After her family moved to the nation’s capital when Katy Jennings was 12, she had first-person instruction in that art of horse-trading, working in the offices of two congressmen. That, she says, “taught me a lot about negotiating and politics,” skills that come in handy for the vice president of national sales at Wilks Broadcast Group, which operates 21 radio stations in six states. Leadership was in her blood early; she was senior class president at the University of Kansas, where she majored in journalism. Her career started with the Kansas City advertising agency then known as Barkley & Evergreen, then veered to radio in 1995. She quickly found her stride, becoming national sales manager in 2002, the year she married Matt Jennings. Within three years, she was a working mother of two children just now reaching school age. That means finding time to chair the Brookwood Elementary auction donation party (an event that helped raise more than $60,000), in addition to board service with Kansas City Media Mix and its fundraising efforts on behalf of St. Vincent’s Operation Breakthrough. How does she do it? “I love the balance between my personal and professional life,” says Jennings, 39. “My supportive family allows me to pursue all of my dreams.”
Wherever his career has taken him, Jeff Johnson has risen to the challenge. Whether it’s involved contract renewals worth billions of dollars for Hallmark or playing a key role in the challenge of turning around American Italian Pasta Co., Johnson, 39, has been part of successful collaborations during his career as a finance professional. He puts those skills to work these days for Murphy-Hoffman Co., perhaps the biggest national vehicle sales group you’ve never heard of. Then again, you probably aren’t in the market for a Kenworth dump truck or semi cab. At MHC, he’s led efforts to renegotiate and refinance debt agreements to improve cash flow, a tricky task given the current state of the nation’s credit markets. He also led reorganization of accounting and credit functions for a subsidiary, which helped cut down on bad debt. But he humbly defers credit for those accomplishments: “I take great satisfaction in watching my current or past team members achieve success,” he says. “I am motivated by building, motivating and leading teams to high achievement.” His highest-performing team? It’s at home, where he and his wife, Gwen, are raising three children, ages 3–9. “I am simply a family man,” he says, “who realizes my wife and children are the most important thing in my life.”
Jake Kern could be Exhibit A for relationship counselors who emphasize the value of families eating dinner together: “As a child growing up in rural Idaho, I always had a passion for business,” he says. “My parents fostered this passion with countless dinner discussions about the stock market and current events.” Those discussions have served him well. After launching his career in San Jose, Calif., as a corporate accountant, Kern reached the level of Global Customer Satisfaction Controller for Novellus Systems at the age of 25. But he sought a higher calling for his facility with managing numbers. He’s currently a senior wealth manager for Mariner Wealth Advisors in Leawood, handling a nine-figure portfolio. “I wanted to find a career where I could use my business knowledge to improve people’s lives,” he says. Mariner is the vehicle that lets him do that, and do it well. In 2008, he was named the organization’s top producer. Still just 30, everything is falling into place for Kern as though by design. He’s engaged to an incredible KC native by the name of Annie, and is looking ahead to deepening his ties to this region. Already a board member in charge of making philanthropic decisions for the Mariner Foundation, he says that “in 2010, my personal goal is to be more involved in the community.”
A bit of advice if you want to reach Missouri state Sen. Brad Lager: Try to give his e-mail inbox a break. “Between my Senate e-mail and my e-mail at Cerner, it’s about 1,000 messages a week,” says the time-starved 34-year-old. As a measure of Cerner’s good corporate citizenship, the Northland medical software giant makes concessions to allow Lager the four-day legislative schedule he keeps from January through May. He’s back in the office at Cerner on Fridays as a senior strategic analyst in the Health-e Services group. The rest of the week, he’s living out the Chinese curse about interesting times, applying a free-market, business-oriented perspective to deliberations on some grueling budget issues. “These indeed are interesting times,” he muses, acknowledging that fiscal and political conditions in the state and nation have drawn more people—and points of view—into the policy arena. “Brad Lager is a good and honest man who works daily to do the right things for the right reasons,” says a legislative mentor, Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields. When he’s done trying to balance the corporate and legislative agendas, Lager heads back home to Savannah, where he and his wife, Stephanie, have a 2-year-old daughter.