Business & Tech


Matt Light and partners predict a wide reception for their vodka

Chris Morris for The Boston Globe
Matt Light

Former New England Patriots lineman Matt Light hopes to be selling his light vodka in every state in the country, not just in the heart of Patriots Nation.

It’s a slow and steady process for Light and his business partners, Tom McGowan and Bill Dessel, as they grow Rhode Island-based Keel Partners LLC. After its launch in 2013, a year after Light announced his retirement from the Patriots, Keel vodka is now available in 12 states. Dessel says it should be up to 20 by year’s end.

The partners extol the virtues of Keel, which is manufactured by Distilled Resources in Idaho and is 24 percent alcohol, compared with other vodkas that are about 40 percent. The relative lightness means the taste doesn’t get overwhelmed by the alcohol, they say, and it generally allows drinkers to keep a clearer head.


“When you’re drinking Keel, at least you see what happens in the fourth quarter,” Light says — though it’s worth noting the interview took place before Sunday’s game.

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(Plenty of Pats fans want to forget what happened in that fourth quarter.)

The Keel partners also hope to parlay their success introducing Keel on tap at Gillette Stadium last year into new contracts with other sports venues, casinos, and resorts.

So far, the business isn’t turning a profit. Dessel says the long-term goal is to build a national brand that can command a premium for a strategic buyer – i.e. a big spirits conglomerate – possibly within three to five years.

In the meantime, Dessel says he tries to adhere to three key rules for working with partners in a business that he picked up from University Games cofounder Bob Moog: Stay friends, have fun, and make money.


“We’ve got two of the three nailed,” Dessel says. “We’re still working on number three.” — JON CHESTO

The CEO goes to D.C.

As CEO of a major Boston tech company, Mohamad Ali sees his fair share of power brokers. But his trip to Washington last week was another thing entirely. The Carbonite Inc. chief traveled to D.C. as Senator Ed Markey’s guest at President Trump’s State of the Union speech. The two are allies in the battle to revive Net neutrality — Obama-era rules that essentially prevented Internet carriers from charging clients more for higher speeds — after the Federal Communications Commission ended the rules in December.

Each senator could bring their one guest to a buffet dinner before Trump’s speech. That meant Ali was able to mingle with a number of Markey’s high-profile colleagues.

Ali chatted about cybersecurity with Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. He met Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee when he was getting ice cream. And he talked about growing up in New York City with Senator Chuck Schumer. In all, he had conversations with 11 senators (as well as another one with Grassley at the airport the next day).

“I don’t think I’ll get an opportunity to be in that kind of situation again,” Ali says. — JON CHESTO

Chamber may grow


The Newton-Needham Regional Chamber added the “regional” to its name two years ago. But it might be time for the board to consider rebranding again.

Many new members had been coming from outside of the chamber’s two core communities, with Wellesley leading the way.

But now the group’s president, Greg Reibman, is expecting an influx from Watertown and Belmont. The board of the Watertown-Belmont Chamber of Commerce recently decided to disband and urged its members to join the Newton-Needham chamber. Members of both will network Thursday, when the Watertown-Belmont chamber holds its last official event at the Oakley Country Club.

The Watertown-Belmont Chamber had about 200 active members, compared to about 800 member companies at the Newton-Needham group, Reibman says.

Of course, not everyone will make the switch. But Reibman is preparing for a big surge in membership and wants to make the newcomers feel welcome. He expects to form a group for Watertown business leaders that could meet monthly, much like an existing program that the chamber runs for Needham businesses.

All of this means it might be time to rethink the chamber name again.

“It’s a thing for my board to discuss this year, and we’ll see where we go,” Reibman says. “It’s got to be on our list of things to talk about.”

It could be a headache, but it would dovetail with Reibman’s belief that businesses west of Boston are better off cooperating.

“We can’t solve these housing issues or transportation issues without a regional approach,” he says.

“This is an opportunity for businesses to stand together.” — JON CHESTO

Changing lanes

Walter Heller spent six years trying to make sure road and bridge projects in Greater Boston ran smoothly, as a top official in the state Department of Transportation. Now, he’ll be applying his expertise in Providence — but in the private sector.

The Canadian engineering giant Stantec just hired Heller away from MassDOT, where he had worked since 2009. He’s been a district highway director since 2011. High-profile projects he oversaw included the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge replacement, the Fore River Bridge replacement, and the long-delayed Longfellow Bridge restoration.

Heller’s hiring comes amid a concerted push by Stantec to expand in New England, where it employs nearly 800 people in 12 offices.

Its recent growth in the region has been helped along by two key acquisitions in Massachusetts: of ADD Inc. (in 2014) and Fay, Spofford & Thorndike (in 2015).

Heller calls the job the “opportunity of a lifetime” to help Stantec expand in the transportation sector.

He says he has always enjoyed his personal and professional experiences in Rhode Island.

“My wife and I frequently visit Providence for dinner and shows and are considering moving to Rhode Island after our children graduate high school,” he says.

“For these reasons, when the opportunity was presented to me to expand Stantec into Rhode Island, it did not just interest me career-wise but also from a personal level.” — JON CHESTO

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