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.
Join us in celebrating their passion, innovation and unwavering commitment to win in the marketplace. Congratulations to all of our finalists!
EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™
Northeast Ohio Program Director
Consumer and Retail Products & Services
More than Gourmet
When he was a child, Brad Sacks would spend hours with his aunt learning how important it was to cook with quality ingredients. This made a lasting impression on the young boy, and he learned that taking an extra step to deliver a quality product was applicable at the kitchen table as well as in the workplace.
After completing college and obtaining a few years of business experience, Sacks was ready to start a business of his own — his entrepreneurial spirit and passion for gourmet cuisine soon aligned.
He visited kitchens across the country and found that the culinary marketplace had a significant void when it came to broths, stocks and demi-glazes. These were key components of any chef’s repertoire, yet they were some of the last ingredients they took pride in calling their own.
With the goals in mind of making a product that would cost less, require less shelf space, be safer for the consumer and provide a consistent, high quality flavor, Sacks launched More Than Gourmet in 1993. He put his determination and compassion to work as a leader and forged strong relationships with grocers and chefs throughout the world.
By dealing with some of the finest meat, poultry, fish and vegetable cultivators, MTG is developing cutting-edge products that have enabled it to be a leader in the food service, retail and industrial ingredient markets.
As CEO, Sacks believes one of his greatest strengths is his compassion. He believes it is important to look at a problem or issue from the other person’s perspective. With this insight and an open mind, Sacks has built a loyal workforce. Employees feel respected and part of a larger team. Sacks believes each employee should take a personal sense of pride in product quality and the company itself, allowing him or her to meet both personal and professional goals.
DuneCraft, Inc., a manufacturer of themed terrariums and seed-to-sprout kits for all ages, owes much of its success to CEO Grant Cleveland’s creativity and persistence.
One of the first signs of his persistence as an entrepreneur was to pull himself up from bankruptcy after his Internet company failed during the dot-com crash.
With funding from a venture capitalist, he launched DuneCraft, Inc., which manufactured and distributed one product — Odd Pods.
Since Cleveland’s first product in 2001, more than 300 have been developed. Key to the success of its products is universal appeal and a relatively cheap price. As a result, DuneCraft’s potential market share and growth are limitless. Realizing the possibilities for expansion, Cleveland thinks outside the box to invent product lines that appeal to all ages.
Although the ultimate creative license for DuneCraft rests with him, he encourages and welcomes ideas from his staff.
Cleveland has developed a nurturing work environment focused on better communication. As part of the environment, he has integrated potted plants and fountains with fish into DuneCraft’s offices to create a calming environment conducive to creativity and effectiveness.
As a dedicated hardworking individual who expects his employees to echo his work habits, he nevertheless strongly supports a positive work/life balance. Both the office and warehouse workers are inspired by Cleveland’s dreams for DuneCraft and respect him for his vision.
Cleveland is a strong supporter in philanthropic endeavors. Each year, he donates a portion of DuneCraft’s profit and his personal income to charities.
In the past year, these include contributions to the Cleveland Foodbank, Cuyahoga Community College and Habitat for Humanity. In addition, the company donated packages of its products to the Kids Wish Network.
Hastings Water Works
In 2012, David Hastings realized that the company he had founded 20 years earlier had reached a crossroads. Hastings Water Works, a pool service, maintenance, management and lifeguard service provider, needed a new direction. There was so much growth that the company couldn’t support operations at the high standards it offered.
Founded in 1992, Hastings developed a dedicated workforce focused on providing pool cleaning, maintenance services and supplies to high net-worth individuals. Over the next several years, the company grew in terms of employees and sales as Hastings expanded to include lifeguard services.
To overcome the crossroads impasse, Hastings created new positions to help usher in the next level of growth through innovation and expansion into eight to 10 new markets by 2019. Since 2012, he has added 14 new positions.
One position was a COO, and in the months since the COO’s arrival last year, Hastings has loosened his reins and empowered employees to embrace their roles and responsibilities. This will help position Hastings Water Works for its impending expansion.
Hastings believes he himself is a “man filled with optimism but grounded in reality” and hopes that by serving as a constant inspiration to his workforce, he can motivate employees to meet their personal and professional goals.
In a market saturated with small, often unaccountable operations, Hastings tries to separate himself from others by offering a service with a high price-point and even higher quality and customer service.
Hastings says 60 percent of his new business comes through word-of-mouth referrals and 90 percent of the company’s annual revenue comes from repeat customers.
He routinely praises employees for the thorough service they provide and the pride they take in their work. Customers show appreciation for the job well-done by acting as “advertisements” for the company.
Michael Caspar had sold out his interest in his Internet startup Golf.com and was looking to buy a company he could turn around. Joining forces with his brother-in-law Jason Berry, the pair decided on Weston Products — a company with little vision or direction and an even gloomier future.
The company, which had experienced losses in the two years before Casper and Berry’s takeover in 2009, specialized in selling private label meat grinders and vacuum sealers to outdoor retailers such as Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shop. Caspar and Berry felt passionate about the product and moved quickly to take Weston from the brink of bankruptcy.
Caspar, CEO, and Berry, COO, mended the relationships with some of the company’s most important clients by rebuilding trust. They also changed the design of the Weston-branded products to differentiate them from the models sold to their private label customers.
While company morale had been at a low due to micromanagement, Caspar and Berry implemented a cultural shift by empowering employees to make decisions, speak their minds and voice new ideas. The changes paid off in immediate dividends. Weston Products turned a sizeable profit in the first year and has continued to grow ever since.
The pair launched a profit-sharing plan in 2011 to demonstrate to employees how valuable they were to the company. The program is for key individuals with the goal to increase company loyalty and reward senior level management for its role in current and future company growth.
Caspar and Berry know that by establishing a relationship and catering to customers’ needs and want, they can improve business relationships and enhance the chances of the clients showcasing Weston Products on their shelves. Just this year, Cabela’s, which had previously carried only Weston’s private label products, agreed to sell more than 15 Weston-branded items.
Distribution & Manufacturing
Scott T. Becker
One main component of Scott T. Becker’s success leading Chromaflo is his philosophy of “Give the customers what they want!”
That attitude resonates throughout the company, from the customer service to the business alliance and partnerships. Becker, CEO, uses a “less rules” strategy in his customer service department and is in constant contact with his customers to understand their needs and demands.
The products Chromaflo produces are centered on the customers rather than an industry attitude of “making it work.” Employees see the big picture — the more satisfied customers there are, the higher the company value — and recognize that value leads to higher sales and success.
The business continues to profit thanks to employees that are driven and rewarded for operating day-by-day by this philosophy.
Even as Becker was interviewing private equity firms two to three years ago, he focused on customer factors. Seeking an equity firm that would help grow his company, Becker knew how important it would be to work with a partner who already understood the chemical industry. He called other portfolio companies for additional insight on each of the private equity firms before choosing the right one.
The way Becker has handled the company’s challenges only reiterates his passion for success. For several months, he tried to convince shareholders to acquire Colortrend, which would give the company more markets. He met with groups of five to six shareholders at a time making his argument. Not only did he win over the shareholder’s trust by a 99 percent approval rate, but successfully kept the acquisition details under the radar. The acquisition transformed the company into what it is today.
Joseph M. Gingo
Chairman, president and CEO
A. Schulman, Inc.
When Joseph M. Gingo was asked in 2008 to become CEO at A. Schulman, Inc., the supplier of high performance plastic compounds and resins definitely needed some repair. Once he accepted the position, Gingo realized it was a “salvage job.” The company was losing money in the United States for the first time in the company’s history.
Gingo, who also serves as the company’s chairman and president, had been on the company’s board of directors since 2000, but still had no idea of what lay ahead of him. There was little corporate structure and processes. The company lacked strategy and even a clear set of goals, but he took the challenge.
Two of the biggest reasons that he made the move were that he had always aspired to be a CEO of a company — and he also loved to fix things.
He hit the ground running with several critical initiatives. He initiated monthly financial statement reviews and a global strategy. In addition, he also hired an executive team where there had been none and hired leaders for human resources, legal, purchasing and marketing.
Gingo also has helped develop an improved company culture and has put together the company’s guiding principles: open (open our minds), honest (build trust), listen (listen to our customers) and accountable (be accountable for our actions).
In 2012, Gingo implemented a series of global initiatives including the formation of a Global Growth Summit, held annually to promote cross regional business development opportunities.
These improvements gave the company a solid base to focus on growth opportunities.
Under Gingo, A. Schulman has made several acquisitions that fit into A. Schulman’s existing structure. He foresees more transformational acquisitions as well as organic growth over the next five years.
Brian D. Gale
president and CEO
Brian D. Gale was facing a crossroads in his career. A graduate of Harvard Business School, he had just obtained his master’s degree in business administration from the University of Chicago. He was set to work for Bain & Co., a global management consulting firm, when an offer came to join ID Images for the summer. The opportunity led to another offer, he was offered the position of second in command at ID Images.
After doing his due diligence, Gale decided to serve out his contract with Bain and in 2003 joined ID Images full time. Three years later, with the company’s CEO close to retirement, Gale organized a majority buyout. He became president and CEO of the label converter and printing company.
Gale took over what was a stagnant company and drove it to become a high growth enterprise with a national footprint, achieving award-winning industry performance in the process. He has been a charismatic leader with business savvy throughout his life, traits that have been accentuated even more in his role at the ID Images helm.
Maintaining that work has to be fun, he has instilled a culture of positive reinforcement at ID Images.
“There are 170 hours in a week — when you work 50 of those hours, it can’t be a negative experience or it will affect the rest of your time,” he says, believing that flexibility is critical to successfully run organizations.
He also offers all employees two paid days off to volunteer within the community, and challenges employees to challenge themselves. Employees who do something outside their comfort zone receive a stipend.
Gale serves on the boards of the Julie Billiart School and the American Red Cross of Medina County. Additionally, he commits substantial time as a mentor to The Burton D. Morgan Mentoring Program at JumpStart.
Michael K. Baach
President and CEO
The Philpott Rubber Company
When Michael K. Baach arrived at The Philpott Rubber Company in 2009, he became president and CEO of a 110-year-old company.
While that longevity came about through strong principles and dedication to providing high quality molded rubber and plastic parts to customers, something was lacking: the drive and ability to take risks that a 21st century company needed to succeed.
Although the company became an ESOP-controlled firm in the late 1970s, Baach saw that Philpott’s share value was not growing enough to keep up with inflation. Attributing this to a culture of complacency and lack of innovation, Baach felt he needed to empower his workforce to create a more entrepreneurial culture. Through his leadership and drive, he was able to turn the company into a regional powerhouse in the rubber and polymer industry.
He began by getting input from each employee, empowering him or her to become all he or she could be. By instilling the feeling that each employee has a direct impact on the performance of Philpott, Baach also instilled a feeling of courage and belief in not to fear failure.
One example of encouraging employees to be more creative and innovative is demonstrated by an employee receiving a patent, the first ever to be awarded to a Philpott employee. Prior to Baach’s arrival, there was a negative outlook on patents as being not worth the effort. Through his encouragement and support, Baach helped the employee to secure the patent.
On the innovation side, Baach saw that it was imperative to break into the oil and gas industry, and the company started to produce a polymer used as a lubricant to help increase the pressure flow of gas as it is being released from the ground. It is projected in the next few years to become more than 50 percent of the business that Philpott conducts.
Educational Services & Non-Profit
The Burton D. Morgan Foundation
Deborah Hoover believes that “You can’t go wrong doing right” — and displays this in her own personal behavior as well as in the operation of The Burton D. Morgan Foundation, of which she is CEO.
Since she took the helm in 2007, the foundation has taken on a more public and prestigious role in the community. Founded in 1967 by businessman Burton D. Morgan, who was passionate about both entrepreneurship and philanthropy, it is one of the oldest and largest entrepreneurial supporters in the region.
Hoover shares his same passions and makes sure to always act in line with the wishes of Morgan and his foundation. She has created a culture of strong philanthropic passion for the region and wants it to improve for the future while still making a difference in the present. This working environment has attracted new, young talent, with more than 100 applicants applying for a recent staff opening.
Hoover manages her teams to focus on the end goal while maintaining integrity and performing due diligence while carrying out their work. She ensures that all grants given on the foundation’s behalf are identified as well-deserving and fitting of its mission.
While she finds the most enjoyment in watching people and organizations grow that the foundation supports, Hoover also loves seeing an idea work through its initial startup phase and turn into something meaningful. She believes this is the core of entrepreneurship and tries to share the excitement of creating something small and having it turn into something much larger than expected.
One of her most satisfying moments is seeing organizations excel that the foundation helps fund — and teach people meaningful skills they can use every day. She takes pride in the prestige that her foundation has earned and works hard to maintain the reputation the foundation has created.
Patricia W. Nobili
president and CEO
Achievement Centers for Children
When Patricia W. Nobili stepped into the Achievement Centers for Children 20 years ago, she inherited a troubled organization.
She took the CEO position in order to challenge herself and implement a financial plan and strategic vision for the organization. While young, she was diagnosed with epilepsy, and she became withdrawn and shied away from activities in school. Through the help of a social worker she regained her confidence and along with it a career goal. She wanted to help those with a more challenging road ahead than others.
Nobili began with making necessary management changes. She was pleasantly pleased, however, to inherit a talented, internally driven clinical staff that shared her passion to help others reach their full potential.
Next, she invested in the foundation of the agency and implemented accountability into the organization. As a result, she was able to grow and improve the services provided. Achievement Centers for Children has had minimal employee turnover during Nobili’s tenure since the employees share her passion for the cause.
A good indication of her success in growing the organization is seen in the number of clients served. When she started, the agency served some 400 clients as compared to the nearly 4,000 clients served today. In addition, she has significantly expanded the services offered to these clients and families.
While some government funds have disappeared, and the economy has been challenging with its ebb and flow, Nobili has kept the agency alive.
While salaries and benefits had to be cut, few if any, staff members left the agency after the cutbacks — and that truly says something about the passion that Nobili ignites in the people she employs.
Sharon Sobol Jordan
president and CEO
The Centers for Families and Children
Sharon Sobol Jordan knew it made sense to merge Center for Families and Children, West Side Ecumenical Ministry and El Barrio to strengthen the impact of the resulting The Centers for Families and Children (colloquially The Centers) in the community.
The agency represents the unity and collaboration of three well-respected organizations with a history of service in the community. The Centers is one of the oldest and largest nonprofit organizations in Northeast Ohio and serves more than 20,000 people annually.
President and CEO since 2006 and COO for five years before that, Sobal Jordan recognized that the services provided could not simply focus on mental health, but instead needed to provide a holistic approach to individuals with mental health issues including early learning, health and wellness (mental and physical health), family services, prevention, emergency food and workforce development training.
As result of the merger, Sobal Jordan increased the number of individuals helped from 8,000 to 20,000 annually, increased employees from 280 to 500, expanded the locations of The Centers from 12 to 16 sites and doubled its revenue. She has also broadened the services that can be provided to patients of The Centers through forming partnerships with larger providers such as The Cleveland Clinic, Breakthrough Charter Schools and Kaiser Permanente.
The Centers recently administered a survey of all employees with the following results: 90 percent of her employees stated that working at The Centers brought meaning to their life; and 98 percent said they were willing to go above and beyond their daily responsibilities at The Centers to meet the initiatives set by Sobal Jordan.
president and CEO
Stratos Wealth Partners
Despite many risks and substantial financial sacrifice, Jeff Concepcion identified and started a new business in Cleveland that has flourished — and now has 50 offices in 24 states throughout the country. Through his vision, he created a unique wealth management services firm and is now recognized as a leader in his industry.
Concepcion is the president and CEO of Stratos Wealth Partners, which provides advisers and their clients wealth management advisory services through access to financial products and strategies.
He built the business solely through his personal savings, which along with the time away from home, created much stress and difficulties for his family.
Concepcion, however, believed in himself and his unique business concept. He knew that if he could recruit top advisers and continue to apply his business principles that the operating results would improve and success would be achieved.
Concepcion designed Stratos to fill a need in the marketplace between the large investment houses and self-employed, independent advisers.
He believed Stratos could provide the best of both worlds — a corporate structure that provides the infrastructure, resources and support necessary to allow the financial advisers to concentrate on servicing clients, and an entrepreneurial structure that allows financial advisers to share in the equity and profits of the company.
Stratos is aligned with LPL Financial, the largest independent broker-dealer, and has built a network of alliances with attorneys, accounting firms and banks. The company also provides administrative and regulatory support, which has become a significant burden in the industry.
With this support, the investment advisers can focus on client service. A unique referral methodology has also contributed to current and future growth by training and delivering qualified referrals at a success rate above industry norms.
Ariel Ventures, LLC
Radhika Reddy is a social entrepreneur, with a clear vision for identifying niche business opportunities. She came to the U.S. from India in 1989 with only $20 and a one-year Rotary exchange student scholarship to do her master’s degree in business administraion program.
After several years of working long hours helping successful company turnarounds, Reddy founded Ariel Ventures in 2001, specializing in international businss and finance, economic development, public-private finance and tax consulting.
Reddy, a partner at the company, is passionate about economic development through globalization, which led to the creation of Ariel Ventures, a one-stop international center.
Ariel Ventures primarily provides consulting and compliance services in New Markets Tax Credits and other economic development incentives, and it pioneered the development of the first and only NMTC software integrated with the CDFI Fund of the Department of the Treasury.
When the NMTC was announced in 2002, Reddy recognized the opportunity to combine international business with economic development. Ariel Ventures is one of only three national firms providing consulting and compliance services related to NMTC.
In addition to NMTC, Ariel Ventures is also very involved in real estate. During the recent recession, the company took a calculated financial risk converting a vacant, blighted building into the Ariel International Center, and has been successful in attracting global and entrepreneurial companies.
The Center has also become known as a chic urban event space.
Reddy is active in business and philanthropic organizations. She serves on the global markets advisory team for the state of Ohio, providing advice on strategies to help Ohio companies export and market globally, and attract global companies and foreign direct investment to Ohio. She also is on the international advisory committee for Cleveland, which helps to develop strategies to attract international businesses for economic development.
founder and CEO
In 2003, Andrew Sparacia left behind the security of the corporate world to start a business of his own. He believed he could earn a living while achieving the work/life balance of service, family and community he desired.
His mentors told him that he was making a big mistake and that his tax consulting business model was flawed. There have been bumps in the road along the way, including a rather large one in 2008.
The partner he started the company with had taken his own life when confronted with a personal crisis that threatened the vitality of the business. Sparacia confronted the uncertainty the event caused head-on, meeting with clients and asking for their continued trust. Following his motto, “always do what’s right by others and trust will follow,” he didn’t lose a single client.
Sparacia stresses trust, transparency and flawless execution as priorities. He leads by example and works diligently to achieve the company goals and deliver a high quality product to clients.
Today, global X is a clear reflection of his vision. The company meets the needs of project developers and producers seeking equity financing for socially responsible projects such as the restoration and preservation of historic real estate, capital investment for renewable energy facilities and film/entertainment production and infrastructure. global X supports the community through donations to 35 nonprofit organizations, including Cleveland Restoration Society, Ronald McDonald House and The City Mission.
Sparacia encourages employees to open themselves to comparable team experiences that community involvement offers. That encouragement is echoed by investments in mobile technologies, which can allow for productivity outside the office, and the offer of flextime that accommodates work/life balance needs. Likewise, global X has matched its employees’ dedication by paying 100 percent of their premiums for health care insurance and many common expenses such as parking and personal cellphone use.
Health & Wellness Services
president and CEO
Exact Care Pharmacy
Dale Wollschleger, who grew up in a blue-collar family where his father was a pharmacist at a small pharmacy, started growing his entrepreneurial spirit and passion for helping people at a young age.
After finishing school, Wollschleger worked alongside his father before taking a position with Medic Pharmacy. He eventually purchased Lutheran Hospital Pharmacy, where he was exposed to many individuals suffering from mental illness. He soon came to believe that they could live a better life if they took their medication correctly.
Exact Care’s solution was the ExactPack, which eliminates weekly pillboxes and reduces the risk of errors. The ExactPack allows for a month’s worth of prescriptions that are individually packaged in chronological order, and include details on the medicines as well as instructions on when to take them.
The company has grown rapidly because of the management style Wollschleger brings, which has evolved around his quick-thinking and passionate nature.
Exact Care has had rapid growth, but hasn’t lost the company philosophy to treat everyone like family. The president and CEO’s management style resonates from the top down, and employees have embraced it.
Customers regularly write letters to thank employees for their help. The notes range from simple thank-you notes to one that explained how Exact Care helped a customer live a normal life by helping her adhere to her medications.
Similar to the passion Wollschleger has to assist his customers, Exact Care employees are given opportunities in every aspect of the business. He has even opened Exact Care University, an accredited university to attract pharmacy technicians who can become trained and licensed.
Another example of Wollschleger’s innovative thinking was a recent investment in a machine that takes a photo of every prescription pack, reviewing for color, shape, size and depth to ensure there are no dosage exceptions.
Michael W. Baird
Michael W. Baird took his passion for people, culture and social services and founded Human Arc 30 years ago. It has grown from a single Medicaid eligibility screening and enrollment service for one client to a selection of reimbursement and revenue enhancement solutions and experience for many clients across all 50 states.
Employees are trained to be sensitive to customer needs as management emphasizes the philosophy that customers should be better off as a result of Human Arc’s services.
Although Baird leads all aspects of his business, he understands that he cannot lead all business departments. The “tone at the top” truly does embody the desire for employee satisfaction as well as customer satisfaction. Accordingly, he empowers employees to provide their own expertise in their respective departments. In addition, the company offers flex time as well as workplace goals tailored to each employee.
Human Arc adopted a slow-growth business model to absorb new business at a pace that was in line with the company’s capabilities. This prudent business strategy allowed the company to grow and impact more customers, but not at a rate that would cause the company to collapse. There are now 610 employees working in eight states with locations in Northeast Ohio, Michigan and Kansas City.
The company is also committed to aiding others in need to receive food, shelter and medicine. Baird saw an opportunity to help patients and at the same time, help hospital’s receive payment for health care services provided. This market mismatch has led to Human Arc’s success and will only become more prevalent with the Affordable Care Act.
As the company has already experienced government policy change and has adapted, management is confident it can continue to expand impact to people in dire need of health care services across the United States.
Innovation and Technology Products & Services
Richard L. Bednar
chairman, president and CEO
TenPoint Crossbow Technologies
From the start, Richard L. Bednar, chairman, president and CEO of TenPoint Crossbow Technologies, had a vision of creating a crossbow brand known for premium quality and constant innovation.
In 1993, from his family’s living room, he drafted the soon-to-be company’s corporate statement and began raising funds primarily through family and friends to get started. A year later, TenPoint was launched.
From the company’s beginning, Bednar’s focus has been a niche market for outdoor enthusiasts who demand crossbows with premium design, safety and functionality.
As a result of this focus, Bednar has brought to market multiple innovations that help myriad consumers, including the physically challenged, to be able to hunt. Bednar has made it a priority to invest in intellectual property, and the company now has more than 30 issued patents and more than 50 patents in the approval stream.
Notable among these are a loading gearbox that allows a 185-pound bow to be loaded with up to five pounds of force and a trigger mechanism that releases the string with 3.5 pounds of force. Bednar continues to invest in research and development with a current focus on making the bows lighter, quieter and more compact.
The growing list of patents presents TenPoint with one of its next opportunities for financial success: earning a steady revenue stream from the licensing of its intellectual property. Additionally, the company is always looking at a variety of strategic moves to continue to grow the business.
Bednar considers himself a “give-back kind of guy.” In addition to providing financial assistance to clubs within the community including local baseball and softball teams, college athletics and so on, the company donates products to silent auctions at charity fundraising events and for educational use by the National Rifle Association and the National Wild Turkey Federation.
CEOs and co-founders
Founded by Connie Clore and Gregg Gay, who also lead the company as CEOs, Asurint, a provider of comprehensive and single-source information related to the background screening business, has nearly doubled its growth in the past two years.
Currently the largest aggregator of criminal history data in the industry, the company’s ability to combine information from multiple sources allows multiple data points in an individual’s background to be cross-referenced, providing fast, accurate and cost effective results. The path to success, however, hasn’t always been easy.
Clore and Gay first met while working for a small background check company in Cleveland. The pair quickly saw ways to grow the business by providing a better solution for clients, and started their own company in 2004.
Both had moved to the area to work for their previous employer, and therefore lacked an established network of advisers, investors and colleagues to consult. And since they were entering the same industry as their previous employer, they were prevented from starting until their noncompete contracts were over.
Having been out of the industry for several years while looking for investors and waiting out their contracts, they faced the risk that their products were no longer relevant in the current market.
Without an income and quickly draining their 401(k) savings, Clore and Gay were finally able to secure enough investment money to open the doors.
Today, the company is focused on innovation, with both Clore and Gay guiding strategic initiatives, such as offering products focused on volunteers. Asurint verifies the background information of millions of United States volunteers and provides lists of qualified people who are capable of volunteering in emergency situations, such as floods and hurricanes affecting the U.S.
president and CEO
Park Place Technologies
When Park Place International approached Ed Kenty in 2003, he had already outfitted his current employer with valuable resources that Park Place was lacking — an established call center, extensive service operations and high-level engineering capabilities.
Then in 2004, Kenty faced the challenge of merging the two company cultures. He not only embraced the potentially hazardous clash of diverse methodologies, but mitigated “we/they” mentalities and served as the anchor for the successful transition.
In 2011, the company was split and Park Place Technologies became the next shift in gears that Kenty had championed. Under his leadership as president and CEO, the company has become one of the nation’s fastest growing data center hardware maintenance companies.
The speed at which businesses must operate within the technology realm is an incredible challenge. Kenty’s focus on continued change and increased efficiencies to meet customer needs is a top priority. This includes developing and challenging procedures internally as well as assessing the market and developing to meet future needs.
Though original equipment manufacturers pose a threat, Kenty competes by focusing on the service process.
He differentiates the company by maintaining a commitment to customer service and understands that when customers have an issue, they need it to be resolved as soon as possible.
A testament to Park Place’s strength, as other companies were making cutbacks, Park Place bounced forward during the recession.
Kenty leveraged his company’s value proposition when end users began to seek methods of saving money, which led to a leap forward in contracts and a continued pattern of growth. The pace of growth has required that the company move to a state-of-the-art facility to increase capacity.
David A. Osage
President and CEO
The Equity Engineering Group, Inc.
Prior to launching The Equity Engineering Group, Inc., David A. Osage worked in the oil industry in various engineering positions. It was during this time that he recognized an immense unmet need to maintain aging oil infrastructure across the world.
In 2002, Osage and fellow co-founders started the Equity Engineering Group with a vision of keeping the aging worldwide oil infrastructure in working condition.
The organization operates an integrated set of several lines of business geared to provide complete life cycle management of pressure equipment. The company’s industry practice business generates revenues through development of accepted industry practices.
In turn, the knowledge created by the company provides opportunities for consulting services. It also develops and markets its own software for clients, with accompanying training services.
The early 2000s represented a challenging time for the company both internally and externally. The Equity Engineering Group’s original founders each owned an equal portion of the company, but some of the owners wanted to leave. Those departures presented a significant cash flow strain just as the economic downturn escalated.
To cope, the company established an employee stock option program, which provided liquidity for owners and beneficial tax attributes. The ESOP had the added benefit of keeping everyone within the company engaged, since all employees have a stake in the organization’s success.
As president and CEO, Osage has built a culture of ownership throughout the organization. He believes strongly in setting up employees to succeed with the proper tools and access to management. Employees and managers can control their own schedules, not having to abide by a rigid set of standards.
Additionally, to ensure the retention of talent, the management team instituted a salary continuation policy, which provides for pregnancy leave and disability benefits in excess of government requirements. These policies exemplify Osage’s belief that employees should be subject to high expectations, but also given flexibility to manage their own career.
Content Marketing Institute
Early in his career, Joe Pulizzi determined that effective marketing was more like publishing. He coined the term “content marketing” to define his work with marketing executives, a phrase that would be the theoretical groundwork for his business ventures.
In 2007, Pulizzi started Junta42, an online matching service for marketers looking for content providers. The startup was effective in matching more than 1,000 projects in the first two years, including some Fortune 500 brands, but it wasn’t financially sustainable.
Junta42 faltered, but Pulizzi’s belief in the concept of content marketing didn’t. When the market turned, Pulizzi realized that companies were more interested in doing the work in-house versus outsourcing, but lacked the resources and training to do so effectively. In 2009, Pulizzi pivoted and adopted a media model, transitioning Junta42 into the Content Marketing Institute, a move that has paid off.
The goal of the Content Marketing Institute is to help clients with the “how-to” of content marketing. Pulizzi believes the more a company knows about it and how to integrate it into its organization, the better it will market itself and ultimately attract and retain happier customers.
To this end, CMI hosts annual events, which generate the revenue driving the company’s growth. The events have also led to referrals for additional corporate work, group sessions, education and training.
CMI has expanded training methods and platforms, extending its reach overseas and around the world, though its international events are not yet as successful as those in the United States.
To improve its overseas presence, CMI created an online training video program and held the very first “virtual event,” which attracted 4,000 marketers to the daylong conference. Pulizzi has just launched a CMI podcast that grows by at least 10 percent each week with listeners in more than 100 countries.
As president of C.TRAC, Inc., Susan Williamson initiated the company’s entrance into the direct marketing space. Her strong work ethic and background in sales helped her forge a working relationship with digital marketer ExactTarget.
Since she became president, C.TRAC has expanded its services, moving from operating in the inventory, data entry and management space to a successful digital marketing practice. Her role with the company has not, however, been without challenges.
When Williamson took the helm, a key client had ended its relationship with C.TRAC and many other clients were scaling back their spending on direct mail because of increased postage costs. Williamson had to take action and reassure the client base during the difficult time, communicating more proactively with clients.
She also faced the challenge of taking an organization that was not in sales and shifting it to one that focuses heavily on sales and marketing.
C.TRAC has embraced its relationship with ExactTarget as a way to put more focus on clients and generate opportunities organically through the partnership.
Instead of competing with ExactTarget’s direct sales personnel, C.TRAC sells collaboratively with them.
C.TRAC offers ExactTarget exclusively, rather than promoting multiple platforms, and the company has become one of only 14 ExactTarget Platinum Partners worldwide. It has been awarded Partner of the Year in 2012 and Top Revenue Solutions Provider in 2013.
Williamson’s philosophy relies on providing honest feedback and advice to clients in order to foster strong, lasting relationships. She strives for excellence and wants to succeed, which translates to hiring managers who have the same values.
In turn, those managers hire employees who are competitive, strive to succeed and want to grow with the company. This competitive attitude and engaged environment from all levels improves C.TRAC’s ability to focus on clients.
president and CEO
Since beginning her career more than 25 years ago, Ann Barnes, president and CEO of MedData, Inc., has pursued excellence and remained determined to hold the organization she serves to the same high standards she holds herself.
Initially joining MedData as vice president of client services, she has quickly climbed the ladder because of her ability to recognize industry shifts and question the status quo.
In order for MedData to achieve growth, it would have to work outside of its core competency. Barnes challenged everyone in the company to look for ways MedData could better serve clients while the company expanded to additional organizations and specialties. Approaching every encounter with passion and resilience has produced results.
Founded as a data service bureau serving independent physician groups in emergency medicine, Barnes’ push to grow MedData’s medical billing services was successful.
Over the next three decades, the company expanded into coding, revenue cycle management and patient pay solutions. It also scaled to serve large staffing organizations and hospitals across multiple specialties.
Barnes came to realize MedData’s unique ability to rapidly scale billing and coding operations to serve clients’ needs. This realization both addressed industry challenges and accelerated the company’s growth into other organizations and specialties, positioning it for future success.
Growth was further achieved through acquisitions and internal innovations. After a private equity firm acquired MedData in 2007, Barnes helped lead the company in the acquisition of four revenue cycle management companies.
Internally, she implemented client-focused standard operating procedures designed to quickly address and anticipate individual needs and drive innovation. This client-focused approach and innovation culture has resulted in 85 percent of new business coming from referrals.
It also positioned MedData for continued growth through further expansion across specialties and into hospital system outsourcing billing and coding.
Real Estate, Design & Building Products
Paul Westlake Jr.
Westlake Reed Leskosky
Paul Westlake Jr. is known for his hard work, innovation and empowerment. His vision and dedication for Westlake Reed Leskosky, the once small local design firm, was noticed early on as he was made the youngest principal after only six years with the firm.
He was determined to develop the most diversified multi-disciplinary and sustainable design firm in the county through empowering his team, collaboration and focused specialization.
Since Westlake became managing principal, the firm has expanded to Phoenix, Washington, D.C., New York and Los Angeles with projects in more than 30 states as well as Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
The firm has evolved from its discipline in architecture to include engineering, theater, lighting, acoustics, fire safety and other specializations.
Faced with the recession of 2008, Westlake took a cut in equity in order to add two new offices, develop an international practice and start three independent companies to expand revenue streams, provide bonuses and alleviate layoffs.
Due to Westlake’s determination, the firm has been able to attract and maintain talent and grow during difficult times.
By developing a wide array of disciplines within the organization Westlake has enabled the firm to offer a more comprehensive design and provide employees an opportunity to specialize while expanding its knowledge in complementary areas.
This business model has allowed the firm to develop into a super niche specialization within the architect industry. This unique makeup has enabled the firm to evolve into price setters in what is typically a market price driven industry.
The firm has made significant strides in sustainable, energy-efficient architecture, and nearly a third of the staff are accredited Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design professionals.
The firm also launched recool.com, a website established to facilitate the exploration and discussion of design and technology solutions for a better environment.
Alan Siliko’s leadership style as CFO of KA, Inc., sets the tone for the organization. His commitment level and enthusiasm encourage employees to strive to bring KA to the top of the professional architectural services industry for its technical expertise in architectural design.
Siliko brings a financial focus and an environment of cooperation that is leading to significant success at the firm, as evidenced by two recent projects — the design of the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland and the Eaton Center building in Beachwood.
After starting with KA in April 2000, Siliko described the firm as one full of great architects, but no one who knew how to run the business.
In his first months, Siliko found the firm had revenue streams that were unpredictable, a lack of appreciation for day-to-day expenses, outstanding debts to outside consultants, an underfunded defined benefit pension plan and personal guarantee notes made by management, despite being structured as a corporation.
In his first week, Siliko had to scramble for funds to cover the payroll.
It took six months to pay off the debt to outside consultants, and five years to pay off personal guarantees previously made by management. KA is now debt free and Siliko says he hasn’t had to worry about payroll since he took over.
One of the key concepts that Siliko brought to KA was his “660 list,” which is a list of costs, at a bare minimum, to cover running the company on a day-to-day basis. This forced a closer look at the company structure and helped the company better align its resources.
Now with finances in order and the firm leveraging technology and being more efficient than ever before, the revenues and the bottom line are better than when the firm was twice its size.
James R. Keene
President and owner
Keene Building Products
When Jim Keene started Keene Building Products in 2002, his initial plan was to market and sell noise control and drainage products while another partner manufactured the products.
Keene, however, ended up on the warehouse floor building the product. Within two years, the company opened its first manufacturing plant in Cleveland and hired its first employee.
Keene Building Products is a marketing and manufacturing company that differentiates itself from competitors that specialize not in both channels but in one. The dual focus allows the company to sell directly to contractors.
Founded on innovation, Keene Building Products depends on its innovative people to develop and manufacture new products as well as market new uses for current products.
The company has 10 patents, three complementary major product lines, manufacturing facilities equipped for future growth and recently created a packaging product made with the same material used to keep moisture out of commercial and residential structures.
Keene, a true entrepreneur at heart, invests time and money in his people because he truly wants them to succeed. As such, the people who work at Keene Building Products are given a tremendous amount of opportunity, regardless of their experience level.
For example, three employees hired as recent college graduates are still with the company a decade later and successfully hold management level positions. In 2008, when the economy was poor, Keene did not lay off a single employee and production output stayed at consistent levels.
Keene Building Products is passionate about the community in which it’s based and works with several nonprofit organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity, Grace Hospice, St. Peter’s ALS Regional Center, Our Lady of the Wayside, Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and Community AIDS Partnerships.
chairman and CEO
FedEx Custom Critical