NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Financial Services

Finalist

 

Ralph Della Ratta Jr.

managing director

Western Reserve Partners, LLC

 

When Ralph Della Ratta Jr. gets asked, “What were you thinking starting a new entrepreneurial chapter in your life at age 55?” he responds that he missed three things: being engaged in the game, doing great things for great people, and providing strategic direction.

After retiring from a remarkably successful career in the investment banking industry, Della Ratta had a revitalized vision of a project that would delve into the Cleveland mergers and acquisitions market. He approached three former colleagues with a proposition that held an unsure outcome without the smallest guarantee.

However, between Della Ratta’s deal-savvy reputation, proven track record and constant ambition, these three individuals made large personal investments to help get Western Reserve Partners, LLC, up and running based solely on their faith and trust in Della Ratta.

Western Reserve Partners was formed to bring middle-market clients high levels of quality and service usually reserved for much larger companies. The company provides M&A, capital raising and other financial advisory services to middle-market companies across a focused set of industry verticals, including industrial, business services, consumer, health care, technology and real estate.

Each engagement is tailored to the client’s specific objectives and relevant market dynamics. Thoughtful advice, keen market insight and well-crafted transaction processes have resulted in more than 80 percent of the company’s sell-side engagements closing at valuation ranges that meet or exceed expectations.

Western Reserve’s senior professionals share an extensive background in large-cap advisory work and have advised on dozens of transactions of $1 billion or more. The company brings the benefits of this experience to its middle-market clientele, and its assignments are all actively managed by senior professionals from kick-off to closing. Western Reserve’s managing directors average nearly 30 years of experience and have collectively executed more than 600 transactions during their careers.

Della Ratta has been determined to position Western Reserve Partners as a reputable, respectful and innovative institution.

How to reach: Western Reserve Partners LLC, www.wesrespartners.com

Published in Akron/Canton

NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Technology

Finalist

 

David Levine

president

Wireless Environment, LLC

 

Wireless Environment, LLC, founded in 2006 by David Levine and Michael Recker, is a JumpStart company that invents technology and manufactures products to enable LED lights to perform effectively when off the electrical grid.

Wireless Environment provides design services for lighting manufacturers looking to gain a competitive advantage through proprietary power management features and off-grid operation. The company’s technology allows LED luminaires and lamps to determine the optimal times to draw power from the electrical lines and when to go off-grid for reasons such as unreliable power or outages, spikes in energy cost, and heavy demand on the grid.

Wireless has also developed and launched a line of battery-powered LED light fixtures that improve safety and security and operate during a power failure. These products — under the Mr. Beams brand — use a patent-pending power management system and have radio frequency capabilities to network throughout the home.

Currently, Wireless has three product lines — Mr. Beams, a line of indoor/outdoor portable LED light fixtures; ReadyBright, a wireless power outage lighting system; and SwitchSense, a module that turns LED luminaires and lamps into power failure lights.

When Levine, who is president, was deciding how to sell his company’s products, he knew entering the retail market was risky. So Levine chose to sell through Amazon.com instead of a traditional store-based model. By selling through Amazon.com and other Internet-based selling formats, Levine mitigated his risk. Wireless has the ability to sell its products at a higher margin than if it were to sell to a large retailer.

Another area where Levine took on significant risk was with the company’s patents. Having patents on technology, brands and products are very important to the success of the business. Levine has spent several years trying to patent ideas on wireless lightning, and it has been a challenge to accomplish. Wireless Environment currently has five patents with more than 17 patents applied for and pending.

How to reach: Wireless Environment, LLC, www.wirelessenv.com

Published in Akron/Canton

NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Technology

Winner

 

Kris Snyder

CEO

Vox Mobile

 

Kris Snyder is a driving force in the high growth, billion-dollar managed mobility services market. Having founded Vox Mobile as an entrepreneur inside a $200 million systems integrator and ultimately spinning it into its own venture, Snyder demonstrated his thought leadership and insight into the growth trends in enterprise mobility.

Starting Vox Mobile in 2006, Snyder recognized the potential to create value through mobility services before anyone else. At that time, organizations were becoming increasingly reliant upon mobile devices.

While plenty of competitors and organizations had invested in technology to implement and deploy personal computers, he recognized that there would soon be a need to provide these same services for mobile equipment, which has increased since consumer products like the iPhone and iPad were released.

Enterprises are now facing significant challenges ensuring issues like mobile enterprise security, employer software configuration and customer support do not decrease the productivity of their respective organizations worldwide. These issues are coming to a head as organizations contemplate how to allow employees to “Bring Your Own Device,” or BYOD, rather than issuing company devices.

Snyder’s customers call upon Vox Mobile to design, procure, deploy, support, manage and analyze their mobile devices. Snyder emphasizes and provides a culture to enable and empower his employees to provide satisfactory solutions to its callers every time to reduce customers’ frustrations and potential down time.

This requires a commitment to hiring top talent who are inventive, knowledgeable and believe in his vision. During 2012, he nearly doubled the number of employees, and Snyder continues to promote the innovation of software that allows for incremental scalability.

Snyder’s vision and ability to innovate in this niche industry has enabled the growth of Vox and mobile technology as a whole. This has created more than 40 percent sales growth during the last two years, with an additional 40 percent growth being forecast in 2013.

How to reach: Vox Mobile, www.voxmobile.com

Published in Akron/Canton

NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Technology

Finalist

 

Yuval Brisker

co-founder, president and CEO

TOA Technologies

 

It was in 2003 when Yuval Brisker co-founded TOA Technologies and began to deliver what would be a world-class software, ETAdirect, a cloud-based field service and customer experience management solution. Brisker and TOA co-founder Irad Carmi were the creators and innovators who took on the challenge of solving the common problem of having to wait for the cable installer.

TOA stands for time of arrival, and through the company’s innovative mobile platform, companies managing employees on the move can more effectively and efficiently determine when a service or product can be delivered.

In its infancy, the main obstacle facing TOA and Brisker was determining the optimal platform for the product to be delivered to customers. The focus was on building a unique application that did not require installation. The result was the one-of-a-kind Web-based service product operating in the cloud.

Today, TOA is a rapidly expanding global company that is primarily gaining in size through organic growth in two ways — geographically and vertically. The company has primarily focused on the cable and telecommunications industries in the past; however, it is now expanding into other markets such as utilities, insurance and any home-delivery based service market.

This rapid growth presents multiple challenges for TOA, specifically software version control. The company has stayed committed to a software solution that has the same basic application platform across all the various customer configurations, which allows TOA to simplify its product maintenance and keeps costs low. TOA is able to meet its customers’ needs by understanding how each does business and by understanding their processes. This then translates into a configuration specific to that customer.

Along with expanded growth comes the challenge of an increasing workforce. TOA has increased its workforce nearly 50 percent since last year. Brisker prides himself on the high level of employee retention the company boasts, which speaks to the successful culture he has fostered at TOA.

How to reach: TOA Technologies, www.toatech.com

Published in Akron/Canton

NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Financial Services

Finalist

 

Jeff Concepcion

founder and CEO

Stratos Wealth Partners, Ltd.

 

Jeff Concepcion spent 22 years with a large wealth management company advancing into senior leadership roles and always looking for a more efficient and effective way to service his clients and grow his team.

He had honed a unique delivery model that he prepared to roll out at his former firm when a management shakeup led to his unemployment. Declining a severance package because it was tied to a non-compete clause, Concepcion had a vision for a better company, took his white paper idea and founded Stratos Wealth Partners in 2008.

Through his strong commitment to ethics, integrity and execution, the founder and CEO of Stratos has built the company into one of the 15 largest wealth management firms in the U.S.

Concepcion has grown the firm with offices in 17 states and 127 affiliated wealth advisors. His strong commitment to fiscal stewardship and a relentless focus on customer service and execution has resulted in profits that have tripled and revenues that have doubled.

The early years of the firm were challenging as the company lost money in its first year. Concepcion did not take pay in the first three years to assure he could reinvest in the business while also paying out equity to his early partners.

Stratos is built on an innovative delivery model where affiliates earn equity versus commissions with more proven growth over time than they could grow on independently.

Stratos has also brought cutting edge technology to wealth management with the use of iPad order entry applications in a Citrix environment that many larger firms have been unable to execute on.

Stratos has tripled its IT support and has been able to remove the administrative and regulatory burden common in the industry so affiliates can focus on client service.

Concepcion has built an explosive, profitable company that will continue to expand while delivering personal satisfaction and financial security to his partners and affiliates.

How to reach: Stratos Wealth Partners, www.stratoswealthpartners.com

Published in Akron/Canton

NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Public Company

Finalist

 

Walter Rosebrough Jr.

president and CEO

Steris Corp.

 

When Walter Rosebrough Jr. joined Steris Corp., the billion-dollar global business was struggling with low growth, a high overhead cost structure and questions regarding its go-to-market strategy. In addition, health care reform was in its beginning stages, which posed the threat of limited growth in Steris’ primary market.

Rosebrough worked with management and the board of directors to develop a strategy for restructuring and a growth program to move the company forward.

Rosebrough recognized that Steris had a prestigious history and great potential. What he could not have foreseen were the unanticipated challenges that hit the company within a few months of his arrival, which were notification from the FDA that the company’s foundational and flagship product, System1, could face extinction in the U.S.; a global financing meltdown that impacted spending in all markets and particularly capital spending, which is 40 percent of Steris’ revenue; the uncertainty of health care reform; and aggressive intervention by two activist shareholders.

The results that Steris employees have accomplished in the face of those challenges have been stellar. The company has grown earnings per share at a compound growth rate of 15 percent per year from fiscal years 2008 to 2012. This performance is in excess of the general market, the health care equipment and supplies industry and Steris’ comparative company peers.

As of this year, Steris only had a couple major products that existed six years ago, truly showing the impact of Rosebrough’s emphasis on research, development and product line reinvigoration.

A major initiative was to in-source parts of production that have historically been outsourced. Steris invested more than $20 million in capital through the course of 18 months, and as a result, created better quality, enhanced delivery reliability and lowered costs, all while creating hundreds of jobs in the U.S. and in Northeast Ohio.

How to reach: Steris Corp., www.steris.com

Published in Akron/Canton

NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Professional Services

Finalist

 

Alan Jaffa

CEO

Safeguard Properties Management, LLC

 

Alan Jaffa has been CEO at Safeguard Properties Management, LLC, since 2010. Safeguard Properties is the largest privately held mortgage field services company in the country.

Jaffa learned the business by moving through the ranks of Safeguard, experiencing first-hand virtually every department in the company. He joined the company in 1995 when it was a small start-up with few employees. As a result of a great work ethic and innovation, Jaffa moved up quickly, becoming COO in 2002.

By the time he became CEO in 2010, Safeguard had grown its employee base significantly. Under his leadership, Safeguard completed the acquisition of Bank of America’s field service department. Jaffa took this bold step to protect the company’s leadership position and expand its footprint into the south and west regions of the country where large concentrations of the company’s clients are located.

Under Jaffa’s watch the company has almost doubled its revenue, and he has helped fully integrate the acquired entity with Safeguard within six months after the acquisition.

Aside from a focus on growth, Jaffa ensures that he is a visible leader at Safeguard. He spends at least one day per week at each Safeguard location, maintains an open door policy and hosts monthly “Java with Jaffa” sessions around the company to hear ideas from employees at all levels.

Jaffa also meets weekly with his executive team, monthly with the entire senior management team of directors, and hosts quarterly two-day off-site meetings with the executive and management teams to encourage collaboration, address challenges together, build on best practices and identify new initiatives to maintain a competitive advantage.

These efforts help Safeguard deliver greater efficiencies, track and improve quality, recruit and retain diverse and qualified employees and vendors, forecast trends, and anticipate client needs for new and varied services.

How to reach: Safeguard Properties Management, LLC, www.safeguardproperties.com

Published in Akron/Canton

NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Distribution and Manufacturing

Finalist

 

Michael Baach

CEO

The Philpott Rubber Co.

 

Not many people would expect an already successful business man to become CEO of a rubber company and enroll in classes at the University of Akron to study polymer mixing, but that is exactly what Michael Baach did. Baach wanted to understand the technical side of the business as the company’s new CEO.

When he arrived at Philpott Rubber in 2009, he came to a company that was started in 1889 with a wooden push cart in downtown Cleveland. The company had strong principles and was dedicated to providing high-quality molded rubber and plastic parts to its customers, but overall was lacking the drive a 21st century company needed to succeed.

Baach noticed a complacent attitude that bred mediocrity, and it was this content attitude that was holding this sleepy company from its true potential. He knew that in order to survive and grow in an ever-changing environment, a strategic vision and innovation would be needed.

Although Philpott had long been focused on the steel industry, Baach knew the company could impact many other booming industries. With much attention being given to the Utica and Marcellus shale gas fields, Baach believed it was imperative to break in and sent out his salesmen to search for a way into the industry.

The big break came when a polymer was developed that would be useful in the gas industry. This polymer is used as a lubricant to help increase the pressure flow of the gas as it is being released from the ground.

This ambitious leap into the gas industry has paid dividends for Baach and Philpott, as this polymer began production in 2009 and now makes up more than 15 percent of the company’s sales. It is projected to grow to more than 25 percent by next year and in just a few years, has the potential to become more than 50 percent of Philpott’s business.

How to reach: Philpott Rubber Co., www.philpottrubber.com

Published in Akron/Canton

NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Distribution and Manufacturing

Winner

 

Gary Schuster

president and CEO

OMCO

 

In 2006, Gary Schuster accepted an offer to take over as the president and CEO of OMCO, a supplier of custom metal parts made using a roll forming technique. He joined OMCO at a difficult time in the company’s history.

As a result of a downturn in the transportation industry and worsened by the economic recession, the company’s sales fell by 80 percent from 2006 to 2009. However, Schuster had innovative ideas, as well as a plan to rapidly recover by expanding into new markets.

Although the company had a long-term plan of diversifying its business past the transportation industry, there was no one in the company who was exploring future opportunities when Schuster took the helm. Accordingly, he hired a key individual who specialized in sales and marketing to focus solely on finding new customers and growing the business into new markets other than the transportation industry.

After Schuster and his sales and marketing team identified a need for OMCO’s custom roll-forming products in the rapidly growing solar panel manufacturing industry of the Southwest, he relocated his top sales representative to Phoenix.

In mid-2009, the company received its first million-dollar order followed by several other significant orders that same year. Schuster quickly took advantage of these growing opportunities in the solar energy market by opening a plant in Phoenix that could centrally serve the Southwestern region of the U.S. The subsequent rapid growth in this new market resulted in an increase of more than 300 percent in the company’s sales from 2010 to 2012.

Although OMCO’s expansion into the Southwestern solar market has provided great success for the company, Schuster insists on continuing to explore future opportunities. He has started to consider further diversification within the solar market to new geographic locations, particularly Australia, Saudi Arabia and Chile. He is also identifying additional new industries for the company to leverage.

How to reach: OMCO, www.omcoform.com

Published in Akron/Canton

NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Family Business Award

Winner

 

Marc Brenner

president and CEO

Ohio Technical College

 

In July 1969, Marc Brenner and his father Julius founded the Ohio Diesel Mechanics School. Over the course of 30 years, the school grew, added programs, training, and changed locations and names. In 1996, Brenner’s father retired, and he assumed complete and total responsibility for all aspects of the school.

In his new leadership role as president and CEO, Brenner implemented major changes throughout the organization, including redesigning classrooms, shop floors and training courses. One of the most successful strategies that Brenner implemented was a change in the marketing approach from targeting middle-aged adults to targeting 18 to 25 year olds.

This strategy led to rapid expansion, and in 1998, because of the increase of program offerings and campus developments, the school’s name was changed to Ohio Technical College, a private and accredited technical college providing career-oriented auto mechanic training.

Over the years, OTC has faced numerous obstacles such as obtaining financial aid for its students and limited housing. Through Brenner’s business acumen and vision for his college campus, he was invited by President Clinton to be a part of the advisory team to start Direct Loans, which offers financial aid to for-profit schools. OTC also purchased several houses, which are now used to house its students.

As the school’s growth continued, BMW of North America developed an interest in OTC and created a specialized training facility on the campus — one of only four training sites in the U.S. Most recently, the college opened a branch campus called PowerSport Institute that specializes in motorcycles.

Brenner and his team have developed partnerships with industry leaders such as Kawasaki Motorcycle, Yamaha Motor, Victory Motorcycle, Honda, Polaris and others. This branch campus of OTC now trains about 250 students and total enrollment for OTC and PSI averages 1,500 students on an annual basis. In 2009, OTC was recognized as the National School of the Year.

How to reach: Ohio Technical College, www.ohiotech.edu

Published in Akron/Canton
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