SBN Staff

Consumer Products

FINALIST

Jerry Lasco

Founder and CEO

Lasco Enterprises

Jerry Lasco did not grow up wanting to be a restaurateur. He was a pilot who had flown planes for both the U.S. Air Force and what was then Continental Airlines. He and his wife, Laura, loved to travel internationally and wine tasting had always been part of the experience.

But soon after Lasco and his wife moved to Houston, the tragedy of 9/11 struck. Lasco was furloughed and suddenly found himself out of work. Fortunately, he looked at it as an opportunity to start a new career. He was willing to take an hourly position at a wine store to learn more about the wine industry, as well as fine-tune his palate and plan his next move.

He became drawn to creating a wine bar that also sold retail wine. He and his wife invested all their savings to open one of Houston’s first wine bars, The Tasting Room Wine Cafe. It flourished and continues to set the standard for wine bars.

As founder and CEO of Lasco Enterprises, he leads with three principles in mind: Employees and business partners are the highest priority, customers must have an enjoyable and memorable experience, and the company must give back to the communities that support his business.

The focus on employees is critical because they are the ones who touch customers and if they are happy, your customers are more likely to be happy. Business partners are also critical to your success, and Lasco focuses intently on building a strong rapport so both sides can achieve success.

When customers have a memorable experience, they’ll tell people about it and your business will take off, Lasco says, and it has to be at every level of service as one bad aspect of a customer’s experience has the potential to spoil the good. And building strong bonds with your community fosters even more relationships and creates a positive image for your business.

How to reach: Lasco Enterprises, www.lascoenterprises.com

 

 

Consumer Products

FINALIST

Gary Kiedaisch

Chairman and CEO

Igloo Products Corp.

When Gary Kiedaisch and private equity firm J.H. Whitney first targeted Igloo Products Corp., Wal-Mart had successfully driven down cooler prices and had a 60 percent share of the cooler business. In addition, Wal-Mart had been rotating regional sales among the three main cooler suppliers — Rubbermaid, Igloo and Coleman — so that no company would be able to be dominant in the market.

Kiedaisch did not see the “Wal-Mart model” as sustainable, as it did not inspire consumers to buy new coolers. Instead, he saw the situation as an opportunity. Kiedaisch thought he could re-energize the category by giving consumers a reason to update their current coolers. He shared this vision for Igloo and the opportunity he saw and along with J.H. Whitney they purchased Igloo in October 2008 making Kiedaisch chairman and CEO.

Kiedaisch’s vision for Igloo Products Corp. faced two primary challenges. First, the economy was in a downturn and oil prices were on the rise, impacting the price of resin and increasing the cost to produce coolers. Secondly, he had to work around Wal-Mart and determine a way to move Igloo away from its buying and pricing practices either by growing sales outside of Wal-Mart or convincing Wal-Mart of a strategy to implement price differentiation.

Kiedaisch started growing the Igloo business outside of Wal-Mart through the use of specialty retailers and introducing features into the coolers that Wal-Mart was not able to offer. By creating an entrepreneurial organization, and empowering his employees, Kiedaisch and his team have been able to successfully implement more than 200 new products to the market. This resulted in Igloo being able to grow the business outside of Wal-Mart by 20 percent.

Kiedaisch met with the Wal-Mart board and presented his strategy and success in growing sales outside of Wal-Mart, ultimately convincing Wal-Mart to get in the game. As a result, Igloo went from having low margins and low profitability and getting beat up by Wal-Mart to developing a strategic partnership.

How to reach: Igloo Products Corp., www.igloocoolers.com

Consumer Products

FINALIST

Stacey Gillman Wimbish

President

The Gillman Cos.

Stacey Gillman Wimbish may have learned a lot from her father, a legend in the Houston automotive dealership business, but there was no playbook for the challenges she has had to face since taking over the family’s Texas automotive dealership business, The Gillman Cos., in 2008.

Gillman Wimbish, president, has led her 14-dealership company through the economic impacts of the Great Recession when there were two hurricanes, a Japanese earthquake and tsunami that caused numerous issues and delays from Japanese automakers, and domestic manufacturers were cancelling franchises.

Through all these unforeseen challenges, she developed and executed a strong and consistent plan. The tenet of that plan was to assess the situation honestly no matter how difficult and have the courage to make needed change.

Gillman Wimbish transitioned the organization through all of these crises allowing not only for the company to survive, but come out much stronger. She embodied the famous motto, “Keep calm and carry on.” She reduced cost in line with the expected medium to short-term volume declines and made the hard decision to cut employee headcount. She also emphasized to her management team the need to constantly measure performance and press for timely changes whenever they were needed.

While her path to leading The Gillman Cos. was not certain, the automotive retailing business has always been in Gillman Wimbish’s blood. During her career, she has worked in almost every function of the dealership operations including accounting, vehicle and parts sales and finance and insurance. Her knowledge of the automotive dealership business and all its many facets has been a key to her success in leading the company.

With her leadership and strategic plan, Gillman Wimbish was able to manage through these adversities and bring the company back to operating and financial success. In 2010, she was named one of the 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry.

How to reach: The Gillman Cos., www.gillmanauto.com

Consumer Products

FINALIST

Basim Shami

CEO

Farouk Systems Inc.

So what did Basim Shami do to prepare himself to one day take the reins at the business his father, Farouk, launched 27 years ago in the family garage? Well, he started his own business, of course.

The younger Shami took leftover and excess chemicals from his father’s company and altered solution formulas to create a salon-inspired line of pet grooming products.

It was a strong hint that Basim Shami had the entrepreneurial genes in his blood, and it’s now allowing him to take Farouk Systems Inc. in some new and interesting directions. His goal is to create “a small L’Oreal,” though Shami claims he would do a better job of integrating acquisitions. He understands that new and different is a hit in the beauty business and works hard to support a research and development team that can help Farouk Systems on top of its game.

Shami has built a network of more than 1,500 educators that serves as a natural testing place for his company’s products, as well as a great source for new ideas and product enhancements.

But as committed as Shami is to his job and to the company that his father built, he understands that he can’t do everything by himself. His job is to create a vision that everyone can get behind and then remove obstacles so that employees can make it happen.

Shami is not the same man as his father. He takes a more deliberate approach to decisions and closely studies the markets and consumer trends to validate potential new opportunities. He brings people along for the ride so that everyone who shares in the effort can also share in the great sense of accomplishment when a strategy helps Farouk Systems achieve a goal.

This awareness of others led Shami to launch a partnership with a local community college to start a cosmetology program, where units earned via the partnership can count toward college credit.

How to reach: Farouk Systems Inc., www.farouk.com

 

 

 

Consumer Products

AWARD RECIPIENT

Don Klein

Founder and president

Chesmar Homes Ltd.

Don Klein had spent 27 years working for national homebuilders, and he had an opportunity to move to yet another one when he made a seemingly bold move. He turned down a sizable bonus and chose to invest his own money to create a company he could call his own.

Chesmar Homes Ltd. is the product of Klein’s passion for making people happy. This applies to customers, business partners, investors and his employees, who he calls “Chesmarians.”

Klein is committed to hard work and dedicated service, but in doing so, he wants to see smiles all around. He wants employees to feel like they are part of a family and bring the passion that comes forth when you work alongside people you truly care about.

As the company grows and evolves, he wants strong personalities to shine through and feel comfortable applying their talents to help Chesmar achieve success.

All this became key when the company faced its greatest obstacle. Chesmar needed to find good locations on which to build. Klein tapped his relationships to find good communities to go to and his employees backed up his reputation by creating a strong product for customers.

As a result, Chesmar ranks at the top of its industry in customer satisfaction.

But it’s not all about business for Klein and Chesmar Homes.

Klein’s primary philanthropic focus revolves around the Greater Houston Builders Association’s Benefit Home Project. He has chaired the committee for the last six years, being extremely successful in recruiting and partnering two or three homebuilders with community developers each year to build a benefit home.

The builders solicit donations from contractors and vendors to construct a project home for about 25 percent of the retail sales price.

The home is then sold with the profits going to Texas Children’s Cancer Center, the Alzheimer’s Association and Home Aid Houston.

How to reach: Chesmar Homes Ltd., www.chesmar.com

 

Construction &  Industrial Services

FINALIST

Jeffrey Gerald Davis

CEO

The Brock Group

In his 36 years with The Brock Group, Jeff Davis has worked his way from project manager to CEO — and has taken the company from being a family owned business to a multi-national, multi-craft service provider.

Not only that, but the company has seen 500 percent growth since 2006 after acquisition by a private equity firm and through significant acquisitions and organic growth. This growth was achieved based on Davis’s vision and his ability to express that vision to Brock’s investor such that it was willing to make significant investments in the company.

Another key to the rapid growth was that Davis and his management team could have access to and build long-standing relationships with the executive management of Brock’s customers.  It allowed Brock to present itself as a provider of value that senior customer leaderships require — that Brock is not a vendor among vendors relegated to the purchasing/AP department but is a valued partner in achieving lower operating costs.

Davis leads the company through behavioral-based management and behavioral-based safety which has resulted in Brock achieving excellent safety rankings and expanding the employee and customer base to what it is today. Davis believes that by having satisfied employees, it leads to satisfied customers and translates into a successful business.

As an entrepreneurial leader, Davis instills in his employees his core belief that a customer-centric focus is crucial to success. His leadership style revolves around a central theme from advice given to him years ago by Jerry Brock: “Give the customer $1.10 worth of effort/services for $1.” Davis has maintained this attitude as a core value in the way he interacts with employees, customers and third parties alike.

Davis also has led efforts with others in the industry to develop and fund schools to train welders/painters to draw them into the profession and to generate enthusiasm into making a career in the industry.

How to reach: The Brock Group, www.brockgroup.com

Construction & Industrial Services

FINALIST

Troy Collins

Co-founder and principal

Quality Cos. USA LLC         

Nathan Granger

Co-founder and principal

Quality Cos. USA LLC

Troy Collins and Nathan Granger previously worked for competing oil and gas production manufacturers for years until they met in the early 2000s and discovered a common passion—raising thoroughbreds. A business endeavor developed out of that mutual interest, and in 2001, the pair left their promising and successful careers to found a premier oil and gas service provider.

As co-founders and principals of Quality Cos. USA LLC, Collins and Granger epitomize the company’s philosophy of quality people, quality service. Quality Cos. USA, which is a conglomerate of Quality Construction & Production LLC, Quality Production Management LLC, and Traco Production Services Inc., is a one-stop shop for many of the company’s independent Gulf Coast clients.

This diversified company provides both onshore and offshore construction, fabrication and maintenance services. Over the years it has grown from 70 employees in 2002 to more than 800 today, working on production platforms along the Gulf Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico.

Collins’ and Granger’s strengths as entrepreneurial leaders are in recognition of their weaknesses and ability to fill those voids with the best managers in the industry. In this industry, the pool of highly skilled employees stays very consistent which puts pressure on companies to retain key employees.

In response, Collins and Granger desire to provide the best working environment in the industry. The two co-founders also have a big focus on service. Quality’s family atmosphere, open door policy and lack of big corporate politics have fostered unbridled commitment to excellent customer service and a multitude of repeat customers.

The company’s more than 800 employees take pride in the company, indicated by a substantially low turnover rate compared to competitors. In 12 years Quality has never had to lay off an employee. Since Quality’s commitment to its customers is dependent on its commitment to attracting and retaining the best employees, Collins and Granger team have devoted many resources to their people.

How to reach: Quality Cos. USA LLC, www.qualitycompanies.com

Construction & Industrial Services

FINALIST

James Frischhertz

President

Frischhertz Electric Co. Inc.

It was a moment of professional accomplishment tinged with a deep sense of personal loss. James Frischhertz had been thrust into the role of president at Frischhertz Electric Co. Inc. after the untimely death of his brother, Bernard Jr.

His first thought was to throw himself into his work and be on the job 12 hours a day, seven days a week. In fact, he only took two days off the entire year, one for Christmas and one for Mardi Gras.

He needed to keep the company afloat, protect jobs and maintain everything that was already in motion while he simultaneously tried to develop a new business plan that more closely fit his vision for the company.

Over the next two decades, he presided over tremendous growth with the development of two new business entities: Frischhertz Technologies and Frischhertz Services. He also purchased an audio company called SoundWorks.

In 2005, he dealt with tragedy again when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast. Company operations were paralyzed, but Frischhertz was up to the challenge once again.

Within days, he had set up an office in Baton Rouge and tapped relationships he had built over the years to get his hands on some generators.

Under his strong and empowering leadership, employees began to put their lives back together and as soon as they could relocate back to New Orleans, the company got back on its feet too.

People aren’t just a tool that Frischhertz uses to build his business or a group that he touches every once in a while for show. His leadership is truly inclusive, whether it’s recovering from a disaster, holding his family together during tough times or helping his employees to do the best they can on the job.

He understands how the smaller touches can make a big difference with people and focuses on those to maintain a healthy corporate culture.

How to reach: Frischhertz Electric Co. Inc., www.frischhertz.com

 

Construction & Industrial Services

AWARD RECIPIENT

Stephen V. Pate

CEO and chairman

Strike LLC

Over the past 10 years, Stephen Pate has worked hard to create a company culture around eight pillars that make up the foundation of Strike LLC: safety, excellence, quality, accountability, performance, integrity, passion and long?term relationships.

With his focus that success is not achieved by a single individual but rather by the organization as a whole, Strike has accomplished a 65 percent year-over-year compounded annual growth rate, a testament to Pate’s ability to take risks during times of uncertainty.

For instance, in 2009 while many companies were sitting on cash due to market place instability, he invested in significant resources to create a state?of?the?art cost?tracking portal for the pipeline and facilities construction company.

This portal has proven to be a competitive advantage for Strike as it provides transparency to the client’s job cost.

Additionally, when companies were strategically eliminating employee benefits due to economic uncertainty, Pate created a fitness program to inspire and motivate employees.

Since its inception in 2003, Strike has created various business units with more than 15 locations throughout North America, which have helped drive Strike to become one of the leading single?source energy services providers.

Pate understands that his is a “people” business, and he passionately cares about not only his customers who pay the bills, but also each of his employees whose safety and happiness is of utmost importance.

Even in times of economic downturns, when other companies cut employee benefits, Pate stayed adamant to “do right by all” and although the easy answer to save money and improve the bottom line would be to take the cost-cutting route, Pate did not. Strike even increased wellness programs to encourage employees when a need was noted. Pate has always believed in Strike’s vision and through its growing years, his personal investment and that of the Pate family funded the company.

How to reach: Strike LLC, www.strikeusa.com

 

 

 

 

 

There’s an adage in business that no one is irreplaceable. But in nearly every company, there’s at least one person whose contributions are so essential that their unexpected death would be devastating to the future of the business. Taking out a life insurance policy on those essential employees — what’s known as key person life insurance — is a way a company can protect itself from the impact of losing a key employee.

“You never want to think about something terrible happening to anyone, but if it does, this is a way you can be sure your business will continue,” says Deb Welsh, a life risk consultant at Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc. “It’s not just about one person. It’s a way of making sure your business as a whole is protected.”

Whether it’s a founding business owner with years of institutional knowledge or a chief engineer who makes your technology possible, key person insurance can be a lifeline to a business in a time of crisis, she says.

Smart Business spoke with Welsh to learn more about this simple but essential business-protection tool.

When is key person life insurance something to consider?

Key life policies are part of a business continuation or succession planning process, so it’s an important component of protecting the ongoing life of a business.

It might be two partner-owners who want insurance on each other so the business can continue if one of them died. But it doesn’t have to be an owner. It could be a sales director who’s critical to maintaining revenues. Maybe it’s a person who maintains your key vendor relationships.

Having a key life insurance policy on that person ensures that you will have the resources to cover lost sales, find someone to take his or her place or pay off debt. You want to avoid any period of time where you’re wondering, ‘How are we going to replace this person and make up lost revenue?’

How are these policies usually structured?

The policy is written on the life of the key employee. The person is the insured, but the business owns the policy, pays for the policy and is the beneficiary of the policy.

Why don’t more companies utilize key person life insurance?

The biggest reason is that it’s not a high priority. Business owners have so many things coming across their desks every day that they don’t necessarily have the time or realize how important it is to have this in place.

In general, life insurance is often something we don’t want to talk about even though we know we need it. Key person insurance policies are one of the biggest things lacking in most companies’ insurance profiles.

Also, the perception is that the cost will be more expensive than it actually is. As a hypothetical example, a 40-year-old healthy male covered for $500,000 on a 25-year term would carry a $740 annual premium. That’s a small amount of money to pay to cover one of your most important employees.

What do you tell business owners about why key person life insurance is so important?

It gives a sense of security to your employees, your clients and your vendors. If you have a large vendor that you use frequently, you may have a significant amount of debt with them. This policy can help give the vendor security that if something were to happen, they would still get what you owe them.

It’s also a way that other employees will know that you’re putting things in place to ensure a future for your company. They won’t have to worry about waking up and finding out that the sales director is gone, and wondering what that will mean for the business and their jobs.

You’ve put your life into your business. You never want to think of something terrible happening to anyone, but if it does, this is a way to know the business can continue.

Deb Welsh is a life risk consultant at Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc. Reach her at (513) 644-1280 or dwelsh@ctia.com.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc.