On behalf of Corporate College and Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C®), I want to personally congratulate the recipients of the eighth annual Corporate College Smart 50 Awards, presented by Smart Business.
We are privileged to partner with Smart Business and present the Corporate College Smart 50 Awards in celebration of 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 the region. Their positive impact on employment has reinvented Northeast Ohio as one of the up-and-coming business regions in the country.
These large, mid-sized and emerging companies’ leaders motivate and inspire people. They are passionate and focused. The executives we are celebrating today 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 Tri-C, 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, and conference and hospitality services to the business community and its strategic partners.
During today’s challenging times, agility and perseverance are critical to an organization’s success. We provide safe and effective training, through virtual and on-site delivery methods, in categories essential to talent development. These include leadership, project management, diversity and inclusion, team building, Lean Six Sigma and more. Our goal is to keep your organization strong by providing innovative training that leads to improved productivity and performance. ●
Vanessa Whiting grew up in an environment of faith, family and community, knowing as a girl she wanted to be an attorney representing marginalized populations. In her career at A.E.S. Management Corp., Whiting works to serve the underserved. She launched her own firm in 1995, where she served as counsel on corporate acquisitions and other ventures that taught her the critical minutiae surrounding real estate development. In her practice, Whiting focused on neighborhood-enhancing developments such as affordable housing and community centers. During Cleveland’s mid-’90s revitalization, she stood on the ground floor of numerous projects, including construction of intergenerational housing in the Fairfax neighborhood.
Whiting also runs 15 Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen locations under a management company she co-founded in 1989 with her late husband, Anthony E. Smith.
Amsdell Companies has evolved into a successful real estate enterprise that is now a top 20 self-storage operator. Company President Todd Amsdell, who joined in 1990, took the reins from his father, Bob, and uncle, Barry, in 2007.
During the past 35 years, Amsdell has owned and operated more than 500 storage centers under various trade names in 27 states. One brand under Amsdell, Compass Self Storage, has 75-plus properties. The Amsdell team has extensive experience in acquisitions, construction and property management. Amsdell also owns three business parks in Cleveland and another in Fort Lauderdale. With storage facilities, service and management are the difference-makers. Amsdell’s family culture, entrepreneurial drive and stable, loyal team are the foundation for its longevity.
Jeneen Marziani, Ohio market president at Bank of America since 2009, serves as a senior vice president. She coordinates with other Bank of America business leaders to grow revenue, align local market initiatives to Bank of America Corp.’s business and corporate social responsibility strategies, and continually advance its brand. She is responsible for leading the Ohio market leadership team to deliver business integration for clients, as well as lead local charitable giving and volunteer efforts.
Marziani is the global card services operations executive in customer marketing for Ohio, New Jersey, California and Virginia. Additionally, she is the site director for Cleveland Card Services. She joined Bank of America in 1993 and has worked in several senior leadership positions within the global card services organization.
Bloom Medicinals, under the leadership of CEO Nicole van Rensburg, is setting the standard for new medical marijuana product development, innovative dispensation methodologies, comprehensive security programs and cutting-edge research collaborations. In 2020, it joined forces with Realm of Caring, a partner to John Hopkins University, on a longitudinal cannabis use study. Van Rensburg’s pioneering spirit and execution-oriented principles have contributed to Bloom Medicinal’s operational performance, expanding both its capacities and the Ohio medical marijuana program.
The company has developed proprietary digital technology solutions with advanced capabilities for product pre-ordering and data reporting. Data collected through retail sales further shapes educational and advertising material. Bloom Medicinals also offers a proprietary loyalty program, CannaPoints.
Under the leadership of President Paul Hanna, Blue Technologies believes in being a student of the game. The team stays in front of the technology evolution, providing clients and prospective customers industry-leading products backed by world-class service. The company offers total and tailored solutions to help customers meet their business goals.
A pioneer copier dealership that made the transition to technology provider by integrating document management and software solutions, Blue Technologies is one of the largest locally owned office technology dealers in Ohio. This year, after celebrating its 25th anniversary, the firm announced plans to open new offices in the greater Toledo, Youngstown and Mansfield areas. It plans to increase staffing so its six branches can cover 30 counties.
The top challenge faced by most companies is finding and keeping capable employees. Over the past five years, under the direction of Andrew McCartney, Bowden Manufacturing has evolved its hiring process, yielding the most capable staff its history. Bowden hires almost exclusively from the ranks of mechanical engineering students and recent graduate MEs. Its program has interns and MEs training to be setup CNC machinists while running production on the shop floor.
Many owners balk at training employees who might leave, and Bowden acknowledges the likelihood they’ll complete their initial rotation and pursue other options. A steady stream of students and graduates keeps the pipeline full. And Bowden has shared interns with two companies and both have started versions of similar hiring practices.
Dr. Claude L. Jones was named president and CEO of the Care Alliance Health Center in 2020 and remains the nonprofit’s chief medical officer. He ensures the health center has a long-term strategy to achieve its mission and financial objectives. Last year, Care Alliance served nearly 17,000 people, including more than 1,800 children, 2,575 homeless people and 11,127 public housing residents. As a COVID-19 testing site, the organization tested more than 1,300 people for free.
Providing comprehensive primary care, pediatrics, prenatal and women’s health, dentistry and behavioral health services, Care Alliance has been part of the Cleveland community for 35 years. Jones’s interests include social determinants of health and health equity, strengthening public-private partnerships and an increased connection between public health and clinical medicine.
Daniel Walsh, a seasoned private equity professional with more than 20 years of experience, founded Citymark Capital LLC in 2015. Citymark has raised over $230 million across its first two funds and invested nearly all of that capital. The firm is one of the only fund managers in the country that is national and does only value-add apartments with operating partners. The company doesn’t buy assets directly, instead providing the JV equity capital to experienced operating partners.
This creates an extremely high level of deal flow that helps Citymark create well-diversified portfolios. It can be selective and do deals in markets that have sustainable population and job growth, while avoiding markets that are oversupplied for apartments.
At the 56-year-old Cleveland Jewish News, Publisher and CEO Kevin S. Adelstein and his team have found innovative ways to grow the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company. Adelstein diversified its product and service offerings with community magazines and custom publications, an events division and multiple digital media platforms.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the company managed to publish in Cleveland and Columbus all but one week. It also introduced two new daily e-newsletters. Despite losing custom publications and having to postpone or cancel community events, the company only furloughed two people. The team also contacted inactive subscribers as a means of community engagement and an attempt to renew those subscriptions. As people increasingly turn to media for information, guidance and virtual contact, CJN believes its mission is more vital than ever.
Led by CEO Brian Zimmerman for more than a decade, Cleveland Metroparks is nationally recognized. It includes more than 24,000 acres, 18 park reservations, eight golf courses, dining, retail and a zoo. Setting a visitation record in 2020 with more than 19.5 million annual recreational visits, the park system continues to enhance the life of Northeast Ohioans.
Zimmerman has expanded direct park access to 49 communities across six counties through strategic acquisitions. He’s added more than 40 miles of new trails, bringing the trail network to more than 300 miles. During his tenure, he has acquired 10 percent of the park district’s total acreage, the fastest rate of any park leader besides the founder. According to The Trust for Public Land, Cleveland Metroparks collectively contributes $873 million in economic value to the region’s economy.
Cleveland Whiskey has developed disruptive technology to accelerate the maturation and flavor development of distilled spirits. By forcing the reaction between wood and whiskey, the company can use uncommon woods like hickory and black cherry, creating never-before-tasted flavor profiles for bourbons.
Under the direction of CEO Tom Lix, Cleveland Whiskey distributes to 12 states and the District of Columbia. It began exporting to Germany in 2015 and expects initial shipments into Asia by the end of this year. To support growing production levels, Cleveland Whiskey recently announced an equity-funding round to be used for capacity expansion, additional hires and new technology developments. The company has been described as the No. 1 hated bourbon distillery among old-school whiskey drinkers, and Lix says he and his team are OK with that.
Cuyahoga Community College’s William Gary has more than 30 years’ experience in private and public sector management. This experience includes operations management, human resources management, business development, government relations and legislative affairs in steel manufacturing, health care, information systems, telecommunications, aviation and manufacturing. He has overseen Tri-C’s workforce division since 2014 and during his tenure, restructured and expanded programs to meet the region’s workforce demands and created clearer pathways to high-demand jobs for residents.
In 2020, Gary was appointed for an additional three-year term on the Cuyahoga County Workforce Development Board advisory panel, which offers programs and services to help residents secure employment and financial independence.
With 14 stores and nearly 1,700 associates, Dave’s Supermarket Inc. serves Cleveland and the surrounding inner-ring suburbs as a family-owned and operated business.
Alex Saltzman, the first of five generations of grocers, founded Dave’s Supermarkets in the late 1920s. The store was named for Alex’s son, Dave, who succeeded his father. The third generation, Burton, recognized the need to address the growing needs of customers. Burton and his sons, Daniel and Steve Saltzman, have expanded the original vision and grown the chain.
In 2007, Dave’s converted its Ridge Road store to Dave’s Mercado to better serve the surrounding community, with signs written in English and Spanish and authentic Hispanic foods. In 2020, Dave’s purchased Lucky’s Markets in Cleveland and Columbus, and this year, Dave’s opened a Lucky’s in Lake County.
CEO Vic DiGeronimo Jr.’s leadership, coupled with his business acumen and ability to take necessary risks, has propelled DiGeronimo Companies forward and maintained the family legacy that began 65 years ago. The organization is made up of eight construction and development firms in Northeast Ohio.
DiGeronimo Companies recently made two acquisitions and joined with Scannell Properties and Weston this year to buy the Brook Park Ford plant to convert it into a manufacturing and distribution hub. The DiGeronimo family also continues to make an impact in the community. They donated an 18-acre parcel to the Cleveland Food Bank for a new distribution hub, and a 100-acre parcel — the former home of DiGeronimo Aggregates — to West Creek Conservancy.
George Sullivan brings more than 30 years of experience in the financial services industry to his role at Equity Trust Co., a self-directed IRA custodian. Its more than 100,000 customers self direct about $28 billion of IRA investments into the public and private security markets. Equity Trust is the largest provider in the self-directed IRA space with the most experience, dating back to 1974.
Sullivan was formerly at State Street Corp., where he oversaw strategic direction, global sales, client relationship management, product structuring and operations of State Street’s hedge, private equity and real estate fund administration businesses worldwide. He sits on the MetroHealth Foundation and the American Heart Association of Greater Cleveland boards and is chair of the American Heart Association’s 2021 Greater Cleveland and Lorain Heart Walks.
Bethia Burke brings critical analysis to Northeast Ohio’s most pressing challenges, works with diverse stakeholders to find common ground and advances solutions in job creation, job preparation and job access. She was elected president of the Fund for Our Economic Future — an alliance of more than 30 funders focused on bolstering Northeast Ohio’s economy — in December 2019. Burke also led the development of The Two Tomorrows, a call to action that codifies a set of regional priorities to advance inclusive economic growth.
Burke joined the fund in 2010. After growing up in Shaker Heights, she spent her early career in greater Washington, D.C., conducting cost risk reviews of major defense programs while earning a master’s in applied economics.
William F. Lacey became president and CEO of GE Lighting, a Savant company, following Savant Systems Inc.’s acquisition of GE Lighting from General Electric in 2020. He has reshaped and focused the business, while leading the company’s growth in LED and smart home innovation. Lacey led the experienced GE Lighting team into new commercial partnerships, oversaw the launch of industry-first, award-winning products and helped build a customer-centric, transparent, fun culture.
Lacey is a 28-year GE veteran, beginning his career with GE Appliances in 1992. He joined GE Lighting in 2000, later moving on GE’s Wind business in Amsterdam and working for GE Energy and GE Healthcare. Lacey rejoined GE Lighting in 2011.
He is passionate about giving back to the local community and serves on several boards.
The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority provides transportation services for 150,000 to 200,000 customers on a typical weekday, or about 45 million rides annually, through a variety of services. India Birdsong, RTA’s general manager and CEO, comes to Greater Cleveland from Nashville, where she served as COO of WeGo Public Transit. She was responsible for more than 550 employees, including union and administrative staffers. She led all bus and rail operations and oversaw two garages and maintenance shops, a commuter rail line and a downtown transfer central hub. She was also instrumental in supporting the system’s 25-year strategic growth plan. Before joining the Nashville system in 2015, Birdsong spent nine years with the Chicago Transit Authority, where she held a variety of roles.
Dee Haslam is active in several companies in the communities in which she lives. She and her husband, Jimmy, owners of the Cleveland Browns and investor-operators of the Columbus Crew SC, want those organizations to build consistently winning teams, provide a great fan experience and give back. The Browns Give Back strategy centers on education, youth football and community engagement. Haslam is involved in creating impactful solution-based programs to promote attendance, school choice and volunteerism in Cleveland, Columbus and Knoxville.
Haslam founded and is a partner/executive producer of RIVR Media, which produced Trading Spaces. She is also part of the family ownership group of Pilot. She serves on the boards of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, University Hospitals, United Way of Greater Cleveland and The Cleveland Orchestra.
Sam Falletta, Incept’s owner and CEO, has been at the center of developing and executing customer engagement strategies for companies such as Ford, Honda, Microsoft and the American Red Cross. The call center service has been responsible for over 20 million conversations between clients and their customers; some of these conversations have helped companies save millions of dollars through the retention and acquisition of customers, while others have saved lives through blood donation recruitment.
It was no small feat transforming a call center company into a sought-after career move for people in Northeast Ohio. Leaving the traditional contact center approach behind, Falletta gave the company a youthful appeal with progressive policies, no dress code, community involvement and more.
Christopher Gorman became chairman, president and CEO of KeyCorp last May, bringing more than 30 years of financial services experience to his role. Gorman and his team are responsible for $181 billion in assets, 18,000 employees and 3.5 million clients. He is focused on delivering shareholder value, keeping the client experience central to all priorities, lifting and revitalizing communities, and maintaining a diverse, experienced and engaged board of directors and team. Earlier in his career, Gorman led Key’s integration of First Niagara Financial Group, which was the largest acquisition in Key’s 190-year history.
Gorman is active in the Cleveland community through the boards of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio Business Roundtable and University Hospitals, and is on the executive committee of the Greater Cleveland Partnership.
As the fifth president of Lorain County Community College, Marcia Ballinger has developed a culture of innovation, risk-taking and entrepreneurship. Under her leadership, GLIDE, a regional technology incubator, and the Innovation Fund, the region’s earliest pre-seed fund for startup technology companies, were developed.
In 2018, Ballinger’s vision and perseverance led LCCC to become the first community college in Ohio to offer an applied bachelor’s degree in micro electromechanical systems. She also drove efforts to establish OhioTech Net, a consortium of community colleges and five public universities collaborating to advance Ohio’s manufacturing workforce strategies. In summer 2020, Fast-Track launched. The 16-week certificate program retrains participants for new careers in business, computer and information technology, health care and manufacturing.
Marisa Sergi, a third-generation winemaker, is one of the forces behind L’uva Bella Winery. Her time at Cornell University encouraged her entrepreneurial thinking, and she turned her award-winning capstone project, RedHead Wine — now Red’s — into a business opportunity. After graduating in 2015, she accepted a job at the largest privately held winery in the U.S.; a year and a half later, she resigned to move back to Tremont and launch her brand.
She visited more than 500 stores to hand-sell wine and build relationships, and utilized her experience to start a distribution business at L’uva Bella Winery in 2018. By 2020, Sergi acquired the winery with her fiancé and business partner. They have increased L’uva Bella’s sales from 35,000 cases in 2020 to more than 85,000 in 2021. The company’s wines are sold in seven states.
Michael P. LaMarca and his family purchased the single location of Master Pizza in Mayfield Heights in 2001 from its founder and original owner and reintroduced the brand, growing the Master Pizza Franchise Group to 14 locations and more than 250 employees. LaMarca’s passion for pizza has taken him around the country and the world as a contestant in pizza competitions and as a demonstrator of pizza-making techniques.
In 2019, he was diagnosed with an illness that no longer allowed him to enjoy pizza, as he knew it. After long experimenting and research, he added to the Master Pizza menu his unique Gluten Free Detroit Red Top, which includes a shell made by LaMarca and his team.
When Patrick Ghilani stepped into the role of CEO in 2014, MRI Software had a storied history. Founded in 1971, MRI was a pioneer of the real estate software industry before the invention of the personal computer. But over the years, although the company’s foundation remained solid and financial success continued, the pace of innovation slowed.
Ghilani established a new company culture, mission and growth strategy. In 2015, MRI began an acquisition spree, making 38 acquisitions to cement its place as a global market leader in the property technology space. Today, it continues to push the limits of innovation for real estate technology with tools to help multifamily and commercial landlords account for deferred rent payments and outbound call routing capabilities to assist property leasing agents working remotely.
Chris Knestrick treats the homeless community like family, as sometimes he is the only family they have. When he joined Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless three years ago as the sole employee, it had very few resources. Today, the budget has increased tremendously, and his 11-person staff works in advocacy, education and outreach. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Knestrick led NEOCH’s effort to rent hotel rooms for the most vulnerable.
One of four boys raised by a single mom, Knestrick remembers eating at food pantries, getting gift baskets at Christmas and having cars repossessed. Before NEOCH, Knestrick earned a degree in religious studies and a master’s from McCormick Theological Seminary, ran a drop-in center and spent four years in Colombia documenting human rights abuses.
Adam and Michael Wallenstein believed they could break the curse of third-generation businesses, disrupt the local market and put a 21st century face on a building trade seen as tired and antiquated. After taking a critical look at Neptune Plumbing and the Northeast Ohio plumbing market, the Wallensteins created a new kind of plumbing company.
They ended the cycle of employees and customers changing plumbing companies every year or two, added a service arm to function as a vendor partner and fully embraced technology. By leveraging their family’s relationships with plumbing manufacturers, they’ve identified unaddressed problems and crafted meaningful solutions. The two also support their community.
Under the leadership of Executive Director Jenice Contreras, the Hispanic Business Center has significantly expanded its programming, staff and budget, resulting in more businesses served. The HBC also has more than tripled its day-to-day operations and gathered momentum and funding for Centro Villa 25, a $14 million mixed-use project and redevelopment business hub on Cleveland’s Near West Side.
Contreras works hard to ensure the Hispanic business community has a seat at the table through her work with HBC and the Northeast Ohio Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.
During the pandemic, the HBC not only grew by more than 100 percent but also enabled small business owners and entrepreneurs to keep their doors open. Contreras did so by seeking grants, state funding and federal funding to spearhead virtual readiness and provide resources.
Doug Kern started with Northern Haserot in 1978 and has served as CEO since 1987. During this period, Northern Haserot acquired five companies and became Ohio’s largest independently owned foodservice distribution company.
Northern Haserot and its sister companies process and distribute more than 15,000 food and nonfood items to the industry — primarily restaurants, hotels, clubs and health care accounts. It also successfully developed the first in-house web-based, fully integrated sales and customer communication link and marketed its software throughout the country.
Kern is board chair of Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland and serves on the boards of Musical Arts Association and Cuyahoga Community College Foundation. For the past 15 years, he has been involved with United Way Services.
Anne Harrill began to create the world of Océanne Studio + Boutique as a child growing up in France. Her move across the ocean inspired the name, but the vastness of that distance from anything familiar led her to start handcrafting jewelry.
More than 10 years ago, Harrill began spending nights crafting vintage-inspired jewelry for local craft shows, flea markets, and friends and family in the spare bedroom of her house. Today, the line of minimalist modern jewelry has grown to a true jewelry and apparel brand. The team of talented women-makers has created a vibrant community around the brick-and-mortar studio in Gordon Square. An online store and the more than 45 retailers that stock Océanne jewelry have spread that sense of community even further.
Andrew Macek is an indispensable member of the leadership team at OMNI Systems. He encourages employee feedback on all aspects of the manufacturing company and takes calculated risks if they have the potential to improve the business. In addition, Macek has an unwavering commitment to OMNI’s customers, stating that he “strives to create a jubilant customer base, not just customer satisfaction.”
Throughout his 10-plus-year tenure, Macek has been dedicated to improving processes and employee satisfaction. Under his leadership, OMNI has achieved 98 percent fill rates, 82 percent run efficiency, less than 2 percent scrap rate and double-digit revenue and profitability growth, saving customers on average 15 to 40 percent of their total label spend. The company also moved into a new 144,000-square-foot headquarters with 31 presses.
Cal Al-Dhubaib — data scientist, entrepreneur and recognized speaker on artificial intelligence — founded Pandata in 2016, aiming to help organizations design and develop human-centered AI solutions. Pandata has overseen more than 80 transformative projects with leading global brands, including Parker Hannifin, FirstEnergy and Penn State University.
As CEO, Al-Dhubaib’s skills in leadership, risk management, startup growth and change management set him apart. During the economic uncertainty of 2020, Pandata’s sales pipeline was decimated. Al-Dhubaib decided to cut salaries instead of jobs. To incentivize performance, the profit-sharing bonus was doubled. Remaining laser focused on AI resulted in winning new projects from local organizations looking for help recovering from the recession. Pandata, as a result of these moves, had its two highest revenue and profit quarters.
Patrick Pastore, regional president Cleveland of PNC Bank, formerly served as executive vice president of corporate banking, and also ran the large corporate segment for Michigan, Northern Ohio and Pennsylvania. Prior to joining PNC in 2000, Pastore was a relationship manager in the Wholesale Banking Group of ABN AMRO Bank, covering multinational clients in the Midwest. He also worked in the investment banking groups of Parker/Hunter Inc. and PNC, where he was responsible for the execution of investment banking and capital market transactions.
Pastore serves on the boards of Greater Cleveland Partnership, Cuyahoga Community College Foundation, United Way of Greater Cleveland, Unify Labs and University Circle Inc. He also is on the Cleveland Foundation’s Bank Trustee Committee.
In the face of a challenging 2020, CEO Greg Harris’ vision, drive and active leadership were key to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame bouncing back and welcoming visitors this past summer in numbers close to pre-pandemic levels. Harris has been instrumental in securing investments for new features and exhibits, such as a digital education platform that reached more than 1 million students worldwide. But he isn’t stopping there. A 50,000-square-foot addition will feature an indoor event and performance space, student spaces, community areas and a learning center.
The Rock Hall generates $200 million in economic impact for Northeast Ohio annually, and an additional $36 million when the Hall of Fame induction ceremony is hosted in Cleveland.
Since joining Snip Internet LLC approximately three years ago, Robin Doerschuk, the company’s vice president and general manager, has grown both its headcount and annual revenue. The largest expansion and most impressive amount of growth happened during the pandemic, including adding three markets — Detroit, Milwaukee/Madison and Columbus. Doerschuk was also instrumental in securing Series B funding and helping Snip complete its first acquisition. Since then, it has significantly expanded its organic business.
In addition to revenue growth and attracting investment, Doerschuk has supported and helped grow the company culture through team bonding activities, dinners and happy hours. She is known to randomly reach out to employees to express accolades of a job well done or even send out monetary rewards.
Ray Lui’s parents and grandparents, who emigrated from Hong Kong and China, worked hard to support him and his sister. Their example still inspires him. Today, Lui and his co-founder and fiancée, Mary McCann, run Sprinly, a vegan meal delivery service that makes plant-based versions of familiar staples like quinoa meatballs and cashew Parmesan cheese.
From 2019 to 2020, revenue grew by about 90 percent, landing Sprinly at No. 113 on the 2020 Inc. 5000 list and on Inc.’s 2020 Best in Business list for making a positive impact on its local community. Sprinly, which aims to help people eat healthier and more sustainably, currently delivers in the Midwest, East Coast, parts of the South and New York City.
When Seth Uhrman became CEO of State Industrial Products in 2013, he had big shoes to fill. State traced its roots back to his great-grandfather, but with more than 40 years spent working his way up through the ranks, Uhrman was ready. Throughout the pandemic, State bolstered its inventory of raw materials for the production of cleaners, sanitizers and disinfectants. It expanded production, manufacturing 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while following strict safety protocols.
Uhrman supported employees by sending out care packages of sanitizer and disinfectant with a thank you letter. The staff also received company-branded masks. While coronavirus impacted day-to-day operations, it didn’t stall State’s innovation efforts — Internet of Things fragrance systems and drain pumps, with interrelated computing devices in the works.
Talan Products was built on a unique product. In the single-ply roofing industry, metal components came from companies with two different capabilities. CEO Stephen Peplin and his partners blended these to create an efficient, high-speed method of manufacturing component parts. Today, Talan is working on projects using new assembly capabilities, creating multimillion-dollar opportunities and leading to a 100,000-square-foot expansion, adding automated welding cells that add efficiency and reduce costs.
Peplin has led the sales team to explore the solar power, LED lighting and electric vehicle markets. He invests in cutting-edge equipment like sensors, and his team built a sophisticated raw material supply system to help Talan buy with precision. With an innovative culture and strong customer partnerships, Talan has a compound growth rate of 18 percent for 35 years.
In 2016, Aaron Grossman started TalentLaunch, a network of independently operated staffing and recruitment firms he leads as CEO that are located throughout the U.S. TalentLaunch powers Alliance Solutions Group, a company he founded in 2001 that has grown under his leadership to support nine specialized staffing and recruitment brands across a variety of industries. The company has been honored with regional and national awards based on years of steady growth and market leadership.
A successful entrepreneur, Grossman also has worked to strengthen the business community in Northeast Ohio and around the country through his work with the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and the Greater Cleveland Partnership. He also founded the Wrestlers in Business Network and currently serves as its president and chairman.
Marc Byrnes, chairman emeritus of Oswald Cos., met Eddie Taylor Jr. a dozen years ago while serving on the board of the Cleveland Leadership Center and was impressed with Taylor’s ability to unify people. Byrnes was also aware of his entrepreneurial experiences. In 2008, he approached Taylor about joining Oswald and spoke to his team about the insurance industry’s poor job of promoting minorities and women. These conversations laid the foundation for Taylor Oswald.
A full-service insurance brokerage launched in 2012, Taylor Oswald offers a minority-owned option for businesses looking to incorporate service providers in their diversity-inclusion initiatives. Taylor is majority owner; Oswald maintains a minority interest. Taylor Oswald has acquired public-sector clients and plans to expand into the Detroit market. The company employs eight people — five minorities and three women.
Anthony Hughes started Tech Elevator in 2015. Under his leadership as CEO, the company has become a nationally ranked boot camp provider, based on the job placement rate of its graduates. Even through the pandemic, Tech Elevator maintained a 90 percent job placement rate.
In 2020, Tech Elevator launched the National Live Remote Coding Boot Camp Program, enabling individuals across the country to pursue a coding boot camp education regardless of proximity to a campus. The company also worked with area economic development organizations to reskill local individuals. To encourage historically underrepresented groups in technology, Tech Elevator created a scholarship and partnered with regional corporations to expand opportunities. Stride Inc. publicly acquired Tech Elevator in 2020, which should enable it to expand into more markets.
Ariane Kirkpatrick is a stalwart advocate for underserved individuals. In 2009, she founded The AKA Team, specializing in construction management, commercial waterproofing, commercial cleaning and general trades; it has since grown to 100 employees. Clients include the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority, Cuyahoga Community College and Amazon.
Entrepreneurship is more than just a vocation for Kirkpatrick. Early in her life, she joined her family protesting a neighborhood McDonald’s because African Americans were banned from owning franchises.
She entered the construction field when she landed a job as a secretary and found herself learning carpentry, electrical, plumbing and roofing skills. Today, she introduces Warrensville Heights High School students to careers in architecture, construction management and engineering through the ACE mentor program.
The Anderson-DuBose Company is a distributor to McDonald’s and Chipotle restaurants. The nimble, customer-focused organization has nearly 30 years of success. In recent years, founder Warren Anderson sought a key leader to drive future growth and hired Michael Boddy in 2015 to lead the largest AD distribution center. In 2018, he promoted Boddy to COO. In 2020, Boddy was awarded the McDonald’s Supplier of the Year Award, a major accomplishment.
Other accomplishments include implementing a warehouse management system with product scanning and voice selection software, leading a successful distribution center expansion that increased business by 25 percent and resulted in 20 new permanent jobs, installing a solar panel array system and introducing two autonomous robotic vehicles in the freezer unit.
India Pierce Lee leads the Cleveland Foundation’s grant-making team, working with the board, staff and community leaders to define Greater Cleveland’s critical needs and leverage resources to help meet them. She joined the foundation in 2006 as program director for Neighborhoods, Housing and Community Development. She worked with Cleveland’s community development corporations and neighborhood intermediary organizations, and oversaw the Greater University Circle Initiative, a multi-institutional neighborhood revitalization partnership including Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals and the city of Cleveland.
Prior to joining the Cleveland Foundation, Pierce Lee worked at Neighborhood Progress Inc. In 2009, she completed the prestigious Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University, where she studied neighborhood revitalization, with a special interest in sustainability.
The Crispy Chick fast-food restaurant serves only one entree: chicken tenders. Founder Senayt Fekadu’s vision is to keep her shop in an inner-city neighborhood with need, where the likes of Chick-fil-A aren’t present. Fekadu operated Shoga, a hibachi express restaurant, out of the Crispy Chick’s building from 2016 to 2018. Shoga’s wok-fired concept relied on too many moving parts, but Fekadu noticed exceptional customer demand for the Korean-style fried wings, so she decided to pivot.
Fekadu — an Eritrean immigrant who paid her way through college and owned an accounting business and a Little Caesar’s franchise — has bigger dreams than profit. She wants to provide quality food at a good price and employ area young adults to show them what it takes to succeed.
Over his 30-year career, J. David Heller has helped to build The NRP Group into the largest development firm in the U.S. that produces affordable and luxury multifamily housing at scale, and he has done it while remaining dedicated to community service. As CEO, Heller leads NRP based on the core beliefs of innovation, collaboration and a creative approach to problem solving. One example is the company’s health care and housing initiative, where it works as a community investment facilitator with Nationwide Children’s Hospital, MetroHealth and University Hospitals to create affordable housing units with training centers. The idea is to improve individual health with safe, affordable housing, food security and workforce training. NRP manages more than 23,000 residential units and broke ground on 21 new projects in 2020.
ThenDesign Architecture (TDA) is dedicated to K-12 education design. Chris Smith joined the architectural firm in 1998, and became partner and then president, as part of a well-orchestrated succession plan. Over the past decade, Smith has led TDA through more than $1 billion in PK-12 construction projects throughout Ohio. The firm’s success is due to partnerships and a people-first culture. TDA’s greatest achievements include returning clients — more than half of clients are repeat business — and employee personal growth.
Smith also has led the design of many firsts, like the first STEM school to integrate an MIT fabrication lab into its core curriculum, the first International Baccalaureate School in Cleveland and the first public school embedded onto a corporate campus.
Since taking over leadership of Tiger Pistol in 2019, Paul Elliott, the company’s CEO, has utilized a management philosophy built around accountability, shared vision and alignment. Feedback is sourced from all levels of the marketing and advertising company. For example, Elliott noticed that Facebook’s cost per 1,000 impressions correlated to the number of COVID cases in any given region. This data helped retail clients evaluate how to maintain their Facebook presence through the pandemic and led Tiger Pistol to develop more precise campaign controls.
Elliott also fosters innovation through weekly product meetings with the key stakeholders, market research and assessment of competitors, the industry and problems caused by social media advertising challenges, and quarterly innovation rewards for new ideas for Target Pistol’s product line.
Bill Cosgrove joined Union Home Mortgage in 1994 and became its sole owner in 1999. As president and CEO, he’s helped Union Home Mortgage experience incredible growth, expanding to 165 branches and more than 1,600 partners nationwide. He has focused on technology, marketing and branding, and people to scale the business, and improved its technological capabilities via an advisory board with core competencies in technology and key hires. He also ramped up the company’s branding and marketing efforts and built up internal resources that created a strong people pipeline.
A recognized thought leader, Cosgrove is the first and only mortgage banker in Ohio to lead the Ohio Mortgage Bankers Association and the national MBA. He is also the founder of the MBA Independent Mortgage Banking Conference.
Deborah V. Donley continues to be a leader in the Cleveland business community. After graduating from Bowling Green State University in 1987, Donley founded Vocon, an architecture and design firm with a family-first culture. Clients can sense the close-knit environment that has helped Vocon to distinguish itself from others in the local and national markets. Vocon has grown its staff of professional architects, designers and support personnel, and the surest measure of its success is the many long-standing client relationships the business maintains year after year.
Donley, the firm’s principal, also remains committed to the community. She supports The Recreation League of Cleveland, The RNC Host Committee, Global Cleveland, Cuyahoga Community College Foundation, University School, Hathaway Brown School and others.