The 21 Most Powerful People in Boston Business

By Jay Fitzgerald and Scott Van Voorhis

powerful business people boston

Portraits by Ken Richardson

Back in the ’90s, Boston was a very different city. The Seaport was desolate, casinos were still a glimmer in developers’ eyes, and the same old boys’ network was running the show. What a difference 20 years makes. These days, the Hub’s top power brokers include a whole new cast of characters, from the biotech and nonprofit worlds to education and advertising. The one thing they have in common? They’re all shaping the future of business in our city—through smart development, forward-thinking technology, and, in some cases, good old-fashioned fun. If you want to know what the Boston of tomorrow is going to look like, just ask these 21 powerful influencers.

david torchiana power 2017

The 800-Pound Gorilla

David Torchiana

President and CEO, Partners HealthCare

With the Harvard-affiliated Mass General and Brigham and Women’s still among its member hospitals, Partners remains the region’s most respected healthcare provider, and under president and chief executive David Torchiana, it can and will be heard during these tumultuous times for the industry. Despite calls for price controls and potentially deep cuts in federal funding in the age of Trump, Torchiana is passionate about protecting Partners’ position as one of the top medical research institutions in the world—and he’s served notice that he’ll oppose any reforms challenging the organization’s interests. Since taking over in 2015, it’s been a particularly rocky road, including proposed mergers with Hallmark Health System and South Shore Hospital that failed amid intense political opposition. Still, as Partners goes, so goes healthcare in Massachusetts.

amos hostetter power 2017

The Benefactor

Amos Hostetter

Cofounder and trustee, the Barr Foundation

No one would have blinked had cable pioneer Amos Hostetter bought some private isle in a warmer clime and sailed off into the sunset after selling Boston-based Cablevision for billions back in 1996. Fortunately for us, he and his wife, Barbara, doubled down on their city, turning their Barr Foundation into one of the largest private charities in New England. After keeping an extremely low profile for years, the Hostetters are now playing a leading role in shaping the future of the Seaport District, giving millions to public and private planning efforts to steer growth along the waterfront, and to activist groups pushing back against a surge of large condo-tower proposals. Longtime Boston residents, Amos and Barbara say they want the Seaport to be accessible, lively, and handsome for future generations—and the Barr Foundation has the bucks to make their voices heard for years to come.

abigail johnson power 2017

Banking & Finance
The New Boss

Abigail Johnson

Chairman and CEO, Fidelity Investments

After toiling at her family firm for nearly 30 years, Abigail Johnson is now fully in charge—not her father, the legendary Edward C. “Ned” Johnson III, nor her grandfather, Fidelity founder Edward C. Johnson II. Abigail’s promotion to chairman late last year couldn’t have come at a more critical time for the mutual-fund powerhouse: As investors increasingly shift money to lower-fee index funds, Fidelity’s flagship managed mutual funds have taken a hit, forcing it to introduce new products. Whatever happens next, count on Abigail, who presided over record revenues last year, to lead Boston’s financial services industry into the future.

lee pelton power business boston

Photograph by Ken Richardson

Higher Education
The Dreamer

Lee Pelton

President, Emerson College

At a time when a liberal arts education is losing some of its shine, Lee Pelton is putting Emerson College in the spotlight as a leader in training future members of the creative class. After taking the reins six years ago, Pelton gave a major boost to Emerson’s national and international cred in 2014 with the rollout of a state-of-the-art satellite campus on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Still, he hasn’t neglected his hometown: Pelton is currently overseeing a major expansion of Emerson’s downtown Boston campus that will boost the number of students living there by 33 percent, to nearly 2,600. A 380-bed, 18-story dorm tower is slated to open this fall, while the renovation and expansion of the historical Little Building, set to kick off this spring, will add hundreds of additional units and help reduce competition for rentals in Boston’s overheated apartment market. The guy even succeeds when he doesn’t build, such as when he put the kibosh on an unpopular plan to turn the Colonial Theater into a student dining hall. Pelton thinks big and believes liberal arts students can make it in a capitalist society, which is why Emerson Launch was recently started to provide aspiring student entrepreneurs with mentors, office space, and funding. “Emerson helps to energize Boston just as the college is energized by our city,” Pelton says. “The future of Emerson and the future of downtown are inextricably linked and bound together.”

jody adams power business boston

Photograph by Ken Richardson

The Tastemaker

Jody Adams

Co-owner, Saloniki, Porto, and Trade

It’s hard to miss Jody Adams’s Rialto when she keeps opening cutting-edge eateries. Best known for decades of culinary wonders at the now-closed Harvard Square institution, the chef and restaurateur has most definitely moved on, as co-owner of Trade and now Porto, a Mediterranean-inspired hot spot that opened last summer. But what’s creating buzz—and raising eyebrows—is Adams’s Greek-themed fast-casual venture, Saloniki, which she launched in the Fenway in March 2016. Are Adams and her partners, Jonathan Mendez and Eric Papachristos, on their way to creating a quick-service gyro empire? They already expanded to Cambridge this past January and there are plans for a number of Salonikis in the works, though Adams isn’t tipping her hand on when or how many. She isn’t stopping there, though. Long known for her support of local farms and the Greater Boston Food Bank, the chef is also planning to become more active in promoting and shaping the entire Boston restaurant scene, working with other industry pros to address thorny issues such as immigration, wages, and healthcare costs. “The business of doing restaurant business in Boston is changing,” Adams says. “New policies, pressures, and social behavior require engagement.” As does her other high-profile culinary cause: “I will continue to actively promote women in the restaurant world through support of restaurants run by women, both in front and as chefs, bringing awareness to the significant role we play.”

john henry power 2017

The Comeback Kid

John Henry

Publisher, Boston Globe; principal owner, Boston Red Sox

As principal owner of the Red Sox, John Henry managed what some thought was impossible: end an 86-year championship drought with three World Series triumphs. Now Henry has perhaps a bigger challenge ahead: keeping the Globe, which he bought in 2013, alive amid declining circulation and advertising across the industry. He’s introduced new digital products and is even selling off the paper’s Dorchester headquarters and moving the newsroom downtown. Will it be enough to prevent more staff buyouts? The task of turning around the Globe may seem impossible, but Henry has done it before.

abbie celniker power 2017

Life Sciences/Biotech
The Trailblazer

Abbie Celniker

Interim CEO, Goldfinch Bio; partner, Third Rock Ventures

If Abbie Celniker has her way, she won’t be such a rarity in the future. As the former CEO of Eleven Biotherapeutics, Celniker is one of the few women to reach the top within the traditionally male-dominated life-sciences industry—and her career keeps getting hotter. Last year she became a partner at Third Rock Ventures, a Boston VC firm that invested millions in the kidney-disease research startup Goldfinch Bio and put Celniker in charge of getting the firm up and running. She was also appointed chair of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, where she’s used her clout to help other women move up the corporate ladder. By spearheading a campaign to increase diversity at biotech, pharmaceutical, and medical-device firms and signing an open letter with more than 100 other prominent life-sciences leaders outlining principles for gender diversity, Celniker has made it clear that she doesn’t intend to be alone at the top.

steve samuels power 2017

The Catalyst

Steve Samuels

Chairman and principal, Samuels & Associates

Some developers are showmen. Others, like Steve Samuels, prefer to work behind the scenes, changing the face of their city without most people knowing it. After turning the once-scruffy Fenway neighborhood into one of Boston’s hottest districts with the hip Verb Hotel and the Van Ness, Fenway Triangle Trilogy, and 1330 Boylston projects, Samuels is continuing on to an underused part of the Back Bay, where he and developer Adam Weiner are planning to build mixed-use towers above and around the Mass. Pike where it passes underneath Boylston Street. But he hasn’t forgotten about the Fenway: His firm is currently finishing up Pierce Boston, a residential and retail tower designed by Miami-based Arquitectonica, and will soon begin work on a 1.1-acre park, complete with trees and benches, in front of Landmark Center. Samuels may shun the spotlight, but his ambitious work tends to speak for itself.

john fish power 2017

The Establishment

John Fish

Chairman and CEO, Suffolk Construction

After Mayor Marty Walsh took office in 2013, some observers of the city’s business and political scene wondered how John Fish would fare. After all, the construction magnate was known as the favorite builder of Boston’s longest-serving mayor, the late Tom Menino. They needn’t have worried: Under Walsh, Fish’s stature in Boston has reached new and greater heights. After wrapping up construction on Millennium Tower last year, Fish is now leading the charge on the $2.4 billion Wynn casino in Everett, not to mention the Four Seasons condo and hotel tower taking shape in the Back Bay, all while serving as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Even more impressive is his drive: In a field full of workaholics, Fish is considered among the most ambitious, known for starting his days at 4:30 a.m. It’s one big reason you can expect him to remain one of the city’s top players for years to come.

jim davis power 2017

The Running Man

Jim Davis

Chairman, New Balance

Jim Davis continues to leave a larger-than-life footprint on the Boston business landscape. Not content to have simply transformed his six-employee business into a global athletic-shoe powerhouse with revenues of $3.7 billion, Davis is now creating an entirely new neighborhood, dubbed Boston Landing, on the Allston–Brighton line. He started with a new world headquarters for New Balance and a practice facility for the Bruins, but that was just the beginning for his firm’s NB Development Group, which last autumn broke ground on a Celtics practice center and a separate 295-unit residential complex. This spring a new commuter rail station, funded by New Balance, will begin shuttling passengers on the Framingham/Worcester Line. Is Davis finished at Boston Landing? Not even close. Keep an eye out for a future office building, a boutique hotel, a sports complex, and other amenities planned for Boston’s new “wellness district.”

sara myerson power 2017

City Planning
The Architect

Sara Myerson

Director of planning, Boston Planning & Development

Looking for intel on Boston’s next “it” neighborhood? Ask Sara Myerson. As the BPDA’s director of planning, Myerson is shaping the city’s future, from deciding which areas need to be preserved to determining which are ready for takeoff, via rezoning and other initiatives. Myerson, who previously worked on the city’s Imagine Boston 2030 effort, is already being credited with opening up Southie’s Andrew Square area to new development and is now eyeing Dorchester, specifically the Freeport Street/Glover’s Corner area, as one of the next supercharged hot spots.

john barros power business boston

Photograph by Ken Richardson

The Hero

John Barros

Chief of economic development, City of Boston

Maybe it’s a good thing John Barros didn’t win his bid for mayor in 2013. After failing to make it past the preliminary election, the Roxbury native and son of Cape Verdean immigrants promptly threw his support behind Marty Walsh, a decision for which he was later rewarded with a crucial role in his longtime friend’s administration. From his new post in City Hall, Barros proceeded to help pull off one of the biggest economic coups in recent Hub history: convincing General Electric to relocate its global headquarters from Fairfield, Connecticut, 160 miles north to Boston. After an initial meeting between Walsh and GE executives, Barros took charge, forming a team of 16 city officials to craft an incentives package that ultimately helped entice the corporate giant to a 2.4-acre site in the Seaport District (for more, see “Jeff Immelt Is All In”). For Barros, it was just the latest milestone in a meteoric business and political rise that began at age 17 when he was elected to the board of directors at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, a nonprofit he would later lead after working in the insurance industry, owning a restaurant, and serving on the Boston School Committee. But Barros isn’t resting on his laurels—he’s pursuing tech giants on the West Coast in hopes of luring them to Boston, pushing for development in outer neighborhoods, and seeking more liquor licenses to support new restaurants in underserved areas of the city.

amy latimer power business boston

Photograph by Ken Richardson

The Ringmaster

Amy Latimer

President, TD Garden

Amy Latimer is fast becoming Boston’s empress of fun. As head of one of the city’s top entertainment and sports hubs, the TD Garden chief last year took the party to City Hall Plaza, where she won rave reviews for transforming the urban tundra into a winter wonderland of ice skating and chocolate fountains. Now Latimer is pushing to create a new state sports commission to attract major athletic events to Massachusetts—and to TD Garden, of course. Most recently, she set her sights on making Boston a major part of NCAA March Madness, bringing the men’s Eastern Regionals back to the Hub in 2018.

brian lang power business boston

Photograph by Ken Richardson

The Negotiator

Brian Lang

President, Unite Here Local 26

Brian Lang may not be a household name in Boston, but as president of the union that represents 10,000 local hotel and food-service workers, he’s wrung decent wages and benefits from haughty university presidents and corporate behemoths for countless households. Lang took over as president of Unite Here Local 26 in 2011, having worked his way up the union ranks organizing workers in industries ranging from meatpacking to childcare. Under Lang’s leadership, the union has more than doubled its membership and now represents employees at 80 workplaces in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, including the Fairmont Copley Plaza (pictured here) and Hotel Commonwealth. Lang and Local 26 recently scored one of their biggest victories, winning a new contract—with more-stable pay and affordable health benefits—last fall for more than 700 Harvard University dining-hall workers after a headline-grabbing 22-day strike. But it’s not all about cold, hard cash: Lang is also looking for ways to protect his majority-immigrant membership, who hail from as far away as the Cape Verde islands and China, against the Trump administration’s deportation efforts, pushing contract language that would require hotels and colleges to call the union if ICE agents show up, and to bar entry if they don’t have valid warrants. “Our ability to be successful as a union really in many ways hinges on our ability to defend our immigrant workforce from the attacks that have been threatened and seem to be encouraged by the present administration,” Lang says. “It’s a union issue to us.”

robert kraft power 2017

The Champ

Robert Kraft

Chairman and CEO, Kraft Group; owner, New England Patriots and New England Revolution

Always adding to his empire, Kraft knows how to get what he wants, on the field and off. His next goals, besides seeing the Pats bring home a sixth Super Bowl trophy, include building a new stadium in Boston for his New England Revolution soccer team and securing regular weekday commuter-rail service to Foxboro. Kraft, who’s been aching for a more intimate soccer stadium for years, is now eyeing the former Bayside Expo Center. Meanwhile, the weekday rail service would funnel even more fans and shoppers to Gillette Stadium and Patriot Place—another potential score for the perennial winner.

jill medvedow power 2017

The Visionary

Jill Medvedow

Director, Institute of Contemporary Art

It’s hard to think of anyone who has made a bigger splash on Boston’s arts scene in the past two decades than Jill Medvedow. And it’s hard to picture what the city’s booming but architecturally challenged Seaport District would be without the ICA’s stunning waterfront palace, which Medvedow made possible by raising tens of millions of dollars in a visionary—and relentless—campaign. Now the ICA’s fearless leader is expanding the museum’s footprint to the city’s next development frontier on the other side of the harbor, unveiling plans to open a $10 million exhibition space along East Boston’s waterfront. The new “Watershed,” slated to take shape in an old copper-pipe shop, will double the ICA’s space for showing off its work while enlivening Eastie’s fast-growing but still raw harborside. Stay tuned, for where Medvedow goes, things tend to happen.

carol fulp power 2017

The Networker

Carol Fulp

President and CEO, the Partnership

As head of the Partnership, Carol Fulp is working to change the face of Boston’s business community, helping companies attract, develop, and retain multicultural professionals in a town not exactly known for corporate diversity in upper management and boardrooms. With a staff of seven, a nearly $3 million budget, and corporate backers such as Liberty Mutual, TJX, and Biogen, the Partnership funnels about 350 executives and professionals a year through its leadership programs, including a networking and idea-sharing opportunity for C-suite execs that Fulp recently created in conjunction with former Governor Deval Patrick and his wife, Diane. Currently on the boards of Eastern Bank and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, among other institutions, Fulp knows the caliber of talent corporations require, having previously worked at John Hancock Financial, WCVB, and Gillette. She’s both an inside player—and an outside game changer.

jeff bussgang power 2017

Venture Capital
The Revolutionary

Jeff Bussgang

General partner, Flybridge Capital Partners

Jeff Bussgang wants to change the world, and he has the power, money, and vision to do it. When he’s not helping oversee the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in tech startups, the self-described serial entrepreneur is throwing himself into progressive causes, including the launch of the Alliance for Business Leadership, an increasingly influential group of corporate execs who serve as a counterweight to traditional business groups on issues related to the minimum wage, taxes, diversity, and energy. Bussgang has also cofounded the pro-immigrant Global EIR Coalition and cochairs the anti-bigotry Facing History and Ourselves, and he hasn’t been shy about jumping directly into politics, such as when he served as finance chair for Democrat Seth Moulton’s first successful congressional run, in 2012. The bottom line, for Bussgang, is that a VC’s bottom line is not enough for society.

andrew graff power 2017

The Rising Star

Andrew Graff

CEO, Allen & Gerritsen

Andrew Graff’s official title on Allen & Gerritsen’s website is chief executive officer, but his more important role might be the one mentioned directly below it: “challenger of the status quo.” That’s exactly the way Graff sees his independent ad agency positioned in a sea of nationally and internationally owned companies operating today in Boston. Since taking the helm at A & G in 2005, Graff has steadily grown the firm, moving operations from Watertown to the Seaport and acquiring Philadelphia’s Neiman Group in 2013. Today, Allen & Gerritsen, with 200 employees in Boston and Philadelphia, has a client list most agencies only dream of: GE, Sunoco, Dietz & Watson, Yuengling, Comcast, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and the Boston Celtics, among others. Graff’s ambitious goal for Allen & Gerritsen moving forward? Doubling its size within five years. How many other local ad agencies can say that?

mo cowan power 2017

The Diplomat

Mo Cowan

Vice president, litigation and legal policy, General Electric

They still refer to Mo Cowan as “Senator,” out of respect for his stint as Massachusetts’ interim U.S. senator after John Kerry vacated the seat in 2013. But it’s more than just ceremonial deference. Cowan, also a former top aide to Governor Patrick and later CEO of the influential ML Strategies lobbying firm in Boston, continues to wield significant power as vice president of litigation and legal policy at General Electric, where he’ll draw on his connections to handle thorny local issues including building the company’s new headquarters in the Seaport and securing a promised $145 million in tax breaks.

jason robins power business boston

Photograph by Ken Richardson

The Gambler

Jason Robins

Cofounder and CEO, DraftKings

Jason Robins believes in Boston. So much so that he and his cofounders once turned down $20 million in venture funding when investors insisted they move operations for their daily-fantasy-sports site to Silicon Valley, where so many other Boston startups eventually land (think Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook). That Robins and DraftKings opted to stay in Boston is a mini wonder. That DraftKings has even survived, in Boston or anywhere else, is a mini miracle. Perhaps no other tech venture since Napster, the peer-to-peer music-sharing service developed by Brockton’s Shawn Fanning, has been such a business disrupter—or the target of such sustained legal challenges. From New York to Nevada, prosecutors and regulators have launched repeated legal assaults against DraftKings, arguing that it’s a form of gambling rather than a skills-based game, as its founders claim. (A truce has since been called, allowing DraftKings to operate in New York, but it’s still not allowed in 10 states.) Yet the controversies haven’t stopped the company, as it continues to attract subscribers, court big-name investors, and make major waves in the industry: Last year, DraftKings and FanDuel, its New York archrival, announced they would merge, keeping dual headquarters in Boston and the Big Apple. That led to fears that DraftKings, now Boston’s hottest tech firm, with 350 workers, might end up headquartered in New York. No way, says Robins, who envisions DraftKings anchoring the local consumer tech scene, similar to Apple and Google in Silicon Valley: “I want everyone to know we’re here to stay.”


Photographs by brian snyder/reuters (johnson); jeffrey brown (henry); john earle (celniker); bob o’connor (samuels); suffolk construction (fish); tim ireland/ap images (davis); trevor reid (myerson); scott m. lacey (kraft); asia kepka (medvedow); jeffrey brow (bussgang); allen & Gerritsen (graff); charles krupa/ap images (cowan); courtesy photos (torchiana, hostetter, fulp)

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