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CEO of the year.

Effective leaders often credit their team members for successes and achievements. And there is a tremendous amount of truth to that. But great teams need great leaders. Here we pay tribute to chief executives who have provided the leadership, vision, clear-headed strategy and decisive risk-taking necessary to propel their organizations forward through economic and political turmoil--creating companies that are stronger and well positioned for a new era of growth. Join us as we honor the 2013 CEOs of the Year.

Pat Richards began her career as a nurse in the surgery and trauma unit of the University of Michigan Medical Center. "It helped me really understand what a crisis is," she says. "In business we often think about a crisis, but working in nursing and working in a trauma floor, I really became aware that a crisis was only if someone stopped breathing or if someone was bleeding a lot. So that has helped me keep pretty calm in various business crises."

This grace under pressure has not gone unnoticed by her colleagues. "It doesn't matter what kind of a day she's having, it doesn't matter what's going on in her personal life--when you talk to Pat, you know you're going to be engaging with somebody who is calm, pleasant, professional, and has a laser-like focus on the task at hand. And that's really very reassuring to people, particularly when things are difficult and stress levels are up," says Greg J. Matis, senior council for SelectHealth.

From nursing, Richards moved into the insurance industry, and then into integrated health delivery system organizations. Most recently, she was executive vice president and COO of Health Alliance Plan of Michigan. "When I had the opportunity to move to SelectHealth a little over three years ago, it was just a perfect pinnacle for my career," she says.

Richards' arrival ushered in an era of visionary expansion for SelectHealth. In 2012 alone, the company spread into Idaho through a partnership with St. Luke's Health System, the largest health system in Idaho. It also introduced a new Medicare Advantage program and Medicaid plans. The company recently began transitioning 70,000 Medicaid members from the state plan into its Community Care plan.

Since Richards joined the company in 2009, SelectHealth has also developed a new dental insurance product and SelectHealth Prescriptions, a nationwide pharmacy benefit management company. It now offers a vision plan, serves federal employees, and even has a life and disability insurance offering.

"We have entered virtually every market segment," she says. "We have really been expanding and growing, again to diversify our products, but to really serve all people in the state."

Richards says her leadership role at SelectHealth gives her a unique opportunity to improve healthcare on a community-wide level. "I believe we have an unprecedented opportunity to be a catalyst and an active participant in really changing how healthcare is delivered and how healthcare is experienced by the individual."

"She has a deep and abiding belief in the great good that can be accomplished by a not-for-profit integrated healthcare company," says Matis. "She cares about us providing the highest-quality healthcare services at the lowest appropriate cost and trying to improve the health of all members of our community."

The economic crisis brought a specific challenge to the mortgage industry: increased regulation. But Dave Zitting had already positioned his company ahead of the curve. For example, Primary Residential Mortgage made a strategic decision in 2005 to abandon sup-prime lending and focus on FHA, VA and USDA loans. When the housing bubble burst, the company was already out ahead of the competition.

"With the fmancial crisis came a lot of new regulation and new ways that we must conduct business," says Zitting. "Our organization was able to get involved early in what those changes were going to be like and sort of developing ways and means and methodologies and best business practices to be able to ensure that we had a sustainable operation going forward."

In fact, Zitting was among a select group of mortgage industry representatives who recently met with President Barack Obama's cabinet. Zitting provided the perspective of an independent mortgage broker as the group consulted with Chief of Staff Jack Lew, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and others.

It's an impressive accomplishment for someone who started his career in the mortgage industry as a teenager. A few years later he became a loan officer and originated loans for about a decade.

"It was a sales position," he says. "Every day you had to wake up and make things happen. You had to meet new people and help people solve problems. It provided me such a wonderful training background to be able to grow a business."

Zitting co-founded Primary Residential Mortgage in 2000. That year, the company closed 321 mortgages for a loan volume of $35 million. In 2012, the company's loan volume was nearly $5 billion; it now has more than 200 branches and 1,500 employees throughout the country.

"The mortgage industry has been through so many changes, so many new regulations ... as these new regulations came out, Dave just dove right into each one of those regulations and he led the way for the company, which really put us ahead of everybody else," says Steve Chapman, CFO for Primary Residential.

For his part, Zitting credits his team for much of the company's success. "When an idea is owned by a group, by a team of brilliant people who have the freedom to challenge you, and you have the freedom to challenge them, some really miraculous things happen ... some answers tend to come as a result of that collaborative effort."

Zitting is proud the company nearly hit the $5 billion mark last year, but he is not ready to coast on the success. "Whenever I've dreamed of a goal and hit it, then the goal only got bigger in my mind," he says.

Drew Peterson has spent his entire career in the telecommunications industry. He first worked for Access Long Distance, eventually becoming head of the sales department for the Western region. That company was acquired by McLeodUSA, where he moved into a new management position and opened up the Utah, Idaho and Montana markets. In 1987, he launched Off Campus Telecommunications, which through a merger and a few name changes evolved into Veracity Networks.

Although telecommunications has been his chosen profession, Peterson says it's not the industry that is his passion--it's the ability to serve clients. "The reality is, I'm a service provider, and I'm really, really passionate about providing exceptional service to customers. The vehicle I happen to use is telecommunications to provide that service he says.

Peterson has an "extra sensitivity" for both customers and employees, says Randy Christensen vice president of sales and marketing for Veracity Networks. Peterson strives to help his employees grow and succeed, notes Christensen, because he has a vested interest in their success.

"His passion is very contagious and we all catch a piece of that, and you just want to perform well for him because he's putting it out there every single day 100 percent, and it just makes you want to do the same says Christensen.

That passion has propelled Veracity Networks to 500 percent growth in the past six years. Last year, the company expanded its high-speed internet and phone services to more than 100,000 residents and businesses in the downtown Salt Lake City area. It also began offering services to 17,000 businesses in Bountiful, Cottonwood and Kearns.

Peterson negotiated with Provo City for Veracity Networks to become the city's only provider of its city-owned fiber-optic network. In 2012 the company began offering free fiber-optic portal installs to Provo residents, helping both the company to expand and residents to increase their internet speeds.

Peterson says that, for him, it's more than just a cliche to say that it's the people who make a business successful. In fact, he says he took a pay cut so he could invest more into top-notch people.

"It's exciting that I get to bring people in that I get to learn from fond/ that they get to learn from me. And it really is a partnership, and we've been able to create a phenomenal executive team that really builds upon each other, helps each other grow. We all have the same philosophies, and [it's/ that team effort that allows you to be successfull," he says.

For new entrepreneurs, Peterson says his best advice is to not spend forever trying to perfect the product or service. "It doesn't really matter if you have the best product in the world, as long as you have a good product and the right people and you execute on the business plan, you're going to find success." he says.

Jeff Johnson spent three decades amassing an abundance of experience and knowledge while working for "very large, very professionally managed companies" in consumer products and banking. He served as president and CEO of Ally Bank, The Prudential Bank & Trust Company, Equifax Secure and Franklin Credit Management Corp.

But at the peak of this distinguished career, Johnson pivoted and headed in a new direction. He left the world of big corporations in order to apply his vast experience with smaller, private equity backed companies. "This was a pretty significant decision for me and one with pretty significant personal risks. However, 1 find this environment much more satisfying as it's far easier to make an impact: he says.

And he has truly made an impact. At Progrexion, where he has served as CEO since 2009, he set and achieved ambitious targets for growth. The company's revenues have grown more than 130 percent and 900 new employees have been added since Johnson took the helm.

Progrexion operates in the consumer credit repair arena, and Johnson is equally passionate about helping individuals reach financial goals. "Our company provides a very important service that can dramatically alter the lives of our customers. But today, only a small percentage of the consumers that need our business even know that our type of service exists," he says. "We need to continue to expand our business while providing a fulfilling career for our associates and a reasonable return for our shareholders."

Jon Paton, CFO of Progrexion, says Johnson is "truly concerned about all the stakeholders in the business. His goal is not to maximize profits. He really wants everyone to succeed. He cares deeply about delivering value to our customers and improving their financial lives, providing good jobs and opportunities to our employees, and providing a good return to our investors."

Johnson helped Progrexion develop a clear five-year vision and strategic plan, upgraded the company's operational infrastructure and created a more cohesive management team. But while he has focused on instilling professional management and operational practices, he says, "People want to be led but not dictated to."

Just keeping up with Johnson's boundless intelligence and energy keeps most employees on their toes, says Pixton. "Jeff's brilliance influences the way we tackle challenges at Progrexion. It is kind of like being on the Jeopardy! game show and playing against Watson, the IBM supercomputer. You can't take any shortcuts in your analysis and everything you do needs to be thought through, or Watson will eat you up! His influence keeps us at the top of our game."

"I thought I'd be a software engineer and just write code and lbuild things in that way. But it turns out you can do that and so much more, and actually build organizations and build up industries," says Josh Coates, serial entrepreneur and CEO of Instructure.

After launching a startup in Silicon Valley, Coates relocated to Utah, where in 2005 he founded Berkeley Data Systems (Mozy.com), an online data storage company that offers remote backup solutions. That company was acquired by EMC for $76 million.

"I like building things, fundamentally," says Coates. "Whether it's an actual physical object, project--or if it's an organization or some type of innovation in a segment of industry--building things is fun. That why I do startups."

After Mozy, he volunteered as an instructor of a venture startup course at Brigham Young University, where he became interested in learning management systems (LMS). That led him to Instructure, a company he believed had a unique approach that would disrupt the LMS industry Coates was an early investor, then joined Instructure as CEO in 2010.

"Instructure is unique in the education community in that we're truly a technology company. We weren't born out of education--it's technology that's in our DNA. And that's what Josh brings to the table. He's got an extensive technology background," says Mitch McFarlane, vice president of product for Instructive. He adds that Coates knows how to make software "that people will really use and engage with."

For his part, Coates says he wants to help get LMS technology "out of the way" of instructors and students, creating a platform that "takes away the tedious nature of managing classrooms."

The company's signature product, Canvas, has been adopted by dozens of school districts, as well as several colleges and universities, including the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Brown University and the University of Washington--and all of Utah's major higher education institutions.

When Coates joined the company in 2010, it had a small handful of employees and almost no revenue. "Twenty-four months later, we had over 340 educational institutions under contract, and we had over 200 employees." Coates says. "We were counting bookings in tens of millions of dollars. That growth exceeded all my expectations."

However, that growth is merely the beginning. In December, Instructure and the Governor's Office of Economic Development announced the company had received a tax incentive that is tied to the company hiring an additional 650 workers over the next seven years. The company plans to enter new international markets this year, and Coates' ultimate goal is to take Instructure public.

Coates is a decidedly hands-on leader. Instead of working in an office, he sits at a desk in an open environment, where he can collaborate with teams from every department. According to MacFarlane, Coates is adept at finding top talent for the company and then empowering them to succeed. "Josh is excellent at seeing what people are capable of doing and giving them tasks that fit their talents and their capabilities." he says.

Sterling Nielsen has been with Mountain America Credit Union for 18 years, but he stepped into the role of CEO in late 2008, right as the financial industry began its free fall. His calm leadership and commitment to quality helped the credit union weather the tumultuous economy--and come out stronger.

"Sterling has been the driving force that has carried us through the most difficult economy we have experienced in our lifetime. He has been the steadying mind making the adjustments that have made it possible for Mountain America Credit Union to be moving forward with strong earnings and strong employee support," says Scott Burt, Mountain America board member.

In fact, 2012 was the strongest year in Mountain America's history.

"We grew more in 2012 alone than the credit union was in size when I started 18 years ago," says Nielsen. With more than $1 billion in assets, Mountain America is ranked No. 10 out of the top 195 credit unions in the country, according to National Credit Union Administration data.

The credit union had an amazing 10 percent growth in membership last year, growing from 371,000 members in November 2011 to 407,000 in November 2012. And it opened 12 new branch locations in 2012, for a total of 76.

"Growth is one of the strong tneasures we use at Mountain America, because when we grow, it's an indication that we're doing things right, that we're serving the members well, that we're meeting their needs. And when we do so, they provide us with more business: they tell a friend, a neighbor, and we end up with more people coming in," says Nielsen. "Our goal is to be so good that people just come flocking to us."

Marshall Paepke, chief administrative officer, says the continuing strength of Mountain America is also due to Nielsen's long-standing commitment to its employees. "During the economic downturn, when others were taking away benefits, Mountain America kept all benefits intact and continued to pay the lion's share of the healthcare premiums." he says. "We strongly believe there is a strong correlation between our member engagement score and our employee engagement score."

Both scores are at all all-time high, he notes.

Nielsen has served on the boards of several local and national organizations, including the Salt Lake Chamber, the Utah Credit Union Association and the West Jordan Chamber of Commerce, among many others. Mountain America is also widely known for its "Pay it Forward" segment on KUTV-2 News, and Nielsen is the face of that partnership.

"We find people who are doing great things and we help fund it," he explains. "It's a lot of fun. It's amazing to see what people are doing out there and to help them further that purpose."

"I grew up in a mining town," says Mike Nadon. "I was lalways curious when I was growing up what it must be like there, underground."

After nearly 40 years in the industry, underground tunnels have become his hidden empire. He mined while in college to support himself, and continued mining after obtaining a business degree. Nadon has managed projects in the United States, Canada, Greenland, Ireland and Indonesia. He served as vice president for Cementation Canada for six years, then moved to Salt Lake to launch Cementation USA in 2008.

Nadon brought together a team of top mining professionals to build Cementation USA, including experts in mining, safety, engineering and finance. With this team in place, the company quickly established a major presence in the U.S. mining industry. Cementation USA now employs more than 400, and its revenues have grown every year, jumping from $31 million in 2009 to nearly $135 million in 2012.

Cementation is a contracting company that designs and builds underground mines. It works with many of the largest mines in the region, including Kennecott Utah Copper and Barrick Gold. It is currently working on a significant and challenging expansion project in Arizona that involves sinking a deep, 28-foot-diameter shaft down to 7,000 feet--depths with rock temperatures up to 175 degrees.

"The thing about contracting that's really unique is ifs really a team ... because we compete against other companies much like ours to win work," says Nadon.

Fostering an atmosphere of teamwork, respect and humor is important to Nadon, who says one thing he's always loved about mining is the camaraderie. He describes his leadership philosophy as "MWA," or management walking around. "Get out of your office and really get to know your people and really keep your pulse on the relationships and how people are doing and how people are feeling about their jobs," he says.

Safety is a top priority at Cementation. Steve Leatherwood, director of finance for Cementation, says Nadon's most significant accomplishment has been establishing a culture that values safety over profits. "Cementation prides ourselves in being a great place to work--not only for our office employees, but especially for our miners. We're very concerned that our miners go home safely every day," says Leatherwood.

In fact, Nadon once severed a client relationship when that company did not live up to Cementation's safety standards. "He's made excellence a habit in the way that he works, the way that every single day he comes to work energetic, upbeat and positive," says Leatherwood. "He has a way of demanding excellence by the way that he carries himself."

Leatherwood adds that Nadon is skilled at gaining the trust of clients, business partners and employees. "When people sit down with Mike across the table and are negotiating something, they get a real sense of character from him."

In 2010, Wayne Searle stepped into the role of CEO for SME Steel--and he had some pretty big shoes to fill. The company's co-founders, Craig and Jerry Moyes, were extremely respected by the employees, clients and vendors.

"For the first time since the beginning of the company there is someone in that seat who doesn't have the last name Moyes, and that has been a challenging, daunting task that Wayne has done extremely well: says Gordon Holladay, CFO for SME Steel.

Part of the challenge has been helping the company survive the Great Recession. The effects of that downturn were immediate and severe. Searle recalls a casino development project in Las Vegas that was unceremoniously cancelled. "It was about a $230, $240 million project and we'd worked up about half of it; we were right smack in the middle of it and all of a sudden it stopped," he says.

The company had to figure how to deal with the financial fallout, store all the steel and--most importantly--keep the employees working.

"We all just got together and stayed very calm through the process. We met with the customer, the owner, and were able to work everything out," says Searle. "We were paid promptly and treated well because we tried to work with our customer instead of against them."

Another challenge was avoiding layoffs of key tradespeople during the lean times. Searle helped the organization become more efficient and cost effective--and employees were asked to take pay cuts, among other cost-reduction measures. "Now it's time to start rewarding those people he says.

Over the years, Searle has created tremendous relationships throughout the industry, says Holladay. "Wayne has a great ability to go out to job sites with the contractor and the owner of the building ... and talk in their language with engineers and architects and the real nitty-gritty construction people and represent the point of view of steer

Searle says his goal is for the company to become the first $1 billion steel company. While it's not quite there yet, his tenure as CEO has ushered in a new era of growth for SME Steel. 'The company has experienced about 400 percent growth since 2010. It employs 1,200 people in Utah, Idaho, Arizona and Nevada.

SME has a global reach, with sales in Latin America, Asia and Europe. Recent high-profile projects include Disney Cars Land, City Creek Center, the San Francisco 49ers' new football stadium and the Primary Children's Medical Center expansion.

By Heather Stewart | Photography by Eric Delphenich

Photos taken at the James L. Sorenson Molecular Biotech USTAR building.
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Author:Stewart, Heather
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Mar 1, 2013
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