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city is a collection of people, working together to create something larger than any single individual can accomplish. And no city can thrive without active, engaged leaders in community, industry, nonprofits and government. The Colorado Springs Business Journal wants to share leadership lessons from Colorado Springs’ top leaders, those who work tirelessly for their companies, engage in the community and stay involved in developing the city where we all want to live, work and play. Join us as we share the stories and lessons from 12 CEO paths to the top of their field, how they got there and what they plan to do next. In these pages, you’ll meet Pam Keller, CEO of Keller Homes; Greg Phillips, director of the municipal airport; Erik Wallace, leader of the local branch of the UCHealth Medical School. You’ll discover how Kent Fortune leads USAA; Venkat Reddy’s plans at the helm of UCCS. You’ll find out how Randy Price started his restaurant group and how he stays on the cutting edge of trends in an unforgiving, always-changing industry. Find out more about Michael Thomas, the new superintendent at Colorado Springs School District 11 and what Linda Weiss wants to do as founder and CEO

of the Colorado Springs Conservatory. Dirk Draper will talk abut his efforts to improve both economic development and the business climate as CEO of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC. Brian Erling will share Penrose St. Francis’s plan for health care and discuss how he leads one of the city’s largest health care systems. And everyone wants to know the future direction of Colorado Springs Utilities — and we’ll find out more about its new CEO, Aram Benyamin. We’ll also learn what its like to run a small business with the joint CEOs of the Picnic Basket, Michelle Talarico and Kathy Dreiling. This magazine is only the start of the conversation with each of these CEOs. We’ll follow up this year with 12 small events to make sure you can meet the CEO and ask questions of your own. Our goal is to create access for our readers: We know you are the decision makers in your business, so we want to be able to bring you other leaders to share their philosophy, their challenges and their failures. Our aim remains the same: Read the Business Journal today; make better business decisions tomorrow. Amy Gillentine Sweet Publisher & Executive Editor

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ARAM BENYAMIN Colorado Springs Utilities


olorado Springs Utilities CEO Aram Benyamin has always been a man on a mission — with big goals and in a hurry to reach them. When he arrived in the United States from Lebanon as a 19-year-old in 1977, he’d left a civil war that had been raging for more than two years. Within a month of landing in Los Angeles, he was accepted into the engineering program at California State University, where he sped through the degree. Benyamin had a job offer in hand from the city of Los Angeles months before his graduation, and the recruiter encouraged him to take a week off after his finals. “I said, ‘This is not the time for me to take off. I want to start work,’” he recalled. “So I had a weekend between my final exam and my Monday report. “Coming as an immigrant, going through engineering school in less than three and a half years, I’d been doing nothing but running to get the degree and looking forward for a job. Jumping from the last day in school to a career, it was a scary moment. I had no clue what I was getting into my first day — but it’s been nothing but blessings from Day 1. “I think it was the mindset that I had. ... You have to fight, in a good way. You have to fight and not let things stop you from going forward — whether it’s the language barrier, or it’s a culture barrier, or new country, new setting, new vision of what to do or what not to do, trying to go through doors, tribulations as you adjust your personality. “I was 22 years old when I first got into the job market; I was a young engineer, the world was unlimited potential. It was scary to get in and get all these realities surrounding you — [being told] what you cannot do. And I wasn’t going to sit down and take that.” Over the following decades, Benyamin worked his way up to become senior assistant general manager at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the nation’s largest municipal utility. He also earned an MBA from University of La Verne and a master’s in public administration from California State University, Northridge. Benyamin joined CSU in 2015 and was appointed CEO in September 2018 — and he’s still in a hurry to do the things people tell him can’t be done.

jor policy implementation [in Los Angeles] that was extremely painful and very hard to do — but from a rallying of stakeholders and bringing people together, I see that as a very proud moment. When people tell me that something cannot be done, that’s a huge sign for me to get those things done and be proud of it. This was one of those moments. People told me, ‘You can’t get L.A. off coal or [carbon fuel] or the fossil fuel economy that fast.’ And I said, ‘We can do it; we will do it, and we will put a plan together to do it.’ Before I left L.A., the entire plan was put in place. It’s been almost four years now since I’ve left and I look back and the policies and the plans that I put together are still rolling forward, they’re being implemented. What was a pivotal moment in your career? The realization of how much you don’t know. When I graduated from engineering school I thought the world revolved around technical know-how and skills. Very quickly I found out that that itself is a very, very limited skill set. You could be very good technically, but the entire world around what happens in organizations is the politics and the policy and the execution — everything that I had no clue that I should be either aware of or trained in. That was a realization that hit me pretty hard, because I thought ‘I’ve arrived’ when I became an engineer and I was very good at the technical side. I found out that I [was] not even close to the beginning of the line.

“You have to fight, in a good way.”

Where did your drive come from? It’s a combination of many things. It’s the upbringing; I had no desire to waste a minute. I was just ready to go to school and finish — very, very focused on studies. I practically lived on campus because I was taking 16, 17, 18 units every quarter. I had no choice at that time, because of all these things — coming from Lebanon with the civil war and all the things that were going on there. Part of it was fear, part of it was fear of failure, part of it was upbringing, part of it was motivation. It was many, many of these things. What’s your proudest achievement? When I look back at my career, I see some of the ma-

How would you describe your leadership style? I’m very aware of the front-line employees. I’ve been a field engineer for many decades and I understand the effort and the focus and the struggles that the front-line employees go through. ... The other thing I always tell the employees is we are a publicly-owned utility, so the people of the city own us. I think the humility and the honor that somebody has as a public servant is such a huge responsibility that I don’t take it lightly. ... It anchors you to something that is very important. You are the holder of the trust of the entire city. Tell us about the best advice you’ve received. I had a boss, David Freeman, who is extremely resilient. So one day I asked him: ‘What’s the secret of life that you can give me?’ He said, ‘I look at life as: Today is the beginning of the rest of my life. I don’t hold grudges, I don’t look back. I don’t look at negative stuff that will bring me down. Get over what has happened in the past. Learn from it, but look at life as the beginning of the rest of your life, and live it the way you want to live it.’ And I always thought about that for many years and it’s probably the best advice that I could give anybody. ... We’re all full of faults, all of us. Don’t dwell on setbacks that long. Dwell enough to learn but don’t let it bring you down. Pick yourself up and move forward — the rest of your life is a blank sheet of paper. —Helen Robinson


ince he became CEO of the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC in May 2015, Dirk Draper has steered the organization to new heights. Membership has increased from the low 900s to nearly 1,300 today. The chamber has received three state and national awards this year, and the chamber and the city have racked up numerous awards and No. 1 spots on various lists. Draper said he’s proud to be a part of that progress Draper grew up in Rolla, Mo. He graduated from the University of Missouri at Columbia with a degree in agricultural economics and, in his mid-30s, earned a master’s degree in natural resource economics from Colorado State University. Before moving to Colorado Springs 15 years ago, he worked as a banker and for a Northern Colorado engineering company doing environmental assessments and impact statements. He moved to Colorado Springs and worked for CH2M Hill as an area manager for 12½ years. Draper first discovered Colorado Springs when attending church camps as a youngster. “I know it’s a familiar story for people who live here — that they came out on vacation and came back later,” he said. “I’m one of those stories.”

on the chamber staff, and they convinced me to serve on the board. What are your most significant accomplishments at the Chamber & EDC? Rebuilding relationships for the Chamber & EDC. A second is building a team of folks here who are very good at their craft and are very committed to what the city does. I’m just really proud of that vibe and their ethic. And a third thing is the ability to participate in the renaissance of the city. It’s a privilege to be a small piece of that. … I won’t take credit for it because that’s my team, but getting some industry recognition is a far cry from where this organization has been. To what do you attribute the chamber’s growth? Mindfulness for the value we provide our members. We’ve asked people to come back in a lot of different ways. Economic recovery for the region helps as well. Businesses are healthier; I don’t underestimate that, but it’s been a powerful combination.

“I love telling the story about Colorado Springs.”

What skills have you developed that serve you well now? [As a grad student] I started doing regional economic studies. I did modeling — if you change something in the economy, what are the effects on the rest of the economy? That was good preparation. … I worked for a few years with a research center in Fort Collins for the Fish and Wildlife Service and looked at endangered species protection, … and I was on a very small team of economists who figured out how many jobs would come and go with policy changes. So I understand the effects of multipliers and spinoff effects. Another thing was that I’ve been a community volunteer my whole life, … and that actually contributed to how I came to be here. I served on the chamber board as a volunteer from 2008 to 2011, and I was board chair for one year. I was also on the EDC board in 2010, so I knew that part of the business as well when we were separate organizations. What individuals have influenced your career and leadership style? A guy named Arlen Disselkoen, [who] was executive vice president with the biggest bank in Greeley. I saw him many times introduce himself as just saying, ‘I work at a bank.’ He was never bragging about his role; he was just very humble. Ralph Peterson was the CEO of CH2M Hill when I first started working there. [He was] a remarkable leader for a global company. He had the ability to make you feel like you were the most important thing in his day. Two other people who were influential in my path are Dave Csintyan and Stephannie Fortune. They were both

What are the most difficult challenges you and the chamber have faced and will face in the future? The biggest challenge we face is unlimited opportunities to be involved in things around the community but limited resources. … There’s hardly a week that goes by where somebody come to us with, ‘Hey would you help with this initiative? Would you lead this initiative?’ We can’t do everything that’s placed before us. … The biggest challenge we will face is the economic cycles that will buffet the national and regional economy. … so knowing that a recession is likely sometime in the next couple of years and preparing our organization and preparing our business community for that. How are you preparing for that? We started building a reserve account two years ago, which the organization didn’t have, so that we can weather some downturns. … Nationally, there’s nothing we can do, but we can help build a healthier, more diverse economy here that helps us withstand those downturns. What do you love about your job? What I love most is the opportunity to understand our local businesses. … People are so proud of what they do, what they make and how they serve others. They’re happy to tell you their story. There are so many headline-worthy companies in this community that nobody knows about that we get to work with on almost a daily basis. … A second thing is that at the Chamber & EDC we get to be in the middle of so many things in the community. I like to say we’re the straw that stirs the drink. I love telling the story about Colorado Springs. I enjoy working with our local employers and helping them grow and prosper, and I love helping to recruit companies here because it’s a great place to live and a great place to do business. —Jeanne Davant


Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC

DR. BRIAN ERLING Penrose-St. Francis Health Services


any would argue that Colorado Springs’ recent growth is a positive thing. However, it does mean more services are or will be needed, and that includes health care. Those needs are something Dr. Brian Erling, the president and CEO of Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, recognizes and aims to address. “Our vision at Centura is, ‘Every community, every neighborhood, every life — whole and healthy,’” he said. “For this market, that translates to an immediate and imperative need to grow to meet the health care needs and to improve health care access for the entire community.” Erling was appointed to fill the CEO position longterm in August after acting as interim CEO for about five months. He has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, a master’s in business administration from the University of Colorado in Denver and a medical doctorate from John Hopkins University in Baltimore. Erling completed his residency in emergency medicine at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He is board certified through the American Board of Emergency Medicine. Like many transplants, Erling moved to Colorado not only for a job, but also because of the state’s mountain scenery. “I definitely wanted to be somewhere that I actually wanted to live too,” he said. The health care system’s chief recently spoke with the Business Journal about his goals for Penrose-St. Francis, as well as combating the nationwide health care workforce shortage.

that was started over 130 years ago by religious women that came across the country because they were told to do so. I often reflect on the challenges they faced, and it pales in comparison to anything that we face nowadays. So it’s very humbling. What are some of your goals for Penrose-St. Francis? Market growth, physician enablement, consumer enablement, associate engagement and to reduce our costs. All of that while maintaining the highest quality and safety scores in the region. Who inspires you? Our patients, without a doubt. Being around them daily and hearing their stories and understanding the trust they place with us is what drives all of us to excellence here. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Remember that everyone has a story. Not only does that mindset reduce judgment, in particular, when you start a career in the emergency department, but it creates a natural curiosity. Have you failed? And what have you learned from failure? The first executive position that I took was a personal failure in my mind. It was a professional success in that organization, but there was a mission mismatch. I saw some red flags before I took the job, but I let myself be intrigued by the title and the scope of the position. And after that I swore to never again take a role with a company that isn’t 100 percent aligned with my personal values, which is exactly why I chose to return to Centura.

“Remember that everyone has a story.”

What do you love best about your work? Without a doubt, the people. That is patients, first and foremost, as well as the associates and the physicians.

What is your leadership style or philosophy, and how has it evolved over the years? No. 1, always lead with mission. And to that end, it may mean that you make some mistakes; we all make mistakes. But if we’re always leading with mission first, those mistakes can be overcome, in my experience. No. 2, it’s all about the team, so building trust, which can mean creating some intentionality around creating opportunities for vulnerability. But when you have that team and the trust in place, that allows you to have that conflict, which is really important. Healthy conflict is really important for any business. As physicians, we’re trained to be leaders, but generally that’s more around the care. So emergency doctors are particularly task-oriented and focused on urgency. I just shake some of those habits on the administrative side of medicine. Sometimes you need to slow down in order to speed up. What would you say is your proudest professional achievement? Personally, without a doubt, it’s family. Professionally, it’s being asked to carry forward this ministry, something

What’s the biggest challenge you face? Associate recruitment and retention. We will always have some baseline turnover in this market due to military relocations but the demand for skilled health care workers is increasing and is outpacing supply. We’re addressing this by starting a new graduate nursing residency program. And we have a lot of other initiatives focused on making Penrose-St. Francis the employer of choice in the region. How will you advance the mission of Penrose-St. Francis? My leadership team. We keep [the mission] as our No. 1 priority with every decision we make. We start our days and our meetings by reflecting on our mission to ensure that it is always at the forefront of our minds. It’s important to remember the many caregivers and leaders who have advanced this ministry for the last 130 years, and that we are all but stewards in time. It is on each of us to ensure that work continues well into the future. The other imperative as a leader in a ministry like this is to really hire people who fit our mission and values. —Jessica Kuhn


t’s easy to spot Kent Fortune in the halls of USAA, the Fortune 500 company that provides diversified services to military members and their families. He’s the one wearing the brig red shirt and Jerry Garcia tie. Fortune’s colorful clothing says a lot about his personality — “I wore pink tennis shoes at my wedding,” he said. “I like to have fun. I don’t really take myself too seriously.” Besides expressing his sense of style, his attire makes him approachable and sends the message that at USAA, “you can be you,” he said. “What we’ve found out is if that person comes to your organization and they can be their authentic self, they’re going to stay longer, they’re going to perform better, and they’re going to enjoy what they do,” he said. Born at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., Fortune and his military family moved nine times in the next 18 years. One of those moves was to Colorado Springs. Fortune graduated from Mitchell High School and went to Texas Tech University for three years. Then his father developed a serious illness, and Fortune returned to complete his education at UCCS, graduating in 1989.

something that doesn’t resonate with you, it’s really difficult and your employees will know that as well. The other ones that I focus on are, No. 1, relationship building. … that leads into caring and listening, and that’s all in the communication aspect of it. One of the big ones that I really keep today is approachable. And… today’s workforce, you tell them I want you to do this, they’re going to ask why, and if you tell them, ‘because I said so,’ it’s usually not going to go over very well. They need to understand connecting the dots. … People today don’t follow you because you have a title; they follow you because you’re inspiring them and motivating them and encouraging them. What do you love about your job? The beautiful thing about my company is that they’ve allowed me to be me. When I get up in the morning, it’s like I don’t have to go to work, I get to go to work. I get to help employees be at their best each and every day, remove road blocks that are in their way, ensure that they have the tools that they need to be successful, be a sounding board if they need it, connect the dots. … The other part of my job, which is connecting with the community and giving back philanthropically from the USAA standpoint of making a difference so that our community is better, is a great responsibility but also one that has great rewards.

“The beautiful thing about my company is that they’ve allowed me to be me.”

What was your first job after college? For almost half my dad’s life, he battled health issues. When I came back to UCCS, it was like, how can I stay close to home and get a job? My dad … had heard really good things about USAA. So I applied here and in August 1989, I started my journey with USAA. My first job was frontline phones, taking auto insurance calls. Having grown up in a military family and our job here taking care of the military, it was a match made in heaven.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen at USAA? Technology today compared to when I started is really unbelievable. Our main channel was phones; the members called in and we took care of them. We still did regular mail as well. We still get a lot of phone calls, but now they use social media, they go online to USAA. com. When they’re involved in an automobile accident, they take a picture of their car and send it in to us. [Another change is] the competitors in the industry. Costco sells insurance; Amazon is thinking about getting into the insurance business. From an eligibility standpoint, basically we were officers only when I first started, then we went over to enlisted, and now we’ve basically opened it up to, if you’ve ever honorably served our great nation, you’re eligible for USAA. What would you say are the most important skills a leader needs to cultivate? You have to be true to who you are. If you try to do

What career accomplishments are you most proud of ? I really don’t think much about it. What I focus on today is how have I helped other people get where they want to be. If I look at an employee who I’ve talked to about their career or been a sounding board for them and see that they’ve been promoted or moved ahead in their career, that’s the things that resonate with me. … From a company standpoint, one thing that I’m proud of is what our campus has accomplished. For the last four years, we’ve finished no lower than fourth in [The Denver Post’s survey of] best places to work in the state. Two of the four years we won it. Why do you think it is important for a business leader to be involved in community activities? For a city to be great, its business leaders have to be involved, and also it generates positive things for the business. You’re pulling your talent from that community, and so the more that the business leaders are out there and working together, the more you’re going to draw additional businesses to your area, the more that you’re going to bring up the issues that need to be addressed, and the more that you can work together to make the city better. … Also if you’re telling your employees that they should go out there and be involved in the community, I think you should role model that behavior. —Jeanne Davant


PAM KELLER Keller Homes


t the age of 8, Pam Keller moved with her parents from Florida to Colorado to lay roots, so to speak. Keller’s parents were florists, and it was from them she says she inherited her “business drive.” Keller entered the residential real estate industry before her 20th birthday, having attended UCCS for a year. “I was ready to get out in the real world and work,” she said. Today Keller is the CEO of Keller Homes, a homebuilding company she runs with her husband, Dave. The company employs 35 locally and works with about 350 subcontractors in the region. The company has certainly grown over its three and half decades in business, but Keller said there are some business lessons she’s learned that never go out of style: Ask questions, build a team that puts integrity above all else, and remember that creating community is more than constructing a home. What should we know about Keller Homes? We’ve been in business for 35 years. The company was incorporated in 1983 and we’ve built to the north, south, east and west. The core of our business since the early ‘90s has been up north with about 50 percent of our work being in Briargate, Pine Creek and Corderra. We also don’t do entry level homes. We build for move-up buyers — in the $400,000 to $800,000 range. We like to be in locations that fit our product and demand is high — places people want to live.

and December than we’ve ever seen versus goal during the same time. That’s because Colorado Springs has a lot happening. In more than 30 years here, I’ve seen more happening now. There are a lot of positives at this point that are causing people to move here. How would you explain your leadership style? I listen to everybody. I have a lot of respect for my sales staff, my team, from the lowest position to the highest. They all have something to offer or can evaluate or solve a problem or plan a new development. Everybody has something to share. I feel like if I make a bad decision it’s because I didn’t ask enough questions. I also try to be very consistent. Sometimes that’s hard. It’s easier to not be consistent. I try to set great expectations and I also don’t hesitate in explaining why a decision was made. If you don’t understand, we’ll explain it. I’m very open with everyone on staff. We’re fair and have a thing: ‘Patience, endurance and friendly tenacity is what it takes.’ Patience is the hardest one. Has your leadership style evolved? It’s definitely evolved through mentors. I have so many people who have taught me over my career and invested in me. Never stop learning — learning, reading, growing. If you don’t have mentors, seek them out. … Integrity is [a value] at the top of my list and everybody else’s here. If you’re not going to be tenacious and want to get the job done well you’ll have a hard time working around here because everyone else demands it. And I think delivering on your promises is important too.

“We want to be a good company with good products and good locations.”

Talk about your company’s growth. We’re not trying to be the biggest company. We want to be a good company with good products and good locations. We’ve built about 4,000 homes in 35 years. We’re a production builder so we have plans to select from. We also have one of the first design studios in the United States. We started that in about 1994 and we’re about to do a sixth iteration. It really allows people to make their house their house. … The costs on some high-end products over the years in custom homes has come down. That’s good for folk because no two houses look alike anymore. What are your greatest challenges? Government regulation is one for sure. There’s lots of time and energy spent on documenting and complying. But that’s always been the case. Another is lack of land and resources. The downturn in 2008 lasted a long time here. We rolled up the streets and have not overbuilt since the market turned. Now we’re playing catch up. People looking to live here can’t find what they’re looking for because there’s not enough supply to choose from. Some say the interest rate’s a problem but I’m not seeing that. We’ve seen more activity and sales in November

What are you proudest of ? We build homes for families. That’s probably the most important thing to me. Building a community sounds cliché but it’s important to me that someone is living in what we’ve built and their lives are happening in there. We drive across the Springs and see houses we’ve built and remember customers. We love our group. We like the size of the company. But we’re really proud of the communities we’ve built. It takes a group to do it well. You can’t do it alone and its important for any company to realize that. What are your plans for the future? We’ll always continue to look for opportunities that meet company goals. We don’t have to be the biggest but we’re looking forward to being able to support more volume than we have in the past. It’s a nice economy right now. You read about constraints on land and you can only do so much, we will build in the right places that fit Keller Homes and, hopefully, the Springs will continue to attract growth. But I think the future looks good. — Bryan Grossman


ust as the engine is the beating heart of an aircraft, Greg Phillips sees Colorado Springs Airport as being just as vital in fueling the city’s growth. “It’s about continuing to grow [the airport] as an economic engine,” said the director of aviation, who has been at the helm of COS since January 2017. Phillips previously worked in executive positions at four other airports: Bend Municipal Airport in Oregon; Missoula, Montana International Airport; Pangborn Memorial Airport in Wenatchee, Wash; and the Vail/ Eagle County Regional Airport. “If you are going to work at airports and you look at career progression, you are going to have to look at other towns,” Phillips said. “But, I made a list when I first got into airports and listed the three biggest ones I thought I would be interested in, and Colorado Springs was one of those.” The military brat had visited 49 of the country’s 50 states before turning 21. Phillips attended The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he received his engineering degree. He went on to earn helicopter wings and his Army Ranger tab during his service. The avid cyclist and alpine ski coach recently spoke with the Business Journal about his vision for the COS and growing it to become the city’s largest economic engine.

same way that Denver says [Denver International Airport] is their biggest economic engine for that area, I would say down here in Colorado Springs that we’re a heck of an economic engine. The airport is a key factor for all business. When the [Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC] talks to new businesses, one of the questions that always get asked is, ‘What kind of service does your airport have? Can my people get in and out to do business?’ That’s important. So continuing to grow the commercial side is a key goal of this airport and then to try and improve service to this community. What’s the biggest challenge you face? The proximity of the Denver airport and the challenge to get new service [to COS]. DIA is the only airport in the country that has three hub carriers, which are United, Frontier and Southwest. Other airports just have one or, like, Seattle has two with Delta and Alaska. But Denver, because they have [three] — it’s like a ‘battle royale.’ Fares are really low there, lower than they are most anywhere else in the nation. That makes it a challenge because price is the key differentiator for most travelers. Everybody in this town would like to fly out of Colorado Springs if the flights are going in the right place, if the schedule’s good and, most of all, if the fare is good. Our challenge is to continue to bring new service in and try and ensure that the airlines are looking to keep the fares reasonable here. That’s the No. 1 goal. The other goal is ... [broadening] our revenue [streams] enough that we can weather the ups and downs of the economy. Having other businesses here helps us keep our rates low. Our rates — what we charge airlines — is about a third of what Denver charges. We don’t ever want that to get in the way of an airline saying, ‘Yeah, I don’t really want to come to the Springs because it’s too expensive.’ We want to make it easy.

“It’s about continuing to grow [the airport] as an economic engine.”

What do you love best about your work? That’s easy. The variety — the fact that no two days are the same; the fact that there is always some new challenge, opportunity, something new to explore. The other part is I am just in that place in my career where I feel what we do contributes. I believe what we do makes a difference and I see it every day. You go down to the concourse and you see people going, you see people coming and they have the star in their eye that says, ‘I’m excited. I’m interested. I’m doing something fun.’ They are coming to Colorado Springs to do something — whether it’s to go see family and friends or on business or just to see someplace new and exciting. That’s what airports do. What are some of your goals? For the airport, we operate with four lines of business: the commercial side, general aviation, Peterson Air Force Base and then the business development — the business park and other non-aeronautical development here. Our goal is to grow the economic engine that the airport is for this community. [The Colorado Department of Transportation] in 2013 said the annual economic impact of the Colorado Springs Airport was $3.6 billion. They are starting to evaluate that again right now and I expect that new number to be a lot higher. The

What advice do you give employees? It may be a little different between the managers and supervisors and the staff, but one thing I would say to all of them is to take care of each other. We’re a team here and we’re a family. As such, it’s important that we take care of each other and show some grace. If tensions rise and things get in the way, take a break. ... Don’t pick a fight here. Let’s be clear about what it is we’re working on. And, you know, let’s focus and let’s get things done. Training is important in my view. I think people, particularly younger people coming into the workforce, want to know organizations will help train them so that they’re continually getting better. Also, they want to know their opinion matters. From the youngest employee to the oldest, they all have good ideas; everybody knows something. —Jessica Kuhn

GREG PHILLIPS Colorado Springs Airport

RANDY PRICE Rocky Mountain Restaurants


here isn’t a position in the restaurant industry Randy Price hasn’t held. The owner and founder of the Colorado Restaurant Group, which includes Sonterra Grill, Salsa Brava Fresh Mexican Grill and Urban Egg, moved to Colorado Springs in 2000 following an early start in a commercial kitchen. Price, at the age of 14, was washing dishes at a pizza joint in downtown Detroit. And aside from owning his own businesses, Price has worked for restaurant groups based in Arizona, Texas and Kansas before making the leap and discovering the recipe for a successful (and growing) business empire of his own. What was the first restaurant you owned? It was a small pizza place in Flagstaff, Ariz. It was very successful. Our mantra was everything from scratch. I did that for a few years but partnerships can be challenging. [My partner and I] kind of jumped into it blindly and learned some lessons from that. When you jump in and you’re young, you want to get it done but you don’t always dot your ‘i’s’ and cross your ‘t’s.’ We probably didn’t execute agreements like we should have. But you learn from those things. … I [began the restaurant group] with a partner — a good friend from Kansas City who was very successful in dotcoms in California. He was one reason we were able to get our first lease here. We had some money saved but didn’t have a huge net worth and sometimes you need that to secure a lease. I told him I wanted to have a great partnership agreement in place where we know what the expectations are. I bought him out in 2011 and he and I are still best friends. That’s great. I’m real proud of that.

What was your first restaurant in the Springs? Salsa Brava in Rockrimmon. That was our flagship store. We were looking around town in 2001 and we felt there was a real need in the neighborhood. There was a little restaurant called Mayfield’s Wine Bar that I felt was missing the mark on the demographics of the neighborhood. I approached the owner. Her husband, who had a background in automotive, bought the business for her. Like a lot of people, she thought getting into the restaurant business would be glamorous. I approached her and she was like, ‘Oh my God, get me out of here.’ We made a deal and transitioned into it. I didn’t feel like there was a great Mexican grill happening in the Springs at that time. We wanted to go that route — appeal to families. I give that store a lot of credit because it fueled growth for the company and allowed us to move on to additional stores and continue to build one store at a time. How has managing people changed as you’ve grown? You have to be very consistent from store to store. I have a team of four, five, six managers at each location so you have to be sure everyone is one the same page. We constantly have training with onboarding, safety and harassment — all the things you have to be consistent with.

“Today we have 12 locations combined and about 500 employees. It’s been a good run.”

What lessons have you learned over the years? I think you have to be patient and be very careful about the promises you make. If it’s stated, you need to be delivering on it. Sometimes success gets people excited and they think they can do anything. That’s not always the case. Things change, environments change, business climates change, trends come into play. Just be sure, if you put your word out there, you can back it up. Were you intent on opening a restaurant here? Yes. The group I was working for in Dallas kept me employed as a contract employee in the Springs for a year. I was looking for a restaurant location while doing that. Opening my own restaurant was certainly the reason I got into the business and worked for the big boys in the beginning — to learn on someone else’s dime. I learned to blend the best of the corporate world and its structure and consistency and good standards, with an entrepreneurial spirit that’s community driven — so making sure we have fun, engaged employees. We really wanted to combine the best of both worlds.

Talk about the restaurant group today. There’s been a lot of successes and a few failures and lessons. But that’s part of business. I grew up in Kansas City and we saw an opportunity to put a Kansas Citystyle barbecue restaurant in and opened that next to Salsa Brava at Rockrimmon. That did real well and I got a call from my landlord in this space at Sonterra. He said, Fujiyama was moving and the space would be open, ‘Why don’t you bring your barbecue downtown?’ So we came downtown with barbecue called Slayton’s Tejon Street Grill. It was great barbecue, but we learned that people in Colorado were different from people in Kansas City when it comes to eating trends. People here eat barbecue once every couple of months. You get a strong desire for it. It’s not like breakfast or Mexican that people eat a couple times a week. … We had Slayton’s downtown for three or four years. It was performing marginally but not killing it. We just felt like, looking around, there were 50 options for lunch and 75 for dinner and two choices for breakfast. We went to Chicago, San Francisco and said we were going to do an upscale breakfast concept. It’s going to be different. We’re going to do a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar and gourmet pancakes. We’re going to do locally sourced. We cut ties with Slayton’s and Over Easy [now Urban Egg] was born. We never looked back. That was 2012. … Today we have 12 locations combined and about 500 employees. It’s been a good run. —Bryan Grossman


t may seem odd at first glance that Venkat Reddy, a chancellor of higher education, earned his bachelor’s degree in agriculture in India — a path that would ultimately lead him to the United States. It turns out, however, that instead of growing crops to maturity and sending them into the world to fulfill their intended purpose, Reddy has shifted his focus to the commodities found on campus. Born in Hyderabad, India, Reddy, chancellor at UCCS, arrived stateside to pursue his master’s in agricultural economics at Penn State before eventually getting his Ph.D. in finance. “In ’91, I came to UCCS and this is the only place I’ve ever worked for in my life,” he said. His tenure includes acting as faculty in and dean of the College of Business. Reddy ran the business school for 12½ years before, last year, replacing Pam Shockley-Zalabak as chancellor at one of the state’s fastest-growing universities. Why did you study agriculture? In India there are only four professional schools: medical, engineering, veterinary sciences and agriculture. I was shooting for medical school and lost by a couple of points. Those are all highly competitive. I couldn’t go into engineering because once you’ve chosen biology for your path, you can’t switch. The next one was veterinary science. My dad was a professor of veterinary science at that time and I refused to go to that school because I would be in the spotlight all the time. He would be checking on my grades. Not a good idea. It’s interesting how we make decisions in life. Agriculture was the last professional degree. One thing I’ve always done in my life is follow my passion. The way I came to the U.S. — my mother had two dreams for me: Either become a doctor or go to the United States. That was it — no third choice.

What we did is consolidated all of the retention and graduation operations into one area and said, ‘Let’s do data analytics on that and study what’s happening to our students.’ That’s been a big focus for me. We need to keep students in school and help them graduate. We’re also looking at expanding fundraising opportunities. How do we increase fundraising so we can provide more scholarships for our students? We also have several public-private partnerships. [We’ve broken ground] on the William J. Hybl Sport Medicine Performance Center. That’s a massive operation in collaboration with Centura Health. Any other big things happening on campus? We’ve also received funding from the state for cybersecurity. We’ll work closely with the [National Cybersecurity Center], Pikes Peak Community College and schools across four states. You’ll see a huge presence from us in cybersecurity. We’re in the process of hiring faculty and staff will give away $270,000 worth of scholarships to students every year. And with the Ent Center for the Arts, we’ll make a mark in the arts area. That’s one-ofa-kind. It’s an unbelievable place. It’s there — so now what do we do with it? We need to make sure it’s integrated. These are our differentiators. We have an opportunity to make an impact on Colorado, so we’re working on collaborations. You’ll also see us increase our presence in online programs. Nineteen percent of our students are military students and we want them to be able to complete [their degree] wherever they go because they get transferred often.

“I’m not afraid to challenge the status quo.”

What are your goals as chancellor? This campus has experienced tremendous growth. I call it aggressive growth. When I started here, there were 5,000 students. Today we are at 12,600. It’s the real deal at this point. When you have a significant number of students, then you can start controlling your own destiny. So I’m beginning to plan for the next 10 years. Who do we want to be instead of just growing and hope that something good happens? I’m saying, ‘Let’s thoughtfully think about this systematically.’ I emphasize increased focus on retention and graduation rates because, for a campus like ours, retention is a difficult thing. Students often drop out because of a lack of finances. So how do we provide scholarships to keep them in school? ... The year I came on board, the retention rate was 65 percent. So out of every 100 students 35 are leaving after one year and that’s a problem because they are leaving with nothing to show for it other than a loan.

Explain your leadership style. The way I make all my decisions is I say, ‘OK, how does this impact the students at the end of the day?’ My goal is helping students succeed. And I want to be really clear what I mean by helping students succeed. It’s not just helping them to get a job after they graduate. There’s a lot more to it. How do you prepare them to be good citizens? How do we expose them to the arts? How do we expose them to athletics? How do you ... get them internships or to study abroad? You need to build this complete graduate. … Life is more than a steady job, so how do you learn to enjoy the experiences you get? My job is to help everyone to think at the higher level and do their tasks at the lower level. I’m not afraid to challenge the status quo. I’m not afraid to take on conflict if we need to so that we come to good decisions. … This isn’t a job; this is a passion. I could find other ways to make money, but you do this because there’s a bigger vision, and I need a lot of help from other people to get there. I can’t do it alone. —Bryan Grossman




artners Kathy Dreiling and Michelle Talarico only had $300 each when they started Picnic Basket Catering Company. “We couldn’t borrow any money because God knows why anybody would lend us money,” Dreiling said. “And we started in a downturn, but I think we were too stupid to even know it was a downturn.” Yet the catering business will mark its 30th anniversary in April. “We had a lot of dreams and, thankfully, a lot of energy,” Talarico said. “And it’s definitely been a wild, exciting ride.” The duo met while Dreiling was pursuing a career as a musician and Talarico was working in a restaurant in downtown Colorado Springs. Dreiling, the company’s “marketing guru,” hails from western Kansas. “I played music for a living, graduated with an advertising degree and the next day, went on the road for like six years and played music until I was 30 and met Michelle,” she said. Meanwhile, Talarico, known as the company’s visionary and event planner, grew up in Denver. “I came to the Springs to go to Colorado College in 1982 and started helping my parents with tuition by working in a little restaurant downtown,” she said. “I quickly just fell in love with hospitality and realized that it was part of my nature.” The longtime caterers spoke with the Business Journal about how running their business has changed over the years and about what comes next.

now and then we have the back of this building for office and delivery space. So, it’s exciting to be at this point, but we’re also both getting older. However, I think we are inspired enough that we are ready to launch into a whole new era with the city’s growth and promise. Are there challenges with growth? Talarico: It’s the fear of smart growth and what that looks like in this ever-changing, really exciting, opportune time that we face in this city. There are so many brilliant young people doing some great things for the future of this city and how do we keep up with that growth in a relevant way that continues to create successful lives for our employees? And, there’s no perfect answer. It definitely is a challenge. I think that we’re sort of at this point where we know what we can do, and we finally got to that dream sales goal that we’ve been trying to get to. And we have a chef and a system and a management team that we feel really excited about, but what do the next five years look like? And so that will be an opportunity and challenge, I think, at the same time. Dreiling: Honestly, for me, I think it’s just the future. I don’t feel 61. I know that at some juncture I’ve got to figure out the rest. And I don’t think we’ve concentrated much on an exit plan or a five-year retirement plan or anything like that. I think we’ve just sort of ridden the wave of growth and been excited about it. That’s a challenge to me and to make big decisions — to decide to invest more in the company and to go into debt again. It could be a risk because there’s another downturn predicted at the end of 2019, 2020. And then you think, ‘Well, will we be more resilient here within Colorado Springs with all that’s happening? Will we feel it like we did in 2008?’ That’s probably the toughest part: just the future and predicting what you should be doing.

“... don’t finance your bad ideas.”

How has the business grown? Dreiling: I think, in the next month, we will probably gross more than we did in our first year. Talarico: It’s grown exponentially. During our first few years, it sort of had that slow little rise. And of course, we’ve had a few miniature bell curves where we’ve dipped down a little bit. But really we’ve been very fortunate and blessed in these 30 years — other than a few years of kind of maybe stagnant growth or leveling off during the economic downturn in 2008. We were just so happy that we weren’t going the other way like some people. But, we have really continued to grow the business and most recently at a really exciting level. We’re really both amazed because the levels we’re hitting are the things that we, 10 years ago, only dreamed of. What does the future hold for the company? Dreiling: We’re kind of at a precipice where we have to make some decisions because we’re really limited, efficiency-wise, by the size of our building. We’ve pretty much done everything we can do with what we have. So we’re trying to decide now whether we should move. We own the building on the corner [of 8th Street and Ramona Avenue], which is [on] about an [acre lot], and we are trying to decide whether we should find some warehouse space or try to develop this corner somehow to accommodate a 15,000- to 18,000-square-foot building. We’re working in about 3,200 square feet over there

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Dreiling: That’s easy — take 15 percent of every penny that comes in and put it somewhere else for safe keeping. That little padding has saved us a few times. The other one would be — and this is actually advice that I gave Michelle when we started — is I said, ‘I’m going to take 50 cents of every dollar we make and spend it on marketing. Why bother doing this if people don’t know we’re here?’ What advice would you give to other business owners or leaders in the community? Talarico: My advice would be: In the beginning for startup businesses, try to be very disciplined and don’t finance your bad ideas. That’s a really hard thing to say to Millennials and people who are younger these days. And even people who are older, because there has to be a degree of risk and there has to be a degree of cockiness in starting a business or why else would you do it? But had we been able to finance in the beginning everything that we thought of, I think that we would have gone out of business. —Jessica Kuhn


ichael Thomas wants to roll up his sleeves and focus on the students. Not content with a view from the top, the new superintendent of Colorado Springs School District 11 sets aside every Monday to get out into classrooms, learning what students, teachers and schools really need. Thomas took the reins at the city’s oldest and largest school district in August, after serving as chief of schools for Minneapolis Public Schools. He has been a social worker, elementary and junior high principal, and coordinator of equity and integration efforts for Osseo School District. He recently completed his doctoral work at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, and now he’s laying the foundations for how D-11 will meet the needs of students, their families, the workforce and the community in the years to come.

I saw it, I experienced it — we need to do something.’

How has your leadership style evolved? Well, I’ve matured. I’ve always been a very spirited, passionate individual that didn’t want to wait. I always have a sense of urgency for things I deeply care about. And I learned earlier in my career — particularly when I was leading a lot of racial equity work in a state — that my readiness was not always the same as others’, and/or my urgency wasn’t always the same as others’. That’s probably one significant change in my style over the years is I’ve learned to create urgency without panic. And I think an effective leader can do that in a way that inspires people to want to address whatever that urgent matter is. So that’s something that I’ve noticed that has changed, and those around me have noticed — that I can slow it down a bit. I think also I’ve learned to find opportunities to get back to the ground more frequently. Who I am as a person and as a leader tends to be very big-picture vision and I live in the clouds, so to speak — which is important. But I also need to get pulled in: This detail here, Michael, you need to spend a little time with. … It matters to me that what I’m doing actually is adding value to our staff, to our students, to our kids. So when I’m in schools, my sleeves are rolled up, I’m sitting reading with a student, I’m learning math online, Smarty Ants Phonics program, whatever it might be, I’m there. This is exactly why I need to be in the schools, because when we’re talking about budget or we’re talking about strategy, I don’t have to read it in a report, I don’t have to hear it second hand. I can say, ‘I lived it,

What’s the best advice you can give young educators? Never forget the ‘why’ that drives your ‘what.’ Your ‘why’ is your purpose. You don’t go into education to make a name for yourself and to become wealthy. That’s not what drives educators. So that’s what I would encourage our up-and-coming educators and leaders in education to do: Don’t lose that focus; be student centric.

You’ve had a little time to settle in to D-11. How are things going? The transition has been amazing and I couldn’t ask to be in a better place at a better time. I think the history and legacy of Colorado Springs District 11 has such a strong foundation and strong support from the alumni to really support the district, so I’ve got a good base to build on. I think we have opportunities to really lead from a space of equity, in a more deliberate way, so that’s something that I see moving forward, how we can be very intentional to give students what they need and reduce barriers to their learning. I think it goes the same for staff — our commitment and investment in developing high quality staff in our schools is something that we need to have a stronger focus on.

“I’ve always been a very spirited, passionate individual that didn’t want to wait.”

What do you love best about your work? I get to be a learner — I get to be the lead learner of an organization. Every single day I go home just amazed about what I observed and what I experienced in the district. And I think my reflective nature allows me to really process that at night and then internalize those experiences, and those really inform my leadership moving forward. I think that’s a skill every great leader needs to have, is to be reflective. I think that helps you stay humble and grounded as well. I am a learner just as much as I am a leader. … Education is a people-oriented business. It’s very important to value the relationships within the organization. Our work is carried through relationships so for me it’s front and center, in a large district like D-11, to ensure that people don’t feel lost, that they feel connected, that they’re part of the D-11 family, and when things get tough you can lean in. You’re not pushed out; you actually can lean in — but that only comes when you have good healthy relationships. — Helen Robinson

MICHAEL THOMAS Colorado Springs School District 11


University of Colorado School of Medicine - Colorado Springs


rik Wallace was a junior high student growing up in Danville, Calif. — located east of Berkeley and Oakland — when he discovered his love of medicine. He would attend college at the University of Puget Sound, where he “took a real interesting course — a science in context course — which was a new offering that combined elements of science with other complex elements of what goes on in society,” said Wallace, who today is the associate dean of the University of Colorado’s medical school branch in Colorado Springs. “I remember having to debate someone else about a very complicated ethical topic in medicine and I had to take a side that I didn’t at first really believe in. After that, I thought medicine is so complicated and very interesting. That’s what I wanted to do — engage in difficult topics of conversation and difficult decision-making to help people with their health care issues.” Wallace attended medical school at Washington University in St. Louis where he landed in his first leadership position. “I’d never led anything up to that point,” he said. “I was never the captain of my baseball team. I didn’t have a leadership position in high school or college. I just went about my work. I did my job, I studied, I had outside jobs to help pay rent and living expenses. But when I got to medical school, I did something crazy: I ran for class president.”

knowledge and skills to the best of their abilities. But you also need to create an environment where communication is stellar. So when someone identifies a problem, they’re not afraid to bring it to you; there’s no fear of repercussion or losing your job or getting in trouble. It’s like, ‘I’m part of a team, this is something we’re trying to achieve together. I’ve identified something that’s not going well. We all need to know about it and deal with it and here’s what I think we should do.’ Talk about standing up this branch. To get the job I had to state my vision, and that’s to train 21st century physician leaders to deliver high-quality care to the community they service. Part of that was being able to integrate health education and health care delivery systems. What we’re starting to see over time is you’ve got medical education in the silo it’s been operating in for 100 years, that hadn’t really changed a whole lot. You have a health care system your learners are going into that’s rapidly changing in ways we can’t even predict. With that, we’re starting to see a lot of burnout and docs who feel they don’t have control of what they do but are being told by larger systems what to do and how to be a doctor. So in thinking about the opportunity to create a new educational system with a well-respected institution with great resources and great leaders, I really saw this as an opportunity to help develop a new type of model. One where our graduates would then be able to go out and be leaders in health care in the future and satisfied and happy with what they do on a regular basis, leading change in their systems to create better results and not just being part of the system and being told what to do. That’s what I was hoping for in creating this branch here.

“Leadership is creating the environment that allows others to be successful.”

Why did you run for class president? I’m not quite sure why I did it. It was a last-minute decision. I was interested in running to be the medical education representative because I love teaching. … I changed my nomination at the last minute because I felt there was a little more out there than focusing just on medical education. I was probably the least qualified person for it but I won the election and I don’t know why. But I was president of my class for all four years. Here’s someone with zero leadership experience. I didn’t come from a family of leaders; I hadn’t taken leadership courses. I’m a pretty shy, introverted person. I didn’t have the classic qualities of a traditional leader. But it was an absolutely wonderful experience. It was frustrating at times but I learned more in that position about how to work with other people than I would have if I didn’t do the position and just worked hard and studied. How would you explain your leadership style? In teaching various leadership courses, I ask people to define leadership. There is no one right definition. But the definition I think is the simplest and most relevant is ‘leadership is creating the environment that allows others to be successful.’ Traditional leadership is sort of a top-down approach where I tell everyone what to do and create the vision. The effective leader today is the one who gets the right people on the bus and empowers them to use their

How is leadership in medicine changing? I think there are old leadership styles prevalent in medicine because that’s just how it’s been for years. Traditionally people who went to medical school were white men. That was the vast majority of every class. So when you look at leadership positions today, it’s still mostly white men because that’s the product we were producing. Now medical school classes are much more diverse. You have higher percentages of women and underrepresented minorities and those who are from poorer backgrounds and didn’t come from a family of doctors. You have people from a much more diverse set of backgrounds who need good role models and mentors to look up to and there are very few who fit into those nontraditional categories who are in leadership positions. I think that will continue to change over time but we’re still at this tipping point of who is in those leadership positions, the qualities we look for in those positions and we’re starting to see that change, which I think is really good. —Bryan Grossman


hen your father is a rocket scientist who helped put a man on the moon, you grow up thinking the sky’s the limit. Linda Weise credits her upbringing in Buffalo, N.Y., plus jobs on Wall Street and with an arts foundation, as the crucial experiences that enabled her to found and make a success of the Colorado Springs Conservatory. Weise earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in piano and vocal performance at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and did post-graduate work at The Julliard School for Opera Studies. After a teacher who was a crucial mentor passed away, she took a job as a regional trading assistant at Citicorp Investment Bank while continuing her music studies. When Citicorp offered to send her to Columbia University for an MBA and trading license, she declined, because she wanted to stay in the arts. She then took a job at the Richard Tucker Music Foundation, an organization devoted to the advancement of opera in America. Her mentor there was “a little Jewish lady who would raise millions of dollars every year, but around her board table were these same guys who came from Wall Street. That’s where you learn you have to invest in your community in order to maintain a high level of artistic excellence.”

plish anything. … So now we have what I like to say is three swim lanes: community programs, partner programs and our core after-school program. When I started the school, people told me there was no talent, there was not enough money, kids would never invest that kind of time, and here we are 25 years later, and a stellar track record of getting kids where they need to go. But I could never do this without the community. Before you moved here and started the conservatory, you were primarily a performer. That’s what I went to school for, but I think my mentors along the way and all these experiences helped me appreciate the fact that if you surround yourself with the right team, you can get a lot of things done. … So I still get to teach, and I still get to direct, and I still get to coach, and I still get to perform a lot. I’m very fortunate that way. … I don’t do it as often as I’d like, but when I do, I thoroughly enjoy it, and nothing makes me happier than performing with the kids because that’s ridiculously fun. Why did you decide to start Vortici? It’s an Italian word that means vortex or energy. Almost three years ago it became evident that certain things I was creating or wanting to manifest … were not something that the school could necessarily fund. Vortici is the umbrella to explore bigger projects that would have an impact on the school and on the community.

“I just know I want to get a lot of things done, and I feel responsible to follow through.”

What made you decide to come to Colorado Springs? After many summers of study at Aspen Music Festival, I fell in love with the dry climate and the mountains. So I was at a point in New York where I was like, I can live anywhere, as long as there’s an airport and I could find maybe a little bit of part-time work. So I went to Denver, and I happened to take a ride down here, and I went to a symphony concert. … I thought, if a city this small has an orchestra that good, there’s a lot more to be said about what’s going on here, because I do feel like a city defines itself by its arts and culture.

When and why did you start the Colorado Springs Conservatory? I moved to Colorado Springs in 1992 and started the Conservatory in 1994. After my first public performance, I was approached by a number of parents to teach. … I got to know these kids and they had incredible dreams, but they had no tools. So it wasn’t like I was planning to be the best teacher, but I would help them put the tools in place. … The after-school program evolved when some of these parents would bring younger siblings. So it was really about putting the right team in place to teach these things. … We never auditioned, so there was never this you’renot-good-enough mentality. It was, you create an ecosystem that encourages, inspires, motivates, elevates these kids to a place where they feel like they can accom-

How would you describe your leadership style, and why does it work for you? I really can’t answer that. I don’t see myself as a leader. I just know I want to get a lot of things done, and I feel responsible to follow through. I’d like to believe that my style is collaborative, that my style is one of incredibly high expectations, that my style includes a lot of gratitude to those who are helping me to achieve certain things. I’d like to believe that my style is one of humility. When you’re in the theater and the performing arts, you learn that the janitor, the light guy, the costume guy — if you’re not nice to all those people, they’re not going to help you be good on stage. I also feel like at any given moment, this gift called life can go away. So I always feel like if I don’t work as hard as I can every day, I might miss an opportunity for a kid. … I just want them to know that with grace, they can have impact for the rest of their lives. Why it is important for business leaders to be involved in their community? It’s your responsibility, period. When you get to be here, you should give back. —Jeanne Davant

LINDA WEISE Colorado Springs Conservatory

Leadership Lessons from 2018 “The reality is, in a small company, the CEO is a high-level manager and maybe even a high-level producer.”

— Chris Blees, CEO of BiggsKofford

“I believe in servant leadership. Employees have a choice about where they work, and it is important that we create an environment where they feel recognized and appreciated.”

— Kathy Boe, CEO of Boecore

“I’m in the zone working with teams. We have staff meetings every Thursday morning and it’s the highlight of my week.”

— Lance Bolton, president of Pikes Peak Community College

“It’s all about building trust. … And you strive for humility, you strive for transparency. A leader has to provide some vision and direction, but at the end of the day, the people I’m leading have to feel that I have their best interests in mind first.”

— Vance Brown, Interim CEO of the National Cybersecurity Center

“I hire and surround myself with people who are smarter than me. I think of myself as more of a head coach that the CEO. The hardest part is building the team, so you either find those employees, which is really tough to do, or you nurture those employees, which I prefer to do.”

— Scott Bryan, CEO of Bryan Construction

“You can only be successful if you have the right people around you. I would be nothing without my team. … So you need to have a nose for people and talent.”

— Frank Caris, CEO of DPix

“You can learn from your mistakes — I’ve made lots of mistakes. I’m a much better listener today than I was 30 years ago. I have high expectations, but I’m more patient.”

— Matt Coleman, CEO of Hub International

“’Nothing great was ever achieved by being realistic.’ I’m lucky enough to have a team that aligns with and meets that every day. In terms of philosophy — try to listen more than speak, try to model what you expect and hold people accountable, but allow them to fail and learn from it.”

— Karla Grazier, CEO of Discover Goodwill

“I believe that we’re all put on this earth to serve our fellow humans, so it’s especially important if you’re in a leadership position. When you serve others, and you’re looking out for their needs, the best results always happen.”

— Robin Roberts, President of Pikes Peak National Bank

“You have to roll up your sleeves, start at ground zero and do a lot of listening. I think we’ve learned a lot of different skills sets. Patience would be the biggest one.”

— Brenda Smith and Judy Mackey, CEOs of the Garden of the Gods Collection

“No one teaches you have to be an effective COO or CEO. You can get your MBA … but that just gets you in the door. Experience shapes you.”

— Joe Yuhas, CEO of UCHealth Memorial

“I’m big on letting people do their jobs and then giving them all the tools they need to succeed. … I’m a person who likes saying ‘yes’ a lot, and when you do that, I believe the world changes. It could be because it spurs innovation; it makes people execute; it changes the mindset in the organization, and it also helps somebody like me see who are the real hard chargers in the organization.”

— Tom Zelibor, CEO of the Space Foundation

connect. build. grow.

connect. build. grow. There is no more exciting time to be part of the Colorado Springs business community. The Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC is the business advocate for our region, and our 1,200-plus members have access to exclusive benefits that help strengthen their businesses. Now is the perfect time to join our exceptional business community.

719.471.8183 cscedc.com

2019 LEADERSHIP LESSONS JAN. 10 Kent Fortune

FEB. 21 Erik Wallace


UC Health School of Medicine - Colorado Springs branch

MAY 9 Linda Weise

JUNE 13 Greg Phillips

Colorado Springs Conservatory

Colorado Springs Airport

SEPT. 12 Brian Erling

OCT. 10 Dirk Draper

Penrose-St. Francis Health Services

4:30-6 pm • $25/person • The Warehouse (25 W. Cimarron St.)

Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC

MARCH 14 Pam Keller

APRIL 11 Venkat Reddy

JULY 11 Aram Benyamin Colorado Springs Utilities

AUG. 8 Michelle Talarico & Kathy Dreiling

NOV. 14 Michael Thomas

DEC. 12 Randy Price

Keller Homes

CS School District 11


Picnic Basket Catering

Rocky Mountain Restaurants

There’s still time to get involved! Reach the city’s most powerful local decision makers through event sponsorships. Contact Jeff Moore at jeff.moore@csbj.com or call 719-634-5905 for information and rates.



Leadership Lessons


Profile for Southeast Express

COS CEO 2019  

COS CEO 2019