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CEOs of Influence elicit laughter, tears at award event

2019 CEO of Influence winners gather during gala in Boise Centre.

The 2019 CEO of Influence winners gather during the gala at Boise Centre. From left, winners were Troy McClain of Tovuti, Brent Taylor of the Wyakin Foundation, Nick Schlekeway of Amherst Madison, Bruce Wong of the Ada County Highway District, Charlene Maher of Blue Cross of Idaho, Nora J. Carpenter of the United Way of Treasure Valley, David L. Duro of Treasure Valley Family YMCA, Tricia Swartling of The Advocates for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and Paris Cole of Truckstop.com. Photo by Pete Grady.

More than a hundred people attended this year’s CEO of Influence dinner and award reception, which honored nine Idaho CEOs for their achievements in business and philanthropy.

Now in its ninth year, the event was held on May 9 at the Boise Centre, in Boise.

The nine awardees came from around the state, in a variety of industries, ranging from large for-profit companies to small nonprofits. Awardees do more than just talk a good game — they deliver, said Kelly Cameron, managing partner at presenting sponsor Perkins Coie, a law firm.

“Each of these leaders approaches their work with humility, tenacity and a commitment to community,” said Rebecca Palmer, special sections editor, introducing the honorees. “They innovate, they inspire and they create jobs that help families thrive. They have committed their lives to making Idaho a great place to live and do business. Tonight, we see the results of their efforts and have the opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments.”

Each honoree was introduced with a short video interview and each gave an acceptance speech. Common themes were the efforts of their teams, their mentors and their community partners as the foundations of their success – and not a few tears, from the recipients themselves as well as from members of the audience.

“I’m only here because I get to be lifted up on the shoulders of heroes and angels,” said Bruce Wong, CEO of the Ada County Highway District, comparing the organization to the Air Force, from which he is a retired officer.

“Our services save lives,” said Tricia Swartling, CEO of The Advocates for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, a Hailey-based nonprofit organization. She read a letter from a client the organization had helped, saying, “Stories like this are why I do the work that I do.”

Several honorees said they had never intended to be a CEO – Swartling, in fact, said that she started as a volunteer for every job she’s ever had – but stepped up because they could see that they were needed.

“It means everything to work for a mission-driven organization,” said Charlene Maher, CEO of Blue Cross Idaho, who said she’d held just about every position there is at her company at one time or another. “We believe every person in Idaho deserves health care, at affordable rates.”

Awardees also demonstrated that CEOs of Influence can still have senses of humor, with Truckstop.com CEO Paris Cole describing his company – which recently received what some industry watchers have said was a $1 billion investment — as “the eHarmony of the trucking industry.”

Brent Taylor, CEO of the Wyakin Foundation, a nonprofit that helps veterans transition to civilian life by attending school, said that he wished this was one of the events where honorees were surprised, because then he would have an excuse for not having anything articulate to say.

“The Apprentice” alumnus Troy McClain, CEO of education management software company Tovuti, noted that he had a PhD: “poor, hungry and driven,” before revealing that his lack of a formal education had hurt him on the show.

But honorees were plenty inspirational as well. David Duro, CEO of Treasure Valley YMCA, called on more attendees of the event to get involved with the nonprofit athletic organization, whether it was by joining, volunteering, advocating or donating.

Community was also a common theme. One of the most important things that real estate companies can do is to support their communities, said Nick Schlekeway, founder and CEO of Amherst Madison Real Estate, in his video.

“I think I’ve used the word ‘community’ around a hundred times,” said Nora Carpenter, president and CEO of the United Way of Treasure Valley.

The Idaho Business Review received dozens of applications for the honor, which recognizes a number of outstanding CEOs for excellence in leadership, professional accomplishments, mentorship and community service.

To view photos from the 2019 awards, click here.

Nominations are now open for CEO of Influence 2020. Click here to nominate.

About Sharon Fisher

Sharon Fisher is an Idaho Business Review staff writer, covering financial institutions, technology, and business development. She holds a bachelor of science in computer science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a masters in public administration and graduate certificates in geographic informational analysis and in community and regional planning from Boise State University. She likes explaining things and going to meetings. Join me on Twitter at @IBR_SLFisher.