WilmingtonBiz Magazine

The WilmingtonBiz 100: The Power Players

By Staff Reports, posted Dec 14, 2023

The Power Players - The businesspeople and officials having the greatest impact on the region’s business and economic landscape

Jeffery Bourk

Airport Director, Wilmington International Airport

The airport has been flying high since Jeffrey Bourk began piloting the future of Wilmington International Airport in January 2022.  

Why He's a Power Player:
In 2022-23, the airport gained nine new stops, and an analysis earlier this year showed ILM as the state’s fastest-growing airport in terms of adding seats for the first three quarters of 2023.   

“During the period of January-September, all airlines are showing positive growth at ILM, and seat growth in the market is +32%,” an ILM news release stated.    

Sun Country Airlines’ inaugural flight from Minneapolis landed at ILM to much fanfare in June. With the start of service, Sun Country joined American, Avelo, Delta and United on ILM’s airline roster. 

Bourk manages the implementation of ILM’s vision plan, which includes a five-year, $160 million capital program.
Besides commercial air service, ILM has two FBOs (fixed-base operators) – Modern Aviation and Aero Center Wilmington. The ILM Business Park encompasses 140 acres and has attracted new businesses recently, including a hotel under construction and a proposed entertainment complex that could feature a golf driving range.   

Young Pilot: Bourk started flying planes at age 14 and worked at a flight school to help pay for flying lessons.

William Buster

President & CEO, New Hanover Community Endowment

At the helm of New Hanover County’s more than $1 billion community endowment, William Buster has led the nonprofit through its inaugural funding cycle and the release of a strategic plan that will guide the organization’s community investments for the next three years.  

Why He's a Power Player:
Buster leads the organization responsible for managing and disbursing funds from the endowment, which was established from the sale proceeds of New Hanover County Regional Medical Center to Novant Health in 2021.  

Last year, the endowment awarded more than $9 million to 110 local nonprofits in its first funding cycle. Since then, Buster has added five employees to the endowment’s core staff – he now oversees a team of 10 – and developed a strategic plan that outlines the organization’s objectives and desired impacts over the next three years. The plan focuses on social and health equity, education, community safety and community development goals.  

As Buster and his staff wrap up the endowment’s second grant cycle, they’re working to address some of New Hanover County’s biggest challenges, ranging from gaps in early childhood education to a lack of affordable housing. 

Hungry for Change: From Buster’s perspective, the endowment is in the transformation business. He wants to find community solutions to address Wilmington’s affordable housing crisis. He said he also wants to see a renewed focus on early childhood development, improvements in the education system to address the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and investments in workforce development.  

Bill Cameron & Edelmira Segovia

Chair & Vice Chair, New Hanover Community Endowmnent

As leaders of the endowment, Bill Cameron and Edelmira Segovia guide a 13-member board that oversees a more than $1 billion fund for community needs. They have served in their roles throughout this year. The board is slated to vote again in December on the chair and vice chair positions.

Cameron’s Background: A Wilmington native, Cameron co-founded and is president of Cameron Management Inc., an investment management and real estate development firm. His background in finance also includes serving as a founding member and director of Port City Capital Bank and director of Crescent State Bank following its acquisition of Port City Capital Bank in 2006. 
Cameron has previously served on the board of directors of the UNC Health Care System, Wilmington Chamber of Commerce and Cape Fear Memorial Hospital, among many others.   

Segovia’s Credentials: At UNCW, Segovia serves as director of Centro Hispano in the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, where she supports Latinx students.  

Segovia is co-chair of the UNCW Latino Alliance of Southeastern North Carolina, which is tasked with empowering citizens and organizations that serve the Latinx community by creating positive change, according to the endowment website. She also served on the founding team of the Latin American Business Council of the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce.  

Brian Clark  

Executive Director, N.C. State Ports Authority

Brian Clark heads up the organization in charge of the state’s deepwater ports in Wilmington and Morehead City and North Carolina’s inland port in Charlotte. He was named executive director in 2021 after serving as chief operating officer from 2017 through 2020.    

Why He's a Power Player:
The state’s ports system has seen back-to-back banner years, reporting record operating revenue levels of $79.3 million for the 2023 fiscal year. That marked a 16.7% increase from the previous record of $68 million during the 2022 fiscal year. Growth stemmed from an increase year over year in container volume (up 7%), general cargo volume (up 12%) and intermodal volume (up 74.2%) moving through the system.  

During Clark’s tenure, the Port of Wilmington has focused on amping up its cold supply offerings to gain more refrigerated cargo business and draw private cold warehousing investment to the area. This year, for example, the port finished a project to nearly double its capacity for plugs, which refrigerator shipping containers use for power, to almost 1,600 plugs.  

The authority plans to break ground in January on a new on-port intermodal facility at Wilmington’s port to increase the amount of port cargo that can move by rail through an $18 million federal grant.  

Workforce Roster: 250 employees

Brian Eckel 

Partner, Cape Fear Commercial

Brian Eckel and Vin Wells co-founded Cape Fear Commercial in 2001.  

Why He's a Power Player:
His firm partnered with New Hanover County on the redevelopment of the county government complex off South College Road and on the forthcoming Project Grace, which will transform a county-owned block in downtown Wilmington into a mixed-use project. Eckel is also a member of the Novant Health Board of Trustees, which oversees Novant Health, the owner of the hospitals in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties. (Read more about Eckel here)

Natalie English

President & CEO, Wilmington Chamber of Commerce

As a top advocate for business in the Cape Fear region, Natalie English has spearheaded efforts to address workforce shortfalls and advocated for a range of regional investments. 
Why She’s a Power Player:
The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce advocates for business leaders throughout the Wilmington area. The chamber also advocates for broader community investments to accommodate the region’s rapid growth.  

This year, English brought together local employers and educators to create a plan to address a regional shortage of nurses. That effort led to a partnership aimed at developing the health care talent pipeline. She also helped advocate for a nearly $3 million investment in the chamber’s Career & Leadership Development Academy, resulting in a program extension to seventh graders.  

English has been vocal in her push for funding a replacement for the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge and advocated for significant community projects, including New Hanover County’s Project Grace.  

She is also looking to grow the chamber itself. The organization is hiring several new staff members, doubling its core staff and expanding its reach.  

English joined the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce in 2017, following a role as chief public policy officer with the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.  

First Job: English got her first job working for her father, the general manager of several radio stations in northeast North Carolina. She worked as a deejay on the country, pop and urban stations. 

Russ Lopatka

Wilmington Plant Manager, Corning Incorporated

Russ Lopatka runs Corning’s optical fiber plant in Wilmington, one of the area’s largest employers with about 1,000 people.  

Why He's a Power Player:
Lopatka is in charge of the Wilmington manufacturing facility that makes optical fiber, an ultra-thin, durable and flexible glass thread capable of transmitting information at high speeds worldwide, according to the company. The Wilmington plant is also the technology center for the optical fiber division, which is responsible for developing and implementing new products, processes and equipment.  

The facility’s optical fiber plays a role in the ongoing effort for providers to roll out high-speed broadband access nationwide.  

“About 25% of our Wilmington plant employees live in rural areas with limited to no internet access, so there is work to do even right here at home to bridge the Digital Divide,” Lopatka said. “At the same time, AI technology is contributing to skyrocketing bandwidth demands. We’re working to build capability and capacity of future-ready, cost-effective optical fiber solutions to help tackle these challenges.”  

Longtimers: Lopatka has worked for Corning for more than 20 years. But this year, 25 employees at the Wilmington plant also marked 30 years with the company.

Chip Mahan  

Chairman & CEO, Live Oak Bank

Chip Mahan has built his career working to revolutionize the banking industry, starting with his 1995 launch of Security First Network Bank, one of the world’s first internet banks, and heading S1 Corp., an early banking software developer. 

Why He's a Power Player:
Since he and colleagues founded Wilmington-based Live Oak Bancshares in 2008, its bank subsidiary has become the nation’s leading SBA and USDA lender. The parent company has spun off software developer nCino, is part owner of financial technology firm Apiture, and has invested in numrous other fintech firms.  

Mahan is a managing partner at Canapi Ventures, a venture capital firm investing in early to growth-stage fintech companies and serves on several fintech and financial services boards, including Apiture, a joint venture between Live Oak and First Data.  

Mahan helps drive innovation in many aspects of the electronic banking industry while also focusing on the local community. Under his guidance, Live Oak continues to drive job growth in Wilmington: 500 of the bank’s 950 employees live and work in its headquarters, which is physically expanding with the construction of a fourth office building at its campus on Tiburon Drive.  

The bank also provides essential resources to area minority entrepreneurs through Channel, its business center in downtown Wilmington, while Mahan is involved with GLOW Academy and Spark Academy.  

Trophy Wall: Mahan’s impact on the banking industry is reflected in recent awards. Inducted into the Kentucky Entrepreneur Hall of Fame in 2022, he was named the lifetime achievement honoree by the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2021 Southeast Awards. In 2019, he received the Fintech Lifetime Achievement Award during FinTech South and, in 2018, was named Entrepreneur of the Decade by the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.     

Tim Milam & Denise Kinney

CEO & President, Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage

Tim Milam and Denise Kinney lead one of the largest residential real estate firms in the region and state. 

Why They’re Power Players:
Their company continues to set records for growth and productivity, surpassing $2 billion in sales for the past five years and reaching $3.2 billion in sales in 2022. Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage and the Advantage Family of Companies have ranked as the nation’s No. 1 Coldwell Banker affiliate company for two years.  

The firm’s growth has included merging with Waypost Realty in Wilmington; merging with Coldwell Banker Coastal Rivers in Washington, North Carolina; opening a new office in Indian Trail, North Carolina; and moving its Southport office to renovated space in Bolivia.  

Milam’s position as CEO includes fostering relationships with builders and developers, working on potential expansion projects and forming vendor partnerships to provide services for clients, along with other initiatives to continue the company’s growth and success. In her role, Kinney aims to provide agents with exclusive tools and systems and use her leadership abilities to build relationships within the company and the community.  

First Jobs: Milam worked at a grocery store when he was 15. Kinney also started her first job at 15 at a movie theater. She began in the concession stand and worked through the ranks to the role of assistant manager.

Kelly McGinnis

CFO, PPD Clinical Research Business of Thermo Fisher Scientific

With Thermo Fisher Scientific’s purchase in 2021 of Wilmington-based PPD, the company’s clinical research activities continue to expand in PPD’s division, of which Kelly McGinnis serves as the top local official.  

Why She’s a Power Player:
McGinnis, based in Wilmington, is responsible for financial oversight of PPD’s clinical research business, which includes leading and developing 1,500 finance professionals.  

PPD’s clinical research business includes more than 35,000 people worldwide – about 1,700 based in the Wilmington area.  

McGinnis joined Thermo Fisher, a Massachusetts-based company with 125,000 employees that supplies products, equipment and services to health care and life sciences organizations, in 2019. She joined the company as vice president of finance for its scientific analytical instruments business. After Thermo Fisher bought PPD, McGinnis moved to her current role. 
She previously worked as CFO of Uptake, a technology company specializing in industrial artificial intelligence systems, and in global finance leadership roles at General Electric.  

“I’m very focused on helping pharma and biotech companies get therapies to market faster in a more challenging macro environment,” she said. “Given my experience in the industry and with startups, I counsel our biotech clients on how to manage liquidity, exits and investors. I’m leading investment discussions around acquisitions and investments that will underpin our position as an enabler of patient outcomes.”  

Change of Address: An upcoming local project is looking for new office space for the Wilmington employees in the next few years after the city of Wilmington bought the former PPD headquarters building earlier this year.     

Jim Morton  

President, CFCC

Jim Morton filled the top spot at Cape Fear Community College in 2018 after serving as executive vice president and vice president for business and financial services at the community college.   

Why He’s a Power Player:
CFCC continues to grow under Morton’s leadership, moving from the seventh-largest community college in the state to the fifth largest. Over the past five years, CFCC has experienced an increase in enrollment despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, rising 2.6% (2018-19 to 2022-23).   

In April, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners approved the purchase of a former Bank of America building adjacent to CFCC’s downtown campus, allowing CFCC to transform the building into state-of-the-art facilities for nursing and allied health programs. The first phase is expected to conclude by the end of this year, with plans to introduce a new cohort of 60 nursing students in January. In August, CFCC became the first community college in the state to open a free drop-in child care center, providing student-parents with up to four hours of daily child care support.  

CFCC’s apprenticeship efforts continue to expand, featuring 15 registered apprenticeships and nine pre-apprenticeship programs. In collaboration with over 100 local employers, these programs enroll 578 students. 

“As CFCC’s president, I provide innovative fiscal and organizational leadership to advance the mission of CFCC,” Morton said. “My focus is on steadily increasing enrollment and delivering high-quality programs that serve as a bridge for students to secure local jobs or continue their education with a solid academic foundation.”  

Total Enrollment: CFCC serves more than 22,500 students.   

Pierre Naudé

CEO & Chairman, NCINO   

With 30 years of financial technology experience, Pierre Naudé has led nCino through the pandemic and this year’s liquidity crisis. The fintech company, founded in 2011 as a spinoff of Live Oak Bank, now uses its AI-powered technology, nCino IQ, to modernize financial institutions worldwide.  

Why He’s a Power Player:
Naudé helped found nCino, building one of the largest companies headquartered in Wilmington. As one of two public institutions in the city, the other being Live Oak Bank, the company has a presence in 16 countries. The company’s beginnings involved automating only commercial lending processes, but it recently expanded to small business lending, consumer lending and account opening. Much of nCino’s focus is on automation so financial institutions can streamline processes and boost efficiency. nCino IQ will aid in this vision, and in 2024, this effort excites Naudé most.  

Tapping Tech: nCino is not the only tech company Naudé wants to grow in Wilmington. He said one of his goals when building nCino was to attract tech talent to the area and he wants to see tech companies spin off from nCino. Naudé said progress has been made on the tech front in Wilmington, but he wants to see more launches and growth in the future.  

Neil Underwood  

Co-Founder & Partner, Canapi Ventures  

Neil Underwood helped found Canapi Ventures, which helps fund early and growth-stage fintech companies. In 2018, the venture capital firm launched with backing from Live Oak Bank, with its first fund topping $650 million. The firm’s most recent fund raised $800 million. 

The firm’s latest investment is with a cybersecurity software company, Island. Canapi announced the investment in October, citing Island’s ability to help financial institutions combine efficiency and security in their internet browsers. 

Why He’s a Power Player:
Underwood co-founded Canapi Ventures and fintech companies nCino, Apiture and Live Oak Bank. He previously served as president of Live Oak Bancshares, Live Oak Bank’s holding company. In addition to his executive roles, he sits on the boards of Live Oak Bank, Greenlight, Notarize, Defense Storm, Apiture, Posh and Able. Before working for Live Oak Bank, Underwood worked for S1 Corp., a software development company based in Georgia, where he led the S1 Enterprise division. The company specializes in payment processing and financial technology.

Southern Start: Underwood traveled to Georgia for his undergraduate education after spending his youth in Miami. He graduated from Georgia Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering.

Aswani Volety 

Chancellor, UNCW

Aswani Volety became chancellor of the University of North Carolina Wilmington in July 2022, bringing extensive experience as a faculty member, researcher and administrator.  

Why He’s a Power Player:
As the head of a rapidly growing and evolving institution, some of Volety’s goals this year have been focused on the future. 

The university launched its 10-year Soar Higher Strategic Plan in July and started its corresponding campus master plan, which is in the input and development stage, Volety said.    

“Just imagine what the UNCW campus might look like 10 years from now. Picture a welcome center conveniently located just off College Road. 

Imagine watching a musical performance in a renovated Kenan Auditorium or attending a basketball game in a modern, vibrant coliseum,” Volety said. “These are just a few of the ideas emerging from the discussions we are having on campus and in the community.”  

This year, UNCW split the large College of Arts and Sciences into two new academic colleges: the College of Humanities, Social Sciences and the Arts and the College of Science and Engineering.  
During the 2022-23 fiscal year, sponsored research funding for UNCW totaled $25 million.
Volety said he was recently appointed to the N.C. Biotechnology Center Board of Directors and serves as president of the National Shellfisheries Association.  

Speaking of Numbers: UNCW has nearly 18,000 students, about 2,500 faculty and staff, over 170 buildings, 650 acres, an endowment of about $154 million and an annual operating budget that exceeds $430 million. 

Jim & Trey Wallace  

President & Founder/CEO, Intracoastal Realty Corp. 

Jim Wallace founded Intracoastal Realty Corp. after moving to Wilmington in 1976. Today, his son, Trey, serves as president and manages the company’s day-to-day operations.  

Why They’re Power Players:
The Wallaces head up the region’s largest independent residential real estate company. During 2022, the firm grew into South Carolina markets such as Little River, North Myrtle Beach and Cherry Grove Beach. It also continued activity on Bald Head Island, where Intracoastal took over sales and rental operations after merging with Bald Head Island Limited real estate.  

Milestones: Intracoastal Realty in 2021 surpassed $2 billion in sales for the first time in its company’s history on a 12-month basis. It now has more than 400 real estate agents and 100 staff members.

Laurie Whalin 

COO, Novant Health Coastal Market & President, Novant Health Scotts Hill Medical Center

In recent years, Laurie Whalin has risen through the ranks within Novant Health’s footprint in Southeastern North Carolina. She is a strategic operational leader for the health system’s coastal market while planning for its expansion in northern New Hanover County.  

Why She’s a Power Player:
In 2021, Whalin became president and chief operating officer of Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center. Last year, Novant promoted her to chief operating officer of Novant Health NHRMC and the Winston-Salem-based health system’s coastal market.   

Her next role will be president of a 66-bed community hospital under construction in the Scotts Hill area that was planned before Novant bought NHRMC in 2021.  

With the departure this year of Shelbourn Stevens as president of the system’s coastal market and Novant Health NHRMC, Whalin fills a strategic operations leader role as the search for the next president continues (as of press time). During the search, Jeff Lindsay, Novant’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, is serving as the top local official until a new coastal market president is named.  

Besides working on the approvals and groundbreaking in May for the Scotts Hill hospital, which will include a cancer center and primary and specialty care services, Whalin oversaw the opening this year of a $120 million neuroscience institute on NHRMC’s campus.  

In the Plans: Whalin is involved in a master facility plan for the coastal market and master planning for the main NHRMC campus on South 17 Street.

Jay Wileman  

President & CEO, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy
For eight years, Jay Wileman has served as CEO of GE Hitachi, a company that has called Wilmington home for over 50 years.   

Why He’s a Power Player: Wileman said his company is “aggressively hiring” to support demand during the rollout of its nuclear technology. He said he hopes adding new, skilled jobs to the community will boost the region’s economy. Wileman said the area’s welcoming business economy was one of the reasons the company planted its flag in Wilmington in the 1960s.

Wileman said the company’s carbon-free energy generation technology is ready to combat climate change. Its small modular reactor, BWRX-300, will be deployed near Toronto at Ontario Power Generation’s Darlington site. Tennessee Valley Authority and Poland-based Synthos Green Energy entered an agreement with GE Hitachi to invest $400 million in the technology’s design.

STEM Summit: Wileman said the company also hosts an annual Girls in Technology STEM Summit for middle school students in the area. The last event, held in April, hosted 90 girls from eight schools in Pender and New Hanover counties at The Harrelson Center in downtown Wilmington.

Read more about the 2023 WilmingtonBiz 100 honorees by clicking here.

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