Meet Westchester’s Top CEOs and Business Leaders in 2024

We honor 14 of the county’s important business figures.

The business landscape of Westchester County is a living, breathing entity, made up of a kaleidoscope of leaders who encourage and fuel its growth. These trailblazers and cornerstones of industry across various disciplines are what make doing business in the 914 so great. We chatted with them about life, work, and most importantly — what they wanted to be when they grew up.

Lighting/photo assistance by Alfredo Fernandez
Photo assistance by Sam DeMaria
Makeup and hair by Asia Geiger
Location: Moderne Barn, Armonk

Left to Right: Maria Paxos Pampafikos, Mark Weinberger, and Judith Watson
Left to Right: Maria Paxos Pampafikos, Mark Weinberger, and Judith Watson

Maria Paxos-Pampafikos

Co-owner & Vice President

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Royal Regency Hotel

What was your first job of any kind?

Hostess at my family’s diner.

If you’ve ever been fired or laid off, what happened and what did you do next?

I have always worked for the family, so we knew better than to ever do anything so egregious. My parents would certainly have fired me had I done something to warrant it.

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What are some favorite places you’ve traveled to and why?

Greece, because it is the home of my family history, it is a gorgeous place to be in the summer, and we still have family that lives there.

What do your parents do?

When I came on board full time, my mom was happy to release the reins and be a homemaker [who] kept busy with her grandchildren. My father visits the businesses daily.

What’s your go-to drink order and why?

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Seltzer with lemon or lime because I have never been a big fan of alcohol.

Mark Weinberger PhD, MPH

President & CEO

The IMA Group

What was your favorite or most despised class in high school or college?

While it might sound cliché, as a clinical psychologist, I have to say my favorite class in college was abnormal psychology. It opened my eyes to the wonders of the human brain.

What pets have you had?

Besides a goldfish as a child, I currently have my first domestic pet, a 7-year-old Shichon, a Shih Tzu-Bichon mix named Belle. Belle gives my family and me an incredible amount of unconditional love. She’s a big part of our lives. She’s awesome.

What shows are you watching?

Sports are my priority, but I enjoy watching Succession, Newsroom, and any cooking shows my wife and children want to watch.

What do you do for work lunch?

Every day is different, depending on where I’m working (hybrid work schedule, sometimes at Tarrytown headquarters, sometimes at home, sometimes traveling), so there’s no general routine. To be honest, when I don’t have time to eat a proper lunch, my main course is typically a protein bar, like Quest. My ideal lunch is Caesar salad with salmon from a restaurant.

When you were a young child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I fully expected to be a professional tennis player or a New York Met.

Judith Watson RN, BSN, MPH

CEO

Westchester Community Health Center

How have you failed upward?

I call them “poorly wrapped gifts.” Failing my RN boards — that was challenging for me. I failed twice before I passed. People think that if you’re a CEO, you’re so smart and do everything perfectly. But failing changed my life. I stopped hanging out with my friends, partying, and became more focused. I believe we go through painful experiences to become stronger and to help others who have been through something similar. It was devastating, but it was life changing.

What do you do to relax?

I watch drama movies, sometimes documentaries, but not educational ones. Last week, it was about Stormy Daniels. I jog while listening to my music, like rap, reggae, R&B, and easy listening. I meditate each morning by praying on my knees, and I read two inspirational books. I’m not religious; I’m spiritual.

I find that being still early in the morning shapes my day. I find I’m much calmer.

What was your first job of any kind, ever?

At Burger King while I was in high school. I was the best cashier. The line would be long on Saturdays, and I was the superstar. I could do it quickly, and my line was [the] fastest line to go down.

What do your parents do for a living?

My mom is a nursing assistant for 45 years. She still works, and she’s 73. My father — my parents separated — was a farmworker in Belle Glade, FL, on a sugarcane plantation; he died 16 years ago.

How do you give constructive criticism?

In a way that is straightforward. You do it with sensitivity, but that’s the boiler plate answer. It’s always going to be painful, but I believe in giving it straight like it is: Sensitive but transparent.

top ceos
The Livanos trio

Nick, Corina, and Bill Livanos

Presidents

Livanos Restaurant Group

If you weren’t in this line of work, what would you be doing?

Nick: I’d be a tour guide in Greece.
Corina: It would still be hospitality related — I would love to be an event or party planner.
Bill: I never thought of doing something else. However, I always enjoyed working in the yard, so maybe something in the landscaping field.

What is your favorite book?

Nick: The Island by Victoria Hislop
Corina: The Godfather by Mario Puzo or The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck
Bill: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

What is a distinct childhood memory you have?

Nick: My summers in my dad’s hometown in Greece and spending all day at the beach!
Corina: I have to say as well, spending my summers in Molyvos, Greece, with my family. It was magical.
Bill: Spending my childhood summers at our father’s hometown in Molyvos, Greece. It always amazed me how simple life was back then: Wake up, go to the beach, come home, have lunch with the family, take your siesta, and then go out again.

What is your biggest career accomplishment?

Nick: Receiving three stars from the New York Times for our Greek restaurant Molyvos.
Corina: Opening Moderne Barn in 2010 was very memorable. It was a nonstop whirlwind. I couldn’t believe how busy and successful we were. In the same year, I turned 40, took many trips and celebrated all year long while raising my two sons Bobby and John, who were 6 and 4 years old at the time. It was nonstop.
Bill: The opening of City Limits Diner in 1994 with my family, and still operating it today, 30 years later, as well as having many long-term dedicated employees.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Nick: Study a third language such as Spanish or Italian.
Corina: Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Bill: Don’t wear those ridiculous-looking parachute pants.

Joe Armentano

Joe Armentano

CEO

Paraco Gas

What is some good advice that has guided you as a CEO?

Around 35 years ago, one of my early mentors told me something that I remember: When you are a young CEO, you have all this energy and no experience, but when you are an older CEO, you have all this experience, but you have to make sure that you keep up your energy. A CEO has to be both mentally and physically in good shape. It can be an exhausting job from a stress standpoint.

What are the qualities of an ideal employee?

If you have an employee who is willing to learn, to be trained, to adapt and work within the culture and is on the team with a willing attitude, I think that is extremely important.

What was your favorite class in college?

I went to Fordham University, and they made you take a religious class as part of the requirements. I was not really looking forward to it, but I took one called Freud and Religion, which was the combined teachings of Freud taught by a Jesuit priest. I found it fascinating because … they were trying to combine the two and show how the teachings of Freud didn’t necessarily go against the religious teachings.

If you had to choose anyone for a dinner guest, who would it be?

I would have to say Denzel Washington. He was born in Mount Vernon three weeks after me in the same hospital. I’ve been involved in the Mount Vernon community for a long time and now I am co-chairing a capital campaign for the Boys and Girls Club (which Washington has always been a national spokesman for); I got to meet him briefly, and I think he would be a fascinating dinner guest.

For what in your life are you most grateful?

I think it starts with my parents. For the opportunity that my father gave me, for us working together, his mentoring, and just him being my father; we were really best friends and business partners, and it was an interesting combination. And my mom was really kind of the unsung hero and kind of the glue — I am grateful for her and how she held the family together.

Christina Rae

Christina Rae

President

Buzz Creators

What inspired you to pursue a career in public relations?

My high school journalism teacher recommended that I either look into public relations or become a lawyer — most likely due to me being a chatterbox and social butterfly who liked to write and also was very persistent when determined about something. Well, I made the right decision! More than three decades later, I’m still passionate about my role as a PR professional.

Can you mention a time you had to overcome something particularly difficult?

During COVID, I also battled another dreaded C-word: cancer. Leading during such turbulent times taught me true perseverance and the importance of being very intentional with everything you do. You never know how strong you are until you must rise to life’s biggest challenges. It also filled me with gratitude for the amazing circle of support that I had, in addition to having access to phenomenal doctors and healthcare organizations here in Westchester.

What is one thing people might not know about you?

I don’t like cheese. There, I said it! People always find that a strange fact, especially since I’m Italian.

What achievement at Buzz Creators are you most proud of?

I am very proud to have such long-standing relationships with many of our clients. Some clients have been with us for 10-plus years, which showcases that they feel good about the investment they are making in PR with our team. Buzz Creators celebrates 15 years in business this year, which is another milestone that I am extremely proud of.

What do you like to do in your time off?

I’ve lived in Westchester my whole life and feel extremely fortunate about it. It’s great to live in such a family-friendly community with lots of beautiful parks, museums, delicious restaurants, and so much more, while also being so close to NYC. As a mom of three, I’m always on the go, whether it be watching a kid’s sporting event or being their personal Uber driver. For a date night out with my husband of 20 years, it’s usually dinner or a show. When I need some me-time, it’s all about selfcare — I never met a spa I didn’t like!

Ken Jenkins

Ken Jenkins

Deputy County Executive

Westchester County Government

What was your first job?

Delivering newspapers [for] the Daily Argus in Mount Vernon when we moved there from the Bronx. The first real opportunity I had was working for New York telephone directory assistance in Mount Vernon.

What is something people might not know about you?

People don’t know I was a DJ in the early days of hip-hop. We used to DJ with some friends of mine who were rappers. We lived in Mount Vernon at that time, right around the corner from Heavy D … He probably wasn’t even rapping at that time. I grew up in the Bronx, right where the Cross Bronx Expressway and Bronx River Parkway meet. That’s where some of those early days of hip-hop and being out on the street and breakdancing and all that other good stuff was starting. Every once in a while, people will find an article that references some of the work that we did. We didn’t make any money doing it. We had lots of fun.

What was your favorite class in college and why?

A math class because back in the day when I was in college, you had to be good at math in order to do computer science. I really enjoyed taking that math skill and turning that into my computer degree, which is what I did at what is now Iona University: computer science and information systems.

What is your favorite meal?

I am a steak and potatoes guy, so anytime I can have a good cut of beef, I like that, especially filet.

What was your first car?

My first car was a 1965 Plymouth Fury.

Michael Romita

Michael Romita

President & CEO

Westchester County Association

What was your first job?

An ice cream scooper at Baskin & Robbins, and, to this day, that was the best job I have ever had. It was the most fun, I got to work with my buddies, all the parents in town thought I was responsible, and all the kids in town liked ice cream, so I was able to make a lot of friends.

Is there one achievement at the WCA you are particularly proud of?

One of the reasons why I take so much pride in this work is because of its impact and because it is action orientated. My personal background is in energy policy and environmental law, so if you think of one signature thing that we have been able to introduce to the marketplace since I took over four years ago, it’s the focus on sustainable business and introducing the concepts of sustainability to our regional professional community in a positive way.

What do you see for the future of business in Westchester?

I remain an eternal optimist, so every challenge also presents an opportunity. The regional industry drivers have been pretty consistent over the last several years. They’ve been the healthcare industry, the real estate industry, and the service industry — and by service industry, I mean lawyers, accountants, and bankers. So, as we think about what the future looks like — and that can be anything from clean energy technology to advanced manufacturing — we need to remember what the foundations of the current economy are, and not turn our backs on those things.

How do you spend your time out of work?

I love to spend time with my family. I am a girl dad, and we have one kid off to college next year. I also spend a lot of time hiking through the county parks. That’s a particular source of pride because I sit on the Parks Foundation as a board member, and it is just an incredible resource, not only for people who live in Westchester, but it’s also one of the reasons why businesses set up shop here and want to grow here.

Jon A. Dorf

Jon A. Dorf

Managing Partner

Dorf, Nelson, & Zauderer LLP

What was your first job?

I was 15 years old, and I cleaned the bottoms of racing sailboats during the summer at Larchmont Yacht Club. It was tough — I would go under the water for hours and scrape the prop to wipe off the barnacles and other sea life that had affixed to the bottom.

If you weren’t an attorney, what would you have done for your career?

If I had the arm and the bat, I would have been a shortstop for the New York Yankees. Or I might have been either a teacher or an architect.

What is the most important attribute of a CEO?

I think the most important thing is to lead by example: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Leaders who set high bars should be willing to stand on those high bars to set the example; leaders who have done that are the ones who have inspired me.

Should work today be in person, remote or hybrid?

My preference would be to see our team back in person, full time. But I do acknowledge that the environment has changed and doing so probably is not realistic, and therefore the approach is some type of hybrid model. I would add that for young people, there is a real advantage to being in the office, because there are opportunities to learn that don’t exist remotely — by observation, by conversation; you’re not going to bump into the CEO at the watercooler while working remotely. Some of my greatest lessons in life were learned by happenstance.

Something about you that people might not know?

As a young boy, I had dreams of being an astronaut. I still do, but that opportunity has probably passed me by. But I love exploration and I have a fascination with exploring beyond the planet Earth.

Milagros Peña

Milagros Peña

President

Purchase College

What was your first job?

I was 14 years old and I worked in a drugstore.

What did that teach you about work and life?

A number of things: Being committed to people who expected you to be there to support their work and being available for the customers and to serve them. It was a nice culture that I learned from the pharmacist as well.

What is the biggest issue to be tackled right now in the world of education?

The lack of critical engagement with social media. People are free to basically put things out there without both being critical about what they’re posting, and also what they’re consuming, and being uncritical about the information that’s out there. That really worries me because things are treated as facts. … and people are consuming it without that filter of having a standard.

Is there a solution for that?

Teaching critical thinking and writing skills, [which] really requires a development of classes and engagements that gets people to just assume whatever’s on social media is subject to questioning … We need to build that into our educational development of students. I think there’s been a devolution, too, of social interactions. That’s so critical to developing empathy and the human side of who you are.

What is your most treasured memory?

My family emigrated from the Dominican Republic during World War II. I was born and raised in New York City, and their idea was that they would invest all they had in their children for getting educated. It was a big deal for my mother when I got my dissertation, so I gave her a copy of it … and let her know in the acknowledgment section that I had dedicated it to her, and she cried. The next morning, knowing that she hadn’t read it, I said, ‘What did you think?’ My mom never, never, ever lied to me, so she looked at me [and] she said in Spanish, “Well, I started reading it, and it reads really, really smart. But I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Catherine Rinaldi

Catherine Rinaldi

President

MTA Metro-North

Who would you most want to invite as a dinner guest?

My son is probably the biggest Swifty in the world. So, we would have to invite Taylor Swift because he would never forgive me if we had famous people in the house and Taylor Swift was not among the famous people. And while we’re in the musical genre, I think I would like to have Paul McCartney there.

What is your very favorite meal and why?

About seven or eight years ago, my family and I went to Kansas City for a wedding and went to a barbecue restaurant there … [we ate] burnt ends, a Kansas City barbeque specialty, and it was the most amazing thing.

What would you most like to improve or change about Metro-North?

One of the challenges for Metro-North is that we inherited a relatively old system. There’s a lot of repair work that goes on around the territory … Continuing to advance that and bringing the railroad to where it needs to be from an infrastructure perspective has been a priority for me and a priority of the entire MTA.

Do you have a view about what high-speed train technology could mean for the U.S.?

There are several high-speed rail projects in the U.S. that are getting kicked off. We’re focused on Metro-North in terms of looking for opportunities to be able to improve travel speeds, particularly on the New Haven line, because it’s part of the Northeast Corridor [and] something that we know our customers value. I was [recently] on a panel with Japanese rail providers in DC that was sponsored by the Japanese tourism agency [JITTI] jointly with the American Public Transportation Association. We talked about transit-oriented development because we’re all looking at connectivity: Trying to put people into the system and trying to create connectivity between communities and the railroad to get more people to use public transportation as their mode of choice.

Paul Dunphey

Paul Dunphey

Senior Vice President, COO, NewYork-Presbyterian Westchester, and President, New York-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital

What do you love about your job and what do you consider a “good” day at work?

I have the privilege of working with dedicated physicians, nurses, and staff across our campuses to ensure the needs of our patients and larger community are met. An exceptionally good day for me includes being hands-on and active in the community, including attending meetings and speaking with residents with the goal of promoting health and wellness.

What are some of your greatest accomplishments, perhaps a time or specific story when you felt very proud as the COO?

I’m particularly proud of NewYork-Presbyterian’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the early days of the pandemic, the team mobilized quickly to open the Ryan Larkin Field Hospital in the athletic ‘Bubble’ at Columbia University’s Baker Field at 218th Street, adjacent to NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital. The field hospital allowed us to expand capacity and ultimately treat more patients, increasing ICU capacity at our other campuses.

What are some tips for a healthy work/life balance?

I have found that to hold myself accountable in maintaining a healthy work/life balance, I must plan specific times throughout the week to be able to decompress. I do this by spending time with my friends and family, exercising, and playing sports, like golf.

What is something about you that people might not know?

My mom is a nurse, so the medical field was always prevalent in my household growing up and positively influenced my decision to go into the administrative side of healthcare.

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

Empathy is something I — and I imagine everyone — is continually working on; learning from others’ lived experiences to acknowledge the worldviews I have, and how I can expand upon them by learning from others.

Related: Financial Services Careers Offer Balance and Growth in Westchester

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