Effectively building and leading organizations is not a simple task. I am pleased to recognize business leaders who have undeniably achieved that goal. Thank you, Smart Business, for allowing us to be part of the Smart 50 awards.
On behalf of Hylant, I want to personally recognize and congratulate all the honorees.
This year’s honorees have demonstrated commitment and passion for making a noticeable impact on the community, industries and organizations that they work and live in. The level of community giving is phenomenal, despite some of the adversity within your own business. The results of your hard work are evident across Columbus and Central Ohio.
Becoming acquainted with the honorees as more than businesspeople, but as individuals who cherish this community, continues to be my favorite part of Smart 50. Each leader is unique, but all share the same drive to make a difference. I remain humbled and inspired by the work of our honorees as our region continues to set an example.
When founding Hylant more than 80 years ago, Edward Hylant promised to treat our clients and employees like family — with honesty, respect and trust. Today we are among the largest privately held, full-service brokerage firms in the United States and an 11-consecutive-year winner of Best Places to work in Insurance. We offer business insurance, personal insurance and employee benefits services to protect the people and things you care about most. ●
Smart 50 honorees
(Honorees listed in alphabetical order by last name)
From the beginning, Tara Bair, president of Community Health & Wellness Partners, has shown her immense passion for the health and well-being of her community. She opened the nonprofit federally qualified health center in Logan County, envisioning a health care practice that would provide economic-based primary health care and other wellness services to the citizens of Logan and surrounding counties. The center opened with two locations in 2014 — West Liberty and Indian Lake — to serve all patients. Today, there are five locations, with another two planned for this year and a school-based health center in 2023.
Eliminating barriers and developing relationships are two of Community Health & Wellness Partners’ values. In 2021, these core values were exemplified as it expanded outreach opportunities into its communities.
Due to the global pandemic, COSI closed its doors to the public for 15 months. To keep COSI accessible for the community, President and CEO Frederic Bertley, Ph.D., found ways to turn this into an opportunity to find innovative solutions to fulfill COSI’s mission to engage, inspire and transform lives and communities.
Within days, the COSI Connects website was born, with educational programming as an alternative to on-site experiences. Over six months, this digital doorway to science grew to include new digital tools to help serve youth impacted by school closures. COSI also expanded its mobile app to include COSI Connects content and initiated outreach through its COSI Connects: Curbside program, taking a Wi-Fi-enabled COSI van out into the community to make online and downloadable assets more accessible.
When he founded Heartland Ventures four years ago, Max Brickman envisioned a different type of venture capital firm. He didn’t seek to start a fund just to help companies scale and make financial returns for himself and his partners. Instead, he made a smart decision to design and construct the fund on a bedrock of successful medium to large Midwestern businesses in Ohio and nearby states.
At Heartland Ventures, the investors are these exact businesses. Some are well-known and are billion-dollar corporations, while others are off the beaten path and are content with their security in the marketplace and the craftsmanship of their stellar products. All, however, feel the need to embrace technology to create safer workplaces, hire good people more quickly and enhance operational efficiency.
Nathan Brown founded Dyenomite in 2000, when he had an idea to grow a screen-printing business and wrung out his first tie-dye T-shirt. Equipped with his designs and a bathtub, a few buckets and eight colors of dye, he made magic happen. As color variations and dye styles expanded, so did orders. Today, Dyenomite ties, dyes and washes millions of shirts, without sacrificing quality or uniqueness on every shirt.
The company is one of the largest dye houses in the U.S., offering more than 400 colorways, dozens of dye patterns and numerous dye techniques. And in 2021, it was able to automate the manual production process of folding and tying T-shirts to prepare them for the dyeing process, increasing throughput by three times almost immediately.
PRIME AE Group is a multidiscipline engineering and architectural firm that has broken barriers and boundaries through innovation, strategic teaming and its commitment to excellent work. It has grown from an engineering practice with two employees to providing full professional A/E services with more than 475 employees.
This aggressive growth stems from the leadership of Kumar Buvanendaran, president and CEO. He is transparent, honest, clear and approachable in communicating the company’s strategic direction. As the visionary, his guidance in driving this direction excites and engages stakeholders. As a forward-thinking leader, he provides balance between capital and people, and as the corporate culture barometer, he ensures and enforces PRIME AE’s values are shared across all offices.
Duane Casares engages in innovative and impactful work, always focused on the mission of Directions for Youth & Families to build and inspire hope, healing and resilience for youth, families and communities through counseling and education. He starts every board meeting with a “mission moment,” highlighting a story about the impact of its services to set the focus on the most significant individuals in the organization — the children and families it serves.
Casares is a visionary and a leader. He has the imagination and the wisdom to develop unique solutions, and the passion, leadership skills and charisma to move ideas forward. He is forward-thinking, compassionate and a keen observer. He has served as CEO since 2011 and is a social worker first and foremost.
Amid constant change, smart companies and their leaders do more than simply show intelligence or good judgment; they embrace disruption and identify opportunities to adapt to stay ahead of the competition. The one constant in GBQ’s intelligence is the leader driving it all, Darci Congrove. As leader of the firm’s Executive Committee and responsible for the overall leadership and strategic direction of the organization, she also serves as a leader, mentor, tax accountant and CPA while overseeing the firm’s operations team. Under her leadership, GBQ completed a rebrand, expanded through acquisitions and joint ventures, answered the needs of clients by adding niche services and broadened its community engagement efforts by helping to establish GBQ’s volunteer program and chairing the committee dedicated to identifying charities in need of volunteers.
Peter Coratola Jr. developed a strong entrepreneurial spirit at a young age and curated his experience into a clear, smart vision for changing the narrative of third-party logistics (3PL). He put concern for people at the center of day-to-day logistics processes at EASE Logistics and opened the door to ideas from anyone. As president and CEO, Coratola consistently acknowledges the input and efforts of his team to connect them to one another and become invested in the company — and encourages his leadership team to do the same. Beyond having the backs of his team and his colleagues, Coratola strives for excellence. He understands that being ambitious and successful means always looking ahead and making bold but sound decisions.
With nearly 5,000 employees worldwide, Advanced Drainage Systems is the world’s leading manufacturer of water management solutions for the stormwater and on-site septic wastewater industries. ADS is well known in the industry for its early innovations in the development of thermoplastic corrugated pipe, which has increasingly displaced traditional materials due to its strength, light weight and performance characteristics. Today, more than 8.5 billion feet of ADS pipe are in service around the world, while its plastics manufacturing and recycling operations make it the largest plastic recycler in North America.
As executive vice president and CFO, Scott Cottrill has led a financial transformation initiative to make sure the finance team was optimally structured to support the company and had the skill set and experience to support a public company.
Doreen DeLaney Crawley, executive vice president and COO of Grange Insurance, is an inspiring, collaborative, forward-thinking leader. In 12 years, she has led and evolved critical areas of the business that have been instrumental to its success. Crawley is responsible for all internal operations, delivering on the customer promise of providing peace of mind and protection. She leads the claims, billing and accounting, customer care, human resources, community relations, diversity and inclusion, real estate and operations teams.
Her leadership supports advancements in technology, digital solutions and workflow efficiencies to better serve customers, part of Grange Insurance’s commitment to investing in innovative solutions to deliver superb customer experiences. Her actions align with Grange’s core values, demonstrated in all her interactions, whether they be with associates, management, board members, or community leaders.
Matt Davis understands the ins and outs of finding local buildings that need revitalization and local people who believe in a mission to do good in their communities. There is never a day when Davis isn’t innovating or creating something around the communities that people work, meet and live in every day.
With new ideas for community spaces, along with new technology and platforms he’s brought to small businesses, Davis provides communities new ways to think about traditional business resources. From startup incubators to fundraising through impact funds, there is always something new on the horizon. Davis has led COhatch to another profitable year despite everything going on in the world. In addition, it is providing free leadership coaching to several employees through an outside organization.
CEO Dawn Dickson has built a smart organization with PopCom, a technology company with a software solution to revolutionize automated retail. Self-service and automation are the future of retail, and the startup’s automated retail technology platform for vending machines and kiosks allows retailers to engage and understand customers, sell more products and learn from big data. Essentially, the company makes vending machines and kiosks smarter.
Dickson founded PopCom in 2017 to push the boundaries of automated retail. She created the company after struggling to find vending machines to sell her roll-up flat products (flatoutofheels.com) at high-traffic areas. Also absent were data to track and monitor traffic and conversion rates through her website. PopCom’s patented turnkey solutions are affordable, and its hardware is versatile, facilitating fun, engaging customer experiences.
Alex Frommeyer, co-founder and CEO of Beam Benefits, continues to put Midwest tech on the map. Before Beam Dental, innovation in the dental benefits industry was at a standstill. Incumbent insurers aren’t incentivized to innovate, winning when members don’t use benefits. So Frommeyer launched Beam in 2012 to help employers get smarter and simpler benefits to their workforce. It started with the invention of a smart, connected toothbrush that tracks brushing behavior, but insurance companies weren’t interested. So Beam became Beam Benefits, a benefits company and has blossomed into one of the first digital-first dental benefits providers in the U.S., leveraging technology to make dental insurance easy, smart and preventive. It has nearly 400 employees, serves employers in 44 states and offers 400,000 access points nationwide.
Charles Gehring, president and CEO of LifeCare Alliance, is an acclaimed Central Ohio leader, widely known and commended for his smart governance. Gehring leads LifeCare Alliance in providing health and nutrition services to 30,000 homebound, disabled and medically challenged individuals annually. His leadership of this complex operation is characterized by his reverence for the agency’s history of service, his dedication to maximizing its impact in the community and his strategic innovation to prepare for Central Ohio’s future.
The pandemic tested — and proved — Gehring’s leadership. He guided the agency to adjust quickly during the onset of the crisis, and the resulting innovations and adaptations allowed it to meet the 68 percent increase in demand for home-delivered meals and 54 percent overall increase in clients.
Gina Ginn has served as Columbus Early Learning Centers’ CEO since 2015 after more than 10 years in the nonprofit sector working in fundraising and development. CELC is an anti-poverty-focused nonprofit organization that has provided early learning and affordable childcare since 1887. As CEO, Ginn directs its long-term strategic plan, engages in extensive community outreach and provides servant leadership and support for center directors and teaching staff. Under her direction, the number of CELC childcare centers has increased from two to five, all of which have earned the highest rating of five stars in the state’s childcare quality rating system.
In addition, CELC won Columbus’ competitive open bidding process to operate the new Hilltop Early Learning Center that will create an innovative hub of preschool services.
Ron Greenbaum has spent the last 30 years building a strong suite of businesses that provide needed services to the community and valuable tools and resources to industries nationally, including cleaning, waterproofing, restoration, crawlspace and foundation repair.
Greenbaum started with a small waterproofing company in 1992 and later invested in the company that used his likeness to grow the brand. He became the Basement Doctor. Greenbaum helped take the business to the next level and in 1995, co-founded NASH Distribution and, as CEO, has spent decades building the businesses. His success lies in recognizing a need and finding a way to service it. Anchored by the Basement Doctor, Greenbaum has started and developed six companies with approximately 130 employees and locations in seven states.
Travis Gulling leads the nonprofit’s largest chapter nationally and takes running a smart organization to heart every day. In the Greater Columbus area, more than 40,000 families have children battling life-threatening conditions, many of whom receive services from A Kid Again.
By inviting families to experience positive “adventures” for free — things like going to the zoo or a sporting event — A Kid Again helps strengthen these children’s primary support network and their personal resolve. As the result of these shared, life-affirming experiences, sick children find hope and strength during the most difficult time in their lives. In the past year alone, A Kid Again has touched over 12,500 individuals, and Gulling is focused on growing the children’s charity to reach and serve more families, especially in underserved communities.
In 1984, Greg Guy founded Air Force One in his hometown of Dublin, Ohio. Under his continued leadership, Guy has expanded its offerings and capabilities and grown the business to include eight locations with a nationwide reach. While continuing to progress and improve, the company’s core values of integrity, humility, intelligence and hunger are always top of mind, devoted to the same organizational values and vision upon which the company was founded.
Guy works with his leadership team to understand the pulse of the company and its clients. Associates trust him to lead them to a path of opportunities and success. He makes it a priority to sit down with associates one on one and to hold town hall meetings, customizing communication to best reach associates.
Gina Heffner is a results-driven professional with over 25 years of experience creating unmatched experiences for her clients. In collaboration with the national and local leadership teams, she is responsible for the overall success of sales and account management for Centric Consulting’s onshore offices, including developing and executing strategy and driving the core purpose of creating unmatched customer experiences for clients and employees.
Centric Consulting is an international management consulting firm with in-house expertise in business transformation, hybrid workplace strategy, and technology implementation and adoption. Heffner is passionate about client success and growing and developing leaders, and was recently promoted to develop, grow and lead Centric’s National Sales Program. The Columbus office has doubled its revenue in the last two years, in part to Heffner’s leadership and contributions.
American Sign Studio personnel are experts at visual branding, providing visual communication through signage to communicate an organization’s message, goals and values to the community.
CEO Margie Hegg earned her stripes as an executive in product development for three L Brands divisions or spinoffs from 1994 to 2016, before being laid off in 2016.
She opened American Sign Studio in 2017, taking advantage of her product development experience. Along the way, she discovered her company was doing things other sign businesses weren’t, asking questions like, “What if your brand had greater awareness?” or, “How do you communicate your values?” and, “What makes you different from your competition?” Employees first learn about clients’ goals, then identify ways to visually communicate those to their community through signage.
In her role at Community Shelter Board, Executive Director Michelle Heritage facilitates and leads work with the community to make sure everyone in Columbus and Franklin County has a place to call home. She brings together diverse organizations to work as an efficient system and uses an outcome-based funding model that measures performance, monitors success and assures the system’s effectiveness as a whole.
Heritage also combines innovative solutions and best practices with time-tested strategies to implement programs that quickly and stably house people in crisis. Community Shelter Board’s system of care served 15,000 people last year with homelessness prevention, shelter, street outreach, rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing. She detects a challenge, brings people together to work on a solution, finds the resources needed and implements that solution.
Chris Hermann, AICP, principal, director of planning and board member at MKSK, specializes in helping communities create a unique, compelling vision and translating that vision into strategic steps that transform cities and spaces. He is particularly passionate about Central Ohio, and across his 22 years at MKSK, he continues to be involved in some of the most critically important and transformational projects in suburban communities and downtown Columbus. Hermann has led catalytic projects that are foundational quality of life improvements, propelling Columbus into a nationally recognized city, and has served as a board member for regional nonprofit advocacy organizations. His efforts provide thought leadership, helping Central Ohio’s community leaders write the next chapter in the Columbus region’s growth and prosperity.
Kurt Hoeft, CEO of EasyIT, is an innovator, breaking the company’s service team into focused service groups during the pandemic at a time when so many people were hesitant to make changes. EasyIT is a customer service organization, with clients and their data as the top priority. To ensure that clients received outstanding customer support, Hoeft saw an opportunity for positive change in how EasyIT structured its service team. Originally, all engineers were responsible for supporting all clients at some point. But by breaking engineers into focused service groups, they were able to focus more deeply on a subset of clients. Instead of speaking to any one of 26 engineers, clients now call their focused service group directly, which has been incredibly beneficial for both employees and clients.
Managing principal and business development leader at DesignGroup (DG), Jennifer Horvath provides smart leadership, builds great relationships and leads teams with enthusiasm and maximum impact. Since her hire in 2011, she has brought to DG a true sales experience from outside the architecture and construction industry, and a confident competitive spirit. In 2012, she assumed marketing and business development leadership across all markets.
In 2013, she was elected principal and in 2015 began the search for DG office No. 2. She started the Pittsburgh office and remained engaged though all the bumpy roads in the early years of building the right team and mentoring future leaders in the new office. Today, the Pittsburgh office represents 30 percent of DesignGroup’s annual corporate revenue.
Judy Huang has built her career on a willingness to take risks and innovate to create value for customers and employees. A first-generation immigrant from China, she is fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese and English. Early on, she founded and served as president of BSH Estates Ltd., the second licensed real estate firm in Beijing, which provided multinational corporations with real estate consulting and recruiting.
She founded 889 Global Solutions in 2000, sourcing customized industrial and medical device manufacturing from Asia for American companies, utilizing engineering and quality control teams in China. She has been recognized as a pioneer in the sourcing industry and is recognized for her innovation, impact and sustainability for creating a business to meet a unique need.
In 2014, Corporate Cleaning Inc. created its own cleaning products. At that time, the commercial green cleaners either didn’t work, or they were not cost effective. The company researched environmentally friendly counterparts; owner and CEO Gene Hughey also researched his great-grandmother’s household cleaning products and found he could duplicate her recipes. He created several environmentally friendly, cost-effective products to use in place of the artificial, chemical-laced counterparts.
Over the years, the company — now under the leadership of CEO Crystal Hughey — learned that all cleans are not equal. The company employs best practices developed by repetition and the sheer volume of cleans it completes. It has developed its own videos, flash cards and templates with a specific, efficient, consistent approach for every cleaning job.
John A. Johnson, MD, is a board-certified psychiatrist with over three decades of experience in mental health care, spanning three continents. He owns and operates several health care organizations, creating a service continuum from outpatient to inpatient that has provided care to over 50,000 often-overlooked Ohioans and that employs over 1,000 health care workers.
The community mental health organization serves child and adult Medicaid beneficiaries with psychiatric and/or substance abuse disorders in a physician-led interdisciplinary team format at clinics in Columbus and Dayton. Access Ohio’s Telepsychiatry Project provides psychiatric and supportive services across the state to children and adults who are dually diagnosed with mental illness and intellectual disability. And its Navigator Program assists single adults in the emergency shelter system to obtain and maintain income, housing and wellness.
As co-founder and CEO of biopharmaceutical startup ReHeva Biosciences, Zeenia Kaul, Ph.D., MBA, is committed to finding different and better ways to treat cancer. Alongside her global team of scientists, clinicians and researchers, she is developing 100 percent naturally derived drugs to help people live longer and healthier lives with cancer. Her groundbreaking drug, RH324, is in Phase 1 trial at University Hospitals in Cleveland.
Currently, cancer patients don’t have access to natural drugs that are safe, effective and affordable; some patients are resistant and the cost is an enormous barrier. Kaul is focused on bringing a new class of life-extending and life-saving botanical-based drugs to market. Her ultimate goal is to transform cancer treatment into disease management, much like heart disease today.
North Community Counseling Centers is a nonprofit, community mental health agency that has been serving Central Ohio for over 50 years. NCCC helps both adults and children over the age of 5 and continues to care for clients throughout their lifespan. Before Katrina Kerns became NCCC’s president and CEO, the organization was struggling financially, threatening to close or merge with another agency, and many facilities were in disrepair. Since arriving nearly five years ago, she has helped the agency grow in number of staff, revenue, locations, and programs and services. Kerns has identified the community’s unmet needs and builds and leads NCCC as a savvy organization. She also recognizes staff’s strengths and potential and helps them lead new programs and services within the agency.
When Darla King started King Business Interiors in 1998, the workplace interiors industry was dominated by men. She proceeded anyway, knowing that founding a woman-owned business would allow her to stand out. She has led King Business Interiors to be a trusted partner for some of the most world-class working environments.
King believed her skill set was a strength her clients valued. As she forged her own way, she began looking for others like her to help. Becoming chapter president of the National Association of Woman Business Owners allowed her to model success for young women beginning their own journey. Leveraging her core strengths as a leader, she trusts and empowers her team, giving her time to devote to her true passion of serving on nonprofit boards.
Tom Krouse leads Donatos Pizza in a visionary way by infusing the importance of strategy, alignment and measurement into everything that is done, while also emphasizing the importance of the company’s culture. He always champions the importance of highlighting what makes Donatos different from its competitors. Whether it’s premium products used to make abundantly topped pizzas, its care for associates, or its passion for giving back, showing how Donatos is different is vitally important, and Krouse challenges associates to find ways to promote these differences and leads by example.
Krouse also finds ways for the nearly 60-year-old family business to grow, whether through traditional franchising, a strategic partnership with another national brand (Red Robin), or the use of ghost kitchens (REEF Kitchens).
Wiley’s Finest, a Wiley Companies brand, is celebrating its 10th anniversary. It focuses on innovative, science-driven nutritional products that are certified sustainable and traceable. With over 25 years of experience, Greg Lindsey, CEO, has a strong track record of innovation, operational excellence and developing teams that drive results. He focuses on innovation for the future of the brand and growing its ecosystem.
With a unique skillset to evaluate and grow profitable and healthy organizations, he provides key insights around deliberate and successful growth. Wiley’s Finest’s commitment to sustainability and quality is unmatched, and the brand has tremendous opportunities to capitalize on this foundation, innovate and grow its ecosystem. Lindsey’s innovative spirit helps inspire his team to enhance their consumer experience and launch products that make the world a better place.
HomeTown Ticketing Inc., the leader in digital ticketing for K–12 schools and colleges, helps thousands of schools across the country seamlessly transition from cash and paper to digital ticketing. Its professional-level ticketing platform allows schools and venues to easily sell tickets, quickly scan attendees and immediately access revenue.
As president and COO, Lorien Parry Luehrs is leading HomeTown Ticketing through a tremendous period of growth and laying the groundwork for continued expansion of the company and the technology it provides. As an advocate for HomeTown, she has worked to share the clear value of using technology, and specifically digital ticketing, in the education and community events spaces. Through the past year, she has appeared as a guest on podcasts and attended conference events around the country.
Marty McDonald is executive vice president, Executive Committee chair, Operations Committee chair and head of the Consumer Practice at Columbus-based Fahlgren Mortine. The firm is the largest integrated public relations, advertising and digital firm in Ohio, with eight other offices across the U.S. In addition to overseeing the majority of the firm’s client revenue, she is responsible for human resources and associate engagement. She has succeeded through her achievements in innovation, impact and sustainability, both in the community and her profession.
The business metrics under McDonald’s leadership have lived up to the definition of a smart organization, from all-time record financial performance to unparalleled success in winning new business, industry-best client retention, staff engagement, industry innovation, community service and award-winning creative work for many of America’s most admired companies.
The Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) provides more than point-to-point transit; it defines itself as a mobility solutions provider for the Central Ohio region. COTA’s role in delivering economic mobility, equity and access to jobs, health care, food and entertainment is critical as the city and country recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and the Columbus region experiences a population explosion expected to double to 3 million residents by 2050.
Sophia Mohr, chief innovation and technology officer, leads COTA in making significant strides to adapt and prepare for these changes and ensure transportation meets the needs of all residents. COTA focuses on innovations and partnerships that will help deliver equitable, accessible public transit services and push Central Ohio and the organization to the forefront of smart mobility innovation.
Rob Moyer, president and co-founder of Agility Partners, devotes substantial time to identifying problems and creating innovative, next-level solutions to improve the recruitment industry. His philosophy has always been working to live, so it is no surprise that he ended up in the recruiting field, where he assists people in finding the right job in the perfect seat. He recognized that recruiting had become bland, impersonal and commercial, and he resolved to change that.
At the center, Agility Partners is in the business of people, with process and technology being a constant. Moyer has built an experience for the firm’s clients, which includes consultative hiring with market expertise, solid relationship-building and industry-leading best practices to discover the perfect fit.
Mike Muldoon was promoted to CEO of City Barbeque in January 2022 and has implemented changes to make the company smarter than ever. His dedication to continuing early pandemic innovation and his focus on employee development, well-being and work/life balance make City Barbeque a more innovative, intelligent and sustainable place to work. It has been keenly focused on the new — generating new ideas, serving guests via new avenues, supporting the team in new ways — and that has sharpened with Muldoon at the helm.
Muldoon, who also serves as president, challenges teams to strengthen processes, center the guest experience and not rest on previous technological achievements if they could be improved upon — which, to a company with a guiding behavior of “improving a little every day,” means they can always be refined.
Archall has conducted business in the private sector through five recessions and emerged from each as a stronger company with stronger client relationships. After the most recent recession in 2011, Bradley Parish joined the firm, leading the effort to diversify the business and become more recession-proof. Historically, Archall was known for designing car dealerships, but under Parish’s leadership, it focused on working with developers on multifamily projects and mixed-use developments.
Parish has built strong relationships with developers and entrepreneurs. Working with Elford Development, Archall created the masterplan for the redevelopment of the White Castle home office site. In addition to building stronger relationships and diversifying project types to prepare for the next downturn, Parish and his business partner, Dave Kaldy, became owners of archall architects in 2020.
Eddie Pauline took the helm of BioOhio, the state’s largest nonprofit devoted to advancing the bio and life sciences, in 2021, after 12 years working on economic and business development at The Ohio State University. He supercharged BioOhio’s members, embarking on a statewide listening tour, testifying on industry-relevant legislation and laying out an ambitious plan to build on Ohio’s exponential growth in the bio, health and life science sectors. BioOhio was created nearly 35 years ago and has nearly 300 members.
Pauline has brought innovative thinking, tireless advocacy and a mindset for growth to BioOhio. He has championed Ohio’s bioscience ecosystem, a web of logistics, education, research and entrepreneurs that drives growth. And he has laid out impressive plans for the future of the organization and the industry.
Jonathan Poma, Loop’s founder and CEO, empowers team members to do their best work by extending high levels of trust and by hyper-focusing Loop’s vision into a narrow, clear niche. Loop is exclusively built to improve Shopify brands’ post-purchase experience, allowing team members to develop software solutions that not only operate within one ecosystem but also solve a specific set of problems for its merchants.
Early on, Poma was closely tied to the disciplines required to run a business. However, he recognizes he must remain flexible. Transitioning from a seed phase company to a multimillion-dollar, Shopify-backed company meant Poma needed to shift. Today, he sees himself as an observer, a facilitator and a coach — and his commitment to trusting department experts is felt across the entire organization.
This year marks Ricart Automotive’s 69th year. As a family-owned business, Ricart Automotive has had to evolve and innovate to withstand various economic downturns and — most recently — a pandemic. Rick Ricart, a third-generation automotive dealer, serves as president and is leading the company through economic and social challenges, all while continuing to prioritize family values, philanthropy, meaningful business practices and expansion.
Ricart has been with the business for 20 years in all areas, including sales, marketing and business development. With COVID-19’s impact on the car market, he has proven now more than ever that his leadership has excelled most in the area of innovation. The strong foundation Ricart Automotive built as a company and that Ricart has evolved and continued to prioritize allows it to grow stronger when facing adversity.
Led by Chairman, President and CEO Craig Rogerson since 2017, Hexion Inc. is a leading specialty chemical company based in Columbus. With predecessors dating from 1899, Hexion is one of the world’s leading global producers of adhesives, coatings and composites materials, with 26 active production sites from continuing operations around the world. Through its worldwide network of strategically located production facilities, it serves approximately 1,200 customers in 60 countries.
Rogerson has led multiple strategic initiatives to position Hexion for continued success. He streamlined the business by strategically reforming the product portfolio. Since 2021, Hexion has divested two significant businesses, retaining the higher-value elements of its businesses. With a smaller, more focused and less cyclical portfolio, it is well positioned to drive future growth and generate significant cash flow.
John Roush, Express Wash Concepts (EWC) founding partner and CEO, is brilliant at bringing talented leaders onto his team. He is dynamic, with off-the-charts personal skills, and has a knack for picking people who work hard and work smart. His team buys in to his vision, and he gives them room to execute that vision.
EWC is the umbrella company over six brands, with 65 locations and 50 more opening this year. The company is keeping a fast pace of growth but is doing it responsibly. The car wash industry is booming, but expansion must be done smartly, thinking of the teams and scaling operations well. Responsible growth has always been part of the EWC strategy. It wants to be in every community, but it has to do it smartly.
Katie Ruberto joined Feazel as COO in 2021 with an extensive background as a program and operations leader. She brings her expertise in leading operational processes, especially through the company’s growth. She leads the operations team, which includes service, customer and employee experience, marketing and overall company operations. Ruberto has led the team through technology upgrades and organizational changes and was instrumental in its investment partnership this year with Stonecutter and Tradepost.
Her forward thinking and critical decision-making have primed Feazel — a roofing, siding and window replacement company — for its expected growth into new markets in the coming year. Ruberto manages high-profile initiatives within the company, including overseeing a new solar product line, technology development and a brand-wide marketing strategy.
Frank Sasso is celebrating his 10th year with Kaufman Development, joining in 2012 as CFO and assuming the role of president in 2018. He has been instrumental in the underwriting, capitalization, development and operation of the Kaufman portfolio over the last decade. Under his leadership, Kaufman has developed over 2,000 units and over 500,000 square feet of commercial space in nationally award-winning developments. Sasso has challenged his leadership team to look beyond economics in reviewing potential development projects to consider how Kaufman can create conscious communities centered on wellness, impact and expression to enhance the lives of those who live and work there. Additionally, he has expanded the team, focusing on “right person, right seat” and allowing teammates to lean on their expertise while broadening their skill set.
Kyle Shen is president and CEO of Nexceris, an advanced materials and battery technologies company based in Lewis Center. Shen has built an organization with a growth mindset. Since taking over the business in 2017, he has increased the number of employees from 40 to over 70 and increased revenue by more than three times. His aggressive growth mindset has led to a company built to last and will be a cornerstone of the Columbus community for years to come.
Shen believes in a people-first culture and encourages leaders to provide direct, timely feedback to team members in a respectful manner. He has a risk-taking mentality, encouraging team members to take chances. When they make a mistake, managers are encouraged to use it as a teachable moment and move on.
Lower is focused on optimizing the customer experience, and that starts with innovating to solve pain points they face throughout the homebuying journey. Co-founder and CEO Dan Snyder is the company’s visionary, working to pull together the right teams to bring to fruition ideas that will ultimately help customers become homeowners. From creating the first-of-its-kind savings account to helping customers shop for their insurance in the same place, Snyder and the team have worked to lower the stress and barriers to owning a home. This allows customers to build wealth through homeownership, providing them with enhanced financial freedom.
Through a one-stop-shop approach and the use of technology, Lower is reducing the friction for consumers in a typically daunting process.
Jeff Sopp is a steadfast, silent powerhouse behind some of the most well-known, impactful and business-savvy companies and industries in Central Ohio. Consulting with CEOs and their top-level leadership, he listens and harnesses their collective knowledge, experience, passion and drive to propel corporations and industries forward. His expertise in growth strategies, executive staffing, advisory boards and boards of directors recruitment, and equity investments continues to capture the attention of the largest corporations in the region.
Sopp lends his ear to leaders at pivotal junctures in their companies’ growth or their careers. He invests his time to understand the needs of leadership in relation to their vision for their company, then innovatively strategizes with them about how that vision can grow.
The pandemic of 2020-2022 posed unprecedented challenges for President and CEO E.J. Thomas and Habitat for Humanity-MidOhio. Under his vision and leadership, crises became opportunities to adapt, innovate and grow. Habitat’s mission of affordable housing for 80 to 100 families annually continued unabated. Throughout over 17 years at the Habitat helm, Thomas has continually drawn on his insights from growing up in a family business.
That, plus his extensive military, government and ongoing nonprofit sector service have contributed to Habitat now serving three counties, with three “ReStores,” which yield much-needed cash and recyclables, helping to keep useful materials and items out of regional landfills. In addition, six years ago, Thomas founded and chaired the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio, now with 27 members working together on this important issue.
Johnny Zela is the quintessential COO due to his deep level of engagement with his teams and is constantly setting the bar higher to accomplish and exceed company goals. He is an incredibly supportive leader, and team members believe in Zela and aspire to great heights due to his commitment and his ability to get their full commitment, as well. He keeps the wheels turning and is accountable, asks questions and drives toward new and higher goals for himself and his teams.
Zela has built Condado Tacos into an award-winning taco joint specializing in build-your-own tacos, tequilas and margaritas, with 30 company-owned and operated restaurants in six states across the Midwest and, in 2021 and 2022, emerging in the Southeast and Atlantic corridors. ●