100 People to Meet: Impact Makers
Whether writing bestselling books, fighting high-profile court battles, helping to build racial equity, fighting for institutional reforms or leading coalitions, these Virginians are making a difference.
Counsel to Gov. Ralph Northam
A Bedford County native and University of Richmond School of Law alum, Rita Davis is the first woman to serve as legal counsel to a Virginia governor, a job she accepted in 2018. Much of her job involves handling clemency petitions, executive orders and FOIA requests — but also, this year, leading the state’s legal battle to remove the monument of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond. Proudly wearing her gold necklace that spells out “Boss,” a gift she rarely removes, Davis cut a striking figure this summer as she described the statue as a Jim Crow-era attempt to “recast Virginia’s history … to fit a narrative that minimizes a devastating evil.” Davis, who says she hopes the statue will be removed by spring, calls its now-graffiti-covered pedestal “absolutely beautiful.”
Director of corporate affairs, Universal Leaf Tobacco Co. Inc.
Benjamin Dessart is a real fan of Henrico County, his home since he was 3. With a background in Republican politics, including as political director for former U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Dessart is a member of the board of Virginia FREE, a nonpartisan, pro-business group formed by former Del. Chris Saxman, and he oversees global regulatory affairs and sustainability for Universal Leaf Tobacco Co. Inc., a merchant and processor with operations in close to 30 countries.
In normal non-pandemic times, Dessart spends about a quarter of the year in the field — literal fields, he says, in Zimbabwe and other far-flung locations. “Working with our farmers — you’re in the middle of the bush,” seeing places few tourists ever get to go, he says.
Vice president, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond
Renee Haltom, who has been with the Richmond Fed for 16 years, bridges the gap between hard-numbers economics and human communications. This year, her business and community outreach efforts throughout Virginia took on greater urgency as data models lagged in reporting the current state of the economy during the early days of the pandemic. “I really enjoy connecting with other people about the issues that are important to them,” Haltom says, and her outreach efforts allowed the bank to fine-tune its approach to monetary policy. “It’s a matter of getting people of all different backgrounds plugged in,” she adds, while noting that the pandemic has highlighted existing issues of inequity and lack of access, especially in rural areas.
Founder and CEO, TMI Consulting Inc.
Tiffany Jana has become a much-in-demand diversity and inclusion consultant as businesses confront structural racism and company cultures that limit the potential of their Black and brown employees. A member of the Virginia 2020 Census Complete Count Commission, Jana founded TMI in 2010 and transitioned the company into a certified benefit corporation. Jana, who uses the pronouns they and their, also co-wrote four bestselling books — “Erasing Institutional Bias, “Overcoming Bias: Building Authentic Relationships Across Differences,” “The B Corp Handbook” and “Subtle Acts of Exclusion” — and they were named one of Inc.com’s top 100 leadership speakers in 2018. “Cultural fluency definitely increases our capacity to communicate and work well across differences,” Jana tweeted in November. “The more you know, the less egregious your stumbles will be.”
Regional president, Greater Washington, D.C., and Virginia, M&T Bank
In 2018, Cecilia Hodges was named M&T’s Virginia and Washington, D.C., regional president, and in January the Rocky Mount native and Virginia Tech alumna will mark her 25th anniversary with the bank. Aside from her duties overseeing more than 60 bank branches, Hodges has dedicated significant time to volunteer work as chair of M&T’s charitable foundation committees in the Washington and Richmond regions, and she recently joined the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond’s Baltimore board of directors. Hodges also volunteers with the March of Dimes and Easterseals, specifically to help empower women and girls. “As busy as I am, if I take the time to give back, I walk away feeling that I’ve gained more than I’ve given.”
President and state director, HR Virginia; senior director, HR Strategic Initiatives, University of Virginia
Like the rest of us, Michael Latsko saw a big change in his lifestyle this year — moving from in-person to virtual events as president of HR Virginia, which hosts an annual conference for 650 human resources professionals, and working overtime to make sure the University of Virginia was safe for students, faculty, staff and visitors. “We’re all learning more about remote work, keeping employees engaged, not allowing a degeneration of service, effectiveness or productivity — all while stress, anxiety, frustration and fear are on the rise,” he says. Although Latsko is optimistic about 2021, he notes that the “paradigm shift” will continue to affect people and workplaces into the new year.
Sophomore at Hampden-Sydney College; member of Virginia Beach Historic Preservation Commission
Ian Lichacz got called a nerd by his frat brothers for constantly checking Virginia Beach local results on election night — but since age 16, the ambitious, 21-year-old Hampden-Sydney history major has known he was meant for politics. Lichacz knew former Mayor Will Sessoms Jr.’s family through horse-riding circles, and he became an intern in Sessoms’ office, a job that didn’t previously exist. Now, he’s got fundraising and constituent services experience under his belt, having worked for state Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, and serves on the city’s Historic Preservation Commission. A self-described moderate Republican who tries to find the “human angle to every issue,” Lichacz is considering running for office one day — possibly after law school. The son of former FBI agents, he says, “I was taught to never lie or try to lie.”
Chairman, Republican Party of Charlottesville
A retired Air Force colonel who led a coalition of U.S. soldiers, American civilians and Afghan recruits on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in 2008-09, Dan Moy has taken on another challenging role, leading the GOP in the city of Charlottesville. Sometimes jokingly called the “People’s Republic of Charlottesville,” the university town is more than a little liberal. But Moy wants to focus on “fundamental values and principles: clean water, education for kids … family, faith, freedom of expression.” A graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School, Moy says his party’s appeal shouldn’t come down to “one candidate,” i.e., President Donald Trump. He’s also, by the way, writing a book about what American Revolution patriots and British loyalists shared in common.
Founder and CEO, Impact Makers
Michael Pirron made a somewhat surprising return to the data analytics consulting firm Impact Makers in September after leaving two years earlier as its CEO — and settling a lawsuit with its board last year. Founded in 2006, Impact Makers was the state’s first certified B corporation, a business that has a charitable mission, and it has supported Virginia Community Capital and the Community Foundation for a greater Richmond. A former senior consultant with Andersen Consulting (now Accenture plc), Pirron says Impact Makers has recruited a new board of directors focused on social enterprise work and business growth. Also, he says, “we’re committed to becoming a more racially aware and equitable organization. We are wholeheartedly devoted to improvement in 2021 and, ultimately, that requires change.”
Dustin Wahl graduated from Liberty University in 2018, and although he still has great fondness for his alma mater, the bloom fell off the rose in 2016 when then-President and Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed Donald Trump for president, a decision Wahl and others protested. In August, Wahl and fellow Liberty alum Calum Best launched Save71, an alumni organization advocating for reforms at Liberty. The group’s website presents an unflattering timeline of incidents involving Falwell and the university. The scandal-plagued Falwell resigned in August, but Wahl says that he and many alumni, current students and faculty feel the board of trustees also needs to be overhauled: “We think that Liberty needs to take a more humble approach: a focus on a well-rounded, Christian education.”