Monday, May 23, 2022

Which Tar Heel business leaders had a mighty 2017?

It’s an understatement to say 2017 was an excellent year for our state: Lowest unemployment rate in 17 years and a record number of people with jobs. More than 400,000 fewer people receiving food stamps than a year earlier. Home of the NCAA men’s basketball champions. But aside from Roy Williams, who had a distinctive year in North Carolina business? Here are a few ideas:

Doug Lebda — CEO of LendingTree. Its stock jumped more than 200% in the last year, and investors valued the Charlotte-based company at more than $4 billion. Lebda controls 20%.

Developer Stephen Hill and restaurateur Vivian Howard — Innovations by these Kinston civic leaders attracted surprising publicity and a lot of foodies to Lenoir County.

Colin Shannon — CEO of PRA Health Sciences, a Raleigh-based drug-trials company. Its stock has jumped more than fourfold since its IPO three years ago. The company was valued at more than $5.6 billion in mid-December.

David Routh, Robert Shepard and Mark Petersen — Lead fundraisers at UNC Chapel Hill, Duke and Wake Forest universities, respectively. These colleges and others are raking in historic amounts of money.

Jim Melvin and Sam Simpson — While many contributed, the head of the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation and the Triad real-estate executive led the effort to assemble land for an auto-manufacturing plant — hopefully Toyota-Mazda — at the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite.

Ken Thompson — The former Wachovia CEO-turned private-equity investor helped arrange the $1.9 billion sale of High Point-based BNC Bancorp to Nashville-based Pinnacle Financial Partners. He also got a board seat at LendingTree.

Michael Smith, Zach Matheny and Jason Thiel — Leaders of downtown booster groups in Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston-Salem, respectively, and their peers are benefiting from robust demand to live and work in central business zones.

Smoky Bissell — The Charlotte developer sold his Ballantyne Corporate Park to Northwoods Investors for $1.2 billion, one of the nation’s biggest real-estate deals of the year.

Luke and Walt Dickinson and Denise, Rick and Ryan Guthy — The Asheville-based owners of Wicked Weed Brewing Co. cashed in on the craft-beer craze, selling to Anheuser-Busch InBev for hundreds of millions of dollars.

Michael Praeger — The AvidXchange CEO oversees a payments processor that tech research firm CB Insights values at more than $1 billion. Annual revenue now exceeds $100 million.

Peter Karmanos Jr. — The Carolina Hurricanes owner finally sold his majority interest in the hockey team. Dallas-based Tom Dundon, lead investor in Topgolf, is now in charge.

Pierre Naudé — CEO of nCino, which sells cloud-based software to nine of the 30 largest U.S. banks, added more than 150 employees and proved Wilmington can launch one of the nation’s fastest-growing tech companies.

Joe and Janie Realtor — Homes sold like hotcakes in Charlotte, Raleigh and their suburbs this year, propelling the fortunes of top real-estate agents. The biggest challenge for many was having too few homes to sell.

Let me know who I missed. And all of the best for a great 2018!

(My December column cited $600 million in annual federal spending on defense. I meant $600 billion.)

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David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at

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