Families in Business Conference Speakers

2024 Speakers TBD

2023 Speakers

Brian is a senior associate in Faegre Drinker private client services group, helping families successfully and efficiently transfer their wealth and businesses to their loved ones. He advises families on tax, estate, and business planning, and on probate and trust administration. He has previously worked for New York and Massachusetts law firms, as well as for a Delaware trust company. In 2019, Brian was selected as one of eight attorneys as an American Bar Association Real Property, Trust, and Estate Fellow, and, in 2021, he was one of four attorneys honored as an American College of Trust and Estate Counsel Dennis I. Belcher Young Leader. His thought leadership has focused upon advanced business and wealth transfer strategies, along with effective use of current tax laws, and has been featured in The Legal Intelligencer, New Jersey Bar Journal, Employee Benefit Plan Review, PICPA Journal, NAEPC Journal of Estate & Tax Planning, and ABA eReport, among many others. He currently serves as the Chair of the IRA Plans & Distributions Committee, Vice Chair of the Financial Planning & Risk Management Committee, and Vice Chair of the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee for the American Bar Association Real Property, Trust, and Estate Section. He also serves on the publication committees for the NAEPC Journal of Estate & Tax Planning, PICPA Journal, and FPA NexGen. Brian holds his MBA with a Minor in Real Estate from Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management and his J.D. and Tax LL.M. from Boston University School of Law. He is barred in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, and he is a Certified Financial Planner®.

Laurie Barkman, the business transition sherpa, is the former CEO of a $100 million revenue company that was sold to a Fortune 50.

As a Business Transition and M&A Intermediary, Laurie advises owners how to create more valuable businesses and find the right buyer when it’s time to let go.

She is an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University, and author of The Business Transition Handbook: How to Avoid Succession Pitfalls and Create Valuable Exit Options, She hosts the award-winning podcast Succession Stories, rated in the top 2.5% of podcasts globally.

Laurie graduated from Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations and Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business. She holds a professional designation from The Alliance of Mergers & Acquisitions Advisors.

Zach Bubolo serves as the Director of Operations at Watson Foundation. Watson Foundation, is IBM’s Tom Watson’s family foundation. The foundation has awarded over $55 million in grants since 1969. At Watson, Zach oversees the organization’s diverse facets, including finance, human resources, legal, technology, strategy, and communications.

Before joining Watson, Zach served as the Head of Operations at New York Picture Company, producing award-winning content and spearheading business development initiatives.

Beyond his day-to-day roles, Zach is the Development Chair and Board Member for the Haitian Vision Foundation, an organization which provides health care screenings and medication to the citizens of Dondon, Haiti.

Zach’s professional journey began in Brooklyn, New York, working for his family’s oil company, a venture started by his father and grandfather. This early exposure to the intricacies of a family-run business laid the foundation for his multifaceted career, instilling in him a profound understanding of organizational dynamics and a strong work ethic.

Zach holds an Executive MBA from Cornell University.

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.

Emma is a Principal at Carlson Private Capital Partners, a firm she helped launch for the Carlson family in January 2019. Emma has over 15 years of experience working with privately held middle-market businesses, having spent several years in traditional private equity at Norwest Equity Partners, a Minneapolis-based buyout firm. Carlson Private Capital is a private investment firm backed by the Carlson family to invest family capital in entrepreneur and family-owned businesses with the potential to create sustainable long-term value. Emma’s passion for family capital stems from her family business, Crescent Electric Supply, est. 1919, where she is the oldest in the 4th generation. Emma began her professional career as a CPA at Deloitte & Touche, graduated from the University of Notre Dame, and received her M.B.A. from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Emma and her husband Nick live with their two children in Minneapolis, MN, and enjoy spending their free time on the golf course or at their family cabin.

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.

Jarrett McGovern is a Cornell University graduate, Ivy League Lacrosse Champion (2003), principal in McGovern Capital, and Co-Founder of Rise Brewing Co.

His mission to create the best-tasting coffee imaginable began in 2014 while working for McGovern Capital’s water filtration company, The Water Initiative.  He began brewing and kegging nitro cold brew coffee in his apartment in New York City. He teamed up with Co-Founders Grant Gyesky and Justin Weinstein and sold “door to door” in New York City introducing the city that never sleeps to “Nitro Cold Brew Coffee”. Within a year they raised enough profits to build a full-scale Brewery in Stamford, CT with a mission to brew the best tasting beverages using only organic ingredients. Currently, RISE sells nationwide in over 20,000 retailers and features an award-winning line of Nitro Cold Brew Coffee and Nitro Oat Milk Lattes as well as recently a line of Oat Milks.

He is currently the Chief Creative Officer and focuses on product development, marketing, branding, and partnerships. He also coaches High School Lacrosse for Brunswick School and lives in Greenwich, CT with his wife Rose Anna, daughter Layla, and son Leonardo.

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.

Angela is an experienced advisor of over two decades advising substantial families on sophisticated investment strategies with implementation focused on helping to manage risk, liquidity and, where appropriate, socially responsible and impact investments. In addition, Angela brings a unique experience and skillset to families regarding family business succession planning, family governance, legacy and intergenerational wealth planning, and impactful philanthropy. Angela began her career at J.P. Morgan Private Bank (Morgan Guaranty Trust) in 2000 and deepened her skillset and experience at Lehman Brothers Private Investment Management, and as one of the few select Family Office Consultants at UBS. Angela and her team joined Rockefeller Global Family Office in 2023 tapping into the unique and deep family office experience of John D. Rockefeller and the 140-year family legacy.

Angela serves on the Board of Directors of Jumia, as Chair of the College Leadership Council of the Cornell S.C.Johnson College of Business, the Board of Directors of Grace Farms Foundation, Project Drawdown, Summit Junto, LLC, and Pharrell’s Yellow.

Angela is a frequent speaker on the financial and economic environment and has been featured in the financial media in the US, Asia, Australia, and Europe on Bloomberg and CNBC, as well as in print media such as Forbes, Barron’s, and Bloomberg Businessweek. Angela is also a sought-after speaker on sustainable and impact investing and generational wealth at prestigious events and conferences across the US. Angela is a member of the Social Investment Forum and the Economic Club of New York.

Angela earned an M.B.A. from Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University and an M.A. in Linguistics from the University of Konstanz, Germany. Angela lives with her husband and son between Brooklyn and Ithaca, is fluent in German, and enjoys pushing boundaries having run six marathons and scaled Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Grady is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Management and Organizations group at Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management. His research focuses on the intersection of public policy and entrepreneurship. Specifically, he has ongoing projects studying family business, in Mexico and minority entrepreneurs in the Czech Republic and the United States. Before coming to Cornell, he earned a B.S. in economics from Brigham Young University and lived and worked in the United States, Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Grady speaks Czech and Slovak fluently. Grady also enjoys basketball and cycling.

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.

Dr. Brett T. Tillou, DVM was born and raised with a deep passion for animals and a commitment to their well-being. Brett’s journey into the world of veterinary medicine began at an early age, inspired by the legacy of his family. His grandfather laid the foundation for his future career by establishing Tillou Veterinary Hospital in Western New York in 1948. Following in the footsteps of his father Brett’s academic pursuits led him to Cornell University, where he pursued his dream of becoming a veterinarian. He graduated in 2004, earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine.

In 2012, the torch was passed as Brett took ownership of Tillou Veterinary Hospital, a family-owned small animal hospital. One of Brett’s most notable achievements was spearheading a major renovation in 2014. This renovation breathed new life into the hospital, enhancing its physical structure to maximize workflow efficiency. The result was a thriving practice that improved profitability without burdening clients with increased prices or requiring his team to work longer hours. Brett’s commitment to innovation and efficiency allowed him to not only provide exceptional care but also strike a balance between his professional and personal life.

He has actively served on the Cornell Veterinary Alumni Executive Board for a decade, and his commitment to the board culminated in his presidency from 2020 to 2022. His involvement demonstrates his unwavering dedication to supporting the next generation of Cornell veterinarians.

Brett’s life extends far beyond the walls of the veterinary hospital. He resides in Hamburg, New York, alongside his wife, Erin Klene, (DVM ’04). Together, they raise their three children. Outside of his professional and family commitments, Brett enjoys indulging in his passions. He is an avid golfer, finding solace and relaxation on the golf course. He also delights in watching his children’s sporting events.

Sofia is a 2nd year Cornell Master’s in Management Hospitality student at the Nolan School of Hotel Management. Sofia comes from Greece, her family business Tryfon Leisure focuses on luxury hotel development and management. Before Cornell, Sofia received her First-Class Honours degree in Political Science with a concentration in energy geopolitics from McGill University and conducted research with top Canadian geopolitics professors, publishing her research on the Greek wholesale electricity market’s target model and the Libyan Civil War in the USC Journal of Law and Society. During McGill, Sofia interned for the European Parliament and Greek energy giant Mytilineos and founded and led the McGill Energy Journal which continues on its third generation today. In 2022, Sofia decided to leave energy markets and policy behind for hospitality accepting her admission to Cornell University and continuing her family’s legacy by taking Tryfon Leisure and the desiterra brand to the second generation.

With a comprehensive academic background in real estate development and operations management from Cornell, she seeks to aid the family in succession planning and sustainable expansion. Sofia spent the past summer as Head of Operations for her family’s luxury five-star resort in Santorini and in returning in the coming year will be taking on a principal role at their Acropolis property as the family develops their second five-star hotel in 8 years. Sofia currently sits on Tryfon Leisure’s board of directors and partakes in discussing all major decisions of the company. Sofia is strongly committed to her family’s brand and looks forward to returning home to take on her duties as her training to become the next leader of the family business begins this coming spring.

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.

Parth Vedawala is a Johnson MBA Class of 2019 Alumnus. He was with his family’s business, Kush Gold and Jewelry, for two year prior to business school. After business school, he worked at Citibank in a Marketing Strategy role for 3 years before rejoining the family business in 2022. At Kush Gold, Parth has been streamlining the operations and modernizing the business infrastructure to put the company in a position to manage growth for the future. In his free time, Parth enjoys playing beach volleyball and going to music shows with his friends. Parth lives in New York City with his Fiance and their three cats.

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 traveler, 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, when John was 14, his father, Bill, a teacher, was awarded a food & beverage concession on the beach on Long Island’s South Shore, and John’s hospitality career began. 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 his family’s support, decided to parley his skills by starting his own business. The Zarukas 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 14 years, John and Linda ran the Wedgewood and raised Bill and Stacy, who both stayed in the business.

John was a sought-after speaker throughout North America and wrote many articles for golf industry publications. In 2020, he began ZGolf Food & Beverage Services, a national consulting business for the F&B portion of the golf industry, and soon after that, 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 60 venues and over 1500 employees in seven states, hosting a thousand weddings a year, grossing over $150 million in sales.  In 2014, Prospect Partners purchased 60% of the company to provide capital for the rapid expansion.

In 2017, the Zarukas purchased a failing 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 South and an Emeritus Board Member of the California Restaurant Association. He was selected to the West Babylon High School Hall of Fame, has been selected Rotarian of the Year three times, was chosen as one the original 50 Persons Over 50 in Ventura County, and Person of the Year by the Boys & Girls Club of Ventura.  Their business was also selected as Small Business of the Year by the US Small Business Administration.