You’d be hard-pressed to categorize the staff at VML as … grizzled. Yet even within a comparatively young, hip work force, Chuck Searle stands out. And not just because he’s the youngest member of VML’s executive management team. He’s also executive director of client services, which means he’s the guy driving collaboration and innovation among more than 100 people on the account-management team. In nearly 13 years with the company, he’s been part of the rapid growth that’s come from exploring new frontiers in cross-channel marketing. Among the clients he’s worked with are national and global brands like Gatorade, Wendy’s, Southwest Airlines, Burger King, Western Union, Hostess Brands, H&R Block, and AMC Theatres. While successes with those companies and other metrics are important, Searle says, “more notable is the growth and development of those VMLers who I have had the privilege of mentoring.” His success, colleagues say, comes from a background in traditional advertising approaches, combined with his understanding of and appreciation for what digital channels can do for a brand through content integration, site development, social media, search marketing and analytics. This Colorado native has also forged a strong collaboration with his alma mater, Rockhurst University, where he earned both a degree in marketing and his MBA. He’s worked to help set up the VML EMBA program there, and serves as a strategic consultant for the Helzberg School of Management. Searle and his wife, Kristin, have two daughters, 5-year-old Amelia and Julia, 3.
“A handshake,” says Mike Sinatra, “means something.” And that’s why he says his highest priority in his professional dealings is maintaining a reputation for keeping his word. Combine that commitment to integrity with the pride he takes in crafting a respectful workplace for employees—as well as in keeping commitments to family and friends while outside the office—and you have a recipe for achievement for this 37-year-old, most recently the president of Carey of Kansas City. Transportation services weren’t his original destination; he spent six years with UMB, rising to vice president, before the entrepreneurial bug bit—hard. He started Sinatra Limousine in 2004, when he was just 28, and selling it to his largest competitor just two years later. He remained on board with both the Kansas City Transportation Group and its successor when KCTG was sold to a French firm. With a fleet of 100 vehicles and 100 employees, he grew the top line from $2 million to $6 million. Sinatra has already set his next course in life: This month, he joins Chadwick Partners, a financial advisory and consulting firm. He and his wife, Katherine, have two boys—Luke, 5, and Jack, 3—and they are the source of his greatest pride: Spending time with them, Sinatra says, “brings me joy and keeps me humbled.” For six years, he’s been on the board of the O.E. Ellis Foundation, helping raise more than $300,000 for the Ronald McDonald House. And in 2008, he paid tribute to his late father—a devout tennis buff—by launching the Paul Sinatra Memorial Fund, introducing the sport to children in the urban core.
“The role does not define the individual,” Ryan Swartz maintains. “You can lead from any position, no matter what your business card says.” And lead he has, during both an eight-year stint at Fidelity Investments, where he was one of the youngest to make vice president at a firm with 38,000 employees. He also earned President’s Circle honors for being in the top 5 percent of planning consultants, along with recognition as the top regional planning executive and a host of other awards. By 2011, Creative Planning’s president, Peter Mallouk, had seen enough to know he needed to bring Swartz into the fold. Good call: In just 15 months, Swartz posted a firm-best $270 million in new client assets there. Not surprisingly, the 35-year-old Swartz has been assigned duties mentoring younger wealth managers for the Leawood firm.
Deeply involved in community service outside the office, Swartz maintains strong ties to his alma mater, Bethany College, working to raise funds that allowed the NAIA basketball program to compete in tournaments in Hawaii, as well as $6,000 to help buy a new shooting machine for the men’s and women’s teams there. He takes volunteer, contributor and participant roles in the Tom Moore Memorial Scholarship fund-raiser in Wellsville, works in the annual Backpacks for Hunger program through his church, and assists with the firm’s efforts to help Higher M-Pact distribute 500 Thanksgiving meals to families throughout Kansas City. A wealth manager by day, he knows true wealth when he sees it: “My family, who greet me every evening: wife Amy, and daughters Rowan and Remy.”
Be a doctor, she heard the adults tell the neighborhood kids. Or a lawyer. An engineer. Social workers, they said, wouldn’t make any money; that was a dead-end career. Perhaps those career counselors might want to check in on Qiana Thomason these days. Less than three decades after rejecting their advice, the 35-year-old is department vice president of clinical operations at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City, the region’s largest health insurer.
Her inspiration to get there was a passion for the art of helping, she says, and motivation from Proverbs 18:16—“A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before the great.” “My ‘gift’ is affording me the privilege of making significant contributions in the health-care landscape through non-traditional social work roles,” she says. Her duties include analyzing health-risk assessment and medical claims data trends, then working with her team of nurses, social workers, nutritionists, coaches, analysts and others to design programs that help BlueKC members better manage their own health. Previously, she was clinical director of behavioral health for Swope Health Services, and health and human services liaison for Sen. Jean Carnahan. Thomason graduated summa cum laude from Florida A&M in 1999, then earned her master’s—both degrees were in social work—from KU in 2001. She’s a native of Kansas City and Center High School graduate.
Thomason and her husband of 10 years, Cedric, have two daughters, Zoe and Kai.