Steering the Ship: Top CEOs/CFOs 2021
South Jersey’s top executives who have charted a course for success in their organizations.
In uncertain times, we instinctively look to leaders to provide stability. The past year presented challenges that hadn’t been experienced in generations, and the CEOs and CFOs of South Jersey’s businesses were faced with difficult decisions. Not only did they need to draw on their corporate acumen, but their empathy too, as they successfully fostered their company’s workforce through an unprecedented time. The men and women recognized on this list show that it takes more than a degree to manage a business—it also takes resilience and humanity. We proudly present the 2021 Top CEOs/CFOs.
LeAnne Stewart | CFO, Women’s Axia Health
Stewart has more than three decades of experience as a chief financial officer across various industries. Her career began at Ernst & Young, followed by CFO roles at Nash Finch Company, a publicly traded grocer, and Granite Construction, a civil construction and materials company. Stewart moved into the health care industry as CFO of CRC Health Group where she played an integral role in its successful sale to Acadia Healthcare for $1.2 billion. She was also CFO of 21st Century Oncology, which provides integrated cancer care across the globe, and joined Axia in 2018. Stewart holds an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and is a certified public accountant and certified management accountant.
“While profitable growth has always and will always be a cornerstone, business leaders today have a responsibility to matters beyond those that are purely financial. Our teams need leaders who are empathetic, build resiliency and create community through communication. Uncertainty surrounds us—arguably now more than ever before—and to be effective managers we must anticipate and plan for the unexpected, empower agility in our teams and transform our operations to drive better results.”
Stanley Middleman | President and CEO, Freedom Mortgage Corporation
Since founding Freedom Mortgage in 1990, Middleman has grown the company into one of the largest U.S. originators and servicers, with more than 10,000 employees and contractors across 100 locations. Middleman is an active member of the Mortgage Bankers Association, where he serves on both the board of directors and the residential board of governors. In 2019 he received the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Greater Philadelphia Award in the financial services category. A strong supporter of U.S. servicemen and women and veterans, he received the 2018 Liberty USO Chairman’s Award, and last year the company and its employees donated over $2.6 million to support several organizations including Feeding America, Salvation Army and Toys for Tots. Middleman also serves on several nonprofit boards, including Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.
“The hardest decision ever made in my career was letting go of running many of the day-to-day operations of my business. Having built Freedom Mortgage from the ground up, I was involved in every aspect of the business for years. I made the tough decision to delegate authority, responsibility and accountability to many of my skilled teammates. … The silver lining to this tough decision was that it offered career growth opportunities to others, which provided more fuel to grow the business.”
Jason Cesare | CFO, NEST
Cesare joined NEST in 2018 as CFO and oversees the company’s financial planning and reporting, accounting, sourcing, investment strategies, mergers and acquisitions, tax and treasury functions. Cesare joined NEST from Sneaker Villa, Inc. where he served as VP finance, planning and analysis and helped build profitability by an over 80% run rate. Cesare has also held various positions in financial management with Charming Shoppes and Robinson Luggage. He also spent 10 years at A.C. Moore, growing into the senior vice president finance of the company and assisted in its growth from $87 million to $650 million. Cesare has a bachelor’s in accounting from West Chester University.
“Signing off on closing a division was the toughest decision I’ve had to make in my career, knowing that this would affect many families. Even though it was the right business decision, there’s the human factor that can’t be ignored. Knowing how difficult this was, I was able to provide outplacement services to ensure we provided assistance for their transition to new opportunities. In this experience, and in days like today with COVID, empathy must be top of mind.”
Alice Gens | Chief Operating Officer/CFO, New Jersey Business & Industry Association
Gens joined the NJBIA, one of the nation’s largest statewide employer associations, as its CFO in 2015. Her responsibilities included overseeing the controller, human resources and information technology departments. Within two years, Gens assumed the newly created chief operating officer position at NJBIA, while maintaining the role of CFO. Gens has over two decades’ experience in fiscal operations, which began at AT&T and progressed to nonprofit and association management. She obtained an MBA from La Salle University and bachelor’s from Rutgers University.
“The biggest challenge today, especially during a pandemic, is the speed in which you need to make critical decisions. Because information is moving so quickly, oftentimes it doesn’t afford the necessary amount of time to study data or consumer behavior to best inform those decisions. When that happens, you need to be able to rely on experience, instinct and your team. I’m very fortunate to have a smart and collaborative team at NJBIA to help with those decisions.”
Susan Manzi | CPA, MHA, CFO, Samaritan
As chief financial officer, Manzi oversees all of the organization’s financial operations including strategic financial planning, budgeting, forecasting, accounting and revenue cycle. Manzi has more than 18 years of accounting and operations experience in health care. She previously served as vice president of accounting and revenue cycle at Regional Women’s Health Management, and most recently as CFO at Axia Women’s Health. She earned a master’s degree in health care administration from Ohio University and a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Rider University. Manzi is a certified public accountant and a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
“The most difficult decision in my career turned out to be the best decision I ever made. After leaving my prior position after 20 years to join the Samaritan team, I am very proud to serve on the Samaritan senior leadership team where meeting the needs of our patients is the highest priority. … As the region’s preferred provider of life-enhancing care, we work to ensure that Samaritan is financially sound and lead the advancement of hospice, palliative medicine and primary care with extraordinary compassion and expertise.”
Mick Beekhuizen | Executive Vice President, CFO, Campbell Soup Co.
Beekhuizen was appointed to his current position in September 2019, which includes responsibility for leading Campbell’s tax, treasury, audit, investor relations, external development, corporate financial planning and analysis, and financial systems, as well as the company’s information technology group. He previously held a similar role at Chobani for three years and before that, Education Management Corporation. Beekhuizen, who spent 13 years with Goldman Sachs, earned his master’s in industrial engineering and management from The University of Twente in the Netherlands.
“Making difficult decisions is a major part of the role of a CFO. By leveraging both my engineering and private equity background, I am very fact-based when it comes to decision making. Whether the situation has been capital allocation, value creation or leaving colleagues behind for a new career opportunity, the difficulty is not the decision itself since I know it will be supported by fact, but knowing the impact the decision will have on employees, customers and other stakeholders.”
Jake Jones | CEO, The Arc of Gloucester
Jones is an Army veteran who served in military intelligence at bases in Massachusetts and New Jersey. His post-military education focused on music, with plans to become a teacher. He obtained a master of arts from Rutgers University-Camden and it was there he gravitated toward working with people who had intellectual and developmental disabilities. In January 2020, Jones became the CEO of The Arc Gloucester just as COVID-19 was about to change the economy, however, the opportunity generated new pathways to currency, recruitment, program development, quality of care and staff appreciation initiatives. Jones serves on boards throughout New Jersey, including as officer of the veteran alumni chapter of Rutgers University and the Gloucester County Human Services Advisory Council.
“These times call for transformative leadership that is intuitive, informed, collaborative and bold. The pandemic has exacerbated the burden on leaders to meet the demands of ever-changing compliance/regulatory standards, as well as retaining and recruiting staff. Communication across the organization can be very challenging too. Leaders have to balance all this while continuing to recognize trends and leverage opportunities as they present themselves. We always have to see the big picture.”
Tim Sullivan | CEO, New Jersey Economic Development Authority
Steve Cocchi | senior vice president, CFO, South Jersey Industries