2015 Entrepreneur Of The Year® — Gulf Coast Area


Each year in June, EY celebrates entrepreneurial leaders across the country as part of the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® Awards. This year marks the 29th year in which EY has recognized those leaders. Over 29 years, we’ve learned that entrepreneurial leaders are a little different from the rest of us. They take risks that most would not and change the way things are done.

This year’s program has again noted the same qualities. The finalists this year boldly innovate where established companies fear to tread, adapt to difficult situations while others faded away and reinvent where others continue the status quo. They changed the game. This is why this year the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® Gulf Coast Area Program is called “Game Changers.” There is no other place in the country where entrepreneurial innovation and leadership are accepted and supported, no matter the entrepreneur’s background. We have continually seen significant, innovative strides throughout a variety of industries in the Gulf Coast area, as represented by our group of finalists this year.

EY has been recognizing these risk-taking visionaries for 29 years and, over that time, has recognized more than 10,000 entrepreneurial men and women. The EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Award® has grown to be recognized as the leading business award. While EY is proud of this accomplishment, the credit goes to the thousands of entrepreneurial leaders that have been recognized over the years. The fact that the program has endured and grown for more than 29 years is a true testament to the entrepreneurial leaders themselves.

The program celebrates entrepreneurial leaders in 25 U.S. regions each year. The regional award recipients then participate in the National Entrepreneur Of The Year® Awards in November in Palm Springs, California. At that ceremony, 11 award winners are selected, and one is chosen as the overall EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® National Award recipient. That winner will then participate in the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Awards in Monte Carlo, along with award recipients from 60 other countries. This truly is the world’s business award.

The EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® National Awards gala is the culminating event for the four-day EY Strategic Growth Forum®, which had roughly 2,000 participants last year. This is the only event of its kind that is focused on the CEOs of companies. The panelists and speakers are unparalleled and in the past have included special guests such as George W. Bush, former president of the United States; Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and CEO of GE; and Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group. This year the speakers include Meg Whitman, chairman, president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard; Fisk Johnson, chairman and CEO of SC Johnson; Charles Koch, chairman and CEO of Koch Industries; Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to Bush; and Michael Strahan, Pro Football Hall of Famer and broadcaster.

We are honored to present the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® Gulf Coast Area Awards and to recognize the entrepreneurial leaders of the past, present and future in the Gulf Coast. These game changers have a big role in keeping this the greatest country in the world to do business.






Todd Zuspan
partner, Ernst & Young LLP
director, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® Gulf Coast Area Program

2015 Entrepreneur Of The Year Gulf Coast Area

Quick links:

Business Services: Louis Flory, Effex Management Solutions | Larry Browne, Diligent Delivery Systems | George Pilko, Pilko & Associates | Jose Lozano, The Company of Others

Energy: John Walker, EnerVest, Ltd. | Ed Tinsley, Bernhard Energy/TME | Michael Burrow, Burrow Global, LLC | Brent Leftwich, Contract Land Staff | Troy Collins, Quality Companies

Energy Related Products: Donald Young, Hoover Group, Inc. | John Chisholm, Flotek Industries, Inc. | Benjamin Cowart, Vertex Energy, Inc. | Will Perry, Worldwide Power Products

Energy Services: Kevin McEvoy, Oceaneering International, Inc. | Vinita Gupta, Apex Resources, Inc. | Michael Cokinos, Cokinos Energy Corporation | Dilip Bhargave, SDB Trade International, LP

Health Care: Dr. Setul Patel, Neighbors Health System, Inc. | Katy Caldwell, Legacy Community Health Services, Inc. | Bruce Gingrich, Lifechek Drug | Joseph Freudenberger, OakBend Medical Center | Taseer Badar, ZT Wealth & Altus Health Group of Companies

Industrial & Construction Services: Mike Appling, Jr., TNT Crane & Rigging, Inc. | Bill Sims, Accent Wire | Mike Donovan, Heat Transfer Solutions | Brian Fielkow, Jetco Delivery | Marc Jones, Sunpro Solar

Products & Services: Richard “Gordy” Bunch, The Woodlands Financial Group |Kyle McDonald, Argent Financial Group | J.H. “Jay” Campbell, Jr., Associated Grocers, Inc. | Ken Beaver, McCoy-Rockford, Inc. | Dennis Stine, Stine Lumber Company

Technology: Andres Reiner PROS, Inc.| Chris Pace, Centre Technologies | Richard Wolfe, Empyrean Benefit Solutions | Gerard Gibert, Venture Technologies

Transformational CEO: Brad Childers, Exterran

Family Business: Sean Reilly, Lamar Advertising Company

Business Services

Effex Management Solutions, Award Recipient






Louis Flory


Effex Management Solutions


Louis Flory founded Effex Management Solutions, a contingent workforce staffing firm, in 2007. The success and growth of the company are the direct result of Flory’s vision to improve the flaws he saw in the industry.

The typical staffing agency model is based on establishing as many branches as possible in areas that have the most clients and applicants. This, however, can lead to sales representatives calling the same clients for the same services in the same markets, making competition come down to price. A transient business by nature, Flory found that applicants were treated as commodities by both the clients and the agency.

As CEO, he established Effex as a means to absolve manufacturing companies of poor attendance, high turnover, mediocre employee performance and long cycle times, all of which contribute to inefficient production lines and increased labor spending. The company starts by looking for applicants and clients that want some certainty among the workforce — as opposed to applicants looking to fill one or two spots at a time for a short duration — focusing on companies with workforce needs of 250 or more. Effex handles the recruiting, training and labor management, and is paid by the billable hour, partnering with clients to reduce billable time. The company has an implementation team that goes on-site for 60 days and hires permanent managers who train and build a unique program designed for the specific needs of the client. This has led to a proven track record of reduced turnover, increased productivity and reduced labor spend.

The infrastructure for Flory’s business is low cost — he has one corporate office and operates in 28 markets. He relies on his reputation, brand identity and a focused, hardworking staff to continue to grow his business.

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Diligent Delivery Systems, finalist






Larry Browne

president and CEO

Diligent Delivery Systems


In the 1970s and 1980s, Larry Browne was directing a parts department for a car dealership managing millions of dollars in inventory. He didn’t, however, have the discretion to choose the drivers responsible for delivering the parts and decided to hire independent contractors. The result was a cooperative with other dealerships, which created a delivery route model that changed the way auto parts were delivered across Texas.

In the mid-1990s, Browne left the dealership, and along with a few partners, worked on refining his model. The operation was called DSI, and it quickly grew to require more partners and drivers. The success led to franchises throughout the country.

Browne worked to evolve from the single dedicated fleet model, changed the company’s name and adopted a new mission and vision. Today, Diligent Delivery Systems, with Browne as president and CEO, provides delivery solutions in 35 states and globally with 22 entities.

Diligent is a management-owned company that has succeeded in growing with no private equity or other investor capital — it carries no bank debt. The company has started a hot shot service and is now offering cartage, pick-up and delivery, freight forwarding, air freight, less-than-truckload and full-truckload shipping, and ocean transport.

Browne is regarded as a bold, caring and affable leader who is genuinely interested in trying to help the people around him. He stresses the importance of making his employees happy. To reinforce the culture of trust and support, Diligent has implemented a Marketplace Chaplain program, wherein chaplains visit the locations to help employees and contractors with any issues they may be facing, without a religious overtone. It is a hugely popular benefit and highly regarded internally.

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Pilko & Associates, finalist






George Pilko


Pilko & Associates


Pilko & Associates, founded by George Pilko, is a leading international advisory firm with senior-level advisers in 32 different countries across six continents. Pilko, chairman, believes strongly that individuals and organizations can overcome adversity and even thrive in the face of challenges. In business, he has reinvented his company and drastically changed its business model several times during difficult economic periods that caused a collapse in his primary market.

Founded during the global downturn in the petrochemical industry in the 1980s, Pilko recognized that he needed to reinvent the company and refocus its services, marketing and staff. Although the company has weathered some severe storms over the years, the organization has been profitable every year since its inception.

Pilko’s philosophy is that the company should strive to be the leading advisory firm in two or three narrowly focused niches. As a result of that focused approach, 90 percent of the firm’s consulting fees are sole-sourced.

Another of Pilko & Associates’ unique strategies involves utilizing multiple senior-level advisers and giving them the flexibility to choose their assignments. These individuals have had long and successful careers, primarily working for multinational energy and chemical companies. They have strong reputations within the industry and a deep passion for delivering business results. They also enjoy having the freedom to work when they want. The end result is that clients have access to world-class advice that is unavailable elsewhere, while its advisers have the flexibility they desire.

A side benefit of its staffing model is that the company does not have the burden of full-time salaries for most of its consulting team, which helps keep costs manageable during slow periods, allowing Pilko & Associates to remain profitable.

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The Company of Others, finalist






Jose Lozano


The Company of Others


When Jose Lozano took over as CEO at The Company of Others, major restructuring occurred at every level. He and his partners changed everything — the structure, staff, product, process and revenue models.

The advertising agency sought to help clients identify future opportunities and uncover critical insights with the help of a global coalition of Others — an alliance of business and cultural influencers who are defining trends in technology, data, food, fashion, music, film and science. These experts help The Company of Others tie clients’ brands into what’s relevant today, and predict where trends are heading three-to-five years out.

The Others collaboration changed how the agency drives business innovation and strategy, causing a shift from mining data — representative of trends that had virtually already come and gone — to tapping into real-time insights.

The other key differentiating component is the holistic approach The Company of Others takes to solving clients’ business pains. Lozano recognizes that decisions made in marketing directly affect sales and innovation. Through his leadership, The Company of Others’ departments work together with the people defining the forefront of culture, as well as with clients’ marketing, R&D, sales and operations teams to create solutions that enable clients to lead as organizations, not just as marketers.

A significant financial commitment by Lozano and his partners was involved with the shift to The Company of Others. It also required travel, long hours and the need to constantly sell and resell the model both internally and externally to make the company successful. And it’s paid off with an increase in revenue and the growth of its core client base.

Lozano and The Company of Others continue to add core capabilities to be able to create relevance for clients now and in the future. Specifically, The Company of Others recently added demand generation experts to its staff to supplement its clients’ investments in marketing automation platforms.

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EnerVest, Ltd., Award Recipient






John Walker


EnerVest, Ltd.


John Walker’s high standards and experience — he’s been through six downturns in the energy industry and is currently facing a seventh — have been a major factor in making EnerVest, Ltd., a dealer of oil and natural gas acquisitions and divestitures, the company it is today.

EnerVest is a private oil and natural gas company, and EV Energy Partners is a publicly traded master limited partnership. When Walker created EnerVest, it had only one investor and took two years to make its first acquisition. The company’s early buy, develop and sell model meant it wasn’t able to maintain positions in key oil and natural gas basins, and its employee count cycled up and down.

In 2006, Walker, CEO, created EVEP with a buy and hold model as a complement to EnerVest. EVEP has purchased assets directly from EnerVest and has made joint acquisitions with the company, which has resulted in larger acquisitions and the creation of core positions in key basins while stabilizing the employee base. That’s helped to make EnerVest one of the 25 largest oil and gas companies in the U.S., with more than 36,000 wells across 15 states and 6 million acres under lease.

Walker has assembled a team that complements the fast-paced deal-making environment. Each member has a long history in the oil and gas industry and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the job. With a focus on process innovation, the company’s team of geophysicists, geologists and engineers are always looking to improve processes to achieve efficiency and manage exploration risks by identifying and focusing on relatively larger plays in low-cost regions.

As EnerVest continues to grow, the company works to maintain the entrepreneurial spirit that has helped it earn its reputation as a solid energy company with exceptional talent.

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Bernhard Energy/TME, finalist






Ed Tinsley


Bernhard Energy/TME


Ed Tinsley is the CEO of Bernhard Energy/TME, a company designed to provide turnkey energy consulting services to large institutional customers that are looking to operate in an energy-efficient manner. The company helps institutional building owners and operators reduce the total cost of facility ownership by addressing an entire facility’s energy infrastructure system from original concept to demolition or repurposing. By focusing on the total cost of ownership, Bernhard becomes a partner in facility management and cost reduction.

In some cases, Bernhard will own the assets and lease the complete energy services to the customer.

One challenge the company faces is the integration of its many operations. Since Tinsley-Mullen Engineers, a company Tinsley co-founded, merged with the Bernhard Companies, the suite of services that Bernhard Energy provides requires contributions from the other Bernhard operating companies, including Bernhard Mechanical, EP Breaux Electrical and TME.

While each company has its own unique culture, they have the same owner/advocacy mentality that emphasizes doing what is best for the customer. That mentality has helped establish an ethical culture in which employees are committed to doing what is right for the customer and the company.

The most difficult challenge is quickly developing the bandwidth to meet the massive need for financial analysis services. The market has overwhelmed the company with demand, which has made managing growth difficult. Bernhard is working to demonstrate that it can provide these services that result in cost reductions and energy efficiency on a consistent basis.

Bernhard is projecting the rapid growth it has experienced to continue for the next two to three years, eventually leading to a successful IPO.

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Burrow Global, LLC, finalist






Michael Burrow

chairman and CEO

Burrow Global, LLC


Michael Burrow, known as an astute business leader, turnaround and integration specialist who has overseen more than 31 acquisitions during his career, retired in 2007. Two years later, during a time when the engineering, procurement and construction sectors were at rock bottom, he came out of retirement to start Burrow Global, LLC. With a focus on fast growth to achieve critical mass and geographic diversity, he acquired four companies that he consolidated, rebranded and grew.

Not all went well with Burrow’s return, however. Three years into his new venture, outside auditors found issues with fixed price work, leading to the discovery of cover-ups, fraud and theft. Burrow, chairman and CEO, took immediate action by informing his lenders, suppliers and clients while simultaneously assigning a key manager to get control of the situation from inside the company.

Moving forward, Burrow is focused on re-growing the company. Burrow Global Construction is recognized by clients in the oil fields of South Texas as one of the safest and best contractors in that area. Burrow Global Services continues to grow and make profits throughout the parent company’s turnaround and is rapidly gaining market share.

Burrow differentiates the company by recruiting top talent in automation specialties and employing top management. He shares 20 percent of pretax income with key employees and incentivizes top talent with stock options. Burrow Global has a diversified client base and the company is also diversified along business lines, contributing to greater sustainability.

Recently, the company has experienced great success by switching its emphasis to increase market share in the robust downstream market of chemicals and refining.

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Contract Land Staff, finalist






Brent Leftwich

president and CEO

Contract Land Staff


Brent Leftwich began Contract Land Staff in 1985 with an aging typewriter and a used truck as capital. Since then, the company has become a leader in the nation’s niche industry of right of way and land management.

Following steady growth since its inception, the company nearly doubled in size every two years beginning in the 1990s. By mid-2002, with lenders reluctant to fund new pipeline projects, Leftwich, president and CEO, put up his own savings, home equity, 401(k), insurance policies, credit cards and even gave up his salary for a few years to sustain the company.

In late 2004, a resurgence of energy project work began and CLS became actively engaged in high-profile projects. With deals locked in to provide right of way and land management services to massive pipeline and electric transmission projects around the country, CLS began looking for capital to spur further growth. With a roster of Fortune 100 corporate clients, CLS caught the eye of a private equity firm and the two companies wrapped up a deal in 2008 that gave the company a majority stake in CLS, leaving Leftwich and family a 22 percent stake.

With an eye toward innovation, Leftwich has led CLS to invest heavily in Geographic Information Systems, an integrated technology solution for capturing, managing, analyzing and displaying geographically referenced information. GIS allows the company and its clients to view data relationships and trends in the form of maps, reports and charts. Today, the company has taken that technology one step further, creating its own GIS® Viewer, and has built a fully staffed GIS team to support value-added GIS services.

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Quality Companies, finalist






Troy Collins


Quality Companies


Troy Collins is the CEO of Quality Companies, a business founded on the idea of putting people first. Employees enjoy a family atmosphere and open-door policy throughout the company, and Collins’ commitment to his employees and customers has helped drive excellent service and strong working relationships with all his employees, vendors and customers.

The company attributes its low turnover rate to its family atmosphere. The company has avoided broad layoffs during market downturns because it prioritizes loyalty to its employees over short-term profitability.

One of Troy’s workplace philosophies is that no one employee has greater value than another, regardless of their position in the company. Plans for continued success are founded upon management working to strengthen and invest in people.

The company has also worked to develop its business offerings. It started as Quality Production & Construction in December 2001, and over time it expanded its service offerings and diversified geographically. Today, Quality considers itself a one-stop shop with diversified offerings through Quality Construction & Production, LLC, Quality Production Management, LLC and Traco Production Services, Inc. Having several offerings is a point of strength for the business, which includes divisions of both onshore and offshore construction, scaffolding, blasting, repair and maintenance, and fabrication.

Quality has built its business by putting its employees in the best position to produce quality work while maintaining the best working conditions. The company boasts an impressive safety record, and invests in training employees to both perform their jobs safely and in a manner that instills long-term trust. It also works to build trust with its customers by maintaining consistent quality service.

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Energy Related Products

Hoover Group, Inc., Award Recipient






Donald Young

chairman and CEO

Hoover Group, Inc.


In his seven years with Hoover Group, Inc., Chairman and CEO Donald Young has turned a struggling domestic-only business with one product into a leading, worldwide tank and container company with multiple products and services.

After taking over the century old manufacturing company, Young moved it towards a rental and service model with multiple locations to better serve its customers.

Having sold three of its four divisions and struggling due to a lack of unique offerings, the company tripped a financial covenant with its bank and was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Young, looking to stay solvent, reduced overhead by consolidating the company’s three-city operation to Houston. He also removed several employees within the organization who were spoiling the company’s culture.

After steadying the ship and executing a management buyout, he developed a three-pronged growth strategy. That included expanding its range of products, improving the range of services to better support those products and pursuing international growth.

To supplement its strategy, Young has led the company into acquisitions over the past six years that have added to Hoover’s arsenal of product and service capabilities while giving it global reach. In 2012, Hoover acquired Consult Supply A/S, based in Stavanger, Norway, which provides an extensive range of products in the North Sea market. The next year, Hoover acquired Dolphin Energy Equipment LLC, a leading provider of cargo and waste management rental equipment and related consumables in the Gulf of Mexico region. That same year, Hoover acquired Container Company (Aberdeen), a leading provider of cargo carrying units in the North Sea. The company also expanded organically with facilities in Brazil, Malaysia, Australia and United Arab Emirates.

Today, Hoover is one of the only worldwide companies to offer a full range of cargo carrying units including chemical, cargo and waste management products.

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Flotek Industries, Inc., finalist






John Chisholm

chairman, president and CEO

Flotek Industries, Inc.


When John Chisholm assumed the role as president of Flotek Industries, Inc., in August 2009, the company was on the brink of insolvency. He quickly assembled a team of industry veterans and developed a plan that focused on future opportunities.

Chisholm led Flotek, a multi-segment oil field service company with a focus on drilling tool rentals and production equipment, to increase spending on both theoretical and applied chemistry research. He oversaw the assembly of a technical sales and marketing team with decades of experience selling technology into the oil field, and vertically integrated Flotek’s supply chain to secure critical raw materials for its chemistry through the acquisition of a leading processor of citrus oil. He also led Flotek to acquire a small, privately held company that discovered the initial chemistry system that has evolved into Flotek’s patented nano-Fluid™ suite of completion chemistries.

Under Chisholm’s leadership as chairman, president and CEO, the company developed a significant competitive advantage through the creation of FracMax™, Flotek’s patent-pending software application that shows the empirical benefit of Flotek’s CnF® completion chemistries.

Looking for a way to create a compelling message regarding the economic advantages of Flotek’s chemistry, Chisholm turned to an econometric professional and designed a method to collect public completion input data and compare it to public production data to determine where Flotek’s chemistry provides benefits to exploration and production companies. Through the use of an analytical tool developed by Chisholm and the Flotek econometrics team, Flotek’s data indicate that, in Texas alone, oil and gas producers that have used Flotek’s CnF chemistry have added over $8 billion in production value for their owners.

Through the deployment of FracMax and additional data collection and analysis in the U.S., Canada and other international markets, the company is hoping the compelling benefits of Flotek’s chemistries will become ubiquitously understood, leading to additional market opportunities around the globe.

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Vertex Energy, Inc., finalist






Benjamin Cowart

chairman and CEO

Vertex Energy, Inc.


Benjamin Cowart, chairman and CEO of Vertex Energy, Inc., has leveraged his extensive knowledge and experience within the used motor oil industry to grow Vertex from a vision conceived in his Mobile, Alabama, apartment to a vertically integrated hydrocarbon recycling company.

Cowart started in the industry at the age of 16 working for his older brother’s business, Aaron Oil, which gathered used motor oil. After graduating from high school, he helped his brother’s company expand to 32 states and was eventually promoted to vice president. Fifteen years later, he went off on his own and founded Vertex Energy.

During Vertex’s first six months of operations, Cowart secured a deal with the Texaco re-refinery in Marrero, Louisiana, to supply it with 40,000 gallons of used motor oil per month. He leveraged the Texaco relationship to build a supplier network of independent companies that gathered used motor oil.

Under Cowart’s direction, Vertex has continued to grow and diversify, including acquiring marine terminal assets and establishing a refining and marketing division. He took Vertex public in 2009 to gain easier access to capital to fuel his company’s growth ambitions. Vertex further expanded from a regional collections and refining business operating in the Gulf Coast to a national business with operations in the Midwest, California and the East Coast. The company has completed numerous acquisitions under Cowart’s leadership to expand its geographical footprint and presence along the used-oil supply chain.

Over the past two years, Vertex has leveraged its competitive advantage in creating higher-value products from distressed materials, including the production of lubricating material, metal recycling and ship fuel cutter stock production. The company has been quick to identify regulatory changes and to make products to fit evolving markets, such as the recent move to produce material that meets the updated marine fuel specifications in innovative ways.

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Worldwide Power Products, finalist






Will Perry

president and CEO

Worldwide Power Products


Will Perry is president and CEO of Worldwide Power Products, which provides engines and generators to commercial, industrial, and oil and gas clients.

Worldwide is challenged to differentiate itself in a crowded and competitive market. One of the major steps that Perry has taken is to diversify the business regionally and functionally, catering to gaps that occur in the service industry.

Commodity price volatility, particularly lower oil prices, represents a significant risk for the company. Recent commodity price volatility has led to canceled contracts and an overall negative sentiment in the industry. Trying to maintain performance and ensure that receivables are collected has been particularly difficult during periods of low energy prices. As a relatively young enterprise largely serving the energy market, the impact on cash flow of lower commodity prices can have significant implications for liquidity and compliance with bank covenants. To smooth out income volatility, Worldwide has sought to diversify its streams of income, from simply brokering equipment to renting equipment and providing after-sales service.

In 2012, the company built a rental division and acquired a generator service company to provide complementary services for a more comprehensive offering to customers. These additional divisions provide for exponential cross selling.

Worldwide plans to expand its presence to other oil field basins in the U.S. and set up sales branches across the globe. A new sales branch in Denmark was recently opened and office openings in Dubai, Asia and other parts of Europe are planned for the near future.

Another major challenge is the retention of his best employees. As a midsize business, even losing one or two people can impact the company immensely. Perry aims to retain his top talent by rewarding his employees appropriately and providing an atmosphere and culture that allow them to reach their maximum potential.

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Energy Services

Oceaneering International, Inc., Award Recipient






Kevin McEvoy


Oceaneering International, Inc.


Kevin McEvoy has demonstrated entrepreneurial talent while leading a variety of new ventures at Oceaneering International, Inc. He was responsible for starting a new engineering and diving services business that grew into the current advanced technologies group, and led the subsea products group when it was formed after two key acquisitions.

Today, Oceaneering is a global oil field provider of engineered services and products primarily to the offshore oil and gas industry, with a focus on deepwater applications. It also serves the defense, entertainment, offshore oil and gas and aerospace industries.

Oceaneering has achieved record earnings in each of the four years McEvoy has been CEO. He’s also overseen earnings per share growth that has outperformed the aggregate of the other oil field service companies that make up the Philadelphia Oil Service Index every year since 2008, and helped the company achieve record earnings in nine of the last 10 years.

McEvoy envisions a continuation of creative organic growth in combination with targeted acquisitions into complementary market niches. Examples are development of new remotely operated vehicles delivered subsea work systems and development of new subsea asset integrity capabilities by marinizing topside technologies and developing the protocol for subsea use. The company recently announced the acquisition of a survey company with autonomous underwater vehicle capability, which represents a new service line but is highly synergistic to existing operations.

The strategic plan McEvoy has articulated for the next three to five years involves continuous improvement in safety, quality and on-time delivery of products, along with predictable execution of services offshore.

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Apex Resources, Inc., finalist






Vinita Gupta

chairperson and co-CEO

Apex Resources, Inc.


Vinita Gupta and her husband started Apex Resources, Inc. in 1996 out of her apartment, taking advantage of new opportunities made available by the Internet for cross-border business import/export engagement. The company has since grown to import and sell guar gum powder and specialty chemicals for erosion control, food, and oil and gas field services industries.

As chairperson and co-CEO, Gupta also devised several proprietary blends to provide value to customers and create a point of differentiation between Apex and indigenous guar suppliers.

The path to success hasn’t been without its obstacles. In 2008, the subprime crisis caused Apex substantial financial hardship. Instead of defaulting on her obligations, Gupta negotiated terms with her vendors, took multiple austerity measures and increased the company’s sales and marketing activities.

A defining change to Apex’s business model came in 2010 with the emergence of the shale gas industry and hydraulic fracking technology. Gupta seized the opportunity to leverage Apex’s then 15 years of unique knowledge and established trusted relationships.

Seeing that oil field services companies did not want to source and supply these products directly to their customers, Apex took on the role, enabling it to control costs and provide higher value for operators. The company has positioned itself as an end-to-end supply chain solution for guar gum and plans to open a high-quality guar gum manufacturing facility in Texas.

Gupta’s smart business acumen and her low-leverage approach have helped the company weather the financial downturn and increase EBITDA in a volatile energy market. She is looking to grow the company’s core guar supply business by supplying substantially larger volumes as required by major oil and gas services.

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Cokinos Energy Corporation, finalist






Michael Cokinos

president and CEO

Cokinos Energy Corporation


Cokinos Energy Corporation is primarily an oil and gas marketing company that buys and markets an entire well stream. At any one time, Michael Cokinos, president and CEO, may own an exploration and production business’s entire production, which is why the trust he has built with his clients is so important.

Cokinos Energy is one of the only privately held oil and natural gas trading and marketing companies in the U.S. It is differentiated by holding title to the product it buys, making it one of only a few companies that is a first purchaser of oil and natural gas directly from the well that resells to refineries, power plants and utilities.

Cokino’s personal connection with his clients is also unique. He believes in doing business with an agreement and a handshake — the contracts come later. He also believes in being a true partner with his clients. For example, when a producer explores a new well, there is a large amount of work prior to any drilling or eventual production. Cokinos will provide services, such as drawing up details of pipelines, setting up connections, lining up buyers and more, at no cost to the producer. This partnering approach tends to make for loyal clients for life.

The company has endured three oil and gas industry downturns that hurt some of the industry’s most significant players. The failure of major customers left Cokinos Energy with large uncollectable receivables. Cokinos, however, never wavered in his commitments to the producers from whom he buys product, and made all of his payments to them on time. His strategy of slow, organic growth and no debt have allowed the company to weather these types of crashes.

While currently only operating in the U.S. and Canada, Cokinos is looking to expand operations into Mexico.

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SDB Trade International, LP, finalist






Dilip Bhargava


SDB Trade International, LP


Dilip Bhargava founded SDB Trade International, LP, in 2000. As he transitioned from the company he previously founded, he had many obstacles to overcome and even more lessons to learn.

One of the biggest challenges in the new industry was finding a solid client base while supplying customers with the best possible materials at competitive prices. Bhargava, CEO, guided SDB to become a leading supplier of pipes and other products for the oil and gas industry with high-quality tubular goods that meet and exceed standards set by the American Petroleum Institute. He utilizes several high-quality pipe mills around the world to deliver customized solutions to suit a host of customer requirements.

SDB has grown its revenues exponentially, sustaining its track record of consistent profitability. Bhargava’s mantra has been to put the customer’s needs first. To do so, he handles customers’ procurement work so they can focus on drilling wells and increasing production.

Continuing quality and service are SDB’s main concerns. In order to assure it accomplishes this, SDB has plans to incorporate extensive long-term forward vertical integration. The company continually introduces innovation in materials, engineering and marketing by receiving feedback from customers. It finds its biggest assets are its credibility, respect for customers, business values and ethics, and complete transparency in all transactions.

By trusting his employees, encouraging open communication and empowering them, Bhargava fosters a highly cooperative team environment where everyone takes ownership in the company and pride in their work. He prioritizes product quality and customer service and has built a credible reputation in which a concerned customer will never have to call him twice. His experience, reputation and relationships have established coveted goodwill.

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Health Care

Neighbors Health System, Inc., Award Recipient






Dr. Setul Patel


Neighbors Health System, Inc.


As CEO of Neighbors Health System, Inc., Dr. Setul Patel has instituted an energetic, collegial company culture that emphasizes care while focusing on making a lasting impact for future generations.

Patel and Neighbors have experienced financial challenges —10 banks that did not want to take a risk on financing a new business model rejected the company — and legislative friction over the last six years. The latter can be attributed to Patel’s creation of standalone emergency room care centers before a licensing mechanism for such a business existed in Texas. Patel and his team spearheaded lobbying efforts for the licensing of off-site emergency care that would come to be called freestanding emergency departments.

Today, Texas is the first state to adopt a license for FSEDs, and Patel continues his lobbying efforts in other states, notably Colorado and California. Furthermore, Neighbors requires all of its doctors to be board-certified — there is a board-certified physician/owner on-site at each of Neighbors’ locations at all times.

In 2014, Patel restructured the organization, which enabled Neighbors to secure a credit facility so the company could grow from five centers in 2013 to a projected 20 centers in 2016, including several locations outside of Texas.

The company has experienced historically low turnover among management and doctors, which stems from its focus on taking care of its employees. That includes programs such as equity ownership options, an emphasis on transparency of company operations, daily stipends for on-call doctors and aligning employees behind a common goal.

Patel’s vision goes beyond regional FSEDs. He also has hopes of building Neighbors-branded hospitals and to venture into new service lines, including assisted-living facilities. In executing this vision, Patel pledges to stick to the company’s core mission and remain in the business of taking care of patients.

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Legacy Community Health Services, Inc., finalist






Katy Caldwell


Legacy Community Health Services, Inc.


Katy Caldwell has been on a personal mission since her best friend, Jim, was diagnosed with HIV. Caldwell was appalled by the way this uninsured young man with a little-understood disease was treated. She advocated on Jim’s behalf for dignity, respect and the best available treatment. Now, as CEO of Legacy Community Health Services, Inc., she works to provide quality care for anyone who walks through the company’s doors.

In 2001, facing the potential loss of three-quarters of the agency’s annual budget due to federal cuts, Caldwell recognized that a sustainable funding model was needed. She led Legacy to become a Federally Qualified Health Center in 2004, which opened additional revenue streams through Medicaid and Medicare, allowing the budget to grow. Legacy began opening satellite clinics in underserved neighborhoods and introducing pediatric, maternity, eye, mental health and dental care services.

Legacy is nimble, able to mobilize quickly to meet community needs and is willing to experiment even when success is far from guaranteed. An example is Legacy’s 2014 expansion into Beaumont, where the company teamed with a local nonprofit to relieve the overburdened emergency room at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. The Legacy clinic is embedded inside the ER where patients are triaged and — when appropriate — offered a lower-cost alternative. Community health workers follow up with patients and arrange regular care at the Legacy clinic.

Caldwell has her eye on data-driven growth, strategically expanding and tailoring offerings at Legacy’s existing clinics. For example, in a neighborhood with high diabetes rates, Legacy may work in tandem with the Centers for Disease Control and government and civic associations on prevention initiatives to incentivize healthy food programs, construct sidewalks and develop recreational programs, in addition to traditional measures like improving health education and access to medication.

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Lifechek Drug, Finalist






Bruce Gingrich

CEO and owner

Lifechek Drug


Bruce Gingrich, CEO and owner of Lifechek Drug, bought his first pharmacy the day before getting licensed as a pharmacist in August 1990. He worked every day at the pharmacy, growing its monthly cash flow 10 times within the first three months.

In order for the company to grow, Gingrich knew he needed to open additional stores, and opened his second store in 1994. Gingrich eventually stepped down from his role as pharmacist to work in management, hoping to continue his expansion efforts. He seized an opportunity to open stores in rural areas where competitors wouldn’t go and is the sole pharmacy in a number of towns.

At one point, Gingrich owned seven drug stores, five of which were not profitable. Gingrich took over operations and, by focusing on inventory management and labor costs, had all seven stores turning a profit within six months.

When Gingrich noticed a drop in retail drug reimbursements he found a more lucrative avenue — compounding. Over the past three years, Gingrich has founded three compounding pharmacies and continues to develop new ventures in compounding. He has also created strategic relationships to help grow his business.

Gingrich is currently selling his chain of retail drug stores to focus on the petrochemical industry through Pro-Ject Chemicals, LLC and the electricity distribution industry through Brooklet Energy, LLC. Pro-Ject has shown strong growth year to year with sales having nearly doubled in each of the past two years.

Gingrich, though his investments and their continued growth, has shown he has a keen eye for identifying market opportunities and executing them.

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OakBend Medical Center, finalist






Joseph Freudenberger


OakBend Medical Center


Under the leadership of CEO Joseph Freudenberger, OakBend Medical Center has experienced unprecedented growth and change. When Freudenberger joined OakBend in 2007, the general acute care hospital was struggling to sustain its operations financially, was losing ground to competitors and lacked a sense of identity. Freudenberger shifted the organization’s strategy to develop new services, open new locations and build an extensive network of partnerships.

Recognizing that OakBend had limited capital to invest in new services, Freudenberger developed a unique partnership model with providers of sleep lab, physical therapy, surgery and imaging that enabled the hospital to expand without a significant capital investment. This approach benefited OakBend’s partners and drove necessary revenue into the organization.

Building a new hospital was a key factor in establishing a foundation for growth. It required designing a capital structure that could be sold to bond holders in a very tight market without relying on historical earnings.

In order to better compete in the market, Freudenberger developed a unique model for implementing a new information system that shifted responsibility from the IT department to the operating departments, thereby facilitating speedier, more effective and less expensive implementation.

To build the OakBend name, Freudenberger developed a niche, multimedia marketing strategy that highlighted services provided exclusively by OakBend. He also built a widespread outreach program to complement the strategy, involving OakBend in charitable organizations as a sponsor and/or board member.

The hospital now has a solid financial base, excellent leadership at all levels and a strategy that is focused on innovation, excellence, geographic coverage and partnerships.

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ZT Wealth & Altus Health Group of Companies, finalist






Taseer Badar

chairman and CEO

ZT Wealth & Altus Health Group of Companies


When Taseer Badar launched ZT Wealth & Altus Health Group of Companies, his vision was to transform business by innovating the model by which his organization operates. As its chairman and CEO, he has created a distinct business model that provides a sound financial investment structure for his clients and advances the process of delivering high-quality health care.

Through the creation of a private equity partnership, Badar established a network that provides physicians with financial and operational support through his wealth management firm. This gave way to a health care model that empowers physicians by giving them financial resources and management support to develop state-of-the-art health care facilities.

The company comprises a network of more than 1,600 physicians with facilities that include a surgical hospital, surgical centers, cancer centers, imaging centers, sleep centers, inpatient and outpatient hospice care and three freestanding emergency centers across Texas.

Over the past decade, Badar’s carefully selected management team and physician investors/partners have strategically built a health care system that is a hybrid model to the traditional means of delivering high quality patient care. Altus Health brings together a team of experts in health care administration and management that ensure operational excellence and control of the investment. Additionally, this approach provides physicians with ownership in their practice without operational pressures, allowing them to focus on delivering the best patient experience possible.

After two years of development, the company is launching a platform to provide comprehensive, cost-effective health care called Altus Accountable Care Entity. The physician-owned entity will focus on care coordination and care delivery management while reducing costs and improving quality.

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Industrial & Construction Services

TNT Crane & Rigging, Inc., award Recipient






Mike Appling, Jr.


TNT Crane & Rigging, Inc.


When Mike Appling, Jr. joined TNT Crane & Rigging, Inc., the company had just three locations in Texas and 55 cranes. Appling had a vision for the company to not only expand, but also diversify — all while improving quality for customers and employees.

When Appling joined the provider of lifting solutions to customers in the industrial and energy markets in 2007, he recognized the benefit of more geographic and end market diversification. TNT set out to establish branches in new locations that served a broader group of industries to reduce its market risk exposure. As a result, TNT has now fully diversified across 37 states, Western Canada and expanded into numerous end markets.

Appling’s vision created a sustainable revenue model to facilitate long-term planning by building TNT’s customer base around recurring maintenance. He established a balanced growth approach derived organically through capital investment, greenfield expansions and nine acquisitions over the past seven years.

By targeting branches that were geographically contiguous to the company’s existing footprint, TNT could share cranes, operators and expertise between branches to best serve customers’ needs and maximize utilization. Appling, CEO, also built a fully integrated and electronic dispatch system inclusive of every branch that provided complete transparency throughout the company. This created a collaborative team culture whereby managers work together to best meet clients’ needs and serve the revenue and profitability goals of the company as a whole. Appling further drove cooperation between branches by tying the company’s bonus incentives to a balance of overall company performance and branch specific performance.

These innovative approaches have set TNT apart as an industry leader in financial performance and returns, and have positioned it to withstand economic adversity.

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Accent Wire, finalist






Bill Sims


Accent Wire


Bill Sims initially joined his father’s regional wire distribution company in 1996 to head the development of a manufacturing division. The division grew, and in 2004 Sims became president of Accent Wire.

Under Sims leadership, the company has since experienced remarkable growth, expanding its product offerings and entering new markets, including the United Kingdom and Canada. Accent has become the world’s largest baling consumable supplier to the recycling industry, changing the way the recycling market sources wire in the U.K. and Europe. Since its introduction eight years ago, Accent’s wire strapping equipment has captured a worldwide market share of 70 percent.

Over the years, Accent has faced troubling times, always emerging triumphantly, exemplifying its resilience in the face of adversity. The company incurred significant losses during the 2008 recession, when the global steel market crashed in conjunction with the housing crisis. Accent’s building materials business had the potential to bring the entire organization down, causing the company to restructure its business model. Profitability returned, and Accent’s building materials business now has a positive growth expectation.

Sims has made many other strategic decisions that have enabled the company to expand its international presence in sales, distribution and manufacturing through both organic growth and acquisitions — the company has opened three sales offices in Europe and recently acquired three businesses. These acquisitions are primarily designed to assist in entering new markets that are difficult to penetrate without a local presence.

Sims’ management style demands that employees demonstrate self-accountability. For that reason, there are no sales managers in the company. Sims believes that production and profit speak for themselves, and he cultivates an environment where ambition and hard work lead to success.

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Heat Transfer Solutions, Finalist






Mike Donovan


Heat Transfer Solutions


When Mike Donovan joined Heat Transfer Solutions, he was tasked with exclusively representing McQuay (now Daikin). The company’s future president first had to overcome McQuay’s badly damaged reputation in Houston, San Antonio and Austin. There was already strong competition in the market, and manufacturers were likely to select other representatives since HTS didn’t have a proven track record. Donovan incorporated market-changing concepts into his sales program to overcome the competitive gap he inherited.

Looking to make an impact, Donovan offered five-year parts and labor warranties instead of the one-year industry standard, provided clients with customized sales terms and incentivized his sales force with highly competitive compensation plans. Following his success with Daikin in Houston, San Antonio and Austin, he continued to use these initiatives to build HTS and sister company, Direct Expansion Solutions, in the North Texas metropolitan marketplace.

Since then, HTS Texas has become Daikin’s largest independent distributor of applied equipment in North America and its second-largest variable refrigerant flow product distributor in North America.

HTS Texas grew its equipment offerings and now represents more than 40 brands. The company launched parts stores and now has stores in Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Beaumont, Houston, Austin and online.

Additionally, HTS Texas evolved from simply reselling manufacturers’ equipment to becoming one of the largest independent, built-to-order commercial and industrial full-service HVAC solutions provider of equipment design, maintenance and operation in Texas.

HTS Texas has grown its revenue significantly and completed four strategic acquisitions. Looking to the future, Donovan and the HTS leadership team set aggressive goals for department and total revenue growth and expects to reach them in 2020.

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Jetco Delivery, finalist






Brian Fielkow


Jetco Delivery


Brian Fielkow always wanted to own his own business, so he purchased Jetco Delivery, a 30-year-old transportation and freight brokerage service.

The path to success, however, wasn’t without challenges. Though the trucking industry was hurt by the recession, Fielkow avoided mass layoffs, kept employees and stakeholders informed, and pursued aggressive investment in both technology and his fleet. Jetco stayed true to its employees and customers, earning their dedication, which has helped Jetco’s sales rise to record highs.

Though the economy improved, Jetco and the trucking industry still faced a lack of qualified drivers. Fielkow, president, along with his team developed a competitive compensation and benefits package to attract drivers. Raising pay, however, meant increasing rates, which would take several months and careful customer communication to introduce. Without the luxury of time, Fielkow increased pay immediately, absorbed the short-term margin erosion and then focused on rates. As a result, the company’s driver count increased 25 percent.

Recognizing money alone wouldn’t solve the problem, he established a Jetco driver committee so that their voices could be heard and alignment could be created between them and managers.

With driver capacity expected to remain tight, Fielkow developed Jetco Logistics, which allows Jetco to continue service by using qualified vendors. In addition, he developed Jetco Heavy Haul, a trucking company that transports out-of-gauge cargo for the Gulf Coast’s energy industry.

In the next three years, Fielkow hopes to double Jetco’s assets and revenue. The company is in the process of building a new office, warehouse and storage yard, giving the company closer proximity to customers. Most importantly, Fielkow wants to remain on the cutting edge in all aspects of Jetco’s business — its people, technology and fleet.

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Sunpro Solar, finalist






Marc Jones

founder and CEO

Sunpro Solar


Marc Jones, founder and CEO of Sunpro Solar, has a background as a general contractor and custom homebuilder. He started his company when a residential construction client wanted to add solar panels and couldn’t find a local company to supply the panels or perform the services.

Sunpro has built its approach based on understanding clients. The company uses client contact technology that tracks all customer interactions, which simplifies the customer outreach efforts and enhances relationships. The company also centralized the appointment-making process, which allowed its sales team to focus on responding to leads immediately rather than coordinate schedules.

By learning about his customers, Jones found his clients are not interested in the details of solar panel technology; they want reliable service, a high-quality product and simplified offerings. That’s why Sunpro sells a single type of solar panel and offers a limited number of packages. He’s also found that the company benefits financially by having this simplified inventory system and a team of sales professionals who are experts in the product.

Jones has taught the Sunpro sales team an unconventional marketing proposition: first, contact the prospective customer within minutes of a customer inquiry, then provide customers with high-level explanations of the products — avoiding overwhelming them unless they ask for the technical specifications — and finally, help them form a deeper desire for the product by highlighting how owners of solar panels are in an exclusive group.

Looking ahead, the upcoming expiration of the federal and state tax credits for customers who purchase solar panels could negatively impact Jones’ business. To mitigate the impact, he’s launching a new entity called Energy Pro, which will help improve energy efficiency for residential customers by using approaches other than solar energy.

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Products & Services

The Woodlands Financial Group, Award Recipient






Richard “Gordy” Bunch

founder, president and CEO

The Woodlands Financial Group


Richard “Gordy” Bunch, founder, president and CEO of The Woodlands Financial Group, started the company in 2001 with $10,000 of his own capital and no promise of success. Originally envisioned as a boutique financial planning firm, Woodlands quickly grew into a personal lines insurance agency due to market conditions.

Bunch entered an industry that was known to be conservative and slow to embrace changes. His unique concept of using an exclusive contract on an independent chassis allows experienced insurance agents to join his agency and gain the economies of scale historically only provided to much larger organizations.

The new model that Bunch created positioned The Woodlands so customers could have choices and better rates while allowing agents to focus on the client instead of the product. The agency’s trusted adviser, customer-oriented approach is achieved by not focusing on a single agency, but rather being a third-party retailer of multiple agency policies, allowing agents to advise clients on the policies that truly meet their needs without pressure to push certain policies.

The Woodlands passes most of the commission through to the agents and provides backroom accounting, support, technology, resources and the agency management oversight needed to support a sophisticated model. Additionally, agents are given access to a technology package, cooperative funds, annual business meetings and ongoing training and education to help them grow.

The agency flourished under this model as evidenced by its consistent double-digit growth and is now the largest personal lines agency in Texas and the eighth largest privately held personal lines agency in the country. The Woodlands has more than 330 retail branches in 22 states, 3,500 independent agents in 38 states and 250,000 customers.

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Argent Financial Group, finalist






Kyle McDonald


Argent Financial Group


At 26, Kyle McDonald was recruited to head Ruston State Bank’s trust department. Five years later, he persuaded the bank’s board to spin the department into a subsidiary. A few months later, McDonald and a handful of investors acquired the newly formed entity, The Trust Company of Louisiana.

He slowly attracted talented people; carefully making sure each one shared his values and agreed with his vision.

To serve clients beyond Louisiana’s borders, the company applied for and was granted a national trust charter, rebranding itself as Argent Financial Group.

In the early 2000s, McDonald, CEO, discovered that the source of Argent’s clients’ wealth came via land ownership, whether from timber production or from oil and gas interests. In 2005, he formed an Argent subsidiary to provide property management services. The timing corresponded with the U.S. shale boom and Argent was able to capture revenue from managing clients’ oil and gas interests.

Parlaying a strategic expansion of the stockholder base and grounded in continued local success, McDonald embarked on an aggressive strategic plan in 2009 to grow the company.

McDonald continues to expand Argent’s footprint through the acquisition of like-minded firms in communities where Argent can make an impact. Throughout the growth process, shareholder value has been consistently enhanced. Today, Argent is serving clients from 21 offices in 12 southern states. Through McDonald’s leadership, Argent is now one of the largest independent trust-based wealth management firms in the nation.

Argent’s success is a direct result of McDonald’s vision and willingness to take calculated risks. His entrepreneurial attitude has made the difference in growing an organization that has a meaningful impact on the clients it serves.

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Associated Grocers, Inc., finalist






J.H. “Jay” Campbell, Jr.

president and CEO

Associated Grocers, Inc.


As president and CEO, J.H. “Jay” Campbell, Jr. has been central to the success of Associated Grocers, Inc., a private, retailer-owned wholesale distributor cooperative.

Campbell started working for the grocer as a part-time bookkeeper when he was in college. After graduating from law school, he became in-house legal counsel for the company and assumed the role of internal auditor, where he learned about nearly every department and function of the company. At the age of 25, he was sitting in on board of directors meetings and traveling the U.S. to learn about the retail grocery and distributor industry.

Campbell has helped navigate Associated Grocers and its independent retail partners through heavy periods of price and resource competition from the large national grocer chain companies.

Between 1977 and 1987, Campbell called for heavy investment in information technology and the automation of many of the company’s manual processes across all departments. As a result, the company boasts sophisticated processes and systems geared toward efficient delivery to its retailers at prices that are close to that of the national chains.

The aggressive push by national retailers to be low-cost leaders forced Associated Grocers and its retail partners to differentiate. Quality became the answer. As early as 1992, Campbell began encouraging retail partners to promote fresh, nutritious and natural products to their customers, long before today’s organic craze.

As part of its plan to diversify, Associated Grocers has been expanding its refrigeration business, but it has also been looking to penetrate the prepared-foods market by creating a food service company that would prepare and sell prepackaged products to its retail partners.

As Campbell nears retirement, he reflects on a legacy of commitment to service and quality, which will continue to drive Associated Grocers for years to come.

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McCoy-Rockford, Inc., finalist






Ken Beaver


McCoy-Rockford, Inc.


In July 2007, Ken Beaver joined McCoy-Rockford, Inc., and has since played a key role in leading the company through significant economic swings, merged the cultures of two organizations with similar portfolios but very different pasts, and injected technology and tools into a business model that had formerly relied primarily on entrepreneurial instinct to succeed.

One of Beaver’s initial challenges was blending the legacy teams when McCoy Workplace Solutions in Houston merged with Rockford Business Interiors of Austin to form McCoy-Rockford. Although these two legacy organizations shared similar business operations, their customer bases and geographical markets fostered different corporate cultures. Beaver, CEO, assessed the commonalities between the two cultures and developed a plan to form a new identity that leveraged the best of both cultures without creating a stale, bureaucratic organization.

Beaver realized there was an opportunity for the provider of commercial interior products and services to reach a new performance plateau by adding a more disciplined and scientific approach to assessing market potential and developing business projections. The actions he initiated improved McCoy-Rockford’s ability to accurately forecast sales and operating costs and improve profitability. Beaver also added complementary, yet counter-cyclical products and services to the company’s offering, serving to differentiate it from the competition while providing a broad, integrated interior product and services portfolio.

Internally, Beaver implemented workplace changes to improve the company’s employee work/life experience, enhance its employee engagement and attract and retain new talent. He also improved employee productivity, retention and engagement by investing in workforce development designed to help create a more productive, effective and engaged employee population while helping management identify and develop future leaders.

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Stine Lumber Company, finalist






Dennis Stine


Stine Lumber Company


Dennis Stine is a second-generation leader at the family-owned Stine Lumber Company. As CEO, he leads by example and is committed to ensuring that his employees see the value in doing things the right way. He is focused on making his building supplies stores the best they can be and has done so by investing in infrastructure improvements and emphasizing customer service.

Stine’s business regularly competes with the two largest home improvement retailers, Home Depot and Lowes. His “Better Brands Lower Prices” marketing strategy has the company offering brands its competitors don’t while matching the price of others stores on any item that retails for more than $20.

Stine’s stores have been totally rebuilt in the past 10 years, increasing in size to match the selection found at the large retailers. The strategy requires massive amounts of capital per store, which has the company digesting growth and paying down debt. Its focus on improved customer service requires very little capital and concentrates on increasing transaction count and size while building brand loyalty. The company has put an emphasis on relationship-driven business by working with contractors, receiving high scores for customer service among its peers.

The company’s longevity proves that a privately held company can compete against the nation’s largest retailers by being aggressive, fearless and asking customers to value the differences. As proof of its efficacy, Stine is listed in the top 100 Pro dealers in America and in the top 100 Home Improvement dealers in America.

During Stine’s tenure, which spans three decades, Stine Lumber has withstood multiple economic downturns. Though he has had to make some very tough decisions, they have paid off for the company, as it continues to exist 60 years after it was founded.

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PROS, Inc., Award Recipient






Andres Reiner

president, CEO and director

PROS, Inc.


According to Andres Reiner, his employees at PROS, Inc. are the primary reason for its success. PROS has been able to draw talent through its innovative culture, setting it apart from other software companies in major technology hubs.

The company has shown exceptional growth both in financial metrics and headcount since Reiner became president, CEO and director. The company’s reputation for innovative and forward-looking strategies and ideas, as well as its strong growth, has enabled Reiner to attract reputable executives from major enterprise software companies to his management team. Reiner has also drawn in talented executives and employees by embracing flexibility in work locations and styles.

A key component of innovation that Reiner has created is innovation cells, which are self-organized teams that meet for 12 weeks and work collaboratively to develop ideas that are presented to the executive team for possible incorporation into existing products or for the development of new technology. All of the company’s resources — space, functional areas and leadership — are made available to the innovation cells. Based on feedback from its customers obtained through personal visits and user conferences/advisory forums, Reiner has identified that the company’s technology needs to start over every three to four years, and the innovation cells are a key component of that strategy.

PROS continues to expand its reach within geographies and industries. Reiner led the strategic acquisition of two companies that have significantly enhanced its market position and resulted in strong revenue growth.

Recognizing that the company’s sales cycle has been too long, he has driven the simplification and standardization of its customer contract process, aligning those in legal, sales and finance. He also has empowered employees to move nimbly, which has significantly increased the communication among functional areas, and provided for a stronger focus on the company’s strategic initiatives.

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Centre Technologies, finalist






Chris Pace


Centre Technologies


In 2006, Chris Pace started Centre Technologies with a focus on general IT consulting. Through hard work and diligence, the company has grown to provide a range of services, including virtualization, managed services, network securities, data center consolidation and software development. Its growth can also be attributed to its focus on partnering with customers to implement IT solutions — in contrast to some players within the industry that buy products from hardware manufacturers and resell them, marking them up in the process.

Using a customer-centric approach that relied on understanding clients’ needs, Centre and Pace, CEO, behaved as if they were part of their clients’ IT department. That approach resonated with clients and led to the company’s growth. That result, however, introduced a new set of problems.

Pace needed to buy hardware and software from vendors, but lacked an established line of credit. He used his personal credit card, maxing it out monthly and immediately paying it off, allowing him to continuously up his limit.

Simultaneously, Pace contacted vendors to discuss the company’s needs, which had a comforting effect and led to their extending him credit. Building his business steadily opened the door for him to expand the company’s service offerings from general IT consulting to the services it has today.

With the addition of a vice president in 2009, Centre was able to establish a recurring revenue stream and separate itself from one-off projects. That aided the company’s service expansion and allowed it to add an in-house service desk and sales staff.

Building from its Houston location, the company has a presence in Austin, San Antonio and Dallas, and is exploring an expansion into Louisiana and Oklahoma.

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Empyrean Benefit Solutions, finalist






Richard Wolfe


Empyrean Benefit Solutions


While working for a business process outsourcing and benefits administration systems company, Richard Wolfe saw an opportunity to leverage advanced technology to build a solution that would support the complexity in customers’ benefits programs and quickly adapt to future changes. Wolfe’s desire to offer an alternative to the legacy providers in the benefits administration space led him to co-found Empyrean Benefit Solutions, a technology and services company that works with businesses to better manage their employee health benefits programs.

In seeking a way to deliver the best possible benefits administration service, Wolfe devised Empyrean’s Hi-Touch Benefits Administration, a proprietary customer service system built specifically for the benefits industry and designed to adapt to each client’s unique needs — allowing Empyrean to offer superb service at a competitive cost.

To develop the client services group, Wolfe and his handpicked team of health and welfare benefits experts benchmarked against best-in-class service organizations, and found the key to excellence was consistency and continuity. The company provides clients with a dedicated team of benefits specialists who provide planning, implementation and ongoing support. Through this approach, as well as comprehensive training and strategic hiring, Empyrean account teams are extensions of the clients’ HR teams, understanding their company culture and benefit programs, and providing fast, accurate responses to employee and HR management needs.

As CEO, Wolfe encourages Empyrean employees to find ways to better serve customers. He embraces the complexity that stems from unique customer needs, seeing it as an opportunity to drive superior quality, efficiency and innovation.

Today, under Wolfe’s leadership, Empyrean serves more than 300 organizations.

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Venture Technologies, finalist






Gerard Gibert


Venture Technologies


Gerard Gibert founded Venture Technologies in 1986 as a provider of in-house data processing solutions. As CEO, he has transformed the company into an integrated provider of mainframe and business-user end solutions to provide customers with a single service provider to address all IT infrastructure and end user application needs.

In 2002, Venture Technologies made history by opening Mississippi’s only commercially accessible data center, providing businesses and government with managed services for delivering information to end users.

In order to expand Venture Technologies’ footprint, the company merged with Denver-based ISC, Inc. in August 2014. As a result of the consolidation and concurrent acquisition of SAT from Birmingham, Alabama, Venture Technologies now operates three data centers located in Jackson, Mississippi; Englewood, Colorado; and Casper, Wyoming and has offices in Alabama, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Wyoming.

The mergers and acquisitions represent the initial transactions of a much broader consolidation strategy. Venture Technologies is currently engaged with several other IT infrastructure and cloud providers operating across the nation with plans to build a west/east platform.

The company is looking for strength in consolidation by acquiring companies that share its culture of honesty, integrity and outstanding customer service. To build his company into a national IT solutions provider, Gibert looks to add services either by developing them in-house or acquiring providers that complement existing services and represent an attractive mix of steady and project-based services.

As a self-identified student of IT history and an observer of events that have led to the IT industry’s rise in today’s business environment, Gibert knows that change is constant and that a successful business model has to embrace this change if it wants to endure.

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Transformational CEO

Brad Childers, Award Recipient






Brad Childers

president and CEO



At every Exterran orientation class, President and CEO Brad Childers closes his remarks by asking each new employee to commit to bringing his or her best effort to their work every day. Embodying that sentiment, Childers’ hard work and leadership drove significant performance turnarounds during periods of considerable adversity at Exterran.

By the late 2000s, Exterran, a full-service natural gas compression company that provides operations, maintenance, service and equipment for oil and natural gas production, processing and transportation, had been rocked by the ineffective integration of its two legacy companies and a global economic downturn. After taking the helm of Exterran’s underperforming North American segment and successfully stabilizing the business, Childers was appointed CEO in 2011 — its third since 2007. At the time, shareholders and analysts were calling for change and a large-scale shift in vision, and employees were jumping ship.

Childers cultivated a new climate of focus and discipline to reduce debt, address unprofitable and underperforming areas of the business, and reduce structural fragmentation that was causing enormous operational and financial risk. He also placed emphasis on simplifying and streamlining the company’s processes, modernizing its fleet and fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

Four years later, Exterran is an industry outperformer, consistently delivering solid results as well as employee engagement and retention. Childers’ vision paid off, following it up with a business strategy that has continued to drive positive results.

In November 2014, Exterran announced plans to spinoff approximately 50 percent of its operations into a separate and independent company to benefit employees, customers and stockholders. This willingness to part with half of his organization, creating two companies designed to grow more quickly and successfully, is a testament to Childers’ determination to take the right steps for his company.

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Family Business

Lamar Advertising Company, Award Recipient






Sean Reilly


Lamar Advertising Company


Sean Reilly, CEO of Lamar Advertising Company, is the fourth generation in a family of entrepreneurs who have built Lamar from a Pensacola sign company in 1902 to an innovative out-of-home advertising company that operates more than 300,000 advertising displays in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.

Reilly joined the business in 1987, taking on several succeeding roles. He oversaw Lamar’s aggressive strategy to consolidate the middle-market billboard industry, including negotiating Lamar’s purchase of Chancellor Media Company’s outdoor advertising assets in 1999. The acquisition, which doubled Lamar’s revenue, was one of hundreds that he oversaw over a 10-year period. The deals catapulted Lamar from a Gulf Coast billboard company to one that operates assets from Vancouver, British Columbia to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Lamar installed the first digital billboard as a test in 2002 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and established the industry’s first digital billboard network in Pittsburgh. Beginning in 2005, Lamar installed more than 1,000 digital units. This aggressive approach convinced digital billboard manufacturers to invest in new assembly lines, generating cost savings that benefitted the rest of the industry. Lamar also took the lead in introducing digital billboards to large national advertisers, establishing a dedicated digital sales team and a network operating center to monitor unit performance. Lamar’s success selling its units prompted other operators to follow, providing a shot in the arm that helped Lamar and other out-of-home operators weather the 2008/2009 advertising recession.

During the 2008 recession, Reilly rallied the company to match the sales decline with expense savings. Lamar undertook a top-to-bottom review of its nearly 70,000 leases, analyzing the operating performance and strategic value of each location. Over the next 18 months, Lamar cancelled more than 6,000 leases and used the specter of further takedowns to renegotiate thousands more, saving millions in lease costs and cushioning the recession’s blow.

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How Stephen Mooney transformed the back office operations of Tenet Healthcare into Conifer Health Solutions

Cost center managers tend to lay low during times of change, but not Stephen Mooney. The latent entrepreneur in 2008 proposed the idea of splitting off the patient financial services division of Tenet Healthcare into a stand-alone company to take advantage of an opportunity he saw in the marketplace and to capitalize on the strong relationships already in place with Tenet’s network of hospitals.

To understand what Mooney faced getting this idea off the ground, consider Tenet’s situation:  The organization was in the midst of selling more than half of its 110 hospitals when he floated his idea by Tenet’s CEO. That meant significant change, and during a time when organizations typically are hesitant to champion new start-up initiatives.

“My idea didn’t have a lot of fans at first, but it did get our executives thinking about the future instead of our current dilemma,” says Mooney, who serves as president and CEO of Conifer Health Solutions LLC, a subsidiary of Fortune 100 company Tenet Healthcare.

Mooney was convinced that health care organizations would jump at the chance to boost revenue cycle performance and focus on patient care instead of billing and collections. So Mooney sold his vision to everyone he encountered, turning a $200 million cost center into an outsourcing success story, adding some 7,000 employees and 600 clients in just five years. Here’s how he did it.


Build a strong foundation

Providing revenue management to non-Tenet hospitals and health systems would require a hefty investment in technology, a cultural shift as well as the development of a sales and marketing arm. Still, Tenet execs were intrigued by the idea and pledged their support if Mooney could find some way to fund his revolutionary venture.

“My initial forecast had us losing money for the first two years,” he says. “Under the circumstances, the company couldn’t afford to lose a single dime. And since venture funding wasn’t an option, I had to find the cash in our operating budget.”

With the executive team behind him, Mooney set out to achieve buy-in from other constituents. He alleviated any concerns by sharing his vision and offering each group a customized slate of benefits. Servant leadership and creating vested partnerships was his goal.

For example, he grandfathered existing rates during the initial transition period. And, he lowered the cost of processing rudimentary transactions by offshoring selective technology and call center services, using the savings to build a robust technology platform.

“We’re not a tech company, we’re a tech-enabled company,” Mooney says. “I needed to enhance our IT platform so we could drive more volume through our machine and offer our clients greater efficiency and value.”

Next, he approached Tenet’s suppliers and asked them to partner with the company. Could they make near-term concessions by thinking long term?

“I shared my business plan with our suppliers,” he says. “I wanted them to see that they had the opportunity to grow with us if they were willing to reduce their fees. Plus, you need to establish strategic alliances from the outset because you’ll need them to manage growth.”

Tenet’s suppliers recognized the opportunity and jumped on board. But after several years of change, Mooney knew his larger task would be with his own team members.

“Getting this thing off the ground would take a lot of work, so I absolutely needed our employees’ support,” Mooney says. “You need to make sure that everyone’s behind you before you start approaching customers.”

Mooney emphasized the benefits of growth to garner support from workers. Having the opportunity to control their own destiny and career opportunities were his main selling points.

“I had to explain my vision to employees, get them engaged and help them understand that short-term sacrifices would yield long-term gains for them and also add tremendous value to our external clients,” he says.

Mooney credits his team’s enthusiasm and willingness to embrace change with Conifer Health’s early financial success.

“We were supposed to lose money in the first year and to everyone’s surprise, we actually broke even,” he says. “I credit employee engagement for allowing us to achieve a budget-neutral position in our very first year.”


Hit a home run

Convincing a prospect to relinquish operational control of vital functions like billing and patient communications isn’t easy.

Mooney and his sales team made ends meet by selling point solutions while devising a strategy to close their first major end-to-end outsourcing deal.

“We bought time in the first year by hitting a few singles and doubles, but we needed to land a big fish to prove our concept,” Mooney says.

“Our executives were wondering if this was going to work, but health care organizations were wary of turning over their entire business office to an outsider from Mars.”

The sales team set its sights on landing a major deal with a member of a faith-based, not-for-profit system. Mooney knew that signing a member of this prestigious fraternity would encourage others to follow. But he and his team would have to sway a host of skeptical attorneys, consultants and stakeholders to ink their illusive inaugural deal. They emphasized their industry experience, their servant leadership model, and cultural alignment.

The looming impact of the Affordable Care Act finally proved to be the tipping point, as Conifer Health signed a number of major deals including a long-term agreement with Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) to provide revenue cycle services for 56 hospitals across the nation.

“Even CHI’s consultants agreed that their current model was unsustainable given the changes under health care reform,” Mooney says. “The market was aligning with partners and we finally convinced our prospects that they couldn’t wait to act.

“All I can say is don’t give up,” he says. “Our first deal died more than once, but I remained involved, and we continued to push the benefits that mattered to our prospects like improving the patient experience and the revenue cycle until the timing was right.”


Close service gaps and accelerate growth

Mooney worried that Conifer Health might lose its competitive edge given the massive changes imposed by health care reform. He hired experienced leaders, invested $200 million in the firm’s technical infrastructure and paid another visit to Tenet’s CEO where he presented a plan to leapfrog Conifer Health past its competitors.

“The market was in a state of flux due to health care reform,” he says. “Clients wanted turnkey solutions, and we needed to close a few service gaps to help them transition from a fee-for-service to a fee-for-value environment. The question became, ‘Should we build or buy these capabilities?’”

Mooney proposed a series of strategic acquisitions, and this time he not only garnered support, but funding from Tenet’s executive team and board.

In recent months, Conifer Health has added new services like clinical integration, population health management and financial risk management to its arsenal as well as data modeling and analytics. In the process, the firm has acquired a host of new clients and employees.

While acquisitions can boost revenues and a firm’s capabilities overnight, assimilating an outside organization can be tricky. Depending on whose research you believe, mergers have a failure rate of anywhere between 50 and 85 percent primarily due to a lack of cultural compatibility and the hasty departure of key employees who possess critical institutional knowledge.

Mooney has been successful in assimilating acquisitions by getting Conifer Health’s acquired companies to embrace his unique philosophy and vision for the company.

“We try to retain or find other opportunities within Conifer Health for everyone we acquire,” he says. “If we do lay someone off, we give them severance and outplacement assistance because everyone deserves the right to leave with dignity.”

He’s created new business units within Conifer Health to help him retain key leaders and staff from an acquired firm. He’s also bolstered retention by allowing employees to telecommute as Conifer Health expanded its footprint to more than 40 states.

“The key is empowering people to make decisions so they can serve the client,” Mooney says. “We’ve expanded what we offer our clients, and they’ve embraced them because they add value to their mission and their communities. I keep our staff engaged by relaying our success stories. That’s critical feedback as it validates the work they provide our client every day.”


  • Build a strong foundation before you approach customers.
  • Prove your concept by hitting a home run.
  • Close service gaps and accelerate growth. 


The Mooney File:

NAME: Stephen Mooney
TITLE: President and CEO
COMPANY: Conifer Health Solutions LLC 

Birthplace: Margate, N.J. 

Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting from Stockton State College in New Jersey and a master’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in accounting from Pepperdine University. 

What was your first job and what did you learn from it? I restocked the ice cream vendor on the boardwalk of the Jersey Shore. I learned that every person is important because the business couldn’t operate without a runner. Plus, it taught me responsibility because I couldn’t take a day off unless I found someone to take my place. 

What’s the best advice you ever received? Put people first because it increases their engagement. In turn, they’ll take care of your customers and the bottom line. For example, we let people go home when an ice storm is approaching and they make up for it the next day. They respond because we trust them to do the right thing. 

Who do you admire most in business and why? Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, because he was incredibly focused and a great developer of people and leaders. 

What is your definition of business success? Your business is successful when it’s turning on all cylinders, and it’s sustainable. In other words, you could walk away, and it would just keep going. We’re not there yet because we’re only a five-year-old company, but I believe that we’re on the path to sustainability.


Conifer Health Solutions Social Media Links:

Twitter: @coniferhealth
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/company/conifer-health-solutions


How to reach: Conifer Health Solutions LLC (877) 266-4337 or www.coniferhealth.com


How Turner Construction built the Global Center for Health Innovation and Cleveland Convention Center ahead of schedule

John Dewine, Vice President and Construction Project Executive, Turner Construction Co.

John Dewine, Vice President and Construction Project Executive, Turner Construction Co.

John Dewine looks out his window on the ninth floor of the Standard Building in downtown Cleveland at the construction project he has been leading — The Global Center for Health Innovation (GCHI) and Cleveland Convention Center (CCC). Dewine, a Turner Construction Co. vice president and construction project executive, is no stranger to construction as a 37-year Turner veteran, and no stranger to Cleveland either, as he worked on both the Key Tower and Quicken Loans Arena projects.

Turner Construction, a design/build contractor, brought Dewine to Cleveland to head the project, which the firm completed three months ahead of schedule and on budget in June this year with the help of URS and LMN Architects.

“We got hired in early May 2010,” Dewine says. “From May through the end of 2010 we worked with the designers, engineers, Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. (MMPI) and the county to conduct a series of budgetary estimates and checks to make sure that the project design was staying on budget, providing the programming needs and scope that the county wanted.”

The GCHI (formerly known as the medical mart) and CCC are a $465 million Cuyahoga County project being developed, managed and marketed by MMPI. GCHI brings buyers and sellers together at the world’s first market facility designed specifically for the health care industry.

The state-of-the-art facility integrates permanent showrooms with convention and conference facilities to uniquely meet the innovation, education and commerce needs of the medical marketplace. GCHI showrooms will feature the latest technology from the world’s premier health care and medical manufacturers while the convention center is designed to host health care industry trade shows and conventions.

“The GCHI will be occupied by companies such as GE Healthcare, Cleveland Clinic and Invacare,” Dewine says. “There will be areas for collaboration, which Cleveland Clinic CEO Delos ‘Toby’ Cosgrove hopes will help yield next generation innovations for the medical field.”

The build

The GCHI and CCC project had numerous engineering feats and challenges that Dewine and his team, along with the help of 168 small business enterprise contractors had to overcome.

“On Jan. 3, 2011, at midnight, Armageddon took downtown Cleveland when we started to put in barriers and fencing to corner off three city blocks,” Dewine says.

The GCHI and CCC is located at the corner of St. Clair Avenue and Ontario Street. Before any structure was put in place, a lot of prep work was done to prepare the area for the new buildings.

“In downtown Cleveland the geology is such that the bedrock is almost 200 feet down,” he says. “For heavily loaded buildings, caissons or drilled shafts are imbedded into the rock, and it’s a very unknown-type process. We have an idea of what we’re going to encounter, but you don’t know until you’re drilling the hole.”

Dewine and his team encountered a lot of methane gas, so much that they installed a permanent methane venting system in the facility. But that wasn’t the only issue the Earth’s crust offered.

“The structure and strength of the clays that you drill through are such that if you drilled a hole and left it overnight it would squeeze shut,” he says. “That’s not a good thing, because if it squeezes shut it creates a void somewhere else, maybe under another building. So we had to put steel casings down as we went to prevent the walls from caving in. Getting through that caisson process was huge.”

Besides the groundwork, Public Auditorium and the old convention center provided several challenges for Dewine and his team.

“In the 1960s when they built the old convention center, they successfully incorporated a lot of mechanical and electrical equipment from the convention center to help service and feed Public Auditorium,” Dewine says. “We had to unhook and separate Public Auditorium from the convention center so we could tear the convention center down. Public Auditorium stayed in service, so it was very specific as to what we could and couldn’t do until we had enough of it isolated.”

The other thing that was a real challenge during the build was that the old convention center’s loading dock was at the same elevation as the floor. To create a true loading dock where the trucks are lower for ease of loading in and loading out, Turner had to lower the existing floor by 8 feet.

“As the loading dock goes underneath Lakeside Avenue, we had to lower the subgrade within 2 feet of a 99-inch brick sewer that was installed in the 1880s,” he says. “That took some extra precautions and measures to ensure something catastrophic didn’t happen.

“We had to make sure we didn’t collapse Lakeside Avenue in the process. We had to shore up Lakeside Avenue, remove the columns that supported it with temporary means, dig it out and lower it, put new foundations in and new columns back in, and then release the loads.”

Dewine says the real success of the project and the reason it was completed ahead of schedule was due to a very positive preconstruction period. Turner and its partners were able to sequence the 17-acre site and attack it from a number of locations at the same time.

“I believe the project got completed early because of how successful we were in sequencing the work,” he says. “When we put our guaranteed maximum price schedule together we had about 350 items in the schedule. At the end, we we’re well over 4,000.

“As items became identified and determined in the schedule, we could micromanage it so that you measure and know what you have to accomplish each week. What you don’t accomplish you have to have a recovery plan for how you get it done the next week. It takes a tremendous amount of communication.”

Turner had a general project manager/superintendent meeting every Thursday morning. In addition, the different areas — north of Lakeside Avenue, south of Lakeside Avenue, the GCHI and Public Auditorium — each had their own separate meetings as well.

The result of all those meetings and the hard work done by thousands of people is a finished project ahead of schedule, on budget and without any major accidents. Dewine is happy to now look out his window across the street at a completed GCHI and CCC.

“It’s a real good feeling,” he says. “It’s the successful result of a lot of efforts from a lot of good people. We were blessed with the contractors that ended up being successful in bidding and being awarded the project. We’ve had well over 6,000 employees take home paychecks as a part of this project. The level of cooperation has been unsurpassed.”

By the numbers

The GCHI and CCC is located in the nation’s medical capital, home to the largest concentration of medical leadership in the U.S. More than 230,000 health care professionals, including 43,000 at Cleveland Clinic and 25,000 at University Hospitals, along with more than 600 biomedical companies are located within the region.

Building Size — 1,003,000 million square feet

  • Site Area — 14.6 Acres
  • LEED Certified Silver

Global Center for Health Innovation

  • 235,000 square feet
  • 100,000 square feet of permanent show room space
  • 11,000 square foot junior ballroom
  • 2,000 square feet of retail space
  • Outside windows pattern evokes strips of DNA

Cleveland Convention Center

  • 767,000 square feet under Malls B and C
  • 230,000 square feet of high-quality exhibit hall space
  • 60,000 square feet of high-tech, flexible meeting room space
  • 32,000 square foot column-free ballroom
  • 17-truck capacity loading dock
  • 90-foot interval columns to carry a load equivalent to a 65-story building

2013 ERC / Smart Business Workplace Practices Survey: Workplace makeover

Sue Ann Naso

Sue Ann Naso, President, Staffing Solutions Enterprises

If you had any doubt about the recession being in the rearview mirror, consider this tidbit from the ERC/Smart Business Workplace Practices Survey. In the last 14 years, only two years — 2009 and 2010 — have returned results with Northeast Ohio companies reporting the poor economy as their toughest challenge. For the 11th year, companies in 2013 are reporting that their biggest challenge has been hiring and retaining talent.

The survey, which has been a collaborative effort between ERC and Smart Business since 2001, is aimed to let you know what companies in Northeast Ohio are doing to drive their businesses forward.

This year in particular showed an overwhelming amount of companies, 49.5 percent, listing hiring and retaining talent as their No. 1 challenge.

The other concern many Northeast Ohio workplaces have includes health care costs and the uncertainty of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The good news is that a mere 5 percent of companies named economic conditions as the toughest challenge.

Lauren Rudman, President, Cleveland Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

Lauren Rudman, President, Cleveland Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

“Hiring continues to be strong,” says SueAnn Naso, president of Staffing Solutions Enterprises. “We see more and more companies adding recruiting talent, and it’s getting much more competitive to find those people, which is a good sign.”

Companies in Northeast Ohio are ramping up their recruiting efforts with 84.2 percent utilizing Internet job boards, and 50 percent utilizing social media to recruit talent.

“On the hiring side, you see a lot more LinkedIn activity,” says Lauren Rudman, president of the Cleveland Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “LinkedIn is still the No. 1 way to go, but I’ve also seen job opportunities pop up on Twitter and Facebook.

“Word of mouth is still a great way to go if your company has a referral program. Between social media, specifically LinkedIn, and word of mouth, those are still the No. 1 and No. 2 ways that work for recruiters and talent acquisition teams.”

While companies are finding ways to recruit more talent, they are also very focused on retaining that top talent once they have it.

“We’ve seen a continued emphasis on things like workplace flexibility and investing in training and development as ways to retain employees,” Naso says. “They’re focusing on keeping their turnover numbers as low as possible.”

According to the survey, 77.7 percent of companies provide financial assistance to employees to upgrade their skills through advanced education or job-related training. In addition, 28.6 percent offer a mentoring program.

“Training and development is a big one, especially for some of the millennials (Generation Y),” Naso says. “They really are focused on learning and growing, so I’ve seen a lot more hiring of people that do training and development, creating leadership training programs and having a leadership track so these young professionals see a career path and aren’t looking outside the company for growth.”

Today, there are more training and development programs than there were in the recent past and there are a couple of things that factor into that.

“One is the economy,” Rudman says. “Unfortunately, when things go bad, training and development is the first thing to get cut. As the economy continues to get better, those will either come back into play or grow.

“Another big part of it, too, is Generation Y in the workplace. Generation Y wants development, training and to know how they’re doing. Companies need to recognize that in order to retain top talent they have to provide these resources like mentoring, coaching and development opportunities because they want it more than some of the generations in the past.”

According to the companies that responded to the survey, roughly 75 hours of training are provided to new-hires in their first 90 days. Another way more companies are incentivizing employees to stay at their current company is through workplace flexibility.

“That has been a huge trend,” Naso says. “There has been a study that mentioned that about 78 percent of U.S. workers are looking at workplace flexibility as a primary reason why they’re either staying where they’re at or making a move. That is as important to them as compensation.”

According to the 2013 survey, 44.3 percent of companies in Northeast Ohio are offering flextime, 14.8 percent are offering compressed workweeks, 17.2 percent offer telecommuting and 32 percent offer a work-from-home option.

“It’s interesting because workplace flexibility tends to be something a little different to each person,” Naso says. “We’re seeing companies trying to put things in place that provide a variety of options for employees. It depends on the type of job or their focus and how they can create that flexibility.”

While hiring and retaining employees remains the top challenge, the upcoming ACA and its pending changes to health care costs have companies anxious about what the result will be.

“One trend we are seeing that was published recently in one of the staffing industry magazines is that temporary staffing jobs hit a record high in May as companies are trying to lighten the burden of the whole Obamacare regulation,” Naso says. “Instead of adding staff, they are using contingent labor to manage some of that.”

In fact, according to the survey, the average percentage of the workforce that was temporary of the companies polled was 3.6 percent, the highest since 2006. The percentage of contingent workers in 2013 was 8.6 percent.

“In preparation (for the ACA), a lot of companies are attending conferences and meetings,” Naso says. “However, I haven’t seen any hard and fast actions yet. I haven’t seen companies that have actually reduced their part-time staff from 35 hours to 28 hours or anything like that. They’re all in that wait and see mode.”

Due to the uncertainty of the ACA, a lot of employers and companies are being proactive.

“We’re seeing companies bringing in wellness coaches, reimbursing employees for gym memberships and bringing healthy food into their organizations via vending machines or fresh produce stands,” Rudman says.

“Biometric screening is another big one. You see a lot of those efforts happening, which down the road can hopefully impact and decline health care costs for those companies, as well as employee’s out-of-pocket costs.”

The biggest decision looming for companies is whether they will “play” or “pay” with the ACA.

“Pay means that the company is not going to offer health care and they will pay the penalty, which is $2,000 per employee, and then those employees will be a part of the health care exchange that the government is offering,” Naso says.

“Play means a company will provide a health insurance plan that meets all the new government standards. Even companies that currently offer insurance could be affected because their current plan may not meet those requirements anymore.”

One of the requirements is that health care doesn’t cost an employee more than 9.5 percent of their salary. There is also a minimum coverage.

“Companies that currently have a plan could have increased expense because they may have to pay more of the premium or increase the amount of coverage, which increases the cost of the premium,” she says. “At the moment I have heard that more companies are going to play than pay. But it’s still a huge unknown.”

Despite what may result from the ACA, there is no doubt that companies in Northeast Ohio are once again flourishing and waving goodbye to the recession. Smart Business thanks ERC and those companies that participated in this year’s Workplace Practices Survey.

How to encourage medication adherence to decrease health costs

Chronis Manolis, RPh, vice president of pharmacy, UPMC Health Plan

Chronis Manolis, RPh, vice president of pharmacy, UPMC Health Plan

It was the late C. Everett Koop, a former U.S. surgeon general, who once famously said: “Drugs don’t work in patients who don’t take them.” That’s a simple way to look at a costly and complex problem — medication non-adherence — where the failure to take drugs on time in the dosages prescribed is both dangerous for patients and costly to the health care system.

“There are a number of reasons that people either don’t take their medication or stop taking it before they should,” says Chronis Manolis, RPh, vice president of pharmacy for UPMC Health Plan. “But what it often comes down to is a lack of understanding of the disease and a lack of respect for the condition.”

Smart Business spoke with Manolis about the problem of medication non-adherence and the ways it can be addressed.

What does medication non-adherence cost?

This problem impacts the cost of health care in many ways. According to the Express Scripts Drug Trend Report, $329 billion was spent on avoidable medical and pharmacy expenses as a result of patients not being adherent to medication treatments. Approximately 50 percent of patients do not take their medication as prescribed, which results in increases in the overall cost of treating chronic conditions and increases the number of hospitalizations and emergency department visits.

Why is medication non-adherence a persistent problem?

Clearly, there are a number of reasons why people may not take their medicine as directed by their physician. Consider, for example, people who have asymptomatic conditions such as high blood pressure, cholesterol disease and Type 2 diabetes. For them, taking medication may have no immediate effect on the way they feel. And, when medicine does not make you feel better, some don’t understand why they need to take it. As a consequence, many do not.

What are other factors that contribute to medication non-adherence?

Well, first, there’s the cost of the prescription. If there’s no generic available, it can be expensive, and a patient may simply choose not to purchase it. Then, there’s forgetfulness, which is a factor for older patients, but also for others as well. Some patients may avoid taking medicine because they fear the possible side effects. Others may not take it because they do not believe that the medication is truly effective.

But, what is often the underlying cause is a basic lack of understanding of their condition. Many patients do not realize they are taking medicine now in order to stay healthy in the years to come and to avoid a more serious condition 10, 20 or 30 years later when it will be too late to treat it with medication. For some, that’s a hard concept to grasp.

What kinds of solutions would help promote medication adherence?

Solving the problem of medication non-adherence is complex because there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. A comprehensive, multi-pronged solution is needed to improve medication adherence.

These include promoting the need for more conversation between physicians and patients concerning the importance of medication in the overall treatment plan. There also needs to be a way to involve pharmacists more. Pharmacists are uniquely positioned to reinforce the message regarding the importance of medication. This can include encouraging patients to use their medication as prescribed and asking patients if they understand why they are taking a drug and if they understand the condition that it’s being used for.

Health plans can play a role as well because they can determine if patients are refilling their prescriptions in a timely manner. Health plan pharmacists can reach out to non-adherent patients and provide customized solutions and tools for patients to improve adherence. Additionally, health plan pharmacists can help triage specific patient adherence issues to other members of the health plan’s team including care managers and health coaches. For example, if cost is a factor, often less expensive generics are available. If forgetfulness is a problem, pillboxes or enrolling in refill reminder programs could work. Or, finding a substitute for the medication or changing dosing and/or frequency of the medication can eliminate side effects.

Chronis Manolis, RPh, is a vice president of pharmacy at UPMC Health Plan. Reach him at (412) 454-7642 or [email protected]

Save the date: Join UPMC WorkPartners for an upcoming webinar, “Best Practices for Return-to-Work,” at 10 a.m. Aug. 6. To register, contact Lauren Formato at [email protected] or (412) 454-8838.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

How defined contribution plans can help ease the rising cost of health care

John Mills, senior director, Consumer Products, Product & Consumer Innovation, UPMC Health Plan

John Mills, senior director, Consumer Products, Product & Consumer Innovation, UPMC Health Plan

Historically, defined benefit plans have held a dominant position in the health care market since they were first introduced in the middle of the 20th century. Because the contributions were tax-deductible for employers and pre-tax for the employees, it was a popular way to increase employee benefits without raising wages.

But over the years, the rising cost of health care has caused employers to re-examine how much they pay for insuring their employees and caused them to think more about defined contribution plans.

“With a defined contribution plan, an employer can decide exactly how much they want to contribute to an employee’s health insurance and have a certainty about the cost,” says John Mills, senior director, Consumer Products, Product & Consumer Innovation at UPMC Health Plan. “And a defined contribution plan can be offered by a company of any size.”

Smart Business spoke with Mills about defined contribution plans and their increasing popularity with employers.

What is a defined contribution plan?

Technically speaking, a defined contribution plan is not any specific kind of health plan. Instead, it is a concept that can be applied to different approaches that employers can use to manage health care for employees.

With a defined contribution plan, a company gives each employee a fixed dollar amount that the employees can use to purchase health insurance and dental and vision benefits.Some employers will allow employees to put any money not spent on these benefits into a flexible spending account or to take as a cash benefit.

Why are these plans becoming so popular?

Certainly, the rising cost of health insurance is a major factor in the increased popularity of defined contribution plans. Any plan that can place some kind of limit on health care expenses, or provide some certainty about how much money will be paid, will get close scrutiny by those companies concerned about the bottom line.

But defined contribution plans also touch on areas that are becoming more important to both employers and employees than was possible under managed care. These include:

  • The consumer’s desire to have more choice and involvement in health care.
  • Concern about quality.
  • Increased information.
  • More freedom for providers.

What are some common characteristics of defined contribution plans?

The most common characteristic is choice. Defined contribution plans are intended to give members greater flexibility in benefit decisions. The choices include: plan choices, care choices and the ability to opt out.

Other common characteristics include increased cost sharing between the employer and the member, as well as greater knowledge and engagement in management of health care by members.

What do employers like about defined contribution plans?

One popular feature is that there is no limit on the amount of money an employer can contribute to an employee’s defined contribution health plan. Also, there is no minimum contribution requirement. That allows the employer to set the amount that makes the most sense for the company.

Employers also can give employees different contribution amounts based on classes of employees. The combination of cost management and decreased employer involvement makes defined contribution plans very attractive.

What other factors are driving the growing popularity of defined contribution plans?

Rising costs of premiums are a factor, as is the desire of providers to regain control over decisions concerning patient care. At minimum, they want a greater ability to advise patients who will make the final decision.

Concerns about quality are another factor. There is evidence that defined contribution plans will enhance the quality of care and also increase the amount of information available on the quality of health care, which makes them popular when there is such a focus on quality. And, small businesses find that with defined contribution plans they can have a feasible way to provide some kind of health insurance for their employees.

John Mills is a senior director, Consumer Products, Product & Consumer Innovation, at UPMC Health Plan. Reach him at (412) 454-8821 or [email protected]

For more information about defined contribution plans available through UPMC Health Plan.


Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

Health care reform: In like a lion

akrcle_healthcare_artworkDepending on the source, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a recently enacted law designed to reform the health care and health insurance systems, is either a bold step toward improving health care in the U.S. or a growth-stunting nightmare that upsets 60 years of progress in employer-provided health insurance. Either way, the legislation is becoming a reality and is quickly pushing businesses closer to the administrative equivalent of the fiscal cliff.

“What I tell people is that PPACA is really the most significant health care legislation since Medicare was passed in 1965,” says Marty Hauser, CEO of SummaCare Inc.

The law is an attempt to reform the insurance industry, he says, eliminating certain practices such as refusing coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, and improving access while bringing greater transparency and accountability to health care delivery.

“These are monumental changes,” says William Hutter, founder and CEO of Sequent. “This is one of the largest government overhauls ever. It’s going to dramatically impact employers and the employer-based distribution system for health care.”

With that, employers will need to better understand the administrative requirements they’ll face, which is not simple.

“It’s a vastly complicated law,” says Joe Popp, JD, LLM, tax supervisor and affordable care act implementation specialist at Rea & Associates. To illustrate its complexity, Popp says the PPACA is being administered simultaneously by the IRS, Department of Labor, Health and Human Services and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“All in, it’s going to take eight years of change,” Hutter says. “And most of the rules and the regulations that are going to govern how this is enacted aren’t even written yet.”

“It’s kind of like trying to change the tire on your car while you’re driving 70 miles per hour down the highway. Things are changing almost daily,” Hauser says.

Furthermore, business owners are going to have to cope with the increased costs.

Paul Jackson, a partner at Roetzel & Andress says there will be 21 increased taxes or fees that business owners or employers have to pick up.

“The Congressional Budget Office estimated that those will be more than $1 trillion each year — that’s trillion with a ‘T,’” he says.

Waiting for guidance

While there is some guidance on how businesses can prepare for health care reform, service providers who spoke with Smart Business said their employer clients complain about a lack of regulatory clarity. In fact, that was a concern for Sen. Max Baucus, a major contributor to the act. At a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee, he expressed concern over the gap in understanding of the PPACA by small businesses, which led him to say, now famously, of the act’s implementation, “I just see a huge train wreck coming down.”

And there certainly is reason for businesses to worry because a misstep on the side of the administration can lead to significant penalties.

“What I’m hearing most from clients is they’re concerned with compliance,” Jackson says. “They’re concerned about whether they fall within the pay or play, but also concerned about the penalties.” For example, he says employers can be fined $100 per day per individual for not providing the summary of benefits and coverage statement to employees, which is one of the new disclosure documents required by the act.

Another significant concern is confusion.

“Without clarity on how this affects them as an employer, employers are really grasping at straws,” says Kevin Cavalier, vice president of sales at SummaCare,

Still, some businesses wonder where they should begin.

“There are companies that have been on top of this for a long time, they’re ready to go and they’re waiting just like we are for guidance coming out from the IRS and HHS, and they are ready; they’ve done their implementation work,” Popp says.”But for most businesses, they haven’t really started or they’re not very far on the path.”

Cavalier says in the fall, the government will begin public service announcements and education to the employer community.

“I think then you’ll start to see advice for an employer based upon their specific situation,” he says.

However, quickly approaching is the enactment of one of the more complicated provisions, referred to as “pay or play,” which will require tough choices.

“The employer needs to make decisions on how it impacts them and what to do come 2014,” says Cavalier.

Pay or play

Most affected by the law will be employers with about 50 employees. According to the DOL, a large employer, defined as one with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees — those working an average of 30 or more hours weekly — could be assessed a tax for not offering its full-time employees the opportunity to enroll in a health insurance plan that offers minimum essential coverage.

This means employers have to make a choice whether to offer affordable coverage or pay the tax penalty, which has led some employers to question the value of providing health insurance. According to Jackson, “We have a number of clients that are seriously considering dumping their health care and just saying, ‘OK, we’re going to pay the $2,000 per year, per employee penalty because we can’t obtain health care coverage for employees for that amount of money.’”

Companies with between 40 and 60 employees have a tough decision to make.

“For those companies, some of the struggles are, is there a way you can get under 50 so that you don’t have to take on some of these other burdens,” Popp says.

Those trying to operate with fewer employees could implement lean processes, work with fewer people or outsource responsibilities such as payroll.

However, Cavalier warns of the repercussions of not offering health insurance.

“The con is if the employer chooses to do that, what does it do for employee morale?” he says. “What does it do for retention of good employees, especially if you’re in an industry that’s competitive in regards to obtaining new employees that have skill sets that you need?”

Beyond the pay or play decision, employers will also have to deal with individual market reinsurance fees, changes to W-2 reporting requirements, minimum essential coverage requirements and the implementation of health care exchanges.

“The administrative and compliance demands of ACA are very confusing and very expensive,” Hutter says.

Silver lining?

While it’s certainly easy to see the PPACA as a dark cloud, there are positive aspects to the law. Hauser says, when looking at the act broadly, it is attempting to address pressing issues. “Regardless of whether you support or oppose the health care law, I think everyone would agree that the current way we do health care in America is pretty non-sustainable, especially in a world economy.”

He says the act has brought more focus to prevention by creating incentives for employers to offer more wellness and incentive programs “so that we can move from a sick-care model to a real health care model.”

Though discussions of the costs associated with the act have been at the forefront, there are other considerations for employees.

“It’s not numbers. The numbers are going to be what the numbers are, and there’s nothing anyone can do about that,” Hutter says. “Knowing that, now you have to figure out what the best thing to do for your organization is.”

He says the most important asset companies have is the thinking and creative abilities of their employees.

“Companies are going to have to think long and hard about whether they want to undermine the relationship with that most valuable asset of any company, which is its people.”

How value-based networks can help reduce health costs, improve care

Andrea Gioia, executive director, Product Innovation, UPMC Health Plan

Andrea Gioia, executive director, Product Innovation, UPMC Health Plan

Holding the line on health care costs has long been an ongoing concern of insurers, employers and consumers. In recent years the use of value-based networks for providers has become more popular. These networks are also sometimes referred to as narrow, tiered or high-performing networks.

Essentially, value-based networks encourage members to utilize the more efficient providers — meaning hospitals or physicians — by either narrowing networks, or by lowering copayments or deductibles for providers in different tiers in the network.

“Value-based networks are a variation on the long-established practice of having one level of benefits for in-network providers and another level for those out of network,” says Andrea Gioia, executive director for Product Innovation at UPMC Health Plan. “The difference is, with a value-based network the member can choose the providers he or she prefers based on the criteria that are most important to him or her.”

Smart Business spoke with Gioia about how value-based networks can make sense for employers who are looking to reduce health care costs.

How does a value-based network system work?

A value-based network system is an attempt by insurers and employers to contain costs by offering health benefits plans that offer employees a real choice. Depending on the provider they choose, the employee may be able to pay lower copayments or have a lower deductible.

More financial responsibility falls on the member in terms of decision-making and, as a result, this should encourage initiatives that will provide better information about the cost and quality of health care in order to make more informed decisions.

The health insurer makes the determination about which tier hospitals or physicians will be on. This could be based on the rates the insurer is charged, as well as the quality and efficiency of care being offered. With a value-based network system, when an insurer saves money by getting lower rates from certain hospitals, those savings are passed along to the member in the form of lower out-of-pocket costs such as a lower copayment or a lower deductible.
Quality is determined through claims-based methods, external certification and health information technology.

Why are value-based network systems becoming more available?

A lot of factors are at work, including the fact that there is a demand for more consumer-driven options. Certainly, employers as well as employees are increasingly interested in finding ways to contain health care costs and hold down the cost of premiums. Value-based networks can deliver in both areas.

What could be the consequences of value-based networks?

Ideally, a value-based network system should engage its members in the process. Members have more incentive than ever to be involved in choosing providers and treatment because they are exposed to higher out-of-pocket expenses.

In addition, this could spur competition between providers to cut costs and raise quality standards in order to avoid landing on the higher-priced tiers. Estimates have indicated that tiered products, on average, are priced 10 to 15 percent lower than non-tiered and HMO products.
Health insurers tend to support value-based networks because it gives consumers skin in the game. The consumer will have a financial interest in health care decisions beyond the cost of a premium.

Can value-based networks impact quality?

When a provider’s tier is tied to quality, the potential is certainly there that a value-based network will not only encourage better value but also drive providers to perform better and more efficiently. As cost and quality information becomes more available to consumers of health care, the more likely it will be that consumers will base their health care decisions on this information. This has the potential to drive change in health care in a positive direction.

Andrea Gioia is an executive director, Product Innovation, at UPMC Health Plan. Reach her at (412) 454-8293 or [email protected]

Save the date: Join UPMC WorkPartners for an upcoming webinar, “Keys to a Successful Health Management Incentive Program,” at 10 a.m., June 27. To register, contact Lauren Formato at [email protected] or (412) 454-8838.


Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

How investing in wellness can lead to higher employee engagement

Diana Hendel, Pharm.D, CEO, Long Beach Memorial, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach,Community Hospital Long Beach

Diana Hendel, Pharm.D, CEO, Long Beach Memorial, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach,Community Hospital Long Beach

Engaged employees know your company’s expectations and believe their job descriptions implicitly include exceeding them. They use their talents to excel, connect well with colleagues and customers, and move their companies forward.

To learn more about transforming engagement levels in the workplace, Smart Business spoke with Diana Hendel, Pharm.D., CEO of three MemorialCare hospitals in Long Beach. MemorialCare is recognized as one of only 32 companies worldwide to receive the 2013 Gallup Great Workplace award.

How can you recognize an engaged employee?

When engaged employees walk past visitors in our hospitals’ hallways they make eye contact, smile and stop to help people find their way. Disengaged employees hurry by, believing that’s not in their job description. Engaged employees are more productive, customer-centric, safe and successful. They are 3.5 times more likely to be thriving in their lives, experience better days and have fewer unhealthy days. We see a direct correlation between high employee engagement and the service satisfaction scores we receive from our patients and their families.

What’s the first step to improve engagement?

Creating a work environment that values people and aims to ensure each employee has an emotional connection to the company’s mission is at the heart of sustaining employee engagement. Become an active partner with your employees to maintain or improve their health and wellness. Create an environment that makes being healthy easier, with nutritious on-site food options, walking challenges, weight reduction programs, gyms, smoke-free campuses, activity days, health information and more.

Encourage teams to take walking rather than sitting meetings, take activity breaks and make walking workstations available. In MemorialCare’s case, implementing these core aspects of a wellness program resulted in 77 percent of our employees reporting that their organization makes an effort to help them improve their health.

What are the next steps to partnering with employees?

Once you’ve implemented the foundation of a wellness program, the next step is to provide your employees with the knowledge they need to impact their risk factors for chronic disease. Understanding the key biometric numbers of blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and body mass index, and their connection to heart disease and diabetes can help individuals lower their risk. Chronic diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma and depression are responsible for two-thirds of the total increase in health care spending, so reducing these conditions can help lower health care expenses.

Actively partner with employees who need the most help managing chronic conditions. The latest evidence shows that the support of a team including a wellness coach, nurse, dietician and physician can give individuals with chronic conditions what they need to make important changes.

MemorialCare partners with our employees with chronic conditions to make long-lasting lifestyle changes, lessen complications, improve outcomes, and lower medical and pharmaceutical costs through our program, The Good Life — In Balance. With 93 percent participant retention, the program has led to significant improvements in participants’ blood glucose and blood pressure.

How can employers improve the workplace?

Help identify key factors in moving the dial on your employees’ engagement by participating in a survey, like those initiated by Gallup. These surveys compare your results with other companies so you can learn where you excel or need improvement. There is a direct connection between investing in employees’ wellness and achieving internationally recognized employee engagement levels. By creating a culture where well-being is valued, you can improve health, morale and productivity, while reducing absenteeism as well as the costs of workers’ compensation and health

Diana Hendel, Pharm.D, CEO, Long Beach Memorial, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach, Community Hospital Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected]

Website: See more health and wellness information, podcasts and videos.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by MemorialCare Health System


How managing ER use can lower health care costs without reducing benefits

Mark Haegele, Director, Sales and Account Management, HealthLink

Mark Haegele, Director, Sales and Account Management, HealthLink

With employers facing ever-rising health insurance premiums, most are looking to control costs.

They may increase co-pays and deductibles, or decrease benefits. But there are other steps to accomplish that goal without impacting benefits or increasing employees’ costs, says Mark Haegele, director, sales and account management at HealthLink.

“Lowering the cost of health care is driven by managing utilization,” Haegele says. “There are a number of things in your data covering members’ use that you can address to help control costs. Too often, people are not educated about alternatives to the emergency room.”

Smart Business spoke with Haegele about how to lower the cost of health care without modifying benefits.

Where should employers start?

From 1996 to 2006, the annual number of U.S. emergency room visits grew from 90.3 million to 119.2 million, and from 34.2 to 40.5 visits per 100 residents. So, look at emergency room usage and other high utilization data points to identify trends. By focusing on those areas, you can ultimately have an impact.

Identify if overuse of the ER is an issue, and, if it is, what is driving it. Then you can implement action plans to lower costs for that high-cost category.

What should an employer be looking for?

Over the last three years, has the number of visits per member per month gone up year after year? And, has the cost per member per month gone up year after year? If yes, ask why.

Look at frequency of visits per person to identify whether a subset is going to the ER 10 or more times a year. If yes, determine how to address those people. Do you need case management nurses to help them find a better path to care? Do they need help finding a primary care physician? Can you educate them on alternatives?

Also, look at the reasons for ER visits. There are two categories — symptom, injury or poisoning, and disease and virus. If someone breaks an ankle, that person is going to the ER. But the disease and virus category is a different story. More than 60 percent of ER visits are for things such as sinusitis, flu, cough, headache, etc. This category can be managed.

Twenty-four hour nurse lines, urgent care clinics and clinics in pharmacies all are lower-cost alternatives. The cost of the ER averages $800 to $900, versus $65 to $150 for the alternatives. If more than 50 percent of ER visits fall into disease and virus, you know where to focus your energy to modify utilization and create awareness.

Emergency room management: Getting care when you need it quickly. Learn when to use the ER, or not.

How can employers create that awareness?

Education is No. 1. Post information, do emails blasts, distribute articles, do payroll stuffers, anything you can to get the word out.

Many employers have penalties, so if an ER visit is not a true emergency under the plan design, it doesn’t pay. But hospitals have ways of getting around that. Typical plan designs waive that penalty if a patient is admitted. Guess what? Now your admissions just went up.

A better approach is to educate people. And explain that if the ER coinsurance is $150, that’s $150 out of their pocket, whereas at an urgent care center the cost is much less. And often the wait is shorter. Sell your members on appropriate lower levels of care that are more easily accessible, less expensive and more convenient.

How do hospitals play into the equation?

Hospitals code ER visits from one to five, with five being the most severe, but some hospitals never code lower than three. As a result, if employers identify overcharging for ER visits, address the issue with the hospital.

The employer, with the insurance company, can co-write a letter with the high coding data, while asking the hospital to reconsider the way it’s coding ER visits and to consider establishing an urgent care center for lower level visits to the facility. One letter isn’t going to result in a new facility, but it does create awareness, and often coding starts to be more appropriate. The employer, the hospital, the member and the insurance company have to work together, as they all have a stake in the game. Everyone shares equal responsibility in managing this.

Mark Haegele is a director, sales and account management, at HealthLink. Reach him at (314) 925-6310 or [email protected]

Insights Health Care is brought to you by HealthLink