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Dallas' 17 Most Influential People

By Jane Humphrey | October 16, 2020 | People

This October we honor the local luminaries leading the charge in our community. From arts and education advocates to innovators finding solutions to current challenges, these formidable forces drive change, pushing Dallas forward for the greater good.

1. Charles Santos


For Charles Santos, executive director/artistic director of TITAS/DANCE UNBOUND, the key to success is compassion and collaboration. For years Santos has been at the forefront taking our arts community to new heights through education and entertainment. Santos and his team are constantly striving to bring the world’s best to Dallas, especially in this current climate. “Can you imagine going through times like this without the arts?” asks Santos. “The arts are essential to civilization. We are working to keep it live and accessible.” Through virtual roundtables with colleagues to further discussions on new initiatives, mandates, health updates and reopening strategies, Santos is hard at work trying to keep this community strong and inspired. “We are doing what we can to be a catalyst for collaboration.”

2. Tyler Seguin


An all-time fan favorite, Tyler Seguin has been playing for the Dallas Stars going on seven years now. Not only does this superstar center shine on the ice, but he soars off the ice within the community. Through his foundation, Seguin’s Stars, the Ontario native has helped to champion underprivileged youth. Seguin partnered with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dallas on various campaigns he credits as some of his biggest contributions—including the creation of a ball hockey court for Boys and Girls Club of Collin County-Frisco.

3. Paige Chenault


As the founder of The Birthday Party Project, Paige Chenault has been on a mission to celebrate the lives of children experiencing homelessness through the magic of birthdays. Spreading the gift of joy at every turn, Chenault’s unwavering efforts have been on full speed since founding her company and have not stopped just as a result of this time. In fact, she seems to have been busier than ever. “During the pandemic, we are providing ‘Birthdays in a Bag’ and gifts for children celebrating their birthdays while staying in homeless and transitional living facilities,” shares Chenault. “We have a presence in 15 communities nationwide because of what we’ve learned from our kind, generous and supportive Dallas community. By sharing virtual birthday wishes with children experiencing homelessness, they’re able to see a member of their community who is rooting for their success and sharing in their birthday joy.” When asked how one can get involved, Chenault says, “Sponsoring a birthday is easier than ever before; $50 provides a kid with a festive, age-appropriate bag full of goodies to help them feel celebrated.”

4. Dr. Suzanne Cole


As medical director of the Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Clinic at UT Southwestern Richardson/Plano, Dr. Suzanne Cole strives to spread grace, kindness and compassion. Her 2020 motto? Keep Going!

How would you describe your mission? My passion—my mission—as a physician and oncologist at UT Southwestern is to expand access to clinical trials to allow patients to receive cutting-edge cancer treatment close to where they live. All patients with cancer deserve to have access to life-saving, novel treatments, regardless of where they live or whether they have access to the resources to travel for a clinical trial.

How are you helping your community? My work focuses on strengthening professional connections, supporting fellow women oncologists and being a voice for community oncologists within our national societies and clinical trial networks. I established an online forum for more than 1,700 women oncologists practicing in the U.S. and abroad. This group has evolved into a vibrant community focused on excellence in patient care and professional development. It gives me great satisfaction to see this global network of strong, smart women inspire each other to be better physicians, better humans, and strive to become our best selves.

5. Michael Nazerian

"Southern Dallas is half of our city, but its residents haven’t been able to enjoy a local, walkable main street that has beautiful public spaces, bars, restaurants, shopping and live music like the rest of our city enjoys. By thoughtfully expanding Bishop Arts by maintaining its charming human-scale main street but evolving the experience to include piazzas and gardens that the public can enjoy, we feel we are providing a ‘town center’ for Oak Cliff, the most diverse neighborhood in our city." —Michael Nazerian, CEO of Exxir

6. Dr. Agustin Arteaga


"The Dallas Museum of Art is a leader in the museum field for the ways it has galvanized community engagement in the arts." —Dr. Agustin Arteaga, Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art

7. Lynn McBee


This civic leader and beloved volunteer is on a mission to build teams and organizations that lead to sustainable solutions for some of Dallas’ most pressing issues. “‘We are all in this together’ is more than just verbiage; it resonates as a fundamental truth,” shares McBee.

How are you helping your community? By keeping my eye out for nascent organizations that address basic human needs and long-lived inequities, such as For Oak Cliff. This is in addition to my perennial involvement and support of more established organizations that continue to tackle some of our city’s most intractable problems.

What are ways people can help? Give your time, treasure and expertise to the things you care about. Say ‘yes’ more than you say ‘no’ and get ready to have a very fulfilling journey. Remember, the more you put in, the more you get out.

What is your 2020 motto? Reach out to those you care about.

What does the world need more of now? Leadership.

8. Dirk Nowitzki

When thinking about the Dallas sports world, a few key names immediately rise to the surface—one of them being Dirk Nowitzki. Although he hung up his green-and-blue jersey last year after 21 seasons, Nowitzki remains a key figure in our city. This basketball legend continues to use his fame and power for the betterment of our community. He is constantly working to pay it forward and has been involved with numerous charitable efforts through the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation, which he established in 2001. Throughout these past few crucial months, Nowitzki has partnered with other notables, including former mentor Mark Cuban, to aid those in need—including donating $100,000 to the North Texas Food Bank to help provide more than 14,000 food boxes.

9. Debra Brennan Tagg & Sejal Desai


Brennan Financial Services President Debra Brennan Tagg and Business Engagement Director for the Communities Foundation of Texas Sejal Desai are spearheading a new initiative, Be In Good Company, with a goal to make North Texas the most “business-engaged” community in the U.S.

How are you helping the community? We believe that businesses are a platform to solve social issues. Be In Good Company creates a structure, a bridge, between this powerful force of good and the organizations that know who is hurting and have a way to help.

2020 motto? To lift ourselves up, we must lift up our community (a paraphrase of the great Booker T. Washington quote, ‘If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else’).

10. OJ DeSouza


“Even in the middle of hardship, there are things that we can do to shine our light and spread hope in our communities.” These words of wisdom, offered by Signature Baking Company President OJ DeSouza, ring so true right now. Signature Baking Company has been the go-to bread source for some of the city’s top eateries, serving the Dallas community for over 42 years. Having had to learn to adapt to its surroundings and lean into the new normal, the company, with DeSouza leading the charge, did so with grace and compassion. “Working in food service, a key ingredient to our business is giving back,” says DeSouza. “We frequently donate to food pantries and nonprofits—something that ramped up significantly during the pandemic to help address the surge in need.”

11. Tom Landis


The founder and CEO of Howdy Retail & Franchising LLC, Tom Landis is on a relentless pursuit to create sustainable jobs for Texans with special needs, one scoop at a time...

How are you helping your community? Howdy Homemade is the first for-profit business staffed by people with special needs. We provide jobs, training programs and awareness of the issues and opportunities associated with employing people with special needs.

What do you hope the world learns from these challenging times? We need to be inclusive of all. No group has been more affected financially, emotionally or devotionally by COVID than those with special needs.

What do you recommend to those who want to follow your lead? You better have faith in something other than yourself because when you step out and try to do what has never been done, there’s a good chance you’re going to either lose yourself or lose faith in yourself. You may change the world, but it won’t be on your timing or terms. But if you’re crazy enough, you can do anything.

What is your 2020 motto? These days are tough, but we are tougher.

What has been your silver lining this year? The people of Big D—everyone being in this together.

12. Riley & Bella Sauter

What started out as a small relief effort in response to the pandemic quickly turned into a full-fledged operation by sisters Riley and Bella Sauter, who founded Feed the People to cater to the homeless community. “We hope that by providing the people on the streets with food, one of the most basic necessities they do not have access to usually, we are also giving them the courage to reincorporate themselves into everyday society,” says Riley Sauter. “We started out with 30 peanut butter and jellies, because it is what we thought we could get done. Once we realized how much we loved the mission, we knew we could accomplish more and were compelled to do so.” Striving to spread the word with the community to help carry out their mission, the sisters have been hard at work since day one, and we have no doubt that, with the way they are impacting the community, these girls will be ones to watch for many years to come.

13. Stacy King


Executive career coach and consultant Stacy King is on a mission to be a catalyst for people to become their best selves—what she describes as “purposeful transformation—a process of exploration, growth and achievement.” King is here to emphasize the importance of one’s well-being—both personally and professionally. In light of the times, King has worked diligently to help people rethink career paths and explore alternative options. She aims to help them find clarity and relevancy. “We’ve never experienced a pandemic before,” says King. “Let go of preconceived notions—be open-minded and don’t judge.” Offering insight, mindfulness and self-discovery with outcome—key tools she learned from the Berkeley Executive Coaching Institute—King is helping her clients find clarity and reach for both their short- and long-term goals with acceptance, compassion, love and humanity, which she emphasizes trumps all.

14. Kit Sawers


"Great parks have great buildings associated with them. I want Dallas to have what’s available in other major cities around the world." —Kit Sawers, President of Klyde Warren Park

15. Tyler Cooper


President and CEO, Cooper Aerobics; Preventive Medicine Physician, Cooper Clinic

How would you describe your mission? The mission of our Cooper Aerobics organization is to improve the quality and quantity of people’s lives, which coincides personally with the mission of my life.

How are you helping your community? As our purpose here at Cooper is to improve both the quality and quantity of people’s lives, we provide effective and tangible solutions to help people live longer, healthier lives. Whether it’s through our preventive medical exams at Cooper Clinic, exercise options at Cooper Fitness Center or workplace wellness facilities at our Cooper Wellness Strategies client sites, we are focused on helping improve the health and wellness of our community. This purpose holds true today as we celebrate our 50th anniversary this year, the same as when my dad established this business in 1970.

What do you recommend to those who want to follow in your footsteps? Ultimate success cannot be quantified. Learn to be content, irrespective of your circumstances, and use those circumstances for the benefit of those around you.

16. Michael Clay & Jon Christopher Davis

With the entertainment industry being one of the hardest hit in light of the pandemic, Jon Christopher Davis and Michael Clay responded the way any artists would—using creativity as a means for positive change. Music industry professional Davis and longtime entertainment and event producer Clay have worked together for over 10 years to help spread the joy of music to disadvantaged and underprivileged youth in Texas. Clay founded the Texas Music Project back in 2003 working directly with children’s hospitals to teach kids how to play instruments, write songs, etc., enlisting the musical talents of Davis. “As part of our continuing efforts, planning is underway of an online library of studies and performances,” shares Clay. “We are raising funds to develop music programs in children’s hospitals that can be recorded and streamed directly to the rooms of the patients.” When asked what the world needs more of right now? “Great songs that connect with people and lift them up,” says Davis. “Songs from the heart, songs that make you laugh and songs that inspire people to appreciate life.”

17. Shelly Slater & Jodie Hastings


The dynamic duo and founders of The Slate launched their “new media” coworking space with a mission to bring people together. Their motto? “Forward motion. We are bridging the gap between virtual engagement and in-person meetings and events. Events are not canceled—they are just different,” the two say. “People can get involved by buying a ticket to a virtual event. The nonprofit sector needs your social network to raise the critical funds necessary to serve our Dallas community.”


Photography by: from top, photos: by brian guilliaux; by marc montoya; courtesy of the birthday party project; courtesy of ut southwestern medical center; courtesy of the dallas museum of art; by bill stipp; by romy modlin-sarembock, romy modlin photography/dfw headshots; by jenn desouza; courtesy of tom landis; courtesy of stacy king; photo by marc montoya; courtesy of cooper aerobics; courtesy of the slate