How Jerry Lasco built a company that has revolutionized how people drink wine

Jerry Lasco, founder and CEO, Lasco Enterprises

Jerry Lasco, founder and CEO, Lasco Enterprises

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

 

 

How Brad Dannegger found his niche in ARCO/Murray National Construction Company

Brad-Dannegger-ARCO2

Services

FINALIST

At age 30, Bradley J. Dannegger approached the owners of ARCO/Murray National Construction Company and asked to open a Chicago office of the firm. He had already worked at the St. Louis and Florida offices, and the owners recognized that he was a rising star, so they support his plan.

The result was a substantial decrease in pay for Dannegger as well as an increase in risk.  But his hard work, perseverance and his top talent has grown the Chicago office into one of the most successful in the ARCO/Murray family.

He continued to grow ARCO through the recent recession by focusing on complicated, niche construction projects with Fortune 2000 companies – for example, clean-rooms and laundry services for hospitals and hotels. The market is large, the construction is complicated, and few competitors are in the market. Staying away from construction that only requires “four walls and a roof” has helped differentiate his company from the competition and drive repeat business.

Dannegger sets high expectations for himself and his team, but he leads with an inclusive style — realizing that less experienced employees need coaching and encouragement. He faced challenges in the first couple of years trying to find the right talent to build his team. Starting in 2005, he focused on hiring the brightest students from the best engineering schools. When interviewing, he began focusing more on a candidate’s potential rather than experience. These new hires came onboard with no bad working habits and an eagerness to learn every aspect of the construction business.

In client relationships, Dannegger has always strived to form a strong partnership. As a design/build firm, ARCO is present at the earliest stages of the project until the building is complete.

Subcontractors and vendor relationships are just as important. Each year, ARCO honors its top 10 vendors in an annual ceremony to celebrate the year and their hard work.

How to reach: ARCO/Murray National Construction Company, www.arcomurray.com

How Dan Doyle Jr. built DEX Imaging to be a company customers can always count on for solutions

Dan Doyle Jr. president and CEO DEX Imaging

Dan Doyle Jr.
president and CEO
DEX Imaging

Technology

AWARD RECIPIENT

Dan Doyle Jr.
president and CEO
DEX Imaging

Dan Doyle Jr. had two objectives in mind when he co-founded DEX Imaging in 2002 with his father, Dan Sr.

He wanted to create a privately-held dealership that focuses on quality service. He also wanted to give back one third of the company’s profits to charities and educational programs within the markets where DEX does business.

That commitment to both community and customer service has not wavered a bit over the past decade as Doyle has grown his business through the headwind of one of the toughest economic downturns the industry and the country has ever seen.

DEX has the lowest employee turnover rate in the industry as many of its sales, administrative and service personnel have been with the company since its inception. This means there is a legacy of performance excellence that customers of DEX Imaging experience first-hand.

One of the reasons employees stay is that the company has created a business environment that promotes transparency and encourages everyone to succeed in what they do. The company’s profit-sharing program awards bonuses to employees who consistently achieve high levels of performance each year.

When employees join DEX, they go through a rigorous and comprehensive in-house training program that not only provides certification on the makes and models that DEX sells, but also the makes and models of all other manufacturers.

This creates the opportunity for customers to have one option that can service all their document-imaging assets. The company also has an inventory auto-replenishment system that keeps warehouses fully stocked at all times with equipment, parts and supplies.

But just as important as the company’s operational philosophies are its philanthropic efforts. DEX’s Charitable Outreach Program has donated millions of dollars to organizations ranging from schools to special-needs programs to at-risk child mentoring agencies.

Giving back creates stronger communities and helps the company take an active leadership role in making a difference in the place it calls home.

How to reach: DEX Imaging, www.deximaging.com

How Mark Montgomery surpassed a disadvantage to take Axium to new levels

Health Care

AWARD RECIPIENT 

Mark Montgomery
President and CEO
Axium Healthcare Pharmacy Inc.

Mark Montgomery knew it would be tough to launch a new business in a competitive market, but he also faced another disadvantage. Although he had become a successful entrepreneur, he did not have the scientific knowledge of clinical pharmacy — the specialty he wanted to enter.

Montgomery took the approach of being transparent in this disadvantage through his business ventures and by hiring highly educated and trained people who understood the technical aspects of clinical pharmacy, his disadvantage has not been an issue. Two years after beginning an executive consulting relationship with Axium’s owners, he was hired as president and CEO which included an ownership position.

With his “people first” mentality, he has taken risks that have led to rewards. Despite past deficits in cash flow, Montgomery has not sacrificed the quality of Axium employees and their benefits. He does not sacrifice quality over quantity as well as compensation.

Montgomery holds a high regard for the culture he has created and provides employees the resources necessary in the areas of IT, human resources, legal compliance and accounting. He values their expertise and this has led to the continued investment in his people. This reputation has attracted a seasoned member of the FDA among other highly trained clinical pharmacists.

His leadership abilities do not stop at the employee level; Montgomery seeks opportunities to expand through mergers and acquisitions. In December, Axium was purchased by the Kroger Co., the fifth largest pharmacy in the U.S. This transaction will help Kroger become a specialized pharmacy, while aiding in Axium’s geographical retail expansion.

Such a “big risk-big reward” approach has been the backbone of Axium. This knowledge of business and entrepreneurial tactics has overcome Montgomery’s lack of scientific pharmaceutical training and has lead Axium down the path of success.

As Montgomery’s manta says, “Success is measured by outcomes, and outcomes are attained through understanding and action.”

How to reach: Axium Healthcare Pharmacy Inc., www.axiumhealthcare.com

How John Kunkel used his restaurant industry experience to create critically acclaimed concepts at 50 Eggs Inc.

John Kunkel founder and CEO 50 Eggs Inc.

John Kunkel
founder and CEO
50 Eggs Inc.

Hospitality

AWARD RECIPIENT

John Kunkel
founder and CEO
50 Eggs Inc.

John Kunkel exaggerated his age to get his first job was as a dishwasher in a restaurant at age 15, but there was no exaggerating his can-do attitude and strong work ethic, which allowed him to escalate the ranks of the restaurant industry.

When Kunkel ventured out to open his own restaurant around the time he was 30 years old, he had succeeded at all positions within a restaurant, from line cook to dishwasher to general manager. By then, he was very much in tune with the industry and believed he had what it would take to develop and run his own concepts successfully.

With years of service and food industry experience under his belt, Kunkel was able to blend all his different learning’s into one cohesive plan when it came to creating the business model for Lime Fresh Mexican Grill, Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, Khong River House and Swine Southern Table & Bar, which all make up 50 Eggs Inc., a full-service creative firm focused on developing irrepressible brands within the entertainment and hospitality industries.

Kunkel, who is founder and CEO, knows the restaurant business has some of the highest failure rates of any business. From the beginning, he had to have a strong vision which needed to be executed to perfection. The greatest and still ongoing challenge for 50 Eggs has been growing from a one restaurant concept company to a multi-concept company.

In order to retain key employees, 50 Eggs supplements the industry standard with benefits and incentives such as performance bonuses.

Throughout this process, Kunkel has been an avid researcher to proactively learn from other operators’ and his own mistakes to ensure 50 Eggs expands the right way. Although challenging throughout, by developing the correct systems, processes and procedures at the outset, 50 Eggs has been able to grow in number of concepts and branch out into fine dining from fast casual. All of Kunkel’s concepts have received critical acclaim.

How to reach: 50 Eggs Inc., www.50eggs.com

How Jim Sartori and Jeff Schwager invest in the quality of Sartori cheese

Jim Sartori, CEO and owner, Sartori Co.

Jim Sartori, CEO and owner, Sartori Co.

 

Jeff Schwager, president, Sartori Co.

Jeff Schwager, president, Sartori Co.

Family Business Award of Excellence

WINNER

When the recent recession came around, Jim Sartori and Jeff Schwager decided not to participate. Rather, at their company Sartori Co. they continued to emphasize customer focus, cheese quality and reinvestment, all of which have enabled Sartori to prosper.

Schwager considers the significant growth of Sartori, including its retail presence, to be one of the more significant future challenges as well. Devising and installing the infrastructure to match the company’s growth has been and will continue to be a challenge, but the pair has plans in place to invest in quality, team development, leadership training, and modernization and expansion of key facilities.

Sartori believes strongly in leading by example and in employee empowerment rather than the controlled direction of his team members. This enables him to work with his teams in pursuit of their mission to make the “best artisan cheese in the world.”

The concept of “family” permeates throughout and is the key driver of the core values maintained at the company – family, integrity, ingenuity, commitment, authenticity and humility.

Sartori encourages his team members to suggest and pursue opportunities, which has enabled the business to grow.

The retail segment is flourishing at Sartori. The cheese needs to be of a high quality, requiring an aging schedule anywhere from one to two years and a highly innovative team of master cheesemakers. In addition, there needs to be a strong marketing and branding campaign led by a top-notch sales team.

These efforts require a highly risky and significant capital outlay as the team tries to estimate retail cheese demand at least one year or more in the future.

When it comes to specialty cheeses, the risk is amplified by the lack of an outlet market that classic cheeses such as parmesan and asiago enjoy. Needless to say, the investment has proven to be the lucrative opportunity that Sartori and Schwager envisioned.

How to reach: Sartori Co., www.sartoricheese.com

How Christian Beckett recruited a seasoned management team to garner success at start-up Pacific Drilling

Christian J .Beckett, CEO, Pacific Drilling

Christian J .Beckett, CEO, Pacific Drilling

Energy Services

FINALIST

Christian J. Beckett
CEO
Pacific Drilling 

Christian Beckett is the CEO of a start-up offshore drilling company that specializes in ultra-deep water drilling — one of only two drilling companies in the offshore drilling industry capable of drilling at those depths.

Beckett’s vision was to build an elite fleet of drilling ships that serviced only the biggest and most prestigious customers, providing the client with the most advanced equipment to produce efficiently and safely while providing a healthy return on investment to Pacific Drilling’s shareholders.

Beckett was the first employee of Pacific Drilling and was involved in selecting and recruiting each member of the management team. He recruited from the best in the industry as well as those from other professional backgrounds, building a team that was highly seasoned, well-rounded and had the ability to think outside the norm. He would be building a fledgling company into a major player in the market.

Beckett’s philosophy has allowed Pacific Drilling to have an international management team which averages more than 25 years of experience in the offshore drilling industry, which is no easy task for an upstart company.

Aside from staffing a new company, Beckett’s first and foremost difficulty to overcome was a lack of customers. He had to overcome the negativity and doubt from customers who had been in long-standing relationships with Pacific Drilling’s larger competitors. Beckett had experience on his side and his persistence with these potential customers eventually paid off securing the company’s first contract with Chevron.

Today, Pacific Drilling has a two-year backlog with a top-notch customer base including Chevron, Total and Petrobras. Beckett’s other challenge was to acquire the assets and the manpower to service its customers while growing the business.

He strategically planned growth, assessing when new assets would be ordered and delivered while securing contracts. Pacific Drilling went from 16 employees in 2008 to more than 1,100 employees in 2013.

How to reach: Pacific Drilling, www.pacificdrilling.com

How Amit Bhandari kept rising above every challenge to fulfill his dream with BioUrja Group

Amit Bhandari, founder, BioUrja Group

Amit Bhandari, founder, BioUrja Group

Distribution & Manufacturing

FINALIST

Amit Bhandari
Founder
BioUrja Group

Little has come easy in life for Amit Bhandari. He left his home in Indore, India, at the age of 17 to come to the United States and pursue the entrepreneurial instincts that were beginning to drive him.

Those instincts were strong, but they weren’t enough to prevent some tough times. Bhandari worked as a waiter to make ends meet as he attended school and got the education he needed to pursue his career path in the chemical engineering industry.

He also established a day care business, a real estate investment business and a convenience store along the way. All this time he was building up a cash reserve he would eventually use to start a company of his own.

He founded the BioUrja Group of companies in 2006, recognizing a need for a company that could address the significant logistical challenges oil companies and independent refiners face to reliably procure ethanol to meet federal mandates.

His keen eye for opportunity would serve him well as he continued to make wise decisions to build his presence in the industry. He took risks, including the mortgaging of his own home and use of his own personal funds to obtain a key strategic asset through a bankruptcy auction.

When those risks paid off, his company grew stronger.

Bhandari looks to build relationships with people to enable him to factor their perspective into those key decisions that need to be made. With everyone on the same page, execution becomes cleaner and efficiency increases, leading to an even stronger organization.

Through all the success, Bhandari has not forgotten the tough road he took to achieve success. He works hard to support mentoring programs that can help the next generation of talented leaders to get their chance to fulfill their potential and big dreams. And his staff is often right there by his side, reaffirming his instinct in developing great leaders.

How to reach: BioUrja Group, www.biourja.com

 

 

 

How Todd Berger fought skepticism to innovate Transportation Solutions Enterprises

Todd Berger, president and CEO, Transportation Solutions Enterprises

Todd Berger, president and CEO, Transportation Solutions Enterprises

Industrial and Distribution

FINALIST

Todd Berger first got a taste for the transportation and logistics industry as an intern for American Backhaulers — and it didn’t go well. He vowed to never work in that industry again.

After all, it was a time when pioneer companies like Google and Apple were the leaders of innovation, and in Berger’s words, the transportation and logistics industry “just wasn’t ‘sexy’ and lacked innovation, and I wanted to change that.”

Fortunately, Berger thought it over and came up with a different goal. He re-entered the industry in 2001, working as a dispatcher at Transportation Solutions Group. Berger recognized the need to anti-commoditize the business and proposed opening a trucking company to ensure TSG’s competitive position in the industry.

While management was skeptical of his venture with Berger being only 26, he created and began to operate Freight Exchange, a full truckload carrier that subsequently turned a profit in its first year of operations.

From that point on, a curious situation occurred. The more initial pushback he received from management, the better the final outcome. In 2009, Berger proposed his idea of 3PLogic, a contract logistics management provider that included customized software.  He again received criticism from management because 3PLogic required a significant capital investment for software to be developed and key personnel to be hired.

Berger was unfazed. He presented the idea to a current client — and the customer decided to fund a significant portion of the venture. 3PLogic now provides logistics services, technology solutions and consulting services, and is considered the strongest arm of the group.

Berger’s style is a trial-by-fire leadership philosophy that he applied early in his career and still follows today, believing that a leader can learn something new the same day that it is put into practice.

He also is always cognizant of demonstrating a strong sense of humility not only within his demeanor but throughout the operation of the business.

How to reach: Transportation Solutions Enterprise, www.tse-llc.com

Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year 2013 Gulf Coast Area judges

Gregory D. Brenneman, chairman, CCMP Capital Advisors, LLC

Gregory D. Brenneman, chairman, CCMP Capital Advisors, LLC

Shelaghmichael Brown,board member, Weingarten Realty Investors

Shelaghmichael Brown,board member, Weingarten Realty Investors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doug J. Erwin, chairman and managing director,Redhouse Associates

Doug J. Erwin, chairman and managing director,Redhouse Associates

 

Joe R. Fowler, president, Stress Engineering Services, Inc.

Joe R. Fowler, president, Stress Engineering Services, Inc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scott W. Smith, CEO, Vanguard Natural Resources

Scott W. Smith, CEO, Vanguard Natural Resources

Cindy B. Taylor, CEO, Oil States International

Cindy B. Taylor, CEO, Oil States International

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard E. Zuschlag, CEO, Acadian Ambulance Service

Richard E. Zuschlag, CEO, Acadian Ambulance Service