Style Weekly’s Top 40 under 40 list needs more business people

40under40If you want to make it onto Style Weekly’s Top 40 Under 40, you’ll have a better chance if you start a community outreach program (even if a similar one already exists) than if you help an existing company expand and hire 50 new workers.

It’s probably also best not to make your mark in athletics.

Last week I hastily called Style Weekly’s “Top 40 Under 40” bogus, although I later changed the headline.

At the time I did not have adequate proof to support my hunch that the list shortchanges the real engine of the local economy and instead heavily favors the arts and non-profits. Let’s be clear, community outreach programs have tremendous impact on the lives of Richmonders, especially the most vulnerable. And to Style’s Weekly’s credit, the list has lots of interesting and accomplished folks.

But in the current economic climate, the list ignores the business leaders who will likely have a greater impact, even if it’s not as flashy as the arts or, at first glance, as magnanimous as starting a non-profit organization to help at-risk blind kittens.

When Style does include an entrepreneur, it’s almost always one in the City of Richmond and is usually not a growth business.

So here’s Take Two:

Over the last three years, the average age of a Top 40 Under 40 winner was 33.6. I could only find online lists going back to 2006.

Seven law firms saw their associates or partners on the list; Hunton & Williams, McGuire Woods, Hirschler Fleischer, Cantor Arkema, Schaffer & Cabell, Brown Martin and Troutman Sanders. Most were chosen for their hobbies or volunteer efforts.

Over the same period, Style selected 22 entrepreneurs. (Seven other businesses are represented but not founded by the honoree. In some cases, I had trouble telling if the business was for-profit or non-profit) One started a butcher shop. One started a restaurant. One started a marketing firm, another hair salon, and another a used bike store. Two brothers picked this year started a pharmaceutical device company called Intelliject.

That was a good pick. But overall, almost none were executives at local companies in rapidly expanding industries like alternative energy or technology, or some of the fast-growing investment banks in town, which are hiring dozens of employees even as the economy tanks.

Over the same period, 63 non-profits have been represented. Many were started by the honoree, but I found it very difficult to understand the scope of the organizations they started.

I emailed Style’s Editor, Jason Roop, and asked how the magazine whittles down the nominees to 40 winners. He wrote back, “Although I wish you well on the trends you’re trying to calculate from our list, such as average ages or percentages of disciplines represented, we’re not so much concerned about stats like that. The work on this issue certainly isn’t a scientific process. We just do our best to cast a wide net and assemble a group of deserving, interesting recipients.”

To be fair, Style Weekly can only judge those who apply, and it’s possible that some of the fast-growing local firms don’t take the time to nominate their leaders. It’s also likely that some business leaders may have already been selected in previous years, excluding them from the last three years. Some business people are too busy with their work to volunteer. And if their firms are expanding, then that’s probably a good thing for the region.

The Top 40 list may not give credit to the business people upon whom the non-profits and local businesses rely. Without stable employers – and sadly some of the big ones are in dire straights (Circuit City, Qimonda, Capital One, Wachovia) — creative jobs will quickly evaporate. Already, marketing and media companies are hacking payrolls. Some local restaurants are throwing in the towel.

Non-profits are in for a rough 2009, according to early reports.

This is not a chicken-and-egg situation. While non-profits and the arts play a large economic role, especially VCU and the State of Virginia, the area still relies heavily on businesses. Think of a small historical example. First came the mill, then the union to protect the mill workers or the theater to entertain them. And for every creative director, or poet, or restaurateur, the area needs thousands of stable jobs for companies that bring in funds from outside the region.

Who is going to come up with ideas that can bring outside dollars into Richmond? Those should be the people at the top of the Top 40 under 40.

I’d still like to hear from readers about some business people who have been left out. I would like to work up a new list at some point.

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Michael Amendola
Michael Amendola
9 years ago

Any typhus on the many medical professionals be it doctors or nurses that are leading in their fields? Don’t really hear that much about them on that list