Excellence under the sun Featured

9:46am EDT July 22, 2002

The evening was filled with anticipation and delivery, the air literally teeming with energy from the combination of laser lights, rock music and video presentations.

Then Gregory K. Erickson, director of entrepreneurial services for Ernst & Young, cranked it up even further by uttering four words: “Ladies and gentleman, Riverdance.”

With a blast of traditional Irish dance, several members of the renowned dance team leapt onto the stage, exhilarating the crowd of entrepreneurs and their spouses. The troupe’s performance was a gift from the Irish contingent of EOY winners, and it was only the beginning. Denny Dent and his “two-fisted art attack” followed, dazzling everyone with paintings of Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen as speakers blared the musicians’ songs.

But with all its flash, the annual event is really about the men and women who turn ideas into thriving enterprises. It’s about putting it all on the line and taking a gamble.

Many of those entrepreneurs came from the Columbus area.

“The event is certainly electric,” says Chuck Martin, partner with the Columbus office of Ernst & Young. “The program lends credence to the (notion) that the entrepreneurial spirit is the backbone of our economy. A lot of times entrepreneurs feel like they’re in the battle by themselves, and I think the conference gives them an opportunity to see what others are accomplishing.”

The city itself is accomplishing quite a bit as well, Martin says. Columbus was recently ranked No. 19 among the top 50 big metro entrepreneurial hot spots in the nation. Cincinnati was No. 21 and Cleveland No. 39.

“A culture has developed over the years,” he says. “Columbus has not been dominated by large businesses, but rather has, in the last couple of decades, grown up on the entrepreneurial business. As a result, it feeds on itself and leads to more and more entrepreneurial business.”

Several owners of those businesses attended the national awards program.

And though the gathering in Palm Desert, Calif., assembles hundreds of regional Entrepreneur Of The Year award winners, only one walks away with the top national prize. This year, it was Richard M. Schulze, founder of Best Buy Co. Inc.

“Words just can’t describe how I feel right now,” Schulze said after the announcement. “What an honor. What a feeling.”

Best Buy does $10 billion in annual sales and employs more than 54,000 people in 300 stores nationwide, 26 of which opened during the last 18 months. Schulze now has plans to go international.

That’s a far cry from its humble St. Paul, Minn., beginnings, when Schulze has just six stores, then known as Sound of Music. He grew that small enterprise to nine before a tornado destroyed his largest store. And, in classic entrepreneurial style — creating opportunity from disaster — Schulze decided to have a tornado sale. In the process, he reinvented the company as Best Buy. The rest is recent history.

Describing his experience, Schulze explains the draw for many young entrepreneurs who opt for risk over a safe executive job: “It’s been an adrenaline trip for longer than I almost care to remember.”

Schulze received the highest honor that night, but he wasn’t the only award winner. Here are the other winners of the final Entrepreneur Of The Year awards of the millennium:

Category: People-centered leadership

Winner: Jack Alexander

Title: CEO

Company: Worldtravel Partners

Location: Atlanta, Ga.

Category: Health care/Life sciences

Winner: Peter Johnson

Title: President and CEO

Company: Aouron Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Location: La Jolla, Calif.

Category: Real Estate/Construction

Winner: S. Dale High

Title: President and CEO

Company: High Industries Inc.

Location: Lancaster, Pa.

Category: Technology/Communications

Winner: Henry Nicholas III

Title: President and CEO

Company: Broadcom Corp.

Location: Irvine, Calif.

Category: Internet

Winner: Pierre Omidyar

Title: Chairman

Company: eBay Inc.

Location: San Jose, Calif.

Category: Master

Winner: Timothy E. Hoeskema

Title: Chairman, president and CEO

Company: Midwest Express Holdings Inc.

Location: Oak Creek, Wisc.

Category: Young

Winner: Christina Jones

Title: President and COO

Company: pcOrder.com

Location: Austin, Texas

Category: Emerging

Winner: Allen J. Berning

Title: CEO

Company: Pemstar Inc.

Location: Rochester, Minn.

Category: Supporter

Winner: Monica Doss

Title: Executive Director

Company: Council for Entrepreneurial Development

Location: Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Category: Manufacturing

Winner: Young J. Paik

Title: Chairman

Company: Paco Steel & Engineering Corp.

Location: Rancho Dominguez, Calif.

Category: Software/Information

Winner: Satish K. Sanan

Title: Chairman and CEO

Company: IMRglobal Corp.

Location: Clearwater, Fla.

Category: Service

Winner: Michael Chowdry

Title: Chairman, president and CEO

Company: Atlas Air Inc.

Location: Golden, Colo.

Category: Retail/Consumer products

Winner: Richard & James Cabela

Title: Chairman (Richard) and president (James)

Company: Cabela’s Inc.

Location: Sidney, Neb.

The national Entrepreneur Of The Year competition is sponsored by CNN, CNNfn, USA Today, the Nasdaq-Amex Market Group and the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership.

The Columbus attendees were:

Dave and Jeanne Altiero; Shahla Amiri; Robert and Rita Bancroft; Tanya Patrella; John Starkey; Daryl Peterman; Loyal M. and Gerri Peterman; Denise and Dave Rhoades; and John and Donna Bush

Abrasive Technology inc.

Westerville

Richard L. and Kathleen Gummer

Gummer Wholesale Inc.

Kathryn P. Heinzerling

Heinzerling Foundation

Columbus

Donald and Cheryl Kenney

Triangle Real Estate Services Inc.

Dublin

Dan and Missy Lorenz

Performance Site Management

Columbus

David S. and Kazue E. Moroi; Sige A. and Cora J. Moroi; and Michael Wren

M. Engineering Inc.

Westerville

Joseph Sanda and Janet LeDuc

Astute Inc.

Columbus

Randy and Sara Wilcox

SRCOM

Powell

Daniel G. Jacobs (djacobs@sbnnet.com) /a>is senior editor at SBN Cleveland.