Northeast Ohio 2016 Entrepreneur Of The Year®

Year after year we hear it: “Only in America!”

When we first honored four forward-thinking entrepreneurs in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1986, we had only just begun to recognize the ingenuity that is the hallmark of American business prowess. Now, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® reaches across the country to encompass nearly 10,000 distinguished American alumni celebrated in 25 U.S. regional programs. And from its inception in the heartland, the program now spans the globe, taking place in 145 cities and 60 countries worldwide.

We couldn’t be more excited to celebrate the award’s 30th anniversary. We salute the visionaries who launch and reimagine businesses, employ millions and endow your communities, leaving legacies of accomplishment and enrichment while setting the pace for generations of entrepreneurs to come.

We honor their passion, innovation and perseverance as we salute 30 years of ingenuity in America.

Congratulations to this year’s award recipients and finalists whose stories you’ll read about in the following pages. If you know an entrepreneur who should be recognized as we begin our fourth decade, please let us know.


neo_d_ey_DanTompkinsDan Tompkins
Partner & Program Co-Director




neo_d_ey_CraigGlazierCraig Glazier
Partner & Program Co-Director





BUILDING PRODUCTS, EQUIPMENT and SERVICES  (WINNER) Carolyn Cahlik, Coast to Coast Equipment  |  (FINALIST) James Keene, Keene Building Products  COMMUNITY IMPACT  (WINNER-tie) Alan Rosskamm & John Zitzner, Breakthrough Schools | (WINNER-tie) Terry Davis, Our Lady of the Wayside |  (FINALIST)  Annemarie Grassi, Open Doors Academy | (FINALIST)  Greg Malkin, Young Entrepreneur Institute at University School  DISTRIBUTION & MANUFACTURING   (WINNER) Richard Farone, David Brickner Guardian Technologies | (FINALIST) James Stewart, CIMA Plastics Group | (FINALIST)  Howard Booher, East Manufacturing Corp. | (FINALIST)  Amy Bircher, MMI Textiles, Inc.  FAMILY BUSINESS  (WINNERS) David Bartley & John Bartley, OGI Industries/Ohio Gratings, Inc. |  (FINALIST) Scott Mawaka, Fleet Response  RETAIL & CONSUMER PRODUCTS & SERVICES  (WINNERS)  John Fenn & Mark Campbell, Budget Dumpster |  (FINALIST)  Christopher Karman, Daniel’s Amish Collection |  (FINALIST)  Sean Brauser, Romeo’s Pizza and Pizzafire  SERVICES  (WINNER)  William Davis, ECHO Health, Inc. |  (FINALIST) Anthony Mercurio, National Interstate | (FINALIST) Scott McCafferty and Michael Emich, WTWH Media, LLC   TECHNOLOGY  (WINNER) James Tu, Energy Foods, Inc.  (FINALISTS)  Kyle Quillen & Robert Brick, Agile Networks (FINALIST)  Albert Green, Kent Displays, Inc.


Here are the 2016 Entrepreneurs Of The Year for Northeast Ohio



neo_ey_RobertBrick_KyleQuillenRobert Brick
Founder, chairman and CEO
Kyle Quillen
Founder and CTO
Agile Networks


Nominated by: Garrett Robertson, Agile Networks

Robert Brick and Kyle Quillen are all about the development of their employees at Agile Networks. Agile University sets the expectation for employee development by emphasizing a focus on interdependence, culture and continuous growth during each new hire’s first two weeks on the job. The company, a premier provider of hybrid transport networks, uses its onboarding process to allow every employee hired to gain insight into every position at Agile. It allows Brick and Quillen to gain buy-in for their interdependence business philosophy and ensure that the focus is always on providing an exemplary level of service to the customer.

Brick is the company’s founder, chairman and CEO while Quillen is founder and CTO. These two men are not only business partners, but have known each other for quite some time. Quillen, while still in high school, showed Brick some of the projects he had been working on during a family party. It was at that point that Quillen told Brick that he wanted to start a business with him, to which Brick replied, “Bring me a good idea and I will consider it.” Four years later, Quillen brought that good idea to Brick and they launched Agile Networks. This interaction is prominently displayed on the wall of quotes at Agile to serve as a reminder of how far Quillen and Brick have come.

The company’s two leaders have unique, yet complimentary leadership styles. Brick describes Quillen as “Silicon Valley in Canton,” or the impatient visionary. After he graduated from high school, Quillen lasted about eight months at a local college before deciding that learning on the fly and a practical education better suited his style. With his vision and Brick’s professional experience, tremendous synergies have been developed that have played an integral part in the company’s success.
Back to top



neo_ey_AlenRosskamm_JohnZitznerAlan Rosskamm
John Zitzner
Breakthrough Schools


Nominated by: Alfred Miller, Oswald Companies

Alan Rosskamm and John Zitzner are two entrepreneurs with no background in education but a passion for children’s learning. Together they have created Breakthrough Schools, one of the nation’s highest performing charter management organizations in the country. They were often advised against starting a charter school because of the common failures of startup charter schools across the country. They saw a need for better public education in Cleveland and continued against the odds to provide high-quality education options for children.

By the time Rosskamm teamed with Zitzner, who had already formed his first charter school, E-Prep Middle School — and had started pursuing his next idea to improve and expand the network of charter schools in Cleveland. To achieve this goal, the two men teamed up to create Breakthrough Schools. The idea is to bring together multiple currently existing charter schools and streamline the management and administration side of each. Rosskamm was skeptical at first due to the inherent challenges of bringing three schools together and the known uphill funding battle of charter schools. He eventually agreed to serve as CEO to help build financial sustainability and growth.

Zitzner has worked with Rosskamm to grow from one charter school in 2010 to opening their 12th school in August 2016. As president, Zitzner oversees Friends of Breakthrough, the fundraising and advocacy arm of the network and has been very successful working with the district funding and organizing many charity fundraisers. Rosskamm manages the support team for each of the schools. The duo’s primary goal through Breakthrough Schools is to fix the inequality in charter schools funding, both via property tax allocation and the general funding budget. They are working to change Ohio’s public school funding legislation by 2020.
Back to top



neo_ey_JohnFenn_Mark-CampbellJohn Fenn
Mark Campbell
Budget Dumpster


Nominated by: Sean Nally, Budget Dumpsters

After going to school together and being friends for many years, John Fenn and Mark Campbell began working together on a real estate venture. As an additional source of income, they also started a junk removal company, which introduced them to the world of dumpster renting. Although they were making ends meet with the real estate and junk removal businesses, they wanted to create a business that would have a more stable income.

While in the junk removal business, Fenn and Campbell worked with Cleveland dumpster companies to negotiate dumpster rental rates.

In addition to customers who would call inquiring about junk removal services, many people also called inquiring about dumpster rentals. Fenn and Campbell seized the opportunity and Budget Dumpster was established.

Budget Dumpster operates as a broker — it negotiates rates for dumpster rentals from dumpster companies, usually receiving a discount for a promised volume. Customers, most often residential or small contractors, contact Budget Dumpster to rent the dumpster. The company acts as the intermediary connecting the customer with the dumpster owner. Budget Dumpster does not own dumpsters nor does it truck/deliver the dumpsters. Aside from trying to be the cheapest dumpster option for consumers, as the name suggests, Budget Dumpster strives to provide exceptional customer service.

The larger, brand-recognizable waste removal companies cater to contractors and construction workers. The owners, however, focus on selling to residential users who seldom know about dumpsters and the related regulations. Budget Dumpster has 25 customer service representatives with the goal of keeping a caller’s wait time at a minimum.

Fenn and Campbell believe this is what differentiates Budget Dumpster from competitors. The company has entered 150 markets in the U.S. and continues to see significant growth. They are developing ideas to diversify their business and enter new markets to create more repeat business.
Back to top



neo_ey_JamesStewartJames Stewart
CIMA Plastics Group



Nominated by: Yelena Spadafora, PNC

Jim Stewart’s drive and desire to lead a business — as well as his own style of leadership — is distinctly personal and embodies a deep entrepreneurial spirit. Stewart grew up in Detroit immersed in the inner workings of the automotive industry — his father was president of a successful automotive supply company. But as successful as he was in that business, his father often had thoughts of taking the leap and starting a business of his own. At each attempt, however, the owners of his father’s company would entice him just enough to stay put. These unfulfilled possibilities inspired Stewart to commit to leading a business of his own.

In December 2003, Stewart closed on a deal to acquire a small contract molding company called CIMA Plastics. CIMA stands for Custom Injection Molding and Assembly. It had started out as a successful venture, but had endured several rocky years by the time of Stewart’s acquisition. In the first seven years of his ownership, 65 percent of CIMA’s customers turned over primarily due to outsourcing of services overseas. Most of Stewart’s time immediately following the acquisition was spent simply trying to maintain the customer base and figure out the business as this was not an industry where had expertise.

As a function of the high turnover, CIMA’s financial performance was decidedly cyclical. But Stewart’s vision to transform CIMA Plastics Group from a pure contract molding operation into a diversified, proprietary, product line-driven company is beginning to bear fruit. CIMA’s top three customers comprised 90 percent of sales when Stewart acquired the company in 2003. That metric has now decreased to close to 20 percent with the company remaining profitable for multiple consecutive years. One of the best examples of Stewart’s effectiveness as president is the fact that the company has yet to lay off a single employee.
Back to top



neo_ey_ChrisKarmanChristopher Karman
Daniel’s Amish Collection



Nominated by: George Glasser, Huntington Bank

Christopher Karman has a profound dedication to quality and emphasizes doing the right thing while running his Company, Daniel’s Amish Collection. These values are thoroughly demonstrated through his leadership in the company. Karman works every day to be a little better than the last by bringing his relentless work ethic and leading by example. He firmly believes that the key to the success Daniel’s Amish Collection has experienced is because they make quality products, made by quality employees, sold to quality customers.

He goes to extensive lengths to continue to ensure the quality of each of their products, which is instilled throughout the company and its employees. As president, Karman has displayed leadership by using his skill set learned throughout his career to drive the business and keep the company profitable. Part of his philosophy that has led to its success is that you need to have the right people, but also have those people in the right roles.

He excels at the day-to-day management of the company and in identifying solutions for future growth. His partner, Daniel Yoder, focuses more on sales and marketing. Karman also has an innovative team whom he has empowered to come up with creative ideas that drive efficiencies and lead to new product ideas.

Karman stands by his employees and is committed to growing the business in Ohio for years to come. He plans to continue hiring strong employees who have the same passion for quality that he does. Daniel’s Amish Collection encourages creativity and innovation within the workplace while continuing to promote a positive work environment and company culture by actively welcoming any new product or process idea from employees. Specifically, Karman implemented a program that offers 100 percent of the proceeds from the first sale of a new product designed by any employee as part of their compensation.
Back to top



neo_ey_HowardBoohertifHoward Booher
Owner and CEO
East Manufacturing Corp.



Nominated by: David DePoincy, East Manufacturing Corp.

As owner and CEO of East Manufacturing Corp., Howard Booher believes in leading by example and has created a culture of innovation and quality based on this top-down leadership style. Booher grew up working long hours on his family’s dairy farm and learned a simple mantra from his grandfather: If it breaks, fix it; if it breaks again, redesign it and make it better. This mantra has guided Booher throughout his life and is the foundation upon which East Manufacturing was built. With only a high school diploma and some engineering classes from Youngstown State University, Howard has been able to grow East Manufacturing into a multimillion-dollar business.

Despite personal sacrifices from his family and recent health issues, Booher has continued to manage both East Manufacturing and work on his personal 1,200-acre farm every day at the age of 75.

Booher has assembled a loyal and seasoned group of executives to help with the day-to-day operations, allowing him to focus on innovating and growing the company at the production level. This group includes individuals who each have more than 30 years of experience with the company, a level of commitment that has allowed Booher to trust each of them to do what is best for the company.

His management style also extends to the assembly lines, where he empowers his employees to develop themselves and to give input in hopes of improving the processes they are a part of every day. Despite recent economic turbulence and rising operating costs, Booher has continued to maintain the belief that his company must be a leader and innovator in its industry. The willingness to reinvest in new ideas has helped East Manufacturing to maintain its position as a top 25 truck trailer manufacturer in North America.
Back to top



neo_ey_WilliamDavisWilliam Davis
Chairman and CEO
ECHO Health, Inc.



Nominated by: Tim Holmes, PNC Bank

ECHO Health, Inc. has a culture that requires every employee to question the status quo, supports new ideas from its people and empowers the employees to not fear failure, but embrace it. This culture of disruption is a reflection of William Davis, the company’s chairman and CEO, and his leadership. The origin of ECHO Health is a testament to this. Initially formed as a joint venture funded by Chase Manhattan Bank and Tandem Computers, Davis was offered an opportunity in 1997 to exit the joint venture and continue the business on his own.

To do this, Davis bet on himself and had to give back the remaining $1 million of funding left in the joint venture and start anew with the only remaining asset from the original joint venture, the intellectual property that he had helped to develop.

This offered Davis the opportunity he was looking for — a chance to grow his business outside of a culture driven by quarterly earnings, EBITDA multiples, equity offerings, etc. One of the internal mantras of the company that comes directly from his leadership is “Die with Honor.” He says that one of the things he strives to do personally and instills in his employees is to always do the right thing for their clients and employees, no matter what the cost.

The company has walked away from customers and relationships when Davis did not feel that the service expectations or values and objectives of the other party aligned. Doing so allowed the company to maintain the integrity and values it was founded upon. In order to facilitate Davis’s disruptive nature, he has built a strong management team around him that complements his strengths, allowing him to focus on building solutions to the problems of his customers.
Back to top



neo_ey_JamesTuJames Tu
Executive Chairman and CEO
Energy Focus, Inc.



Nominated by: Marc Byrnes, Oswald

Energy Focus, Inc. has a mission to enlighten and inspire the world, and James Tu looks for certain characteristics in new hires that will allow the business to fulfill that mission, including motivation, skills, temperament and an empathetic personality. Tu, the company’s executive chairman and CEO, wants employees to be at Energy Focus for the right reasons. It matters to him that they believe in the concept and mission of the business and in return, he gives all 130 of his full-time employees stock in the company.

Even those who decide that working at Energy Focus is not for them are entitled to benefits upon separation, and receive severance with no questions asked if they are unhappy with their role or current job.

Energy Focus was established in 1985 and has always been the leader in establishing advanced lighting technologies from fiber optic to LED lighting. Creating the LED lighting focus has allowed the company to build LED technology that the world has never seen. Each LED lighting tube has a chip similar to what you would find in your PC or cellphone. Developing new technology is part of what drives Tu, who has always believed a great business is built by solving a huge problem. He has worked hard to increase sales and create brand awareness and put the company in a position to expand its sales force to keep up with the needs of clients.

Tu started his career out of college in global investing, eventually managing investments on Wall Street. He could have stayed in an investment banking role, but aspired for more. He wanted to help others and make an impact on the world. His effort to brand the company with a mission, vision and values has resonated with employees, allowing them to see the purpose of their work.

Back to top



neo_ey_ScottMawakaScott Mawaka
CEO and president
Fleet Response



Nominated by: Julie Hill, PNC Bank

With a firm understanding that human capital is the core of his business, Scott Mawaka leads Fleet Response with a focus on maximizing each person’s strengths. The central principles of his business — continuity, consistency, development, growth, honesty, integrity — shine through his actions and direction as CEO and president.

Relatively low employee turnover is evidence of the self-worth and empowerment that he strives to enable. In a commoditized world, this philosophy of service is a key differentiator. Mawaka’s management style is apparent from the moment you meet him. He explains his casual attire with the admission that this is “who I am,” but it is clear that his interest and focus is external to himself. His attentiveness to “who you are” permeates through all of his interactions.

He gets to know everyone in his company on a personal level, regardless of their role or rank. He invests in regular business retreats with his leadership team and advisory board in an ongoing effort to understand each and every individual on a personal level. This relationship-building focus transcends through the company and outward to customers and to the community at large. Fleet Response has had considerable impact on a number of purpose-driven charitable organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, Youth Challenge and the ALS Association. Together with his wife, he co-founded the Scott and Julie Mawaka Charitable Foundation to continue to drive positive change in the world.

Likening his company to an investment portfolio, Mawaka identifies the need to continually diversify. He sees opportunities in IT, using the vast amounts of available data on driver history to predict behavior. He sees his company having an impact by helping companies identify and mitigate risks early on so they can be proactive (in preventing accidents) rather than reactive (in responding to the needs resulting from accidents).
Back to top



neo_ey_RickFarone_DavidBricknerRichard Farone
Managing Partner
David Brickner
Managing Partner
Guardian Technologies


Nominated by: Mark Hopton, Action Management

David Brickner and Richard Farone founded Guardian Technologies along with their former partner, Joe Gorman, after spending 17 years in the consumer products industry at TTI Floor Care North America (formerly Royal Appliance/Dirt Devil vacuums). They took the skills and knowledge they had acquired during that time and decided to create their own company where they would be able to create and cultivate the type of environment that would reward originality and innovation. Both Brickner and Farone felt that their most rewarding time at TTI was during the early years when the company had a true high-risk/high-reward culture and focus on product development.

The plan for Guardian was to create a new company that kept that culture alive while focusing on product innovation and continuous process improvement and streamlining.

Brickner and Farone melded their separate experiences, one in sales and customer relationships and the other in supply chain, in order to grow the company. They have been able to take manufacturing processes that typically take a year and condense them into six months in order to react more quickly to the demand for their products. Together, they made the decision to focus on online sales in advance of their competitors and let the brick-and-mortar stores follow. This allowed the company to be at the forefront of online shopping for home environmental products largely through Amazon, while also keeping a presence in stores such as Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target and Bed Bath & Beyond.

The managing partners understand that Guardian’s products are utilized in people’s homes every day, and they seek to work only with vendors and suppliers with the highest integrity and commitment to safety and quality, and fill the company with employees who feel the same. Brickner and Farone are on-site daily, but empower their people to make decisions.
Back to top



neo_ey_CarolynCahlikCarolyn Cahlik
Coast to Coast Equipment



Nominated by: Yelena Spadafora, PNC

While she had no experience in the construction equipment industry, Carolyn Cahlik took a leap of faith and with her partner launched Coast to Coast Equipment in20016. She found she was subject to a steep learning curve but adopted a “one risk at a time” philosophy. Cahlik, who serves as president, realized that every business needed to take risks in order to grow and succeed — but they had to be the right risks for the organization.

What sets her apart is that she limits her risks in a way that the business is only partially exposed at any given time. While all of the company’s financial risks have been successful to this point, she still follows this philosophy to limit exposure and ensure the sustained success of the business.

After just three years into operations, the 2009 economic downturn severely depressed the values of the company’s construction equipment. This dramatic decrease in value of company assets and inventory could have caused the company to go bankrupt.

Cahlik did not let the economic downturn deter her will to build a successful business. The company began to innovate in ways that industry competitors were not. For instance, she viewed the downturn in capital equipment prices as an opportunity. While most organizations were looking to shed inventory, Coast to Coast was able to purchase equipment at record low prices.

In addition, Cahlik noted that there was still a need for the equipment, but organizations were unable to gain financing to purchase new or used equipment. She was able to leverage her growing inventory in a rental capacity that met the markets’ need and successfully navigated the company through the economic downturn to come out stronger than before. The company has also grown from a company of two (Cahlik and her partner) to one with 26 employees and counting.
Back to top



neo_ey_JimKeeneJames Keene
Keene Building Products



Nominated by: Chris Boesch, KeyBank

When James Keene started Keene Building Products in 2002, there was a compelling need in the construction industry for noise and moisture control products. The company has filled that void and has increased its value through technique and product development called — a play on words — “Keene Ideas.”

For instance, two of those “Keene Ideas” are technologies for roofing materials and carpet padding. The roofing material started with a patent for a more sophisticated folding process for manufacturing an entangled net and ended with a major partnership with a roofing company.

Keene also believed there was a solution to the problem carpeting has with hygiene and moisture. When it gets wet it stays wet because the carpet padding wicks moisture to the subfloor and the carpet. Keene created padding that is 95 percent air and allows a drying potential on the bottom while providing a cushion on the top.

The company has disrupted the market in which it operates by serving as both producer and marketer of its products. This business model has eliminated a layer from the supply chain and has brought both Keene Products and the customer cost savings.

Keene, president, encourages his employees to think in positive, juxtaposed and innovative ways. His policy to attract and retain employees is to identify hardworking individuals who want to be challenged and then challenge them by giving them the right opportunities and autonomy. He has built his company with such employees who had little experience but a high desire to learn.

With the future in mind, Keene created an ownership plan for the company. This group of managers is set to earn a portion of the company over the coming years. Keene also hopes to expand the company into other areas in construction, target consumer goods and packaging. His major goal is to grow sales 25 to 40 percent each year.
Back to top



neo_ey_AlbertGreenAlbert Green
Kent Displays, Inc.



Nominated by: Dr. J. William Doane, Kent Displays, Inc.

When Albert Green first teamed with Kent Displays, Inc. in the early 2000s to create low power displays on flexible surfaces —he knew they had invented something great. The creation became the Boogie Board® LCD eWriter, which has captivated millions of people.

Green joined KDI in 2007 with a focus to change KDI from the R&D company it was into a consumer-products engine that could change the course of writing in a world full of tablets and alternate forms of communication.

Considering himself to be inherently optimistic, Green attributes much of his success at KDI to believing wholeheartedly in the product the company has developed. He challenged the status quo immediately and seized the opportunity to create a low-cost LCD writing tablet that gives the user an authentic pen-on-paper writing experience, which propelled the company into the consumer products market.

The first Boogie Board® was released in 2010, and within a few years, KDI had expanded its global footprint (Australia, China, Netherlands, Korea, Philippines, New Zealand, Thailand, Japan), secured a spot in several major retailers (Brookstone, Office Depot/OfficeMax, Staples, Costco) and released more than a dozen product models under the Boogie Board® name.

In the six years since KDI began shipping the first LCD electronic writing tablet, the company has sold more than 6 million Boogie Boards® globally through retail stores. It also has increased the team from 20 engineers to a full suite of more than 90 employees — or “athletes” as they are called. Green encourages “athletes” to innovate fearlessly and collaborate to develop the most successful ideas.

KDI’s goal, under Green’s leadership as CEO, is to expand product placement, introduce new products (such as the colorburst display introduced to the market this year) and increase high-end branding and advertising placements (such as the Times Square Jumbotron during holidays).
Back to top



neo_ey_AmyBircherAmy Bircher
MMI Textiles, Inc.



Nominated by: Michael Frago, Oswald

Amy Bircher’s first involvement in the textile industry was at age 7 when she started cutting fabric swatches during the summer for her father’s company. Like her father, she obtained a degree in textiles from West Virginia University. She continued to help in her father’s factory during the summers and in 1997 began MMI Textiles, Inc., which stands for “Me, Myself and I,” illustrating the company’s “110 percent commitment to our customers and the integrity of the products sold.”

Bircher, president, takes pride in servicing end-product manufacturers of sewn products with more than 500 customers worldwide.

In an industry is known for a culture of delayed payments to suppliers, MMI has built an exemplary reputation for financial stability since it pays suppliers in a timely fashion. With these initiatives, MMI’s product reach has increased from three to more than 30, thanks to maintaining good relationships. The company takes pride in providing the best quality materials to its customers.

From 1997 to 2001, MMI generated the bulk of its revenue as a manufacturer’s rep serving the Midwest territory with three different product lines. The company entered the distribution business in 2001 and started importing containers of various products from Asia in 2002. From 2002 to 2006, the distribution business grew by double digits. In 2007, MMI purchased NDW Textiles, a converter of industrial textiles.

Since 2007, with the exception of 2013, the company experienced double-digit growth, which occurred when the industry was not doing well — competitors closed shop and much of the textile industry moved to China.

A diversification of products and services is a key factor that has ensured that MMI’s business kept. Solid vendor partnerships, increased resources and commitment to customers also help to ensure that MMI will continue to grow.
Back to top



neo_TonyMercurioAnthony Mercurio
National Interstate



Nominated by: Sherri Barr, PNC Bank

When Anthony Mercurio joined National Interstate in 1996, the company was an upstart in the niche sector of transportation insurance, offering only passenger bus transportation coverage. He soon took on leadership roles in product development, operations, acquisition diligence and integration, and people development.

Mercurio turned around two struggling business units and led the creation of what was to become the growth engine of the company — the alternative risk products division. The division went from zero to millions of dollars between 2004 and 2009. He has been a leader in all the company’s growth strategies, resulting in a stable product portfolio of more than 40 offerings.

In 1996, Mercurio was the company’s 46th employee; now, there are more than 700. One of the key factors to a successful employee base has been Mercurio’s ability to lead by example and to articulate a vision. In addition, he inspires team members to develop healthy relationships with each other and the client.

He leads an open meeting every month with employees to review the company’s results. This transparency and inclusiveness make employees feel they have a seat at the table and can offer input on strategic decisions.

Employees also receive wristbands each year, a visual reminder of the company’s values, which are listed inside with the financial goals on the outside.

Mercurio led the integration of Vanliner Insurance Co. in 2010, which entailed retaining key personnel, letting go of some legacy resources not in focus with the operations, onboarding a new culture and turning around business performance.

The subsidiary doubled its revenue in two years. Most recently, the company had some deterioration in a combined accident ratio metric due to internal and external factors. But in his role as president, Mercurio has driven improvement in that ratio with the plans being to achieve an industry-leading metric this year.
Back to top



neo_ey_DavidBartley_JohnBartleyDavid Bartley
John Bartley
CEO and president
OGI Industries/Ohio Gratings Inc.


Nominated by: Joe Luckring, The PNC Financial Services Group

While they are brothers, John and David Bartley have leadership styles that could not be more different. David, chairman of OGI Industries/Ohio Gratings Inc., describes his style as “aim, aim, aim;” and John, CEO and president, prefers “fire, fire, fire.” But these competing styles complement each other by leveraging David’s strategic thinking and John’s drive to capitalize on opportunities quickly.

With John and David as living examples, their executives lead with passion and an unparalleled entrepreneurial drive. The company is able to retain these executives and other key talent through OGI’s reputation. At OGI, John and David see their people as No. 1 and customers as No. 2. With such a commitment to their people and a reputation of quality, honesty and innovation, attracting and retaining key talent is not an issue.

In the past decade, OGI received several patents for new grating products designed to support heavy vehicular loading while providing Americans with Disabilities Act compliant spacing, which is used for urban sidewalks and roadways.

John and David began their leadership roles at OGI after taking over the company following their father’s untimely death. Even though they were thrust into these roles, John and David embraced this challenge, determined to take their father’s gift and grow OGI.

The Bartleys refocused the company in order to invest in capacity and innovation, triggering OGI’s significant growth from 2012 to 2015. The most important detail amid this growth is that it is sustainable — OGI’s largest customer constitutes only 4 percent of its sales. Furthermore, OGI’s diverse and growing customer base is due to its commitment to “solutioneer” and to make the impossible possible.

With innovation constantly in the company’s forefront, David sees Ohio Gratings doubling in size in five years based on his analysis of rolling financial trends for the company, industry and related markets.
Back to top



neo_ey_AnnmarieGrassiAnnemarie Grassi
Open Doors Academy



Nominated by: Anna Sobkiv, PNC Bank

Open Doors Academy, an out-of-school enrichment program for middle and high school students, is operated based on how CEO Annemarie Grassi grew up — with unconditional love, support and high expectations — and is a reflection of Grassi’s vision.

Grassi cites four ways that Open Doors Academy differs from other after-school programs: family engagement, school-community partnership, continuation of programming and strong adult-peer relationships. The program encourages relationship-building between youth, families, schools and communities.

The program’s success speaks for itself: 100 percent of the students who have completed three years of middle school programming have graduated from high school over the past 15 years, 97 percent pursued postsecondary education and 98 percent completed and graduated from their post-secondary program.

Many employees at the academy grew up in the program and are still in situations with which the organization helps. Grassi works with them to have modified schedules when they need additional time outside of work.

The nonprofit organization depends largely on private funding to operate, and this can be challenging at times. In 2009, the academy had run out of funding and had decided to shutdown. But only 20 days after the last day of school, the Ohio Department of Education awarded three grants that Grassi had persistently sought several times earlier. Three days later, Open Doors Academy rehired all six employees across four campuses and added 13 new additional employees.

The academy has been operating steadily ever since, and has continued its role, as Grassi puts it: “To protect, inspire, nurture and challenge adolescents to reach their full potential in safe and structured environment, encouraging relationship-building between youth, families, schools and communities as a pillar for success. Open Doors Academy is the only program in Northeast Ohio that offers a continuum of support for students from middle school through high school and beyond.”
Back to top



neo_ey_TerryDavisTerry Davis
President and CEO
Our Lady of the Wayside



Nominated by: Ron Boyner, Oswald

Terry Davis will mark his 25th year with Our Lady of the Wayside in September — and his innovative drive continues as strongly today as it did back then.

When most group homes just deemed themselves as a place for developmentally disabled individuals to convalesce throughout the remainder of their lives, Davis envisioned a changing landscape. He foresaw the rising concepts of smaller, specialized homes designed to fit the needs of each individual and pioneered in that area.

His vision coincided with the shift in the governmental regulations and the changing community culture, and he adapted Our Lady of the Wayside to the new industry environment long before his competitors. While other group facilities struggle to change their structure to meet the new governmental regulations, Our Lady of the Wayside’s smaller community home model remains resilient to the new environment.

Over the course of his tenure as president and CEO, Davis not only brought the cash-strapped agency back to life, but also turned it into a financially stable organization by providing programs and services. The organization’s revenue is derived from about 20 different streams, and its services range from transportation and medical services to recreational and spiritual programs to management of third-party owned community homes.

Davis believes that the organization cannot wait for the government to decide on funding because there will always be individuals that need assistance. Staff members’ compassion for and commitment to each person makes them prouder still of the ever-growing family of the individuals supported.

Our Lady of the Wayside uses a rolling three-year strategic plan in order to meet and exceed its financial goals. The current plans covering 2015 through 2017 are expected to be met before the end of 2016. Davis and his team are still working relentlessly to drive the additional growth.
Back to top



neo_ey_SeanBrauserSean Brauser
Founder and CEO
Romeo’s Pizza and Pizzafire


Nominated by: Tim Borta, PNC

Fifteen years ago, Sean Brauser had left Johnson & Johnson and financed his first pizza shop using personal credit cards. It grew into a highly scalable franchise model and brand in a hypercompetitive market. Romeo’s Pizza has grown into a 35-unit chain, but Brauser hasn’t stopped there.

He’s launched a new concept called PIzzafire, a fast casual pizza restaurant. Romeo’s and PIzzafire now employ more than 800 people, and PIzzafire continue to create about 20 new positions with each new location.

Brauser, CEO, has overcome two difficult aspects of the pizza business: making great pizza and building a great franchise in a competitive industry. His differentiation point is a focus on high quality rather than low price, using the freshest and highest quality ingredients because he wants his customers to feel good about what they are consuming.

Even throughout the recent economic downturn, Brauser remained confident in his concept and used the recession to his advantage by expanding Romeo’s Pizza when his competition was closing stores. During this time, Brauser opened a new store every three weeks for 18 months, and by 2014, his company had grown to 35 units.

When he decided to build the PIzzafire model, he sought to create a company built on three core pillars: customers, employees and communities. Success relies on a culture that rewards customer satisfaction, he says — by taking care of employees, they will take care of customers. All employees are empowered to do right by their customers.

Brauser also believes in giving back to the community that he serves. One of his proudest moments came when he opened the downtown Cleveland PIzzafire location on Thanksgiving and served more than 400 free pizzas to the homeless. Thirty volunteers helped to serve, making it one of the most rewarding experiences of his career.
Back to top


neo_ey_ScottMcCafferty_MichaelEmichScott McCafferty
Co-founder and managing partner
Michael Emich
Co-founder and VP of Sales


Nominated by: Rosemary McEntee, Huntington Bank

Scott McCafferty had a vision to create business-to-business media company focused on providing high-value content on user’s terms while delivering measurable ROI for marketers. By taking his personal motto, “Willing to Work Harder,” and applying it as the overarching principle of the company, he developed a formula for success. The company name, WTWH Media, LLC, reinforces this motto.

WTWH Media produces 40-plus technical websites and five print publications covering electronics engineering, design engineering, fluid power, renewable energy and medical device markets.

McCafferty, co-founder and managing partner, also credits an inspired and empowered workforce for its success. He asks each employee to understand and embrace the three “WTWH Way” principles — trust the team, do your best every day and love what you do. McCafferty and Michael Emich, co-founder and VP of sales, stress to employees that if these three principles merge, achieving the company’s motto will not be laborious and will lead to successful outcomes for everyone.

The work environment of WTWH Media encourages employees to feel comfortable in a setting most conducive to their needs. This may take the form of a coffee shop setting, living room, quiet office pods, standing desks or a walking treadmill desk.

WTWH also allows employees to share financially in the success of the company. An annual bonus equal to 1 percent of sales and a 3 percent safe harbor profit-sharing plan are distributed among all employees.

In the community, WTWH supports programs to develop science, technology, engineering and math interest in students. The company will be partnering this summer with Holy Name High School to develop a student-run media company to promote STEM learning activities. The students will develop and manage an open-source website where other students from around the country can share projects and spread interest in STEM subjects.
Back to top



neo_ey_GregMalkinGreg Malkin
Young Entrepreneur Institute at University School



Nominated by: Deborah Hoover, The Burton D. Morgan Foundation

The Young Entrepreneur Institute was founded in 2005 by Greg Malkin and launched its initial activities at University School in 2006. While Malkin was a successful serial entrepreneur for more than 30 years, he realized through his volunteer work with Junior Achievement and ECity that he wanted to teach entrepreneurship to others, particularly those from low-income situations.

Malkin, director, believes that future generations’ success rests with experiencing entrepreneurship early in life, that entrepreneurship education and experience can make subjects such as math and writing more relevant to students. He also believes that the intangibles necessary to become a successful entrepreneur — perseverance, hard work, managing adversity, overcoming failure and problem-solving — directly mirror characteristics necessary for success in life.

YEI’s impact now stretches far beyond the school as well. University School serves as a test bed for new curriculum and initiatives that are then offered “open source” to schools and organizations. Every year, YEI helps empower educators in hundreds of schools and organizations and assists them to launch and expand their entrepreneurship programs.

Malkin’s leadership has won him numerous awards for his work in entrepreneurship education. The key to his success is his passion for helping others. He hired a team of people from the business world who possessed that similar fire inside themselves, knowing the passion of the employees would make YEI successful.

YEI has launched many unique initiatives designed to engage kids that are offered free to the community. The 2015 Teen Tech Tank video pitch competition drew entries from 17 high schools and more than 30,000 public votes. The five winners got the opportunity to pitch their ideas to Daymond John from “Shark Tank.” These video competitions provide an entry point for students to get exposed to entrepreneurial thinking and to gain valuable experience pitching their ideas.

Back to top