Consumer Products and Services
When Escalade, Inc. was stuck in a rut, it needed a radical business philosophy to become innovative and assume leadership in branding and innovation within the sporting goods market. The development of new product lines had become a secondary priority to the needs of the growing dominance of big box retailers, and that had to change.
Bob Keller took the wheel as CEO of Escalade in 2007 with a simple mission: breathe new life into the company. His plan was to use his philosophy to construct a company driven by product development and branding — rather than the demands of retailers. He took this challenge knowing that his experiences at Armor All and Disston Tool Co. during similar circumstances aligned well with the goals for this company. But in 2008 the financial collapse and ensuing economic recession tested his ability to spur innovative growth.
A tipping point came when top customer Sears was undergoing a decline — also during the recession. Sears threatened to switch to a competitor if Escalade refused to pay a higher-slotting fee to shelf its products.
Keller, however, said no to Sears and took back control of Escalade’s product development. The retail giant had virtually had been dictating most of the company’s product development plans.
Sears switched to a competitor, and Escalade had to move fast to retain market share. Keller focused on new markets and pursued retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods. But despite his efforts, drastic cuts and action were needed in order to survive the recession.
Keller and his team then focused on getting the business down to its bare essentials.
He also decided to develop high-end sports items, noticing that while consumers were cutting spending almost everywhere else, those passionate about archery and hunting were still willing to spend on high-end archery equipment. By the start of 2010 Escalade was at a break-even point, and stock prices have increased dramatically since 2008.
How to reach: Escalade, Inc., www.escaladesports.com
Judson Bergman had a vision that he thought was too important to let die after he was unsuccessful in launching it at the investment firm where he worked.
So he took the vision with him, leaving the company to develop a business plan that became Envestnet. And of their own accord, several colleagues joined him.
Bergman wanted to transform the financial services industry. He envisioned that the Internet could be utilized to offer a scalable wealth management platform tailored to the registered investment adviser business but flexible enough to support a wide range of clients.
Bergman saw two trends that would shape Envestnet’s strategy: a desire to move from commission-based brokers to a fee-based independent investment advisers and a need for a software as a service solution with the Internet as the means to deliver it.
Success for Bergman has been measured by the number of advisers on his platform and the amount of assets under management that they advised. But beyond that, he measures his success as the progression of the financial services industries to the transparent fee-based advisory market he has envisioned.
The core value upon which everything revolves around for Bergman is transparency. He does not micromanage, preferring to see his job as empowering the team. Bergman reminds his team of the vision to transform the industry and fiduciary transparency responsibilities, as well as creating clearly defined goals and stating how employees will be measured and rewarded. As a result employee retention is high as Bergman inspires his employees and keeps them working toward his broader vision.
By staying true to his vision and making smart, strategic investments and acquisitions, Envestnet has grown in both the number of advisers and assets under management in every quarter since the economic downturn in 2001.
How to reach: Envestnet, www.envestnet.com
With an engineering degree from MIT in the 1980s and having already started a computer consulting company when PCs were just being introduced, Chris Gladwin could have had a successful career working for a large technology company.
However, he decided to launch MusicNow hoping to revolutionize the way users obtain and store music recordings. But MusicNow could not generate profits on its own and was eventually sold to Circuit City.
Not to be deterred, Gladwin launched Cleversafe, Inc. This new project that he planned for nearly seven years and developed for five more eventually became a success. Instead of making a physical copy of data like CDs or flash drives do, Cleversafe converts data into different virtual equations that are stored on different servers, eliminating the risk of data being lost.
In addition to years without compensation while working on Cleversafe, Gladwin had to start his project all over again three years into the development to make the product more robust. The more engaged he was in the project, the more confident he became that he was on the right track.
Gladwin knew that his product was designed for larger companies, but the usual practice is to test a product on small companies first. As risky as it seemed, he decided to target large customers first.
He offered his services to the Chicago Museum of Broadcast Communications. The museum then became the reference point that Gladwin used to sign up large customers.
The gamble paid off as Cleversafe now has trial runs of its product with some of the largest technology companies in the world.
The company has seen substantial growth each year since inception. Sales have doubled or more than doubled in each of the last three years. Gladwin expects about 30 big customers next year, and he plans to invest this revenue back into Cleversafe by improving its sales force and expanding his technology team.
How to reach: Cleversafe, Inc., www.cleversafe.com
Private Equity/Venture Capital Backed
As the president and CEO of Chromatin, Inc., Daphne Preuss brought with her the leadership mentality of confronting obstacles from her time spent in academia as a researcher. In that field, outcomes are uncertain, questions are numerous and results vary. There, a focused leader who is prepared to execute the plan is an absolute must.
Preuss asserted this leadership when she founded Chromatin in 2000 and secured venture capital funding in 2001. Preuss was an adviser on the science side of the business until 2005 when the board disagreed over plans for the business and was ready to liquidate and move on.
Preuss took the challenge head on, resigned from her tenured position at the University of Chicago and took over as CEO for Chromatin. She knew the company lacked team integration and communication. After gaining employees’ trust and buy-in, she obtained a lucrative deal with Monsanto, one of the biggest players in the agriculture industry, and this served as the cornerstone of Chromatin’s rapid growth and success.
Preuss says her company, Chromatin, has the best leadership team in the sorghum cereal grass industry. She has attracted some of the top talent in the industry from the largest agriculture companies to join Chromatin. For example, Preuss was successful in recruiting to Chromatin a senior executive from Monsanto’s sorghum division.
She attributes talent acquisition to the company’s unique position in sorghum space, and the culture that management has created.
Employees are encouraged to challenge Preuss, and her team thrives on heated discussions to determine which steps are best for Chromatin. Her “culture of intensity” —intensity for a common goal — attracts passionate people who like to be part of something for which the sum is greater than the individual parts. This intensity drives the team to always find a path around barriers and to solve problems with the vigor the culture promotes.
How to reach: Chromatin, Inc., www.chromatininc.com
When Hugh McKean Jones IV became president and CEO of BankersAccuity, he saw a similarity it had with his previous company, IntrinsiQ. Both companies lacked a clear vision of how to make the world a better place and provide value to customers.
Jones’ management style starts with understanding the “why” behind an action, career or business choice because that understanding allows individuals to have a real impact on business and the world around them.
This is evident in his choice to develop the value for doctors and care recipients in the health care segment through IntrinsiQ, and his work at BankersAccuity where he fights against the evils of terrorism, drugs and human trafficking through service offerings like anti-money laundering compliance tools and global payment solutions.
Jones leads his organizations by driving change and being willing to guide and develop everyone who is open to change. He believes that being an effective leader requires two things: the courage to decide, and humor if the decision is wrong.
In addition, Jones feels responsible as a leader to develop the people around him. He manages with the understanding that people will leave and his goal is to develop those people so their next job is only possible because they first worked with him. He also carries the philosophy that those who leave the company should be welcomed back if the situation happens, rather than cast aside.
His approach seems to have paid off. Within a few years at IntrisiQ, Jones had turned the company around, which led to it’s sale to Accel-KKR. With BankersAccuity, he doubled revenue between 2008 and 2011 and turned a declining business into a “growth play” for the same firms that had no interest from 2004 to 2007.
Because Jones is driven by trying to make a better working world, developing the people around him and providing value to his customers, he has been successful with multiple organizations in multiple industries.
How to reach: BankersAccuity, www.bankersaccuity.com
Having taken over as CEO of Associated, Michael Romano began to evaluate ways to set the company apart from the competition. He decided there should be some changes. As a result, the past three years for the company have been the most transformative by far in its history.
But in making a change in direction, Romano encountered some static from the managers who were not sure the change in the company’s business model would be a success.
It was a challenge to shift the way of thinking for many tenured employees from seeing themselves as a “Raymond Forklift Distributor” to being professionals delivering integrated supply chain solutions.
The Associated team, led by the efforts of Romano, had to sell the idea to its own people, and ensure that its people believed in the vision before taking it to the public. Associated has proven to be resilient, taking on this transformation during a time of economic uncertainty, and as a result of all these investments and changes, the company is now recognized as a leader within the industry, setting the standard for quality and solution offerings.
In the last couple of years, Romano has implemented a transparent, well-defined and standardized performance management process for Associated employees. The company’s strategy is to create standards, implement those standards, and reward employees, believing that these efforts will ultimately benefit their customers. The company also prides itself on promoting from within.
In order to meet market demands, Romano believes that each employee must understand, embrace, project and consistently employ practices that effectively convey Associated’s brand promise.
This is achieved by participating in all branding focused educational events, working with marketing to develop programs that will allow the company’s technicians and field service mangers to enhance the perceived value to customers by promoting the brand, and participating in relevant industry-related educational events.
How to reach: Associated, www.associated-solutions.com
At age 30, Bradley J. Dannegger approached the owners of ARCO/Murray National Construction Company and asked to open a Chicago office of the firm. He had already worked at the St. Louis and Florida offices, and the owners recognized that he was a rising star, so they support his plan.
The result was a substantial decrease in pay for Dannegger as well as an increase in risk. But his hard work, perseverance and his top talent has grown the Chicago office into one of the most successful in the ARCO/Murray family.
He continued to grow ARCO through the recent recession by focusing on complicated, niche construction projects with Fortune 2000 companies – for example, clean-rooms and laundry services for hospitals and hotels. The market is large, the construction is complicated, and few competitors are in the market. Staying away from construction that only requires “four walls and a roof” has helped differentiate his company from the competition and drive repeat business.
Dannegger sets high expectations for himself and his team, but he leads with an inclusive style — realizing that less experienced employees need coaching and encouragement. He faced challenges in the first couple of years trying to find the right talent to build his team. Starting in 2005, he focused on hiring the brightest students from the best engineering schools. When interviewing, he began focusing more on a candidate’s potential rather than experience. These new hires came onboard with no bad working habits and an eagerness to learn every aspect of the construction business.
In client relationships, Dannegger has always strived to form a strong partnership. As a design/build firm, ARCO is present at the earliest stages of the project until the building is complete.
Subcontractors and vendor relationships are just as important. Each year, ARCO honors its top 10 vendors in an annual ceremony to celebrate the year and their hard work.
How to reach: ARCO/Murray National Construction Company, www.arcomurray.com
With J.P. Fingado as its CEO, API Healthcare has more than doubled the number of hospitals and staffing agency clients it serves and is regarded as the nation’s leader in healthcare-specific workforce management technology.
Fingado’s ability to drive such success at API Healthcare is because of his capacity to lead the people working with him. In his four years as CEO, the company’s workforce has increased significantly to match its rising sales growth. But regardless of the company’s size, Fingado’s management philosophy has remained the same: building people based on their strengths, not their weaknesses.
The success and record-breaking growth API Healthcare experienced under Fingado’s leadership made the company a threat to their top competitor. As a result, during January 2011, the competitor attempted to buy out API Healthcare.
An unusual thing happened during the negotiations — API’s customers began to protest and tried to block the purchase. Recognizing the distraction to the business and the risk that the buyout presented to API’s ability to serve its customers and take care of its employees, Fingado convinced the board to excuse API from the proposed sale. In so doing, Fingado asked his customers for their ongoing support so that API could continue to achieve the best-in-class strategy and innovation it had experienced to that point, and its customers and employees responded.
Fingado’s vision is to identify and quantify miscellaneous factors that contribute to cost reduction and quality improvement to offer Healthcare providers information vital toward effectively managing their company. In an industry where an estimated 60 percent of operating expenses can be attributed to labor, this is critical. Fingado’s focus is to build solutions that address this, and doing so is possible through the effective recruitment and management of individuals with strengths that complement their talent.
How to reach: API Healthcare, www.apihealthcare.com
Industrial and Distribution
When Paul Jones joined A.O. Smith Corporation in 2004 as COO, the company was operating in a subdued, slow-growing industry and had no primary focus. With his years of experience with companies such as General Electric, Midwest Electric and Greenfield Industries, Jones quickly realized what was needed.
In order to maximize current assets and provide the largest return to the investors, Jones and his team would need to refine the company focus from being just a water heater and electric motors company — the focus would have to be on the area where the company had a comparative advantage and the shareholders would receive a better long-term return.
Jones determined the company needed to do three key things: stop explaining the past and start focusing on achieving in the future, distill the business focus, and prepare the larger water heater business for pending growth issues, which would likely occur once the commercial and residential construction boom receded.
He also took note of the corporate culture — it was a culture set on treating people with dignity and respect. He knew that this would be a great fit, and he has been leading the company by focusing on “keeping our promise” to customers, shareholders and employees.
Upon Jones’ promotion in 2006, Jones said he was announcing his retirement as CEO of A.O. Smith. As the shareholders looked at him in astonishment, he finished by saying “which will be in 2014.” He promised by then the company will have achieved $5 a share in earnings, $100 per share stock price, and have 10 analysts covering the stock.
He was met with skepticism and was told that he would never reach those goals. But in 2012, with split adjusted shares, he met all of those goals. The growth was largely driven by his moves to obtain a strategic position in the replacement market and focus on growing markets such as China.
How to reach: A.O. Smith Corporation, www.aosmith.com
When Daniel Adamany founded the technology solution value-added reseller AHEAD, LLC in 2007, he knew he had to have a competitive advantage over the competition.
One major strategy was to remain vigilant in identifying the customer’s industry-specific technology needs. To do so, Adamany, CEO of the company, put into effect the Think, Look, Plan, Move strategy — for customers and employees alike.
AHEAD wants its employees to think about their position in the company, look ahead at where they might want to move in the company, plan a strategy to achieve that goal, then move forward and execute that strategy. This philosophy has helped the unique culture at AHEAD to attract and retain highly talented individuals, including former employees of competitors.
For customers, the strategy urges them to think about what their technology needs will be, to look ahead to the future of their industry and future needs, develop a clear vision and plan of action to meet the needs identified in the first two steps, then move ahead and execute the plan in order to succeed.
This framework has been very successful for both AHEAD and its customers, which praise the company for its innovative, and applicable and reliable services.
Adamany continuously looks to improve AHEAD’s offerings and its ability to sell those offerings. In the ever-changing technology environment, AHEAD maintains its competitive advantage by offering package solutions to customers and remaining up to date on technology.
The company’s highly talented workforce is constantly researching new technology solutions developed by other companies as well as investigating the feasibility of developing its own products.
Adamany has been able to attract and retain talented individuals when he started AHEAD by using his own capital to pay employees until the company was profitable enough to handle payroll. It is actions like these that show Adamany’s ambition, passion and dedication.
How to reach: AHEAD, LLC, www.thinkahead.com