Private Equity/Venture Capital Backed
When they first got into the health insurance business, neither Brandon Cruz nor Clint Jones had much knowledge about the industry, except that there had to be a better way to utilize the Internet to help both the health insurance companies and the individual consumer.
This lack of familiarity allowed them to “think outside the box” and be innovators in the industry. Cruz, the president and chief technology officer, and Jones, CEO, founded GoHealth in 2001.
With their energy and skills to understand, challenge and help reshape a complex market for health insurance, these entrepreneurs stood apart from others.
While Cruz and Jones were establishing ways to compare insurance coverage over the Internet, adding sophistication such as an online quoting and customer relationship management solutions for agents, a dramatic event occurred — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was approved. The disruption and uncertainty the PPACA brought caused upheaval among many insurance businesses, but not GoHealth.
Recognizing the potential arising, Cruz and Jones moved their business into an online/technology health insurance distribution platform for consumers, agents and carriers.
They believe the last five years has clearly validated their strategy, and even though this will continue to change over time, the key is execution — and they are focused on doing that.
While they have become more “corporate” in the last 18 months, Cruz and Jones have not lost their entrepreneurial drive. The pair has not shied away from moving forward amid uncertainty; they know what they do well and have leveraged the right people to make strategic moves.
Almost all the major health insurance carriers and numerous large corporations have recognized GoHealth’s value proposition.
Always leaders in innovation with technology, they continue to work hard to position themselves to be on the forefront in terms of technology when it comes to assisting their clients. Few companies can offer customers end-to-end service as GoHealth can.
How to reach: GoHealth, www.gohealth.com
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
Chiro One Wellness Center is not just a simple chiropractic practice that helps with neck and back pain, according to CEO and founding partner Dr. Stuart Bernsen. He also sees it as a way to turn the patient experience upside down, build a patient community, educate patients, find the cause of problems rather than just treat symptoms and focus on prevention.
Prior to starting Chiro One, Bernsen tried other ventures, such as LifeWorks, which was a consulting practice designed to teach young residents. However, Bernsen quickly realized that he was setting up others for success and then sending them off to other practices, so he shifted his focus to Chiro One.
Bernsen believed in standardizing care, which was an entirely new way of thinking in the health care industry — health care as a retail product and not a bureaucratic mess of referrals and insurance claims.
His vision was that patients would enter his offices for an experience that would provide them with the information and knowledge needed for wellness. Patients’ experiences with chiropractics typically vary with each doctor they visit, depending on the interest of the respective doctor, acupuncturist, nutritionist, masseuse and other professionals. Bernsen’s goal was to standardize the delivery of chiropractics, such that the patient was getting a similar high quality experience no matter which Chiro One wellness center he or she visited.
Chiro One set up a training center and began to expand practices. Each Chiro One office practices the same type of chiropractics, with marked success. When a Chiro One location opens, the practicing chiropractor at that location does not have to worry about billing, collections, infrastructure, or even changing a light bulb. This is all handled by Chiro One’s corporate office.
Bernsen truly believes he is transforming health care and the results over the past five years bear that out.
How to reach: Chiro One Wellness Centers, www.chiroone.net
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