Since 1986, EY has celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women who have followed and achieved their dreams, changing 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, we 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 celebrate the men and women who are regional finalists and to toast their vision, tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit. Their energy and self-confidence 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!
WINNER Phillip Chang Founder and Chairman Yogurtland www.yogurt-land.com
Phillip Chang possesses one characteristic every business owner covets — he knows a good thing when he sees it.
Chang came to the U.S. in his twenties from Korea, taught himself English and supported his family working numerous jobs until he was able to open a traditional Asian bubble tea shop called Boba Loca — then a network of 33 stores.
But he discovered long-term sustainable growth was unlikely because his target demographic was too narrow. That’s when self-serve frozen yogurt caught his attention.
He delved deep into market research, examining what the competition was up to, what unique flavors could be developed and the notion that people would enjoy making their own concoctions in a self-service format.
Chang debuted the product line in his tea shops, featuring California milk and a variety of toppings customers could add themselves. Initial reception was so positive, he was inspired to sell his first chain and open one, then two newly branded Yogurtland stores. Sales grew exponentially and fast, so Chang sought to franchise the concept. Today, the company owns, operates and franchises 280 retail stores in 20 states across four countries.
He credits the Boba Loca experience, and its pitfalls, with developing his knack for understanding what customers want. To this end, Chang insists on real ingredients, never imitation flavor enhancers.
Operating its own production facilities allows Yogurtland to manage a highly successful supply chain while maintaining the flexibility to bring innovations to market. A robust R&D department has likewise been key to production success, consistently introducing new flavors and toppings.
In early 2014, Chang stepped down as CEO to concentrate on mission work in underdeveloped nations. As Yogurtland’s chairman, Chang remains acutely involved in driving strategy and corporate culture. The majority of his personal income is donated to charity.
Reza Jahangiri CEO American Advisors Group www.aag.com Great leaders have the courage to take great risks, particularly in the little-known reverse mortgage industry, which is often regarded with skepticism. Despite the obstacles, Reza Jahangiri recognized the financial benefits of reverse mortgages for cash-strapped seniors and founded American Advisors Group (AAG) in 2005.
The CEO achieved success by being nimble, lifting the veil on the misunderstood product and hiring former Sen. Fred Thompson as AAG’s spokesperson. In fact, AAG withstood the crash in the financial markets along with a wave of new regulations under the Dodd-Frank Act to become the largest originator of reverse mortgages in the industry.
Although competitors struggled following a series of Federal Housing Administration product changes in 2013, AAG survived the new regulations and has subsequently exceeded its previous unit volume. AAG’s resilience is rooted in its centralized retail model that focuses on a single acquisition channel, strong brand recognition and endorsements from thousands of satisfied seniors.
Resisting the urge to diversify into multiple revenue channels while maintaining a centralized management structure has afforded AAG the opportunity to reinvest in its brand, extend its reach and quickly adapt sales and operational processes towards changes in market conditions and regulations.
AAG’s culture is also a prime contributor to its success. Jahangiri promotes from within and achieves results by pulling rather than pushing his staff. As a result, AAG was named one of the best places to work by the Orange County Register in 2013, with Jahangiri taking the leadership award in the large company category. He’s also retained 100 percent of his management team.
But prospective employees aren’t the only ones noticing AAG’s rise. Although Jahangiri started AAG with his own funds, he garnered two rounds of equity funding in 2009 and 2012. The interest from outsiders validates Jahangiri’s bold gamble and belief in the future of reverse mortgages.
Steve Schulze Co-founder and CEO Alexis Schulze Co-founder and Chief Visionary Officer Nekter Juice Bar, Inc. www.nekterjuicebar.com Four years ago, neither Steve nor Alexis Schulze had any experience in the food industry. He created infomercials while she taught school and instructed yoga, taking an interest in exercise, healthy foods and natural ingredients. At home, she started making juice with no added sugar or processed ingredients.
The Schulze family loved the taste and Alexis loved the nutrition juicing provided. But it took her longer to clean the juicer every day than it did to make the juice. She looked for an easier solution, but couldn’t find any local, affordable juice bars that didn’t use sugar or processed ingredients. So, in 2010, the Schulzes opened their own.
Steve and Alexis withdrew significant funds from their savings and investments for the first location of Nekter Juice Bar, Inc., and took out loans to open subsequent stores. Steve took on the role of CEO and Alexis became chief visionary officer. They had to learn the hard way how to manage people and products to maintain smooth operations as sales increased. Through trial and error, they developed a just-in-time delivery schedule for produce, as well as a training program so employees could make juice consistently across locations.
By urging customers to “Live the Nekter Life” and make healthier choices, Steve and Alexis set out to reinvent juice the way Starbucks reinvented coffee. They kept the menu simple, the ingredients fresh and natural, and the prices half as low as the competition to drive the juice bar’s popularity. In doing so, they created a culture and experience that transcend the beverage.
In their quest to promote healthy lifestyles throughout more communities, Steve and Alexis continue to expand Nekter Juice and open new stores. By the end of next year, communities in Arizona, Texas and Colorado will welcome Nekter Juice Bars. Additionally, Nekter 2.0 will hit stores soon to give shoppers a more enhanced experience.
WINNER Eve Yen Founder and president Diamond Wipes International, Inc. www.diamondwipes.com
Eve Yen is living the American dream. After immigrating to the U.S. in 1994, Yen established Diamond Wipes International, starting out with just one manufacturing machine in a 1,700-square-foot warehouse in El Monte, California.
After losing money the first four years, the founder and president has grown the fledgling operation into the largest manufacturer of consumer and industrial wet wipes on the West Coast. Currently, Diamond Wipes produces millions of wipes daily for a variety of uses from a 130,000-square-foot facility in Chino, California, as well as a 65,000-square-foot plant in Bucyrus, Ohio.
Yen has achieved success through innovation and diversification. When she started, baby wipes were the only cosmetic products on the market. She’s helped to shape a billion dollar industry largely by developing and marketing more than 2,000 products including a private label brand and “La Fresh” for the international market. Diamond Wipes also offers contract packaging, a turnkey manufacturing, packaging and assembly service.
Moreover, she has stayed ahead of overseas competition by manufacturing in the U.S. The strategy puts her closer to her customers and provides them with freshly manufactured products. In total, Yen was able to reduce delivery time by two to three months through domestic manufacturing while creating jobs for American workers.
Yen is also committed to sustainability. Domestic manufacturing reduces the company’s carbon footprint by creating logistical efficiencies. In 2012, Diamond Wipes completed the installation of a 3,360-panel solar power system at its California facility. The panels supply 86 percent of the plant’s electrical power and have reduced its annual carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 200 tons.
Yen often looks back on how far she has come and feels fortunate and blessed to have created a company that has become a real American gem.
Maynard Carkhuff Chairman and CEO Freedom Innovations www.freedom-innovations.com
To go from an unprofitable startup to one of the world’s top three names in prosthetic technology, Freedom Innovations needed a leader who had climbed to the top of the industry before. That someone was Maynard Carkhuff. He joined Flex-Foot in 1985 as a consultant, rose to the rank of CEO, and grew it into the world’s second-largest prosthetic company, leading to its acquisition by Ossur Prosthetics in 2000.
Hoping to repeat that rise to the top, Freedom Innovations hired Carkhuff as president in 2005. Carkhuff set off to fix the balance sheet and strengthen the assets of the two-year-old startup. He discovered that Freedom actually comprised three separate businesses: Freedom Innovations as the sales and marketing arm, Freedom Science and Technology as R&D, and Applied Composite Technology as a manufacturing and R&D unit.
In a risky move, Carkhuff negotiated a partnership buyout to merge Freedom Science and Technology into the Irvine, California-based Freedom Innovations. The merger paved the way for recapitalization with two private equity firms. By reinvesting proceeds from the recapitalization back into the company, Carkhuff supported its continued growth. Freedom’s value increased enough over four years for a second round of capitalization, which strengthened the company’s balance sheet and fueled growth by funding more investments in next-generation technologies.
By investing in future growth, Freedom Innovations bolsters itself against uncontrollable obstacles like government regulations and economic downturns. Most recently, health care reform decreased reimbursements for the prosthetics industry. Carkhuff, now chairman and CEO, pushed through the challenge by focusing on innovation to add value for customers.
With a forward-thinking approach to meeting customer needs, Freedom Innovation holds 18 patents and, in partnership with Vanderbilt University, created the world’s first bionic leg. Innovations in products and operations continue to increase sales and drive growth beyond the U.S., as the next phase of growth pushes further into the global market.
Michael Burdiek President and CEO CalAmp Corp. www.calamp.com
Before Michael Burdiek joined CalAmp Corp., the mobile resource company was strictly a satellite enterprise on a path to commoditization with significant customer risk. The board viewed acquisitions as a way out of the predicament and asked Burdiek to guide the organization through the critical growth phase. Fortunately, Burdiek has always believed that everything is possible because the president and CEO would need plenty of courage and optimism to overcome the challenges that lay ahead. The first challenge came when the satellite business plummeted, depleting the firm’s funding for acquisitions and exposing the company to significant recall liability. As soon as the satellite business was back up, the economic downturn hit and Burdiek again had to pick up the pieces. Throughout the difficult journey, Burdiek remained positive. He kept CalAmp on course, even in the face of possible insolvency, by sticking to his strategic plan. His contagious attitude inspired creativity and determination. His team responded by delivering significant increases in revenue, margins and market cap. Today, CalAmp not only offers investors a positive ROI, it’s the only B2B company in the sector with scalability and multiple customer offerings. Like any successful leader, Burdiek is always thinking two or three steps ahead and coaching his team for the future. His ability to anticipate customer needs, inspire creativity and innovation, and develop new products and services has transformed CalAmp from a vulnerable satellite company into a data company. Above all, Burdiek firmly believes that complacency is dangerous and the time when business leaders should be most anxious is when they’re least anxious. Even though technology is constantly changing, Burdiek’s team isn’t concerned. Under his leadership, CalAmp has overcome challenges and learned how to thrive in a dynamic marketplace by offering customers a stream of new products and services.
WINNER Phu Hoang CEO Virtium Technology, Inc. www.virtium.com
A true tale of the pursuit of the American dream, the story of Phu Hoang progresses from surviving a Vietnamese refugee camp to earning advanced engineering degrees in Canada and the U.S. before launching his own thriving company in the high stakes, high-tech arena.
Virtium Technology, Inc. was founded in 1997 to engineer and manufacture embedded SSD and industrial memory products required in networking, transportation, communications, gaming and mobile monitoring system applications. Hoang recognized early on the burgeoning demand for big data, and accurately gauged the explosive growth in steady storage technology in the fields of telecommunications, medicine, energy and security.
But it’s his focus on the long term that really distinguishes Hoang among CEOs, evidenced in part by his adapting then altering the company’s entire business model from hardware specialization to now developing its own firmware and wholly new layers of SSD software to round out its offerings. Today, Virtium builds more than 200 individual products — with more to come. Hoang has heavily invested in talent during the past five years, comprising an international engineering and research team charged with assuring future product development stays at the forefront of the industry.
And despite the coming and going of high-tech competitors during the past 15 years, Virtium has enjoyed consecutive annual growth, which Hoang would attribute to anticipating the needs of clients in an ever-changing technology environment; while others laud a leadership style that prioritizes equality among his team and always putting others first.
Exemplifying this, Hoang is overtly committed to employee personal development, covering expenses for bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and actively promoting a balance of work and family among his staff. Further, he established and continues to fundraise for the Savice Foundation, which in the past seven years has built 11 schools and funded thousands of scholarships for children living in rural Vietnam.
FINALISTS Michael Purcell Founder and Chief Marketing Officer Global Cash Card www.globalcashcard.com
While working in the staffing industry, Michael Purcell saw payroll checks shipped from a central location to people across the country who would then hand-deliver them. Certain there must be an easier way to pay, Purcell founded Global Cash Card with the motto “Systems plus service equals easy.”
In the early days, the market didn’t understand pay cards let alone want to use them. A resilient entrepreneur, Purcell, the company’s chief marketing officer, trudged through the troubles, confident that his product could improve the way companies operated.
Purcell knew that off-the-shelf software couldn’t offer the payment flexibility that customers needed, so Global Cash Card developed its own proprietary system. Facing major competitors, the company leaned on stellar customer service to set its product apart. With the motto as a formula for success, Global Cash Card has added new clients every day for four years.
The company’s unparalleled customer service is reflected in its online system demonstration, where customers can trial the program exactly as they’d use the pay card in actual practice. Global Cash Card also stands out for its all-inclusive in-house approach, which provides instant on-site communication to customers.
Purcell’s brothers also hold leadership positions at Global Cash Card, so when his brother Anthony suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed, they all spent months at his side. Even with the leaders absent from the company for several months due to the family emergency, Global Cash Card grew significantly that year. That’s when Purcell knew he’d built a business with a strong foundation, and succeeded at hiring people who could carry the company through tough times.
Now, Global Cash Card is on track to continue growing nationally and internationally. While taking advantage of the “land grab” available in the U.S., Purcell also partnered with businesses in South Africa to expand the company’s global reach.
Maria Thompson President and CEO Agile Sourcing Partners www.agilesp.com
Breaking into a mature industry with long standing traditions and thin margins isn’t easy. So Maria Thompson pinched pennies, tackled projects no one else wanted and secured deals with a handshake to get Agile Sourcing Partners off the ground.
The president and CEO is comfortable blazing trails. She was the first one in her family to graduate from college. And when she started Agile, she reinvented decades-old processes and provided innovative solutions and value to prove her worth to the mostly male decision-makers in the gas and electric industry. Over time, Thompson gained the trust of her male colleagues, positioning Agile as a preferred provider of procurement, project management and staffing services to utilities, suppliers and manufacturers.
Thompson started Agile with a personal investment of $510 and a small loan from an equity partner. Since then, she’s managed to create a debt-free enterprise with six locations and has tripled the company’s management team the last two years.
One area of particular focus was employee development and benefits. To Thompson, being an employer is both a privilege and a responsibility. Agile employees receive 401(k) plans, life insurance and flexible holidays. She also sponsors on-the-job training and educational opportunities for high-performing employees and has rewarded her team with bonuses during their ascent.
Thompson also provides internships to college students. In fact, Agile is now the third largest employer of graduates from the University of San Diego, Thompson’s alma mater.
Employees are encouraged to give back to their communities and Thompson leads by example. She speaks at schools, mentors protégées and hosts bring your child to work days. She also encourages employees to engage in outside activities.
Last year, Agile donated $200 to each employee’s charity of choice and the company matches employee donations up to $100. Additionally, the company donates 5 percent of EBITDA to charitable organizations.
Business to Business
WINNER Jonathan Ord CEO DealerSocket, Inc. www.dealersocket.com Creating loyalty is a perennial challenge in the auto industry, where customers can purchase the same model from multiple dealers. In 2001, Jonathan Ord jumped into the driver’s seat when he developed DealerSocket, Inc., a customer relationship management software program that helps auto dealers cultivate, manage and maintain valuable customer relationships.
Ord visualized a plug and play tool that could manage a variety of customer interactions from a single platform. In order to make the CEO’s vision a reality, he mortgaged his home, worked out of the garage and drew upon his diverse experience in business development. He also volunteered at a dealership for a year to gain a better understanding of customers’ needs and the factors that lead to success.
In addition to winning over the sales team at each dealership, Ord strove to make every customer a “raving fan” of DealerSocket and its products. In the first year, a small group of “fans” joined the movement, which doubled by the second year. Even during the near collapse of the automotive industry from 2006 to 2008, Ord helped dealers survive the recession while continuing to improve DealerSocket’s product.
Today, DealerSocket services thousands of users in dealerships across the U.S., Canada and Australia. Instead of becoming complacent, Ord remains innovative and competitive. He launched a committee to keep tabs on the industry and evaluate customer feedback. He also encourages dealers to provide testimonials, which he shares via social media to build brand awareness.
Although DealerSocket has won numerous awards and accolades, such as the Deloitte & Touche Technology Fast 50 and the International Stevie Award for Best Overall Company, Ord is focused and humble. He believes in work/life balance and fosters an innovative culture, which has led to 13 consecutive years of growth and high levels of employee retention.
Stephen Gordon Founding chairman, CEO and president Opus Bank www.opusbank.com
Just as the recession was shuttering many financial lending institutions, Opus Bank opened its doors and its credit lines to local businesses when they needed it most. Directing this community-focused infusion of capital was the bank’s founding chairman, Stephen Gordon, who also serves as CEO and president of the Irvine, California-based lender.
When access to capital was at a premium, Gordon coalesced a management team that was of the same mind in terms of getting the cash flowing. Together they infused small business owners, real estate investors and promising new businesses up and down the West Coast in an effort to spur a recovery that Gordon believed could only be achieved with a resurgence in capital investment from banks.
The focus had to be on entrepreneurship, he believed, and this belief informs his leadership on meeting not only businesses’ needs, but also the aspirations of their principals as they look ahead to growth opportunities. Thus, the Opus culture was purposefully instituted to reinforce its “community-focus,” as it specifically seeks to fund non-profit and other charitable organizations.
In 2011, he instituted and funded the Opus Community Foundation, providing grants that benefit programs in the cities the bank serves, targeting education, training and job placement, and for those in the direst need, food and shelter programs.
In the same year and in line with this philanthropic philosophy, Gordon initiated an internship program at Opus Bank that gives high school and college-aged young adults valuable exposure to diverse facets of the financial services industry.
In his 25-year career prior to founding Opus Bank, Gordon held leadership positions across investment, consumer and commercial banks including Sandler O’Neill and Partners in New York, Commercial Capital Bancorp, Inc., and Fremont General Corp. and its investment and loan subsidiary, which he was instrumental in rescuing during the downturn.
John Jordan CEO DPI Specialty Foods www.dpispecialtyfoods.com
Revenue was steadily dropping at DPI Specialty Foods because of its myriad operating inefficiencies. Employee morale sank under ineffective leadership and service delivery suffered as a result. The ultimate blow came when one of DPI’s largest customers left. As a subsidiary of the Irish Dairy Board, DPI’s financial troubles were a drain on the whole farmer-owned co-op. So John Jordan, chief marketing officer of the IDB at the time, agreed to move his family to California and take the helm as DPI’s CEO. Once he got inside the company, Jordan realized DPI wasn’t organized to serve its regional customers. He restructured the organization from a corporate office to a regional division model in order to mirror the way its customers purchased. The leadership team lacked direction and wasted time discussing details that didn’t impact the bottom line. So, Jordan streamlined meetings and structured relevant debates to gain buy-in on decisions, making the team more effective. He began investing in people by hiring an HR director, improving employee benefits, partnering with a local college to offer training programs, implementing incentives to improve safety and issuing the first pay raise in several years. Operationally, DPI had not adjusted to changes in its customer base. For example, after losing one of its largest customers, DPI kept the same trucks running the same routes — even though loads were now half-empty. Jordan identified other suppliers that were sending half-empty trucks on similar routes to the same retailers, and in what he calls “coopertition,” partnered with the competition for a more effective solution. By reorganizing delivery routes, DPI saved considerable money each year. Since Jordan arrived in 2012, the company has hit every monthly financial target. DPI has gone from steadily losing money to growing revenue, now profitable again and on track to keep growing.
WINNER Jeff Frieden CEO Auction.com www.auction.com
It takes great vision and leadership to create a successful technology company, but a little luck never hurts. When Jeff Frieden and his business partner hired an auctioneer to sell overstock items for their car stereo business, they ended up selling more merchandise in one day than they had all year. It didn’t take the two entrepreneurs long to recognize the power of auctions and launch one of their own.
Frieden became a licensed auctioneer and launched Auction.com after discovering that the majority of homes in Australia and New Zealand are sold via auction. The CEO ventured into the world of virtual real estate transactions and hasn’t looked back.
Over the last 15 years, Auction.com has evolved from being an innovative land auction company into a market disrupter and leader in online sales of residential and commercial properties. The auction site not only encourages people to investigate and consider the idea of buying commercial real estate online, it integrates developments in online marketing with traditional transactions.
To that end, Frieden is dedicated to improving the user experience and developing cutting-edge tools for valuing commercial real estate. In fact, the company’s success recently caught the attention of Google Capital, which invested in Auction.com based on its promising business prospects, organic growth and robust valuation.
Of course, it takes more than luck to retain top-notch talent in the highly competitive technology industry. Frieden provides stock options and regularly shares his vision to engage, motivate and retain engineers and employees. His dream isn’t limited to the future of Auction.com — it includes family and community. He actively supports community outreach by sponsoring charities such as YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, military veterans and the Wounded Warrior Project. Frieden is committed to improving people’s lives as well as the way they buy real estate.
Jeff Hanson Chairman and CEO Griffin-American Healthcare REIT II, Inc. www.healthcarereit2.com
When Jeff Hanson launched the real estate investment trust now known as Griffin-American Healthcare REIT II, Inc. in 2009, he faced the country’s most challenging economic environment since the Great Depression. As a non-listed, non-traded real estate investment trust, the company had no employees, but relied operationally on its sponsor, which was originally Grubb & Ellis Co. As its sponsor struggled through the downturn, the REIT grew increasingly unstable.
Although Hanson, company chairman and CEO, had spent most of his professional career with Grubb as a top broker and head of the investment management platform, he saw advantages in parting ways. Looking out for the shareholders’ best interests, Hanson made the risky decision to split the REIT from its sponsor. Though difficult, that move became the first step to success.
Hanson began to lead the REIT’s independent board through a 60-day transition period to find a new sponsor and broker-dealer. After evaluating other strategic alternatives, Hanson formed American Healthcare Investors to serve as the sponsor, and found Griffin Capital to serve as broker-dealer.
During the transition away from Grubb, Hanson started to reimagine fees, dividend structures and other standard practices within the REIT. When he initiated an executive stock purchase plan, reinvesting in companies in the industry was unheard of; so was signing an irrevocable agreement to invest your entire after-tax salary and bonus compensation, as Hanson did. Senior management followed his lead by investing a fraction of their earnings, and now many broker-dealers actually require management to reinvest.
Since changing sponsors, the REIT has grown exponentially to become the fourth largest diversified health care REIT in the country. Under Hanson’s leadership, the REIT completed a successful public offering. Because of its success, American Healthcare Investors launched Griffin-American Healthcare REIT III this year and plans to launch REIT IV in 2016.
Jerry Fink David Kim Co-founders and managing partners The Bascom Group, LLC www.bascomgroup.com
Finding a way to galvanize sales in a tumultuous real estate market comes with its own set of challenges. Yet David Kim and Jerry Fink, co-founders and managing partners of The Bascom Group, LLC, accomplished just that, with a business plan aimed at improving people’s lives. What started with a 58-unit housing development purchased with an initial investment from a college buddy in 1996 has evolved into an idea-driven real estate network that spans eight western states and touches the lives of thousands of its building residents in positive ways. And with their ongoing ability to access capital from contacts in China and Taiwan, expansion plans are underway for similar projects on the East Coast. Bascom repositions failing multifamily housing communities by making major capital improvements, streamlining expenses, and significantly improving their management and customer service offerings. The buildings they invest in get modern makeovers with new pools, dog parks, exercise rooms and Internet cafes among the amenities. Attuned to social responsibility, Bascom offers help with job assistance and financial aid through partnerships with local organizations to the residents of its properties. In addition, the majority of the group’s maintenance personnel are sought out and hired from a military veteran applicant pool. Though their expertise was earned in multifamily residential units, Kim and Fink are extending their vision to help commercial real estate consumers make better use of such properties, or what they term “creative adaptive reuse of space,” in addition to venture capital investments in other real estate operating companies. Bascom launched an executive suites business recently, and formed discretionary/high net worth funds to help other enterprises grow. During their 15 years in business together, Kim and Fink have aided the careers of more than 140 interns whom they groomed to become real estate professionals. Employees are offered equity stakes in the company’s real estate funds as well.
Vivian Clecak Founding CEO Human Options www.humanoptions.org
At a young age, Vivian Clecak felt community come together to support her family through her father’s debilitating illness. That’s when she committed to help others in need, volunteering throughout school and attending graduate school for social work.
In 1981, while she was practicing social work in South Orange County, Clecak’s passion took her beyond the private practice. Many women were reporting serious issues of domestic violence during sessions, even though the community assumed that the newly constructed suburbs didn’t need domestic violence services. With three other women who shared her vision, Clecak incorporated Human Options and opened an emergency hotline to assess the need for a shelter in South Orange County. Working out of her car, Clecak, the organization’s founding CEO, raised awareness and funds as the hotline kept ringing. Within one year, through community grants and grass-roots fundraising events like bake sales, she opened a shelter for abused women and their children. Growing from a small agency into a countywide, multi-service program, Human Options provides education, prevention and intervention services, emergency shelters and long-term transitional housing. Clecak has spearheaded innovative programs that transcend traditional services. For example, she developed a men’s task force to advocate against domestic violence. While guiding Human Options toward growth, Clecak continues to develop herself and volunteer her time. She serves on the boards of several foundations, and has received numerous leadership awards and lifetime achievement honors from community organizations and industry associations. As Human Options expands its services to help more women, Clecak focuses on the quality of the programs. Human Options is one of only two domestic violence programs in the nation to conduct formal research to determine effectiveness. Three university research projects showed that 90 percent of women who graduate from Human Options’ shelter and the Second Step transitional program are still violence-free one year or more after graduation.
FINALISTS Debra Miller CEO and founder CureDuchenne www.cureduchenne.org Before her son’s diagnosis, Debra Miller had never heard of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The news that her son was afflicted with the incurable disorder inspired Miller to found CureDuchenne and persevere through formidable obstacles to support the quest for a cure.
Despite all the challenges most non-profits face, Miller has mobilized parents and forged connections with the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, philanthropists and investors while serving as CureDuchenne’s founder and CEO. Energizing the loved ones of those afflicted with the disorder offers them hope and the opportunity to make a difference in the fight against this debilitating condition.
Since the largest impediment to a cure is not science but funding, Miller broke new ground by launching CureDuchenne Ventures, LLC, a venture philanthropy model. An advisory board with significant pharmaceutical experience heads the investment firm. Remarkably, the veterans not only oversee research directives but create a return for investors by taking an equity stake in drug development firms.
The unique model appeals to the motives of those hunting for a cure as well as those seeking profits. It also allows CureDuchenne to be the lead investor and direct potential returns toward critical research projects.
Although tracking a drug through arduous clinical trials can be frustrating, Miller remains flexible and uses ingenuity to solve problems. She views action as therapy and transfers her passion and hope to others while her organization provides a fundraising platform, and networking and support for families battling the disease. Her extraordinary planning, leadership and management skills have carried the program as well.
Most importantly, Miller has had the strength, courage and fortitude to put the entire Duchenne community on her back as she marches forward. Miller and her team have proven that hope is indeed a viable business strategy and a motivational elixir.
Mark Whitley CEO Easter Seals Southern California www.southerncal.easterseals.com
Mark Whitley found his passion for helping the mentally handicapped by volunteering during high school. In college, he found an opportunity to help that population by working for Easter Seals. Now, after 38 years at the company and 25 in the role of CEO at Easter Seals Southern California, Whitley’s dedication to the mission runs deeper than ever. When Whitley first arrived at Easter Seals Southern California after working for the company in Chicago and Baltimore, the office had a small staff and limited budget serving several local organizations. He began developing innovative programs focused on improving not only the business but also the lives of the mentally disabled people it serves. For example, Whitley partnered with Head Start to create child development centers for children with autism. Though non-profits rarely get contracts with insurance companies, Easter Seals received one to expand these child care centers, making it California’s largest care provider for children with autism. Even in tough economic times, Whitley’s leadership keeps the company on track. When the state cut funding to Easter Seals during the recession, he developed more efficient programs to get support from national corporate sponsors. Because he created a culture of passion for the company’s mission, employees were willing to take pay cuts to support it. As a result, Easter Seals Southern California didn’t let any employees go, close any programs or turn anyone down for program services. In his role as CEO, Whitley has multiplied the organization’s budget, staff and client base to drive the Easter Seals mission further throughout Southern California. In doing so, he created a successful business model that has united a handful of regional offices under one organization. As revenue has increased, so has the efficiency of funding, as more than 90 percent of Easter Seals’ funding goes straight to program services.
Anand Nallathambi President and CEO CoreLogic, Inc. Regional Winner – 2013 Bala Iyer Board member Life Technologies, QLogic, IHS, Skyworks Solutions, Power Integrations Prior Judge – 2009, 2012-2013 Bob Holmen Managing director Miramar Venture Partners Prior Judge – 2009-2012 Dan Lubeck Managing director and founder Solis Capital Partners Prior Judge – 2013 Edward Merino CEO Office of the Chairman Chairman emeritus – FCD, OC Board member – NACD, SoCal Karin Eastham Board member Illumina, Geron, Morphosys AG, Veracyte, San Diego Symphony Co-chair – Women Corporate Directors National Judge – 2009 Liz McKinley President and owner Pinnacle Petroleum, Inc. Regional Winner – 2010 Matthew Jenusaitis President and CEO OCTANe OC Prior Judge – 2012-2013 Reggie Gilyard Dean The George L. Argyros School of Business and Economics Chapman University Prior Judge – 2013 Reynolds Bish CEO Kofax, Inc. Regional Winner (San Diego) – 2003 Prior Judge (San Diego) – 2005 Steele Platt Founder Yard House Restaurants Regional Winner – 2003 Prior Judge – 2013 Steve Layton Principal and co-founder LBA Realty Prior Judge – 2009-2012 Steve Plochocki President and CEO Quality Systems, Inc. Regional Winner – 2002 Prior Judge – 2003-2005, 2009-2012 National Judge – 2010-2011 Todd Pawlowski Senior VP global customer service Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. Prior Judge (NorCal) – 2013