Each year in June, EY celebrates entrepreneurial leaders in 25 regions across the country as part of the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Awards. This year marks the 28th year EY has recognized those leaders, and the theme for the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ 2014 Gulf Coast Area Program is “Visionary Leaders.” There is no other place in the country where entrepreneurial innovation and leadership is accepted and supported, no matter the entrepreneur’s background. We have continually seen significant innovative strides throughout a variety of industries in the Gulf Coast area as represented by our group of finalists this year. They include businesses that manufacture coolers used at outdoor events throughout the country; offer a place to sip wine to relax in the evening; build homes or provide home appliances; provide medical procedures; and drill for and transport oil, just to name a few. It is the culture of the Gulf Coast to accomplish great things, led by great “Visionary Leaders” like our finalists, who take the initiative in their own hands.
That culture was the foundation of the Gulf Coast in the early years and remains part of the Gulf Coast DNA today. This is why I believe the Gulf Coast continues to lead the country in population and job growth. The companies represented at this year’s EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Gulf Coast Area Awards saw the number of people employed grow by 20 percent and revenues by 46 percent over the last two years. There can be no doubt these entrepreneurial leaders will continue to strengthen our country’s economy. That is why we believe these Gulf Coast leaders are “Visionary Leaders” indeed!
Throughout the years, EY has celebrated more than 10,000 entrepreneurial men and women. The EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Award has grown to be recognized as the leading business award. While EY is proud of this accomplishment, the credit goes to the thousands of entrepreneurial leaders recognized. The fact that the program has endured and grown for more than 28 years is a true testament to the entrepreneurial leaders themselves.
The program celebrates entrepreneurial leaders in 25 U.S. regions each year. The regional award recipients then participate in the National Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Awards in November in Palm Springs, California. At that ceremony, 10 industry award winners are selected and one is selected as the overall National EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Award recipient. The overall award recipient will then participate in the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Awards in Monte Carlo, along with award recipients from 50 other countries. This truly is the world’s business award.
The EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ National Awards gala is the culminating event for a four-day EY Strategic Growth Forum® where roughly 2,000 participants gathered last year. This is the only event of its kind that is focused on the CEOs of companies. The panelists and speakers are unparalleled and in the past have included such special guests as George W. Bush, former president of the United States; Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and CEO of GE; and Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group. This year will feature Mark Bissell, chairman and CEO of Bissell Inc.; Randall Stephenson, chairman and CEO of AT&T; Patricia Woertz, chairman and CEO of Archer Daniels Midland Company; and Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Ron Howard, interviewed by Deborah Norville.
We are honored to present the 28th EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Gulf Coast Area Awards and to recognize the entrepreneurial leaders of the past, present and future in the Gulf Coast. These “Visionary Leaders” play a big role in keeping this the greatest country in the world to do business.
Construction & Industrial Services
LGI Homes, Inc.
As real estate companies struggled to stay afloat after the economic collapse of 2008, Eric Lipar and LGI Homes, Inc., continued to grow and even expand into new markets. Lipar’s efforts of simplification, standardization and constant improvement helped LGI weather the storm and even thrive.
Lipar describes LGI as “a sales and marketing company that happens to sell homes.” Under his vision, the company does not rely on realty agents to provide customers. Rather, LGI actively participates in direct marketing campaigns targeting renters in a 30-mile radius of the LGI community.
Through the marketing campaigns, the company provides the renter with an option to own a home instead of renting one for nearly the same monthly cost.
Lipar, who serves as CEO, has built his company with a people-first focus. He believes in focusing more on marketing to the customer and less on product emphasis. Customers who visit a sales office are provided information about their credit score and the home-buying experience regardless of whether they actually purchase a home.
It’s all part of a philosophy that Lipar believes in for his company, his customers and his employees. Lipar works with the idea that people sell homes, homes don’t sell themselves. “We, us, together” is one of LGI’s cultural phrases, encouraging employees to be team-oriented.
One of Lipar’s concerns is maintaining the values-based culture as LGI continues to grow.
To combat this risk, sales managers travel every quarter to the headquarters in The Woodlands, Texas, for training sessions. There is also a company-wide conference that leverages best practices across all levels of the organization. Every employee gets a chance to travel with his or her spouse and network with other employees. Lipar requires that the same messages about culture and values be shared in each of the company’s offices to ensure everyone understands the goal.
Chairman and CEO
Burrow Global, LLC
Michael Burrow is a humble man who does not seek the spotlight, despite his talent for building strong companies. He is happy to offer his expertise, gained after more than 45 years in the engineering, procurement and construction industry. But he has no problem admitting when someone else on his team has a better answer to the issue at hand.
Burrow became a company owner at the age of 27 and has since founded three companies in the engineering, procurement and construction industry. He came out of retirement in 2009 to purchase Demar Ltd., a Houston-based firm that served as the foundation for Burrow Global, LLC. He purchased four additional companies to support Burrow Global’s rapid growth.
As chairman and CEO, Burrow relies on a management team with more than 20 years of experience in the construction and engineering field. The team exhibits ‘healthy friction,’ as Burrow describes it, ensuring that the best ideas and approaches are implemented in the company’s functional areas.
Top performers and those on the management team participate in profits, but Burrow doesn’t push out those who are perceived to be the lowest performers in his organization. Rather, he works with them to determine the clients or functions for which he or she is a better match.
Burrow trusts people, perhaps a little too much at times. But that has not stopped him from becoming an astute business leader, as well as a turnaround and integration specialist having overseen more than 31 acquisitions in his career.
His ability to work with people is evident with his employees, but also with clients. Burrow makes it a point to get to know the people his company is doing business with. He wants to know about the culture and major business drivers of his clients and use that knowledge to provide exemplary service.
Founder and CEO
MainStreet America/Design Tech Homes
It didn’t take long for Michael Feigin to realize that selling computers was not what he wanted to do with his life. He had taken some time during his high school years to build homes and the experience stuck with him. He rapidly rose through the ranks as a Houston homebuilder and began attending trade shows to learn more about the industry.
It was at these shows that he noticed that his homebuilding customers were hampered by the fact that they had to visit eight to 10 different locations to build a home. There was the architect, the mortgage broker, the interior designer, the appliance store, the furniture store, etc. He quickly realized that customers should be able to have a one-stop shop for building a custom home.
The idea of Main Street America/Design Tech Homes became his vision to connect customers with manufacturers. His vision now includes a suburban neighborhood of 12 lavishly decorated homes, two restaurants, a furniture store, an accessory store, a cooking school, a mortgage company and a title company, all in one location.
Feigin, the founder and CEO, believes his is a unique business concept that has shown the world how to innovate and enhance the homebuilding experience by using technology and bringing manufacturers closer to the customer.
The leadership team of architects, interior designers, chefs, managers, sales and furniture buyers are offered equity shares in his company so that they feel accountable for the success of his concept. Feigin believes that this has been critical to the success of attracting and retaining top talent.
The individual business leaders can focus their efforts on addressing client needs — not on meeting shareholder estimates — while management has the flexibility to invest in new capabilities that benefit clients.
Feigin is confident he has the ability to continue to quickly adapt to the changing needs of the consumer.
Quality Companies USA, LLC
If you want to reach Troy Collins on the phone, don’t worry about what time it is. He’ll answer the call. As CEO at Quality Companies USA, LLC, Collins leads with a selfless philosophy that has allowed him to maintain an unmatched working relationship with his employees, vendors and customers alike.
The business began to come together following the death of his father in June 2001. His father taught him the business and also passed on some leadership and people philosophies.
Collins launched Quality Construction & Production in December 2001 with Nathan Granger, a former acquaintance of Collins’s father.
Today, Quality Companies USA is a one-stop shop for clients as a conglomerate of Quality Construction & Production, LLC; Quality Production Management, LLC; and Traco Production Services, Inc.
The diversified company provides both onshore and offshore construction, fabrication, maintenance and staffing services. Quality’s family atmosphere, open-door policy and lack of corporate politics have all fostered unbridled commitment to excellent customer service and a multitude of repeat customers. This flat, lean company prides itself on having the most highly skilled employees in the industry.
Collins serves as CEO and Granger is the company’s president. Both men have a strong commitment to finding the right people for their business and then retaining the best employees. The team has devoted many resources to personnel, including a partnership with the University of Lafayette’s master’s degree in business administration program where it provides internships for the best students.
The company endured some tough times during its first two years of operation and again following Hurricane Lili in 2002. With the increased demand for oil and gas repair work, Quality increased its employee count and the boost in work caused a strain in cash flow. But the leaders persevered and proved to everyone that they could handle anything thrown their way.
Chairman and CEO
The Brock Group
Jeffery Davis joined The Brock Group with the goal of becoming an entrepreneur. He had just left Texaco, where he had a finance job in the company’s oil and gas analysis group. After leaving that position, he met Jerry Brock and decided to become The Brock Group’s first project manager.
When Davis began with the company, it operated under a superintendent model. Through Davis’s leadership, The Brock Group transformed its operating model to one based on project managers who could more effectively and efficiently interact with the company’s customer base. It led to significant increases in both revenue and margin.
Introducing the project manager structure was a big part of Davis’s early career at The Brock Group. He introduced key metrics used by management to run the business. Through his determination, entrepreneurial spirit and strong leadership skills, he quickly advanced in the company and became a trusted adviser to the Brock family.
When the Brock family sold a controlling interest to the private equity group Lindsay Goldberg LLC, Davis was quickly identified as a strong leader with a strategic growth vision and was promoted to CEO.
Beginning in early 2007, the company began a significant transformation in which Davis had to recruit top talent to make it all work. He understood the importance of building a strong management team that would be given the ability to lead their areas without being micromanaged.
Davis, who also serves as the company’s chairman, sees his role as entrepreneur as one in which he needs to lead by example by treating others with respect. He has maintained this attitude as a core value in the way he interacts with employees, customers and third parties alike. He empowers management to develop their own strategy for success and then provides opportunities to execute.
Founder and CEO
Jerry Lasco has had moments in his life when it would have been easy to feel sorry for himself. One of the most profound was when he was furloughed as a pilot with Continental Airlines following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. It was a tough moment, but Lasco turned adversity into a seed that started his empire.
It began with the first Tasting Room Wine Cafe, a European-inspired wine bar where customers could purchase a bottle of wine after trying it at the restaurant.
The empire grew through commitment to employees, the development of a unique culture and core values for his business, as well as a constant willingness and desire to change.
Before opening his first restaurant, Lasco took a job at a local wine shop where he began a concerted effort to better understand the wine business. He quickly saw opportunities to improve the existing business model of a typical wine shop, and quickly developed his own business plan. After a year of working in the industry and sharpening his wine skills, the first Tasting Room opened.
At this point, Lasco knew his entrepreneurial dream had been achieved, but this was only the beginning. MAX’s Wine Dive, Boiler House Texas Grill & Wine Garden and Flow Juice Bar followed, each with a unique twist that keeps customers coming back.
There were challenges along the way. One weekend, Lasco came home from a long day at one of his restaurants filled with concern. While his business was prospering, he was worried because several employees had quit. The company had been a full speed ahead production-driven enterprise, and it was time for a different measure of success.
He asked, “What does the company really believe in?” Within a year, Lasco Enterprises had a vision, a purpose, core values and a mission. The next step in the growth of his business had been taken.
Owner and CEO
When Lifechek Drug launched, Bruce Gingrich was the only employee. It’s not something that just anybody can do, but Gingrich has never been one to back away from a challenge. He finds great satisfaction in taking on a difficult situation and seeing it through to a successful outcome.
Lifechek has been through its share of challenges over the years. The company has constantly adapted to new opportunities and changing market conditions.
Instead of a high-margin, fragmented business, Gingrich has watched his industry become a low-margin business dominated by a few well-financed companies. To overcome the changing landscape, Gingrich has positioned his company to be the dominant player in small markets and recently began focusing on compound drugs rather than brand and generic drugs.
Gingrich now has a staff of about 450 people that includes pharmacists as well as sales, IT, accounting and management. Over the years, he has learned the value of acquiring and retaining top talent. His management team has been with him since 1992 and performs most of the day-to-day functions so Gingrich can focus on other ventures.
One of those other endeavors is his restaurant business. They are successful due in large part to Gingrich’s ability to acquire a top manager from a competitor who brought the necessary skills and expertise to the table.
The ability to see an opportunity is Gingrich’s greatest asset and has served him well in the growth experienced at his restaurants and at Lifechek. At his first store, Gingrich found a wonderful location where he could grow sales. He would stand outside the local supermarket and hand out coupons to customers that were holding prescription bags.
His second store was a startup in a growing market with a giant next door in Eckerd Drug Store. The nimble nature of being a startup allowed Lifechek to outcompete the giant and create a template for Gingrich’s business strategy.
Co-owner and president
Three Brothers Bakery
Not one to back down from a challenge no matter how daunting it may seem, Janice Jucker was able to defeat stage 2 breast cancer eight years ago with a positive attitude.
That positive attitude helped her persevere again when Hurricane Ike blew through Houston in 2008 leaving destruction in its wake, including her business, Three Brothers Bakery.
The store was forced to close for repairs, but Jucker paid her employees for nine months. When Three Brothers Bakery reopened, it was back and better than ever.
The bakery began in Poland, but was halted when the Jucker family was taken to concentration and death camps during World War II. On Liberation Day, the three brothers, Sigmund, Sol and Max, along with sister, Jeanie, were released from the camps.
The family immigrated to the U.S. where the brothers opened a bakery in Houston. Over the years, the store, located in Braeswood since 1960, evolved.
As co-owner and president, Jucker recognized that in the baking industry, trends and tastes are always changing. Three Brothers Bakery would not survive if it continued to operate as a small family business. The company had to modernize and be able to adapt to trends that were becoming a part of the business.
Thanks to Jucker’s leadership, Three Brothers has demonstrated an ability to acclimate and overcome obstacles within the industry through a number of steps.
The company is able to design and create custom cakes for any occasion and has implemented social media strategies and an online store to keep customers informed. This includes those who are already loyal customers and those who have yet to discover Three Brothers Bakery.
Energy & Energy Infrastructure
Chairman and CEO
Since the inception of Energy XXI, John Schiller has continued to focus on the core idea upon which the company was founded. That idea is to acquire and exploit undervalued oil properties, and it has proven to be uniquely insightful and creative.
While other companies in the industry were paying premium prices to acquire onshore natural gas properties, Schiller was purchasing mature oil fields at a discount.
The innovative approach has proven to be quite visionary, as crude oil has become about 40 times more valuable than natural gas today, based on relative energy content.
Taking risks and innovating often go hand in hand, and under Schiller’s leadership, Energy XXI has done plenty of both.
While executing its core strategy, the company’s chairman and CEO has taken on a pioneering position in a new ultra-deep gas trend both onshore and in the Gulf of Mexico. Drilling for gas at these depths is a major frontier, there is enormous potential coupled with numerous technical challenges.
But when these wells flow, it will be more evidence as to the power of imagination and determination.
As focused as Schiller is on innovation and growth, he puts as much, if not more effort into building a strong team. His leadership at Energy XXI does not merely consist of managing the core business. Schiller has focused on transforming his business relationships into friendships, which has been a key driver in creating success.
Energy XXI is a company that has defied the odds due to the steadfast leadership and sacrifice of Schiller. He guided the company through the recession, through catastrophic hurricanes and through additional regulations that were implemented as a result of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. His interpersonal and business acumen have helped build a strong organization from top to bottom.
Founder, president and CEO
Contract Land Staff
Brent Leftwich has seen the best of times at Contract Land Staff, and he has seen the worst of times. From 1990 through 2001, CLS doubled in size every two years. Following the Enron debacle, revenues took a drastic turn for the worse since Enron had been CLS’s largest client. Suddenly, financing the operations of the company became a daily struggle.
Leftwich found himself having to find alternative ways to finance the right-of-way solutions provider. He was forced to capitalize the business out of his own pocket by drawing on personal credit cards, borrowing against personal retirement accounts and even getting loans from long-term employees.
It was a tough way to run a business and it taught Leftwich a valuable lesson about the importance of having good sources of capital, something he now shares with fellow entrepreneurs.
As many doubted CLS and some advised Leftwich to give up, he dug deep and refocused on innovation. Competitors were cutting back and reducing their workforce, but Leftwich was taking risks and investing in his vision for a software product designed by right of way professionals to right of way professionals.
Ultimately, this product helped CLS revolutionize how projects were managed, monitored and executed. It is that determination, positivism and ability to innovate that differentiates him from others in the industry.
Leftwich’s management style revolves around fostering the development of his people through continuing education and an open-door policy that he espouses in order to maintain a flat and dynamic organization. The founder, president and CEO is known for his accessibility at CLS to employees at all levels of the business.
Many have said he is a born entrepreneur with a charismatic style and a willingness to take risks. He tries to bring positive energy to everything he does and has developed a keen eye for anticipating the needs of his clients and the industry as a whole.
Chairman, president and CEO
Crestwood Midstream/Crestwood Equity
Launching his first business at age 26, Robert Phillips took it through an initial public offering by the time he was 30. He is a leader in the midstream oil and gas business and played an integral part in the expansion of several large companies including El Paso Corp. and Enterprise.
The beginning of Phillips’s latest endeavor started as he was driving out of his neighborhood and came to a stop sign on Crestwood Street. He was contemplating whether to retire or start a new business. He decided to go for it one more time and settled on calling the business Crestwood.
As chairman, president and CEO at Crestwood Midstream/Crestwood Equity, Phillips works hard to find the best talent and then create an organizational structure around his team. He emphasizes an inclusive culture and spends a lot of time on integration.
Phillips spent more than 200 days on the road last year with the goal of shaking hands with every one of his more than 1,200 employees.
An early indicator of the success of the integration efforts came about through a merger with Inergy, LP. This organization, still managed by its founder, had retained its old name and had not changed the branding of its trucks. Just months after the merger with Inergy, the president of the trucking division had the trucks rebranded with the Crestwood logo.
Phillips identifies high-potential performers and works with individuals to develop detailed career paths. But the career guidance does not stop there. Phillips seeks to help people at all levels of his organization find their way and makes it a priority to do so throughout the company.
His goal is to paint a clear picture of his vision and expectations and use that guidance to motivate his employees to put in their best effort at all times.
President and CEO
Family will always be a top priority for Allen Howard, president and CEO of NuTech. He keeps the well-being of his people top of mind in many ways, whether it’s a handwritten birthday or anniversary card or a company watch that employees receive after five years of service.
Great as those perks are, they all pale when compared to the moment Howard himself leads the singing of “Happy Birthday” at the company’s monthly birthday and anniversary gathering in Houston.
The depth with which Howard cares about family is also displayed when Howard’s youngest daughter, Autumn, enters the picture. She was born with a special type of autism known as Asperger’s syndrome. Upon graduating from high school, she was neither prepared for college or the workforce, leaving the Howard family looking for support and assistance.
Support in the area was limited, leaving Howard and his wife, Linnie, to dream about creating a center to help young adults with autism learn the skills they need to transition into adult life. In 2010, the Howards created a nonprofit called Autumn’s Dawn to answer those needs. To date, the center has worked with nearly 100 young adults in Kingwood and The Woodlands.
These are just a few examples of what makes Howard an inspiring leader at NuTech.
His management team focuses on solving problems for clients, but Howard recently challenged his team to rethink the organization and direct their attention internally. Over a 24-month period, he led his team through a grueling process of self-assessment and strategic planning.
As a result, the team decided to expand NuTech past its traditional product-based sales strategy. NuTech’s future is now as a company delivering value-creation strategies via employee expertise and unique technologies. While many organizational changes and initiatives flounder and ultimately fail, NuTech’s strategic rebranding is succeeding because of the solution the team created in response to Howard’s challenge.
President and CEO
U.S. Development Group, LLC
Dan Borgen succeeds in business through his ability to work with others and build strong, mutually beneficial relationships.
It began when he was a sophomore in college signing up Oklahoma farmers to grant mineral rights to oil companies. Borgen was able to close deals that others were not due in large part to the trust he gained by performing early-morning chores alongside the farmers.
Borgen has always modeled the highest ethical standards in his business relationships and has consistently demonstrated creativity, determination, persistence and hard work. It’s similar to the approach he takes toward his customers, vendors and employees as CEO and president at U.S. Development Group, LLC.
Each of these relational skills complements Borgen’s greatest attribute — his ability to identify and solve business inefficiencies. His ability to see beyond the horizon has led to a company that is different than the one that three guys and a truck started in 1996.
Under Borgen’s leadership, USD now leads practices in designing, developing, owning and managing large-scale rail logistic centers throughout North America. The company has become the industry leader in unit rail facility development for liquid product distribution.
Borgen is a champion of the USD family, which has a unique culture where each person is challenged to do his or her best to advance the company. USD business cards do not contain any titles, only names and contact information.
Borgen loves to participate in meetings with customers and vendors to see how external participants respond based on the contributions of the USD participants, instead of basing their responses on the USD participant titles.
Borgen makes certain that USD emulates the same honesty and integrity of the Oklahoma farmers from his early days, who lived simply by a handshake. Under his watch, USD will make the same effort to live up to every commitment.
President and CEO
Blackhawk Specialty Tools
Billy Brown was on the lookout for a new opportunity even though he had already accomplished quite a bit. He had two prosperous companies under his belt and oilfield industry knowledge to share. He was semi-retired when two buddies from New Orleans approached him with an idea.
Why not create an automated cement head that would reduce time, increase efficiency and improve the safety of rig workers? Brown and his co-founder determined that the idea had great potential and would have a market if they could make it succeed.
It certainly wasn’t the prime time to start a new business as the economic downturn of 2008 was taking hold. But Brown, a self-proclaimed risk taker contributed some of his own money to make Blackhawk Specialty Tools a reality.
He was confident he had a market for his product and six months later, when Blackhawk successfully completed its first cementing job with a one-of-a-kind, fully automated top drive cement head, Brown was proved right.
As word on the street began to spread and the contracts began coming in, Blackhawk’s cement head became the instant standard in the Gulf of Mexico. Brown knew he had the right technology, tools and people to have a huge impact on the drilling industry.
As president and CEO, Brown takes great pride in the employee benefits program. In the early stages of the business, as Brown searched for the best and brightest engineers, operators, sales team and management personnel, he offered his employees generous stock options to incentivize them to participate in his vision.
The company hasn’t lost a single employee since it was founded, and Brown says one of his greatest rewards is seeing his employees reap the rewards of their hard work as a team.
Founder, chairman and CEO
C&J Energy Services
Josh Comstock has great admiration for his grandfather, who dredged diamonds off the coast of Africa despite people calling him crazy. In the end, Comstock’s grandfather had the last laugh when he dug up millions of dollars’ worth of diamonds in a matter of months.
Like his grandfather, Comstock’s determination, commitment, and devotion have guided him to great success and only served to bolster his confidence even further about what the future holds.
Working and gaining valuable experience in the oil field since he was 18, Comstock developed a strong work ethic as well as valuable leadership qualities.
His philosophy is to be flexible in providing a greater outlet for engineers to quickly develop and execute their ideas in days and weeks instead of months and years. He believes that hiring seasoned, knowledgeable industry professionals gives customers added confidence in the company and its ability to provide superior service.
He is also known for being loyal to the people he hires. C&J still has three of the original five employees that started the company. Comstock is also a believer in hiring veterans and feels an ongoing responsibility to the nation’s military service people.
Recently, he expanded that pledge by affirming his commitment to the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve program. He has also supported U.S. veterans by sponsoring a Semper Fi Fund Marine Corps Marathon team.
Comstock, the company’s founder, chairman and CEO, offers employees ample opportunities to accelerate their careers and expand their scope of responsibility. With continued organic growth, an aggressive mergers and acquisitions plan, continued focus on its product lines, unmatched on-site servicing and people that define best in class, Comstock sees a bright future for the business.
President and CEO
Brad Childers became CEO at Exterran at a time when the company was struggling financially. Childers, who also serves as president, was tasked with improving the company’s profitability. With his in-depth knowledge of both the industry and the company, the board of directors felt confident that he was the right person to lead Exterran into the future.
Nearly three years later, the company has transformed into an industry outperformer delivering exceptional service, earning significant returns for its investors and providing an engaging and exciting work environment for employees.
It can be a big challenge to lead more than 10,000 employees in more than 30 countries around the world. The situation requires strong leadership and an equally strong vision.
Childers builds relationships with individuals at all levels by speaking quarterly at the company’s town hall meetings, visiting various sites and offices throughout the year and meeting informally with employees.
While he believes strongly in his role, Childers encourages all leaders and managers in the company to build relationships with their divisions. He tasks these individuals with building genuine relationships with employees and spreading the goals and values of the firm.
The Power of X campaign is something that began under Childers’s leadership and has generated brand awareness. It articulates Exterran’s ability to serve clients and provide expertise. It’s also generated a deeper sense of loyalty and pride among the company’s employees.
In addition to brand awareness, Childers is committed to developing the technical expertise of his team. By working with other service providers, Exterran launched a certification program to provide technical training and professional certification.
Childers strongly believes that if employees are energized and enthralled in their work, it serves both the employee and the company well.
His goal was to improve the financial health of the company and focus intently on his people, Childers has done just that.
Chairman, president and CEO
Forbes Energy Services
John Crisp got his start in business mowing the lawn at a local cemetery when he was 12. He received a loan from a local businessman in return for half of his future profits. Combined with money he had saved, Crisp was in business. He bought a mower, organized his friends and siblings to help him and turned a profit.
Crisp’s conviction for identifying potential business opportunities is so strong that he does not fear operating businesses with relatively high financial leverage. It’s a philosophy that served him well mowing lawns, and has worked out pretty nicely as chairman, president and CEO at Forbes Energy Services.
Crisp and the management team from his previous business founded the company in 2003, offering salt water disposal services and well-service rigs. Sensing an opportunity in the well-service rigs business, where competitors’ fleets were about 30 years or older on average, Forbes ordered six new rigs with debt financing.
Within four years, Forbes grew its rig fleet from two to 107, its truck fleet from 55 to 1,227 and its geographical presence from three locations to 18.
The board of directors at Forbes is balanced to adeptly handle the nature of the business. There are well-qualified members on the board with significant experience in well servicing, coil tubing, logistics, law and finance.
Crisp provides the vision for the company while other board members help to grow the company by providing leadership in technology, operations, financial and legal matters. He strongly believes in empowerment at all levels of personnel, bringing in a culture of ownership.
Crisp ardently believes in business ethics and in being fair to all stakeholders. His goal is to build a business that leads the way in innovation and positions people to excel.
President and CEO
Rotary Drilling Tools
Sealy Morris does not expect people to make a big deal about him when he enters a room. In fact, the president and CEO at Rotary Drilling Tools would love it if he were mistaken for a machine operator.
Despite his success in the boardroom, the machine shop is where his roots are firmly planted. Morris is a third generation oilfield machine shop worker, having followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
Morris began in the business working at his dad’s plant. He grew up in the industry taking on various jobs that included running a machine, working offshore, investing in oil and gas wells and eventually entering into the machine shop business.
He went to college and worked in a number of different capacities before starting RDT in 2006. It was formed to manufacture, sell, trade and service down-hole drilling tools supplied to domestic and international land and offshore drilling contractors, rental companies and national oil companies.
The oil and gas industry is extremely competitive and RDT has been through several changes since its inception in February 2006.
The company has expanded its service facilities into Colorado and Wyoming; started two international joint ventures in Colombia and Mexico; made an acquisition to expand service centers in Texas, Louisiana and Pennsylvania; and is currently building another service center in North Dakota due to be operational by the third quarter of 2014, with another service center planned for West Texas in the fourth quarter of 2014.
Morris firmly believes that each employee contributes directly to the company’s growth, success, customer satisfaction and reliability. He relies on them to give great effort each day to make things run smoothly. It has all played a big part in RDT’s ability to become a world-class integrated service and manufacturing company.
Founder and CEO
TJ Farnsworth didn’t dream of being an entrepreneur as a child growing up in Houston. But he fully recognizes the value of independent thinking and how it shaped his path toward becoming a business leader.
When he began SightLine Health at his kitchen table, he was young and single. He was also confident that he wouldn’t fail. That doesn’t mean it was easy to build his company. He burned through his savings and amassed more than $300,000 in credit card debt, which he was using to fund his business.
He had a gritty sense of determination, but eventually realized it wasn’t his passion that was the problem. The company was working with gynecologists to develop outpatient centers treating uterine fibroids. It’s an underserved market in healthcare, but the treatments the company was performing were largely cash pay.
And despite being offered in places such as the Mayo Clinic, the manufacturer of the equipment had not yet convinced insurance companies to reimburse for the treatment.
In 2007, it became clear to Farnsworth that the manufacturer did not have the expertise or the financing to conduct the clinical trials necessary to convince private insurance companies to pay for the treatments. At that point, Farnsworth knew the technology was doomed.
Farnsworth, founder and CEO, decided it was time to make a drastic change and started SightLine Health, which took a largely sterile and unfriendly treatment in radiation oncology and created something that was more centered on the patient.
Facilities are built with warm colors and wood floors and customer service is excellent. They are small things that are often taken for granted in healthcare. But the gestures make a big difference for patients going through some of the most difficult moments in life.
President and CEO
Altus Healthcare Management LP
After experiencing success with his first company, ZT Wealth, Taseer Badar knew he had the entrepreneur factor and founded Altus Healthcare Management LP. He capitalized on an opportunity to bring the first stand-up MRI to the Houston area with one of his investors.
Altus quickly expanded to in-home hospice, surgery centers, sleep clinics and emergency facilities. Most recently, Altus opened its first dental center and hospital, and has expanded into the vitamin distribution and wellness sectors.
The Altus business model is based on a vertically integrated concept using Badar’s investment firm to finance new facilities, its network of partner physicians to provide full service to patients and management services to manage physicians’ back office operations.
One of the reasons Altus has been successful is its ability to grow organically through its network of professional physicians in more than six medical specialty practices. Badar used the economic downturn to his advantage, not only by recruiting top talent in the healthcare field to join Altus, but by using his firm’s stellar financial history to secure funding that his competitors have been unable to access.
There is a great deal of uncertainty in healthcare as the ongoing efforts at reform continue to evolve, but Badar has mitigated that risk through his ability to make strategic connections with regulators.
As CEO and president, Badar strongly believes that people are the driving force behind his success and he tries to replicate himself in the people he recruits and hires. He has tirelessly worked to recruit top people from the industry to build his core team and believes that each member will bring their strengths to the table to make the company great.
The Altus brand has expanded into a national name that has grown into the nutrition and dental offerings by applying the same successful business model from the healthcare side to the other operations.
Founder and CEO
Greater Houston Physicians Medical Association
When Asit Choksi began his practice as an oncologist 22 years ago, his primary goal was not to make money — it was to ensure the best available care was delivered to his patients at an affordable cost.
He believed if this goal was achieved, he would be sustained. The methodology served Choksi and Greater Houston Physicians Medical Association well and continues to be at the core of how the company operates, how patient care is structured and how future growth is planned.
GHPMA has grown into a company that reflects Choksi’s vision and his physicians and staff support him as they partner together to bring positive change to the medical profession.
Choksi created the Houston Physicians Medical Association in 1997 and led it successfully for 12 years. In 2009, he and 19 of the original physicians from HPMA founded GHPMA, bringing to life Choksi’s vision of a unique model of clinical services provided to patients in convenient one-stop shopping locations.
Choksi hires and retains top physicians by providing top salaries in comparison to competitors. The founder and CEO also allows for flexible work hours and team scheduling, which enables physicians to not be burdened by unforgiving work hours. Physicians are also able to participate in profit sharing and are not required to sign employment contracts or worry about physician management fees, all of which increase their take-home income.
Choksi organizes periodic meetings with employees at his personal residence, which aid in building trust and camaraderie among the physicians and staff.
Choksi encourages participation in charitable work, providing opportunities for his employees to work as a team and get to know each other outside of the workplace. He also sponsors employees in their efforts to attend various medical conferences and other group trips for team building.
Houston Orthopedic & Spine Hospital, LLC
Foundation Surgical Hospital was struggling when it reached out to Loughlin Management Partners + Co. for help. At the time, the facility had mounting vendor debt and cash sufficient for one last payroll. Vendors were withholding supply deliveries and the hospital faced impending bankruptcy.
Andrew Knizley was an operations leader with LM+Co. and had served in various financial and operational roles at rural hospitals. So he had extensive knowledge and experience working in hospitals that were undergoing challenging circumstances.
Knizley quickly determined that the hospital, which today is known as Houston Orthopedic & Spine Hospital, LLC (HOSH), was failing due to low case volume, insurance reimbursement challenges and generally poor operational performance.
LM+Co. addressed restructuring the hospital’s lender and vendor debt while Knizley set to work improving operational performance. He and his team used competent analysis of the financial data and an unyielding honesty with all stakeholders to guide the hospital back from the brink of bankruptcy.
LM+Co. completed a successful temporary restructuring of the hospital’s debt by November 2008 and moved on to other projects. Knizley stayed on to become the hospital’s CEO and worked on building a successful enterprise.
Knizley is transparent in all his dealings with the staff and openly educates employees about the company’s financials so he or she can gain an appreciation for the business and better understand his or her impact on the company.
Transparency is one of four concepts Knizley employs in the stewardship of HOSH. The other three concepts involve a keen interest in people, honesty and trust. Knizley takes the time to learn about and understand the individuals who make up the hospital’s staff. He then encourages them to learn as much as they can about their co-workers.
OakBend Medical Center
Joe Freudenberger came upon an organization that was not in a good place when he joined OakBend Medical Center in 2007. At the time, the hospital was distressed and experiencing negative cash flow.
Fortunately, Freudenberger’s financial acumen allowed him to begin to turn around the hospital’s financial situation. His vision went beyond creating a financially stable organization that would then be absorbed by a larger healthcare network.
Fort Bend County is made up of mostly low- to middle-income workers. In order to maintain an independent community hospital in this area, Freudenberger knew he needed to find a way to attract a more affluent population to help cover the costs of the poorer indigenous population. To achieve this end, Freudenberger, the center’s CEO, focused on three concepts.
He wanted to expand the footprint, the scope of services and strive for service excellence above what the hospital already had achieved.
As part of expanding the footprint and scope of services, OakBend opened its Williams Way Campus in 2009. Unfortunately, economic hardship following the financial crisis of 2008 hit the Richmond community hard and the company struggled to get the campus off to a good start. Instead of the knee-jerk reaction to cut back costs, however, Freudenberger took a risk and doubled resources at the new facility.
He realized that cutting corners would only impair the hospital’s ability to succeed long term through attracting new patients and physicians. This out-of-the-box thinking for a “financial guy” paid off. The campus has flourished both in terms of patients and being financially viable.
OakBend has also benefited greatly from Freudenberger’s belief in building collaborative partnerships with other healthcare providers.
In areas where the hospital does not have sufficient demand or cannot afford to maintain it on a full-time basis, partnerships are formed with other clinics or hospitals to ensure the services needed are provided.
Manufacturing & Distribution
President and CEO
Crane Worldwide Logistics
John Magee had made quite a name for himself in the logistics industry in his 10 years with Eagle Global Logistics. He led numerous turnarounds of troubled accounts around the world, moving six times in 10 years. Each time, he left the company with the gold standard of how operations should be run.
But in August 2007, EGL was acquired in a hostile takeover, and this placed Magee and several of his colleagues at a crossroads.
Displeased with the planned direction of the newly managed EGL and the culture it seemed to promote, Magee wanted a better way. He loved the industry and knew there was a way to succeed by doing things the right way for his customers and employees. So he and a group of his colleagues, who were all subject to 12-month noncompete clauses, tendered their resignations and made a plan.
His leadership and vision as president and CEO once his team launched Crane Worldwide Logistics turned nine guys looking for a better way into a vastly successful business that continues to grow at a rapid pace.
Magee looks back at the 12-month noncompete clause as a blessing. He and his partners were able to establish a vision and a clear plan of execution. The vision was to be a global, midsized company focused on high-touch, high-value customer service. The company’s value proposition focuses on five points: people, IT, compliance and quality, account management and service execution.
It crystalized and focused how the company could sell its vision to its customers. With employees and customers buying into the same vision, success had to follow.
Magee is passionate about the business and what it can do, but his passion runs deepest for his employees. He loves to get out on the floor and interact with people and focus on empowering and motivating them to be the best they can be.
President and CEO
Benchmark Electronics, Inc.
Gayla Delly became the first non-founder CEO in the history of Benchmark Electronics, Inc. when she was appointed to the role in January 2012. Delly first joined Benchmark as corporate controller and spearheaded the acquisition of EMD Associates, which was Winona, Minnesota’s largest employer at the time.
The company proceeded to acquire an entity rivaling its own size in Lockheed Martin Commercial Electronics Co. in Hudson, New Hampshire.
By adopting a strategy of aggressive expansion through acquisition, Benchmark continued to grow into the Tier 1 electronics manufacturer it is today, a bold direction considering its conservative roots.
Delly began her career as an accountant at KPMG, doing everything from auditing to consulting and providing solutions to her customer’s issues. It was during this time that she fell in love with the manufacturing side of the business.
She also learned that she enjoys “looking beyond just closing the books.” Given that the industry she is in has extremely tight margins, it makes her financial acumen key to leading the business toward future success.
Delly is the company’s CEO and president, but she has a customer- and employee-first mindset. She feels acquiring and retaining key talent is crucial to the company’s success and focuses a lot of her energy on this key aspect of the business. Delly also has the mindset of serving her customers’ needs by embedding her talented engineers and team into the business.
Delly believes in “the ability of her team to come together, problem solve and show a customer-first attitude.” With regard to her management team, she works hard to ensure the company recognizes and respects family and work/life balance. Her passion is based in service and on ensuring that she serves her customers and her employees well.
President and CEO
There aren’t a lot of business owners willing to accept the risk of committing to ongoing operations in Sub-Saharan Africa. But Harold Pontez isn’t easily frightened by risk. An engineer by training and an entrepreneur by DNA, Pontez is incapable of uttering the words, “It can’t be done.”
He has led HPI from a startup that was comprised of a few people working in a garage in 2002 to a multinational corporation that has grown tremendously over the past seven years.
Pontez, the president and CEO of HPI, is clear in his desire to provide the most technologically advanced, reliable and cost-effective solutions for his global clients. But he is also intently focused on helping developing nations build the successful, continuous production infrastructure needed to sustain the economy.
Pontez is the quintessential salesman who clearly understands customer needs and has a fierce drive to win in his market. He exudes confidence both in himself and his employees. Pontez finds great joy and satisfaction in showing off the work of his team.
HPI has grown its global footprint and successfully executed contracts in some of the most challenging environments in the world such as the developing Middle East, Africa, Venezuela, Indonesia, India and Latin America. Finding success in these nations required a deft touch as Pontez had to deal with many political and financial challenges.
One of his engineering, procurement and construction projects in Africa survived through three presidential elections and was ultimately delivered. But Pontez did not stop there. He was able to successfully grow a business, which now includes more than two dozen manufacturers and 70 gas turbines that HPI supports.
There have been many sleepless nights and challenges as Pontez has built his company. But the commitment and personal investment from Pontez has resulted in a consistently thriving and growing business.
President and CEO
Hunter Buildings, LLC
Hunter Buildings, LLC was launched in 1999 as the first manufacturer of customized portable buildings known as blast-resistant modules. Due to an exceptional offering of products, the company grew quickly, but problems soon arose. Operational challenges began to pop up due to the lack of a corporate infrastructure and internal processes, as well as a culture that did not foster teamwork.
The company’s founders produced industry-leading products and generated impressive profits, but the business was facing growing pains that threatened its momentum.
In 2012, the owners recognized a fundamental change in leadership was necessary and turned to Luke Motley, who is the cousin of one of the company’s founders. Motley had served as the founders’ de facto general counsel and was familiar with the company. He was enough of an outsider, however, that he could enact real change.
By accepting the role of CEO at Hunter Buildings, Motley took an enormous risk. He left his role as managing partner of a well-established law firm to head an organization with known challenges. He immediately got to work fixing the company’s broken culture and internal processes.
Motley discovered there were six functional leaders at Hunter Buildings who were each responsible for their own area. These leaders often failed to collaborate effectively and frequently made decisions based on the best interests of their team and not the company as a whole. Motley immediately worked to change this corporate culture and instill the notion that all employees must be accountable to the larger Hunter team.
He hired several new executives to head up functional areas in which the company previously suffered from a leadership vacuum. Motley does not micromanage his direct reports, but rather provides the general framework to enable their success. This along with other efforts has helped get Hunter Buildings on the right path.
Brian Fielkow first learned the importance of treating people right while working in his family’s retail business.
As a lawyer focused on corporate law and emerging companies, Fielkow gained vast experience learning from the successes and failures of entrepreneurial clients. It set him up to later take on the role of being an entrepreneur himself.
After working a few years at Waste Management, Fielkow decided it was time to get back to his roots and follow in his family’s footsteps. He scouted several businesses looking for something not broken, but ready to take the next step.
Having a background in trucking and logistics with The Peltz Group, he settled on a family-run business, Jetco Delivery, where some of the original family members still work today.
Jetco Delivery sells peace of mind, helping customers feel comfortable that their cargo will arrive on time and in good working order. The image of the Jetco truck, clean and never stopped on the side of the road for breakdowns, as well as the continuity of drivers, helps to sell the brand and continue the company’s growth.
One of the priorities for Fielkow, who serves as president, is to create a unique value to his customers that de-commoditizes the business. This value includes the safest drivers, innovative technology and openness with customers, employees and service providers.
Fielkow believes that profit and loss is rearview, and that success is measured by looking forward. He and his employees are focused on what it takes to get a better price for the work they provide.
Fielkow believes in using the strengths of those around him to complement his own abilities. He listens to advice and thoughts from everyone involved in a project, both internally and externally, to develop his game plan and create a sense of family in his organization.
Chris Beckett didn’t waste any time turning Pacific Drilling into a leader in the offshore drilling industry. In fact, some have called his company the most successful startup in the industry’s history. The best part of the story is that Beckett devised the business plan for this company in his living room.
He began his professional life with a predecessor of oilfield services giant Schlumberger. After obtaining a degree in geophysics, he set off for the oilfields of Libya where he ultimately landed a key leadership assignment with Schlumberger’s U.S. Land seismic operation in Houston.
He then obtained a master’s degree in business administration at Rice University and subsequently joined McKinsey & Co. where he provided strategic and operations advice to global energy companies and governments. He eventually left consulting to pursue a career with Transocean, a major offshore drilling company.
During his time there, Beckett was involved in a transaction with an investment group that entered into a joint venture with Transocean. Shortly thereafter, these investors approached Beckett to become the first employee of what would later become Pacific Drilling.
This type of opportunity was truly exceptional given the immense barriers to entry in the offshore drilling sector — the terms “startup” and “offshore drilling contractor” are an unlikely pair.
While this was a huge professional opportunity for him, it was perhaps an even bigger risk. He left a promising career at Transocean to try to build a company that had committed investors, but no industry presence. Beckett, however, believed in his abilities and couldn’t resist the opportunity to build a new breed of offshore drilling company.
As CEO, Beckett manages his team using principles learned from both his extensive career and his transformative time spent pursuing a master’s degree in business administration. He believes in a team environment bolstered by strong authority figures. It’s a formula that has led to great results.
President and CEO
Blake International Rigs, LLC
Beau Blake grew up in the drilling industry. His father owned rigs in the 1980s and Blake spent his childhood working with his father on those rigs. As early as high school, he knew that he wanted to continue the family legacy and run his own drilling company.
After he left school, Blake and his father set out to explore new opportunities in the industry. In 2008, they found that opportunity when Pride International put its platform drilling division up for sale. The Blake family purchased the rigs and created Blake International Rigs, LLC.
Blake recognized that he needed to truly learn how a drilling company worked from top to bottom before he would ever be able to run the company himself. After the company was formed, Blake set out to work in every department. He took the approach that he needed to know how the accounts payable department worked before he could adequately direct them as the company’s leader.
As he grew more confident and comfortable directing the company, he assumed the role of president and CEO.
Today, Blake International Rigs is one of only three companies operating in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico with platform rigs.
There have, however, been challenges. The expansion in drilling activity has led to a dramatic increase in the demand for experienced personnel in the industry. Combined with the fact that the oilfield workforce is rapidly aging, it creates huge difficulties for companies in hiring and retaining employees.
Blake keeps searching for younger employees with potential and gives them an opportunity to move up and grow. He recently hired a new marketing manager who had grown frustrated at his former company and gave him the chance to direct his own department, a position in which he has thrived.
He is proud that listening to the needs of his people and working hard to make them feel valued and appreciated has been key to his success.
President and CEO
When he accepted a roustabout position on an offshore drilling rig in 1980, John Rynd got his start in the oil and gas industry. Through hard work and determination, he earned the role of CEO and president at Hercules Offshore.
His vision of what the company could be has been invaluable. His leadership and astute business acumen, as well as his steadfast commitment to conducting operations with the utmost level of safety, ethics and integrity have been instrumental in establishing the solid foundation on which Hercules Offshore rests.
Rynd has been a pillar of wisdom and encouragement at Hercules Offshore throughout the many challenges the company has faced over the last several years. Those challenges range from the global financial crisis to an unprecedented slow down in domestic offshore drilling.
At a time when the future of the company and the industry was uncertain, Rynd encouraged the Hercules team to remain focused on safety and to trust management to navigate through the challenges.
The most significant hurdle Rynd had to overcome was the global financial crisis of 2008. It resulted in a significant decline in oil and gas prices, which led to decreased day rates and utilization of its rigs and liftboats. With decreased financial performance, the company faced the risk of compromising a debt covenant in late 2009 and 2010.
Rynd worked diligently to shield employees from incurring the burdens of the company. Under his direction and through the worst down cycle the domestic drilling industry had faced, Hercules Offshore was able to further expand its fleet, reduce its cost structure and financial leverage, improve operationally and maintain a stringent focus on safety. It has all contributed to the growth of the company, which now operates in nine countries on three continents.
President and CEO
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.
President and COO
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.
President and CEO
Legacy Funeral Group
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.
LUBA Workers’ Comp
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.
Stewart Information Services Corp.
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.
President and CEO
The Woodlands Financial Group
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.
Chairman and CEO
Igloo Products Corp.
Gary Kiedaisch is always open to a better way to help his customers. Take the time he was sitting at a baseball game and noticed an Igloo cooler lying on its side, partially submerged in mud. He leaned over to an associate and asked, “How can we fix that?”
The highly portable Igloo cooler that resulted from this simple question now easily hangs from chain-link fences at sports fields across the U.S. It’s just one of the ways that Kiedaisch has transformed and invigorated Igloo.
Kiedaisch got an early lesson in business from his father, who owned a sporting goods store. Then Kiedaisch enlisted in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and learned more valuable lessons about life and working with others. After his military service, he became a sales representative for a ski equipment retailer, becoming division president when he was only 27 years old.
Prior to joining Igloo, Kiedaisch joined the private equity firm J.H. Whitney, which subsequently purchased Igloo. As an investor operator, he assumed the role of chairman and CEO in 2008.
Igloo was not thriving when Kiedaisch arrived. The cooler had become an interchangeable good that was manufactured and marketed merely for its functional use, which depressed its price. Under Kiedaisch’s leadership, Igloo has repositioned its products by emphasizing differentiation and innovation, resulting in increased revenue.
He has made changes, but he didn’t take the job at Igloo with the mindset of cleaning house. So he sat down with a group of Igloo’s original employees and asked why the company had grown stagnant. After listening to a host of negative assertions, Kiedaisch asked what they thought the company would look like at its highest potential. His ability to consistently find ways to turn “no” into “yes” played a key part in the company’s resurgence.
Family Business Award
Chairman and CEO
D.E. Harvey Builders
The office at D.E. Harvey Builders isn’t flashy and the company doesn’t boast about its accomplishments or seek the spotlight. After all, David Harvey is a humble man, which is evident throughout the company.
Financial success at the company is not about just growing through new clients, but performing repeat business for existing clients. It is how the team knows it has performed well and how it intends to stay in business.
The company was built internally with engineers who had a good work ethic and old-fashioned values. Harvey believes you’re a good fit with his company if you have three attributes: intellect, good work ethic and good values. Having two of these three attributes is not good enough; you need to have all three.
Individuals start with the company already having a solid foundation in place. They are then taught the “Harvey way” and given the skills to become good presenters, good speakers and eventually leaders.
Harvey wants his people to work both the right and left sides of their brains since a general contractor has to be able to lead and communicate with owners and clients.
The chairman and CEO also sees knowledge transfer as being empowering. The company offers training classes in which the more tenured employees teach. This teaches the younger workforce the best practices, but also serves as a reminder to those doing the training.
Holding knowledge, as in being the go-to guy but not sharing that knowledge, is good for one, Harvey says. But it doesn’t do much for your overall business.
D.E. Harvey Builders is a family business and Harvey believes it should operate in a family atmosphere. Harvey and other senior leaders stress that leadership is not just about being entrepreneurial, but also about being a good custodian.
Douglas J. Erwin
Chairman and managing director
Entrepreneur of the Year 2009 Gulf Coast Technology Award recpient
Joe R. Fowler
Stress Engineering Services Inc.
Entrepreneur of the Year 2012 Gulf Coast
Business Services Award recipient