STL Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year
Cary T. Daniel
Pivot Companies, LLC
Cary T. Daniel is used to overcoming obstacles all his life. Even as a young boy, he was endlessly teased about his first name. He learned not to take negative remarks to heart and to embrace his name’s uniqueness.
During college, he lost the sight in one eye. His self-confidence took a hit, but he was able to enter into business and become a successful entrepreneur.
Daniel is now the CEO of Pivot Companies, LLC, dba Pivot Employment Platforms. Pivot was formed in 2002 to serve entrepreneurs. Due to the “people” nature of his business, he has been involved in virtually every kind of audit, investigation and review by the INS, IRS, DOL, OSHA, EEOC and SEC. At one point in 2009, while the economy was tanking and Daniel had multiple businesses struggling, he was under 13 IRS audits at the same time.
Having been an entrepreneur in several industries, Daniel noticed a common thread among growing businesses — the tendency of the owner to drift into non-core tasks as the company became larger. With his experience in the employment services industry, it gave Daniel a unique perspective and an opportunity to provide a solution to that problem.
He reasoned that many entrepreneurs start a venture due to their passion for a service, product or industry, but as that business grows, many find themselves straying from their passion and venturing into non-core functions such as hiring, payroll, compliance and human resources. Pivot Employment Platforms’ job is to take on those non-core functions so that entrepreneurs can get back to what they do best.
The end user gains access to a Fortune 500 type HR platform — serviced by a locally owned operator for a fraction of doing it internally.
Pivot also is able to scale quickly with little overhead due to the structure of its model — a win for all parties.
How to reach: Pivot Employment Platform, www.pivotcompanies.com
STL Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year
chairman, president, CEO and COO
NPC International, Inc.
The son of a Pizza Hut executive, Jim Schwartz did not anticipate he would become CEO of the largest Pizza Hut franchisee in the world with more than 1,200 locations in 28 states.
When Schwartz joined NPC International, Inc. in the early 1990s as part of the finance group, the company had a strained relationship with Pizza Hut and no discernible culture.
Just as he was about to leave in 1995, the board asked Schwartz to stay and become the CEO to turn the company around.
Schwartz wanted to create a culture where the people operating the restaurants felt like they owned them. He also focused on finding regional managers who could implement a customer-focused strategy down to the store level.
For Schwartz, micromanaging is detrimental. He looks to provide his team with the latitude to do what is necessary to drive customer metrics, while ultimately holding them accountable for results.
Once problem areas are identified, Schwartz connects his managers with other managers who have successfully faced those same problems. This peer mentoring optimizes performance.
But it was in 2006 that Schwartz was able to really grow NPC under new company owners. He doubled the amount of stores to more than 1,200 in less than six years.
Today, NPC does not just sit back and take direction from the corporate office. It proactively presents market and growth opportunities.
For example, when the recession first hit and pizza sales were dropping, Schwartz saw a company plan for a premium, all-natural ingredient pizza. He suggested the “$10 any way you want it” pizza. With the Pizza Hut marketing department unconvinced, NPC ran the promotion in its own markets to huge success. Pizza Hut immediately pushed the idea throughout the country.
It’s not uncommon for Schwartz and his team to develop and test a strategy that is later rolled out by the corporate offices.
How to reach: NPC International, Inc., www.npcinternational.com
T. Scott Law saw the trends developing as medical billing continued to get more and more complicated. Thinking there had to be a better way he set out to improve the medical delivery process for medical practices by founding Zotec Partners in 1998 as a solution.
Now, insurance submissions and rejection appeals, which in the past had taken upwards of 13 minutes to prepare, can be completed more accurately in seconds using Zotec’s advanced Electronic Billing Center software programming and client-focused support personnel.
Zotec has functioned as both a software licensor and a billing service provider, though these two arms originally operated independently. Clients could choose to only license the software, or they could also choose to partner with Zotec’s billing services team.
After working under this model for many years, Law recognized that there was room for improvement. Clients that chose only to license the EBC software were not achieving the level of efficiency he knew could be reached by Zotec’s services team.
Relying on a billing team at Law’s small start-up company that had yet to build a recognizable brand was understandably not palatable for clients. They were comfortable using the EBC software, but Law felt there was a greater method to help improve client bottom lines.
Over time, Zotec has earned its clients’ trust, primarily due to Law’s continual focus on providing a quality software product and personalized experience. In 2007, Law believed that his company had generated enough credibility and was ready to be taken in a completely new direction. He shifted Zotec to a “bundle” approach, where clients could no longer license the software separately from the service.
By providing a bundled offering with consultative services included, all clients now have access to an experienced billing expert who can provide guidance and support.
Customer reaction to this has been extremely positive, and client bottom-lines improved dramatically as a result.
How to reach: Zotec Partners, www.zotecpartners.com
STL Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year
As the heads of Juggle, LLC, CEO Stephanie Leffler and President Ryan Noble bring extensive entrepreneur experience to the company as well as a strong top-down culture.
From their initial small online shop to a large software company, the two learned an extensive amount about the software/online industry, as well as the leadership skills necessary to grow a company at a rapid pace.
In 2008, Leffler and Noble founded Juggle with no outside capital, although they recently completed a capital infusion. The company began as an online reference resource and has become a network of websites covering thousands of topics.
Leffler tackles strategy and operations while Noble handles development and research in the company that has been further divided into ROImedia and CrowdSource.com. ROImedia works to drive online traffic and generate advertising fees, while managing 1,000 niche websites. CrowdSource.com utilizes the newest technology and ideas with the goal of becoming a software as a service organization for crowdsourcing functions.
Since 2010, the company has more than doubled in employees. Leffler forecasts that current investments in personnel and software will yield significant dividends in the coming periods.
The two consider the crowdsourcing industry to be an enormous opportunity and hope to become an industry leader.
Juggle also has an employee-first culture that creates an environment frequently listed as one of the area’s best places to work. The workplace includes a masseuse, hair stylists, ergonomic outfitters, free oil changes in the company parking lot, a personal trainer and in-house workout facility. Employees are encouraged to frequent the company’s lounge where free drinks and healthy are provided.
Leffler and Noble have had success attracting and retaining valuable management personnel because of competitive pay, flexibility and the fun work environment.
How to reach: Juggle, LLC, www.juggle.com
Industrial and Distribution
When Peter C. Anthony took over as president and CEO of UGN, Inc., the first action he took was indicative of his philosophy. He changed the company's term of "employee" to "team member."
His philosophy was that everyone at UGN is part of the same family, or team. In a complex manufacturing process such as that at UGN, a manufacturer of high quality interior trim, soundproofing and thermal insulating products for auto manufacturers, every member is vital, and he wanted people to feel that way.
Anthony’s commitment to inclusiveness is also demonstrated in the transparency in which he runs the company. Every month, he shares a copy of the P&L statement to the entire team. His goal is to connect people directly with the product of their labor.
Anthony recognizes it is often difficult for a team member, who performs one specific job, to see how he or she contributes to the company's success. When he shares the company's financial performance with everyone, it demonstrates his belief that every member of the team plays a part in UGN's success.
On a weekly basis, Anthony sits down and has a brown bag lunch with team members in the factory.
One of the greatest challenges faced during his tenure as CEO was the 2009 recession. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the company's orders disappeared. The recession brought an opportunity for Anthony to truly flex his entrepreneurial muscle. He guided the company through the recession using the following key concepts: all management took pay cuts across the board; new cross-training programs for team members were developed; and work weeks were shortened rather than issuing layoffs.
Within four months, Anthony guided the company back into profitable territory.
Another challenge was the Japanese tsunami in 2011, which halted Japanese auto production almost immediately. UGN offered furloughs with paid benefits rather than mass layoffs. The strategy proved highly successful, and resulted in strong retention.
How to reach: UGN, Inc., www.ugnauto.com
STL Ernst & Young Entreprneur of the Year
T. Michael Riggs
Jack Cooper Holdings
Jack Cooper Holdings Chairman T. Michael Riggs is an optimist. How else can you explain why he bought his largest competitor in the car-hauling industry, which was 10 times the size of his company and on a downward spiral at the beginning of the recession?
Riggs shared the step-by-step details of his vision with his board and co-workers, but it didn’t hurt that he had done it before — three times.
He’s taken four struggling companies and turned them around by applying two principles. First, Riggs learned long ago that he’s a problem-solver, not a problem pointer-outer. Second, his success is tied to what he calls the “Zoe Philosophy,” which focuses on building a company for the long term, considering how business decisions will not only impact the company today but also for the next 20 years.
When Riggs bought Jack Cooper in 2009, the company was about to go bankrupt. U.S. sales had dropped from 17 million cars to 11 million, and car-hauling companies were closing.
He first focused on hiring — yes, hiring — the right employees.
Then, Riggs implemented a relentless focus on EBITDA with terminal managers and teams. Identifying unprofitable terminals and routes, he parked trucks rather than run unprofitable routes. This paid off when both GM and Toyota, his largest clients, suddenly put in large orders for the following week. The two were facing significant rate increases elsewhere.
As the largest trucking based car-hauler in the U.S., Jack Cooper continues to grow and has more than 2,500 employees. Riggs’s experience allows him to see where changes can be made, contracts adjusted and efficiencies identified.
The company has differentiated itself from competitors by building a new internal tablet-based system that considerably increases driver efficiency, invoicing processes and route selection. Another development is route and load modeling.
Riggs also continually looks at acquisitions for Jack Cooper, both in the U.S. and abroad.
How to reach: Jack Cooper Holdings, www.jackcooper.com
STL Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year
GL Group, Inc.
With 22 years in his family’s book selling and distribution business, CEO Gary Jaffe has helped GL Group, Inc. remain profitable when others are exiting the market. He also has continued the many company programs that give employees a better quality of life.
Formerly Booksource, Inc., GL Group has been family-owned since its founding in 1974. Jaffe took over as CEO two years ago, after slowly working his way up through the company.
Jaffe’s leadership style empowers the more than 160 employees to set high, but attainable expectations and encourages them to see the company as their own. This includes allowing employees daily access to company financial information, bonus trends, etc., as well as implementing departmental daily goals, or scorecards, that are tied to bonuses and metrics.
The company’s vision is to be the “best place to work in America.”
Employee benefits include allowing new mothers to bring their babies to work until 6 months old or partially reimbursing day care payments for the first year. GL Group also holds many social activities and has in-office massages and yoga classes. The company provides tuition reimbursement, extensive job training such as a four-week on-boarding course and is developing stock options for long-term employees.
Jaffe hosts a monthly lunch for 10 employees to discuss the company and answer questions, while sending out annual employee surveys to seek ideas for improvement.
GL Group has recently focused on educational channels to deliver high-quality goods and services to its customers. Under Jaffe’s leadership, from 2010 to 2012, sales have grown approximately 30 percent, even with the challenges from the rise of technology and e-books.
The company is consolidating locations to create efficiencies and starting to expand internationally. GL Group’s people philosophy has continued with the move through discussions of mileage reimbursement and the idea of including laundry facilities in the new headquarters.
How to reach: GL Group, Inc., www.goodluckgroup.com
Brian Spaly thought the world was ready for a brand new men’s shopping experience.
He had an idea that would be unique in the retail clothing industry. As members of Trunk Club, men discover clothes that are perfect for them without actually visiting a store — the clothes arrive in a trunk.
While his timing was not the best — starting a company during the height of the recession is hard enough — adding to that was trying to launch a company that sells luxury goods for men in their mid-20s to mid-30s. Despite the odds, Spaly would not be deterred.
With no proven track record, he had to work hard to negotiate favorable terms from designers and clothing vendors. Fortunately, he was able to overcome this challenge by working largely with his former company, Bonobos, a retailer of men’s clothes, as well as his contacts within the retail industry.
Trunk Club members are connected with a stylist, who uses their measurements, tastes in clothing, and personality to pick out clothing, which is shipped to the customer in a “trunk.” The styling service is all free of charge. It’s an “on approval” arrangement; the member tries on the clothes and purchases only what he likes.
Trunk Club has grown from one employee to 150 employees since its 2009 creation. Spaly has developed an apprenticeship structure that is common in professional services firms. His stylist team consists of stylists, senior stylists and managers. A senior stylist oversees eight-12 stylists and a manager will oversee two to four senior stylists.
Spaly pays more than the going rate for employee salaries and Trunk Club offers full benefits to its team. The result has been little to no turnover. The majority of employees have come to Trunk Club through referrals of current employees. The company promotes a very diverse and inclusive work environment.
How to reach: Trunk Club, www.trunkclub.com
STL Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year
Mark R. Bamforth
founder, president and CEO
Gallus BioPharmaceuticals, LLC
Mark R. Bamforth helped an American pharmaceutical company grow into a multi-billion dollar company, which led to his 20-plus year career running its operations in the U.K. and Boston. But he grew weary of the bureaucracy that placed limitations on his innovative problem-solving skills.
Having been brushed off by executive recruiters, Bamforth struck out on his own. He convinced his wife to let him risk everything, quit his job and mortgage the family home to start his own company.
He formed Gallus BioPharmaceuticals, LLC in 2010 by rescuing a floundering St. Louis pharmaceutical production facility, which he had vigorously tried to convince his former company to buy. As founder, president and CEO, Bamforth turned the company around in just a few years. The family-type atmosphere includes many executives he brought on from his previous experience, the 160 existing employees whose jobs he saved, and the 65 additional jobs that have been created.
When Bamforth transitioned the old staff to Gallus, he realized many employees’ careers had been stuck in neutral. Re-energizing the workforce became a top priority, as overdue promotions and additional moves built employee morale and retention.
He continues that today with quarterly meetings for feedback and recognition.
Work/life balance remains important, which is certainly demonstrated by how Bamforth still manages to spend a few days during the week and the weekends with his family in Boston.
One of the most unique elements at Gallus is that approximately 50 percent of employees are unskilled workers who gain valuable work experience with on-the-job training.
Bamforth has worked to diversify Gallus’ services to include a mix of large-scale production and research and development suites for smaller biopharm companies and universities seeking lab space for their own projects.
His goal is to annually to decrease the company’s dependence on its biggest — and nearly sole client, when he came into the picture — Johnson & Johnson.
How to reach: Gallus BioPharmaceuticals, www.gallusbiopharma.com
Industrial and Distribution
Todd Berger first got a taste for the transportation and logistics industry as an intern for American Backhaulers — and it didn’t go well. He vowed to never work in that industry again.
After all, it was a time when pioneer companies like Google and Apple were the leaders of innovation, and in Berger’s words, the transportation and logistics industry “just wasn’t ‘sexy’ and lacked innovation, and I wanted to change that.”
Fortunately, Berger thought it over and came up with a different goal. He re-entered the industry in 2001, working as a dispatcher at Transportation Solutions Group. Berger recognized the need to anti-commoditize the business and proposed opening a trucking company to ensure TSG’s competitive position in the industry.
While management was skeptical of his venture with Berger being only 26, he created and began to operate Freight Exchange, a full truckload carrier that subsequently turned a profit in its first year of operations.
From that point on, a curious situation occurred. The more initial pushback he received from management, the better the final outcome. In 2009, Berger proposed his idea of 3PLogic, a contract logistics management provider that included customized software. He again received criticism from management because 3PLogic required a significant capital investment for software to be developed and key personnel to be hired.
Berger was unfazed. He presented the idea to a current client — and the customer decided to fund a significant portion of the venture. 3PLogic now provides logistics services, technology solutions and consulting services, and is considered the strongest arm of the group.
Berger’s style is a trial-by-fire leadership philosophy that he applied early in his career and still follows today, believing that a leader can learn something new the same day that it is put into practice.
He also is always cognizant of demonstrating a strong sense of humility not only within his demeanor but throughout the operation of the business.
How to reach: Transportation Solutions Enterprise, www.tse-llc.com