2018 POWER and INFLUENCE 50: Alabama’s most powerful & influential business leaders
Today, we introduce the first segment of the 2018 Power & Influence 50 on Yellowhammer News.
Our team has spent weeks talking with key operatives and analyzing recent developments in public policy and politics. The intersection between business and politics in our state is undeniable, and our list is meant to provide you with an inside look at who wields the most power and influence in Alabama state politics.
The list is being released in three segments: elected officials, lobbyists and consultants and today’s segment, business leaders.
Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s 4th Annual Power of Service reception honoring the men and women on the Power & Influence 50 list who have utilized their stature to make a positive impact on the state. The event is set to take place Thursday, October 25 at Ross Bridge Resort in Birmingham. Past events attracted a who’s who of Alabama politics and business, including the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, pro tem of the Senate, members of Congress, dozens of state legislators and many of the state’s top executives, lobbyists, opinion leaders and political activists.
For more information on the event and to purchase tickets please click here.
Thank you for being a loyal reader of Yellowhammer News.
Alexia Borden, senior vice president and general counsel, Alabama Power Company
As a key member of the Alabama Power executive team, Alexia Borden oversees all legal matters for the company. Considering the vast reach of the state’s largest utility, this is a heavy responsibility.
Issues such as regulatory compliance, economic development and ongoing and potential litigation all end up in Borden’s office at some point in time and all require a keen understanding of both the legal and the political environment.
Borden’s experience has prepared her well for the general counsel role. She previously served as vice president with responsibility for Governmental Affairs and prior to that was a partner at the prestigious Balch & Bingham law firm.
Relationship-building is a critical trait for corporate general counsels and one that comes easily for Borden. Whether through her relationships with Alabama political figures or the company’s own board of directors, Borden has put herself in a position of significant influence in Alabama politics.
Stephanie Bryan, tribal chair and CEO, Poarch Band of Creek Indians
In 2014, Bryan became the first female political leader elected to the position of tribal chair and CEO for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Raised by a single mother, her self-made rise as one of the state’s preeminent leaders is a made-for-movie script of hard-work, grit, determination and faith in God.
Today, Bryan oversees all tribal operations, including government, Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority and the PCI Gaming Authority. The tribe’s economy has grown a stunning 1,000 percent since Bryan began serving as vice-chair in 2006, which is a testament to her savvy and leadership acumen.
Bryan’s portfolio is highlighted by the tribe’s gaming facilities and its $250 million OWA (pronounced oh-wah) complex in Foley, which includes an amusement park and was named by the Alabama Tourism Department as its 2018 attraction of the year.
With a lottery bill on the horizon, look for Bryan to wield ever-increasing influence over the 2019 legislative session and remain an absolute must-visit for candidates on the campaign trail in the years to come.
Paul Bryant, Jr.
Paul Bryant, Jr. bears a name that needs little introduction in Alabama lore. Bryant and his legendary family legacy are staples in the Yellowhammer State. Sixty years after his father came to coach in Tuscaloosa, Bryant’s unquestioned power and influence extend into more realms, perhaps, than any individual in the state.
He is one of the state’s most successful businessmen, and his support is a must-have for aspiring political campaigns. His holdings include, or have included, banking, insurance, construction and agriculture. Bryant also possesses the type of well-oiled influence one might expect – and then some – at his alma mater, the University of Alabama. Essential to all of his activity has been a quietly efficient engagement in the state political process.
Observers in every nook and cranny across Alabama admit that Bryant’s influence is as unique as it is mighty. He might wear many hats, but his key to ever-multiplying success is modeled after President Theodore Roosevelt’s famous saying: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
Rick Burgess and Bubba Bussey, radio and TV entrepreneurs
During the last 25 years, few Alabama entrepreneurs have enjoyed as much success as have Rick Burgess and Bill “Bubba” Bussey. The pair began with a small radio show in northeast Alabama and have since grown it into a media and marketing empire.
They are now heard on 14 stations from the top to the bottom of the state, as well as through their recent venture on CRTV.
Their business moves have been savvy. But their growth has been built on the trust they have built up with their listeners. For anyone in media, parlaying that trust into advertising is key. And that’s how they have grown their brand.
That same trust also has an impact on their ability to influence the political debate. When Rick and Bubba speak on an issue, their listeners afford them great credibility. When Rick and Bubba endorse a candidate for office, their listeners pay attention.
Rick and Bubba have reached a point of consistent power and influence in Alabama politics.
Mark Crosswhite, chairman, president and CEO, Alabama Power Company
There is a quote from Mark Crosswhite on the Alabama Power website that demonstrates why he has been so successful leading his company and also why he is a past recipient of the Yellowhammer News Power of Service Award.
Crosswhite says, “I believe in this company and I believe in this state. We will continue our long tradition of service to the people of Alabama.”
This expressed loyalty to his company and its people and the confidence in the many good things in Alabama, combined with a recognition of the importance of service, provides the bearings that should guide all corporate leaders.
These are the type of values Yellowhammer News seeks to highlight in compiling this list.
That same belief in his state compelled Crosswhite to serve as the driving force in the business community’s successful overhaul of the Business Council of Alabama (BCA). The decisiveness with which Crosswhite handled the changes brought the controversy to a conclusion from which the state’s economy will benefit for years to come.
Running a company that serves 1.4 million customers and employs 7,000 people brings with it significant power and influence. Yet, it is the expression of these traits through action that makes Mark Crosswhite quite possibly the most powerful and influential man in Alabama politics.
Johnny Johns, executive chairman, Protective Life Corporation
You simply cannot compile a list of the state’s influential leaders without including this icon of the Alabama business community. Currently serving as executive chairman of Protective Life Corporation, Johns, even while edging towards retirement, still towers at the top of every politician’s wish list of would-be supporters.
Johns first joined Protective as executive vice president and chief financial officer in 1993, when the company’s value was $580 million. By the conclusion of his tenure as president and chief executive officer, Johns had led the company through its $5.7 billion sale to Dai-ichi Life of Tokyo, Japan. The company is one of Alabama’s most historic success stories and continues to operate in Birmingham as the world’s 13th largest insurance company.
While Johns and Protective Life wield nearly omnipotent political power in the Yellowhammer State, their incredible philanthropic and civic accomplishments speak even louder. This is perfectly exemplified by the company’s pledge of more than $23 million in donations to Alabama entities through 2020.
Mike Kemp, president and CEO, Kemp Management Solutions
A newcomer to Yellowhammer’s Power and Influence List, Kemp is the type of crafty behind-the-scenes operator that prefers to keep his name out of the limelight. However, this Birmingham business leader has become known in Alabama political circles as a top-notch statesman, peacemaker and leader whose impact can no longer be kept secret.
As president & CEO of Kemp Management Solutions, Kemp is active in the booming construction industry. Having planned and managed more than 1,500 projects valued at more than $6.8 billion, he knows a thing or two about getting the job done. Kemp has been an integral contributor to the crucial Alabama Workforce Council, but his true influence extends beyond construction.
As the second-highest ranking officer in the Business Council of Alabama’s leadership this past year, Kemp is widely recognized as the individual on the executive board who put his foot down and put an end to the dispute between then-BCA CEO Billy Canary and some of the state’s largest companies. Simply put, without Kemp, the state’s business community might not have been able to put the pieces back together.
Terry Lathan, chairman, Alabama Republican Party
The effervescent and omnipresent chair of the Alabama Republican Party, Terry Lathan has led a tremendously successful conservative movement in the state. In three years as chairwoman of the Alabama Republican Party, Lathan has presided over a party that dominates state politics.
Under her supervision in 2016, the party delivered a landslide victory for President Donald Trump in the Heart of Dixie. Now, she stands at the center of midterm efforts to quash the attempted “Blue Wave” in Alabama and, looking ahead, is already revving up the party’s machinery to defeat Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) in 2020.
Despite the many challenges that have been thrown at Lathan, the ALGOP is at its highest electoral standing in state history. Just this year, the party adopted its first-ever state platform, ensuring Lathan will be at the forefront of policy discussions as the legislature begins a new quadrennium.
Jimmy Parnell, chairman, president and CEO, ALFA Insurance Companies and Alabama Farmers Federation
Words cannot do justice to ALFA’s unparalleled influence on Alabama’s elections. From state House races to the Governor’s Mansion, the Alabama Farmers Federation has a quiet chokehold on elections big and small. While they pick and choose which candidates to get behind, ALFA is the bellwether trade group – if you get ALFA’s support, it’s your race to lose.
At the helm of this dominance is Parnell, a fifth-generation Chilton County farmer with a degree in agricultural business and economics. He is a partner in his family’s beef cattle and timber business and his long history within the Federation spans more than 20 years. The state’s farmers are his extended family, and he is a tireless advocate when it comes to the interests of those he serves. There is no greater friend, and no mightier adversary, to have in Alabama politics than Parnell.
Joe Perkins, founder and principal, Matrix, LLC
A man, a myth and a political legend – where can you even begin with Joe Perkins? The visionary founder and leader of the nerve-inducing consulting firm, Matrix, LLC, Perkins has done and seen it all in his storied career.
While most Democratic consultants have changed skins since Republicans took control in 2010, Perkins has survived, and even thrived, by sheer force of will and maintaining a political operation unrivaled in organization, guile and influence.
While the AEA’s demise has shrunk one of his former calling cards, Perkins efficiently remains one of Alabama Power’s most trusted strategists. With the state party’s incompetence, Perkins is the only real Democratic power structure left in the state worth talking about. As his recent work to get Doug Jones elected and now piloting Walt Maddox’s gubernatorial bid shows, Perkins displays no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Jimmy Rane, chairman and CEO, Great Southern Wood Preserving
What can you say about a man who has it all? Besides being Alabama’s richest man, Rane may have the most widely known nickname around – the “Yella Fella.” It comes as little surprise that Rane’s power and influence commands the type of respect normally reserved for dignitaries of the highest order, with politicians near and far wanting an audience with the venerable business leader and philanthropist.
Called the Sam Walton of the small, southeastern Alabama town of Abbeville, Rane has not only sustained his community in the Wiregrass, but his support of his cherished alma mater Auburn University has been crucial to growth on the Plains. He has served as president pro-tem of the Board of Trustees and the Jimmy Rane Foundation has given over 250 college scholarships. Now, he is a vital part of Auburn’s ramped up governmental affairs efforts, with the emerging Tiger Paw PAC ready to roar.
Quentin Riggins, senior vice president for Governmental and Corporate Affairs, Alabama Power Company
The reforms and leadership changes enacted at the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) amounted to the most significant political move of the previous 12 months. And if Mark Crosswhite was the driving force behind the business community’s overhaul of the BCA, then Quentin Riggins was the mastermind behind the effort.
The BCA controversy presented a unique dilemma for the business community and those seeking reform because it was an insider’s game but with a far-reaching impact. What may have involved a relatively small amount of people would have a tremendous effect on creating and maintaining a climate for job retention and growth, economic development and industrial recruitment.
Under those conditions, Riggins proved to be the only person who could put together the type of effective strategy to bring about the necessary reforms.
Riggins leveraged his background in state government, prior experience at the BCA, superior political relationships and extensive business community knowledge to put together a workable plan that would not only bring about leadership changes but also reform the organization’s entire structure.
To chart the course for such a major shift at the state’s largest business organization shows why Riggins sits on any list of Alabama’s most powerful and influential.
Britt Sexton, CEO Sexton, Inc., CEO of FS Financial, Inc., managing member of Sexton Investments, LLC
Any politico worth their salt knows that Sexton is in the very upper echelon of Alabama power players. As a member of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, Sexton has carved out a lofty role that many aspire to, yet only dozens reach.
Behind the scenes, Sexton has methodically played a key part in waking the sleeping political giant that is the UA System. Due in large part to his leadership, now there are only a handful of political apparatuses in the Yellowhammer State that breath the same rarified air of influence as the boys in Tuscaloosa.
As one of the state’s most successful investors, with business interests ranging from financial services and private equity to software and real estate, the Decatur-based Sexton has also become one of north Alabama’s most notable philanthropists and civic leaders.
His drive to make Alabama a better place for future generations burns bright, and while many other power players of his stature are in the twilight of their careers, Sexton still has decades ahead of him.
Gary Smith, president and CEO, PowerSouth
If there are jobs being created in south Alabama, it is highly likely that Gary Smith and his PowerSouth team are playing an integral role. And because of this, Smith maintains an important part of the policy-making process in Montgomery.
PowerSouth is an ambitious energy cooperative with its headquarters in the Wiregrass. It was formed in 1941 and provides energy for members who serve 39 Alabama counties. The amount of communities to which PowerSouth connects in those counties puts it in touch with elected officials and political players at every level of government.
With that comes measurable influence. And it all funnels to Smith.
Now that Alabama’s economy is picking up speed, expect to see Smith and PowerSouth an even larger part of the conversation.
Zeke Smith, executive vice president of External Affairs, Alabama Power Company
It seems as if there are some people that are natural born leaders. Zeke Smith is one of those people. As the leader of Alabama Power’s vast external affairs division, Smith must lead a team comprised of too many people to count and dealing with so many different issues there is not space to list them.
Whether it is legislative policy-making, state agency rulemaking, regulatory issues, economic development or public relations, all fall within Smith’s responsibility. And his unequivocal success in these areas has created a wide base of power and influence.
None of this would be possible without Smith possessing the traits of executive leadership that he does.
His demeanor, unmatched knowledge of the business and sharp communications skills are evident to those who meet him. Like other successful executive leaders, these are a product of that careful balance between confidence and humility, focus and vision, knowledge and delegation and firmness and understanding.
Smith’s leadership skills, and the results it has produced, have given him heightened credibility across the political spectrum and in different business sectors. Power and influence have followed.
Finis St. John, IV, interim chancellor, the University of Alabama System
From his downtown office in Cullman, attorney “Fess” St. John wields power that extends far and wide. For years, he has been perhaps the most influential member of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees. His know-how and vision were affirmed just months ago when he was named as interim chancellor to replace the retiring chancellor Ray Hayes. His passion for the UA System and its multi-campus setup is also evidenced by his newfound position of trust, as St. John is serving as chancellor in an unpaid capacity.
While his fierce advocacy for the system and his visionary leadership work wonders behind the scenes, St. John’s humility looms even larger than his considerable influence. His humble nature might stem from his long family history in Alabama politics, as St. John’s father served as president pro tem of the senate in the late 1970s. Under Fess’ watchful eye, his family legacy and his beloved UA System could not be in better hands.
John Turner, president and CEO, Regions Bank
Only one Fortune 500 company is headquartered in Alabama: Regions Bank. As president and CEO, John Turner leads a company that has $125 billion in assets. This looks like a daunting task for anyone. However, Turner has prepared for this his entire career.
Turner has experience in the Alabama banking community going all the way back to his days at AmSouth Bank where he held senior consumer, commercial and business positions. He also served as president of Whitney National Bank in 2008. Turner joined Regions in 2011 when he became president of the critically important south region of Alabama, Mississippi, south Louisiana and Florida Panhandle.
Turner now oversees the massive multi-state operation of Regions, including more than 200 branches in Alabama. With that connection to so many communities around the state, Turner and his company have seats at the table in Montgomery and beyond. As a result, Turner’s power and influence will remain formidable.
Tim Vines, president and CEO, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama
Few industries are forced to engage so closely in the political and policy-making process to the extent of the health insurance industry. Under the leadership of Tim Vines, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama has successfully continued that engagement.
Vines took over this year as President and CEO after 24 years with the company. His knowledge of the business, its mission and its operation are fully ingrained in his leadership approach.
However, Vines also knows Alabama. Originally from LaFayette, Alabama, and a graduate of Auburn University, Vines serves on boards for the American Red Cross Alabama Region, the Better Business Bureau of Alabama and Samford University.
In addition, Blue Cross and Blue Shield is one of Alabama’s largest job-creators, employing thousands of people throughout the state and providing insurance to nearly 3 million. It is one of the few companies in the state that operates in all 67 Alabama counties.
That type of reach across Alabama, and a strong understanding of its people, places Tim Vines squarely on any list of the most powerful and influential in Alabama politics.