Program Reports

The program write ups as they appear in the meeting bulletins.

Program Report: Kevin Leonard – North Carolina Association of County Commissioners

Like any long journey, progress is often made in small steps with pauses, wrong turns and unexpected obstacles.  It’s all worth it though when during one of those pauses you look up from the road, realize where you are and say “Wow.”

Our guest and the primary presenter on Monday was Kevin Leonard, the Executive Director of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. Mr. Leonard was with us at the invitation of Rotarian and County Commissioner Brenda Howerton. In the upcoming year, Ms. Howerton will assume the presidency of the organization which will mark the first time in the 100 + year history of the organization a commissioner from Durham has held that role.

Before Ms. Howerton introduced Mr. Leonard, the program was introduced by Club Vice President Shelly Green, who, of course, also leads the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau.  She announced that another historical milestone, that is that the NCACC’s Annual Conference will be held here in Durham. This might not have been possible even a few years ago, at least in Downtown Durham. Durham now hosts thousands of annual conferences and this is now possible because of the many new hotels in the area. Older members will remember when Rotary meetings were held in the old Heart of Durham Motel located where the Transportation Hub is now at a time when there was no convention center and the space it occupies now was a line of abandoned retail buildings with decaying art projects in their windows.  The activity in the Convention Center has now reached the point that it has become a problem for the club, forcing us to frequently seek “off-site” locations for our meetings. Indeed, this meeting was hosted again by TROSA at their campus on James Street.

There are 100 counties in North Carolina, represented by an equal number of county managers and 583 commissioners plus sponsors and other officials who will be in town for the Conference in August. This is an important opportunity to showcase Durham’s progress to an important statewide audience.

After a warm introduction by Ms. Howerton, Mr. Leonard first recognized and thanked those in the audience who had chosen to seek elective office and serve in underpaid and underappreciated roles. A primary role of the Association is advocacy in the legislature. Two of their issues during this session have been for allocating more lottery money for school construction and against attempts to regionalize social services.

Each president adopts a theme. The current president who Ms. Howerton will succeed is Fred McClure of Davidson County who focused on the availability of mental health treatment and the opioid epidemic, that is so much in the national news these days.

The inevitable question that arose and was voiced by Rotarian Larry Crane was about managing a group of representatives from every county without falling into the fault lines we see in the legislature created by the divergent interests of rural and urban areas.  Mr. Leonard responded by pointing out that they focus on issues that are common to all counties and work closely with North Carolina League of Municipalities.

My “wow!” moment came when Mr. Leonard ticked off the list of new hotels in Downtown Durham that would be used by the attendees of the August conference.  But his presentation was also an interesting peek under the hood of the machinery of government especially when he mentioned some of the other function of the NCACC, such as the education of new commissioners, research and even risk management. You can learn more about the NCACC at their website

Our thanks again go to all the folks at TROSA for their hospitality.  TROSA itself is another one of those amazing milestones in Durham’s progress.

Program Report: Ellen Andrews – Church World Services Refugee Program

Durham native Ellen Andrews is the Director of Church World Service’s (CWS) Immigration and Refugee Program, one of two organizations of its kind in Durham. During the past eight years, she and her colleagues have assisted over 2,500 individuals from more than 20 countries to resettle into new homes, new jobs, and new lifestyles in the Triangle area. Club President B.C. Dash commended Ellen on her work in the community, noting that many Rotarians’ lives have been touched as we welcome these newcomers to our country, allowing them to reclaim their dignity and build new lives marked by hope and opportunity.

CWS-Durham ( opened its doors in 2009, and works to welcome refugees and immigrants from around the world. As a faith-based global humanitarian organization, CWS is also known for managing CROP fundraising walks. Staff and volunteers base their resettlement work on an empowerment-focused declining model of support designed to enable new arrivals to embark on a path toward self-sufficiency, and ultimately, become completely in control of the direction of their new lives. CWS staff ensure refugees immediate access to food, shelter, and medical care, in addition to providing legal counseling, employment services, and links to community partnerships.

Ellen outlined the thought process that refugees go through before deciding to abandon their home country. “Most of them want, and plan, to return home someday, but unfortunately that is often not the case,” she explained. “While some families, usually those with greater financial resources, have time to plan their escape, many are forced to make a very emotional decision in a short window of time.” Families must decide what, and whom, to take: will elderly family members or small children slow them down? Will travelling be dangerous? How long will the journey take? Do we have financial resources? If so, how long will they last, and how will we access them?

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Program Report: Brian Hamilton – Sageworks


Brian Hamilton reflected on his own career as a successful start-up entrepreneur during Monday’s lunch presentation. Brian was introduced by Don Stanger who praised the series of entrepreneurs we have had in the last few weeks with a retailer and builder and now with Brian’s tech company all thriving in the environment that Durham provides.

As he explained it to a near full house of Rotarians, there are popular images in the media of starting a company, and succeeding in short order. Then, there is the reality that he has encountered over the last two decades as a co-founder of Sageworks.

Many successful startups have some age on them, Hamilton said. Their existence likely lies in years of learning, hard work, revising the game plan and then revising some more.

Today, Sageworks is a successful financial information company based in the Triangle. It helps financial institutions and businesses access complex data by making it easier to understand in narrative form. The company’s numbers-to-narrative proposition ultimately met great success.

But that happy outcome, Hamilton said, was not a fast-growth wonder that “bloomed” in short order.

“What I learned, it takes time to learn,” said Hamilton, a Duke business school graduate who also has appeared as a business pundit on cable news networks. “It takes a long time to learn. I am still learning. It’s the rate at which you learn that will dictate your success.”

Among the basics of business startup success, Hamilton said: “You need the right product.  That’s hard.”

In the case of Sageworks, the entrepreneurs who launched the idea of making financial information accessible and easier initially found an indifferent reaction by potential clients as they made their pitches. Multiple iterations took place, he said, including one “pivot” that focused the product more to the precise needs of banks.

Hamilton also pointed to a key ingredient of successful leadership that might not appear at the top of some textbooks.

“To lead people,” he said, “you need to love them.”

Leaders with that quality will find their employees detect it and will work with the bosses through bad times and good as the whole team works to get better and deliver products that creates even more value for customers than the products cost.

Last, “You really must love your customers. You can never have enough service and love for your customers.”

Submitted by Mark Lazenby

Program Report – Shelley McPhatter – BridgePoint Construction

The Durham Circle of Business

Today’s program was about another enterprising person who left a very secure position in private industry to assume the risks of going into business for oneself. Shelley McPhatter has created a highly successful consulting and construction business in the Triangle. Todd Taylor introduced Shelley whom he got to know through her work for Duke Corporate Education.  Todd pointed out that she had a degree in Ocean Engineering from Florida Institute of Technology. Naturally, he had to point out that building things on land was “piece of cake” compared to building on the ocean.

Shelley has been in the construction business for twenty one years. Early years were spent working out of trailers supervising subcontractors for large construction firms.  She spent eight years as a project manager at Skanska, one of the world’s leading construction and development companies. She called herself a “company girl.”  She was on the “A-Team” with a secure job. She had three young children. Why would she ever leave a job like that?

Nonetheless, she struck out on her own in 2007, founding BridgePoint Construction Services working out of her home. At the time, her twin daughters had just finished day school. She felt rich.The time felt right. But once she got out on her own, “it got scary.”

Her first project was serving as Owner’s Agent on the GreenBridge project in Chapel Hill, a mixed development of commercial and residential space. At the time it was hailed as the “greenest” project in North Carolina. BridgePoint Construction Services works as a consultant with developers, architects, construction firms and others to manage successful and sustainable projects.

Shelley lives in Wake Forest. There are too many family connections to leave, but she loves Durham.  In 2008 she started looking for office space in Durham. She loved the downtown.  She loved the energy. She loved the architecture. And she wanted her business to be part of the community. How often have we heard start-ups and entrepreneurs say the same thing?  South Duke Street has become home for her Durham offices.

In 2013 Shelley founded BridgePoint General Contracting. Projects have included an expansion of American Underground and improvements to the lobby area of Bronto Software.  She has twenty-two clients that are based in Durham.

In 2016 Shelley co-founded BridgePoint Civil, located in Goldsboro, that provides earthwork and site utility service for the Triangle and eastern North Carolina.

Shelley modestly failed to mention that Triangle Business Journal ranked BridgePoint General Contracting as twelfth on the Fast 50 List  of the fastest growing companies in the Triangle in 2016.She attributes BridgePoint’s success to “our people” who treat all professional relationships as partnerships. Personally, she has discovered that “her time is better spent working on the business rather than in the business.”

When asked how, as a woman, she fits into the traditionally male-dominated construction industry, Shelley admitted that coming up through the field there was a lot of cursing and jokes. “I’m good at that!” she retorted.

Submitted by Allen Cronenberg

Program Report: Jennings Brody – Parker and Otis

I was taking notes for this write-up when Jennings Brody, the force behind Parker and Otis at Brightleaf and Chet Miller and Tiny on Parrish Street Downtown, abruptly ended her remarks at 1:00 o’clock. But anyone who was worrying that they might have to go back to work a half hour early, had nothing to worry about.

That was not a problem. The audience of Rotarians was filled with many of the legion of fans of Ms. Brody and her retail savvy, and they were full of questions.

One of those fans was new Police Chief and newer Rotarian C.J. Davis who had discovered Parker and Otis before her family had joined her from Atlanta. She implied this helped her convince them that Durham was a good place and she liked it.

Chief Davis also made it clear that her guys were not responsible for enforcing the parking limits on Parrish Street. This was in response to Ms. Brody’s criticism of the new one hour limits for her new stores on Parrish St. Her point was that such a short limit was counterproductive to creating a vibrant retail environment Downtown. She pointed out that they always encourage their customers to visit other stores in the area and have lunch in many of the new cool places.  A three-hour limit would be her recommendation.

Ms. Brody received many compliments on the selection things in all three stores and was asked how she selected them. Her answer was that she personally selected everything and went on buying trips to nine to eleven trade shows a year.  Just coincidently, Steed Rollins was next to me at my table and our reaction was similar and we looked at each other with big grins. Steed and I once were partners with two other guys in a company that was trying to sell our lines of figurines at these shows.  We weren’t terribly successful, but these shows, if you have never been to one of them, are quite an experience. Ask Steed about the shows and were we stayed in New York, Atlanta and Dallas. Anyhow, we have an appreciation for Ms. Brody’s ability to create the environment she does in her stores with the thousands and thousands of options that she has at these shows.

Ms. Brody also deftly and candidly fielded questions about the business side of starting a retail store. One break that came with its own risks was that she could take over the Fowlers space that had closed after its third owner had given up and was already up-fitted for what she wanted to do. She also praised Self-Help for not only taking a risk in and near Downtown but also for requiring a detailed business plan.  She talked about the proceeds from the Self-Help loan and another $200,000 on credit cards that brought a gasp or two from the audience.

The initial inventory in a new store is a big lump to swallow, of course, and she pointed out how helpful it was to have landlords like Past President Arthur Rogers, who introduced her, that give a break at the beginning of a lease.

On how she got in the retail business, she talked about first selling shoes then as a rep for a candy company and then three years working for Sara Foster running the Fosters in Chapel Hill.

Since I’m a notoriously bad note taker, I usually go to the web to try to fill in the gaps. What I found was an interview of Ms. Brody on the Durham Magazine’s podcast, where she tells a lot of the same story. That can be found at

If you’re new to town or have never been to Parker and Otis, their website gives you a good idea of what you’ve been missing. It can be found at

One thing I did find hard to believe was Ms. Brody’s claim that Parker and Otis went through 71 gallons of Duke’s Mayonnaise every week making their signature pimento cheese.  Come on, really?

Submitted by Jay Zenner

Program Report – Joe Colopy- Founder of Bronto Software

The Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Annual Tribute Luncheon this month celebrated the start-up culture in Durham. The keynote speaker was the founder of MapQuest, Chris Heivly. Chris is also involved in the start-up culture here and started by asking everyone to imagine themselves as 10 year olds who decide to build a fort. His point was that you didn’t do a lot of planning then, you just went out and looked around and built that fort with whatever was available. MapQuest started as an attempt to improve on the trip planners we used to get from AAA.

Listening to Joe Colopy tell the story of how he started and built Bronto Software, my first thought was that I was beginning to see a pattern here and building forts was a good analogy. Bronto was the leading provider of email marketing software for the top 1000 email retailers from 2014 to 2016. Joe sold the company to NetSuite for $50 million in 2015 and it was subsequently acquired by Oracle. By that time Bronto Grew to over 300 people and $50 M in revenue across 5 offices, with headquarters here in Durham on the American Tobacco Campus and other offices in New York City, Los Angles, London and Sydney.

Before sharing all this, Joe told the story of how he and his wife to be, Karalyn, ended up in Durham. When they were both college students in Massachusetts they headed off to Florida for spring break and Durham happened to be where they stopped halfway down. After college, they joined the Peace Corps.

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