant part of their lives and ask you to guide them through the peaks and trials of life,” Kwon said. He says that mentoring younger financial advisors, “creating value for my clients and their families” and seeing his family healthy have been his most rewarding experiences since being named a 40 Leader.
With his friendly interest in the people of the community, Kwon has been involved with many different organizations. He served on the Peoria Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors from 1998 to 2006 and also spent several years with Lakeview Museum helping to develop the Riverfront Museum Project. Kwon received the Ambassador of the Year Award for the Peoria Chamber of Commerce in 2000-2001.
Currently Kwon invests in the community in other ways. He is the managing director for a technology firm which develops devices to help the disabled and enjoys being a partner in Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse.
Since Kwon was named a 40 Leader, one big change in his life has occurred: kids. “What a difference a decade can make!” Kwon said after mentioning his four “incredible” children. He currently serves on various committees at Peoria Academy, where his son goes to school, and he still plays ice hockey twice a week with Peoria youth. Kwon continues to cite his wife as one of his biggest motivations. “On the point of who has inspired me personally, without question, my wife has always motivated me to be a better man, at home and at work. I am blessed to have her.”
Although Kwon was born in Seoul, South Korea, he has lived in Illinois for all but one of his years and has been in Peoria for more than 25. Considering himself a native of the area, Kwon can’t say enough about how Peoria continues to change for the better.
“I see Peoria moving in a positive direction, attracting quality individuals to lead the growth of our city,” Kwon said. “We have a strong supply of talented and hard-working professionals here in central Illinois and that only promises good things for our future. What a great place to raise a family, build a career and develop great friendships.”
Peoria’s business leaders are his inspiration, Kwon said, especially those “who genuinely look at creating a winning situation, not only for the financial bottom line or ego, but also for others in the community as well.”
In his future, Kwon is preparing to enter a post-graduate studies program at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
He advises up-and-coming leaders to focus on friendships rather than finances.
“Don’t worry about money all the time; it will come if you do the right things,” Kwon said. “Get involved, because you will find it always gives back more than you give to it.”
A new job, family life and a return to school have kept Kate O’Hara busy since the time she was honored as a 40 Leader. In 1998 O’Hara was a marketing coordinator for the Economic Development Council, and in 2001 she was employed by the USDA National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research— also known as the Ag Lab—as Technology Communication Officer. Her responsibilities are still focused on strategic management, communication and marketing as she takes on a combination of public relations and human resources.
After moving to central Illinois in the late 1970s, O’Hara joined several community groups, including the Peoria NEXT strategy development team. She also serves on the board of the Alzheimer’s Association of Central Illinois, having personally seen the support the association could offer for affected family members. Much of her time is given to her three children and two grandchildren, and she says family life is a “major emphasis.”
Bradley University hosted another important part of O’Hara’s life—her return to school. In May O’Hara received her Executive Master of Business Administration degree after traveling to China with the program, which she said was demanding and an intense commitment.
“Achieving completion was the fulfillment of a long-time educational goal, preparation for future opportunities and an enormously enriching experience on both a personal and professional level,” O’Hara said, referring to the journey of completing her new degree. “In the process, deeper bonds were developed with my college and high school age children and new bonds were forged with my classmates.”
Continuing to live in Peoria is a simple choice for O’Hara: “I have family, friends and work that I love and life is good.” Her investment in the forward momentum of the city with Peoria NEXT makes her view the area as a “significant player” in technology and innovation.
O’Hara draws her inspiration from a local source: the Ag Lab. “The creativity, passion and commitment to excellence that exist within this place are nothing short of phenomenal,” she said. “I have learned about the power of collaboration by witnessing the scientific partnerships that exist across hallways, throughout the U.S. and around the world and the success that comes from building on each other’s strengths. These qualities and the resulting accomplishments are both legacy and vision.”
Her advice for future leaders is to embrace change, but in a reasonable way.
“Be willing to accept the risk of new experiences and encourage others to do the same,” she said. “My favorite quote is currently ‘Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.’ However, some balance might be a good thing. The advice I recently received from my children came in the form of wall plaque: ‘Climb every other mountain.’”
For Mark Scott, the business of communication runs in the family in many ways. Having grown up with his father as a local telephone manager, it was natural for Scott to become a sales representative for cellular telephone companies when he entered the workforce. At the time of his selection as a 40 Leader, he was an account executive with Alltel, and in July 2001, Scott and his wife began their own company—Scott Communication Services, Inc—which is authorized by Nextel. “It was one of the best decisions of my life,” Scott said. The business, in addition to being an authorized Nextel Representative, provides audits on communication expense and sells related products.
The flexibility that comes with working for himself has turned Scott into even more of a family man. “My family comes first,” he said. “I never miss a family event. One thing I learned in the business talking to successful leaders within the community: Don’t let your kids grow up without you, because before you know it, they will be gone.”
Owning a business has also brought to light other things Scott values, including the old-fashioned approach of the honor system. “I made the decision to provide audits work with a simple handshake,” Scott said. “I tell you what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it, and to date I have not been burnt.” For Scott, working for himself has been his most rewarding experience in the years since his selection as a 40 Leader.
Outside of work, Scott continues much of the community work he was involved in a decade ago. Having served on the Bradley Braves Club Board since 1991, Scott is currently president. He is also the first vice chairman of the Easter Seals Board of Directors. Investment in the community is simple for Scott, who said he loves Peoria because it is such a caring and giving place.
“There are so many silent givers within this community, and our leading corporations continue to step up to the plate and support all of the not-for-profit organizations,” he said.
Scott’s advice to young leaders is to complete tasks the right way the first time, and opportunities will continue to come in. He also suggests his business motto as a way to elicit referrals, which compose 90 percent of his business: “I don’t want your order, I want your business!” IBI