For 27 years, Ernst & Young has championed the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women pursuing excellence in their businesses, teams and communities.
Ernst & Young founded the Entrepreneur Of The Year Program to recognize the passion of entrepreneurs and to build an influential and innovative community of peers. We received more than 1,680 national entries for this year’s program, from the country's most deserving entrepreneurs. Their triumphs stand as a testament to the role they play as visionaries and leaders.
Entrepreneurs change the world and make it a better place to work and live. We honor them for their fortitude and resilience, and we celebrate their ability to forge new markets, navigate uncharted territory and fuel economic growth.
We gather here in Northeast Ohio and in 24 other cities across the U.S. to honor all of the finalists and welcome the new class of entrepreneurs into our Hall of Fame.
Congratulations to all of the 2013 Northeast Ohio Entrepreneur Of The Year finalists and winners. We applaud them all for their unyielding pursuit of business excellence and we are honored to share their inspiring stories with you.
Whitt Butler, advisory partner, Ernst & Young; program director, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Northeast Ohio.
Here are the 2013 Northeast Ohio Entrepreneur of the Year winners and finalists:
Distribution and Manufacturing
Education and Non-profit
Health Care and Pharmaceutical Services
Finalist – Scot Lowry, president and CEO, Fathom
Retail and Consumer Products
Winner – Kris Snyder, CEO, Vox Mobile, Inc.
Family Business Award
Early in his career, Paul Demirdjian had been involved in developing software applications to facilitate process efficiencies, enhance customer service and product delivery. At the time, he knew he was only scratching the surface of the potential that Web-based technologies held.
He envisioned that websites of the ’90s would quickly evolve from simple information presentation layers into transaction layers, enabling companies to interact with and sell to their customers.
This vision was accelerated by an experience he had dealing with an online electronics retailer whose call center couldn’t locate his order, nor did they know if the product was in stock.
Astounded to learn that the retailer’s website couldn’t access inventory information, Demirdjian realized there was a growing need for a software platform that could allow companies to integrate disparate systems so that real-time information could be aggregated in one database with one administrative environment and one branded customer experience.
In 1999, Demirdjian started Internet Business Integrated Solutions to pursue his vision and began building architecture for what would become Jagged Peak’s flagship software — EDGE. After founding IBIS, he realized he needed additional expertise. In 2000, Demirdjian merged IBIS with Compass Marketing Solutions to form Jagged Peak.
In 2009, Jagged Peak was approached by a global consumer products company with a difficult challenge that revealed a major competitive advantage. The client needed a single solution provider that could create B2B and B2C web stores, provide order management, set up and manage distribution, as well as the warehouse and transportation management systems, and they needed it fast.
Jagged Peak was able to deliver within 60 days because EDGE is web-based, so rather than installation, it merely requires configuration and activation. It also spans the entire eCommerce ecosystem, handling everything from order capture to order management to order fulfillment.
Since then, Jagged Peak’s EDGE platform has been recognized as a best-in-class ECP and OMS.
How to reach: Jagged Peak, www.jaggedpeak.com
Michael I. Kaufman
president and CEO
Kaufman Lynn Construction
Mike Kaufman did not start Kaufman Lynn Construction under the best of circumstances. He was a father of four who suddenly found himself out of work and needing a job to support his family.
His first step was to dust off his tools from college and begin taking odd jobs for homeowners as he simultaneously looked for an opportunity to break into the commercial side of the construction industry.
He got an offer to perform as a subcontractor which he took eagerly, but it required him to take out a personal loan from his mother-in-law in order to pay his crew and purchase supplies. But through hard work and skillful management of cash flow, he was able to leverage that first commercial project into other opportunities and steadily build the scope and scale of his projects.
As president and CEO at Kaufman Lynn Construction, Kaufman sees the ability to track and understand costs as a core competency of the business and a contributing factor in the company’s ability to weather economic downturns. During the recession, it allowed him to take his profits and reinvest them into developing new market sectors that would help the company.
As other contractors were laying off employees, Kaufman took advantage of the newly available talent pool.
One of the most important goals for Kaufman was to build a business that is sustainable with sound practices and processes and a willingness to adapt on a job-by-job basis.
As a result, Kaufman has built a company that is viewed from the outside as available, adaptable and accountable for everything it does. It enables Kaufman Lynn to compete against the biggest and the best contractors in the country.
But there’s always room for more improvement, so Kaufman encourages his employees to further their skills and pursue training that can help them get even better at what they do. The hope is to develop leaders that will ensure the company’s success for years to come.
How to reach: Kaufman Lynn Construction, www.kaufmanlynn.com
Dan Doyle Jr.
president and CEO
Dan Doyle Jr. had two objectives in mind when he co-founded DEX Imaging in 2002 with his father, Dan Sr.
He wanted to create a privately-held dealership that focuses on quality service. He also wanted to give back one third of the company’s profits to charities and educational programs within the markets where DEX does business.
That commitment to both community and customer service has not wavered a bit over the past decade as Doyle has grown his business through the headwind of one of the toughest economic downturns the industry and the country has ever seen.
DEX has the lowest employee turnover rate in the industry as many of its sales, administrative and service personnel have been with the company since its inception. This means there is a legacy of performance excellence that customers of DEX Imaging experience first-hand.
One of the reasons employees stay is that the company has created a business environment that promotes transparency and encourages everyone to succeed in what they do. The company’s profit-sharing program awards bonuses to employees who consistently achieve high levels of performance each year.
When employees join DEX, they go through a rigorous and comprehensive in-house training program that not only provides certification on the makes and models that DEX sells, but also the makes and models of all other manufacturers.
This creates the opportunity for customers to have one option that can service all their document-imaging assets. The company also has an inventory auto-replenishment system that keeps warehouses fully stocked at all times with equipment, parts and supplies.
But just as important as the company’s operational philosophies are its philanthropic efforts. DEX’s Charitable Outreach Program has donated millions of dollars to organizations ranging from schools to special-needs programs to at-risk child mentoring agencies.
Giving back creates stronger communities and helps the company take an active leadership role in making a difference in the place it calls home.
How to reach: DEX Imaging, www.deximaging.com
CEO and co-founder
president and co-founder
Liberty Power Corp.
David Hernandez and Alberto Daire weren’t scared off from founding Liberty Power shortly after the 2001 Enron Corp. scandal. It was a trying situation, however, and entering the power industry at that time presented significant risks. Banks were hesitant to make loans, and customers had lost trust in utility companies.
So the pair took a different approach — Liberty Power was able to position itself as the “anti-utility company” that focused on customer relationships and excellent service rather than chasing profits.
Hernandez and Daire have led Liberty Power to become the largest independent retail electricity supplier as well as the largest Hispanic-owned energy company in the U.S.
The company’s rise to distinction reflects the strong work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit that the founders live and lead by. Both came from humble backgrounds, invested every cent they had to start the company, and neither took a salary for the first three years of operation.
One of the key factors in the growth and success of Liberty Power was that the company was able to build strong, personal relationships with customers. Daire went door-to-door to hundreds of businesses to seek customers while Hernandez negotiated with power plant owners to find suppliers.
When the switch was thrown in September 2002, 100 commercial customers in the New York City area came online with Liberty Power.
While the electricity was then flowing, the challenges did not end there. Liberty Power struggled to obtain lines of credit and almost ran out of money. Hurricane Katrina and the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill brought additional problems. Liberty Power had to find a new creditor when a large, multi-national bank collapsed.
Attacking these challenges and solving them has made Liberty Power a stronger company as it moves into the future.
The company mirrors its relationship-building efforts for customers to employees as well. With a “people first” philosophy, employees share the company culture values of accountability, diversity, integrity, respect, teamwork and trust.
How to reach: Liberty Power Corp., www.libertypowercorp.com
Philip Anson Jr.
STS Holdings Inc.
When it comes time to honor employees who have been with 29-year-old STS Holdings Inc. for 10 years, CEO Philip Jay Anson Jr. gives the employee a Rolex watch as recognition. The Rolex watches are a small expense when thanking employees for their loyalty — the main reason why STS has been able to grow into the type of company it is today.
In fact, Anson says, STS does not have to work overtime to attract talent these days. Nearly every day someone knocks on the company’s door looking for an opportunity; some are willing to start at entry level as they just want to be part of STS.
When his father Philip Anson Sr. took over STS operations in 1997, everything was going well. The company had been experiencing growth and became the market leader in its niche industry of providing aircraft mechanics to large repair centers around the U.S. But like the bulk of the airline industry, things were not so rosy after 9/11. Overnight, STS lost more than half of its revenue.
Anson was asked to take over STS’s operations by the board of directors with the goal of diversifying the company and developing additional sources of revenue. Instead of cutting expenses and waiting for business to recover, Anson convinced the board of directors to invest as much as possible in talent and infrastructure. He then was able to design extremely scalable systems that could handle 10 times the amount of business.
Not only has STS since been growing its revenues and employee headcount, it has also assisted many of its customers to grow, for example JetBlue and Northwest. An example of their ability to innovate and revolutionize the market pertains to how STS was able to install the Wi-Fi systems in the Air Tran Airways fleet. To the surprise of Air Tran, STS installed the systems in one shift as opposed to the estimated three to four shifts.
How to reach: STS Holdings Inc., www.stsholdings.com
Retail & Consumer Products
Shoes for Crews, LLC
Matthew Smith knew he was on the path to leadership at Shoes for Crews LLC since he first began working for the company in high school, a company his parents founded in 1984. In fact, instead of the typical college student pondering what to do in life, Smith spent his college days answering the question, “How can I use the people around me to be most successful at what I know I will do with my life?”
From this early onset until today, Smith’s leadership strategies over his team of 484 employees and customers at 140,000 locations all still depend on teamwork, a reminder that some of the best ideas are suggested by others.
Shoes for Crews is the leading manufacturer and designer of proprietary slip-resistant footwear in the workplace and has been for more than 25 years. The company produces and sells 110 styles of footwear, with outsoles created with a rubber grid pattern to grip the roughness of the floor surface and to help channel liquids away from the bottom of the sole.
It was a business prospect who initiated the idea for the slip-resistant footwear business, a customer who suggested the employee payroll deduction business model, and a new face at a trade show who assisted in the development of a quality rubber formula that no competitor to date has been able to replicate. Smith’s leadership has joined these unique ideas to develop Shoes for Crews into the success it is today.
When Smith became the vice president of Shoes for Crews in 2001, the company only sold its footwear domestically. Since then, the company has begun production in both Canada and Europe and, just in 2011, opened a sales office and warehouse in Shanghai.
As CEO, Smith has devised a plan based on values learned from his parents, established goals and expectations to guide his business, and leads a company that continues to expand and thrive globally.
How to reach: Shoes for Crews LLC, www.shoesforcrews.com
Retail & Consumer Products
president and CEO
Mario Murgado is president and CEO of Brickell Motors, and one of the most established business leaders in South Florida. Since arriving to the U.S. in the mid-1960s as a young boy from Cuba, Murgado has paved a path of success with values based on hard work, tenacity and an ongoing desire to learn.
In May 2001, with a dream and a vision, Murgado purchased an automotive dealership and started from scratch under the Brickell Motors name. That year, Brickell Motors was a new dealership with a clear goal — to spread the joy of what a great auto dealership should be.
Over the last 11 years Murgado has built and developed a thriving business in one of the country’s most challenging industries — the automotive industry. Even through the 2008 economic downturn, the worst crisis the industry has seen, Brickell Motors continued to grow, retaining every employee and adding new franchises. Founded with just three employees, the dealership has grown substantially and now has 128 employees.
The idea for the original business strategy has more to do with ethics than it does sales: it’s to give customers an exceptional customer experience in an atmosphere of trust and transparency. In doing so, Brickell Motors has changed the way the automotive industry is perceived and has become one of the leaders in sales and service experience.
During the last few years while the industry has gone from 17 million annual unit sales to 10 million, Brickell Motors has continued to see success in all areas of the business and expanded to include a luxury vehicle retailer. The business’ success is a direct result of the effort and passion put forth by its leaders and employees.
By implementing innovative marketing strategies, taking risks to yield new business and establishing itself as a charitable organization, Brickell Motors is succeeding in one of the most challenged industries.
How to reach: Brickell Motors, www.brickellmotors.com
Retail & Consumer Products
Norbert P. Donnely
Norbert Donelly didn’t start his career with a comfortable job in his father-in-law’s business, Tervis. Rather, he began his career out of college working for a Wall Street bank. That was the scenario until 1989 when tragedy struck — and Donelly had to step up to the plate and become an entrepreneur.
Donelly’s father-in-law, John C. Winslow, had passed away. Donelly took charge of the company and from day one, he showed the traits of a successful entrepreneur with his innate ability to learn quickly and his flexibility to adapt to any situation.
Tervis, founded in 1967, is famous for the original insulated cup and for its high quality, nearly indestructible insulated tumbler. Donelly started with finding out just who were the Tervis customers, and then he made contacts and built relationships.
The more time Donelly spent learning about Tervis, the more he realized that the company produced an iconic product. He determined that he not only wanted to create a fun experience for the customers, but also for the employees of the company.
One of his main goals was to create and maintain a work environment and culture that fostered creativity, innovation, fun, flexibility and the entrepreneurial spirit.
To put his vision into effect, Donelly hired experienced employees, talented leadership, forming a knowledgeable board of directors, and taking risks. He was able to expand the product offering, install a futuristic manufacturing structure, start a licensing program, open a line of Tervis company stores, and launch an award-winning retail website.
Underneath it all, seven principles guide Tervis, which were developed by Donelly and his leadership team ranging from fostering a culture that implements innovation to managing growth intelligently.
In the past five years, Tervis has nearly quadrupled in growth, from nearly 200 to 800 employees, and sales increased by 78 percent between 2010 and 2012.
How to reach: Tervis, www.tervis.com