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St. Louis RCGA


Entrepreneur Of The Year Award

By Joyce Romine

In today’s world, there may be more entrepreneurs than ever. But no matter what the industry, it takes determination, vision and leadership to succeed. The finalists and winners in the prestigious 2000 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® Awards program clearly demonstrate these qualities and more, making them standout in the crowd.

The Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year awards program was founded in 1986 to recognize and honor those individuals whose ingenuity, hard work and innovation have created successful and growing business ventures. A total of 67 award programs are held worldwide.

Award recipients are selected by an independent panel of judges. The 2000 regional award recipients were announced June 15 at an awards dinner at the Ritz Carlton. Regional award winners are eligible for the National program. National award recipients will be honored at a gala during the Entrepreneur Of The Year Institute International Conference in November. The Entrepreneur Of The Year program is founded and produced by Ernst & Young LLP and is co-sponsored nationally by USA TODAY; the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership; the NASDAQ-AMEX Market Group; CNNfn and CNN. Local sponsors include the RCGA; A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc.; Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, P.C.; Sprint; LaSalle Bank; St. Louis Business Journal; and KMOX News/Talk 1120.

Award Recipients

Software/Information Services
Entrepreneur Of The Year

Gregory A. Sullivan
President and CEO G.A. Sullivan

Above Picture:
Bruce Hoskins, (left) director of marketing and Greg
Sullivan president and CEO of G.A. Sullivan discuss
the opening of the company’s first international office
in the Netherlands.

A summer job programming computers became the foundation of Greg Sullivan’s own company originally based out of his one-bedroom apartment in Dogtown. Today, G.A. Sullivan has grown into an international Internet software company that employs 300 people.

The company specializes in providing e-business solutions for middle market companies, e-business start-ups, as well as Fortune 500 companies. The company concentrates on providing custom program design for e-business. G.A. Sullivan continues to aggressively expand in U.S. middle market cities and in Europe. In 1999, the company opened five new offices including an international office in the Netherlands. With its first client, the company successfully created a virtual insurance company and garnered international attention just months after establishing a presence in the market. In the next several years, the company foresees 40 to 50 percent annual growth.

Instead of being “all things to all clients,” Sullivan has directed his business to what he knows best—software development consulting, focusing on providing e-business solutions. G.A. Sullivan partners with web hosting companies to provide full-service solutions for companies conducting business on the Internet. “The key to our success has been our focus on the value of information to business,” Sullivan says. “We’re always looking for innovative ways to deliver information to our customers, then help them develop a strategy and build, execute and operate on that strategy.”

“The key to our success has been our focus on the value of information to business,” Sullivan says. “We’re always looking for innovative ways to deliver information to our customers, then help them develop a strategy and build, execute and operate on that strategy.”

Sullivan strives to attract and retain quality employees through competitive compensation packages along with several intangible benefits. A commitment to family is emphasized, illustrated by the fact that the average work week is 42 hours, while other larger firms have average work weeks in excess of 50 hours. Sullivan also encourages—and models—community service involvement.

As founding chair of the St. Louis RCGA Technology Gateway Alliance, Sullivan charged forward with tremendous volunteer support to create one of the fastest-growing regional technology alliances in the U.S. Membership has grown from zero to 300 in just two years. Today, St. Louis serves as a role model for other cities trying to advance their region’s technology base.

“St. Louis really is a great place to grow a business,” Sullivan says. “There are many opportunities here to create leaders in the industry.”

Sullivan and his company have been recipients of the National Small Business Person of the Year in 1999; Inc.’s 500 list of fastest growing private companies in America for 1997 and 1998; and Deloitte and Touche Technology Fast 500 list of fastest growing technology companies in the U.S. in 1997, 1998 and 1999.

Business Services
Entrepreneur Of The Year

Matina Koronis
President Digital Partners Inc.

Above Picture:
Matina Koronis' company Digital Partners is a
technology integration firm specializing in
the advertising, graphics and printing industries.

Digital Partners (DPI) was launched in 1994 when Matina Koronis spotted a niche in the marketplace. While the computer industry was rapidly growing, it seemed there was a critical lack of customer service in the graphics industry. This market is extremely deadline sensitive so service and responsiveness from vendors is critical. Koronis felt if an organization could be formed that focused exclusively on this market, she and her staff could deliver the highest level of service.

“While I worked for another company for two-and-a-half years, I noticed the lack of high-level service in the graphics industry,” Koronis says. “With a phenomenal, hard-working staff, we have developed close partnerships with our clients.” Today, DPI’s client list includes Anheuser-Busch, The Zipatoni Company, The Earthgrains Company and Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

DPI positions itself as a technology integration firm, specializing in the advertising, graphics and printing industries. DPI sells and services Apple Macintosh and Silicon Graphics computers and servers, Cisco Networking equipment, computer peripherals, software packages and color printers. DPI has been recognized by Apple Computer for three consecutive years as an “Apple Specialist” and was recently honored by Apple as an example of an outstanding service provider.

The company’s goal is to improve the internal efficiencies for its clients, so its clients can spend less time figuring out computers and more time creating. DPI also can implement data management software and work flow solutions to reduce the time staff spend searching for files, client logos or past jobs.

“We try to humanize the technological side of things,” Koronis says. “Our clients work with our staff to provide the best service.”

The company started with Koronis as the sole employee but quickly added staff, with more than 15 today. Koronis’ first hire is still with the company as testament to her staff’s loyalty. DPI has very little turnover due to a strong profit sharing program, financial incentives, employee empowerment, promotions from within and a team atmosphere. Recently, when Koronis was out for three months due to neck surgery, her staff stepped up and kept the business running “without missing a beat,” Koronis says.

he company is in the process of doubling its square footage and remodeling. DPI plans to market an image/asset management software tool nationally. This software requires the combination and integration of hardware products sold only by DPI and will help customers gain control over their own data. DPI is adding staff to support the high-level integration.

Entrepreneur Of The Year

Michael F. Shanahan Sr.
Chairman & CEO Engineered Support Systems, Inc.

Above Picture:
Michael Shanahan, Sr., heads up ESSI, a
holding company for six subsidiaries that
manufacture equipment. Here Shanahan
(right) discusses an upcoming project with
Wallace Handy, marketing manager.

Michael Shanahan’s desire to stay in his hometown of St. Louis resulted in the purchase and turnaround of Engineered Support Systems Inc. (ESSI). Shanahan has been a director with the company since its formation in 1982. In 1985, he was named CEO, and in 1987, chairman of the company.

Since going public in 1985, ESSI has grown dramatically. The company was started by the directors with the purchase of Engineered Air Systems in 1982. Since then it has been on the fast track of raising profits and shareholder value through both growth and acquisition. Currently, ESSI is a holding company for six wholly-owned subsidiaries: Systems Electronics Inc., Engineered Air Systems, Keco Industries, Engineered Coil Company, Engineered Electric Company and Engineered Specialty Plastics. They have realized economies of scale as well as a technological boom.

The 1999 purchase of Systems Electronics Inc. (SEI) doubled the size of ESSI with respect to revenues, earnings, future contract backlog, personnel and facilities. The acquisition also gave ESSI a leg up in people and technology, bringing greater opportunities for growth. The SEI purchase was the fourth significant acquisition for ESSI over the past two years.

“Our broad base of talent makes us stand out in the marketplace,” Shanahan says. “People are the assets that are never on the books but they’re what make the company successful. We’re blessed with energetic and intelligent people.”

Shanahan says the items the company produces are unique, often assembled by hand and require a tremendous amount of research and development and up-front prototype assembly. “Only the best prototype wins the contract. We make 150 different products for the military and work hard to establish quality control and a strong customer-service attitude.”

The general categories of equipment produced by the ESSI group of companies include rapid deployment, light and heavy military support equipment; electronics and automation systems; and plastic products.

Major trends in military procurement policy both domestically and internationally, an updated Department of Defense approach to conflicts around the world, and the use of military equipment in human crisis/natural disaster situations greatly favor the company and offer unparalleled growth opportunities. ESSI is staged to grow rapidly by creating an entity that recognizes the benefit of consolidating its strengths with a corporate structure. As ESSI acquires other companies and internally creates the ability to provide new types of products, it will be positioned to do so effectively while recognizing profit immediately.

Entrepreneur Of The Year

Bruce Kupper
President Kupper Parker Communications

Above Picture:
Bruce Kupper founded Kupper Parker
Communications in 1977, today it is the
largest independent, full-service
communication firm in St. Louis.

Before starting his own business in 1977, Bruce Kupper worked for a large international advertising agency where he felt he was just part of a giant machine. But he wanted to be a bigger gear. So with a vision of creating value for his clients, their customers and his own company’s operation, he launched Kupper Advertising.

Today, as Kupper Parker Communications (KPC), it is the largest independent, full-service communications firm in St. Louis, with regional offices in seven cities, $220 million in billings and 208 employees.

A native of New England, Kupper found building a business in the close-knit St. Louis business community a challenge as he competed among 285 advertising agencies, 150 public relations firms and numerous marketing operations. But he was not afraid of failing and plunged in headfirst.

"We operate out of cautious risks," Kupper says. "Many people are afraid to fail. But in business, it's not a question of what's right or wrong. If something doesn't work, you do something else. If something was well thought out, yet it still fails, it's okay, because you still learned something and how to do it better."

This attitude, combined with enthusiasm, commitment and hard work, has proven successful for KPC. The agency has never lost money in any quarter. Over the past decade, the agency has sustained 45 percent growth in annual net profits. No single account comprises more than 8 percent of the company's billings.

KPC recently acquired an agency in London and is planning additional acquisitions and aggressively managed internal growth. Selecting acquisition partners with complementary strengths or powerful market niches maximizes the potential return on investment.

"We're not intimidated by not having firsthand knowledge of a market," Kupper says. "We have the basic skill set that plays as well in St. Louis as it does in New York or London. Many companies are afraid to go global because of the different cultures. But the world is getting smaller, and I want to be playing on the big field, so I have to be able to build in these international markets."

KPC has achieved recognition as one of the top 20 independent communications agencies in the Midwest and the second largest Media Consulting operation in the U.S. Its business-to-business division ranks among the top 75 in the U.S. PR Week named KPC as the 15th fastest growing health care public relations firm and Business Marketing recognized KPC as one of the fastest growing business-to-business agencies. KPC is one of the 50 largest independently-owned agencies in the U.S. and by the end of 2000, KPC will be one of the 25 largest independently-owned agencies in the country.

Despite these achievements, Kupper says he's not resting on his laurels. "We're small and still growing. There are 100 organizations bigger than we are, so we have a long way to go yet."

Entrepreneur Of The Year

Dennis Barnes
President Marketing Direct, Inc.

Above Picture:
In just three years, Dennis Barnes' company has
made a name for itself, providing a full range
of direct marketing services.

Dennis Barnes Jr. started his direct mail business with a foundation of experience in the field, a desire to improve on the model he came from, and an innate sense of leadership. At age 31, and in business less than three years, Barnes has grown Marketing Direct from $173,000 in annual sales in 1997 and created a thriving corporation with more than $4.8 million in sales last year.

The company provides a full range of direct marketing services, including database management, list development, creative, printing, telemarketing and mailing services.

Barnes believes leadership is an art, and continually educates himself and reads about leadership skills. "My philosophy as a leader is to provide people with the tools and resources needed to excel and grow," he says.

Most direct marketing firms outsource their creative work, or establish their own in-house creative department. However, Barnes wanted to provide the best possible prices for his new clients so he decided not to outsource. Instead he linked up with an established creative firm and moved its staff into his own office space. Barnes was able to control both time and quality and be up and running quickly. The result was profitability in only eight months.

As much as Barnes is dedicated to teamwork among his employees, he also is determined to work with his clients as a team. He hired a database marketing manager to foster communication between his clients and his database developer. Now the company has established an ASP Division, an Internet-based service that delivers leads and other information to outside sales representatives instantly. "This is tremendously effective for marketing and sales people," Barnes says.

Service is a hallmark of the business as well. "Meeting commitments is the greatest thing you can do for your business," Barnes says. "People don't remember when you meet your commitments, but they sure do if you don't meet them."

After attending a Young Entrepreneurs Organization conference at the Disney Institute, Dennis determined a 10-year plan for his fledgling company. Marketing Direct has already exceeded even Barnes' loftiest projections. He has achieved his five-year plan in two-and-a-half years.

He plans to align Marketing Direct with public relations, advertising and multimedia/video production firms to make those channels of business available to his clients. The company has relocated to larger offices three times because of its growth, most recently to an 8,500-square-foot office space.

Entrepreneur Of The Year

Brian Matthews
Chief Executive Officer Primary Network

Above Picture:
Brian Matthews (right), CEO, chats with John Delehanty,
president of Primary Communications. Matthews'
Primary Networks is one of the largest Internet
Services Providers in the region, providing local,
lond distance and cellular services.

Brian Matthews founded Primary Network in 1994 with the goal of becoming the area's largest provider of Internet, voice and data services in the Midwest. With a carefully chosen management team, key strategic partnerships and cutting-edge technology, Primary has become a leader in the industry in just six years.

Matthews' primary responsibilities include development of the company's short- and long-term business strategy, development of strategic partnerships, investor relations and oversight of all acquisition activity.

Primary Network is a turnkey Internet Telecommunications Solutions Provider. The company is one of the largest Internet Service Providers (ISP) in the area. They provide local, long distance and cellular services to both the business and residential community.

With a staff of 100 and growing, Primary Network employs the top Network and System Engineers, Database and Program Developers and Web Site Designers to provide the full range of competitively priced, advanced communications services, building a seamless communications network suited to the specific needs of their customer's business.

The creativity in Primary is their full service Internet and Telecommunications mentality to both business and residential users. Matthews knew the break up of the Bell system was going to create significant opportunities and he positioned Primary to be in the right place at the right time. By providing a full suite of services he separated Primary from the other newcomers who were either ISPs or CLECs. He was thinking big, so he built his company the way he envisioned the major players were going to take their services to the marketplace-bundled.

The vision was a success. Revenues have increased more than 350 percent in less than 36 months. The employee base has grown from 10 in 1997 to 225 currently. Primary was named the number one "Fastest Growing Company" in the 1999 St. Louis Regional FAST 50 Technology Awards and was ranked No. 22 "Fastest Growing Tech Company" in the U.S.

Financial Services
Entrepreneur Of The Year

Rodger O. Riney
President Scottrade, Inc.

Above Picture:
Rodger Riney, (standing) president, discusses a
recent trade with Brian Bachelier, trading
specialist. Riney started Scottrade in 1980 and it is
now the ninth largest online brokerage firm in
the U.S.

Rodger Riney joined Edward Jones & Co. after college as its first manager trainee. He went on to become a general partner and learned many aspects of the brokerage business while working personally with Ted Jones. By the late 1970s, Riney spotted the potential of the discount brokerage industry. He started Scottsdale Securities in 1980.

Since founding the company, Riney has achieved a retained earnings growth rate over 20 years in excess of 48 percent compounded annually, maintaining a 15 to 20 percent after-tax profit. He was included in the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing private companies in 1994 and 1995. In addition, 105 branch offices have been opened. In 1996, Scottsdale started Scottrade, the Internet trading site of Scottsdale Securities. Today, Scottsdale does 92 percent of its transactions online. To better focus on this core business Scottsdale Securities recently changed its name to Scottrade.

"Securities is a fascinating field and intellectually stimulating," Riney says. "You never stop learning and there are many rewards."

Riney initially funded the company through personal savings. However, the most daunting aspect of the start up was the high cost of advertising and the fact that they were competing against many firms that were large and solidly entrenched in the discount brokerage business. Scottsdale grew market share by opening small, one person, low-overhead offices in cities around the country. The more offices they opened, the lower their average advertising cost per branch became. One-person offices grew to two people and more as Scottsdale provided very low commissions to investors through its expanding office locations.

"I've always striven to keep overhead as low as possible to be a low-cost provider," Riney says. "I also feel it's important to be generous to our employees and customers by giving them more than they expect."

With the addition of online trading in 1996, the firm experienced many changes. The volume of trades has grown by 15 percent compounded monthly for the last 39 months. Scottrade's unique business model links technology with personal broker service. Today, Scottrade is the ninth largest online brokerage firm in America. Scottrade plans are to have 250 offices within the next five years and compound the company's revenues at about 30 percent a year.

Entrepreneur Of The Year

Harry T. Morley
President Taylor-Morley Inc.

Above Picture:
Harry Morley, president of Taylor-Morley looks over
plans with one of the company's architects,
Jackie Needham.

When Harry Morley joined Taylor-Morley more than 20 years ago, the company was building less than 20 homes a year and had revenues of just under $6 million. Since that time, Morley has grown the company, building a total of more than 7,500 homes and completing more than 120 high-quality neighborhoods.

Taylor-Morley is a private company specializing in residential construction, land and real estate development, and property management in the greater St. Louis area. For 18 consecutive years, the company has been awarded numerous Homer Awards for excellence in home building. Today, the company has closing revenues in excess of $70 million, and is currently marketing 18 separate communities. In addition to the residential communities the Company has expanded into commercial construction with the renovation of the Hadley-Dean Building and the Fairgrounds Hotel, as well as the construction of Sherbrook Village, a skilled nursing facility.

"Our objective is complete customer satisfaction," Morley says. "Building a home is the American Dream, and we take that responsibility very seriously. My name is part of the company, so I stand behind everything we build."

The company also takes great effort to get to know its customers through focus groups and surveys. "The company that knows its customers best has no competitors," Morley says.

Morley is a rare executive who can be accessed directly without screened calls. He also believes his prime asset is people. "We hire for attitude and do a lot to promote and train our employees," he says. "Without satisfied employees, we can't have satisfied customers."

In addition to his contributions to his business, Morley's list of professional accomplishments include the appointment by the President of the United States as Assistant Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, serving as the first president and CEO of the St. Louis RCGA, and founder of the St. Louis Sports Commission.

Entrepreneur Of The Year

Robert H. Chapman
Chairman and CEO Barry-Wehmiller Companies

Above Picture:
Robert Chapman, chairman and CEO of Barry-Wehmiller
Companies, goes over some paperwork with
Teresa Bowen, human resources assistant.
Since 1975, chapman has led the company, a
manufacturer of packaging automation equipment
and provider of engineering consulting services.

Bob Chapman believes if you can share your vision of what's possible, you can inspire people to achieve. With that leadership philosophy, he has transformed Barry-Wehmiller Companies from a manufacturer of equipment for the beverage industry to a diversified provider of packaging automation and consulting services.

In 1975, at the tender age of 29, Chapman assumed his leadership position from his father, owner of the company, who died suddenly. Chapman forged initiatives into new areas of the beverage market and increased market position and revenue from $18 million in 1975 to $71 million by 1981. However, as the brewing industry dramatically reduced new equipment purchases and international currencies devalued, Barry-Wehmiller faced the sudden elimination of its bank credit and a financial crisis that continued from 1983 to 1987.

But there was a silver lining. Chapman transformed his focus from growth in historic markets to fundamentals to build shareholder value. A direct result of this strategy was the 1987 divestiture of two-thirds of the company. This IPO exceeded all expectations with a 35 times over subscription.

"I set out to design a business, not react to the market," Chapman says. "The role of leadership is to have vision that creates value to allow us to grow and prosper."

The experience led Chapman to develop the "Strategy for Growth, Value and Liquidity" that has driven the company's success since 1987. Management used this strategy to acquire 12 companies, increase revenue from $20 million to $250 million and in 1999, achieve record earnings. This strategy led to the most successful acquisition program in the packaging industry and established Barry-Wehmiller as the lead consolidator with a 24 percent compound growth in shareholder value over a 13-year period.

The strategy also was instrumental in the formation of the packaging industry's first "pure play" consulting practice, Barry-Wehmiller Design Group. The company's balance of customers, products and markets also were improved.

The company's primary product lines are filling and capping equipment, vertical form fill and seal machinery, conveyance products and cartoning/casepacking equipment and engineering consulting services used by a wide variety of Fortune 100 consumer products companies. Barry-Wehmiller delivers its products and services globally.

Chapman's latest venture is moving his company to a new community where it will be even more valued-the world of e-commerce. "We are taking the great talent, capabilities and vision of our company to our e-commerce site and giving customers a portal to the packaging industry," Chapman says. "By wrapping things of value around our product, we create a package that makes doing business with us a memorable, positive experience."

Award Finalist

Ted Geiger
Chevy's Tex-Mex

After gaining experience in the Wendy's and Casa Gallardo restaurant chains, Ted Geiger began his career with Chevy's in 1992 and remained with them after they were purchased by Pepsi in 1994. His region grew from 30 to 70 restaurants nationally by 1997. That year, Geiger and his partner, John Wicker, satisfied their entrepreneurial spirit when they bought four existing St. Louis Chevy's sites. Geiger has since doubled the sales of the existing sites in less than three years and has opened three more regional locations. Current sales have grown 200 percent in three years to $16 million with 800 employees. Geiger also recently started "J. Bucks Restaurant."

Gail Cassilly, Executive Director

City Museum

As a trained sculptor, Gail Cassilly is skilled at creating "art out of nothing." That's also how she created the City Museum. Forged from architectural salvage and constantly changing, the City Museum has brought national recognition to St. Louis in its first two years of operation. The City Museum began as a for-profit venture, shifting to a non-profit organization after having difficulty finding investors. At the two-year mark, the City Museum already covers roughly 90 percent of its $2.3 million budget through earned income, nearly all from admissions. Attendance has been at about 300,000 each year. In addition, the museum paid down its debt from $6 million to $2.2 million at the end of 1999. This sound fiscal approach, coupled with the economic development it's generating in the St. Louis warehouse district, is attracting attention from national foundations and others who laud Cassilly as a "social entrepreneur."

John Conboy

Con-Form International, Inc.

Necessity was the mother of invention for John Conboy, a homebuilder by trade, who formed Con-Form International in 1991. Conboy saw a need to improve the taping of off-angle corners when drywalling. As a result he invented STRAIT-FLEX and found a welcoming market. He obtained patents for his product in 1995. Initially, he was involved in all aspects of creating, packaging and marketing his product while he continued his home building career. Soon he fully committed to his new business and, while still keeping sales direct, now has sales throughout the world with goals of dominating the drywall corner bead industry. He also has another patent for a sanding machine that will soon go into production.

Kathleen A. Flemming, President and CEO

Frontenac Bank

Kathleen Flemming started Frontenac Bank in March 1998, the first new bank in the St. Louis area in more than two years and the first bank ever in Earth City. Flemming is thought to be the youngest woman in Missouri and possibly the United States to both organize and run a bank. She served as vice president at Boatmen's (now Bank of America) for seven years where she established a professional athletic relations division specializing in a private banking group for professional athletes. She has retained about 80 percent of that portfolio. Frontenac Bank was one of the first community banks to have an Internet banking site. This goes along with Flemming's passion for customer service. Her goal is to maintain Frontenac Bank's status as a community bank and open about five branches in the future.

Bruce E. Grench, President & CEO

Home Delivery Incontinent Supplies Co., Inc. (HDIS)

HDIS is the nation's largest direct marketer of adult absorbent products for incontinence. Sales are direct to consumer, serving primarily the elderly, women and the disabled. The firm is the largest direct distributor for every major manufacturer in the category including Kimberly-Clark, Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson. In 1992, HDIS rolled out its own brand, Reassure, to meet the economic, quality and dignity needs of its customers. Founded in Grench's basement with a $2,000 investment, HDIS finished 1999 with a 28 percent growth rate, 70 employees and $24 million in sales.

John Arens, President

InAir Inc.

InAir began in 1990 as a new commercial subsidiary of COBRO, Inc., a Department of Defense aviation contractor. During the past 10 years, InAir has focused exclusively on aviation automation. InAir builds the industry's only complete automated fleet management software in partnership with the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), the Sabre Group and Emery Worldwide. John Arens joined InAir in 1994 and the company increased tenfold in revenue. It also grew from seven to 100 employees. Growth, while important to Arens, comes second to his desire to perfect the technical aspects and functionality of the InAir product. InAir plans to be first to market with an integrated, Internet-based environment for aviation fleet management. The majority of InAir's current revenues comes from software maintenance and support. Business-to-business e-commerce interchange of aviation parts, service and information is a major growth platform for InAir.

Craig M. Kaminer, President

Influence LLC

In May 1998, Craig Kaminer founded Influence to meet the growing needs of numerous Fortune 1000 companies that are modifying their existing business models to take advantage of the new "E-conomy." The company operates primarily as an e-business solutions provider and incubator in the Midwest. Influence specializes in developing and building e-businesses by providing integrated e-commerce strategies, graphic design, e-commerce site development, technology implementation and e-marketing services for its clients. Influence's unique business model provides a hybrid of the Internet professional service provider as well as an interactive advertising organization. The company's strategic focus is on vertical market segments, primarily in the Midwest, by targeting mid-size project engagements from $500,000 to $2.5 million. Revenues have exploded from $470,000 in 1998 to more than $4.4 million in 1999.

Stan Crader, President

Kaiser Midwest

Kaiser Midwest, founded in 1958, is the oldest distributor of Stihl outdoor power equipment in the U.S. The company's products include chain saws, lawn care equipment and construction equipment. Stan Crader was appointed president in 1986 and embarked on a strategy of growth through acquisition. During the next seven years, the company completed the acquisitions of other Stihl distributors in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. During 1999, Kaiser Midwest had sales of $51.3 million and income before taxes of $2.0 million. The company experienced growth in sales and income before taxes of 20 percent and 55 percent respectively since 1997. Sales are forecasted to increase an additional 10 percent in 2000.

Steven Lowy, Chairman

Lowy Enterprises

Steve Lowy is current CEO of four companies: Lowy Enterprises Investments, Lowy Enterprises Properties, Envision, Inc. and Quatrix, LLC. In January 1994, Lowy purchased 100 percent of the stock of Envision, Inc., which provides information technology consulting to large corporations using state-of-the-art technologies. Since purchasing Envision, the company has opened offices in Phoenix, Austin, Houston, and has more than doubled sales and the number of employees. Lowy Enterprises purchased Quatrix LLC in January 1999. Quatrix is an IT consulting firm specializing in computer programming and Internet development for large corporations.

Each division has separate management, sales forces, recruiters, administrative/staff personnel and goes to market as separate companies, a marketing approach similar to General Motors Division approach. Overhead is kept low by sharing the same legal, accounting, back office, office building space and other corporate expenses. Healthy competition drives each company to outperform the other.

Daniel Lowery

LSI Lowery Systems Inc.

Lowery Systems, Inc. designs, sells, installs and services high-end, customized business software for mid- to large-size companies. Lowery has consistently been the number one IBM business partner firm in St. Louis for sales of IBM mid-range products. The firm is also an IBM Premier Software Partner, offering the full line of IBM software products including WebSphere, Tivoli and Lotus Notes. As a Certified Microsoft Solution Provider firm, Lowery Systems has a staff of specialists who design, install and support a wide range of complete computer networks. Lowery has built his company from two employees to 51. Revenues and profits have grown to $8.6 million in 1999. Projected revenues for 2000 are $12 million.

Edward T. Noland and James W. Tanner

Pharma Tech Industries, Inc.

Edward "Ted" Noland was hired by Pharma Tech to turn the company around to be sold. But he quickly realized the company had real potential with the right management talent, a focus on the right product and hard work. In 1990, Noland found the other half of his management team in James Tanner, an engineer with industrial management experience. The two put together a deal with their own capital to purchase the assets of Pharma Tech.

The duo focused on contract manufacturing of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, specifically topical powders, an area generally overlooked by its competitors. The business steadily grew and overflow-only manufacturing soon turned into complete manufacturing of all topical powder products for pharmaceutical powerhouses such as Noartis, Schering Plough and Bristol-Myers Squibb. Over the next 10 years, 14 employees turned into 102, sales increased to $13 million, and two production lines were transformed into seven state-of-the-art lines efficiently producing 25 to 30 million bottles of products a year. The company has had profitable margins and net income every year since Noland turned the company around.

John Sargent

PRO Networks Corporation

John Sargent founded PRO Networks in 1989 as a division (IDS Systems Integration) of Integrated Design Engineering Inc. He started the division to first sell the peripheral that supported the IDE manufactured devices that provided connectivity to mainframe computers. As companies moved away from mainframes and people started buying individual computers, networks started to develop. Sargent then shifted the division's direction to selling products that supported network infrastructures.

The division eventually grew larger then the parent company and Sargent purchased it in 1997. He kept the client base and the employees and moved the company's headquarters to Chesterfield in 1998. The company now employs more than 22 technology professionals and has expanded its services to include infrastructure support and consulting. The company boasts a retention rate of 98 percent and still has six of its first seven employees.

Leon Gurevich, President

Rapid Development Services, Inc.

After several part-time entrepreneurial ventures, Leon Gurevich made a full-time commitment when he formed Rapid Development Services (RDS) in 1993 with Emmanuil Grigg, vice president, engineering. RDS provides innovative manufacturing solutions using the latest technology, and offers clients highly flexible and reliable manufacturing solutions. Today, RDS focuses on robotics as the core of its manufacturing solutions. Client confidence in the approach has blossomed due to minimal start-up troubles, ease of maintenance, and bullet-proof quality. This confidence has allowed RDS to grow by 30 percent annually. RDS now occupies an 18,000-square-foot facility with plans to expand. Gurevich predicts RDS will continue the same growth rate for the next five to 10 years and will fully develop a national and international customer base, employ about 100 people and have about $30 to $50 million in annual revenues.

Greg Keller, President

Renaissance Financial

In 1994, Greg Keller led a team of 17 financial service professionals who recognized the value they brought their clients as a result of their combined efforts. Leveraging off this team concept, Renaissance Financial was formed. By fostering an entrepreneurial spirit, encouraging team members to fully develop their specialty area, and creating ownership in separate divisions, the team succeeded. Today the company has become a premier financial services company with more than $600 million in client assets. With 60-plus employees now, the company's overall retention rate is 70 percent. Trips and other unique rewards for employees are key to the company's retention rate.

Eric D. Sigurdson

Sweet Traditions LLC

Sweet Traditions is the largest independent franchisee of Krispy Kreme stores, operating five stores in the St. Louis area and two in Chicago. Currently, Sweet Traditions is concentrating on expansion in the Chicago area, expecting to build fives stores a year for the next three to four years. Also the company is closing on a property in Chicago to build a 20,000-square-foot commissary to produce doughnuts for use at store openings and to ship to satellite stores in Chicago. Based on the planned expansion, Sigurdson expects the company's revenues to grow as much as $100 million. Sigurdson and the management team stress continuous improvement and are always seeking and addressing feedback they receive from customers and employees.

Jim Kavanaugh, CEO

In 1999, was spun off of World Wide Technology (WWT), a company Kavanaugh formed with partners in 1990. has been a separate operating unit of WWT since 1995. provides a comprehensive, vendor-neutral, Internet-based, business-to-business marketplace for the buying and selling of telecommunications infrastructure products and services. This marketplace helps participants build-out and upgrade telecommunications networks more quickly, more efficiently and at a lower cost than by traditional means. The company's estimated value is $150 million. Kavanaugh fosters a team approach to the company and believes each of his managers should focus extensively on providing opportunities for every employee. As a result, the company has strong retention of key employees, having lost only two executives in the last five years.

Donna Vandiver, President

The Vandiver Group

Once a business operating out of Donna Vandiver's dining room, today The Vandiver Group is the largest independently owned public relations firm in St. Louis. Most of the employees who helped Vandiver start her business in 1993 are still with the agency today. By 1995, Vandiver had five employees. Today, the agency employs 17 people. Innovative reward programs and a mentoring program are just some of the ways the agency attracts and retains employees. The Vandiver Group develops business strategies; corporate vision, mission and strategy statements; and award-winning communication programs for Fortune 500 corporations, government entities, transportation districts, health care organizations, retail businesses, nonprofit entities and others. The agency has won 17 awards for communications work during the past two years.

The Walsh Family

Walsh & Associates

Walsh & Associates Inc. was founded in 1968, operating from an industrial park. Its primary operating strategy was to bring an approach to customer relationships that aspired to move the chemical distribution function from a commodity-type position, where competitive position was based on price, to a point higher on the value chain that emphasized product/operational knowledge and service.

Under the direction of the Walsh family, the company has expanded into operations at six physical locations. The company's 1999 revenue of $57.6 million was generated serving customers from Idaho to Indiana. The company's revenue growth, steady for more than 30 years, has been entirely organic and has been maintained by expanding the company's business into complementary areas, such as containers and equipment. Some customer relationships are more than 25 years old. Walsh & Associates was recently ranked as the 35th largest chemical distributor in the U.S. and in the top 10 of independent specialty chemical distributors.

Joyce Romine is a St. Louis-based writer and owner of Streamline Communications.



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