Since 1986, EY has celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women who have followed and achieved their dreams. These leaders have changed the lives of countless others by building their businesses and giving back to their communities. Their passion, vision and persistence stand as a testament to their dedication.
Twenty-eight years ago, EY founded the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Program to recognize these dynamic leaders and to build an influential community of innovative entrepreneurs. Each June, we host celebrations in 25 U.S. cities to welcome the men and women who are regional finalists into our community and to toast their vision. Their energy and strategic vision have turned their dreams into reality. We applaud them all for taking the road less traveled to launch new companies, open new markets and fuel job growth.
Stuart A. Miller
CEO Lennar Corporation
Stuart A. Miller serves as the CEO of Lennar Corporation, one of the nation’s leading homebuilders.
Miller has held the CEO title since 1997, when he took over for his father, Leonard, who co-founded the company in the 1950s.
Under Miller’s leadership, Lennar has become the go-to developer for move-up and retirement homes in areas that cater to urban, golf course, active adult and suburban communities across an 18-state footprint. Among the notable projects Lennar has undertaken during Miller’s tenure is Coto de Caza, California, in Orange County, which many consider Lennar’s flagship community. Coto de Caza has some 4,000 homes, is situated on 5,000 acres, and has become one of the most sought-after residential locations in the nation.
Miller previously served as Chairman of the Board of LNR Property Corp. until its sale in February 2005.
Beyond his work with Lennar, Miller is active on numerous professional boards and committees. He is past chairman of the Joint Center for Housing Studies Policy Advisory Board at Harvard University. He is the chairman elect of the University of Miami’s Board of Trustees, and serves on its Executive Committee. And, in March 2000, Stuart joined the Board of Directors of Builder Homesite, Inc., a consortium of homebuilders nationwide that represented $46 billion in gross revenue for 2001, and built more than 203,000 homes in 340 communities across the continental U.S.
Miller’s work in the community is just as distinguished. He has served as a member of the board of Alonzo Mourning Charities, the board of the Overtown Youth Center and was chairman of the 2013 Dolphins Cycling Challenge, which benefitted the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Miller joined Lennar in 1982 after graduating from the University of Miami School of Law. He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University.
Distribution and Manufacturing
Amin Rahman Ramjee
Amin Rahman Ramjee, CEO of DiscountMugs.com, has a succinct mantra: Keep it simple. The philosophy resonates throughout his promotional goods company. DiscountMugs.com’s model is based on the premise that one can consolidate the supply chain and sell directly to customers, cutting out the middlemen. While most competitors layer their invoices with multiple service fees, DiscountMugs.com offers an all-inclusive transparent price per merchandise, regardless of quantities.
The upward trajectory of the company can be attributed to bold decisions. Four years ago, Ramjee elected to borrow a large amount of capital to consolidate his production into one warehouse that was five times larger than the combined capacity of the three warehouses he operated. Defying conventional wisdom at a time when the promotional goods industry was being pummeled by the global recession, Ramjee made the decision anchored in the confidence that his operating model was more efficient and his customer prices cheaper than his competitors.
Ramjee exhibits high discipline in making purchasing and investment decisions. He only markets products that sell in high volumes and uses extensive research to buy at the lowest cost possible. His relentless search for efficiency and cost optimization has led to many profitable decisions, including buying printing equipment from China at a fraction of the price of equipment made in Germany and purchasing equipment to manufacture certain goods in the U.S. rather than import them.
The majority of DiscountMugs.com’s employees and managers have risen through the ranks through a combination of hard work and having an environment that rewards personal initiatives and loyalty. Many of the top managers have been with the company from the very beginning.
Ramjee believes that the best formula for charitable giving requires a combination of financial support and personal involvement. Ramjee and his wife have engaged in numerous charitable and philanthropic activities in the community.
Anthony Alfonso entered the contract manufacturing side of the vitamin and nutritional supplement industry in 2001 knowing he faced an uphill climb. The competitive, unregulated industry and its players suffered from a lack of credibility, so the entrepreneurial pharmacist’s first task was to gain customer trust.
He differentiated Nutri-Force Nutrition based on superior levels of safety and customer service, quality control and quality assurance. As CEO, he risked all he had, and some outside money, to build what now stands as an organic-certified, Current Good Manufacturing Practices-certified manufacturing facility fully compliant with U.S. pharmacopeia standards.
The company quickly reached profitability, allowing him to reinvest 100 percent of earnings and assemble a skilled management team, most of who remain with the company. The team’s strength lies in mutual trust and its ability to act on decisions that affect the future. In 2007, MBF Healthcare Partners purchased majority interest, positioning the company for future growth.
Alfonso leads by example, seeking employees with drive to succeed in their own right. It’s particularly true for South Florida immigrants with strong technical backgrounds in chemistry, chemical engineering and similar disciplines who rarely receive a chance to use their skills. As a result, and with a commitment to promote from within, many who were hired into entry-level spots are now managers.
In 2011, Alfonso and the team made the risky move of targeting “Tier 1” customers. Although margins are thinner and the change was costly, it enabled the company to fix its costs, a move that is now paying off. Similarly, when the FDA moved to regulate the industry, Alfonso welcomed it as a positive, raising the company profile and making the increased oversight worth it in the long run. Today, the company’s growth significantly outpaces its competitors.
Superior Uniform Group, Inc.
A fourth-generation member of the Superior Uniform Group, Inc. family, Michael Benstock started with the company working part time after school when he was 10. Since he became CEO in 2003, Superior Uniform Group’s annual revenue has more than doubled.
Superior Uniform Group provides high-quality uniforms at competitive prices to help businesses achieve a professional appearance. The company helps its clients communicate their brand through a talented, in-house design team and extensive quality control practices.
Between 1968 and 1979, the company experienced tremendous growth. As Benstock’s service in the Israeli Defense Forces was ending, he returned to the U.S. to begin a professional career just as the company relocated from Long Island to Seminole, Florida. Starting as a customer service representative, he worked his way up through the logistics, distribution and expediting department to CEO.
As an innovator, Benstock sought ways to improve efficiencies at work and use technology as a problem solver. Throughout his tenure, he has strived to marry the 94 years of rich history and experience of Superior Uniform Group with technology, innovation and a fresh spirit. He was the first person in the company to bring a computer into the business, using it for presentations and for analyses in search of ways to be efficient.
In the 1990s, the company became the first in the retail distribution industry to implement a robotic arm. It became one of the first to use a digital “eye” in the distribution process to inspect shipments and route product accordingly.
Benstock’s constant search for new ideas and innovative initiatives is a daily activity, which he finds intriguing and beneficial to the success of Superior Uniform Group. Over the years, he has invested in many initiatives to expand the company — accepting and supporting failure as a learning experience to help the company in the long run.
president and CEO
Bobby Harris, president and CEO of BlueGrace Logistics, represents the true spirit of an entrepreneur. When his employer went out of business, Harris took a huge risk and started his own company in the freight and logistics industry.
In an uncertain economy, it was difficult for a startup to get financing. So Harris pulled together his personal savings, including the money from his 401(k) and invested what he had to get BlueGrace off the ground. Because he does not have to answer to shareholders or investors, Harris can focus on his employees and the company’s growth.
BlueGrace is a full-service third-party logistics firm, focusing on technology integration to streamline the movement of supply chains. Working with the freight and shipping industry, the company partners with thousands of transportation carriers to provide businesses with options and competitive pricing.
In 2011, Harris realized that the company had the opportunity to start franchising. In just a few years, the company has opened its 50th franchise location and has 34 additional franchise locations scheduled to open by the end of this year. Harris expects exponential growth in the future, with plans to reach a global level by first focusing on Central America and Canada.
Also, in 2011, Harris invested heavily in technology and rolled out the new BlueShip platform, which is a Web-based, user-friendly system that provides customers with a streamlined way to quote and book shipments with carriers. Future growth is expected to include the international market as well as new service offerings that will be available for existing customers, including freight auditing services and bill payment services.
Community involvement is very important to Harris. His charity of choice is the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, of which he is an advisory board member. In February 2014, BlueGrace collected more than 44,000 pounds of pet food for the Humane Society.
co-founder and CEO
Modernizing Medicine, Inc.
Today’s health care industry is awash in information. Transforming the way in which it is created, consumed and used to improve doctor/patient relations and patient outcomes is the force that drives Daniel Crane, co-founder and CEO of Modernizing Medicine, Inc.
Crane’s entrepreneurial drive began as an undergraduate at Cornell University when he recognized how technology could improve education and co-founded and later sold what would become Blackboard, Inc. Other ventures followed, some succeeding while others failed. All, he says, were learning experiences, including the founding of Kadoo, an early cloud-based file-sharing service he later sold.
In 2009, following a discussion with his dermatologist and now partner, Dr. Michael Sherling, it became apparent that much of what he learned from earlier ventures applied to the burgeoning field of electronic medical records. What evolved from that first routine skin exam was a vision to make a better system, an Electronic Medical Assistant (EMA) that could improve health care and increase efficiency, saving physicians’ time.
Modernizing Medicine’s first cloud-based product, EMA Dermatology, debuted the following year. The line has grown to encompass EMAs for such specialties as ophthalmology, orthopedics and otolaryngology, as well as plastic and cosmetic surgery.
Since its founding, Crane focused on leading a team of physicians, medical professionals, software and systems engineers and others. An open office atmosphere, gym, quiet space and arcade games promote team interaction, and Crane still finds time to collaborate with the engineers on coding prototype software. Uniquely, some of the company’s doctors are coders, reinforcing his philosophy that it is easier to teach physicians to code than to teach medicine to software engineers.
Outside the company, Crane mentors up-and-coming entrepreneurs and serves on a number of boards, including the South Florida Science Museum, the Foundation Board at Florida Atlantic University, the Business Development Board of Palm Bean County and the Boca Chamber of Commerce.
chairman and CEO
Albert Santalo, chairman and CEO of CareCloud, is aiming to revolutionize the health care industry by building a universal health care IT cloud platform and digital ecosystem.
The son of Cuban immigrants, Santalo was driven from a young age to achieve success in business and contribute to the advancement of his Miami community. An entrepreneurial spirit and the capacity to lead others spurred him to start two successful South Florida companies before the age of 45.
Santalo held several leadership positions at technology consulting and outsourcing firms before founding Avisena, a software-enabled revenue cycle management company in the health care industry.
In order to pursue his vision of uniting the health care industry, he left Avisena to found CareCloud in 2009. His mission was to create a fully integrated, cloud-based ecosystem for health care providers with the power to reduce paperwork, connect doctors to their patients and improve the overall health care experience.
CareCloud is well-positioned to transform the way consumers use and access medical records. By building a platform that is able to support add-on applications, Santalo has paved the way for the company to lead a transformation through which the entire health care community can have one easily accessible, user-friendly platform.
Part of Santalo’s philosophy is to create a fair and fun environment for his employees. He wants to emulate the great American tradition where anyone who works hard can have the opportunity to be successful. His favorite core value is “Aim to Amaze,” which encourages his employees to always deliver the best in everything they do.
Santalo places a great deal of support behind the entrepreneur community in South Florida and gives funding to many nonprofits, charities and health care organizations. He also makes a special effort to support running and other athletic events that raise funds for health care research.
Larry C. Morgan
Morgan Family Ventures
Larry C. Morgan began his entrepreneurial career in 1991 with the purchase of a 33-store tire chain. Under the aegis of the former Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. manager, the company grew to more than 600 stores. After selling the chain and retiring, he entered the second phase of his entrepreneurial career by becoming CEO of Morgan Family Ventures, which counts senior therapy care facilities, commercial real estate and car dealerships among its businesses.
Today the family-owned company comprises both family and non-family employees, and most open positions are filled from within. Self-described as people-focused, trustworthy and passionate, Morgan focuses his management style on empowering his employees, giving them the freedom and authority to make their own decisions limited only by established policy and procedures. For example, dealership general managers are given equity in their stores and the latitude to run their operations. Morgan provides support and counsel only when needed.
An ever-present challenge in his life is the use of leverage, and he believes that the more you have leveraged, the larger the potential return. But rather than worry about the downside, he focuses on the positives of the present and plans for the future, including delegating more responsibility to his son, opening more dealerships, growing the senior care centers and making his real estate ventures successful.
A key example of his focus on people is the Helping Hand Fund, a 501(c)3 organization funded by himself, employee payroll contributions and company fundraisers, including an annual golf tournament. An independent committee manages the fund, awarding assistance to employees who request it and increasing the company’s sense of community. In the greater community he tries to lead by example, awarding new cars to high school students with perfect attendance, holding hospital board positions and donating funds for the new Morgan Heart Hospital at the Morton Plant Hospital.
Robert D. Finfrock
Robert D. Finfrock, president of FINFROCK, does not consider himself an entrepreneur, just a businessman. His innovative spirit, however, has helped shape the company that his father founded in 1945.
Finfrock first began working at his father’s company when he was 14 years old and continued working summers at the company throughout high school and college. At the time the company was solely a precast/prestressed concrete manufacturer, obtaining work primarily as a subcontractor to supply concrete components for various construction projects. Upon graduation from Vanderbilt University in 1965, he came back to work at his ailing father’s business. When he took over the company, FINFROCK had a negative net worth, no financing, broken equipment and outdated facilities.
A quick study, Finfrock understood that most construction projects were sold to the owner as a collection of many discrete suppliers and services. The risk of mistakes under this model and the cost of change orders were great. Under such a system the customer bore the brunt of the risk.
Finfrock sought to change this model, starting with parking structures. He realized that FINFROCK better understood the design and building of parking structures than the architects, engineers and general contractors on the job. Eventually, Finfrock decided it was time to vertically integrate the business and compete head-to-head with general contractors who formerly hired his company. He hired his own architects and redefined the capabilities of his engineers and contractors. He no longer sold components or construction services, but rather sold parking structures that FINFROCK designed and manufactured from beginning to end.
FINFROCK started as a family business and continues to be today. Finfrock has four children. His three sons hold executive positions with the company and his daughter holds a position in the marketing division.
John J. Rattigan, Jr.
president and CEO
Colorado Boxed Beef Co.
John J. Rattigan, Jr.’s role as president and CEO of Colorado Boxed Beef Co. (CBBC) can be compared to that of a head coach. His intricate knowledge of all facets of the business and ability to not only facilitate the broad, overarching strategies of the company, but also understand how each decision trickles down to employees has shaped the company.
As a head coach, Rattigan instructs his general managers like team captains and empowers them to make decisions that improve the integrity, morale and profitability of the company.
One of the unique ways he’s helped management feel more like a team has been leveling salaries among top-level management so that it is clear that everyone is valued equally. In turn, a bonus structure has been set in place to ensure that everyone is appropriately incentivized.
Creating programs that allow team members to move up in the organization is an important part of the company. Most of the management team has up from warehouse positions to leadership roles.
CBBC is a leading distributor of all types of refrigerated and frozen proteins. Started through a strategic partnership with a supplier in Colorado, CBBC has grown from a small distributor with one location to a leader in the wholesale distribution business covering 22 states, Mexico, the Caribbean and Europe.
CBBC’s commitment to delivering the highest quality products, at the best value, with unbeatable customer service, has allowed the company to prosper. Customers include leading independent and chain retailers, cruise lines, food service distributors, the U.S. military and amusement parks.
Rattigan ensures that CBBC remains devoted to giving back to the community through support and participation with Polk State Collect, the local Boys and Girls Club and the Florida Council on Economic Education.
Michael A. Wynn
Sunshine Ace Hardware
Representing the fourth generation of the Wynn family business, Michael A. Wynn brings strong direction and new thinking to the 75-year-old organization. He leads the Wynn retail hardware business, Sunshine Ace Hardware, consisting of six stores in Southwest Florida.
Wynn began working in the family business at the age of 14 bagging groceries. He became the president of Sunshine Ace Hardware in 2005. He never considered seeking a career outside of the family operation even after he secured his MBA and his CPA — he’s always known that his passion is the family business. In his first two years as president, Sunshine Ace opened its fifth and sixth locations, just prior to the recession and resultant housing crisis.
While the housing market and economy have begun a gradual recovery, Wynn’s execution of his vision has poised Sunshine Ace to acquire eight new stores in the coming years and expand its footprint to other geographic regions.
At the heart of the expansion of the Sunshine Ace blueprint was the complete redesign of the downtown Naples store. That involved customer immersion and the effective use of social media and in-store technology, echoing the company’s philosophy of listening to the market to represent its local and cultural theming.
Wynn’s innovation economy of scale, which he honed with the downtown Naples transformation, is the catalyst that will allow him to move into the unfamiliar territory of expansion and differentiate his brand.
The Sunshine Ace team lives the Wynn family core values, which include humility, honesty, inspiring confidence and driving results. It’s also a culture of listening — employees listen to the customer, management listens to employees, and Wynn listens to both the community and his peers. By living these core values, the Wynn family believes a strong foundation for the company is maintained, a pleasant work environment is created, the bottom line improves and Sunshine Ace positions itself to grow.
John A. Kanas
chairman and CEO
John A. Kanas, chairman and CEO of BankUnited, has been called a born leader whose career has flourished thanks to hard work, dedication and leading by example. At the age of 29, he was named president of North Fork Bancorp, Inc. Now 66, Kanas is guiding BankUnited, one of the biggest success stories in the banking industry since the recent financial crisis.
Kanas took over BankUnited in May 2009, deep in the midst of one of the biggest recessions in U.S. history. He worked quickly to inject new blood and revitalize a workforce that had lost everything, including its own financial stability and retirement plans. At a moment when employees had lost so much, Kanas extended a hand, rolled up his sleeves and let people know that they would have to work harder than ever. Today, the pensions and retirement plans lost in 2009 have been replenished.
The management style of Kanas is based on surrounding himself with the right people and empowering them to do the right thing. Employees are encouraged to be entrepreneurial thinkers and to propose original ideas that will help improve performance.
Kanas comes from a family of farmers and is fond of sharing a story from his childhood. His grandfather would tell him that as farmers, each family member must be responsible for daily hard work, they must stay healthy, they should take care of each other and, most important of all, they should make sure the cows — or in his retelling of the story, the company — stay healthy.
Many employees are shareholders and all employees participate in the Building Bridges program, which fosters brand consciousness, builds team spirit and emphasizes service to clients and each other. With his wife, Kanas has established the John and Elaine Kanas Family Foundation to support medical, educational and other charitable activities serving the common welfare.
Gideon T. Haymaker
founder and CEO
Seaside National Bank & Trust
Gideon T. Haymaker conceived the idea for Seaside National Bank & Trust while working for a major bank in Florida. The bank had undergone a structural and cultural transformation, which meant a client had to work with a different bank representative for each service it wanted. Haymaker believed that was inefficient and minimized the importance of relationships in the banking business. So he set out to form Seaside Bank with the goal of putting people before process.
Opening Seaside required Haymaker to spend two years working through regulations and raising capital. The 10-year business plan he conceived prior to the bank’s opening led to phenomenal growth, a testament to Haymaker’s foresight and planning.
When Seaside opened in 2007 the country was in the midst of the banking crisis. But as CEO, Haymaker stayed true to the consistent execution of his strategic plan. Within six years, he had grown Seaside Bank from a single location to 14 branches throughout Florida.
Haymaker believes banking is a relationship business, which applies to both customers and employees. For customers, he feels that broad, sophisticated products and high-touch, personal client services don’t have to be mutually exclusive. And for employees, he recognizes that monetary compensation is not the main concern. They want to understand the strategic mission of the company, work for a company that has core values that agree with their own and be recognized for their meaningful work.
Haymaker is very cognizant of maintaining the culture of the company, which is at risk with rapid growth. He believes the company’s culture is a major factor in its high retention rate. He has created a fun, calm, relaxed and respectful environment that’s unique in the banking industry, and it’s a significant contribution to Seaside’s success.
Kenneth E. LaRoe
founder, chairman and CEO
First Green Bank
Kenneth E. LaRoe thought he had retired in 2006 after selling Florida Choice Bank where he was the largest shareholder, chairman and CEO. Then he chanced to read “Let My People Go Surfing,” by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia. Chouinard’s views resonated with LaRoe, a lifelong environmentalist, spurring a passion to create a bank that mirrors the holistic and sustainable Patagonia model without ethical compromise. The result was the 2009 founding of First Green Bank, now with five Florida branches and more planned.
LaRoe, the company’s founder, chairman and CEO, believes conservation is a fundamental virtue and economic necessity, perfectly at home with conservative business principles. Rooted in the idea that businesses can be financially, environmentally and socially responsible, the bank became profitable soon after its founding and is one of the few in Florida to hold a five-star rating from Bauer Financial, a rating it has held for 11 consecutive quarters.
This performance is largely the result of the bank’s diversified loan portfolio, which is screened for environmental purposes and excludes loans to extractive industries. LaRoe’s long-term goal is for 20 percent of loans to be eco-friendly, with the objective of changing attitudes through education and influence.
Doing business differently permeates LaRoe’s operation, in part evidenced by a new headquarters building built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’s Platinum Standards. Even the boardroom table is made from trees harvested on-site.
Employees also benefit, witnessed by the company’s more than 90 percent retention rate and rapid growth. Everyone receives a scholarship to earn LEED professional certification and are awarded $1,000 annual raises when they do. Other benefits include cash incentives for purchasing hybrid vehicles; free use of company hybrids for any purpose, business or personal; full medical coverage; and tuition reimbursement as well as paid sabbaticals for any social mission.
LaRoe’s commitment to making a profit while having a positive impact, works.
Health Care Services
Jeff W. Bak
president and CEO
When HealthPlan Services, headed by Jeff W. Bak, president and CEO, decided to go “all-in” to develop technology and services designed to garner a significant share of the health care exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act, it aimed for 10 percent of the market. It achieved double that goal.
Operating in five U.S. cities, the company provides software designed to enable insurance companies to market products online. Its technology is designed to give consumers a more seamless experience when shopping on the exchanges. Future growth is expected to come from the expanding marketplaces as well as small business and union markets. Based on that, the company recently added space to its Tampa offices where it expects to make additional hires by 2018.
Bak joined the company as a salesman, his first job after graduating from Clemson University. He left to become an insurance broker, returning to the company in 1995, the year it went public. In 2001, with support from management, he took the company private and in 2008 Water Street Healthcare Partners purchased the company.
Throughout his tenure, Bak has emphasized communication and a tight focus on business as the forces that advance the company. Bad news needs to travel twice as fast as good, he says, if the company is to effectively manage potentially crippling situations. His focus as a leader is to be consistent, fair and a good listener with strong emphasis on transparency, accountability and collaboration throughout the organization.
Going forward, and given the new and unpredictable markets the exchanges open up, the company faces a variety of challenges, ranging from managing existing costs while anticipating future costs and developing appropriate services and pricing. To do so, Bak says the company must innovate and help its customers better understand a new generation of consumers.
Dan Balda, M.D.
Dan Balda, M.D.’s deep-rooted entrepreneurial spirit took hold at age 11 when, as a paper boy, he bought up nearby routes and helped his neighbors with home improvement projects find local tradesmen, which in turn earned him some extra cash.
Balda and his siblings’ first exposure to Medicomp, Inc. came in 1983 when their father purchased the cardiac monitor manufacturer out of bankruptcy. Growing up he worked in many operational facets, gaining a deep level of knowledge and understanding of the company. He earned his undergraduate degree in engineering from Cornell University and a degree in medicine from the University of Florida College of Medicine.
Medicomp develops and manufactures digital heart monitors and provides monitoring services based on a patented algorithm. In 1996, the company adopted the unusual approach of giving away its core technology in return for providing fee-based centralized monitoring services from Florida and Maryland. In 2000, he interrupted his training to assist his father during a business downturn, which later spurred the sale of the company to United Therapeutics Corp.
Balda completed his medical degree and in 2004 was invited to return to the company as CEO, introducing such innovations as a patent-pending finger electrode adapter, a secure iPhone app for physicians and a proprietary cardiac monitoring device so reliable and well-established that even NASA uses the system. Balda, his brother and father repurchased the company in 2011 and they are now looking to expand into the consumer market.
Building on a core of shared values, common vision and complementary skills, the company’s detailed hiring process reflects his dedication to building a cohesive culture that drives the company’s success and promotes employee commitments to the business and local communities. Each year, the company distributes 25 percent of profits among all its employees, payable over a four-year period.
The HCI Group
With ambitions that didn’t quite fit the mold of an auditor at one of the big four international accounting firms, Ricky Caplin walked away from his promising career to start The HCI Group.
Founded in 2009, the company’s goal is to bring exceptional value and quality to the field of health care IT. It’s a culmination of Caplin’s ideas for networking and business development, and his passion for being involved in growing a business.
As CEO, Caplin’s leadership style is to identify and develop his employees’ character, communication skills and ambition. This approach has helped HCI achieve amazing financial and employee growth.
While building its reputation on the implementation of electronic health records for leading health care institutions, HCI also offers a broad scope of complete IT solutions for clients, helping them plan, implement and sustain IT over the long term.
The complex health care IT sector in which HCI engages is highly competitive and risky. Caplin’s CPA background has given the company an invaluable advantage to form new, exciting solutions for market demands.
Operating with the initial challenges of Caplin’s non-compete agreement, the company was creative with identifying other business consulting opportunities. Caplin’s approach to capitalize on business opportunities allowed him to identify diverse revenue streams that maximized the use of HCI’s resources.
The company uses a just in time strategy to obtain the highest-quality and best-fit consultants. Caplin measures success based on the feedback he receives from his family and his employees.
The company is focused on adding trusted vendor partners, identifying alternative revenue streams and penetrating the global market, where they can implement their competitive advantage. Over the next three years, HCI expects to grow its core business by offering new approaches to existing services and expanding services to offer customizable solutions.
Hospitality and Leisure
president and CEO
Norwegian Cruise Line
At a time when the cruise industry faced numerous difficulties, Kevin Sheehan stepped in to lead Norwegian Cruise Line, a company suffering from self-inflicted wounds. Taking the helm as president and CEO in 2008, he and his team recast the company’s culture to one of discipline and accountability while instituting profitable, innovative changes.
Years of negligent mismanagement needed to be undone. Sheehan and a hand-picked team brought in new ways of thinking, and through their shared vision reinvented the company. They engaged employees in the change process and improved relations with travel agents. They also refined, expanded and rebranded the company’s signature Freestyle Cruising concept and built innovative new ships with amenities that support the concept while updating older members of the fleet to modern standards. Two new ships were recently commissioned with two more under construction.
Sheehan and his team’s approach was simple — formulate a plan that gets the key points right, then communicate and execute. He says the team functions as an orchestra mastering a symphony, while his own style is to continuously share ideas and challenge everyone to better themselves and the company.
Sheehan turned around previously one-sided company practices, improving communication and increasing engagement. For example, a bonus program was altered so that, instead of penalizing employees for not meeting unknown goals, yearly targets were established that allowed ample time for achievement. Similarly, non-bonus-eligible employees who once shared quarters with six others, were given single cabins and amenities such as Internet, refrigerators and TVs. Sheehan also makes a point of spending time with all the crew members, absent supervisors, for candid views and ideas for improvement.
As testimony to the success of the effort, Norwegian launched a successful IPO in 2013. Ultimately, Sheehan’s vision is not to be the largest cruise line, but the cruise line of choice for all.
Stephen P. Weisz
president and CEO
Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corporation
In 1996, Bill Marriott recognized Stephen P. Weisz’s leadership abilities and asked him to lead Marriott International’s timeshare division. At the time, Weisz was vice president of brand and marketing. The Cornell University graduate, who started with the company as an entry-level hotel employee, accepted the challenge and built an organization that today operates 62 properties across North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific.
Weisz’s spirit and attitude have enabled him to make tough decisions when business conditions turned downward, as they did in 2008. He still guides the development of employees and future leaders, however, and maintains a work environment that’s attractive to top talent. Noting the company isn’t just “sticks or bricks,” he nurtures a corporate structure that encourages everyone to take chances on new ideas and, if needed, to “celebrate failure” by finding positive lessons in the experiences.
In 2011, Weisz spearheaded the division’s spin-off to form Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corporation (MWV), a stand-alone, publicly traded company. With Weisz as president and CEO, the company’s stock tripled.
He also lead the charge on restructuring the company’s market approach, implementing a points-based timeshare product that increased sales volume and allowed the company to expand its offerings to include new options for travel and entertainment. The change also enabled the company to more efficiently focus resources on fewer new projects.
Philanthropy is close to his heart, an endeavor encouraged among employees. He is chairman-elect of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, a group he has served for 20 years. Since 2012, MVW’s corporate and U.S. resort employees have raised nearly $1.5 million for the network.
Additionally, Weisz chairs quarterly meetings of the Culture Steering Committee where company culture, goals and initiatives are discussed. He also implemented the annual Associate Appreciation Week and Spirit to Serve Day, encouraging employees to volunteer at worthwhile organizations around the world.
Retail and Consumer Products
Todd C. Christopher
founder and CEO
Vogue International, LLC
Growing up in a family of hair-care specialists, Todd C. Christopher set out to make his mark in the industry using his entrepreneurial spirit and knack for identifying new trends in the marketplace.
While working at his uncle’s hair salon, Christopher began to consider selling his own line of salon-quality hair products to drugstores. He founded Vogue International, LLC in 1987 when he invented hair treatment capsules under the Pro-Vitamin brand, which he and his wife sold out of their car.
Vogue International has grown to become one of the largest privately owned hair care and beauty companies in the U.S., with its OGX brand consistently ranking as one of the top 10-premium hair care brands.
A significant factor in the success of the new products developed by Vogue International is the packaging and presentation. Christopher, the company’s CEO, realized early on the importance of packaging to a product’s success — Vogue products tend to come in bottles with a unique size and shape compared to competitive products, and have a pleasant fragrance and use specific wording that appeals to consumers.
By closely following emerging trends in hair styling and technology, Christopher creates and follows every product from the idea phase to product launch. Every year he brings fresh concepts to his team, many of which become new, successful products for Vogue.
In the late 1990s, Christopher identified a new consumer trend in teen hairstyling and developed the FX brand, which featured hairstyling products designed and marketed to teens. The FX line took off immediately and, by the mid-2000s, became Vogue’s biggest seller.
A reflection of Christopher’s leadership, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and thriving at Vogue International. The team is made up of people with a can-do attitude, and employees feel like a key part of the company.
Mark B. Pentecost
president and CEO
In 2001, Mark B. Pentecost, former teacher and successful network marketer, risked his life’s savings to start his own network marketing company. Armed with two partners, the support of his wife, a single product and the idea that he could change people’s lives with a sound business opportunity, he built a company that now serves 18 countries.
The mainstay product of It Works! is a body contouring wrap that still leads the company’s offerings that now includes skin care, vitamins, dietary supplements and FITworks, a structured weight-loss program.
In the beginning, trusted friends were recruited to the management team, and most are still with the company. To supplement the fledgling company, Pentecost remodeled and sold houses while his team worked without steady salaries and held other jobs. Pentecost, president and CEO, attributes the company’s success to his team, lauding the group as loyal, energetic, optimistic, innovative, determined, visionary, intelligent, creative and motivated. Perhaps as testimony, when the decision was made in 2010 to move the company from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Bradenton, Florida, everyone relocated.
Fiscal responsibility is a core operating tenet for Pentecost, a practice ingrained in the team and the company. Despite rapid growth, a regimen of controlled expenses, the discipline to not spend beyond its means and the commitment to invest in building a strong culture with skilled leaders enabled the company to become debt-free in 2008.
Pentecost says the most significant challenges include customer service, warehousing and IT. More than 99 percent of the company’s sales flow through its website. His team’s perseverance allows the company to drive significant growth.
founder and owner
Brian Wheeler, founder and owner of Tijuana Flats, firmly believes in leading by example, with a clear goal of always treating everyone — employees and customers — with the utmost respect.
The original business plan for Tijuana Flats was an idea Wheeler developed in a marketing class while attending the University of Central Florida. He opened his first Tijuana Flats location in Winter Park, Florida, in 1995. Less than 20 years later, thanks to his tireless effort to always do the right thing, he now oversees more than 100 locations.
The Tex-Mex style restaurant, known for its unique murals and hot sauces — some of the hottest sauces in the world — is more than just a brand to Wheeler. Guests receive the same exceptional service and high-quality food in each of the restaurant’s locations. Because each restaurant is visually different, featuring a themed, unique, hand-painted mural, patrons don’t get the sense that they’re in a chain environment.
The key to Tijuana Flat’s prosperity, in addition to the consistency at every restaurant, is the tone Wheeler sets from the top. He defines success as seeing the people he works with at Tijuana Flats continue to grow and succeed in new roles. Wheeler has built a great executive-level management team, with many years of experience in the industry. Many members of Tijuana’s management team have been with the company since day one, advancing from entry-level positions to executive roles.
Not content with the success of Tijuana Flats, Wheeler opened a new restaurant concept in 2011 in honor of his Uncle Tibby, a Hurricane Katrina survivor. Tibby’s New Orleans Kitchen is not simply about what you see, but how it makes you feel — expressing personality and character through food, music, art, fun and heritage with the vibe of New Orleans. Wheeler plans to expand Tibby’s to locations outside of Florida.
Joseph J. Incandela
Cross Country Home Services
Joseph J. Incandela serves as CEO of Cross Country Home Services (CCHS), the fastest-growing provider of home warranties and home service plans. With only 3 percent of homes across the country being covered by home warranties he has identified an opportunity and expanded the company’s market presence. CCHS has gone from strictly financial and real estate channels to insurance, utility, retail, connected home, direct-to-consumer and fee-for-service channels.
His journey to the top began back in 2003 when Incandela became part of CCHS as a member of its Board of Advisors. During his short time on the board, he exhibited leadership that advanced him to chairman of the Advisory Board in 2004. By 2006, he was asked to serve as CEO. Though Incandela was brought on to sell the company because of its unprofitability, within his first year CCHS had a positive EBITDA for the first time in more than five years.
Today, CCHS has a customer-centered focus, based on the understanding that customer trust builds loyalty and loyalty translates into profitable growth. Incandela leads by example, demonstrating his emphasis on providing high-quality customer service and being proactive rather than reactive. He believes that his main job as CEO is to recruit people who are truly passionate about driving a lifelong business relationship with partners and homeowners by aligning CCHS’ goals with the customers’ needs.
One of Incandela’s first actions as CEO was asking all employees what they thought CCHS’ values should be. These responses were aggregated and make up the company’s core values today, which are to optimize customer lifetime value and experience by delivering best-in-class home management solution products and services.
Incandela also stresses the importance of good corporate citizenship and responsibility to the communities in which the company is located. This philosophy is important to the overall mission of CCHS and is ingrained within the company’s HR practices.
Scott V. Dols
Big Truck Rental, LLC
Scott V. Dols, CEO of Big Truck Rental, LLC, is a pioneer in the waste industry. Applying his vision, perseverance and ingenuity, Dols has steered Big Truck Rental toward consistent growth.
Big Truck Rental provides niche services to a broad segment of the waste industry. With a strong supply pipeline, infrastructure and capital outlook, the company is well positioned to face new challenges in the coming years.
Dols faces two primary challenges: maintaining adequate capital levels and competing with local refuse truck dealers. Big Truck Rental is highly leveraged due to the cost structure of the business, which presents a challenge in gaining access to and maintaining adequate levels of capital. Dols has built strong relationships with bankers, and as such, the company maintains a healthy capital structure and was able to weather the recent financial crisis.
When Big Truck Rental instituted the refuse truck rental business model, there was no competition in that segment of the market. As others recognized the success of the business model, however, local refuse truck dealers adopted similar strategies. Big Truck Rental differentiates itself from these dealers by having the latest in refuse truck technology, maintaining a fleet with trucks no older than 18 months, executing on its promise to deliver to customers within 24 hours of their order and having lasting customer relationships.
Trust and loyalty are the key ingredients in cultivating a successful business relationship. Dols conducts his business with suppliers and clients with this in mind because he believes relationships are critical to the company’s growth and overall success.
Dols believes it is the responsibility of all businesses to be active in the communities in which they exist. Big Truck Rental participates and donates to numerous charities and organizations in the Tampa Bay area and beyond.
founder and CEO
Craig Mateer, founder and CEO of Bags, has gone from delivering baskets to delivering baggage. Upon graduating from Florida State University on a basketball scholarship in the late 1980s, Mateer returned to his hometown of Orlando. Over the next 25 years, Mateer would draw on the skills he honed on the hardwood — competitive drive, persistent motivation and effective communication — to transform the travel and hospitality industry by delivering on a key desire: making travel easier.
Within a year after graduation, Mateer identified an opportunity around the parking issues that were prevalent in Orlando. His first foray, City Nights Valet, offered tourists and visitors to the city’s hot spots a premium front door service.
As he searched for different business lines, the city of Orlando began laying the foundation for a light rail public transit system. The conversations of a light rail system sparked the question of what travelers would do with their luggage. Soon, the idea for remote airline check-in and luggage delivery was born. That was in 2000. Now, Bags operates in all 50 states and more than 250 airports.
Having transitioned Bags into a multi-faceted operation with a leading technology platform, Mateer has his eyes set on a global luggage delivery system. One of the primary challenges to overcome with global expansion is dealing with each country’s regulatory environment. The company, however, has already undergone discussions with regulatory travel agencies in countries outside of the U.S. in order to begin laying the foundation.
On a personal level, Mateer has always demonstrated a passion for charitable causes, particularly those benefitting children. Over the years, he has provided significant support of organizations such as Arnold Palmer’s Children’s Hospital, Give Kids the World, Kids Beating Cancer and Sheperd’s Hope.
Todd M. Wilcox
Patriot Capital, LLC
With a background of patriotic service — first as a U.S. Army Special Forces officer and later as an accredited diplomat with the U.S. Department of State — Todd M. Wilcox has combined his military and government service with business acumen and regional expertise to grow and expand Patriot Capital, LLC.
As CEO, Wilcox actively seeks out business opportunities in areas where active armed conflicts take place. That approach is based on a philosophical motivation to support and promote social and economic stability in war-torn regions of the world, emerging markets with a lack of infrastructure and frontier economies.
Since its beginning in 2006, Wilcox has grown Patriot Capital into four segments: Patriot Defense Group, Strategic Risk Management, Innovative Logistics and Riz-Q Capital Partners.
Patriot Defense Group, the company’s flagship business, provides advanced training solutions to the U.S. military and law enforcement, and has become the first non-government provider of this type of training.
Strategic Risk Management provides business intelligence and specialized corporate security services to the defense, energy, media, financial and legal sectors, while Innovative Logistics specializes in logistical support in hostile environments and emerging markets.
Riz-Q Capital Partners, the company’s newest addition, is a private equity firm focusing on early- and later-stage equity investments in markets where Strategic Risk Management operates.
Under Wilcox’s leadership, Patriot Capital has not only survived spending cuts and government shutdowns, it has thrived in the face of adversity. In the service industry in which it operates, quality of service is achieved through a talented, high-performing team.
Wilcox developed proprietary curriculum taught by the most-qualified personnel in the country. His performance-based management system promotes the growth of the company, and an incentive program aligns performance with the strategic goals of the company.
The evolution of the company and its vision is captured in its motto: “Sharpen the Sword, Strengthen the Shield, and Stabilize the Economies.”
Arnie Bellini and David Bellini, CEO and COO respectively, of ConnectWise, are the visionaries behind the company’s long-standing success in the IT field. ConnectWise was formed in 1982 when the brothers recognized the impact that microcomputers would have on business. In 1998, the brothers captured the company’s best practices in an integrated, workflow-driven solution that could benefit many IT service companies. The result was the ConnectWise business operating system, which became one of the world’s top business management platform. The company quickly exceeded industry standards, which boosted revenue. ConnectWise has since helped thousands of IT solution firms achieve high levels of service and profitability.
Always searching for ways to disrupt the status quo and evolve the IT services industry, the Bellini brothers are leaders who are not afraid to take risks. While many companies are selling, ConnectWise remains in buying/investment mode.
The Bellini brothers have brought ConnectWise to its current level of success without incurring debt or receiving funding from venture capitalists. This business strategy grants them the freedom to research and pursue strategic investments that they believe will launch the company into the next phase of innovation and growth.
Committed to the philosophy that “leaders eat last,” the Bellini brothers empower their employees to make decisions as if they were an owner. To achieve this goal, each colleague has a share in the company — employees own approximately 20 percent.
ConnectWise has a strong focus on the community with an entire department dedicated to engaging with ConnectWise’s users. Led by the Bellini brothers each year, ConnectWise teams up with Success 4 Kids and Families and Healthy Start to provide holiday gifts and meals to more than 150 needy families. Also, ConnectWise has partnered with Big Brothers, Big Sisters to provide one-on-one relationships to children facing adversity.
founder and CEO
The business of health care IT is more than just a way to make a living for David Dyell, founder and CEO of iSirona. It’s a mechanism for change and a way of life that promotes individual freedom, responsibility and innovation for himself and iSirona employees.
Dyell founded iSirona in Panama City, Florida, in 2008, developing software that functioned as a medical device, extracting data from common hospital equipment and sending it to a medical record system used by nurses. The idea originated with a client of Dyell’s predecessor company, Healthcare Technology Solutions, which advised on and installed third-party health care solutions. Recognizing opportunity, Dyell sold the consulting company and used the proceeds to fund his new venture.
What emerged is a software-only solution that streamlines processes while minimizing hardware needs, an advantage and differentiator in a market dominated by a single player relying heavily on hardware.
To build an innovative company with a culture based on freedom, innovation and self-discipline in return for responsibility and accountability, Dyell set out to maximize the market and take advantage of every opportunity. He selects new hires based not on experience, but on their work ethic. The result is a company made up of like-minded, high performance people focused on growing the company and accomplishing its mission.
Interestingly, the company’s toughest challenge came as the Food and Drug Administration determined the software was subject to regulation. A large hurdle for the young company, it became a positive by forcing the team to examine every aspect of the business, define its standard operating procedures and develop a stable, scalable platform for future growth. Building on this and on the urging of the company’s lead investor, iSirona has grown through new product development and integration, and now serves customers in 18 countries.
Vology’s transformation into a successful, customer-first organization goes hand-in-hand with CEO Barry Shevlin’s transformation from entrepreneur to professional manager and leader.
Shevlin originally started Vology under the name Network Liquidators with two employees — himself as sales person and his wife as bookkeeper. As sales exploded in the first four years of business, Shevlin knew it was time to step away from sales and run his company. It was then that he really began to make strides toward growth, rebranding the company as Vology.
Vology offers a wide array of IT hardware and IT service solutions in New York, Texas, California and Florida, with headquarters in Tampa. The offices outside of Florida are staffed with sales representatives to ensure speed, quality and value to the customers in those states.
While Shevlin’s leadership style proved effective in Vology’s humble beginnings, he knew he needed to refresh his management approach to really achieve the growth he dreamed of. This meant hiring a management team.
With a proper team in place, Shevlin’s vision and ability to coach his lieutenants allowed them to be comfortable taking risks, something Shevlin has always believed in.
Vology’s growth can be attributed to the fast-paced sales and customer service approach Shevlin implemented when he took away the approval levels and amount of time it took to approve pricing, and instead gave the decision-making power directly to the sales representatives.
As the economy weakened in 2008, Vology’s value proposition of offering pre-owned networking equipment at the best possible price attracted non-traditional buyers, expanding the customer base.
Shevlin has established a high level of quality that can be seen in Vology’s immediate customer service approach to ensure all customers have the highest level of satisfaction. Combining these values has resulted in a strong business model from the core out.
EY Youth Scholarship
Living in Ecuador, Switzerland and now Miami has not only allowed Karen Bonilla to learn five languages, but it has allowed her to observe how the economy and businesses function in different cultures. She has accumulated invaluable knowledge about economics and other business experiences that gradually deepened her curiosity about the business and entrepreneurship sphere, which drove her to create and foster her own business venture, Lepsy’s App.
The catalyst for the development of Lepsy’s App was her 5-year-old sister’s traumatic experience observing a classmate’s epileptic seizure. Karen created an app that explains epilepsy to young children ages 3 to 5, in a colorful and interactive manner.