Since 1986, EY has celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women who have followed and achieved their dreams. These leaders have changed the lives of countless others by building their businesses and giving back to their communities. Their passion, vision and persistence stand as a testament to their dedication.
Twenty-eight years ago, EY founded the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Program to recognize these dynamic leaders and to build an influential community of innovative entrepreneurs. Each June, we host celebrations in 25 U.S. cities to welcome the men and women who are regional finalists into our community and to toast their vision. Their energy and strategic vision have turned their dreams into reality. We applaud them all for taking the road less traveled to launch new companies, open new markets and fuel job growth.
Join us in celebrating their passion, innovation and unwavering commitment to win in the marketplace. Congratulations to all of our finalists!
EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™
Northeast Ohio Program Director
Consumer and Retail Products & Services
More than Gourmet
When he was a child, Brad Sacks would spend hours with his aunt learning how important it was to cook with quality ingredients. This made a lasting impression on the young boy, and he learned that taking an extra step to deliver a quality product was applicable at the kitchen table as well as in the workplace.
After completing college and obtaining a few years of business experience, Sacks was ready to start a business of his own — his entrepreneurial spirit and passion for gourmet cuisine soon aligned.
He visited kitchens across the country and found that the culinary marketplace had a significant void when it came to broths, stocks and demi-glazes. These were key components of any chef’s repertoire, yet they were some of the last ingredients they took pride in calling their own.
With the goals in mind of making a product that would cost less, require less shelf space, be safer for the consumer and provide a consistent, high quality flavor, Sacks launched More Than Gourmet in 1993. He put his determination and compassion to work as a leader and forged strong relationships with grocers and chefs throughout the world.
By dealing with some of the finest meat, poultry, fish and vegetable cultivators, MTG is developing cutting-edge products that have enabled it to be a leader in the food service, retail and industrial ingredient markets.
As CEO, Sacks believes one of his greatest strengths is his compassion. He believes it is important to look at a problem or issue from the other person’s perspective. With this insight and an open mind, Sacks has built a loyal workforce. Employees feel respected and part of a larger team. Sacks believes each employee should take a personal sense of pride in product quality and the company itself, allowing him or her to meet both personal and professional goals.
DuneCraft, Inc., a manufacturer of themed terrariums and seed-to-sprout kits for all ages, owes much of its success to CEO Grant Cleveland’s creativity and persistence.
One of the first signs of his persistence as an entrepreneur was to pull himself up from bankruptcy after his Internet company failed during the dot-com crash.
With funding from a venture capitalist, he launched DuneCraft, Inc., which manufactured and distributed one product — Odd Pods.
Since Cleveland’s first product in 2001, more than 300 have been developed. Key to the success of its products is universal appeal and a relatively cheap price. As a result, DuneCraft’s potential market share and growth are limitless. Realizing the possibilities for expansion, Cleveland thinks outside the box to invent product lines that appeal to all ages.
Although the ultimate creative license for DuneCraft rests with him, he encourages and welcomes ideas from his staff.
Cleveland has developed a nurturing work environment focused on better communication. As part of the environment, he has integrated potted plants and fountains with fish into DuneCraft’s offices to create a calming environment conducive to creativity and effectiveness.
As a dedicated hardworking individual who expects his employees to echo his work habits, he nevertheless strongly supports a positive work/life balance. Both the office and warehouse workers are inspired by Cleveland’s dreams for DuneCraft and respect him for his vision.
Cleveland is a strong supporter in philanthropic endeavors. Each year, he donates a portion of DuneCraft’s profit and his personal income to charities.
In the past year, these include contributions to the Cleveland Foodbank, Cuyahoga Community College and Habitat for Humanity. In addition, the company donated packages of its products to the Kids Wish Network.
Hastings Water Works
In 2012, David Hastings realized that the company he had founded 20 years earlier had reached a crossroads. Hastings Water Works, a pool service, maintenance, management and lifeguard service provider, needed a new direction. There was so much growth that the company couldn’t support operations at the high standards it offered.
Founded in 1992, Hastings developed a dedicated workforce focused on providing pool cleaning, maintenance services and supplies to high net-worth individuals. Over the next several years, the company grew in terms of employees and sales as Hastings expanded to include lifeguard services.
To overcome the crossroads impasse, Hastings created new positions to help usher in the next level of growth through innovation and expansion into eight to 10 new markets by 2019. Since 2012, he has added 14 new positions.
One position was a COO, and in the months since the COO’s arrival last year, Hastings has loosened his reins and empowered employees to embrace their roles and responsibilities. This will help position Hastings Water Works for its impending expansion.
Hastings believes he himself is a “man filled with optimism but grounded in reality” and hopes that by serving as a constant inspiration to his workforce, he can motivate employees to meet their personal and professional goals.
In a market saturated with small, often unaccountable operations, Hastings tries to separate himself from others by offering a service with a high price-point and even higher quality and customer service.
Hastings says 60 percent of his new business comes through word-of-mouth referrals and 90 percent of the company’s annual revenue comes from repeat customers.
He routinely praises employees for the thorough service they provide and the pride they take in their work. Customers show appreciation for the job well-done by acting as “advertisements” for the company.
Michael Caspar had sold out his interest in his Internet startup Golf.com and was looking to buy a company he could turn around. Joining forces with his brother-in-law Jason Berry, the pair decided on Weston Products — a company with little vision or direction and an even gloomier future.
The company, which had experienced losses in the two years before Casper and Berry’s takeover in 2009, specialized in selling private label meat grinders and vacuum sealers to outdoor retailers such as Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shop. Caspar and Berry felt passionate about the product and moved quickly to take Weston from the brink of bankruptcy.
Caspar, CEO, and Berry, COO, mended the relationships with some of the company’s most important clients by rebuilding trust. They also changed the design of the Weston-branded products to differentiate them from the models sold to their private label customers.
While company morale had been at a low due to micromanagement, Caspar and Berry implemented a cultural shift by empowering employees to make decisions, speak their minds and voice new ideas. The changes paid off in immediate dividends. Weston Products turned a sizeable profit in the first year and has continued to grow ever since.
The pair launched a profit-sharing plan in 2011 to demonstrate to employees how valuable they were to the company. The program is for key individuals with the goal to increase company loyalty and reward senior level management for its role in current and future company growth.
Caspar and Berry know that by establishing a relationship and catering to customers’ needs and want, they can improve business relationships and enhance the chances of the clients showcasing Weston Products on their shelves. Just this year, Cabela’s, which had previously carried only Weston’s private label products, agreed to sell more than 15 Weston-branded items.