100 PEOPLE TO MEET IN 2023: New Folks
They might be new to their positions, but they bring decades of experience 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 roles.
A fourth-generation Hampton Roads native, Kelsey Backe can’t go to the grocery store without running into half a dozen family members. She was born and raised in Virginia Beach and now lives and works in Norfolk. After serving in various roles in the Hampton Roads arts community, including for The Hurrah Players, Zeiders American Dream Theater, the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and the Virginia Opera Association, she landed in February at the Norfolk Tourism Foundation, an adjunct agency to VisitNorfolk, the city’s marketing organization. The nonprofit provides support to the tourism industry via research, workforce development, customer service and education. There, she’s able to combine many of the skills from her previous roles to help the foundation fulfill its mission of supporting hospitality workers and tourism through actions such as economic impact studies, regional branding initiatives and reports analyzing visitor spending trends.
Chicago native Earl Barnes has seen both sides of the legal world in health care: on the firm side as outside counsel and now in-house at Sentara, where he started in June. “Working for an organization and being their chief lawyer is very satisfying,” Barnes says. In the next year, the University of Michigan Law School alum hopes to nearly double Sentara’s legal team, which currently has eight attorneys. He’s not the only new face in executive leadership at Sentara; earlier this year, Dennis Matheis, who previously led Sentara Health Plans, took over as the health system’s president and CEO. “It’s exciting to have a new leader in place,” says Barnes, who enjoys spending time at car shows outside of work.
When the world shut down during the pandemic in 2020, Kate Bates leaned on the members of the Virginia Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (VACCE).
Bates, who has led the Arlington Chamber of Commerce since 2014, began holding regular conference calls with professionals she knew through VACCE, brainstorming about everything from Paycheck Protection Program loans to how to handle virtual events.
And so, when VACCE tapped Bates to be its chair from July 2022 to June 2023, she happily stepped up. “I saw throughout the pandemic how that peer network was just so valuable,” she says.
While Bates stays busy with VACCE and her main role of assisting the 700 or so businesses that belong to the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, she does make time for an occasional Washington Capitals game.
Brandon Carter expected to be the fourth generation of his family in the Northern Neck to work as a fisherman. That changed in high school, though, when a teacher told Carter that he had to read “Julius Caesar.” He found he didn’t understand every word, but there was something about the musicality of Shakespeare’s language that reminded him of sea shanties. “That drew me in,” says Carter, who went on to earn an MFA in theater from Penn State in 2014.
After graduation, Carter worked as an artistic associate and actor with the Classical Theatre of Harlem. He joined the American Shakespeare Center in 2018. In January, he became the first Black artistic director of the ASC. His appointment follows a tumultuous time for the ASC due to the pandemic and internal squabbles. “My company needed me,” Carter says.
Kathleen Carter is responsible for getting about 100,000 packages per day to Amazon.com Inc. customers in Hampton Roads. The 31-year-old new mom has climbed the corporate ranks of Amazon from shift manager to senior regional manager since joining the e-commerce company in 2017. “I think really every day is different and every day is a new challenge and thing to adapt to,” she says. The leaders on her level are predominantly male. “Now that I’m in a regional space, it’s more important for me to be an example for the other female managers,” she says. She knows she now has more to balance with a new baby. “A lot of my promotions and path is from me being consistent in my work and not giving up.”
“One of our core values is every rider of our vehicles is someone’s family member,” says Caley Edgerly, who spent 10 years — six as president and CEO — at Thomas Built Buses and more at its parent company, Daimler Trucks North America LLC, before taking over leadership of bus dealership Sonny Merryman in August 2021. He recalls that a Daimler board member from Germany told him over dinner in 2016 to invest in electric buses. Thomas Built Buses developed prototypes over three years. “That’s been a pretty cool part of the transition because I was a part of the development with the engineering team, and now I’m much … closer to the customers actually operating these buses,” he says. In 2023, Sonny Merryman will deliver more than 1,000 vehicles, at least 50 of which will be electric.
Mike Lutes joined Bon Secours in October to oversee all Richmond market operations, including seven hospitals. Since starting his new role, he’s been visiting hospitals in the region, meeting associates, medical staff and volunteers. Lutes says he was driven to Bon Secours because it’s a mission-driven organization. One positive outcome of the pandemic for the health care industry, he says, has been the acceptance and proliferation of virtual medicine. In response to a September New York Times story about Bon Secours profiting from a federal prescription drug discount program for hospitals in low-income communities, Lutes says he is “deeply connected to the ministry’s mission and looks forward to working collaboratively and transparently to meet the community’s needs.” Previously, Lutes worked for Atrium Health in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he oversaw five hospitals.
Senior director and chief scientist of climate and environment, Leidos
Miguel Román decided to head to the private sector after observing the U.S. government’s response in 2017 to the devastation Hurricane Maria wrought in his native Puerto Rico. “It really opened my eyes about the need for industry to be more involved in climate change activities,” Román says.
At Leidos, where he began working in February, Román “leads efforts to ensure that what’s photographed in space is translated accurately by federal agencies, weather forecasters and researchers.” He is especially invested in using science to illustrate the disproportionate hardships experienced by underserved communities following major disasters.
In his previous position at NASA, Román directed staff who generated long-term climate data records from satellites. Even now, he continues to do some work at NASA on retainer.
Robert Sheets graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, spent six years in the Army and has lived 24 years in Chesterfield County. He’s no stranger to manufacturing, having worked in that industry for around 25 years for companies such as Honeywell, Alfa Level and Mazda, but just started with Fortune 500 used car online retailer Carvana in July 2021. He now runs Carvana’s new 191,000-square-foot inspection center in Chesterfield, which held a ribbon cutting in September and expects to have 400 employees by the end of 2022. “It’s a challenge to grow the business, to be part of something that is still growing and expanding, and help set the culture and develop the processes,” Sheets says. “I found it really rewarding.”