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GenXYZ: Colorado's 25 Most Influential Young Professionals

Now in its third year, the feature we’ve dubbed "Gen XYZ" for the age-group or "generation" it represents – the under-40 set – has boomed in popularity and participation numbers, to the simultaneous delight and consternation of the judges who pour over the nominations to come to a consensus on the year’s top 25 young professionals, and then from that group select a top five who are profiled in more detail.

This year, a record 261 nominations were submitted online at www.cobizmag.com. The judges were made up of ColoradoBiz magazine’s editorial board along with representatives of Denver’s Young Professionals group and Regis University.

The judging criteria: professional achievement, impact in the community, obstacles surmounted, and the drive exhibited by the nominee in his or her career. It’s obvious there is much subjectivity involved, and there was ample discussion among the judges as to how exactly a "most influential young professional" should be defined and how certain attributes should be weighted.

The only fitting Gen XYZ answer, it seems: We know them when we see them. We think you’ll agree on that after reading about the winners and their achievements.

Here are snapshots of 10 of our 25. (Read about the other 10.)

Theo Anest, 26
Owner and head guide of Colorado Skies Outfitters, Colorado Fly Fishing School Instructor

Path to success: At age 22, Anest opened Colorado Skies Outfitters, writing a business plan that secured a $65,000 business loan in the heart of the recession. Today, the loan is almost paid off and his business has flourished. His store’s fishing school first caught the eye of Denver-area consumers when Theo was asked to appear on Fox31-TV’s Tom Martino Show for a feature on fly fishing.

Making an impact: Anest won the Gold Medal at the 2011 Teva Mountain Games, a feat highlighted in the Denver Post article “Fly Fishing’s Future.” Colorado Skies’ weekend fishing schools have been fully booked for the last two years, with 12 students every month from April through November. Anest amplifies the impact of his media appearances with a marketing strategy that makes use of interconnected videos and materials on YouTube, Facebook, Google and other new media.

Connecting with the community: Anest donates his time to nonprofit organizations such as the Healing Waters project. Healing Waters takes injured Colorado veterans on no-charge fishing trips. Anest has guided several of these trips and helped numerous vets learn the sport. Anest also volunteers for Reel Recovery, a program for men battling and recovering from cancer. Anest has guided trips and fishing schools for silent auctions for charities including scholarship funds, youth and high school sports fundraisers, and food banks. Last year, Colorado Skies donated time to more than 50 such requests, donations totaling more than $15,000 in face value contributions to local charities.

Brad Askren, 33
Owner and Founder, Thrive with Confidence

Path to success: A former competitive athlete, entrepreneur and real estate investor, Askren founded Thrive with Confidence in 2011. “I found a personal coach and began to address issues that had been holding me back,” he says. ”Ultimately, I rediscovered my real passion: coaching.” The Thrive with Confidence package comprises a seven-part program that includes coaching, nutrition, physical fitness training, and fashion consulting. On June 1 he opened the for-profit Thrive Community Recreation Center in Aurora; two months later the center had close to 500 members.

Making an impact: Askren began the Thrive with Confidence growth coaching program to help people achieve goals and build confidence in their daily lives. He has rapidly expanded from that platform, opening both for-profit and nonprofit spinoffs.

Connecting with the community: Askren has extended his brand to the nonprofit sector with the formation of the Thrive with Confidence Foundation. Through the Thrive with Confidence Foundation, Askren has expanded his coaching concept to a men’s homeless shelter, youth programs, and a women’s shelter. These have included the Excelsior Youth Center, the ACTS Resource Center, the Dolores Project, and many more. “I personally have gone through the program starting last September (2011) and have not only made huge changes in my lifestyle but I have lost 10 pants sizes with all of Brad’s support,” says Thrive With Confidence Foundation director of fundraising Salina Mitchell. “I am very blessed to have this individual as a best friend, role model and more in my life.”

Brett Dolan, 39
U.S. Director of Human Resources, PCL Construction Enterprises Inc.

Path to success: Dolan started his career with PCL Construction Enterprises 12 years ago as a human resources adviser after leaving a career in the finance industry. Five years later, Dolan relocated to Seattle, where he catalyzed the implementation of professional development and performance programs. This June, he was appointed U.S. Director of Human Resources for PCL, the company’s top HR position in the country. In this new role, Dolan leads human resources for all of PCL’s U.S. operations, encompassing 19 district and satellite offices and approximately 4,300 employees.

Making an impact: Dolan’s leadership in Seattle allowed PCL quickly to increase its operations there by nearly 100 employees. He returned to Denver in 2008 to oversee various national programs, including a new performance management system that is currently used throughout the organization. Last year, Dolan’s contributions earned him a spot in PCL’s prestigious leadership course, an intensive four-day course for employees who have a recognized potential for playing significant leadership roles.

Connecting with the community: Since 2008, Dolan has been a member of the Emerging Leaders Council for Mile High United Way, cultivating young professionals in order to strengthen the community through volunteerism, advocacy, philanthropy, and the development of community leaders. Dolan has held the positions of volunteer committee chair, events committee chair, chair-elect, and he was elected 2011-2012 chair.

Mandy Jesser, 33
First Western Trust Senior Private Banker

Path to success: “I have known Mandy for eight years. She brings a great attitude, initiative and integrity to this organization,” said Kristi Benningsdorf, president of First Western’s Fort Collins location. “She exhibits great communication skills and is an exceptional self-starter and a great asset to this team.”

Making an Impact: “Jesser practices what the firm preaches,” says colleague Stacey Rohrer. “She doesn’t stick to the confines of her position, striving to become more of a financial services renaissance woman through certifications that broaden her professional license.” Examples include Jesser’s completion of her Registered ParaPlanner certification in 2011, and her plans to complete the Certified Financial Planner designation by 2015.

Connecting with the community: Jesser earned Philanthropist of the Year nominations in 2010 and 2011 by WomenGive, a partnership between United Way of Larimer County and The Women’s Foundation of Colorado that provides child-care scholarships for single mothers who want to return to college. She is the youngest nominee WomenGive has ever considered for Philanthropist of the Year. Recognizing her philanthropy as well as her success at First Western, Pat Ferrier, editor of the Fort Collins Coloradoan newspaper’s business section, asked Jesser to contribute to a weekly series, “The Young Professional,” a joint project between the Coloradoan and the Loveland and Fort Collins chambers of commerce.


Christopher Judge, 36
Aspire Inc. Executive Director

Path to success: “Christopher has successfully incorporated a new nonprofit organization in Colorado that has already begun to create an impact on the philanthropic landscape,” says Mark Withrow, member of the Aspire Inc. board of directors. “In developing the concept of Aspire Inc., Christopher has identified specific needs in the nonprofit sector that can all be tied to a common thread that is embodied in his mission: empowering individuals and communities, and redefining philanthropy.’”

Making an impact: In its first six months, Aspire Inc. has clocked more than 500 hours of volunteer service, launched an online educational initiative documented on its webpage and Facebook page, and won a nationwide competition through the Spark Opportunity Challenge. Aspire competed in the Spark Opportunity Challenge in June at the National Youth Summit in Washington, D.C. , becoming one of 10 winning projects out of 150 entrants.

Connecting with the community: In 2009, Judge became a lifetime “prima“ member of the Colorado Ballet Auxiliary, and was also the auction chair for the auxiliary’s annual Gala Event in 2009, 2010 and 2011. He has also coordinated fundraising events to support Safehouse Denver, assisted with the And Toto Too Theatre Company’s Second Annual Play Crawl, and recently joined that company’s board of directors. Judge also has volunteered for A-Dre Productions Mile High Murder Mystery Race, raising money for Cops Against Cancer, and gives his time to the Community Resource Center of Colorado as a grants guide.

Keith Kanemoto, 35
Commercial Broker, Prudential Rocky Mountain Realtors

Path to success: Kanemoto is a second -generation Realtor, following in his father’s footsteps. He has been a partner in the Prudential Rocky Mountain Real Estate firm since he graduated from the University of Denver in 1998, and through mergers and acquisitions he and his partners have grown the real estate office to five branches today. While working from his hometown of Longmont, he has been one of the firm’s top three producers in an area that includes Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and other major metropolitan areas.

Making an impact: Kanemoto is the president-elect of the Colorado Association of Realtors, the youngest state president in the history of the National Association of Realtors. Kanemoto is the founder and current member of the Colorado Association of Realtors Young Professional Network, which he has integrated into the Colorado Association of Realtors leadership program as well. He is also a past chair and current board member of the International Real Estate Society, which aids real estate research and education. He is on the executive committee for Commercial Brokers of Boulder and a task-force member of the city of Longmont Economic Vitality Taskforce. Kanemoto has worked with the Longmont Area Economic Council as a past chair and a current board member there.

Connecting with the community: Kanemoto is a board member and executive committee member for the Foothills United Way, bringing in corporate sponsorships to help nonprofits throughout the Front Range.

Frank Kinder, 38
Senior Conservation Specialist, Water Services Division of Colorado Springs Utilities

Path to success: Kinder earned an undergraduate degree in finance, but his career was most influenced by the Master’s in Applied Geography with emphasis in Sustainable Development degree he obtained from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. “It exposed me to different development methods, and my research led to examples where cities and projects were incorporating consideration of environmental, societal and economic impacts in business decisions,” he has said.

Making an impact: Kinder helped launch an internal Sustainability Group within Colorado Springs Utilities. He helped facilitate the state’s first WaterSense certified home, and the nation’s first EPA EnergyStar, WaterSense and LEED for Homes triple-certified home in Gold Hill Mesa. He was a 2011 recipient of the Superior Sustainability Leadership award from Fort Carson. He has helped run the Colorado Sustainability Conference since 2007, and this year will speak in Las Vegas at WaterSmart Innovations. Kinder helped elevate Fort Carson to national prominence for its concentration of LEED Building, integration of Low Impact Development, mixed-use planning, and community engagement.

Connecting with the community: Kinder serves on community boards and committees including the Volunteer Stewardship Committee for the Palmer Land Trust, the Recycling Coalition of Colorado Springs, the Colorado Association for Recycling, the Catamount Institute and the Pikes Peak Sustainable Business Network.

Eddie Koen, 32
Director, Community
Outreach Service Center

Path to success: An Alabama native and law school graduate, Koen has lived in Denver since March 2011 and already has had a profound impact on the community.

Making an impact: Koen is the youngest-ever director at the Community Outreach Service Center. Through his leadership, Koen has headed a federal grant, the Second Chance Mentoring Grant. This grant allows faith-based mentoring for former drug addicts and provides housing and other support services.
He is now expanding the role of the Second Chance Mentoring Grant and has created the Colorado Center for Transformation and Empowerment.

Connecting with the community: Koen serves on the board for Pay it Forward Foundation, the Demeco Ryans Foundation, and is a volunteer with Metro Denver Partner mentoring troubled youth. He was elected as president of the Urban League Young Professionals of Denver; Koen led the Urban League to more than 2,300 service hours last year, the highest in history. Through his leadership in the Urban League, membership has tripled. He is a member of 100 Black Men of Denver, and he has also connected the local community through meetup.com. Koen is a board member for the Pay-it-Forward Foundation, and a volunteer chess teacher for Agape Christian Church’s summer program. He is also is a volunteer step-team teacher for the Epworth Foundation.

Erin Kuwitzky, 29
Owner-Founder, 517 Search Labs

Path to success: Kuwitzky received her education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she earned two B.S. Degrees with honors in advertising and in textiles, clothing and design. She served as account manager at Condit Exhibits and director of interactive marketing at Liquid Inc. before founding 517 Search Labs, a Denver-based interactive marketing and communications company.

Making an impact: Kuwitzky has been recognized as one of Colorado’s Finest by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for demonstrating professional leadership qualities, success in her career, and for being a valuable employee and asset to her community. She was a recipient of the 2010 Colorado American Marketing Association Gold Peak Award Winner for excellence in search engine optimization and was named 2011-2012 Colorado AMA president. In 2011 she received the Colorado AMA Membership Award for the Colorado AMA Chapter and in 2012 was one of three nationally recognized AMA members to speak at the National AMA’s closing Social Media Session in Chicago. “Erin recently led the Colorado AMA to its first profitable year in three years,” notes fellow AMA board member Leo Lewis. Kuwitzky also mentors recent college graduates, providing career guidance as well as insights into marketing-related career opportunities.

Connecting with the community: Kuwitzky volunteers at SafeHouse Denver. She has therapy-trained her golden retriever, Winston, so they can volunteer together at Children’s Hospital and nursing homes in Denver.

Brett Lund, 36
Gevo Inc. Executive Vice President and General Counsel

Path to success: Lund holds a J.D. from Duke University Law School, an M.B.A. from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and a B.A. in political science from the University of California-San Diego. Prior to Gevo, Lund served as chairman of the legal, IP and licensing group for Syngenta, where he managed IP, research collaborations, and strategic alliances.

Making an impact: Lund received Denver Business Journal’s“ Best Corporate Counsel” award, chosen for his business acumen, intellectual property expertise, strategic deal-making, SEC work, human resources knowledge, and experience in raising money. Lund was selected by Douglas County to be the highlight of its “Success Stories.” Douglas County also selected him for a “day in his life” video as a business leader, the feature presentation of the county’s Broker Showcase. Perhaps most significantly, “Mr. Lund is publicly taking on two of the largest companies in the world, BP and DuPont, in a ‘bet the company’ patent litigation,” says Gevo CEO Patrick Gruber, scoring “a huge victory when the court’s first and only ruling landed decisively in his favor, resulting in Gevo’s stock increasing more than 25 percent in one day.” Patent litigation between these parties continues.

Connecting with the community: Lund is a member of the CU Advocates Program, where he engages elected officials and state leaders about the importance of higher education, educates Coloradans about CU’s values and opportunities, and influences public opinion. Lund also provides pro-bono legal services, tax return preparation, and mentors students and young professionals.

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Mike Taylor

Mike Taylor is the editor of ColoradoBiz magazine. Email him at mtaylor@cobizmag.com.

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