Industrial and Distribution

FINALIST

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

Published in Chicago

Emerging Entrepreneur

FINALIST

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

Published in Chicago

Industrial and Distribution

FINALIST

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

Published in Chicago

 

Private Equity/Venture Capital Backed

FINALIST

Zachary Boca and Dan Ushman were chat room buddies on AOL at age 13 — little did they know then that they would later collaborate on a cloud computing startup company, SingleHop.

They shared interests at that young age and continued to stay in touch as they worked toward developing their own businesses. Later as partners, they put their heart and soul into the success of SingleHop.

SingleHop is a leading global provider of hosted IT infrastructure and cloud computing. Over the last decade, clients all over the world have been choosing SingleHop for its speedy blend of automation and service.

As a result, both men have seen triple and double digit percentage revenue growth for SingleHop since inception. But maintaining these record-breaking benchmarks is no easy task. They are also cognizant of growing too quickly for their own good and have focused on sustainable growth going forward by expanding their customer base but staying true to their original concept of highly automated cloud computing services.

Hiring the right people for the right teams allows Boca and Ushman to let go of the reins a little when it comes to managing the company. They believe that they have allowed their employees to have a vested interest in the shared success of the company. They both have made an effort of employing highly qualified individuals that keep the hosting process at the forefront of changing technological advancements.

With teams that are a good mix and balance of seasoned professionals who bring insight from other experiences and new talent that has innovative vision and hunger for success, the recipe is bringing positive results.

Boca and Ushman construct a yearly plan for SingleHop, which is built from the bottom up and requires each department to contribute its own ideas for continued growth. This culture allows everyone to contribute to the entrepreneurial efforts and encourages ownership and transparency across all levels of the organization.

How to reach: SingleHop, www.singlehop.com

Published in Chicago

Services

FINALIST

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

Published in Chicago

 

Family Business Award of Excellence

WINNER

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

Published in Chicago

Health Care

FINALIST

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

Published in Chicago

Private Equity/Venture Capital Backed

WINNER

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

Published in Chicago

Emerging Entrepreneur

FINALIST

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

Published in Chicago

 

 

 

 

 

Emerging Entrepreneur

FINALIST

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

Published in Chicago