How Naomi Whittel took a trip to France and came home with the inspiration for a game-changing business idea

Naomi Whittel, CEO and founder, Reserveage Organics

Naomi Whittel, CEO and founder, Reserveage Organics

Emerging

AWARD RECIPIENT

Naomi Whittel
CEO and founder
Reserveage Organics

Naomi Whittel got the idea for Reserveage Organics while she was in the south of France contemplating the French paradox. It’s a belief many have that centers on findings showing the French have a relatively low rate of coronary heart disease despite a diet rich in saturated fats.

As she looked for clues, she began to research the benefits of daily consumption of red wine. This ultimately led her to develop exclusive relationships with seventh-generation organic vineyard farmers to purchase raw materials for a line of health and wellness products.

Whittel, the company’s CEO and founder, has built a sophisticated team of leaders and advisers to conduct research and get access to cutting-edge ingredients that can help people feel better and be healthier.

This team plays an integral role in the company’s operations, and leaders have the opportunity to make a difference on the front lines. When the company succeeds, Whittel wants her people to share in the glory.

One reason for this kind of culture is that Whittel knows what it’s like to have to fight for recognition. When she started the company, she was one of the few female CEOs in the health and wellness industry. She knew there would be challenges in marketing women, but also knew that it was crucial to the business. That was a driving factor in lining up female leadership to help guide her company.

Of course, there have been other challenges too. As more and more people become familiar with wellness products, the industry has become more scrutinized to ensure products are doing what they claim they can do. Whittel has a strong legal counsel on hand to advise her and to make sure that she never makes a false claim about one of Reserveage Organics’ products.

The result is a company that continues to grow and a culture that is thriving with new ideas and determination, limited only by the creativity of the people who work there.

How to reach: Reserveage Organics, www.reserveage.com

How Dominic Gallello turned around MSC Software to help the Mars Rover land on the red planet

Dominic Gallello, president and CEO, MSC Software Corp.

Dominic Gallello, president and CEO, MSC Software Corp.

Technology

FINALIST

In 2009, Dominic Gallello was tasked to turn around a company known for expensive and difficult-to-use software. The mismanaged and ailing MSC Software, founded in 1963 to assist with simulations for the space program, had not updated its products in far too long, customer churn rates were high, and there was no spark at the company.

Gallello set out to build and communicate to employees a comprehensive strategy framework that reduced general and administrative expenses from 19 to 11 percent in the first year. He cut $40 million from operating expenses in his first two years. Gallello expanded R&D by 40 percent, brought on more than 40 doctorate-degreed employees through hiring and acquisition, and initiated the development of a next generation computer aided engineering (CAE) system to be brought to market this year.

In less than five years as CEO and president, the company has embraced his vision, and his team is highly motivated to develop the solutions for existing and new customers. At MSC, he leveraged the synergy between the improved morale and the new technology to help customers change the world — which is precisely what the company is doing: The company was instrumental in simulations of the entry descent and landing for the Mars Rover Curiosity mission.

Gallello introduced a culture of “You never stop learning at MSC.” He encouraged managers and individual contributors to pursue professional development and funded their efforts.

He started a high-potential employee program (“Managing your Career”) to build future leaders and a management development program (“Managing by Influence”). Gallello believes that personal success should be celebrated, but must also come with responsibility.

He and his family have personally funded construction of five orphanages in Romania in the past five years and they call more than 100 children their own. Gallello also is funding the development of a farm in Romania for teenagers who cannot find jobs after high school.

How to reach: MSC Software Corp., www.mscsoftware.com

How Zachary Boca and Dan Ushman went from chat room buddies to partners and founded SingleHop

Daniel Ushman, co-founder, SingleHop

Daniel Ushman, co-founder, SingleHop

 

Zachary Boca, co-founder, SingleHop

Zachary Boca, co-founder, SingleHop

Private Equity/Venture Capital Backed

FINALIST

Zachary Boca and Dan Ushman were chat room buddies on AOL at age 13 — little did they know then that they would later collaborate on a cloud computing startup company, SingleHop.

They shared interests at that young age and continued to stay in touch as they worked toward developing their own businesses. Later as partners, they put their heart and soul into the success of SingleHop.

SingleHop is a leading global provider of hosted IT infrastructure and cloud computing. Over the last decade, clients all over the world have been choosing SingleHop for its speedy blend of automation and service.

As a result, both men have seen triple and double digit percentage revenue growth for SingleHop since inception. But maintaining these record-breaking benchmarks is no easy task. They are also cognizant of growing too quickly for their own good and have focused on sustainable growth going forward by expanding their customer base but staying true to their original concept of highly automated cloud computing services.

Hiring the right people for the right teams allows Boca and Ushman to let go of the reins a little when it comes to managing the company. They believe that they have allowed their employees to have a vested interest in the shared success of the company. They both have made an effort of employing highly qualified individuals that keep the hosting process at the forefront of changing technological advancements.

With teams that are a good mix and balance of seasoned professionals who bring insight from other experiences and new talent that has innovative vision and hunger for success, the recipe is bringing positive results.

Boca and Ushman construct a yearly plan for SingleHop, which is built from the bottom up and requires each department to contribute its own ideas for continued growth. This culture allows everyone to contribute to the entrepreneurial efforts and encourages ownership and transparency across all levels of the organization.

How to reach: SingleHop, www.singlehop.com

How Crystal Culbertson finds a way to help her clients every time at Crystal Clear Technologies

Crystal Culbertson, CEO, Crystal Clear Technologies

Crystal Culbertson, CEO, Crystal Clear Technologies

Technology

FINALIST

Crystal Culbertson
CEO
Crystal Clear Technologies

Crystal Culbertson had launched a successful business, but there was something missing that would make Crystal Clear Technologies even better. Culbertson decided she needed to begin performing the services that she was selling in order to bring the consulting firm to its full potential.

So she and her husband, who was also the company’s president, brought services in house. It wasn’t easy and the Culbertsons had to raise some of the money for the firm by borrowing against their own property. But the risk paid off, despite a lot of sleepless nights.

CCT provides IT services to the military and government and advises companies seeking help through federal procurement policies. As you might expect when doing business in the government sector, there can be a lot of obstacles to work through. But Culbertson, the company’s CEO, has proven to be effective at making sense of it all and helping her business stay ahead of the curve.

She’s even shown a willingness to take a loss to help her customers when they really need it. It was March 2010 when CCT sent eight employees to Japan to install a secure broadband network at Kadena Air Base. The company had $1 million of supplies en route just as a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck the island country.

Shipping delays ensued and additional time was needed to locate supplies. But word of the cooperation and willingness of her people to find a way to make it all work spread quickly to others and opened the doors to new projects opportunities for CCT.

The drive and determination Culbertson showed to be there for her clients when they needed her most have been key factors in the company’s success. The company continues to grow and has reached a point where potential buyers have approached Culbertson. But the strong commitment she has for her people has kept her from seriously considering any of these offers.

How to reach: Crystal Clear Technologies, www.crystalcleartec.com

How the An family turned despair into opportunity with House of An

Helene An, executive chef

Helene An, executive chef, House of An

 

Elizabeth An, managing partner, House of An

Elizabeth An, managing partner, House of An

Hannah An, managing partner, House of An

Hannah An, managing partner, House of An

 

Catherine An, managing partner, House of An

Catherine An, managing partner, House of An

 

Monique An, managing partner, House of An

Monique An, managing partner, House of An

 

Jacqueline An, managing partner, House of An

Jacqueline An, managing partner, House of An

Family Business Award of Excellence

WINNER

When Helene An arrived in San Francisco in 1975 she had little more than memories to cling to. The fall of Saigon in her native Vietnam had forced An and her daughters to flee the country and come to the U.S.

Despite the hardships, they brought with them a strong spirit of determination to get back on their feet and find success. They would get their chance at an Italian deli that Helene’s mother-in-law Diana had purchased four years earlier while vacationing in San Francisco.

Most of the patrons to the deli had never experienced Vietnamese food, so Helene kept the Italian menu and slowly began to introduce patrons to Vietnamese cuisine. She would offer her favorite dishes for free, urging her patrons to “try this delicious food from my home country.”

Seeing how her customers loved pasta, she created her own version of Vietnamese spaghetti with garlic. It became one of her trademarks which she named An’s Famous Garlic Noodles.

Eventually, the deli became Thanh Long and is known as being the first Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco. Today, the An family owns and operates five restaurants and a catering division. Each location offers a unique dining experience that complements the restaurant’s cuisine.

In 2007, the An family was inducted into the Vietnamese-American Wing of the Smithsonian Institute for being one of the first to bring Vietnamese cuisine to mainstream America.

While Helene serves as executive chef at House of An, her five daughters are managing partners. Catherine, Elizabeth, Hannah, Monique and Jacqueline each oversee part of the company’s operations. Catherine focuses specifically on the catering operations and is also the brainchild behind the An’s newest eco-chic concept, Tiato Kitchen Bar Garden + Venue.

As the great-grandchildren of Diana An now begin to learn the business, the future seems very bright for the House of An, and the fourth generation that will one day lead the way.

How to reach: House of An, www.houseofan.com

How going on their own with @properties was the right decision for Michael Golden and Thaddeus Wong

Thaddeus Wong, co-founder, @properties

Thaddeus Wong, co-founder, @properties

Services

WINNER

Michael Golden, co-founder, @properties

Michael Golden, co-founder, @properties

Michael Golden and Thaddeus Wong were top producers at a small brokerage firm when they took a leap of faith and founded their own company, the real estate firm @properties, after being dissatisfied with the service and support they received from their sponsoring broker.

The new company first started selling new construction, but expanded into existing home sales within the first few years. Over the next 12 years, Golden and Wong lead the four-person enterprise to become the largest real estate brokerage firm in Chicago and one of the 35 largest in the country —  with much of the growth occurring during the recent housing market crisis.

The pair took a big financial risk to start @properties, being owed $1.5 million in commissions, which never were paid, by the previous firm. Foregoing a salary at first, Golden and Wong kept a tight budget and reinvested back into @properties. Their first payday finally came after two years when their initial client transitioned to, and completed, a high-rise development.

With that success in hand, and a strategy to expand despite the market crisis, Golden and Wong over the last five years has opened six new offices and more than doubled the number of Realtors from December 2006 to today.

The adoption of a conservative mentality through the expansion of the business has been a key factor to the company’s success. For instance, while many other real estate brokerage firms have extravagant offices, @properties has much simpler facilities. The company has invested the monies that could have been used for a more lavish office into employee resources.

Golden and Wong have studied opportunities for expansion, but want to grow strategically. They have and will continue to consider acquisitions but do not see an immediate need to acquire other firms, especially when they have been consistently drawing agents from other firms to work for @properties.

How to reach: @properties, www.atproperties.com

How Loren Bendele got his dream of running a business with Savings.com — and an office dog, too

Loren Bendele, president and co-founder, Savings.com

Loren Bendele, president and co-founder, Savings.com

Financial Services

FINALIST

Loren Bendele has been an entrepreneur from the day he started selling Blow Pops out of his backpack at school. His mother and father owned a popcorn and yogurt shop, and Bendele would buy the Pops wholesale to sell to fellow students. It was a profitable venture until he was asked to stop by his teachers.

But Bendele’s career in business had begun.

In 2007, Savings.com was Bendele’s effort to build an online coupon site that built consumer trust with coupon codes that always work. He put in the time building relationships with bloggers who could create buzz for his business and with companies who wanted to offer their coupons on his site.

Bendele’s ability to relate to people and build those strong relationships is due at least in part to his time spent as a stand-up comedian. While it’s not a path many leaders follow to business success, being up on stage helped him develop his storytelling skills and his ability to read people.

One of his keys to attracting customers and quality employees alike is not only a belief in his self and what he is selling, but the ability to get his audience to believe, too.

Bendele didn’t have a crystal-clear vision of what his business was ultimately going to look like, but he knew he wanted great people and an office dog. A sign hanging on the office door that says “Dog on premises” and the smiling faces on the people who work at Savings.com indicate he has met those goals.

But Bendele is not satisfied with what he has achieved to this point. He is developing a grocery application that would be available on all smartphones. It would allow consumers to walk into a grocery store and look up the best deals within the grocery store as well as download any available coupons.

Bendele is hopeful that within five years, Savings.com will be the most dominant player in grocery couponing.

How to reach: Savings.com, www.savings.com

How Moctesuma Esparza built a business he could be proud of with Maya Cinemas North America

Moctesuma Esparza, founder and CEO, Maya Cinemas North America, Inc.

Moctesuma Esparza, founder and CEO, Maya Cinemas North America, Inc.

Media

WINNER

If you saw a movie script that detailed the life of Moctesuma Esparza, you would never believe that it was historically accurate. Esparza was a leading activist and organizer in the Chicano movement of the 1960s, fighting for civil rights and equality for Mexican-Americans.

His involvement left him at one point indicted and facing life in prison for being an organizer of the revolution. But within two years of having the charges dropped, Esparza had not only turned things around, he was working in the West Wing of the White House with security clearance.

Having overcome those kinds of odds, Esparza might have been on easy street with the launch of a multiplex theater chain. But he has worked hard to ensure Maya Cinemas North America, Inc. is all about quality.

His passion is not in day-to-day management, but rather in bringing an idea to life. So he spends a great deal of time working on developing business strategies, identifying new locations to expand into and then getting that location off the ground.

Esparza has also been a leader in raising new market tax credits since part of his strategy is to target markets that other movie theater companies are reluctant to enter. In order to succeed, he hired a dedicated and highly involved president and COO, Frank Haffer, to manage long-term operations and hired strong local managers to run his multiplexes.

Esparza is admired by colleagues for his innate ability to persuade and inspire. He recognizes and rewards individuals who contribute to the company’s vision while giving managers the freedom to perform their jobs how they see fit.

Esparza hasn’t forgotten where he came from. He launched an innovative program that gives patrons the opportunity to round up their purchase to the next dollar and have the money donated to a local college scholarship fund that will be restricted to students within a designated area.

How to reach: Maya Cinemas North America, Inc., www.mayacinemas.com

How Scott Law founded Zotec to provide a simpler way to handle medical billing

T. Scott Law, founder and CEO, Zotec Partners

T. Scott Law, founder and CEO, Zotec Partners

Health Care

FINALIST

T. Scott Law saw the trends developing as medical billing continued to get more and more complicated. Thinking there had to be a better way he set out to improve the medical delivery process for medical practices by founding Zotec Partners in 1998 as a solution.

Now, insurance submissions and rejection appeals, which in the past had taken upwards of 13 minutes to prepare, can be completed more accurately in seconds using Zotec’s advanced Electronic Billing Center software programming and client-focused support personnel.

Zotec has functioned as both a software licensor and a billing service provider, though these two arms originally operated independently. Clients could choose to only license the software, or they could also choose to partner with Zotec’s billing services team.

After working under this model for many years, Law recognized that there was room for improvement. Clients that chose only to license the EBC software were not achieving the level of efficiency he knew could be reached by Zotec’s services team.

Relying on a billing team at Law’s small start-up company that had yet to build a recognizable brand was understandably not palatable for clients. They were comfortable using the EBC software, but Law felt there was a greater method to help improve client bottom lines.

Over time, Zotec has earned its clients’ trust, primarily due to Law’s continual focus on providing a quality software product and personalized experience. In 2007, Law believed that his company had generated enough credibility and was ready to be taken in a completely new direction. He shifted Zotec to a “bundle” approach, where clients could no longer license the software separately from the service.

By providing a bundled offering with consultative services included, all clients now have access to an experienced billing expert who can provide guidance and support.

Customer reaction to this has been extremely positive, and client bottom-lines improved dramatically as a result.

How to reach: Zotec Partners, www.zotecpartners.com

How Jim Beck got Nature’s Best back on track to serve its target audience

Jim Beck, president and CEO, Nature's Best

Jim Beck, president and CEO, Nature’s Best

Family Business Category

Finalist

All was not well at Nature’s Best in 2005 when Jim Beck stepped into the role of CEO. The company’s CEO had stepped down from the family run business because of a clash with the owner, who happened to be his mother, about the future of the business.

Operations had become very expensive and the company had cut ties with Whole Foods, which made up 36 percent of the company’s revenue. Beck had been with the company focusing on IT development, but he had not previously been part of any discussion about strategy and leadership.

It wasn’t going to be easy, but as it turned out, severing the relationship with Whole Foods was actually a good thing for the company’s future. The relationship was no longer profitable for Nature’s Best and the break allowed the company to establish itself as a key distributor for independent health food stores.

Another challenge was to redesign the company’s production line and implement new software as well as consolidate operations into one building.

When all was said and done, Nature’s Best became much more efficient and was better positioned to expand into new markets and open new distribution centers.

As the company continued to evolve and even create its own brand, Beck made sure that his people felt like part of the growth. That was a key motivating factor behind his support of Greener Initiatives, a program that started as a grassroots co-op dedicated to providing healthy food for employees, their families and customers. Beck doesn’t want employees to see their work as just a job, but as an opportunity to make a difference and put their unique talents to use.

One of Beck’s next major goals is to expand eastward by acquiring a gourmet food company on the East Coast and propel his company to even greater heights.

How to reach: Nature’s Best, www.naturesbest.net