Thought Leaders

Seth Godin

Author, Entrepreneur

A whirlwind of creative energy with a never-ending supply of fresh ideas, Seth Godin—founder of two Internet firms and author of 18 business books including bestsellers Purple Cow, Tribes, and Linchpin—has spent the last two decades shaking up the way the world thinks about business. The Hastings-on-Hudson-based author and entrepreneur gave us plenty of food for thought during our recent conversation.

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What’s your overlying message? What do you hope to inspire people to do? 

The arc of my work is about the transition from the industrial economy to the connection economy where we live now, where anyone with access to the Internet owns their own factory, their own printing press, their own connection machine. And so our challenge is whether we will choose to use the opportunity, to share, to speak up, to contribute in a way where we would be missed if we were gone.

What does it mean to “poke the box”? And will everyone be doing just that after reading your latest book?

It’s pretty easy to accept the box we’re given. We’re assigned a role, boundaries, a status quo. We’re told to finish our checklist or do what’s expected. Except that the ones who seem to have the most fun and do the best work spend very little time accepting the box they’re given. Instead of willingly becoming a cog in someone else’s machine, they poke it, examine it, turn it over, and then build their own. Why not? What, exactly, are we waiting for?

Why should business leaders be looking for employees who will poke the box? 

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If your business is stable, in a static environment, you don’t need ruckus-makers, or people like me telling you to poke anything. For the rest of us though, for those seeking growth and change and the chance to make an impact, your business is only as good as 

the people you hire. If you hire people who are good at following instructions, don’t expect innovation.

You’ve written extensively about how to revolutionize marketing. Why do so many companies get marketing so wrong? 

Too often, marketers are on an organizationally sanctioned power trip, taking what they can get in exchange for paying a few bucks for some ads. Well, that’s not working so well any more. Just about every success story from this generation is about remarkable products designed for weird (caring) customers. Marketers that are able to deliver anticipated, personal, and relevant messages to people who would miss them if they were gone are the ones we care about today.

Aris Baras and Alan Shuldiner

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Co-Heads, Regeneron Genetics Center

Regeneron’s newest initiative, the Regeneron Genetics Center, carries a lofty mission: using DNA analysis of more than 50,000 individuals’ genomes to determine associations between specific genes and human diseases in an effort to define disease targets and improve the drug-development process. Behind it all are two Tarrytown-based Regeneron brainiacs: Aris Baras, MD, MBA, (left) and Alan Shuldiner, MD, (right) who co-founded and currently lead the center. They are spurring groundbreaking research that has already identified more than 20 novel genes involved in diabetes, high cholesterol, heart and lung disease, and a number of rare genetic disorders that may ultimately be used to develop new treatments. The work has also landed Regeneron on the shortlist of biotech firms that will contribute data to President Obama’s $130 million precision medicine initiative. The center has a bright future, to say the least. “Our talent runs deep, and our expertise is broad. So we are well equipped to creatively tackle scientific challenges and execute innovative projects like this,” says Baras.

Dani Glaser CEO, Green Team Spirit

Dani Glaser helped launch the Westchester Green Business Challenge, inspired by her belief that business can lead the way to a significant shift in practices that benefit the environment, society, and the bottom line. That was in 2009. Today, Glaser’s company, Green Team Spirit, helps Westchester’s businesses become Westchester Green Business Certified. “We provide businesses with the guidance and tools they need to support the transition,” Glaser explains. “The next generation of employees entering the workforce are looking for organizations that reflect their values, and those companies that embrace these values have the best chance of attracting and retaining employees.”

Dan Barber

Chef, Blue Hill at Stone Barns                                        

Co-Owner, Stone Barns Center for Agriculture

Certain chefs define trends. El Bulli’s Ferran Adria popularized molecular gastronomy; Rene Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen put foraging on the map. For farm-to-table, the pioneer was Dan Barber. His restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns (and Manhattan’s Blue Hill) spearheaded farm-driven menus throughout the Hudson Valley and across the country. But Blue Hill at Stone Barns is more than just a restaurant. Barber co-owns and manages the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture in Pocantico Hills—a working farm that includes orchards, livestock, honeybees, and a 22,000-square-foot greenhouse—which produces much of the food served in the restaurant. 

It’s Barber’s work in the kitchen and on the farm that’s earning him accolades—this year, Blue Hill at Stone Barns won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant and made its first appearance on the highly regarded list “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.” (He’s also appeared on Time magazine’s 100 most influential people list and was appointed to Obama’s Presidential Council on Physical Fitness, Sports & Nutrition.) 

The Stone Barns Center is also Barber’s platform for education, which focuses on how we produce food in this country and putting the emphasis back on flavor and sustainable farming. That emphasis on building “true Hudson Valley cuisine” was a focus of this spring’s Netflix documentary series, Chef’s Table, which featured Barber: “I want people to leave here and feel like they’ve connected with nature,” he says.

Frank Portanova

Vice Principal for Academics and Curriculum, Stepinac High School

With the dawn of the 2013-2014 school year, Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains became the first school in the nation (yes, you read that right) to roll out a fully digital textbook library for its students. We spoke to the man behind this digital milestone.

Why did you decide to switch
to a digital library?

It became quite obvious with each new school year that our students were digital natives, and that technology was the future of education. I believed universal access to e-textbooks would provide state-of-the-art resources to help every student excel. I asked our Pearson representative at that time if there was a way to create a web platform that would house all of our titles in one library. And that was the genesis.

How has it changed
the learning environment?

Each e-text is accompanied by a lab platform, which students are required to complete. The programs offer real-time feedback. If students do not master a question, they’re immediately explained as to why, shown how to correct their error, and given additional examples and questions until the concept is mastered. Teachers can then plan their next lesson with a better understanding of who did not master the current concept: Was it a majority of the class? Or was it a handful of students? The teacher can then assign those specific students more enrichment on that particular topic. This makes the learning more differentiated in nature and provides for individual student needs.

What have been some of
the effects of the switch?

The improved measurable learning outcomes are astonishing. In just one year of becoming all-digital, we cut the academic probation rate in half. It’s also reduced overall costs for the school and the students’ families. There are no more book bills of $600 or $700—they pay a flat fee of $175 [per year]. And, our digital transformation has sparked national and international visits from schools and governments in New York State, California, Tennessee, Georgia, and Massachusetts in addition to the Embassy of Malaysia and a representative from Germany’s education department.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Chief Prosecuting Attorney, Hudson Riverkeeper
President, Waterkeeper Alliance

Long before it became de rigueur to care about the environment, a young Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was championing its cause in the Oval Office. “I had a sense from when I was very young that pollution is theft,” he told 914INC. in a 2010 interview. “When I was 9, I wrote my uncle, President Kennedy, a letter, asking if I could come talk to him about pollution. I told him I wanted to write a book about pollution, and he arranged for me to interview members of his administration. It’s a preoccupation that has been with me all of my life.”

After becoming an attorney, Kennedy completed Pace University’s master’s degree in environmental law and founded the university’s Environmental Litigation Clinic. The clinic represents Ossining-based Hudson Riverkeeper, a nonprofit that seeks to protect the iconic waterway. As Riverkeeper’s chief prosecutor, Kennedy has successfully brought more than 150 legal actions against the river’s various polluters. Kennedy’s work also inspired the creation of more than 100 Waterkeeper organizations around the world, and their umbrella group called the Waterkeeper Alliance.

In addition, the Mount Kisco resident teaches environmental law to other lawyers at Pace and runs a wildlife rehabilitation center out of his home. While his recent comments on autism and vaccines have sparked controversy, there’s no doubt that his environmentalism is sound. Time magazine has offered proof of that, naming him one of its “Heroes for the Planet.”

Mehmood Khan

Vice Chairman & Chief Scientific Officer, PepsiCo  

Everyone knows PepsiCo as a global beverage powerhouse, but it takes a boatload of science to make that happen. As PepsiCo’s vice chairman and chief scientific officer, Dr. Mehmood Khan is the one responsible for developing the newest textures, tastes, and products for PepsiCo consumers around the globe. Khan, an endocrinologist by training, oversees a global R&D team that includes experts in areas such as agronomy, exercise physiology, metabolomics, rheology, computational analysis, and nutrition science. 

“In recent years, PepsiCo recruited scientific talent no one ever expected to see inside a traditional food and beverage company,” Khan explains. From his Purchase lab—and PepsiCo’s R&D centers around the world— Khan and his team are currently intent on inventing entirely new convergent food and beverage categories. For example, a new big winner in the Chinese market has been Quaker High Fiber Dairy Oat Drink, a portable, ready-to-drink breakfast beverage. Another example is Mountain Dew Kickstart, a mid-calorie carbonated soft drink with 5 percent juice and just 80 calories per 16-ounce serving. Innovation at PepsiCo, Khan says, “is all about delivering the products consumers are seeking. That’s why we begin by listening, by putting the consumer at the center of the innovation process.”

Craig Gentry

Research Scientist, IBM

Getting a handle on Craig Gentry’s “fully homomorphic encryption scheme” is, well, challenging. It’s a process that allows encrypted data to be analyzed without having to decrypt or sacrifice the confidentiality of the data that’s being analyzed, so even the entity analyzing it does not have access to it. (Got that?) Charles Lickel, a former VP of software research at IBM, says it’s a bit like “enabling a layperson to perform flawless neurosurgery while blindfolded, and without later remembering the episode.” 

Gentry works at Big Blue’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights and is responsible for the breakthrough that made fully homomorphic encryption viable in 2009. It’s an astounding feat when you consider that even those who first conceptualized the process in 1978 were unable to see it to fruition. Today, Gentry’s research is making cloud computing more secure, and Gentry was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2014. 

Katherine Vockins

Founder, Rehabilitation Through The Arts 

It was a simple question that launched Katonah resident Katherine Vockins’ crusade into the correctional system: “Does Sing Sing have any type of musical theater?” She posed the query to an inmate in the prison’s master’s program, in which her husband was teaching. From that interaction, Rehabilitation Through The Arts (RTA), a nonprofit that uses the arts to teach life skills and ease prisoners’ transitions into society upon release, sprang to life in 1996. Since, RTA has spread to five prisons across New York State and has affected the lives of nearly 700 prisoners. 

Academic studies done on RTA have shown that its participants are “more dependable, more socially mature, and sacrificed individual needs for the welfare of a group more than control participants,” and they are 20 percent more likely to obtain a GED while in prison (in a shorter amount of time than their peers, no less). Out of 70 RTA alumni—parolees and those who’ve served their maximum sentences—only seven have returned to prison. “We don’t try to ‘save them,’” Vockins says of RTA participants. “We give them an experience in which they can grow if they choose.” 

Mike BradyCEO, Greyston 

Imanage a team [at Greyston Bakery] of 100 people that most people would never hire…With this team of former convicts, addicts, immigrants, and the chronically unemployed, we make 35,000 pounds of brownies a day—and we do it by hiring anyone that comes to the front door of the bakery…Our dual focus at Greyston is making high-quality, profitable products but also helping to eradicate poverty in our community of southwest Yonkers…We cannot expect to continue to build our businesses and our economy on the backs of struggling communities. And we can’t expect business structures from 200 years ago to support our business and social needs today…I believe we need to update the business model to see how business can be used to solve some of the social problems we have today…A single brownie, over the course of Greyston’s history, has allowed 2,000 people to find work that may have never otherwise gotten a job. Those 2,000 people over time have put $15 million back into the struggling economy of southwest Yonkers. And we’re just one small bakery located on the outskirts of New York City. Imagine what could happen if other companies thought about implementing a social justice program at their businesses.” –excerpted from Mike Brady’s TED Talk, September 2014,

Lawrence Perretto

Founder and Executive Director, STEM Leadership Center

By day, Lawrence Perretto is a science teacher at Mamaroneck’s Hommocks Middle School. But after the last bell, he’s leading a county revolution in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education—for students and teachers. His STEM Leadership Center, a nonprofit launched in 2013, runs STEM-themed after-school programs for urban youths in places like Mount Vernon, and a goal is to provide science teachers with real-world science experience they can bring back to the classroom. His STEM Teaching Fellowship circumvents the tired, bureaucratic teacher development programs offered by public schools by partnering with organizations like Tarrytown’s Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Teachers College, Columbia University. Science teachers are brought into Regeneron labs, where they shadow real scientists, and they’re enrolled in college-level science courses to stay fresh on the latest advancements in the field.

Linda Levine Madori

Creator, Therapeutic Thematic Arts Programming (TTAP)

In the early ’90s, when Chappaqua resident Linda Levine Madori, PhD, was providing art therapy to residents at the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale, she made some intriguing observations: The brain is like a muscle—either use it (by age 50 to 60), or begin to lose it. From her observations and further research, Madori crafted a new methodology to treat Alzheimer’s patients who have already begun to exhibit mild-to-moderate symptoms. Dubbed the TTAP (Therapeutic Thematic Arts Programming) Method, Madori’s multimodal approach uses the creative arts to optimally stimulate all parts of the brain and slow the progression of cognitive impairment.

Her approach is well timed: The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s is on track to swell to more than 20 million by 2050, according to the American Alzheimer’s Association. “We have been pouring all of this money into pharmaceutical approaches [for treating Alzheimer’s] and have come up with basically nothing to show for it,” Madori says.

Today, Madori’s TTAP Method is being used in assisted-living facilities, nursing homes, hospitals, geriatric centers, and rehab facilities nationwide—including several in Westchester. 

Harold Brand CEO, Cybra

Barcodes and RFID tags may not be sexy innovations, but they are game changers for companies around the globe seeking automated solutions for tracking products as they travel through the supply chain. Those companies owe a debt to Harold Brand, who co-founded Yonkers-based Cybra, a leading auto-ID software developer, in 1985, back when barcode technology was in its infancy. Brand, who can code in 10 different languages, single-handedly architected, designed, and programmed Cybra’s first proprietary product, a barcode labeling solution called MarkMagic. Next, he spurred the company to innovations in 2D barcoding and QR codes before “betting the ranch” on radiofrequency identification (RFID) in 2007, with a multimillion-dollar effort to develop a full RFID platform. Today, Brand says, “Cybra’s proprietary RFID technology is capable of reading the contents of cartons zipping along conveyor belts in distribution centers at speeds of up to 300 feet per minute and determining the contents of each box with an accuracy of better than 99 percent.” And you can bet he will continue innovating. “I constantly strive to predict where the technology waves are headed and how we as a company can best take advantage of the trends,” Brand says. 

Ajay Banga CEO, MasterCard  

It makes sense that MasterCard’s Ajay Banga, CEO of one of the world’s largest credit card companies, would advocate for a world without cash. But his vision goes beyond the obvious business benefit that would bring to his company. According to Banga, cash is not only bad for Purchase-based MasterCard, but it’s also hard to track; too expensive to print, produce, and distribute; and enables illegal activities. “Cash is the dirtiest secret of the modern economy,” he told an audience at the 2014 Wharton Leadership Conference. “It belongs to a 200-year-old economy. It’s being allowed to play a role because it suits vested interests.” Since taking over MasterCard in 2010, Banga has been actively pushing this mission, prodding the company to innovations in mobile payment systems, digital wallets, and touchless transactions.

Mike Spano

Mayor, City of Yonkers

Mike Spano inherited a city on the brink of bankruptcy when he was sworn in as Yonkers mayor in 2012. Today, the city is in recovery, partly because of Spano’s creative approach to economic development. With a goal of attracting more startup tech firms to Yonkers, Spano created new incentive programs and policies to make it easier for these companies to set up shop. It worked, and, in 2013, the major tech firm Mindspark relocated its corporate headquarters to the iPark Hudson in downtown Yonkers. 

At the same time, Spano’s administration launched an advertising campaign, “Generation Yonkers,” aimed at attracting young professionals to the area. But perhaps the mayor’s most innovative plans are based on the idea that the arts can drive economic growth. Spano has welcomed a greater film production presence and an influx of impressive artists—including Vietnam Veterans Memorial designer Maya Lin and her husband, esteemed art collector Daniel Wolf, who opened a gallery and studio at the waterfront. This newly cultivated arts presence has drawn additional restaurants and shops along the water, helping Spano finally begin to realize the gentrification that he campaigned on, and that his predecessors had hoped for.

Joan Fallon CEO, Curemark

Joan Fallon, DC, was a typical pediatric chiropractor until she quit her practice eight years ago and evolved into a revolutionary autism researcher and biopharmaceutical executive. Seeing child after child in her practice exhibiting signs of autism spectrum disorders, she initiated her own research—and uncovered a common thread that was groundbreaking: Unusual appetites (including diets low in protein), which correlated with low levels of a specific digestive protease that cleaves essential amino acids that are critical for proper neurological function. Fallon secured her first patent for the breakthrough in 2003, and she went on to develop dozens more through Curemark, the Rye biopharmaceutical company she founded in 2004. Today, Curemark has two drugs in phase III clinical stage trials for autism and ADHD, plus more in the pipeline for Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, and addiction. The company has raised more than $60 million without the help of venture capital, which speaks to both the commercial promise that Dr. Fallon’s discoveries hold—there are no FDA-approved medications to treat core autism symptoms—as well as the viability of the patient-centric model Dr. Fallon deployed to get Curemark’s drugs into testing. “Drug discovery historically has been about looking at a novel molecule, understanding how it works, and retrofitting that into a clinical disease. But we weren’t looking to discover a drug, we were looking at patients,” she says. 

Larry Gottlieb

President & CEO, Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation

Before Westchester had one of the country’s fastest-growing biotech sectors, it had Larry Gottlieb, who was cheerleading and maneuvering for that growth to happen. In his role as the county’s director of economic development (from 2010 to 2013), he was instrumental in incentivizing biotech companies to stay, expand, and relocate to Westchester, and he played an important role in creating NY BioHud Valley, an organization dedicated to promoting the growing cluster throughout the Hudson Valley. Today, as CEO of the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation, Gottlieb is expanding his focus, creating market-redefining awareness campaigns around our burgeoning sectors in food and beverage (Hudson Valley Food and Beverage Alliance) and 3D printing (HV3D).

Nicole Lesser and
Tatiana Mangram-Rock

Executive Director; Program Facilitator, Girls Inc. Westchester

It’s no secret that the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields are some of the fastest-growing and highest-paying out there. But it’s also not surprising that the majority of STEM jobs go to men. Working to bridge that gender gap and inspire the next generation of women in tech are Nicole Lesser, executive director of Girls Inc. Westchester (right), and Tatiana Mangram-Rock, STEM program facilitator (left). “When girls receive the message that they can’t do math or science, they shy away from the education they need in order to pursue these careers,” says Lesser. That’s where Girls Inc. Westchester comes in.  

“We provide support that counteracts these cultural messages,” Lesser explains, pointing to three STEM programs that Girls Inc. Westchester currently operates: Operation SMART, a weekly STEM-themed after-school program for middle-school girls; a two-week summer camp, SMARTech, which focuses on computer coding and environmental sciences for seventh and eighth grade girls; and its popular Made with Code workshops, which are a part of Girls Inc.’s national partnership with Google. Since 2014, 13 of these girls-only coding parties have taken place in Westchester, serving nearly 300 students and helping to bust stereotypes about being too “girly” for technical careers. Says Mangram-Rock, who runs the Made with Code sessions: “Teaching young women at earlier ages about STEM will build their confidence to break the mold and allow more women the chance to be STEM leaders.”

Martin Ginsburg

Founder & Principal, Ginsburg
Development Companies (GDC) 

As one of the most prolific residential real estate developers in the Hudson Valley, Martin Ginsburg’s ability to reimagine the real estate market has kept him on top for the last 50 years. With his architect’s eye and business mind, Ginsburg has played a starring role in bringing growth and development to Westchester’s Hudson River communities, with projects such as luxury rental complex River Tides at Greystone, a 2013 development project in which GDC worked closely with the City of Yonkers as a broad-based city initiative to attract more young professionals. 

Ginsburg is passionate about turning the Hudson River into a world-class tourist attraction, and he is one of the original visionaries behind the Westchester County RiverWalk, a planned 51.5-mile multi-faceted pathway paralleling the Hudson River that will link village centers, historic sites, parks, and river access points. In keeping with this vision, Ginsburg’s newest project plans to turn St. Mary’s Convent in Peekskill, a 19th-century abbey that overlooks the Hudson, into a property with 178 apartments, 20 townhouses, and a spa, inn, and restaurant. 

He’s also been ahead of the curve in courting millennials—whose preference for a transient lifestyle has kept them out of the housing market—by focusing on high-end rentals. GDC is currently working on four major rental projects in Ossining, Haverstraw, Yonkers, and Hastings-on-Hudson. And in keeping with millennial lifestyles, all four projects are located within easy access to public transit. 

Jim Diamond 

CEO, Diamond Properties

Doing well by doing good—that’s Jim Diamond’s business philosophy. As CEO of Diamond Properties, the real estate development company best known for turning an abandoned Mount Kisco warehouse into the family entertainment complex Grand Prix New York, Diamond explains, “Green business practices align perfectly with that objective.” That’s why, in 2011, Diamond dove in to the realm of environmentally conscious lighting. “We believe in LED lighting so much that four years ago, we started an LED lighting design and manufacturing company,” he says. Further establishing himself as one of Westchester’s greenest business leaders, Diamond Properties recently embarked on a large-scale solar power expansion project, installing nearly seven megawatts of solar capacity. “To put this into perspective, it translates into more than 25 acres of rooftops covered in solar panels,” he explains. 

Richard P. Swierat

Executive Director, The Arc of Westchester

In his 32 years as executive director of the social services nonprofit The Arc of Westchester, Ric Swierat has been instrumental in revolutionizing employment programs for people with developmental disabilities. He helped take the existing model of employment for the disabled—work was brought to “sheltered workshops,” where disabled workers toiled away for sub-minimum wage—and turned it around, so the workers could hold actual jobs out in the community and make minimum wage or higher doing it. “We’ve always believed that people with disabilities belong in the community, having jobs,” Swierat explains. “We realized our skill set was building worker skills and then finding good jobs [for them] in the community.” Under his leadership, Arc has achieved a 90 percent employment rate for the disabled individuals it serves (compared to 20 percent nationwide), and Arc is now partnered with more than 200 local businesses that provide employment opportunities. 

Louise Weadock-Rowe

Owner/Founder, WeeZee, the Science of Play

When Louise Weadock-Rowe’s daughter Shannon was diagnosed with PDD-NOS (an autistic spectrum disorder) as a toddler, Weadock-Rowe decided to turn their home into a total sensory environment in the hopes of “outsmarting autism.” “It wasn’t about taking my child to one OT session after another,” Weadock-Rowe says. “It was making sensory a solid part of her diet: hot tubs, trampolines, swings, bouncing things, feeling things, animals galore—our house just moved.” Her formula became a business in 2012 when Weadock-Rowe—a registered pediatric nurse who built her first company, Access Healthcare Services, into a multimillion-dollar business—opened WeeZee, the World of “Yes, I Can!” (now WeeZee, the Science of Play), a 10,000-square-foot, membership-based sensory gym and therapeutic wellness program in Chappaqua. At WeeZee—Westchester’s only sensory gym—children can be assessed and receive a sensory fitness plan, or just enjoy sensory play, receive music lessons, or have a birthday party. Weadock-Rowe’s goal is to help children “develop and strengthen their neural processing capability. With that they are able to perform better academically, absorb information, code it, retrieve it, and apply it.” The proof is in the clinical outcomes, she says: Children engaged at WeeZee experience average improvements of 29 percent in social aptitude, 35 percent in academic testing, and 51 percent in athletic ability.

Dick Wechsler

Founder and CEO, Lockard & Wechsler Direct

People are always challenged to balance family and work. In reality, they shouldn’t have to choose between the two,” says Dick Wechsler, CEO of Lockard & Wechsler Direct. Those words are music to the ears of any working parent—and that philosophy drives the Irvington direct marketing agency’s impressive roster of family-friendly policies, including paternity leave (two weeks), generous maternity leave (six weeks paid, six weeks unpaid), and the ability for new mothers to work from home two days a week for the child’s first year and one day a week for the next four years. Wechsler also believes his employees “deserve to see their kids graduate from preschool, kindergarten, et cetera, and see every Little League game or dance recital.” Giving precedence to work-life balance pays dividends, he says: “By embracing the importance of family and integrating it into the workplace, we’re able to retain top talent, nurture our experience, and continuously become a better company.”

Thomas Culhane Adjunct Professor, Mercy College

If the idea of turning your kitchen garbage and toilet waste into safe, clean methane gas to use for cooking, heating your home, and generating electricity sounds far-fetched, you haven’t met Dr. Thomas Culhane of Mercy College. The Dobbs Ferry native, Harvard grad, noted urban planner, and 2009 National Geographic “Emerging Explorer” has long been researching the viability of household-scale biodigesters—oxygen-free tanks that digest kitchen scraps using the microbes found in animal waste or lake mud and turn them into an environmentally friendly bio-methane gas. Now, he’s gone a step further by also using a byproduct of the biodigester as a fertilizer for vertical aeroponic (growing without soil) gardens. “The liquid that comes out of our food waste-to-fuel-and-fertilizer biogas system is perfect for growing nutritious fruits and vegetables, so we never need to buy anything,” Culhane explains. 

Norman Jacknis

Senior Fellow, The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF)

The concept of innovation in the public sector may seem counterintuitive to most of us, but not to Cortlandt Manor resident Norman Jacknis, Westchester County’s former (and first ever) chief information officer, whose digital government initiatives were responsible for significantly improving the county’s responsiveness and effectiveness in reaching out to its constituents. Under his leadership, Westchester County created a 500-mile fiber network, connecting all government offices, libraries, and local police departments. Following 9/11, he used these digital initiatives to improve homeland security in New York—an accomplishment for which he was recognized as one of America’s “Top 25 Doers, Dreamers, and Drivers” by Government Technology magazine. In his current role at ICF, an economic and social development think tank, Jacknis uses his innovative prowess to bring technology to rural farming communities around the globe. 

David Putrino

Director of Telemedicine and Virtual Rehabilitation, Burke Rehabilitation Center

Technology that turns stroke-patient therapy into a video game; a suicide prevention app; a software platform that assess the severity of a concussion minutes after injury: These are just a few of the emerging technologies David Putrino has a hand in testing, validating, and readying for use. As director of telemedicine and virtual rehabilitation at Burke Rehabilitation Center in White Plains, Putrino is pioneering the way for low-cost, high-intensity therapy that can be used in the home. Putrino embraces the idea that “we can use new technologies to enhance the standard of care. We believe that the utilization of technology in this way has the potential to revolutionize the practice
of medicine.” 

John Eldridge

Chief Scientific Officer—Vaccines, Profectus BioSciences

In the midst of last summer’s Ebola outbreak, John Eldridge, chief scientific officer—vaccines at Profectus BioSciences in Tarrytown, become one of the only scientists in the world to successfully create and test an Ebola vaccine on monkeys. “Building on basic research performed by others, we have created a proprietary vaccine platform which is being used to vaccinate against many viruses, including Ebola.” Eldridge reveals that this vaccine is currently being fast-tracked for approval—a joint effort by the National Institutes of Health, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, and the Department of Defense’s Joint Vaccine Acquisition Program. As for the secret to his innovations, Eldridge gives us this glimpse: “Within the realm of infectious diseases, innovation requires experience in basic science to know what will likely work, and experience in later-stage development to know how to make it,” he says. “In my opinion, the real innovation takes place at the interface between these two disciplines.” 

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