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
Like many entrepreneurs, Matt Miller developed the idea for his company by seeing a problem for which he had a solution. In 2002, Miller was working at an established job when he learned about a pain point for one of the company’s customers, Anheuser-Busch. The business was going to require all of its independent beer wholesalers to start delivering sales data back to breweries on a nightly basis; however, there was no efficient automated system to do it in the rigors of the current environment.
Drawing on his technology background, Miller reasoned that the company could best address the problem by automating its field salespeople with mobile tablet PCs. Equipped with a computer science degree and an MBA in marketing, Miller left his steady job to focus solely on developing a company to create durable, mobile computer systems that could enhance end-user productivity and performance.
As the founding president and CEO of MobileDemand, Miller grew his business initially by focusing on the opportune market niche of beer wholesalers. After self-funding the company and spending a year in his basement working on his business plan, he introduced a prototype for his company’s first rugged tablet computer system to the Wholesaler Beer Distributors Association. Before long, he’d landed deals with three Iowa beer wholesalers, getting the attention of Anheuser-Busch with the product’s innovative design, high durability and low failure rates.
The turning point for Miller’s business came when Anheuser-Busch designated MobileDemand’s xTablet as its preferred product to its network of more than 700 wholesalers. Today, Miller has expanded MobileDemand’s marketing to target mobile field workers in variety of industries and appeal to a vast network of resellers.
How to reach: MobileDemand, www.ruggedtabletpc.com
In 2003, Learfield Communications Inc. was at a crossroads, and President and CEO Greg Brown knew that something needed to change soon. The radio and sports content space that Learfield had occupied for 30 years was transforming, while the company itself remained stagnant.
“We were on the brink of going out of business,” he says. With a career at Learfield spanning nearly 30 years, it was Brown who took the lead in reinventing the company’s business model to capitalize on new market opportunities and revenue streams. A key opportunity that Brown and his leadership team saw for the business was establishing outsourcing partnerships with university athletic departments. Many of these departments lacked expertise in advertising and brand marketing — Learfield’s bread and butter.
However, he knew that it would also take significant cash investment from the company to fund the contracts and hire people to support the new business, meaning Learfield would go into large debt for the first time in its history. Understanding that the window to invest was limited, Brown and his management team agreed that they needed to make the “meaningful investment” for future success. And before long, the risk was paying dividends.
In less than three years, the company won 27 new major university contracts and expanded its workforce from 75 to 200 employees. Under Brown’s leadership, Learfield’s revenue tripled and its university relationships have doubled. The company has also expanded these relationships across a spectrum of services, including broadcast content, video scoreboards, concessions and other Web-based opportunities. A clear testament to Brown’s success in leading the transformation is the fact that Learfield’s new business lines now account for more than half of the company’s revenue.
How to reach: Learfield Communications Inc., www.learfield.com
Joseph Melookaran, president; Mithra Amaran, executive vice president; David Brown, executive vice president; Raqibul Huq, vice president; Maria Will, vice president, Technology
As president of JMA Information Technology, Joseph Melookaran had a vision of what the company could become in the future. In 1994, JMA was formed as a professional service firm providing public accounting services in the Kansas City area.
During the Y2K problem, Melookaran realized the opportunity in the technology sector and converted the accounting services business to a premier technology solutions firm. JMA was faced with three major obstacles in its early years: the “tech bubble burst,” a decrease in its revenue stream and the loss of their
software provider. During 2000, JMA recognized the necessity to re-engineer the business to meet the needs of their customers and adapt to the changes of the IT sector post Y2K. The re-engineering of the business allowed it to not only survive this tough economic time but to grow and expand the business. Two years later, the company’s survival was threatened again by their largest customer cutting back staffing resources. Given the strong cash flow levels, JMA was able to regroup and diversify its customer base. This taught the company how to adapt, how to be flexible and how to be more resourceful.
JMA, through the help of Melookaran, executive vice presidents David Brown and Mithra Amaran and vice presidents Maria Will and Raqibul Huq, has since built up a framework of certain key factors for excellence such as high customer satisfaction, excellent work performance,
rewards tied to results, values tied to behavior, innovation in service delivery, communication that is simple, direct and honest, and seeing employees as partners.
This framework created an environment of aggressive pursuit for opportunity and innovation in any niche areas in the growth segment of the technology sector. This resulted in a sustained and deliberate transition from consulting and staffing to network security, routing and switching, IT outsourced services, information management, and mobility practice in the later years.
How to Reach: JMA Information Technology, www.jma-it.com
GROUP360 Worldwide began life more than 50 years ago, providing color separations to the printing industry. Over the years, the company expanded through the acquisition of other businesses, such as publishing, packaging and large format printing. Each business ran as a completely separate unit with no combined efficiencies and no cross-selling of capabilities. Most significantly, there was no master plan and no vision to speak of.
In 2005, Mark Rutter became CEO of the strategic marketing services firm. Rutter, who is now chairman and CEO, has set the foundation of what would become a worldwide communications business that others would follow. When Rutter became CEO, the company at that point was struggling and ready to call it quits. Rutter, however, saw a way to transform product development and marketing in the fast-moving consumer goods business. In 2007, he bought GROUP360 with an unwavering belief in the capability of its people and a clear vision of the future of product marketing.
After the purchase, Rutter’s first order of business was to win the hearts and minds of the entire organization and get employees to see and believe in the vision. The vision was as simple as it was profound — link together all services under one roof, providing one point of contact and one markup. Not only could he save major corporations significant time in getting their products to the market, he could save them millions of dollars while doing it, providing a huge competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Now serving major retail chains throughout the U.S., GROUP360 Worldwide is at the forefront of the fastmoving store brand movement.
How to Reach: GROUP360 Worldwide, www.group360.com
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 finalists 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 finalists.
Randolph Buseman is a partner in the Kansas City office of Ernst & Young.
Michael Hickenbotham is a partner in the St. Louis office of Ernst & Young.
Finalists and Honorees
Industrial Manufacturing and Mining
Energy and Chemicals
Retail and Consumer Products
At Gragg Advertising, staff members will often refer to the “Energizer Bunny.” They aren’t talking about the pink bunny that is still beating those drums, but rather the nickname they have given Greg Gragg, chairman and CEO of the full-service direct response marketing firm.
Gragg’s “Energizer Bunny” moniker originates from the energy he puts into every business venture in which he is involved. A 20-year veteran of the advertising, interactive and marketing industries, Gragg worked for both large and small agencies prior to his founding of Gragg Advertising in 1992. The company is not a traditional advertising one; rather, it is more of a marketing technology company. Powered by machines that automate to gather and analyze data, the company is manned by skillful people with innovative minds that transform the data into information that helps re-engineer processes, increase revenue, gain efficiency in operations and maintain compliance with regulations.
Aided by Gragg’s unique and insightful forward thinking, the business has produced innovative services, which continue to enhance quality lead management for clients across the country. He continues to grow his agency and his client base to accommodate for emerging technology and remain competitive in the advertising and marketing industries. The company is always looking for ways to expand business and diversify the agency.
From developing new products or branching out into new business, Gragg is not afraid of developing new technology in order to create a successful business. Recently, Gragg made it his priority to expand to more industries outside of the career college realm that Gragg Advertising mostly serves. With an expanding new business department, he hopes that the hiring and recent growth the agency has seen can transfer to different types of business.
How to Reach: Gragg Advertising, www.graggadv.com
president and CEO
Dawn Ainger showed up for her job as a software engineer at Genova Technologies one day in 2001 to ?nd the doors locked and the company shut down, with plans to ?le for bankruptcy. She never dreamed of being an entrepreneur, but seeing few other options, she decided to buy Genova and take it in a new direction.
There were only nine employees left.
In a stunning turnaround, Ainger diversi?ed the company, focusing on IT market segments — and Genova has grown to have 74 full-time employees and 70-75 contractors.
Sales have increased 145 percent during a time of unfavorable economic conditions and strict government budgets.
She surrounded herself with employees who instilled the right “attitude, aptitude and integrity,” which is the tagline Ainger, president and CEO, carries with her on a daily basis.
“It was challenging at times, but I was able to let go because I surrounded myself with intelligent, trustworthy people who had those values,” she says.
Ainger is now able to focus on the long-term path of the company rather than micromanaging her colleagues and the day-to-day operations. She believes you must hire, right from the start, people who display these values.
“A work environment is much easier to operate when you can trust your people and you enjoy being around them,” she says.
Ainger treats her employees as if they were family. She cares about what is important to them and stresses worklife balance, and she sets that tone from the top.
The tone provides for a prosperous environment and an exceptionally low turnover ratio, less than 3 percent in the past 10 years — and of the nine professionals with the company in 2001, seven are still with Genova.
HOW TO REACH: Genova Technologies, www.genovatechnologies.com
president and CEO
In the midst of the recent economic downturn, Pat Perry decided he had to “?re” his biggest client. As president and CEO of Genesys Systems, an innovative engineering ?rm, he was very concerned about how the client’s culture was negatively affecting Genesys employees.
Perry saw far greater damage possible to his biggest asset — his employees — than in losing the client.
He challenged his people to make up for the lost revenue in other ways. They were able to do it and survived the recession on a strong note, despite having a reduced workforce due to the business slump.
“We not only replaced that income, we beat it, and most importantly, we walked our talk and reinforced our highest values,” Perry says.
He bravely vowed that after the dif?culties Genesys had in 2009, the company would not take part in the next recession. To that end, the company began to look for ways to diversify its product and service offerings to existing and potential clients.
For example, Genesys is now using an idea that grew out of a 1910 rock-crushing machine to recycle old carpet into saleable plastic. It is also looking into other potential uses for the technology including ways to recycle electronic scrap.
The company is establishing an ESOP that will allow employees to have a controlling interest in Genesys within ?ve years.
Perry is concerned also about his performance — from the employee level. Each year, he has them anonymously provide feedback on how he has been managing operations.
He says that if the employees aren’t happy with what he is doing, then he will know it is time for him to step down.
HOW TO REACH: Genesys Systems, www.genesyscorp.net
Benny Lee had become the majority shareholder of DuraComm Corp., an industrial power supply builder and distributor, and right away, he knew something had to be improved.
Lee, who is now CEO and sole owner, saw that the company was tied to one large national customer, which he believed was not an optimum situation. In fact, during his time with DuraComm, a majority of the business had been through 10 customers or less.
“This had proven extremely dif?cult and had put the company in a risky position,” Lee says. “I made it my goal to expand the customer base within the power supply business, as well as by expanding into green energy markets through both solar energy and LED lighting.”
Lee then implemented a comprehensive expansion strategy, seeking additional business segments and developing new lines of power supply products and compact models that took advantage of new technologies.
He launched an LED lighting division in 2009. The company outgrew its 10,000-square-foot facility, so Lee moved DuraComm to a 47,000-square-foot facility and added another 2,200 square feet of space to that warehouse.
When Lee took over DuraComm, the existing managers spent the majority of their time deep in the details of the business and focused less time on the bigger picture.
They are now moving toward Lee’s style of management — he considers himself to be a visionary and very forward-thinking. In his opinion, the management team of any organization should be the same way.
Within the next ?ve years, Lee expects the company to realize signi?cant growth in both the power supply portion of the business and the LED lighting portion.
HOW TO REACH: DuraComm Corp., www.duracomm.com