EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ 2014 Gulf Coast Area Awards

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AWARD RECIPIENT

hou_eoy_MarkSlaughterMark Slaughter
President and CEO
RigNet, Inc.
www.rig.net

 

It didn’t take long for Mark Slaughter to rise through the ranks at RigNet, Inc. He joined the company as COO in early 2007 and within six months was appointed CEO with a mission to get the business turned around. RigNet had experienced significant growth since it was established in 2001, but the company was soon looking at ballooning losses as the business outgrew the founders’ managerial skills.
Slaughter was hired to manage cash flow and develop appropriate back-office systems and processes to support and manage high growth.
He used a three-pronged strategy to get the business’s performance back on track and on the way toward meeting and exceeding expectations. He wanted to institute a robust organizational structure with systems and processes to address rapid growth, meet the demands of customers and ensure global compliance.
He also sought to establish a platform for strategic planning and business performance reviews. Finally, he wanted to establish a high-performing workforce with a strong foundation in business ethics.
Slaughter, who also serves as the company’s president, tries to live the core values of the company himself and actively encourages all employees in the company to do the same. The values were set through a democratic survey process, which served to reinforce the importance Slaughter puts on collective participation from employees.
He has held workshops with employees that resulted in the development of core values that will serve to guide the company’s culture for years to come. The core values are integrity, respect for people, passion for excellence, teamwork and safety.
As they look to the future, Slaughter and his team are continuously exploring new technology to grow the business. One example is the usage of high-throughput satellites. The company is also adopting the latest microwave technology developments to enhance the quality of service provided to offshore customers and is adapting current technology to support oilfield services.


FINALISTS

hou_eoy_AntonioGrijalvaAntonio Grijalva
Chairman and CEO

 

 

 

hou_eoy_JohnAllenJohn Allen
President and COO
G&A Partners
www.gnapartners.com

 

It was 1991 when Antonio Grijalva left an accounting firm in Houston to start his own CPA firm. A few years later, his former colleague, John Allen, joined him. At that time, they provided many of their clients with advice and assistance regarding the savings and loan crisis.
As they worked closely with their customers, they discovered the real need for assistance too often stemmed from human resources departments that had staffing needs. So along with CPA services, G&A began providing temporary staffing services for local events and stadiums. By 2000, the company had evolved into a professional employer organization. The transition was not easy and required several strategic hires as well as smart money management. In order to raise capital, Allen asked relatives for help and Grijalva cashed in his 401(k), and they both worked long, hard hours to build G&A to what it is today.
One of the challenges they faced was finding the right personnel for temporary staffing and managing cash flow as paychecks for workers would have to be paid well before G&A could collect from its clients.
There were many times during the early years when Allen, the company’s president and COO and Grijalva, chairman and CEO, would forego their own compensation in order to pay their workers.
Both leaders emphasize that the most important and challenging part of managing a company is developing the proper corporate culture and instilling ethical and professional values within all parts of a growing business. They lead with the understanding that they would not ask their employees to do anything that they would not do themselves.
In short, they lead by example and the result is a company that continues to expand both its offerings and its level of service.


hou_eoy_MichaelSoper

Michael Soper
President and CEO
Legacy Funeral Group
www.legacyfuneralgroup.com

 

It was a severe drought that struck his hometown in 1973 that energized Michael Soper’s entrepreneurial spirit. Homeowners were only allowed to water their lawns between midnight and 4 a.m., so Soper, just 7 years old at the time, offered to switch sprinklers on and off in and around his neighborhood.
When he was 12, he went door-to-door selling concrete address markers, selling hundreds at a high margin. Part of this spirit came from his father and the rest, Soper believes, is due to the gift of being a natural entrepreneur.
Soper continued to hone his craft through various endeavors, including a T-shirt company he launched at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, that ultimately grew to produce 2,000 T-shirts per week.
It put him in position to launch Legacy Funeral Group and help small-town funeral home owners who were seeking to exit their businesses. His strategy was to create a regional holding company that would acquire rural family funeral homes while still keeping the former owners engaged in the business.
They continue to enjoy serving families as they have for generations. At the same time, they welcome the support from Legacy in helping to make the business profitable.
Soper, the company’s president and CEO, is continuously reviewing strategic acquisitions and ways to improve the business and its processes.
He works hard to maintain a small-town feel with the business. During the Christmas season, he visits every Legacy-owned and operated funeral home and participates in a team lunch. He is on the road at least two days per week to meet employees at offices across the country. Soper asks his employees participate in at least two community organizations and work with him to develop lasting relationships.
The growth of the company is evidence that his plan is working.


hou_eoy_DavidBondy

David Bondy
CEO
LUBA Workers’ Comp
www.lubawc.com

 

David Bondy begins every staff meeting at LUBA Workers’ Comp with a moment of silence and the Pledge of Allegiance. He believes the small gesture plays a large part in reminding staff that LUBA was founded on the core principles of integrity, honesty and doing everything for the right reason in providing excellent service to the policyholder.
Bondy has ceded day-to-day operations to other executives in the company, but he remains very visible to the staff and focuses on maintaining the culture that has made LUBA what it is today.
He views the most important mission of his company as serving the injured worker and helping to administer the provision of health care and financial assistance while the worker is injured.
As a founder of the Louisiana Association of Self-Insured Employees, Bondy has done a great deal to help the workers’ compensation industry in the state recover, with many players writing high-quality insurance in Louisiana. LUBA began as a self-insurance trust that converted to a mutual insurance company in 2006.
The workers’ compensation insurance market is very cyclical as writers exit markets that get competitive and return to the markets when competition subsides. Since its founding in 1991, LUBA has seen both strong and soft markets. The softest of these began in 2006 and lasted until 2011. During this time, premiums declined and loss ratios increased. This was primarily related to the financial recession.
LUBA remained competitive and maintained its required solvency measures for the Louisiana Department of Insurance, as well as its AM Best A rating.
The best advice Bondy ever received was from his father who told him to always do the right thing even when no one is looking. He believes that treating people the right way creates great customer service, which in turn, creates and maintains business.


hou_eoy_MattMorris

Matt Morris
CEO
Stewart Information Services Corp.
www.stewart.com

 

When Matt Morris was 10, he started working at Stewart Information Services Corp. in the mailroom. He would make copies and even assist in title searches. He thought he was never coming back to the company, but returned in 2004 as a senior executive vice president working with SISCO’s mergers and acquisitions before ultimately becoming CEO.
During the recent economic downturn, Morris had the vision to recognize that a change needed to be made at SISCO to restructure the various supporting functions of the company.
The restructuring would reduce costs and increase operating efficiencies. It led to growth that could not have been accomplished without the building of trust, as well as the ability to operate with transparency and good communication.
Morris works hard to provide employees with the big picture of what’s happening at SISCO. Once he’s provided a sense of what his vision is all about, he feels comfortable asking his team to be part of the journey.
When things got tough in 2008, Morris was not afraid to have honest, difficult conversations with tenured employees, key people and associates. Once again, he provided his vision and presented it as an opportunity to be part of growing SISCO. He then asked for their commitment to work with him in taking advantage of the opportunity. The efforts paved the way for a smoother restructuring process.
Morris is always looking for growth opportunities, whether it’s for his company or his people. One way this is accomplished is through the Accelerated Leadership Program that he developed. The program develops talent through a nine-month course that is team focused. Each team is provided with a current SISCO problem and then presents a solution to the executive team at the end of the course. It ensures that the company and its people are always looking ahead.


hou_eoy_RichardBunch

Gordy Bunch
President and CEO
The Woodlands Financial Group
www.twfg.com

 

There are many entrepreneurs who started their path to big business success as children, but most of them were teenagers or at least of school age.
Gordy Bunch was 3 years old when he opened his first lemonade stand. From there, it was selling candy at school, a venture which turned into a small business when he encountered high demand and had to enlist his friends to help establish a distribution network.
By the time he was a teenager, Bunch was mowing lawns in his neighborhood. His father financed the purchase of a mower for the business in exchange for a number of free lawn mowings.
Bunch began college at Sam Houston State University studying criminal justice, but left after just one year to sign up with the U.S. Coast Guard. During that time, he earned the Achievement Medal as a result of his actions to improve the Coast Guard’s procurement practices.
After he left the Coast Guard, he used his GI Bill to go back to school and focus on a specific career path. He concentrated on classes that would help him get the necessary licenses and accreditations to form his own business, The Woodlands Financial Group.
Bunch believes a successful entrepreneur is one who has the vision, develops a model and then hires or delegates good people to run the day-to-day operations. He believes he has been fortunate in having that vision and being able to develop a successful model than can attract and retain the right people who can run the business without his involvement in every decision.
It’s not that Bunch, president and CEO, would be incapable of performing any of these jobs — he’s held every job in the company— but the ability to nurture new leaders allows him to stay out of the day-to-day decisions and focus on company growth.