Families in Business Conference Speakers
Kevin McGovern is Chairman/CEO of McGovern Capital (MGC). Through MGC and its affiliates, he/MGC has co-founded 25+ companies, 6 of which have become world or category leaders, and has been lead negotiator/principal in over a dozen global JVs. MGC currently has 20+ investments in diversified segments such as telemedicine, water filtration, innovative food/beverage companies, unique skincare technologies for CBD, medical (drug development) cannabis, e-sports, various impact/environmental opportunities such as rare earth minerals, plastics-to-fuel, and carbon underground agricultural products, and has partnered with several sports personalities and on numerous sports projects. McGovern teaches global innovation at Cornell and Stanford Business Schools and has taught at MIT, Harvard, NTU Singapore, and KAUST in Saudi Arabia. He is Trustee Emeritus of Cornell University, serves on the Board of the Smithsonian, is a senior advisor to Consumer Reports, serves on the Board of the Baptist Health Foundation/South Florida, and serves on the Doctors Hospital and Miami Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Institute Council.
Alisa S. T. Cowen, LA, AICP, is the Owner, CEO, Senior Landscape Architect, and Urban Planner for AST Cowen Design Group LLC. In 2006, she founded her design firm as a woman-owned small business, providing professional secure site design services, for institutional and government clients, in the land development practice areas of civil engineering, sustainable design, landscape architecture, and master planning.
Alisa earned her Bachelor of Sciences degree from Cornell University and a Master of Planning degree from the University of Virginia. With over 35 years of experience as a licensed Landscape Architect and certified Planner, Ms. Cowen has been involved as an integral partner on a wide variety of design projects. Among other projects, her firm has prepared civil engineering and landscape architectural design and construction documents for the US Department of State’s Division of Overseas Building Operations, and her landscape architectural talents have been applied to dozens of U.S. Embassy Compounds via Design/Build contracts.
Alisa is a long-time resident of Arlington, Virginia, she is currently the chair of the Land Development Design Initiative, a partnership of 40 engineering firms, that works in collaboration with Virginia Tech’s civil engineering professors to develop and enhance curricula specific to the land development industry, and to support student engagement and career opportunities.
In addition to raising three children and running her design firm, she is an active volunteer in community tree hugging, and an advocate for respecting the environment in local land development and zoning actions. She has been pivotal in developing a project-based learning high school and now works to establish partnerships and student internships with Arlington employers.
Doctor Hernandez is an entrepreneur with the triple combination of Medical Doctor, Clinical Epidemiologist, and MBA. Over the span of her 15-year career, she has built a track record in leading business turnarounds, launching new products, leading cross-functional teams, implementing new business models, and executing corporate transformations. She is the Founder and CEO of Colorchain, a luxury medical and wellness brand targeting the medical elite with fully integrated manufacturing operations in Colombia.
Prior to founding Colorchain, Dr. Hernandez spent nearly a decade working in the Pharmaceutical industry. She held roles of increasing responsibility across R&D, Medical, and Commercial at Novartis, Janssen, and Merck. In her last role, she was the Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer for Merck Latin America. Dr Hernandez held P&L responsibilities, led teams of greater than 100 employees, and received awards for leading large-scale change programs.
Dr. Hernandez began her career as a Physician. Having ranked #5 in the National Board Exams, she was selected to specialize in Anesthesia and Surgery. In her clinical experience, she led clinical practices in anesthesia, surgery, and traumatology. She graduated #1 in her class for her Medical Doctorate from the University of La Sabana in Colombia, obtained a Masters Degree in Epidemiology from the University of El Bosque in Colombia, and graduated with a Masters in Business Administration from Cornell University’s Johnson School of Business in the United States.
Dr. Hernandez is a start-up mentor for the University of Southern California and Volunteers of America. She has recently been named one of the Top 20 entrepreneurial leaders and executives in Latin America in 2023 by Entrepreneur Magazine.
Kevin founded JC Capital Partners in 2013. Prior, he held positions with First American Financial & GE Capital. Kevin is involved in all aspects of the firm’s Private Equity investment and management activities. Through decades of working with middle market companies, Kevin has built a strong network of relationships to draw from, as well as skills and experience in valuation, due diligence, & M&A. He holds an MBA from Cornell Johnson School of Management.
Kevin McGovern is Chairman/CEO of McGovern Capital (MGC). Through MGC and its affiliates, he/MGC has co-founded 25+ companies, 6 of which have become world or category leaders, and has been lead negotiator/principal in over a dozen global JVs. MGC currently has 20+ investments in diversified segments such as telemedicine, water filtration, innovative food/beverage companies, unique skincare technologies for CBD, medical (drug development) cannabis, e-sports, various impact/environmental opportunities such as rare earth minerals, plastics-to-fuel and carbon underground agricultural products, and has partnered with several sports personalities and on numerous sports projects. McGovern teaches global innovation at Cornell and Stanford Business Schools and has taught at MIT, Harvard, NTU Singapore, and KAUST in Saudi Arabia. He is Trustee Emeritus of Cornell University, serves on the Board of the Smithsonian, is a senior advisor to Consumer Reports, serves on the Board of the Baptist Health Foundation/South Florida, and serves on the Doctors Hospital and Miami Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Institute Council.
In 2016, founder Marisa Sergi was driving store to store across Ohio selling bottles of wine by hand with hopes someone would give her a chance, in 2017 she had the opportunity to pitch her brand at Walmart Open call, they said yes, not to shelf placement, but to authorize the brand to be sold in store by store, something Marisa already had great experience doing. At the time, Marisa had her wine label produced by a winery her family started back in 2006 which produced wines for the local market. By mid-2018 Marisa had gotten her label into most regional stores, but it was challenging just selling one label, one SKU at a time. When the opportunity came up to manage the family’s distribution business where she would be able to manage not only her brand, but the rest of her family’s wine portfolio she jumped at it. It wasn’t long before the distribution business became the predominant growth vehicle for the company, but by then her parents were looking at retirement and not reinvestment. In 2019, Marisa teamed up with her husband, Evan Schumann, who had a background in operations, finance, and M&A to put together a plan to buy her parents out of the company and in May of 2020 the winery officially changed hands over to Marisa and Evan. The plan was simple, strip out the product lines that were not making money and aggressively grow the brands with the best chance of national success. Over the past 3 years, Marisa and Evan have been able to scale the business from a local winery selling products across Northeast Ohio, to a multistate regional winery on a fast-track plan to national expansion. Today, the winery’s brands can be found across 10 states all the way down to Georgia selling in chains such as Walmart, Kroger, Target, Meijer, Food Lion, Dave’s Markets, DDM, Safeway, Sparkle, Rulli Brothers, Giant Eagle, and many more. The winery’s goals still remain the same, and the priorities are aligned with the continuation of national expiration as we continue to grab the attention of wine consumers new to the space, intimidated by the selection, or just our right looking for a more modern wine that better aligns with today’s adult beverage consumer. Marisa and Evan were recently recognized in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for 2023.
Professor Wesley Sine is the John and Dyan Smith Professorship of Management and Family Business. His research focuses on the emergence of new economic sectors and entrepreneurship in the United States, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia. He explores issues related to institutional change, industry and technology evolution, technology entrepreneurship, and new venture structure and strategy. He has examined a diverse set of economic sectors, including the electric power industry and the emergence of the internet. Teaching interests include entrepreneurship, commercializing university technology, new venture growth, the management of technology and innovation, and organizational change. He has consulted and taught executives in Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East.
Sine has published papers in the following journals: Administrative Science Quarterly, Academy of Management Journal, Management Science, Organization Science, Strategic Management Journal, and Research Policy. Sine is currently a senior Associate editor at Organization Science and is the book review editor at Administrative Science Quarterly.
John Smith earned his Johnson MBA in 1974. His son, Ian Smith, also earned an MBA from Johnson in 2014.
Mr. Smith is the chairman and president of Hillcrest Holdings, which operates trucking, real estate, and security companies, including Great Plains Casualty, Southgate Companies (Ian Smith, chairman), Converged Security Solutions, and CRST International, Inc., the largest long-haul trucking carrier in Iowa and one of the top ten largest carriers in the country. His parents founded Cedar Rapids Steel Transport in 1955, growing the business and acquiring others, leading to their consolidation as CRST International in 1995. He has been with CRST since graduating from Johnson in 1974. He has been actively involved in the transportation industry, including leadership with the American Trucking Association, the Truckload Carriers Association, and the Iowa Motor Truck Association.
He and his wife, Dyan, have given generously to Johnson over the years. In 2014, they made a gift to establish the John and Dyan Smith Family Business Initiative, which has done much to strengthen and advance Johnson’s and Cornell’s research, teaching, and outreach in areas related to family business, as well as to engage a growing network of family business owners, advisors, and other practitioners.
Patricia M. Soldano has spent over 30 years providing family office services. She owned Cymric Family Office Services and sold to GenSpring Family Offices in January 2009, where she was Managing Director of Western Region for 5 years and then a Family Office Consultant to GenSpring until December of 2017.
Currently Ms. Soldano is President of Family Enterprise USA; its mission is to promote the growth of generational owned family businesses in the US, and President of Policy and Taxation Group, which she formed in 1995, that works to reduce onerous tax and economic policies for successful families, family offices and family business. She is a member of the Advisory Board for Ultra High Net Worth Institute and a member of CSUF Family Business Center, as well as on Family Business editorial committee for Trust & Estate Magazine. She is on the Investment Committee, Comp Committee and Audit Committee for Alzheimer’s Orange County. Ms. Soldano received an MBA from Claremont Graduate School, The Drucker School and a BA in Business Administration from Cal State University Fullerton.
Matthew Unger is a 2023 MBA graduate of the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. Hailing from Russian Jewish immigrants, who played an integral role in shaping the suburbs of Pittsburgh in the 1950s through their family venture, Unger Construction, Matthew is continuing the legacy of his family’s entrepreneurial spirit.
With a comprehensive academic background and a profound understanding of the nuances of business, Matthew is set to embark on a transformative journey in 2024. Armed with his Cornell MBA, he is laying the foundation for a groundbreaking private equity fund aimed at aiding family businesses with succession planning and fostering sustainable growth. Drawing inspiration from his family’s own journey, Matthew envisions nurturing family-owned businesses into thriving enterprises by providing strategic expertise, capital infusion, and a holistic approach to long-term prosperity.
Before venturing into private equity, Matthew demonstrated his prowess in the financial realm by successfully leading Focus Asset Management, a Wealth Management firm. His specialization in multi-generational wealth planning has enabled him to forge lasting relationships with clients, guiding them through intricate financial landscapes and facilitating seamless transitions across generations.
Prior to graduating, Matthew continued his commitment to education and community by collaborating with his Cornell classmate Kevin Juin, where they established the “Kevin Juin and Matthew Unger Fellowship” with the Smith Family Business Initiative. This groundbreaking fellowship is designed to extend a helping hand to ambitious Cornell students from underrepresented communities (POC, LGBTQ+, Women) affording them the opportunity to engage in experiential learning through SFBI. By offering financial support, Matthew and Kevin will empower 5 to 6 students annually, ensuring they have access to invaluable real-world experiences that foster an in-depth understanding of family-run enterprises.
As a future torchbearer of family business evolution, Matthew’s journey is a testament to the power of heritage, education, and community engagement. With an unwavering commitment to enriching the lives of others and propelling family businesses forward, he stands as an inspiration to future generations of entrepreneurs and business leaders.
Jennifer is a recognized industry leader, travel expert, and resource for many. As the Head of Policy, Jennifer focuses on building a travel policy framework and engagement strategy for Chase Travel, inclusive of the entire FROSCH family of brands. She represents Chase Travel on the World Travel Tourism Council (WTTC), the US Travel Association (USTA), and the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA).
For 32 years, Jennifer served as Co-President of her family’s second-generation business, the iconic luxury brand Valerie Wilson Travel. Most recently, she has been an active member of Frosch’s Executive Team and an integral leader of Frosch’s family of brands Independent Contractor (IC) business pillar as part of the integration into Chase Travel, after the acquisition by JPMorgan Chase in May 2022.
Jennifer brings a forward-thinking approach and “challenge the status quo” mindset to all her endeavors. She is well-equipped to be a key player in affecting positive change in the travel industry on behalf of Chase Travel and our customers. Her commitment to the industry is tremendous and only continues to grow.
As an enthusiastic she has visited 48 of the 50 United States (just missing Kentucky and West Virginia) and 58 countries. On her travel wish list, she hopes to explore these exciting destinations: Bali, Belize, Bhutan, Fiji, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Mongolia, Namibia, Nepal, Rwanda, and Slovenia.
John Zaruka was born and raised in Babylon, New York. In 1965, his father, Bill, a teacher, was awarded a food & beverage concession on the beach on Long Island’s South Shore. It was there, John, at age 14, began his hospitality career. Upon Mom Alice’s suggestion, John applied and was accepted, to the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. Upon graduation from Cornell in 1973, John joined Winegardner and Hammons, a well-known hotel management company. In his eleven years with the firm, John ran several hotels across from Alaska to Ohio. He met the love of his life; Linda in Boise and they were married nearly fifty years ago. His last position with WHI was as Regional Manager for nine hotels in Cincinnati. In 1984, John and his family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to open a large hotel, then on to the Los Angeles area as Director of Operations for a new hotel company whose portfolio included a newly renovated Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.
In 1986, John, with the support of his family, decided to parley his skills by starting his own business. The Zaruka’s purchased a failed fine dining restaurant at a public golf course in Ventura, California. John saw an opportunity in the banquet-only space in the market, so he converted the venue to banquet-only. The business, known as the Wedgewood Banquet Center, began with no customers and no employees, but with a lot of confidence! For the next fourteen years, John and Linda ran the Wedgewood and raised Bill and Stacy, who both stayed in the business.
In 2020, John began a national consulting business for the F&B portion of the golf industry. It was named ZGolf Food & Beverage Services. John was a sought-after speaker throughout North America and wrote many articles for golf industry publications. Soon after he began his consulting business, a client suggested he operate two of their facilities. He took on the challenge and thus began a rapid expansion of the Wedgewood brand. Bill Zaruka joined the company in 2001 and now is the CEO of ZGolf, branded as Wedgewood Wedding and Events with sixty venues in seven states, hosting a thousand weddings a year, grossing over $150 million in sales and over 1500 employees. In 2014, Prospect Partners purchased 60% of the company to provide capital for the rapid expansion.
In 2017, the Zaruka’s purchased a flailing golf course in their hometown of Camarillo, CA. Since the purchase of the Sterling Hills Golf Club, revenues have doubled, and the course is now very successful.
John is a member and Past President of the Rotary Club of Ventura Sout and an Emeritus Board Member of the California Restaurant Association. He was selected to the West Babylon High School Hall of Fame, been three times selected as Rotarian of the Year, chosen as one the original 50 ______Persons Over 50 in Ventura County, and Person of the Year by the Boy’s & Girl’s Club of Ventura. Their business was also selected as Small Business of the Year by the US Small Business Administration.