Indiana's entrepreneurs of the year.
The awards, run by the accounting firm Ernst & Young, recognize entrepreneurs in a number of categories, as well as those who have gone out of their way to support entrepreneurship. Indiana winners this year competed in regional contests, including the "Indiana Heartland" contest focusing on much of central and southern Indiana, a northern Indiana contest and a metropolitan Louisville contest. Their stories follow:
ROBERT L. KOCH II George Koch Sons, Evansville Manufacturing
It's difficult to list everything in which George Koch Sons is involved, according to company president and CEO Robert Koch. The company, which hopes to pass $1 billion in sales in the next 10 years, is a group of individual companies involved in three different businesses - building factory equipment, manufacturing auto parts and distributing wholesale products. In each of these businesses, Koch strives for constant innovation.
"My philosophy is one of continuous improvement in making the products better, in more efficiently eliminating waste from our manufacturing systems internally and in striving for continuous growth," Koch says.
This philosophy has worked, as George Koch Sons has been contacted by Forbes magazine to be included in its list of the top 500 privately held companies.
Koch also places considerable importance on education, serving on several education committees in the community. "Companies all over the world have access to the same money, equipment, facilities and raw material resources," Koch explains. "The only difference is the people. In business, if you want to be world class, it takes a lot of preparation in team members, and that preparation begins in K-12."
MYRON C. NOBLE, P.E. PiROD Inc., Plymouth Manufacturing
"My theory is to have fun," says Myron C. Noble. "If you aren't enjoying yourself, then what are you doing it for?"
He has his fun running PiROD Inc. Noble, a 1959 Purdue graduate, bought the company in 1973 and built it into the leading designer, engineer and manufacturer of custom-designed towers and "monopoles," used primarily in radio and satellite communications.
Offering the broadest line of monopoles and towers in the industry, PiROD supplies not only the continental United States but also Central and South America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and some African and Asian countries.
The company's 14 sales engineers emphasize engineering at the point of sale, and a proprietary management-information system maintains a high level of accuracy and reduces production turn-around time.
Noble works closely with his 191 employees. In 1975, Noble began offering employees a profit-sharing plan.
L. CRAIG FULMER The Heritage Group, Middlebury Manufacturing
Started in 1980 by accountant Craig Fulmer, manufactured-housing maker The Heritage Group now employs more than 400 people in six states. Fulmer attributes much of The Heritage Group's success to the fact that it is a vertically integrated group of companies - from sales to manufacturing to finance of Holly Park brand homes.
"We keep each of our operating companies small enough so that the president or manager can have a real feel about how the company works. Each has broad authority and part ownership," Fulmer explains. "They can be their own entrepreneur."
After years of experience in the manufactured housing industry, The Heritage Group began to apply its system of vertical integration to the retail automobile industry as well. It now owns seven sales centers that also handling financing and insurance.
TOBIAS W. BUCK Paragon Medical Inc., Pierceton Manufacturing
In 1991, Tobias W. Buck started Paragon Medical Inc. because he wanted to be independent. "I wanted to find my niche in a business with very little competition," Buck says. He found that niche in the design and manufacture of customized cases that house surgical instruments.
Paragon supplies its products directly to manufacturers of surgical instruments. With 350 such clients and products that cover 11 surgical disciplines, Paragon is one of just three dominant players in its industry.
Just a year after its launch, Paragon Medical Inc. became the first Indiana business to exercise a SCORE Equity Offering, a capital-raising vehicle that allows companies to offer up to $1 million in securities to non-accredited investors over a 12-month period. The SCORE offering and other private placements have helped Paragon fund explosive growth - Buck says Paragon has had compounded annual growth averaging 44 percent.
Today, Paragon has facilities in Pierceton and Pendleton. Plans are in the works for an acquisition in Texas. Buck's goal is to hit $100 million in sales by 2003. "We are on our way and we will make it."
MARK ROESLER CMG Marketing, Indianapolis Service
Beginning with his work protecting the rights to Norman Rockwell's famous covers for The Saturday Evening Post, Mark Roesler has become a close friend and/or manager of many celebrities, both living and deceased.
With clients from Marilyn Monroe to Karl Malone, Roesler and his company, CMG Marketing, have become well known around the world. "Our company has evolved over the past two decades," Roesler says. "We started representing famous deceased people. Now we represent several famous living people." From his original administration of the Elvis Presley estate in 1981, CMG now has more than 200 clients and employs more than 50 people.
CMG handles more than 2,000 licensing contracts a year involving such companies such as Coca-Cola, Levi's and McDonald's. Roesler has connections all over the world and believes that is one of the keys to CMG's success. "We have to view things on a global perspective because most of the people we represent are known on a global basis."
He also sees the importance thinking projects through from the beginning. "Have a very clearly defined objective on what you want to accomplish with your various clients."
BRENT, MATTHEW AND SCOTT CLAYMON Pac-Van, Indianapolis Emerging
The Claymon brothers first hatched their plans to go into business and create Pac-Van in 1988 before any of them had even graduated from college. When they finally started the business in 1993, Matthew still had two more years to finish at Indiana University before he would join the company full-time.
Scott Clayman says they decided to start Pac-Van, a supplier of temporary and permanent offices and storage, because they felt there was a niche that needed to be filled.
"The three of us have always worked together," Scott Clayman says. "We felt that we'd made a strong team."
Since its inception, Pac-Van has expanded to 17 branch offices in 12 states with more than 800 percent revenue growth. Pac-Van serves the space needs of commercial, retail and industrial clients ranging from construction sites to school districts trying to ease classroom overcrowding. Clients include ABC Sports, ESPN and Ameritech.
Despite Pac-Van's success, the brothers acknowledge their age was a bit of stumbling block. "The two major obstacles were financing and our age," say Scott. "We were ages 22, 25 and 27, and a lot of people didn't always take us seriously. We just had to earn their respect."
KENT I. PHILLIPS Data Bank USA, Fort Wayne Business Services
It was 1979 when a then-unemployed Kent Phillips, at the suggestion of a soft-drink executive, began providing market-share reports, test marketing and promotion-analysis services to soft-drink companies. Phillips' Data Bank USA now serves 450 bottlers and soft-drink companies nationwide. Data Bank USA has grown into an $8 million firm.
Phillips attributes this success to the level of personal service his company provides. "Someone can always call the 800 number that is printed on every page of their report and get me," Phillips says. "I think our clients value this relationship with the owner. This may seem impossible, but my day starts at 4:30."
Phillips also tries to go the extra mile in recognizing Data Bank USA's 400-plus employees. "We don't put a ceiling on bonuses," he says. "A person does not have a ceiling on their performance level, and we want them to be compensated considering this."
Constant improvement and innovation, not only for his company but throughout the industry, are also important to Phillips. A recent example is the proprietary software called Minute Man 4 that Data Bank USA developed to maximize beverage sales by designing shelf configurations based on market demographics.
JEANITA SCHULTEN Eris Survey Systems, Indianapolis Woman Entrepreneur
When Jeanita Schulten was growing up, her mother told her to go into nursing because she could always find a job.
"My mother was always preaching stability," Schulten says. "That's probably why I'm now a rebellious entrepreneur."
When Schulten started Eris Survey Systems in 1993, Schulten's daughter, who was just starting college, also questioned her mother's judgment. "She said, 'More, is this really a good time to be without money?'"
But Eris Survey Systems, which provides customized health-risk assessments of employees, has proved to be a risk worth taking. Named the ninth-fastest-growing privately held company in Indianapolis in 1996 and the 14th-fastest in 1997, Eris Survey Systems has more 200 clients who rely on their health-risk assessments to figure out how to reduce their health-care costs.
Eris provides completely customized health-risk assessments for companies. "The design is really done with our clients," Schulten says. "We develop the software that meets the needs of individual clients."
Schulten says maintaining this type of service is difficult in the face of the company's growth. "We've grown about 40 percent a year," Schulten says. "One of our major challenges is just trying to manage our growth."
DAVID WORTMAN Made2Manage, Indianapolis Technology/Communications/Entertainment
When David Wortman accepted his Entrepreneur of the Year award, he quipped, "Well, I guess this proves there's still an opportunity for Susan Lucci," alluding to his and the soap opera star's oft-nominated-never-won status.
It's little wonder that Wortman - president and CEO of Made2Manage, maker of manufacturing software that keeps track of everything from materials planning to accounts payable - has been nominated as Entrepreneur of the Year three years running. Since 1994, revenues have skyrocketed, up 72 percent last year to $16.2 million. And the company went public last December.
Wortman says Made2Manage has achieved its success by targeting its niche market: small to mid-size manufacturing firms with revenues from $5 million to $50 million.
ALAN G. SYMONS Symons International Group, Indianapolis Financial Services
For Alan Symons, CEO of Symons International Group, a specialty property-and-casualty insurer, being an entrepreneur is no accident.
"I don't think luck enters into it," Symons says. "Think of how many people have a great idea. There's a big difference between thinking about it and doing it."
Symons should know: He has three successful companies to his credit, including Fluke Transport Ltd. and the Fox 40 Pealess Whistle, the largest manufacturer of whistles in the world.
Symons International Group has tripled its annual revenues in just three years. The company is No. 4 in crop insurance nationwide with premiums of $300 million, and it's the No. 10 underwriter of non-standard auto insurance.
Symons says that being an entrepreneur takes hard work and risks. "There's that old saying about business: At first you're desperate, then you're honest and then you become respectable."
FRANK K. MARTIN Martin Capital Management, Elkhart Financial Services
In 1987, a roller-coaster year in the stock market, Frank Martin started an investment advisory firm. Investing in high-quality fixed-income securities, Martin Capital Management has grown its assets from $25 million to $325 million. Clients' minimum portfolio value is $2 million, and many have come to the company as referrals from other clients.
The company has attracted and retained a highly credentialed staff by "sharing the wealth." "When anyone comes aboard the firm, if they make the sacrifice, if they do their jobs well, I'll offer them an ownership in the firm," Martin says. "Bonuses are also based on profitability, but if money's the sole motivator here, we've probably got the wrong guy."
GEORGE P. SWEET AND TOM HUSTON Brenwick Development Co., Carmel Real Estate/Construction
Brenwick Development started in 1975 when builder George Sweet went to attorney Tom Huston for legal advice about a small tract of land. Quickly the two realized they had a shared vision for creating housing developments that would become neighborhoods.
Since then Brenwick Development has sold more than 2,300 lots, with total sales exceeding $116 million. But despite the impressive numbers, Sweet says the goal was not just about money. "We've just been lucky enough to be the conduit for someone's dream to build a house," Sweet says.
Currently Brenwick Development is undertaking its most ambitious project to date, that of a neo-traditional development in Carmel called The Village of WestClay. Sweet says this project is in line with what Brenwick development has tried to accomplish over the years: a return to an emphasis on neighborhoods.
"This is the biggest thing we've tried," says Sweet. "We think that this concept is a new threshold in housing and when it works that there will be others."
As for would-be entrepreneurs, Sweet says, "there's always a risk, but the essence of risk is the management of it. And if you can handle risk, then take the advice of the Nike ads."
L. JOSEPH OMO SPS Corp., Fort Wayne Construction
He's had financial success from the beginning, but Joseph Omo's construction business hasn't been without its troubles. "It's not an easy business. Many have tried and failed."
With his partner Joseph McAless, however, Omo directed SPS Corp. to 43 percent growth in only its second year of business. Specializing in the design, fabrication and installation of steel construction components, SPS has continued to grow, with sales of $17.4 million in 1997.
SPS works on projects ranging from sports stadiums to medical buildings to manufacturing plants. "A lot of it has to do with the way we solve our problems," Omo says. "There are problems in the construction business regularly, and we pride ourselves in getting them solved."
ROBERT L. BOWEN Bowen Engineering Corp., Fishers Construction
Bowen Engineering Corp., was founded in 1967 by Robert L. Bowen with $45,000 cash from the sale of stock. From these humble beginnings, the company he started, now specializing in the construction of municipal water and wastewater-treatment plants, had sales of $43 million last year, and this year's projected sales are $62 million.
In order to inspire loyalty and hard work from his employees, Bowen offers a recognition program for those with seniority. To that end, there is an annual bonus pool, which distributed $1 million to 85 management employees last year. "All of our successes have been created by our employees. I am continually astounded by what our employees achieve," Bowen says.
Bowen also strives to foster minority achievement. He funds the Bowen Engineering Minority Scholarship for the AGC of America. "My wife and I have established the Bowen Foundation Inc., with a current endowment of $400,000, dedicated to secondary vocational-education assistance for African-Americans," Bowen says. The Bowens thus far have awarded $120,000 in scholarships.
RALPH W. DOBSON B&R Oil Co., Granger Wholesale Distribution
Ralph W. Dobson's petroleum-products distributor, B&R Oil Co., short for "Barbara & Ralph" Dobson, has little experience in losing money. The 20-year-old company has maintained profitability and increased sales every year, with revenues most recently hitting the $80 million mark. And that's with only 26 employees.
B&R Oil distributes petroleum products to Phillips, Mobil and Citgo stations, and is the nation's largest Phillips 66 distributor. The company sets up locations on what it calls a lessee/commission basis. B&R owns the land, building, petroleum equipment and signage, while another firm provides convenience-store inventory and equipment along with operating capital, leasing the building on a long-term basis. The lessee keeps the convenience store sales and splits fuel profits with B&R. The innovative arrangement helps B&R expand rapidly without having to invest in inventory or deal with personnel matters.
Dobson, who worked for Standard Oil and Starcraft after college, has been in the gas-station business since buying a Roseland business in 1976.
HENRY N. CAMFERDAM JR. Support Net Inc., Indianapolis Wholesale Distribution
Henry N. Camferdam started Support Net in 1982 because he saw the need for inexpensive software packages for the mid-range IBM user. Starting the company was rough, but Camferdam now says, "We make more in two hours than we did in our first year of business."
Camferdam's company last year was named the fastest-growing private company in Indiana and IBM's No. 1 business partner. Each year so far Support Net has experienced growth of about 100 percent.
The founder plans to expand his business to give customers installation, programming and troubleshooting service. Camferdam also hopes to extend its reach to include European and Asian markets.
Camferdam insists that work be fun. The Support Net Racing team is a prime example. Camferdam and two other drivers race in 12 events across the country. Customers and employees are invited to the races in hopes of building closer bonds both internally and externally.
What has kept his business prosperous and growing? Camferdam replies with his motto: "Think like a customer."
JERRY L. CLOSSER Zipp Express Inc., Indianapolis Transportation
Jerry L. Closser founded the company Zipp Express, a diversified transportation company, when he was just 19 and still attending Butler University. It was a courier service at first, and some 22 years later Zipp Express now provides truckload shipments, distribution and warehousing services, generating revenues of $35 million last year.
In 1996, Closser expanded his company to include the logistics services with the Zipp Logistics Support Center. The center is helping companies with Year 2000 systems changes and with on-board tracking satellites. Zipp Express uses satellite communications in each of its vehicles, giving the company the ability to know the exact location of every piece of equipment.
"Our company must and will have assets to meet the requirements in an ever-changing market, where winners implement change, assume risk but stay focused and committed to the customers," Closser says.
JEFFREY E. STOOPS Stoops Freightliner, Indianapolis Retail
When Jeff Stoops made the career change from teacher to truck driver, it was not a difficult one. After driving a truck in the summer for several years, he realized it was more profitable and he enjoyed it more.
It was at this point he decided to buy his first truck, which led him into the transportation business. Several years ago he sold Stoops Express, which became a piece of Daleville-based Burlington Motor Carriers.
"I just like the transportation business," Stoops says. "I like the challenges we're faced with everyday." He remains in the business with his truck/trailer dealership, Stoops Freightliner, launched in 1987. The dealership had first-year sales of about $20 million and 1997 revenues of $170 million.
Stoops, who also operates car dealerships in Plainfield and Muncie, has two basic rules: "If we're going to do it we have to do it our very best the first time around, and we treat our customers and suppliers like we would like to be treated."
MICHAEL BERNARD Acton Enterprises, Jeffersonville Retail
He studied at three different institutions and finally graduated with a degree in forestry, but Michael Bernard found his fortune in shoe sales. "I was selling shoes in college, making my tuition by selling shoes," Bernard says. "I kind of fell in love with the business itself and decided that if I could find a backer, I would open my own stores."
He opened the first store in 1975, and now Acton Enterprises now has 54 shoe stores throughout Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Illinois, with plans to open five more before the end of the year. Bernard's long-term goal is to open 10 stores a year to further grow his annual sales, which have hit $25 million.
Part of Acton's success can be attributed to Bernard's desire to give his employees a say in company policy. "I guess it's rooted in that we started small, and the first employees were involved in all aspects of decision-making," Bernard says. "I think it keeps the entrepreneurial spirit alive in many people instead of just one."
CHARLES F. HOMIER JR. Homier Distributing Co., Huntington Retail
After an automobile accident paralyzed Charles F. Homier Jr.'s father in 1980, Hornier took the reins of Hornier Distributing, an indoor auction company for name-brand merchandise. "After I joined the company," Hornier says, "we made a decision to take our auction on the road."
The company stages promotional sales in such places as hotel ballrooms, convention centers, civic areas and fairgrounds across the country. Homier sells tools, electronics, furniture, even porcelain dolls at 30 percent below retail prices. The company acquires close-outs, factory-service products and other discounted items. Homier also operates two retail stores in Huntington and Lafayette and owns a truck fleet to transport the merchandise from show to show.
Since he took over, Homier, along with his 170 employees, has seen sales grow from $500,000 to more than $50 million, but he's not satisfied yet.
JAMES SPAHN, M.D. EHOB Inc., Indianapolis Health Care
When Dr. James Spahn couldn't find a device that would help his patients elevate their heads while recuperating, he decided to make one himself. That decision lead to the creation of EHOB Inc., which was Spahn's shorthand prescription for "elevate head on bed."
But EHOB Inc. makes more than its original inflatable wedge that helps patients elevate their heads appropriately. Now the company's main focus is its Waffle-brand products, including a body mattresses with holes that provide air circulation to prevent bed sores and pressure ulcers. Spahn - an ear, nose and throat specialist - laughs when he recalls how he and a friend set about inventing the Waffle mattress. "We literally used beer cans to draw holes on a piece of vinyl," Spahn says.
From that simple invention, Spahn has seen his company grow from three employees and a two-room office to 80 employees and a 52,000-square foot facility. Spahn says EHOB Inc. sells around 20,000 Waffle mattresses a month, with many orders coming through its Web site (www.ehob.com).
That's exactly how Spahn envisioned the company from the start. "The whole mission statement of the company was to create something a patient could write a check for," Spahn says. "Because even back in 1984, I saw how the health-care industry was changing."
SAMUEL F. HULBERT Rose-Hulman, Terre Haute Supporter
Samuel F. Hulbert, president of the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, believes that entrepreneurism is what makes America work.
"What makes our country so great is the 150,000 small companies and not the unfortunate 500," says Hulbert. "The best chance for economic development in the Wabash Valley is not having a Toyota move in but growing our own businesses."
To that end, Hulbert has supported several programs at Rose-Hulman designed to nurture and inspire the would-be entrepreneur. Among those is the Kauffman Entrepreneurial Internship program, which has students work for entrepreneurial companies. In addition, students can take courses in entrepreneurship and management and must complete an industry-sponsored project.
Rose-Hulman also has created the Technology and Entrepreneurial Development program designed to provide existing businesses with technical help from students. In addition, the $6.7 million Center for Technical Research will provide faculty/student teams to help Indiana companies while allowing students to experience all phases of product/process development.
A.J. HACKL Herff Jones, Indianapolis Master Entrepreneur
One of only two major players in his industry, A.J. Hackl sees his company's mission as spreading good will. Herff Jones has grown under Hackl's leadership from net sales of $19.9 million in 1968 to $309.5 million in 1997.
Since 1920, Herff Jones has sold recognition products primarily to schools through a nationwide network of nearly 700 sales representatives. The company is known for its class rings and other awards such as the Heisman Trophy and the Indianapolis 500 championship ring.
Herff Jones sponsors a program called the "Principal's Leadership Award," supports a number of education-related organizations and markets award products to allow schools to honor students, teachers and staff.
One of Hackl's goals was to give employees ownership. "The employee stock ownership plan was designed on my part to share with employees," Hackl explains. "It started on the basis of doing something for them, but it's done so much more. Now, depending on performance, Herff Jones employees could have retirement benefits totaling 10 times their yearly salary by 2010."
JAMES E. KELLEY Kelley Automotive Group, Fort Wayne Master Entrepreneur
"Everything I have accomplished has been because my friends have helped me," Kelley says. After World War II, Kelley and a friend opened a Fort Wayne airfield to instruct new pilots who were benefiting from the GI Bill. One of their customers from Indianapolis, an owner of a Dodge dealership, befriended the Kelley family and helped Kelley open a Dodge dealership in Fort Wayne.
Today, Kelley Automotive Group includes 16 automobile dealerships, has more than 1,200 employees and enjoyed sales of $600 million in 1997.
Successful though he may be, Kelley does not pretend to have a big plan. He says, "I didn't go to Harvard Business School, and I didn't make a business plan. Everything that has happened to me has been accidental."
In addition to the dealerships, the Kelley family owns three aviation companies and several golf courses. Kelley recently became involved in the farming of sunflower seeds in the Ukraine.
C. JAMES McCORMICK McCormick Inc., Best Way Express, JAMAC, First Bancorp, Vincennes Master Entrepreneur
Jim McCormick attributes his success to one simple fact. "If I thought there was an opportunity somewhere, while others fretted and muddled about what to do, I moved quickly and took it," he explains. "I've been lucky that most of them have been OK."
OK may be an understatement for the conglomeration of companies that, together, had about $100 million in 1997 sales. Heavily involved in the transportation industry, McCormick is head of McCormick Inc., a heavy-duty truck dealer that carries Volvo and Freightliner products, and Best Way, a for-hire common carrier that does long-distance shipping throughout the United States. McCormick also is chairman and president of JAMAC Corp., a commercial real estate leasing and holding company, and chairman of the board and CEO of First Bancorp.
Although this may seem like a wide variety of businesses, McCormick prides himself on being able to spot a potential success in any area. "I've always tried to keep my eyes and ears open for a good opportunity, it doesn't matter what field," he says. "After careful analysis, I just follow my gut feeling."