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Opinion: Personalities, professionalism on point in 40 Under 40

Eyes & Ears

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The future of business is bright – and creative. That’s my takeaway after watching Springfield Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 awards program June 23.

It was a first for all of us. The new coronavirus has created a lot of firsts.

The risks and restrictions of having a large public gathering moved the annual celebration of our community’s top young professionals to a virtual format. Our team innovated to ask each honoree to submit personal acceptance videos. And 40 Under 40 event sponsor Old Missouri Bank also improvised, holding a social-distancing pre-event party in its parking lot – complete with a stage and video screen, and gift bags for recipients.

In their acceptance videos, this year’s top 40 professionals under the age of 40 did not disappoint. I was impressed at how they showed their personalities and professionalism. It gave me hope for the future of business in Springfield, especially so in these times of uncertainty.

Here are my Top 10 videos submitted by the 40 honorees:

1. Thomas Bieker of Environmental Works Inc. stole the show. He performed a playful lip sync of Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” in different shots around the office. His acceptance speech scrolled across the bottom of the screen, and he shared something personal with the hashtag #LeukemiaSurvivor. It was followed by, “I watched from my hospital bed as our social and business lives were forever changed. I realized Springfield’s greatness is not defined by what we are, but who we are.” I think he should go for hire to sing that song around offices in Springfield. “A-hey, hey,” we’re cheering you on, Tommy Holly! Bravo.

2. The creativity of Nicole Chilton shined in her fast-motion video – doing all the things she does these days working from home. You know, handling Springfield Regional Arts Council projects, taking care of kids, creating art, writing a book and maybe sipping a little wine. Thanks for the entertainment, Nicole – wouldn’t expect anything less from you.

3. The fan favorite award goes to Allison Robertson of Empower: abilities. She incorporated a life-size unicorn in a simulated parade in her living room. Enough said. Allison, you created a lot of buzz in our office and I’m sure others. The unicorn for the win.

4. Attorney Andy Peebles interrupts a staged phone call with someone directly under “the president” to film his acceptance video. “No, no, no, you tell the president this is a very exclusive event,” he begins, before looking at the camera. “Didn’t see you come in.” For good measure, he’s holding a pipe and a glass of what looks like whiskey sits on his desk. Clearly, it was an after-hours call. Good comedic relief, Andy, and it’s good to know some people still don’t take themselves too seriously. Well done.

5. The most polished video goes to Adam Toth of Toth and Associates Inc. He brought the production value, for sure. The camera follows Adam as he walks through the firm’s new office under renovations. Clips of him networking and interacting with colleagues, and speaking to a crowd at an event, are woven in. Very professional, sir.

6. Melinda Honey of Skaggs Foundation points to a sign over her shoulder: “Do what you love and love what you do.” Makes you stop and think, doesn’t it? Does that ring true in your life? If so, keep going. If not, consider what that might be and go for it. Thanks for the challenge and encouragement, Melinda.

7. Best view is Branson Planning and Development Director Joel Hornickel’s video with Lake Taneycomo, Branson Landing and the Hilton Hotel over his shoulder.

8. But best scene goes to Molly Miller. She’s standing next to a giant cactus, along with her two children – one, a 4-month-old in her arms. In the time since the 40s were announced, the record-setting Drury University women’s basketball coach gave birth and took a job in Arizona for a new college team. Another reminder of how much has happened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

9. The most unique setting is Austin O’Reilly sitting next to a fire pit on an evening at his brother Matt O’Reilly’s Two Rivers Bike Park. And the Dynamic DNA Laboratories LLC owner has a surprise visit from his two nieces. It’s no doubt family is important to Springfield’s best-known Irish clan, the namesake of O’Reilly Automotive Inc. (Nasdaq: ORLY)

10. Andy Drennen wears multiple hats and showed them in his video, seamlessly splicing his acceptance speech while changing scenes from his Blend For That tea company production area to the Central Trust Co. board room and finally representing Springfield Sister Cities Association as president-elect. Muchas gracias to you, Andy, for all that you do.

Now, there are a couple honorable mentions:

• I appreciate how Katie Buford of Nixa Parks and Recreation slipped in a dig to her brother. “You may have gotten your Ph.D. last month,” she says, “but I don’t see a 40 Under 40 on your desk.” A little sibling rivalry is always fun.

• I spotted a Chicago Cubs hat on someone’s desk, and I have to tip my cap to Joel Thomas of Buf Studio. Joel, from one Cubbies fan in southwest Missouri to another, let’s fly the W.

Now, it’s important we keep them all living and working in the Springfield area. To quote Kirk Baumann of O’Reilly Hospitality Management LLC on his video, “Let’s use this momentum to build and to create a better Springfield.”

Springfield Business Journal Editorial Director Eric Olson can be reached at


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