At an early age, Kurt J. Lesker III gained an appreciation for his father’s spirit and entrepreneurial actions and thinking. His father, Kurt Lesker Jr., founded the Kurt J. Lesker Co. in 1954. The company, which manufactures and distributes vacuum products, started as a small regional business. Kurt Lesker III, who is now president of the company, has taken his father’s wisdom and drive and applied it to his own leadership of the company, making it a growing global business.
Understanding the value of his father’s entrepreneurial spirit, Lesker has worked to foster those qualities in the company since his start. To ensure that employees buy in to the company’s entrepreneurial spirit and remain motivated, the company remains lean and delegates business responsibilities. Lesker sees himself as the head coach, his middle managers as the assistant coaches and his employees as the players on the team.
He says this corporate culture gives everyone the opportunity to contribute to the team’s successes. He also works to make sure all employees enjoy their jobs and develop their skills to their highest levels of expertise. Through his vision and the work of satisfied and motivated employees, the company has grown globally in Europe, Asia and North America.
Under Lesker’s direction, the company has never followed or tried to imitate competitors. When consultants tell him to exit a business area or not take a risk, he follows his vision and supports his leadership with investments in quality and a differentiated product offering.
He has high confidence in the company’s mission, vision and the people he has entrusted to carry it out. Employee turnover is low, job satisfaction is high, and motivation to do more is common. He has led the company forward for more than 30 years and has carried out the entrepreneurial spirit in everything the business does.
HOW TO REACH: Kurt J. Lesker Company, (412) 387-9200 or www.lesker.com
Dr. Michael Bozik became an entrepreneur to fulfill his careerlong ambition to help develop medicines and cures for brain diseases. His career was on the fast track, but his impatience to develop life-changing medicines led him to the life-changing conclusion that small biotechnology firms could advance drugs faster than bureaucratic big pharmaceutical companies.
Knopp Biosciences was founded in 2004 to commercialize a diagnostic test for ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Bozik joined the company as president and CEO and personally invested $200,000 to supplement Knopp’s limited working capital after it identified a compound under investigation at the University of Virginia. In 2006, he secured an exclusive license to bring the technology to Pittsburgh.
Drug development is highly capital- and talent-intensive, and Knopp needed both. Along with raising millions, Bozik recruited top managers from East Coast companies to Pittsburgh to initiate drug manufacturing and animal toxicology. Trials of the compound being developed showed signs of human safety and slowed Lou Gehrig’s disease progression.
Bozik’s innovative spirit is evident. People doubted he could build a pharmaceutical company in Pittsburgh because there weren’t any, but they were wrong. They thought he couldn’t raise money from Boston without moving the company there, but they were wrong. People told him that Lou Gehrig’s disease was a Bermuda Triangle for drug development, but they were wrong again.
Although Knopp ended up licensing its drug findings to Biogen, Bozik assured that it did not license the science behind the medicine. Knopp is now expanding its laboratory effort to exploit this proprietary science to discover follow-on drugs for Parkinson’s and other brain diseases. In 2011 alone, Knopp has recruited numerous out-of-town Ph.D.s to Pittsburgh and is doubling its laboratory to nearly 9,000 square feet.
In Bozik’s tenure as president and CEO, he has raised millions, achieved a breakthrough in drug development, completed a huge licensing transaction and distributed tens of millions to shareholders and put Knopp Biosciences on the map in Pittsburgh.
HOW TO REACH: Knopp Biosciences LLC, (412) 488-1776 or www.knoppneurosciences.com
Lenny Lottig, president of ITI Trailers and Truck Bodies Inc., has been in the design and manufacturing trade for more than 20 years. He began his career as a laborer and metal fabricator for a local company, then spent time as a hands-on employee and learned the world of business from the basic skilled worker to management positions with Benson International until becoming owner of ITI in 2007.
The ability to grow in an industry that is constantly changing demands a personal commitment in all areas of the company. Lottig’s personal determination to succeed in all areas of life, whether personal or business is a constant driving force behind the parts provider and manufacturer of original equipment trailers, truck bodies and gas and oil field equipment.
From Lottig’s time spent as an employee at Benson, he learned to understand different perspectives, shared ideas and solutions to problems, and enhanced his confidence and critical thinking. When Benson decided to shutdown the original business called International Trialers Inc., of which Lottig had become plant manager, he recognized the potential of the company and that a future was possible.
The economic impact the closure was going to have on the local economy and the personal lives of many workers spurred Lottig to devise a plan to keep the operation going. In 2007, he became the owner and president of the company.
In less than five years, Lottig has led ITI from the brink of extinction to a position of recognition and success. Through his efforts and unique vision he has entrenched ITI as an industry-recognized provider of the highest-quality products and services. His efforts also saved the jobs of four dozen skilled workers in a region that is desperate for such opportunities.
With a growing national presence, ITI is positioned for future growth and success as strong as the entrepreneurial spirit that Lottig embodies.
HOW TO REACH: ITI Trailers and Truck Bodies Inc., (814) 634-0080 or www.itimfg.com
Jeff Silver could have eased into retirement with a list of accomplishments that would have made any resume glisten. The third-party logistics company he had helped build into the second-largest freight brokerage in North America had just been sold for a lot of money and he didn’t need to work anymore.
But this wasn’t about need. It was about desire. So Silver headed back to school to earn his master’s in engineering logistics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Silver had an idea about a new approach for the transportation industry, and he wanted to make it a reality.
So he invested his capital and founded Coyote Logistics.
The company opened its doors in 2006 intent on bringing about change to his industry. Coyote would use proprietary technology to create solutions to meet the operational demands of today’s increasingly challenging supply chains.
The company specializes in fleet backhaul, which utilizes clients’ trucks to transport loads on return trips to reduce the number of trucks transporting half or empty loads. This reduces traffic and emissions.
The company began with 30 employees, but is expected to grow this year to 800 employees working in seven offices across the United States.
Silver, the company’s CEO, relies heavily on technology. But he puts just as much emphasis on finding good people who buy in to his leadership and will agree to work hard to help his company help its clients.
Silver makes an effort to clearly explain his values to people so that they know what he stands for. In return, Silver provides regular training for employees and consistently recognizes excellent performance.
And he does all this while working with his wife to raise seven children. But his efforts have paid off as Coyote Logistics was named the No. 2 best small company to work for in Chicago in a recent survey by the Chicago Tribune.
How to reach: Coyote Logistics, (877) 626-9683 or www.coyotelogistics.com
Glenn O. Hawbaker Inc., a construction services company, was formed in 1952 by Glenn and Thelma Hawbaker. The company started as a small mom-and-pop operation that helped with construction services in the Pennsylvania region. Their son, Daniel Hawbaker, came back from the Army, got his degree and decided he could help the family business grow to new heights.
Hawbaker, now president of the company, had a bigger vision for the small construction firm. He wanted to transform the small operation into an integrated firm, a leader in the creation of bridges, interstate highways and more. Today, the company is a leader in its field.
The business model was built upon strategic acquisitions and innovation, such as the creation of a drum mix asphalt plant in 1974. The plant, coupled with acquisitions, was a strategy utilized to enhance the company’s position in the marketplace and added the ability to provide materials to other companies.
Hawbaker, like his father, has always had a solid business vision and is constantly looking for the next move for the company. Over six decades, Glenn O. Hawbaker has evolved into three separate business entities involved in heavy construction services, aggregate and asphalt production, and engineering.
Hawbaker views his company as a true business partner and because of the significant amount of know-how the management team and employees have obtained over the years, it truly has become an integrated operation. The company is equipped with engineers, materials and logistics to complete any job. Hawbaker has the ability to see the future before most people and knows how to prepare for its promise long before it arrives.
He understands trends and keeps his organization out in front of every opportunity. He strives to set the market, not follow it.
HOW TO REACH: Glenn O. Hawbaker Inc, (814) 237-1444 or www.goh-inc.com
Chiro One Wellness Centers is a multi-million dollar success story, no bones about it.
From a solo practice headed by Dr. Stuart Bernsen, Chiro One grew to seven centers in less than five years’ time though mergers, acquisitions and organic growth. The business has 60 clinics operating throughout Illinois, Kentucky and Texas with 20 slated to open this year.
A 2011 inductee into the Chicago Area Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame, Bernsen, CEO, has taken a savvy business mind and talent for allocation of resources to maintain dramatic growth while keeping the business fiscally healthy through self-funding its expansion. From 2005 to fiscal 2010, Chiro One Wellness Centers’ gross revenue has grown more than 1,011 percent.
The company’s foundation is seen in its vision and mission statements: all human beings should discover their full potential, and to be leaders in developing extraordinary wellness for families and individuals by taking a stand for the well-being of communities through education and service.
Chiro One Wellness Centers clinics are privately owned, but clinic directors can earn the right to become an equity partner in their respective sites. Support is offered in critical areas such as training, billing and collections, finance, maintenance, IT, purchasing, operations, human resources and marketing. This arrangement combines the best of both the entrepreneurial spirit needed to operate an individual practice with the power of a group.
Employees receive training and continuing education through many personal development courses and opportunities supported by the company, which also has an extensive community outreach program that donated more than $6 million in goods, services and financial contributions in the past five years. These agencies range from The Greater Chicago Food Depository to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Last year, the not-for-profit Chiros Care Free Clinic was formed to serve the homeless of Chicago.
How to reach: Chiro One Wellness Centers, (630) 468-1824 or www.chiroone.net
Shawn Riegsecker, founder and president of Centro, doesn’t just want satisfied customers; he wants raving fans instead.
By the same rule, employees are challenged to become fulfilled individuals.
Together, they are key factors in one of the fastest-growing media technology companies.
Riegsacker envisioned a Web-based business that contained all local websites and an easy media buying interface to place local online advertisements, what was formerly a laborious process. While his timing was risky — starting right after the Sept. 11 downturn — he was determined to meet his goals, spent his entire savings, and then obtained unsecured personal loans to continue. Today, there are more than 13,000 opportunities indexed in Transis, the proprietary software that agencies can use to plan their advertising campaigns.
Reared in a strict Mennonite community, Riegsecker brought strong ethical standards with him when he founded Centro. These principles would become part of the Employee Manifesto. It outlines the company’s vision, mission, ideology, values, principles and character traits of employees.
Giving back is also a cornerstone of the company culture. In 2007, a committee of employees was formed to determine how best to return to communities a portion of the company’s success. Named the Centro Giving Tree, it matches a portion of employees’ charitable donations and also partners with employee-selected organizations across the country to raise funds, volunteer time and assist with in-kind donations.
Another foundation of Centro’s culture is an emphasis on self-improvement. The company supports continuing education-type programs for employee personal growth. These include mini-sabbaticals, tuition reimbursement, leaves of absence to achieve personal goals (such as teaching English in a foreign country), personal goal setting and wellness programs.
In addition, Morgan adds small touches into employees’ lives that mean a great deal, such as frequent inspirational e-mails regarding self-development and character. He underscores the philosophy that financial success follows happy and growing employees.
How to reach: Centro, (312) 397-3330 or www.centro.net
Michele Honomichl borrowed an idea from Ford Motor Co., mixed it up with her entrepreneurial spirit and founded Celergo, a global payroll service provider to companies in 97 countries.
While working for Ford after college, she helped manage the creation of a world-class expatriate administration center and launched a global expatriate management system. She began to think that there might be other companies interested in these services. Her idea placed second in national competition, and she launched a Web-based technology.
Demand grew for payroll services, so Honomichl shifted her focus accordingly.
The nature of international payroll is challenging, with time zones, language barriers, differences in culture and currency and multiple compliance and regulatory issues. With Celergo’s expertise in expatriate payroll, broad geographic reach and flexible approach, the company is able to deliver the assistance clients request. Feedback from clients shows that they appreciate the company’s knowledge and its teams that support and implement the program.
Working off cash flow, Celergo was able to obtain a line of credit after the first year based on market traction gained that year. At that time, the cofounders were able to hire their first employee. The company has been recognized as one of “Chicago’s 101 Best and Brightest Places to Work For” and recently raised venture equity to allow it to continue to the next level. It has also been recognized as one of the fastest-growing companies in the United States by Inc. magazine.
The highly educated, multilingual staff brings a consultative versus clerical approach to implementation and client services organization.
Honomichl, company CEO, sums up the company this way: “Celergo has become an extension of clients’ internal payroll teams and continually partners with them to bring the best value and practices to their organizations.”
How to reach: Celergo, (847) 512-2600 or www.celergo.com
Laura Shapira Karet often finds herself setting unrealistic goals for her company. At Giant Eagle Inc., Karet is one of the driving forces in the company’s constant innovation and evolution.
Karet encourages all employees to think beyond what is just achievable. The culture she sets as the senior executive vice president and chief strategy officer of Giant Eagle stresses the idea of continuous reinvention by examining what could be possible and then figuring out how to achieve it. With this mindset, she has inspired and led the 33,000 employees of the Giant Eagle family to realize tremendous results.
Karet serves as a visible ambassador of the company’s business model, which focuses on achieving operational excellence, using innovation for growth and always showing respect for people. She lives the tenets of the Giant Eagle culture every day in order to lead from the top down and spread these ideals throughout the organization, maintaining an entrepreneurial spirit and culture of camaraderie that helped grow the company to become one of the biggest players in its industry.
One of the greatest leadership challenges Karet has faced is selecting which growth opportunities Giant Eagle will invest in and when, especially when dealing with limited resources. However, her foresight and ability to identify the most advantageous risks for Giant Eagle is one of the key reasons the company has driven incredible customer loyalty and differentiated itself as a multiformat retailer. In the past decade, she’s been vital in spearheading Giant Eagle’s long-term strategic plan and helping the company achieve significant expansion by taking strategic risks to reinvent its offerings. With ideas such as the Fuelperks and Foodperks discount redemption programs, gift card rewards and others, her continuing vision for what could be keeps the 80-year-old company evolving and growing.
How to reach: Giant Eagle Inc., (412) 963-6200 or www.gianteagle.com
While the doubters and naysayers scoffed at his idea, Guy Morgan charged ahead and became the first new supplier in the Illinois electricity market in years. Failure was not an option — Morgan put all his personal assets on the line and did not take any outside money to launch the business.
That was the kind of passion he had for creating and growing his company. Morgan, now CEO, and Aaron Rasty, current president, founded BlueStar Energy Services in 2002 originally as an electricity broker following deregulation of the Illinois market. Morgan took the approach one step further, starting from scratch, to become an actual supplier to provide greater control over the business.
After recruiting a staff with utility industry experience, Morgan’s next challenge was to secure customers. With tried and tested sales skills and a dedication to customer service, the company gradually gained a footing in the marketplace.
As an alternative to long-established utilities, Morgan believes that building relationships with customers that emphasize energy conservation creates a much greater long-term gain than any in the short term. BlueStar has become a leader in assisting customers to use funds from utilities and other sources to install equipment upgrades that reduce electricity usage and has customer renewal rates far greater than those typically seen in the industry.
Morgan is serious about his role in instilling and leading the company’s culture, but he does so with a sense of humor — after all, humor is one of company’s core values. Integrity, candor, humility, innovation and passion are other core values.
BlueStar does not use a traditional performance evaluation method to compensate employees but rather relies on the overall performance of the company. Employees are given incentives to help meet the company’s overall financial goals, creating a focused and motivated work force.
As for philanthropic efforts, Morgan supports organizations close to employees such as cancer research and Junior Achievement.
How to reach: BlueStar Energy Services Inc., (312) 327-0090 or www.bluestarenergy.com