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Awards programs honor best, brightest in Mississippi

There were a lot of smiles and laughs, handshakes and hugs January 16-17 in the west bay of the Mississippi Trademart during the 2008 Mississippi Business & Technology EXPO presented by Comcast Business Class. The EXPO’s three awards programs — Best Places to Work in Mississippi, Top 40 Under 40 and Business Woman of the Year — played to full rooms, and offered not only recognition, but also food, music and a chance to relax and enjoy the moment.

“As usual, the EXPO’s awards programs were a great success,” says Kathy Arich, advertising director of the Mississippi Business Journal, which hosts the EXPO, “and, as usual, the events would not have been possible without the support of our sponsors and partners.”

Best Places to Work

The 2008 EXPO got off to a rousing start January 16 with the Best Places to Work Kickoff Breakfast. Those involved in the program began arriving at 6:30 a.m., but proved that it is never too early to enjoy great business success stories.

J. Thomas Grantham Jr., CPA, CFP, ABV of GranthamPoole, CPAs, a Best Places to Work sponsor, says, “Sponsoring this Best Places to Work award, which recognizes other outstanding companies, is an easy choice for GranthamPoole. Our core values are all about taking care of each other within our firm, and taking great care of our clients.”

Melissa Medley, CME, director of marketing and communications at the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA), yet another Best Places sponsor, says, “MDA proudly supports the Mississippi Business Journal Best Places to Work Breakfast as a means of recognizing outstanding Mississippi companies that go beyond simply providing employment — those that create an environment that is engaging, challenging and rewarding for their employees.

Trustmark Bank is another sponsor of the Best Places to Work event.

“When the opportunity to further brand an event within the Business EXPO, Trustmark recognized the Best Places to Work event would be a great opportunity to show our support for Mississippi businesses and their employees,” says Melanie Morgan, Trustmark first vice president of corporate communication.”

Best Places to Work in Mississippi, conducted by the MBJ in partnership with the Southern Research Group and Mississippi Society of Human Resource Management, recognizes those companies that offer an outstanding work environment for their employees. What makes it unique is that companies are judged on anonymous responses by their employees to a comprehensive online survey, providing participating companies a unique and valuable opportunity to get inside the minds and hearts of their workers and a great self-assessment tool.

First-, second- and third-place winners are chosen in four size categories. This year’s honorees were:

• Small (25-49 employees) — First Place: TempStaff; Second Place: Bomgar Corporation; and, Third Place: KPMG

• Medium (50-199 employees) — First Place: Business Communications Inc.; Second Place: Edward Jones; and, Third Place: Pinelake Church

• Large (200-499 employees) — Roy Anderson Corp; Second Place: Southern Pipe & Supply; and, Third Place; Coast Electric Power Association

• Mega-large (500 or more employees) — First Place: Viking Range Corporation; Second Place: Community Bank; and, Third Place: BankPlus

Rounding out the program was food from Broad Street Catering, and the Raphael Semmes Strolling Combeaux supplied the music. The keynote speaker was Mike Wagner, chief commercial officer with SeverCorr.

WLBT-TV anchor Howard Ballou served as celebrity master of ceremonies at all three awards programs.

Top 40 under 40

While Best Places to Work in Mississippi is a relative newcomer to the EXPO’s lineup of awards programs, Top 40 Under 40 is a grizzled veteran, and has become one of the most coveted honors.

Chosen by independent panel of judges, Top 40 Under 40 recognizes those under the age of 40 who have already made an impression not only on the business community, but society as a whole. This year’s winners were honored January 17 at the Top 40 Under 40 Luncheon.

The 2008 Top 40 Under 40 sponsors were the law firm of Adams and Reese, LLP, BancorpSouth and Cellular South.

Charles P. Adams Jr., managing partner of Adams and Reese, says, “Our firm believes it’s important to recognize, cultivate and encourage young talent. They are our future. The Top 40 under 40 awards luncheon allows us to show our appreciation by recognizing 40 outstanding young people and acknowledge their numerous accomplishments in business and within the community.

“The caliber of the honorees elevates each year. They provide examples and the path for future generations to follow.”

“The business community is very important to Cellular South,” says Jim Richmond, director of corporate communications at Cellular South, which has been involved with EXPO since it launched service in 1999. “Many of our products, applications and services are designed to make the business user more efficient and effective with their work. The EXPO is a terrific way for us to show these business tools to existing and potential customers.”

As in past years, the Top 40 under 40 program recognized young leaders from across the state representing numerous industry sectors. As each honoree was called, the wall-to-wall attendees were presented a video and narrative telling a little about why each winner was chosen.

In addition, participants enjoyed fare provided by Broad Street Catering and music from the Raphael Semmes Group and jazz saxophonist eZra Brown. The keynote speaker was David Rumbarger, president of the Community Development Foundation.

Business Woman of the Year

It is a distinct honor to be chosen as one of Mississippi’s 50 Leading Business Women. They represent the best of the state’s female leadership.

The Business Woman of the Year Luncheon takes that recognition program to a higher level. It seeks to recognize the businesswoman who is the “best of the best” amongst the 50 Leading Business Women as selected by a panel of judges composed of past 50 Leading Business Women honorees.

The sponsors of the event were AT&T, Regions Bank, St. Dominic Health Services and the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC).

Vicki Sneed, Oxford city president at Regions, says, “I met dynamic women from across the state who I would not have met otherwise. These women were selected due to their professional achievements, leadership capabilities, volunteer efforts and personal integrity. They were icons of influence in their places of business and within their communities. I learned a great deal from them.”

“Part of the St. Dominic mission calls us to communicate a Christian message and establish community,” says Renee Rollins, marketing representative at St. Dominic. (St. Dominic’s administrator Sister Mary Dorothea, is a past Business Woman of the Year recipient.) “Our participation allows us to honor and encourage Mississippi women who are personally and professionally making a difference within their communities.”

Blake Wilson, president of MMEC, says, “The combination of the Business Woman of the Year event and the Top 40 Under 40 event with the EXPO provide a high recognition of our brand. Although we do not actually exhibit at EXPO, the sponsorship is well worth the exposure to these audiences.”

As with Top 40 Under 40, the finalists and winner were spotlighted during a video presentation and narrative. The keynote speaker was Patricia M. Bridges, Ph.D., director of curriculum and instruction at JBHM Education Group.

This year’s Business Woman of the Year is Kathryn H. Hester, shareholder at Watkins Ludlam Winter & Stennis, P.A., For 10 years, she had enjoyed her time as the state’s fiscal analyst at the Mississippi Research & Development Center, but decided to go to law school primarily to strengthen her debating skills.

She left her salaried job and benefits and, with no scholarship or other remuneration, commuted from Jackson to Oxford to earn an undergraduate degree in history, English and French from the University of Mississippi. Hester went on to earn a master’s degree in French from the University of Paris at the Sorbonne. By that time, she had become an attorney, and today is a shareholder at Watkins Ludlam Winter & Stennis in Jackson.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

About Wally Northway

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