Distribution & Manufacturing
Mark C. Arnold
President and CEO
When the weekend draws near, the thoughts of many people turn to upcoming family gatherings, dinner reservations, tickets to the show or maybe even the possibility of getting a tee time at the country club.
But for Mark Arnold, many of his weekends find him doing something a lot more intense than any of these fun-filled activities.
As an active member of the U.S. Armed Forces, Arnold serves as a brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserve. When the weekends are over, it’s back to work as president and CEO at GSE Environmental.
Fortunately for Arnold, he’s proven quite adept at balancing the two leadership roles.
Arnold enlisted in the Army after high school and quickly volunteered for a Special Forces Paratroop Unit where he eventually became a Green Beret officer.
His military training has given him the ability to deal with challenges and work effectively with people to make things work in his organization.
Arnold firmly believes that the ability to be adaptive in meeting customer needs, adjusting to unexpected obstacles, and implementing new ideas is absolutely essential to GSE’s success.
He believes in empowering the organization’s people across all job functions to promote innovative thinking and a unifying commitment to the company’s success and future.
Arnold conveys this message every day through a rigorous schedule in which he is constantly working closely with customers and colleagues around the globe to move the company forward.
By providing a voice to every person through his ideation sessions where he emphasizes that he is only one voice and one vote in the room, Arnold is able to retain employees. It promotes collaboration and gives each person an opportunity to speak up and let their feelings be heard about the topic at hand.
When he isn’t at work or on reserve duty, Arnold makes sure he has time for his family. He also continues to be active with Ohio University, his alma mater.
How to reach: GSE Environmental, www.gseworld.com
Distribution & Manufacturing
Crane Worldwide Logistics
After working for a logistics company called Eagle Logistics for many years, John Magee concluded that the business he once knew and loved was no longer for him. He resigned subject to a 12-month non-compete agreement.
Magee and eight other former Eagle executives, all with one year non-competes, decided they would use the 12-month period to develop a business plan, find a financial backer, and then in month 13, kick off a new business.
They found a private equity firm to back them, got seed money from Jim Crane, and went to work developing a business plan that took the best of the management, operations, and back office aspects of Eagle, and addressed those aspects that were in need of repair. Magee and his colleagues launched Crane Worldwide Logistics in 2008.
Launching a new company during the economic crisis has its obvious challenges. Attracting top industry executives and employees from comfortable jobs to join a start-up was the most significant obstacle the leadership team had to overcome.
The vision of the company is the most vital aspect of the business and helped attract talent to the company. Crane aims to be a mid-sized logistics provider. To compete against the largest competitors, the focus is on large, high touch, high value, and high service logistics services where commodity pricing isn’t the determinative factor. In fact, Magee has walked away from several proposals where he believed the margins derived were inconsistent with the Crane vision.
Magee and his team believe strongly in the company’s character statement; CRANE, which stands for Customer-centric, Responsible, Attentive, Integrity and Execution.
Crane’s business is currently about 40 percent air, 30 percent ocean and 30 percent ground delivery. Magee attributes the success of Crane to the 1,200 like-minded employees who share the vision of building a niche logistics company which competes on service ability, and not just price.
How to reach: Crane Worldwide Logistics, www.craneww.com
Distribution & Manufacturing
Little has come easy in life for Amit Bhandari. He left his home in Indore, India, at the age of 17 to come to the United States and pursue the entrepreneurial instincts that were beginning to drive him.
Those instincts were strong, but they weren’t enough to prevent some tough times. Bhandari worked as a waiter to make ends meet as he attended school and got the education he needed to pursue his career path in the chemical engineering industry.
He also established a day care business, a real estate investment business and a convenience store along the way. All this time he was building up a cash reserve he would eventually use to start a company of his own.
He founded the BioUrja Group of companies in 2006, recognizing a need for a company that could address the significant logistical challenges oil companies and independent refiners face to reliably procure ethanol to meet federal mandates.
His keen eye for opportunity would serve him well as he continued to make wise decisions to build his presence in the industry. He took risks, including the mortgaging of his own home and use of his own personal funds to obtain a key strategic asset through a bankruptcy auction.
When those risks paid off, his company grew stronger.
Bhandari looks to build relationships with people to enable him to factor their perspective into those key decisions that need to be made. With everyone on the same page, execution becomes cleaner and efficiency increases, leading to an even stronger organization.
Through all the success, Bhandari has not forgotten the tough road he took to achieve success. He works hard to support mentoring programs that can help the next generation of talented leaders to get their chance to fulfill their potential and big dreams. And his staff is often right there by his side, reaffirming his instinct in developing great leaders.
How to reach: BioUrja Group, www.biourja.com
Distribution & Manufacturing
President and CEO
American Alloy Steel Inc.
As Arthur Moore transitioned from serving the United States in World War II to building a career in the steel industry, he noticed some similarities between the two pursuits. While there were obvious differences, Moore was struck by the importance of discipline, a strong work ethic and a desire to be the best that was present both in the military and the working world to which he now belonged.
He took advantage of the opportunities afforded him to learn about the steel industry and put that knowledge to use in 1971 when he launched American Alloy Steel Inc. When he discovered his partners did not have the same knowledge that he had, he bought them out and moved ahead on his own.
It was slow at times, but his business grew and the focus he put on building strong relationships paid off in multiple ways. Customers were impressed by his knowledge and professionalism as were suppliers. The result was a business that always had a plan to follow to achieve success.
Inside the company, a thriving culture has made American Alloy an enjoyable place to work. Free lunches are offered each Friday, creating an environment that is pleasant in the good times and supportive when employees are going through difficulties. Loans are available to those who need them with flexible payback plans that allow borrowers to get back on their feet without feeling pressured to pay off their debts.
The generosity extends beyond the walls of American Alloy as the company is always doing what it can to help needy families during the holiday season. The result is an organization that has built a strong reputation for the way it treats its customers, its vendors and its employees. This has positioned American Alloy to expand its reach and bring its all-around quality to other parts of the world.
How to reach: American Alloy Steel Inc., www.aasteel.com
Distribution & Manufacturing
Walter Blessey Jr.
Chairman and CEO
Blessey Marine Services Inc.
The way that Walter Blessey Jr. measures the success of his company is through his people. He is successful, he says, because his employees are great at their jobs. Like so many entrepreneurs, Blessey used to do everything himself, and now he has learned to put his faith in individuals and their abilities to do what they do.
Blessey Marine Services Inc., a multi-faceted inland tank barge and towing vessel fleet, and its employees have a track record of improving revenue by more than 25 percent in the last three years, so it’s easy to see why Blessey, chairman and CEO, has faith in the team that he’s assembled.
Blessey puts a great deal of time into his employees, not just on the job site, but away from the office or fleet as well. To show his employees how much faith he has in them, Blessey has a unique program that allows all employees to buy shares in the newest additions to the company fleet. Employees invest their personal money into shares of ownership in newly constructed vessels. The employees usually make their investment back within two or three years of the vessel being placed into service. The investment will continue to produce income for another 25-30 years.
There are many things that make Blessey and Blessey Marine Services original and innovative. One area that stands out is the Captain’s Club meetings for when all of the captains are in town together in order for everyone to meet each other. Blessey believes that it’s vital that every employee gets to know fellow Blessey co-workers.
To this end, the Blessey team also holds an annual trip to reward high-level executive team members and captains of boats without any injuries, safety issues or downtime. The trip gives everyone a great opportunity to get to know each other and boost the bond among office and field personnel even further.
How to reach: Blessey Marine Services Inc., www.blessey.com
Founder and CEO
Jerry Lasco did not grow up wanting to be a restaurateur. He was a pilot who had flown planes for both the U.S. Air Force and what was then Continental Airlines. He and his wife, Laura, loved to travel internationally and wine tasting had always been part of the experience.
But soon after Lasco and his wife moved to Houston, the tragedy of 9/11 struck. Lasco was furloughed and suddenly found himself out of work. Fortunately, he looked at it as an opportunity to start a new career. He was willing to take an hourly position at a wine store to learn more about the wine industry, as well as fine-tune his palate and plan his next move.
He became drawn to creating a wine bar that also sold retail wine. He and his wife invested all their savings to open one of Houston’s first wine bars, The Tasting Room Wine Cafe. It flourished and continues to set the standard for wine bars.
As founder and CEO of Lasco Enterprises, he leads with three principles in mind: Employees and business partners are the highest priority, customers must have an enjoyable and memorable experience, and the company must give back to the communities that support his business.
The focus on employees is critical because they are the ones who touch customers and if they are happy, your customers are more likely to be happy. Business partners are also critical to your success, and Lasco focuses intently on building a strong rapport so both sides can achieve success.
When customers have a memorable experience, they’ll tell people about it and your business will take off, Lasco says, and it has to be at every level of service as one bad aspect of a customer’s experience has the potential to spoil the good. And building strong bonds with your community fosters even more relationships and creates a positive image for your business.
How to reach: Lasco Enterprises, www.lascoenterprises.com
Chairman and CEO
Igloo Products Corp.
When Gary Kiedaisch and private equity firm J.H. Whitney first targeted Igloo Products Corp., Wal-Mart had successfully driven down cooler prices and had a 60 percent share of the cooler business. In addition, Wal-Mart had been rotating regional sales among the three main cooler suppliers — Rubbermaid, Igloo and Coleman — so that no company would be able to be dominant in the market.
Kiedaisch did not see the “Wal-Mart model” as sustainable, as it did not inspire consumers to buy new coolers. Instead, he saw the situation as an opportunity. Kiedaisch thought he could re-energize the category by giving consumers a reason to update their current coolers. He shared this vision for Igloo and the opportunity he saw and along with J.H. Whitney they purchased Igloo in October 2008 making Kiedaisch chairman and CEO.
Kiedaisch’s vision for Igloo Products Corp. faced two primary challenges. First, the economy was in a downturn and oil prices were on the rise, impacting the price of resin and increasing the cost to produce coolers. Secondly, he had to work around Wal-Mart and determine a way to move Igloo away from its buying and pricing practices either by growing sales outside of Wal-Mart or convincing Wal-Mart of a strategy to implement price differentiation.
Kiedaisch started growing the Igloo business outside of Wal-Mart through the use of specialty retailers and introducing features into the coolers that Wal-Mart was not able to offer. By creating an entrepreneurial organization, and empowering his employees, Kiedaisch and his team have been able to successfully implement more than 200 new products to the market. This resulted in Igloo being able to grow the business outside of Wal-Mart by 20 percent.
Kiedaisch met with the Wal-Mart board and presented his strategy and success in growing sales outside of Wal-Mart, ultimately convincing Wal-Mart to get in the game. As a result, Igloo went from having low margins and low profitability and getting beat up by Wal-Mart to developing a strategic partnership.
How to reach: Igloo Products Corp., www.igloocoolers.com
Stacey Gillman Wimbish
The Gillman Cos.
Stacey Gillman Wimbish may have learned a lot from her father, a legend in the Houston automotive dealership business, but there was no playbook for the challenges she has had to face since taking over the family’s Texas automotive dealership business, The Gillman Cos., in 2008.
Gillman Wimbish, president, has led her 14-dealership company through the economic impacts of the Great Recession when there were two hurricanes, a Japanese earthquake and tsunami that caused numerous issues and delays from Japanese automakers, and domestic manufacturers were cancelling franchises.
Through all these unforeseen challenges, she developed and executed a strong and consistent plan. The tenet of that plan was to assess the situation honestly no matter how difficult and have the courage to make needed change.
Gillman Wimbish transitioned the organization through all of these crises allowing not only for the company to survive, but come out much stronger. She embodied the famous motto, “Keep calm and carry on.” She reduced cost in line with the expected medium to short-term volume declines and made the hard decision to cut employee headcount. She also emphasized to her management team the need to constantly measure performance and press for timely changes whenever they were needed.
While her path to leading The Gillman Cos. was not certain, the automotive retailing business has always been in Gillman Wimbish’s blood. During her career, she has worked in almost every function of the dealership operations including accounting, vehicle and parts sales and finance and insurance. Her knowledge of the automotive dealership business and all its many facets has been a key to her success in leading the company.
With her leadership and strategic plan, Gillman Wimbish was able to manage through these adversities and bring the company back to operating and financial success. In 2010, she was named one of the 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry.
How to reach: The Gillman Cos., www.gillmanauto.com
Farouk Systems Inc.
So what did Basim Shami do to prepare himself to one day take the reins at the business his father, Farouk, launched 27 years ago in the family garage? Well, he started his own business, of course.
The younger Shami took leftover and excess chemicals from his father’s company and altered solution formulas to create a salon-inspired line of pet grooming products.
It was a strong hint that Basim Shami had the entrepreneurial genes in his blood, and it’s now allowing him to take Farouk Systems Inc. in some new and interesting directions. His goal is to create “a small L’Oreal,” though Shami claims he would do a better job of integrating acquisitions. He understands that new and different is a hit in the beauty business and works hard to support a research and development team that can help Farouk Systems on top of its game.
Shami has built a network of more than 1,500 educators that serves as a natural testing place for his company’s products, as well as a great source for new ideas and product enhancements.
But as committed as Shami is to his job and to the company that his father built, he understands that he can’t do everything by himself. His job is to create a vision that everyone can get behind and then remove obstacles so that employees can make it happen.
Shami is not the same man as his father. He takes a more deliberate approach to decisions and closely studies the markets and consumer trends to validate potential new opportunities. He brings people along for the ride so that everyone who shares in the effort can also share in the great sense of accomplishment when a strategy helps Farouk Systems achieve a goal.
This awareness of others led Shami to launch a partnership with a local community college to start a cosmetology program, where units earned via the partnership can count toward college credit.
How to reach: Farouk Systems Inc., www.farouk.com
Founder and president
Chesmar Homes Ltd.
Don Klein had spent 27 years working for national homebuilders, and he had an opportunity to move to yet another one when he made a seemingly bold move. He turned down a sizable bonus and chose to invest his own money to create a company he could call his own.
Chesmar Homes Ltd. is the product of Klein’s passion for making people happy. This applies to customers, business partners, investors and his employees, who he calls “Chesmarians.”
Klein is committed to hard work and dedicated service, but in doing so, he wants to see smiles all around. He wants employees to feel like they are part of a family and bring the passion that comes forth when you work alongside people you truly care about.
As the company grows and evolves, he wants strong personalities to shine through and feel comfortable applying their talents to help Chesmar achieve success.
All this became key when the company faced its greatest obstacle. Chesmar needed to find good locations on which to build. Klein tapped his relationships to find good communities to go to and his employees backed up his reputation by creating a strong product for customers.
As a result, Chesmar ranks at the top of its industry in customer satisfaction.
But it’s not all about business for Klein and Chesmar Homes.
Klein’s primary philanthropic focus revolves around the Greater Houston Builders Association’s Benefit Home Project. He has chaired the committee for the last six years, being extremely successful in recruiting and partnering two or three homebuilders with community developers each year to build a benefit home.
The builders solicit donations from contractors and vendors to construct a project home for about 25 percent of the retail sales price.
The home is then sold with the profits going to Texas Children’s Cancer Center, the Alzheimer’s Association and Home Aid Houston.
How to reach: Chesmar Homes Ltd., www.chesmar.com