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2 | Champions of Business  kansas city business journal.com

One of a kind. Like you Deloitte congratulates the 2013 Champions of Business. Your company reflects you – your goals, your personality, your instincts. At Deloitte, we work to know these attributes well. Then, we apply our breadth of experience and variety of offerings in just the right areas. The result is a suite of professional services as individualized as the company you’ve built. To learn more, contact Jeff Provost, Kansas City Managing Partner, at jprovost@deloitte.com or +1 816 802 7715. Or, visit www.deloitte.com.

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Professional Services means audit, tax, consulting and financial advisory services. As used in this document, “Deloitte” means Deloitte & Touche LLP, Deloitte Consulting LLP, Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP, and Deloitte Tax LLP, which are separate subsidiaries of Deloitte LLP. Please see www.deloitte.com/us/about for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting. Copyright © 2012 Deloitte Development LLC. All rights reserved. Member of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited 36 USC 220506


Champions of Business | 3

maY 10, 2013 JUDGES

Campbell

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SPECIAL RECOGNITION: HALL OF CHAMPTIONS

Christenberry

Grasis

udges for this year’s Champions of Business program are Harry Campbell, Terry Christenberry, Augie Grasis, Maria Meyers and Bill Worley.

• Campbell speaks and writes on leadership and management. He has an extensive background in management, including positions with Procter & Gamble, Sprint and the former Embarq (now CenturyLink). He also was CEO of digital syndication company uclick and coowner and executive vice president of marketing agency MAI Sports. Campbell is involved with a number of charities and is on the board of Head for the Cure, an organization that raises money to help cure brain cancer. • Christenberry is managing director of CC Capital Advisors. He was cofounder and president of Christenberry Collet & Co. Inc., a Kansas Citybased investment banking firm that merged with CC Capital Advisors in 2009. Before that, he was executive vice president of H.B. Oppenheimer & Co., was a member of the corporate finance division of Kemper Financial Services and spent several years with the consulting division of Ernst & Whinney, now Ernst & Young LLC. • Grasis is the founder and chairman

meyers

Worley

of Handmark Inc., a Kansas Citybased developer and distributor of mobile apps and services. Before starting Handmark, he founded Foresight Resources, a company that later was bought by Autodesk Inc. He was named as the 2009 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award Winner in the Central Midwest Technology category. • Meyers is director of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Innovation Center, which works with community partners to spur entrepreneurial activity. She is the founder of KCSourceLink, which connects area entrepreneurs with more than 140 business-building organizations. She also is founder of U.S.SourceLink, which takes the model to other cities and states nationwide. • Worley is a director of MMC Corp., a commercial construction company. He has been a civic and business leader in the Kansas City area for more than 40 years, serving on the boards of numerous civic, cultural and religious groups. He was a co-founder of American City Business Journals, the parent company of the Kansas City Business Journal. In 2003, he was honored as the Regional Entrepreneur of the Year by the University of Missouri-Kansas City Henry W. Bloch School of Management.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

A.L. Huber General Contractor

4

ARC Physical Therapy+

6

Balance Innovations LLC

8

Burns & McDonnell

10

Country Club Bank

12

ECCO Select Corp.

13

Fike Corp.

14

Garney Construction Co.

15

Inergy LP

16

Milbank Manufacturing Co. Inc.

17

PlattForm Advertising Inc.

18

Sprint Nextel Corp.

19

Suhor Industries Inc.

20

Travois Holdings LLC

22

VML

23

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he Hall of Champions recognizes companies that have been honored as Champions of Business for three years. Hall of Champions honorees will be set apart from subsequent contests and receive ongoing recognition. This year’s inductees into the Hall of Champions are ARC Physical Therapy+ and Balance Innovations. • ARC Physical Therapy+, based in Overland Park, is a physical therapy company focusing on workers’ compensation claims and wellness programs. • Lenexa-based Balance Innovations provides cash management solutions for retailers. The two companies join these standouts already in the Hall of Champions: • Kansas City-based Lockton Cos. Inc. offers insurance brokerage, employee benefits and propertycasualty policies. • Lenexa-based BATS Global Markets Inc. operates two stock exchanges and an equity options exchange in the United States, as well as two multilateral trading facilities in Europe. • Black & Veatch, based in Overland Park, is a global consulting, engineering and construction company that focuses on the energy, water, telecommunications, federal and environmental markets. • Overland Park-based Alexander Open Systems is an IT consulting,

design and installation organization. • Overland Park-based eScreen Inc. develops and markets employment screening solutions for hiring and maintaining efficient workforces. eScreen sold to Alere Inc. in 2012. • Kansas City-based Teva Neuroscience Inc. is a specialty pharmaceutical company focusing on neurological disorders, including multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. • Kansas City-based Tradebot Systems Inc. is an algorithmic computer-based stock-trading firm. • Overland Park-based FishNet Security Inc. provides information security solutions that combine technology, services, support and training. • Shawnee-based Perceptive Software Inc., which sold to Lexmark International Inc. of Lexington, Ky., develops enterprise content management software for more than 2,500 organizations in 30 countries. • Overland Park-based The Mutual Fund Store is an independent, feebased investment firm. It sold a majority stake to Warburg Pincus LLC in 2011. • Handmark Inc. was the first company to qualify for the Hall of Champions, having been recognized among the Kansas City Business Journal’s Champions of Business in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The Kansas Citybased software company develops mobile applications, manages Web stores that sell mobile content and creates global audiences to buy mobile content through its Pocket Express product.


4 | Champions of Business

kansas city business journal.com

a.l. Huber General contractor

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or more than a century, A.L. Huber General Contractor has changed the Kansas City-area skyline. From simple beginnings where one man built houses, the company grew to its current diverse portfolio of high-tech and high-profile projects. Three Huber brothers — August, Joseph and Randy — still work in the business, President Phil Thomas said, continuing the tradition of producing high-quality work and building longstanding community relationships taught to them by their father and grandfather. “There is a real family atmosphere around our company but also a real competitive atmosphere in that everybody wants to build the best and to have a client they do 10 projects for,” Thomas said. “For our company, what we try to find in people we bring on our team that construction is a passion of theirs and it’s really part of their lives. To a certain extent, part of who they are is what they’ve built.” Construction was one of the hardest-hit segments in the economic challenges of the past decade, and Thomas said the passion that A.L. Huber’s staff has for the industry made a difference. “Construction is classified as a boom-and-bust industry,” Thomas said. “I’m on The Builders’ Association board, so I get to see reported man hours, and union man hours in Kansas City were down 40 percent from the high — so 40 percent unemployment, basically.” To survive, the company buckled down on its basic precept of sustainable and controlled growth, Thomas said. “We don’t bring people on and then lay them off,” he said. “It’s been real controlled growth. Maybe 70 or 80 percent of our projects are for people we’ve worked for before. If you took the construction industry and drew a graph of the boomand-bust cycles, our mountains are a lot lower, but our valleys are a lot more shallow also.” A.L. Huber is recovering from the past decade, posting 10 percent revenue growth in 2011 and 30 percent in 2012, after a decrease in 2010. “Our niche has always been the projects that are too big for the little guys and too little for the big guys,” Thomas said. “The last few years that’s kind of changed

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Augie Huber is CEO of A.L. Huber General Contractor, which is refurbishing the tower at Unity Village in Lee’s Summit. because everybody scrambled to build everything.” One of A.L. Huber’s repeat customers is the Good Samaritan Communities of Olathe, and Executive Director Joanna Randall said the company’s work quality and professionalism stand out. “They go out of their way to communicate with us, making sure that we understand what’s been decided or what’s going to be built,” she said.

That’s something A.L. Huber works on, Thomas said. “We try to remind ourselves, no matter what we’re working on for our clients, it might be the biggest investment of their lives,” he said. “Even if it’s something that’s really straightforward, it needs to be done with the same amount of care and thought put into everything we do, just like it was a Sea Life or a Legoland.” morgan Chilson

A.L. HUBER GENERAL CONTRACTOR Description: General contractor Top executives: CEO August (Augie) Huber III, President Phil Thomas Founded: 1903 employees: 37 address: 10770 El Monte St., Overland Park, KS 66211 Highlight: A.L. Huber worked on the recently completed Sea Life Kansas City Aquarium and Legoland Discovery Center at Crown Center. The company relished being involved with the challenging construction of a 160,000-gallon aquarium and organizing a project with personnel from around the world. “We came up with a great plan and then worked the plan,” Thomas said.


Champions of Business | 5

maY 10, 2013

leaders stand out

Leaders make bold choices. These companies have risen to the top for leadership in financial performance, innovation and community involvement. These are the 2013 Champions of Business honorees.

Polsinelli is proud to partner with companies who pioneer new roads to achieve exceptional results. Providing clients with business-oriented legal advice has helped us develop these lasting relationships.

Chicago

Dallas

Denver

Kansas City

Los Angeles

New York

Phoenix

St. Louis

Washington, D.C.

Wilmington

polsinelli.com The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements. Polsinelli PC. Polsinelli LLP in California.


6 | ChAMpions of Business

KANSAS CITY BUSINESS JOURNAL.COM

Matt Condon, CEO of ARC Physical Therapy+, says return on investment in prevention and wellness programs has driven the company’s growth.

ARC Physical Therapy+

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i s t or ic a l l y, consumers and providers have thought of health care as something you get when you’re sick or hurt. That idea — like so many other things in today’s health care world — is changing. Now, people in every corner of the industry are beginning to put a much greater focus on preventing sickness and injury, and employers are hopping on the bandwagon. That focus on preventive care is part of the core mission of ARC Physical Therapy+, and it’s fueled significant growth for the company. ARC started out in 2003 with two people and about 300 physical therapy visits. This year, the company has 80 staff members, 11 clinics and about 70,000 physical therapy visits. The company provides traditional physical and occupational therapy with a focus on workers’ compensation claims, but it also provides resources, training and programs to employers looking to bulk up their wellness programs to prevent worker injury. The company added the

“+” to its logo this year to incorporate more fully all of the extra programs it offers. “We have been very innovative in this whole space around employer health and wellness, and at the beginning it sounded good, and it sounded like a great idea, and that got us some clients, but what’s fueled our growth is there’s a real return on investment (for our clients),” ARC CEO Matt Condon said. The International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans recently found that among employers measuring the return on investment for employee wellness plans, 84 percent were achieving savings of $1 to $3 for every dollar spent. Leslie Borden, employer resource manager for ARC, works directly with employers to design and implement employee wellness programs. She recently worked with a local school district that noticed many of its cafeteria workers were having health issues. ARC began by doing several on-site visits and helped show employees how to properly lift heavy objects and do stretches that could help prevent injury. National health reform has

put an emphasis on preventive health care, and Borden said that although ARC already was preaching the benefits, it’s given the community a big reason to start having conversations about wellness. “We don’t have it right yet, and I’m sure there will be more changes to come (to health reform), but that people are willing to have these discussions and talk about it and say, ‘Huh, maybe there is value in trying something new,’ is really exciting,” she said. Locally, Condon said he’s been proud to see the Kansas City community begin to rally around preventive health and wellness issues. “We’re seeing big companies, we’re seeing the mayor, we’re seeing the city manager and leadership in both the public and private sector that are really, truly leading in this space,” Condon said. “On one hand, I’m really proud of ARC and what we’ve been able to accomplish, but I’m also optimistic about the leadership we’ve seen. I really do believe this region was a little behind not that long ago, and now I think we’re surging ahead.” Brianne pfannenstiel

ARC PHYSICAL THERAPY+ Description: A physical therapy company with a focus on workers’ compensation claims and wellness programs Top executive: CEO Matt Condon Founded: 2003 Employees: 80 Address: 6362 College Blvd., Overland Park, KS 66211 Highlight: Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, ARC Physical Therapy+ continues to see growth fueled by its focus on preventive care. Previously honored: 2011, 2012

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ChAMpions of Business | 7

MAY 10, 2013

110 YEARS and GOING

STRONG

2013

CHAMPION OF BUSINESS by the Kansas City Business Journal

ALHuber.com 10770 El Monte Overland Park, KS 66211 ph 913-341-4880

we make quality healthcare accessible

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eva Pharmaceuticals is working every day to make quality healthcare accessible around the world. As a manufacturer

of brand and generic pharmaceuticals, Teva provides both new therapies and greater access to quality medicine. For more information, please visit tevapharm-na.com.


8 | ChAMpions of Business

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KANSAS CITY BUSINESS JOURNAL.COM

Balance Innovations LLC

alance is not only part of the name of CEO Keith Molzer’s company, it’s also a principle the company was founded on and strives to promote with employees and customers. Lenexa-based Balance Innovations LLC was founded in 2004 and began as a provider of reconciliation and cash management software — called VeriBalance — to retailers. That software remains the company’s main product; however, its scope of service to clients has grown. Retention and relationship growth with employees and customers are key to the company’s successes. “We actually really do have a tight relationship with all of our customers. We have had 100 percent renewal on our contracts. Our customers love what we do for them,” Molzer said. “A lot of our new products have come from asking customers, listening to them and delivering innovative solutions to them. We’ll continue to do that.” Two of the biggest changes for Balance Innovations recently have involved expanding the company’s reach. “One of the things I’m personally excited about, as we continue to grow our organization, is looking to provide other platforms (for clients),” said Shelley Bosler, senior vice president of strategic initiatives and marketing at Balance Innovations. In 2012, the company created French and Spanish versions of its VeriBalance software, allowing it enter non-English-speaking markets. Balance Innovations also has spent the past few years trying to broaden its services for existing customers by creating new products and services. “We are now really heading into the corporate level (instead of focusing only on the store level). We’re moving into that direction and getting into other areas — loss prevention, auditing, treasury and finance,” Bosler said. “We are starting to see ourselves look at other solutions outside of the store.” To help retailers at the corporate level, Balance Innovations launched vbInSight, which is a Web-based application that allows corporate offices to remotely moni-

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Balance Innovations CEO Keith Molzer says the company has had 100 percent renewal on its customer contracts. tor loss prevention, audit and monitor money at the store level. “Typically, retail is a vary manual process, and (many retailers) never spend time looking at best practices,” Molzer said. “Our software looks at best practices for managing cash offices.” Balance Innovations employees are in unique positions to come up with solutions such as vbInSight.

“Our people we hire come from the industry,” Molzer said. “They’ve been in the market and the industry. Our customers appreciate that, too.” Molzer said he hopes the company can continue on its upward trajectory. “We are very good at what we do, and we want to continue it,” he said. “That’s how we’ve run the company for the last nineplus years.” Tanya White Cromwell

BALANCE INNOVATIONS LLC Description: Leading provider of reconciliation and cash office management solutions for retailers Top executive: CEO Keith Molzer Founded: 2004 Employees: 73; 65 at Lenexa headquarters Address: 11011 Eicher Drive, Lenexa, KS 66219 Highlight: In 2012, Balance Innovations launched Spanish and French versions of VeriBalance, its flagship cash office management product. The company also launched vblnSight, a Web-based monitoring system that retailers can use to monitor bookkeeping and cashier data from multiple store locations at one time. Previously honored: 2008, 2011


Champions of Business | 9

MAY 10, 2013

MORE THAN

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10 | ChAMpions of Business

KANSAS CITY BUSINESS JOURNAL.COM

Greg Graves, CEO of Burns & McDonnell, says the infrastructure market “is about as good as it’s been,” driving the firm’s growth.

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Burns & McDonnell

urns & McDonnell maintained its fast national and international growth in 2012 as the firm capitalized on the growing infrastructure needs for energy and transportation. Chairman and CEO Greg Graves said the 115-year-old engineering firm celebrated meeting its companywide hiring goal of 4,000 recently and now wants to beat its best in terms of hiring and revenue. “We’ve had 10 years in a row of really fantastic — in my opinion — growth of the firm,” Graves said. “Sometimes you do sit back at your desk and say, ‘Well, now what?’” The firm will continue to focus on growing at an annual rate of about 8 percent and will continue to look for opportunities in energy and infrastructure, nationally and internationally, he said. The company will need to take care not to outgrow its corporate headquarters again. The engineering and architecture giant finished a 480,000-square-foot expansion of its corporate campus in January 2012 to help accommodate 500 new employees, but Graves said the firm might need even more space. “I can’t imagine we can go

another year without needing to look for space in Kansas City,” Graves said. Strong activity in the company’s infrastructure and energy divisions powered employee growth, along with a record $2 billion in sales in 2012, Graves said. The company expects to keep finding work building and repairing domestic water, transportation and energy infrastructure, and building infrastructure to support domestic oil and gas drilling and refinement, Graves said. “The U.S. market for infrastructure is about as good as it’s been,” Graves said. “As long as America doesn’t get in its (own) way, oil and gas will be a very strong business for the country over the next 10 to 25 years.” Ray Kowalik, president of the energy division, said the company is particularly interested in working with the “offshoots” of the natural gas business, such as exploration, refinement, cleanup and electric transfer infrastructure. Kowalik also said the firm’s partnership with Pittsburgh’s Westinghouse Electric Co. for developing small modular nuclear reactor technology is another potential growth sector. On the strength of its ener-

gy and infrastructure work, Burns & McDonnell opened three international offices in Canada, Qatar and India in the past year. Graves said the international work is based on growing as fast as the company can comfortably and recruiting foreign engineering talent to help shore up the firm’s ranks as the United States continues to produce fewer engineering students than the industry needs. Locally, the company will continue to focus on its involvement with Kansas City’s Environmental Protection Agency-mandated sewer rehabilitation project. It is estimated to cost $4 billion to $4.5 billion during the next 25 years. Although Burns & McDonnell will face stiff competition from internationally recognized local firms, such as Black & Veatch, Graves said he doesn’t think the project and the associated engineering and construction contracts should become a free-for-all. “Every engineering firm in town ... is going to have an opportunity to do a lot of work,” Graves said. “Rather than it be an overly competitive situation, it should be one where firms rally to the cause, find their sweet spot and go to work.” Austin Alonzo

BURNS & MCDONNELL Description: International engineering, architecture, construction, environmental and consulting solutions firm. Employees include engineers, architects, construction experts, planners, estimators, economists, technicians and scientists. Top executive: Chairman and CEO Greg Graves Founded: 1898 Employees: About 2,500 locally, 4,000 nationally Address: 9400 Ward Parkway, Kansas City, MO 64114 Highlight: Between 2011 and 2012 the firm’s revenue grew by 21.7 percent from $1.174 billion to $1.5 billion, a record amount of revenue for Burns & McDonnell.

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ChAMpions of Business | 11

MAY 10, 2013

Congratulations to ALL of the 2013 Champions of Business Award Winners!

At ECCO Select we know that it takes a collective effort to be successful so we THANK all of our employees and clients for the Champions of Business Award. 1301 Oak St. Suite 400 Kansas City, MO 64106

816.960.3800

www.eccoselect.com

Thank you! Inergy is proud to be recognized as a Champion of Business. Thank you to all of our talented employees for your hard work, dedication and commitment to building a successful company. And thank you to our business partners, customers, shareholders, and the Kansas City community for the important role you have played in Inergy’s success. We couldn’t do it without you!

Delivering Midstream Energy Solutions www.inergylp.com

SPRINT IS PROUD TO BE RECOGNIZED AS ONE OF KANSAS CITY’S 2013 CHAMPIONS OF BUSINESS. At Sprint, it’s our privilege to bring the benefits of cutting-edge technology and innovation to our customers and the Kansas City community. Our hard-working employees make it possible to offer our customers Unlimited data plans, a 4G LTE network, industry-leading devices and award-winning customer satisfaction. We’re proud to call Kansas City home.

sprint.com Unlimited available on select plans while on the Sprint network. Prohibited network use rules and other restrictions apply. 4G LTE in 85 markets and counting.


12 | CHAMPIONS OF BUSINESS

KANSAS CITY BUSINESS JOURNAL.COM

Paul Thompson, CEO of Country Club Bank, says some of its customers are banks that “are literally a hundred times our size.”

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Country Club Bank

ot many financial institutions in town can call other banks their customers, but Kansas City-based Country Club Bank can. Its Capital Markets Group provides a full range of taxable and tax-free investments and services to about 800 banks throughout the country. It serves as custodian for about $7 billion in assets. The Capital Markets Group recently launched a service called BancPath to help other banks manage their short-term and longterm income, and to assess their risk level. “We’re doing business with some banks who are literally a hundred times our size,” CEO Paul Thompson said. “But we’ve got the knowledge and experience that they desire.” Country Club Bank also offers a new service called FlexLoan, which helps other banks offer fixed-rate commercial loans, using a hedging strategy that reduces banks’ risk of being saddled with long-term, lowinterest-rate loans that end up bringing in less money in

time than the bank would need to pay out on deposits if interest rates rise before the loan is paid off. In addition to serving other banks, Country Club Bank has a wide variety of wealth management and planning services for individuals and businesses: • Country Club Trust Co. and Tower Wealth Managers have about $1.2 billion in assets under management. • Country Club Financial Services is a registered broker/dealer, investment advisory and insurance provider with $650 million in assets under management. • Country Club Capital Advisors provides a full range of investment banking services, which now can be offered around the globe. One reason John Hense and others from Christenberry Collet & Co. merged with Country Club Bank in November 2009 was the stability that comes with being part of a widely diversified financial institution. If mergers-and-acquisition activity is down, the bank’s capital markets group tends to be busier and vice versa. “Most banks the size of Country Club Bank would

have about 80 percent or more of their income derived from net interest margin,” Hense said. “In this low-interest-rate environment, the net interest margin is getting squeezed considerably. So Country Club Bank looked for about 50 percent net interest margin and 50 percent noninterest income. They’ve done a great job balancing that out.” Beyond the financial benefits diversification brings to the bank, Thompson wants to be able to meet just about any need clients may have from cradle to grave. And he wants not just to meet a customer’s expectations, but to exceed them. Thompson wants to be more than just a service provider: He wants Country Club Bank to become a reliable partner that customers can turn to no matter what their financial need. “One of the things that makes us successful is we are close to our customers,” Thompson said. “We listen to what they need and try to figure out a way to provide a solution. We’re in the business of helping people finance their businesses and their dreams.” James Dornbrook

COUNTRY CLUB BANK Description: A privately owned financial institution Top executives: Chairman Bryon Thompson, CEO Paul Thompson Founded: 1953 Employees: 358 Address: 414 Nichols Road, Kansas City, MO 64112 Highlight: Country Club Bank had 12.4 percent loan growth in 2012 and has $1.13 billion in assets.

DAVE KAUP | KCBJ


CHAMPIONS OF BUSINESS | 13

MAY 10, 2013

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CCO Select Corp. is in the business of people. As a consulting services firm reaching across a broad range of professions, the company focuses on the needs of customers looking for a top-quality talent pool and also on the people who work with the company to find jobs. “We make sure that people not only have the experience and the aptitude for what we need, but we also want them to have the attitude,” CEO Jeannette Prenger said. “You can have a great person as far as skills and experience, but if the attitude isn’t there, in our environment, it would be very hard for them to be successful.” One challenge in her business, Prenger said, is that her staff is required to use intuition and understanding of each client because the commodity — people — is not consistent. “A person that you may not think very highly of because the personality, chemistry is not quite the right fit, could be a perfect fit for someone else,” Prenger said. The ability to assess customers’ needs and the people working with them has been put to good use since the recession pushed the company to adapt, she said. “We changed our business model, and it made us much more flexible,” she said. “After 9/11, in order to keep the doors open, we went from being project-based and doing application development, leveraging new technologies, to having to do supplemental staffing and not just in IT.” Although the company continues the supplemental staffing, Prenger said now that the economy has stabilized, ECCO Select has gone back to its roots in consulting and technology solution. It creates a different need, working on a solution with a business partner versus supplying staffing for six months, she said. With 58 percent growth in revenue from 2010 to 2012, the company clearly found its way through the recession. Prenger opened an additional office in Kansas City, adding to a satellite office in Washington. Prenger said she will continue to grow but pay strict attention to quality. “I was just telling my COO this morning, there are things that I did when it was me, myself and I, and I knew the quality of what I was delivering,” she said. “We’ve had things modified, and I think, ‘When did this

ECCO Select Corp.

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Jeanette Prenger, CEO of ECCO Select, says that in placing talent, the company focuses on attitude as much as aptitude. change?’ and it’s maybe not to the expectations that I want. We’re having some of those growing pains on how we maintain that quality of excellence.” Ted Deel, account delivery director, has worked at ECCO for 10 years. He has little doubt Prenger’s energy and drive will continue to expand the company with the same demand for excellence it has always had. “The company really kind of follows the founder here,

in terms of why we have the attitude and the capabilities,” Deel said. “Jeannette’s a very driven individual; she’s one of these folks who wakes up at 4 o’clock in the morning and runs and teaches aerobics, and sits on boards around town, and is a ball of energy. She grew out of application development. She was a technonerd before it was popular. She really understands what clients are looking for.” Morgan Chilson

ECCO SELECT CORP. Description: A consulting services firm that works in information technology, public-sector work, accounting, human resources, legal and others Top executive: CEO Jeannette Prenger Founded: 1995 Employees: 185 Address: 1301 Oak St., Suite 400, Kansas City, MO 64106 Highlight: Prenger is known for her phenomenal energy level, and she directs part of that energy to helping people, locally and internationally, and encourages her staff to do the same. She’s on the board of Orphaned Starfish Foundation, which works to get computers and Internet access to orphanages around the world.


14 | CHAMPIONS OF BUSINESS

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ike Corp. was founded in 1945 by Lester Fike Sr., a skilled machinist, entrepreneur and inventor. Operating from his garage, Fike developed what would come to be known as the Fike rupture disc, a nonreclosing pressure relief device that was an immediate success in the manufacturing and processing industries and would become the cornerstone product for the company. Fast-forward nearly 70 years, and Fike Corp. still is going strong. Now a global manufacturing company renowned for engineering solutions that provide safety and facilities protection, Fike has several distinct product lines: pressure relief devices, explosion protection systems, fire suppression and fire alarm systems, and oil and gas products used for improving drilling and well completion. Part of the company’s continued success can be attributed to infrastructure, organizational alignment and a work environment that fosters innovative thinking. “We are a company founded and driven by innovation and entrepreneurial spirit,” CEO Chuck Kopoulos said. “We evolve each day into what we will become tomorrow.” Based in Blue Springs, Fike also has manufacturing facilities in Belgium, Wales, Canada and India, and sales and services offices in South America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Through product and market diversification, new product development and a focus on customers’ needs, Fike not only has survived but thrived during a tough economic stretch. For the third year in a row, and the fourth in the past five years, the privately owned company has realized record annual sales. Propelling Fike are the company’s rank-and-file employees, whom Kopoulos classifies as “paramount to our success.” Dedicated and well-trained, the average tenure of Fike’s U.S. employees is 15 years, a number skewed downward by the fact that the company has grown rapidly the past five years and a large number of employees are relatively new. More than 20 percent of the workforce has been employed in excess of 20 years, with some more than 40 years. What accounts for the longevity? First, Kopoulos said, because Fike is in the safety business, employees feel that they are making the work environment a safer place for customers. In addition, the goal is to treat employees like they are part of a family — Fike still has an annual company picnic, service awards and outreach. “At the end of the day,” Kopoulos said, “it is a matter of treating people with respect and fairness.” This philosophy extends to the community. Fike supports numerous organizations that provide services, assistance and education to Kansas City residents, including March of Dimes, Medical Mis-

KANSAS CITY BUSINESS JOURNAL.COM

Fike Corp.

Fike Corp. CEO Chuck Kopoulos says, “We evolve each day into what we will become tomorrow.” sions Foundation and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. To date, Fike has raised more than $26,000 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night walk. “Fundraising is a way of life at Fike,” said Jay Steiner, Light the Night’s campaign director. “They have sponsored the Light the Night walk for the past three years, formed corporate walk teams for the past two years and have actively helped promote our mission and goals in the community.” Chelan David

FIKE CORP.

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Description: Provides engineered solutions for fire and explosion prevention and suppression, and products used to improve drilling for oil and gas Top executive: CEO Chuck Kopoulos Founded: 1945 Employees: 415 local, 952 total Address: 704 S.W. 10th St., Blue Springs, MO 64105 Highlight: Fike has played a key role in the Fort Leavenworth Command and General Staff College by sharing Fike processes and methodologies with soldiers, many of whom will progress and become generals in the U.S. Army. Previously honored: 2012


CHAMPIONS OF BUSINESS | 15

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Mike Heitmann, CEO of Garney Construction Co., says it won three big projects in 2012 — “certainly much more work than we’ve been able to get in the last five years.”

Garney Construction Co.

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n a year that brought mixed financial success for Kansas City companies, Garney Construction Co. experienced a unique mix: an acquisition and an unprecedented number of projects won. In December 2012, Garney Holding Co., the owner of Garney Construction, which specializes in water management and treatment construction, bought competitor Encore Construction Co. of Winter Garden, Fla., for an undisclosed price. Garney Construction CEO Mike Heitmann said the acquisition strengthens Garney’s presence in Florida and expands Garney’s reach to the Carolinas. With the combining of companies, Garney went from about 700 employees to 850 employees, about 50 of whom continue to be based in Kansas City. “Encore had a similar culture to Garney — they rolled up their sleeves and had a hands-on approach,” Heitmann said. “Within weeks of the acquisition, we had Garney people on site at their projects and vice versa.” Heitmann said the Encore owner, Pat Rainey, had asked Garney management about

Garney’s employee stockownership plan (ESOP) and was thinking about it for his company. Encore employees join Garney’s ESOP this year. Even before acquiring Encore, Garney’s year was going well. The company picked up three large projects, two in Texas and one in Colorado. Garney’s total gross revenue for 2012 was $494 million, following $422 million in gross revenue for 2011. “Those three major projects were significant victories for us in 2012,” Heitmann said. “This is certainly much more work than we’ve been able to get in the last five years since the economy went down.” In the first project, Garney, along with Black & Veatch, is building a $155 million water pipeline to Midland, Texas, that is set to be finished in the summer. The other Texas project is a $305 million new pipeline to the northwest of Dallas. Construction began in the fall and is slated to finish in spring 2014. In Denver, Garney is working with CH2M Hill to design and build a $254 million water treatment plant that broke ground about two months ago and should be

complete in 2015. “We are going to look back and be pretty proud of what we got done in the market conditions we had. And that is because of our geographic diversity — we were able to shift resources around to capitalize on positive market activity,” Garney Construction COO Jason Seubert said. Heitmann attributed the Texas pipeline projects to a stronger economy there than in the rest of the country and said he hoped that something similar would happen in Florida in the near future. “We are bullish on the Florida market — it is probably another two years away,” Heitmann said. “Most municipalities have needs now but don’t have the funding for water projects. We’ll be well positioned for when the market reverses.” Seubert said the federal government could help national markets by providing more funding for nationwide infrastructure. “Infrastructure is not just roads and bridges but also water infrastructure,” he said. “The EPA keeps issuing more mandates for water but doesn’t provide any more money.” Emily Mulligan

GARNEY CONSTRUCTION CO. Description: Specializes in construction of water and wastewater treatment plants and pipelines Top executive: CEO Mike Heitmann Founded: 1961 Employees: 850, 50 in Kansas City Address: 1333 N.W. Vivion Road, Kansas City, MO 64118 Highlight: Acquired Encore Construction Co. of Winter Garden, Fla., in December; won $714 million in new projects in 2012 Previously honored: 2012


16 | CHAMPIONS OF BUSINESS

KANSAS CITY BUSINESS JOURNAL.COM

John Sherman (left) is CEO and Brooks Sherman the president of Inergy LP, a company John Sherman says is “on the precipice of an enormous opportunity.”

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fter years of being one of the nation’s principal propane retailers, Inergy LP now finds itself in an unfamiliar position: small fish in a big pond. The Kansas City company’s 2012 sale of its retail propane division to New Jersey-based Suburban Propane Partners LP for $1.8 billion completed its transformation into a pure-play midstream energy business. That means it now competes — or collaborates — with some of the world’s biggest energy companies, many of which are trying to capitalize on the natural gas boom that has come with the development of the Marcellus shale formation and other resources. On May 6, Inergy announced plans to sell itself to a Houston company and create a $7 billion enterprise. The deal is expected to close in late September. “We have to make sure we pick out the right niche where we can be successful. We don’t need to go head to head with Goliath,” CEO John Sherman said. “We’re

Inergy LP

on the precipice of an enormous opportunity in the midstream business.” Possibilities abound in the industry, with an estimated $250 billion in investment still needed to build out the nation’s energy infrastructure. Inergy’s stock is up about 20 percent since the Suburban deal, which cleared $1.2 billion in debt from the company’s balance sheet. It also reduced Inergy’s workforce from 3,000 employees to about 800, without the 330 far-flung retail propane locations it had before. Now, the company is focused on organic growth around its assets in the Northeast, Texas and on the West Coast, as well as the COLT crude oil hub in North Dakota that it acquired for $425 million late last year in its purchase of Rangeland Energy LLC. That facility ships 120,000 barrels out of the Bakken oil field each day, with room to expand. “It added a diverse play to our business,” said President Brooks Sherman, who was promoted from CFO in 2012. “It’s a great new shale play and a new commodity,

and it’s fully contracted, so there’s no risk.” Inergy’s midstream assets generate steady cash flow from long-term firm contracts, in contrast to the seasonal fluctuations of retail propane operations. Another steady area for the company is its involvement in the Kansas City area, where it has supported a wide range of causes, including the Cristo Rey School for inner-city students. Four students work at Inergy’s headquarters throughout the year, learning basic office skills. Inergy supports the Gillis Center, a resource for atrisk children and their families. The company also has been active in raising money to research multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s. John Sherman said the company’s spirit of service is inspired by other Kansas Citians whose businesses have established a platform for philanthropic efforts. “Not only is it the right thing to do, it makes our people recognize that we give something back to communities we operate in,” he said. Paul Koepp

INERGY LP Description: Midstream energy company Top executive: CEO John Sherman Founded: 1996 Employees: 800 Address: 2 Brush Creek Blvd., Suite 200, Kansas City, MO 64112 Highlight: In 2012, Inergy sold its retail propane operations to Suburban Propane Partners LP for $1.8 billion.

DAVE KAUP | KCBJ


CHAMPIONS OF BUSINESS | 17

MAY 10, 2013

Milbank Manufacturing Co. Inc.

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he attitude to business at Milbank Manufacturing Co. Inc. can be summed up by the phrase, “No pain,

no gain.” After seven years of self-inflicted pain, the manufacturer of electrical products stands ready to take advantage of growth opportunities. Beginning in 2006, soon after Lavon Winkler became CEO, Milbank embarked on a deliberate strategy of solidifying its core business: manufacturing residential and commercial electrical meter sockets. The business comprises about 70 percent of Milbank’s sales. “The basic premise was to improve the basic business again to where it’s nice and healthy,” Winkler said. “Let’s get our operating effectiveness and response capability up to record levels.” The company consolidated manufacturing operations and cut about half its staff. In 2008, Milbank stood ready to take advantage of growth opportunities. Unfortunately, that was the beginning of the recession. But its “lean” strategy, as Winkler called it, paid off. “We entered that recession in about as good a financial position as a company can expect to be,” Winkler said. So instead of just weathering the recession, Milbank applied its lean strategy to other divisions, eliminated short- and long-term debt, and invested in growth initiatives. Milbank’s two other divisions include CNI (commercial and industrial), which provides junction boxes to house electrical controls, and PowerGen, a 3-year-old venture that manufactures power-generating products, such as wind turbines and solar panels, and creates smart-grid technologies. Today, Milbank has emerged from the recession with its muscles flexed and ready to further dominate the industry. It already holds a solid 60 percent share of the domestic meter socket business. In 2012, its pretax earnings rose 300 percent to $7.2 million on $116 million in gross sales. Winkler said Milbank’s growth potential lies overseas. The company has doubled its international business each of the past three years and hired an international sales manager. It also formed a strategic alliance with a company in Cambridge, England. Although Milbank has seen growth in all three divisions, the biggest growth potential is in the overseas residential market, said Brad Skinner, senior vice president of sales and marketing and chief sales officer. “We see business potential in Mexico, Haiti and Saudi Arabia,” Skinner said.

Lavon Winkler, CEO of Milbank Manufacturing Co., has been solidifying its core business since 2006. Good thing, because the U.S. housing market appears to be sputtering. “It will take a long time to return to the numbers we saw in 2007, with 1.7 million starts,” Skinner said. “We’d be happy to get 1.1 million.” Skinner said weather events such as snow and flooding have slowed housing starts this year compared with last. “But we’re very excited about international growth prospects,” he said. Sheila Myers

MILBANK MANUFACTURING CO. INC.

DAVE KAUP | KCBJ

Description: Manufactures electrical products used to manage and move power for the utility, contractor, industrial and OEM markets Top executive: CEO Lavon Winkler Founded: 1927 Employees: 540 Address: 4801 Deramus Ave., Kansas City, MO 64120 Highlight: Being named a Champion of Business for the second year in a row. “To have good solid financial performance coming out of a recession, to be recognized for the commitment we have made to innovation in the electrical industry and for people to recognize that the company and its employees give back to the community on a daily basis, that’s huge,” Winkler said. Previously honored: 2012


18 | Champions of Business

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kansas city business journal.com

PlattForm advertising inc.

s a marketing firm, PlattForm Advertising Inc. has a huge advantage over its competitors: focus. Although other advertising agencies offer a breadth of services to a range of clients, PlattForm is different — it provides specialized marketing in the educational sector. In fact, Chief Growth Officer Brad Gibbs said the firm tends to think of itself as more of an educational company than an advertiser. “We have all the services that make sense for an educational institution,” he said. “A lot of what our competitors (in education) offer is just one or two services, which leads them to not having a strategic approach.” President Dave Admire said the firm has outpaced other advertising agencies by avoiding limiting its efforts to a single product for its education clients, as many other agencies do. “Over the years, we’ve created a distance between our firm and our competitors by staying focused,” Admire said. “The revenue came with that because our clients always knew we were on the same side of the table with them.” The firm’s strategy appears to be working. In 2012, its staff grew by about 200 employees locally, revenue grew by 21.3 percent, and profits rose 3.5 percent. But as the industry evolves, the firm’s clientele is shifting. PlattForm seized the opportunity to expand into adult and online learning; that sector now makes up 30 percent of its clients. But Gibbs is aiming higher — he wants to see for-profit colleges and universities versus adult online education hit a 50-50 ratio. Gibbs said PlattForm is targeting traditional universities for two main reasons: They typically have FiLE | kcBJ a bigger brand focus, and Michael Platt (right) is the founder and chairman and Dave Admire the CEO of PlattForm Advertising Inc. as the economy revs back up, much of the workforce its search engine optimiza- of clients and work to pro- to look for more affordable is looking toward continu- tion, social media and pay- vide more diversified ser- options. PLATTFORM “Now it’s more expensive, vices, possibly in retention ing education courses that per-click advertising. ADVERTISING INC. and students need more “The growth of interac- services. those traditional universi• Continue the firm’s choices, so we’re trying to tive marketing across the ties offer. Description: Direct“People need to be aware country is just tremen- growth in the adult and on- figure out how to market response agency specializing to that student and find the of their college or career dous,” Admire said. “We’re line classroom. in postsecondary education • Advance the company’s right fit,” Gibbs said. options and what’s avail- seeing individuals spending marketing To continue the growth, able out there,” Gibbs said. much more time on differ- recent theme — “education Top executives: Founder Admire said the firm will “Education is becoming ent mobile devices and re- without borders.” and CEO Michael Platt, The firm has its eye on continue to focus on climore and more specialized ally studying the way they President Dave Admire expanding internationally. ents. to the end user so they can consume media.” Founded: 1989 “We’re going to continSterling Partners bought New changes to internatailor their education toemployees: 550 local, 22 ward the career they want PlattForm in January for an tional education laws are ue supporting them as they nationally opening up doors, as well. grow through their strategy or are in. Now and in the undisclosed amount. address: 15500 W. 113th Under new ownership, For example, in the United and help them create sucyears to come, that’s where St., Suite 200, Lenexa, KS the firm is going after three Kingdom, decreasing gov- cessful marketing plans,” our focus needs to be.” 66219 ernment educational dol- Admire said. To reach its audience, core objectives: Previously honored: 2011 • Expand its existing list lars are leading students PlattForm is ramping up autumn morningsky


Champions of Business | 19

maY 10, 2013

FiLE | kcBJ

Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint Nextel Corp., leads a company with a lot on its plate — M&A, new 4G network — and a focus on improvement, customers and its community.

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sprint nextel corp.

sk Bill White to explain his job title, and be prepared for an explanation that will crush any stereotypes you might have of a staid businessman lingering behind a desk. The vice president of corporate communications and corporate social responsibility for Sprint Nextel Corp. has a lot on his shoulders, especially during these somewhat turbulent times. Sprint remains dedicated to upgrading its wireless network to 4G technology, even while it faces merger-and-acquisition activity with Dish Network Corp., Clearwire Corp. and Tokyo-based White SoftBank Corp. “I lead our involvement in the community,” White said. “It’s really about how a major corporation interacts with the community and how we engage with our consumers. That plays a big role in shaping a company’s reputation and its brands.” The brands, he said, are stronger than ever. The company’s most outstanding achievements in 2012, he said, revolve around everything from innovation to customer service. Sprint introduced its 4G LTE

network in July and now offers it in 58 markets. The company has moved from last to first place in terms of customer service in the American Customer Satisfaction Index. It also ranked as the third greenest company in Newsweek’s list of top eco-friendly corporations. CEO Dan Hesse helped the company achieve these goals, White said, much as a physician would cure an ill patient. “We have the patient off life support, and now it’s thriving,” White said. “We emerged from 2012 with momentum. We exceeded Wall Street’s expectations.” The first step on the road to success, White said, was building consumer confidence, which started with simplified pricing and greater service. “Customers don’t have to worry about how much data they use and how long they’re on the phone,” he said. While pushing for revenue growth and customer service, the company did not ignore one of its most important missions: Its deep roots in the community. Sprint, the largest public company in Kansas City, has a history of generosity to the city. In 2012, Sprint and its employees pledged $2 million to the United Way of Greater Kansas City. Sprint and the Sprint Founda-

tion donated more than $3.7 million in 2012 to such programs as the American Red Cross and the Kansas City Symphony. Chris Jenista, who works in mobile security, said Sprint does a great job of promoting social network awareness. Sprint keeps employees informed of ways they can help and encourages them to reach out to their social network, he said. “There are a lot of things we can do, from United Way to green efforts, to help our local and national community,” Jenista said. “You’re really working for a company that cares about people, not just the bottom dollar.” As for the uncertainty the company faces with all the M&A action, White said company leaders are urging employees to stay focused on the great work that has pulled the company up. “Our board of directors is looking at the proposal made by Dish, but that’s our board’s decision,” he said. “There’s always a level of distraction in these times, but you have to be very careful to say that the way things are at the beginning of a transaction do not always predict how it will end. “Multiple people want to invest in or acquire Sprint. Our success has made us the belle of the ball.” maria martin

SPRINT NEXTEL CORP. Description: Global provider of voice, data and Internet services Top executive: CEO Dan Hesse Founded: 1899 employees: 7,200 local; 39,362 total address: 6200 Sprint Parkway, Overland Park, KS 66211 Highlight: Value-driven unlimited pricing plans, a nationwide 4G LTE network rollout and industry-leading devices, along with improved customer service, made 2012 a banner year for Sprint. Previously honored: 2011


20 | Champions of Business

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kansas city business journal.com

suhor industries inc.

uhor Industries Inc. has seen 30 percent of its business literally go up in flames in the past decade, but the burial vault manufacturer has increased its market share despite an industry trend toward cremation. The company manufactures concrete burial vaults sold in funeral homes, and the low cost of cremation has diverted one-third of its clientele. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the U.S. cremation rate in 2000 was 26 percent; by 2011, it was 42 percent. During this same time, however, Suhor Industries has grown dramatically. Its profits increased 11.9 percent in 2010, 31 percent in 2011 and almost 19 percent in 2012. Suhor Industries has managed to keep growing while other similar companies haven’t because of one main business focus — what Chairman and CEO Joseph Suhor III calls “roll up.” Since he bought the company in 1987, it has made 54 acquisitions. A main one was buying a controlling interest in Wilbert Funeral Services, a company with licensees throughout North America that buy component products for the manufacture of burial vaults. It also has bought companies with funeral-related products, such as embalming fluid, and started a casket business about three years ago. That company has had double-digit growth since its inception. Because concrete is its specialty, it diversified into products such as retaining wall systems. “Some other companies are doing this, too, but not at the depth that we are,” Joseph Suhor said. “No one has gotten that large and diversified to that extent.” Although it has paid off, expanding into products beyond its core wasn’t a sure bet, President Dennis Welzenbach said. The industry norm is for funeral directors to diversify their suppliers. They like to buy embalming fluids, caskets and other products from different vendors. But Welzenbach said Suhor Industries used its brand, reliability and discounts to get customers to buy as much as possible from Suhor. The company also has used its brand and relationships to provide community service. After the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Suhor Industries quickly reached

DaVE kaUP | kcBJ

Joseph Suhor III (left) is the chairman and CEO and Dennis Welzenbach the president of Suhor Industries Inc. out to the families and offered free burial services to nearly all of those who were killed. Working with Wilbert licensees in the area, Suhor provided vaults along with $42,000 to go toward memorial services. The organization has a long-standing reputation for providing these services. It buried all of the children killed in the Oklahoma City bombing; it buried President Ronald Reagan; and it buries or has cremated a large number of first responders since the inception of a nationwide first responder program in

2012. Joseph Suhor said the organization is well suited for these funerals because it has a national distribution network and is able to get products — like ones for children, which are somewhat uncommon — within one or two days. “We are called upon because we can take care of it and step beyond the norm and satisfy,” he said. “We are a good organization, and we have the connections throughout the United States and the resources to do it.” Tammy Worth

SUHOR INDUSTRIES INC. Description: The company is a retail and wholesale manufacturer of concrete burial vaults. It also provides ancillary concrete and funeral products. Top executives: Chairman and CEO Joseph Suhor III, President Dennis Welzenbach Founded: 1933 employees: 735 address: 10965 Granada Lane, Overland Park, KS 66211 Highlight: In an industry shrinking because of an increase in the number of cremations, Suhor’s revenue grew by 63 percent in 2011 and 18.7 percent in 2012.


Champions of Business | 21

Photo by James Hinds

maY 10, 2013

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22 | Champions of Business

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lance at a painting near the entrance of Travois Holdings LLC to grasp a bit of the company’s founding philosophy. The painting — one of dozens of colorful works of art that depict American Indian life — shows a woman riding a horse that pulls a travois. And the travois — a sort of sled that carries goods — is symbolic of the company’s work, CEO Lorna Fogg said. It’s about helping a community carry the load, she said. “It’s an invisible poor out there,” she said of the American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities the company works with. “We’re helping these people find ways to finance housing and businesses.” The Travois family of companies, founded in 1995, raises investor capital for housing and economic development projects, primarily through the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit (for housing) and the New Markets Tax Credit (for economic development projects). Since its start, Travois has brought more than $450 million in private equity capital to help build or rehabilitate more than 4,200 homes. “We’re a mission-driven business,” said Fogg, pausing to pat a standard poodle mix, one of many of the employees’ dogs who spend the day at the office. “We’ve put a lot of American Indians to work and have provided housing for thousands.” When hiring, the company targets entrepreneurial, compassionate people, Fogg said, walking through the renovated warehouse space in the Crossroads Arts District. The company consolidated several of its offices throughout the country and moved to Kansas City in 2010. Chairman David Bland first saw the need for Travois when he was working with a Federal Reserve Bank to bring financial services to reservations. “He would go out to the Indian population, and they would have no idea there were housing tax credits,” said Fogg, who started with Travois in 2002. She walks past a comfortable lounge, replete with a kitchen and a pingpong table, toward a new outdoor deck, shaded by

kansas city business journal.com

Travois Holdings llc

Lorna Fogg, CEO of Travois Holdings, says the company helps “an invisible poor.” a 330-panel solar system. The playground of the office’s day-care center shares the space. “Most of us travel a lot, and some become very close to the American Indian communities,” she said. “We have one woman who will stay a weekend where she is, then stay the weekend and take part in their powwows and sit in on little league games.” Travois is committed to empowering the staff to help American Indians,

who have some of the highest levels of poverty in the country. The cooperative efforts the group puts into volunteer work happen because the people who work at Travois are like family, said Phil Glynn, vice president of economic development. “When you come to work, it feels like home,” Glynn said. “Whether you’re related to the family or not, you’re still a member of the family.” maria martin

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TRAVOIS HOLDINGS LLC Description: The Travois family of companies raises and deploys investor capital for housing and economic development projects that benefit American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities. Top executive: CEO Lorna Fogg Founded: 1995 employees: 34 address: 310 W. 19th Terrace, Kansas City, MO 64108 Highlight: The company was able to get $70 million in New Market tax credits invested in less than a year.


Champions of Business | 23

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DaVE kaUP | kcBJ

Jon Cook is CEO and Beth Wade the CMO of VML, which has designs on expanding its global presence even further.

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rom its headquarters at Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport, VML is preparing to embark on further global expansion. Already the digital marketing firm has a presence on five continents; this year, it plans to expand its footprint by adding offices in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. “It’s definitely ambitious,” CEO Jon Cook said. “It takes a ton of energy, a ton of heart and a lot of focus.” The company is using lessons it’s learned from its growth spurt during the past two years — since October 2011, it has added offices in Sao Paulo; Singapore; Mumbai, India; Jakarta, Indonesia; Sydney; and Tokyo. “Over the past two years, we’ve learned a lot about the best ways to integrate, operate and accelerate an office as part of our VML family,” Cook said. “We’re constantly learning how to do it.” VML’s clients include Gatorade, T-Mobile and Microsoft, and such companies are looking to expand their

Vml

market share worldwide. “Having a global footprint for many of our clients is becoming increasingly important,” said Beth Wade, VML’s new chief marketing officer. That’s why VML, too, is looking for opportunities to expand around the world. VML’s niche in marketing, as Cook described it, is to help companies engage customers from when they encounter the brand online through the time they buy a product in the store. He called it “always-on digital engagement.” The ways VML engages customers includes websites, social media, mobile and tablet apps, and what Cook called “roadmapping” the digital strategy for companies. As VML opens more offices around the world, it’s important to uphold the same standards and company culture to maintain consistency with clients — and that’s where Wade’s new position comes in. Wade has been at VML for about 11 years and previously was chief client officer. She said she will make sure that VML worldwide doesn’t operate as sepa-

rate offices but maintains fluidity and “mind-share” among its branches. Cook said a benefit of growing worldwide has been adding new points of view into the mix. “The most exciting thing to us about VML has been we’ve truly used that expansion to enhance our perspective,” he said. Cook also said he’s found common ground among the people brought into the company. He said they’ve found that others share traits of what he called a “Midwestern sensibility” — putting a premium on interpersonal relationships and work ethic. “We quickly found those weren’t traits isolated to Kansas City or the Midwest,” he said. “We found people to join forces with that share those ideals.” And the growth of the company doesn’t just benefit VML’s bottom line, Cook said. Employees from the Kansas City offices have gone on to work in New York, London and Sydney. “I can’t think of any more important reason to grow than opportunity,” he said. Katie Bean

VML

Description: Digital marketing agency serving clients such as Ford, Colgate-Palmolive and Southwest Airlines. Local clients include H&R Block, Kansas City Power & Light and Kansas City Zoo. Top executive: CEO Jon Cook Founded: 1992 employees: 600 in Kansas City, 1,200 worldwide address: 250 N.W. Richards Road, Kansas City, MO 66116 Highlight: VML celebrated its 20th anniversary in October. “It was a celebration more about where we’re going than 20 years of history,” Cook said. The company put on a 20/20 Foresight conference to coincide with the anniversary.


24 | Champions of Business  kansas city business journal.com

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