Business People of the Year

Introducing the transformative thirteen of 2019

It’s a challenge to look back at an entire year of business in Southeast Louisiana and come up with a small group of standouts given the fact that, once again, this has been a year where almost all industries have seen tremendous growth. There are some, however, that have emerged as clear leaders in their fields. For our fourth-annual class of Biz New Orleans Business People of the Year, 13 is indeed a lucky number, but it’s much more than luck that has brought them this far.

Within these pages we celebrate leaders that are safeguarding and growing our cherished institutions, like the 166-year-old New Orleans City Park and the annual Sugar Bowl — first played in 1935. We also honor home-grown companies that continue to reach beyond our borders and into the national scene, grabbing honors like “Top Architectural Firm in the Country” and “First New Orleans Tech Company to hit the $100 Million mark.”

While the region as a whole continues to prosper, that prosperity has been a lot slower to reach some in our community. Thankfully, there are some that have made it their mission to help spread the wealth and opportunity to all, and we are proud that almost half our class this year are devoted to just that — expanding support for female entrepreneurs, continuing to strengthen the only historically black and Catholic university in the country, and reaching into neighborhoods like New Orleans East to bring new opportunity and growth.

Finally, we honor the clear man of the hour, the person responsible for delivering the region the airport it deserves. One can’t help but feel proud to have such a welcome mat greeting visitors to our fine city and welcoming us all back home again.

Here’s to this year’s “Transformative Thirteen,” and to a very prosperous and exciting 2020.

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Crystal Nugent

OWNER, YOUR CBD STORE

Crystal Nugent first entered the world of cannabidiol (commonly known as CBD) as a customer, when she began using the non-intoxicating, hemp-derived chemical to help manage her anxiety. Today, she’s the franchise owner of New Orleans’ leading CBD retailer and has become a local spokeswoman for a product with a fast-growing global market. In just the first year since Your CBD Store’s founder, Rachael Quinn, opened the company’s first location in Bradenton, Florida, in 2018, more than 300 Your CBD Stores opened. The company expects to reach 1,000 stores this year.

Among the wave of original stores was the first CBD retailer in New Orleans, the one Nugent opened on Magazine Street in July 2018. She has since opened two more stores, one in Metairie and another on the West Bank. Each location has a clean, spa-like vibe and carries a range of CBD oils, tinctures and creams.

Nugent said the stores are designed to be a welcoming space with employees who are well-versed in the product.

“It’s not like your corner vape shop or your spa that happens to carry CBD but has no idea about it,” she said. “It’s very welcoming and very comfortable.”

Unlike THC — the chemical in marijuana that creates the “high” — CBD is legal in most states, including Louisiana, and sales are booming. A recent report by BDS Analytics and Arcview Market Research estimates the U.S. market could balloon to $20 billion by 2024.

However, research on CBD is still limited, and the ingredient is mostly unregulated. The FDA has approved a version of CBD to treat only two rare forms of pediatric epilepsy. Here in Louisiana, CBD retailers are navigating new rules signed into law over the summer, including a new permitting process for sellers and a ban on edible and drinkable versions of the ingredient. CBD sales to minors under age 18 were also outlawed.

Nugent said her role has evolved from business owner to CBD advocate and educator for a client base she noted tends to be older individuals seeking alternatives to manage stress or inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and Crohn’s disease.

Nugent said the new rules have meant that her stores can no longer sell CBD gummies and hard candies, but noted she is optimistic about the future of CBD, especially as more research is released. Hemp, the low-THC variety of the cannabis plant used to make cannabidiol, was legalized nationwide in 2018, a move that advocates expect to boost U.S.-based studies of CBD and other cannabinoids.

In the meantime, Nugent said she is studying where Your CBD Store might grow next in the New Orleans area.

“I think the biggest thing is really getting out into the community like I have been and advocating for it and talking about it every way I can,” she said. “That’s what I’m passionate about.”

— By Jennifer Larino

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Dr. Robert W. Becker

CEO, CITY PARK IMPROVEMENT ASSOCIATION

New Orleans City Park’s live oaks and lagoons have witnessed incredible change throughout the park’s 166-year history, but the park is about to close out one of its most challenging and successful eras as Dr. Robert W. Becker — CEO of City Park for almost 20 years — has announced he will retire upon the hiring of his successor, anticipated in the first quarter of 2020.

Becker has served as CEO of the City Park Improvement Association, the entity that runs New Orleans City Park, since 2001. Under his leadership, the park created and began to implement a comprehensive master plan that included land use strategy, projects and programs. That master plan was adopted mere months before the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The levee failure resulted in flooding during which the park lost more than 2,000 trees and Becker and his reduced staff worked from trailers for more than five years before they were able to move back into offices. Becker counts the recovery from Katrina as the most meaningful accomplishment during his tenure at the park.

“It was total devastation…the master plan provided a blueprint for our recovery,” said Becker. “Using the plan and rallying volunteers, corporate donors, nonprofit organizations and state and local government, we worked together to get things back up and running.”

The same year as Hurricane Katrina, the park received its first public operating funds from the state; it wasn’t until 2019 that New Orleanians voted for the first time to include City Park in the distribution of funding from city taxes. These two sources of public funding amount to almost $4 million out of the park’s $22 million operating budget.

“City Park is the principal urban recreation resource in the entire state,” said Becker. “Most U.S. parks are funded 60 to 70% with public dollars. We were successful by telling that story so it resonated with state and local officials and citizens.”

The board of the City Park Improvement Association has engaged a national search firm to find a new CEO, and Becker has offered to overlap with the person to help with onboarding.

“He or she will be able to write their own story. They will be able to get the park to another level of success,” said Becker.

Meanwhile, Becker said he plans to travel with his wife to visit their children and grandchildren and write a book.

“I want to write a history of what we’ve been though in the park for the last 20 years,” he said. “There are a lot of really important lessons about what we learned here about being hit by a disaster. Other parks can benefit from what we learned.” ­

— By Jennifer Gibson Schecter

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Erich & Jennifer Weishaupt

FOUNDERS, THE RUBY SLIPPER CAFÉ

Jennifer and Erich Weishaupt founded the original Ruby Slipper Café in Mid-City in 2008, serving up comfort to a neighborhood still in the throes of post-Katrina recovery. The New Orleans-inspired breakfast/brunch concept proved popular enough to transform one location into a benedict-and-Bloody-Mary-fueled empire.

Currently, the Ruby Slipper Restaurant Group oversees nearly 650 employees in 11 locations of the Ruby Slipper Café across Louisiana, Alabama and Florida. The group has also opened three Ruby Sunshine restaurants, a sister concept, in Tennessee and Alabama, with four more scheduled to open by the end of May in Tennessee and North Carolina.

In January, the group brought in its first CFO, Jennifer Beougher, to help shepherd Ruby Slipper’s expansion and add a more strategic perspective on finance, accounting and debt management.

“Erich was our finance and accounting person for a long time,” said Jennifer Weishaupt. “He taught himself QuickBooks, and we’re both engineers, so our poor controller always had to undo whatever Erich was trying to do.”

The group made news in January when Ruby Slipper Café locations offered free meals to federal employees affected by the government shutdown. The company served 7,000 meals to furloughed workers and received recognition from federal agencies including the U.S. Coast Guard and the FBI.

“The restaurant was kind of born from the remnants of rebuilding after Katrina,” said Erich Weishaupt, “so that’s kind of our back story and where we came from. We’ve been there.”

October presented a setback when the collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel on Oct. 12 forced the Ruby Slipper location at 1005 Canal Street to close its doors until Nov. 30.

“I don’t think many businesses would have that type of scenario in their emergency response or business continuity plans,” said Jennifer Weishaupt. “I know for sure that we did not.” Management worked to place employees in other Ruby Slipper locations during Canal Street’s closure, an investment the Weishaupts noted made reopening much smoother.

The couple said they are grateful for the path their business has taken.

“This was never our plan,” said Erich Weishaupt. “It just kind of organically grew – the right niche at the right time. We’re lucky to be where we’re at and be able to provide for so many people.”

—By Rebecca Friedman

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Quentin Messer

PRESIDENT AND CEO, NEW ORLEANS BUSINESS ALLIANCE

Ask Quentin Messer what drives his team at the New Orleans Business Alliance and he’ll counter with another question: How can we make sure the economy works better for all New Orleanians?

In 2019, NOLABA tackled the question from multiple angles, kickstarting a Workforce Leadership Academy with the Aspen Institute and inviting urban experts from across the world to study the city’s toughest problems. The group teamed with NASA to promote small business opportunities, developed online tools to make it easier for local firms to cull U.S. Census data, and launched InvestNOLA, a business accelerator designed for entrepreneurs of color.

“We have to be very good at convincing people to continue to invest in New Orleans,” Messer said, “whether that’s the CEO of a company or a local resident considering dedicating five weeks to a job training program.”

NOLABA now has a three-person team dedicated to economic development at the neighborhood level, which is currently ranging from a billboard campaign touting businesses doing work in New Orleans East to collaborating with local leaders on leveraging federal Opportunity Zones. The organization continues to work closely with Goodwill Industries and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide job training to residents through the STRIVE program supported by funding from AT&T.

Messer also highlighted recent tech wins. This past November, three locally grown biotech firms — AxoSim, Cadex Genomics and Obtala Sciences — announced expansion plans, adding a total of 135 new jobs. U.K.-based Testronic also announced plans for a game testing facility in New Orleans, employing 150 people. That followed expansion news earlier in the year from Technology Associates, a marine engineering firm; global software developer Accruent; legal tech platform Litify and Dreamleague Gaming, which hosts eSports events.

To be sure, New Orleans faces challenges. Big projects like redeveloping the former Six Flags site or negotiating to keep the National Finance Center, damaged in a 2017 tornado, in New Orleans East will take time, Messer said.

In Messer’s view, growing income disparity is one of the biggest hurdles the city faces. To that end, he said NOLABA is focused on boosting job and skills training across ages, neighborhoods and educational attainment.

“We really are looking into 2020 to develop a complete talent plan that goes from pre-K throughout one’s lifetime,” Messer said. “Ultimately our aspiration is to see New Orleans be a city of lifelong learners.”

— By Jennifer Larino

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Jesseca “Judy” Dupart

FOUNDER AND CEO, KALEIDOSCOPE HAIR PRODUCTS
OWNER, MIRACLE PLAZA

For New Orleans native Jesseca “Judy” Dupart, 2019 caps off a half-decade of staggering growth. Since the former stylist founded her Kaleidoscope hair product line in 2013, the brand has achieved more than $20 million in sales. Kaleidoscope products, including the Miracle Drops hair and scalp oil that launched the line, are now available in major retailers including Target and more than 2,000 Sally Beauty Supply stores, with plans for more retailers, and product lines, in the works.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing for Dupart, however. Her first salon, located in a shopping plaza in New Orleans East, burned down in 2013. She recovered, and her subsequent success has enabled Dupart to give back to the spot that housed her earliest venture. Dupart’s company now owns the 70,000 square feet of retail space in the 5900 block of Bullard Avenue called Miracle Plaza.

“You know how they say if they close the door, you go back and buy the building?” asked Dupart. “To buy the building where my business was – besides the bragging rights of it – is inspirational for people to see. It tells the story: if I could do it, anybody can, because I started there.”

This past July, Dupart attended the plaza’s ribbon-cutting ceremony during SneauxBall Fest ’19, which she hosted in Miracle Plaza accompanied by local political dignitaries. She said her investment reflects her ties to New Orleans East — an “overlooked” neighborhood that, until recently, Dupart called home.

In addition to Miracle Plaza, Dupart has been active in philanthropic efforts across the city, creating the Kaleidoscope Fitness Center for trainees in the NOPD Education and Police Academy, partnering with the NOPD to provide more than 600 bicycles to children in need, and sponsoring the Carver Theater’s Summer Camp for children. These and other efforts helped earn Dupart an honorary key to the city of New Orleans in May 2019.

Dupart said she hopes to inspire others, including her 1.2 million Instagram followers, to achieve their own goals. She said she often shares the following advice with aspiring entrepreneurs: “Never give up. Go with your craziest idea – that’s usually the best one — and don’t tell people what you’re doing, show them. Let the action speak for itself.” 

—By Rebecca Friedman

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Elizabeth Broekman & Tammy O’Shea

AVP DIRECTOR, P.O.W.E.R. (POTENTIAL OF WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS REALIZED)
CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER, FIDELITY BANK

It started with a gut feeling back in 2015. Tammy O’Shea, chief marketing officer at Fidelity Bank, knew Southeast Louisiana was home to a growing number of women-led businesses and she sensed those women needed a forum to connect and talk shop. She said one of her first calls was to Elizabeth Broekman, a former colleague whom O’Shea described as having “more energy than anyone I’ve ever met in my life.”

Together, O’Shea and Broekman built the Fidelity Bank P.O.W.E.R. (Potential of Women Entrepreneurs Realized) program in 2017. Since that time, P.O.W.E.R. has grown from 150 to 700 members in the New Orleans area. The program hosts networking and educational workshops for entrepreneurial women in the New Orleans area and produces digital content, including a podcast, to highlight members.

O’Shea said women in business face the same challenges as men in business but tend to go about finding solutions in a little bit of a different way.

“One of the things women really enjoy is being collaborative,” she said. “They’re more likely to share with each other the problems they’re encountering with business.”

Fidelity’s P.O.W.E.R. program was inspired by a model developed by a bank in Richmond, Virginia. Fidelity owns the trademark for the program in Southeast Louisiana.

Members must have an account with Fidelity, and the program comes with custom financial products, including small loans and a checking account with an exclusive purple-colored debit card.

The program also includes P.O.W.E.R. Join-Up meetings, which bring together small groups of members multiple times a year to talk about business obstacles and goals. The groups celebrate victories and swap advice for tackling common challenges — from raising capital to raising children.

“It’s really magic,” Broekman said. “The light bulbs go on and women are like, ‘This is how I can help you.’”

This summer, P.O.W.E.R. partnered with the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation to help drive business to local women-owned bars and restaurants. The program has also launched a blog that will feature insight from local women in business. Broekman said she wants to add a youth advisory board in 2020 to gather insight from young women in the community.

O’Shea and Broekman expect up to 800 attendees at the second-annual P.O.W.E.R. Up Conference, which will take place at the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans in March 2020.

O’Shea said the program’s success is rooted in a dual purpose: Do good and creatively serve a historically underserved market.

“It’s just smart business,” she said.

­— By Jennifer Larino

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Dr. Reynold Verret

PRESIDENT, XAVIER UNIVERSITY OF LOUISIANA

With more than half of its students majoring in natural or health sciences, Xavier University of Louisiana is known for graduating leading scientists, pharmacists and doctors. Not surprisingly, the university’s president began his career as a biochemist and immunologist.

Dr. Reynold Verret has served as Xavier’s president since 2015, when he became the second layperson to lead the university in its 80-year history. Xavier is the only historically black and Catholic university (HBCU) in the United States, and as such, finds a balance to this day with the involvement of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.

When Verret began his tenure at Xavier, he tackled a surprising challenge first.

“In light of what Xavier has accomplished and continues to accomplish, it was surprising that Xavier was little known, even within the larger African-American community,” said Verret. “We have made great strides in enhancing the reputation of the university, such that its good work is known.”

Xavier’s programs attract a growing student body of 3,300 students, of which approximately 71% are black and 19% Catholic. Nearly half the student body hails from the New Orleans area, but non-local enrollment is trending upward. The current student body includes representatives from at least 15 foreign countries.

Verret attributes the university’s success to the recruitment of a talented leadership team, specifically, the chief academic officer, Dr. Melissa Baumann, who led faculty in reimagining curricula and programmatic offerings, and the marketing and communications department, tasked with promoting the Xavier story to attract new students, faculty and other stakeholders. He describes his own leadership style as, “trusting in very capable colleagues in the leadership team, reducing silos and insisting on collaboration.”

That interdisciplinary collaboration will help Xavier this year as it prepares for its decennial reaffirmation of accreditation. Additional projects slated for 2020 include the modernization of its residential facilities and the launch of multiple new programs and partnerships.

For Verret, Xavier’s work will never be done, noting, “An openness to change and capacity to question why and what we do is an important element of our success.”

— By Jennifer Gibson Schecter

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Jeff Hundley

CEO, ALLSTATE SUGAR BOWL

In a given year, the Allstate Sugar Bowl generates an annual economic impact of nearly $250 million. But in years like 2020, when the organization hosts the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, those figures more than double to top half a billion dollars.

Organizers created the Sugar Bowl — first played  on Jan. 1, 1935, pitting two of the nation’s top collegiate football teams against each other in postseason play — to draw tourists (and their cash) to the Crescent City during the lean winter months.

Eighty-five years after its inaugural contest, Jeff Hundley, who in July became just the seventh CEO of the Sugar Bowl, said his organization is more than fulfilling its mission as it presents one of the premier bowl games in the nation.

“The founding fathers, back in the 1930s — I don’t know that they envisioned anything like the numbers we’re seeing today,” Hundley said. “We’d like to think that we’re doing a good job in keeping with their original plan to create events that would help the city economically.”

With a focus on amateur sports tourism, the Sugar Bowl sponsors almost 60 events throughout the year, including the annual football game – which creates between $175 million and $200 million in spending each year — the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s state championships, AAU basketball tournaments, sailing regattas and the Crescent City Classic. In addition to visitors flocking to area hotels, restaurants and local attractions, the city and state receive upward of $25 million in direct taxes as a result of the Sugar Bowl’s efforts according to Hundley.

This month, the annual Sugar Bowl game, which features the best available teams from the Southeastern and Big XII conferences, will be played on January 1. The CFP National Championship, which has an economic impact of nearly $300 million, will follow on the 13th.

In addition to the monetary figures the bowl has been able to quantify, media coverage of the Sugar Bowl and National Championship Game provide added value for the city and state. There will be three weeks of multimedia promotion of the city as a tourism destination from the time bowl season kicks off after Christmas through the first fortnight of the year. ­

—By Chris Price

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Patrick Comer

CEO AND FOUNDER, LUCID LLC

It wasn’t very long ago that the idea of the tech industry having a firm footprint in New Orleans seemed almost ridiculous. When Patrick Comer, CEO and founder of market research platform Lucid LLC, moved to New Orleans in 2008, he decided to change that.

“I started Lucid back in 2010, partly due to the lack of tech companies in the city,” said Comer. “Shortly after moving here, I realized there were few roles available to me and that I had to create that job for myself, and the opportunities for others, too, as well. It has been incredible to see the number of tech startups rise over the years, from Align to SampleChain. It’s a good sign that there is the desire and support in the city for the tech and entrepreneurial space to expand.”

That expansion is being realized at Lucid. Last year, the company reached $100 million in gross merchandise volume (GMV), a major indicator of success.

“This was a monumental moment for the company,” said Comer. “It signifies a milestone and marker of success for those at Lucid to be proud of, as well as a desire to look toward the next goal – $ 1 billion.”

Comer said hitting this milestone wasn’t just a win for Lucid, it was a win for the city of New Orleans.

“A few years back, I came to the realization that in order for New Orleans to be seen as a tech city, we needed five $100 million tech companies. I promised that Lucid would be one of those five. My hope is that by Lucid reaching $100 million, it shows that it is possible and that we as a community are moving closer to the goal of becoming a recognized tech hub.”

The industry is watching. Last October, online magazine OZY named New Orleans one of “Three Rising Tech Hubs that May Surprise You.”

Comer said Lucid will continue to be a key player in New Orleans’ success.

“2020 will be about continued scale and operational efficiency,” he said. “As we cross 500 global employees, we see focus becoming even more important. Look for Lucid to continue to hire those experienced in technology and scaling fast-growing organizations.”

— By Jennifer Gibson Schecter

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Victor F. “Trey” Trahan, III, FAIA

FOUNDER AND CEO, TRAHAN ARCHITECTS

There are some industry awards that mean so much, receiving one is almost a pipedream. In architecture, topping the Architect Magazine Architect 50 Design list is one of those honors. Locally headquartered global architecture firm Trahan Architects brought home that honor for 2019.

“It’s something I never thought was possible,” said Trahan Architects Founder and CEO Victor F. “Trey” Trahan III. “I am excited about the opportunities that may come out of that ranking, but I also feel the responsibility I have to the colleagues in the firm, both present and past, who have put in significant time and energy, and who have cared deeply about what we do as architects and our role in creating a healthier existence.”

With projects on four continents, Trahan’s firm has experienced exponential growth. He attributes that success to a set of core values.

“I think it’s about a commitment to quality,” said Trahan, “and realizing that business is about relationships of respect and caring about things that are both directly related to architecture, and those things that are much broader, such as ecology, basic human needs and a responsibility to both present and future.”

The scope of work at Trahan Architects is broad. The firm has offices in New Orleans, Chicago and New York. Trahan says he is placing increased importance on diversity, particularly in hiring women.

“We’ve diversified the office,” said Trahan. “We’ve increased the diversity and the empowerment of women, and we’ve arrived at a place where things that were once complex problems are solved much more efficiently.”

Trahan Architects has also been chosen as the architectural force behind the $450 million renovation of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. Last November, phase one plans were approved by the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, commonly known as the Superdome Commission, and work will begin this month.

Trahan hopes visitors to the renovated Superdome feel the space is consistent with the past.

“I think it’s important that we are reverential and respectful,” said Trahan. “This is an intervention of a masterpiece that was conceived over 40 years ago and our ego should be muted in expressions that are as timeless as the original design.” ­

— By Jennifer Gibson Schecter

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CEO OF THE YEAR

Kevin Dolliole

DIRECTOR OF AVIATION, LOUIS ARMSTRONG NEW ORLEANS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

“A move of this magnitude can be compared to picking up a small city and moving it to a different location.”

This is how Kevin Dolliole, the director of aviation at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, explained the scope of the work involved in the construction of the new North Terminal in a letter to community partners he sent out this past November 14 — just over a week after the airport opened its doors following over four years of construction.

Since joining the airport on June 26, 2017, Dolliole’s over 40 years of experience in the aviation industry has been put to the test. Dolliole oversees a management board of seven and over 200 airport employees, but if you add in airline employees, parking, concessions, ground transportation, police, etc., that number balloons to over 4,000 people serving approximately 40,000 travelers every single day.

Added to the challenge of moving this “small city” is the fact that projects of this nature, especially one in which an airport is not just renovated on an existing site but moved to a different location, are very few and far between. “It’s not like I could just call up a colleague and ask how they did something,” he said.

With so many moving parts, there were bound to be issues, and they included problems with sewer lines before the opening and long security and baggage problems in those first opening days.

“That second day was a tough day,” he said. “There was no way we could have simulated the stress that tens of thousands of moving bags could create on our new system, but we identified and corrected the problem and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at how we got through the Thanksgiving holidays, which include the two heaviest travel days of the year.

With the new airport up and running, Dolliole said his attention is now turning to the creation of a new master plan, a project he anticipates will take between 18-24 months but will plan for MSY’s next 20 years.

His management style: “It’s participatory; I see myself as being more a leader than a boss. I hire good people and we set goals and expectations and then allow people to make choices. You have to be willing to listen and willing to take some hits, but I believe in the talent we’ve brought onboard.”

How he handles problems: “Upfront and head on. I don’t let issues linger and I don’t sugar coat them. It’s always better to confront things on the front end so something doesn’t become a problem rather than a challenge.”

How he decompresses: “I work out four nights a week. Nights work best for me and it gives me the boost to get back on my laptop at night. I also try to golf every weekend. Those four hours with a close group of guys can be therapeutic — if I’m not stinking up the course too bad.”

His tip for travelers: “I don’t know if everyone knows, but we’ve introduced economy parking in the old long-term parking garage where you can pull up to the curb, check in and check your bags and then jump on a shuttle free of baggage — all at no charge.”

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