Lakeland Business Leaders Make List of Influencers

Lakeland is represented by at least a dozen business leaders in Florida Trend’s new Florida 500 list of business executives whom the magazine’s editors deem “most influential.” Organizations represented include AgAmerica Lending, Florida Polytechnic University, Lakeland Regional Health, Publix Super Markets, Saunders Real Estate, The Ruthvens and Watson Clinic.

This is the magazine’s second Florida 500 after having launched the list last year. You’ll need to register with the site to check out the list or the linked names below. Let us know if you spot any strong Lakeland connections we missed.

Here are the Lakeland connections, including something interesting they told Florida Trend:

Steve Achinger, Watson Clinic managing partner, life sciences category

He admires Barney Barnett (also an honoree this year) because he “shows that being successful does not mean you have to compromise on being a good steward for the community.”

Randy Avent, Florida Polytechnic University, education category

He enjoys racing offroad motorcycles and his favorite tech is his Tesla: “If it had a bathroom, I’d live in it.” (Another honoree with Lakeland ties is Florida Poly’s founding COO Ava Parker, now president of Palm Beach State College.)

Barney Barnett, Publix Super Markets vice chairman emeritus, living legends category

“His commitment to our culture has helped pave the path for our future successes. It has been an honor and privilege to work alongside him,” Publix CEO Todd Jones, also on this year’s list, told the magazine.

Robert Behr, Citrus World CEO and Lakeland resident, agriculture category

Behr, an Orlando native with a UF ag doctorate, became a citrus grower himself to better understand the problems facing the members of the citrus cooperative he leads.

Rob Burnette, Badock Furniture president and Lakeland resident, retail/wholesale category

He told the magazine he was “blessed to have had strong community leaders, such as George Jenkins of Publix and Wogie Badcock Jr., who taught us the value of giving back to the communities we serve.”

D. Yogi Goswami, USF Clean Energy Research Center director, energy category

Goswami developed the technology behind the Molekule air purifier, being manufactured in Lakeland by a company he co-founded.

Todd Jones, Publix Super Markets president and CEO, retail/wholesale category

He started with the company as a bagger in New Smyrna Beach in 1980 and says his biggest influencers were his parents: “I can still hear them telling me to lead by example and to pull people with me not to push against them.”

Brian Philpot, AgAmerica Lending president and CEO, finance category

A lawyer by training whose favorite song is “The Sparrow” by Mastodon, Philpot says his best advice is: “Go figure it out. Successful people view problems as things to solve, rather than something to blame for their failures.”

J. Greg Ruthven, The Ruthvens president, real estate category

He says Florida’s biggest issue is rapid population growth: “It is critical that our local, state and federal politicians start working together instead of just for their own party.”

Dean Saunders, founder, Saunders Real Estate, real estate category

A collector of historic Florida maps, he says his hero is “Gov. Lawton Chiles, who I had the privilege of working for before I began my real estate brokerage. I learned much by watching him, especially his way of dealing with people, and I owe a great deal of my success to his influence in my life.”

Charles “Chuck” Sykes, president and CEO of Sykes, whose Lakeland call center is expanding rapidly, professional services category

Under his watch during the past 15 years, employment at the call center company has grown to more than 55,000 workers.

Elaine Thompson, Lakeland Regional Health president and CEO, life sciences category

Accomplishments include reducing emergency room wait times.