Three members of the Niagara University community were recognized as among Western New York’s 20 most effective business leaders, according to Business First of Buffalo.

Sara Capen, executive director of the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area; Robert Minicucci, B.S.’88, president and CEO of Health System Services; and Robert Ruocco, MBA’20, CIO of Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York, were honored as winners of the 2021 C-Level Executive Awards at an event on Nov. 4, 2021.

Capen’s work with the National Heritage Area began at its inception in 2011, when she began developing a management plan and building community partnerships to preserve, protect, and promote the natural, cultural, and historic resources along the Niagara River Corridor. When the National Heritage Area transitioned from a federal commission to a nonprofit organization in 2013, she assumed her current role as executive director. Since then, she has spearheaded the development of initiatives including the Discover Niagara Shuttle, the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, Fridays on the Frontier Education Program, and the Discover Niagara Mobile Application to interpret the area’s rich history, connect visitors and residents to its unique landscape and heritage, create cultural tourism products, and foster stewardship through educational outreach programs for youth.

Minicucci is dedicated to improving the quality of life for patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals through innovative products, healthy living, and seamless service. In 1996, he founded Health System Services with only a handful of clients. HHS provides long-term care facilities with third-party billing and supplies, equipment rental, and preventive maintenance programs. Over the years, the company has become one of the fastest-growing providers in the industry, with a home medical equipment store in Niagara Falls and offices in Rochester, Albany, and Charlotte.

Ruocco joined Highmark Blue Shield of Northeastern New York in 2016. In this role, he is responsible for establishing the health plan's technical vision and leading the company's technological development and modernization to meet the ongoing demands of the industry. Under his leadership, more than 1,500 employees transitioned from on-site to remote work within two days at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. He also spearheaded the creation of an "Innovation Lab." As BlueCross BlueShield CIO Roundtable chair, he helped to bring together the CIOs for all 36 BCBS national plans. He is on the boards of the Buffalo Chapter of the American Lung Association, Mission Ignite, HEALTHeLINK and AAA of Western & Central New York.

The 10th annual awards were hosted by Business First and sponsored by Harter Secrest & Emery LLP, Northwest Bank, and Walsh Duffield Companies. Including this year’s class, 202 people have been recognized since the C-Level awards began in 2012.