2015 Pittsburgh Smart 50 specialty award winners

2015 innovation winner

pit_DanielleCuomoDanielle Cuomo
Virtual Assist USA

President Danielle Cuomo’s commitment to thinking differently about the on-demand, virtual assistant business model not only allowed her to build the largest team of virtual assistants in the country, but also fend off better-funded competitors such as Richard Branson.

She constantly challenges the Virtual Assist USA team to think “What if?”

The company has an ideas board, and Cuomo says if they don’t come up with three ideas daily then that idea muscle atrophies. They don’t have to be terrific ideas, but they have to be new.

She listens to all ideas and is willing to implement any that might help.

“If it fails, if we lose money, if we lose clients, that’s OK, because I want to make sure that we are continuously innovating, continuously getting ideas,” Cuomo says. “And if someone’s first three ideas don’t work, maybe their fourth is a really great idea, so I don’t want to stymie that.”

Her Ambassador program also provides opportunities for employees to join different teams for 90-day internal assignments. Someone from marketing might go learn from Web design.

“What is innovative about that is not that the marketing person is learning about the Web design department,” Cuomo says. “But what the Web design department gets to benefit from — they benefit from that marketing person’s fresh ideas, innovation, creativity.”

Virtual Assist USA sparks innovation just by switching people around.


2015 impact winner

pit_DennisWilkeDennis Wilke
President and director
Rosedale Technical College

Dennis Wilke, president and director of Rosedale Technical College, understands that training people is less important than training them for jobs employers need to fill. So he partnered with the corporate sector to determine the technical skills in demand and built programs designed to educate and train students to fill those jobs.

Today, more than 450 students are often enrolled at one time, with about 700 students completing Rosedale courses each year.

Wilke is also willing to experiment with the college’s secondary schools partners.

For instance, Rosedale has dual enrollment with the Parkway West Career and Technology Center, where some of its students come to the college three days a week. The first year, after those students graduated high school, that turned into 13 enrollments and close to $350,000 in tuition revenue.

And, he works with his team to recognize employees who go above and beyond the call of duty, while celebrating and learning from failures. By eliminating the fear of failure, Wilke sparks innovation and makes Rosedale an employer-of-choice.

“By creating an opportunity where people feel enabled to act on their own ideas, and they’ve got some freedom to have some control over their environment — that’s how you become smart because you’ve got everybody pulling in the same direction,” Wilke says.


2015 sustainability winner

pit_TacyByhamTacy Byham
Development Dimensions International

Under new CEO Tacy Byham and her father before her, Development Dimensions International develops intuitive talent management and recruitment processes that help organizations with succession planning, leadership development and training the next generation of workers.

“It is the thing that keeps the CEOs awake at night. Do I have the right amount of talent? Do I have the right quality of talent?” Byham says.

DDI employs organizational psychologists who study behavior, as it helps leaders deal with challenges that you don’t normally get to prepare for. For example, you might find out your company is polluting and then a member of the press comes up and asks you about it.

Also, there’s a focus on helping leaders have an insight into themselves, so DDI has created engaging online assessments. As you use a video program, you could actually get off of an elevator and be met by your assistant, so it feels realistic.

The assessment, which includes testing, looks at how people perform, she says. Do they delegate well? How are they using influence skills? Can they put out a conflict?

Everything DDI does is with the future of its clients’ organizations in mind — helping make companies sustainable for years to come. And that in turn has helped build DDI to last with more than 1,000 employees in 72 offices in 26 countries.

We’ve got an album of pictures from our Nov 10 Smart 50 Pittsburgh event. See them all on our Facebook page.