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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Power List 2023: Arts, Entertainment & Sports

Tera Black
Mark Brazil
Richard Childress
Kristi Coleman
Boo Corrigan
Bubba Cunningham
John Currie

Tom Dundon
Tom Gabbard
Joe Gibbs
Valerie Hillings
Michael Jordan
Nina King
Steve Malik

Steve O’Donnell
Jim Phillips
John Probst
Dan Rajkowski
Marcus Smith
Gary Sobba
Ben Sutton

David Tepper
Bill Vassar
Greg Walter
Fred Whitfield
Jeff Wise*


JEFF WISE

CEO | Whitewater Center
Charlotte

Staying out of the public eye and employing an unusual marketing strategy, Charlotte native Jeff Wise has led development of the self-described “World’s premier outdoor center.”

More than 1 million visitors show up annually at the not-for-profit enterprise in west Charlotte that sports the world’s largest recirculating artificial whitewater river. Complementing the rafting are hiking and biking trails, climbing challenges, ropes courses, live music, concerts and various athletic competitions. 

Though not the center’s original visionary in the early 2000s, Wise used his business acumen to turn an idea into a thriving enterprise that employs about 1,000 full-  and part-time workers. The project was initially financed with $38 million from local government and private sources, led by the late Alan Dickson, whose family controlled the Harris Teeter supermarket chain that is now owned by Kroger.

The center also operates independently of Mecklenburg County’s parks department and the VisitCharlotte tourism bureau, reflecting Wise’s focus on running it as a business. Revenue soared from $16.9 million in 2020 to $28 million last year, he says. Net income was about $9 million in 2022, slightly lower than the previous year, partly because of higher labor costs.   

The center opened a lodge in Mills River, about 30 miles from Asheville, and four houses in a rural area 30 miles from Charleston, South Carolina. Charging from $350 to $450 per night, the lodging targets outdoor enthusiasts who want to explore either the western N.C. mountains or South Carolina’s Lowcountry.

What do you listen to on your commute: “Good Fellows” (A podcast sponsored by the Hoover Institute.) 

Career highlight: Working with Alan Dickson (the late CEO of Charlotte-based Ruddick Corp.)

Favorite hobby after work: Biking or running

Best advice to industry newcomer: Drive and positive attitude are under our control. Make them your focus.


TERA BLACK

COO | Charlotte Checkers
Charlotte

The California native joined the team as a vice president in 2006 before taking her current post in 2008. She was the first female to have her name on the American Hockey League’s championship trophy when the team won in 2019. Her husband, Jamie, is a former pro hockey player and the team’s director of finance.

MARK BRAZIL

CEO | Wyndham Championship /
Piedmont Triad Charitable Foundation
Greensboro

After directing Greensboro’s annual Professional Golf Association tournament since 2001, the Baylor University graduate was named CEO in 2021. He also oversees the Piedmont Triad Charitable Foundation, which raises money through the Wyndham Championship for regional philanthropies.

RICHARD CHILDRESS

owner | Richard Childress Racing
Lexington

Since founding his stock-car racing team in 1969, the Winston-Salem native has become an integral part of NASCAR. His team has revived this year with the addition of Kyle Busch, who won in his second race for RCR. Childress, 77, also built Childress Vineyards into one of the state’s largest wineries. It opened near Lexington in 2004.

KRISTI COLEMAN

president | Carolina Panthers
Charlotte

Owner David Tepper named Coleman
to her post in February 2022, succeeding Tom Glock. The NFL’s second-ever female team president, she had previously worked in the team’s finance department since 2014. With accounting degrees from Clemson University, she previously worked for Deloitte. 

BOO CORRIGAN

athletic director | N.C. State University
Raleigh

Running a 23-team athletic department isn’t his only job. Corrigan also chairs the College Football Playoff selection committee. The son of former ACC Commissioner Gene Corrigan, he took his post in 2019 after working at the U.S. Military Academy, Duke University and Notre Dame University. He has degrees from Notre Dame and Virginia Commonwealth University. 

BUBBA CUNNINGHAM

athletic director | UNC Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill

Cunningham has been an AD for 19 years, working at Ball State and Tulsa universities before coming to Chapel Hill in 2011. The Tar Heels have won 18 national titles since then. Cunningham, who grew up in Naples, Florida, has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Notre Dame. 

JOHN CURRIE

athletic director | Wake Forest
Winston-Salem

The former AD at Kansas State University joined his alma mater in 2019 after working in college sports for 18 years. Deacon backers gave a record $37.5 million to athletics in 2021, while other sports-related funds reached a record $13.7 million. He has a master’s degree from the University of Tennessee.

TOM DUNDON

owner | Carolina Hurricanes
Raleigh

The Dallas investor and Southern Methodist University graduate started a subprime auto lender that was bought by Spain’s Banco Santander. In 2018, he became majority owner of the NHL hockey team. He took 100% control two years later. The team has made the playoffs for five straight years after nine years on the outside.

TOM GABBARD

president, CEO | Blumenthal Performing Arts
Charlotte

The nonprofit’s CEO since 2003 manages 110 employees and six Queen City theaters that host more than 1,000 performances annually. Charlotte has become a top 10 market in North America for touring Broadway shows. The lifetime Tony Award voter has a bachelor’s from Pepperdine University and an MBA from Golden
Gate University.  

JOE GIBBS

owner, founder | Joe Gibbs Racing
Huntersville

The Mocksville native, 82, started his racing team in 1992 and has overseen five NASCAR Cup Series championships. He led the Washington Redskins (now Commanders) to three Super Bowl wins. His son and vice chairman, Coy Gibbs, 49, died in November, four years after his other son, J.D., then 49, died of a neurological disease.

VALERIE HILLINGS

director, CEO | North Carolina Museum of Art
Raleigh

The Duke University graduate took the N.C. post in 2018 after 14 years with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation in New York City. The museum, which employs about 200, has received state funding since 1947. It unveiled a rebranding last year that spotlights its outdoor space and community focus.

MICHAEL JORDAN

chair | Charlotte Hornets
Charlotte

Reports emerged in March that Jordan, 60, is considering selling his majority stake in the team to a group that includes Wall Street investor Gabe Plotkin. Jordan is the first former NBA player and sole Black person to control a league team. The Wilmington native won an NCAA championship with UNC Chapel Hill and six NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls.

NINA KING

athletic director | Duke University
Durham

Duke named King to her post in 2019 after 13 years on the athletic department’s leadership team and four years at Notre Dame University, her alma mater. She has a law degree from Tulane Law School. She chairs the NCAA Division 1 Women’s Basketball Committee and teaches a sports business course. 

STEVE MALIK

owner, chair | North Carolina Football Club
Raleigh

The Kinston native has led several medical technology companies, including Greenlight Health Data Solutions and Medfusion, which was sold in 2019. He’s known for his passion for soccer. He bought the Carolina Railhawks in 2015 and rebranded them as North Carolina FC, and he relocated a National Women’s Soccer League team to Cary, the North Carolina Courage.

JAMES PHILLIPS

commissioner | Atlantic Coast Conference
Charlotte

The former Northwestern athletic director, who took his post in 2021, moved the con-ference headquarters from Greensboro last year, aided by $15 million from state lawmakers. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee, a master’s from Arizona State University and
a bachelor’s from the University of Illinois.

JOHN PROBST

senior vice president, chief racing development officer | NASCAR
Sherrills Ford

Propst has engineering degrees from both Penn State and the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and a physics degree from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. He moved from Earnhardt Ganassi Racing to NASCAR in 2016 and is credited with helping launch the NextGen car, which debuted in 2022.

Favorite family tradition: Annual family trout fishing trip to Cherokee, Easter vacation to the beach with extended family, and Christmas Day festivities at home with friends and family.

Favorite N.C. place to visit: Our land just north of Asheville.

What do you listen to on your commute: Podcasts on personal finance, fly fishing or other outdoor activities.

Major inspiration: My family members are the ones that have sacrificed to allow me to pursue my dream in racing.

Career highlight: Working on development and launch of the NextGen car for NASCAR Cup Series.

Favorite hobby after work: Trout fishing

Best advice to industry newcomer: Your time will not come in eight-hour chunks, five days a week. Embrace that and enjoy the experiences.

Key industry change in next five years: More use of sustainable fuels, varying levels of electrification, and possibly even hydrogen.

DAN RAJKOWSKI

COO | Charlotte Knights
Charlotte

A veteran of more than 35 years in baseball, he joined owner Don Beaver’s minor-league team in 2006, then became chief operating officer in 2012. Since moving to a downtown Charlotte stadium in 2014, the Knights routinely score among the top attendance in minor league baseball, drawing about 600,000 fans a year.

MARCUS SMITH

CEO | Speedway Motorsports
Charlotte

The son of company founder Bruton Smith started at the Charlotte speedway picking up trash. He became president in 2008, then assumed his current title in 2015. The company, which went private in 2019, operates 11 speedways, including Charlotte and Atlanta tracks. He spearheaded plans for the NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway in May.

GARY SOBBA

tournament director | Wells Fargo Championship
Charlotte

The Kansas MBA has run day-to-day operations of the PGA Tour event since 2017. Sobba had spent the previous 15 years at Learfield Communications, including as general manager of Tar Heel Sports Marketing in Chapel Hill. The Charlotte tournament is among the PGA Tour’s elite events with one of its highest purses.

Favorite N.C. place to visit: Pinehurst

What do you listen to on your commute: PGA Tour Radio

Career highlight: Leading the nation in increasing attendance for several college sports.

Favorite hobby after work: A cardio workout or golf with great group of friends.

Best advice to industry newcomer: Outwork the competition.

Key industry change in next five years: Revenue is going to be even more paramount, if that’s possible.

BEN SUTTON

chair, CEO | Teall Capital
Winston-Salem

After building a major sport marketing company and selling it to industry leader IMG College, the Murfreesboro native has focused since 2017 on his private-equity firm that invests in sports, media and entertainment companies. His REVELxp game-experience business has signed up 62 of the 63 major college football programs. He’s a key backer of Wake Forest University athletics.

DAVID TEPPER

owner | Carolina Panthers; Charlotte Football Club
Charlotte

Hope springs eternal for the billionaire’s efforts to turn around the performance of his NFL team, acquired for $2.2 billion in 2018. The Carnegie-Mellon University graduate paid $325 million for a Major League Soccer franchise, Charlotte FC, in 2019. He’s pleased music fans and hotel owners by adding major concerts at Bank of America Stadium.

BILL VASSAR

executive vice president | EUE/ScreenGems Studios
Wilmington

Vassar joined the New York-based company in 1998 and has been part of Wilmington’s film business since 2004.  The firm’s N.C. studios hosed filming of Amazon’s hit, “The Summer I Turned Pretty” in 2021-22 with a second-season release this summer. He has been a director of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

GREG WALTER

executive vice president, general manager | Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte 

The UNC Chapel Hill graduate worked in sports business before joining Speedway Motorsports in 1999 at the Atlanta track. He became executive vice president in 2016. He chairs the N.C. Motorsports Association, which promotes the industry that has an annual economic impact of $6 billion, according to a UNC Charlotte study.

FRED WHITFIELD

president, vice chair | Hornets Sports and Entertainment
Charlotte

The Greensboro native runs the team’s business operations and has kept the region interested in the NBA despite missing the playoffs for seven straight years. The former talent agent joined longtime friend Michael Jordan’s team in 2006. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Campbell University and a law degree at N.C. Central University.  

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