It was a moment that shaped Richard Kahlbaugh’s view of both himself and his place in the world. He was on the golf team at the University of Delaware and he had encountered a tough hole that had confounded him so much that he angrily threw one of his clubs to the ground.
His coach witnessed the act and confronted Kahlbaugh to explain that the name on front of his shirt — University of Deleware — was and should be more important to him than the name on the back, which was his own name. It taught him a lesson that stuck about how when you want your team to win, your focus needs to be on positioning the entire team for success and not just looking to nurture your own fame.
It was one of the philosophies that Kahlbaugh put to use when he became COO at Life of the South Corp. in 2003, a struggling insurance product distributor that was in pretty bad shape.
Kahlbaugh went to work, eventually becoming CEO in 2007 and changing the name in 2008 to Fortegra Financial Corp. The name change was meant to reflect both fortitude and integrity in the company and reassure people that it wasn’t just a company for the southern United States.
Kahlbaugh believes strongly in focusing on talent retention by closely coaching his employees and providing them with opportunities to grow. He prefers the word “evolution” over “revolution” when it comes to making acquisitions and integrating new personnel and systems into his business.
And as his company has grown, Kahlbaugh has not lost his appreciation for his people and their value to his organization. He continues to engage them in following a strategy of committing to goals, identifying the steps to reach those goals and focusing on the process through completion.
How to reach: Fortegra Financial Corp., (866) 961-9529 or www.fortegra.com
When John J. Flynn founded Fleet Advantage in 2008, he knew environmental regulations were set to change. He knew technology was improving and the trucking industry would be affected on a large scale, so he wanted to go back into the industry to be on the forefront of the changing views.
Driven by his personal experiences and commitment to the environment, Flynn knew his new truck leasing company — which he heads as president and CEO — would have to help bring awareness to the impact that diesel trucks — particularly older trucks — have on the environment, and strive to create best practices that decrease the environmental footprint left by those trucks.
Flynn’s current project at Fleet Advantage is building a sustainable vehicle. Working with several suppliers, Flynn has helped increase the interval time for service items such as oil changes. Fleet Advantage’s trucks can now go 50,000 miles between oil changes, compared to the previous average of 25,000. Additionally, Flynn has negotiated longer warranty periods for truck parts. The longer warranty periods are the result of working with parts suppliers and truck manufacturers to arrive at the best deal that works to the advantage of both suppliers and manufacturers.
Fleet Advantage also builds lighter trucks by selecting customized parts instead of the stock parts offered by truck manufacturers. Lighter trucks means customers can ship more products, since weight restrictions limit the total weight of each truck on the road — including cargo, fuel and driver — to 80,000 pounds.
The more cargo that can be delivered in a single trip, the longer each truck can be used between maintenance service, the longer the warranty period, the lower the fuel consumption and the better the impact Fleet Advantage has on the environment, as well as on the financial statements of its customers.
How to reach: Fleet Advantage, (954) 615-4400 or www.fleetadvantage.net
Peter Kassabov didn’t have the kind of upbringing that you would expect to spawn a success story in the business world. But even as he was growing up in communist Bulgaria, Kassabov challenged convention and dreamed of creating an environment that would allow his entrepreneurial spirit to thrive.
After coming to the United States and launching a number of successful ventures, Kassabov put himself into a position to create Digital Risk LLC. The company was created to evaluate loans for fraud after the borrower had defaulted. But Kassabov knew it could be even more than that.
As the business evolved, analytics were developed to evaluate loan portfolios not only on the back end when they were already in default but also in the origination stage. This would allow lenders and underwriters to evaluate inherent risk in certain loans and loan portfolios.
It was a breakthrough because Digital Risk was the only company at the time to gain access to multiple information sources and incorporate them into one seamless analytical tool to evaluate loans and mortgage-backed securities.
Digital Risk proved even more valuable after the recession when companies who had once dismissed Kassabov’s services saw the value in what he could provide. The company continued to expand despite the economic downturn as it had positioned itself well to provide its advanced loan analysis service to a large client base of lenders, underwriters, financial institutions and institutional investors.
The company has also broadened its reach from primarily residential mortgages to commercial mortgages, as well.
Kassabov hopes to continue to develop his analytical software until it can be used by other institutions in-house to perform loan analysis and verification.
Through foresight, innovation and change, Kassabov is confident he has Digital Risk in a position to continue to adapt and grow and prosper in the marketplace.
How to reach: Digital Risk LLC, (407) 215-2900 or www.digitalrisk.com
Richard C. Pfenniger Jr. loves to fix problems. He did it first with Whitman Education, reviving a publicly owned career school operator and bringing it back to profitability in six years.
With that problem solved, it was on to Continucare Corp. The health care provider was another company with a whole bunch of problems. It had negative working capital, significant long-term debt, nominal net worth and a history of significant losses.
Pfenniger, the company’s CEO, assembled a new management team that brought a wealth of industry experience to the table and helped Continucare refocus its business on organic growth. He worked with his team to develop a new strategy and mission statement for the company and to build a clear focus on three primary objectives: to provide high-quality health care, make efficient use of health care resources and provide stellar customer service.
The goal of these objectives was to create a model that would provide coordinated care to patients. It would keep a keen eye on wellness and prevention, but would also be right there when more complex medical needs were required. By taking this broader view, costs would be streamlined and successful outcomes would become the norm.
The numbers bear out the results of Pfenniger’s plan. Continucare’s Medicare patients average 11 outpatient visits annually, compared to a national average of six. The company’s inpatient bed days per 1,000 Medicare patients is 35 percent below the national average and the re-admission rate within 30 days of hospital discharge for Medicare patients at Continucare is 50 percent below the national average.
A culture has been built at Continucare that strives for excellence and outstanding customer service. Pfenniger asks his employees to live up to a high set of ethical standards and to always demonstrate respect, integrity and honesty in everything that they do.
How to reach: Continucare Corp., (305) 500-2000 or www.continucare.com
Boyhood friends Omar Soliman and Nick Friedman were home from college one summer when they came up with an idea to earn some extra spending money. They would borrow Omar’s mother’s cargo van and remove unwanted items from commercial and residential locations for a fee. By the end of the summer, they had made a tidy profit. But more was in store.
Soliman wrote a formal business plan and won first prize in an entrepreneurship competition. But six months after college graduation, they both decided to leave corporate life and go back to junk hauling.
In only six years, the company College Hunks Hauling Junk has expanded to more than 35 locations in major metropolitan cities.
CHHJ constantly promotes and enhances the company’s brand. Standard uniforms and colorful junk-hauling trucks are a trademark, as is its clean-cut and playful aspect. At the end of a job, customers are encouraged to vote on CHHJ’s website to vote for the College Junk Hunk of the Semester. Every year, the company holds a “College Reunion,” an annual meeting with employees from across the country, which features a trash toss, truck push and Olympic events.
Currently the largest employer of college students, the company has a vision of becoming the nation’s No. 1 junk-removal company and brand. Soliman, CEO, and Friedman, president, hope to do so by building customer loyalty, profitability, teamwork and a responsibility to supply the most affable and clean-cut collegiate teams to provide the highest level of satisfaction and peace of mind.
Several green initiatives focus on opportunities to reduce costs. Some of these include partnerships with Goodwill Industries, other nonprofit organizations and recycling companies. As a result, the diversion rate to landfills has been decreased by some 80 percent.
CHHJ also contributes to College Bound, a charitable program it established to increase the opportunities for underprivileged youth to obtain a college degree.
How to reach: College Hunks Hauling Junk, (800) 586-5872 or www.collegehunkshaulingjunk.com
James Donnelly is no stranger to the hardships of being an entrepreneur. He has been an entrepreneur in South Florida for 16 years. He has experienced both success and trial over that span and the lessons learned have allowed him to build a premier real estate management company, Castle Group.
As president and CEO, Donnelly has strived to make Castle Group the best company possible and it was named one of the best places to work in South Florida. The company sets the standard in the quality of service provided in the real estate management industry. The Castle Group focuses on larger and higher-end properties, which represent the top 10 percent of the market. This specialization was the main differentiator that insulated the company from the collapse of the Florida housing market.
Donnelly has embraced the use of technology to continuously enhance the resident experience. He recently launched Castle Concierge, the first in the industry, which allows residents to pay their maintenance, register guests, track packages, book restaurants and order repairs on their smartphone from anywhere in the world.
Another unique characteristic that defines the company are the people that work there. Castle Group continuously invests in its people through training, reward recognition programs and by simply treating their employees with kindness and respect.
In 2009, the company became the only People First certified company in the property services industry. People First is a leadership program that focuses on valuing people, employees and customers. Donnelly believes that no good deed should go unrecognized. The company recognizes hard work on a daily basis through verbal appreciation to “You’ve been knighted” cards that are given out when an employee has exemplified a good deed. The company recognizes employees on a more formal basis through promotions, the Castle Scroll newsletter and during award ceremonies at its annual holiday party.
HOW TO REACH: Castle Group, (954) 792-6000 or www.castlegroup.com
While in college in his native Guatemala, BrokersWeb.com Inc. CEO Matias de Tezanos came across an article about a 21-year-old entrepreneur in the U.S. who had started an Internet company. Reading the article inspired de Tezanos to try his hand at entrepreneurship.
Before long, he had dropped out of medical school and started going around to each embassy in Guatemala asking for a copy of their country’s business phone book. Over the next few months, he manually digitized the hotel section of each phone book. With some investment help from a friend’s grandfather, he purchased the Internet domain name www.hoteles.com, making it successful enough to sell to Expedia.com within 18 months.
The first success turned de Tezanos into a full-fledged Internet entrepreneur, and several business ventures later, he became the CEO of BrokersWeb.com, a leading pay-per-click advertising platform providing targeted Web leads for health, life, home and auto insurance products. His customers include Geico and Esurance, among others.
De Tezanos has used some of the lessons he has learned along the way to build BrokersWeb into an industry leader. Unlike a large number of other marketing services firms that sell leads, BrokersWeb’s vertical focus generates better quality leads. The company’s success lies in its ability to deliver leads that convert into sales for advertisers.
The business model implemented by de Tezanos and his team can be easily replicated in other product categories and geographies. BrokersWeb has begun work on a German version of its site, but de Tezanos sees the most potential in expanding his business model to new products. This year, the company plans to launch its mortgage vertical and eventually get unto the credit card vertical. He is setting up a team in each vertical category to replicate the business model used for the various insurance fields that BrokersWeb serves.
How to reach: BrokersWeb.com Inc., (877) 887-5267 or www.brokersweb.com
John Duffy could give you his elevator speech about how his company, 3Cinteractive, provides businesses with mobile software and service solutions to help them communicate with consumers. Or more simply, he would tell you his company’s product is “Our people and their ideas.”
Having begun his career working at two successful entrepreneurial companies, Duffy was able to learn early from business experiences and mentors the vision it takes to succeed as a startup business. There isn’t an aspect of 3Cinteractive — known as 3Ci by Duffy and his team — that doesn’t lend itself to innovative thinking and opportunities to create something better. In fact, the only rule for employees at 3Ci is simple: Respect one another.
Duffy understands that mobile technology is still a new area of investment for many companies. So when launching the company, he knew he didn’t want to pitch a “canned” product to customers. Rather, he saw the chance to create mobile solutions for customers that took into account their existing infrastructure and long-term interests and give them the best opportunities to reach their specific goals. With 3Ci, he makes it a point to avoid following trends in mobile technologies. While he wants his people to look for new and unique opportunities, Duffy also focuses on creating solutions that are realistic for customers. Instead of just offering one-size-fits-all products, he works with his team to develop and engineer tailored, innovative mobile strategies for every customer.
As founder and CEO of 3Ci, Duffy has grown his staff from six employees processing around 1 million mobile transactions to 110 employees processing more than 5 billion transactions in 2010. Going forward, the footprint Duffy and his team have created continues to grow as more and more customers seek out 3Ci to further their goals with mobile technology solutions.
How to reach: 3Cinteractive, (561) 443-5505 or www.3cinteractive.com
Frustrated by the lack of delivery information available on the Internet, Matt Maloney and Mike Evans created an online service to organize delivery information called GrubHub. The co-founders, Maloney, who is CEO and Evans, who is COO, have more than 13,000 menus listed on their site.
Visitors to GrubHub.com type in their address and the results page will display every local restaurant that delivers to them with the restaurants’ menus, available coupons and user reviews. Diners can order directly online, by phone or through the GrubHub iPhone and Android apps.
The site is completely free to use. Restaurants pay commissions on each order processed through the site in order to receive online orders that are supported by GrubHub’s nonstop customer service team. Restaurants that don’t partner with GrubHub can still list their telephone numbers and menus for free.
Maloney and Evans won the University of Chicago New Venture Challenge in 2006 and have since received several rounds of funding to keep their website service on top of the competition. Their ability to raise capital from top-tier investment firms during a slumping economy is a sign that GrubHub is the market leader in its space. The company has doubled its growth year over year by successfully launching new markets and driving more orders through its online and mobile platforms.
As GrubHub continues to grow its online presence, the company is looking to innovate and develop mobile apps that will be key for moving forward. When the company launched its iPhone app in 2009, it saw a 300 percent increase in its install base in the first nine months.
There are more than 300,000 delivery and takeout restaurants in the country. According to the National Restaurant Association, carryout and delivery are the fastest-growing segments in the restaurant industry, which is one of the largest sectors of the U.S. economy. GrubHub currently serves 13 markets and has plans to double its footprint to 26 cities by the end of 2011.
HOW TO REACH: GrubHub, (877) 585-7878 or www.grubhub.com
Founded in Chicago in 2008, Groupon is a shopping website that features a daily deal on top goods, services and cultural events in more than 500 markets spanning across 45 countries worldwide. Andrew Mason, its founder and CEO, has had entrepreneurial spirit ever since he was a kid.
At the age of 15, Mason started his first entrepreneurial venture called Bagel Express, a bagel delivery service. After leaving college, he started The Point, a collective action website designed to help users ignite social change. Derived from the collective action concept of The Point, Groupon took the model to a revenue-based platform.
Groupon is a win-win for local shoppers and business owners. For the consumer, Groupon brings unbeatable deals on top local experiences — everything from restaurants and salons to skydiving, hotels and dentistry. For local businesses, Groupon has changed the way they are able to market themselves and drives a guaranteed number of new customers through their door.
Pioneering and continuing to lead the daily deal space, Mason continues to demonstrate the ability to persevere and remain focused on his company’s success as thousands of Groupon clones continue to launch domestically and worldwide. Credited with inventing social commerce, Mason has changed the marketing space by creating a new and innovative way for merchants to connect with customers.
On an international level, he has used three clones to the company’s advantage by partnering with the best of the best competitive sites in countries worldwide to create a Groupon presence in 45 countries, all the while bringing Groupon’s best practices, vision and expert knowledge to these local sites to create even more robust deal programs abroad.
Constantly challenging the status quo and striving to be the best has heralded Mason much success. He constantly takes risks, adding new layers and ideas to the Groupon model. From personalized deals to real-time, on-demand deals, he has proven his competency and position as the industry’s top thought leader and innovator.
HOW TO REACH: Groupon, (312) 662-7657 or www.groupon.com