In celebration of Northern Kentucky’s heritage of business accomplishments, NKY Magazine, in partnership with the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, has created the Northern Kentucky Business Hall of Fame to recognize the rich tradition of success and civic involvement in the region’s business community. The Northern Kentucky Business Hall of Fame honors men and women who have made a lasting contribution to the community in economic, cultural and civic endeavors. Inductees were honored at the inaugural Northern Kentucky Business Hall of Fame event at the Radisson on May 7. This event is sponsored by Ultimate Air Shuttle, Northern Kentucky University’s Haile/US Bank College of Business, Mercedes-Benz of Fort Mitchell, the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, St. Elizabeth Healthcare, the Radisson Hotel Cincinnati Riverfront and ITA Audio Visual Solutions.

   

Matth Toebben
Toebben Companies

Fulfilling the American dream takes plenty of hard work, dedication and courage.

In 1931, Matth Toebben was born in Loup, Germany on his family’s farm. But in 1953, he immigrated to the United States and settled in Northern Kentucky to start a business completely different from farming.

In 1955, he founded what would become Toebben Builders and Developers. It was this business that would lead to his future success. In the same year the business was founded, he started the Fortside Drive residential community in Fort Mitchell. This would lead to later projects like the Country Squire Estates in Villa Hills in 1969. In 1977, he founded Toebben Companies, a real estate development and holding company, followed by Matth Toebben Construction in 1978 to construct commercial and industrial projects.

Toebben’s two sons, John and Bill, operate their father’s company and have watched as their father’s work helped mold the region’s future.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to build 100 luxury estates, and, likewise, made friendships that have helped grow and expand businesses in the community,” says John.

Throughout the rise of Toebben Companies, the elder Toebben has been recognized numerous times for his business success and philanthropy, including the 2006 Alzheimer’s Association Meritorious Philanthropist Award. In 2008, Covington Catholic High School named Matth Toebben the Northern Kentuckian of the Year. He has also established endowment funds at Thomas More College, The Springer School in Cincinnati and Holy Cross Academy in Covington.

–Danny Restivo

 


 

Dr. James C. Votruba
Northern Kentucky University

Dr. James C. Votruba has been around higher education all his life, but he hasn’t lived in an ivory tower.

President Emeritus and Professor of Educational Leadership at Northern Kentucky University, where he was president from 1997 to 2012, Votruba has a keen appreciation for the interaction of education and regional development.

“We often tend to think in terms of silos,” he says. “We have education over here and health care over there and economic development in another place. In fact, if you think about it, any region needs to be much more integrated than those silos are. I felt for the university to thrive, the region in which it was located needed to thrive as well.”

A native of East Lansing, Mich., Votruba grew up in the shadow of Michigan State University and knew working in higher education was where he wanted to be.

Besides teaching at NKU, Votruba chairs the NKY CEO Roundtable, an influential group of the region’s largest employers. He was co-chair of Vision 2015 and remains on its stewardship council.

“The work we did on Vision 2015 was designed first and foremost to create greater economic momentum and growth than otherwise would have occurred,” he says. “The way we did that was not to just focus on jobs, but on creating an environment in which companies can thrive. It was revitalizing the urban core. It was making sure education was the highest quality. It was health care and livable communities and parks and recreation, all the things required for companies to come and grow and for their employees to want to come and raise their families.”

–Mike Boyer

 


 

Donna Salyers
Donna Saylers’ Fabulous-Furs

It all began with wanting a fur coat. Donna Salyers was on her way to the store to purchase a full-length mink coat when a fate-changing radio broadcast came on. The broadcast told a story about kittens that were skinned alive and sold as “mink” teddy bears. An owner of four cats, the idea of purchasing a coat made of kittens was horrifying. Salyers nixed her shopping trip and her Fabulous-Furs was born.

“I thought that people would feel exactly like I would,” says Salyers. “The world would [want] a fake fur coat.”

Twenty-five years and more than 1,200 wholesale accounts later, her furs have become recognizable throughout the world. Originally started in the basement of her Cincinnati home, Donna Salyers first sold faux fur coat sewing kits before blossoming into a leader in fashion apparel. Her company now produces men’s garb, children’s clothing, personalized accessories and home décor.

The company manufactures 60 percent of their product at an 110,000-square-foot facility in Covington, just a short distance from her boutique wedding store in Northern Kentucky’s wedding district.

Donna Salyers’ Fabulous Furs are sold throughout the world through catalogs, the Internet, retail and wholesale. Her products can even be found in stores like Shop HQ and Saks Fifth Avenue.

“People assume we’re on Madison Avenue when they call from New York, but I have to tell them it’s Madison Avenue in Covington, Ky.,” she says.

Her apparel has appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Today Show, and The View, as well as TV shows like CSI and Gossip Girl. She has also been featured in People Magazine andThe Wall Street Journal.

–Danny Restivo

 

 

 

Merwin Grayson
Northern Kentucky Central Bank & Trust

With a banker for a father, Charles Merwin “Mer” Grayson Jr.’s first job was a lowly position at his bank. He remembers cutting freshly printed checks and stacking them for his father’s customers at just 12 years old.

Understanding finance from the ground up fostered Grayson’s leadership and knowledge of the financial sector. He worked with Peoples Liberty Bank, Covington Trust and Banking Company, and The Huntington National Bank. He “retired” from Covington Trust in 2001, but returned when Central Bank called. The company wanted him to lead it as it entered the Northern Kentucky market. The bank now has three locations and approximately $150 million in assets.

Grayson’s accomplishments have attracted countless awards and prestige, but his proudest success comes with his family’s encouragement, especially his wife Susan’s.

“I’m most proud of my family,” says Grayson. “I couldn’t have done anything without her support.”

Throughout his career, Grayson has served on numerous boards, including Chairman of the Board for the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Board Member for the Kentucky State Chamber of Commerce, Thomas More College and Northern Kentucky University.

His son Trey has continued the family’s legacy of success and achievement. After graduating from Harvard University, he returned to his home state and became the youngest secretary of state in Kentucky history when he took office in 2003. After a failed Senate bid in 2012, Trey returned to Massachusetts where he now serves as the director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard.

–Danny Restivo

 

 

 

Wm T. “Bill” Robinson III
Frost Brown Todd

Wm T. “Bill” Robinson III’s decision to not pursue the priesthood has been a blessing for Northern Kentucky and the legal profession.

Robinson, member-in-charge of Frost Brown Todd’s Florence office, has been a high-profile lawyer both nationally and regionally for more than 40 years. The culmination of his legal career was serving in 2011-12 as president of the American Bar Association and only being the third Kentuckian to do so.

He’s also been a central figure in Northern Kentucky business and community activities for decades, currently serving as chairman of the Kenton County Airport Board for the second time. He was a board member from 1998 to 2006 and chairman from 2004 to 2006.

Son of a postal employee who worked two jobs and a devout Catholic mother, Robinson was headed to the priesthood, attending the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Athenaeum of Ohio for five years until deciding in the summer of 1964 that it wasn’t for him. He decided on working with the law instead.

“I did not know a lawyer and had not met a lawyer, but I’d read about lawyers. It seemed to me a career in the law would give me the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of others,” he says.

He graduated from Thomas More College in 1967 and the University of Kentucky College of Law in 1971, where he was inducted into its Alumni Hall of Fame in 2004.

In the late 1980s, Robinson was president of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and helped create the region’s highly successful economic development arm, Tri-County Economic Development Corp.

–Mike Boyer