One grew up on a pig farm, another in a housing project in Chester. One was raised in a small town in Illinois, another in a Long Island suburb. One started as a hotel clerk.
They are now the next generation of business leaders in the Philadelphia region, and they will be honored at the Inquirer's second annual Industry Icons Awards event Thursday at the Union League.
These "Emerging Icons" will be recognized along with Business Hall of Fame honorees.
"The Emerging Icons are leaders who are making an important impact in our community, not only through the success of their business ventures, but also through their support of charities and other civic organizations," said Terrance C.Z. Egger, publisher and chief executive of Philadelphia Media Network LLC, parent company of the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com. "Importantly, their careers and contributions are still on the rise."
The five recipients, selected by Inquirer newsroom executives, were among more than 50 nominated by the public from the fields of arts and entertainment, finance, nonprofit, education and medical, legal, manufacturing and production, real estate, and technology.
Anne Ewers grew up in the small town of Ottawa, Ill., but her parents were from big cities and made sure she was introduced "to museums and concerts and listening to the Met [Metropolitan Opera] broadcasts on Saturday afternoons," she said.
"My love of music and theater began early, directing plays in our garage from the age of 6."
Ewers is now the president and CEO of Kimmel Center Inc., which owns and operates the Kimmel Center and the Merriam Theater, and manages the Academy of Music.
In 2007, her first year on the job, the Kimmel Center retired its $30 million construction debt and raised the endowment from $40 million to $72 million.
Before she joined the Kimmel Center, she was president and CEO of Utah Symphony & Opera.
What has been the key to her success?
"My entire career has been shaped by mentors," Ewers said.
"At every point along the way, I have had at least one, if not two or three, mentors, right up to today," she said. "Good things are rarely accomplished alone, and success is tied to getting the right advice or support from the right people."
Michael Robinson grew up at the Ruth L. Bennett public housing development in Chester.
Now he is at Temple University as director of community outreach and hiring in the office of human resources.
"I try to always be a positive role model for young people," Robinson said, adding that his recognition as an Emerging Icon will help those young people "see an African American male in a very positive light."
His main job at Temple is to recruit neighborhood residents in North Philadelphia for jobs at the university. In that role, he annually oversees the largest citywide job fair.
Robinson, who lives in Lansdowne, also serves as the senior pastor at the Greater Enon Missionary Baptist Church in North Philadelphia.
Like Ewers, Robinson said the success he has enjoyed came from "having great mentors."
He also recommends giving back to your community.
"It's important. It breeds leadership," he said.
Doug Tieman grew up on a small family-owned pig farm in Missouri and learned valuable lessons that resonate with him today.
"Farm life teaches everyone responsibility at a very early age," Tieman said. At age 6, "I had to gather eggs every single day. It had to be done."
Tieman is now the president and CEO of Caron Treatment Centers, a nonprofit addiction-treatment organization headquartered in Berks County.
When he was recruited by Caron in 1995, the organization was struggling because of the advent of managed care and had $10 million in annual revenue, half of what it had in 1990.
Today, under Tieman's stewardship, it has more than $100 million in annual revenue.
Tieman, who lives in Sinking Springs, Berks County, said he was "quite humbled and surprised" to be recognized as an Emerging Icon, and viewed it as an opportunity to bring more attention to the national opioid epidemic.
He wrote a book, Flying Over the Pigpen: Leadership Lessons from Growing Up on a Farm, and distilled his advice down to a few key tips:
You need to have "a real clear idea of what you want to do," he said. Then write it down and share those goals with a mentor.
Also important, you need to have "a real clear understanding of what your values are" and make sure they are in alignment with your goals, he said.
Finally, he said, hold yourself accountable.
Eileen C. McDonnell was born and raised in Rockville Centre on Long Island.
"Growing up, I always thought I would be a nurse or a teacher," she said.
But then in college, she became interested in computers.
"I had an instinct that it was going to radically change the world that I lived in and I wanted to be a part of that," she said.
While waiting for a programming job, however, she took a temp job in finance and "never looked back."
McDonnell, who now lives in Doylestown, is the chairman and CEO of the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co., overseeing 1,000 employees and 5,000 financial managers. Penn Mutual is the parent company of Janney Montgomery Scott LLC.
She joined Penn Mutual in 2008 and the following year she was elected the company's first female president.
Her successful career "starts with authenticity. I've always been myself," she said, and a "great appreciation for the people who work around me."
And you should not be afraid to ask for help, she said.
"I never had a person not help."
Wendy Hamilton was born at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and attended Sacred Heart Academy in Bryn Mawr.
In college, she studied marine biology and premed, but then her priorities shifted.
She took a job as a hotel front desk agent at Harrah's in Atlantic City just to "have a job while looking for what I was really going to do with my life."
The casino industry "very much by accident" became her life and 23 years later, Hamilton, who lives in Camden County, is the general manager of SugarHouse Casino, leading a workforce of 1,200 full-time employees.
Last year, the casino completed a $164 million expansion that focused on non-gaming amenities, such as adding seven restaurant outlets, a 10,000-square-foot event center, and an attached parking garage.
"We doubled our size," she said.
Being recognized as an Emerging Icon is "an unbelievable honor," she said. "This is my hometown. I love Philly."
A successful career requires that you create value and create results, she said.