Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year, 2013 Midwest Awards Winners

How Andrew Sieja has continually worked to grow kCura through different company cultures

Andrew H. Sieja, president and CEO, kCura

Andrew H. Sieja, president and CEO, kCura

Technology

WINNER

Andrew Sieja began his career as a computer programmer specializing in knowledge management solutions and Web storage — and after a few years, the entrepreneur bug bit him. In 2001, he and two friends pooled their resources to form their own software-consulting firm, kCura.

After a few years, Sieja, president and CEO, realized that to be a market leader, he had to follow a specific product plan and make a few changes. As a result, he made some decisions in the development organization that he knew might not be popular. These were decisions that Sieja knew would be tough to overcome — but he knew they would be best for the company.

In the end, he persevered through some criticism, and supported the product work from the department. A year later, a new feature of the product was launched successfully.

The company culture that was created thrived on competition. The employees were passionate about the business and were engaged in Sieja’s vision of being the market leader. As the company grew, the culture has shifted to maintaining its market leadership position through innovation of new products.

Today, kCura’s software products are known in the industry as being able to handle large amounts of data and numbers of users, as being flexible and as having a user-friendly interface.

The company is also known for providing comprehensive employee training and what Sieja calls the “Ritz Carlton” level of customer support.

The company’s strategy differs from its competitors in the sense that kCura looks for long-term partnerships with its clients. The company does not operate project by project, but instead modifies its products to fit each customer and often is in contact with those customers on a weekly and sometimes daily basis.

How to reach: kCura, www.kcura.com/corporate

How Zachary Boca and Dan Ushman went from chat room buddies to partners and founded SingleHop

Daniel Ushman, co-founder, SingleHop

Daniel Ushman, co-founder, SingleHop

 

Zachary Boca, co-founder, SingleHop

Zachary Boca, co-founder, SingleHop

Private Equity/Venture Capital Backed

FINALIST

Zachary Boca and Dan Ushman were chat room buddies on AOL at age 13 — little did they know then that they would later collaborate on a cloud computing startup company, SingleHop.

They shared interests at that young age and continued to stay in touch as they worked toward developing their own businesses. Later as partners, they put their heart and soul into the success of SingleHop.

SingleHop is a leading global provider of hosted IT infrastructure and cloud computing. Over the last decade, clients all over the world have been choosing SingleHop for its speedy blend of automation and service.

As a result, both men have seen triple and double digit percentage revenue growth for SingleHop since inception. But maintaining these record-breaking benchmarks is no easy task. They are also cognizant of growing too quickly for their own good and have focused on sustainable growth going forward by expanding their customer base but staying true to their original concept of highly automated cloud computing services.

Hiring the right people for the right teams allows Boca and Ushman to let go of the reins a little when it comes to managing the company. They believe that they have allowed their employees to have a vested interest in the shared success of the company. They both have made an effort of employing highly qualified individuals that keep the hosting process at the forefront of changing technological advancements.

With teams that are a good mix and balance of seasoned professionals who bring insight from other experiences and new talent that has innovative vision and hunger for success, the recipe is bringing positive results.

Boca and Ushman construct a yearly plan for SingleHop, which is built from the bottom up and requires each department to contribute its own ideas for continued growth. This culture allows everyone to contribute to the entrepreneurial efforts and encourages ownership and transparency across all levels of the organization.

How to reach: SingleHop, www.singlehop.com

How Al Goldstein found his niche with Pangea Properties by renting to underserved areas

Al Goldstein, president, Pangea Properties

Al Goldstein, president, Pangea Properties

Emerging Entrepreneur

WINNER

Al Goldstein, president of Pangea Properties, candidly admits that he believes real estate is an entrenched industry, with a “good ol’ boy” network.

Nevertheless, Goldstein and longtime high school friend Steve Joung fought and clawed their way past that hurdle when launching their new venture, Pangea Properties.

While they did not know much about the real estate market, they did know the Internet/marketing data side of the business, and wanted to provide a better product to a market they felt was underserved. They wanted to incorporate technology and best in class customer service to the rental market in multifamily apartment complexes within distressed communities.

Coming off the sale of his first successful venture, CashnetUSA, a short-term consumer lending company, his new company started buying units in the south side of Chicago in 2009, and its holdings have now grown to more than 8,000 apartment units in three markets: Chicago, Indianapolis and Baltimore, with a goal of 15,000 units by 2015.

In three years, more than $180 million of capital has been raised. Pangea now employs 300 employees.

One of the largest obstacles was convincing the right people that they knew enough about real estate, which they admittedly did not, in order to raise capital to drive growth.

However, with Goldstein’s unwavering dedication to the business and his faith in his team, the company overcame these obstacles and continued on the path to success.

Pangea’s average property is 30 units, as opposed to the 300-unit properties its closest competitors were offering. Most major apartment rental firms purchase large apartment complexes that already had the “right” types of tenants and didn’t require much marketing or effort to fill those units.

Goldstein looks for a good product and value to his tenants, but he is also more interested in wanting to give something back to the communities and people that had largely been neglected for years.

How to reach: Pangea Properties, www.pangeare.com

How Brandon Cruz and Clint Jones wanted to make GoHealth an innovation in the health care industry

Brandon Cruz, president, CTO

Brandon Cruz, president and CTO, GoHealth

 

Clint Jones, CEO, GoHealth

Clint Jones, CEO, GoHealth

Private Equity/Venture Capital Backed

WINNER

When they first got into the health insurance business, neither Brandon Cruz nor Clint Jones had much knowledge about the industry, except that there had to be a better way to utilize the Internet to help both the health insurance companies and the individual consumer.

This lack of familiarity allowed them to “think outside the box” and be innovators in the industry. Cruz, the president and chief technology officer, and Jones, CEO, founded GoHealth in 2001.

With their energy and skills to understand, challenge and help reshape a complex market for health insurance, these entrepreneurs stood apart from others.

While Cruz and Jones were establishing ways to compare insurance coverage over the Internet, adding sophistication such as an online quoting and customer relationship management solutions for agents, a dramatic event occurred — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was approved. The disruption and uncertainty the PPACA brought caused upheaval among many insurance businesses, but not GoHealth.

Recognizing the potential arising, Cruz and Jones moved their business into an online/technology health insurance distribution platform for consumers, agents and carriers.

They believe the last five years has clearly validated their strategy, and even though this will continue to change over time, the key is execution — and they are focused on doing that.

While they have become more “corporate” in the last 18 months, Cruz and Jones have not lost their entrepreneurial drive. The pair has not shied away from moving forward amid uncertainty; they know what they do well and have leveraged the right people to make strategic moves.

Almost all the major health insurance carriers and numerous large corporations have recognized GoHealth’s value proposition.

Always leaders in innovation with technology, they continue to work hard to position themselves to be on the forefront in terms of technology when it comes to assisting their clients. Few companies can offer customers end-to-end service as GoHealth can.

How to reach: GoHealth, www.gohealth.com

How Hugh Jones tries to make the world a better place with BankersAccuity

Hugh McKean Jones IV, president and CEO, BankersAccuity

Hugh McKean Jones IV, president and CEO, BankersAccuity

Financial Services

WINNER

When Hugh McKean Jones IV became president and CEO of BankersAccuity, he saw a similarity it had with his previous company, IntrinsiQ. Both companies lacked a clear vision of how to make the world a better place and provide value to customers.

Jones’ management style starts with understanding the “why” behind an action, career or business choice because that understanding allows individuals to have a real impact on business and the world around them.

This is evident in his choice to develop the value for doctors and care recipients in the health care segment through IntrinsiQ, and his work at BankersAccuity where he fights against the evils of terrorism, drugs and human trafficking through service offerings like anti-money laundering compliance tools and global payment solutions.

Jones leads his organizations by driving change and being willing to guide and develop everyone who is open to change. He believes that being an effective leader requires two things: the courage to decide, and humor if the decision is wrong.

In addition, Jones feels responsible as a leader to develop the people around him. He manages with the understanding that people will leave and his goal is to develop those people so their next job is only possible because they first worked with him. He also carries the philosophy that those who leave the company should be welcomed back if the situation happens, rather than cast aside.

His approach seems to have paid off. Within a few years at IntrisiQ, Jones had turned the company around, which led to it’s sale to Accel-KKR. With BankersAccuity, he doubled revenue between 2008 and 2011 and turned a declining business into a “growth play” for the same firms that had no interest from 2004 to 2007.

Because Jones is driven by trying to make a better working world, developing the people around him and providing value to his customers, he has been successful with multiple organizations in multiple industries.

How to reach: BankersAccuity, www.bankersaccuity.com

How Chris Clawson envisioned himself in the president’s chair at Life Fitness

Chris Clawson, president, Life Fitness

Chris Clawson, president, Life Fitness

Consumer Products and Services

WINNER

Chris Clawson has had a passion for the sports and fitness industry from a young age, and that has carried him through life and ultimately helped him get where he is today.

When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he never hesitated in his answer, “A professional baseball player.” He got to play professional baseball in the single A league for the Braves and Astros.

Then in the off-season, he got into the fitness industry. But it was after he started working at Life Fitness that he was identified as a “high-potential” employee. Company President Augie Nieto, co-founder, asked Clawson what he wanted to do with his career. Clawson said to Nieto, “I want to be sitting where you are.” Nieto told him step-by-step what it would take.

Clawson received his master’s degree and proved his leadership qualities at Stamina Products, Matrix Fitness Systems and Johnson Health Tech. In 2010, Life Fitness came back into his career. Within months of his return, he was sitting in Nieto’s former chair.

As president of Life Fitness, Clawson shares his passion about the company with its people. As long as his employees are willing to grow and learn, he will continue to push them to make the company the best in its industry.

Three times a year, Life Fitness customers come to their facility for an experience tour. They may come expecting to receive a sales pitch but they get just the opposite. They see how the company “makes wine” and learn the Life Fitness story. At the end of every tour, the customers have an affinity for Life Fitness and say the people blow them away.

Clawson invested heavily in product development and research knowing that Life Fitness would be prepared for consumer needs when the recent recession was over. When the market turned, Life Fitness sales increased and have continued to increase at record levels.

How to reach: Life Fitness, www.lifefitness.com

How Paul Jones took three key steps to boost revenue at A.O. Smith Corporation

Paul Smith, A.O. Smith Corporation

Paul Jones, CEO, A.O. Smith Corporation

Industrial and Distribution

WINNER

When Paul Jones joined A.O. Smith Corporation in 2004 as COO, the company was operating in a subdued, slow-growing industry and had no primary focus. With his years of experience with companies such as General Electric, Midwest Electric and Greenfield Industries, Jones quickly realized what was needed.

In order to maximize current assets and provide the largest return to the investors, Jones and his team would need to refine the company focus from being just a water heater and electric motors company — the focus would have to be on the area where the company had a comparative advantage and the shareholders would receive a better long-term return.

Jones determined the company needed to do three key things: stop explaining the past and start focusing on achieving in the future, distill the business focus, and prepare the larger water heater business for pending growth issues, which would likely occur once the commercial and residential construction boom receded.

He also took note of the corporate culture — it was a culture set on treating people with dignity and respect. He knew that this would be a great fit, and he has been leading the company by focusing on “keeping our promise” to customers, shareholders and employees.

Upon Jones’ promotion in 2006, Jones said he was announcing his retirement as CEO of A.O. Smith. As the shareholders looked at him in astonishment, he finished by saying “which will be in 2014.” He promised by then the company will have achieved $5 a share in earnings, $100 per share stock price, and have 10 analysts covering the stock.

He was met with skepticism and was told that he would never reach those goals. But in 2012, with split adjusted shares, he met all of those goals. The growth was largely driven by his moves to obtain a strategic position in the replacement market and focus on growing markets such as China.

How to reach: A.O. Smith Corporation, www.aosmith.com

How Jim Sartori and Jeff Schwager invest in the quality of Sartori cheese

Jim Sartori, CEO and owner, Sartori Co.

Jim Sartori, CEO and owner, Sartori Co.

 

Jeff Schwager, president, Sartori Co.

Jeff Schwager, president, Sartori Co.

Family Business Award of Excellence

WINNER

When the recent recession came around, Jim Sartori and Jeff Schwager decided not to participate. Rather, at their company Sartori Co. they continued to emphasize customer focus, cheese quality and reinvestment, all of which have enabled Sartori to prosper.

Schwager considers the significant growth of Sartori, including its retail presence, to be one of the more significant future challenges as well. Devising and installing the infrastructure to match the company’s growth has been and will continue to be a challenge, but the pair has plans in place to invest in quality, team development, leadership training, and modernization and expansion of key facilities.

Sartori believes strongly in leading by example and in employee empowerment rather than the controlled direction of his team members. This enables him to work with his teams in pursuit of their mission to make the “best artisan cheese in the world.”

The concept of “family” permeates throughout and is the key driver of the core values maintained at the company – family, integrity, ingenuity, commitment, authenticity and humility.

Sartori encourages his team members to suggest and pursue opportunities, which has enabled the business to grow.

The retail segment is flourishing at Sartori. The cheese needs to be of a high quality, requiring an aging schedule anywhere from one to two years and a highly innovative team of master cheesemakers. In addition, there needs to be a strong marketing and branding campaign led by a top-notch sales team.

These efforts require a highly risky and significant capital outlay as the team tries to estimate retail cheese demand at least one year or more in the future.

When it comes to specialty cheeses, the risk is amplified by the lack of an outlet market that classic cheeses such as parmesan and asiago enjoy. Needless to say, the investment has proven to be the lucrative opportunity that Sartori and Schwager envisioned.

How to reach: Sartori Co., www.sartoricheese.com

How Dr. Stuart Bernsen saw standardization as a key for Chiro One Wellness Centers

Dr. Stuart Bernsen, CEO and founding partner, Chiro One Wellness Centers

Dr. Stuart Bernsen, CEO and founding partner, Chiro One Wellness Centers

Health Care

WINNER

Chiro One Wellness Center is not just a simple chiropractic practice that helps with neck and back pain, according to CEO and founding partner Dr. Stuart Bernsen. He also sees it as a way to turn the patient experience upside down, build a patient community, educate patients, find the cause of problems rather than just treat symptoms and focus on prevention.

Prior to starting Chiro One, Bernsen tried other ventures, such as LifeWorks, which was a consulting practice designed to teach young residents. However, Bernsen quickly realized that he was setting up others for success and then sending them off to other practices, so he shifted his focus to Chiro One.

Bernsen believed in standardizing care, which was an entirely new way of thinking in the health care industry — health care as a retail product and not a bureaucratic mess of referrals and insurance claims.

His vision was that patients would enter his offices for an experience that would provide them with the information and knowledge needed for wellness. Patients’ experiences with chiropractics typically vary with each doctor they visit, depending on the interest of the respective doctor, acupuncturist, nutritionist, masseuse and other professionals. Bernsen’s goal was to standardize the delivery of chiropractics, such that the patient was getting a similar high quality experience no matter which Chiro One wellness center he or she visited.

Chiro One set up a training center and began to expand practices. Each Chiro One office practices the same type of chiropractics, with marked success. When a Chiro One location opens, the practicing chiropractor at that location does not have to worry about billing, collections, infrastructure, or even changing a light bulb. This is all handled by Chiro One’s corporate office.

Bernsen truly believes he is transforming health care and the results over the past five years bear that out.

How to reach: Chiro One Wellness Centers, www.chiroone.net

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