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Hospitality & Tourism

With its beautiful beaches, towering mountains and lively cities, North Carolina is a hot spot for travelers. The record $26.8 billion in direct visitor spending in 2019 supported more than 236,580 jobs statewide.

LEAH WONG ASHBURN

family owner, president, CEO | Highland Brewing

Asheville

Ashburn, 50, took the reins of Asheville’s first craft brewer, which her father started, in 2015. The UNC Chapel Hill graduate was a semifinalist for the James Beard Award for Outstanding Beer and Wine Professional in 2018.

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MANISH ATMA

president, CEO | Atma Hotel Group

Chapel Hill

A UNC Wilmington graduate, Atma started his company in 1995. It owns 10 hotels under several well-known names. It added a Courtyard by Marriott and Sheraton in its hometown in 2019. The purchase added meeting space close to Research Triangle Park.

JIM BELEY

general manager | The Umstead Hotel and Spa

Cary

Beley oversees the award-winning 150-room hotel. The Florida International University and Culinary Institute of America graduate is a North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association Lodging Operator of the Year and on an N.C. State University Poole College of Management advisory board.

ROLF BLIZZARD

managing director | Turnpike Properties

Winston-Salem

Blizzard, 48, has spent the past 15 years at the commercial real estate company owned by the Slick family. The UNC Chapel Hill graduate was a lobbyist at N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry and chief of staff for former N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight.

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CHRIS CAVANAUGH

founder, president | Magellan Strategy Group

Asheville

A winner of Southeast Tourism Society’s Shining Example Award, Cavanaugh, 57, started his consultancy in 2004.  He previously led marketing at The Biltmore Co. for nine years, helping double revenue at the nation’s most-visited house attraction.

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BILL CECIL JR.

president, CEO | Biltmore Co.

Asheville

Cecil runs the nation’s largest privately owned home, which his great-grandfather, George Vanderbilt, built in the 1890s. It was permanently converted into an attraction in 1956. As a youth, Cecil worked at the Biltmore Estate, clearing manure from stables and doing other chores.

JACK CECIL

president | Biltmore Farms

Asheville

The Vanderbilt family heir joined the famous business in 1984 and has led various expansions through residential and commercial real estate projects, including building more than 1,000 homes. Active in many local and statewide boards, he is a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and American Graduate School of International Management.

ASHLEY CHRISTENSEN

owner | AC Restaurants

Raleigh

The James Beard Award’s Best Chef: Southeast in 2012 and 2019 Outstanding Chef, Christensen opened her first restaurant in 2007. The N.C. State University graduate now owns five eateries and bars in the capital city. She is a past board member of Southern Foodways Alliance.

LISA COOPER

president | Mast General Store

Valle Crucis

Cooper started working at the original general store at age 11 after it was acquired by her family. It opened its 10th store last June in Roanoke, Va. She serves on several boards of directors, including the Blue Ridge Conservancy and Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership.

DENNY EDWARDS

president, CEO | Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau

Raleigh

Edwards, 59, has led the 29-employee bureau since 2007. The University of Northern Iowa graduate previously worked for tourism bureaus in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Houston and Palm Springs, Calif.

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GARY FROEBA

managing director | The Omni Grove Park Inn

Asheville

Froeba leads one of the state’s most historic resort hotels, which opened in 1913. He chairs the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority board and led last year’s search to hire Explore Asheville CEO Victoria Isley. Dallas-based Omni Hotels & Resorts owns the property.

JONATHAN FUSSELL

president | Duplin Winery

Rose Hill

Fussell started at the family-owned winery at age 5, loading corks in the corker. A UNC Chapel Hill graduate, he became Duplin Retail manager in 2001 and Duplin Wine Family president and Duplin Wine Cellars vice president in 2010.

A.D. “ZANDER” GUY JR.

chairman | N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission

Holly Ridge

A former Surf City and Jacksonville mayor, Guy, 72, has chaired the regulatory group twice. He owned a real estate company for more than 40 years and served on the N.C. Banking Commission under four governors.

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STEPHEN HILL

chairman, CEO | Discovery Insurance, Hill Realty and Mother Earth Brewing

Kinston

Hill is a graduate of Lees-McRae College. His family has operated one of the state’s biggest nursing home companies for decades. He has invested more than $12 million to renovate more than 60 homes and commercial properties in Kinston.

VICTORIA ISLEY

president, CEO | Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau

Asheville

A UNC Chapel Hill graduate, Isley returned to North Carolina in December. She started her career in Durham and most recently was chief operating officer at Destination Marketing Association International.

MOHAMMAD JENATIAN

president | Greater Charlotte Hospitality & Tourism Alliance

Charlotte

The graduate of UNC Charlotte, 61, has led the alliance since its start in 1994. It represents more than 900 hotels and other businesses, helping build support for projects including the downtown convention center and baseball stadium.

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MARK LAPORT

president, CEO | Concord Hospitality Enterprises

Raleigh

Laport began developing and managing hotels in 1985. His company oversees more than 135 properties and is majority owned by New York-based Alleghany Capital. He is a graduate of Mount Union College and Rochester Institute of Technology.

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JOHN MCCONNELL

president, CEO | McConnell Golf

Raleigh

After leading several medical software companies, McConnell, 70, turned to golf in 2003, when the Virginia Tech graduate purchased Raleigh Country Club. McConnell Golf now owns 15 courses and had its best year in 2020, he says.

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TOM MURRAY

CEO | Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority

Charlotte

The Villanova University graduate, 61,  spent more than 30 years in the hotel industry before taking his authority post in 2011. Its 200 full-time and 1,500 part-time employees typically host about 600 events and 2 million visitors at city-owned venues annually. Past employers included Marriott, Hilton and InterContinental Hotels Group.

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DOYLE PARRISH

CEO | Summit Hospitality Group

Raleigh

Parrish founded Summit in 1988 and built the business to about 18 hotels across the state with more than 700 employees. The UNC Chapel Hill and Wake Forest University graduate has served as board chairman of the N.C. Travel & Tourism Coalition and Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau.

TOM PASHLEY

president | Pinehurst Resort

Pinehurst

The famous resort was a big player in landing the U.S. Golf Association’s second headquarters last year. The University of Georgia and Duke University graduate has worked at “The Home of American Golf” since 2000.

NAYAN PATEL

president | CN Hotels

Greensboro

Patel purchased his first hotel more than 30 years ago, joining the family business. Today, CN Hotels manages 30 properties across the Southeast with eight more under development. Its collection includes hotels under the Marriott, Hilton, IHG, Wyndham and Best Western labels.

GREG WALTER

executive vice president, general manager | Charlotte Motor Speedway

Concord

Affiliated with Speedway Motorsports since 1999, Walters took the wheel of the company’s Charlotte track in 2016. Earlier in his career, the UNC Chapel Hill journalism school graduate worked for Capitol Broadcasting and ESPN.

REBECCA WHITMARSH

area director of operations | Northwood Hospitality

Charlotte

Whitmarsh, 37, is a McGill University and UNC Charlotte graduate. She is also general manager of Aloft Charlotte Ballantyne, one of 13 Northwood Hospitality properties that include Courtyard by Marriott and Staybridge Suites inn and The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge.

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ROBERT WINSTON III

owner, CEO | Winston Hospitality

Raleigh

Winston, part of a family with a long history in N.C. hospitality, oversees about six hotels. Over his career he has helped develop or redevelop about 100 properties. He’s a trustee at his alma mater, UNC Chapel Hill, and is a past chairman of the Raleigh-Durham International Airport Authority board.

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