2015 Entrepreneur Of The Year® — Northern California

For these game changers, vision is only the beginning

EY has long celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women who have followed and achieved their dreams. Over almost three decades, we have applauded their commitment to innovation and perseverance in the face of enormous risk. They saw a different future and made it happen.

The EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® Program provides an enduring legacy to these dynamic leaders, recognizing their vision and impact. By uniting them in a lasting network of peers who thrive where so many others have failed, we have helped to build an influential community of innovative entrepreneurs.

Each June, we host celebrations in 25 U.S. cities to toast the vision and impact of the men and women who are regional finalists. These leaders have changed the lives of countless others by building their businesses and giving back to their communities.

Join us in celebrating their passion, innovation and tireless pursuit of business excellence.

Congratulations to all our finalists!


Ernie Cortes
program director
EY Entrepreneur Of The Year®
Northern California

2015 Entrepreneur Of The Year Northern California

Quick links:

CLOUD SERVICES Keith Krach, DocuSign, Inc. | Dylan Smith, Box | Suhail Doshi, Mixpanel   EMERGING Dheeraj Pandey, Nutanix, Inc. | Rob Bearden, Hortonworks, Inc. | Todd McKinnon, Okta  HEALTH AND LIFE SCIENCES Jean-Jacques Bienaimé, BioMarin Pharmaceutical | James Schoeneck, Depomed, Inc. | Edward Lanphier, Sangamo BioSciences Inc.   NETWORKING Jayshree Ullal and Andy Bechtolsheim, Arista Networks | David Ulevitch, OpenDNS | Selena Lo, Ruckus Wireless   RETAIL AND CONSUMER PRODUCTS John Foraker, Annie’s, Inc.| Thomas Harman, Balsam Brands | Richard Norgrove, Bear Republic Brewing Company  SERVICES Kenneth Lin, Credit Karma | Kathy Johnson, Ph. D., Home Care Assistance | Mary C. Kariotis, Merrimak Capital Company, LLC  SOFTWARE Marcus Ryu, Guidewire Software Inc. | Jyoti Bansal, AppDynamics | Kirk Krappe, Apttus   TECHNOLOGY Paul Nahi, Enphase Energy | Conor Madigan, Ph. D., Kateeva | Peter Arvai, Prezi

2015 Entrepreneurs Of The Year

CLOUD SERVICES, Award Recipent






Keith Krach
chairman and CEO
DocuSign, Inc.

When Keith Krach joined DocuSign, Inc. in 2009 as chairman, the company had about 50 employees and focused primarily on developing an eSignature platform for real estate transactions. But Krach, the co-founder of Ariba Network and Rasba Corp., quickly recognized the opportunities were much greater than this single vertical market.

He evaluated the existing leadership structure and instilled a new sense of direction focused on three major areas — talent, vision and mission.

First, he built a high-performing team. This included assuming the additional role of CEO. Today, Krach spends about 30 percent of his time focused on talent acquisition and fostering a culture of teamwork and accountability. Krach also understood that part of that included fostering a culture where giving back to the community was important.

Next, he created a clear vision to communicate to employees the future of the company: To transform the business world in how transactions are managed.

Finally, Krach created a new mission for DocuSign that was much broader than its initial focus: Develop and enable a platform where any confidential documents — not just real estate transactions — could be signed and transacted securely at any time on any device. He believed this could change the status quo of business transactions through a signature on a sheet of paper.

Convincing the public to adapt DocuSign’s solution was the biggest challenge Krach faced. But when he partnered with Salesforce.com to use DocuSign to transact test deals, the leadership team at Salesforce was so impressed that they invested financially and integrated the solution across its client base.

That move provided the spark Krach needed to reach a mass market, and today DocuSign serves more than 100,000 enterprise clients worldwide and more than 50 million individual users.

Back to top







Dylan Smith
co-founder and CFO

Dylan Smith, co-founder and CFO of Box, found his entrepreneurial spirit early. In high school, he started a tutoring service, and at Duke University, schoolwork took a back seat to starting new ventures like launching a loft-building business selling to incoming freshmen.

In Smith’s sophomore year at Duke, he and co-founder Aaron Levie, CEO, identified an opportunity in the online storage and sharing space, where there were few compelling options.

Box was the first company to syndicate files — file sharing across a server where the user can determine how the content is shared. They promoted their business via tech blogs and captured the attention of Mark Cuban, who ultimately offered them their first funding.

During the economic downturn, Smith was faced with not only having to lay off employees, but friends.

In 2011, Citrix sought to acquire Box, but Smith lead the charge to convince the board that Box had only scratched the surface of its potential.

As Box continued to move toward the vision of becoming a public company, Smith believed the company might need a more experienced CFO. As a testament to his value and the trust he had built, based on the feedback from investors, banks and Box individuals, the board voted to have Smith be the leader to get Box in a position for an IPO.

Box went public on Jan. 23, 2015, with Smith as the 29-year-old CFO.

As the company has grown, Smith has transitioned from being a player-coach to a leader-coach. He is focused on upgrading his team and removing obstacles.

Box places a premium on hiring and retaining top talent. Smith believes that having a top-level recruiter within the first 10 employees of a new company is key to building out a high performing workforce.

Back to top







Suhail Doshi

Mixpanel, founded in 2009 by CEO Suhail Doshi, has played a role in defining the market for analytics tools focused on mobile user behavior. It’s helping businesses grow by providing them with deep insights into user behavior and marketing effectiveness that trumps common metrics such as page views and downloads, which often fall short of gauging user engagement and can be misleading. Mixpanel’s analytics enables customers to make data-driven and data-informed decisions about their business and products by providing customers with useful metrics that equate to engagement.

Focusing solely on analytics, with particular attention paid to mobile since its inception, most of Mixpanels’s revenue has been generated through inbound sales leads as the company has forgone an outbound salesforce and does very little marketing. The company, with its 3,000 paying customers and analysis of over 43 billion data points and profiles every month, expects its revenue trajectory to continue and significantly increase in 2015.

Doshi is considered a charismatic and passionate leader who is driven and persistent in his efforts to accomplish Mixpanel’s goals. He spends a considerable amount of time recruiting top talent and on-boarding them to help the company scale and achieve its vision. Within the last year, Doshi hired a chief revenue officer from another fast-growing, Bay Area technology company. He has also recently hired vice presidents in critical areas of the company’s business, including in customer success and finance. Candidates are attracted to Mixpanel’s story and vision, and they stay because of the company’s close-knit culture.

While Doshi expects the company will continue to face difficulties because some of its competitors are of a much larger scale, he embraces these challenges and is focused on innovating Mixpanel’s current products and moving into new areas.

Back to top

 EMERGING, Award Recipient






Dheeraj Pandey
president and CEO
Nutanix, Inc.

Nutanix, Inc., headed by President and CEO Dheeraj Pandey, builds simple, powerful and flexible data centers for customers, allowing them to start with a few servers and scale to thousands.

Redefining the data center infrastructure and virtualization market is central to Pandey’s mission. He and his co-founders recognized that developers were moving to democratic infrastructures rather than monolithic boxes that can be expensive to procure and difficult to provision. Seeing this trend, Pandey tried to move his former company into the hyperconverged market, but met resistance. He then convinced his co-founders to quit their jobs and formed Nutanix in 2009.

Nutanix‘s simplified data center infrastructure uses integrated server and storage resources to form a turnkey appliance that is deployed quickly and runs any application at any scale. While the software solution is complex, its consumer-grade user interface is easy to use.

Significant barriers to entry have existed in the market. But accommodating customers’ current commitments to hardware providers and dated solutions allows Nutanix to make a value proposition that can be difficult to compete against.

After shipping its first Virtual Computing Platform in 2011, Nutanix now owns 52 percent of the rapidly growing hyperconverged infrastructure market. The product’s value to customers has also increased, as seen by its Net Promoter Score, which has grown from 72 just a couple of years ago to its most recent score of 88.

The company’s success can be attributed not only to disruptive technology, but also to its innovation in distribution strategy. It goes to market by leveraging value-added resellers, service providers and technology consultants. In addition, it has a relationship with original equipment manufacturers such as Dell to sell Nutanix software on its hardware. The strategy is an example of how Nutanix ensures the product experience is as strong as possible, while at the same time significantly accelerating its adoption.

Back to top

 EMERGING, Finalist






Rob Bearden
chairman and CEO
Hortonworks, Inc.

When Rob Bearden joined Hortonworks, Inc., a publicly traded open source software company, he set out to equip enterprise organizations with a means to tackle their big data challenges and seize opportunities. Bearden, chairman and CEO, recognized that in today’s world data management could not architecturally or financially be captured, stored, processed and analyzed in the same way that legacy transactional data had been. The legacy software model was insufficient for keeping up with the growing data management demands.

To solve these challenges, a fundamentally new architectural approach was required. His vision was subscription-based open source software where customers can customize their IT infrastructure. He believed that enterprises needed to transform their business model from being reactive to their customers post-transaction to being interactive with customers pre-transaction, which required a new way to manage and integrate different forms of data including social media, click stream, Web logs, financial transactions, videos and machine sensor data. Apache Hadoop became the framework that would solve this problem.

His initiative was started at a time where Hadoop was not accepted commercially as an enterprise-grade platform. So while Bearden realized the value Hadoop could bring to enterprise organizations, he knew he couldn’t do it alone. He identified the key founders/architects of Hadoop inside Yahoo!, and convinced Yahoo!’s co-founder, Jerry Yang, that the optimal approach was to spinoff more than 20 of Yahoo!’s core Hadoop engineers and create the only 100 percent open source Hadoop software company focused on enterprise customers.

Four years later, Hortonworks’ Hadoop platform has enabled leading enterprise organizations to leverage their data assets and become more agile, efficient and ultimately more proactive with their customers. The company successfully completed its IPO in December 2014, and is adding more new customers per quarter than any other Hadoop company.

Back to top

 EMERGING, finalist






Todd McKinnon
co-founder and CEO

With the motto, “Wildly successful customers lead to a wildly successful Okta,” Todd McKinnon, CEO and co-founder of the integrated identity management service, met with hundreds of CIOs to better understand their challenges with well-established identity management vendors. He discovered those vendors could not deliver solutions designed for cloud and mobile technologies, so he built a cloud-based service that addressed these concerns.

The former head of engineering at Salesforce.com witnessed the initial emergence of the cloud application market while overseeing the teams that focused on cloud applications. He also saw the lack of existing competition and left his position at Salesforce with a mockup and business plan to make his way in the market of cloud identity management, a market that at the time didn’t exist.

Analysts and market experts told McKinnon the venture was foolish, but he had the foresight to see that he could take what was traditionally on-site infrastructure and identity management and offer it as a service as if it were a business application. Competition began to arise, which was hugely positive as it legitimized his vision of cloud-based identity management. Okta could now move away from a focus on proving its value towards maximizing its potential.

As CEO, McKinnon focused first on providing an end-to-end solution that has coverage over any service a customer wants to deploy and manage on its platform. He then worked to provide the highest number and most in-depth integrations, which it achieved through its growing partner base of companies that include Adobe, ServiceNow and Advent, which are fully integrating Okta into their products. Finally, Okta focused on making its customers highly successful. To this end, Okta reaches for the highest level of customer service to garner the trust of customers and ensure the full potential of its products are being realized.

Back to top







Jean-Jacques Bienaimé
chairman and CEO
BioMarin Pharmaceutical

After Jean-Jacques Bienaimé joined BioMarin Pharmaceutical as chairman and CEO in 2005, BioMarin brought four of its five products for patients with rare genetic diseases to market. Every product under Bienaimé’s leadership has been approved in the U.S., Europe and beyond.

The company has been able to get drugs to market in less than five years by focusing on very severe disorders. This is significantly faster than the industry standard, and has been done at a fraction of the cost for most biopharmaceutical products.

It was a tumultuous time when Bienaimé joined BioMarin. There was a proxy fight to replace three of the board of directors, BioMarin was running out of cash and the company’s stock was performing poorly.

The outlook was grim, but Bienaimé believed the business just needed better management.

Bienaimé let go of the entire commercial organization that at the time made up one-third of the company, hired a chief commercial officer so the chief medical officer could focus on clinical development and terminated many stalled R&D programs.

Although BioMarin had no international operations, Bienaimé convinced the board to fight to keep the worldwide rights to Naglazyme, the first drug he helped launch. Today, 85 percent of the sales of Naglazyme, the company’s biggest selling product, come from outside the U.S.

Within that first year, Bienaimé oversaw the corporate reorganization, Naglazyme’s launch and a round of equity financing.

The company is built on delivering products that have a large impact on a small patient population, the opposite of most big pharmaceutical companies. Bienaimé has a keen sense of which molecules have long-term potential, allowing the company to streamline development efforts.

Today, BioMarin has a pipeline with 10 products in clinical development, and two to three of those products are expected to gain regulatory approval in the next few years.

Back to top







James Schoeneck
president and CEO
Depomed, Inc.

James Schoeneck hit the ground running when he took over as president and CEO at Depomed, Inc., a company that needed to change its ways in a hurry from focusing on research and development to becoming a commercial pharmaceutical business.

Schoeneck set an aggressive five-year goal that represented a significant shift in strategy. Though not all board members supported the new direction initially, Schoeneck’s leadership and charisma sparked a fire in Depomed employees. The opportunities he could see in the company began to come to fruition.

He speaks with admiration and respect for the legal team Depomed has developed and the unbelievably challenging trials faced by the sales and marketing leaders. Schoeneck measures success by more than just financial growth.

He pushes the company to meet strategic goals, grow its expertise in the field and ensure long-term plans are in place instead of short-term financial gain.

Schoeneck’s leadership style is exemplified by a conversation he had with a sales consultant who was preparing to leave the company. They talked philosophy, and hashed out goals and the framework of a corporate culture that they wanted to see. They also thought about components that would breed success and foster growth in the business.

In the end, Schoeneck convinced the man, who ultimately become the vice president of sales, to stay.

Schoeneck thrives where others struggle to see the path.

When he arrived at Depomed, the company had only one product, Glumetza, which brought in minimal royalty income. A lot of companies in a similar situation might buy a drug, increase the price and then resell it for the short-term benefit.

Schoeneck demonstrated a different approach that can be tied back to the company’s belief in adding value to the health care marketplace. The company actually grows its products, focusing on operations and not just looking for pure financial gain.

Back to top







Edward Lanphier
president and CEO
Sangamo BioSciences, Inc.

Edward Lanphier, president and CEO of Sangamo BioSciences, Inc., has a vision for engineering cures for debilitating and often fatal diseases. The potential cures are being engineered at the microscopic level through genome editing and gene therapy. If successful, these cures could replace current treatments for these diseases, which rely on a lifetime of enzyme replacement therapy.

Sangamo’s approach to gene therapy involves the use of zinc finger DNA binding proteins to re-engineer a gene. The ZFPs act as a switch for gene regulation, which allows a specific area within a gene to be targeted and replaced with a ZFP. When those altered genes replicate they pass on the change provided by the ZFP, correcting any mistakes in them that otherwise would have given rise to various diseases. Sangamo has incorporated the delivery methods used in cell therapy with a new process of engineering ZFPs to directly target specific areas of genes and modify them without altering other areas of the gene.

Replicating the protected genotype of people who are immune to HIV/AIDS, Sangamo has put the beneficial immunity into people infected with HIV through ZFPs. Sangamo achieved very favorable results in its phase one clinical testing and is now in phase two.

The company’s pharmaceutical partnerships include Biogen Idec and Shire International GmbH, with which Sangamo is developing potentially curative treatments for beta thalassemia, sickle cell disease, hemophilia, Huntington’s disease and other genetic diseases. Multiple delivery methods for precisely targeting a genetic defect are being studied for various diseases, with a focus on commercial and medical utility.

Lanphier’s financial leadership has resulted in the company maintaining a strong balance sheet over its 20 years of existence. Sangamo has executed a diversified business model of out-licensing noncore assets, strategic industry collaborations and proprietary programs designed to maximize the value of the ZFP platform.

Back to top

 NETWORKING, Award Recipient





Jayshree Ullal
president and CEO





Andy Bechtolsheim
founder, chief development officer and chairman
Arista Networks

Andy Bechtolsheim is no stranger to the high-tech world. As the founder of Sun Microsystems, Granite Systems and Kealia, Bechtolsheim’s Arista Networks benefits from his keen understanding of what it takes to succeed in today’s Silicon Valley climate: an autonomous and nimble organization that can quickly adapt to effectively compete against well-established industry giants like Cisco Systems.

Bechtolsheim co-founded Arista Networks with David Cheriton in 2004. The company provides networking solutions, and the pair financed the business primarily with their own money.

The financial structure allowed them to spend the company’s early years making their own decisions on growth initiatives without worrying about any outside capital oversight.

This philosophy led to the development of Arista’s signature product, Arista Extensible Operating System — considered by many to be the most programmable networking software stack on the market.

In 2008, Bechtolsheim made another critical decision: He hired Jayshree Ullal as Arista’s president and CEO, allowing him to think solely about improving the company’s solutions.

Under Ullal’s direction, the company evolved quickly. She guided Arista to early profitability, massive growth and an IPO in 2014 — infusing new cash into the company as it continued its global expansion.

As Arista grows in the fiercely competitive cloud networking market, Ullal remains steadfast in her belief about what matters most at Arista — dedicated and innovative employees. She views talent acquisition as the most important ingredient, and one of the biggest potential obstacles to the company’s continued success.

To that end, she puts a premium on culture and ensures that the traits Bechtolsheim, who serves as chief development officer and chairman, established when he founded Arista continue well into the future — an entrepreneurial environment and a creative mindset that results in innovation and a competitive spirit.

Back to top






David Ulevitch
founder and CEO

David Ulevitch, founder and CEO of the network security and delivered network security services company OpenDNS, began his Internet career early in life. Before entering high school, Ulevitch worked for a regional Internet service provider. Later, he worked at MP3.com, starting as an intern and eventually working in the content development department during the company’s explosive growth period between 1999 and 2000.

Ulevitch learned about technical support, programming and system administration as well as dealing with customer relations and the hiring process. Most important, he learned that the bad guys need to know only one way to get into an organization’s computer, but the good guys have to know all the ways to stop them.

During his freshman year at Washington University in St. Louis, Ulevitch started EveryDNS to fill the need for Web-based DNS management and help people with domain names. To generate revenue, he set up a donation mechanism on the company’s website. EveryDNS grew from a personal project to a service with nearly 100,000 users worldwide. By the time Ulevitch finished college, EveryDNS was supporting him financially.

Today, OpenDNS offers the largest cloud-DNS service in the world. It delivers predictive security that blocks malware, botnets and phishing threats on any device and detects targeted attacks. Using big data, natural language processing and machine learning techniques, OpenDNS identifies attacks in their formative stages and blocks threats before they impact customers. The company‘s predictive threat intelligence anticipates and blocks attacks before they impact customers, and its unique security platform enables customers to seamlessly integrate threat intelligence from multiple vendors and then use that information to automatically protect users outside the corporate network.

The engineering team at OpenDNS continues to deliver the safest Internet experience possible for its more than 10,000 enterprise customers, including many of the Fortune 50, and each of its 60 million users.

Back to top






Selina Lo
president and CEO
Ruckus Wireless

When Selina Lo reviewed the early stage business plan for Ruckus Wireless, she immediately told the founders that they were heading down a path with significant competition, shrinking margins and limited scale. She suggested a change of direction to enterprise Wi-Fi instead of consumer Wi-Fi. She argued that enterprise IT managers often did not fully understand the technology, which led to critical business problems with stability and user consistency. Her ability to recognize a demand that Ruckus could fill changed the path of the company that she came to lead as president and CEO. The supplier of advanced wireless systems for the mobile Internet infrastructure market now has over 48,000 end-customers worldwide and the enterprise market estimated to grow around 20 percent annually.

Innovation has been a large part of the foundation of Lo’s success. She has been able to identify an unseen purpose, and even repurpose products and ideas that don’t appear to have strong market potential. Pairing this with her knowledge of the industry and markets has helped mitigate the risk associated with such change.

While some firms differentiate themselves by being the largest in their market, Ruckus strives to be the last company standing in its industry. The company’s customer-focused strategy realized through its proven response time and personalized client service can be seen as its biggest competitive advantage. Ruckus has learned about its consumers and grown by meeting their changing needs.

Similarly, Lo has made a successful career out of her ability to continually learn and grow from her experiences. She remains humble in the face of the many challenges of being a leader. Recognizing her own limitations, she accepts that no one is perfect and takes the necessary steps to fill in the gaps where needed.

Back to top






John Foraker
Annie’s, Inc.

When John Foraker joined Annie’s, Inc. in 1998, he saw much more than an organic mac and cheese company — he saw an opportunity to develop a mainstream brand that could flourish through unique connections with consumers.

Foraker’s vision was to infuse a personal touch into the brand — that of a mother’s love for and connection with her children.

At the time, Annie’s was a small yet growing company trying to find its way. Its products were regulated to the natural food and organic aisle, a product placement decision by retailers, which limited growth potential. Foraker, CEO, recognized that if he could effectively change consumers’ attitudes and create a bond between them and the company, he could pitch a new message to retailers and convince them to shift Annie’s products to the main aisles.

His plan worked, and over the next few years, retailers started looking at Annie’s differently. They moved the company’s growing product line to the main aisles, which sparked significant growth.

Foraker’s efforts led to unexpected consequences: Because retailers suddenly saw organic food through a different lens, the shift in product placement signaled the transition of organic foods from a niche product to a more mainstream consumer category — and Annie’s was leading the way.

This attracted the attention of Solera Capital, which in 2002 acquired a controlling interest in Annie’s. With a cash infusion, Annie’s went into hypergrowth mode. Then, in 2012, after a decade of expansion, Foraker took the company public. Two years later, after two more stellar years of growth, General Mills acquired the company for nearly three times per share more than its IPO price.

Today, Annie’s is a standalone division of General Mills, and Foraker continues to find new ways for Annie’s to innovate and foster its strong bond with consumers.

Back to top






John Harman
founder and CEO
Balsam Brands

Few people have the wherewithal — or constitution — to dream up, organize and go to market with an idea in just four months. Fewer still are willing to bet the house on their ability to succeed. But that’s what Thomas Harman did in 2006 when he founded Balsam Brands.

In March, Harman, CEO, decided he wanted to create ultra-realistic artificial Christmas trees and retail the products exclusively online. In June, he flew to China to design and order the company’s first collection of trees, partnered with a third-party distribution network, established a customer service center and launched the company’s website.

By mid-January 2007, Harman’s idea had become a viable business: He had sold thousands of trees, been featured in national publications and became profitable — all before realistic artificial trees were popular and without any experience in décor, design or online retail.

But Harman wasn’t interested in becoming the next big fad. He wanted to create a sustainable business model that could flex and grow. His goal was to establish Balsam Brands as a national brand, using the Internet effectively to amplify the company’s marketing efforts and contain its hard costs.

He spent the next several years designing and patenting new types of Christmas trees, benchmarking competitors and traveling the globe in search of new inspiration. Harman invested in dynamic consumer website experiences and sophisticated branding. He also developed a flexible staffing model by co-founding an independent third-party customer service company that seasonally scales the team serving Balsam from 10 to more than 200.

Today, Harman’s vision has expanded well beyond trees. Balsam has become the go-to retailer of holiday décor and entertaining products, such as tree skirts, ornaments, snow globes and nutcrackers; and even extended into other sectors such as fall harvest foliage, fireplace screens and hearth accessories, candlelight and outdoor entertainment.

Back to top







Richard R. Norgrove
president and CEO
Bear Republic Brewing Company

When Richard R. Norgrove came out of semi-retirement in 1995 to co-found Bear Republic Brewing Company with his son and their respective wives, he had no experience in the then-nascent craft brewing industry. But Norgrove trusted the various lessons he learned during his 20-plus years of experience in the corporate world and the hunch he and his son had about the industry’s potential.

Rather than rely solely upon the success of the brewery — and be at the mercy of wholesalers and consumers who might or might not accept micro-brewed beer — Norgrove opened a brewpub. His goal was to use the brewpub as an outlet to help educate consumers and wholesalers, directly answering questions about what craft beer was through a highly trained staff and top-notch product.

Norgrove’s strategy was effective. Because of his two-pronged approach, the Bear Republic concept — and its craft-brewed beer — took off. Today, Bear Republic employs more than 150 people, including seven additional family members.

Beyond its high-quality beer, Norgrove, who serves as president and CEO, attributes Bear Republic’s success to the company’s inclusive culture.

Employee meetings and one-on-ones with key employees are interactive, creating opportunities to provide ideas and interact with the four owners. He regularly communicates direction and growth of the company, as well as major changes, in an open format where employees are able to understand how they’re personally impacted. And twice monthly on Fridays, employees are served a barbecue lunch where activities are communicated, keeping employees informed on the future vision for the company and its effect on individual positions.

Norgrove’s commitment to fostering this culture has led to strong employee longevity, with several employees working at Bear Republic for more than 10 years. The company also has been named a “best place to work” in the North Bay area.

Back to top

 SERVICES, Award Recipient





Kenneth Lin
founder and CEO
Credit Karma

Kenneth Lin saw opportunity in a crowded market space by bringing trust to an industry where consumers were frustrated and distrustful of the existing players.

In 2007, when he founded Credit Karma, his goal was to do what others said they would, but didn’t — offer free credit information. Lin sought to establish new levels of transparency for consumers who wanted to take control of their financial health without forcing them to pay fees or deal with small-print conditions. If they had better access to this information, he believed, he could use its members’ credit profiles to match them with better financial services products, which would in turn help banks target more relevant consumers and eliminate waste from their marketing budgets.

Lin’s timing couldn’t have been better. Credit Karma’s site went live in 2008, the same year the bottom fell out of the economy and consumers’ access to credit — along with their ratings — plummeted as the U.S. economy fell into a deep and long-lasting recession.

For consumers, this economic sea change meant that through Credit Karma they could access for free the information they needed to monitor their financial situation. For lenders, who were suddenly tightening credit and implementing more stringent conditions, better match services were an instant necessity in order to keep the pipelines filled with viable customers.

Since those early days, Lin, the company’s CEO, has expanded Credit Karma’s portfolio. Today, the company offers credit report cards, a credit advice center, financial product reviews, auto insurance scores, free credit monitoring, a range of mobile apps, a free credit report and, as of December 2014, credit information from a second bureau.

Financial services providers have the flexibility now to hypertarget their products to suitable consumers, and that’s provided a dynamic and growing revenue stream for Lin’s company and its 35 million members who use Credit Karma. 

Back to top

 SERVICES, Finalist






Kathy Johnson
Home Care Assistance

Kathy Johnson, Ph.D., CEO of Home Care Assistance, founded the company in 2002 to provide seniors with a safe, healthy life at home. The formation of the company came out of her experience trying to find care for her own aging parents, both of whom were bed ridden at the time. Unable to find a company that she felt comfortable trusting her parents to, she recognized the opportunity in the market to provide something better.

Home Care Assistance differentiates itself with its tested proprietary and patented methods for a holistic approach to the care of each person’s mental, spiritual and physical well-being. A handpicked research and development team has created a framework to address dementia and Alzheimer’s, implementing exercises that aim to curb the rate of these mental diseases.

One such program Johnson initiated to improve the brain health of older adults is the Cognitive Therapeutics Method™, a research-based activities program performed one-on-one in the home that helps seniors promote cognitive vitality and stave off mental decline. After two years of research, the program has proven successful in promoting the cognitive vitality of seniors. The company also offers its proprietary Balanced Care Method™, a science-based approach to promoting healthy activity, stress reduction and social interaction for older adults.

Johnson’s investment in advancing positive aging has led her to greater contributions to communities on the national and local level. She has co-authored seven books in Home Care Assistance’s Healthy Longevity Book Series with topics ranging from improved sleep and brain health for older adults to dementia care, post-hospitalization care and live-in care for seniors and their families. Over the past 13 years, she and her company have sponsored numerous resource fairs and events for seniors and participated in local community foundations that address the needs of the aging population.

Back to top

 SERVICES, Award Recipient






Mary C. Kariotis
president and CEO
Merrimak Capital Company LLC

As president and CEO of Merrimak Capital Company LLC, Mary C. Kariotis has added over 55 Fortune 500-type accounts and developed a growth trend that could be considered enviable among companies of its type. She has taken the business of equipment leasing and asset recovery and has made each contract specific and tailored to the customer, working with each customer to find innovative ways to save them money while driving Merrimak’s bottom-line revenue.

To do this, she employs open, transparent dialogue in which each party is able to trust that the business partner is acting in their best interest. Kariotis works tirelessly to build these kinds of trusting relationships, and bases her success on their development.

Kariotis took the helm of the company she helped build in the 1990s. One of the biggest challenges she faced during her seven-year tenure happened at the very beginning as she worked to restructure the company to become less dependent on contractor revenue. When she assumed the role of CEO, over half of its lease origination volume came from contractors, which took 40 to 50 percent of the earned revenue for the deals supplied. Kariotis believed this wasn’t sustainable from a revenue or contract standpoint.

Her vision was to have complete transparency from the deals they made with their customers, leaving out the hidden terms and conditions, small print and contingencies that could lead to customers second-guessing the deals. She followed a what-you-see-is-what-you-get philosophy that meant no hidden fees or clauses. That strategy led to 40 percent year-over-year growth.

Kariotis makes quick, difficult decisions, tapping her experience to avoid pitfalls that often beset young companies. She has high expectations for her company and its employees, but even higher expectations for herself. Kariotis cares about the employees she works with and spends time developing their careers as well as the business she runs.

Back to top

 SOFTWARE, Award Recipient





Marcus Ryu
co-founder, president and CEO
Guidewire Software, Inc.

When Marcus Ryu and five colleagues started Guidewire Software, Inc., they were driven to create a company that would apply technology to seemingly intractable problems, build quality products, do right by their customers and be a meaningful place for people to spend their careers. The company focused on serving the property and casualty insurance industry, creating a modular core system suite that enabled insurers to replace their mainframe-based legacy systems with upgradeable, modular software that allows customers to deploy it in an incremental fashion by functional area and region.

As chief executive, president and co-founder, Ryu has been the driving force behind strategic decisions that have helped shape the company’s success. Those include moving from a single-product company to one that provides multiple products and ultimately a platform; and acquiring Millbrook, Inc. — the company’s first acquisition — which helped Guidewire transition an area of relative weakness in its products into a strength.

The company’s model for charging for its software was innovative when first launched. Today, its product strategy has evolved to help insurers engage digitally with their customers and agents across the insurance life cycle and the need to make better use of data and analytics to streamline decision-making and make better predictions.

Guidewire’s culture is directly related to the values of its co-founders and is based on three basic principles: 1. Value integrity, always tell the truth when communicating with customers, prospective customers, partners, investors and each other. 2. Be dedicated to rationality, strive to communicate through clear arguments and make decisions carefully on the basis of factual evidence. 3. Prize collegiality, work together as professional equals with a minimum of hierarchy.

In the years ahead, the company plans to round out its current product portfolio by offering more extensive support across the insurance life cycle.

Back to top

 SOFTWARE, Finalist






Jyoti Bansal
founder and CEO

At 22, Jyoti Bansal borrowed $150 from his father to move to Silicon Valley and launch his career in the tech world.

Seven years later, he quit his job as a software engineer and began pitching venture capitalists for funding to start his own company — AppDynamics.

His idea for a highly flexible and adaptive software that relied on what he called “application intelligence” was met with skepticism, but Bansal, who serves as CEO, persevered. He spent his nights developing the technology and days meeting with venture capitalists in search of the right partners who could share his vision.

Greylock Partners and LightSpeed Venture Partners “got” Bansal’s concept and became early stage investors. The technology swiftly caught on, and companies that relied on portfolios of very complex applications tied to billions of dollars in revenue saw how AppDynamics’ disruptive software could help them.

Today, six years after its founding, Bansal’s company is among the fastest-growing technology companies in the world — employing more than 600 people in offices across 12 countries that serve more than 1,700 customers worldwide.

One of the keys to Bansal’s success has been his unwavering devotion to customer service, which led to the creation of the company’s Enterprise Customer Success 2.0 program, which ties incentives to customer satisfaction. As a result, AppDynamics’ Net Promoter Score of 87 ranks a staggering 68 points above the industry average NPS of 19.

Another key to success has been his ability to adapt the company’s organizational structure as the company has grown. He organized the product and engineering groups into nine innovation teams, each comprised of 30 people. Each team is essentially a startup within the company and reports on revenue, customers and progress of initiatives. Each group is empowered to create its own operations and programmatic style, which allows them to eliminate red tape and continue the company’s disruptive innovation model.

Back to top

 SOFTWARE, Finalist






Kirk Krappe
founder and CEO

Kirk Krappe’s moment of realization came after spending half a day apologizing to customers that the product he had sold them didn’t work as promised. At the time, he was employed with a large public company as the head of sales and marketing.

Krappe eventually quit his job and in 2006 co-founded Apttus with two like-minded people who believed that whatever a company sold better work and bring value to its customers.

As a long-time software industry veteran, Krappe understood the pros and cons of a new high-tech startup. He knew if they could focus on building and creating the right app — one that automated contract life cycle management — they could bypass some of the pitfalls by partnering with another company to host, manage and deliver the product to consumers.

Krappe, CEO, forged a deal with Salesforce.com to build the company’s application solutions on its platform, making Apttus the first company to build exclusively this way. This allowed Krappe and his team to spend their time on development and testing, without worrying about whether the delivery method or app management would fail once deployed.

Krappe’s vision for this unique relationship gave Apttus a built-in customer base that could seamlessly integrate its solutions into existing Salesforce applications. It also gave Krappe the freedom to probe its then-growing client base for ways to stretch, extend and expand the initial product solutions.

As a result, Apttus essentially established the Quote-to-Cash and Configure-Price-Quoting category that existing Salesforce customers use today. Apttus has become the top tool for automating and optimizing sales processes for organization that use Salesforce and counts 70 members of the Fortune 500 among its client roster.

And, because of Krappe’s customer-centric model, Apttus has a 96 percent annual renewal rate for its solutions — among the highest in the industry.

Back to top

 TECHNOLOGY, Award Recipient





Paul Nahi
president and CEO
Enphase Energy

Paul Nahi does not have his own office at Enphase Energy. Rather, he and the rest of his management team sit in cubicles right alongside the company’s other employees. Nahi, president and CEO, strongly believes that not having individual offices promotes a culture where there are no boundaries between departments. It allows for the cross-pollination of ideas and a greater feeling of camaraderie across all levels and functions.

The philosophy is incorporated into every aspect of the design of the office, from the location of the coffee machine to the completely transparent boardroom and meeting rooms. For a CEO who believes that passion is one of the most important ingredients of his company’s success, open communication is crucial.

The passion and empowerment has led to a young, very successful business, but it wasn’t always easy. When Nahi and Enphase’s co-founders began to discuss their microinverters with the solar energy community, they were told their idea was impossible and that they were going to fail.

Nahi and the others disagreed, and others were soon attempting to replicate Enphase’s technology. But they all failed to duplicate the company’s combination of technology and execution.

The industry Enphase works in is dynamic and always changing — the future of solar power remains an unknown or, as Nahi describes it, “opaque.” To manage this risk, he and his team are constantly analyzing the market and trends. Their current focus is solar, but the larger strategy is inherent in the company’s name — Enphase Energy.

Nahi would like to move beyond just solar power and become an energy innovator that will include technology in energy management and energy storage.

The key to making that happen will be maintaining a culture that encourages collaboration and an attitude that failure is OK if it ultimately leads to a better outcome.

Back to top







Conor Madigan, Ph.D.
president and co-founder

Conor Madigan, Ph.D., president and co-founder of Kateeva, realized that while organic light emitting diodes were a great concept, manufacturing OLED devices cost effectively was extremely difficult. Seeing an opportunity, Madigan pioneered the development of an inkjet system that would drive down production costs. The company’s lack of operating history coupled with a radically new technology, however, made the negotiations with large customers extremely difficult.

Kateeva’s product helps large manufacturers use OLED technology to develop flat panel displays for cellphones, televisions, lighting panels, printed circuit boards and thin film solar panels that are super-thin, bendable and unbreakable. OLED material, however, is sensitive to water, solvent, oxygen and moisture, and may not survive the traditional process of printing. In order to solve this problem, the company built an IP portfolio around printing in a super-pure environment of nitrogen.

As the company neared the time to commercialize its application, Madigan stepped down as CEO and brought in an external CEO with experience in capital equipment commercialization who could manage sales support and finance functions. Madigan took control of product development, strategic and technical marketing, business development, IP portfolio management and HR. He embraced an outsource manufacturing model to ensure Kateeva could focus on product development rather than diverting the scarce capital to setting up capital-intensive manufacturing plants.

Funding challenges during the recession brought Kateeva to the brink of collapse. Madigan, through strong leadership, was able to convince his investors to continue their support and his employees not to leave. These actions enabled Kateeva to win the business of some of the largest Asian display manufacturing companies, such as Samsung and LG. Today, Kateeva is the leading supplier of inkjet equipment for OLED mass production, with operations in Silicon Valley, Korea and China.

Back to top






Peter Arvai
co-founder and CEO

Paul Nahi does not have his own office at Enphase Energy. Rather, he and the rest of his management team sit in cubicles right alongside the company’s other employees. Nahi, president and CEO, strongly believes that not having individual offices promotes a culture where there are no boundaries between departments. It allows for the cross-pollination of ideas and a greater feeling of camaraderie across all levels and functions.

The philosophy is incorporated into every aspect of the design of the office, from the location of the coffee machine to the completely transparent boardroom and meeting rooms. For a CEO who believes that passion is one of the most important ingredients of his company’s success, open communication is crucial.

The passion and empowerment has led to a young, very successful business, but it wasn’t always easy. When Nahi and Enphase’s co-founders began to discuss their microinverters with the solar energy community, they were told their idea was impossible and that they were going to fail.

Nahi and the others disagreed, and others were soon attempting to replicate Enphase’s technology. But they all failed to duplicate the company’s combination of technology and execution.

The industry Enphase works in is dynamic and always changing — the future of solar power remains an unknown or, as Nahi describes it, “opaque.” To manage this risk, he and his team are constantly analyzing the market and trends. Their current focus is solar, but the larger strategy is inherent in the company’s name — Enphase Energy.

Nahi would like to move beyond just solar power and become an energy innovator that will include technology in energy management and energy storage.

The key to making that happen will be maintaining a culture that encourages collaboration and an attitude that failure is OK if it ultimately leads to a better outcome.

Back to top

EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2015 Northeast Ohio

Honoring the best of the best …

Since 1986, EY has celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women who have followed and achieved their dreams, defining their legacy for the future by building their businesses, giving back to their communities and changing the lives of countless others.

Their passion, vision and persistence stand as a testament to their dedication. Twenty-nine years ago, EY founded the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® Program to recognize these dynamic leaders and to build an influential community of innovative entrepreneurs.

Each June, we host celebrations in 25 U.S. cities to welcome the men and women who are regional finalists into our community and to toast their vision. Their energy and self-confidence have turned their dreams into reality. We applaud them for taking the road less traveled to launch new companies, open new markets and fuel job growth.

Join us in celebrating their passion, innovation and unwavering commitment to find a better way to win in the marketplace. Congratulations to all of you!





Dan Tompkins
EY Akron

2015 Entrepreneur Of The Year ®

Quick links:
COMMUNITY IMPACT Akram Boutros, The MetroHealth System  FAMILY BUSINESS Richard N. Seaman, Seaman Corporation | Scott E. Mawaka, Fleet Response | Jeremy Rayl, J. Rayl Transport | Kim C. Wilson, Chad A. Wilson, Slate Rock Safety, LLC  MANUFACTURING & DISTRIBUTION Ramzi Y. Hermiz, Shiloh Industries | Don Esch, Bettcher Industries | Rick C. Farone and Dave Brickner, Guardian Technologies LLC | Mike Baach, Philpott Solutions Group  NON-PROFIT Lee Friedman, College Now Greater Cleveland | Terry Davis, Our Lady of the Wayside  REAL ESTATE | Michael L. Cantor, Allegro Realty Advisors, Ltd.| Jim R. Santee Jr., Choice Traditions, Inc. | Tracy C. Green, IRG Realty Advisors, LLC  RETAIL & CONSUMER PRODUCTS Anthony J. DeCarlo Jr., IdeaStream Consumer Products, LLC | Mike Davis, Adventure Harley Davidson | Scott D. Kuhn, Driftwood Restaurant Group | Grant Cleveland, DuneCraft Inc.   SERVICES Aaron Grossman, Alliance Solutions Group | Scot Lowry, Fathom | Dave C. Fulton Jr. and Tom Hartland, Hartland & Co. | Jason Farro, Lighthouse Insurance Group, LLC  TECHNOLOGY & IT SERVICES Sam Gerace, Veritix | Suranjan Shome, Epiphany Management Group | Daniel Anstandig, Futuri LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD Sandy Cutler, Eaton Corporation

Here are the 2015 Entrepreneurs Of The Year







Akram Boutros, M.D., FACHE
president and CEO
The MetroHealth System
NOMINATED BY: Dave Jacobs, Oswald Companies

It wasn’t the best of times when Dr. Akram Boutros, FACHE arrived as president and CEO at The MetroHealth System. Morale was low, the hospital was struggling financially and the fear of layoffs permeated the thoughts of many employees.

One of the first initiatives undertaken by Boutros was the facilitation of communication between himself and the CEOs of Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals — a meeting that had not occurred in 10 years. Boutros values competition and believes in the energy it inspires, but he is also committed to focusing on what MetroHealth can bring to the community and how that complements and adds to the health care market as a whole.

Boutros has spoken more than 100 times about MetroHealth to various organizations and has made himself the face of the system who is open to the media and the public.

When Boutros took the reins at MetroHealth, he quickly transformed the culture from uncertainty and contempt to one of success and empowerment. He has built a team that has implemented programs such as opening health clinics in Cleveland Public Schools and a Medicaid expansion plan which preceded a plan from the state of Ohio.

His philosophy of leadership is rooted in having a plan, taking action and maintaining two-way dialogue with his employees and patients.

Boutros spends time each day walking the halls to greet patients and speak with employees. The conversations are not superficial, but rather a way to show them how much they are valued and to gather important feedback that can help MetroHealth be an even better place.

The Think Tank is a prime example of this spirit of collaboration. Modeled off the popular TV show, “Shark Tank,” it has resulted in more than 160 submissions from employees about how MetroHealth can do its job and better serve its patients.

Back to top







Richard N. Seaman
chairman and CEO
Seaman Corporation
NOMINATED BY: Dell Judd, Oswald Companies

Richard N. Seaman has led Seaman Corporation for nearly 40 years. He took over the business a few years after graduating from college when his father lost his battle with lung cancer. It wasn’t an easy transition, and on top of that, the company was in debt and generating losses.

Fortunately, Seaman had learned from his father that challenges could be overcome. When his father started the business in 1949, he had to replace a number of the company’s initial products, despite the financial hardship that resulted. The reason was they didn’t meet the high standards that the company had set for itself.

It’s a philosophy that Seaman continues to adhere to as the business looks to retain its position as a leader in the industrial fabrics sector.

Seaman was started as a company that made truck tarps and has expanded into a variety of products such as roofing, geomembrane fabrics and flexible tanks — used by notable companies such as Google, Microsoft, GM and Disney.

The company’s chairman and CEO describes family businesses as a treasure. He attends frequent training sessions and meetings focused on family businesses to ensure Seaman Corporation is leveraging the strengths of being a family business and sustaining its growth opportunities.

Seaman relies heavily on a strong management team for his company’s success. This includes an outside board of directors that includes elite business professionals from varying industries. These experts give a new perspective on the business and challenge Seaman and his team to aim higher and continue to take risks. There is also an active customer feedback mechanism in place to keep the focus on continuous improvement.

Seaman also has his mind on the future. A succession plan is in place to keep the company a family business through an active shareholder relationship for Seaman’s children.

Back to top







Scott E. Mawaka
CEO and President
Fleet Response
NOMINATED BY: John Rini, Action Management

CEO and President Scott E. Mawaka has an innate ability to understand the people he leads and serves, and melds traditional corporate, profit-driven goals with individual development that empowers his team.

Mawaka’s father, Ron Mawaka Sr., began Rental Concepts, Inc. in 1986 after he identified a demand for corporate fleet rental and replacement services. With only four shareholders, an administrative assistant and his son, Ron built an HMO-style network of local corporate rental service providers.

After a decade of success, Ron expanded the company’s services to include accident, claims and maintenance management under the name Integrated Vehicle Systems.

Eventually, the two evolved into Fleet Response, a comprehensive fleet services business that realizes consistent annual sales and profit growth.

Under Mawaka’s direction, Fleet Response has become a leader in both its market and Northeast Ohio. For example, in the past 15 years, the company has had only one year with a decline in revenue, which was attributed to the loss of a large client.

The defining characteristic of Fleet Response is its ability to identify an unmet market need and a corresponding, new solution, such as developing online fleet management software tools and mobile service technology and support.

All but one member of Fleet Response’s senior management team has been with the company for over a decade. Over the years, while still wanting to remain informed of key decisions, Mawaka has developed a trust in his management team to make decisions.

Fleet Response also sets an example for corporate philanthropy through its local sponsorship and donation policies — Fleet Response accepts all requests for donation — as well as focused support for Lou Gehrig’s disease research.

Back to top







Jeremy Rayl
J. Rayl Transport
NOMINATED BY: Smart Business Network

J. Rayl Transport is a second-generation family business that started in 1987 on a family farm in Green, Ohio. Jeremy Rayl grew up on the farm owned by his father, Tim, and worked many jobs within the company from payroll to truck maintenance before leaving to attend college.

After a failed merger with a rival transport company called Quality Logistics in 2006, the controller, Karen Rafferty, left J. Rayl to work for Quality Logistics. Rafferty’s departure was the catalyst for Rayl to rejoin the company as controller and subsequently become J. Rayl’s CEO in 2006.

Rayl defines himself as an aggressive and opportunistic business owner. During the recession that began in 2008, J. Rayl had access to capital, which it used to make strategic acquisitions, buy expensive technology, invest in people and enter new markets. As a result, J. Rayl’s biggest growth years were during the recession.

For many years, Rayl surrounded himself with a few close young executives, but as the business has grown, he has hired more experienced members for his management team. He now has an eight-person management team with the three most recent hires having more than 80 years of combined industry experience.

Rayl is also starting an internship program at the company through which college graduates will train for one to two years at the company’s headquarters and then become office managers at the new regional offices the company plans to open as part of its growth strategy.

Rayl is open to doing things differently. J. Rayl recently held its first town hall meeting for all employees where Rayl shared the company’s vision and explained the reasons behind changes occurring at the company.

Given the town hall’s success at informing and unifying his employees, Rayl has committed to doing them semiannually in the future. Rayl has plans to keep growing the business while ensuring that quality remains excellent.

Back to top







Kim C. Wilson
president and CEO

Chad A. Wilson
Slate Rock Safety, LLC
NOMINATED BY: Eric Shaffer, FirstMerit

Kim C. and Chad A. Wilson were simply hoping to tap into their e-commerce background to solve challenges in the safety apparel industry when they invested in Slate Rock Safety, LLC. Eight years later, the company has double-digit annual sales growth and is revolutionizing the safety apparel industry with innovative technology, passionate professionals and visionary leadership.

As the head of a woman-owned business in a traditionally male-dominated industry, Kim believes women bring unique strengths and a fresh perspective to business. At the same time, she believes that gender is a nonissue. She gains respect by demonstrating knowledge, agility and strategic thinking to meet client needs.

Kim, president and CEO, and Chad, COO, see integrity as the core value for everyone at Slate Rock Safety, in addition to honesty and transparency. Staff meetings take place throughout the year and everyone is given a voice in the direction of the business. Employees are encouraged to voice their concerns and suggestions on how things should be done differently.

For example, an employee’s proposal to change the commission system to incentivize the sales team was promptly adopted. The Wilsons also created a how-to-make-a-mistake policy under which employees can openly discuss mistakes they have made at work with their supervisors without fear of punishment.

Kim believes creating that kind of safe environment nurtures trust, self-reflection and professional growth.

The growth of the company itself did not always come easy. The Wilsons had to make difficult decisions that shaped Slate Rock Safety into the innovative and efficient family business it is today. In 2013, the duo took a tremendous risk by buying out a business partner and taking full ownership of the company. As a result, the Wilsons put their family’s entire livelihood into the business.






Ramzi Y. Hermiz
president and CEO
Shiloh Industries
NOMINATED BY: Robert Klonk, Oswald Companies

When Ramzi Y. Hermiz arrived at Shiloh Industries, he found a company at the precipice of a big change. The reality is, of course, that big changes and innovation always come with risk. While steel is the primary metal used in cars, aluminum and magnesium are lighter and stronger — but more expensive.
Shiloh faces the risk that its investment in aluminum and magnesium could fail if the company can’t help automakers shift their mindset to the benefits of a lighter, stronger product and the efficiencies of laser-welding technology. But the early returns are very encouraging.
Shiloh has doubled in every sense including financial numbers, employees and physical geographic presence.
Hermiz, president and CEO, is a forward-thinking leader who changed Shiloh from an organization looking in the rearview mirror to a company on the front end of vehicle production, one that is behaving more as an engineering consultant for some of the largest automakers in the world.
One of Shiloh’s goals to achieve success is to lead with technology and innovation. Prior to Hermiz’s arrival, Shiloh would just take an order and process it. Now, the company looks to be able to provide its customers with options that include mixes of metals and manufacturing approaches and options that reduce product weight, cost and waste.
Shiloh prides itself on its forward-thinking culture in creating and testing products for the future as evidenced by its Tech Center created in Detroit. It is here that Shiloh develops new, innovative technology to provide customers with possibilities used on prototypes for cars expected to release in 2019.
Another big part of the changes at Shiloh was the ability to change the perception some customers had as to the safety of “lightweight” products. Some have a negative connotation of the term, but the company came up with a slogan, “Lightweight without Compromise,” to ease those concerns.







Don Esch
president and CEO
Bettcher Industries
NOMINATED BY: Dale Kaprosy, Oswald Companies

The owner of Bettcher Industries recruited Don Esch in 2001 as the vice president of sales and marketing, with the goal of increasing sales.

At the time, Bettcher controlled almost 90 percent of its niche market pertaining to the food processing equipment. Esch knew the company would have to enter other regions and markets if it wanted to grow.

He never ruled out an idea for seeming too outside the box, and implemented the Bettcher Idea Factory as part of the strategic plan to stir up employee creativity and look for ways to expand the company’s markets.

Product management, specifically product development and diversification, has been the signature of Esch’s tenure at Bettcher. It’s also why the company is so well positioned to see continued success and double digit annual sales growth for the foreseeable future.

His ability to transform a historic food packaging company into a business that is also involved with state-of-the-art medical procedures is what makes Esch such a visionary. And this is why Esch was promoted to COO and president, before his final move to president and CEO.

The product diversification uses the same core Bettcher technology across all its diverse markets. Today, the newer product lines are approaching 30 percent of the overall business.

In addition, as COO, Esch was crucial to the change of leadership and direction of the company that came with the retirement of the CEO and majority owner. He personally led the transition from a privately owned company to 100 percent employee stock ownership plan.

Esch also has continued the management style Bettcher has prided itself on for the past 70 years. It’s an approach where management doesn’t make hastened decisions but keeps a methodical and thorough long-term approach.







Rick C. Farone
managing partner

Dave Brickner
managing partner
Guardian Technologies LLC
NOMINATED BY: Mark Hopton, Action Management

The management styles of managing partners Rick C. Farone and Dave Brickner set Guardian Technologies LLC apart from other consumer products companies focused on home environmental products.

While most executive-level managers in the industry aren’t directly involved in the day-to-day management, the customer base, etc., Farone and Brickner are both on-site daily and interact with customers and suppliers.

With significant operations experience in the consumer products industry and strong relationships with suppliers and manufacturers in the Asia Pacific region, Farone leads the sourcing, manufacturing, logistics and supply chain management functions of the business. In this role, he has successfully managed the company’s manufacturing processes and supply chain to maximize margin.

Brickner leads the company’s sales and marketing teams. He has been able to leverage his relationships in the retail industry to get the company’s products into Costco, Amazon, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Target and Bed Bath Beyond.

When access to capital was limited from late 2007 to 2010, Farone and Brickner redefined the company as a consumer products company focused on home environmental products. In doing so, they eliminated a number of product lines and retained only a select set of highly profitable product lines, such as humidifiers.

The two also empower their people to make decisions and avoid micromanaging the talent at the company by getting excellent people and giving them the opportunity to do their job.

To share in the success of Guardian Technologies, employees are rewarded for their effort during particularly good years. And in order to continue to increase sales, Guardian Technologies recently moved into a new warehouse to better manage its supply chain.

Back to top



Mike Baach
Philpott Solutions Group
NOMINATED BY: Smart Business Network

When Mike Baach was named CEO at Philpott Solutions Group, he enrolled at the University of Akron to study polymer mixing. Baach was already an established leader, but he wanted to understand the technical side of the business. He came to Philpott following the successful IPO of a company he had helped raise from the ground up.

When Baach arrived at Philpott in 2009, he took over a company that was started by John W. Philpott in 1889.

Baach studied the history of the company and found that it had strong principles and was dedicated to providing a high-quality product to its customers. Unfortunately, the company’s growth was nonexistent.

Baach knew that in order to change that, a strategic plan and culture shift were needed. He began to empower his workforce to be innovative, creating an entrepreneurial culture where employees could grow and thrive. His leadership and drive helped turn a once stagnant and complacent company into a growing regional powerhouse in the rubber and polymer industry.

Baach wants employees to think organically, and he asks for input from everyone in the company, believing that such wide-ranging input is needed in order to be successful. He encourages his team to stretch beyond what is comfortable and embrace failure. His push for innovation resulted in the first-ever patent received by a Philpott employee. Prior to his arrival, the company avoided pursuing patents due to the upfront costs associated with the patent application process.

Now, under Baach’s leadership, every product or idea produced by a Philpott employee is thoroughly examined to determine if the technology previously existed or if the new idea is eligible for a patent. He emphasizes that the biggest thing you can control is your attitude, regardless of what else happens throughout the course of a day. Execution is how you present and how you deliver.







Lee Friedman
College Now Greater Cleveland
NOMINATED BY: Meghan Mehalko, Benesch Friedlander Coplan Aronoff LLP

After years at the executive level in various not-for-profit organizations, CEO Lee Friedman has learned to lead effectively by believing in the mission. She is not only passionate about educating underprivileged youth but is equally as passionate about the city she hopes they will work and reside in.

Friedman believes marrying a social service agency model with an economic development agency is the root of success for College Now Greater Cleveland. The organization provides Greater Cleveland students with guidance and access to funds to prepare for and graduate from college.

During Friedman’s five-year tenure at College Now, the organization has quadrupled its total employees and doubled its funding. From 2012 to 2014, College Now’s budget increased by 48 percent — largely due to her ability to successfully raise funds.

In addition, many studies have shown the retention of first-year to second-year students is key to completing a degree. With that as a focus, Friedman began a mentorship program designed to connect students to successful adults within the community.

The program began in 2011 with 38 mentor pairs; in 2014 there were 730 mentorship matches. College Now’s goal is to have 1,100 mentor pairs by 2016.

College Now sees a direct correlation between mentoring and retention, which ensures students remain in school and receive a degree. The organization has a 90 percent first-year to second-year retention rate, compared to the national average of 58 percent for low-income students.

Additionally, the mentor relationships are helping students find internships and work experience.

Friedman attributes much of her success to inclusion from co-workers early in her career, when diversity in the workplace was scarce. She strives to lead in a similar fashion, ensuring her employees feel highly valued through a collaborative work environment with an emphasis on performance reward.

NON-PROFIT, Finalist






Terry Davis
president and CEO
Our Lady of the Wayside
NOMINATED BY: Smart Business Network

It is difficult to measure the impact that Terry Davis has had on Our Lady of the Wayside during his tenure as president and CEO. When he came on-board more than two decades ago, he found an organization on the brink of receivership with only 90 days to enter regulatory compliance.

But Davis saw the vast potential that OLW had in front of it. He was able to take a family-run, volunteer-centric group home for developmentally disabled children that was based in Avon, Ohio, and transform it into a financially stable, multiservice entity that primarily manages more than 70 homes throughout four Northeast Ohio counties.

More importantly, Davis drove the vision throughout the organization that developmentally disabled individuals should be integrated into the community. Davis strongly believed that consumers, the people served by OLW, deserved better than to be placed in a group home and forgotten. They deserve to live as meaningful a life as possible.

Davis and his team have had to overcome numerous obstacles to meet these goals. In trying to assimilate developmentally disabled individuals into the community, there is a constant threat of “not-in-my-backyard” opposition each time OLW wishes to open a new home.

He has faced vocal opposition, but has always addressed any concerns in a direct manner. He has allowed neighbors to visit homes to see that not only will they not be a problem in the community, but they will actually be an asset for the entire neighborhood. He has also brought residents that would stay in these homes to the meetings, thereby allowing everyone to understand the human aspect of the organization’s efforts.

In doing so, Davis has been able to turn some of his early opponents into strong advocates for the efforts of OLW in other communities.







Kevin R. Weidinger
president and CEO
Laudan Properties
NOMINATED BY: Dale Chorba, Action Management

Kevin R. Weidinger prefers to be found at the bottom of the organizational chart at Laudan Properties. He wants to see his employees at the top as they represent the core of his business and are the people who interact most with his customers.

It’s an example of how employees at Laudan are treated with great respect and given plenty of room for growth.

Weidinger’s leadership style at Laudan is welcoming and friendly. He looks for people who can see an opportunity and are willing to put in the hard work now for future reward. Weidinger, president and CEO, prefers to promote from within the company, but he is also willing to admit when his business does not have the resources to properly address a problem.

One of the biggest threats to his business is actually the recovery of the economy from the recession. Weidinger has recognized that the market is recovering and that the foreclosed home inventory of banks and investment groups is dwindling. These are his biggest customers, so he has recognized the potential slowdown in sales.

To counteract this, Weidinger has branched out into new endeavors with similar core skills that have opposite risk profiles.

He has expanded the company into remodeling direct to consumers. Home improvement projects tend to be most popular when the economy is booming and housing prices are on the rise since consumers are then more likely to improve their homes.

Teamwork is an integral part of the culture at Laudan, with groups of four to five people being used to accomplish most functions. When new employees are brought on, they are integrated into a team that trains and helps the employee transition into his or her role. When one function struggles, other team members step in to fill the gap and help the company perform. It’s that collaboration and collective spirit toward maximizing company performance that keeps Laudan on top.







Michael L. Cantor
managing director and principal
Allegro Realty Advisors
NOMINATED BY: Dale Chorba, Action Management

Growing up in Cleveland, Michael L. Cantor was fascinated by the development of the downtown area. This led to a career in commercial real estate, but with a distinction from the typical broker — representation of tenants rather than building owners.

Cantor and two co-founders formed Allegro Realty Advisors, Ltd. in 2001.

Typically, commercial real estate brokers represent building owners whose objective is to sell or lease a building. But Cantor, managing director and principal, came from the perspective of the tenant, whose needs aren’t considered in the usual transaction model.

Allegro is paid on a fee basis rather than commission for sales/leases, so it maintains an independence that benefits its clients when it comes to negotiating terms and rights. There is no conflict of interest, which is why Allegro hasn’t affiliated with an international brand.

This unique business model has been a challenge to introduce. The industry is slow to change, but it’s clear Allegro is making progress — it represented tenants in a majority of the largest deals in Northeast Ohio and has won market share.

Currently 40 percent of revenues are generated from national corporate work, while another 40 percent came from tenant representation work. The remaining revenue streams are consulting work and investment services.

The firm did face challenges in the economic downturn, but through client diversification, Allegro’s goal of 25 percent growth per year in top-line revenue has been achieved since 2010.

Cantor’s dedication to giving back to the community is demonstrated in his depth of involvement with Leadership Cleveland, a nine-month civic education program designed to prepare and build leadership resources within Greater Cleveland.

In addition to serving as 2012 class president in Leadership Cleveland, Cantor participated in the LC2 Fellows Program, a project-based, outcome-driven civic engagement experience.







Jim R. Santee Jr.
Choice Traditions, Inc.
NOMINATED BY: Krista Dobronos, Westfield Group

Jim R. Santee Jr., CEO of Choice Traditions, Inc., is someone who truly embodies entrepreneurial resilience.
Santee has more than 20 years of self-employment and client-relation experience in construction. Although those years have afforded Santee with opportunities to advance his craft and develop leading practices in construction, they also introduced instances of pressure and adversity, particularly in 2008 and 2009 when the construction industry found itself at a near halt.

During the downturn, Santee had to travel for construction jobs for long periods of time and had to take on less-than-ideal jobs, including a newspaper route, just to pay the bills. But his dream to keep the tradition of carpentry alive did not fail.

“Whatever it takes” is a mantra that is deeply rooted in the culture of Choice Traditions and continues to influence the direction of the company as it moves from a small local business to one that performs work nationally for Fortune 500 companies.

From 2012 to 2014, annual sales at the company have increased 294 percent due to remarkable customer relationships. The construction industry is highly dependent on word of mouth, and many companies ask Choice Traditions to bid on projects because of its stellar reputation to get projects done quickly and accurately.

Santee also prides himself on operating Choice Traditions as a cash-based business in an industry where businesses often succumb to debt pitfalls.

Two things that differentiate Choice Traditions from other construction companies are valued-added services and its employees.

Unlike many of its competitors, Choice Traditions is committed to paying its employees, including subcontractors, on a consistent timetable. In addition, not only does Santee provide a high quality benefits package including health care and 401(k) match, but he also is in the process of developing a high performance incentive program.







Tracy C. Green
IRG Realty Advisors, LLC
NOMINATED BY: John Tichar, Oswald Companies

Tracy C. Green has had a passion for real estate and strategic problem-solving since the beginning of his career. Green has worked hard to challenge the traditional function of a real estate property manager and differentiate his real estate properties in the marketplace.

Before he became president at IRG Realty Advisors, LLC, Green saw an environment that viewed property managers as “landlords” and “superintendents” whose primary responsibility was to ensure the furnace was functioning and the sidewalks were shoveled.

Green viewed his properties as complex assets that should be strategically positioned in the marketplace like any other commercial product. He recognized his responsibility to not only the tenants, but to investors in the property as well as the community.

Green began his career as a property manager at Equitec, a national asset management company based in California. Next, he went to Trammel Crow Co., where he ascended to the role of principal and senior vice president. His primary responsibility in this role was managing the real estate enterprise of TCC’s largest national client, KeyBank.

His success gave him another promotion offer, but his work had caught the eye of IRG Realty, a national leader in the real estate development industry. IRG wanted Green to manage its Ohio properties.

Born and raised in Ohio, Green saw this as his entrepreneurial moment and relished the opportunity to have a meaningful impact on his native community.

Green formed Ohio Realty Advisers for the purpose of legally contracting with IRG to manage its Ohio properties. He quickly assembled a team and set in motion a series of events that led Green to sell ORA to IRG and become the president of IRG.

Green has continued to work hard to develop a culture rooted in passion for real estate and rock-solid core values.







Anthony J. DeCarlo Jr.
CEO and co-founder
IdeaStream Consumer Products, LLC
NOMINATED BY: John Tichar, Oswald Companies

Anthony J. DeCarlo Jr. wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do when he graduated from John Carroll University. But he knew the lessons he had already learned from his parents would serve him well on whatever path he chose.

DeCarlo’s mother was a teacher and his father was the wrestling and football coach at JCU, and it was from these two profound individuals that DeCarlo drew his personality and sense of self-worth, inspiration to succeed and an incredible ability to lead.

His parents continually impressed upon him that “90 percent of every battle is about preparation and the other 10 percent is having the courage to show up.”

The message taught DeCarlo that life is really about the convergence of opportunity and hard work and that he had to earn everything he wanted and aspired to be.

DeCarlo and his partner, Dan Perella, founded IdeaStream Consumer Products, LLC in 2002. He got to know Perella over 14 impactful years spent working at Manco, Inc. Jack Kahl, Manco’s founder and CEO, was a mentor and close adviser and gave DeCarlo the tools he needed to leave Manco in 2002 to start his own company.

It was a risky move. Both DeCarlo and Perella had comfortable jobs at Manco, and the pair seemed like an unlikely duo — DeCarlo is a creative mind geared toward engineering, marketing and selling while Perella is more analytical and focused on logistics, operations and finance.

But with DeCarlo as CEO and co-founder, the two men proved to be a great complement to each other as they leveraged their strengths and kept each other in check, allowing the business to deliver innovative products with exceptional industrial design.

IdeaStream prides itself on maintaining open lines of communication with its people, creating a sense of community that is used to drive the company forward.







Mike Davis
Adventure Harley Davidson
NOMINATED BY: Joe Luckring, PNC Bank

In 2003, Mike Davis, president of Adventure Harley Davidson, opened a Harley-Davidson dealership in rural Ohio.

He had a vision to build a destination, not just a bike shop, which transformed Adventure Harley into a four-dealership motorcycle group operating across the state of Ohio. Davis changed the prototypical retail business culture into both an incubator for managerial development and a branded lifestyle experience for his customers.

Adventure Harley competes not only with other motorcycle brands, but also with other Harley-Davidson franchises. Consequently, utilizing a creative marketing strategy is imperative to becoming a dealer of choice.

Davis’s top-down strategy of marketing all of his dealerships as a whole has allowed him to develop his own sub-brand within Harley-Davidson.

He combines inventories, policies, procedures and programs — such as the customer rewards program — to make them available at any of his dealerships. And while each of his dealerships has its own identity, they collectively operate as one cohesive unit.

Davis invests in his employees like no other dealership. For the past five years, he has closed the dealerships for a day and bused every employee to an off-site event with training and development, industry updates, entertainment and motivational speakers.

In addition, the business offers a voluntary leadership development class for any interested employee — more than 80 employees have graduated since its development,.

Adventure Harley also was one of the first in the market to leverage social media, as evidenced by its more than 207,000 unique Facebook followers — the largest in the nation for Harley-Davison dealers.

Under Davis’s leadership, Adventure Harley has been recognized by the Harley-Davidson Motor Company as one of the top dealerships in the nation nine out of the last 12 years.







Scott D. Kuhn
Driftwood Restaurant Group
NOMINATED BY: Anna Sobkiv, PNC Financial Services

Succeeding in an industry where businesses fail at an 80 to 90 percent rate has required Scott D. Kuhn, owner of Driftwood Restaurant Group, to be more than just a leader.

While heading an organization of 300 people brings its own challenges, Kuhn has overcome personal life challenges and an economic downturn that put restaurants out of business at historic rates, all the while he was developing as the chief executive and financial officer of a business that continues to experience rapid growth.

Under Kuhn, Driftwood now owns, operates and licenses 15 diverse hospitality brands including eight restaurants, stadium concessions, design and startup consulting, wine bars and award-winning food truck and catering businesses.

Kuhn’s career in the restaurant industry started after he suffered a spinal injury that resulted in an invasive corrective surgery, which caused him to re-evaluate the path he was on.

He purchased his first restaurant directly out of college, and Kuhn spent a good part of that first year working every position in the restaurant to truly learn the business from the inside out. That provided a foundation of knowledge he could leverage for the rest of his career.

Driftwood has been growing at the rate of nearly a restaurant a year, but during the economic downturn, Driftwood was comprised of just three restaurants. Kuhn took a risk and didn’t lay off any employees, but all employees were required to sacrifice for the collective good.

Over time, Kuhn developed a business model that uses key markers to monitor the business’s performance and cash flow. It includes limiting prime costs — labor and the blended cost of goods — to 60 percent of the top line. This takes extreme discipline and strong coordination.

He is also proud that Driftwood is able to retain 43 percent of its hospitality staff, compared to the national average of 30 percent.







Grant Cleveland
DuneCraft Inc.
NOMINATED BY: Smart Business Network

Prior to DuneCraft Inc., entrepreneur Grant Cleveland ran an Internet company that was preparing to go public. But the markets collapsed, the company folded, and he was left bankrupt.

Cleveland spent the next year searching for a big idea, while working various odd jobs to keep food on the table for his family. Eventually, in 2002, he decided to start DuneCraft Inc. because of his background in landscaping and his passion for experimenting and educating.

The first product he created was called Odd Pods, designed to grow cacti from seeds. Even though his initial investor pulled out, Cleveland wasn’t deterred. He secured a deal with one of his suppliers to get the initial product to market.

Since it inception, DuneCraft Inc. has created more than 250 products focused on nature and education. The employees constantly brainstorm, and the company has a room full of prototypes and ideas.

DuneCraft has grown steadily and seen top-line revenues increase 12 percent and 22 percent in the past two years, although Cleveland still faces challenges getting the product and brand name to the mainstream public.

Cleveland is a very hands-on owner. He works directly with his team or in the assembly room during peak times, while always looking to improve productivity.

One lesson he learned from past endeavors was to incentivize his employees. Cleveland pays his manufacturing labor workers by the piece, instead of by the hour. This has doubled cost but quadrupled production and greatly increased worker morale and retention.

He also set up a unique office environment with a koi pond, plants, multiple couches, a pingpong table and an air hockey table.

Cleveland serves as president of the board of trustees for the Fairmount Center of Fine Arts, which he saved from collapse through marketing campaigns and shifting the programming to profitable shows.







Aaron Grossman
Alliance Solutions Group
NOMINATED BY: Smart Business Network

CEO Aaron Grossman draws on his experience as a collegiate wrestler to lead by example and ensure accountability, competition, active learning, fun and gratitude are engrained in the culture of Alliance Solutions Group.

Grossman started the firm in the early 2000s, and during its early years, Alliance Solutions Group went through some difficulties, including having a former partner pay for his own leisure activities with company funds and losing another key executive due to differences in business and cultural philosophy.

Through these challenges, Grossman made sure to take employees out for lunch in groups and listen to their concerns. His open and direct communication helped keep the employees engaged and together.

Grossman gives his employees freedom to manage their own tasks but also provides necessary support. He believes strongly in taking the time to think through the culture of an organization and make sure cultural characteristics trickle down from the top.

Grossman set up Alliance Solutions Group as 10 specialized staffing service groups to create a competitive atmosphere, while various employee events are held throughout the year to promote a family tie among employees.

A few years ago, Grossman hired a new CIO who helped change the technology side of the company tremendously.

The two have revolutionized their interview process. The company’s new technology allows interviews to be conducted via videoconference — and then recorded, stored and shared with potential employers.

Alliance Solutions Group also has created software to automate on-boarding and reduce the administrative on-boarding effort from 19 minutes to four minutes per employee.

Besides his success in business, Grossman is heavily involved in the community. In 2010, he started Wrestlers in Business to provide networking opportunities for this unique group. He’s also the area director for the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, where he has achieved a 97 percent retention rate of members. 

SERVICES, Finalist






Scot Lowry
NOMINATED BY: Smart Business Network

Scot Lowry started in the construction management industry, overseeing the construction of large ski lodges and hotels in Colorado. But he wanted something more.

Lowry decided to attend Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management. It was there he was introduced to Promise Partners, a nonprofit network supporting aspiring business owners.

Upon completing an apprenticeship, Lowry searched for 18 months, living only on savings, to realize his dream of business ownership. He bought Fathom in 2007 with a silent partner.

Lowry agreed to run the business operations while Fathom’s founder stayed on as a minority partner to run sales and marketing. Under his leadership, Fathom transformed its culture, capabilities, sales organization and strategy.

In 2010, Fathom’s founder passed away, which increased the challenges Lowry faced as a majority owner of a rapidly growing company during an economic recession — in an industry with constantly changing environments. Even during the recession, however, Fathom increased its average engagement size by 300 percent and grew revenue on average 30 percent annually.

When Lowry, CEO, purchased Fathom, the company focused solely on search engine optimization and email marketing. Today, Fathom offers SEO and social media, email marketing, digital advertising, analytics, video, design and development, mobile/local and proprietary solutions. This has allowed Fathom to stay relevant as one of the fastest-growing independent companies in the digital marketing industry.

Lowry’s passion for entrepreneurship inspired Fathom’s business model, which is broken into five business segments that are run by aspiring entrepreneurs who aren’t ready to take on the level of risk involved in purchasing a company. Lowry mentors these individuals and provides them opportunities to independently build their business segment and team.

SERVICES, Finalist






Dave C. Fulton
president and CEO

Tom Hartland
chairman and founder
Hartland & Co.
NOMINATED BY: Joe Juster, Calfee, Halter & Griswold, LLP

Tom Hartland has been advising institutional investors for more than 40 years. During his time as a principal investment consultant, he saw a gap in the advisory market in which there was a lack of independent investment advisory firms. Most firms generate revenue based on money management products, but these firms had inherent conflicts of interest because they profited based on the sale of their own products.

This reality compelled Hartland to develop a firm where revenue is based solely on fees paid by the client for advisory services, a true differentiator from competitors. The needs of such services in the market propelled Hartland’s departure from his prior firm and the launch of a new firm which he called Hartland & Co.

As the firm’s chairman and founder, Hartland took a big risk when he started the new business in 1989. He had no clients, but gradually built a business by offering investment advice, developing investment policy and asset allocation, selecting investment vehicles and reporting to institutional and private clients.

Hartland has evolved over the years. Historically, the core focus was institutional investments, but through a change in leadership and acquisitions, a majority of the firm’s business is now with private clients.

One big change came during the economic downturn that began in 2008. Hartland decided to invest in new leadership that significantly changed the firm’s bottom line. He recruited Dave C. Fulton Jr. to come on-board as the firm’s president and COO. Within five years, Fulton held the title of president and CEO.

Professionals are attracted to Hartland because they have an opportunity to become shareholders. This has been a primary driver of growth for the firm since it leads these professionals to hold themselves accountable to the highest levels of client service, professional excellence and shared commitment.

SERVICES, Finalist






Jason Farro
Lighthouse Insurance Group, LLC
NOMINATED BY: Marty Butler, ExactCare Pharmacy

Jason Farro has been dedicated to providing insurance products and services to families for more than 25 years. With the principles that were instilled in him during his younger years working with his father’s insurance business, Farro created Lighthouse Insurance Group, LLC.

Farro has a history as an insurance agent himself, experience he leverages to assist his employees with hands-on training. He has ensured that constant development can be managed in-house by maintaining a designated training room where his agents and staff reside.

He enjoys the thrill of the floor, “especially when everyone is clicking and you can just tell that it’s going to be a good day.” Farro routinely listens in on employee calls and provides feedback. He chooses to lead from the front and be more than just a figurehead who lives in his office.

When it comes to measuring success, Farro considers three factors: his ability to make the company profitable to reward investors, the ability to be a job creator for his employees and community, and his ability to overcome future risks that could impact the prior two factors.

Farro works directly with agents to understand the business, and he revels in being available to provide motivation to build people up when they are feeling down. He also enforces quarterly events outside of the office to bond with employees and develop relationships.

Even if an employee identifies a potential opportunity elsewhere, Farro, CEO, will evaluate the entirety of the opportunity with the person and provide unbiased insight and perspective. The approach has led to the retention of many employees who have been with Lighthouse since its inception in 2009.

Farro wants employees to have an opportunity to climb the ladder and value the growth of the company, as well as themselves.







Sam Gerace
founding CEO
NOMINATED BY: Ron Boynar, Oswald Companies

Sam Gerace has always had a passion for computers, allowing him to create a groundbreaking business that has transformed the way the public can buy tickets for sports and entertainment events.

Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, approached Gerace in May 2006. He was tasked with transforming a demo application into a final product in order to establish a paperless ticket company that had previously not existed.

Gerace embraced the challenge of developing the product and reached out to his network to build the business. He was able to convince former employees to take the plunge with him on short notice and have the new company up and running prior to the start of the 2006-07 NBA season in October.

During the first full year of operations, the management team at Gerace’s company learned that the business plan as it had been defined was not possible. Ticketmaster would not agree to interface with the company’s Flash Seats software. At this point, Flash Seats pivoted to become an end-to-end ticketing platform and merged with Vertical Alliance to become Veritix.

The founding CEO was charged with merging the culture and business purposes of the two entities while growing market share.

Veritix was founded to be the paperless ticketing company for the Cavaliers, but has since grown through a merger with a Dallas company in 2007, as well as organically, to serve 13 percent of NBA teams and 18 percent of MLS teams. It was also awarded the ticketing and secondary market contract for the Detroit Lions last year, the first NFL team to move away from Ticketmaster.

The culture at Veritix is one of action, innovation and integrity. Employees are empowered to make decisions and do what’s right. The system itself is also nimble, allowing new employees to be up and running in rapid fashion.







Suranjan Shome
president and CEO
Epiphany Management Group
NOMINATED BY: David Mauro, Epiphany Management

President and CEO Suranjan Shome’s extensive sales experience has contributed to the success of Epiphany Management Group. He uses his people skills and emphasis on employee satisfaction to create an exceptional work environment and lead the sales department.

Shome founded the information technology management company to provide services to educational institutions, a market that had never been explored.

With three children in primary and secondary school, he observed that his children’s schools were investing in it but didn’t know how to utilize the technology to its full potential.

Since Epiphany is the first company to offer IT management and consulting services to schools, Shome has faced challenges convincing schools of the company’s value. Once school districts hired Epiphany, however, they either lowered or froze their IT costs.

Shome is involved in all aspects of his business. If he is not traveling to meet with potential or existing clients, he is on-site assisting employees.

Epiphany has experienced consistent growth throughout its first eight years. The company also projects it will continue to double its sales year-over-year through 2020.

To help guide the company through its current growth phase, Shome hired a former Fortune 500 CFO and multiple individuals who have held senior management positions within the IT industry.

Shome understands that he needs to attract and retain talented IT professionals, so he hired Gallup to help him gauge the satisfaction of his employees through an annual survey.

Epiphany is in the process of moving into a new headquarters in Akron that will allow the company to streamline its services as well as provide an environment that emphasizes teamwork. This new facility contains multiple conference rooms where employees can hold meetings and videoconferences with colleagues that are working remotely.







Daniel Anstandig
NOMINATED BY: Lee Zapis, Zapis Capital

At age 9, Daniel Anstandig began broadcasting a radio program from his basement, which gained unintended notoriety when his broadcast signal interfered with Cleveland’s FOX 8 programming.

He later launched an Internet radio-streaming network that focused on publishing online content of other radio stations. He sold this innovative product to Microsoft and began working for Clear Channel, which enabled him to connect to important decision-makers in the broadcast world.

In 2009, Anstandig, 25, launched LDR Inc. — rebranded as Futuri this year — which included the pioneering “crowdcasting” technology that empowers listeners to become collaborators by voting on what songs or other content to play.

During the recession, when TV and radio stations scaled back operating budgets, he implemented a unique bartering strategy. Clients could exchange unused advertising time for Futuri’s crowdcasting services. Futuri was then able to package the advertising time together and resell it to large, multinational companies.

As the company continues to grow, Anstandig has focused on hiring college graduates with degrees in broadcast engineering, broadcast management and software engineering who speak the language of TV and radio clients.

Anstandig, CEO, continues to champion innovation, which has led to the development of over 150 mobile apps for radio and TV, as well as digital dashboards like the company’s most widely used product, TopicPulse.

TopicPulse was created with the intention of increasing ratings, revenues and Web traffic for TV and radio stations by allowing them to instantly read current trending topics in social media.

Futuri’s programming is used in more than 400 TV and radio stations throughout North America, Africa and Asia and reaches over 100 million consumers on a monthly basis. Plans include expansion into Europe.







Sandy Cutler
chairman and CEO
Eaton Corporation

Sandy Cutler is chairman and CEO of Eaton Corporation, a worldwide power management company that provides energy-efficient solutions for electrical, hydraulic and mechanical power. Born in Milwaukee, Cutler graduated from the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, Connecticut. He received a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and an MBA from the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth College.

He began his career with Cutler-Hammer in 1975 as a financial analyst. After Eaton acquired Cutler-Hammer, he held various positions before becoming Eaton’s president and COO in 1995. He assumed his current position in August 2000.

Cutler is a board member of DuPont, KeyCorp, the Greater Cleveland Partnership, United Way Services of Greater Cleveland and the Musical Arts Association. He is a member of the Business Roundtable and The Business Council.

Previously, he chaired the Corporate Governance Committee of the Business Roundtable, and served as chairman of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the United Way of Greater Cleveland, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, the Visiting Committee of the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University and sat on the Board of Governors of The Electrical Manufacturers Club. He is a past co-chairman and co-founder of the Greater Cleveland Partnership’s Commission on Economic Inclusion and has also served as president of the Yale Alumni Association of Cleveland.

He is a past member of the board of the Yale University Alumni Fund, the Yale University Development Board, the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth College and the Loomis Chaffee School.

Cutler also served on the boards of the Cleveland Play House and the Museum of Natural History.

Since taking the helm at Eaton, the company has nearly doubled both its revenue and employee count, growing both organically and through acquisitions.

Kodak sells online business to Shutterfly, patent sale pending

ROCHESTER, N.Y. –Fri Mar 2, 2012: Eastman Kodak Co. has agreed to sell its online photo services business to Shutterfly Inc. for $23.8 million, kicking off the bankrupt photography pioneer’s relaunch as a much slimmer company although a patent sale seen crucial to its turnaround may still be months away.

The once-iconic company that invented the hand-held camera has said it will quit the camera business and is expected to fetch $1 billion to $2 billion from the sale of about 1,100 digital patents, which is due to get under way by June 30.

A source familiar with the patent sale said the process was moving forward, but added that the completion was not expected anytime soon.

Complicating the prospects is a dispute with computer giant Apple Inc. over one of the patents.

At a hearing next week on March 8, a bankruptcy judge will hear Apple’s motion to move forward with its patent-infringement suit. Apple has asked the bankruptcy court to lift the automatic stay applied to pending litigation against Kodak when the company filed for Chapter 11 on Jan. 19.

Kodak said the deal with Shutterfly followed a “stalking horse” bid – a starting bid or minimally accepted offer that other bidders must surpass in a court-supervised auction – from the web-based personal publishing service.

Shutterfly shares rose 18 percent to $31.70 in extended trade, following the news. The stock had closed at $26.91 on Thursday on the Nasdaq.

Shutterfly said it will transfer Kodak Gallery customer accounts and images in the United States and Canada to Shutterfly, and will allow customers to opt out of the transition if they do not want their photos to be transferred.

Kodak Gallery – which enables users to store and share their own images and create custom printed photobooks, cards and albums – has more than 75 million users.

How to find the right business bank to help you thrive in any economy

Emily Ruvulcaba, Executive Vice President, Division Manager for Corporate Banking, Bridge Bank

Typically when businesses think of their bank, they think only about loans and access to credit. But there is much more your bank can be doing for you, says Emily Ruvalcaba, executive vice president, division manager for corporate banking, at Bridge Bank.

“Of equal importance is working with your bank to focus on the cash management side of your business,” says Ruvalcaba. “Do you have the right deposit accounts, and are your cash balances working for you to the best extent that they can? Are payments being made and receivables being collected through electronic means? If your business transacts internationally, are you able to negotiate in multiple foreign currencies?  Businesses need a banking partner that will advise them on the right products that will help to improve cash-flow and their bottom line.”

Smart Business spoke with Ruvalcaba about how to find the right banking partner and how to make the most of that relationship.

If a business is looking for a new banking partner, where should it start?

Look to your trusted advisers, such as your attorney, insurance agent or CPA, to refer you to a bank with the expertise that your business requires. Professionals such as CPAs have relationships with many banks, and they’re likely to refer you to those that can provide your business with the best service possible. When you share common professional relationships with your bank, you become part of a business community that is focused on referring only the best service providers.

Plus, someone such as your CPA knows your business, and will be familiar with your company’s banking needs. That person knows the products and services you have with your existing bank and is in a position to refer you to the business bank — and the banker — that can better meet your needs.

Finally, don’t choose a bank just because it may be located near your office. In today’s virtual world, you can do your banking from anywhere: make deposits from your office using remote deposit capture, transfer funds, make payments, send wires, approve payroll — all can be done using online banking. Choosing the right bank and the right banker is too important a decision to be based solely on physical proximity.

Once a bank has been identified as a potential partner, what questions should a business owner ask to make sure it’s the right choice?

Ask how well that bank and its bankers get to know clients. Do they visit their clients to understand how their business operates? The business owner should also ask if the bank has experience working with similar types of companies. Ask who will be handling your account on a day-to-day basis. Will you have a banker or a team of bankers that is going to be consistent, or are you going to be calling an unfamiliar representative through an 800 number?

Ask how often they expect to meet with you, because a bank that gets to know its clients is going to be able to provide a higher level of service. More important, if challenges arise within the company, the bank is less likely to overreact and it will be more willing to work with you, but that can only happen if a solid relationship has been built. For example, if a company that has borrowed from the bank is growing rapidly and its leverage increases to a level higher than was set through the loan covenants, the bank will be in a better position to show flexibility and a willingness to work through such issues.

By building a strong relationship and understanding your company’s operations, your banker will be better equipped to find ways to accommodate unforeseen circumstances.

Should business owners share the potential for bad times with their banker?

Absolutely. For example, if you know that your business is going to have a challenging quarter and may have trouble meeting loan covenants, it’s a great idea to pick up the phone and talk to your banker.

Bankers don’t like to be surprised with negative news. You’re going to have to deal with the issue eventually, and the more proactive you can be, the better that relationship will be and the more that bank is going to work to be your advocate.

How can your banker help your business in other ways?

Sometimes business owners are so focused on growing their business that they don’t realize the full extent of banking products that their bank can offer. Sit down with your banker and say, ‘This is how I run my business; are there any other banking services that my company can benefit from?’

It’s also a good idea to bring in your banker when you’re doing tax planning with your CPA at year-end, especially if the company is projecting growth. As you’re planning for the next period, your CPA and banker can work together to ensure that adequate financing will be available to support your goals.

Emily Ruvalcaba is executive vice president, division manager for corporate banking, at Bridge Bank. Reach her at (408) 556-8327 or [email protected]

Making “above and beyond” the norm

Ken Moss, Director of Data Operations, Call One

Call One is one of the nation’s largest providers of voice, data, and Internet services and systems.

Smart Business spoke to Ken Moss, Director of Data Operations at Call One, about how the organization has overcome challenges to become an innovative leader in its region and industry.

Give us an example of a business challenge your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

The biggest challenge that Call One Data Operations has faced is the growing trend of enterprise organizations choosing inexpensive small-office/home-office (SOHO) IP solutions for their business. In years past, telecom providers enjoyed success selling premium services such as internet DS1 lines to businesses, thus reaping the benefits of larger revenues. Not only have wholesale bandwidth prices fallen, but emerging products such as DSL and cable modems that are economically price positioned have shifted the landscape to be ultra-competitive.

Call One has and continues to overcome this challenge through providing value added services that the SOHO IP products cannot offer. Free bandwidth metrics, reporting, and evaluations gathered though SNMP traps that DS1 can provide. Complimentary proactive notifications on service outages — where we contact the end user notifying that they are down before they even notice. Increasing that “white glove” type of approach based on what the technology can provide. We’re constantly looking for new ways to increase the value add.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

The great thing about Call One is that we’re not limited in how we can approach management issues. I personally like to tackle things with an analytical mindset — I’m a big metrics guy. But if something is not working for me or my teams, we jettison it and identify new and better ways. We’re not saddled with the “this is how things have been done for 10 years” mindset.

We’re firm believers in testing and being hands-on while at the same time employing an open door, customer centric approach — I call it the client/technology partnership. Being a technology company, we find all sorts of interesting challenges that present themselves — advanced routing issues, local area network issues, etc. Because we strive for that client/technology partnership, let’s solve issues together with our clients. Innovation through flexibility in both internal and external customer facing operations is what drives a lot of what we do. This has long been a critical component to our success.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned and how have you applied it?

The lesson of always being positive. It sounds cliché, I know. But over my career I’ve found that successful negotiation of most issues boil down to attitude and approach. Maintaining a positive attitude and approach in our dealings does make a difference. Letting negativity bleed unto oneself brings bunches of problems in a hurry. Positivity — that “can do” attitude and approach to not only operational issues, but relationships as well. I strive to ensure that my teams maintain that positive attitude, and they know that’s a pet peeve of mine. You could be the best and brightest engineer out there — but within my teams we won’t tolerate negativity.

How does your organization make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

Call One has had an internal Give Back Committee for years now that has coordinated fundraising efforts for various charities and community not-for-profit organizations. This year, for instance, our targeted fundraising organization is Aunt Martha’s Youth Service and Health Center. We consistently hold raffles, contests, bake sales, etc. with the proceeds going to Aunt Martha’s. We set fundraising goals and achieve them. It certainly makes us all feel good knowing that we’re helping contribute to those in need locally.

The effect we have on the regional economy is a little different — Call One is first and foremost a Chicagoland telecom company.  We have a wide range of different local affinity groups — including municipalities, school districts, and auto dealers, amongst many others. We can provide incentives for these groups to give them a competitive advantage in their marketplaces. Call One wants to see other Chicagoland businesses succeed. Through our affinity group program, I believe we are helping do just that.

How have you added “value” to the products and services you provide to customers and clients?

Funny — I would encourage everyone to go to www.callone.com and read a blog article that I authored and posted on August of 2011 titled “Discover Your Hidden Value Proposition.” In a nutshell, it always boils down to providing that premium customer experience that cannot be matched by your competitors. Know your client, stay ahead of the game, and ease their pains. Telecommunications is a commodity. Anything commoditized must be differentiated with value — this is a big one for me.

What is your philosophy on going “above and beyond” for customer service?

My philosophy about “above and beyond” is that it’s unfortunate that it’s still referred to as “above and beyond.” Going the extra mile is what provides that value proposition, that foundation for success to ensure longevity and sustained growth. It’s not “above and beyond” — it should be the “norm.”

Ken Moss, Director of Data Operations at Call One, has worked for Call One in Chicago, Illlinois, since 2002. He holds an MBA from Benedictine University and is a member of Sigma Beta Delta Business Honors Society. Reach him at [email protected] Also, feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn.