When Jon Cook began his career with VML as an account executive in 1996, the Internet was just beginning to take off.
Few marketing firms recognized the potential for digital marketing, but Cook, knowing that in the marketing industry a firm needs to continually push the envelope, urged the company to head in the digital direction.
His foresight turned VML into the market leader it is today, and subsequently, Cook has held nearly every possible role at VML. In January 2007, Cook was promoted to president, and in February 2011, he became the company’s CEO.
Cook’s commitment to originality and creativity continues in that role as he encourages his employees to challenge the status quo and devise new ways of doing things. From this thinking, he created the concept of “Most Important Partner.” Cook wants all his clients to see the company not only as a marketing firm but also as a partner ready to do anything needed to grow their business. This concept has positioned VML as one of the most respected and highly rated digital interactive marketing firms in the world.
Cook has also been committed to giving back to the community. The VML Foundation is an employee-led organization that spearheads community outreach and charitable contributions. It works nationwide to give back to the communities VML operates within. Nearly 75 percent of the company’s employees make contributions to the foundation; VML matches a portion.
In the coming years, Cook plans to continue developing VML into a global digital powerhouse. He has implemented a series of alignment teams to handle substantial client work while maintaining the responsiveness of a small, nimble agency. This structure has allowed VML to sustain and expand its capabilities, enabling the company to scale operations to support annual double-digit revenue growth.
How to reach: VML, www.vml.com
DIRECTORS INTRODUCTION – St. Louis
Kansas City of?ce of Ernst & Young
St. Louis of?ce of Ernst & Young
For more than 25 years, Ernst & Young has celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women who make our economy vibrant.
Ernst & Young founded the Entrepreneur Of The Year® Program to recognize those with a passion for “thinking big” and to bring together visionaries and leaders to inspire each other and our communities.
We have gathered here, and in 25 cities across the United States, to honor all of our regional ?nalists and welcome a new class of entrepreneurs into our Hall of Fame, recognizing their resilience, ingenuity and innovation.
We applaud them for overcoming challenges, inspiring others, opening new markets and, ultimately, fueling economic growth in the Central Midwest.
Let’s celebrate their achievements, perseverance and tireless pursuit of business excellence.
Congratulations to all of the 2012 Central Midwest ?nalists.
What many saw as a failure, Doug Schukar saw as an opportunity. When his former employer, LoanSurfer.com, filed for bankruptcy, Schukar acquired select company assets, including the USA Mortgage name and the right to cherry-pick those he wanted to hire for his new start-up.
He completed the acquisition in 2001, forming DAS Acquisition Co. LLC, which provides its full-service mortgage banker/broker services, under the USA Mortgage name. However, the acquisition didn’t come without some persistence on Schukar’s end. He survived four failed attempts to purchase the LoanSurfer.com assets and completed the acquisition using his own financial assets.
He took on great personal risk as he just started a family with his wife in the midst of the acquisition. Schukar continues to solely bear the financial risk of the company. From the company’s inception, Schukar realized the secret to its success relied in its people, so he sought to foster an environment in which they could succeed. This culture, which is sales-motivated and competitive although collaborative, promotes employee self-management and bonding with co-workers. As a result, USA Mortgage attracts top talent with low turnover.
Schukar’s charitable involvement includes being an elected trustee of the Village of Wildwood, sponsor of the Women’s Council of Realtors, past president of The Young Friends of the St. Louis Art Museum and past director of the Jewish Community Center Association.
USA Mortgage is an active sponsor of the Old Newsboys Day campaign and actively supports some 20 other charitable and civic organizations. Schukar, president and CEO, plans to expand USA Mortgage geographically, evidenced by recently opened offices in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa and Georgia. He is also in the process of launching DAS University, a curriculum tailored to engage employees, boost company-wide performance and nurture organizational change.
How to reach: USA Mortgage, www.usa-mortgage.com
Dan Reed has a different way of looking at the legal industry. By focusing on it as a business, integrating technology in the litigation process and streamlining operating processes, he has been able to transform the global legal industry and fill a previously unmet gap.
CEO of UnitedLex Corp., Reed founded the Overland Park, Kan.-based consulting, technology and outsourcing provider of legal services in 2006. Instead of using the traditional law firm or BPO model for delivery of services, he built a company that has a management consultancy front end, a technology development and integration enablement group and a centralized resource-outsourcing engine for delivery execution.
Within five months of its start, UnitedLex boasted a client portfolio that included Hewlett Packard, IBM, Microsoft and Marriott Hotels. The company has continued to grow, with a staff of almost 700 serving law firms and corporate legal counsel around the globe in the areas of corporate legal support, litigation support, intellectual property and immigration.
UnitedLex’s customers, many of them Fortune 500, benefit from the lower costs achieved through more efficient processes and risk reduction due to better processes. The company employs customizable creative solutions, such as a dashboard portal allowing clients to view workflows and the status of projects, while maintaining all databases and applications under one common platform — keeping UnitedLex a single point of knowledge.
Already operating in the United States, India, Israel and the United Kingdom, Reed aims to expand UnitedLex into other geographies, including Costa Rica or Brazil, as well as Eastern and Western Europe. In 2011, the company was ranked in the Inc. 500 fastest-growing private companies in America.
How to reach: UnitedLex Corp., www.unitedlex.com
Mike O’Neill, CEO; John Nickel, president; Kevin Quigley, executive vice president; Switch: Liberate Your BrandWritten by SBN Staff
Due to the strategic collaboration of three executives to diversify its revenue base, Switch: Liberate Your Brand is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary as an independent organization with a portfolio of clients that includes big names such as Coca-Cola, 5-Hour Energy, Elsevier, Vitamin Water and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, among others.
The experiential marketing agency, headquartered in St. Louis, is owned and operated by CEO Mike O’Neill, President John Nickel and Executive Vice President Kevin Quigley. The trio began as colleagues at Busch Creative Services, a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch, before taking advantage of the opportunity to collectively purchase BCS in 2002 — which would evolve into Switch: Liberate Your Brand.
self-reliant and diversify its services in order to survive. To differentiate from competitors and attract clients, the trio worked to make Switch a full-service provider with account management, creative department and production all under one roof.
In addition to traditional capabilities, such as strategy and design, Switch has nontraditional capabilities too, such as market research, a digital innovation lab, a large format print shop, a fabrication studio, video and motion graphics production and equipment.
These capabilities allow Switch to have control over the full experiential marketing process — from initiation, strategic brand conversation and development to the delivery of the product.
Additionally, Switch recently added a director of technology to enhance its digital/technology group, as well as an intellectual property director to leverage assets to develop new intellectual properties for client use.
The organization’s innovative model has helped the company grow in both revenue and size. Switch now employs 116 full-time headquarter employees and more than 900 field marketing associates across the U.S.
How to reach: Switch: Liberate Your Brand, www.liberateyourbrand.com
After a family friend lost his life to drug use, Michael Vasquez delved into the reasons behind the low 15 percent national success rate of traditional drug and alcohol treatment centers.
Utilizing his findings, Vasquez has since driven change in the areas of addiction treatment, recovery management and center operation as CEO of St. Gregory Centers Inc. — a Des Moines, Iowa-based inpatient facility dealing with substance abuse. He and his staff developed and introduced a new model of treatment in 2006, the St. Gregory Recovery Program, which has since become the leading program in America.
The St. Gregory Recovery Program integrates multiple proven therapies to address the wide range of symptoms addicts suffer from, including medical, psychosocial, social and spiritual issues. The program employs specific treatment strategies in the categories of neurochemical dysfunction, neurocognitive deficits, poor nutrition, unhealthy behaviors, cognitive/psycho-social dysfunction and the unwillingness to attempt treatment.
Post-discharge, the organization continues to work with clients for 12 months through Recovery Life Coaches. As a result of its cutting-edge therapies and industryleading practices, St. Gregory now boasts a 75 percent success rate over the 15 percent national average and attracts a majority of its patients from outside of Iowa — including international patients. The facility was recently selected as a premier site for clinical trials by several universities for the research of genetic relationships to addiction.
By addressing the wide range of addiction symptoms and tailoring its program to each patient’s particular needs, St. Gregory ensures a more complete, and thus more permanent, recovery for its patients.
How to reach: St. Gregory Centers Inc., www.stgregoryctr.com
The concept for Willard “Lee” Frickey’s company, Sizewise, began to germinate in the 1980s. An accident left Frickey temporarily unable to walk the floors of his grocery business. In this same time period, he had to deliver groceries to an obese customer who was unable to shop for his own food. Both incidents showed Frickey there was an unserved need for greater mobility.
Sizewise, which provides bariatric wheelchairs and related medical equipment, has grown from humble beginnings in a one-car garage into a national company that employs 850. As CEO, Fricky’s leadership style fosters an entrepreneurial environment and a family-oriented culture that has enabled the company to retain its top talent. Most of the people who were employed by Sizewise in its early years still work for the company.
Sizewise’s main revenue sources are acute care needs, long-term care, home care and consumer bedding. The company offers its equipment for rental, for capital purchase and on a lease-to-own basis. It also serves as the original equipment manufacturer for companies selling related products. It was the first company in the industry to offer rentals of bariatric medical equipment.
All of Sizewise’s production takes place in the United States. At one point, the company moved some of its production to an overseas plant, but it closed the plant after finding that it couldn’t guarantee the quality of the products made there.
In addition to bariatric wheelchairs and beds, Sizewise manufactures lifts, floor pads and commode chairs, and the company provides training and protocols for safe patient handling.
Sizewise’s business model demonstrates a capacity for sustained growth as the global population ages and continues to fight obesity.
HOW TO REACH: Sizewise, www.sizewise.net
SAK Construction LLC was born seven years ago when co-workers Jerry Shaw Jr. and Tom Kalishman walked away from the construction company where they worked because they had grown disillusioned with the company’s policies and philosophy.
Kalishman and Shaw thought their employer’s approach, like that of many other construction companies, was becoming too focused on streamlining processes to create a repeatable, sustainable model, and they felt that this philosophy de-emphasized employee autonomy and decision-making to the point that workers essentially became interchangeable parts in the machine.
SAK’s philosophy, on the other hand, is rooted in the empowerment of workers to contribute heavily in the pipeline rehabilitation and tunneling field by making quick on-site decisions when problems arise on a job. Kalishman, chairman and CEO, and Shaw, president, share the belief that the key to good management is putting
people in positions where they can learn, grow and excel. It’s an approach that promotes creativity and helps spur workers to innovate and contribute ideas about how to improve processes, leading to improved quality, efficiency and lower costs.
The company has an informal, relatively nonstructured work environment, with employees given wide flexibility in deciding how to handle their daily responsibilities. Salaries, bonuses and benefits are competitive. And SAK’s office is equipped with a kitchen and a gym for employees.
The company’s approach is clearly paying dividends. Over the last three years, SAK has enjoyed sales growth of 290 percent, 126 percent and 51 percent, respectively. And during the four years that SAK has been generating revenue, not a single key worker — out of about 300 employees nationwide — has left the company.
How to reach: SAK Construction LLC, www.sakcon.com
As the founder of Rhythm Engineering, a privately held company that creates traffic management systems for traffic signals, Dr. Reggie Chandra leads his team by communicating a vision, defining a plan of attack, then stepping back and letting his team go to work. Chandra, who has a doctoral degree in organizational leadership and is a traffic engineer by training, believes in fostering innovation to provide value to the company’s customers. In Rhythm Engineering’s flagship product, a real-time traffic control system called InSync, that value takes the form of reductions in vehicle crashes, travel time, stops, fuel consumption and emissions in high-traffic areas, according to the company.
Chandra, who grew up in India and came to the United States when he was 27, says he has a passion for improving traffic flow in congested areas, and that passion has translated into significant growth for his company in a short time period. The CEO says his vision is to make Rhythm Engineering the Apple Inc. traffic engineering industry.
The InSync traffic control technology was recently installed at more than 20 intersections around a major Atlanta-area golf club to help manage the traffic flow during a tournament. Chandra and Rhythm Engineering are frequent of The Dream Foundation, a charitable organization that assists adults facing life-threatening illnesses, Chandra encourages his employees to participate multiple charitable events.
While Rhythm Engineering’s revenue is growing the potential for that growth to accelerate is huge company’s InSync traffic signal system is currently in fewer than 1 percent of U.S. intersections controlled by traffic signals.
How to reach: Rhythm Engineering, www.rhythmtraffic.com
Mary Quass, president and CEO of NRG Media LLC, doesn’t believe she was born an entrepreneur. She believes in the hard work that allowed her to achieve her goals. Quass entered the media industry when she resigned from a management position at a furniture store to work on commission selling radio advertisements. It was a struggle to make ends meet at first, but she fell in love with the media industry.
Quass’ experiences have helped shape her leadership style. She is constantly on the lookout for new challenges to meet.
Many of the companies in the industry had been suffering prior to the recession, and the economic crisis only compounded the problems. The variety and number of consumers, combined with the ever-changing sales cycle, makes it one of the most difficult industries in which to own a business.
Quass has viewed the barriers as hurdles to jump, not walls keeping her attitude has kept NRG Media successful many other companies in the industry are Quass financed her first radio station purchase with bank loans. In 2003, she used a private group, and in 2005, she was able to obtain from multiple sources, including GE Capital McCarthy Capital Corp.
The business model implemented will allow NRG Media to grow directions.
In addition to multiple financing avenues, operates in a wide range of markets that “Great Local Radio.” Quass has had the broach bigger markets such as Chicago but has turned them down to focus on optimal such as Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
How to reach: NRG Media LLC, www.nrgmedia.com