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Next Generation: Lauren Lopez, VP of desserts business unit at Rich Products Corp.

They are part of the next generation of leaders in the Buffalo Niagara region, filling top roles in health care, banking, development and manufacturing as the local economy accelerates its transition from the old economy to the new. Some are new to the area, bringing with them an infusion of fresh ideas. Others are natives, with a keen sense of the region's past and its long struggles. Each of these up-and-coming leaders is in a position to help sway the direction of the Buffalo Niagara region. Here is one; click here to see the rest.

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A dozen years ago, when Lauren Lopez was fresh out of the MBA program at the University at Buffalo, she joined the management training ranks at Rich Products Corp. The Queens native figured her stay was temporary, but she kept stepping up the hierarchy. Lopez developed an expertise in marketing desserts and working with many of the food manufacturer's largest clients.

Lopez, now vice president of desserts at the Buffalo food products company, never stepped away because Rich's has provided what she wanted: the opportunity to develop into a leader.

"It's almost like a partnership," said Lopez, who oversees a team of 11 and a portfolio of nearly 1,000 desserts, from cookies to cheesecakes. "I deliver results and I communicate, very clearly, about my career aspirations, which we joke about a little bit."

They joke because Lopez has a 40-year plan for her life and career: Focus her 20s on her work. Become a vice president and get married in her 30s. (Lopez, 36, and her husband, Michael Nowak, are expecting their first child.)

"I don’t know many newly minted college graduates who have such finely thought-out career and life plans as Lauren did," said her mentor, Nick Stambula, a Rich's senior vice president.

Lopez's goals include the specific (leading a region) and the broad (becoming a "thought leader").  

"I want to excel at leadership," she said. "I always say 'like Jack Welch.' I want a book to be written about me and my leadership. ... That would be utopia."

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