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.
partner, Ernst & Young LLP
director, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® Gulf Coast Area Program
2015 Entrepreneur Of The Year Gulf Coast Area
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
Effex Management Solutions, Award Recipient
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
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
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
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’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 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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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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Oceaneering International, Inc., Award Recipient
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
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
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
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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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
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
CEO and owner
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
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
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 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
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 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
founder and CEO
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
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
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
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
president, CEO and director
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
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
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 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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Brad Childers, Award Recipient
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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Lamar Advertising Company, Award Recipient
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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