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Posted: October 01, 2012

GenXYZ: Colorado’s 25 Most Influential Young Professionals

Mike Taylor

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 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.

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Mike Taylor is the managing editor of ColoradoBiz. He writes about small-business money issues and how startups are launched. Email him at

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