2022 Northeast Ohio Smart 50 Awards recognize region’s top leadership

On behalf of Corporate College and Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C®), I want to personally congratulate the recipients of the eighth annual Corporate College Smart 50 Awards, presented by Smart Business.

We are privileged to partner with Smart Business and present the Corporate College Smart 50 Awards in celebration of Northeast Ohio’s top executives, in recognition of their talent to effectively build and lead innovative and “smart” organizations. All of this year’s honorees have made a difference in their organizations and the region. Their positive impact on employment has reinvented Northeast Ohio as one of the up-and-coming business regions in the country.

These large, mid-sized and emerging companies’ leaders motivate and inspire people. They are passionate and focused. The executives we are celebrating today tackle unique business challenges and continue to lead their organizations toward success. Corporate College is honored to acknowledge this year’s nominees.

Corporate College is a division of Tri-C, a nationally recognized leader in higher education and member of the League for Innovation in the Community College. Corporate College is known for its best-in-class client solutions, including training, consulting, and conference and hospitality services to the business community and its strategic partners.

During today’s challenging times, agility and perseverance are critical to an organization’s success. We provide effective training through virtual and on-site delivery methods, in categories essential to talent development. These include leadership, project management, diversity and inclusion, team building, Lean Six Sigma and more. Our goal is to keep your organization strong by providing innovative training that leads to improved productivity and performance. ●

Renee Richard, Esq.
Vice President and General Counsel,
Corporate College Interim President
Cuyahoga Community College
[email protected]


Honorees listed in alphabetical order by company


Jorge Garcia-Zuazaga, MD
Founder and president
Apex Dermatology

Apex Dermatology was founded by Dr. Jorge Garcia-Zuazaga in 2011. He had one vision — to solve the problem of limited dermatology/skin cancer services in the community. He was frustrated when people waited months to be seen and treated for skin conditions or skin cancers and when people waited hours in the office to be seen.

Apex is laser-focused on transforming lives through healthy skin. At Apex, patients are guaranteed rapid access to their provider, and all doctors run on time. Another big differentiator is the experience of the medical team. Garcia-Zuazaga has performed over 30,000 skin cancer surgeries, and all dermatologists are board-certified. Apex also employs knowledgeable advanced practitioners who work closely with physicians. All teams work aligned on providing a rock star patient experience.



Michael Pappas, CPA, CEPA
Barnes Wendling CPAs

Barnes Wendling CPAs is an accounting and business advisory firm founded in 1946. Clients include privately held businesses in a wide range of industries, family offices and individuals with high net worth. With over 20 service segments, the firm serves as a business adviser and stays true to its client service objective of building and maintaining clients’ net worth.

The firm takes an innovative approach with The BRISE Planning, developed from research analyzing its core clientele. The goal is to help clients become best in class, as these enterprises are worth more than others. Michael Pappas, CPA, CEPA, has been with the firm since 1979, is the director in charge of the accounting and assurance services department and lead director of the manufacturing and distribution group.



Andy McCartney
Owner and president
Bowden Manufacturing

Bowden Manufacturing, led by President Andy McCartney, recently kicked off MAGNETs NEO Lighthouse Tours by hosting a group of manufacturers to talk about its use of Industry 4.0 technology. McCartney implemented a machine monitoring system that is helping Bowden measure machine downtime, ensuring production time estimates are accurate, quickly identifying issues on the shop floor and improving data collection and analyzation efficiency.

And while ROI is challenging to measure, there are four or five factors in the system that unequivocally make it worth it. Bowden’s team is centered around this data that it sees every day.

In partnership with the monitoring system provider, Bowden developed a new countdown timer system to improve teamwork on the shop floor. Improving culture has been a priority, and technology has helped facilitate that.



David Carr
President and CEO
Brennan Industries

In 2023, Brennan Industries will celebrate 70 years as a family business. President and CEO David M. Carr is the third generation of leadership and uses his 35-plus years of knowledge in the industry to come up with new and innovative ideas to support staff and customers, while maintaining the foundation that the organization was built on. He regularly meets with his executive leadership team and listens to customers’ needs, then acts aggressively to achieve the goals created and is always looking for new and efficient ways to run the business through new technology.

In 2022, Brennan remodeled over 4,200 square feet of office space at its distribution center, modernizing it to provide efficient lighting, HVAC and restroom facilities, a new roofing system, expanded parking and new workspaces.



Kyle Braun
Budget Dumpster

When Kyle Braun stepped into the role of CEO in 2021, he was building on the legacy of Budget Dumpster’s co-founders. He was solely responsible for shaping what the role of CEO would look like at the decade-old, family-owned business. This included managing a workforce of 300-plus employees and expanding the already record-high revenue numbers experienced during COVID-19.

One year in, Braun has paved his own path, leaving a remarkable imprint on the company. His earnest work ethic, innovative spirit and employee commitment have a trickle-down effect. He continues to elevate Budget Dumpster as a leader and consumer choice in the waste industry. This includes a strategic restructuring of customer-facing teams, creating new growth positions, spearheading an e-commerce ordering experience and filing the company’s first patent.



Kevin S. Adelstein
Publisher, president and CEO
Cleveland Jewish Publication Co.

In Kevin S. Adelstein’s role as leader of the 58-year-old Cleveland Jewish News, the Cleveland Jewish Publication Co. is one of the few remaining independent, community-owned Jewish publication companies. Adelstein and his team have found innovative ways to grow and continue to be relevant in the challenging age of media fragmentation. Under his direction, the company has diversified its offerings to include revenue generated from publishing community magazines and custom publications, an events division and multiple digital media platforms.

In five of Adelstein’s first seven years running the multi-media company, The Press Club of Cleveland named the Cleveland Jewish News “Best non-daily newspaper in Ohio” in 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2021. In 2022, it was awarded “Best Local News Section in Ohio” by The Press Club of Cleveland.



Mark D’Agostino
Founder, president and CEO

Mark D’Agostino, president and founder of ConnectedHR, is an entrepreneur and human resource executive passionate about helping growing companies build organizational alignment through human resources. D’Agostino has been described as the “entrepreneur’s entrepreneur,” with the ability to see and solve problems creatively and tenaciously. As owner of a flourishing business products distribution company, he opted to handle people issues on his own. HR struggles impeded growth and he realized there was a huge gap in the marketplace when it came to the professional human resources a small or mid-sized company needs to grow.

He created a new business model by founding ConnectedHR, delivering high-caliber, right-sized human resources support and strategy. Today, it is one of the fastest-growing human resources consulting companies in Northeast Ohio.



Tom Harrison, CPA, CEPA
President and CEO
Corrigan Krause CPAs and Consultants

Tom Harrison, CPA, CEPA, is president and CEO of Corrigan Krause and has a leadership hand in most goings-on in the organization. His mind rarely shuts off and he’s always open to talking with staff about new ideas. In 2022, he celebrates 25 years with the firm, 14 as managing director.

Clients are paramount, and Harrison knows the key to helping individuals and privately held businesses is connecting the right people with the right knowledge to create and execute the best plan for the future. His creativity and people-first focus spearheaded an effort to invest in the key to CK’s ability to service the small businesses of Northeast Ohio: its staff. With input and collaboration from every department and seniority level, Harrison led the development of major investments in staff.



George Sullivan
Equity Trust Co.

Since George Sullivan arrived as CEO at Equity Trust Co. in 2019, he has challenged the business to become a smart organization. It started with an initiative to invest in top talent and foster a performance-driven culture that rewards associates who excel. Sullivan formalized an annual review process of key positions to identify opportunities to upskill and/or promote high performers. Recognizing the importance of creating fast, quality learning cycles that deliver skills, knowledge and results, he encourages each employee to approach their work with a problem-solving, idea-sharing mentality.

Sullivan’s management approach extends beyond simply insisting on accountability. Rather, he challenges the entire organization to engage in a cycle that includes cultivating a hypothesis based on data, setting goals, undertaking initiatives and reflecting upon their success.



Lauren Burke DeVere

Family comes first at Fire-Dex, and for President Lauren Burke DeVere, people are the best investment a business can make. She has been a star performer and staunch family advocate since launching her Fire-Dex career in 2019.

Rising through the ranks as Metro Sales manager, then director of Metro Sales, and finally, president of Fire-Dex, Burke DeVere’s vision has elevated the company to new heights, and her talent for culture-building makes her a true leader. It’s how the company attracts top talent — people that drive results and create advantages. In all aspects, she is an inspiration and role model. She truly excels, not only in her professional life, but also as a campaigner for a family-friendly workplace and policies that engender an authentic sense of community.



Allison Lanzilotta President Fleet Response

Innovation runs in the Fleet Response family. Scott Mawaka joined Fleet Response in 1998,

Scott Mawaka
Fleet Response

after his father, Ron Mawaka Sr., founded the company in 1986. He experienced success in a variety of roles before being named president and CEO in 2016. Mawaka leads the Executive Team and all Fleet Response employees to create innovative, customized solutions for clients. Innovative technology is the biggest trend impacting Fleet Response, allowing it to create user apps and expand products and service offerings.

Twenty-three years ago, Allison Lanzilotta joined Fleet Response, and in 2022, her innovative leadership and accomplishments were recognized as Mawaka announced her as president of Fleet Response. He says that for a privately held, second-generation company to declare the highest level of responsibility to a non-blood relative is significant.



Todd Barnhart
President and CEO

As president and CEO, Todd Barnhart is responsible for the strategic direction and overall business leadership for GARDINER. Barnhart has been with the organization for over 20 years. Since starting as a sales engineer, he took on a leadership role in developing the company’s vertical market efforts. In the mid-2000s, he grew GARDINER’s Performance Solutions business dramatically and expanded the company’s offerings.

He was named president and took equity ownership in the company in 2020. In doing so, Barnhart successfully transitioned a company with a nearly 65-year history in an industry not typically known for impact or innovation, and what was long viewed as an industrial-equipment centric heating, ventilating and air-conditioning company is now a thriving business built on people, technology, data and financial solutions.



Kevin Weidinger
Great Lakes Fasteners Inc.

In the age-old business of selling nuts, bolts, washers and screws, innovation, impact and sustainability all factor into operating a business that is designed to excel for generations.

Led by President Kevin Weidinger, Great Lakes Fasteners Inc. has driven incredible efficiency in its business, most specifically in kitting and packaging.

Many of its clients take full advantage of its kitting capability as it packages up installation and production fasteners with instructions and delivers them as a tidy, finished good ready for mating with the finished goods. Great Lakes Fasteners has added technology and automation with equipment from Auto Bag and Advanced Poly that streamlined kitting, as well as driven out nonvalue-added costs, allowing it to offer big savings to manufacturing clients.



Sam Falletta

Incept Owner and CEO Sam Falletta has been at the center of developing and executing customer engagement strategies for companies like Ford, Honda, Microsoft and the American Red Cross and has been responsible for over 20 million conversations between his clients and their customers. Some of these conversations have helped companies save millions of dollars through the retention and acquisition of customers, while others have saved lives through blood donation recruitment.

He is continuously on the edge of innovation, pushing the boundaries of impossible. It was no small feat transforming a call center company traditionally known for its negative appeal into a heavily sought-after-career move in Northeast Ohio. Falletta transformed it by taking risks and leaving the traditional contact center approach behind.



Lisa Wittman-Smith
Senior vice president, Inventory Management & Business Insights

Lisa Wittman-Smith joined JOANN in 2021 as senior vice president, Inventory Management & Business Insights. A proven leader with a diverse retail background, she previously held the position of vice president, Business Insights at Visionworks of America, a leading optical retailer with more than 700 stores across the United States.

In her role with the nation’s leader in fabric and sewing and one of the fastest-growing players in the arts and crafts industry, she leads replenishment, planning, analytics & insights, data science and data integrity for the Hudson-based retailer. The impact her changes have made to how strategic business decisions are made and the long-term vision she has instilled are helping JOANN optimize business operations, improve customer satisfaction and ultimately benefit the bottom line.



Vijay Shankar
Kichler Lighting LLC

Vijay Shankar is president of Kichler Lighting LLC and a former executive for several prominent U.S. and global organizations. With 20-plus years of business experience, he has a history of growing organizational capabilities and highly effective teams, as well as driving record sales and profit gains in established and emerging business environments. His expertise includes strategic sales development, multi-channel development, e-commerce strategy, cross-functional leadership, pricing and profit management, category management, digital marketing expertise, M&A expertise and operational knowledge.

Shankar previously led the Kichler sales organization as executive vice president of sales, where he focused on profit and loss responsibility across distribution channels, addressing such challenges as mitigating tariff impacts, bringing more focus to customer strategies and streamlining customer data and analytics.



Marcia J. Ballinger, Ph.D.
Lorain County Community College

Marcia J. Ballinger, Ph.D., has more than 30 years in community college leadership roles and serves as the fifth president of Lorain County Community College. Her passion for empowering a thriving community where every student’s dream matters has been a guiding beacon toward creating a brighter, more vibrant future for all. She prioritizes a strong focus on student success, equity, economic and workforce development, strategic planning and institutional advancement that has established LCCC as a leader, serving over 14,000 students in certificate, associate, bachelor and master degree programs at LCCC’s main campus, four learning centers and the University Partnership.

Ballinger’s unwavering commitment to LCCC’s nearly 60-year-old mission continues to provide opportunities for individuals to succeed through quality, affordable education, economies to grow through innovation and communities to thrive.



Betsy Mack Nespeca
Mack Industries Inc.

Betsy Mack Nespeca hadn’t planned on becoming president of Mack Industries as a young mother, but she did just that. Mack Industries, in its third generation of the Mack family, has specialized in precast concrete products and services since 1932. The company was founded on the philosophy of “teamwork demands a positive work attitude, customer-driven focus and commitment to safety, service and quality, in everything we do.”

In 1958, Nespeca’s father, Dick Mack, took over the business from his father. At her father’s request, Nespeca, her husband, Chris, and her brother, Howard, returned to the business in 1993. In 2000, she was appointed president. One of Nespeca’s greatest skills is her ability to listen and bring people together to work toward a common goal.



Jerry Kelsheimer
Medic Management Group/MMG Healthcare Solutions
Thomas Ferkovic CEO Medic Management Group/MMG Healthcare Solutions

Medic Management Group has operated as a stable, profitable business since 1999 and was recapitalized under new ownership and operating structure in 2018. Leadership embarked on an aggressive plan to position the company for growth and heightened performance. Led by CEO Thomas Ferkovic and President Jerry Kelsheimer, MMG’s financial results have been exceptional, achieving record earnings in 2019, maintaining strong performance despite COVID challenges in 2020, topping previous record results in 2021 and setting it on pace to significantly better the prior year in 2022.

At MMG, beyond being a stated value, two-way communication is an expectation, critical to maintaining alignment and support.



Ingrid Tolentino
MetLife Legal Plans

As the CEO of MetLife Legal Plans, Ingrid Tolentino leads a business whose mission is to increase access to legal services for working families.

Appointed as head of the business in 2015, Tolentino promotes the accessibility of legal plans by leveraging MetLife distribution channels, spearheading strategic acquisitions and expanding coverage options.

In 2017, she encouraged the creation of the company’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion committee to provide a space for employees to come together to share viewpoints and experiences with the broader organization. Under her tenure, the company rolled out a diversity training initiative to bring employees together to discuss issues of discrimination and unconscious bias.



Travis Mlakar
President and CEO

Travis Mlakar, Millcraft’s president and CEO, is the fourth generation of the company’s leadership. He has defied the headwinds of COVID-19, global supply chain disruption and inflation to raise this 102-year-old family business to unprecedented levels of operational and financial success, a huge accomplishment for a distribution company whose core product — paper — and core market — commercial printing — have been tagged as a disappearing industry for years. But sometimes industries, and the businesses that make up their supply chains, are smart enough to adapt and redefine themselves.

The Millcraft executive team is made up of the financial, operational, information technology, sales and marketing, and human resources experts who guide and implement Mlakar’s passion and vision for this legacy Cleveland company.



Adam Wallenstein
Neptune Plumbing
Michael Wallenstein Co-president Neptune Plumbing

Slightly more than a decade ago, two men believed they had what it took to break the curse of third-generation business, disrupt the local market and put a 21st century face on a building trade viewed as tired and antiquated. Neptune Plumbing co-presidents Adam and Michael Wallenstein took a critical look at a 50-plus-year-old family business that was hardly seen as edgy but also at the Northeast Ohio commercial, industrial and institutional plumbing market.

They found the market craved a service provider that offered a full-service solution, acted as a true vendor partner and offered a means of creating efficiencies. Armed with these insights and a commitment to transformation, they have led the company, its team members and customers to a new kind of plumbing company.



Chris Noble, Vice President and COO, Norman Noble Inc.

Founded in 1946, Norman Noble Inc. has been in business for over 75 years and is the world’s largest contract manufacturer of medical devices and implants. Headquartered in Highland Heights, it employs just over 500 employees in Northeast Ohio, with additional employees in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, and Naples, Florida.

Led by Vice President and COO Chris Noble, Norman Noble manufactures the next generation of medical implants, medical devices and nitinol implants. Besides manufacturing these products, it also designs the process that allows them to exist and then innovates the process for manufacturability, quality and efficiency. Today, three generations of the Noble family maintain guiding principles to lead the company — and the industry — with technologically advanced capabilities and exceptional service. Norman Noble keeps pace with current technology by continually investing in machining, finishing and engineering resources.



Todd Federman
Managing director
North Coast Ventures

Todd Federman is managing director of North Coast Ventures, a Cleveland-based early stage venture capital firm that invests in B2B software companies. With over 400 member investors, including many of the region’s leading entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and business executives, NCV is the largest, single-chapter investor group in the country. Since 2006, NCV and its member investors have deployed nearly $100 million into more than 70 high-potential ventures.

Federman leads NCV’s efforts to build a robust investor community. The NCV platform leverages this unique dynamic network to increase the probability and magnitude of returns by enabling enhanced deal flow and better opportunities, producing insights from the industry and functional expertise of investors and facilitating targeted, game-changing introductions for portfolio companies.



Anita Bradley
President and CEO
Northern Ohio Recovery Association

Anita Bradley is president and CEO the Northern Ohio Recovery Association (NORA), which she founded in 2004 to prevent the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs utilizing a holistic healing and recovery approach. Her vision was to establish innovative care to support continued recovery in communities throughout Northeast Ohio.

Bradley has been in recovery for over 32 years and understands the importance and magnitude of blending personal and professional knowledge to promote the power and possibility of recovery. Throughout more than three decades, Bradley has served as a clinician and administrator, specializing in community organizing, program planning and program development. And in 2016, she was honored by the White House as a “Champion of Change” for the many programs she created in the addiction and recovery field.



Sarah E. Nash
Chair, president and CEO

Successful businesses know their market and their customers. They understand how their products fit into their markets, consistently manufacture those products in response to their customers’ requirements and employ a trained workforce to ensure products are delivered on time and within budget.

When Sarah Nash took the reins as CEO and chair in 2018, Novagard was a regional manufacturer of industrial grade silicones sold mainly into the construction industry. It also manufactured silicone greases and foam used primarily in the automotive market. But technology was changing consumer needs and behaviors, and she knew silicones could play a broader role in the manufacturing process. She strategically shifted from an industrial to an electronics-grade manufacturer of silicones, allowing the organization to seek new opportunities.



Dan Rodenbush
Oliver Inc.

Oliver Inc. is the leading provider of custom paperboard packaging that’s as unique as it is sustainable. Under the leadership of CEO Dan Rodenbush, Oliver Inc. has grown exponentially with several acquisitions that expanded both capabilities and capacity. Each acquisition carries the same core values, from passion for the job to dedication in providing creative solutions with exceptional customer service. The focus on sustainability is at the forefront of the company mission.

Rodenbush has created a culture where each and every individual feels important to the company. And across the five divisions, there are three centuries of experience in producing folding cartons, marketing collateral and labels, but Rodenbush keeps an eye on developing technologies to stay best in the industry.



Victoria Marquard-Schultz
Co-founder and CEO

Founded as Applied Home Healthcare Equipment in 1993, OxyGo brings more than 100 years of engineering, regulatory and safety experience to an essential health care business. Victoria Marquard-Schultz, daughter of founder Dave Marquard, was promoted to the role of CEO in 2018 and has grown the company significantly, both through geographic expansion and product line development.

OxyGo’s technology provides portable oxygen by taking air and removing nitrogen from it, leaving an oxygen-enriched gas for use by people requiring medical oxygen due to low oxygen levels in their blood. Its featured product, which weighs only 4.8 pounds with a battery life of over 10 hours, provides the user with an easy-to-use solution. OxyGo and its brand Applied Home Healthcare Equipment produce ambulatory oxygen solutions with DME companies in mind.



Douglas J. Sibila
President and CEO
Peoples Services Inc.

Peoples Services Inc. provides a network of warehouse services, quality supply chain logistics, freight brokerage and transportation. With over 8 million square feet of warehouse space across seven states, it has the scope and experience to handle customers’ distribution needs. Its warehouses specialize in food-grade storage, polymers, auto and chemicals, along with customized drumming, packaging and fulfillment services. Its transportation capabilities compliment the warehouse services, and its experienced team maximizes its advantage to supply efficient and reliable supply chain services.

Peoples Services Inc. is celebrating 108 years of business, running as a family-owned, third-generation-operated company that continues to thrive in today’s 3PL industry. Douglas J. Sibila was elected president and named CEO in 2001. He believes organic growth and acquisitions are key to the continued sustainability of PSI.



Adrian Allison
Chief relationship officer
Pro Football Hall of Fame

Adrian Allison, in his new role as chief relationship officer, is charged with promoting the Pro Football Hall of Fame locally, regionally and globally and overseeing the long-term agreement between the HOF and the Black College Football HOF. The HBCU initiative is much more than a football game; it involves enhancing scholarship opportunities, establishing an annual fellowship program at the Pro Football HOF and promoting graduates of HBCU.

This program operated in conjunction with the Pro Football HOF and these universities will create continued opportunities for graduates to excel. The Pro Football HOF has a strong brand, but this focus and commitment to create awareness and identify opportunities for minorities is impactful.



Jose Vasquez
Quez Media Marketing

CEO Jose Vasquez has built a solid technology and marketing firm while giving back to the community. He is currently on the board of JumpStart and leads its Diversity + Inclusion efforts. Vasquez is part of the Host Committee for CentroVilla25, a $10 million economic development real estate project of the NEO Hispanic Center for Economic Development. His leadership throughout the last decade has played a pivotal role on the success of this initiative.

QuezMedia is the brainchild of Vasquez, moving from a print and promotions business to technology and marketing. He and his team build practical solutions for complicated systems issues. His portfolio of companies serves speaks volumes for the integrity of their work.



Kevin Beckett
President and CEO
R.W. Beckett Corp.

Founded in 1937 and headquartered in North Ridgeville, R.W. Beckett Corp. is the North American market leader in providing combustion solutions for the heating, cleaning and custom application space. As the foundation of the Beckett family of companies, R.W. Beckett and its other associated companies is one of the largest employers in Lorain County, with over 900 employees collectively. The Beckett family of companies has also expanded to other areas of the United States and to Canada, Italy and the United Kingdom.  The products Beckett companies produce serve more than 50 million U.S. homes.

Led by President and CEO Kevin Beckett, the company has set itself apart through constant innovation, commitment to technical integration and a philosophy that strives to recognize team members as true members of the Beckett family.



Benjamin Bebenroth
Spice Hospitality Group

While many were treading water to survive the COVID-19 lockdown that affected Northeast Ohio restaurants, Ben Bebenroth made the tough decision to shutter his lauded Spice Kitchen + Bar, dedicating his attention and resources to building a foundation for long-term success. His new 10,000-square-foot culinary facility was already under construction, and it became the launching pad for strategies that propelled the company toward meaningful growth in both the short and long term.

A ghost kitchen concept met the community where it was, with colorful, nutritious family meals for curbside pickup or delivery. Bebenroth and his team looked at what the market would become in the wake of massive shutdowns, layoffs and supply chain disruptions and began developing a scalable concept to fill the niche of affordable luxury within a $45 billion industry: Pizza.



Seth Uhrman
State Industrial Products Inc.

When Seth Uhrman took over as CEO of State Industrial Products in 2013, he knew there were big shoes to fill, with the business tracing its roots back to his great-grandfather in 1911. However, even with over 40 years of experience working his way up through State’s ranks, no one could have foreseen the ways in which COVID-19 changed the world.

As the virus emerged, it was clear people were going to be heavily relying on cleaners, sanitizers and disinfectants. Despite the worldwide challenges, Uhrman steered the company confidently, resulting in record-breaking sales in 2020 and 2021.With COVID-19 subsiding, Uhrman has shifted gears in managing the aftermath. Through his leadership and creativity, State Industrial has pivoted where necessary to continue providing customers with the best products and service possible.



Ines Rehner
Founder and CEO
Sweet Designs Chocolatier

For more than 25 years, since migrating from Yugoslavia (now Croatia), Ines Rehner has typified the best of the American dream. Her grit, creativity and street smarts have enabled her to build Sweet Designs Chocolatier, a European-style chocolate company in Lakewood that attracts customers from throughout Northeast Ohio and across the country.

Her business is fueled by her desire to delight customers by providing them with the very best chocolate and by her willingness to adapt, innovate, invest and outwork her competition.

When COVID struck, she upped her online presence, and while other businesses cut back on their offerings and hours, Rehner reinvested in her business, remodeled her store and continued to develop new products — including Chokolatine, a line of 14 flavors introduced this fall.



Adrian Thompson
Co-partner in charge
Jill Friedman Helfman
Co-partner in charge

Taft Cleveland’s venture capital, real estate, mergers and acquisitions, litigation, public law, employment law, workers’ compensation, intellectual property, tax and family law attorneys are helping shape the Cleveland landscape and beyond through their innovative approaches and strategic vision.

The office has been named a winner of the Cleveland Top Workplaces Awards for three consecutive years. Attorneys and staff are committed to working together as a diverse team of professionals to be the inclusive employer of choice in Cleveland. Led by co-partners in charge Jill Friedman Helfman and Adrian Thompson, Taft’s culture is client focused and dedicated to diversity and inclusion. It is focused on growth to better serve clients, is dedicated to a vibrant diversity and inclusion program and offers continuous opportunities for personal growth and development.



Steve Peplin
Talan Products Inc.

When you have been in business for 36 years and have a CAGR of 18 percent, some call that impressive. But what if, in year 36, you doubled? That would fall into the knocking it out of the park category. This does not happen by accident; it happens by being smart, methodical and keeping your attention on the big picture.

Talan Products CEO Steve Peplin laid the groundwork for growth as he built the company, and many things fell into place for 2022. By refining digital marketing efforts, Talan established a focused, strategic leadership position in the digital world, attracting the attention of new, large customers. Peplin has personally led the sales department from the very beginning and remains hands on to guide the sales department’s efforts on large, complex opportunities.



Anthony Hughes
Co-founder and CEO
Tech Elevator

Tech Elevator was launched in 2015 by CEO Anthony Hughes and Co-founder David Wintrich. Having experienced the challenges associated with a lack of tech talent, Hughes researched best practices in last-mile, short-form technical training to create the program. He seeded the company with his own capital, later bringing along a small but influential group of social impact investors.

Understanding students were not simply looking to learn how to code but seeking employment as software developers, Tech Elevator launched a technical curriculum with a career readiness and job placement program, resulting in the strongest performance outcomes in the field. Students see a 95 percent graduation rate and a 90 percent job placement rate within 180 days and over 700 companies in 31 industries have hired nearly 2,500 Tech Elevator grads.



Mike Kennedy
The Kennedy Group

The Kennedy Group was founded in 1974 with a small client base. Since then it has grown to help businesses across the globe make their mark in industries ranging from automotive to food and beverage and beyond. Throughout, the company has been committed to creating and maintaining a family culture as it remains family-owned and dedicated to its employees.

Label printing is a commodity business, so the company — led by Co-CEO Mike Kennedy — has advanced state-of-the-art printing techniques that help it, and its customers, stay ahead of the competition. It has developed print technologies to include economical and chemical-resistant water-based printing, high-quality and fade-resistant UV printing, ASTM-grade UV printing for smaller runs and a variable-data printing Inkjet system for flexibility. Additionally, it uses equipment to ensure higher productivity, minimizing manufacturing costs.



J. David Heller
President and CEO
The NRP Group

The NRP Group has a long-term consistent presence as a high-growth innovator in the multifamily industry. Over his 30-year career in multifamily real estate, NRP President and CEO J. David Heller has helped build the largest development firm in the U.S. that produces both affordable and luxury multifamily housing at scale. The resilient “never-give-up” culture he has cultivated is underpinned by his dedication to building an organization of A+ talent committed to leaving the world a better place than they found it.

He does so with intent to serve his community through both professional and personal endeavors. Heller finds innovative ways to problem solve and has created a team of industry experts that can navigate any challenge, making him an impactful leader on a local and national scale.



Tom Arcoria
The Sagamore Cos.

Tom Arcoria is a true entrepreneur. With over 25 years of experience in the construction industry, his reputation is remarkable. The Sagamore Cos. sells B2B and B2C supplies to help create extraordinary landscapes. Its multiple facilities sell mulch, soil, gravel, pavers, landscape stone, compost and sand, and it also has green waste recycling facilities that turn into mulches and soils.

Concrete is also sold through volumetric mixers, and materials can be placed where needed through its innovative Slinger Trucks. If manpower or heavy equipment is a concern, the trucks can be used to place materials accurately the first time, delivering materials where and how you want them. You can avoid dumping on the street and almost eliminate clean-up.



Neil Sethi
President and CEO
Transtar Holding Co.

Under the leadership of President and CEO Neil Sethi, Transtar Holding Co. is revolutionizing the automotive aftermarket industry. Sethi has empowered the entire organization to analyze and execute creative solutions to complex problems, a product of his steadfast belief that failure is a prerequisite of innovation. Transtar’s culture embraces exploration and experimentation, with team members in every functional area willing to ask bold questions such as, What if? What’s next? How can the team create better value for customers?

Transtar’s cutting-edge, patent-winning ecommerce solution, www.Transend.us, enables automotive repair shop professionals to quickly identify and order the right parts for any vehicle, eliminating the need for outdated paper catalogs and additional technical training. Sethi points to the organization’s core foundations of mission, vision, and values as its primary driver of success.



Jayne Juvan
Partner and chair of the Mergers & Acquisitions and Securities & Capital Markets practice groups
Tucker Ellis LLP

Jayne Juvan is a creative and savvy relationship builder. With intellect, courage and determination, she climbed the corporate ladder to become a partner in the Business Department at Tucker Ellis LLP, where she now chairs both the firm’s Mergers & Acquisitions and Securities & Capital Markets practice groups. Ranked in Chambers USA in the area of Corporate/M&A (Ohio: North), she is described by clients as a great relationship builder who always puts her clients first.

In running her team, Juvan ensures that every team member receives the necessary coaching and tools to position them for success, not just in dealmaking but in relationship building. She is integral to the Tucker Ellis vow to build better lawyers faster and make a career for everyone who works there.





Bill Cosgrove President and CEO, MBA chairman 2015 Union Home Mortgage

Union Home Mortgage President and CEO Bill Cosgrove believes running a smart organization starts with hiring smart people, then empowering and supporting them to build and maintain a world-class organization. His vision has always been to build a company where people come first. In fact, you won’t find “employees” at Union Home Mortgage, only partners who live by the company’s shared values and its code of conduct. This commitment to delivering personal, world-class service has helped the company expand into 47 states plus Washington, D.C.

Cosgrove joined UHM in 1994, was named president in 1998 and became its 100 percent owner in 1999. Over his tenure, he has developed a culture and operating philosophy that helped grow the company into a nationally acclaimed mortgage bank, all while exemplifying the mantra of “Promises Kept.”



Charu Ramanathan, Ph.D.
Co-founder and CEO

Charu Ramanathan, Ph.D., co-founded Vitalxchange with friend and colleague Ketal Patel based on personal experiences and with a vision to empower common folk to make informed decisions on important topics like health and education. She has found in her 15-plus year tenure in health care that the primary drivers of innovation were profit and process, rather than impact to the patient.

After selling her first company, CardioInsight, to Medtronic, she and Patel envisioned the concept of Vitalxchange, an organization that would develop and apply cutting-edge technology to deliver the double bottom line of impact and profitability in health care. In 2019, they founded Vitalxchange, a personalized parenting platform combining human expertise with comprehensive digital tools, to help families with their child’s developmental, behavioral, learning and overall well-being.



Craig Dorn
President and CEO
Youth Opportunities Unlimited

Upon becoming CEO of Youth Opportunities Unlimited four years ago, Craig Dorn set forth ambitious goals around evaluation of impact, talent development/retention and elevating collaboration and partnership efforts. Youth are the primary customer of Y.O.U., and while the organization has been collecting surveys for decades, it needed to evolve to more advanced strategies for capturing the thoughts and opinions of youth it serves and turn them into action.

Y.O.U. is part of a national movement called Listen4Good, which champions a robust feedback system for programs. It has tripled investment in staff training, streamlined the human resources function under one leader to create a cohesive message and support system, empowered staff to engage in wellness and fun, and established family-friendly practices such as paid maternity/paternity leave and flexible scheduling. ●