Michael L. Soper
President and CEO
Legacy Funeral Group
While many entrepreneurs recall that they started their business careers at an early age, not too many have started at the ripe old age of 7. That’s when Michael Soper began his lawn sprinkling service.
It was during a drought in 1973 that he got the idea that since a daytime sprinkling ban was in effect. Young Soper would charge $5 per house to during sprinklers on and off during the permitted hours of midnight to 4 a.m.
Many ventures later, Soper had graduated from college and had a short stint at Kanaly Trust Co. as a financial planner. He had an opportunity to attend the Texas Funeral Directors Association conference in Fort Worth at the last minute. At that convention he found his calling in the funeral service industry, with an interest that much of the money held in trusts was being invested in CDs — and it was a huge opportunity to help these small business owners.
He soon ran the Southwest Guaranty Trust’s funeral and cemetery division, bringing impressive growth. In 1998, he left to start Legacy Funeral Group, taking out a second mortgage against his house and with a motivation to help small town funeral home owners that needed somewhere to go.
Soper developed a vision to create a regional holding company that would acquire rural family funeral homes. He realized that in small towns it was important to retain local people for continued success after an acquisition and encouraged many former owners to stay engaged in the business.
While Legacy has grown to become one of the largest private companies in the death care provided industry, Soper strives to maintain the small company feel, believing and implementing a strong people culture in his firm.
The company is projected to grow by 20 percent this year. Soper’s goal is grow the business to 100 funeral homes by 2017.
How to reach: Legacy Funeral Group LLC, hwww.legacyfuneralgroup.com
President and CEO
Frosch International Travel Inc.
As the second generation of the family business, Bryan Leibman became president of Frosch International Travel Inc. in 1999. Under his leadership, Frosch has experienced extraordinary growth over the past decade.
The company has grown from four agents in one office to more than 1,100 employees across 27 offices nationwide and ownership in an international network spanning more than 42 countries. During the past five years, Frosch has experienced a 30 percent annual growth rate. In 2012 Frosch was honored by Inc. as one of the fast growing privately-held travel and
hospitality companies in the U.S.
Today, Frosch is one of the top 10 travel management companies in the United States. Known as a visionary for the travel management business, Leibman led Frosch to pursue his dream for a profitable travel business that reflects today’s distinctive needs of the modern business and leisure travel markets. He has turned his passion for travel into investments in the best technology and strategic acquisitions to become a top travel agency.
Leibman’s passion for travel is the biggest driver for originality and innovation at Frosch. The company has established service, technology, relationships and experience as the keys to success in the ever-changing travel industry. Frosch stands out from its competitors by offering a superior level of personalized service through the creative management of clients’ travel costs using innovative technology.
With the evolution of the travel industry, the profit margins for traditional travel agency businesses have shrunk and many smaller travel agencies have folded under competition from the Internet and airline commission cuts. Leibman takes a highly proactive and realistic approach to create better and more effective products, processes, services, technologies and ideas.
Today, Frosch boasts market-leading innovations that deliver added value to clients. Leibman has created a business model that capitalized on the most current and innovative technology in order to offer customers the best service and travel experience.
How to reach: Frosch International Travel Inc., www.frosch.com
If you work for Drake Mills, you need not worry about being told what to do at every turn. As president and CEO at Community Trust Bank, Mills takes great joy in seeing young leaders advance in the organization and apply their talents to help the bank service its customers better.
He doesn’t leave them completely on their own, but rather sets a course and lets them figure out the best way to follow it. He measures and advises, but he doesn’t micromanage, and the approach has enabled his team to stay together and work quite effectively as a group. He has not lost a vice president or higher level senior leader in six years.
Community Trust Bank has grown substantially over the past 10 years with much of that growth coming during a recession that has hampered many businesses, specifically those in the financial industry. The growth of credit unions has provided another potential hurdle.
But Mills has proven adept at working through challenges by knowing when to take risks and when to be more cautious.
He is also a big believer in building and maintaining a healthy corporate culture. To that end, he created a Culture Council to help define, manage and continuously enhance the company’s workplace and deal with any issues that arise. He also created an entire department devoted to ensuring that the culture remains consistent as the company continues to grow.
The result is a company that provides exceptional customer service and a dynamic work environment that contributes to the performance of the bank and helps Community Trust retain best-in-class talent.
When the work is done, Mills takes his commitment to people another step further by getting involved in causes such as the Boys and Girls Club of North Central Louisiana and the United Way of Northeast Louisiana. Employees also can get up to 20 hours of paid time each year to work on charitable causes.
How to reach: Community Trust Bank, www.ctbi.com
Gregory L. Ebel
President and CEO
Spectra Energy Corp.
As the president and CEO of Spectra Energy Corp., one of North America’s premier pipeline and midstream companies, Greg Ebel challenges himself and his 5,000 employees to lead the industry in terms of safety and sustainability.
Through his actions, Ebel has contributed significantly to the economic, environmental and energy security goals of the U.S. and Canada, while overseeing impressive growth and delivering superior results on behalf of Spectra’s investors, customers, employees and other stakeholders. In addition, he plays an active role as a natural gas industry advocate and spokesman.
Since becoming CEO, his key objective was to become the leading performer in reliability, efficiency and safety by 2012. Having met this objective, he has not slowed down. The company is executing on an expansion program to build-out needed energy infrastructure for North America, and Ebel has set an ambitious goal to secure investments in new and existing assets by 2016 and to continue to lead the sector in safety and reliability.
Ebel refers to Spectra Energy as the “FedEx” of energy — able to deliver energy safely, consistently and on time. His goal is for Spectra to be the company of choice for employees, suppliers, partners, investors and government advisors.
As an early adopter of proven technologies and best practices in safety and sustainability, Spectra Energy continues to lead the industry in those areas. The company has been named to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, the Dow Jones North America Index, has ranked first in the energy sector for the Carbon Disclosure Project’s Leadership Index, been included in Corporate Responsibility magazine’s prestigious 100 Best Corporate Citizens list, and was named one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies by Ethisphere Institute.
Ebel’s compelling vision for Spectra Energy allows him to create an open, transparent, diverse and inclusive environment. He sets the bar high, while inspiring confidence and commitment among his team.
How to reach: Spectra Energy Corp., www.spectraenergy.com
Exterran Holdings Inc.
When Brad Childers became CEO at Exterran Holdings Inc., the future did not look too bright.
The company was facing a lot of debt, a historically low stock price and several consecutive years of losses. The company was formed in 2007 through a merger, but there was not a good integration plan in place to bring the two organizations together. The result was a bad culture and a poorly performing company.
Childers became CEO in 2011 and saw the fundamentals of a good business. They just needed a strong leader to come in and put it all together.
Not all the decisions that Childers made were popular. He eliminated personal printers and company cell phones and made changes to the work schedule. He reined in unprofitable pet projects and re-evaluated the company’s product mix.
He needed to cut costs. But he wanted to get these painful steps out of the way quickly so everyone could move on and see the positive outcomes that would be the result.
His goal was to create an environment where the company made money, employees were rewarded for their dedicated effort and everyone had the chance to live their lives and spend that valuable time with their family that doesn’t come around again.
It’s why Childers is always looking for ways to do it better and make work more efficient, such as when he identified a technology to use touch-screen devices to track activities performed in the field on a real-time basis.
The information provided will help the company make better decisions regarding resource allocations and material levels needed. It will also help identify process inefficiencies, improve equipment performance and eliminate redundancies.
The key to earning the support from employees who had heard similar claims from other leaders in the past was Childers’s willingness to get out in the field and answer the important questions that allowed the tools to be effective.
How to reach: Exterran Holdings Inc., www.exterran.com
Director, President and CEO
Copano Energy LLC
When Bruce Northcutt took the reins in 2009 as CEO at Copano Energy LLC, he faced a number of challenging circumstances. The company’s founder had just passed away and the economy was in the throes of a deep recession. Further, there was a great deal of uncertainty as to the future direction of the energy industry.
But Northcutt had been with Copano Energy since 2003 as president and COO, and he had helped take the company public in 2004. He knew what the company did well and was confident he had what it would take to steady the organization during this difficult time.
Northcutt has never been afraid to work with smart people, even if they were smarter than he was. The value of bringing this knowledge to the table and applying it to the future of his business was worth much more than stroking his own ego.
During the global recession in 2009, Northcutt and his leadership team knew they had to be proactive and reduce operating costs to avoid layoffs. The team brainstormed as a group and produced a list of some 100 items they could cut back on, with the exception of those related to safety, in order to keep all team members and avoid having to reduce distributions to shareholders.
Changes ranged from temporary salary cuts, to eliminating small luxuries like bottled water in the office. These ideas allowed the company to avoid layoffs and pay shareholder distributions as scheduled.
Innovative thinking has paved the way to success at Copano Energy, and Northcutt encourages his team members to do the same by using their imaginations at the company to find solutions to difficult problems.
Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, one of the largest publicly traded pipeline limited partnerships in America, completed on May 1 its acquisition of Copano Energy.
How to reach: Copano Energy, www.copanoenergy.com
Founder and CEO
While some isolated hospital radiation oncology departments may be referred to as “the black hole,” T.J. Farnsworth has proven it doesn’t have to have to be that way.
The image is that physicians may just refer a patient, are rarely consulted on treatment strategy, and only find out the patient has completed treatment when the patient themselves inform them.
But at a SightLine Health facility, the difference starts with the centers’ warm colors and wooden floors. It continues with special attention the staff offers patients throughout their care such as always remembering their name, favorite soft drink or coffee, and making sure caregivers pay close attention to what is going on in the patients’ lives. These small things are often taken for granted in health care, but make a big difference in showing how much the staff cares about the patients.
The experience ends with a graduation ceremony at the end of a patient’s treatment, complete with a diploma, medal (which reads, “I did this for my family”), and lots of tears from everyone.
Farnsworth focuses the organization’s culture on patients — and doing everything that can be done to make their lives easier and connect with them. Each center has a cancer navigator who is the single point of contact for patients. Whether patients have a clinical question or an emotional need, the patient has a quarterback to go to for answers.
Initially funding SightLine from his savings and credit card — not something he recommends to other entrepreneurs — Farnsworth later sought outside financing from a venture capital firm. He knew it was critical that he repay his investors or he would never be able to raise money again. His initial investors’ investment grew to have an impressive value.
Currently, SightLine operates centers in Houston, Lubbock, Los Angeles, Seattle and Denver. The company’s future plans include enhancing the SightLine brand around radiation oncology and opening four new centers per year.
How to reach: SightLine Health, www.sightlinehealth.com
Andrew C. Knizley
Houston Orthopedic & Spine Hospital
Strong individuals can be crucial to an organization when trouble strikes, such as in early 2008 when Houston Orthopedic & Spine Hospital was on the verge of bankruptcy. Vendors were withholding supply deliveries and the hospital was on the brink of disaster.
Fortunately, Andrew C. Knizley did not panic.
He worked with vendors to ease their concerns and pay them in full within a year. He talked to insurance companies and helped get the hospital to become part of a network of doctors.
Soon, as the high level of service provided became more evident, insurance companies that once denied the hospital acceptance into their networks clamored for Houston Orthopedic because of the high demand from its patients.
As a result, the hospital now routinely ranks among the top hospitals in the nation in various categories of quality and patient satisfaction.
Knizley does not take all the credit for the turnaround. He sees himself as the person who can help an employee fulfill potential and maximize strengths for the betterment of the hospital.
The key is that there are no secrets at Houston Orthopedic. That doesn’t mean employees go around talking about patients and their records that are obviously kept confidential. It just conveys the idea that Knizley wants employees to learn from each other and share best practices about how they all do their jobs.
The goal is to have a well-rounded staff that understands what every person can do to contribute to a great organization.
Knizley tries to hire as many employees as he can through referrals. He looks for people who are motivated and driven to lead themselves and deliver the best results they can on a consistent basis.
So when he needed to hire a compliance attorney, he recruited specifically for someone who would assist Houston Orthopedic “in doing the right thing” and not just focus on trying to get the job done.
How to reach: Houston Orthopedic & Spine Hospital, www.surgicalhospital.com
President and CEO
ZT Wealth/Altus Healthcare Management Services
The genesis of Taseer Badar’s healthcare venture — Altus Healthcare Management Services/ZT Wealth — was the observation that despite a large rise in spending, physicians suffer from a steady decline in professional fees.
This is due to declines in health care benefits from insurance companies and government sources in a climate of increased patient load and increasing liability insurance.
Badar’s goal was to ensure the benefit of the health care dollar to health care professionals who are prime movers of such spending. Badar, Altus’s president and CEO, wanted to invest in physicians’ success and bring cutting-edge technology to the health care arena.
Despite early skepticism from both health care executives and medical practitioners,
Altus HMS/ZT Wealth has grown in both experience and assets.
With only seven years in the industry, Altus HMS has grown to include three surgical centers, six outpatient hospice companies, durable medical equipment, practice management, infusion, a physician-grade vitamin line and a wellness practice.
The company is continuing its growth strategy in 2013 with the addition of three stand-alone, fully functional emergency room locations along with the planned purchase of three additional hospices.
Badar has infused Altus with his entrepreneurial spirit by investing in the business and encouraging his executive staff to do so as well. Personal investments in the company have afforded Badar and his executive team heightened accountability for their business decisions and pronounced dedication to the success of the venture — a management strategy that is reaping impressive rewards.
Badar works hard to “see the invisible” and understand where his company needs to go before the rest of the market does. He firmly believes that the best place for personal investment is in his own firm.
“I don’t like gambling in the market,” Badar says. “I want to invest in what I know, and I know my firm.”
How to reach: Altus Healthcare Management Services, www.altushms.com
Encore Health Resources
Dana Sellers was looking for a summer internship and not having a whole lot of luck when she decided to take a summer job with IBM manufacturing typewriters. In exchange for tuition reimbursement for graduate school, Sellers decided to stay with IBM as a polymer specialist.
A few twists and turns followed as Sellers continued to hone her skills and gain the insight she would need to start her own business. With her partner, Ivo Nelson, Sellers launched a health care IT consulting firm with a focus on clinical transformation for providers.
The company grew and eventually merged with IBM. But after three years, it became obvious that IBM could not provide the more personal focus that smaller health care clients require. So Sellers decided to venture out again and start Encore Health Resources with her partner.
One of her greatest skills as a leader is the ability to take methods and tools that have proven to be effective for one client and replicate them for others. The ability to come through and provide great service to clients helped Encore get into competition with some of the top global consulting firms and succeed.
When Sellers is looking for people to join her team, she’s not as interested in what they have already done. She wants to know what they can do and will do in the future to help her organization improve. These people also need to be adaptable and willing to move here or there as the needs of customers change.
But it’s not all work at Encore. The company has rooms named after popular board games like Monopoly, Scrabble, Life and Twister. It is a nod to one of the company’s core values, “Work Hard, Play Hard!”
Sellers is a firm believer that if you give people opportunities to spend time together, both in work and at play, the strong relationships that are formed will take you far.
How to reach: Encore Health Resources, www.encorehealthresources.com