Seven men make up the 2020 class of the Alabama Business Hall of Fame, established in 1973 to honor those who brought lasting fame to the state through their business contributions.
The inductees are Robert Baron of Huntsville, Cecil Batchelor of Russellville, Marcus Bendickson of Huntsville, Jay Grinney of Birmingham, Lonnie Johnson of Atlanta, Joe Ritch of Huntsville and Stan Starnes of Birmingham.
In the interest of the health and safety of inductees and guests, the induction ceremony has been rescheduled to fall 2021.
Robert O. “Bob” Baron
Robert O. “Bob” Baron is the CEO and founder of Baron Services, an industry leader in weather forecasting and warning systems. The Huntsville-based company features a portfolio that includes weather radar, storm-tracking software and climatological data analysis tools. The U.S. National Weather Service recently tasked Baron Services with upgrading the nation’s radar network using the company’s products.
Baron founded the company with expertise and relationships earned over a 22-year career in broadcast meteorology. It was the award of a NASA technology transfer grant to access weather data that led to the development of a real-time severe weather warning system used by pilots, first responders and emergency management officials.
For his contributions to ensure public safety through free weather warning apps and other services, Baron was commended by the Alabama House of Representatives. He served on the board of directors of the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce and the Huntsville Better Business Bureau. He supported community organizations that benefit the region, such as Big Oak Ranch, the Boys and Girls Club of North Alabama, Manna House and Homes for our Troops.
Cecil Batchelor is the chairman of CBS Banc-Corp and chairman emeritus of CB&S Bank, based in Russellville. His 56-year banking career is defined by success in establishing and leading banks throughout the state. After becoming involved with Russellville’s Citizens Bank, now CB&S Bank, he founded First Federal Savings & Loan in Haleyville. Over time, First Federal Savings & Loan merged with First Federal of Alabama in Jasper, now known as Pinnacle Bank.
During his tenure as chairman, CB&S Bank grew from $5 million in assets to more than $2 billion. The bank grew from one office in Russellville to 56 branches in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.
A veteran of World War II, having served in the Navy, Batchelor is committed to the community of Russellville and was twice honored as Citizen of the Year. He is a 72-year member of the local Civitan club. He led community-oriented initiatives throughout Alabama, including successful efforts to raise money for hospitals and health-related causes.
He attended Florence State Teachers College, now known as the University of North Alabama.
Marcus Bendickson is the retired CEO and former chairman of the board of Dynetics Inc., a leading provider of high-technology, mission-critical services and solutions to government and commercial customers. Now a wholly owned subsidiary of Leidos, Dynetics has more than 2,500 employees throughout the United States providing responsive, cost-effective engineering, scientific and information technology solutions to the national security, cybersecurity, space and critical infrastructure sectors.
Bendickson became CEO of Dynetics in 1989 when he and his business partner, Tom Baumbach, orchestrated a buyout of stock from its founders. Under Bendickson’s leadership, Dynetics steadily grew to the second-largest employee-owned company in Alabama, generating sales of about $275 million at the time of his retirement in 2015. Bendickson remained chairman of the Dynetics board of directors, leading the company through a period of unprecedented growth. Thanks in large part to his vision and leadership, the Dynetics portfolio has grown to encompass highly specialized technical services and a range of software and hardware products, including components, subsystems and complex end-to-end systems. In January 2020, Dynetics was purchased by Leidos for $1.65 billion, ushering in a new era of opportunity for the company.
He is involved in organizations that serve the business interests of the Huntsville area, including serving on the boards of directors of the BB&T Greater Huntsville Advisory Board, the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce and the HudsonAlpha Foundation. He is vice chairman of the UAH Foundation Board of Trustees.
Bendickson earned a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University.
Jay Grinney is the former president, chief executive officer and director of HealthSouth Corporation, now known as Encompass Health. The company based in Birmingham has about 44,000 employees and offers post-acute health care services through its national network of rehabilitation hospitals, home health agencies and hospice agencies.
Grinney has a long track record as a leader in executive roles. Before joining Encompass Health, he was president of the eastern group at Hospital Corporation of America and senior vice president at the Methodist Hospital System in Houston. He is a senior adviser to KKR’s private equity health care practice.
He has been involved with many community organizations, having been on the boards of directors of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and the United Way of Central Alabama.
Lonnie Johnson is a lifelong entrepreneur and innovator. Growing up in Mobile, his scientific curiosity led him down a path that would include inventing advanced defense and aerospace technologies, as well as a beloved summertime toy.
It was, however, a passion project made at home for which he is best known. While experimenting with a heat pump and high-pressure nozzle, he realized he had the makings of a water gun. Over the years he refined the design, and in 1989 Larami Corporation licensed what is now the Super Soaker.
Currently, Johnson is involved in developing battery and fuel cell technologies.
He is committed to community-oriented causes such as the Boys and Girls Club and is chairman of the Georgia Alliance for Children. He donated $3.5 million to construct a science, technology, engineering and math building at his alma mater Williamson High School in the Maysville neighborhood of Mobile.
Johnson earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from Tuskegee University, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate.
Joe Ritch is an attorney with Sirote & Permutt P.C. and a civic leader who has elevated the Huntsville area with his involvement in a number of organizations. As chairman of the Tennessee Valley Base Realignment and Closure Committee, he coalesced 13 communities in north Alabama and south-central Tennessee to promote and advocate for Redstone Arsenal at a time when the facility was under review by the U.S. Army.
As a result of the committee’s work, thousands of military and government contractor jobs were brought to Redstone Arsenal. Ritch helped usher in a $175 million state-funded investment in K-12 facilities to make the area a more attractive place for relocation.
Ritch was the first chairman of the board of directors from Alabama on the Tennessee Valley Authority and chairman of its nuclear oversight committee. He was on the board of directors of multiple defense and technology companies, including CAS Inc. and Axometrics. He led the acquisition and sale of several defense contractors.
He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, his juris doctorate from Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law and Master of Laws in taxation from New York University’s School of Law.
Stan Starnes is executive chairman of ProAssurance Corp., one of the top casualty insurance carriers in the country. During his time as CEO, from 2007 until 2019, ProAssurance transformed from a physician-centric, regionally oriented company to one that took a health care-centric approach on a national level. As a result, the company returned more than $2.1 billion to shareholders while growing its equity by 37%.
Starnes’ background is in law. In 1975, he and his father established the law firm now known as Starnes Davis Florie, specializing in courtroom advocacy for clients in civil litigation, especially physicians and others in health care. He is the youngest lawyer in Alabama ever elected to the American College of Trial Lawyers. He was named to the “Best Lawyers in America” more than 20 consecutive years.
He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama System, a member of the UAB Health System Board and a member of the Board of the Crimson Tide Foundation. He was elected to membership in the Alabama Academy of Honor in 2018. He is a member of the Salvation Army Birmingham Command Advisory Board and is chairman of the Ascension Board of Directors.
He graduated from the University of Alabama with a bachelor’s degree in business. In 1972, he graduated summa cum laude and first in his class from Cumberland School of Law at Samford University.
This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.