Leadership

John O. Hudson III
Chairman

Hudson is a licensed attorney who has been executive vice president and chief external and public affairs officer at Southern Company Gas since September 2018. He is also president of the company’s foundation, which focuses on philanthropic and volunteer initiatives. Effective September 1, 2020, he also will be president and CEO of Nicor Gas.  

While in his prior role as senior vice president of marketing and business development at Alabama Power Company, Hudson was primarily responsible for the concept and founding of Bronze Valley — an outgrowth of his professional and personal commitment to innovation, diversity and entrepreneurship.

In 2015, Hudson was selected for the prestigious Aspen Institute Ascend Fellowship, which brings together an exclusive group of diverse leaders from across the United States to work on breakthrough ideas to build economic security, educational success and positive health and wellness outcomes for low-income families in America. In 2018, he participated in the Harvard Business School Young American Leaders Program, which convenes leaders from across the country who are working across sectors to help their communities prosper. He sees strong connections between those opportunities and his role with Bronze Valley.

“We can build a better future by creating and perpetuating a culture of innovation,” Hudson says. “Not just in Birmingham and Alabama, but throughout the Southeast, we have the momentum and the ingredients to succeed. Bronze Valley is building the collaborative infrastructure needed to support transformational growth and progress.”

Neill Wright

Neill S. Wright
President

Wright is a co-founder of Bronze Valley and the organization’s president. He has more than 25 years of experience as an investor, entrepreneur and operating executive. In addition to working in the banking industry and founding several companies, Wright has been a consultant focused on advising and raising capital for growth companies in various industries, including seed and early-stage ventures. Immediately prior to assuming his role with Bronze Valley, he was chairman, CEO and principal shareholder of First Tuskegee Bank, shepherding it through a successful sale to a New Orleans-based regional bank.

“The exciting thing about Bronze Valley is that we are bringing innovation and ideas and thought together with capital, mentorship and a commitment to diversity,” says Wright. “We are creating change that will help improve the lives of not only individual entrepreneurs, but entire communities.”

Greg Barker

Greg Barker

Barker is president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, the state’s lead nonprofit economic development organization. Prior to accepting his current position in June 2020, Barker spent 18 years with Alabama Power Company in roles of increasing responsibility, culminating with executive vice president for customer services.

Barker is a member of the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), the Southern Economic Development Council (SEDC), the Utility Economic Development Association (UEDA), the Economic Development Association of Alabama (EDAA) and the Alabama Germany Partnership (AGP). He serves on the advisory board of the Alabama Productivity Center and on the boards of directors of the Alabama Power Foundation, the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Council, the Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Junior Achievement of Alabama and Innovation Depot.

In 2018, Barker was named an Alumni Fellow of the College of Arts and Sciences at Mississippi State. In 2010, he was the first recipient of the Dave Echols Distinguished Service Award, presented by the Alabama Development Office (now the Alabama Department of Commerce) for exemplary work in the field of economic development. He is a 2008 graduate of the Leadership Alabama program.

“In the very short time since its founding, Bronze Valley has proved to be a valuable addition to efforts to make innovation and entrepreneurship a key component of Alabama’s economic future,” says Barker. “I want to contribute to those efforts in every way I can.”

April Benetollo

Benetollo is CEO of Momentum, a program for developing leadership capabilities in executive and early-career women. Prior to joining Momentum in 2017, Benetollo was senior vice president of marketing at Birmingham-based Daxko, a market leader in software for the health and wellness industry. An original member of the company’s leadership team, her 16-year tenure at Daxko included positions in general management, marketing, sales, product strategy, human resources and career development.

Benetollo is a frequent public speaker on leadership development, employee engagement, healthy teams, inclusive culture and emotional intelligence. She is a prior graduate of the Momentum program and was a founding board member of TechAlabama. Currently, she also serves on the Marketing and Sales Advisory Board for the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business and the advisory board for Bronze Valley portfolio company Mixtroz.

A magna cum laude graduate of the University of Alabama with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies, Benetollo is fluent in French, and worked in Paris, France, and Orlando, Florida, before returning to her native Birmingham in 1998. She lives in the Birmingham suburb of Vestavia Hills with her husband, Emmanuel, and their two children.

Kenny Coleman

Kenny Coleman

Coleman is president and CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance, which is focused on economic development, workforce development and public policy in the Birmingham region. Immediately prior to assuming that role in June 2020, Coleman was interim president and CEO of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce in metro Atlanta. Most of his 25-year career as a senior executive has been spent in roles of increasing responsibility with Southern Company and its subsidiaries Georgia Power, Alabama Power, Mississippi Power and Southern Company Gas.

During his career, Coleman has been instrumental in launching and advancing successful programs and initiatives in the areas of stakeholder engagement, regulatory and legislative affairs, public policy, brand identity and economic development. As a member of the Bronze Valley board, he sees his role as connecting the organization’s mission with the work of the BBA.

“High-growth innovators and tech companies are the future of Birmingham’s inclusive economy,” Coleman says. “Ensuring that diverse, underrepresented and underestimated founders have access to early-stage funding through resources like Bronze Valley is crucial to realizing that potential, to the benefit of Birmingham, the region and the entire state.”

Coleman is a graduate of the University of New Haven (CT), with an MBA from the University of Alabama. He is married to Dr. Prentiss Coleman and they have two sons, Kamden and Kyle.

Brian Hamilton

Hamilton has been president and CEO of Trillion Communications Corporation since 2013, after joining the company in 2011 as president and COO. Headquartered in the Birmingham suburb of Bessemer, Trillion provides a range of services in the telecommunications marketplace, including procurement, warehousing, just-in-time inventory management and project management. Hamilton has been recognized twice in the Birmingham Business Journal’s listing of “Birmingham’s Most Influential Executives.” In 2018, he was appointed to the board of directors of the Birmingham branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

“The key to building a successful ecosystem and transforming lives,” Hamilton says, “is the presence of an innovative network of people — including creatives — who are vested in their community and intentional about growing diverse businesses.”

Herschell Hamilton

Hamilton is the Chief Strategic Officer of BLOC Global Group. With offices in Birmingham and Washington, D.C., the company manages, develops and invests in complex, transformative real estate projects. BLOC also provides professional services to electric utility companies that are deploying Smart Grid and Smart City Infrastructure projects. In addition to his duties with BLOC, Hamilton is a member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s Birmingham branch.

Hamilton brings to his role with Bronze Valley strong connections to Birmingham’s history of transformative change. His father supported the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham strategically and financially and was personal physician to numerous of Birmingham’s civil rights activists. With his wife, Majella, Hamilton also founded a nonprofit cultural center dedicated to promoting dialogue, understanding and greater community connection to Birmingham’s rich African-American history. His personal history, along with experience in finance, government, urban real estate development and civic engagement, gives Hamilton a unique perspective on opportunities and challenges relative to economic growth, particularly those that continue to impact people of color.

“One of the things you hear from time to time from investors who want to invest in diverse companies is that they don’t see a lot of them, that they don’t have access to them,” Hamilton notes. “Ten years from now, we want to look back and see that Bronze Valley identified those types of companies and see investors getting the return on their investments that indicates that we are fulfilling our mission.”

Bobbie Knight

Bobbie Knight, president of Miles College, is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa and the Birmingham School of Law. In addition to being a graduate of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management executive leadership program, Knight was selected as one of 21 women internationally for the acclaimed Leadership Foundation Fellows Program of the International Women’s Forum. This program afforded her the opportunity to study at Harvard University and the Judge School of Business at Cambridge.

In 2016, Knight retired from the Alabama Power Company after more than 37 years in various positions including Vice President of the Birmingham Division, Vice President of Public Relations and the company’s General Manager of Supply Chain.

Knight has continued to operate in the non-profit arena with her dedication to leading organizations and civic groups with her business acumen. She currently serves as vice-chairman of the Birmingham Airport Authority Board of Directors.

Jeff Peoples

Jeff Peoples

Peoples is executive vice president of Customer and Employee Services for Alabama Power Company. He also serves as senior vice president of Operations Services for Southern Company, and leads the company’s systemwide efforts in labor relations, safety, and Power Delivery and Generation technical training.

In 2018, Peoples became a founding member of the Alabama Power Council on Culture and Inclusion (CCI), which focuses on strengthening a workplace environment of inclusion, respect and fairness, while leveraging the diverse talents of all employees. In addition to his ongoing work with CCI, he serves on the boards of directors for the Alabama Power Foundation, the Alabama Business Charitable Trust Fund, Southeast Labor and Management Public Affairs Committee, the National Utility Industry Training Fund, the Center for Construction Research and Training, and the Alabama Governor’s Labor/Management Conference.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion are key components in strengthening our communities,” Peoples says. “Through Bronze Valley, we’re focused on developing the workforce pipeline necessary for an inclusive economy — today and for the future.”

Peoples holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biological science from Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. He and his wife, Rhoda, live in Hoover. They have two daughters, Katelyn and Caroline.

Houston Smith

Smith is vice president of governmental affairs at Alabama Power Company, with responsibility for all aspects of the company’s interactions with state government. Immediately prior to assuming his current role, he was director of corporate affairs for Alabama Power, with duties that included working with the state’s U.S. Senators and Congressional delegation, as well as industry and trade groups, to address issues affecting Alabama Power customers. Smith began his professional career as a lawyer with a large Birmingham firm, where he practiced in both the litigation and governmental relations sections and also served on the firm’s diversity committee — an experience that informs his work with Bronze Valley.

“The Bronze Valley initiative is creating the new economy, one that is more inclusive and stronger,” Smith says. “The ecosystem Bronze Valley is building will help identify and develop undervalued entrepreneurs who currently do not have direct access to the marketplace. We want to provide them a place to turn for the resources they need to thrive, whether that’s money, professional expertise, mentorship or just straightforward, candid advice.”