When the professionals who would become WBJ’s 2021 Business Leaders of the Year started their years anew in January 2020, they could have had no idea the past 15 months would end up like they did. Yet, each of them in their own way, found a path for their organizations to thrive.
In a year where every person and business struggled in some way, leadership often just meant survival. But the four individuals and one nonprofit WBJ is honoring as the Business Leaders of the Year went far beyond that, becoming shining examples not only for their companies, but for the entire Central Massachusetts business community.
The Central Massachusetts professional whose profile rose the highest since the coronavirus pandemic began was Eric W. Dickson, MD, head of UMass Memorial Health Care. From the beginning, he was a leading voice of reason and calm throughout the crisis, spearheaded the DCU Center field hospital, vowed to avoid layoffs, donated his salary, and even worked ER shifts in solidarity with his staff. After George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police in May, Dickson was among the first area executives to call for social justice; he later attended a Black Lives Matter rally put on by staff from UMass Memorial and UMass Medical School.
The Worcester Together fund, the brainchild of United Way CEO Tim Garvin and Greater Worcester Community Foundation CEO Barbara Fields, helped nonprofits stay afloat during the early phases of the pandemic and then later became a source for the nonprofit community to fill voids exposed by the pandemic. Dr. Luis Pedraja, president of Quinsigamond Community College, navigated the latest crisis in higher education by decisively shutting down the QCC campus to avoid community COVID-19 spread, and he was among the most outspoken executives in calling for racial and social justice.
Rodrigo DeOliveira took the opportunity to expand the Worcester institution D’Errico’s Market to a poorer neighborhood, providing another community benefit. All the while, he is getting close to opening his third location, and looking for his fourth. David White, a steady presence at R.H. White Construction Co. since he was 11, has made a career out of treating workers like family, an all-important lesson in a year where much of the workplace culture and camaraderie has been thrown into turmoil.
WBJ will honor these Business Leaders of the Year (along with the WBJ Hall of Fame Class of 2021) in a special virtual event on April 7. The past year has been rough, but with these honorees, we all have something to cheer about.
– Brad Kane, editor