Honoring the best of the best …
Since 1986, EY has celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women who have followed and achieved their dreams, defining their legacy for the future by building their businesses, giving back to their communities and changing the lives of countless others.
Their passion, vision and persistence stand as a testament to their dedication. Twenty-nine 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 self-confidence have turned their dreams into reality. We applaud them 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 find a better way to win in the marketplace. Congratulations to all of you!
2015 Entrepreneur Of The Year ®
COMMUNITY IMPACT Akram Boutros, The MetroHealth System FAMILY BUSINESS Richard N. Seaman, Seaman Corporation | Scott E. Mawaka, Fleet Response | Jeremy Rayl, J. Rayl Transport | Kim C. Wilson, Chad A. Wilson, Slate Rock Safety, LLC MANUFACTURING & DISTRIBUTION Ramzi Y. Hermiz, Shiloh Industries | Don Esch, Bettcher Industries | Rick C. Farone and Dave Brickner, Guardian Technologies LLC | Mike Baach, Philpott Solutions Group NON-PROFIT Lee Friedman, College Now Greater Cleveland | Terry Davis, Our Lady of the Wayside REAL ESTATE | Michael L. Cantor, Allegro Realty Advisors, Ltd.| Jim R. Santee Jr., Choice Traditions, Inc. | Tracy C. Green, IRG Realty Advisors, LLC RETAIL & CONSUMER PRODUCTS Anthony J. DeCarlo Jr., IdeaStream Consumer Products, LLC | Mike Davis, Adventure Harley Davidson | Scott D. Kuhn, Driftwood Restaurant Group | Grant Cleveland, DuneCraft Inc. SERVICES Aaron Grossman, Alliance Solutions Group | Scot Lowry, Fathom | Dave C. Fulton Jr. and Tom Hartland, Hartland & Co. | Jason Farro, Lighthouse Insurance Group, LLC TECHNOLOGY & IT SERVICES Sam Gerace, Veritix | Suranjan Shome, Epiphany Management Group | Daniel Anstandig, Futuri LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD Sandy Cutler, Eaton Corporation
Here are the 2015 Entrepreneurs Of The Year
Akram Boutros, M.D., FACHE
president and CEO
The MetroHealth System
NOMINATED BY: Dave Jacobs, Oswald Companies
It wasn’t the best of times when Dr. Akram Boutros, FACHE arrived as president and CEO at The MetroHealth System. Morale was low, the hospital was struggling financially and the fear of layoffs permeated the thoughts of many employees.
One of the first initiatives undertaken by Boutros was the facilitation of communication between himself and the CEOs of Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals — a meeting that had not occurred in 10 years. Boutros values competition and believes in the energy it inspires, but he is also committed to focusing on what MetroHealth can bring to the community and how that complements and adds to the health care market as a whole.
Boutros has spoken more than 100 times about MetroHealth to various organizations and has made himself the face of the system who is open to the media and the public.
When Boutros took the reins at MetroHealth, he quickly transformed the culture from uncertainty and contempt to one of success and empowerment. He has built a team that has implemented programs such as opening health clinics in Cleveland Public Schools and a Medicaid expansion plan which preceded a plan from the state of Ohio.
His philosophy of leadership is rooted in having a plan, taking action and maintaining two-way dialogue with his employees and patients.
Boutros spends time each day walking the halls to greet patients and speak with employees. The conversations are not superficial, but rather a way to show them how much they are valued and to gather important feedback that can help MetroHealth be an even better place.
The Think Tank is a prime example of this spirit of collaboration. Modeled off the popular TV show, “Shark Tank,” it has resulted in more than 160 submissions from employees about how MetroHealth can do its job and better serve its patients.
Richard N. Seaman
chairman and CEO
NOMINATED BY: Dell Judd, Oswald Companies
Richard N. Seaman has led Seaman Corporation for nearly 40 years. He took over the business a few years after graduating from college when his father lost his battle with lung cancer. It wasn’t an easy transition, and on top of that, the company was in debt and generating losses.
Fortunately, Seaman had learned from his father that challenges could be overcome. When his father started the business in 1949, he had to replace a number of the company’s initial products, despite the financial hardship that resulted. The reason was they didn’t meet the high standards that the company had set for itself.
It’s a philosophy that Seaman continues to adhere to as the business looks to retain its position as a leader in the industrial fabrics sector.
Seaman was started as a company that made truck tarps and has expanded into a variety of products such as roofing, geomembrane fabrics and flexible tanks — used by notable companies such as Google, Microsoft, GM and Disney.
The company’s chairman and CEO describes family businesses as a treasure. He attends frequent training sessions and meetings focused on family businesses to ensure Seaman Corporation is leveraging the strengths of being a family business and sustaining its growth opportunities.
Seaman relies heavily on a strong management team for his company’s success. This includes an outside board of directors that includes elite business professionals from varying industries. These experts give a new perspective on the business and challenge Seaman and his team to aim higher and continue to take risks. There is also an active customer feedback mechanism in place to keep the focus on continuous improvement.
Seaman also has his mind on the future. A succession plan is in place to keep the company a family business through an active shareholder relationship for Seaman’s children.
Scott E. Mawaka
CEO and President
NOMINATED BY: John Rini, Action Management
CEO and President Scott E. Mawaka has an innate ability to understand the people he leads and serves, and melds traditional corporate, profit-driven goals with individual development that empowers his team.
Mawaka’s father, Ron Mawaka Sr., began Rental Concepts, Inc. in 1986 after he identified a demand for corporate fleet rental and replacement services. With only four shareholders, an administrative assistant and his son, Ron built an HMO-style network of local corporate rental service providers.
After a decade of success, Ron expanded the company’s services to include accident, claims and maintenance management under the name Integrated Vehicle Systems.
Eventually, the two evolved into Fleet Response, a comprehensive fleet services business that realizes consistent annual sales and profit growth.
Under Mawaka’s direction, Fleet Response has become a leader in both its market and Northeast Ohio. For example, in the past 15 years, the company has had only one year with a decline in revenue, which was attributed to the loss of a large client.
The defining characteristic of Fleet Response is its ability to identify an unmet market need and a corresponding, new solution, such as developing online fleet management software tools and mobile service technology and support.
All but one member of Fleet Response’s senior management team has been with the company for over a decade. Over the years, while still wanting to remain informed of key decisions, Mawaka has developed a trust in his management team to make decisions.
Fleet Response also sets an example for corporate philanthropy through its local sponsorship and donation policies — Fleet Response accepts all requests for donation — as well as focused support for Lou Gehrig’s disease research.
J. Rayl Transport
NOMINATED BY: Smart Business Network
J. Rayl Transport is a second-generation family business that started in 1987 on a family farm in Green, Ohio. Jeremy Rayl grew up on the farm owned by his father, Tim, and worked many jobs within the company from payroll to truck maintenance before leaving to attend college.
After a failed merger with a rival transport company called Quality Logistics in 2006, the controller, Karen Rafferty, left J. Rayl to work for Quality Logistics. Rafferty’s departure was the catalyst for Rayl to rejoin the company as controller and subsequently become J. Rayl’s CEO in 2006.
Rayl defines himself as an aggressive and opportunistic business owner. During the recession that began in 2008, J. Rayl had access to capital, which it used to make strategic acquisitions, buy expensive technology, invest in people and enter new markets. As a result, J. Rayl’s biggest growth years were during the recession.
For many years, Rayl surrounded himself with a few close young executives, but as the business has grown, he has hired more experienced members for his management team. He now has an eight-person management team with the three most recent hires having more than 80 years of combined industry experience.
Rayl is also starting an internship program at the company through which college graduates will train for one to two years at the company’s headquarters and then become office managers at the new regional offices the company plans to open as part of its growth strategy.
Rayl is open to doing things differently. J. Rayl recently held its first town hall meeting for all employees where Rayl shared the company’s vision and explained the reasons behind changes occurring at the company.
Given the town hall’s success at informing and unifying his employees, Rayl has committed to doing them semiannually in the future. Rayl has plans to keep growing the business while ensuring that quality remains excellent.
Kim C. Wilson
president and CEO
Chad A. Wilson
Slate Rock Safety, LLC
NOMINATED BY: Eric Shaffer, FirstMerit
Kim C. and Chad A. Wilson were simply hoping to tap into their e-commerce background to solve challenges in the safety apparel industry when they invested in Slate Rock Safety, LLC. Eight years later, the company has double-digit annual sales growth and is revolutionizing the safety apparel industry with innovative technology, passionate professionals and visionary leadership.
As the head of a woman-owned business in a traditionally male-dominated industry, Kim believes women bring unique strengths and a fresh perspective to business. At the same time, she believes that gender is a nonissue. She gains respect by demonstrating knowledge, agility and strategic thinking to meet client needs.
Kim, president and CEO, and Chad, COO, see integrity as the core value for everyone at Slate Rock Safety, in addition to honesty and transparency. Staff meetings take place throughout the year and everyone is given a voice in the direction of the business. Employees are encouraged to voice their concerns and suggestions on how things should be done differently.
For example, an employee’s proposal to change the commission system to incentivize the sales team was promptly adopted. The Wilsons also created a how-to-make-a-mistake policy under which employees can openly discuss mistakes they have made at work with their supervisors without fear of punishment.
Kim believes creating that kind of safe environment nurtures trust, self-reflection and professional growth.
The growth of the company itself did not always come easy. The Wilsons had to make difficult decisions that shaped Slate Rock Safety into the innovative and efficient family business it is today. In 2013, the duo took a tremendous risk by buying out a business partner and taking full ownership of the company. As a result, the Wilsons put their family’s entire livelihood into the business.
Ramzi Y. Hermiz
president and CEO
NOMINATED BY: Robert Klonk, Oswald Companies
When Ramzi Y. Hermiz arrived at Shiloh Industries, he found a company at the precipice of a big change. The reality is, of course, that big changes and innovation always come with risk. While steel is the primary metal used in cars, aluminum and magnesium are lighter and stronger — but more expensive.
Shiloh faces the risk that its investment in aluminum and magnesium could fail if the company can’t help automakers shift their mindset to the benefits of a lighter, stronger product and the efficiencies of laser-welding technology. But the early returns are very encouraging.
Shiloh has doubled in every sense including financial numbers, employees and physical geographic presence.
Hermiz, president and CEO, is a forward-thinking leader who changed Shiloh from an organization looking in the rearview mirror to a company on the front end of vehicle production, one that is behaving more as an engineering consultant for some of the largest automakers in the world.
One of Shiloh’s goals to achieve success is to lead with technology and innovation. Prior to Hermiz’s arrival, Shiloh would just take an order and process it. Now, the company looks to be able to provide its customers with options that include mixes of metals and manufacturing approaches and options that reduce product weight, cost and waste.
Shiloh prides itself on its forward-thinking culture in creating and testing products for the future as evidenced by its Tech Center created in Detroit. It is here that Shiloh develops new, innovative technology to provide customers with possibilities used on prototypes for cars expected to release in 2019.
Another big part of the changes at Shiloh was the ability to change the perception some customers had as to the safety of “lightweight” products. Some have a negative connotation of the term, but the company came up with a slogan, “Lightweight without Compromise,” to ease those concerns.
president and CEO
NOMINATED BY: Dale Kaprosy, Oswald Companies
The owner of Bettcher Industries recruited Don Esch in 2001 as the vice president of sales and marketing, with the goal of increasing sales.
At the time, Bettcher controlled almost 90 percent of its niche market pertaining to the food processing equipment. Esch knew the company would have to enter other regions and markets if it wanted to grow.
He never ruled out an idea for seeming too outside the box, and implemented the Bettcher Idea Factory as part of the strategic plan to stir up employee creativity and look for ways to expand the company’s markets.
Product management, specifically product development and diversification, has been the signature of Esch’s tenure at Bettcher. It’s also why the company is so well positioned to see continued success and double digit annual sales growth for the foreseeable future.
His ability to transform a historic food packaging company into a business that is also involved with state-of-the-art medical procedures is what makes Esch such a visionary. And this is why Esch was promoted to COO and president, before his final move to president and CEO.
The product diversification uses the same core Bettcher technology across all its diverse markets. Today, the newer product lines are approaching 30 percent of the overall business.
In addition, as COO, Esch was crucial to the change of leadership and direction of the company that came with the retirement of the CEO and majority owner. He personally led the transition from a privately owned company to 100 percent employee stock ownership plan.
Esch also has continued the management style Bettcher has prided itself on for the past 70 years. It’s an approach where management doesn’t make hastened decisions but keeps a methodical and thorough long-term approach.
Rick C. Farone
Guardian Technologies LLC
NOMINATED BY: Mark Hopton, Action Management
The management styles of managing partners Rick C. Farone and Dave Brickner set Guardian Technologies LLC apart from other consumer products companies focused on home environmental products.
While most executive-level managers in the industry aren’t directly involved in the day-to-day management, the customer base, etc., Farone and Brickner are both on-site daily and interact with customers and suppliers.
With significant operations experience in the consumer products industry and strong relationships with suppliers and manufacturers in the Asia Pacific region, Farone leads the sourcing, manufacturing, logistics and supply chain management functions of the business. In this role, he has successfully managed the company’s manufacturing processes and supply chain to maximize margin.
Brickner leads the company’s sales and marketing teams. He has been able to leverage his relationships in the retail industry to get the company’s products into Costco, Amazon, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Target and Bed Bath Beyond.
When access to capital was limited from late 2007 to 2010, Farone and Brickner redefined the company as a consumer products company focused on home environmental products. In doing so, they eliminated a number of product lines and retained only a select set of highly profitable product lines, such as humidifiers.
The two also empower their people to make decisions and avoid micromanaging the talent at the company by getting excellent people and giving them the opportunity to do their job.
To share in the success of Guardian Technologies, employees are rewarded for their effort during particularly good years. And in order to continue to increase sales, Guardian Technologies recently moved into a new warehouse to better manage its supply chain.
Philpott Solutions Group
NOMINATED BY: Smart Business Network
When Mike Baach was named CEO at Philpott Solutions Group, he enrolled at the University of Akron to study polymer mixing. Baach was already an established leader, but he wanted to understand the technical side of the business. He came to Philpott following the successful IPO of a company he had helped raise from the ground up.
When Baach arrived at Philpott in 2009, he took over a company that was started by John W. Philpott in 1889.
Baach studied the history of the company and found that it had strong principles and was dedicated to providing a high-quality product to its customers. Unfortunately, the company’s growth was nonexistent.
Baach knew that in order to change that, a strategic plan and culture shift were needed. He began to empower his workforce to be innovative, creating an entrepreneurial culture where employees could grow and thrive. His leadership and drive helped turn a once stagnant and complacent company into a growing regional powerhouse in the rubber and polymer industry.
Baach wants employees to think organically, and he asks for input from everyone in the company, believing that such wide-ranging input is needed in order to be successful. He encourages his team to stretch beyond what is comfortable and embrace failure. His push for innovation resulted in the first-ever patent received by a Philpott employee. Prior to his arrival, the company avoided pursuing patents due to the upfront costs associated with the patent application process.
Now, under Baach’s leadership, every product or idea produced by a Philpott employee is thoroughly examined to determine if the technology previously existed or if the new idea is eligible for a patent. He emphasizes that the biggest thing you can control is your attitude, regardless of what else happens throughout the course of a day. Execution is how you present and how you deliver.
College Now Greater Cleveland
NOMINATED BY: Meghan Mehalko, Benesch Friedlander Coplan Aronoff LLP
After years at the executive level in various not-for-profit organizations, CEO Lee Friedman has learned to lead effectively by believing in the mission. She is not only passionate about educating underprivileged youth but is equally as passionate about the city she hopes they will work and reside in.
Friedman believes marrying a social service agency model with an economic development agency is the root of success for College Now Greater Cleveland. The organization provides Greater Cleveland students with guidance and access to funds to prepare for and graduate from college.
During Friedman’s five-year tenure at College Now, the organization has quadrupled its total employees and doubled its funding. From 2012 to 2014, College Now’s budget increased by 48 percent — largely due to her ability to successfully raise funds.
In addition, many studies have shown the retention of first-year to second-year students is key to completing a degree. With that as a focus, Friedman began a mentorship program designed to connect students to successful adults within the community.
The program began in 2011 with 38 mentor pairs; in 2014 there were 730 mentorship matches. College Now’s goal is to have 1,100 mentor pairs by 2016.
College Now sees a direct correlation between mentoring and retention, which ensures students remain in school and receive a degree. The organization has a 90 percent first-year to second-year retention rate, compared to the national average of 58 percent for low-income students.
Additionally, the mentor relationships are helping students find internships and work experience.
Friedman attributes much of her success to inclusion from co-workers early in her career, when diversity in the workplace was scarce. She strives to lead in a similar fashion, ensuring her employees feel highly valued through a collaborative work environment with an emphasis on performance reward. ●
president and CEO
Our Lady of the Wayside
NOMINATED BY: Smart Business Network
It is difficult to measure the impact that Terry Davis has had on Our Lady of the Wayside during his tenure as president and CEO. When he came on-board more than two decades ago, he found an organization on the brink of receivership with only 90 days to enter regulatory compliance.
But Davis saw the vast potential that OLW had in front of it. He was able to take a family-run, volunteer-centric group home for developmentally disabled children that was based in Avon, Ohio, and transform it into a financially stable, multiservice entity that primarily manages more than 70 homes throughout four Northeast Ohio counties.
More importantly, Davis drove the vision throughout the organization that developmentally disabled individuals should be integrated into the community. Davis strongly believed that consumers, the people served by OLW, deserved better than to be placed in a group home and forgotten. They deserve to live as meaningful a life as possible.
Davis and his team have had to overcome numerous obstacles to meet these goals. In trying to assimilate developmentally disabled individuals into the community, there is a constant threat of “not-in-my-backyard” opposition each time OLW wishes to open a new home.
He has faced vocal opposition, but has always addressed any concerns in a direct manner. He has allowed neighbors to visit homes to see that not only will they not be a problem in the community, but they will actually be an asset for the entire neighborhood. He has also brought residents that would stay in these homes to the meetings, thereby allowing everyone to understand the human aspect of the organization’s efforts.
In doing so, Davis has been able to turn some of his early opponents into strong advocates for the efforts of OLW in other communities. ●
Kevin R. Weidinger
president and CEO
NOMINATED BY: Dale Chorba, Action Management
Kevin R. Weidinger prefers to be found at the bottom of the organizational chart at Laudan Properties. He wants to see his employees at the top as they represent the core of his business and are the people who interact most with his customers.
It’s an example of how employees at Laudan are treated with great respect and given plenty of room for growth.
Weidinger’s leadership style at Laudan is welcoming and friendly. He looks for people who can see an opportunity and are willing to put in the hard work now for future reward. Weidinger, president and CEO, prefers to promote from within the company, but he is also willing to admit when his business does not have the resources to properly address a problem.
One of the biggest threats to his business is actually the recovery of the economy from the recession. Weidinger has recognized that the market is recovering and that the foreclosed home inventory of banks and investment groups is dwindling. These are his biggest customers, so he has recognized the potential slowdown in sales.
To counteract this, Weidinger has branched out into new endeavors with similar core skills that have opposite risk profiles.
He has expanded the company into remodeling direct to consumers. Home improvement projects tend to be most popular when the economy is booming and housing prices are on the rise since consumers are then more likely to improve their homes.
Teamwork is an integral part of the culture at Laudan, with groups of four to five people being used to accomplish most functions. When new employees are brought on, they are integrated into a team that trains and helps the employee transition into his or her role. When one function struggles, other team members step in to fill the gap and help the company perform. It’s that collaboration and collective spirit toward maximizing company performance that keeps Laudan on top. ●
Michael L. Cantor
managing director and principal
Allegro Realty Advisors
NOMINATED BY: Dale Chorba, Action Management
Growing up in Cleveland, Michael L. Cantor was fascinated by the development of the downtown area. This led to a career in commercial real estate, but with a distinction from the typical broker — representation of tenants rather than building owners.
Cantor and two co-founders formed Allegro Realty Advisors, Ltd. in 2001.
Typically, commercial real estate brokers represent building owners whose objective is to sell or lease a building. But Cantor, managing director and principal, came from the perspective of the tenant, whose needs aren’t considered in the usual transaction model.
Allegro is paid on a fee basis rather than commission for sales/leases, so it maintains an independence that benefits its clients when it comes to negotiating terms and rights. There is no conflict of interest, which is why Allegro hasn’t affiliated with an international brand.
This unique business model has been a challenge to introduce. The industry is slow to change, but it’s clear Allegro is making progress — it represented tenants in a majority of the largest deals in Northeast Ohio and has won market share.
Currently 40 percent of revenues are generated from national corporate work, while another 40 percent came from tenant representation work. The remaining revenue streams are consulting work and investment services.
The firm did face challenges in the economic downturn, but through client diversification, Allegro’s goal of 25 percent growth per year in top-line revenue has been achieved since 2010.
Cantor’s dedication to giving back to the community is demonstrated in his depth of involvement with Leadership Cleveland, a nine-month civic education program designed to prepare and build leadership resources within Greater Cleveland.
In addition to serving as 2012 class president in Leadership Cleveland, Cantor participated in the LC2 Fellows Program, a project-based, outcome-driven civic engagement experience. ●
Jim R. Santee Jr.
Choice Traditions, Inc.
NOMINATED BY: Krista Dobronos, Westfield Group
Jim R. Santee Jr., CEO of Choice Traditions, Inc., is someone who truly embodies entrepreneurial resilience.
Santee has more than 20 years of self-employment and client-relation experience in construction. Although those years have afforded Santee with opportunities to advance his craft and develop leading practices in construction, they also introduced instances of pressure and adversity, particularly in 2008 and 2009 when the construction industry found itself at a near halt.
During the downturn, Santee had to travel for construction jobs for long periods of time and had to take on less-than-ideal jobs, including a newspaper route, just to pay the bills. But his dream to keep the tradition of carpentry alive did not fail.
“Whatever it takes” is a mantra that is deeply rooted in the culture of Choice Traditions and continues to influence the direction of the company as it moves from a small local business to one that performs work nationally for Fortune 500 companies.
From 2012 to 2014, annual sales at the company have increased 294 percent due to remarkable customer relationships. The construction industry is highly dependent on word of mouth, and many companies ask Choice Traditions to bid on projects because of its stellar reputation to get projects done quickly and accurately.
Santee also prides himself on operating Choice Traditions as a cash-based business in an industry where businesses often succumb to debt pitfalls.
Two things that differentiate Choice Traditions from other construction companies are valued-added services and its employees.
Unlike many of its competitors, Choice Traditions is committed to paying its employees, including subcontractors, on a consistent timetable. In addition, not only does Santee provide a high quality benefits package including health care and 401(k) match, but he also is in the process of developing a high performance incentive program. ●
Tracy C. Green
IRG Realty Advisors, LLC
NOMINATED BY: John Tichar, Oswald Companies
Tracy C. Green has had a passion for real estate and strategic problem-solving since the beginning of his career. Green has worked hard to challenge the traditional function of a real estate property manager and differentiate his real estate properties in the marketplace.
Before he became president at IRG Realty Advisors, LLC, Green saw an environment that viewed property managers as “landlords” and “superintendents” whose primary responsibility was to ensure the furnace was functioning and the sidewalks were shoveled.
Green viewed his properties as complex assets that should be strategically positioned in the marketplace like any other commercial product. He recognized his responsibility to not only the tenants, but to investors in the property as well as the community.
Green began his career as a property manager at Equitec, a national asset management company based in California. Next, he went to Trammel Crow Co., where he ascended to the role of principal and senior vice president. His primary responsibility in this role was managing the real estate enterprise of TCC’s largest national client, KeyBank.
His success gave him another promotion offer, but his work had caught the eye of IRG Realty, a national leader in the real estate development industry. IRG wanted Green to manage its Ohio properties.
Born and raised in Ohio, Green saw this as his entrepreneurial moment and relished the opportunity to have a meaningful impact on his native community.
Green formed Ohio Realty Advisers for the purpose of legally contracting with IRG to manage its Ohio properties. He quickly assembled a team and set in motion a series of events that led Green to sell ORA to IRG and become the president of IRG.
Green has continued to work hard to develop a culture rooted in passion for real estate and rock-solid core values. ●
Anthony J. DeCarlo Jr.
CEO and co-founder
IdeaStream Consumer Products, LLC
NOMINATED BY: John Tichar, Oswald Companies
Anthony J. DeCarlo Jr. wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do when he graduated from John Carroll University. But he knew the lessons he had already learned from his parents would serve him well on whatever path he chose.
DeCarlo’s mother was a teacher and his father was the wrestling and football coach at JCU, and it was from these two profound individuals that DeCarlo drew his personality and sense of self-worth, inspiration to succeed and an incredible ability to lead.
His parents continually impressed upon him that “90 percent of every battle is about preparation and the other 10 percent is having the courage to show up.”
The message taught DeCarlo that life is really about the convergence of opportunity and hard work and that he had to earn everything he wanted and aspired to be.
DeCarlo and his partner, Dan Perella, founded IdeaStream Consumer Products, LLC in 2002. He got to know Perella over 14 impactful years spent working at Manco, Inc. Jack Kahl, Manco’s founder and CEO, was a mentor and close adviser and gave DeCarlo the tools he needed to leave Manco in 2002 to start his own company.
It was a risky move. Both DeCarlo and Perella had comfortable jobs at Manco, and the pair seemed like an unlikely duo — DeCarlo is a creative mind geared toward engineering, marketing and selling while Perella is more analytical and focused on logistics, operations and finance.
But with DeCarlo as CEO and co-founder, the two men proved to be a great complement to each other as they leveraged their strengths and kept each other in check, allowing the business to deliver innovative products with exceptional industrial design.
IdeaStream prides itself on maintaining open lines of communication with its people, creating a sense of community that is used to drive the company forward. ●
Adventure Harley Davidson
NOMINATED BY: Joe Luckring, PNC Bank
In 2003, Mike Davis, president of Adventure Harley Davidson, opened a Harley-Davidson dealership in rural Ohio.
He had a vision to build a destination, not just a bike shop, which transformed Adventure Harley into a four-dealership motorcycle group operating across the state of Ohio. Davis changed the prototypical retail business culture into both an incubator for managerial development and a branded lifestyle experience for his customers.
Adventure Harley competes not only with other motorcycle brands, but also with other Harley-Davidson franchises. Consequently, utilizing a creative marketing strategy is imperative to becoming a dealer of choice.
Davis’s top-down strategy of marketing all of his dealerships as a whole has allowed him to develop his own sub-brand within Harley-Davidson.
He combines inventories, policies, procedures and programs — such as the customer rewards program — to make them available at any of his dealerships. And while each of his dealerships has its own identity, they collectively operate as one cohesive unit.
Davis invests in his employees like no other dealership. For the past five years, he has closed the dealerships for a day and bused every employee to an off-site event with training and development, industry updates, entertainment and motivational speakers.
In addition, the business offers a voluntary leadership development class for any interested employee — more than 80 employees have graduated since its development,.
Adventure Harley also was one of the first in the market to leverage social media, as evidenced by its more than 207,000 unique Facebook followers — the largest in the nation for Harley-Davison dealers.
Under Davis’s leadership, Adventure Harley has been recognized by the Harley-Davidson Motor Company as one of the top dealerships in the nation nine out of the last 12 years. ●
Scott D. Kuhn
Driftwood Restaurant Group
NOMINATED BY: Anna Sobkiv, PNC Financial Services
Succeeding in an industry where businesses fail at an 80 to 90 percent rate has required Scott D. Kuhn, owner of Driftwood Restaurant Group, to be more than just a leader.
While heading an organization of 300 people brings its own challenges, Kuhn has overcome personal life challenges and an economic downturn that put restaurants out of business at historic rates, all the while he was developing as the chief executive and financial officer of a business that continues to experience rapid growth.
Under Kuhn, Driftwood now owns, operates and licenses 15 diverse hospitality brands including eight restaurants, stadium concessions, design and startup consulting, wine bars and award-winning food truck and catering businesses.
Kuhn’s career in the restaurant industry started after he suffered a spinal injury that resulted in an invasive corrective surgery, which caused him to re-evaluate the path he was on.
He purchased his first restaurant directly out of college, and Kuhn spent a good part of that first year working every position in the restaurant to truly learn the business from the inside out. That provided a foundation of knowledge he could leverage for the rest of his career.
Driftwood has been growing at the rate of nearly a restaurant a year, but during the economic downturn, Driftwood was comprised of just three restaurants. Kuhn took a risk and didn’t lay off any employees, but all employees were required to sacrifice for the collective good.
Over time, Kuhn developed a business model that uses key markers to monitor the business’s performance and cash flow. It includes limiting prime costs — labor and the blended cost of goods — to 60 percent of the top line. This takes extreme discipline and strong coordination.
He is also proud that Driftwood is able to retain 43 percent of its hospitality staff, compared to the national average of 30 percent. ●
NOMINATED BY: Smart Business Network
Prior to DuneCraft Inc., entrepreneur Grant Cleveland ran an Internet company that was preparing to go public. But the markets collapsed, the company folded, and he was left bankrupt.
Cleveland spent the next year searching for a big idea, while working various odd jobs to keep food on the table for his family. Eventually, in 2002, he decided to start DuneCraft Inc. because of his background in landscaping and his passion for experimenting and educating.
The first product he created was called Odd Pods, designed to grow cacti from seeds. Even though his initial investor pulled out, Cleveland wasn’t deterred. He secured a deal with one of his suppliers to get the initial product to market.
Since it inception, DuneCraft Inc. has created more than 250 products focused on nature and education. The employees constantly brainstorm, and the company has a room full of prototypes and ideas.
DuneCraft has grown steadily and seen top-line revenues increase 12 percent and 22 percent in the past two years, although Cleveland still faces challenges getting the product and brand name to the mainstream public.
Cleveland is a very hands-on owner. He works directly with his team or in the assembly room during peak times, while always looking to improve productivity.
One lesson he learned from past endeavors was to incentivize his employees. Cleveland pays his manufacturing labor workers by the piece, instead of by the hour. This has doubled cost but quadrupled production and greatly increased worker morale and retention.
He also set up a unique office environment with a koi pond, plants, multiple couches, a pingpong table and an air hockey table.
Cleveland serves as president of the board of trustees for the Fairmount Center of Fine Arts, which he saved from collapse through marketing campaigns and shifting the programming to profitable shows. ●
Alliance Solutions Group
NOMINATED BY: Smart Business Network
CEO Aaron Grossman draws on his experience as a collegiate wrestler to lead by example and ensure accountability, competition, active learning, fun and gratitude are engrained in the culture of Alliance Solutions Group.
Grossman started the firm in the early 2000s, and during its early years, Alliance Solutions Group went through some difficulties, including having a former partner pay for his own leisure activities with company funds and losing another key executive due to differences in business and cultural philosophy.
Through these challenges, Grossman made sure to take employees out for lunch in groups and listen to their concerns. His open and direct communication helped keep the employees engaged and together.
Grossman gives his employees freedom to manage their own tasks but also provides necessary support. He believes strongly in taking the time to think through the culture of an organization and make sure cultural characteristics trickle down from the top.
Grossman set up Alliance Solutions Group as 10 specialized staffing service groups to create a competitive atmosphere, while various employee events are held throughout the year to promote a family tie among employees.
A few years ago, Grossman hired a new CIO who helped change the technology side of the company tremendously.
The two have revolutionized their interview process. The company’s new technology allows interviews to be conducted via videoconference — and then recorded, stored and shared with potential employers.
Alliance Solutions Group also has created software to automate on-boarding and reduce the administrative on-boarding effort from 19 minutes to four minutes per employee.
Besides his success in business, Grossman is heavily involved in the community. In 2010, he started Wrestlers in Business to provide networking opportunities for this unique group. He’s also the area director for the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, where he has achieved a 97 percent retention rate of members. ●
NOMINATED BY: Smart Business Network
Scot Lowry started in the construction management industry, overseeing the construction of large ski lodges and hotels in Colorado. But he wanted something more.
Lowry decided to attend Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management. It was there he was introduced to Promise Partners, a nonprofit network supporting aspiring business owners.
Upon completing an apprenticeship, Lowry searched for 18 months, living only on savings, to realize his dream of business ownership. He bought Fathom in 2007 with a silent partner.
Lowry agreed to run the business operations while Fathom’s founder stayed on as a minority partner to run sales and marketing. Under his leadership, Fathom transformed its culture, capabilities, sales organization and strategy.
In 2010, Fathom’s founder passed away, which increased the challenges Lowry faced as a majority owner of a rapidly growing company during an economic recession — in an industry with constantly changing environments. Even during the recession, however, Fathom increased its average engagement size by 300 percent and grew revenue on average 30 percent annually.
When Lowry, CEO, purchased Fathom, the company focused solely on search engine optimization and email marketing. Today, Fathom offers SEO and social media, email marketing, digital advertising, analytics, video, design and development, mobile/local and proprietary solutions. This has allowed Fathom to stay relevant as one of the fastest-growing independent companies in the digital marketing industry.
Lowry’s passion for entrepreneurship inspired Fathom’s business model, which is broken into five business segments that are run by aspiring entrepreneurs who aren’t ready to take on the level of risk involved in purchasing a company. Lowry mentors these individuals and provides them opportunities to independently build their business segment and team. ●
Dave C. Fulton
president and CEO
chairman and founder
Hartland & Co.
NOMINATED BY: Joe Juster, Calfee, Halter & Griswold, LLP
Tom Hartland has been advising institutional investors for more than 40 years. During his time as a principal investment consultant, he saw a gap in the advisory market in which there was a lack of independent investment advisory firms. Most firms generate revenue based on money management products, but these firms had inherent conflicts of interest because they profited based on the sale of their own products.
This reality compelled Hartland to develop a firm where revenue is based solely on fees paid by the client for advisory services, a true differentiator from competitors. The needs of such services in the market propelled Hartland’s departure from his prior firm and the launch of a new firm which he called Hartland & Co.
As the firm’s chairman and founder, Hartland took a big risk when he started the new business in 1989. He had no clients, but gradually built a business by offering investment advice, developing investment policy and asset allocation, selecting investment vehicles and reporting to institutional and private clients.
Hartland has evolved over the years. Historically, the core focus was institutional investments, but through a change in leadership and acquisitions, a majority of the firm’s business is now with private clients.
One big change came during the economic downturn that began in 2008. Hartland decided to invest in new leadership that significantly changed the firm’s bottom line. He recruited Dave C. Fulton Jr. to come on-board as the firm’s president and COO. Within five years, Fulton held the title of president and CEO.
Professionals are attracted to Hartland because they have an opportunity to become shareholders. This has been a primary driver of growth for the firm since it leads these professionals to hold themselves accountable to the highest levels of client service, professional excellence and shared commitment. ●
Lighthouse Insurance Group, LLC
NOMINATED BY: Marty Butler, ExactCare Pharmacy
Jason Farro has been dedicated to providing insurance products and services to families for more than 25 years. With the principles that were instilled in him during his younger years working with his father’s insurance business, Farro created Lighthouse Insurance Group, LLC.
Farro has a history as an insurance agent himself, experience he leverages to assist his employees with hands-on training. He has ensured that constant development can be managed in-house by maintaining a designated training room where his agents and staff reside.
He enjoys the thrill of the floor, “especially when everyone is clicking and you can just tell that it’s going to be a good day.” Farro routinely listens in on employee calls and provides feedback. He chooses to lead from the front and be more than just a figurehead who lives in his office.
When it comes to measuring success, Farro considers three factors: his ability to make the company profitable to reward investors, the ability to be a job creator for his employees and community, and his ability to overcome future risks that could impact the prior two factors.
Farro works directly with agents to understand the business, and he revels in being available to provide motivation to build people up when they are feeling down. He also enforces quarterly events outside of the office to bond with employees and develop relationships.
Even if an employee identifies a potential opportunity elsewhere, Farro, CEO, will evaluate the entirety of the opportunity with the person and provide unbiased insight and perspective. The approach has led to the retention of many employees who have been with Lighthouse since its inception in 2009.
Farro wants employees to have an opportunity to climb the ladder and value the growth of the company, as well as themselves. ●
NOMINATED BY: Ron Boynar, Oswald Companies
Sam Gerace has always had a passion for computers, allowing him to create a groundbreaking business that has transformed the way the public can buy tickets for sports and entertainment events.
Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, approached Gerace in May 2006. He was tasked with transforming a demo application into a final product in order to establish a paperless ticket company that had previously not existed.
Gerace embraced the challenge of developing the product and reached out to his network to build the business. He was able to convince former employees to take the plunge with him on short notice and have the new company up and running prior to the start of the 2006-07 NBA season in October.
During the first full year of operations, the management team at Gerace’s company learned that the business plan as it had been defined was not possible. Ticketmaster would not agree to interface with the company’s Flash Seats software. At this point, Flash Seats pivoted to become an end-to-end ticketing platform and merged with Vertical Alliance to become Veritix.
The founding CEO was charged with merging the culture and business purposes of the two entities while growing market share.
Veritix was founded to be the paperless ticketing company for the Cavaliers, but has since grown through a merger with a Dallas company in 2007, as well as organically, to serve 13 percent of NBA teams and 18 percent of MLS teams. It was also awarded the ticketing and secondary market contract for the Detroit Lions last year, the first NFL team to move away from Ticketmaster.
The culture at Veritix is one of action, innovation and integrity. Employees are empowered to make decisions and do what’s right. The system itself is also nimble, allowing new employees to be up and running in rapid fashion. ●
president and CEO
Epiphany Management Group
NOMINATED BY: David Mauro, Epiphany Management
President and CEO Suranjan Shome’s extensive sales experience has contributed to the success of Epiphany Management Group. He uses his people skills and emphasis on employee satisfaction to create an exceptional work environment and lead the sales department.
Shome founded the information technology management company to provide services to educational institutions, a market that had never been explored.
With three children in primary and secondary school, he observed that his children’s schools were investing in it but didn’t know how to utilize the technology to its full potential.
Since Epiphany is the first company to offer IT management and consulting services to schools, Shome has faced challenges convincing schools of the company’s value. Once school districts hired Epiphany, however, they either lowered or froze their IT costs.
Shome is involved in all aspects of his business. If he is not traveling to meet with potential or existing clients, he is on-site assisting employees.
Epiphany has experienced consistent growth throughout its first eight years. The company also projects it will continue to double its sales year-over-year through 2020.
To help guide the company through its current growth phase, Shome hired a former Fortune 500 CFO and multiple individuals who have held senior management positions within the IT industry.
Shome understands that he needs to attract and retain talented IT professionals, so he hired Gallup to help him gauge the satisfaction of his employees through an annual survey.
Epiphany is in the process of moving into a new headquarters in Akron that will allow the company to streamline its services as well as provide an environment that emphasizes teamwork. This new facility contains multiple conference rooms where employees can hold meetings and videoconferences with colleagues that are working remotely. ●
NOMINATED BY: Lee Zapis, Zapis Capital
At age 9, Daniel Anstandig began broadcasting a radio program from his basement, which gained unintended notoriety when his broadcast signal interfered with Cleveland’s FOX 8 programming.
He later launched an Internet radio-streaming network that focused on publishing online content of other radio stations. He sold this innovative product to Microsoft and began working for Clear Channel, which enabled him to connect to important decision-makers in the broadcast world.
In 2009, Anstandig, 25, launched LDR Inc. — rebranded as Futuri this year — which included the pioneering “crowdcasting” technology that empowers listeners to become collaborators by voting on what songs or other content to play.
During the recession, when TV and radio stations scaled back operating budgets, he implemented a unique bartering strategy. Clients could exchange unused advertising time for Futuri’s crowdcasting services. Futuri was then able to package the advertising time together and resell it to large, multinational companies.
As the company continues to grow, Anstandig has focused on hiring college graduates with degrees in broadcast engineering, broadcast management and software engineering who speak the language of TV and radio clients.
Anstandig, CEO, continues to champion innovation, which has led to the development of over 150 mobile apps for radio and TV, as well as digital dashboards like the company’s most widely used product, TopicPulse.
TopicPulse was created with the intention of increasing ratings, revenues and Web traffic for TV and radio stations by allowing them to instantly read current trending topics in social media.
Futuri’s programming is used in more than 400 TV and radio stations throughout North America, Africa and Asia and reaches over 100 million consumers on a monthly basis. Plans include expansion into Europe. ●
chairman and CEO
Sandy Cutler is chairman and CEO of Eaton Corporation, a worldwide power management company that provides energy-efficient solutions for electrical, hydraulic and mechanical power. Born in Milwaukee, Cutler graduated from the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, Connecticut. He received a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and an MBA from the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth College.
He began his career with Cutler-Hammer in 1975 as a financial analyst. After Eaton acquired Cutler-Hammer, he held various positions before becoming Eaton’s president and COO in 1995. He assumed his current position in August 2000.
Cutler is a board member of DuPont, KeyCorp, the Greater Cleveland Partnership, United Way Services of Greater Cleveland and the Musical Arts Association. He is a member of the Business Roundtable and The Business Council.
Previously, he chaired the Corporate Governance Committee of the Business Roundtable, and served as chairman of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the United Way of Greater Cleveland, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, the Visiting Committee of the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University and sat on the Board of Governors of The Electrical Manufacturers Club. He is a past co-chairman and co-founder of the Greater Cleveland Partnership’s Commission on Economic Inclusion and has also served as president of the Yale Alumni Association of Cleveland.
He is a past member of the board of the Yale University Alumni Fund, the Yale University Development Board, the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth College and the Loomis Chaffee School.
Cutler also served on the boards of the Cleveland Play House and the Museum of Natural History.
Since taking the helm at Eaton, the company has nearly doubled both its revenue and employee count, growing both organically and through acquisitions. ●