Customer segmentation, simplified

Looking for an actionable growth plan for your business, but struggling to find a way to combine the complexity necessary to be effective with the simplicity required to execute once the plan is created? Here’s an option you can implement in less than a day: The nine-box approach to customer management.

In the 1970s, McKinsey & Co. helped General Electric develop the GE-McKinsey nine-box matrix, a mechanism a decentralized corporation can use to determine where the best investment opportunities exist. In the decades following its creation, it was co-opted by human resource departments as an approach to personnel management. In this application, employees are categorized as low, medium or high performance, and low, medium or high potential. That resulted in nine possible employee ranking combinations. Each of these rankings then led to a specific management plan to maximize that person’s potential for the organization.

The same logic can apply to evaluating your customer base using frequency of purchase plotted against the number of different products purchased.

Review your data

What companies often learn, just at first glance, is that all too often they spend significantly to acquire a customer once, but rarely maximize that customer’s value. Companies should work to create campaigns to help customers increase their purchase frequency, if not of the same product then additional or complementary products and services.

Evaluate your acquisition channels, methods

Identify the customers that are only purchasing one time and one product. These customers will be in the lower, left portion of your matrix. Determine what they have in common. Are they all being acquired with the same aggressive promotion, or coming from the salesman that is discounting the most? In this step, the most valuable lesson will likely come from determining what not to do in the future.

Grow your current customers

Once you’ve looked at the lower left, focus on growing the customer segments in the middle by adding some upsell and cross-sell campaigns. Many times companies can simply add a new product segment to their email newsletter. Other times a specific incentive to re-engage customers that have lapsed for more than one year since last purchase is effective.

Focus on improving one customer segment at a time with specific campaigns and measurements. Many times the simplest strategies are the ones that make the biggest impact. Give yourself permission to focus on one element of maximizing customer value each month and learn which makes the greatest impact to your bottom line.

Sam Falletta has developed successful customer acquisition and retention strategies for some of the largest brands in the world, including Microsoft, Ford, Honda and the American Red Cross.

Who To Watch Northeast Ohio

A look at the men and women poised to shape our region in 2017 and beyond

The 2017 Smart Business Who to Watch represents an exciting, talented group of people who are strong leaders with an ability to set goals, develop plans and get things done. Some of the names you’ve heard while others may not be as familiar. But rest assured that each person is poised to make a difference and build something that has the potential to make Northeast Ohio a better place to live and work.

As we thought about the men and women most likely to influence what happens in Northeast Ohio in 2017, we considered a few factors: Does this person have a platform to make things happen? Is there a pattern of accomplishment that suggests this individual is positioned to have an even bigger impact in 2017? Is this impact likely to stretch beyond this person’s organization and possibly affect positive change for the entire region?

As you read through the profiles, think about the goals you’ve set for yourself and your business in the year ahead. While 2016 was one of the best ever for Northeast Ohio, the calendar has flipped and a new year has begun. What will you do to make 2017 the best year ever?



neo_wtw_samfalletta_incept_bwSam Falletta

Falletta has introduced a charity program called InceptGives. Each year, the company strives to make a difference in the lives of others by committing up to 10 percent of its yearly earnings to local, national and multinational charitable organizations.

Falletta is active in the community as the founder of TEDxAkron; founder of Kanga Communications, a student-run content marketing agency at the University of Akron; and a board member of several local and national nonprofit organizations.

He has received the Akron Chamber of Commerce 30 for the Future award, yStark! 20 Under 40 award, the Professional Association of Customer Engagement’s Spirit of Philanthropy and CXE Community Impact Award, and Workplace Dynamics Top CEO of a Mid-sized Company.
Back to top

neo_wtw_nicholasbrowning_huntington_bwNick Browning
Akron region president and CEO
Huntington National Bank

Browning is responsible for coordinating the activities of Retail, Wealth and Commercial Banking for the Akron region and has direct responsibility for all aspects of Akron Commercial Banking. He joined FirstMerit Bank, now part of The Huntington National Bank, in 1992 and was named regional president in 2003.

Following the January 2016 announcement of both corporate boards approving the acquisition to merge FirstMerit into Huntington, Browning played a role underscoring the incredible talent and capabilities of the local workforce who have built their careers with the bank.

He has a passion for Akron and wants the community to succeed. Browning does his part by rolling up his sleeves and getting involved. His involvement includes a role as trustee for the Greater Akron Chamber, Akron Community Foundation and Downtown Akron Partnership, and he chaired the 2012 Summit County United Way campaign.

He says he’s excited about being a part of the Huntington Akron Foundation, which will add $20 million in philanthropic giving within the next 10 years
Back to top

neo_wtw_tomwilliams_parkerhannifin_bwThomas L. Williams
chairman and CEO
Parker Hannifin Corp.

Parker is a Fortune 250 global leader in motion and control technologies and is poised to continue growing through the Win Strategy that was implemented in 2016. The goal of the initiative is to combine a highly engaged workforce with the company’s unique capabilities and a premier customer experience to drive strong growth. Williams is confident that as sales stabilize in 2017 and his team embraces Parker’s ambitious long-term goals, great days are ahead. Parker has made roughly 350 additions to its global distribution network and will continue to strengthen that channel to grow sales and improve margins.
Back to top

neo_wtw_triciagriffith_progressive_bwTricia Griffith
president and CEO
Progressive Corp.

When Griffith was appointed as president and CEO at Progressive in July 2016, she brought with her a wealth of experience from multiple levels of the fourth largest auto insurer in the country. She joined the $21 billion company as a claims representative in 1988 and has also been chief human resources officer, personal lines chief operating officer and president of customer operations, among other managerial positions. An article published in Repairer Driven News quoted Credit Suisee analyst Ryan Tunis calling Griffith “the ideal candidate” for the leadership position.
Back to top

neo_wtw_gloriaware_jumpstart_bwGloria Ware
principal, inclusion
JumpStart Inc.

Ware has a long track record of building pathways to entrepreneurial success. Prior to joining JumpStart, she was vice president of public funds at FifthThird Bank where she participated in the sourcing, execution and maintenance of more than $100 million in debt underwriting and interest rate hedging transactions to help both public sector and nonprofit entities achieve their missions. Last fall, she was invited to the White House to participate in a panel discussion on inclusive entrepreneurship.
Back to top

neo_wtw_bobbygeorge_townhall_bwBobby George
president and founder
Corporate Management Group

TownHall Ohio City worked hard to create a menu free of GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, and has gotten rave reviews for its offerings. George plans to open a second TownHall in 2017 and strives to continue growing revenue and earnings without taking on debt. He’s also focused on building the private equity segment of his business.

“My five-year plan is for us to be a very powerful private equity company,” he says. “Right now we’re in a couple different industries. I’d like to continue to diversify into the private equity business. We have a hospitality division, a real estate division and a private equity division. My vision is that our private equity division will oversee all those divisions.”
Back to top

neo_wtw_jonathonsawyer_bwJonathon Sawyer
chef and entrepreneur

The James Beard award-winning chef has established himself as a successful restaurateur with The Greenhouse Tavern, Noodlecat and his latest venture, Trentina. Sawyer has been on numerous culinary TV shows and competitions and served as a mentor and investor on the CNBC TV series, “Cleveland Hustles,” which was produced by LeBron James and Maverick Carter.

“For the new year, I tend to focus on my path of the next 365 days,” Sawyer says. “In 2017, I want to focus on personal growth through meditation, which I have started practicing this past year, as well as a focus on giving back to our communities with my family.”
Back to top

neo_wtw_dougprice_kdgroup_bwDoug Price
K&D Management LLC

The Terminal Tower is an iconic building that has defined the Cleveland skyline since it was formally dedicated in 1930. In September, the 52-story skyscraper was sold from Forest City Realty Trust Inc. to K&D Management LLC. K&D is Northeast Ohio’s largest privately owned property management and development firm, managing over 40 apartment and condominium communities that comprise nearly 13,000 units. Price has a plan to convert 12 of the Terminal Tower’s lower floors into apartments while maintaining the office space and observation deck that are part of the building’s upper floors.
Back to top

Public Sector/Government

neo_wtw_mayorfrankjackson1_bwFrank G. Jackson
City of Cleveland

The past year saw some exciting new projects wrap up in downtown Cleveland. A $50 million renovation of Public Square was part of an effort by the city’s Group Plan Commission, appointed by Mayor Jackson, to better connect the city’s signature public spaces. Another highlight of 2016 was the opening of the Hilton Cleveland Downtown, which connects to the Huntington Convention Center and served as the official hotel for the Host Committee of the Republican National Convention. One of Jackson’s goals for 2017 is to find ways to bring economic prosperity to other parts of the city, says Dan Williams, media relations director for the mayor.

“There are certainly a lot of things going on downtown,” Williams says. “You’ve got communities that are able to invest a dollar and get $8 or $9 in return on that investment. You have other communities where you put $1 and you’re not going to get anything, or very little back. We want to even that boat and have everybody floating on the same economic prosperity. That’s the hard work we’re going to continue to do across all the communities in the city of Cleveland.”

He will also focus on education reform and enhanced services for citizens, businesses and visitors to Cleveland.
Back to top

neo_wtw_mariannecrosley_clevelandleadershipcenter_bwMarianne Crosley
president and CEO
Cleveland Leadership Center

Crosley joined The Cleveland Leadership Center in 2010 and was named president and CEO six months later. The Leadership Center offers civic education and leadership development programs for leaders of all ages and stages of life, and serves over 800 individuals every year. Previously, Crosley served as the founding executive director of Summer on the Cuyahoga, an economic development initiative that successfully attracts young talent to the region. CLC’s mission is to build a continuum of civic leaders who can continue to make Cleveland a great place to live, work and play, and Crosley will play a prominent role in enabling that to happen.
Back to top

neo_wtw_jasonsegedy_cityofakron_bwJason Segedy
director of planning
and urban development
City of Akron

Segedy has been called an informed, intelligent, forthcoming person whose interest centers on Akron’s neighborhoods and history — Segedy was the editor of The Akron Anthology, a collection of essays about the city.

He helped organize the Better Block project in 2015, which, for a weekend, sought to demonstrate what a neighborhood could look like by erecting temporary bike lanes and pop-up businesses in open retail spaces with the aim of inspiring people to make those amenities permanent.

Segedy has and is expected to continue to improve the landscape for Akron residents. His goal, in part, is to reverse decades of population loss, wanting to see the population climb back over 200,000 by 2020 and hit 250,000 by 2050. His focus is on creating quality housing by rehabbing the existing stock and providing new single-family and multi-family structures, making neighborhoods more attractive to residents, working with entrepreneurs to start businesses in the city, among other initiatives.
Back to top

neo_wtw_theodorecarter_cuyahogacounty_bwTheodore Carter
chief economic development & business officer
Cuyahoga County

Carter came to Cuyahoga County last March from Jacksonville, Florida, where he worked with public/private sector partners to facilitate nearly $700 million in projected capital investment and a projected 2,500 new jobs. Those results have Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish thinking big about Carter’s new role.

“One of my core strategic initiatives as county executive is job growth and opportunity, which means we need to create, grow and attract more businesses,” Budish says. “With the addition of Ted Carter to our leadership team, I am proud to say that we have gained a tremendous resource for our county and I am looking forward to working with him on the very important matter of adding jobs in our county.”
Back to top

neo_wtw_senatorsherrodbrown_bwSen. Sherrod Brown

Sen. Brown is focused on creating jobs, strengthening the middle class and protecting earned benefits like Medicare and Social Security for seniors. Brown plans to use his positions as the top Democrat on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, and as a member of the Senate Finance Committee, to hold President-elect Trump to his promises to overhaul U.S. trade policy so it works better for Ohioans. He also wants to strengthen American infrastructure and prioritize tax reform.
Back to top

neo_wtw_lindahale_akronlibrary_bwLinda Hale
microbusiness specialist
Akron Summit County Public Library

Hale is a doer. From a $190,000 Knight Foundation grant to the library, she built out the Microbusiness Center and Makerspace, both of which opened in the first half of 2016. The Microbusiness Center now has more than 145 clients that regularly visit and use the co-working and meeting space.

The library’s maker space is designed to complement the co-working space and includes a 3D printer and laser engraver for making prototypes, a vinyl printer and cutter for making banners and other items, a button maker and more. She is working with the Small Business Development Center in Akron, in addition to other area startup agencies, to add to the library’s business-oriented programming. She also hosts and runs the monthly Caffeinated Ideas program, done through library’s Microbusiness Center, which offers people a place to discuss business ideas before they launch.

Outside of the library, Hale is the coordinator of the Akron chapter of Sundown Rundown, a pitch event for entrepreneurs and those willing to help them get their companies started in the region.
Back to top


neo_wtw_alexjohnson_tric_bwAlex Johnson, Ph.D.
Cuyahoga Community College

Cuyahoga Community College launched a two-year project last fall to reshape the outdated Campus Center of Tri-C’s Metropolitan Campus. The new design will add 11,000 square-feet of usable space, allowing for an expansion of social areas as well as classroom and meeting space. There will also be a reconstruction of the Metro Campus walkways that carry visitors across the grounds and the conversion of a concrete canvas into an urban oasis lush with greenery, according to a Tri-C news release. Johnson served as president of the Metropolitan Campus from 1993 to 2003. Since being named president of the college in July 2013, he has led Tri-C to record numbers of graduates. In addition, more than 3,000 high school students enrolled in classes for the 2015 fall semester, a 50 percent increase from the 2014 fall semester.
Back to top

neo_wtw_ericgordon_clevelandschools_bwEric Gordon
Cleveland Metropolitan School District

Gordon was presented the 2016 Green-Garner Award, the nation’s highest urban education honor that recognizes outstanding contributions in urban education. Gordon, a graduate of Bowling Green State University, has helped the Cleveland Schools increase graduation rates, strengthen parent participation and boost district enrollment.

“Eric Gordon has made a profound difference in the lives of thousands of Cleveland’s students, helped propel a once-struggling school system forward and significantly contributed to the future of the great city of Cleveland,” says Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, which presented the award to Gordon.
Back to top

neo_wtw_parajones_starkstatecollege_bwPara M. Jones, Ph.D
Stark State College

Jones, the first female president of Stark State College, is driven by her belief that students are best served by affordable, quality education that leads to rewarding careers. Jones is working to prepare the college to take advantage of today’s opportunities, identify the right leadership to understand the needs of the community, and determine what the college’s role could and should be to serve its students, the businesses in its community and the region. To that end, under her leadership, the college has opened an Akron campus of Stark State College. The 50,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility on 11 acres of land is designed to attract commuter students from throughout Summit to the county’s first community college.

Jones received the 2013 Greater Stark County ATHENA Leadership Award honoring her for professional excellence, community service and for actively assisting women and men in their attainment of professional excellence and leadership skills.
Back to top

neo_wtw_annalvyas_universityofakron_bwAnnal Vyas
visiting assistant professor of clinical law, co-director of the EXL Center
University of Akron

Vyas, visiting assistant professor of clinical law, teaching business planning law and cyber law, and co-director of the EXL Center at the University of Akron, is in the middle of many of the events that bring people together in Akron. The biggest of which is Pecha Kucha Akron, an event he founded that draws hundreds of people a few times a year to hear storytellers talk about topics of interest through a rapid-fire PowerPoint presentation.

Vyas joined The Akron Global Business Accelerator in 2014 as an adviser and serves as legal counsel for The Bit Factory, and assists with the Small Entrepreneur and Economic Development (SEED) Clinic.

He started NEXTOhio, a tech startup conference for founders, programmers, investors and the broader community with the goal of showcasing Northeast Ohio as a place to start a tech company. He says he wants to change the perception of the area from being part of The Rust Belt to being The Tech Belt.
Back to top

neo_wtw_tedginn_bwTed Ginn Sr.
executive director
Ginn Academy

Ginn Sr. is proof that one man can make a difference. His goal is to make connections with at-risk young men in the Cleveland area and help them get on a better path in their lives. Each student has his own mentor, a full-time life coach who is on staff at the school and ready to help when help is needed.

“I wanted to make sure that our kids got a proper shot,” Ginn says of the school, which opened in 2007 as the only single-gender, public high school in Ohio. “Love is shown any way you give kids what they need to be successful. Every day we tell them we love them and we give them what they need. We spend time with them and we have a relationship with them.”

We can only hope that Ginn’s efforts to help these young men find their path in life will continue to succeed in 2017.
Back to top

Health care

neo_wtw_jennifersavitski_akrongeneral_bwDr. Jennifer Savitski
program director and vice chair, department of OB/GYN; medical director, PATH center and program
Cleveland Clinic Akron General

Savitski has led the charge to bring an integral service that had been discontinued. The hospital’s SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) program provides quality, trauma-informed, compassionate care to Summit County victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, elder abuse and neglect.

Nurses go through 40 hours of base training, as well as clinical training to help sexual assault victims, and also have been trained on the neurobiology of trauma and how that may affect a patient’s response to the sexual assault or domestic violence that they may have experienced.

The program is said to improve the quality of evidence collection, and is important to strengthen the ability to prosecute the person responsible for the crime, while allowing nurses to focus their care directly on victims without having other responsibilities as distractions.
Back to top

neo_wtw_tomzenty_uh_bwThomas F. Zenty III
University Hospitals

University Hospitals has received a $500,000 grant from the Ohio Third Frontier Technology Validation and Start-up Fund, part of the Ohio Third Frontier, to support the UH Technology Venture Fund. UH will match the grant with an equal amount of money to create a $1 million pool of funds that will in turn support validation projects for technologies or devices that already have achieved proof of concept and have the potential for licensing to Ohio startup companies. On a personal note, Zenty has been named honorary chairperson for the 2017 World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational to be held Aug. 2-6 at Firestone Country Club in Akron.
Back to top

neo_wtw_akramboutros_metrohealth_bwDr. Akram Boutros
fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE), president and CEO
MetroHealth System

Boutros took his current post at MetroHealth in June 2013 and has helped bring the hospital back from the brink of financial disaster. Plans were announced in late November to seek the funding needed to rebuild the hospital at West 25th Street. Boutros’s No. 1 goal is to secure that financing and then begin construction on MetroHealth’s new home in the city of Cleveland. In addition to these organizational goals, he’s set a personal goal to lose weight.
Back to top

neo_wtw_tobycosgrove_clevelandclinic_bwDr. Delos “Toby” M.
president and CEO
Cleveland Clinic

In December, Cosgrove was named to President-elect Donald J. Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum designed to grow and strengthen the U.S. economy. “I applaud his efforts to bring together leaders across industries to gain insight that will assist the new president in making important decisions that will impact every American,” Cosgrove says in a news release. “I am deeply committed and take this role very seriously.”

Under Cosgrove’s leadership, Cleveland Clinic has been consistently named one of the country’s top hospitals. As an innovator, Cosgrove has 30 patents filed for developing medical and clinical products used in surgical environments and he has performed more than 22,000 operations.
Back to top


neo_wtw_dangilbert_clevelandcavaliers_bwDan Gilbert
majority owner
Cleveland Cavaliers
founder and chairman
Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures

When Gilbert arrived in Cleveland as the new owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, he had a vision for what took place in Cleveland on the night of June 19, 2016. As the Cavs finished off their comeback from a 3-1 deficit to dethrone the Golden State Warriors and won Cleveland’s first pro sports title since 1964, thousands of people poured into downtown to celebrate the moment. Gilbert’s team at The Q quickly had to switch gears, however, and clear out in preparation for the 2016 Republican National Convention, which turned out to be a shining moment for Cleveland. As the Cavs continue to work toward what they hope will be a repeat in the 2017 NBA Finals, Gilbert has his eye on a remake for The Avenue Shops at Tower City Center, which he purchased in March 2016. He also continues to make a difference in the Cleveland community through the Cavaliers Youth Fund, which has made grants totaling more than $23 million to deserving nonprofits and charitable groups.
Back to top

neo_wtw_kenbabby_akronrubberducks_bwKen Babby
owner and CEO
Akron RubberDucks

Babby has completely transformed affordable family fun in Akron. Since taking over the team, he’s invested more than $7 million in the franchise. That’s translated in part to a complete rebranding and physical improvements to the ballpark, which have helped rekindled the city’s interest in the minor league team and improved attendance from an average of 3,772 per game in 2012 to an average of 5,074 in 2016.

Akron-area State of Ohio Reps. Emilia Sykes and Greta Johnson in November 2016 honored the Akron RubberDucks’ Eastern League Championship win and the organization’s dedication to the community with a House resolution. That same year the team was the Eastern League nominee for the John H. Johnson President’s Award, which honors a franchise that has demonstrated stability while making significant contributions to its community. In 2015, the team won Larry MacPhail Award, symbolizing the top promotional effort in all of minor-league baseball.

In April, Sports Business Daily named Babby among its 40 under 40.
Back to top

neo_wtw_davidbaker_halloffame_bwDavid Baker
Pro Football Hall of Fame

Baker is making huge strides with the Hall of Fame, leading the Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village project, a nearly $600 million development of the Hall’s campus. The project, which is expected to be complete in 2019, includes nine main components that improve the museum, build a brand-new stadium, add a hotel and conference center, restaurants and retail, a youth sports complex, and a virtual reality venue and rides.

The project is expected to create over 13,000 new jobs by its peak, and its economic impact to Stark County alone is projected to be $15.3 billion over the first 25 years from its completion while creating $1 billion in tax revenue for the state in same span.

The deal with Johnson Controls for naming rights to the Hall of Fame village is reportedly worth more than $100 million, and has been called the largest ever naming rights deal for this size market. The 18-year deal will create the first entertainment and sports “smart city.”

Baker’s strong leadership is said to be integral to the project, which is being created based on the mission to honor the heroes of the game, preserve its history, promote its values and celebrate excellence everywhere.
Back to top

neo_wtw_chrisantonetti_clevelandindians_bwChris Antonetti
president of baseball operations
Cleveland Indians

Antonetti may find it difficult to top 2016. The Indians came within one game of the franchise’s first World Series title in 68 years, taking the Chicago Cubs to Game 7 before falling short in an epic final showdown at Progressive Field. It was difficult to go anywhere in October without seeing fans wearing their Tribe gear. But there are already positive signs for 2017. Reports indicate season ticket sales are up and fans are already counting down the days to the beginning of spring training in Goodyear, Arizona. Antonetti goes into the new season as the reigning Executive of the Year by Baseball America. Here’s hoping Antonetti can keep making the right moves to keep the Tribe in contention for years to come.
Back to top


neo_wtw_markmasuoka_akronartmuseum_bwMark Masuoka
executive director and CEO
Akron Art Museum

Masuoka, Akron Art Museum’s recently hired executive director and CEO, is renowned for heightening community engagement, increasing accessibility and developing a model for the next generation of art museums by connecting the community to artists and the creative process. Fueling that effort is a multi-year, $750,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, which has helped the museum bring art out of its galleries and directly into the community with Inside|Out. This community activated art project, headed into its third year, brings high-quality reproductions from the museum’s collection out into Akron area neighborhoods.

The museum also built the Bud and Susie Rogers Garden, a one-acre urban garden that serves as the museum’s outdoor gallery, community space and a new civic commons. Masuoka is helping the Akron Art Museum set a course for the future that has reframed the museum’s position and message.
Back to top

neo_wtw_williamgriswold_clevelandmuseumofart_bwWilliam M. Griswold
director and president
Cleveland Museum of Art

Griswold arrived at the Cleveland Museum of Art in May 2014 at a time of great anticipation as the museum had just completed a $350 million capital campaign that transformed everything about the museum. In 2017 and beyond, Griswold’s focus will be to “build on the momentum we’ve achieved during our centennial year and to leverage the museum’s world-class collection and spectacular architectural legacy, as well as the extraordinary expertise of its staff and community partners.”

“We will deepen our visitors’ engagement with art through a host of exciting public programs, enhancements to our innovative Gallery One, and such important upcoming exhibitions as ‘Basquiat,’ ‘Alex Katz,’ ‘Japanese Art from the Collection of George Gund,’ and ‘The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s,’” Griswold says.
Back to top

neo_wtw_nicolemullet_artsnow_bwNicole Mullet
executive director

Mullet is the executive director of ArtsNow, an organization that, in a little more than a year, has brought arts culture to the forefront in Summit County. Its creation is a direct result of the recent Summit County Arts Assessment, which engaged more than 1,000 individuals around questions about the county’s arts and culture scene.

In addition to her work with ArtsNow, Mullet currently serves as president of Torchbearers, a service and leadership development organization. She has a special interest in talent attraction and retention, and in 2014 launched InternEdge in conjunction with Torchbearers and Leadership Akron, a program that connected 60 interns from colleges around the state to the greater Akron area with the goal of retaining them after college.

The Greater Akron Chamber selected Mullet as one of its 30 For the Future recipients of 2014, identifying her as a young professional who positively impacts her industry and the Greater Akron Region.
Back to top


neo_wtw_kristinwarzocha_clevelandfoodbank_bwKristin Warzocha
president and CEO
Greater Cleveland Food Bank

Warzocha has a number of goals that will guide her work at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank in 2017. She wants to establish four community food resource centers spread throughout the nonprofit’s six-county service area, which includes Ashland, Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake and Richland counties. Greater Cleveland Food Bank provided 47.8 million meals in 2015 to hungry people in these counties. Warzocha also has plans to develop and pilot at least one additional meal type to reach a special need population (children, senior citizens or those with health issues), as well as build operational capacity so that it is never a barrier to the growth of new programs.
Back to top

neo_wtw_debbieberry_universitycircle_bwDebbie Berry, PE
vice president of planning & real estate development
University Circle Inc.

Berry and her team at UCI will be embarking on a new strategic plan for the organization to further shape its future in the coming years.

“With relatively little land left to develop in the Circle proper, we want to focus on collaborating with our surrounding neighborhoods to further strengthen the district in terms of housing, jobs and public amenities,” Berry says.

Berry will also help lead the 100-year anniversary celebration for Cleveland Metroparks.

“We have just released a coffee table book detailing our history and incredible investments in the community,” Berry says. “It’s available online and at all Metroparks stores and kiosks.”
Back to top

neo_wtw_tommybruno_the-summit_bwTommy Bruno
general manager and executive director
The Summit

Bruno is the general manager and executive director at The Summit. The non-commercial public radio station opened a KIDJAM! Radio Broadcast Recording Studio at Akron Children’s Hospital. It offers young patients a unique radio broadcast recording experience to augment the healing and coping process through its focus on media education, self-reflection and fun. The studio is wheelchair-accessible and bed-bound patients may participate from their rooms through a hand-held recording device. Summit-trained volunteers help operate the KIDJAM! studio and guide patients through the recording experience.
Back to top

neo_wtw_erinvictor_akronsnowangels_bwErin Victor
Akron Snow Angels

Victor founded Akron Snow Angels at the end of January 2015 after she noticed many homeless people were going through the winter without socks and other basics. She started placing items such as socks, gloves and scarves in plastic bags in public places where homeless people seem to congregate that carried tags that read: “I am not lost! If you need this to keep warm, please take it. Be safe and know you are loved.” In August 2015, the Akron Snow Angels received nonprofit, tax-exempt status. Her organization is picking up traction quickly.

Today, the Akron Snow Angels has more than 2,000 volunteers and has to turn people away from its delivery efforts in the winter so as not to intimidate the people who are receiving the clothing items. Special requests are always accepted and every effort is made to grant them, whether it’s someone who needs a coat, a mattress to sleep on, toothpaste or a Bible.
Back to top

The importance of knowing when to prioritize speed over perfection

In business we are often taught that perfection is the goal; that every detail matters all the time, and that you need to check and re-check everything to be sure that the end product is ideally prepared, simple to read and beautifully packaged.

That is largely great advice. In today’s digital economy, once you release work into the world it is there to stay.

However, our economy’s digital transformation has also taught us that speed is a critical aspect of the way we work. Now, more than ever, we need to determine which tasks need to prioritize perfection and which can be slightly less than perfect if we are fast.

How do we balance these needs, especially when some projects require 20 percent of the time to deliver the final 5 percent of the value? One way is to be very intentional about which projects need to be perfect and which don’t. In academic terms, in which instances would delivering B+ work tomorrow be better than completing A work a week later?

Here are a few examples of some times when we, as leaders, can help our teams increase their output by being clearer about the amount of time that should be spent in the creative stage of the project versus adding the finishing touches.

■  First drafts — Many times the first draft of a project plan or client report can go in many directions once a manager or a larger team has reviewed it. For first drafts, focus primarily on the quality of content as opposed to investing in the appearance.

■  Projects with broad teams — The more teams involved, the more likely a project is going to move in a direction different than where it started. If there are multiple teams engaged, go broad and refine the details in a future phase.

■  Internal use only — If it is just for peers to review, substance trumps style.

■  Reacting to a customer problem — The final response to a client issue is critical and needs to be carefully scrutinized, but early in the process it is often more critical that all involved parties have the necessary information to make informed decisions. When reacting to a customer problem, get the information out first and openly request what additional information is needed. The sooner everyone is aware, the better the end resolution can be.

Low-quality work is never a good choice, regardless of how quickly it is delivered. Your professional career is dependent on showing that you can deliver quality work. It’s also dependent on delivering an extremely high quantity of work. Knowing when to prioritize each side of that equation can pay big dividends for you and your team.

Sam Falletta is CEO at Incept Corp.

Why you can’t afford to undervalue new sales leads

It occurs to me that more and more often, there is a disconnect between how sales organizations are built and how buyers are purchasing. This is especially true in business-to-business segments in Northeast Ohio. Many B2B sales organizations are still structured very similar to the way they were built 15 to 20 years ago.

Typically, these organizations have significant investment in the bottom-of-the-funnel personnel and activities, including a high-priced “closer” as the vice president of sales. They are typically built around success in face-to-face deal-making.

At the same time, buyers have drastically changed the way they purchase. CEB Marketing has identified that customers are now, on average, 57 percent of the way through the buying process before they ever engage a salesperson. The average size of the purchasing group continues to increase, making it more and more difficult to control the variables involved in acquiring a new customer.

The trends show that it is necessary to spend more and more time being certain that you are consistently adding new prospects to the top of the funnel. Yet all too many companies spend a disproportionate level of investment at the bottom of their sales funnel.

How can you make the most of the top half of your funnel?

Make monthly introductions a key performance indicator for your sales team
How many new prospects did you engage with last month? This can include meeting someone new at a trade show, someone who subscribed to your newsletter or downloaded a white paper. No matter the definition, place significant attention on making sure the top of your funnel is growing consistently.

Track, improve your speed to react to ‘hand-raisers’
A prospect is significantly more educated about your company by the time they provide you his or her contact information, so responding to a request in real time is critical. In fact, a lead response time study shows that contacting a web lead in five minutes or less is 900 times more effective than contacting them in one hour.

Provide value to each person in the decision-making process
Instead of just focusing on the executive sponsor who will make the final decision on your product or service, develop content around each of the influencers and why your company is the right choice. The size of buying groups continue to increase and the access to information continues to get easier. Those that target the influencers will have advocates in the discussions you are not present for.

Customers are going to continue to make more and more of the buying decisions without you involved in the process. The best way to offset this change is to be sure you are consistently filling the top of your funnel, and developing improved tactics and content for each stage so you aren’t as dependent on your salesperson to do it.

Sam Falletta is CEO at Incept Corp.

Millennials bring challenges, but also opportunity to your business

Earlier this year, Pew Research reported a huge change for the future of business that you may not have noticed. As of April 2016, millennials overtook baby boomers as the largest generation in the workforce. It’s a development that will change the way we lead and manage our companies for years to come.

Are we ready as business owners? Based on recent Gallup polls showing that millennials are the least engaged generation in the workplace, it appears many are not.

I often hear leaders lament the differences of millennials by saying that they lack the same work effort of previous generations, are asking “why” before jumping into any assignment and rely on text or email more than face-to-face or phone communications.

Here are direct ways you can begin tapping into the power of millennials today:

Make it easier for them to provide feedback. Many companies still use outdated methods for employees to provide feedback or suggestions for company improvement. Evaluate yours. Do you have an intranet that is always available for feedback? Do you have a scheduled monthly meeting where you receive opportunities for improvement from your team? Make sure everyone has a way to get information to you. The faster, the better.

Embrace the ‘why’ questions. Many millennials want to understand how individual assignments tie to the overall company goals or, even more broadly, to an improvement in society.  These questions are great opportunities to pause and validate your plans by giving them a second thought, or even open them up for debate.

Listen to the feedback you receive. Millennials are used to everything around them changing constantly, especially in regards to anything related to the digital customer experiences. Where they may have less business experience, they are true digital natives and can serve as canaries in the coalmine of managing digital transactions with your customers. Use their feedback wisely.

Allow them to implement the ideas. When you receive feedback or suggestions, do your best to make them a part (or the owner) of implementing a suggestion. Be direct about timing and budget expectations and give them some autonomy to get it done. It’s likely to breed an additional level of engagement in the organization.

As with all generations, millennials are different and provide a unique set of strengths and challenges. The ones who learn to harness those strengths and work through those challenges are going to attract a steady flow of some of the smartest and most capable leaders to their businesses for a long time, paving the way for great opportunity. Those that don’t may have a very difficult transition through the ever-changing economy. ●

Sam Falletta is CEO at Incept Corp.

Northeast Ohio’s 2016 Smart 50 Awards celebrate area’s top executives

For the third year, Corporate College and Cuyahoga Community College announces its Smart 50 Awards, presented by Smart Business, and I want to personally congratulate the recipients.

We are privileged to partner with Smart Business and present the awards to celebrate Northeast Ohio’s top executives and in recognition of their talent to effectively build and lead innovative and “smart” organizations. All of this year’s honorees have made a difference in their organizations and in the region. Their positive impact on employment and business sustainability, and ability to generate new ideas and innovation in everyday expectations, has reinvented the Northeast Ohio landscape into one of the most up-and-coming business regions in the country.

These large, midsized and emerging companies’ leaders motivate and inspire people, and are passionate and focused in what they do. The executives we are celebrating today are able to tackle unique business challenges and continue to lead their organizations toward success. Corporate College is honored to acknowledge this year’s nominees.

Corporate College is a division of Cuyahoga Community College, a nationally recognized leader in higher education and member of the League for Innovation in the Community College. Corporate College is known for its best-in-class client solutions including training, consulting, conference and hospitality services to the business community and its strategic partners.

Since its inception in 2003, Corporate College has worked with organizations in all sectors and professionals at every level. We run our organization as a business would run theirs and understand the challenges leaders and organizations face. Clients turn to us for training solutions to meet their strategic business goals and consulting services that improve individual, team and organizational performance. Corporate College provides professional training and development tailored for today’s dynamic business environment.



neo_BobPetersonRobert J. Peterson, J.D., CPA
President and CEO
Corporate College, a Division of Cuyahoga Community College
[email protected]


Quick links:

HONOREES Alcoa Wheel and Transportation Products, Tim Myers | American Brass and Manufacturing, Robert F. McConville | Anderson-DuBose Co., Warren Anderson | ASW Global, André Thornton | Blue Spark Technologies, John Gannon, | Bravo Wellness, Jim Pshock | City of Cleveland, Mayor Frank G. Jackson | CLE Clothing, Mike Kubinski | Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Evalyn Gates, Ph.D. | Cleveland State University, Ronald Berkman, Ph.D. | Content Marketing Institute, Joe Pulizzi  | Dakota Software, Reginald Shiverick | Daniels Amish Collection, Christopher Karman |EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute, Brandon Chrostowski | Evergreen Industrial Batteries, Bob Rowland | Fifth Third Bank, Jerry Kelsheimer

Fiorilli Construction, Carmen Fiorilli | Flavorseal, Chris Carroll | Greater Cleveland Food Bank, Kristin Warzocha | Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, Destination Cleveland, David Gilbert |Hyland, creator of OnBase Bill Priemer | Incept, Sam Falletta | Jakprints, Nick DeTomaso | Jarrett Logistics and PackShip USA, Michael Jarrett | Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, Jon Pinney | Laudan Properties, Kevin Weidinger | Magnus International Group, Eric Lofquist and Scott Forster, | McDonald Hopkins, Carl Grassi | Medical Mutual of Ohio, Kathy Golovan | MetroHealth System, Craig Richmond |National Interstate Insurance Co. Tony Mercurio | Northern Ohio Recovery Association, Anita Bradley | Nottingham Spirk, John Nottingham and John Spirk

Our Lady of the Wayside, Terry Davis | Pierre’s Ice Cream Co., Shelley Roth | Rock and Rock Hall of Fame and Museum, Greg Harris | Roll-Kraft, Sanjay Singh | Saint Ignatius High School, Richard Klingshirn, | Shiloh Industries, Ramzi Hermiz | Slate Rock Safety, Kimberly Wilson | So Curly, So Kinky, So Straight, Monica Green |Thompson Hine Robyn Minter Smyers | Towards Employment, Jill Rizika | The Greenhouse Tavern, Trentina, Noodle Cat, Jonathan Sawyer | University Circle Inc., Chris Ronayne | Vitamix, Loree Connors | Vocon, Debbie Donley |Western Reserve Partners David Dunstan | WhiteSpace Creative, Keeven White| YWCA Greater Cleveland, Margaret Mitchell

Back to top

Here are the 2016 Northeast Ohio Smart 50

neo_WarrenAndersonWarren Anderson
President and CEO
The Anderson-DuBose Co.

In November, Warren Anderson will celebrate his 25th year as founder and owner of The Anderson-DuBose Co. — a business that has undergone many changes. Back in 1991, Anderson, who serves as president and CEO, purchased a distribution operation from Martin Brower that serviced McDonald’s restaurants out of Solon and still maintains more than a dozen McDonald’s distribution centers in the U.S.

He had approached McDonald’s two years earlier and told the restaurant chain that he would work for free in return for the opportunity to operate a McDonald’s distribution center. If he proved himself worthy, he would get the opportunity to purchase and operate one at the end of his work. McDonald’s agreed to give Anderson the chance and he proved to be a master at running every aspect of the business. Two years later, through hard work and securing his own financing, he was able to create and open his own distribution operation.
Back to top

Back to top


neo_RonBerkmanRonald M. Berkman
Cleveland State University

The board of trustees unanimously selected Ronald M. Berkman to serve as president at Cleveland State University on April 26, 2009. Berkman came to CSU from Florida International University in Miami where he served most recently as provost, executive vice president and COO. In his seventh year at CSU, Berkman has established the university as a prominent and innovative force in urban higher education. He has championed the creation of a student-centric environment to promote student success.

A record-setting freshman classes and a $500 million campus makeover, which has sparked private downtown development and community building collaborations, creating internship opportunities for students, have marked Berkman’s tenure at CSU.

Berkman, who earned his doctorate from Princeton University, has broad experience in the public policy arena. This includes his leadership of empowerment zone projects in New York City and Miami, directing the Public-Private Partnership Initiative for the U.S. Conference of Mayors and directing the National Urban Summit and Governor Bush’s Health Care Summit.

Back to top


neo_AnitaBradleyAnita Bradley
Executive director and CEO
Northern Ohio Recovery Association (NORA)

Anita Bradley was recognized by the White House in April as a “Champion of Change” for leadership in preventing prescription drug abuse and heroin use, increasing access to treatment and supporting the millions of Americans in recovery. She is the CEO of the Northern Ohio Recovery Association (NORA), which she founded in 2004.

Bradley has been in recovery from a substance abuse disorder for more than 25 years and understands how important it is to blend personal and professional knowledge to promote the possibility of recovery. She built a peer-to-peer training program offered at Cuyahoga Community College and opened the Next Step Recovery House, a residential recovery housing facility for women and children on Cleveland’s near west side.

She also recently launched the Ohio Addiction Recovery Promotion Network to respond to the opioid crisis and ensure that the voice for recovery from substance use disorders is included in Ohio planning and policy efforts.

Back to top


neo_ChrisCarrollChris Carroll

As president of Flavorseal, Chris Carroll has made it his mission to institute and reinforce three different values that define smart organizations, according to a 2009 study by the Naval Postgraduate School. These values are a clear, strategic vision communicated throughout the organization, a culture of respect for individual ideas and a careful selection of the right people to support these values.

In a company with a manufacturing plant and a front office, it can be difficult to ensure that every employee understands the direction of the business. Using simplified slogans that are repeated on T-shirts, banners and throughout employee newsletters, Carroll communicates and reinforces the company direction to all Flavorseal employees.

Quarterly state of the business meetings keep everyone informed not only of how the company is doing and the direction, but of outside influences which may affect the company’s future. Over the last few years, Carroll has carefully cultivate a management team that not only understands the vision for the future, but is as committed to it as he is.

Back to top


neo_BrandonChrostowskiBrandon E. Chrostowski
Founder, president and CEO
EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute

EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute strongly believes in second chances. By offering formerly incarcerated adults a foundation in the hospitality industry and providing a support network necessary for a successful re-entry, EDWINS is achieving considerable success.

Founded in 2007 by Brandon E. Chrostowski, president and CEO, EDWINS has had 114 graduates with 101 still employed in the restaurant industry. None has returned to prison.

In addition to teaching future business leaders a skill and to believe in themselves, EDWINS educates the public through the restaurant and strategic community engagement that successful re-entry is possible. With more than $2.5 million in philanthropic support since Nov. 1, 2013, the community sees the face of re-entry changing across the world.

Working close to 100 hours per week, Chrostowski requires his team to do whatever it takes to change the face of re-entry into society; he fights each day for those that society has thrown away.

Back to top


neo_LoreeConnorsLoree W. Connors
CFO and Treasurer

As a key member of the Vitamix executive team, Loree W. Connors, CFO and treasurer, plays a critical role in setting company strategy. Over her 11-year tenure she has initiated and successfully implemented a wide range of projects that have led to significant, measurable improvements.

Connors’ cultural initiatives included revising the company’s vision and mission statements and defining the company’s guiding principles through an appreciative inquiry approach. She tackled a series of business-critical processes that included internal control reviews, enterprise risk management, approvals for capital acquisitions and project management. And, under her financial stewardship, Vitamix has achieved a strong balance sheet with consistent healthy profitability results. In fact, total shareholder value has increased by five times over the past decade.

Beyond financial impact, Connors has a profound positive influence on the company through her leadership. She helped guide the company through a period of rapid growth and position it for global expansion. As a result, Vitamix machines are now sold in more than 140 countries.

Back to top


neo_TerryDavisTerry Davis
President and CEO
Our Lady of the Wayside

It was September 1991 and Medicaid’s certification team handed Our Lady of the Wayside 90 pages of deficiencies to be fixed in 90 days or the agency’s doors would close. At the time, 100 children and adults with developmental disabilities lived at Wayside. Their families paid out of pocket for the 24/7 services and it had become impossible to keep up with skyrocketing health care costs. The agency was more than broke: Fundraising was maxed out, families had nothing left and the board had taken on the additional debt necessary to put staff and equipment in place.
Transitioning to a Medicaid model was the only way to save the day. A call was made to Terry Davis, who was told it was all or nothing. Davis chose all and things began to turn around. Starting day one, the president and CEO worked to address every deficiency. The following Christmas Eve, the agency secured a perfect survey ultimately resulting in a check from Medicaid for $3 million.

Back to top


neo_NickDeTomasoNick DeTomaso

While some companies may avoid product line diversification, Nick DeTomaso is using it to his advantage. The CEO of Jakprints, DeTomaso believed it was rare that anyone needed to print just one thing at a time, for example, a charity event probably needs fliers, direct mail pieces, banners and T-shirts.

This diversity helps insulate the business from isolated market trends — if T-shirt sales are down, there are four other product areas to carry the weight.

Another key to success is the company’s ability to produce apparel, home goods and artwork individually, on demand and shipped directly to the customer, eliminating the need for clients to manage bulk ordering, warehousing and distribution centers.

One of the first companies in North America to purchase a million-dollar digital Heidelberg Anicolor offset press, Jakprints can produce high-quality material quickly and with little waste.

Back to top


neo_DebbieDonleyDebbie Donley
Founder and Principal

From the day she founded Vocon in 1987, Debbie Donley has taken an incredibly smart, strategic approach to building her business. Under her leadership as founder and principal, the firm took a pioneering approach to its business strategy, differentiating Vocon from other firms.

Donley is not an architect or designer — her role is to focus on the business management and development pieces of the firm, enabling its architects and designers to focus on design execution.

Part of the firm’s success is Donley’s savvy in creating a place where people actually want to work. For Donley, being a working mom was challenging. It required a careful balance between business and her personal life. Learning from her own situation, Donley prioritized flexible schedules and a family-first attitude at the firm before it was popular. The result: She successfully helped her employees find their own work/life balance.

Back to top


neo_DavidDunstanDavid Dunstan
Managing director, president
Western Reserve Partners LLC

Western Reserve Partners LLC, a boutique middle-market investment banking firm, prides itself on delivering thoughtful advice, keen market insight and superior execution for its clients. As managing director, president, David Dunstan continues to embody and instill this philosophy.

He has been instrumental in implementing new ideas to improve efficiency through open dialogue with employees as well as recognizing new and innovative technological solutions to address and assist with challenges the firm and industry may face. Dunstan has put forth tech solutions to assist with marketing challenges by piloting the firm’s calling initiative, partnered with strong encouragement for utilization of the firm’s CRM database. Both tools have assisted in establishing structure in regards to the firm’s lead generation and nurturing efforts. He has also set high expectations for accountability among colleagues and assisted with implementation of various tracking mechanisms to assure team members are achieving their individual goals, which in turn, contribute to the firm’s continued success.

Back to top


neo_SamFallettaSam Falletta
Owner and CEO

Sam Falletta has been at the center of developing and executing customer engagement strategies for companies like Ford, Honda, Microsoft and the American Red Cross. He has been responsible for more than 20 million conversations between his clients at Incept and their customers. Some of those conversations have helped companies save millions of dollars through the retention and acquisition of customers. Others have literally saved lives through blood donation recruitment.

As owner and CEO, Falletta is not afraid to take risks and proved that by leaving the traditional contact center approach behind as he developed the Incept model. Falletta encourages his employees to be the best versions of themselves by giving the company a youthful appeal with progressive policies, no dress code and community involvement.

Falletta credits a lot of his own personal and professional growth to being a member of Vistage, the world’s largest CEO network. It’s proof that Falletta intends to never stop learning.

Back to top


neo_CarmenFiorilliCarmen Fiorilli
Fiorilli Construction

Fiorilli Construction is in the midst of a five-year company growth plan and impressive results are already being seen. The company, led by Carmen Fiorilli, president, saw 200 percent growth last year and expects 30 percent growth each remaining year of the plan.

A 10-year target has also been identified and progress toward that goal is tracked every quarter. This goal, combined with a unique employee development track and commitment to operate with the values of transparency, integrity and professionalism, is driving success and continued growth. Employees are encouraged to add depth to their own expertise.

Fiorilli Construction is also beta testing proprietary software that improves the access to information for subcontractors, architects, consultants and other professionals. Coupled with Fiorilli’s commitment to an entrepreneurial operating system and the vision and values of the company, the company’s differentiation statement says there is no room for anything but a notch above performance for clients, partners and vendors.
Back to top


JohnGannon-300RJohn Gannon
Blue Spark Technologies Inc.

John Gannon, CEO of Blue Spark Technologies Inc., was thinking one day that a wireless wearable patch might be able to monitor a sick child’s temperature much like perishable goods are monitored in the supply chain. That way, parents wouldn’t have to wake the child to take his or her temperature.

Blue Spark Technologies then developed a wearable wireless thermometer called TempTraq by converging the technological advancement of smartphones, the increasing focus on home health care and the adoption of wearable electronic solutions.

Gannon leads the company to be agile — able to adapt to changing conditions — as well to see the macro trends and develop effective offerings to meet market demands. The company leverages its innovative and collaborative business and technology know-how to develop product offerings that meet and exceed these needs.

Blue Spark continues to develop clinical applications of TempTraq, working with hospitals on various implementations of the technology through trials and studies.

Back to top


neo_EvalynGatesEvalyn Gates, Ph.D.
Executive director and CEO
Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Museums aren’t just buildings full of exhibits collecting dust — and Evalyn Gates, Ph.D., executive director and CEO, is seeing to it that the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, delivers an interactive approach to real science.

Founded in 1920, the museum has undertaken a five-year, three phase, $150 million metamorphosis, which includes a transformational outreach program to improve science education for Ohio’s schoolchildren. Phase I will conclude this month and will include a new Perkins Wildlife Center and a new front entrance featuring artwork by Cleveland’s iconic artist, Viktor Schreckengost.

The goal of the Centennial Project is to reimagine the museum experience — to make science and the collections visible and accessible.

Gates works closely with educators across the region to develop innovative programs that engage students and to spark their curiosity, make learning fun and encourage youth — especially young girls — to pursue science in their academic careers and hopefully inspire the next generation of scientists.

Back to top


neo_DavidGilbertDavid E. Gilbert
President and CEO
Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and Destination Cleveland,

David E. Gilbert is president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and Destination Cleveland. The Sports Commission’s goal is to make Greater Cleveland the nation’s foremost destination for amateur sporting events and activities. The organization is responsible for attracting, promoting and managing major amateur athletic events and to create sporting opportunities for youth and amateur athletes.

Gilbert is also president and CEO of Destination Cleveland, the region’s convention and visitors bureau. Destination Cleveland is a private, nonprofit civic organization that generates demand for business and leisure tourism to the region to improve economic vitality. The organization’s efforts contribute to the region’s $15 billion tourism industry and support the 170,000 jobs created by 29 million visitors to the 17-county region.

Prior to his current role, Gilbert served as director of community affairs and special projects for the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland, where he was responsible for advancing Cleveland’s travel and tourism service standards and related developments.

Back to top


neo_KathyGolovanKathy Golovan
EVP and Chief health officer
Medical Mutual of Ohio

Cost and quality for various health care treatments and procedures vary widely — and Kathy Golovan realized that Medical Mutual of Ohio had an opportunity to take a step forward to help its members get the best value for their health care dollars.

Golovan, EVP and chief health officer for Medical Mutual, led the development and launch of an online health care shopping tool, My Care Compare. This enabled members to shop for the best price, provider and location for health care services and provided the ability to review satisfaction scores for physicians and quality ratings for health care facilities.

With so many people being asked to cover more of the cost for their health care, Golovan believed My Care Compare would be valuable in giving families and individuals more control to avoid higher health care expenses.

Since its debut last year, My Care Compare has been used by thousands of Medical Mutual customers and has provided them valuable assistance.

Back to top


neo_CarlGrassiCarl J. Grassi
McDonald Hopkins

Carl J. Grassi serves as corporate counsel and business adviser to a number of middle-market and growth companies. He has extensive experience assisting clients in areas of complex mergers and acquisitions, choice of entity planning, business succession planning and the financing and structuring of ESOPs, among other services. Grassi, firm president at McDonald Hopkins, also provides service with executive compensation and tax planning, the creation of family limited partnerships, the formation and use of limited liability companies and IRS controversies. He authors a small business tax tips column for a Cleveland business publication and has written other articles for national publications.

Grassi frequently speaks on business related topics for business owners, accountants and lawyers. He earned his juris doctorate degree from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law and his bachelor’s degree from John Carroll University. He is a CPA and a member of the American Bar Association, the Federal Bar Association, the International Lawyers Network and a Life Fellow in the American Bar Foundation.

Back to top


neo_MonicaGreenMonica D. Green
So Curly So Kinky So Straight the Salon

Monica D. Green views her success as a well-established and successful salon owner as an opportunity to develop future entrepreneurs. The owner of So Curly So Kinky So Straight the Salon hosts weekly training sessions, created a partner development program, and regularly takes her stylists to national development conference and events where they serve as workshop presenters and speakers.

At the core of Green’s team development model is her ability to home in on each of her team member’s skill sets and then empower them to “own” an element of the business.

She hosts numerous events — including the Happy to be Nappy event, an all-day free picnic in the park that draws hundreds of people. She partners with other local stylists, artists and beauty professionals to host one of the largest Natural Hair Expos in Ohio. And, throughout the year Green sponsors healthy hair forums, focus groups and training for women and men of all ethnicities and hair types to learn how to take care of their hair and health.

Back to top

GregHarris-300Greg Harris
President and CEO
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

Rock ’n’ roll has always pushed boundaries and questioned the status quo so as The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum celebrates its 20th anniversary, it is undergoing an innovative transformation under the leadership of Greg Harris, president and CEO. Under his direction, the Rock Hall has gained profound insight into its varied audiences – not just who they are, but what inspires and excites them as well as their expectations and attitudes.

That intelligence is at the foundation of an ambitious growth strategy and vision for a renewed and energized Rock Hall and staff. The strategic direction focuses on five key tenets: enhanced learning through exhibits, programs and outreach; a commitment to a reinvigorated, common identity; a culture of innovation; strengthened financial position; and a high-performing workforce.

Harris preaches of music’s unifying quality and takes a global outlook on the future. With a clear strategic vision and an empowered staff, the mission to engage, teach and inspire through rock ‘n’ roll continues.

Back to top


neo_RamziHermizRamzi Y. Hermiz
President and CEO
Shiloh Industries Inc.

Ramzi Y. Hermiz joined Shiloh Industries Inc. as president and CEO in 2012 with a plan to take the 60-year-old company to a new level. An auto industry veteran of 25 years, he envisioned Shiloh as a key player on the forefront of the trends transforming the global automotive landscape.

Under his leadership, Shiloh has transformed from a quiet, regional stamping company to a global innovative solutions provider with a strategic focus on designing, engineering and manufacturing lightweight technologies. Hermiz also believes in empowering his team to make decisions and understand risk with a goal to create a supportive, action-oriented culture.

Hermiz has rebranded Shiloh, last year booking contracts valued at more than $1.2 billion; expanded the company’s customer base to include BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes and Volvo; and expanded from nine North American plants to 25 operations, sales and technical centers throughout Asia, Europe and North America, which more than doubled its employee and revenue base.

Back to top


neo_FrankJacksonFrank G. Jackson
City of Cleveland

Mayor Frank G. Jackson was elected in 2005 and re-elected in 2009 and 2013. The mayor has overseen Cleveland’s dramatic transformation over the past decade through a series of economic development projects that include the completion of the Healthline on Euclid Avenue, creation of an entertainment district on East Fourth Street, a casino at Public Square, development of a new convention center and reinvigoration of the East Bank of the Flats. His goal is to make downtown Cleveland a center of influence where people live, work and play.

Jackson says the formula for success includes the city working with the private sector, which he’s done to launch a series of new economic development projects aimed at continuing Cleveland’s reinvention, such as redevelopment of Public Square, the Opportunity Corridor and the lakefront project — which the mayor expects to create viable economic projects along the shores of Lake Erie.

Back to top


neo_MikeJarrettMichael Jarrett
Jarrett Logistics Systems and PackShip USA

Michael Jarrett has led Jarrett Logistics Systems and PackShip USA to growth though the relationships that logistics coordinators build with each client and the new solutions that are developed out of those relationships.

No distinction is made between the large corporation and the small company. Each customer receives the focus of a dedicated logistics coordinator and a customer account team to provide them with the highest level of customer service. Jarrett, the company’s president, believes in cultivating long-standing relationships between customers and coordinators. The result is new solutions that allow the company to meet immediate needs and challenges with ease.

Another example of Jarrett’s commitment to customers is the frequent visits to customer locations by the executive team, sales team, logistics team and logistics coordinators.

Jarrett has a passion to achieve, the optimism to succeed and the flexibility to make things happen. It all adds up to two exemplary organizations that continue to grow and evolve with the needs of their customers.

Back to top


neo_ChrisKarmanChristopher J. Karman
Daniel’s Amish Collection

Daniel’s Amish Collection is a manufacturer of wooden bedroom and dining furniture, selling products to furniture retailers such as Levin Furniture locally, and other dealers nationwide. Over the past 20 years, more than 75 percent of the U.S. furniture manufacturing business has gone overseas to countries like China and Vietnam. In order to be successful in this economic climate, Christopher J. Karman, the company’s president, not only had to be smart, he had to find ways to be more efficient, more creative and more customer focused than the competition.

Karman and his partner, Daniel Yoder, made a commitment to turn what had been a distribution company into a manufacturing company. The plan was to employ people in Northeast Ohio, set up a cross-country system of manufacturer’s reps and grow sales with high-quality retailers nationwide. Since that time, the company has grown its sales and now employs more than 150.

Back to top


neo_JerryKelsheimerJerry J. Kelsheimer
Regional president and CEO
Fifth Third Bank, Northeastern Ohio

Jerry J. Kelsheimer serves as regional president and CEO of Fifth Third Bank, Northeastern Ohio. In this role, he is responsible for the oversight of all Fifth Third business activity in the region, including leadership and direction of commercial banking, retail branch banking, consumer lending and wealth management/investment advisory services. He joined Fifth Third Bank in August 2010 as managing director of strategic planning. Previously, he was president of Huntington Bank’s Greater Cleveland region.

At Fifth Third Bank, Kelsheimer’s approach focuses on intentionally identifying market needs and overlaying institutional value proposition. He engages others in the formation of effective strategies, sets clear objectives and promotes a culture of support and servant leadership. He is deliberate in the application of operating rhythms and consistent in communication to the organization on a personal level. He leads his banking teams, guiding them in how Fifth Third goes to market with new and innovative ideas to benefit the customer.

Back to top


neo_RichardKlingshirnRichard G. Klingshirn
Vice president and CFO
Saint Ignatius High School

Richard G. Klingshirn brought 30 years of executive experience to Saint Ignatius High School when he returned to his alma mater as vice president and CFO in April 2013. Upon his arrival, Klingshirn first focused on improving the talent, experience and operations of the school’s finance office. This has allowed him to increase the effectiveness of the entire finance function through increased controls, efficient work flows enabled through technology and a strong focus on quality and customer service.

In implementing changes throughout the finance function, Klingshirn introduced a set of guiding principles that at their core emphasize the importance of the college preparatory education in the Catholic/Jesuit tradition for the 1,500 young men who attend the school. He also recognized the tremendous sacrifices that parents make to send their sons to Saint Ignatius and acknowledged the gifts from so many generous benefactors of the school.

These principles highlight the importance of the stewardship mindset that Klingshirn believes is at the heart of the school’s finance function.

Back to top


neo_MikeKubinskiMike Kubinski
Founder, owner and designer
CLE Clothing Co.

Mike Kubinski, founder, owner and designer, along with Jeff Rees started CLE Clothing Co. in 2008 as a hobby and a creative outlet. Now, the thriving business can’t keep its logo hoodies on the shelf.

CLE Clothing’s flagship store is on the corner of East Fourth Street and Euclid Avenue. The company’s motto, “Spreading Cleveland Pride One T-shirt At A Time!” aligns with its other unique Cleveland gifts, such as paper goods, stickers, buttons and glassware.

CLE Clothing’s strategy since the beginning has been to be local in every way possible. T-shirts are printed by local screen-printing companies, paper goods are printed in Cleveland, stickers and buttons are created by a company in Medina and the glassware is produced by Libbey® in Toledo.

Since the company’s founding as an online business, it’s grown to three locations, including University Circle and the Waterloo Arts District.

Back to top


neo_EricLofquistEric Lofquist
Owner, president and CEO





neo_ScottForsterScott Forster
Owner, vice president and COO
Magnus International Group

Eric Lofquist, owner, president and CEO and Scott Forster, owner, vice president and COO, run the award-winning Magnus International Group by developing and manufacturing one-of-a-kind products ranging from natural animal feed ingredients, natural industrial and consumer waxes, customized fatty acids for paints and coatings, biodiesel fuel feedstocks to other specialty chemicals.

But what the company produces is not the whole story. Magnus and its companies are undertaking groundbreaking partnerships with some of the world’s best food industry, animal nutrition and consumer products organizations.

Magnus thrives on constant innovation. Known for its niche processing ability, the company is also equipped to take on smaller-scale, customized projects that other manufacturers can’t. With a can-do mindset, Magnus leaders prospect for opportunities to provide solutions that address individual customer requirements.

Additionally, Lofquist, CEO and president and Forster, COO and vice president, have established unique client profit-sharing models that are mutually beneficial. Magnus’ agile production facilities allow quick responses to unanticipated opportunities and short uptime on new processes and products.

Back to top


neo_RobertMcConvilleRobert F. McConville
The American Brass Manufacturing Co.

Founded in 1894, The American Brass Manufacturing Co. is one of the oldest family-owned companies in Cleveland. Operated by the fourth and fifth generations of the Arth-McConville family, the company has persevered through World War I, the Great Depression, World War II and several economic downturns.

American Brass supplies faucets and parts with a reputation for quality and reliability to builders and plumbing supply houses. The conscientious and enterprising business practices started by the founding generation have been passed down and remain the core principles evident in the company today.

American Brass, lead by President Robert F. McConville, is the parent company of Empire Brass Co., a leading supplier of faucets to the manufactured housing and recreational vehicle industries, which was acquired in the 1930s.

Building on the experience acquired throughout the years, American Brass strives to bring a stream of new products to the market to meet and exceed the specialized needs of customers.

Back to top


neo_TonyMercurioTony J. Mercurio
President and CEO
National Interstate Insurance

Tony J. Mercurio often describes National Interstate Insurance as a speedboat when it comes to launching new products and programs in targeted niches. In many cases, a new product can be brought to market in as little as 90 days, which is much faster than most insurance companies. There are two leadership groups that are an integral part of this process.

The first is the operating committee, which meets weekly and includes the top 10 officers responsible for all of the company’s functional departments. The second group is the senior product committee including all of Mercurio’s direct reports that manage products.

While new products, services and solutions are typically surfaced through one of these groups, all employees are strongly encouraged to present their ideas as well. As president and CEO, the secret to Mercurio’s success in these functions is his ability to articulate a vision and inspire the team to develop healthy win-win partnerships that benefit the company and its customers.

Back to top


neo_RobynMinterSmyersRobyn Minter Smyers
Partner-in-charge, Cleveland
Thompson Hine LLP

Robyn Minter Smyers is a passionate champion for diversity and inclusion, as well as a dynamic and involved community leader. As partner-in-charge of Thompson Hine LLP’s Cleveland office, she strives to make meaningful changes that lead to tangible results and is determined to lead the office toward becoming known as the most innovative and responsive law firm in the market.

An integral part of this is the implementation of the firm’s SmartPaTH program, which combines legal project management, value-based pricing, flexible staffing and process efficiency to better serve clients. The SmartPaTH program has distinguished Thompson Hine for its willingness to embrace innovative strategies that maximize value to clients.

Beyond this, she is an advocate for the firm’s clients and partners, proactively helping companies develop their own diversity programs. She also serves on several community boards, including The George Gund Foundation, The Sherwick Fund, The City Club of Cleveland, The Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio and the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland.

Back to top


neo_MargaretMitchellMargaret Mitchell
President and CEO
YWCA Greater Cleveland

Margaret Mitchell is a relational leader who anticipates trends and has a proven track record of creating competitive breakthrough strategies. She communicates complex issues with vision and purpose through her core values. As president and CEO at YWCA Greater Cleveland, Mitchell is a consistent top performer who pursues growth with energy and drive.

She joined YWCA Greater Cleveland in May 2011 by unanimous vote of the board of directors. She was recruited to the YWCA as a change agent to energize the strategic vision and elevate organizational relevance and reputation. Under her leadership, the organization has transformed its traditional preschool into an unduplicated trauma-informed therapeutic model serving homeless families with children ages 3 to 5.

She leads a community-level collective impact collaborative to prevent and end youth homelessness in Greater Cleveland and put the organization on track to financial health, reversing decades of deficit funding.

Back to top


neo_TimMyersTim Myers
Alcoa Wheel and Transportation Products

It’s not by luck that Alcoa Wheel and Transportation Products has become the world’s leading manufacturer of aluminum truck wheels.

Tim Myers, president, has leveraged the technological skill set and hardworking culture of Northeast Ohio to propel AWTP into that position. The company’s 14 facilities in nine countries including sites in Cleveland and Barberton employ more than 1,700 employees.

Under Myers’ leadership, AWTP has experienced significant growth, led by innovation in products and processes. In 2009, the company created a revolutionary machining technology that led to a lightweight wheel called LvL ONE®. AWTP then launched an even lighter wheel called Ultra ONE™, which uses a proprietary Alcoa alloy called MagnaForce™.

In 2015, 93 percent of all AWTP revenue was generated from products like LvL ONE®, Dura-Bright® and Ultra ONE™ with MagnaForce™.

The company is also built for sustainability and longevity with career succession planning based on an engaged workforce, world class product and technology and a strong customer base.

Back to top


neo_JohnNottinghamJohn Nottingham





neo_JohnSpirkJohn Spirk
Nottingham Spirk

In 1972, John Nottingham and John Spirk, both newly graduated with industrial design degrees, decided to pass on high-profile company jobs to launch their own business. What started in a mustard yellow carriage house now generates billions of dollars in revenue for client companies.

Nottingham Spirk develops products for companies and owns more than 900 patents including the Crest SpinBrush, Swiffer SweeperVac, Phillips Eclipse MRI scanner, Scott’s Snap Lawn Spreader and the Sherwin Williams Dutch Boy Twist & Pour paint can.

They apply a vertical innovation approach at their 60,000-square-foot facility, the former First Church of Christ, Scientist in Cleveland’s University Circle. The site includes an engineering lab, where prototypes of new products are built and tested. The firm has an in-house marketing team, so it can take its designs all the way from initial doodles to the store shelf. Co-presidents Nottingham and Spirk keep the organization flat and organic to drive consistent communication throughout.

Back to top


neo_JonPinneyJon J. Pinney
Managing Partner
Kohrman Jackson & Krantz LLP

Jon J. Pinney is the managing partner at Kohrman Jackson & Krantz LLP. His firm has done extensive work to bring the Republican National Convention to Cleveland this year. He also serves as counselor to high net-worth families, including some of Cleveland’s leading philanthropic families. His practice includes estate and wealth planning and related tax matters for high net-worth individuals and families. He structures complex and sophisticated trust vehicles to provide asset protection and succession planning.

Pinney, a member of the firm’s executive committee, has a wide range of experience in the structuring, financing, development and construction of commercial and retail acquisitions and sales and leases of office buildings, apartments and residential projects. In addition to being admitted to practice before all of Ohio’s courts, Pinney is admitted to practice before the U.S. District Court for both the Northern and Southern districts in Ohio, as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Super Lawyers Magazine has consistently named him a Rising Star.

Back to top


neo_BillPriemerBill Priemer
Hyland, creator of OnBase

As CEO at Hyland, creator of OnBase, Bill Priemer is responsible for ensuring that Hyland remains a great company for all of its stakeholders — customers, partners, employees, shareholders and the community. In service of this mission, Priemer is focused on driving Hyland to become the global leader in information and process management solutions.

Under Priemer’s leadership, Hyland attempts to go beyond thinking about potential solutions that its software can provide. Instead, the goal is to accomplish innovation by executing on great ideas. The company typically reinvests more than 15 percent of its revenue annually into the research and development of OnBase, which is Hyland’s enterprise content management solution. The goal is to help customers realize the long-term value of their ECM technology investment.

Priemer says Hyland is constantly innovating to keep OnBase on the minds and in the hands of those who use it every day.

Back to top


neo_JimPshockJim Pshock
Founder and CEO
Bravo Wellness

Treating wellness as a business solution and not just a morale booster has given Bravo Wellness a powerful platform to help organizations in highly competitive industries.

Through the leadership of Jim Pshock, founder and CEO, Bravo has been able to help employers create a sustainable wellness program that takes incentives and reinvests them to pay for valuable interventions like high-risk coaching. This only creates a wellness plan focused on driving down health risks but it creates a sustainable funding source for benefits, a major value for companies operating on small margins.

Being on the forefront of national policies allows Pshock to educate his staff and clients on the most up-to-date compliance regulations for wellness incentive programs.

Management is governed by the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Character, integrity and respect are evidenced daily by employees, both to each other and to constituents.

Back to top


neo_JoePulizziJoe Pulizzi
Content Marketing Institute

As the “godfather” of content marketing, Joe Pulizzi speaks around the world advancing the practice of content marketing. Over the last nine years, he has transformed Content Marketing Institute into the leading content marketing education and training organization in the world.

Pulizzi created and built Content Marketing World, which today celebrates its sixth year and is the largest industry event of its kind on the planet. Every year, CMWorld brings thousands of visitors and millions of dollars to Cleveland. In 2016, CMWorld expects to host more than 4,000 people from 50 countries. In the past, it has featured keynote speakers such as Kevin Spacey, William Shatner, John Cleese and Nick Offerman. CMWorld is the largest recurring corporate event in Cleveland, bringing roughly $4 million in revenue to the city.

Additionally, Pulizzi has shepherded CMI’s growth. Over the past two years he has nearly doubled both his revenue and staff.

Back to top


neo_CraigRichmondCraig Richmond
Senior Vice President and CFO
The MetroHealth System

When Craig Richmond came to The MetroHealth System in 2010, the organization was just recovering financially, and there were still community concerns about MetroHealth’s future. Today, finances have improved yearly and morale is high, much to the credit of the programs he implemented to ensure financial security.

A fearless change agent, Richmond, senior vice president and CFO, is adept at identifying problems and drilling down to get the facts and then innovating for continuous improvement. Though it may be considered untraditional for a CFO, he has spent time in the operating room observing cases such as a hip replacement and open-heart surgery. This allows him to fully understand various job needs so he can be an informed advocate in support of the appropriate resources for effective job performance.

Richmond continually keeps abreast of developments as health systems move toward value-based reimbursement, believing it is especially important for the CFO to be conversant with the clinical side.

Back to top


neo_JillRizikaJill Rizika
Executive Director
Towards Employment

Since becoming executive director at Towards Employment, Jill Rizika has helped more than 20,000 people overcome barriers to employment and embark on life-changing career paths. She guides a delivery system of 1,500 supportive services (transportation, tools, uniforms); 1,300 legal services (consumer and criminal); and 1,500 retention/advancement services (career coaching, training) by emphasizing outcomes, measurements and evaluations in order to ensure impact. Each year, Towards Employment connects more than 500 low-income individuals — 50 percent of which have criminal backgrounds — with good jobs.

In 2010, Rizika led the adoption of a career pathway model to support individuals into an entry-level job, then onto a pathway job, ultimately leading to sustainable employment. Toward Employment’s board, community partners and staff are fully invested in this “theory of change” model largely because of Rizika’s collaborative and knowledgeable leadership. This vision has ensured that Towards Employment has continued to increase the number of individuals served while decreasing per placement cost.

Back to top


neo_ChrisRonayneChris Ronayne
University Circle Inc.

Chris Ronayne is the personification of a big-picture thinker, a tireless advocate of Cleveland and University Circle Inc. Since he was named president in 2005, the organization — and area — has undergone dramatic, dynamic and exciting transformation.

Ronayne converted UCI into a community service corporation, which UCI defines as a national model to deliver services without tax dollars — using philanthropic dollars for maximum impact in the community. Examples include park management on Wade Oval, outdoor community events, and clean/safe services via UCI’s ambassador program.

Beyond this, Ronayne had a vision to turn lifeless parking lots into mixed-use development and return residents and small businesses to the neighborhood. Today, former empty lots along Hazel Road and Euclid Avenue now boast luxury housing, bars, restaurants, clothing stores, a grocery store a yoga studio and even a bowling alley. This building trend will continue into the future with forthcoming projects Centric and One University Circle.

Back to top


neo_ShelleyRothShelley Roth
Pierre’s Ice Cream Co.

Shelley Roth is president of Pierre’s Ice Cream Co., an 84-year-old regional ice cream manufacturer and distributor. She returned to Cleveland from New York City in 1979 to assist her father with the family business. Her first assignment was in marketing; setting the direction for the company to expand its distribution beyond Cleveland, and expand its product assortment. In 1984, Roth assumed the position of vice president with responsibility for sales, marketing, finance and new product development.
In 1991, she became president.
Roth has been active in numerous community organizations and supports the revitalization of Cleveland’s neighborhoods in many ways. She is a graduate of Leadership Cleveland and serves on the boards of the Cuyahoga Community College Foundation and the International Ice Cream Association. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and lives in Shaker Heights with her husband of more than 33 years.

Back to top


neo_BobRowlandBob Rowland
Evergreen Industrial Batteries

In a little more than five years, Evergreen Industrial Batteries grew from two people working at home to a company of 19 people in a 28,000-square-foot building with revenue in the millions of dollars.

Led by Bob Rowland, president, Evergreen has become one of America’s leading suppliers of reconditioned forklift batteries. With more than 35 years of experience in the leasing industry, Rowland brings depth, a network of contacts and a vision to Evergreen to serve the material handling industry in unprecedented ways.

He accomplishes this through a three-point strategy. First, the company reconditions forklift batteries to provide 80 percent of their original capacity at 50 percent of the original cost.

Secondly, Evergreen distributes a portion of the gains back to the suppliers, paying as much as three times more than the next bidder. Lastly, because of Evergreen’s ability to recondition the batteries, it creates an inventory and leases the batteries to end users.

Back to top


neo_JohathanSawyerJonathon Sawyer
Chef and Owner
Trentina, Noodlecat, The Greenhouse Tavern

Chef Jonathon Sawyer and his wife Amelia opened The Greenhouse Tavern in 2009, when Cleveland was in the midst of the recession. The Sawyers made it their mission to help revitalize Cleveland’s economy and create a restaurant scene rivaling any bigger city.

In 2010, Sawyer was honored as a recipient of Food & Wine’s Best New Chef award. In 2015, he was named James Beard Award’s Best Chef: Great Lakes.

He has become a national celebrity, making national television appearances on “Iron Chef America,” “Dinner Impossible,” “Unique Eats” and “Best Thing I Ever Ate.”

Today, the proud Clevelander has helped put Cleveland on the national “foodie” map and opened additional restaurants that expand his growing food empire: Northern Italian restaurant Trentina, ramen mash-up Noodlecat, Tavern Vinegar Co. and stadium spots Sawyer’s Street Frites, Sausage & Peppers and SeeSaw Pretzel Shoppe.

Back to top


neo_RegShiverickReginald Shiverick
Dakota Software

Reginald Shiverick has had a long-standing interest in environmental issues. Under his vision and 25-year leadership as president, Dakota Software has become an industry leader for environmental management software.

This passion is what drives Shiverick to work closely with the development department on any new technology concepts that may arise. He is the co-inventor and patent holder of parametric filtering, a technology that uses interactive dashboard reports to offer users “on-the-fly” analysis of data points while providing unique insights and performance comparisons.

Dakota Software has seen steady revenue growth rate since its founding in 1988, with impressive patterns since 2010. The company experienced 15 percent revenue growth in 2012, 18 percent in 2013 and 26 percent in 2014.

In 2014, global shifts to mobile devices prompted the company to launch more robust mobile offerings, which allow users to interact with information through a mobile-optimized portal. This product provides greater convenience and efficient communication across complicated organizations.

Back to top


SanjaySingh-300-2Sanjay Singh
President and CEO

Customers see Roll-Kraft, a designer and manufacturer of rolled tooling for welded tube and pipe producers, as a problem-solving shop. The “problems” may include designing tooling for a custom application or providing training to a mill operator on how to run tooling in the most efficient manner.

To earn the reputation as a problem-solver, the company, led by Sanjay Singh, president and CEO, lives and breathes its top three core competencies: on-time delivery, first-time successful performance of the tooling and live support when customers call the company. The company also has a team of technical service associates who solve tooling issues on the customer’s plant floor.

Roll-Kraft also has developed its own custom ERP system that maximizes focus and efficiencies that for the most part benefit the customer. A state-of-the art CRM system and an integrated engineering design application are utilized as well as software called Automation Anywhere to automate repetitive steps across many applications.

Back to top


neo_AndreThorntonAndré Thornton
President and CEO
ASW Global LLC

André Thornton acquired ASW Global LLC in January 2007 after the company merged with Cleveland-based GPI Procurement Services. As president and CEO, Thornton sets the direction of the company and directs operational aspects so that they follow the strategic plans and policies of the organization. Thornton has 20 years of experience in entrepreneurial ventures. As one of the principals in Apple Partners, he led a highly successful restaurant management group that was sold to Applebee’s International.

He also founded a successful consulting and sports management company and continues to speak nationally on executive leadership, organizational change and diversity; having engagements in excess of 1,000 groups and businesses. Thornton played professional baseball for 21 years and was an honored recipient of the Roberto Clemente Award in 1979, which goes to the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and team contribution. He was inducted into the Ohio Baseball Hall of Fame and the Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame.

Back to top


neo_KristinWarzochaKristin Warzocha
President and CEO
Greater Cleveland Food Bank

Kristin Warzocha is president and CEO for the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, Northeast Ohio’s largest hunger relief organization. The Food Bank relies on community support to fulfill its mission of ensuring that everyone in the community has the food they need every day. She champions the organization’s mission and directs the Food Bank’s efforts to provide nutritious food and support to more than 700 member agencies and programs that serve Northeast Ohioans in six counties.

Warzocha has been with the Food Bank since 2000 in a variety of roles, all related to engaging the community in the organization’s work. She managed a capital campaign that raised more than $10 million to construct a new state-of-the-art community food distribution center and was a member of the management team that helped facilitate the mergers of the Food Bank with Food Rescue of Northeast Ohio in 2001 and with the Greater Cleveland Committee on Hunger in 2003.

Back to top


neo_KevinWeidingerKevin R. Weidinger
President and CEO
Laudan Properties LLC

A case of finding a need and filling it led to the formation of Laudan Properties LLC, a multiple winner of fast growth awards.

Kevin R. Weidinger, president and CEO, had just returned from helping his half-brother’s business, which repaired bank-owned foreclosed properties in Detroit. Weidinger realized that the banks were struggling to find honest, reliable and timely contractors to perform work on residential homes they now owned. Under the previous system, a bank would have to locate a contractor that could do the work and obtain proof that the work was done correctly so the home could proceed through the foreclosure cycle.

Laudan Properties recruits, trains and inspires professional contractors that could specifically perform high-quality inspection and home preservation services in a short timeframe. Banks, servicers and investors were enthusiastic about Laudan’s services, including the ability to scale into geographies where they had specific needs.

Laudan also invests heavily in IT infrastructure and uses fortified security protocols to protect client data.

Back to top


neo_KeevenWhiteKeeven White
President and CEO
WhiteSpace Creative

Under President and CEO Keeven White’s leadership, WhiteSpace Creative has built a flexible, consistently growing company that is responsive to the unique creative requirements of each client.

The firm operates under a team structure rather than relying on individual departments. As a result, his staff is grouped into client-centric teams that perform like mini agencies. Each team consists of a unique blend of strategists, designers, programmers and writers that concentrate on a defined client group. The structure greatly benefits the WhiteSpace client base because clients consistently work directly with a dedicated-yet-agile team that has intimate knowledge of each client’s business.

White’s creative internal structure has allowed the firm to better serve as a creative partner to a variety of clients in diverse industries, including the Akron Children’s Hospital Akron Marathon Race Series, Kent State Athletics, Hartville Pet Insurance Group, and Sequoia Wellness.

Additionally, he looks at growth through acquisitions, and over the past few years has merged several complementary firms into Whitespace.

Back to top


neo_KimWilsonKimberly Wilson
President and CEO
Slate Rock Safety LLC

Under the leadership of President and CEO Kimberly Wilson, Slate Rock Safety LLC has evolved from its founding in 2007 as a small distributor that relied on manufacturers to drop-ship products to a solutions-based distributor driven by innovative technology.

Slate Rock Safety today is comprised of five distinct business units and is considered a competitive force in the flame resistant apparel industry.

Wilson’s abilities to develop strong relationships with her team, customers and manufacturers and her strategic thinking have resulted in double-digit percentage annual sales growth for eight straight years accompanied by triple-digit growth in net revenue in both 2013 and 2014 and double-digit growth in net revenue in 2015.

Slate Rock Safety has been recognized by Inc. as one of America’s Fastest Growing Companies for four consecutive years, has been a Weatherhead 100 company for three consecutive years and was a regional finalist for EY Entrepreneur of The YearTM 2015 Award.

Rethink the way you talk to customers, employees

Sam Falletta is in the business of building relationships, whether it’s with his employees at Incept, his customers or with new business partners.

“The simplest way we talk about what we do is every time you talk to a customer or an employee, you can strengthen or weaken the relationship,” says Falletta, the 225-employee company’s CEO.

Incept works with clients to develop campaigns that strengthen that client’s relationships at every touchpoint.

“We believe the most critical, compelling and worthwhile part of why we exist is to have good meaningful relationships with other people,” Falletta says. “The thing that makes those relationships is the conversation and we get really specific about what is a great conversation.”

The biggest change in today’s world is the fact that conversations are held in so many different ways from a simple face-to-face conversation to a video conference to texting to a conversation on Snapchat. But the proliferation of so many different options, and the ease of access to those communication channels, has changed what customers expect from their service providers.

“When someone reaches out to engage with a company, it’s usually a more sophisticated problem,” Falletta says. “So much is automated now so you can check your account balance or change a flight. By the time you reach out, the expectations are higher to get great service really quickly and manage a complex issue. A lot of the principles of the way the industry worked and what a customer expected a decade ago have gone through the roof. They want it to be clean, elegant and feel good.”

Admit your mistakes

One of the keys to having a business that can produce that high level of service is finding employees who can connect to your mission and vision and feel it in their heart. Unfortunately, the fear of having a tough conversation keeps many businesses from admitting when a mistake has been made on the personnel side.

“In a dating relationship, we would find out there wasn’t any chemistry and go our separate ways and be thrilled we could eventually find a partner that was right for us,” Falletta says. “Why wouldn’t an employment relationship work the same way?

“If this is a bad relationship, it’s not a disciplinary discussion. If you’re not passionate about what this organization is passionate about, we shouldn’t waste each other’s time. If there is a place you can go and really be passionate, help me understand what you really want to do in life and we’ll see if we can connect you with somebody who does that.”

Meet more, work less

Performance evaluation is another area where better conversations can lead to better results. Falletta says too many companies rely on the traditional annual review to appraise how employees are faring in their work.

“The struggle with an annual review is the fact that it’s largely a compensation discussion,” Falletta says. “Just tell me my raise. Because the boss hasn’t been tracking or been clear about expectations, all they remember is the last three months.”

Incept uses 60-day success descriptions. Each person initiates a proposal to their manager that states their understanding of what’s expected from the person in the next 60 days.

“They get to dictate to their manager that if this is the expectation, this is what I need from you,” Falletta says. “I need an hour one-on-one per week, I need access to this much funding, I need to go to this training. So they are both accountable.”

The process forces great discussions that get both employee and manager working together to form the best plan to help the company achieve its goals. And instead of being bogged down with more meetings, the process actually should buy you more time in your day, if you do it right.

“If you as the manager are having really great meetings with your direct reports, you don’t have any other things to do,” he says. “You’ve given them the appropriate amount of responsibility and clearly defined all the objectives and all you’re doing is troubleshooting the things that you have missed.”

Ready to talk

It’s all about conversations and Falletta says he and his company will continue to push the boundaries of what can be achieved when you know how to talk to people.

“We have a goals group, which is an optional program that we let people join,” Falletta says. “Its sole purpose is to share goals and provide mutual support. They can be personal goals or professional goals. Because we have people who are so skilled in the art of a good conversation and are such good listeners, we’ve helped people work through health issues and helped them quit smoking and repair spousal relationships.

“They could leave and do it as a profession. How do you get somebody to talk about something personal and do it in an empathetic way? We think it could be a really powerful tool to help businesses help employees.”

Falletta is confident that his leadership team of Adam Snyder, who serves as president; Billie Johnson, who is vice president of client results; Dave Walter, who is vice president of operations; and James Latsch, director of business intelligence will lead Incept to more great things in the future.

“To find an opportunity to improve isn’t a negative connotation,” he says. “It’s not a deficiency. It’s an opportunity.”

2015 Cascade Capital Corp. Business Growth Awards

Recognizing 45 outstanding companies that fortify the strength of our regional economy

Introduction by Robert Filipiak, executive director, Cascade Capital Corp.

It is with great pleasure that I congratulate the 45 Cascade Capital Corp. Business Growth Award winners for 2015.

These companies are located within Summit, Medina, Portage, Wayne, Stark, Holmes and Ashland counties in Northeastern Ohio.

Based on both the Business Growth Award’s criteria and the challenges facing small companies in today’s business environment, this is quite an accomplishment. A company can earn a Business Growth Award by either increasing its sales level by 100 percent/$5 million or by increasing its employee base by 50 percent/25 people over the course of the past five years. These impressive growth standards also provide significant economic benefits to the local/regional economy.

Growing sales of companies’ goods and services to other parts of the state, across the nation and even internationally, enrich our local/regional economy. Receipts and profits generated by these companies are positively manifested when these companies purchase local goods and services, invest in new operating facilities/equipment and hire new employees. These wealth-creating mechanisms directly lead to the economic vitality of our local/regional economy.

The goals of Cascade Capital Corp. are to provide meaningful financing assistance to small and midsized companies poised to grow through investment in new operating facilities, equipment and human resources and to invest, on a long-term basis, in the communities it services.

Cascade Capital provides affordable, long-term fixed interest rate financing directly through its U.S. Small Business Administration 504 Loan Program. The SBA 504 assists growing small to midsized companies in purchasing new operating facilities, equipment and even other businesses. In combination with traditional bank financing, Cascade Capital delivers 90 percent financing for major fixed asset purchases. Twenty-year fixed interest rates are available for building purchases with recent rates under 5 percent.

Cascade Capital’s Ohio 166 Loan Program continues to offer perhaps the most competitive fixed interest rate available for business borrowers — as low as 3 percent with loan terms up to 15 years.

A number of 2015 Business Growth Award winners have received funding in the past from Cascade Capital through both its SBA 504 and Ohio 166 loan programs.

Over the course of the past five years, Cascade Capital has committed over $900,000 of its own financial resources toward economic development initiatives in Summit, Medina, Portage and Wayne counties with the hope that these funds will lead to positive sales and/or employee growth for a new wave of up and coming firms.

Congratulations to all of Cascade Capital Corp.’s 2015 Business Growth Award winners on a job well done. Thank you too for your continuing role in supporting and revitalizing our local and regional economy through your sustained growth and investment.

Cascade Capital Corp. is an economic development finance company that has provided dependable financing options to growing small to midsized companies in Greater Akron and Northeastern Ohio since 1983. Reach Robert at (330) 379-3160 or [email protected]



Sam Faletta
President and CEO

Sam Falletta wants to help his employees become the best version of themselves that they can be. An intense focus on this purpose has helped Incept, a conversational marketing firm that specializes in developing and strengthening relationships with current and potential customers, to win a number of awards for its culture and strong employee engagement.

Part of being an entrepreneur is building an organization and a team that can get excited about what your company does and feel like it’s a valuable part of making it happen. Falletta, who serves as president and CEO, engages employees by focusing on the most important aspects of becoming an organizationally healthy workplace — direction, execution and connection.

By ensuring employees have emotionally bought into what the company is trying to achieve and continuing to build a culture that is focused on performance, he has fostered an environment where employees believe they are working toward something meaningful. That leads to happy employees and happy employees lead to happy customers.

The commitment to people has led to great success. Incept has added more than 50 jobs to the local economy in the last five years while increasing revenue more than 87 percent. And 91 percent of customers have rated Incept as a satisfactory partner and would recommend the company to someone else who needs similar services.

Falletta’s role as a leader stretches beyond the walls of Incept’s offices. He serves as an instructor of marketing at the University of Akron where he has taught Creating Brand YOU, a one-credit marketing course where students engage in a step-by-step process to develop and grow their personal online brand using social media tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

The course is extremely relatable to the business world and Falletta takes a similar approach with his students. His goal is to help them develop into the best versions of themselves.
In 2013, Falletta partnered with the Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing to develop the first-ever student-run social media agency, Kanga Communications. The agency enables university students to gain immeasurable real-world experience, practical skills and numerous networking opportunities before they even enter the workforce.

“Many professionals become engaged with our students on an on-and-off basis, but Sam is different,” says Vanja Djuric, director of analytics at the University of Akron. “No matter how tense the times are that his company is going through, Sam makes sure to consistently show support to our students by always making himself available. Our students are extremely lucky to have a business professional as determined and passionate as Sam.”

Fostering strong leaders is indeed a calling for Falletta. Philanthropy serves as a great vehicle to give employees at Incept who have charitable causes that are close to their hearts an opportunity to both support those organizations and grow as leaders through the effort.

Falletta cites a study by the Harvard Business Review that found that the single greatest advantage in the modern economy is a happy and engaged workforce. Happiness raises nearly every business and educational outcome and no business is impacted more by this than those involved in customer engagement.

It makes for a perfect fit for Falletta and his team at Incept.




Steve Marks
Co-founder and co-CEO
Main Street Gourmet LLC

Harvey Nelson
Co-founder and co-CEO
Main Street Gourmet LLC

Steve Marks and Harvey Nelson have used innovative concepts to grow Main Street Gourmet LLC from a small, retail coffee and muffin shop that started in downtown Akron in 1987 to an industry leader in the production of custom baked goods.

From being one of the first bakeries to offer all-natural muffins in the 1980s to fat free muffins in the early 1990s and its most significant decision to concentrate efforts on the development of frozen custom bakery products for national and regional food operators, the company has been a leader in its field for years.

But beyond the financial success, Main Street Gourmet believes very strongly in philanthropy. Over the past 28 years, many have benefitted from the company’s generous contributions to foster a better quality of life for local citizens. Under the leadership of Marks and Nelson, who serve as co-founders and co-CEOs, employees regularly and selflessly donate their time and effort to a number of worthy endeavors.

Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank
Main Street Gourmet is a continuous donor of “off-spec” products to the food bank with donations being used to help feed the homeless and others who are less fortunate. As part of the company’s Nothing Goes to Waste campaign, Main Street Gourmet also holds several No Muffin Left Behind sales at the food bank throughout the year.

These promotions offer not-to-customer standard, yet still edible product to the public with monetary proceeds and any unsold product going to the food bank’s cause. In combined dollars raised and food products donated, the Nothing Goes to Waste campaign has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years.

Akron General Medical Center
In 1992, Main Street Gourmet in conjunction with Akron General’s Women’s Health and Cancer Center started a charitable program called Muffins for Mammograms. The annual weeklong effort raises money for women who can’t afford mammograms. It also includes the distribution of life-saving breast health information to raise community awareness.

Every October during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, muffins, cookies and brownies are baked, packaged and distributed along with breast cancer information by Main Street Gourmet and employees at Akron General.

This volunteer effort has raised more than $250,000 and has allowed hundreds of women who otherwise could not have afforded mammograms to be screened for breast cancer. The program has received national recognition from the National Breast Cancer Board and the Ohio Department of Health.

Entrepreneurs EDGE
The Entrepreneurs EDGE promotes an annual outing at Progressive Field in Cleveland where mentors from Northeast Ohio companies are partnered for the day with local inner-city students who are studying business practices and procedures.
A group of Main Street Gourmet employees regularly volunteer to act as role models for the students during the outings, answer questions, offer advice and display positive examples of good business etiquette.

International Institute of Akron
This is a nonprofit organization with a stated mission of helping to integrate people into society. Including seven employees hired since 2011, more than 20 percent of Main Street Gourmet’s workforce is comprised of people who have legally immigrated, often as refugees, to the U.S. The company is proud of its outreach to help these people at a low point in life, offering them an opportunity to achieve and live the American dream for themselves and their families.



Christopher J. Karman
Daniel’s Amish Collection

It was 2003 and Christopher J. Karman and his brother had just quit working for a Fortune 500 company to buy a small Amish furniture maker. At the time, the company was known as Country Curios, had 12 employees and manufactured handcrafted curios, or glass display cases.

The product quality was excellent, but the business itself was a small player in a declining industry. People simply weren’t buying glass display cases for their collectibles like previous generations had done.

The challenge for Karman and his brother was they had highly skilled workers who made beautiful furniture working in a market that was dying. They could have simply gone out and searched for more curio outlets, but the potential gain hardly seemed worth the effort that would be required.

Karman, the company’s president, decided to go in a different direction. He wanted to broaden product selection, go after high-quality retailers and take the company national. While Amish furniture is well-known in Ohio, his goal was to introduce it to the rest of the country — markets that had no real experience with it.

The first thing he did was change the company’s name from Country Curio to Amish Mills and ultimately to Daniel’s Amish Collection. Karman wanted the name to immediately show people that the company was all about high-quality, Amish handcrafted furniture. So he sat down with craftsmen and designed new furniture, focusing on bedroom and dining room furniture.

The next step was to put together a nationwide system of sales representatives to sell his product under the brand name of Daniel’s Amish Collection.

The product caught on and the brand can be found in major retailers such as Levin Furniture and Berkshire Hathaway’s Nebraska Furniture Mart, the largest furniture store in the world. The workforce has grown from 12 employees in 2003 to roughly 150 employees today, and sales have grown 213 percent over the last five years.

Daniel’s Amish now operates two factories. One is a large 120,000-square-foot building where bedroom furniture is manufactured. The other is a table and chair manufacturing facility in Mount Eaton. The company has also purchased a 25-acre plot that will one day house a new headquarters and factory to handle future growth.

Unlike so many businesses that struggled when the recession hit in 2008, Daniel’s Amish got some good out of the downturn. Because so many companies have gone out of business the past few years, Karman was able to purchase a lot of good, used equipment for pennies on the dollar. While it’s obviously unfortunate that these businesses were lost, it did provide the means to help Daniel’s Amish be more productive and ultimately grow its workforce, which has been good for the Ohio economy.

Innovation is encouraged at every level at Daniel’s Amish Collection and the company operates with a nimble mindset. If someone has an idea about how to do it better, Karman wants to hear about it and in most cases, incorporates it into the company.

If an employee submits a new design idea and that idea ends up in the catalog, the employee gets 100 percent of the money from the first item sold as a bonus. Programs like this have created a strong sense of family and personal pride for the team at Daniel’s Amish Collection.

Highest Sales Growth: Manufacturing

akr_bga_KeithKroppAscot Valley Foods LLC
Keith A. Kropp, CEO

When Keith A. Kropp bought Ascot Valley Foods LLC in 2004, he operated in a small building on Maple Street in Akron. Since those humble beginnings, Kropp, CEO, has taken the business to new heights and the sales figures have come along for the ride.

Sales have jumped 650 percent in the past five years and are projected to continue growing at record rates. At the same time, employment has grown from 10 employees in 2010 to 35 in 2015.

Historically, Ascot Valley Foods was known simply as a frozen food appetizer company. But over the last couple years, it expanded its capabilities to offer prepared meals as well. On top of Akron’s famous sauerkraut balls, Ascot Valley Foods now produces pizzas, burritos and trayed meals, and has also entered the shelf-stable food market by launching a falafel for one of its major customers.

In November 2014, Ascot Valley Foods moved into a brand new state-of-the-art production facility that tripled its capacity and greatly expanded its production space, going from a 6,000-square-foot facility to one that measures 25,000 square feet.

Sales are expected to double in 2016 and the plan is to add another shift of production, which in turn will create many additional job opportunities.

With growth comes even greater opportunity to give back to the community. Ascot Valley Foods supports the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank as well as a number of other charities in the Akron-Canton area.

Greatest Employee Growth: Manufacturing

akr_bga_JosephZenoACS Industries Inc.
Joe Zeno, president and CEO

The past few years have presented a number of challenges for Joe Zeno and his team at ACS Industries Inc.

The attachment solutions provider has faced declining markets both in the dealer and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) markets. A growing employment crisis in the company’s local business sector has only added to the difficulties.

Despite the hard times, there is reason for optimism at ACS and Zeno, president and CEO, is a big reason why.
In response to the situation with the dealer and OEM markets, ACS has focused on building a core three-dealer group to support Patriot, the company’s new loader attachment line, and stock products for quick delivery.

Zeno is looking to increase market share in large engineered products and increase ACS’s presence in the steel mills. He is also keeping a close eye on the military in case it presents any strong opportunities.

On the personnel side, Zeno faced a crucial period last June when he lost a number of key employees from his factory workforce. In the changing economy, a growing number of businesses began “pirating” good people to staff their companies.

In response, Zeno evaluated employee classifications and upgraded current staff to compete where the market was headed. As a result, he was able to replace lost staff with highly qualified employees and hire 12 new employees into key positions.

ACS also changed its approach to dealer development and sales coverage by using business development specialists who do not travel and can thus telemarket to the dealer base.

Best Overall Success Story: Manufacturing


Ohio Hickory Harvest Brand Products Inc.
Darlene Swiatkowski, CEO; Joseph Swiatkowski, president; Michael Swiatkowski, vice president

Ohio Hickory Harvest Brand Products Inc. continues to thrive under the leadership of the Swiatkowski family, increasing sales by 67 percent over the past five years.

The snack food company has boosted its staff from 40 employees to more than 70 workers in 2015, expanded its facility, improved production and built on its established brands.

Led by CEO Darlene Swiatkowski, President Joseph Swiatkowski and Vice President Michael Swiatkowski, Hickory Harvest also added several key management positions to provide the experience needed to continue double-digit growth year over year. The plan is to add another 30 employees over the next five years.

In 2013, Hickory Harvest expanded its 30,000-square-foot facility by 17,000 square feet to add the necessary office, production and warehouse space to support the growing business.

The company also invested in capital equipment by adding two new form and seal packaging machines and another nut roaster, all of which increased production capability by 50 percent. In addition, a panning machine was installed for new product lines that are toffee-coated and chocolate- and yogurt-covered to complement the nut and snack products.

Hickory Harvest continues to partner with customers through private label programs leveraging its quality products with strong store brand recognition. Private label sales continue to grow with the overall business, maintaining a healthy 35 percent of overall sales in private label business.

Company leaders will continue looking for better processes and equipment that can improve efficiencies and support future growth.


Highest Sales Growth: Technology


Area 51 Data Solutions
Marling Engle, CEO and partner; Craig Sutphin, COO and partner

Marling Engle and Craig Sutphin have a lot to be happy about at Area 51 Data Solutions. The IT managed services and cloud solutions provider has grown sales 267 percent since 2010 and is poised to grow even more in the years ahead.

The company has purchased a new office building to help with its current expansion efforts and provide better reach into the North Canton and south territories. There are also plans to open a satellite office in either Independence or Brecksville in the near future to better serve clients in the Greater Cleveland and Mentor areas.

Engle, CEO and partner, and Sutphin, COO and partner, have lead Area 51 to achieve significant growth. But a strong culture ensures that even when the times turn tough, employees keep a positive attitude and continue working hard to serve their customers.

Engle and Sutphin have instilled a “work hard, play hard” approach, providing a number of extracurricular activities that allow staff to get to know each other on a personal level and when necessary, blow off some steam.

When it’s time to get back to work, Area 51 takes a hands-on approach with clients and aims to be an IT partner that always has the best interests of the clients in mind. These efforts, particularly in disaster recovery and business continuity situations, have helped the company continue to grow, but have also provided a boost to the local economy.

 Greatest Employee Growth: Technology


Expand Interactive
Eric Harsh, CEO; Will Holland, president

It wasn’t exactly the best of times when Expand Interactive opened its doors for business in 2008.

The global recession was just beginning, making the thought of opening a new business seem even more daunting than usual. But that didn’t stop CEO Eric Harsh and President Will Holland from building a business that has transformed how learning is done.

The result is a business that has grown sales 116 percent since 2010. Even more impressively, the company has grown its personnel by 225 percent over the same period. In 2014, Expand doubled its design team, tripled its development team and added a project manager and marketing manager.

When the company was founded, the mission was to rid the world of boring, ineffective training. Expand started as an e-learning content company and over time realized clients needed a platform to host, share and measure the content.

Expand has shifted away from operating as a traditional e-learning company to one focused on impact with e-learning used as a means to improve organizational performance. The company builds “beautiful, fun and effective” e-learning courses, but has also developed its own software platform to support its philosophy of continuous evolution.

ExpandShare is a knowledge-sharing platform that allows content to be shared with individual users or groups and then tracked and measured to determine training and effectiveness. The company aligns its metrics with each client’s unique key performance indicators so it can demonstrate how training impacts business performance.

 Best Overall Success Story: Technology

akr_bga_SuranjanShomeEpiphany Management Group
Suranjan Shome, president and CEO

Suranjan Shome, president and CEO, has built Epiphany Management Group from the ground up. He took a business that eight years ago had no employees, besides himself, and no customers and has grown it to more than 100 employees in four states. Since 2010, sales have increased 153 percent.

Epiphany was launched in 2007 with the objective of transforming K-12 education through partnerships with progressive school leaders and industry innovators. The company has worked in all areas of managing and improving technology in the classroom and has created collaborative solutions that improve efficiencies and reduce costs.

Under Shome’s leadership, Epiphany has not been afraid to adapt its path to success. In 2011, the company made a significant investment in organizational restructuring, processes and systems automation that resulted in steadily increasing revenue and consistent growth. That growth has been financed organically without any contribution from external sources.

One of the keys to Epiphany’s success is the implementation of a copyrighted strategic planning process that is utilized in every facet of the organization. It has resulted in clarity of direction, message and purpose for the organization and consequently, its employees. The process creates alignment between employee goals and organizational direction and has helped inspire employees to realize a near-perfect customer satisfaction and customer retention outcome.

In addition, a multilevel director and management hierarchy has been implemented to allow autonomous decision-making and improved communication.

 Highest Sales Growth – Emerging: Service

akr_bga_TiaRamlowGreat Work! Employment Services
Tia Ramlow, president

Tia Ramlow had not faced many significant challenges through the first 15 years of Great Work! Employment Services. But when the global recession hit in 2008, her business slipped into “a chasm that was so deep, at times, it was paralyzing.”

As an employment agency, Ramlow’s industry was one of the first affected by the recession and the recovery didn’t really begin until 2011. Flexible staffing was the first to go when the economy began its downward spiral and as the recession deepened, companies had internal layoffs that often went three rounds deep.

When inventory was finally depleted and companies had to turn the machines back on, they called back internal employees first. It wasn’t until then that the employment industry began to show signs of life again.

Hard decisions had to be made during these times, but Ramlow, the company’s president, worked strategically to limit the impact on staff and field employees. Retirement accounts were changed from a 401(k) with high administration costs to a simple IRA retirement program. Ramlow increased employer contributions when most companies suspended theirs and maintained health insurance even though premiums were increasing.

Great Work! invested in management training and business practices to be prepared to succeed when the economy began to bounce back. As a result, the company has expanded organically the past four years. It has a strong internal management team, a new office and an 83 percent growth rate in sales over the past five years.

Highest Sales Growth – Established: Service

akr_bga_WilliamLeppoakr_bga_DanielHarshLeppo Group Inc.
William “Glenn” Leppo, CEO

Leppo Group Inc. is a different company today than it was just a few years ago. This evolution is a key reason why the business has been able to grow sales by 142 percent since 2010.
Instead of ownership making all the decisions on strategy and execution, this family business now has a leadership team of two family members and four non-family members that set the strategic direction.

A business operations team of about 10 members, none of whom are family, lead the teams that ultimately implement the strategies and run the stores. Day-to-day operations for the main operating company are handled by non-family members, including the president and two vice presidents. Family members still play a role in setting strategy, but a smooth transition has been made to have non-family members running the business every day.

Trust is a critical piece in sustaining this type of culture, says William “Glenn” Leppo, the equipment provider’s CEO. Leppo trusts co-workers to get their work done in accordance with the foundational values that the company was built upon. He expects decisions to be made with the best interests of the customer, co-workers, vendors and owners in mind.

Sustainability is another philosophy Leppo lives by. This includes stability for employees, people development and an effort to make transitions smooth when they become necessary.
The result is a company that continues to grow and reward employees for their contribution to the organization’s success.

Greatest Employee Growth – Emerging: Service

akr_bga_DanielHarshConcept Services Ltd.
Daniel D. Harsh, owner and president

Concept Services Ltd. has had great success helping companies identify potential customers with a need for their products or services. Led by Daniel D. Harsh, owner and president, Concept Services has averaged 40 percent growth per year for the past four years on the sales side.

On the employment side, the company has grown from 17 employees in 2010 to 73 employees in 2014, which represents a 329 percent boost in personnel. Concept Services is built on a core philosophy of concept, process and discipline, which is the driving factor behind the company’s growth.

The “concept” is that companies need to separate prospecting and new business development from any other part of the sales operation. Prospecting for new business is a full-time function and is as important as any part of a company’s sales efforts.

The next step is “process,” which focuses on strategy. Years of research on effective cold calling and prospecting across multiple industries has shed light on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to finding qualified prospects and customers.

The “discipline” part is believed to be the most important piece at Concept Services, a promise to hold each other accountable to deliver the results that customers expect.

The result is tremendous growth with strong employment opportunities for both new and existing employees. The company expects to exceed 100 employees this year and will fill managerial and supervisory positions from within, providing a means for advancement. Along with an extensive training program for new employees, there is a clear path to success.

Greatest Employee Growth – Established – Service

akr_bga_VirginiaAlbaneseFedEx Custom Critical
Virginia Albanese, president and CEO

Virginia Albanese, president and CEO, is very proud of the team she has assembled at FedEx Custom Critical, a team that has grown at a steady clip in recent years. Overall, the workforce has expanded from 583 employees in 2010 to 748 employees in 2014.

The company’s FedEx Truckload Brokerage subsidiary has grown its workforce by more than 270 percent in the last five years.

The company is based in Green and is one of North America’s largest providers of expedited shipments. It offers customized solutions for its customers and specializes in expedited freight shipping and solutions for transporting sensitive shipments, from temperature control to increased security.

The hard work that employees give to their jobs comes in tandem with a strong commitment to volunteerism and philanthropy. Team members take this responsibility to heart and believe the ability to support the community in which they live and work plays a vital role in operating the business.

The company has had a significant impact in the Akron area, volunteering at more than 10 organizations in the community and donating an average of more than $140,000 per year.

Albanese serves on a number of boards in Northeast Ohio, including Akron Children’s Hospital, the Akron Community Foundation and Kent State University.

Team members happily volunteer their time at events for these organizations and many others, and this drive to support communities is contagious. FedEx Custom Critical employees average nearly 1,000 volunteer hours every year and serve as a testament to Albanese’s “walking the walk” philosophy.

 Best Overall Success Story: Service

akr_bga_EricGrafRitzman Pharmacies Inc.
Eric Graf, CEO

When Ritzman Pharmacies Inc. doubled its store count from 10 to 20 and purchased the in-store pharmacies at Buehler’s Fresh Foods, it did more than just increase its annual revenue.

The moves enhanced Ritzman’s buying power, enabling the company to negotiate better pricing and rebates from their pharmaceutical wholesalers.
In addition, the company was better able to spread its corporate overhead over twice the amount of stores while maintaining a greater range of pharmacy services to its local customer base.

The company grew again in 2013 with the purchase of five Mast Pharmacy stores and today has 25 stores located across nine counties. Ritzman has proven that growth through strategic acquisition can result in a stronger, more dynamic retail pharmacy operation with enhanced revenue and improved profitability.

Overall, in the past five years, Ritzman has grown sales by 135 percent and employees by 93 percent, going from 60 employees in 2010 to 116 employees in 2014.

Led by CEO Eric Graf, Ritzman continued to invest in both infrastructure and management in 2014 by hiring an experienced COO and 10 upper-level managers. The company also invested in KloudScript Special Pharmacy, which provides operational systems and training to independent retail pharmacies for delivering specialty high-cost pharmaceuticals.

In 2015, Ritzman is undertaking new initiatives to elevate the customer’s store experience by installing a new pharmacy system and new pharmacy delivery products. The company is also pursuing strategic joint ventures with local health providers.


Honor Roll



ACS Industries Inc.
Joe Zeno

ACS Industries Inc. bounced back strong in 2014 as the construction equipment manufacturer continued to recover from a period of economic uncertainty. ACS developed a yard loader bucket that revolutionized the material handling of aggregate at quarry sites in the U.S. The company also developed a plan to have a single source of contact at ACS call on all its steel mill customers across the nation.

Back to top

AlphaMicron Inc.
Bahman Taheri

Cutting-edge eyewear developed in Northeast Ohio by AlphaMicron Inc. could someday be standard equipment for every U.S. solider. The Kent-based company, which has grown from 21 employees in 2010 to 50 in 2014, has developed the world’s only liquid crystal film that provides electronic tint on demand. The technology is expected to fundamentally alter the function of eyewear in the tactical, sport and even luxury markets.

Back to top

Ascot Valley Foods LLC
Keith A. Kropp

Ascot Valley Foods LLC prides itself on being active in the community and is a proud donor of food to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. Its transition from frozen appetizer company to a business that also offers prepared meals has led to a stronger business, with sales growing 2.5 times from 2012 to 2014. In 2014, the company built a state-of-the-art production facility.

Back to top

Daniel’s Amish Collection
Christopher J. Karman

The craftsmen at Daniel’s Amish Collection are gifted and always willing to try new things to make a high-quality product in as efficient a manner as possible. Sales are up 213 percent since 2010 as the company has found ways to continue growing while many other businesses struggle to recover from the recession. The company’s leadership does not micromanage, empowering employees to be part of the success.

Back to top

Main Street Gourmet LLC
Steve Marks and Harvey Nelson

Customers that are finicky about their ingredients, demand differentiation and often want a product that is difficult to produce have a dedicated servant in Main Street Gourmet LLC. Sales have grown 40 percent in the past five years and the company’s co-founders have instilled a culture that promotes the entrepreneurial spirit to help achieve this ambitious goal. The result is an environment where employees enjoy their work.

Back to top

Ohio Hickory Harvest Brand Products Inc.
Darlene, Joseph and Michael Swiatkowski

Growth has been strong in recent years at Ohio Hickory Harvest Brand Products Inc. The company went from 40 employees in 2010 to more than 70 employees in 2015, and recently added several key management positions. Sales have increased 67 percent in the last five years and Ohio Hickory Harvest hopes to continue the trend by adding more equipment to continue to improve efficiencies.

Back to top


Area 51 Data Solutions
Marling Engle and Craig Sutphin

Area 51 Data Solutions is an IT managed services and cloud solutions provider specializing in proactive and preventative IT support for small to midsized businesses. Sales have increased 267 percent over the past five years, generating more jobs and tax revenue for the local economy. Area 51 has also helped keep area businesses open and functioning through its disaster recovery and business continuity efforts.

Back to top

AtNetPlus Inc.
Jay Mellon and Jim Laber

AtNetPlus Inc. is locally owned and operated and continues to grow both its revenue, which has increased by 72 percent over the past five years, and its office space. By adding high-paying technology jobs, the IT company attracts and retains young professionals to Northeast Ohio. AtNetPlus continues to educate and inform area business leaders through community partnerships and in-house seminars.

Back to top

Epiphany Management Group
Suranjan Shome

As an exclusive provider of technology managed services for K-12 organizations, Epiphany Management Group has grown from six to nearly 100 full-time employees and has seen its revenue rise by 153 percent since 2010. The company can trace much of its success to a copyrighted strategic planning process that is utilized in every facet of the organization.

Back to top

Etactics Inc.
Michael Teutsch

Etactics Inc. was established in June 1999 to provide a cost-effective service that enhances the accuracy and delivery of time-sensitive documents, especially invoices. These services are geared to improve cash flow for clients. The company has grown from 31 employees in 2010 to 49 in 2014 and continues to add new products and services where an opportunity is found to add value to clients.

Back to top

Expand Interactive
Eric Harsh and Will Holland

When Expand Interactive was founded, its mission was to rid the world of boring, ineffective training. The company has established itself as a market leader by shifting away from operating as a traditional e-learning company to one focused on impact, using e-learning as a means to improve organizational performance. The result is revenue growth of 116 percent over the past five years.

Back to top

Marling Engle

Since 2006, Metisentry has been empowering businesses to create efficiency through technology to achieve success. The company builds, manages and integrates business software and data center systems through Web, mobile and cloud platforms to manage workflow and change the way people do business. Since 2010, revenue has grown by 120 percent.

Back to top


Americas International Inc.
Wayne Stair

Americas International Inc.’s mission is to increase favorable brand awareness and expand sales by delivering quality products to customers on time and in a cost-effective manner. By working as an extension of its supplier’s sales and marketing team, the company achieves results consistent with its corporate strategic objectives. Growth has been steady since 2010, rising 34 percent during that time.

Back to top

Band of Brothers Restoration LLC
Geno Conley and Don Meyer

Band of Brothers Restoration LLC is a combat veteran owned and operated company that provides commercial and residential construction and restoration services both locally and nationally. Its team is also skilled at new installation for interior and exterior needs. The company is young, growing from two employees in 2013 to 15 employees in 2014, but leadership is confident it has a plan to both be successful and change lives in the process.

Back to top

Robert Littman, CPA, MT

SS&G is now BDO, but the company has not changed its belief in the passion and capability of local businesses. BDO specializes in financial services for restaurants and focuses on their very specific and unique accounting needs. The firm also has a nationally recognized practice focusing on independent pharmacies. The Northeast Ohio office of BDO is the 10th largest BDO office in the U.S.

Back to top

Catastrophe Management Solutions LLC
Curtis F. Pilot

Catastrophe Management Solutions LLC provides additional call center staffing for large insurance carriers during major catastrophes. The company differentiates itself from its competitors through the strength of its values and extensive industry experience and exceptional employee relations and training, among other attributes. CMS has experienced 456 percent sales growth over the past five years along with a 412 percent staffing increase.

Back to top

Cohen & Co. Ltd.
J. Michael Kolk

Finding and retaining quality staff is not always easy, yet it is critical to the growth and success at Cohen & Co. Ltd. The accounting firm has a unique and robust internship program that cultivates top talent to help ensure its continued growth as a leader in the local economy. The program’s real-world approach centers around treating interns as staff members and the internship program yielded 20 new staff hires in 2014.

Back to top

Concept Services Ltd.
Daniel D. Harsh

Concept Services Ltd. has averaged 40 percent growth per year for the last four years and is on track to do it again in 2015. One of the company’s most significant achievements is its ability to hire employees with no experience, and sometimes no college education, and turn them into professional business development managers. Concept Services has excelled in this area and become an integral staff extension for its clients.

Back to top

Cooper Brothers Trucking
Tim Cooper

Cooper Brothers Trucking handles freight that travels back and forth between the U.S. and Canada, as well as inter-Canada shipments. It’s an area many companies don’t want to work in, but Cooper has established itself around servicing the border. The company, which has grown revenue by 277 percent over the past five years, uses its expertise to reduce wait time and reduce the cost of cross-border shipping to customers.

Back to top

County Fire Protection Inc.
John Lubinski

County Fire Protection Inc. celebrated its 15th year in 2014 and continues to emphasize its core values, setting it apart from the competition. The core values are integrity and honesty, hard work, service-oriented, dedication and teamwork. Sales are up 102 percent over the past five years and staffing is up 60 percent. In 2015, County Fire Protection enhanced its recruiting efforts by securing a new accounts sales manager to help define its B2B services.

Back to top

EnviroScience Inc.
Martin Hilovsky

EnviroScience Inc. has grown considerably over the past five years, more than doubling both its staff and revenues. The ecological and natural resource consulting firm has placed an emphasis on hiring highly motivated people and encouraging them to pursue their interests and talents, as well as innovative business opportunities that fall outside of the company’s core services.

Back to top

Evolve Creative Group
Todd Bertsch

Evolve Creative Group has quickly become one of the top companies in the Web design industry throughout Northeast Ohio. With a strictly defined Web design process and a passion statement in place of a mission statement, Evolve has set itself apart from its competitors. Evolve continues to increase sales by more than 100 percent every year.

Back to top

FedEx Custom Critical
Virginia Albanese

FedEx Custom Critical continues to grow as a company. The expedited shipment provider had 748 employees in 2014, up from 583 in 2010. The strength of the team has allowed strong philanthropic support with employees averaging nearly 1,000 volunteer hours every year. Team members help organizations from across the region do their part to make it a better place to live.

Back to top

Great Lakes Fasteners Inc.
Kevin R. Weidinger

Since 1958, Great Lakes Fasteners Inc. has been servicing Midwestern manufacturers by using its innovative problem-solving skills to support a comprehensive portfolio of high-quality fastener products. Sales are up 107 percent since 2010 and staffing is up 150 percent. In particular, the company’s packaging division is driving value and opportunity by helping customers streamline their supply chain and improve production-line efficiency.

Back to top

Great Work! Employment Services
Tia Ramlow

Tia Ramlow has made a conscious effort to buy from local suppliers whenever possible at Great Work! Employment Services. As the company’s president, she also supports the local economy by providing health care for all her staff through locally based SummaCare. Great Work!, which has seen sales rise by 83 percent since 2010, makes contributions of both money and volunteer time to many local nonprofits and also supports local business groups and chambers.

Back to top

Huntington Bank
William C. Shivers

Huntington Bank is a regional bank holding company headquartered in Columbus with a network of more than 700 branches and almost 1,500 ATMs across six Midwestern states. Founded in 1866, the bank and its affiliates provide consumer, small business, commercial, treasury management, wealth management, brokerage, trust and insurance services.

Back to top

Sam Falletta

Sales are up 87 percent over the past five years at Incept. One of the keys to the conversational marketing firm’s success is its ability to engage employees to focus on the most important aspects of becoming an organizationally healthy workplace. Employees buy into the company’s goals and gain satisfaction in helping Incept to meet those goals.

Back to top

J. Rayl Transport
Jeremy Rayl

In the past five years, J. Rayl Transport has built its own compressed natural gas station at its Akron headquarters. It has also strengthened its fleet of natural gas units to include 100 tractors, giving J. Rayl one of the largest natural gas fleets in the U.S. The logistics company has expanded its offices and terminals to Euclid, Dallas and Houston and bolstered its presence in Columbus, Indiana and Virginia with new offices and terminals. The company is up to 350 employees and will be at 300 tractors by the end of 2015.

Back to top

Jarrett Logistics Systems Inc.
W. Michael Jarrett

Jarrett Logistics Systems Inc. has grown at an average rate of 14 percent over the past 10 years and will continue at this pace through 2015. The company has launched new marketing initiatives to assist with the company’s continual sales growth. The goal is to use a direct mail campaign to get the Jarrett brand in front of more decision-makers in the supply chain industry throughout the U.S.

Back to top

Laudan Properties
Kevin R. Weidinger

The business model for Laudan Properties was developed in a strategy session at a local Bob Evans restaurant and the growth has been torrid ever since. From 2010 to 2014, the inspection, property preservation and remodeling company has grown by 2,550 percent. The Laudan team works closely with investors, banks, servicers and real estate professionals to manage and maintain their portfolio of residential assets.

Back to top

Lead to Conversion LLC
Sean Bolton

Every employee at Lead to Conversion LLC is afforded the opportunity to grow beyond their current role at the digital marketing agency. LTC has built working partnerships with local businesses such as Matco Tools, Copperloy and Lincoln Electric. Some clients have seen website traffic increase by more than 1,000 percent and the firm itself has grown sales by 426 percent since 2010.

Back to top

Leppo Group Inc.
William “Glenn” Leppo

CEO William “Glenn” Leppo uses trust to lead and inspire his team at Leppo Group Inc. He trusts his co-workers to get the job done in accordance with the equipment provider’s values just as customers trust Leppo Group to take care of their equipment needs. Leppo has grown sales by 142 percent since 2010 and the continuation of that growth is supported by regular dialogue with employees about performance.

Back to top

National Interstate Insurance Co.
Dave Michelson

National Interstate Insurance Co. has enjoyed significant growth over the past five years in both sales and employees. Sales are up 57 percent during that time and the staff has grown from 494 employees in 2010 to 634 in 2014. From a product perspective, National Interstate continues to expand its portfolio by branching into new markets where its expertise can be leveraged.

Back to top

Oswald Cos.
Paul N. Catania

As an employee-owned company, Oswald Cos. takes its core values of professionalism, integrity, resourcefulness and commitment to community very seriously. Senior Vice President Paul N. Catania has led the way on making community philanthropy a top priority at the insurance brokerage firm, which has grown sales by 194 percent since 2010. Oswald also has a dedicated nonprofit practice that serves more than 250 Ohio-based not-for-profit clients.

Back to top

PackShip USA
W. Michael Jarrett

PackShip USA, an affiliated company of Jarrett Logistics Systems Inc., is a high-tech logistics company providing custom solutions in packaging, shipping and business-related services to the retail and commercial markets. The company has been rebranded to include five divisions: PackShip Store, PackShip Logistics, PackShip Furniture Direct, PackShip Warehouse & Fulfillment and PackShip Custom Solutions. Sales growth for the whole company is up 77 percent since 2010.

Back to top

Peoples Services Inc.
Douglas Sibila

Since 2010, Peoples Services Inc. has increased sales by more than 125 percent while improving the profit margin. This was done through acquisitions of other logistics companies and expanding business with both new and existing customers. PSI more than doubled the number of facilities and expanded into another state creating a multiple market distribution company located in six states.

Back to top

Performance Administration Corp.
Rick Knight

The 2008 recession hit most businesses quite hard and Performance Administration Corp. was no exception as it lost half of its clients. The company offers personalized maintenance program administration for franchise dealerships, dealer groups and service contract companies nationwide. But Rick Knight, the company’s founder and president, went to competitors and offered to add his method to their businesses. By working together, the company has grown sales by 171 percent since 2010.

Back to top

Premier Bank & Trust
Rick L. Hull

Premier Bank & Trust has made philanthropy part of its culture. Each quarter, every employee is granted eight hours of paid time off to volunteer with organizations of their choice. It adds up to 568 hours per quarter and 2,272 hours per year of community support. It’s certainly a key factor in the company’s success, but beyond that, in the words of company leadership, “it is simply the right thing to do.”

Back to top

QualCare LLC, dba Home Instead Senior Care
Therese Glorioso, RN, BSN

One of the biggest challenges faced at QualCare LLC, dba Home Instead Senior Care, which has added 29 employees since 2010, is the recruitment and ability to retain the best employees at the company. The senior industry is known for facing daily staffing shortages of nursing assistants and caregivers. The solution at QualCare has been to recruit senior citizens as employees.

Back to top

Ritzman Pharmacies Inc.
Eric Graf

Ritzman Pharmacies Inc. has recently undertaken new initiatives to elevate its customers’ store experience by installing a new pharmacy system and new pharmacy delivery products. Ritzman, which has seen sales grow by 135 percent since 2010, is also pursuing strategic joint ventures with local health providers to enhance pharmaceutical delivery throughout the area.

Back to top

Romeo’s Pizza Franchise Corp.
Ryan Rose

In January 2015, Ryan Rose, a franchisee and private sector C-level executive, assumed the role of president and CEO for Romeo’s Pizza Franchise Corp. Rose brings a passion for the brand and spent his first 90 days analyzing the company’s footprint and understanding key performance indicators for Romeo’s, which has grown sales by 165 percent and staffing by 200 percent since 2010.

Back to top

Sequoia Financial Group
Tom Haught

A three-tiered strategic plan has been employed at Sequoia Financial Group to work toward increasing revenue by 100 percent over the next five years. The company believes the infrastructure that has been built and invested in, along with its business development strategy and service model will allow new advisers to plug into its model and increase overall growth and firm profitability.

Back to top

TRIAD/Next Level
Rick Krochka

TRIAD/Next Level has always believed in providing pro bono services to organizations that serve its community and contributing free creative services and helping to stretch the marketing budgets of these nonprofit groups that make a difference. The company’s granting efforts were rebranded in 2010 and the result is a program that has been able to do even more great work for those who need it.

Back to top

WhiteSpace Creative
Keeven White

Founded in 1994, WhiteSpace Creative is a marketing communications agency that helps businesses and organizations motivate others into action. Adapting to new opportunities and challenges has helped the company evolve into a team structure. These reconstructed teams allow for the sharing of resources and knowledge that fits the needs of its clients.

Back to top

John Bernatovicz

Willory has assembled a group of energetic, devoted individuals to become one of the leading HR and payroll staffing firms in the nation, driving top talents to its clients every day. John Bernatovicz, the firm’s founder and president, launched Willory in 2010. He has led its growth from a single employee to 68 in 2014.

Back to top

Increase employee engagement to improve profitability

The Harvard Business Review found that the single greatest advantage in the modern economy is a happy and engaged workforce. A decade of research proves that employee happiness raises nearly every business and educational outcome. Yet, according to Gallup, almost 7 out of 10 employees are unengaged at work and nearly 2 out of 10 are actively disengaged.

Simply put, the majority of executives are failing at the item that provides the most significant advantage for their business.

Here are four lessons we have proven to increase employee engagement while becoming rated as a Top Workplace in Northeast Ohio four of the last five years:

1. Have a vision statement your team can believe in

Your employees need to understand that the work they are doing matters. And not just in the financial sense. Why does your company exist and how does each employee fit in as a part of that vision?

Example of Do’s:
Toys R Us: “Our vision is to put joy in kids’ hearts and a smile on parent’s faces.”
Kraft Foods: “To make today delicious.”

Examples of Don’ts:
“We seek to be the leading provider of [anything] to [vertical market] in [geographic region] based on our high commitment to [quality/price/speed].” Yeah, so does everyone else.

2. Change your performance management process

Business is changing too fast to rely on traditional performance management programs. If your employees are only receiving formal, written evaluations once a year, it’s time to update your process. We have formal reviews every 60 days and one-on-one meetings between each supervisor and his or her manager every two weeks.

3. Align your rewards and recognition to your company’s key performance indicators

When you set your organization’s goals, are you making sure you align them for all levels? Be transparent about what is important to the company, how you measure it and be relentless at rewarding and recognizing the employees who drive those metrics. Avoid the urge to simplify a metric to present to the masses because you are concerned about whether or not they can handle having too much information.

4. Constant communication from executives

Employees need to know where the company is going. The more often they hear it the better. Make your executives accessible and create a habit of providing updates in both good and bad times. Improving employee engagement can drive the future success of your business.

Prioritize at least an hour each week to work on a few of these ideas and watch it become a competitive advantage.

Sam Falletta is president and CEO of Incept Corp. Sam has developed successful customer acquisition and retention strategies for some of the largest brands in the world, including Microsoft, Ford, Honda and the American Red Cross.

Frame of Reference: Retain your way to higher profits

The field of marketing is changing rapidly. Customers can engage with businesses anytime and have higher expectations than ever. Free next-day shipping, 24-hour support and social media have created the need to improve service without necessarily creating additional revenue opportunities. As a business owner, how do you allocate your resources?

Here are two startling statistics when listed together: It costs six to seven times more to acquire a new customer than retain a current one, according to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs. A study conducted by Bain & Co. cited that increasing customer retention rates by 5 percent increases profits by 25 to 95 percent.

So why invest such a large portion of your budget in customer acquisition when customer retention drives profitability?

Sales and marketing audit

Here’s a simple way to audit your current sales and marketing plan to ensure you maximize investment. Evaluate your total investment based on the intent of each message. For each activity, ask if the goal is to:

  • Acquire new customers.
  • Retain current customers.
  • Appreciate your customers for a recent action.
  • Convert current customers to a different or additional product or service.
  • Re-activate lapsed customers.
  • Educate customers on new enhancements or industry information that strengthens your relationship.

Acquisition efforts are being over-valued. Dedicating a fraction of those dollars to appreciation and retention would significantly increase your bottom line.

Making the shift

While the trend is to move online where there is less personal customer engagement, customers need a personal touch to reinforce their importance. Differentiate yourself by shifting dollars from low-performing acquisition expenses to personalized appreciation and retention investments.   

Once you have completed your audit, move the lowest-performing 5 percent of your current acquisition expenses to new retention and appreciation activities.

For example:

  • Send a handwritten thank-you card to every new customer within 24 hours of their purchase.
  • Send a gift to recognize the anniversary of when you started doing business with your top 20 customers.
  • Have your CEO personally call and thank the buyer of each new customer you gain this year.
  • Send a thank-you gift to customers who provide you with complaints, allowing you to improve your product.
  • Provide a bonus for internal employees who receive customer compliments.

The Gartner Group reports that 80 percent of your future revenue will come from 20 percent of your current customers. By investing directly in those relationships, you can ensure you are maximizing the lifetime value of each customer. Often you also receive great anecdotal feedback on how to improve your product/service offering to meet their needs.

Sam Falletta is president and CEO of Incept Corp. Sam has developed successful customer acquisition and retention strategies for some of the largest brands in the world, including Microsoft, Ford, Honda and the American Red Cross. Reach him at (330) 994-1322 or [email protected]. More is available at

Learn more at: