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50 Most Powerful People in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Magazine consulted dozens of power brokers and behind-the-scene players to determine and rank the 50 individuals who, in Pittsburgh, make things happen.



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11. Rich Lunak & Jim Jen
President & CEO, Innovation Works / Executive Director, AlphaLab

Innovation Works is a hive of busy bees with Lunak at the center, hand-selecting technology startups that receive seed-stage funding in Pittsburgh. Recognized as one of the most active seed-stage investors in the country, IW has invested $65 million in startups to date. As for Jen, he had the keen foresight to create IW’s mentoring program, AlphaLab, before accelerators were a national trend. Recognized as one of the top accelerators in the world, AL attracts smart talent from an international pool. IW is on the move, having moved into temporary space in what will be a new innovation campus called Nova Place in the refurbished Allegheny Center. Together, they hold the power to set the agenda in the startup community and create the next employers in our region. ◆
 

12. J. Kevin McMahon
President & CEO, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

There may be no one as closely associated with bringing people downtown as McMahon. The Cultural Trust’s empire is vast, including control of (or, at the very least, intimate relationships with) nearly every theater, gallery and other arts venue in the Golden Triangle, as well as major events such as the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, EQT Children’s Theater Festival, regular Gallery Crawls, Highmark First Night Pittsburgh and the 2013 Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts (which was responsible for the downtown visit by a certain rubber duck). McMahon’s 14-year tenure at the helm of the organization already has seen myriad successes; as the Cultural Trust continues to acquire and develop downtown real estate, that’s a trend that shows no signs of stopping.  ◆
 

 

13. Dan Rooney & Art Rooney II
Chairman and President, Pittsburgh Steelers

Without the Rooneys, you’d have to redraw the maps of the North Shore — and without the Steelers, you’d have to recast the region’s character. The elder Rooney, a former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland and key supporter of President Obama’s 2008 campaign, lends his name to the rule that NFL teams must interview a minority candidate for head coaching and senior football operations positions; as of June, it’s being mirrored in soccer, as lower tiers of play in England are implementing the policy. (It’s also been suggested as a potential fix for Hollywood’s gender gap in the director’s chair.) Meanwhile, Art Rooney II — Dan’s son — met in late June with Peduto to discuss the possibility of bringing the Holy Grail to Pittsburgh: a Super Bowl on the North Shore.  ◆

Dan Rooney died on April 13, 2017.
 

14. Kevin Acklin & the Talent City All-stars
Mayor's Chief of Staff and Senior Staff, City of Pittsburgh

When Peduto won the general election in November 2013, he and right-hand man Kevin Acklin — a onetime mayoral candidate himself — set about staffing the office in a novel way. Instead of hiring a bunch of political hangers-on, they partnered with The Pittsburgh Foundation and the University of Pittsburgh and set about scooping up a group of top-notch, diverse directors through their Talent City initiative. Of the 44 individuals they hired, more than half are women and 25 percent are African-American. Among the highlights: Chief Innovation and Performance Officer Debra Lam, who is dragging the city’s technology into 2015; Planning Director Ray Gastil, who’s charged with overseeing the high-profile developments of Almono, the Lower Hill District and Larimer; and Valerie McDonald-Roberts, who held previous roles with the city and county and now is working with housing and nonprofits as the chief urban affairs officer. Acklin, meanwhile, oversees the entire mayoral staff, runs the powerful Urban Redevelopment Authority and serves as the muscle behind Peduto’s initiatives.  ◆

Acklin left the Mayor's office in 2017 and is now Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
 

15. Jim Rohr
Chairman, Carnegie Mellon University Board of Trustees

PNC was one of America’s few financial institutions to make it through the Great Recession unscathed — it actually doubled its revenues by acquiring National City bank of Cleveland in 2008 — thanks to the leadership of then-CEO Rohr. And although he officially retired from his CEO role in 2013, he seems to be even busier today. He sits on 11 boards, including those of General Electric, Allegheny Technologies and EQT, and earlier this year he became chairman of the board of trustees at CMU. As one insider told us: “People still stand up and salute him — he’s that well-regarded.”  ◆
 

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power." Abraham Lincoln


PHOTO BY BECKY THURNER BRADDOCK
 

16. Janera Solomon
Executive Director, Kelly Strayhorn Theater

Ask those in the art community who is most responsible for saving downtown’s August Wilson Center for African American Culture and they’ll open with a strategic response — many factors, unsung heroes, group efforts and so on. Then, when they’re being direct, they’ll name Solomon. The Guyana-born arts advocate and executive possesses an ability to bring disparate interests to the table to develop sustainable and forward-thinking plans for arts organizations, including in her work with East Liberty’s Kelly Strayhorn Theater, where she is executive director. Her talents may have had more to do with the August Wilson Center’s survival than any other factor — which bodes well for her ongoing efforts to turn a four-block stretch of Penn Avenue around the Kelly Strayhorn into a thriving cultural district.  ◆
 

17. Christina Cassotis
CEO, Allegheny County Airport Authority

Pittsburgh International Airport has struggled since U.S. Airways cut back its operations in 2004, but  Cassotis, who was hired in December 2014 by Rich Fitzgerald, is reinvigorating the terminal. Five small airlines — including Allegiant, Porter, Sun Air, Sunwing and OneJet — are lined up to offer services this year, while Cassotis is pushing to add more flights to both international locations and California to help connect our burgeoning tech community with investors. The terminal itself also has been revamped, with the addition of a mothers’ nursing lounge and other improvements. ◆
 


PHOTO BY BECKY THURNER BRADDOCK
 

18. Morgan O’Brien
President & CEO, Peoples Natural Gas

Many business leaders see reaping rewards for corporate shareholders as their only mission. O’Brien is convinced that investing in the Pittsburgh region will pay dividends for his company — Pennsylvania’s largest natural gas distributor and a leader in the growing shale energy economy. As chairman of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, he’s been instrumental in widening the organization’s scope to look at the region as a whole. He’s also helped the United Way to push through a statewide 211 number to connect people with housing and health services. Finally, he oversaw Peoples’ purchase of Equitable Gas in 2013 — a rare service-provider transition that wasn’t hell on customers. Other utility owners: This is how it is done.  ◆
 

19. David Malone
President & CEO, Gateway Financial

As the leader of a company that provides investment and insurance services to massive corporations, Malone has regular access to some of the wealthiest and most powerful individuals around. He leverages those connections as a major Democratic fundraiser and philanthropist, sitting on the boards of the United Way and The Pittsburgh Foundation and as a trustee at the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and Robert Morris University. “He can pick up the phone and get somebody to do something,” one observer told us, “just because he says it’s important.”  ◆
 

20. Laura Ellsworth
Partner-in-Charge, Jones Day

Litigator Ellsworth may have lost a little sway when her bud, former Gov. Tom Corbett, lost his re-election campaign in 2014 — she had served as the co-chair of his 2011 inauguration, and he had appointed her to the state’s board of governors for higher education and the state council on privatization and innovation. Still, her influence extends beyond the Republican party and into the philanthropic world, with her roles as chair of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and on the boards of the McCune Foundation and Imani Christian Academy, among others. As one high-profile individual told us: “By the dint of her personality, relationships and delivery, she builds a coalition of people.”  ◆
 

Next: 50 Most Powerful People in Pittsburgh #21-30
 

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