NextGen Professional of the Year

About the Award

The NextGen Professional of the Year Award is designed to recognize the career accomplishments and community/organization involvement of funeral professionals under the age of 50. For years, the members of Selected's NextGen Group have proven that there are many talented and engaged funeral professionals in their 20s, 30s and 40s. The NextGen Professional of the Year Award is offered to honor their efforts.

Watch for 2024 nominations in July 2023.

Congratulations to 2023 Award Winner Joshua Nathaniel Blake!

Josh Blake

Since Josh Blake, Chief Operating Officer of Wilkirson-Hatch-Bailey Funeral Home in Waco, TX, entered funeral service in 2014, both his firm and community have reaped the benefits.

Career Excellence. From the moment he started working at Brazos Funeral Home (Wilkirson-Hatch-Bailey’s second location), Josh demonstrated his leadership potential by assisting with the firm’s management. Brazos was a low-cost, satellite location that lacked sufficient operations oversight, but Josh was able to turn things around before the firm ultimately chose to close that location.

Prior to his current role as Chief Operating Officer at Wilkirson-Hatch-Bailey, Josh served the firm as a full-time funeral director. His responsibilities also included building, fleet and grounds maintenance. Josh made a number of enhancements to the firm, including a sound system upgrade, arrangement room reconfigurations and storage building and office organization.

Josh is constantly helping improve and enhance the business. His strategic decisions have refined operations and boosted profits. One example of this involved spearheading a change in casket suppliers. Through his oversight, the firm leased a warehouse to store its own casket inventory, increasing revenue by 30-40%.

During the pandemic, Josh pivoted regular operations to serve the community while retaining as many team members as possible. He coordinated staff vaccinations while refining virtual arrangements and live-streaming services.

Josh has proven expertise in the use of technology. He managed upgrades to images, videos and word content on his firm’s website. He also revamped its social media sites so content across different mediums was current and relevant. The website changes have garnered many compliments, and updates to social media have led to increased visitor engagement. When the firm’s client management system needed to be upgraded, Josh researched, selected and deployed new software that has proven an even better resource for families and staff.

When the firm needs someone who will go the extra mile, Josh is a go-to leader who rises to the challenge. A 2021 winter storm shut down the state of Texas for a week, and completely cut power to the property for half a day. Josh and two staff members stayed onsite overnight to maintain operations, which kept building damage to a minimum. Furthermore, Josh has managed to reduce overtime hours for staff directors without compromising the quality of service. The directors experienced improved quality of life, while the firm benefited from reduced overtime expenses.

From 2021 to 2022, Josh served as the President of Selected Independent Funeral Homes. He demonstrated bold leadership by recommending changes to the association’s Bylaws to increase new member recruitment. This effort was successful, and members voted to approve the proposed changes.

Community Commitment In 2021, Josh chaired the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber Board and managed its largest fundraising event. He also directed critical changes in leadership which established a new foundation for the board and chamber. Today, the chamber board is filled with strong leaders and is thriving in the community.

During his board tenure, his firm received the Small Business of the Year Award. The chamber received the Small Chamber of the Year Award from the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce. The firm also continues to receive the Best of Waco Award from the Wacoan Magazine and was voted the top funeral home in Waco by Locals Love Us.

Josh’s other community involvement includes the following:

  • Hispanic Leadership Network Member (September 2017 – Present)
  • Waco Young Professionals Member (January 2015 – January 2018)
  • Waco Chambers' Leadership Waco Graduate (2018–2019)
  • Waco's Tax Increment Financing Board (2020–2022)

Selected Involvement Josh has been an active member of Selected. In addition to his service on the Board of Directors, he has participated in several Annual Meetings, Group Roundtables, Spring Management Summits, NextGen Seminars and virtual meetings. He has demonstrated leadership within the association through his involvement on Selected’s Board of Directors, the NextGen Advisory Group and the Programming Work Group. He is also a graduate of the Selected Leadership Academy (SuperNova Class 2016-2018).

Past Award Winners

Learn about past winners of the NextGen Professional of the Year Award.