A business group for young professionals in the Portland area will kick off its second season with a networking and speaking event tonight at the Portland Regency Hotel.

The Maine Red Claws Young Leaders Program hosts events at which experienced business executives discuss tips for business success and act as mentors to the group’s members, who are younger than 40.

“It gets your name and your brand out there,” said Nate Gobeil, 36, a Young Leaders member and president of Gray-based Gobeil’s Furniture Galleries.

Gobeil, who joined the group last year, said the program has helped him make valuable connections with other young business leaders and with the speakers.

“It’s all about driving your business,” he said.

The group was launched last year by Jon Jennings, president and general manager of the Maine Red Claws basketball team, in partnership with The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram and PROPEL, a local networking and business group.

The group holds 10 yearly meetings.

Guest speakers this year will include former Maine Gov. John McKernan, former television executive and author Bill Burke, retired TD Bank Chairman Bill Ryan Sr., emg3 marketing owner Stephen Woods, and Selma Botman, president of the University of Southern Maine.

Speakers last year included Wright Express president and CEO Michael Dubyak, Mercy Hospital CEO Eileen Skinner, MEMIC CEO John Leonard, and Richard Connor, editor and publisher of the Press Herald.

Ryan, who is scheduled to speak tonight, said the group provides valuable encouragement to young business people at a time of economic challenges and high unemployment. He said his message will be that hard work is key to business success. Rhiana Lippold Leavitt, 32, a Young Leaders member and recruiter for the Portland-based staffing firm Pro Search, called the connections she has made with executives at the group’s events “invaluable.”

“I was surprised how interactive the CEOs and presidents were, and how interested they were in the emerging leaders,” Lippold Leavitt said.

And the discussions are candid and relevant, she said.

“John Leonard was telling us how he told off his boss when he was 30, and that’s how he got on track. It’s not every day you hear the real story of how someone got where they are,” Lippold Leavitt said.

The group’s roughly 75 members come from a range of industries, including law, real estate, banking and finance, hospitality and insurance. Members work for large corporations and small startups; some are entrepreneurs.

Membership costs $300 yearly and includes access to 10 speaker sessions and a season ticket to Red Claws home games.

Jennings said the idea for the group came from his experience as a White House fellow during the Clinton administration, when he got the opportunity to have “off-the-record conversations” with Washington power players such as Colin Powell, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Supreme Court justices.


Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: [email protected]