When Juvenal Chavez bought a butcher shop in 1991, he saw it as more than just a place to sell food. He saw it’s potential to connect Hispanic families with their culture by creating a place where they could celebrate their roots and purchase quality foods that they grew up with and that were part of longstanding traditions.
As founder and CEO of Mi Pueblo Food Center, Chavez has grown his company to 20 retail locations across Northern California to employ nearly 3,000 people. While his first store was a work in progress — small and unattractive, by his description — Chavez and his family saw the possibilities it presented to attract the Hispanic community with high-quality meats and extraordinary customer service. By making this vision a reality, within months, Chavez increased the company’s weekly sales more than tenfold.
Chavez developed Mi Pueblo’s business model based on his experiences as a Hispanic immigrant and an entrepreneur. He aims to create an authentic environment similar to that found in Mexico and Latin America open-air markets.
Chavez shares his passion for serving the Hispanic community with customers, as well as with employees and the community. In 2009, the National Grocers Association recognized the company as an “Outstanding Community Based Retailer.” Today, the Mi Pueblo partners with numerous Northern California schools and organizations, participating in food drives, health fairs and cultural events.
As an innovator in the grocery business, Chavez has used his strategic business philosophy to offer a unique service that has gained great success in the Hispanic market. His vision is to establish a Mi Pueblo in every Hispanic neighborhood to offer groceries and fresh products of the highest quality at fair prices.
How to reach: Mi Pueblo Food Center, (408) 928-1171 or www.mipueblofoods.com
Behm and his partners had just pulled up their financial bootstraps and purchased Open Systems Technologies, a division they founded, from its parent group. Behm, president of the company that got its start as a hardware seller, saw the importance of diversifying in order to grow. OST needed to appeal to larger companies and a larger geography.
He exercised careful planning and execution to expand the company into a well-rounded IT firm, offering hardware, software and services. In 2010, revenue was 10 times what it was when the company was purchased in 2003, Behm expects that to increase an additional 40 to 50 percent in 2011.
Not only did the company expand its horizons by growing its health care market share and acquiring a software development service and intellectual property, it was recognized by Inc. magazine for its rapid growth.
Because the company was built on the philosophy of entrepreneurship, employees are not afraid to try new ideas and invest in new business initiatives. Anyone at OST can start a new business practice if it fits into the existing business and makes sense financially. OST’s investment in those startups gives those with a notable idea the chance to build that business with the company’s support.
In addition, both company and its employees contribute to causes such as Supper House, a local soup kitchen, and Mentor1, where employees use work hours to mentor local youth.
Despite the company’s explosive growth, Behm is careful to maintain the company’s culture, stressing things such as “Don’t get too big for our britches,” “Be genuine,” “Make everyone feel welcome” and “Support one another.”
How to reach: Open Systems Technologies, (616) 574-3500 or www.ostusa.com
While Vendor Managed Solutions Inc. has been extremely successful in its industry, President Rumia Ambrose-Burbank is still contending with challenges.
Her company is an integrator for maintenance repair and operations that supplies maintenance repair and operations (MRO) products and services to clients in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. And the major challenge it faces is trying to thrive in an industry in which 99 percent of its competitors are a handful of billion-dollar-plus companies that have established a market presence over the course of decades. VMS has had to develop a value proposition that is so unique in the market that potential customers can’t say no, which Ambrose-Burbank has accomplished as a female business leader in an industry dominated by men.
The company’s unique value proposition is based on a self-funding model that places a priority on identifying savings opportunities before customer engagement, and a guarantee of savings across the customer’s indirect supply-mail chain. The fees of VMS are covered in the savings, and if the company doesn’t save year over year of the contract in item pricing, inventory and materials management, VMS pays back its fees. Ambrose-Burbank and her staff were the first to bring the model to the market for indirect material.
VMS’ business model is gaining momentum as companies look to reduce costs outside of the traditional, direct-material route. Ambrose-Burbank plans to capitalize on that fact through a structure marketing and management approach.
VMS anticipates doubling revenue within the next two years, based on the current account growth as client business grows, and through the acquisition of new customers.
How to reach: Vendor Managed Solutions Inc., (248) 658-4521 or www.vmsglobal.com
In 2009, Intouch Solutions Inc. celebrated its 10th anniversary and experienced a breakout year. The pharmaceutical and health care marketing agency added 62 employees, had 14 new accounts and won 12 awards. For Faruk Capan, founder and CEO, that is what he expects every year to be like.
Faruk, who is from Istanbul, started Intouch Solutions in his basement on little more than a vision, a personal investment and a handful of employees 12 years ago. Today, the company employs more than 240 people and the company is on the leading edge of its industry.
Capan is always driving the company and its people to do more, do better and advance their industry by leveraging technology. His radical, forward-thinking approach can cause dissonance within the organization, but without dissonance and constant drive for innovation, Intouch Solutions wouldn’t be positioned as a leader in its field.
Faruk has a knack for reading industry trends and intuitively understands where the industry is headed. He has been able to avoid major business challenges and take advantage of key opportunities. He predicted the rise in use of the iPad in the health care field and drove Intouch to develop iPad capabilities when other agencies were far behind. Faruk takes calculated risks but does it for the better of the business.
Although he is faced with many challenges as a CEO of a growing company, Faruk still dares to care about his employees. He recently helped launch a new internal education and training initiative to give employees information and tools to advance their careers. He has also been involved in the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program, inspiring other young entrepreneurs to follow their dreams.
Faruk’s employees, peers and clients look to him as a friend, a counselor, adviser, visionary and valued digital strategist. And, of course, as an entrepreneur.
How to reach: Intouch Solutions Inc., (913) 317-9700 or www.intouchsol.com
When Allen came on board, the nonprofit organization was providing services to 180 families. But he knew that there was still a long way to go, and in the past decades, his commitment to the organization’s mission has helped Hattie Larlham implement many new social enterprise ventures to help people with developmental disabilities live longer, richer lives.
Allen believes that to help people with disabilities feel healthy physically and emotionally, there must be more educational and socialization opportunities in their daily lives. However, social norms perpetuate the idea that people with disabilities are cannot execute jobs that require interaction with the public, so this sector is largely unemployed.
Allen has played a significant role in changing those misconceptions by leading Hattie Larlham to implement and oversee a variety of social enterprise programs -- including a pet boarding facility, a chain of local coffee shops and an art program -- that provide meaningful employment and engagement opportunities for people with disabilities. Allen and his team are driven every day by the effect these initiatives have in instilling people with disabilities with a greater sense of purpose and self worth. Today, as Hattie Larlham marks its 50th anniversary, it provides services for approximately 1,500 people with developmental disabilities.
In 2010, Allen recognized another opportunity to expand Hattie Larlham through a fourth social enterprise and formed Hattie’s Vending Co., which services 79 vending machines in the Akron area. Through collaboration with organizations such as universities and local boards, Allen continues to establish additional job placement opportunities for people with disabilities.
How to reach: Hattie Larlham, (330) 274-2272 or www.hattielarlham.org
This is an answer to my favorite age-old anti-security argument, “we don’t need security, we’re too small to be a target.” Really? Who is more likely to be a target? Is it the big guy walking down Main Street with four armed guards flanking him on each side, or the little guy walking down a poorly lit alley whistling loudly so it seems like he’s not really scared? The answer as always depends on the motivation of the attacker. If the attacker is looking to send a message or get some publicity, then the big guy is the right target. If, however, the attackers are just looking to steal money or identities and draw little attention then the little guy is the right target. On to the original question: are little guys targets? Absolutely.
The problem with the little guys thinking they’re not targets is that they often don’t have anything in place to tell them if they’ve been attacked or breached in the first place. This is the old head in the sand approach and just is not a good idea. You wouldn’t go months without reviewing your bank statements would you? Then why is it the systems that your money runs through (your business’s computer network) does not deserve the same attention and respect? There is too much neglect of best practices in small businesses and at some point it is going to hurt your small business. You have data that bad guys want, the problem is you don’t know what or where that data is. It’s okay to know you don’t know something; it is not okay to remain ignorant after you have been informed.
I’ve put together a little list, more like an outline, of things you can do to help better secure your business without bankrupting you. Hopefully it gives you a good idea of where to start and shows that it’s not terribly difficult to achieve some sense of understanding about your systems and the data they move around.
1) Be aware! There are countless news feeds and portals out there that can help keep you aware of what’s going on in the bad guy world. You don’t have to become an expert but you should have a sense of what sort of evil is lurking out there.
2) Use Open Source or so-called Free Software. There is a ton of it out there, it’s not as complicated as it sounds and it won’t take a monster-sized bite out of your budget. Some of it can be a little obtuse, but there are some great tutorials out there and if you get stuck you can always find someone who can help. (Full disclosure: My company does this sort of work so of course I think it’s a great idea.)
3) Build a security strategy. Figure out what kind of stuff (computers, data, people) you want to secure and then build a strategy around that. If you don’t know what you have then you can’t possibly secure it properly.
4) Build a culture of caring. You need folks who, while not necessarily security experts, understand the need for and appreciate the efforts required to secure systems and people.
5) Secure your people too. You have read this sentiment over and over, but yes people need to be secured too. A lot of attackers would rather go after people (it’s called social engineering) than systems because typically people are more trusting and more willing to give out confidential information.
Bonus: While securing your people, make them aware of social media security issues. This is an important part of any security strategy, especially if you’re using social media for marketing already. Knowing what to say and what not to say is crucial.
This is not to say that security is not hard; it actually is quite difficult to be 100 percent completely secure (many would argue it is not even possible), but the idea is not to be 100 percent completely secure. The idea is to have in place processes and tools to prevent as much as you can while understanding what to do if something bad does happen. Once you’ve figured out that it is not insurmountable you will be wondering why you didn’t start sooner. The hardest part though is getting started — it always is.
Bill Mathews is Lead Geek at Hurricane Labs, an IT security services firm founded in 2004. He has nearly 20 years experience in IT, 13 of that in information security, and has been interested in security ever since C3P0 told R2 to never trust a strange computer. He can be reached at @billford or @hurricanelabs on Twitter, and other musings can be read on http://blog.hurricanelabs.com.
As a young professional, Shane Heise helped a friend launch a telecommunications business.
He invested more than his nest egg into a company that quickly failed, and his friend then walked away, leaving Heise in the lurch. The investment had left him empty handed but not without a spark. Using his experience and his entrepreneurial drive, Heise saw an opportunity to enhance carrier accountability and transform the telecommunications process at no cost to the client.
The idea took shape in the form of a 1997 start up where Heise and his wife put it all on the table to follow his vision. The startup, Simplify Inc., quickly sought the largest, most complex clients. The company sold against carrier account teams, auditors and brokers with a value-add proposition that put it in the role of a trusted adviser. While telecommunications carriers were shaving pennies for large corporations, Simplify was dealing with the root of the problem -- multilocation, multicarrier, multiservice complexity.
In Simplify, Heise pioneered a new class of service built around a platform for managing telecommunications procurement. To it, he added a team of industry insiders with the knowledge to make things happen. The result for clients has been increased efficiency while saving money at every turn.
Simplify’s game plan leads to infinite expansion opportunities. What began as its innovation in the telecommunications sector will eventually evolve to every sector of industry that creates friction for Simplify’s large, multilocation clients. This means that Simplify is constantly listening for ways it can solve clients’ problems in areas well beyond telecommunications.
The end goal is to enhance the effective manageability of client resources. Whatever new endeavor Simplify steps into, it will serve as the bridge from a legacy and red-tape environment to one of heightened transparency and accountability.
How to reach: Simplify Inc., (281) 465-6000 or www.simplifycorp.com
Dr. Murray Lappe had a vision for a paperless drug-screening, designed a process and founded eScreen. Robert Thompson joined him to share that vision as both believed there was more in store for eScreen.
What prompted Lappe’s interest was that he knew that previous methods for drug screening were traditionally paper-intensive that could involve weaknesses in the chain of custody. He felt an online, paperless drug screening process at both the collection point and the employer’s desktop could work. Dr. Lappe created the industry’s first Web-based electronic chain of custody form and electronic signature capture at the point of collection. His screening system also included the patented eScreen eReader, which delivers negative results from a urine sample within 15 minutes.
The two men were not afraid to take risks and face obstacles, one of which was overcoming the fear of a new technology into a traditional paper-based industry. Their continuing quest to improve and automate drug testing has even led to drug testing regulation changes in New York and Florida.
Today, there are some 2,400 eScreen technology enabled collection partners in the eScreen Occupational Health Network, which serves many of the largest employers in the United States. This is one of the largest third-party collection site networks in the country.
The company’s newest product, ePhysical, is a Department of Transportation-compliant, digital physical-exam form. Earlier this year, the American Trucking Association announced that eScreen was the preferred network for driver physical examinations.
A new nationwide initiative is under way to add fingerprinting to the company’s drug and alcohol screening systems.
Lappe and Thompson lead eScreen by example in terms of creating a corporate culture that promotes personal development and involvement in city and community. These include a variety of activities, charities and events that support the betterment of the Kansas City community.
How to reach: eScreen, (913) 327-5915 or www.escreen.com
In late 2008 and early 2009, when the equity markets suffered their worst crisis since the Great Depression, Fred DiSanto was determined that The Ancora Group Inc. would stay in constant contact with its clients during the uncertain times.
He identified the threat of a downturn early and made selective fiscal cutbacks while staying committed to retaining his staff. Even during the market downturn, between the end of 2007 and 2009, discretionary assets under management grew.
Through his leadership, the firm has implemented a holistic, diverse product offering that serves as the foundation for the firm. As he has added new lines of business, the focus has stayed on the clients. In 2008, he added insurance and 401(k) products to the company’s traditional money management services because he recognized that high-net-worth clients and business owners needed a trustworthy source for these products. This holistic approach is what differentiates Ancora from other money management firms.
DiSanto’s goal over the next four years is to double the company’s revenue, and he’s implementing this growth plan with the corporate infrastructure that he has. The firm will continue to reinvest in the business as it has since its founding by forgoing profits for capital expenditure purposes and integrating talented staff. He plans to monitor both top- and bottom-line growth by tracking key metrics, as doing this will generate shareholder value.
DiSanto’s leadership goes beyond just running the business. He also serves as the chairman of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and on the board of directors of Boys Hope Girls Hope of Northeast Ohio and John Carroll University. He has also served as chairman of the board of regents at St. Ignatius High School and has contributed to many nonprofit initiatives, including a local hospital’s building fund and an outreach program for those facing cancer.
How to reach: The Ancora Group Inc., (216) 825-4000 or www.ancora.net
When Mark Thierer joined SXC Health Solutions as president and COO, he came on board at a boutique pharmacy benefits management software provider. But despite its size, he created a vision for the company to become the pharmaceutical cost management partner of choice and to keep clients for life.
This vision he cast, along with his track record of leadership, determination, innovation and operating excellence, has enabled him to attract the best talent that the industry has to offer to help him achieve his goal. Together, he and his team have developed a game-changing software program in an overly saturated market. This effort also posed great risk to the company, but because of Thierer’s leadership abilities, he has made SXC a strong contender.
He’s also successfully led the company in expanding through acquisition. In May 2008, SXC acquired National Medical Health Card Systems, which was a client of the company at the time. This transaction required a $50 million loan, but it was a very strategic acquisition. Thierer also led the company in raising capital for additional acquisitions. Under his leadership, SXC raised slightly more than $203 million in late 2009, and in December 2010, a portion of this was used for acquiring a specialty pharmacy facility, which is one of the fastest-growing areas of pharmaceutical spend.
Additionally, 1,000 new employees have been hired since the company’s inception. While this is a huge testament to his success, with growth comes more challenges. He’s had to work to get all of these new employees on board with his vision, which he’s successfully done, as well. Adding these new people was key to executing the strategy to enter and grow into an established, competitive market.
Thierer now leads as president and CEO, and the proof of his success is in the numbers. Revenue has grown, and 2011 was its most successful year ever.
How to reach: SXC Health Solutions, (630) 577-3269 or www.sxc.com