This year’s Smart 50 class is a diverse group of executives leading a wide range of organizations in nearly every business sector imaginable — logistics, IT, manufacturing, service, nonprofits and government.
The men and women who comprise this year’s honorees may be different, but they all share one common trait: passion. They’re passionate about their teams, their clients, the vendors they work with, and yes, above all, their respective organizations.
It’s this passion that drives them to live the tenets on which the Smart 50 is built — innovation, impact and sustainability.
These leaders innovate, both individually and through cultures of innovation. They have an impact on their organizations, their industries and the communities where their team members live, work and play. And they are all engaged in building organizations that will sustain long after they are no longer the leaders.
As you read the following, we hope you learn a little about each organization and leader, but more important, we hope their passion sparks a little of your own passion as you continue to lead your own organizations.
Mike Abrams, Ohio Hospital Association | Eleanor Alvarez, The Ganzhorn Suites | Ryan Arbogast, The Ohio Willow Wood Company | Dr. Seleshi Asfaw, Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services (ETSS) | Rebecca Asmo, Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus | Brian Billingsley, Klarna Inc. | Kimberly A. Blackwell, PMM Agency | Robert Brisk, The Wellington School | Don Brown, Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority | Kumar Buvanendaran, PRIME AE Group Inc. | Ami Cole, Molina Healthcare of Ohio | Darci Congrove, GBQ Partners LLC | Annalies Corbin, PAST Foundation | Mark DeBellis, Suburban Steel Supply Co. | Kate Finley, Belle Communications | Marcy Fleisher, Team Fleisher Communications | Amy Franko, Impact Instruction Group | Tim Galvin, Brexton LLC and Tri-Village Self Storage | Nick Gesue, Lancaster Pollard | Eileen Goodman, Moody Nolan Inc. | Bob Grote, J.E. Grote Co. Inc. | W. Gregory Guy, Air Force One Inc. | Bill Heifner, Renier Construction | Cameron James, Mills James | Jesse Johnson, STORE 5a | Inna Kinney, Economic and Community Development Institute Inc. (ECDI) | Merry P. Korn, Pearl Interactive Network | Dennis Kresak, Volunteers of America Greater Ohio | Kamini “Kay” Lakhi, Alyfe Wellbeing Strategies | Farah Majidzadeh, Resource International | Purba Majumder, Cybervation Inc. | Rick Mariotti, Fusion Alliance | Elizabeth Blount McCormick, UNIGLOBE Travel Designers | Lisa Laine Miller, LaineGabriel | Ken Mills, Mills James | John Page, Greater Columbus Convention Center | Debra Penzone, The Charles Penzone Salons | Skip Prichard, OCLC | David Robinson, Montrose Group LLC | Chris Rockwell, Lextant | Scott Rusch, Anomatic Corporation | C.K. Satyapriya, CTL Engineering Inc. | Hiten Shah, Marketing and Engineering Solutions (MES) Inc. | Mary Sharrett, Stone Environmental | Dwight E. Smith, Sophisticated Systems Inc. | Barb Smoot, Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD) | Michael Stevenson, Clarus Partners | Kara Trott, Quantum Health | J. Michael Vargo, VARGO | Heather Whaling, Geben Communication
2016 Central Ohio Smart 50
Honorees listed in Alphabetical order by last name
President and CEO
Ohio Hospital Association
Under the direction of President and CEO Mike Abrams, the Ohio Hospital Association has been unusually innovative and proactive in its services to its approximately 150 hospital members.
OHA is taking a leadership role in addressing systemic problems to improve the health of Ohio citizens. The OHA has developed and led initiatives like “Safe Sleep” to address infant mortality, and hospital operational improvements to prevent and more quickly identify and address circumstances around the often-fatal condition of sepsis.
Personally, Abrams has a sense about the talent on his team — positioning the right people in the right place to be most effective.
He also has the ability to look at different ways to address situations that aren’t responding to the typical means. Then, Abrams has been able to get CEOs of member hospitals, legislative leaders and key stakeholders on board.
His leadership style is inclusive, humble and effective. He gets results.
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CEO and Owner
The Ganzhorn Suites
As an entrepreneur and life-long advocate for quality health care, Eleanor Alvarez’s 35-plus years in the senior care industry fuels her passion. Most recently this passion manifested as The Ganzhorn Suites, an advanced memory care assisted living center, where she is the CEO and owner.
Ganzhorn is the first of its kind in Central Ohio. Unlike traditional memory care centers, Ganzhorn exemplifies innovation through a purpose-built design, advanced safety and monitoring technologies, evidence-based memory care, specialized caregivers and personalized enrichment programs.
From the small household design and industry-leading staffing levels to a custom-built safety and monitoring system, Ganzhorn successfully supports independence in a population that struggles with this due to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Alvarez’s vision and commitment to innovation in memory care has positively impacted the physical and emotional well being of not only the residents who live there but also their loved ones.
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The Ohio Willow Wood Company
For four generations, the Arbogast family has led The Ohio Willow Wood Company in the design and development of lower extremity prosthetic devices. Ryan Arbogast started working in his family’s business as a teenager. While he learned from previous generations, he’s put his own mark on the business since becoming president in 2011.
Instead of 15 director positions composing the executive staff, Arbogast trimmed the team down to the core company components: marketing, accounting, operations, human resources and information technology. His philosophy is that a tighter core allows the company to make better decisions, respond more quickly and effectively manage a multi-million dollar budget. Additionally, the core executive team can now focus on team building, strategic planning and long-term business planning rather than managing itself.
He also established a 12-person communications committee to improve internal communication throughout the company, increased the company’s IT department and started workspace design efforts.
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Dr. Seleshi Asfaw
Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services (ETSS)
Dr. Seleshi Asfaw practiced medicine and was the executive director of Gondar Regional Health Department in Ethiopia before seeking asylum in Europe.
When he immigrated to Columbus in 1997, he noticed the Ethiopian community was scattered and no organization seemed to provide essential services and programs.
He started Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services (ETSS), which has expanded to include all Central Ohio immigrant and refugee communities. ETSS staff members speak 28 languages and have served people from 47 different countries.
Asfaw, who is executive director, also has founded and become involved with other refugee, immigrant and cultural organizations, which provide opportunities for partnership and influence.
Asfaw’s impact can simply be seen in the numbers. ETSS began with 15 children, two part-time employees and one location. In 2015, ETSS served over 1,000 youth, employed more than 80 staff and engaged over 80 volunteers. ETSS has provided the refugee and immigrant community with hope.
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Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus
Under the leadership of Rebecca Asmo, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus, the organization has grown substantially. It’s expanded from two to eight club sites and increased the number of youth served annually from 1,200 to 5,800.
The nonprofit is making measurable progress in stopping summer learning loss and has implemented service partnerships that are transforming the out-of-school time landscape for the children in Columbus.
Asmo has increased revenues, running a lean administrative operation. She believes in partnering with other nonprofits in town and in some cases sharing space instead of running capital campaigns that can take years for the money to impact the youth.
Every decision Asmo has made at BGCC is designed to impact the youth who need the organization the most. She has increased employment opportunities, revenue, youth served, economic returns and created one of the smartest organizations in Columbus.
CEO, North America
Brian Billingsley, CEO, North America, for Klarna Inc., believes a smart organization’s success is based on teamwork, an important trait for one of the fastest growing payments companies in the history of the U.S.
In an ever-changing payments industry, Klarna’s payment system is helping eliminate fraud on the merchant’s end by essentially issuing credit at the point of sale. The services provided span the globe and are constantly being evaluated and improved to meet consumer and merchant demands.
Billingsley runs Klarna fearlessly, leading the Sweden-based company’s U.S. expansion by never asking an employee to do something he wouldn’t do. He has an approachable and supportive demeanor that makes employees feel safe. This creates a culture of innovation that allows product development and diversification to roll out quicker.
Billingsley’s leadership of the company’s U.S. expansion has many believing he’s laid a smooth foundation for Klarna’s sustainable future.
Kimberly A. Blackwell
As CEO of PMM Agency, Kimberly A. Blackwell has been recognized as one of the country’s top executives in marketing and advertising.
Less than 5 percent of women who start and own businesses have fewer than four employees and revenues of more than $1 million, Blackwell’s success of 16 years of growing and managing a multi-million dollar enterprise clearly defies odds. She understands that significant impact in business is accomplished by bold moves. Never one to be impeded by doubt, fear or trepidation, Blackwell rests on the belief that perceived barriers are just that — perceived.
As many small businesses failed during the recent economic downturn, PMM was thriving. The company has steadily grown over the years and has PMM Productions, PMM Promotions, PMM Media and PMM Elite division.
With Midwest headquarters in Columbus, PMM is expected to expand into the Southeast region, with an additional office in Atlanta, Georgia.
Head of School
The Wellington School
Wellington Head of School Robert Brisk is passionate about student engagement and changing education in the United States. With 36 years in the field and 10 years at The Wellington School, Brisk consistently encourages parents, students and faculty to think big and dive deep into the pursuit of knowledge.
He is dedicated to answering, “What is genuinely worth measuring? What could we measure that might truly lead to students being challenged in a positive way?”
To answer these types of questions, The Wellington School developed several innovative products that are in the process of being licensed and commercialized.
The Wellington School Dot Plot Engagement Tool™, for example, measures the engagement of students and provides critical feedback to school administrators.
The purpose of the tool is to determine whether students are engaged because they are both challenged in their coursework and love that challenge — the primary goal for all great educators.
Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority
Don Brown is at the forefront of Central Ohio’s visitor growth as executive director of the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority. He is overseeing the Greater Columbus Convention Center’s expansion and renovation, parking for 3,000 vehicles, the Hilton Columbus Downtown and the Nationwide Arena.
Brown came to his position after more than nine years as Franklin County administrator.
While Brown manages a lean staff, his team gets more done than many of larger size. He inspires them to excel by delegating significant responsibility. However, Brown isn’t shy about using consultants to ensure decisions are based on facts.
With the experience and tact to tackle difficult issues, he found alternative funding for the arena after a shortfall in casino revenues. Brown also has relentlessly worked to put the arena on equal tax footing with comparable venues and brokered a mutually beneficial deal with the Columbus City School Board that he then took to the Ohio General Assembly.
Kumar Buvanendaran, PE
President and CEO
PRIME AE Group Inc.
PRIME AE Group Inc. has grown from an engineering practice with two employees to a firm with 400 employees that provide architecture, engineering, construction management, transportation, technology and water resource services.
This aggressive growth plan stems from the leadership of President and CEO Kumar Buvanendaran. Over the past five years, he has more than doubled office locations from five to 13.
To describe Buvanendaran in one word, it would be transparent. He is honest, clear and approachable in communicating PRIME’s strategic direction.
By sharing his vision and goals for PRIME’s future, he helps his employees understand what he is aiming to accomplish and how their efforts support this.
As PRIME continues to grow, Buvanendaran also hasn’t lost sight of the importance of maintaining a positive culture and community contributions. He initiated a policy to donate 3 percent of the company’s net revenue to local organizations, foundations and charities in all locations.
Molina Healthcare of Ohio
One key to building a successful culture, and one that Molina Healthcare of Ohio has embraced, is to focus on collaboration.
Molina arranges for the delivery of health care services and offers health information management solutions to individuals and families who receive their care through Medicaid, Medicare and other government-funded programs. Molina is Ohio’s second largest Medicaid Managed Care Plan, with 337,000 members.
Ami Cole is the president of Molina Healthcare of Ohio and she has more than 17 years of health care experience, including nearly 10 years at Molina before rising to become president.
When employees know they can make a difference because their input is valuable and their voice is heard, they are more likely to stay, work hard and contribute, Cole says, and that pays off in the form of customer satisfaction.
Molina emphasizes a collaborative environment, encouraging innovation and input from every member of the team.
GBQ Partners LLC
In a profession in which just 23 percent of all partners are female and only 21 percent are equity partners, Darci Congrove, managing director of GBQ Partners LLC, embodies what it means to break down barriers.
Congrove quickly rose through GBQ’s ranks, holding leadership positions along the way. As the firm’s first female managing director, she replaced a very popular, long-time managing partner and has won unanimous support and admiration from the partner group.
Under her leadership, GBQ’s earnings having improved steadily each year to reach record levels. Along with revenues, the employee count and office locations also have increased.
Over the past six years, there has been a perceptible improvement in culture at GBQ. There is increased recognition of achievements and improved communication and accountability. Being part of a closely held company that shares the information and encourages dialogue at all levels, everyone feels the entrepreneurial spirit at GBQ.
Annalies Corbin, Ph.D.
President and CEO
Leading a passionate tribe of innovators, Annalies Corbin, Ph.D., has spent 16 years exploring innovative educational practices and pushing the boundaries of how meaningful learning is delivered to all students, regardless of their background or location. She is the founder, president and CEO of the PAST Foundation.
Corbin’s leadership approach is simple, cost-effective and practical. Design and implement programs quickly — sometimes in less than a week — with a philosophy that real-world conditions will define what needs to change. Next, involve partners in this adaption process so they can continue programs on their own.
Since its inaugural programs in 2000, PAST programs have impacted education in 29 states and 146 school districts.
Most recently, PAST created an education research and development prototyping facility, the PAST Innovation Lab, in 120 days. People from grades K-12, post-secondary and industry designed and built a learning environment that includes workforce development STEM-based learning labs, fabrications labs and robotics arenas.
President and Owner
Suburban Steel Supply Co.
College isn’t for everyone — this is a belief that Suburban Steel Supply Co. President and Owner Mark DeBellis embraces and promotes every chance he gets.
Like many companies serving the construction industry, Suburban Steel relies on the talents of skilled tradesmen. It is in constant competition for a dwindling pool of qualified candidates.
Often associated with dirty, hazardous and physically demanding work, blue-collar workers have a reputation of being unskilled, under educated and financially disadvantaged. Mark DeBellis, along with Suburban Steel Co-founder and Operations Manager Charles “Chuck” Boster, set out to tackle this image problem.
In addition to hosting company tours, Suburban Steel began offering paid internships to high school seniors. Of the 10 that completed this program, six remain employed with the company as full-time employees, where they have an opportunity to earn an annual salary that surpasses their college-bound counterparts — without the added burden of crushing student debt.
President and CEO
Millennial entrepreneur Kate Finley has impacted Central Ohio and the public relations industry on a national scale in just three years.
Recognizing a need for targeted, measurable PR and social media outcomes, President and CEO Finley founded Belle Communications in 2013 at age 28. She then doubled revenue year-over-year and expanded from a solopreneur practice to a team of seven with virtual offices in four cities that serve clients on a national and international scale.
Tying PR strategy to tangible business outcomes and employing the use of social technology, the agency’s work has increased sales, leads and thought leadership.
Finley maintains a virtual and paperless office model by using collaborative video, file sharing and chat technology. Her team not only works from anywhere, it also enjoys flexible work schedules, unlimited vacation and paid maternity leave.
In addition, Belle Communications gives back by working with the Central Ohio anti-human trafficking organization Freedom a la Cart.
Team Fleisher Communications
In 2003, two years after leaving a successful 13-year career in broadcast journalism, Marcy Fleisher opened her own public relations firm.
It was a risky gamble, as there were already a number of successful agencies in Columbus and there was no guarantee she could compete with them.
But Fleisher proved to be up to the challenge, and today she has at least 15 clients on retainer at any given time.
Fleisher’s business model is simple. She looks for people with deep expertise and experience and only employs well-qualified professionals who are at the top of their respective games.
Every client is treated as unique, each with its own set of challenges and expectations.
Many agencies throw numerous story pitches against the wall to see which ones stick. Fleisher’s clients listen to her because she has a proven track record and reporters listen because she continues to bring them relevant stories.
Founder and President
Impact Instruction Group
Leadership, strategy and relationship building are part of Amy Franko’s DNA. She channels those strengths into Impact Instruction Group as the founder and president.
After a successful sales and business development career, Franko jumped into entrepreneurship — launching Impact nearly a decade ago.
Impact has grown into a respected industry player, working on leadership and learning initiatives with many recognizable names, such as Alliance Data, Deloitte, DSW, Huntington, Kroger, Nationwide, NiSource and Thirty-One Gifts, to name a few.
In 2016, Franko has initiated a business pivot, turning to her passions for business development and motivational speaking. The result: repositioning of Impact’s core services to include programs for the development of sales teams and a heightened focus on speaking engagements.
Franko and her staff develop emerging leaders of impact and influence. Franko herself has facilitated leadership programs or keynoted leadership events for nearly 1,000 individuals over the past five years.
Living in Downtown Columbus can be an experience of a lifetime, but it can also mean sacrificing living space. With the population of downtown residents exceeding the amount of available housing, the need for storage is in high demand.
Tim Galvin, CEO of Brexton LCC, one of the top six real estate developers in Central Ohio, saw this challenge as an opportunity and thus developed and built Tri-Village Self Storage.
Galvin and his Brexton team have added the latest industry technologies, including remote locking and online managed controls. The site can be fully rented, accessed and updated without any human interaction — or a consumer can stop in and see an onsite associate.
Tri-Village Self Storage also includes luxury items like humidity and climate controlled luxury wine storage, with a generator backup.
With two current locations and several new facilities on the way, the Tri-Village brand is quickly expanding.
Lancaster Pollard was founded 28 years ago to help health care, senior living and housing providers expand and improve their services by delivering a full range of financial and advisory services.
Starting as a two-person operation, the company has grown into a leading national firm with eight offices, more than 125 employees and a portfolio of 2,225 financing and refinancing projects.
Nick Gesue, CEO, embodies the firm’s steadfast character and commitment to putting clients first. He began his career as an intern while attending Denison University and was hired full time in 2001. Last year, at the age of 36, he was promoted to CEO.
Gesue and his team have presided over an annual growth rate of about 30 percent for the past 15 years.
Much of the firm’s success can be attributed to creating a culture that attracts top-tier talent and perpetuates growth and success.
Principal-in-charge of Interior Design
Moody Nolan Inc.
When Eileen Goodman joined Moody Nolan Inc., she was the first and only interior designer. Goodman today manages a staff of 30, which is the largest interiors department in Columbus. Her group includes 16 interior designers, four environmental graphic designers and 10 others in the retail design studio.
But staff numbers alone don’t tell the story. Thanks to her foresight, Moody Nolan was one of the first architecture firms to integrate architecture and interior design at the start of a project, which has contributed greatly to the firm’s success and growth.
Goodman’s first large corporate client, Nationwide Insurance, was a game changer, as she and her team were charged with renovating 1.5 million square feet on 60 floors in two towers. They developed cutting-edge design protocols. The project, which took eight years to complete, thrust her design group into the corporate market, helping Moody Nolan secure similar large company work.
J.E. Grote Co. Inc.
Recognizing that for the J.E. Grote Co. Inc. to grow, it must expand beyond the niche, President Bob Grote and rest of the management team set their sights on expansion via acquisition.
Grote has steered the company to a more open attitude by partnering with industry leaders in the equipment supplier base. Customers are asking for more complete solutions and it is up to the solution provider to put the many pieces together in a package that best suits their needs.
Recognizing that what was once a competitor may be an ally is an important directional change for Grote.
To that end, J. E. Grote moved from primarily a slicing equipment company to a manufacture of a diverse array of food processing equipment through its acquisition efforts. Continued focus on brand extensions and new product development has broadened the appeal to the marketplace, resulting in continued steady profitable growth for the organization.
W. Gregory Guy
Air Force One Inc.
As CEO of Air Force One Inc., W. Gregory Guy is always on the lookout for opportunities to lead his team to success.
For example, he recently moved the business to a 100 percent commission-free sales force and group recognition for accomplishments. This innovative business model is paying off with increased sales and a stronger team.
Guy also has invested in education and training that includes an accredited apprenticeship program for technicians. Weekly leadership meetings, analyzing associate feedback and staying in touch with the different Air Force One divisions helps the company remain successful.
Guy’s servant leadership mentality has had an impact on growth at Air Force One. The company’s Service to Others program allows associates to take up to three days off to do community service work of their choosing.
Under his 20 years of leadership, Air Force One has grown both its revenue and employee count significantly.
When Bill Heifer founded Renier Construction in 1980, he built it on the foundation of his father’s core belief: “Integrity is what you do when no one is watching.” He then added three impactful values, which guide the decisions and behaviors of every team member: 1.) Be honest. 2.) Fulfill your promises 3.) Fix your mistakes.
Now in its 36th year, Renier has focused solely on the design-build delivery process since 1999. It was a risk for the company, but it was better aligned with Renier’s values and set the firm apart from competitors.
Clients know the cost up front, change orders are eliminated, the timeline is expedited and risk is averted.
Renier promises complete transparency to its clients — all trade contractor quotes are shared with the owner. Cost savings are passed through to them. Clients appreciate Renier’s open communication, single-source accountability and high quality standards.
CEO Cameron James and President and COO Ken Mills are co-founders and principals of one of the nation’s largest and most successful creative media firms, Mills James. The firm employs more than 160 professionals in all technical and creative disciplines of the media production field.
Initially the company was a two-person operation, subsisting on James and Mills’ reputations, a good Rolodex and their passions for producing award-winning, well-managed video, television and media projects.
Thirty-two years later, they operate a lean, smart business operation with a track record for innovation and staying power in a fast-paced, highly competitive industry. The company has outgrown and out-lasted its competitors through excellent customer service, timely adoption of new technologies, creativity and innovation and diversifying into new areas within its industry.
Mills James also is one of the first to productize and commercialize emerging technologies. For example, it was the area’s first production company with a drone aircraft for aerial photography.
25-year-old Jesse Johnson, president, created the STORE 5a concept while still a teenager working in the family jewelry business, the Diamond Cellar.
STORE 5a is a vintage and pre-owned luxury retailer that focuses on buying, authenticating, refurbishing and reselling clients’ jewelry, watches and handbags.
Pieces like this pose a real problem for many customers. They are too dangerous or difficult to sell on eBay but are worth more than just their weight in gold.
The company, which fills an important gap in the luxury marketplace, uses the Diamond Cellar’s staff and facility to refurbish and appraise a majority of its inventory.
Under Johnson’s leadership and the support of the Diamond Cellar, STORE 5a has grown to over $1 million in sales in its first year of existence; more than 100 percent annual growth rates in two years of existence; and will be opening a new location this fall.
Founder and CEO
Economic and Community Development Institute Inc. (ECDI)
Economic & Community Development Institute (ECDI) Founder and CEO Inna Kinney is a champion for social and economic mobility. She has grown a small segment of an agency division into the third largest U.S. Small Business Administration intermediary micro-lender targeting low-to-moderate income and under-banked entrepreneurs across Ohio.
With Kinney’s guidance, ECDI has become Ohio’s most active catalyst in bridging the financial gap for Ohio’s underserved entrepreneurs, assisting over 8,500 individuals, disbursing more than $33 million through over 1,600 loans, and creating or retaining over 5,900 jobs.
Kinney’s leadership has propelled ECDI to expand and diversify extensively over the past 12 years. Its Women’s Business Center of Ohio serves minorities and low-to-moderate income individuals within ECDI’s target cohort of current and prospective female small business owners. As the only SBA-funded women’s center in the state of Ohio, the WBC has provided in-depth, outcome-oriented business services to local underserved female entrepreneurs since 2012.
Merry P. Korn
President and CEO
Pearl Interactive Network
Former social worker Merry P. Korn founded Pearl Interactive Network to combine her passion for a staffing business with a social mission to hire people with disabilities.
But after reading the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” and understanding its message on niche strategy, President and CEO Korn decided that in order to be competitive, she needed to differentiate her company and hire disabled veterans, veterans, military spouses and people living in geographically-challenged areas.
The strategy worked, as doors opened in 2013 in the federal space. The company was awarded a $32 million contract with a prime contractor for a federal government agency.
Korn also made inroads by securing contracts from many federal prime contractors to perform Section 508 services. In addition, she created the Apprenticeship Model, an incubator of talent for career progression through a combination of on-the-job experience, mentoring and online education toward a specific certification.
President and CEO
Volunteers of America Greater Ohio
Dennis Kresak, president and CEO of Volunteers of America Greater Ohio, has been fulfilling the 120-year-old organization’s mission of “reaching and uplifting” the America people for more than 22 years.
Kresak has successfully guided the organization through four mergers, building one of the strongest Volunteers of America affiliates with more than $52 million in assets and programming. He leads a staff of over 950 employees that annually serve more than 12,000 individuals, families and veterans across Ohio.
As a military veteran, Kresak feels an obligation to ensure today’s servicemen and women have access to services in order to thrive when returning home.
His work includes developing housing and supportive services for the physically disabled, homeless families, low-income individuals, elderly and homeless veterans. He leads four residential re-entry facilities, overseeing the most halfway house beds in the state of Ohio, and has developed job-training programs for veterans and young adults.
Kamini “Kay” Lakhi
Founder and President
Alyfe Wellbeing Strategies
Kamini “Kay” Lakhi, a licensed, registered dietitian nutritionist and a licensed nursing home administrator, wants to help people create a life they love.
With the experience of having formed two businesses, Lakhi wanted to reach more people and transform more lives. So in 2015, after a decade of research and field experience, one of her former businesses, Rite For You Corporate Wellness, was rebranded as Alyfe Wellbeing Strategies. The company’s focus changed from caring for the physical health of employees to caring for their overall wellbeing. Today, Alyfe helps organizations throughout the nation create mindful, intensely collaborative, high-performance workforces by empowering employees to pursue wellbeing in all its forms.
Lakhi brings energy and passion everywhere she works. She continues to pursue her dream relentlessly by empowering people, changing attitudes and teaching sustainable habits that help individuals create a life that they love.
Chairperson and CEO
Working as a woman minority leader in a male-dominated field was a big challenge that Farah Majidzadeh faced 41 years ago when she founded Resource International, a broad-based, multi-disciplined professional engineering consulting firm.
As a result of her struggles, Majidzadeh, chairperson and CEO, has devoted herself to equality inside and outside of her firm, making sure that women always have a place within Rii and have an opportunity for growth and equal recognition.
In addition, she has supported education of women as reflected in her involvement on the International Road Educational Foundation, having created scholarships at The Ohio State University and Otterbein University for female and minority students and the Fellowship Foundation of IREF for students from developing nations.
Today, Rii has evolved to offer nine services that vary from engineering to construction management to information technology.
Purba Majumder, president of Cybervation Inc., has led the company through more than 18 years of sustainable growth. She has introduced new products and platforms every year for clients while improving internal processes.
At Cybervation, improving processes is a high priority as the organization develops the necessary organizational skills and ongoing improvement to achieve higher standards. Management ensures that handoffs and communication are rapid and smooth, leading to improved internal processes.
Majumder spent over nine years at the Chase Bank learning and adapting her perspective to bring the appropriate mix to businesses. So not only can an organization benefit from Cybervations’ various products and platforms, it can access the entire service and support team behind each for optimal results.
Cybervation’s employees are given a diverse set of opportunities in which to grow their experiences and knowledge. This wider focus and commitment to an employee’s career has helped Cybervation’s retention remain high.
Partner and president
Rick Mariotti, partner and president of Fusion Alliance, has a knack for helping transform organizations by turning their business objectives into actionable solutions, and he has applied this talent the moment he began working for Fusion nine years ago.
In November 2014, Quick Solutions merged with Fusion to create one unified company under the Fusion name. Mariotti managed the diversification and expansion of Fusion’s products, services and solutions to create a more focused data, digital, technology and cloud consulting firm.
Seeing that customers want one partner to make sense of all the data points, Mariotti designed Fusion to provide customers a one-stop shop, instead of engaging with multiple vendors on a single project, introducing multiple variables.
By eliminating such risks and offering the full array of expertise to handle any business challenge, Fusion clients are able to turn business challenges into opportunities cost effectively.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick
President and Co-owner
UNIGLOBE Travel Designers
When Elizabeth Blount McCormick moved back to Columbus from New York City and joined her mother in business in 2006, she spent the next few years learning how to use the extensive management skills she gained working in retail in San Francisco, Miami and New York City to benefit her family’s business.
Since she became president of UNIGLOBE Travel Designers in 2012, she has doubled the company’s revenue by being aggressive about adding clients.
Perhaps the attribute that best demonstrates how McCormick runs a smart organization is how she recognizes that, as president, she can’t do everything. She strives to identify the strengths of her team and match those talents to the needs of her clients; she outsources some work to other companies, recognizing that her expertise is in travel, not human resources, legal or marketing issues.
In doing so, she has freed up time and energy to focus on building her company.
Lisa Laine Miller
Principal and Chief Strategy Officer
When Lisa Laine Miller started marketing and advertising agency LaineGabriel in 2006, she and business partner James “Jim” Gabriel Brown wanted to focus on partnerships and building lasting relationships. They also are committed to keeping LaineGabriel small, believing that when leadership is involved in the day-to-day operations as well as the overall strategy, everyone benefits.
In 2015, LaineGabriel was recognized by Inc. magazine as one of the nation’s fastest-growing companies.
Miller often talks about the notion of “empathetic leadership.” Not only does she support the growth and development of her employees, she also encourages them to have fun.
Six years ago, Miller started the LaineGabriel Tenfold Initiative, a scholarship program to help a local high school student to pursue a visual arts degree. Miller’s journey to be an artist and entrepreneur almost didn’t happen. Two of her high school art teachers selflessly contributed their own money to help her pay for college courses.
President and COO
In 1984, President and COO Ken Mills partnered with CEO Cameron James to form Mills James. During its 32 years in business, Mills James has grown to become one of the country’s largest and most successful creative media production firms, producing corporate videos and broadcast programs, corporate meetings and special events and digital signage for clients.
Mills has helped establish and maintain high creative standards for projects and television programming that consistently earn recognition with regional awards and other professional honors.
The company also has a larger scope of services than its competitors, more depth and bench strength, and a commitment to innovation and emerging technologies.
With an eye toward cultivating the next generation of leadership, Mills and James announced the formation of an employee stock ownership plan in 2007, in order to transfer partial ownership to associates. Today, Mills James is 100 percent owned by its employees, creating an ownership culture.
Greater Columbus Convention Center
John Page is the general manager of the SMG-managed Greater Columbus Convention Center, one of the busiest convention centers in North America.
Currently, he is simultaneously guiding the facility’s $125 million expansion and renovation, integration of the new $18 million Goodale Garage, migration to a new event management software system, attainment of LEED certification for the facility and increasing collaborative endeavors between the convention center and the Experience Columbus sales teams.
Page continues to meet with many community leaders, clients and hospitality partners to gather their insight and alleviate any concerns they may have. This has resulted in increased brand awareness, project enhancements and pleased guests and clients.
Page also fosters and encourages community participation by serving as an example. He volunteers with the Glen Oak Elementary School and Olentangy High School Parent Teacher Organizations, the Olentangy Youth Athletic Association, the American Red Cross, United Way and the Faith Ministries Church.
President and CEO
The Charles Penzone Salons
Debra Penzone is the embodiment of The Charles Penzone Salons, a motivational speaker, a leader in the philanthropic community and a role model for young girls, as well as a proponent for positive change.
It’s through her leadership as president and CEO that the company is re-emerging with new concepts to continue to innovate the salon and spa industry and the local community.
Penzone and her team have leveraged local partners to influence this innovation and give the company a sustainable platform to grow.
For the last year, The Charles Penzone team has collaborated with the local brand experience firm, Chute Gerdeman, to ideate and create a brand experience that will be the new Charles Penzone Dublin. Every touch point in the guest journey has been considered. Not only will the salon and spa spaces be innovative and world-class, the company intends to introduce new services that will further differentiate its offering.
President and CEO
Skip Prichard joined OCLC in 2013 after leading several multi-national organizations that provide services and content to libraries around the world.
Prichard is an accomplished CEO, growth-oriented business leader and keynote speaker. His Leadership Insights blog has won numerous awards. He is also known for successfully repositioning companies and dramatically improving results while improving the corporate culture.
In just three years as president and CEO, he has had a profound impact on OCLC’s products and services, technological infrastructure and culture. He restructured the executive management team, improved operating results and directed focus on three priorities: speed, accountability and execution.
Prichard has also led a complete overhaul of the technology infrastructure, acquired two companies in Europe and one in the United States, increased engagement with the global community, led the creation of a new brand image and spearheaded a major upgrade to OCLC facilities.
Founder and Principal
Montrose Group LLC
Columbus’ successful advanced service economy brings in a wide range of consulting firms. Founder and Principal David Robinson, who formed the Montrose Group LLC seven years ago after service in the state legislature and at major law firms, knew his consulting firm had to build a brand that stood out.
The Montrose Group provides economic development and public policy consulting for public and private sector clients looking to create high-wage jobs and capital investment. This focus on the greater good sets the Montrose Group apart — and helps the region, state and nation succeed in a global economy.
Montrose Group leadership negotiated over $2 billion in economic development deals for tax incentives, infrastructure finance and technology commercialization funding.
The firm has doubled its growth in the last year, and Robinson has assembled a seasoned, multi-disciplinary team of four consultants with 85 years of combined experience connecting lobbying, economic development and marketing.
President and CEO
In 1998, Chris Rockwell, president and CEO, founded Lextant, an award-winning human experience firm dedicated to informing and inspiring design by understanding people and their experiences and aspirations.
Rockwell has grown the company to a team of more than 60 design research and user experience experts in the domains of consumer package goods, health care systems, retail and automobile manufacturing, among others.
Rockwell built Lextant on the belief that design should be backed by a purpose and its ultimate goal should be to create experiences that improve our lives, help us connect to others and maximize our human potential.
Through Insight Translation™ Lextant turns data and information into ideas, stories and designs with the power to inspire and realize opportunities for the future. This approach combined with a deep understanding of people, has allowed Rockwell and his team to ensure brands create products that their consumers actually want and need.
President and CEO
Scott Rusch joined Anomatic Corporation in 1975 — a decade after his dad founded the company and invented a conveyor belt to transport parts through the anodizing process. That history of patenting new processes continues today.
Anomatic makes anodized aluminum packaging for customers like Avon, Aveda, Coty, Estee Lauder, Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret. Its growth has accelerated, due, in large part, to Rusch’s innovation, leadership, commitment and vision since becoming president and CEO in 2010.
Rusch opened the Innovation Design Center in New Albany’s Beauty Park in 2012 and has since spent $22.5 million on new technologies, new production lines and an expansion.
While Anomatic still produces individual lids, caps and collars, it can now create an entire packaging product, from concept to production.
Anomatic also is rolling out a vacuum metallization system that will combine with other innovations for faster production. No one in the U.S. is using all of these techniques together.
C.K. Satyapriya, P.E.
President and CEO
CTL Engineering Inc.
As president and CEO of CTL Engineering Inc., C.K. Satyapriya has played integral role in the growth and success of the firm for almost four decades. During his tenure, Satyapriya was the key driver behind CTL becoming an employee-owned company in 1990. Since then, the employees have seen a stock value growth of over 400 percent.
In 1999, Satyapriya re-engineered CTL by adding complementary services and opening new branch offices to improve geographical presence and acquisitions, reducing the impact of seasonality and helping the company smooth cash flow fluctuations.
Satyapriya challenges employees to improve processes with technology to reduce cost and increase efficiency. The company created electronic timesheets and Mobile Receipt Upload that allowed employees to more efficiently upload expense reports for immediate approval by managers. This has improved cash flow with minimum write-offs while improving project profitability customized for each manager through dashboards.
Owner and president
Marketing and Engineering Solutions (MES) Inc.
Hiten Shah believes that human beings have unlimited potential — and he is willing to offer himself as living proof. The owner and president of Marketing and Engineering Solutions Inc. (MES) has built a culture of trust and honesty at MES, where employees have the freedom to express themselves and where everyone in the company strives to treat all people fairly and transparently.
MES is a global sourcing and supply chain management employing more than 90 people in the U.S., China, India, Mexico, Vietnam and Australia.
A metrics-based company, MES has built its own customized data analysis tools for decision-making in order to improve processes, improve efficiency and productivity, help MES and its clients plan better, help the suppliers perform better in terms of price and quality, and reduce costs for MES and all stakeholders involved.
This has helped MES go from $1 million in revenue in 2010 to a projected $80 million in 2016.
President and Owner
Mary Sharrett purchased Stone Environmental in 2014. In just two years as president, she has undertaken major initiatives to create a sustainable business, by advancing the company culture, engaging employees and expanding the customer and revenue base.
Stone had a 46 percent increase in revenue in the first year under Sharrett’s leadership. Sharrett also created a network to support her continued professional growth, and has established partnerships with other small businesses to be more responsive to client requests outside of Stone’s area of expertise.
In a small consulting firm, engaged employees are critical to profitability and client retention. Therefore, Sharrett has made substantial improvements to staff salaries and benefits.
To obtain buy-in and ownership of the changes, Sharrett engaged her employees in the development of the new logo and marketing plan, and now has the staff meet regularly. Stone also invested in project management and business education training for all of the staff.
Dwight E. Smith
Sophisticated Systems Inc.
Dwight E. Smith established Sophisticated Systems Inc. in 1990 and over the past 26 years has demonstrated the vision, adaptability, innovation and leadership necessary to sustain decades in the ever-evolving, fast-paced industry of information technology. The technology services industry requires successful firms to be responsive to change, a learning organization and laser-focused on quality and client service.
SSI has prospered through no fewer than five major technology industry transitions.
In its early days, the company built its reputation for commitment to delivery through a series of subcontracting arrangements with other, larger firms that needed resources. SSI grew based on its ability to quickly serve client needs with high-quality IT recruits.
The company has now evolved into three complementary lines of business, each with a specific market focus, but with crossover opportunities that fuel its overall growth.
It is Smith’s strong, steady vision as CEO that provides the company with its roadmap for the future.
President and CEO
Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD)
Barb Smoot joined Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD) as its first employee in 2010.
At that time, WELD only served the Central Ohio area, had fewer than 200 members and just five companies engaged as corporate members.
Today, WELD is a national organization that has embarked on a growth strategy to bring WELD programs to other communities thirsting for top-notch leadership programs for women. The goal is to provide the means to build strong business connections and then pay it forward.
As president and CEO, Smoot developed the strategic and tactical plans that served as the blueprint for WELD’s rapid growth. Smooth is a community collaborator and master connector.
In the last six years, the organization has rapidly grown its membership, expanded its program offerings, increased its event attendance, enlarged its footprint, increased diversity and fostered strong strategic partnerships, as well as given back to the communities it serves.
Michael Stevenson, CPA, CFE, CFF, ABV
Clarus Partners, founded in 2007, sees itself as not just an accounting firm but also as a group of business advisers who focus on the overall fiscal health and well-being of their clients.
Led in part by Managing Partner Michael Stevenson, the firm focuses on the overall strength and viability of its clients to create competitive advantages throughout their lifecycle.
Stevenson brings a unique skill set to Clarus that includes broad knowledge, clear insight and innovative ideas, all of which are applied to clients’ accounting and auditing needs.
He believes that smart leaders must have people skills and the ability to think on their feet.
Clarus invests in people; maintaining a diverse talent base that allows the firm to serve the needs of businesses and their owners throughout the business life cycle, while delivering a fresh perspective by cultivating relationships. The firm’s experience and knowledge is most valuable when it knows and understands the people it serves.
Founder and CEO
Kara Trott is the founder and CEO of Quantum Health, a consumer navigation and care coordination company. Throughout her career, Trott has had success designing and executing research-based consumer intercept strategies for major consumer brands. She brought this same expertise to health care.
In 1999, Trott founded Quantum Health, the first company in the health care industry to apply consumer behavior mapping strategies. Using proprietary research, Quantum Health established a model for consumer care coordination and navigation based on how people experience their health care journey, what they need and how best to connect with them. As a result, employers are seeing increased engagement, utilization in other vendor solutions, a simplified member experience and cost savings.
Over the past several years Quantum Health has seen tremendous growth. Beginning with just five employees, today it employs over 500 and serves more than 500,000 plan participants.
J. Michael Vargo
President and CEO
J. Michael Vargo credits his smart team of engineers and distribution experts for transforming how VARGO looks at problems and provides solutions for companies running fulfillment centers. In the past, the answer was always mechanical equipment, but the company is a firm believer in letting go of old, tired processes that no longer work.
Today, almost 70 percent of VARGO’s business comes from designing custom-engineered material-handling systems, each one tailored to a customer’s needs. The company has the ability and experience to design and install the most complicated and sophisticated integration systems.
Vargo, the company’s president and CEO, and his team recognize that today’s world demands the best mechanical equipment paired with the smartest software and unique methodologies to achieve lean and efficient distribution. Customers want their online orders to arrive fast, and the intelligent warehouse execution systems that VARGO develops help companies deliver those goods as quickly as possible.
Founder and president
Heather Whaling, founder and president, launched Geben Communication from her dining room in 2009. And thanks to key hires and strategic business development initiatives, growth skyrocketed.
While growth has been quick, it’s also been strategic. Whaling reorganized the company, providing more structure and promoting internal people into leadership roles. Her “lean by design” approach focuses on efficiency in all aspects of the business. She avoids the request for proposal process and focuses on building organic relationships that turn into clients and referrals.
Culture is so important at Geben that it’s the basis of individuals’ annual reviews; on each person’s anniversary she identifies cultural areas of strength and opportunities for improvement.
Whaling believes that Geben is her platform for showing how a business should be run and the considerable impact one organization can have, even if it’s small. For example, she provides up to 10 weeks paid leave for moms and dads alike.
In March 2016, U.S. Bank was honored for the second consecutive year by the Ethisphere Institute as a World’s Most Ethical Company®. Honorees of this award are companies who impact the professional landscape as leaders and innovators in their fields, fostering ethical soundness and transparency throughout the organization.
“At U.S. Bank, we want to be our customers’ most trusted choice. We earn that distinction by embracing a culture of ethics and integrity as we help our customers navigate important financial milestones,” said Richard Davis, chairman and CEO.
The Smart 50 Awards, now in its third year, brings together like-minded leaders that share the common drive toward sustainability and growth for our region.
The value of this program is not only found in the recognition for the critical innovations and impact to the business community and region at large, but also about the knowledge exchange and network connections with professionals across all sectors,” said Steffan Moody, Market Leader for Central Ohio. “The Smart 50 program stands out in our market simply due to the energy behind it — both the commitment of organizations involved and the excitement of award winners.”
Here at Oswald, since our founding in 1893, we’ve had the same core mission of helping individuals and businesses identify, reduce and manage their risks.
We remain dedicated to delivering new and innovative service solutions for our clients, investing in our industry’s top talent and supporting causes within our communities.
Our mantra at Oswald is “Focus Forward,” and that is exactly what we do when it comes to advancing our abilities to serve the needs of our clients and our employee-owners. It’s about setting high aspirations for the future without losing sight of what got us here today.
It’s a message we can all relate to as part of the Smart 50 program. It’s a chance to both reflect on past accomplishments and renew our commitment toward future success.
On behalf of Oswald and all of this year’s supporters, we extend our most sincere congratulations to the Smart 50 class of 2016.
Clark Schaefer Hackett is one of the Top 100 CPA and advisory firms in the U.S., offering expertise in audit, tax and business consulting services. Our advisors are guided by the CSH REAL Values: Respect, Excellence, Accountability and Leadership. Of these values, leadership is one of the more complex aspects to master and exhibit — but those who do it well are the ones who make a real difference.
As CSH strives to grow and innovate, we recognize the critical need to develop smart, talented leaders who build trust, offer guidance, deliver outcomes and provide vision — inside and outside the firm. These individuals will guide our organization into the future, so we actively work to provide opportunities for professional advancement and increase the diversity of our firm’s leadership. These efforts will help us fulfill our mission to better the lives of our clients, people and communities.
CSH is proud to support events like the Smart 50 Awards — which recognizes leaders who are making positive changes to the business landscape.
Event Marketing Strategies, an experiential engagement agency focused on non-traditional face-to-face marketing, is proud to be a sponsor of the Smart 50 Awards. We believe fully in hiring and training SMART: Strategic, Motivated, Adaptable, Responsible and Trusted leaders.
When analyzing an organization’s success you tend to look from the top down. Three traits we believe successful leaders embody include excellent communication, attention to detail and strong creativity. Our agency was started and continues to thrive on these principles. Communication, both internally and externally is key — from securing new business to serving your clients or stakeholders to engaging with your employees through social outings. The success is in the details … or at least that’s how we feel. Every element is important and we believe in treating it as such. Regardless of the industry, companies must be creative. Rather than thinking outside of the box, we don’t even allow a box to exist.
Congratulations to the honorees, it’s incredible to be a part of such a SMART community.
Engagement doesn’t happen overnight. It is the result of a long-term commitment by your organization to connect with and invest in the wants and needs of your target audience.
Convero develops content marketing programs that increase engagement and performance. Our five-step process delivers detailed plans — from strategy and planning to execution and measurement — for organizations across a wide range of industries, including banking and finance, health care, higher education, manufacturing and associations.
We are visual storytellers who believe that creativity should arise and flourish without boundaries. Whether it’s bringing your brand, your value proposition or your organization’s culture to life, we accompany our award-winning visuals with carefully crafted scripts that support your messaging objectives, engage your audiences and inspire action. Telling your story, engaging your audience and driving results is what we do best. Your vision is our passion.
We amplify your presence by providing high quality, cutting-edge video content. We are dedicated to warm, professional standards of service, and guarantee satisfaction with our products and your experience. Our primary focus is to serve the business community through producing content engineered to expand your reach.