It was the late 1980s, and companies were adopting the practice of just-in-time (JIT) inventory management. However, the model for the staffing industry did not address the complex service requirements of JIT clients.
Michael Miles took notice of the situations and co-founded The Seaton Cos. in 1988 with fellow Arizona State University alumni and entrepreneur Hugh Farrington. Miles recognized that to be competitive, companies needed to change their workforce strategy and move toward a permanent staffing solution embedded in their infrastructure.
The business model revolutionized the staffing industry by providing for hands-on management of a client’s flexible workforce. It also supported decision-making with ready access to program data and analytics.
“Our company has always had in its DNA a real appreciation for process and execution: for achieving operational excellence, building systems for scale and automating when others are not,” Miles says.
He later launched the company’s Staff Management division when he partnered with one of America’s largest food and confection companies to support a staffing surge in its Chicago facility.
Today, Seaton has two other business lines, PeopleScout, a recruitment processing outsourcing business launched several years ago; and StudyScout, a business aimed at getting better qualified students applying into Seaton’s for-profit college clients.
Embedded in the company’s culture are a high level of employee engagement and a self-driven organization. Miles believes the key to attracting and retaining staff lies in belief in the company’s product. The ability of the company to consistently achieve tangible gains and improvements for its client base is a testament to the company’s offering and why the message is willingly embraced by staff.
Since its inception, The Seaton Cos. has achieved consistent, organic growth. The organization has grown a remarkable 38 percent over the last couple of years, but in reality the growth story began the day the business was established.
How to reach: The Seaton Cos., www.seatoncorp.com
Family Business Award of Excellence
When the recent recession came around, Jim Sartori and Jeff Schwager decided not to participate. Rather, at their company Sartori Co. they continued to emphasize customer focus, cheese quality and reinvestment, all of which have enabled Sartori to prosper.
Schwager considers the significant growth of Sartori, including its retail presence, to be one of the more significant future challenges as well. Devising and installing the infrastructure to match the company’s growth has been and will continue to be a challenge, but the pair has plans in place to invest in quality, team development, leadership training, and modernization and expansion of key facilities.
Sartori believes strongly in leading by example and in employee empowerment rather than the controlled direction of his team members. This enables him to work with his teams in pursuit of their mission to make the “best artisan cheese in the world.”
The concept of “family” permeates throughout and is the key driver of the core values maintained at the company – family, integrity, ingenuity, commitment, authenticity and humility.
Sartori encourages his team members to suggest and pursue opportunities, which has enabled the business to grow.
The retail segment is flourishing at Sartori. The cheese needs to be of a high quality, requiring an aging schedule anywhere from one to two years and a highly innovative team of master cheesemakers. In addition, there needs to be a strong marketing and branding campaign led by a top-notch sales team.
These efforts require a highly risky and significant capital outlay as the team tries to estimate retail cheese demand at least one year or more in the future.
When it comes to specialty cheeses, the risk is amplified by the lack of an outlet market that classic cheeses such as parmesan and asiago enjoy. Needless to say, the investment has proven to be the lucrative opportunity that Sartori and Schwager envisioned.
How to reach: Sartori Co., www.sartoricheese.com
Early in his life, Jason Beans suffered a broken nose which received inappropriate medical treatment. In addition, the medical billings persisted over an extended period of time, and the situation nearly bankrupted his family. This experience drove Beans to research and develop a system for patients and companies to benefit from improved quality of care and decreased medical costs.
At age 29, Beans founded Rising Medical Solutions to provide medical cost containment and care management solutions. He is dedicated to developing a system which provides patients with quality health care, medical providers with faster payment, and insurance carriers/payers with proper billing information.
Beans says he will not quit until he “fixes health care.” His determination to leave a positive impact on the world is his greatest passion. All his employees matter, and what keeps him up at night is the idea of dying without having a significant impact on the health care industry.
While the numbers for Rising clearly show its success, Bean does not measure success on revenue, but the tangible impact he makes within the health care industry and on each person.
Whether it’s his one-on-one coffee chats (“Beans with Beans”), weekly anonymous employee polls, an online portal for continuing education and leadership training (Rising University), or the numerous other avenues for team bonding and personal growth Bean has established at Rising, the emphasis that he instills within the culture of Rising to promote leadership and focus on building strengths creates a formula for success.
Beans ultimately envisions developing a tool in which patients can shop for a doctor or surgery based on price and quality. Through his focus on technology and top talent, he hopes to lead the consumer-based health care initiative to create complete transparency within America’s health care system. By removing the worries about money, Beans believes this will help everyone focus on what’s really important: the patient and treatment.
How to reach: Rising Medical Solutions, www.risingms.com
Private Equity/Venture Capital Backed
Revolution Dancewear knows the meaning of repeat customer. Since 2008, the company has retained an astounding 86.5 percent of its top 500 customers.
That’s a good showing for a business that was started in a basement in 1996. Scott Harris founded the company, now a leading designer and marketer of dancewear, costumes and footwear that sells directly to dance studios in the U.S. and Canada and directly to studios and consumers in Europe.
Those impressive facts had their origins with Harris’s experiences as a lifelong entrepreneur. He co-founded a radio station during high school and then a home security business during college. After college, he joined his family’s third-generation dancewear manufacturing business.
When his vision for the dancewear business differed from his family’s vision, he left the security of that business and founded Revolution Dancewear. His plan was to bring an innovative business model to the dancewear industry and to provide the ultimate customer experience. Harris’s goals also were to provide superior product quality and instant shipping directly to dance studios — still key goals of the company.
Introducing an innovative business model did not come without challenges. Harris’s vision was to sell his dancewear products directly to dance studios, since they were the ones best suited to determine what students’ needs were. At first, he had to convince studio owners to sell dancewear. Many studio owners are dancers and teachers first — and business operators second. Few had ever sold dancewear, and many were concerned that it would distract them from their passion to teach.
He taught them that dancewear could improve their bottom line while simultaneously improving the experience of their customers by allowing studios to become a one-stop location for dance education and supplies.
Harris promised his dance studio customers that Revolution Dancewear products would be exclusively distributed through dance studios and not directly to consumers. He has kept this promise throughout 17 years of business.
How to reach: Revolution Dancewear, www.revolutiondance.com
Matt Matros, founder and CEO of Protein Bar, pays attention to details — after all, that is what counts to his customers. So every little detail from the lighting and carpet, to the volume of hip-hop music playing in the restaurant is vitally important to building the customer experience. Customer feedback, submitted through the Protein Bar email account or website, comes directly to Matros’s iPhone. That’s how he measures success of the customer experience.
Matros responds to each email himself, averaging 25-30 messages a day. The feedback helps the company improve the customer experience going forward. He believes it is important that the customer be completely satisfied because Protein Bar doesn’t spend any money on marketing. The company’s strategy is to win on the customer experience and let word-of-mouth lead to growth and sustainability.
Matros acknowledges that his biggest strength is knowing the customer. He believes he understands the customer because he is one. The idea to create Protein Bar came to him from a need he had to get high quality, healthy food during a rushed lunch hour. Matros had just lost 60 pounds and was committed to keeping a healthy diet, He wasn’t alone in this need to eat well in a hurry; it is typical to see lines out the door during lunchtime at any of his restaurants.
While not a trained restaurateur, he focuses on attracting the highest performing team. He finds people to join the team who have a proven track record in their area of expertise. It’s similar to putting together a type of puzzle to ensure the talent fits together and creates the ultimate experience for the customer. With this approach, the company has been able to attract and retain talent from successful companies such as Potbelly and Apple.
Since launching in 2009, Protein Bar has opened eight restaurants and will be almost twice the size by the middle of 2014.
How to reach: Protein Bar, www.theproteinbar.com
There were six would-be entrepreneurs incubating at a company called Focal Communications; after each left the business on his own accord, they came together in 2008 to build a venture that they felt had no peer.
The result was Peerless Network, Inc., one of the largest interconnection networks in the country. Through Peerless, wireless carriers, local exchange carriers and cable companies can connect with each other
Under the leadership of John Barnicle, the entrepreneurs created a culture that is acutely focused on providing excellent customer service. Barnicle has a great deal of respect for the team and has established a culture designed to achieve results which are fair and rational.
The entrepreneurs have built a team of committed individuals. Peerless has experienced very low turnover in its workforce. In building the team, the entrepreneurs focused on recruiting individuals they have experience with. They have provided many of their employees with stock options, which has contributed to their success in attracting and retaining talent.
Each of the entrepreneurs has responsibility for a particular function, including finance, sales and marketing, operations, voice operations and engineering. Due in a large part to a focus on excellent customer service, personal attention and technological innovation, the company has never lost a single customer.
Peerless’ approach to winning and keeping business is somewhat unusual in the telecommunications space. Company leaders believe that the personal relationships they have cultivated are key to Peerless’ initial and continued success.
In building its business, Peerless has been able to leverage the historic relationships of each of the entrepreneurs to establish a trust with prospective customers. This trust, along with the reputation the individuals have within the telecommunications industry, has ultimately attracted customers to Peerless.
While the entrepreneurs’ relationships with customers have helped to win and keep business, Peerless’ ability to provide superior services has been the real key to the company’s success.
How to reach: Peerless Network, Inc., www.peerlessnetwork.com
Al Goldstein, president of Pangea Properties, candidly admits that he believes real estate is an entrenched industry, with a “good ol’ boy” network.
Nevertheless, Goldstein and longtime high school friend Steve Joung fought and clawed their way past that hurdle when launching their new venture, Pangea Properties.
While they did not know much about the real estate market, they did know the Internet/marketing data side of the business, and wanted to provide a better product to a market they felt was underserved. They wanted to incorporate technology and best in class customer service to the rental market in multifamily apartment complexes within distressed communities.
Coming off the sale of his first successful venture, CashnetUSA, a short-term consumer lending company, his new company started buying units in the south side of Chicago in 2009, and its holdings have now grown to more than 8,000 apartment units in three markets: Chicago, Indianapolis and Baltimore, with a goal of 15,000 units by 2015.
In three years, more than $180 million of capital has been raised. Pangea now employs 300 employees.
One of the largest obstacles was convincing the right people that they knew enough about real estate, which they admittedly did not, in order to raise capital to drive growth.
However, with Goldstein’s unwavering dedication to the business and his faith in his team, the company overcame these obstacles and continued on the path to success.
Pangea’s average property is 30 units, as opposed to the 300-unit properties its closest competitors were offering. Most major apartment rental firms purchase large apartment complexes that already had the “right” types of tenants and didn’t require much marketing or effort to fill those units.
Goldstein looks for a good product and value to his tenants, but he is also more interested in wanting to give something back to the communities and people that had largely been neglected for years.
How to reach: Pangea Properties, www.pangeare.com
The inspiration from mentors that Heather Sanderson received while developing as a professional didn’t go unnoticed — it helped her become an entrepreneur. While raising a family as a single mother in California, she met other successful women entrepreneurs at networking events, and the wheels began to turn.
When she relocated to the Chicago area in 2001, she cofounded Overture Premiums & Promotions based on her desire to start a promotional marketing agency that was more than just a distributor and could act as a creative branch and provide integrated marketing strategies to its clients.
Using the financial and operational experience gained while serving as CFO for an advertising specialty institute supplier and the vast network she had built over time, Sanderson also attributes her success to establishing high-quality standards for the company’s services and investing in the corporate culture.
She leads by example, applying her belief in continually improving internal processes at the company and investing in technology and staff. Overture has stood out from its competitors because it internalized most of its product supply chain, which reduces production costs and increases control over the product quality.
Due to the variety of services offered — from warehousing to embroidery, screen-printing and graphic design — Sanderson establishes the tone for the corporate culture and relies on the expertise of her directors to help her make managerial decisions.
During the 2008 economic downturn, Sanderson had to downsize Overture and used her management expertise to re-evaluate the business model. The changes she made allowed the company to become more efficient and also helped manage potential risks and operational expenses.
For the future, Sanderson hopes to double the company’s revenue and obtain another large customer while maintaining its current clientele. However, she and her management team believe their continued focus on maintaining the company culture, improving internal processes and targeting potential business development can help overcome the challenges of expansion.
How to reach: Overturn Premiums & Promotions, www.overturepromotions.com
After more than a decade of practicing law, Theodore “Ted” Koenig wanted a more entrepreneurial role as a career. He saw a market opportunity for an innovative, non-bank lender that was free from regulatory constraints.
With his experience and understanding of banking, as well as his relationships with middle market bankers and private equity firms, Koenig established a joint venture asset-based lending finance business.
After a successful four years, Koenig decided to leave the company and venture on his own to create something bigger. To Koenig’s surprise and as a testament to his leadership, all eight employees left with him to be a part of his vision.
Striving to maintain the highest professional standards for himself and the firm, Koenig is a frequent lecturer to high profile business and financial trade organizations on topics ranging from the current environment for senior and junior secured debt to the structuring of leveraged loan transactions and acquisitions of troubled companies. He was recently selected as the 2012 Middle Market Thought Leader of the Year by The Alliance of Mergers & Acquisition Advisors.
Koenig has successfully navigated the firm through three difficult business cycles, including the recent recession, when the majority of Monroe Capital’s competitors, such as hedge funds, banks, finance companies and other private investment firms, were shuttered.
While his competitors closed, Koenig sought to invest and grow his business so that when the downturn ended, Monroe Capital was in an even greater position of strength. Throughout the up-and-down business cycles over the last 10 years, Monroe continues to provide top-tier investment performance to its limited partners while remaining a consistent source of financing to its borrowers and private equity sponsor relationships.
Koenig prides himself and his team on developing and maintaining longstanding relationships within the middle market. He is a strong believer in personal relationships and takes a hands-on approach with everyone.
How to reach: Monroe Capital, LLC, www.monroecap.com
Consumer Products and Services
Any company would be proud of the record that Tom Mazzetta has earned with The Mazzetta Co., LLC, a frozen seafood supplier. Even considering the volatile economic times experienced since opening 23 years ago, Mazzetta Co. has made money every quarter.
Mazzetta is most proud that the company has such a strong reputation for living up to its commitments.
He became an entrepreneur by recognizing an opportunity to meet a customer’s needs. As the top salesman at his first job, when a customer suggested a species of fish that the company didn’t currently sell, he offered to coordinate the buyers, suppliers and negotiating needed for his employer to comply.
However, management declined to do so, and Mazzetta met the customer’s demands through his own side venture. Subsequently, he broke away completely and launched the Mazzetta Co. in the same office building it resides in today.
He believes his strength is in knowing the seafood industry and not expanding into other types of frozen food products.
Mazzetta has established such a solid reputation for his company that many of his customers assume he inherited it — rather than building Mazzetta Co. himself from scratch with only himself and one other employee, who is still there today.
Mazzetta’s management style is to encourage employees, regardless of job title or role, to approach their job like they are running their own business.
He has been able to retain key talent with virtually no turnover by promoting a culture in which personnel speak up when they identify areas for improvement. Since Mazzetta himself rose in the seafood industry with companies that gave him a lot of authority and autonomy, he has never put a great emphasis on titles. All employees are diversified in their duties — buyers are also sellers and any level of staff may be included on a sales proposal.
How to reach: The Mazzetta Co., LLC, www.mazzetta.com