What are the odds that a young Danny Thomas—borderline academic performer in high school, at-risk poster child, product of a single-parent household—would end up as an MP in the Marine Corps? And, again, that his service would intersect with Chief Warrant Officer John Hawthorne at exactly the critical moment? “I never planned on being an attorney,” says Thomas, who is just that for Independence-based Humphrey Farrington & McClain. But one day, Hawthorne visited Thomas’ platoon, encouraging MPs to sign up for a criminal justice courses he taught at a local college. Thomas ended up taking the life-changing LSAT at Hawthorne’s urging. “I am forever grateful to CWO Hawthorne,” says Thomas. That twist of fate helped Thomas find the true source of his passion. In 2008, he turned his drive into a No. 5 ranking on Missouri Lawyers Weekly’s list of top plaintiff’s attorneys, securing the largest settlement in the state that year and more than $19.3 million overall. “I am extremely proud of what I do,” said Thomas, 34, the father of a son who’ll soon turn 4. “All of my clients are frightened, hurt, frustrated and oftentimes completely unable to stand up for themselves against the power and money of those who have harmed them. … This is not a job. It is a calling. There is no other career for me.”
A small agency owned by his uncle introduced Todd Trent to the world of insurance 18 years ago. That’s light years from where he works today, as vice president and unit manager in the commercial insurance department for Lockton, the world’s largest privately owned insurance brokerage. What Trent has learned along the way shapes his approach to his career today. In his current role, he says, “I’m able to continually fulfill one of my proudest accomplishments”—mentoring young associates. “My message to them is, take ownership, hold your self accountable for your actions, and develop civic commitments.” Trent himself has done just that, says his boss, Senior Vice President Jim Collins. The relationships Trent has formed with clients “are crucial to Lockton’s success and we are lucky to have Todd on our team,” Collins said. Trent, 38, has walked the walk on civic commitments with service that includes the United Way’s Young Leaders Society, Christmas in October, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, where he has served as chairman of the annual Light the Night fund-raiser. He also draws strength from family: “I would be remiss if I did not mention my wife of 16 years and our three children,” Trent said. “They give me support in all that I do.”
Among the most impressive qualities of 40 Under Forty honorees each year is the range and depth of their commitment to civic causes. But even within a group that stands out for its members’ shared sense of community, Matt Vaupell has a finely tuned sense of civic duty. It’s what inspired him, along with his wife, Tara, and their two children, to form their own charitable venture they’ve dubbed Thanksgiving Traditions. Working with school districts in Johnson County, they identify families in need, then buy and distribute Thanksgiving meals to those families in Olathe and Gardner. And it’s the kind of thing his colleagues at RED Brokerage have come to expect from their 36-year-old executive vice president, said Dan Lowe, managing partner for RED Development. “Matt displays many of the outstanding qualities necessary to succeed in this field, including strong work ethic and the ability to overcome in the face of obstacles, particularly in our current environment,” Lowe said. In his role at RED, Vaupell specializes in the leasing and sales of retail and investment properties, and oversees 20 full-time retail and office brokers. Among his other charitable interests is co-chairing the Olathe Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund Board, where he’s had a seat for two years.
“A point of pride in my career is helping Kansas City physicians take care of their patients,” says Jill Watson. She’s not a doctor, but Watson nonetheless affects health outcomes through her work as executive director of the Metropolitan Medical Society of Greater Kansas City (Metro Med). And that work is a great example of someone striking the right balance between career and service. “I am a native Kansas Citian, and I intend to live here a long time,” Watson says. “Personally and professionally, I want physicians to thrive in Kansas City and want them to practice medicine here.” The mother of three children, ages 4–12, that she has with her husband Michael, Watson is showing them by her example what it means to lead. She helped create Northland CARE/MetroCARE, a project she still runs, to help area doctors provide care for low-income patients without insurance. “It’s an awesome example of physician leadership that works because it is logical and practical, and it allows physicians to do what they want to do—take care of people who need them,” she says. Working with that group, she says, allows her to send a clear signal to her kids: “Meaningful work is important and very rewarding, and it can also be fun,” she says. “If you aren’t having fun, you probably should think again about what you are doing.”