THERESA GARZA RUIZ
Nothing in life was handed to Theresa Garza Ruiz. Raised in a single-parent household. Five years of active duty in the Navy. First member of her family to earn a college degree. Still, she says, “I have never encountered the type of adversity that would cause me to throw in the towel.” Instead, she’s dedicated herself to making a difference—in her choice of career in the non-profit sector, with her duties as an elected official, and as a wife and mother. “If anything,” she says, “I have learned to work through adversity.” She works for the American Cancer Society as regional director of government relations. But since 2006, the 39-year-old has occupied a seat on the Jackson County Legislature, and is pursing a second term. The experience, she said, has taught her that “public service is a two-way interaction” and that effective leadership alone will not overcome community challenges without active participation of the citizenry. Her own participation includes an impressive list of 30 organizations advocating for such varied causes as literacy promotion, labor and professional interests, charities such as Meals on Wheels and Habitat for Humanity, and many more. “I am constantly reminded,” she says of her service, “of why we must work together and be engaged at all levels of society.”
Philip Sarnecki learned early what was truly important in life. “We were on food stamps for a while when I was very young,” he says, but his parents—a janitor and a secretary—nonetheless raised “a great family” back in Illinois. At 39, he’s a relatively recent transplant to the Kansas City area as managing director for RPS Financial Services, a division of life insurance giant Northwestern Mutual. He became Northwestern’s youngest managing partner when he was 34, beating the average age of his peers by a solid 18 years. Sarnecki came here from the Cincinnati office, but his business reach remains impressive: He owns a real estate company with his brother in Illinois, plus three other businesses, and even became executive producer for Hitting the Nuts, a mockumentary being released this year. “I have been blessed with a tremendous amount of financial success at a very young age,” Sarnecki says. Now, he’s focused on significance, not just success. He’s on the national board of Athletes in Action, chairs the capital campaign for Westminster Christian Academy, and is a member of the University of Illinois Loyalty Endowment Circle. Not to be overlooked: He’s still building a family with his wife, Heidi, who gave birth two months ago to their third child.
Not many people can drive across the metropolitan area and see the impact of their work rising out of the ground. As a lawyer with Polsinelli Shughart who specializes in real estate development issues, Chase Simmons can. “I am continually struck by the relationship between my work and the physical changes to our built environment that follow,” the 38-year-old says. And he’s amazed, as well, at how the varied economic interests—those of developer, tenant, government and surrounding property owners—can come together to promote long-term community benefits. Simmons was lead counsel on what turned out to be the largest economic-development project in Kansas history. Construction has already begun for the new Kansas City Wizards stadium, to be followed with offices for more than 4,000 employees of medical software company Cerner Corp. He helped shepherd the legal processes influencing planning, architecture, finance and operations, and takes pride knowing that “the entire process from idea to start of construction took less than a year.” Simmons and his wife, Ashley, have two daughters. His other interests include steering and founding committee duties with GENKC, which connects more than 2,500 young professionals around the area.
Brogan Sullivan is the first to admit: If anyone in his household should be a 40 Under Forty honoree, it would be his wife, Lara, the pediatrician and mother to their four children. “But I married an older woman—she turned 40 last October!” he jokes. Nonetheless, he says her support is the reason he’s been able, at 39, to establish a reputation in the legal community as a go-to guy for issues in the volatile energy sector, particularly with mergers and acquisitions. He also ushers clients through legal challenges in health care, broadband communications, manufacturing and grocery wholesale, doing deals from Australia and New Zealand to Canada and the United Kingdom. Sullivan has been with what is now Husch Blackwell Sanders for most of his 18 years out of the law school at the University of Chicago. The one break: A five-year stretch when the firm asked him to be part of an in-house legal team for Aquila, then it’s largest client. The orderly liquidation of that one-time energy giant, he says, was among his most significant achievements in law. Commitment to bettering his hometown includes current service on the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, where he’s director and vice president of development, and serving as on the board for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.