STL Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Engineering & Consulting

Winner

 

David Gaboury

President and CEO

Terracon Consultants, Inc.

 

David Gaboury doesn’t rest on Terracon Consultants, Inc.’s success, though it could be tempting to do so given Terracon’s history of profitable growth. Instead, since becoming president and CEO 11 years ago, he has continually evaluated changes in Terracon’s market, its clients’ expectations and its business operations, challenging employee owners to embrace a culture of continuous improvement.

He is not afraid to make changes, even big changes, if they will make the company better. Gaboury’s unique ability to take a very complex situation and reduce it to the most fundamental question, the question that will define the outcome, is a rare talent that allows him to make difficult decisions efficiently and effectively.

When Gaboury joined the firm in 1997 as COO, Terracon was a successful Midwest consulting engineering company. The entrepreneurial opportunity and challenge was to scale this up and profitably grow the firm to become a national leader. As an outside hire, his first challenge was to strike a balance between showing appreciation for the firm’s success to date, fitting in and building relationships, while concurrently bringing in new ideas and vision.

This was accomplished by a central emphasis on building strong consensus around the strategic direction for the firm and developing and implementing clear, concise strategic plans. The entrepreneurial building blocks he used to consistently and profitably grow the firm were to build and strengthen Terracon’s existing services while adding adjacencies; emphasize the balance of internal and acquisition growth; build into a core competency of identifying, making and integrating acquisitions; and develop corporate services consisting of best in class corporate functions.

Today, Terracon is the national leader in its market space. In Terracon’s recently completed Strategic Plan 2017, the firm is taking on three key base entrepreneurial strategies for the future — greatly expand adjacencies related to its four core service lines; excel at employee safety, well-being, and engagement; and grow its presence outside the U.S.

How to reach: Terracon Consultants, Inc., www.terracon.com

Published in St. Louis

STL Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Finalist

 

Lisa Nichols

Co-founder and CEO

Technology Partners

 

While it may not have been her career aspiration to be an entrepreneur, Lisa Nichols knew an opportunity when she saw it. She had worked in corporate accounting and sales and marketing, and both Lisa and her husband Greg had subpar experiences with IT departments at corporations. This sparked their desire to change the way IT staffing is conducted.

Using Lisa’s financial and sales skills and Greg’s IT background, they co-founded Technology Partners in 1994. Lisa makes that sure employees understand and follow three core values — conducting business ethically and with integrity; delivering on commitments both internally and externally; and practicing the Golden Rule and always respecting diversity of opinion.

Her genuine belief in doing the right thing, which may not be the most profitable thing, and her desire to continually challenge herself and her employees, is a model to which companies today may well want to imitate.

Technology Partners employs more than 350 employees and has brought innovative methods to the IT staffing industry. The company uses a flat, hourly margin — the spread between client bill rates and employee pay rates — and discloses this margin to both the customer and its employees.

Conventional wisdom says this disclosure was ill advised for business; however, the company’s business model now serves to be a competitive advantage. Forbes magazine has taken notice of Lisa’s innovative business model and chose her to appear in the Most Powerful Women issue of the magazine in June.

Using a board of advisers to counsel her in major decisions to help grow the company, Lisa has chosen board members with various backgrounds and experiences within different industries.

With a collaborative approach in managing its employees, Lisa actively encourages her workers to avoid “silos” and to voice any desires to change positions if desired. Many employees have worked in all or many of the company’s main operational roles.

How to reach: Technology Partners, www.technologypartners.net

Published in St. Louis

STL Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Finalist

 

Lenora Payne

President and CEO

Technology Group Solutions, LLC

 

Lenora Payne says she leads by example, priding herself on being upfront and honest with her customers, communicating clear expectations to customers and ensuring that she follows through.

The president and founding CEO of Technology Group Solutions, LLC, a provider of technology infrastructure and services solutions, for the past eight years, Payne owns 51 percent of TGS, thereby allowing the company to be certified as a minority and woman-owned company.

Payne places a large focus on attracting and retaining clients. Her success in retaining clients is heavily related to her concentration on certifications and the ability to offer a wide range of services to customers. She believes that larger companies often just take orders from customers and deliver the product without providing added value. TGS makes sure it has a full understanding of customer needs in order to find the right solution.

Customers value Payne’s approach; the company has never lost a single customer. She routinely receives positive feedback from customers describing their satisfaction. The company’s commitment to “doing what we say we are going to do” has tremendously impacted customer retention.

TGS has been selected as a minority business enterprise supplier of the year. The company’s phenomenal growth within the last few years has been to a large part because Payne continued to maintain working relationships with clients in order to keep abreast of business ventures her clients are making. This ensures she is aware of how her client’s business will impact TGS and possible future business.

As a new business, TGS was challenged with gaining the confidence of customers. It started by taking small projects and worked to exceed expectations on every project. Payne has had to use her personal savings, including a mortgage on her house, to fund the operations. Eventually, TGS obtained certification with original equipment manufacturers, which helped demonstrate credentials in the business and has led to growth and more financial stability.

How to reach: Technology Group Solutions LLC, www.tgs-kc.com

Published in St. Louis

STL Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Finalist

 

Mike O’Neill

CEO

Switch

 

John Nickel

President

Switch

 

Kevin Quigley

Executive vice president

Switch

 

In early 2002, Anheuser-Busch communicated its interest in selling Busch Creative Services to the management team of Mike O’Neill, John Nickel and Kevin Quigley. On Oct. 16, 2002, the three consummated the purchase, naming the company Switch.

Switch: Liberate Your Brand, is an independently held, experiential marketing agency, locally owned in equal shares by O’Neill, CEO, Nickel, president, and Quigley, executive vice president. The three partners believe breaking off from Anheuser-Busch greatly helped them focus more on the business, the employees and its customers.

Though the company had more than $30 million in revenue and offices in Chicago, Seattle and Atlanta, 80 percent of revenue was from Anheuser-Busch. Immediately following the acquisition, and to ensure long-term stability, the owners set their sights on drastically diversifying and growing their client base.

Recently celebrating their 10th anniversary as an independent agency, Switch ended the 2012 fiscal year posting the best financial year in the company’s 32-year history. 2012’s sales showed a 15 percent increase over 2011 but even more impressive is that 2012’s sales were 32 percent above 2010 sales. During this same time, Switch also increased its full-time staff to 130 from 90 and its field marketing staff to 1,300 from 600 across the U.S.

The company has very successfully diversified its client base with only 12 percent of its current revenue coming from Anheuser-Busch. Thanks to the addition of clients like 5-hour Energy, Elsevier, Covidien Health, Essence Healthcare, Clif/Luna, Muscle Milk, Coca-Cola, Primerica, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, blu eCigs and Junior Achievement, Switch has grown into a nationally recognized experiential marketing powerhouse.

In 2010, Switch consolidated six U.S. office locations into a single St. Louis facility, putting the agency’s creative/strategic, administrative, operational, experiential, digital and design departments, print/screen shop, motion graphics and fabrication studios all under one roof.

In celebration of its 10th anniversary of independence, Switch ownership created a roadmap for the next 10 years of business growth.

How to reach: Switch: Liberate Your Brand, www.liberateyourbrand.com

Published in St. Louis

STL Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Manufacturing

Winner

 

Joseph Suhor III

Chairman and CEO

Suhor Industries, Inc.

 

With $50,000 in capital and loans totaling $7.5 million, Joseph Suhor III bought the controlling stock of struggling company Sloan Enterprises in 1987, and Suhor Industries, Inc. was launched. At that time, the company employed 150 and had 16 locations in four states.

Since then Suhor Industries has acquired more than 50 companies in the funeral service and precast concrete industries. The company employs 735 with 80 locations in 20 states. Despite this success, the initial years were difficult with restructuring and onerous debt. However, the company learned discipline and immediately shared performance information with line managers.

That philosophy, led by Suhor III who has served as chairman and CEO for 26 years, created a culture that persists today. Decentralized management with total transparency of financial information to each location’s management is one hallmark to SI’s success. The other is the ability to purchase companies and assimilate the assets, employees and culture into SI.

The vision was clear early on to grow principally through acquisition. Suhor took advantage of some of the aging owners in the industry and offered structured exit strategies to allow growth without large cash outlays. The company’s reputation of fairness and follow-through provided professional capital to continue that growth. SI was expanding when others did not see the advantage.

Today, Suhor Industries is principally a funeral services provider, manufacturing concrete burial vaults and other funeral products. Secondarily, the company is a precast concrete producer of manholes, septic tanks, storm shelters and retaining walls. The burial vault industry has lost 30 percent of its market to cremation services in the last 12 years.

To combat that decline in revenue, SI further diversified in the funeral service industry across product lines allowing more opportunity for cross-selling and better utilization of the sales force. Vaults, caskets, cremation, memorial products and graveside services are now all part of SI’s offerings.

How to reach: Suhor Industries, Inc., www.suhor.com

Published in St. Louis

STL Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Entertainment

Winner

 

Robb Heineman

CEO

Sporting Club

 

Recognized as one of the most forward-thinking leaders in sports today, Robb Heineman is the CEO of Sporting Club, the parent organization of the Major League Soccer team Sporting Kansas City, and one of the team’s five principal owners. Heineman also serves as managing partner of Sporting Innovations, a technology company focused on innovation in sports and entertainment.

After becoming the organization’s CEO in 2006, Heineman worked with several local municipalities to build a soccer-specific stadium for Sporting Kansas City. In January 2010, the Kansas Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the plan for the 18,467-seat Sporting Park. The project drew nationwide acclaim, and was ranked the eighth largest economic development deal in North America for 2010 by corporate real estate magazine Site Selection.

Since then, Heineman has been instrumental in creating partnerships with worldwide leaders in a wide range of sectors. The spring of 2011 saw Sporting Club announce historical partnerships with the likes of Panasonic, Sprint, Cisco and Google, enabling Sporting Park to serve as a living lab for sports and entertainment technology.

Heineman also has been at the forefront of the creation of the Sporting Club Network, a groundbreaking membership model that has transformed the way a professional sports team connects with affiliates throughout the region. Known for his openness and accessibility to fans, Heineman has put a special emphasis on the power of social media, frequently making use of Twitter to communicate with the club’s supporters.

His vision for the growth of Sporting Kansas City and soccer in the Midwest has led the team and the sport’s local impact to new heights. Heineman’s commitment to delivering marquee matches for Kansas City has helped secure many of the sport’s most important games at Sporting Park, such as the 2013 MLS All-Star Game on July 31 and the U.S. Men’s National Team’s final home game in FIFA World Cup Qualifying in October.

How to reach: Sporting Club, www.sportingkc.com

Published in St. Louis

STL Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Agriculture & Plant Sciences

Winner

 

John Larry Sanders, Ph.D.

President and CEO

Specialty Fertilizer Products, LLC

 

Dr. John Larry Sanders first had the vision for his company while he was growing up on a farm in East Texas. He wanted to someday help farmers, like his father, better utilize the very expensive but necessary fertilizer they applied to their crops and pastureland.

It took six years before Sanders issued his first patented polymer product that now serves as the backbone for the company’s flagship products. In 1998 he made the spiritual, personal, professional and financial leap to get Specialty Fertilizer Products, LLC started. The company manufactures and develops patented lines of polymer fertilizer additives to help increase fertilizer efficiency for agricultural and turf/ornamental markets.

Starting SFP wasn’t an easy task as Sanders, who is president and CEO, struggled to find funding. Thankfully with his passion for the solution and desire to make the company succeed, he was able to secure angel funding to do initial research to develop a scientific database on the polymer chemistry.

The company had a slow start, but that all changed in 2004 when the first polymer product, AVAIL, was launched, closely followed by NutriSphere-N in 2007 and More Than Manure in 2012.

As the success of SFP is driven by the creativity and ambition to remain on the cutting edge of the agricultural frontier via patented technologies, the company’s management fosters an environment conducive to forward thing. The backbone of the company’s success centers on the scientifically savvy, SFP also has addressed all facets of a successful business by developing full-scale operations surrounding marketing and sales.

Sanders is no stranger to overcoming adversity and defying odds, and today SFP is enjoying rapid growth. Over the past two years the company’s sales have almost doubled. Although the company is 15 years old, Sanders says it’s only in its infancy, and it will continue to grow as SFP increases the quantity of its patented products.

How to reach: Specialty Fertilizer Products, LLC, www.sfp.com

Published in St. Louis

STL Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Finalist

 

Cary T. Daniel

CEO

Pivot Companies, LLC

 

Cary T. Daniel is used to overcoming obstacles all his life. Even as a young boy, he was endlessly teased about his first name. He learned not to take negative remarks to heart and to embrace his name’s uniqueness.

During college, he lost the sight in one eye. His self-confidence took a hit, but he was able to enter into business and become a successful entrepreneur.

Daniel is now the CEO of Pivot Companies, LLC, dba Pivot Employment Platforms. Pivot was formed in 2002 to serve entrepreneurs. Due to the “people” nature of his business, he has been involved in virtually every kind of audit, investigation and review by the INS, IRS, DOL, OSHA, EEOC and SEC. At one point in 2009, while the economy was tanking and Daniel had multiple businesses struggling, he was under 13 IRS audits at the same time.

Having been an entrepreneur in several industries, Daniel noticed a common thread among growing businesses — the tendency of the owner to drift into non-core tasks as the company became larger. With his experience in the employment services industry, it gave Daniel a unique perspective and an opportunity to provide a solution to that problem.

He reasoned that many entrepreneurs start a venture due to their passion for a service, product or industry, but as that business grows, many find themselves straying from their passion and venturing into non-core functions such as hiring, payroll, compliance and human resources. Pivot Employment Platforms’ job is to take on those non-core functions so that entrepreneurs can get back to what they do best.

The end user gains access to a Fortune 500 type HR platform — serviced by a locally owned operator for a fraction of doing it internally.

Pivot also is able to scale quickly with little overhead due to the structure of its model — a win for all parties.

How to reach: Pivot Employment Platform, www.pivotcompanies.com

Published in St. Louis

STL Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Retail

Winner

 

Jim Schwartz

chairman, president, CEO and COO

NPC International, Inc.

 

The son of a Pizza Hut executive, Jim Schwartz did not anticipate he would become CEO of the largest Pizza Hut franchisee in the world with more than 1,200 locations in 28 states.

When Schwartz joined NPC International, Inc. in the early 1990s as part of the finance group, the company had a strained relationship with Pizza Hut and no discernible culture.

Just as he was about to leave in 1995, the board asked Schwartz to stay and become the CEO to turn the company around.

Schwartz wanted to create a culture where the people operating the restaurants felt like they owned them. He also focused on finding regional managers who could implement a customer-focused strategy down to the store level.

For Schwartz, micromanaging is detrimental. He looks to provide his team with the latitude to do what is necessary to drive customer metrics, while ultimately holding them accountable for results.

Once problem areas are identified, Schwartz connects his managers with other managers who have successfully faced those same problems. This peer mentoring optimizes performance.

But it was in 2006 that Schwartz was able to really grow NPC under new company owners. He doubled the amount of stores to more than 1,200 in less than six years.

Today, NPC does not just sit back and take direction from the corporate office. It proactively presents market and growth opportunities.

For example, when the recession first hit and pizza sales were dropping, Schwartz saw a company plan for a premium, all-natural ingredient pizza. He suggested the “$10 any way you want it” pizza. With the Pizza Hut marketing department unconvinced, NPC ran the promotion in its own markets to huge success. Pizza Hut immediately pushed the idea throughout the country.

It’s not uncommon for Schwartz and his team to develop and test a strategy that is later rolled out by the corporate offices.

How to reach: NPC International, Inc., www.npcinternational.com

Published in St. Louis

STL Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Finalist

 

Stephanie Leffler

CEO

Juggle, LLC

 

Ryan Noble

President

Juggle, LLC

 

As the heads of Juggle, LLC, CEO Stephanie Leffler and President Ryan Noble bring extensive entrepreneur experience to the company as well as a strong top-down culture.

From their initial small online shop to a large software company, the two learned an extensive amount about the software/online industry, as well as the leadership skills necessary to grow a company at a rapid pace.

In 2008, Leffler and Noble founded Juggle with no outside capital, although they recently completed a capital infusion. The company began as an online reference resource and has become a network of websites covering thousands of topics.

Leffler tackles strategy and operations while Noble handles development and research in the company that has been further divided into ROImedia and CrowdSource.com. ROImedia works to drive online traffic and generate advertising fees, while managing 1,000 niche websites. CrowdSource.com utilizes the newest technology and ideas with the goal of becoming a software as a service organization for crowdsourcing functions.

Since 2010, the company has more than doubled in employees. Leffler forecasts that current investments in personnel and software will yield significant dividends in the coming periods.

The two consider the crowdsourcing industry to be an enormous opportunity and hope to become an industry leader.

Juggle also has an employee-first culture that creates an environment frequently listed as one of the area’s best places to work. The workplace includes a masseuse, hair stylists, ergonomic outfitters, free oil changes in the company parking lot, a personal trainer and in-house workout facility. Employees are encouraged to frequent the company’s lounge where free drinks and healthy are provided.

Leffler and Noble have had success attracting and retaining valuable management personnel because of competitive pay, flexibility and the fun work environment.

How to reach: Juggle, LLC, www.juggle.com

Published in St. Louis