Mavericks and mold breakers: Meet six of Charlotte’s trailblazing men

In a city that’s growing as much as Charlotte is, we need a certain crop of change-makers along for the ride. So for our annual men’s issue, let us introduce you to a group of people who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo with everything from how we innovate to how we connect with local government to how we follow our favorite sports teams.


Keith Cradle: The Youth Advocate

Indigo Photography

Keith Cradle sees potential in youths that society may be tempted to give up on. “They just need the motivation, they need the incentive,” says Cradle, the adolescent program manager at the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office. “They need someone to believe in them.”

Cradle, 43, landed in Charlotte by way of Johnson C. Smith University, where he studied communication arts. More recently, he earned got a PhD in management, with a dissertation on African-American philanthropy, and launched a podcast called “Crafted with Cradle” to talk community good over cocktails.

But at the sheriff’s office, Cradle is doing some good of his own. He manages a staff of people who work with youth in detention. His days are filled with advocacy, meetings, and forming community partnerships to steer incarcerated youths toward a viable source of income and sense of community once they reenter society.

One key partnership he backs is the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art’s Jail Arts Initiative, which offers art workshops to youthful offenders at Jail North. Artists select projects connected to Bechtler exhibitions and, over the course of a week, teach inmates to make art of their own. Their creations are then incorporated into a rotating exhibition in the Bechtler lobby.

“It’s crazy how sucked in they get,” says Cradle. “…That engagement, it takes a hold of them. And then you put them in front of their own canvas—you see their eyes open up.”

The fact that their art will be on display in an elegant, Uptown museum that people frequently visit is what Cradle likes to call the cherry on top. These first-time artists start to trust that they are talented and have creative potential.

His treasured anecdote is of a young man who went Uptown with his mom to see his completed artwork on the wall. Cradle heard the kid was grinning ear to ear.

“That’s a big part of it,” says Cradle. “To know that the space is theirs and that they can do some great things.” —Katie Toussaint


Larken Egleston & Tariq Bokhari: The Across-the-Aisle Politicos

Larken Egleston (left) and Tariq Bokhari
Photo by David Boraks / WFAE

It started with an email. When Larken Egleston decided to run against longtime Democratic city councilwoman and former mayor Patsy Kinsey for the District 1 seat, he reached out to her former opponents, people she’d beaten in the past. On that list was Tariq Bokhari, a Republican.

Bokhari, on the verge of deciding to run again—this time for the District 6 seat—invited Egleston to his house to talk strategy. At the time. Bokhari thought Egleston was a fellow Republican. But an hour before his guest arrived, Bokhari found out the inquiring mind was actually a Democrat.

“We shared a whiskey and sat in my home office,” says Bokhari. “I can immediately tell when I click with somebody, and I knew we were going to be buddies right away. …The rest is bromance history.”

Both Bokhari, 38, and Egleston, 35, won the general elections in 2017, and the two were part of a highly publicized makeover of the 11-person city council, which now has six members under the age of 40. But it’s not just their age that’s changing the face of the Charlotte governance. Every Monday after the city council meetings, Bokhari and Egleston record a podcast, “R&D in the QC,” that dives into the evening’s major topics and their (often differing) takes on the issues.

The goal: to peel back the layers of Charlotte city government in layman’s terms while also encouraging civil discourse on controversial issues. “What little bipartisan debate there is out there is usually people screaming at each other,” says Egleston.

The loudest part of “R&D in the QC,” on the other hand, is the intro—which starts with music from Rage Against the Machine. (Yes, a symbolic choice.) And yet, there is still spirited debate; just listen to the recent episode about the city budget.

Bokhari had some podcasting experience through his work as co-founder and executive director of Carolina Fintech Hub, a joint venture of area banks and financial services companies, so he does the editing and uploading. Egleston, who works as a brand ambassador for Republic National Distributing Company. handles most of the marketing. Less than 20 episodes in (as of press time), the podcast already had nearly 10,000 total downloads.

Their bipartisanship is recognized internally as well: Mayor Vi Lyles recently appointed Bokhari and Egleston to be the co-chairs of the new intergovernmental relations committee, which involves building relationships between the city and other local and national governing bodies.

“If you don’t have relationships and trust and respect each other, it’s going to lead to a more dysfunctional group dynamic,” says Egleston. —Caroline Portillo


Tom Haberstroh: The Sports Stat Guru

Tom Haberstroh // Photo by Justin Driscoll

Did you know that from Thanksgiving until the end of the NBA season, no player made more three point shots than the Charlotte Hornets’ own Kemba Walker?

Journalist Tom Haberstroh is always homing in on statistics like this. In fact, the 32-year-old, who made a name for himself at ESPN, has defined his career in sports media by finding stories where competing journalists didn’t want to take the time to look: the numbers.

“Everyone writing is about this thing over here, I’m writing about this and people are like how did you find that?” says Haberstroh. “It’s trying to zag when everyone’s zigging.”

It’s this attitude that the heart of the new Charlotte-based media company he left ESPN to start in March: Count the Dings podcast and video network. The network puts out daily podcasts, with a heavy focus on NBA and culture, and videos on Haberstroh’s social platforms, reaching his more than 154,000 Twitter followers.

But Haberstroh did some zigging and zagging to get to where he is today. The Westport, Conn. Native graduated from Wake Forest University with a degree in economics, and initially set his eyes on Charlotte’s banking world. But it was 2008, the nation was in the throes of the recession, and he was passed over for several financial jobs, all hard to come by.

So Haberstroh ditched his plan and decided to follow his passion for sports journalism. He went back to Connecticut, moving in with his parents and took a part-time fact-checking job at ESPN that paid $12 an hour. “There’s that whole adage that traditional athletes like to throw at bloggers that they’re sitting in their mother’s basement,” says Haberstroh. “Well I was.”

The work was tedious, but it’s also what helped him find his niche: using analytics to find stories in the NBA. He parlayed that skill into becoming a writer and researcher at ESPN, eventually catching his big break at just 24 years old, when he was asked to cover the Miami Heat after LeBron James’ famous decision to take his talents to South Beach. With this came appearances on Sportscenter, ESPN’s podcasts and national recognition.

After his time covering the Heat in Miami, Haberstroh and his pregnant wife, Allison, moved to Charlotte in 2016 because they saw it as a great town to start their family. Just a year later, life at ESPN became rocky due to massive layoffs, including Haberstroh’s boss.

Instead of looking at the situation as an end, he saw it as an opportunity. Haberstroh decided to leave ESPN and take ownership of his content, launching the Count the Dings podcast and video network.

“The market is changing and there are different players now,” says Haberstroh. “I wanted to capture that and be able to try to go out on my own and see if I can do this.” —Sean Clark-Weis


Taiwo Jaiyeoba: The Development Visionary

Taiwo “Tai” Jaiyeoba // 2018 Observer file photo

The City of Charlotte’s new planning director is seriously outnumbered at home. Taiwo “Tai” Jaiyeoba, 49, and his wife have seven daughters, ages 8 to 23.

“But three of our girls are in college and they still call dad for advice, so I must be doing something right,” he says, laughing.

Like Jaiyeoba’s daughters, Charlotte is in the midst of its own coming-of-age phase of development—and is turning to Jaiyeoba for advice and a vision that could shape growth in Charlotte for a generation or more.

His biggest task as the new planning director—the first permanent one the city has had since 2014—is to rewrite the city’s 1,000 pages of zoning codes, along with six other ordinances that determine what can be built where, sidewalk requirements, tree protections, and more.

“I’m a visionary, that’s what I do best,” says Jaiyeoba. “I like looking at the big picture.”

A native of Nigeria, Jaiyeoba came to the U.S. by way of California in 1996. After a stint in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he worked on that city’s first rapid transit project, he landed in Atlanta working with an engineering firm. His job moved him to Charlotte three years ago, and in January, he switched from the private sector to the public, taking the job with the Queen City.

One of his main goals is to help create a more connected city. For example, borrow a book from a library? Return it at a transit station. And no matter your age or where you live on the housing spectrum, he believes you should have access to what the city has to offer.

“It takes engagement to make that kind of connectivity happen,” he says, “and I see myself as a facilitator between the people who can build the community and the people who live in the community.”

Jaiyeoba’s also not afraid to look at out-of-the-box solutions to some of the city’s growing pains, such as asking developers to contribute to sidewalks, open spaces, or light rail stations, and using local referendums to help fund major infrastructure projects.

Charlotte has a history of leaders who saw what it could become, he says, and Jaiyeoba wants to continue that legacy.

“I see this as a smart city, leading the way for other cities,” says Jaiyeoba. “…We’re good at attracting people, but can we keep them? The best way to do that is to make sure we’re a connected smart city that’s innovative. That’s my dream for Charlotte.” —Michelle Boudin


Chris Elmore: The Innovation Evangelist

Chris Elmore // Photo by Justin Driscoll

Tasked with spreading the good word of AvidXchange, Inc., a business revolutionizing the way companies pay their bills by automating invoice and bill payment processing, Chris Elmore is the company’s so-called “Evangelist”—it even says so on his LinkedIn profile.

After a failed attempt at starting a heavy metal band in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Elmore, 49, moved to the Charlotte area in 1988 and attended UNC Charlotte. After graduation he moved to Greenville, N.C. to sell life insurance with his uncle—an ill-fated plan.

“I was terrible (at it),” says Elmore, “so I moved back to Charlotte in 1996. I always had the goal to move back to Charlotte because I believed that it would be the place with the most opportunities, which was true.”

Michael Praeger, co-founder and chief executive officer of AvidXchange, and Elmore started CareerShop.come out of the bonus room of Praeger’s house. After that business ran its course, Praeger founded AvidXchange and asked Elmore to join the team.

Elmore’s role as Evangelist with AvidXchange includes working with the sales team(specifically the company’s bank partners), marketing and product groups, and to create and implement the company’s procurement and purchasing strategy. Elmore also is the emcee for all of AvidXchange’s events, from company-wide town-hall discussions to user conferences. He teaches a new employee class on the history of the company and a weekly class for interns.

Elmore says that big things are going to continue for the company, including a potential future IPO.

Married for almost 25 years to Adella (“if she ever leaves me, I am going with her”) Elmore is a father of four kids: Kyle, 19, Emma, 16, Ed, 13, and Ada, 9. Elmore has written eight books—mostly about the accounts-payable process, which, while not sexy, is very useful to fellow entrepreneurs—and he now teaches at UNC Charlotte and Queens University.

“I feel like I am just getting started, which is a great thing for someone on the victory lap of their 40s,” says Elmore. “AvidXchange is the same way, and it all has to do with setting high goals and achieving them. There is still room for great ideas and products like Avid and the market rewards them as long as they are truly innovative.” —Erin Breeden