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Our Speakers

Emcee

Mark Romig
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Mark Romig

New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation
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A native New Orleanian, Mark is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation (NOTMC), the city’s official leisure travel promotion agency responsible for enhancing the tourism industry through effective marketing and promotional programs. His public relations career has spanned more than 35 years, and has taken him from U.S. presidential campaigns to public relations and marketing counseling, from college classrooms to a world’s fair. In 2013 Mark became the Stadium Announcer for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, succeeding his father, Jerry (who served in the same role for 446 consecutive Saints home games, 44 years).

Active in his community, Mark was recently appointed Director of the 2018 NOLA Foundation which is organizing the City of New Orleans’ Tricentennial celebration. He is also working in a number of other volunteer roles, including serving as a member of the Louisiana Travel Promotion Association Board of Directors as well as a member of the Audubon Nature Institute Board of Directors and the Board of Directors of Covenant House and the Emeril Lagasse Foundation. He also serves on the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s Travel and Tourism Council.

Mark is a graduate of the University of New Orleans and was an active member of the campus’ Omicron Delta Kappa chapter. He is former International President of Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity.

Speakers

Jay Altman
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Jay Altman

FirstLine Schools
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Jay Altman is chief executive officer of FirstLine Schools, a non-profit organization whose mission is to create and inspire great public schools in New Orleans.

Since 1990, Jay has partnered with like-minded parents and educators to provide quality educational opportunities for students in New Orleans open-admission public schools. He taught in the city for several years before co-founding New Orleans Charter Middle School. He was also a founder of James Lewis Extension School, New Orleans Outreach, New Orleans Summerbridge, and Leading Educators.

As director of education for London-based ARK schools from 2005 to 2008, Jay helped develop a British network of academies, charter-like schools in complex urban environments. He also was instrumental in establishing two training programs there – Future Leaders for aspiring principals of open-admission schools, and Teaching Leaders for mid-level school leadership.
Aron Chang
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Aron Chang

Waggonner & Ball Architects
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Aron Chang is an urban designer at Waggonner & Ball Architects. He serves as project manager on a wide range of planning and urban design projects, including the finalist Rebuild by Design: Resilient Bridgeport proposal that a Gulf Coast-based and Waggonner & Ball-led team developed in 2014. He contributed to the 2013 Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan as a primary writer, design team lead, and outreach coordinator. He is an interim steering committee member of the Greater New Orleans Water Collaborative, co-founder of the Blue House co-working space and collective, and co-director of Ripple Effect, a program that brings design and water education into New Orleans classrooms.

Mr. Chang joined Waggonner & Ball in 2011 after serving as a fellow at Louisiana State University’s Coastal Sustainability Studio (CSS), where he coordinated planning and outreach efforts between the CSS and the Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development. From 2009 to 2010, he taught urban design and architectural design studios at Louisiana State University (LSU), both in the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture and in the School of Architecture. His teaching and design work at LSU focused on the intersection of planning, architecture, coastal resiliency, and sustainability. He also served as the architecture fellow for the Salvation Army’s EnviRenew in 2009, an initiative to develop affordable and sustainable homes throughout New Orleans, and as an intern at Mia Lehrer & Associates, a landscape architecture firm based in southern California, where he worked on the 1,300 acre Orange County Great Park.

Mr. Chang received his Masters in Architecture degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and graduated from Williams College with degrees in Studio Art and German.
Michael Hecht
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Michael Hecht

GNO, Inc.
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Michael Hecht is President & CEO of Greater New Orleans, Inc., the economic development organization for southeast Louisiana. GNO, Inc.'s mission falls broadly into two categories: business development – attracting and growing businesses – and product development – creating better business conditions. Under Michael's leadership, GNO, Inc. was recently named the #2 economic development organization in the United States by Business Facilities magazine.

Before coming to GNO, Inc. Michael led the quarter-billion dollar Katrina Small Business Recovery Program for the State. Previous to coming home to Louisiana, Michael worked for Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York City as an Assistant Commissioner, running the post-9/11 small business program.

Michael's entrepreneurial experience includes co-founding a conglomerate of restaurant ventures, including “Foreign Cinema,” named Restaurant of the Year 2000 in San Francisco. He began his career as a strategic management consultant.

Michael holds an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business, and an undergraduate degree from Yale.

Recently Michael has been recognized as “One of the 25 Most Powerful People in the 10/12 Corridor,” and “One of the Top 50 Economic Developers in North America.”

With family roots in Louisiana back to the 1830s, Michael now lives in New Orleans with his wife, Marlene, an ESL professor at Delgado, and his two sons, Dexter and Kaj ("Kī").
Andy Kopplin
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Andy Kopplin

City of New Orleans
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As First Deputy Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer on May 3, 2010 Andy Kopplin oversees the day-to-day operations of the city. Prior to joining the City of New Orleans, Kopplin served as senior advisor to the Founder & CEO of Teach for America and the Founding Executive Director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA), the agency charged with leading Louisiana’s recovery after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Kopplin also served as Chief of Staff to Governors Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Rice University and a master’s in Public Policy from Harvard Kennedy School.
Lavonzell Nicholson
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Lavonzell Nicholson

PLAYNOLA
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Lavonzell Nicholson, Co-founder and Director of Operations for PLAYNOLA Sports. Founded in the fall 2009, PLAYNOLA provides adults the opportunity to be physically active while building social and professional relationships in a safe and enjoyable environment. With a network of 12,000 members; PLAYNOLA sees 5,000 participants in over 25 sports leagues and events annually.

Prior to starting PLAYNOLA, Lavonzell held several leadership positions in the nonprofit sector in both Maryland and Louisiana. Most recently she served as Executive Director of Each One Save One, a community based mentoring organization founded by Sally Ann Roberts.

As a trailblazer in New Orleans' growing business community, Lavonzell has been recognized for her work by being named to Gambit’s “40 Under 40”, New Orleans Magazine’s People to Watch, and Young Leadership Council's Role Model Award. She serves as member of the La. Department of Economic Development Small Business Advisory Council, former Vice Chair of UNCF Young Leadership Council, board member with Communities in Schools (CIS), as well as member of GNO, Inc. Next Gen Council. She holds a Master of Social Work Degree from the University of Maryland as well as a Graduate Business Certificate from Johns Hopkins University.

Her ‘spare’ time is all about spending time with her husband Marquies and her two children- MJ (2) and Mason (8 months).
Brandan Odums
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Brandan Odums

2-Cent Entertainment
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Brandan “Bmike” Odums is the founder and director of 2-Cent Entertainment LLC – a youth education social enterprise that produces mixed media content and events in the overlap between pop culture and social awareness. Founded in 2005, 2-Cent began as a hip-hop-oriented, grassroots, entertainment company geared towards addressing problems in the community. Since then the company, through Brandan’s vision, has made itself a household name across New Orleans and surrounding areas.

A highly sought after visual artist and filmmaker, Brandan uses these mediums to tells the stories and makes statements to grab the attention of the younger generation who hold the responsibility to spark change in the world.

Following the success of his Project BE in 2013, a series of graffiti murals depicting iconic African American civil rights leaders at the Florida Avenue public housing complex in New Orleans’ 9th Wards, Brandan’s most recent work include #ExhibitBe, the largest graffiti gathering in the South held at the site of an abandoned five-story apartment building on the West Bank in New Orleans. In 2014, #ExhibitBE gained national attention, welcoming over 100,000 visitors during its three month opening.

An award winning artist, Brandan has been honored as one of “20 New Orleans Artist You Should Know” by Complex.com, Gambit’s Weekly 40 under 40, and a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grantee.

Remaining true to his mission to help youth use the arts to evoke change, Brandan regularly speaks to student groups and in 2013 launched the 2-Cent Summer Session, media arts camp, in New Orleans

See more at: http://brandanodums.com/about/#sthash.xopvHnSf.dpuf
Peter Ricchiuti
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Peter Ricchiuti

Tulane University
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Peter Ricchiuti is the business professor you wish you had back in college. His humor and insight have twice made him the top professor at Tulane University’s Freeman’s School of Business.

Peter is a graduate of Babson College, started his career at the investment firm of Kidder Peabody & Co and later served at the chief investment officer for Louisiana. There he successfully managed theState’s $3 billion portfolio.

In 1993 he founded Tulane’s nationally acclaimed Burkenroad Reports student stock research program. Here he leads 200 business students in search of overlooked and underpriced stocks in six southern states. He and his program have been featured widely in the financial press including; The Wall Street Journal, BARRON’s and The New York Times.
Kimberly Roberts
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Kimberly Roberts

Actress & Musician
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Kimberly Rivers-Roberts aka (Black Kold Madina) is the star of the 2009 Oscar(R) nominated Hurricane Katrina documentary Trouble the water,winner of the 2008 Sundance GRAND JURY PRIZE,2008 Full Frame GRAND JURY prize winner,2008 GOTHAM INDIE FILM award winner,2009 NAACP Image award nomination, 2009 Producers Guild of America for feature Documentary (nomination).

2008 AFI/Silverdocs special Jury Prize, 2008 Council on Foundation Henry Hampton award for excellence in film and digital media, 2008 working films award, 2008 Kathleen Bryan Human rights award,Official selection 2008 New Directors/New films (museum of modern arts and film society of Lincoln center) Named best documentary of 2008 by the film critics association and alliance of women film journalists,2009 Roger Ebert Golden Thumb award winner and came in 2nd place for the national film critics circle award.Time magazine named Kimberly Rivers- Roberts 4th best performance of 2008, Kimberly was honored in 2010 by the Female Hip-Hop Awards for her work as a Rap-artist, humanitarian, and for her work in Trouble the water. Mrs.Rivers -Roberts was honored as a Katrina Hero by the Navigation foundation September 2010, and co-starred in the HBO series TREME as Devines friend Kim Roberts. Her song Trouble the water was also Nominated for an Academy award in 2009.
Virginia Saussy
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Virginia Saussy

Independant Consultant
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Virginia Saussy builds successful brands. With over twenty-eight years of experience in marketing, sales, advertising, public relations and business development, she knows what it takes to lay a path to the next level of success.

Virginia joined Sucre, a New Orleans based Sweet Boutique and confection studio, to strengthen the administrative management, organize fulfillment and fine-tune sales and marketing efforts. Within eighteen months she had defined a wholesale product line and introduced a beloved local brand to the national gourmet and specialty food marketplace, expanding distribution by over 300%.

In her tenure at Mignon Faget, Ltd., Virginia Saussy enabled company growth through strong branding and relationship marketing, taking sales from $1.3 million to over $13 million; and saving the company from tragedy after Hurricane Katrina. She established this local jewelry designer as an artist, connected community leader, philanthropist, and Louisiana legend, securing her place in history with a traveling retrospective exhibition in 2011.

Virginia spent several years in corporate America developing the network that would become Verizon Wireless through marketing demographics and negotiated roaming agreements and pioneering the wireless retail industry with innovative strategy and rate plans still used today. She encouraged a national corporation to value localized marketing and used it to build brand strength and customer loyalty.

After Hurricane Katrina, Virginia also used her skills to rebrand a devastated New Orleans neighborhood, engaging property owners and citizens of New Orleans to force its survival and establishing the Broadmoor neighborhood as the come-back story of the city. Her devotion to her city has benefited numerous community organizations. She is a founding member, officer, and the creative force behind one of the city’s most popular carnival organizations, The Krewe of Muses.

Virginia Saussy has been honored with numerous awards including Gambit Magazine’s 40 Under 40 (2002), Newcomb College Outstanding Alumnae (2006), and Top Female Achiever by New Orleans Magazine (2012) and is a frequent speaker at area universities.

Beginning her career in advertising agencies as a copy writer, media buyer, and account executive, Virginia Saussy realized her marketing passion was to understand all aspects of the product marketing spectrum, from research to concept to advertising to sales to distribution to customer service, giving her the perspective to enable positive impact for success.
Jessica Shahien
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Jessica Shahien

504ward
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Jessica Shahien is the Executive Director of 504ward, an initiative designed to retain the influx of young talent, both new and native to the New Orleans region, age 23 to 35. With a network of our 12,000 young professionals, 504ward connects its members to great job opportunities, like-minded peers, and the unique experiences offered only in New Orleans.

Originally from Metairie, Jessica has a BA in American Studies from the University of Virginia. She is member of NexGen Council, a board member of the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce and Habitat for Humanity, a member of St. Martin’s Alumni Board, and an active member of the Junior League of Greater New Orleans. In her spare time, Jessica enjoys cooking, going to local festivals, and spending time with her husband (Amir), her one year old son (Alden) and their dog (Gumbo).
Troy Simon
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Troy Simon

Student, Bard College
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Troy Simon is a New Orleans native who graduated from Sci Academy in 2012. His path to graduation was not easy. He was held back twice. He was teased by his peers for not being able to read and frequently cut school as a result.

Troy was 12 years old when Hurricane Katrina hit. His family left him to fend for himself; he was rescued after four days and spent a week in Lafayette, LA. He was then reunited with his family and relocated to Houston where Troy enrolled at Now College Prep, a KIPP school comprised of primarily Teach For America teachers. Troy's fifth grade teacher, Sarah Bliss, a TFA corps member, helped him learn how to read. When Troy returned to New Orleans, he enrolled in Urban League College Track, a college completion non-profit that empowers students from underserved communities to graduate from college. His experience at Urban League College Track helped him focus on writing. During his time in the program, he met with Walter Isaacson, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute, who read his work, “Through a Boy’s Eyes” and awarded him two full scholarships to attend the Aspen Summer Words Young Writers' Conference and Ideas Festival. There, Troy studied with award-winning novelist and University of North Carolina Professor Randall Keenan and was published in two works developed by Urban League College Track students: Whispering Conscience and Young in America: New Orleans.

His senior year, Troy was awarded a four-year, full-ride leadership scholarship from the Posse Foundation. Troy is now a junior at Bard College where he serves as a Bard College Campus Campaign Coordinator for Teach For America and writes for the Bard Free Press. During his college career, he has held internships with Students for Education Reform and TBWA\Chiat\Day advertisement agency.

In 2014, he introduced First Lady Michelle Obama at a White House forum focused on expanding college opportunities for students. At this event, he spoke in front of college and university presidents, national foundations, individual and government representatives, and similar education non-profits from across the country. Recently, Troy was a participant in the New York Times’ “Schools for Tomorrow” event and spoke on a panel with Laurene Powell Jobs, Carlos Watson, and David Leonhardt.

Troy’s success can be attributed to many people and programs: Sci Academy, Teach For America, College Track, The Urban League of Greater New Orleans, the Posse Foundation, Bard College and countless New Orleans educators.
John Spain
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John Spain

Chairman, Southeast Super Region
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John Spain is the Executive Vice President of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. The Foundation is a non-profit community foundation with assets of over $600 million dollars.

The Foundation provides charitable gifts to organizations and is involved in civic projects in the areas of health care, urban renewal projects, education, and the arts.

In his role as Executive Vice President he oversees all of the foundation’s community projects.
Doug Thornton
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Doug Thornton

SMG, Mercedes-Benz Superdome
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Based in New Orleans at the Louisiana Superdome, Doug Thornton joined SMG in 1997, overseeing seven (7) separate municipal accounts in the Gulf Coast Area. During his tenure at SMG, Thornton has been a leader in producing several high profile events including, two NFL Super Bowls, both the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Final Four, two BCS Championship football games, the Essence Music Festival, the annual Sugar Bowl Classic and many more. He is active in many community and industry organizations.
Rod West
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Rod West

Entergy Corporation
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Rod West was named Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer for Entergy Corporation on June 7, 2010. West reports to Entergy’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer and has responsibility for Entergy’s shared services functions supporting commercial activities of its utility and nuclear operations, and wholesale commodities businesses. Functions reporting to the CAO include finance operations, supply chain, business processes, administrative services, information technology, human resources and administration, federal policy, regulatory and governmental affairs, and corporate communications.

West also has executive leadership responsibility for the company’s environmental commitments and positions. As part of this initiative, he sits on the board of directors of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a widely acclaimed, independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to advance strong policy and action to address the twin challenges of energy and climate change.

Widely known as a proven hands-on leader, West was uniquely involved in the rebuilding of Entergy New Orleans, Inc. and the great American city that it proudly serves. First, in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck and flooded 80 percent of the city, West was serving as Director of the metro New Orleans region with responsibility of the city’s electric infrastructure. After ensuring the safety of his workforce, many of whom lost homes to the storm, West and his team went to work overseeing a $600 million reconstruction of the nearly destroyed New Orleans electrical infrastructure.

In 2007, as President and Chief Executive Officer of Entergy New Orleans, West led Entergy New Orleans out of bankruptcy and back to profitability, securing Community Block Development Grant funds to alleviate debilitating rate increases on customers. Additionally, he oversaw the industry’s largest natural gas rebuild effort in history - the replacement of approximately 860 miles of underground pipe damaged after Hurricane Katrina. That project was named by the Platts Global Energy Awards as the 2009 Global Infrastructure Project of the Year. Read more.

West joined Entergy Corporation as Senior Regulatory Counsel in April 1999 where he led Entergy’s regulatory transition team in obtaining the necessary government approvals for the proposed merger with Florida Power and Light. In 2001, West was named director of the Entergy New Orleans regulatory affairs department where he managed the 2000-2001 natural gas crisis that drove customer bills beyond levels of affordability.

Before joining Entergy, West was a Senior Attorney in the New Orleans office of Vial, Hamilton, Koch & Knox, L.L.P. commercial litigation department. He also spent five years with the New Orleans-based firm of Jones, Walker, Waechter, Poitevent, Carrere & Denegre, L.L.P. West is a member of the State Bar of Louisiana.

An accomplished problem solver, West is a constant go-to person for civic results in his hometown. In 2010, he led the effort to redevelop the structure and private sector engagement for recreation for New Orleans youth through the creation of the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission and Foundation. He also made the closing arguments to NFL owners on behalf of the city’s bid to host Super Bowl XLVII in 2013.

His charitable and community work are largely focused on education, healthcare, economic development and the rebuilding of south Louisiana and New Orleans. West is a member of the board of directors of First Bank and Trust, First Trust, the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the Edison Electric Institute.

In 2000, he was appointed for a six-year term by former Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster to the Louisiana State University System Board of Supervisors. In 2006, West was reappointed to another term by former Gov. Kathleen Blanco and named board chairman through the 2006 and 2007 academic year. In May 2009, West was named to the University of Notre Dame Board of Trustees. West is a member of the Executive Leadership Council, Sigma Pi Phi fraternity, and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.

West received his bachelor of arts degree from the University of Notre Dame where he lettered three years as outside linebacker and tight end for Lou Holtz and the Fighting Irish’s 1988 National Championship football team. He received his Juris Doctor from the Tulane University School of Law in 1993 and his Masters of Business Administration degree from Tulane University in 2005. He graduated from Brother Martin High School in New Orleans in 1986.
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