100 People to Meet in 2022: New Folks
They might be new to their positions, but they bring decades of expertise and new vantage points to the table. Here’s a sampling of Virginians — some fresh faces, others familiar — who have recently taken on significant new leadership roles.
Chief climate scientist, Science Applications International Corp.
Hurricane Agnes slammed the Washington , D.C., region in June 1972, fueling Stephen Ambrose’s interest in climate and weather. Ambrose kept an amateur weather station at his parents’ home in Silver Spring, Maryland. He later worked in meteorology, physical sciences and satellites at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration before following his passion for space and astronomy to NASA, where he worked for a dozen years, including as a disaster manager during Hurricane Katrina. In his newly created role at SAIC, Ambrose expects to tackle solutions to climate’s impact, including incorporating data, to “develop an enterprise solution to contribute to society,” he says. When he’s not working, Ambrose enjoys riding his Harley Davidsons, exploring his family’s genealogy and volunteering with Team Rubicon, a nonprofit disaster response organization.
Executive director, Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council
Roanoke and Blacksburg
In June, Erin Burcham became the first woman to lead the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. She’s hoping one of her early wins in the post will be to secure a regional grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, which would be used to develop commercial wet-lab space in Roanoke for the biotech industry. “Fralin Biomedical Research Institute is producing multiple teams of researchers that are ready to commercialize,” she says. “They just need some wet lab space to stay in the region.” Burcham, who grew up in Galax and has worked in the New River Valley for the last 15 years, previously led and managed two GO Virginia grants totaling $280,000 as director of talent solutions at the Roanoke Regional Partnership.
Hampton Roads region president, Bank of America
Frank Castellanos has lived and worked around the globe. In his first career as a foreign service officer, he spent 20 years working for the State Department, serving six tours in the Middle East, Latin America and Asia and holding command positions in war zones and other hostile environments. He was an associate with the National Intelligence Council and served on several interagency boards, guiding U.S. policy and investments, and protecting American interests abroad. Castellanos says his time living in different places gives him great perspective in business. About five years ago, the Cuban native returned to his first love: finance. In September, Castellanos was named Hampton Roads market president for Bank of America, replacing retiring president Charlie Henderson.
Rodney E. Ferguson
Executive vice president, Pamunkey Indian Tribal Gaming Authority
Next year, Rodney Ferguson will be focused on developing the Pamunkey Indian Tribe’s $500 million HeadWaters Resort & Casino in downtown Norfolk, a project anticipated to generate about 2,500 full-time jobs and as much as $30.8 million in local annual tax revenue. He left a “wonderful” job as CEO and general manager of a large Milwaukee casino because this was an amazing opportunity, he says — and it didn’t hurt that he was raised 30 miles from the proposed Norfolk casino and still maintains a home there, which will cut his commute from 1,000 miles to 10. Over the past three decades, Ferguson has worked for casinos all over the country, from Atlantic City to Wisconsin, “[learning] to respect and adapt to various cultures.” Establishing a culture of diversity and inclusion is a primary goal for the new venture, he adds.
Executive director and CEO, Virginia Bar Association
For 33 years, Paul Fletcher covered Virginia’s legal scene as editor and publisher of Virginia Lawyers Weekly. Now he’s leaning into the broad network of connections he built as the new executive director and CEO of the commonwealth’s largest voluntary organization of lawyers, judges, law school faculty and students. Previously active as a Virginia Bar Association volunteer, Fletcher now manages the association’s professional staff. He also served as statewide and national president for the Society of Professional Journalists. “I think having the extensive run with SPJ, both at the state level and national level, has really helped to inform my view of association work,” Fletcher says.
Toby J. Heytens
Judge, Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
When he was state solicitor general, Toby Heytens helped represent Virginia in the two lawsuits that challenged Gov. Ralph Northam’s order to take down the Robert E. Lee statue on Richmond’s Monument Avenue. In the case brought by the original landowners’ descendent, Heytens argued that “no court has ever recognized a personal, inheritable right to dictate the content of … government speech about a matter of racial equality, and this court should not be the first one ever to do so.” He has argued successfully twice before the U.S. Supreme Court and also was a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. On Nov. 1, the Senate confirmed Heytens for a judgeship on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.
President and CEO,
Virginia Community Capital
Amir Kirkwood’s career has evolved from his passion for financing community development. Formerly with Opportunity Finance Network, in September he was named president of Virginia Community Capital, a nonprofit community development financial institution and for-profit bank that funds and promotes job creation, affordable housing, food access and health care initiatives in underserved areas of Virginia. “I was most impressed by [VCC’s] commitment to build direct connections with communities,” he says. “It’s a lot different than a larger bank. Here, people get to know their customers, their communities.” In his new role, Kirkwood helps economically excluded communities by expanding on tools such as the innovative Community Investment Guarantee pool, a $33.1 million national pool fund established in 2020 to catalyze community investments in small businesses, climate change mitigation and affordable housing efforts nationwide.
Chief science officer,
Tessa Pocock grew up digging up plants and replanting them around her childhood home in Canada. This summer, the Ph.D. expert in plant biology and lighting was hired as chief science officer for indoor agriculture producer Soli Organic (formerly known as Shenandoah Growers). She’s in the process of relocating to Harrisonburg from Laramie, Wyoming, where she grew stalks of corn at 7,200 feet above sea level in Wyoming. “Everybody said, ‘You cannot go grow corn in Laramie,’ and I said, ‘Hmm, I’ll take that on,’” she says. In her 40-year career, Pocock has never used pesticides, which makes her a good fit at Soli Organic, which produces indoor-grown herbs and lettuce. Naturally, once she settles in, she plans on starting a garden.
President, VCU Medical Center
It’s a busy time for Michael Roussos. He and his wife, a trauma surgeon, had their second child in November (the couple also have a 20-month-old), and Roussos is set to start his new job as VCU Medical Center’s president in late December. He previously served as lead administrator at University Hospital in San Antonio, Texas, where he spearheaded the facility’s COVID-19 response and migrated medical records to Epic, an electronic system that VCU is also implementing. At VCU, Roussos plans to emphasize the importance of getting a COVID vaccine, which is now available for everyone ages 5 and older. “We know how fast the delta variant spread through the world, and that could happen again with a new variant,” he warns.
CEO, Goodwill Industries of the Valleys
Richmond Vincent sees a more expansive role for Goodwill Industries of the Valleys, which aims to empower people and eradicate poverty in the Roanoke, Shenandoah and New River valleys. The organization, which employs more than 1,400 workers across 35 counties and 14 cities, provides services ranging from workforce training programs for teens and adults to employment and support services for people with disabilities. In October, the nonprofit installed one of the region’s largest rooftop solar panel arrays at its Roanoke Jobs Campus headquarters, which will generate about 90% of its power needs. Vincent played football for Arizona State University and worked in banking before starting with Goodwill in 2010, where he served as senior vice president for workforce development in Arizona. He came to Roanoke in March after four years leading a Goodwill branch in southern Mississippi. “I really love Goodwill because of our entrepreneurial spirit.”