Calipari tops list of most influential leaders in Lexington and area

ctruman@herald-leader.comMarch 17, 2013 

University of Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari topped other Bluegrass leaders to grab a firm victory as the Lexington area's most influential person.

The top five in the recent poll by the Herald-Leader is rounded out by high-profile men familiar to Central Kentuckians: Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, Jessamine County railroad executive R.J. Corman, Alltech founder Pearse Lyons and UK President Eli Capilouto.

The list of the 14 people who have the most influence on Lexington and Central Kentucky was determined in a poll of readers of the Herald-Leader and Kentucky.com.

More than 2,000 ballots, cast on paper and online, were received.

Those votes narrowed the field from a diverse collection of 35 finalists, who were culled from hundreds of suggestions made by readers.

Despite being led by mainstays, there is some new blood on the list. That is represented in the top 14 by politician Andy Barr, who unseated Democrat Ben Chandler for the 6th District seat in the U.S. Congress; Marian Guinn, CEO of God's Pantry Food Bank; and marketer Griffin VanMeter, one of the minds behind the "Kentucky Kicks Ass" campaign.

A trend worth noting is that those who voted using paper ballots submitted by mail differed in their preferences from those who voted online. When counting only paper ballots, Lyons would have won the vote, followed by Gray and Calipari.

Among the finalists, those who did better online included downtown developer Phil Holoubek, lawyer and Democratic party activist Terry McBrayer and UK opera impresario Everett McCorvey. Those who did better among print voters included former Lexington vice mayor Isabel Yates, advocate for the homeless Ginny Ramsey and Hamburg developer Patrick Madden.

The top 13-plus included only one black person and two women. The next 10 slots were quite diverse and included McCorvey, Ramsey, Yates, longtime Urban League leader P.G. Peeples, businesswoman Ann McBrayer, Bill Farmer of the United Way, former police chief and potential mayoral candidate Anthany Beatty, and Transylvania professors and artists Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova.

Here are the most influential Lexington-area residents, as voted on by you, the readers:

1. John Calipari, coach

What can be said about Coach Cal that has not been said? He's a vote getter.

Being the UK basketball coach coming off an NCAA championship season — even if this year's team has struggled — is, in Lexington, akin to being a demigod, one with 1.2 million Twitter followers.

But Calipari, 54, has extended his reach to other areas, even establishing a Coach Cal line of endorsed books available through the Lexington Public Library. Calipari is said to read three books at a time. A recent choice is Jon Meacham's Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power.

2. Jim Gray, mayor

Besides being elected Lexington mayor, the first openly gay man to hold the post, Gray, 59, has established himself as a financially conscientious advocate for downtown revival. Undeterred by finishing behind Calipari, Gray said: "As mayor I get to be a cheerleader for the city, and I say routinely that even on a bad day it's a great job. ... Sure we've got problems, but great people work together to solve problems and create opportunities. That's Lexington's DNA and our heroic legacy."

3. R.J. Corman, railroad magnate

Corman, 57, founder and owner of R.J. Corman Railroad Group in Jessamine County, is good friends with several others on the most-influential list, including Calipari and Central Bank president Luther Deaton (No. 9).

"I'm tickled to death that Coach Calipari's No. 1, and I congratulate Mayor Gray on being No. 2," said the Jessamine County businessman, whose signature red railroad overpasses dot Lexington roads. "I'm shocked and surprised that I'm even in the group of 50. ... I just don't know, it doesn't seem like it's me."

Corman has battled multiple myeloma, cancer of the plasma cells in bone marrow, for 12 years.

Still, on a recent Wednesday, he ran 3 miles in 32 minutes, 9 seconds, he said.

Asked how he was feeling, he said, "I'll be glad to see those birds sing. I'll see spring again. I've got nothing to complain about. Zero."

4. Pearse Lyons, businessman

No one has ever accused Lyons of dreaming modestly. He founded Alltech, the giant international livestock feed supplement company, whose headquarters is in Nicholasville. He also was the driving force behind Lexington hosting of the huge 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

In a 2009 profile, Lyons, 68, was asked whether he had considered taking his private company public.

"But then what would I do?" he said. "Life is not about money."

5. Eli Capilouto, university president

Capilouto, 63, was largely unknown to Lexingtonians when he became president of UK in 2011, but he's had a fast start: hiring consultants for advice on budgeting and initiating a public-private partnership to build new student housing on campus.

He also has presided over the university's tough times: UK laid off 1 percent of its employees in June.

6. Woodford Webb, developer

Webb, president of The Webb Cos., credited his activism as a volunteer in addition to being the leader of a major Lexington development company.

"Growing up in the community, my father (Don Webb) ... always encouraged me to give back to the community and be involved," he said.

His company is also behind the much maligned CentrePointe downtown.

Regarding the long-delayed project, Webb, 44, said: "I can't give a time line. ... When you see a bulldozer over there, you'll know it's ready to start. Some project at some level will happen on that block."

7. Griffin VanMeter, marketer

VanMeter and Webb talk about the need for a strong urban core, but it's tough to see VanMeter, who once characterized himself as an "urban ninja," chairing CommerceLexington, as Webb has.

VanMeter, 32, a partner at Bullhorn Creative, a marketing and advertising agency, is notable as one of the minds behind the "Kentucky Kicks Ass" marketing campaign from the group Kentucky for Kentucky.

His biography on Bullhorn Creative's website recounts the time he tried to run a bicycle race dressed as a gumball machine. It concludes: "There are two lessons here: 1) you can get a reckless driving ticket on a bicycle; and, 2) a good story always costs you something."

VanMeter, who has been instrumental in the redevelopment of North Limestone, is also a partner in Stella's Kentucky Deli and MillerMeter real estate company.

"I am not one of the influential people in the area," he wrote in an email. "I am just nice, accessible and collaborative, which lets me crush it in for Lexington. I have an award-winning beard."

8. Alan Stein, businessman

Founder, president and CEO of business development and consulting company SteinGroup, Stein retired as president of the Lexington Legends baseball team in October 2011.

Hearing the other names on the list, Stein, 61, said: "Not one of us ever woke up saying this is a goal: to be influential."

He said the group is distinguished not just by the business achievements of those on it but their determination to give back to their community.

"We all have a responsibility to do that if we've been blessed with ... economic stability or a communications skill or have a wonderful and wide-ranging imagination," he said. "It's a gift, and you have to use it to make the community better."

He also retired in 2011 as president and chief operating officer of Ivy Walls Management Co., which owned and operated multiple sports franchises and facilities across the country including the Legends, Whitaker Bank Ballpark, Omaha Storm Chasers, Werner Park and the Southwest Michigan Devil Rays.

9. Luther Deaton, banking executive

Deaton, Central Bank president, has been on the leadership radar in Lexington for years. Born and raised near Haddix in Breathitt County, he was brought to Central Bank in 1978 by sisters Joan and Jane Kincaid, who owned the company. He worked his way up until 1994, when he was put in charge of the bank.

At a 2011 roast, attorney Bill Lear described Deaton, 66, thusly: "He's honest, he's honorable. If he's your friend, he's always your friend. And if he's your enemy, you'd better get the heck out of the way."

10. Joe Craft, coal baron

Head of Alliance Resource Partners in Tulsa, Okla., and a booster of Republican causes and UK athletics, Craft, 62, gave $6 million to help build the sports practice facility at UK that carries his name. He coordinated the $8 million gift to build Wildcat Coal Lodge for the UK men's basketball team, donating $4.5 million himself. He stipulated the word coal be put into the name and required a tribute to coal in the front lobby.

In an interview with Kentucky Educational Television, Craft said: "I'm a giver. What I want to try to do is try to make the University of Kentucky successful. I want the state of Kentucky to be the best it can be; I want America to be the best it can be."

11. Andy Barr, politician

In the race to represent Kentucky's 6th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, Barr, 39, a Republican, lost to Chandler by 648 votes in 2010. But in 2012, Barr beat Chandler by more than 11,000 votes.

Told he had finished No. 10, Barr, a Lexington lawyer, said in a statement: "I am humbled by the confidence the people of the 6th Congressional District have placed in me. Yet, I believe the results of this poll say much more about the cause I represent — and I will keep working as hard as I can to achieve bipartisan solutions that reflect the will of my constituents."

12. Wil James, automotive executive, and Marian Guinn, non-profit CEO

James, 56, the only black person on the list, presides over a factory (Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky in Georgetown) that produces America's most popular car (the Camry) and has changed Central Kentucky's corporate culture more than any other private employer during the past 25 years.

Guinn, 50, CEO of God's Pantry, said she was surprised to crack the list, but added: "I have found that the greatest success is achieved when I engage others in my vision of the goal. I haven't ever accomplished anything by myself."

13. Debra Hensley, businesswoman and activist

Given her lasting influence, it's hard to believe that Hensley, owner of the Hensley Agency insurance company, hasn't been on the Urban County Council in more than 21 years.

But Hensley, 59, who during her tenure on the council emphasized Lexington's problem with homelessness, has long devoted herself to making Lexington a more livable environment, even going so far as to post a water stand in front of her Nicholasville Road office in the summer.

She is also chair of The Plantory, which provides office space for community organizations.

Cheryl Truman: (859) 231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.

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