Printer Friendly

Indiana's entrepreneurs of the year.

Last year, Indiana's winner in manufacturing, Jerry Ehrlich of Wabash National, became the National Entrepreneur of the Year and was featured in Inc. magazine. Here are this year's Indiana winners.


Glen Graber, president Graber Post Buildings

Glen Graber never went to high school, but he learned everything he needs to know from his dad.

The founder of Montgomery-based Graber Post Buildings, which grew from a shoestring venture run out of a van into an $18 million company employing more than 150, comes from a Mennonite family schooled in the value of people and hard work. "We're not against education, but I think that the most important thing is learning how to work and getting along with people," he says. "The people here do a good job of that."

Graber's work force is virtually all Mennonite and Amish. "The government would probably think that we're discriminating," he says. "We're not opposed to hiring someone who's not Mennonite or Amish, but it's hard enough to get 100 people to work together anyway. People here have all grown up together and have been using a hammer since they were 5 years old. If we hired someone from the outside, I'm not sure they'd make it. Our people might work them too hard; I don't know. But they have a really good work ethic. They don't go on strike. I tell you, if I had to go to one of the big cities like Indianapolis and hire off the regular labor market, I'd probably hang it up."

Graber has steered his company through rapid growth with remarkable ease. Early on, he grew afraid that the Midwest's demand for post-frame buildings and wood trusses would subside, and declared a mission of diversification. Graber constructed buildings to house his growing inventory, opening up the wholesale and retail building-materials markets. In 1987 Graber bought an $800,000 roll-former, which kept him competitive in a tightening market for formed steel. Graber now sells internationally; some regular customers are in Canada, Texas and the Central American nation of Belize.

Although Graber regards his efforts to expand as common sense, his foresight in a changing market demonstrates a business sense unrivaled in any classroom. "I want to thank Dad for making me work and almost making me like it," Graber says. "Only in America, with an eighth-grade education, could this be possible."


Cathleen Asch, president Truevision

Every entrepreneur is pretty good at seeing the future, but Cathleen Asch is something of a soothsayer. Her company's name, Truevision, describes her innate crystal ball as much as her role in revolutionizing visual communication.

Asch came to Indianapolis in 1985 to manage AT&T's Electronic Photo and Imaging Center. Asch soon decided that EPICenter could do better on its own, and she created Truevision in a management buyout October 31, 1987. In August 1992, Truevision became a wholly owned subsidiary of RasterOps of Santa Clara, California.

Since its launch, Asch's company has set the standard in desktop video. Truevision gave audiences a liquid mercury policeman in "Terminator II," showed the Pentagon Iraqi troop positions in real time via satellite during the Persian Gulf war and took TV weather into the 21st century.

And Truevision's magic isn't limited to Hollywood budgets. Users include architects, design firms, animators and publishers. Truevision's TARGA high-resolution video product works in IBM-compatible and Macintosh computers, adding an entirely new dimension--video--to almost any business' communication options.

"Videographics is going everywhere," Asch says. "The ease of access through advancement in technology has made it less of a specialized area. We've taken these high-end systems, where you needed to be so sophisticated, and brought them down. Video is becoming accepted as just another data type, like text or art."

Truevision defines its mission as "revolutionizing the way people communicate with video." Asch says that means meeting not just customers' spoken needs but their unspoken needs as well.

"Since we have been the industry leaders, customers tell us what they want," Asch says. "We combine that with the engineering expertise and try to anticipate what the customers need. You have the 'evolutionary' where the customer knows what they need and tells you, and you have the 'revolutionary' where you try to think of something the customer needs but maybe doesn't know it or can't articulate it."


James Carpenter, president Wild Birds Unlimited

For James and Nancy Carpenter, business is definitely for the birds.

In 1980 Carpenter left his job as manager at a gardening store, unsure what to do but tired of selling pumpkins and Christmas trees. An avid bird watcher, Carpenter thought retailers were practically ignoring his hobby, which is shared by 82 million Americans. Store owners who bothered to carry feeders and seed only stocked their shelves during winter, when grass seed and fertilizer weren't in demand. And they carried only the lowest-grade seed around. They figured why would people pay a lot for something they gave away to fluttering freeloaders?

"What was really original was that we gave the hobby respect," Carpenter says. "People considered bird feeding to be a low-budget hobby, almost an afterthought. We looked at it the other way. We saw it as an important activity, a hobby that people were very interested in and willing to pay for high-quality products."

Carpenter found a 700-foot space in Indianapolis, paid a couple of months rent and opened Wild Bird Unlimited to surprisingly good business. In 1983, with the help of a supplier in Michigan, Carpenter became the first bird-feeding business to franchise. In six years 30 stores opened, and in 1989 Carpenter bought his partner out. By 1991, Carpenter had moved his Indianapolis store from Broad Ripple into a 6,000-square-foot facility on Keystone Avenue, and any doubt whether bird seed could sell had flown permanently south.

"I want to thank all the early franchisers for buying into a business with no computer, no office, no copying machine and no employ-ees," Carpenter said when he accepted his award. "My franchisers learned the business from a 40-page instruction manual sitting on bags of bird seed and tripping over my dog Blackie. Talk about buying on faith."

Carpenter says his early success came more from his love of birds than from any business savvy. Now that his bird-feeding empire includes more than 140 outlets, Carpenter is taking great pains to school himself in the art of CEO-manship. He's created a franchise-management company, appointed department supervisors and recently attended "The Birthing of Giants," a nationwide leadership conference.

"My success would not have been possible without going to outside help," Carpenter says. "It was the start of my education as a CEO. It was the only way I could have made the bridge from entrepreneur to business builder."


Donald Laskowski, president Wood-Mizer Products

Talk to Donald Laskowski and you'll forget that profits and generosity seem like incompatible goals. As the devoted Christian and surrogate father to employees at Wood-Mizer Products will tell you, his skill for business came easily by following God's good advice.

"God gave us a very good outline of how to develop a successful business," he says. "When we've just followed those instructions, the results have been phenomenal."

His efforts won him two Entrepreneur of the Year awards, one for manufacturing and one for social responsibility. In accepting them, Laskowski's gentleness, humility and emotion silenced a room of corporate giants as he thanked his chairman of the board, Jesus Christ. "Are we doing the right thing for the right reason?" he asked. "Perhaps we have been good stewards, acting worthily in God's kingdom."

Wood-Mizer Products, based in Indianapolis, makes the Wood-Mizer sawmill, invented by Laskowski and his friend, Dan Tekulve. "Dan had manufactured hospital beds," Laskowski says. "I was a farmer from North Dakota, where the state tree is the telephone pole. We knew nothing about sawmills. But it turned out to be the greatest blessing because we weren't trapped into any preconceived ideas. We produced a sawmill that was substantially different than anything that was out there in the industry." The self-contained Wood-Mizer, which uses a thin, curved band-saw blade instead of circular blades used in other mills, takes 80 percent less energy and produces 33 percent more wood.

Wood-Mizer Products uses an inverted pyramid corporate structure with Laskowski at the bottom, employees in the middle and customers on top. "I'm here to serve the people who serve our customers," Laskowski says. "I'm not here just doing a job with people to help me. If we give the employees ownership of getting a job done, that's a tremendous motivator." Half of Wood-Mizer's profits are split with employees.

Laskowski's dedication to serving mankind leads him to help many social causes. Non-profit groups helping to meet basic human needs receive 50 percent discounts. Laskowski recently entered into a partnership to sell Wood-Mizer sawmills in Poland, where the waiting list for a home is 20 years.

"The success and opportunity experienced in our company is nothing but a gift and we are to use it in good stewardship," Laskowski says. "If there's one thought that runs through our corporate meetings, it's 'Are we doing the right thing for the right reasons?'"


Allen Conway Sr., CEO Conway Enterprises

You could try to label Allen Conway Sr., but he'd probably beat you to it.

The CEO of Conway Enterprises, which does business as Discount Labels, promises to answer customer orders within 24 hours. That unmatched speed has turned his company into the nation's largest custom-label maker, growing 38 percent annually.

It's not that the label market is all that hot; Discount Labels has simply siphoned business from its competitors. The New Albany-based company now owns 51 percent of its market and was named by Package Printing & Converting in 1992 as America's fastest-growing label manufacturer. "Our record for growing so fast comes from our focus on short-run orders," Conway says. "We do everything a little bit better. Obviously we have a faster turnaround time than anyone."

Allen's father, Fred Conway, started making emergency stickers for police and fire departments in 1964. Conway's peel-and-stick labels stuck to telephones better than lick-and-stick versions, and orders flew in. "Now we dial 911, but in those days everyone had their own number," Allen Conway says. "It was good business."

To keep its presses running, Conway Enterprises went after the instant-print market, winning over outlets like PIP Printing Corp. Allen came to work in the early 1980s after college. A natural designer, he's invented most of the 42 label presses that keep Discount Labels' productivity in overdrive. "I had the advantage of working with a great teacher, being able to learn from my father," Conway says. "I've often said I'm standing on my father's shoulders."

Tight deadlines make Conway pay close attention to service. Orders arrive by mail, phone or fax, and designers work into the night prepping labels for the morning press. "Forty percent of our orders require a follow-up confirmation call," Conway says. "We never receive an order and fill it when there's a question." Discount Labels is 15 minutes from United Parcel Service's Midwest hub, where it ships labels overnight to 18,000 dealers in the United States and Canada.

Having conquered the lion's share of short-run label customers, Conway will explore other markets, planning to double employment by 1996. "Obviously we've made a large market penetration into the short-term market," Conway says. "We have to go after more medium- and long-term orders."


Steve Baker, president SM&P Conduit Co.

The world needs ditch diggers, too.

That humbling wisdom led Dan and Edna Baker to forgo retirement and start a digging company in October 1973 for their three sons, Steve, Mike and Pat. SM&P Construction Co. was born, burrowing trenches for Indiana Bell's underground cable.

Then in 1979 Indiana Bell asked SM&P to try locating underground cable on a 90-day trial basis. It was one lucky strike. By the mid-1980s, SM&P Construction had abandoned trench-digging in favor of cable locating and changed its name to SM&P Conduit Company, with Steve, Patrick and sister Diana Sosbey managing.

"You can call it a lucky find if you want," says Steve Baker, who has assumed the post of president while Patrick and Diana seek other fortunes. "We were very capable and confident in the digging business and we provided a unique service to the repair services. We were willing to go out and do a find in the middle of the night."

Word spread of SM&P's locating skill and dedication to service. Soon it was expanding its client base beyond Indiana Bell. With a payroll of four in 1984, SM&P's employment has grown to more than 500 today, with 14 district offices in seven states.

"To the best of our knowledge we were the first company in the country to do contract locating," Baker says. "The utilities had done it on their own. We just free up their highly trained craft people to do other functions. Cable locating can be a tedious job that we are very equipped to do."

SM&P keeps its reputation by using the latest equipment, offering special services and placing a high priority on accuracy. Making use of utility-funded "One-Call" dispatching services, SM&P can handle all contract requests in one call to a single source.

Having proven itself to current customers, SM&P is trying to sell itself to others. For Baker, that is the real entrepreneurial challenge. "Now we want to continue our growth," he says. "We're trying to move in areas where people aren't getting a quality job done."


Frederic Ahaus, president Ahaus Tool & Engineering

Rick Ahaus didn't start his tool-and-die company, but he sure can remember how it happened.

Ahaus' grandfather and uncle opened their business with $700 in the fall of 1946, working out of a two-car garage. "With minimal tools--a drill press, welder and file, I like to say--they started building things," Ahaus says. "They had holes in the door so longer pieces of metal would fit." It was there that 5-year-old Rick learned to drill holes in metal with a press.

Ahaus' admiration of his grandfather's courage leads him to support the dreams of other new business owners. "I never really considered myself a true entrepreneur in the true sense of the word," Ahaus says. "I was given the gift of following my father and grandfather."

Ahaus Tool & Engineering, based in Richmond, has made machines for everything from beverage cans to nuclear energy. Today Ahaus Tool & Engineering is a heavy supplier to the automobile industry, but Ahaus doesn't think it'll be that way forever. "People ask me what our specialty is and I tell them it's that we're so flexible," Ahaus says. "We take on opportunities to keep us that way. We don't want to put all our eggs in one basket."

Ahaus gives time to a number of organizations that encourage local business, including the National Tooling and Machining Association, the Richmond-Wayne County Chamber of Commerce and the Richmond City Council. "I think being in business carries certain responsibilities," he says. "That means giving back to the business community."

Education is one issue Ahaus holds especially important. Recently he's served on a site-based management team of teachers, parents and business leaders looking to improve the quality of graduates from Richmond High School.

"The emphasis on education changed somewhere to giving the emphasis to sending people on to college," Ahaus says. "But only 30 percent of students go on to college. The other 60 or 70 percent are left. We have to teach people for vocational jobs. Industry and education have to work much more closely than they have."

Ahaus Tool & Engineering started its own apprenticeship program when a local high school vocational teacher lost his job. Paying his normal salary until needed funding arrived, Ahaus schooled the teacher in state-of-the-art tool-and-die work. "It's proven to be very beneficial," Ahaus says. "We just hired two apprentices from his program."


Marcia Adams, author and television producer

Marcia Adams was appropriately domestic in accepting her award: "Does this mean I have to make more cookies?"

It got a laugh but also shows Adams' business genius. Although the self-named Mother Goose of Midwest recipes seems out of place among Indiana's corporate elite, she knows her audience. Author of four books and star of a cooking show that on public television outperforms the "MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour," Adams has attracted a sizable audience teaching America about cooking in the olden days.

"How-to's are always popular," says Adams, who works out of Fort Wayne. "People want to know how to do things. And people can use my cooking show. Making black squid ink pasta is a little beyond the average kitchen. Black squid ink pasta--It sounds gross, doesn't it? Who cares? Who wants it? My food is very practical, and it's delicious. I try never to lose sight of the fact that I am a teaching show."

Adams appeals to all age groups. Seniors like the nostalgia, young kids like Adams' storytelling, and baby boomers just plain need her. "We have a whole generation of people who can't cook," she says. "They've never lived with someone in their kitchen to lend them a hand. I see myself as sort of an electronic aunt helping them along, saying, 'Here, I'll show you how to make mashed potatoes.'"

All Adams' employees are women over 40. "I wish I had a factory and could hire thousands," she says. "This is such an untapped resource. Frequently they have no work history, but they are educated, experienced and full of enthusiasm. Yet because of the rules in business they're left out."

In accepting her award, Adams said her "entrepreneurial spirit" comes naturally. "I love what I do. It seems easy to write and talk about it and do it. I've noticed some common traits of the entrepreneurs here tonight. There are the obvious ones, like optimism and a willingness to work, but also a certain naivete, that we don't know that it can't be done and so we go and do it anyway and muddle on to success."


E.W. Kelley, chairman Consolidated Products

They say those who can't do, teach, but E.W. Kelley is truly a master of both.

Though he's undeniably made a name for himself, many of Kelley's greatest financial triumphs came from coaching others. He says his willingness to help came from his family. "I was born on a farm outside of Kokomo," Kelley says. "My family were farmers and entrepreneurs."

His reputation in the business world stems not from any single success but from many. Kelley's continued to take risks, start new companies and form partnerships with colleagues he finds worthy of his time, money and training.

Kelley's most visible contribution was his revival of Steak n Shake, a unique restaurant chain founded in 1934. Kelley saved it from financial woes in 1981, helping preserve its special niche in the heart of a highly competitive industry. He also introduced Grey Poupon mustard to the U.S. market and helped develop ingredients for Lean Cuisine dinners and Klondike ice cream bars. Kelley oversees Fairmont Snacks and a large agribusiness in Indiana and Florida. Three former Kelley "lieutenants" now run companies on the New York Stock Exchange, and old employees still seek him out for advice in their private ventures.

And Kelley still isn't giving in to complacency. At 76, he's pushing Indianapolis-based Consolidated Products and his other company, Kelley Restaurants, outside the scope of Steak n Shake and into the specialty-restaurant market.

"When I left big business, I heard that very few big-business executives were successful leading small businesses," Kelley says. "I think that's a true statistic. That's too bad. I think that may be one problem with our business world today."

Kelley's willingness to accept risk has helped him somehow escape the stereotypical entrepreneur profile of finding one idea and beating it to death. Colleagues attribute this unique gift to Kelley's long-range planning skills. He urges managers to think five, 10 and 15 years down the road, not just until the next financial quarter.

Kelley devotes much of his time to social causes, donating half his personal operating income to various civic, educational and cultural programs. These include the Boy Scouts, Indiana and Purdue universities and the YMCA. Kelley helped form the Tipton Foundation to better the quality of life in small communities, and encouraged Indiana University--Kokomo to expand its campus by sponsoring a matching gift program.


Jack E. Reich, chairman emeritus American United Life Insurance Co.

Many an entrepreneur takes a chance, quits a job and starts all over again. Jack E. Reich did it four times.

Today Reich stands a long way from his days as a construction water boy and laborer for Inland Steel. His resume reads like a laundry list of blue-chip career paths, each that much more amazing because they belong to the same man:

In 1993, Reich arrives in Indianapolis and spends six years as field director of the Indiana Gross Income Tax Division. Six years later he joins the Indiana State Chamber of Commerce for 23 years, rising to its top post in 1952. Reich leaves the chamber to run the Indianapolis Water Co. for five years. In 1957 he moves to American United Life Insurance and works there for 36 years, acting as its president, chairman or CEO from 1967 until 1991.

It was with American United Life that Reich made his greatest impact. He's best known for ushering the company in 1982 into its 38-story headquarters, which for several years was the tallest building in Indianapolis. With Reich as CEO, AUL assets went from $300 million to $3 billion.

Reich serves on the boards of several other businesses, civic organizations and community groups, including Bank One in Indianapolis, the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee and the United Way of Central Indiana. Reich has been named Sagamore of the Wabash four times, and his biography can be found in "Who's Who in the World," " America," " the Midwest" and " Finance and Industry." Reich holds honorary law degrees from Indiana and Butler universities, as well as an honorary doctorate of business administration from Marion College, now Indiana Wesleyan University.

In his 83 years Reich says his employers came looking for him; he just had to work hard. "If you do more and are dedicated, opportunities will come along," Reich says. "I got the reputation for putting in the hours."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Murphy, Scott
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Article Type:Panel Discussion
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Previous Article:Kicking off the tenth season.
Next Article:Real estate around the state.

Related Articles
Real-estate entrepreneur: Suzanne Kasler.
Support Group.
One more reason to stay: The first Governor's Award for Tomorrow's Leaders. (Last Word).
Business development.
TechPoint: supporting the growth of Indiana's entrepreneurial technology sector.
Outlook for 2006.
Outlook for 2007.
Outlook for 2008.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters