2023 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 ninth 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.

Smart organizations require agility and perseverance to succeed. We provide professional development and customized training in person and online. Industry experts use real-world scenarios to build skills essential to talent development. Programs include leadership, project management, diversity and inclusion, team building, Lean Six Sigma and more. The new Center for Entrepreneurs offers tools and services for all stages of the business journey, including a podcast studio.

Our goal is to keep your organization strong by providing innovative training that leads to improved productivity and performance. Learn more at corporatecollege.com. ●

Renee Richard, Esq. President Corporate College Interim General Counsel Cuyahoga Community College









Honorees listed in alphabetical order by last name


Ciara Ahern
Sixth Element

After 15 years in the marketing agency world, it became clear to Ciara Ahern that an entirely new business model was needed to meet the creative needs of business by matching talent to tasks with a more nimble and targeted agency model.

In the early days of the pandemic, Sixth Element, a brand and design studio, launched efforts to deliver measurably more successful results by drawing focused expertise from top talent. This new model directs client creative budgets more efficiently and reduces inefficiencies.

The business creates distinctive brands by expressing them authentically and consistently through a strategic brand narrative and strong visual expression. Its obsession with customer experience design ensures a powerful, memorable moment every time people engage with a business’s brand, and strong, thoughtful brands power engagement, affinity and sales.


Cal Al-Dhubaib

Cal Al-Dhubaib, a globally recognized data scientist, entrepreneur and innovator in responsible artificial intelligence, specializes in high-risk sectors such as health care, energy and defense.

Al-Dhubaib is CEO of Pandata, a consulting company with a diverse team of data scientists who help organizations design and develop responsible AI-driven solutions for complex business challenges.
Pandata’s clients include globally recognized organizations solve their most complex business challenges with trustworthy artificial intelligence solutions. Al-Dhubaib understands clients’ need to maintain safety and compliance and to minimize risk, while improving robustness, fairness and trust.

His insights have been featured in publications such as Forbes, Ohiox, the Marketing AI Institute, Open Data Science, AI Business News, Future Medicine AI and Pandata’s monthly digest.


Nic Barlage
Rock Entertainment Group

Rock Entertainment Group spans across the Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Monsters, Cleveland Charge and Legion GC and Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.

Led by CEO Nic Barlage, the organization aims to be the transformative leader in sports and entertainment. In 2022, it was named one of Front Office Sports’ 2022 Best Employers in Sports, honoring the top 15 percent of sports companies and acknowledging an obsession with creating epic experiences.

As market conditions and consumer preferences evolved, the Cavaliers sought a dynamic pricing tool that integrated into the SeatGeek ticketing platform while allowing it to adjust to changing market demands in real time. After a search for technology to meet specific needs proved fruitless, the Cavaliers’ innovative teams create a dynamic pricing tool that is the first of its kind in professional sports.





Shane Bigelow
Champ Titles

Champ Titles’ SaaS solutions focus on solving the notoriously frustrating vehicle titling space. The company’s secure, patented, digital titling platform includes three solutions built for state government agencies, insurance carriers, financial institutions and automotive retailers of all types.

Founded in 2018 and led by CEO Shane Bigelow, Champ Titles replaces state DMV title and registration systems with its software, while also providing technology that enables automotive retailers and insurance carriers across the nation to reduce the amount of time it takes to create, manage and transfer a vehicle title to just one day.

The company’s success in securing several recent large contracts is proof that the old ways of handling titles should be changed nationwide, offering solutions to speed title and registration transactions anywhere in the world.


Jon Bostock
Leaf Home

Jon Bostock, the CEO of Leaf Home, exemplifies exceptional leadership in guiding a smart organization. Under his direction, Leaf Home has embraced innovative technologies and strategies that are transforming the home improvement industry.

Bostock has not only built upon the company’s legacy of pioneering inventive products but has also ventured into new categories and substantially expanded Leaf Home’s reach. His unwavering commitment to innovation is notably reflected in the company’s use of advanced analytics and data-driven decision-making processes, which not only ensure operational efficiency but also provide customers with unparalleled experiences.

Leaf Home’s flagship product, LeafFilter Gutter Protection, stands as a testament to its commitment to sustainability by helping prevent water damage, extending the lifespan of roofs, siding, and foundations, and allowing people to age in place comfortably and safely.


Bryan Chaikin
Executive vice president, Innovation
Transtar Industries

Bryan Chaikin’s relentless pursuit of innovation and technology has not only propelled Transtar Industries into the digital age but has also set a new standard for excellence in the automotive aftermarket industry.

Chaikin, executive vice president, Innovation, is committed to enhancing the customer service experience at Transtar, developing proprietary solutions and embracing AI technologies. That commitment has solidified his position as a driving force behind Transtar’s success.

His dedication has not only made Transtar a pioneer in its field but also significantly improved the customer service experience. One digital tool simplified the ordering process for Transtar’s customers, particularly those in the auto repair market, allowing them to access the parts they need with unprecedented ease, speed and accuracy.


Mike Crislip, President, Onyx Creative Inc.

Since becoming partners of Onyx Creative Inc., CFO Carole Sanderson and President Mike Crislip’s combined

Carole Sanderson, CFO, Onyx Creative Inc.

efforts have contributed to its overall success, growing it into a national industry leader. Crislip has provided leadership and guidance, while being directly involved with recruitment and hiring, and Sanderson has increased profitability through sound fiscal management for 40 years.

The pair have created new profit centers for the architecture, engineering and design firm, starting in 1990 with the addition of BlueStreak Services, an interiors procurement division and reprographics center. Today, the company has a continuously growing staff of electrical, mechanical and structural engineers under the brand name BlueStreak Consulting.

Since 2005, Onyx Creative Inc. has acquired six firms.


Lauren Burke DeVere

Fire-Dex produces one of the world’s most comprehensive and trusted ranges of personal protective equipment, including firefighter turnout gear, boots, hoods, gloves, helmets and rentals. With tens of thousands of firefighters relying on Fire-Dex equipment, the company’s reputation is a testament to its commitment to quality and consistency.

Led by President Lauren Burke DeVere, Fire-Dex remains in constant innovation mode. The drive to innovate and adapt is borne out of an understanding of the needs of firefighters. And DeVere firmly believes that investing in people is the smartest move a business can make. She has consistently shone as a star performer and a passionate advocate for Fire-Dex, a family-owned and -operated company that has shaped its success by listening to firefighters and investing in talent management and employee development.


Nathan Eppink
Medina County Park District

The Medina County Park District, formed in 1965, continues to grow and expand, enhancing the quality of life for people through education, conservation and the protection of natural resources. MCPD oversees more than 8,500 acres of land and has grown through collaborations to maximize the impact for residents and visitors.

The Medina Recovery Farm acquisition is a recent example. MCPD was awarded the property as the result of a proposal outlining multiple agencies that could work together with it to best utilize the property, currently occupied by Cathy’s House and Hope Recovery. Residents who live in one of the homes pay rent, maintain the property and tend to the vegetable farm. Produce raised feeds residents, and excess is donated to Feeding Medina County.


Lee Friedman
College Now Greater Cleveland

College Now Greater Cleveland is a smart organization under the leadership of CEO Lee Friedman due to its commitment to innovate and improve in all areas of operation. From internal staff collaboration to enhancing and expanding services provided to the Greater Cleveland community, College Now works constantly to work smarter and be the best.

Founded in 1967, College Now has grown from a scholarship organization to one of the largest college access organizations in the nation. The organization has expanded from serving only Cleveland Metropolitan School District students to offering college and other postsecondary education services to students in 185 school and community buildings throughout Ohio.

Under Friedman’s leadership since 2010, College Now has grown nearly 10-fold, serving more students and awarding more scholarships than ever before.


Andrew Gehrlein
Park Place Technologies

CFO Andy Gehrlein oversees Park Place Technologies’ overall financial strategy, including reporting, financial planning and analysis, capital allocation and treasury. His role on the strategic leadership team of the global data center and optimization firm has grown from his initial CFO position to also encompass the chief administrative officer role, which includes real estate and workplace services, human resources and legal, all key internal pillars.

Gehrlein guides Park Place’s financial health through an unprecedented era of growth. With more than 20 acquisitions since 2016 and ongoing organic sales growth, he has strategically balanced the company’s global goals and global investments in more than 170 countries.

Gehrlein has innovated finance to stay ahead of growing corporate needs, resulting in consecutive years of record profit-sharing payments based on achievement of EBITDA targets.


Faris Ghawi
CEO and co-founder
Vytalize Health

Faris Ghawi co-founded Vytalize Health with the mission of building a better care delivery model for Medicare patients. Although his background is in civil engineering and finance, he recognized the need for complex problem-solving and risk-taking to address the high-stakes challenges in health care.

The CEO’s passion for solving big problems led him to create Vytalize Health in 2014, alongside his friend, Dr. Amer Alnajar. They created a risk-bearing provider enablement platform that addresses significant health care challenges.

Their model for Medicare patients focuses on improving care quality, reducing spending and emphasizing human connection with a patient-centered, holistic approach. The initial practice provided comprehensive care, available 24/7 on-demand, meeting patients wherever they needed it, including virtual and at-home care.


Patrick Ghilani
MRI Software

MRI Software has revolutionized the real estate technology industry with an open and connected approach to software. By giving clients the freedom to run their business on their own terms and control their software, MRI has differentiated itself from established competitors — and given clients the ability to differentiate themselves.

CEO Patrick Ghilani and his team have built a culture of engagement, empowerment and innovation. Along the way, he has transformed MRI into a global real estate software provider that continues to grow while staying true to its Cleveland roots.

In 2022, when software companies across the country were forced to cut staff, MRI Software was named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies for the third year in a row.


Wesley Gillespie
Regional president

Since ERIEBANK launched in 2005, the bank has grown to 12 offices with nearly 150 employees. In the last five years, under the leadership of Regional President Wesley Gillespie, the bank has opened two new offices in the Cleveland area, with ground-up construction in Seven Hills and Woodmere and a third branch to break ground soon at Crocker Park.

In the last five years, ERIEBANK has increased loans and deposits in Ohio by 270 percent and 165 percent respectively, and almost doubled the number of customer households. Much of the growth is attributed to investing in talent retention and professional development programs that range from a leadership program to finding ways to reach underserved markets, including veterans and the unbanked.


Kevin Goodman
Managing director
BlueBridge Networks

BlueBridge Networks keeps companies and institutions in business through multiple data services. The Cleveland-based technology company, led by Managing Director Kevin Goodman, offers best-in-class data centers that focus on offering high availability, reliability and security.

While the company primarily focuses on Ohio, clients include service organizations in other states and countries, with many serving the global economy. It works with clients to let them know that the human factor cannot be overlooked in a business’s defense strategy. Its data shows that awareness is the secret ingredient when it comes to avoiding cyberattacks.

BlueBridge Networks offers traditional hosting services and cloud computing and managed services, including managed storage and security. It also has a reseller division that offers a host of hardware and software solutions, as well as data center optimization services.


J. David Heller
President and CEO
The NRP Group

The NRP Group is a vertically integrated developer, owner, builder and manager of best-in-class multifamily housing with over 1,000 associates operating across 15 states.

The company’s mission is to create exceptional rental opportunities for individuals and families regardless of income. Since the company’s founding in 1994, NRP has developed more than 50,000 apartment homes, and currently manages over 25,000 residential units.

Lead by President and CEO, The NRP Group is consistently listed in the Top 10 largest developers and builders in the U.S. on the NMHC “Top 50” lists, Top 5 on the AHF “Top Affordable Developers” list, is named annually as a GlobeSt. Influencer in Multifamily, has won the MHN Top Developer award and has won multiple NAHB Pillar awards for Development, Construction, Safety and One-to-Watch.


Jeff Herzog
Nexus Engineering Group

Nexus Engineering Group was started in 2005 as an engineering consulting firm with a goal of changing the way engineering firms served their clients. The business was started by current CEO Jeff Herzog and Marianne Corrao.

After 25 years working in operations, they saw an opportunity to create a business that focused on more than just billable hours and project deliverables. They wanted to create a company that allowed technical professionals to work together with their clients to understand the operational, financial and business impact of their project work.

Nexus has significantly diversified its portfolio with energy and renewable projects, now accounting for 20 percent of the firm’s revenue. Nexus attributes its success to its clients’ appreciation of its breadth of offerings and expertise.


Tamara Honkala
President and CEO
HELP Foundation Inc.

The HELP Foundation, led by President and CEO Tamara Honkala, serves Northeast Ohioans with intellectual and developmental disabilities. For more than 35 years, Honkala has worked to improve the quality of care and services offered to people with disabilities. Over the last few decades, she’s played a role in building HELP into a respected and valued organization in Northeast Ohio. She transitioned into the role of president and CEO in 2015.

The HELP Harvest program includes paid vocational training that allows participants to learn skills to help them succeed in the workplace. For instance, produce is grown at the nonprofit’s greenhouse, then sold at HELP cafes including Susanna’s Cafe at the Cleveland Foundation in Midtown and the Bistro in Lakewood.


Mike Jarrett
President and CEO
Jarrett Logistics

Jarrett Logistics is dedicated to solving complex supply chain challenges as a third-party logistics provider. The business focuses heavily on innovation in every vertical, from customer service and information technologies to operations.

President and CEO Mike Jarrett runs a smart organization through its people-centric, technology-enabled focus, which means it hires people of high integrity and work ethic and equip them with training and technology for a foundation of success. This environment, in turn, allows employees to produce high-quality service for customers. Company leaders are constantly looking for innovative ways to enable employees to perform their best work.

Jarrett recently hosted the Jarrett Supply Chain Summit which brought together industry leaders from the supply chain industry, engaging Orrville businesses and community members to support the event through sponsorships and donations.


Ansir Junaid
Founder, chairman and CEO
SupplySide Group

To lead a smart organization requires a strategic opportunist and a committed leader. And since entering the business world 30-plus years ago, Ansir Junaid has been innovating, driving and growing scalable businesses.

As founder, chairman and CEO of the SupplySide Group of companies, his broad portfolio of businesses is built on the premise of listening to customer pain points and creating customized solutions driven through technology enablement, leveraging resources and best practices across the customer value chain, and then applying this approach across multiple industry verticals.

Oftentimes, solutions are founded with the understanding that human capital and other resource gaps stymie scalability. He has transformed fragmented mom-and-pop industries into nationwide businesses by resolving issues through technology and focusing on employee growth and engagement.


Ethan Karp
President and CEO

Ethan Karp is a visionary leader who has transformed MAGNET (The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network) into a positive force for change in Northeast Ohio. In 2021, the president and CEO created a bold vision to help Northeast Ohio become a global leader in smart manufacturing over the next decade. The organization has partnered with more than 150 groups across the region to begin transforming companies and the economy.

In the last two years, MAGNET has created measurable progress to create a more vibrant, diverse, technologically advanced and competitive industry. For instance, 750 manufacturing entrants who have been trained are women and/or people of color, and 70 percent more manufacturing companies have been named to “Best Places to Work” lists, underscoring an increased focus on improving the culture of manufacturing.


Matt Knittle
All Pro NOW

All Pro NOW was founded in Cleveland in 1990 as a truckload services company. Over the years, as the needs of its customers evolved, so did its services. The company has grown to provide trusted, full-service transportation, distribution and logistics management solutions.

All Pro NOW remains close to its customer base and implements strategies to help them operate at their best through smart transportation engagement, innovative thinking and technology solutions.

The company’s driver network and infrastructure offer businesses and consumers an experience built on convenience, reliability and customer service, all powered by its proprietary technology platform. All Pro NOW provides easy web and mobile booking, flexible delivery options, transparent pricing, real-time tracking and confirmations, up-to-the-minute ETAs, driver ratings and a feature-rich API for a seamless last mile logistics solution.


Stewart Kohl
The Riverside Company

Stewart Kohl is co-CEO of The Riverside Company, one of Cleveland’s largest private investment firms. Founded in 1988, Riverside has since invested in nearly 990 companies. Spanning 16 offices in North America, Europe and Australia, Riverside has more than 300 employees, with its largest office employing more than 50 professionals in Cleveland.

Riverside partners with growing businesses and strives to double or triple the size of the company during the investment holding period, seeking to help them thrive through investments designed to boost sales and marketing, build more effective and efficient operations, product development, geographic expansion and other improvements.

A deep believer in the power of philanthropy, Kohl is a founder of VeloSano, the cycling event designed to deliver fast, innovative cures for cancer through funding cutting-edge research.


Matthew Kraska

Lazorpoint, an IT managed services and consulting firm, focuses on strategy so that smart executives can focus on their businesses. Lazorpoint guides businesses with both short and long-term technology needs.

The company empowers clients to leverage their technology investments as a catalyst for business growth. Specialties include ensuring client security and acknowledging inherent risks associated with breaches, including compromised email accounts, unauthorized access by malicious actors, data breaches and financial fraud leading to monetary losses and reputational harm.

To safeguard against the threats facing client companies, Lazorpoint maintains vigilant monitoring across diverse system landscapes, including cloud platforms. Its proactive approach allows it to swiftly distinguishing legitimate from unauthorized actions and neutralize threats, prevent future occurrences and uphold the integrity of its clients’ digital environments.


Brian Krusz
Founder, director of Growth and Development
Sgt. Clean Car Wash

When Brian Krusz identified an old car wash Strongsville as the ideal location to launch his own auto cleaner in 2013, the mayor gave him a thankful hug on behalf of his wife, who couldn’t stand the sight of the existing eyesore. True to its name, the business known as Sgt. Clean Car Wash cleaned up that suboptimal spot and made it shine.

That was the first of 16 Northeast Ohio locations for a veteran-owned business that has earned accolades for its customer service and company culture.

Krusz, founder and director of Growth Development, has also made community impact a mission, making generous donations to local education foundations, and its employees volunteer for community advocacy projects including canned food drives, park cleanups and Meals on Wheels programs.


John Lang
Cleveland Public Library

Cleveland Public Library’s branch is undergoing revitalization, led by COO John Lang, a 30-year veteran of building infrastructure for institutions.

The project reimagines library spaces to meet current and future community needs and involves constructing and renovating its neighborhood learning labs to meet today’s needs and ensure spaces can evolve for future use. Over its 154-year history, the library has consistently found innovative ways to connect the community with materials and resources, knowledge and ideas.

Lang has also led efforts to form community partnerships to make sure the 27 library branches meet the community’s needs. Jobseekers use computers, students have a safe space to do homework, kids can get an after-school snack from the Greater Cleveland Food Bank and people learn computer skills and use the space to start businesses.


Ron Leonhardt Jr.
President and CEO
CrossCountry Mortgage

When Ron Leonhardt Jr. founded CrossCountry Mortgage in 2003, he started with one branch in a suburb of Cleveland with a small staff that included his mom, aunt, two friends and a loan processor. Today, the company has more than 7,000 employees and 700 locations nationwide, and is licensed in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

As president and CEO, he had the vision to become a national full-service lender that could meet customers’ needs and make their dream of home ownership a reality. Company leaders take pride in being big enough to be a leading national player and small enough to care about employees’ personal success. Despite the company’s rapid growth, Leonhardt remains a hands-on leader whose success comes from embracing change in the mortgage industry.


Brittany Martin
Flack Global Metals

Flack Global Metals, an innovative hybrid organization specializing in domestic flat-rolled metals distribution, supply chain management and financial services, can attribute much of its growth to COO Brittany Martin. When she joined Flack in 2011 as a recent college graduate, it was a start-up metals company; in just two years, she was named vice president of finance and quickly built an efficient accounting department from scratch. She was promoted to COO because she was willing to work hard to do whatever it took to be successful.

Her biggest strength is bringing people together and leading teams in an ever-evolving industry. She’s earned the confidence of colleagues as the result of having done a variety of jobs with the company, owning mistakes and appreciating the efforts of others.


Andrew McCartney
Bowden Manufacturing

Bowden Manufacturing thrives on finding solutions for challenges facing other companies, and solving tough problems drives the Bowden employees. It is continuously improving its manufacturing process, making its operations flow more smoothly and more efficiently every day.

Recently, to address staffing issues, Bowden partnered with MAGNET and Absolute Machine Tool to bring in a Fanucrobot to load two of its CNC vertical mills in an automated fashion. Engineering the project took several weeks, and the combined team worked to make sure the elements were in place. The installation and run-off took two weeks to get everything working as planned.

Six weeks after beginning operation of the robotic loading cell, Bowden has gained significant ground, quadrupling the daily output of the machines.


Stephen McHale

CEO Stephen McHale has played a pivotal role in fostering a culture of innovation at UnifyWork, a skills-based hiring technology company. He encourages cross-functional collaboration and empowers employees to think creatively and propose innovative solutions that have helped move the organization forward.

His approach has been transformative. McHale recognized that the current hiring system was outdated, often leaving jobseekers frustrated and underserved. To address this issue, he led the charge in developing a revolutionary technology-driven solution. UnifyWork’s cutting-edge Career Intelligence leverages advanced algorithms and artificial intelligence to create a more effective and individual-centric approach to job placement.

By removing the hiring bias, providing resources for skill development and breaking down the degree barrier, the technology has become a game-changer for jobseekers and attracted new investors.


Al Melchiorre
President and CEO
MelCap Partners LLC

An investment banking advisory firm, MelCap Partners is in a unique position to impact the growth trajectory of businesses. Founded more than 23 years ago, its success has led to recognition as Boutique Investment Banking Firm of the Year multiple times by The M&A Advisor and Global M&A.

Since 2019, the firm has had four record years in a row and expects 2023 to be No. 5. It has closed seven deals in the first seven months of 2023, with several more under LOI.

As part of international organization Globalscope, MelCap has traveled to Milan, Paris, Panama and Buenos Aires over the past several years, with plans to head to Madrid and Tokyo next. In September 2024, the firm will host the group in Northeast Ohio.


Mike Murton
President and COO
OMNI Systems

OMNI Systems, which converts pressure sensitive materials into labels, is in growth mode under the leadership of President and COO Mike Murton with the acquisition of ITW Labels second quarter 2023. The deal expanded OMNI’s footprint from a single facility in Mayfield Village to a three-facility organization with additional sites in Gardner, Kansas, and St. Charles, Missouri. The acquisition also expanded OMNI’s product offerings to include primary labels, which will be produced out of the St. Charles facility.

The deal came about after the executive team discussed how the business could look differently in the next five years. With the completion of the acquisition and integration of ITW Labels, OMNI has increased its workforce to 230 employees.


Stephan Paech
President and CEO
Fives North American Combustion Inc.

Fives North American Combustion Inc. is a leader in thermal process engineering, manufacturing and construction. With locations around the world, Fives North American designs, manufactures, installs, upgrades and services burners, furnaces and combustion systems for industries including aluminum, steel, forging, incineration, oil and gas, mineral, paper, glass and food.

Stephan Paech’s tenure as president and CEO of Fives North American Combustion Inc. has played a big role in turning the company around since 2018. He helped steer the company from the brink of failure to becoming an industry leader.

It’s a testament to his visionary leadership, a commitment to employee well-being and a relentless pursuit of operational excellence. One of the biggest challenges was merging the company with 82 years of family ownership into a new era under European parentage.


Stephen Peplin
Talan Products Inc.

Talan Products Inc. is a full-service metal stamping company and manufacturer of tooling and engineered parts founded in 1986. Today the manufacturer continues to report impressive growth figures, with sales growing 36 percent in 2022 from 2021.

Talan CEO Stephen Peplin attributes growth to several factors, including investing in employees, new machines and the company’s culture that focuses on challenging team members to reach higher and be self-starters and goal oriented.

To support that, the new Talan U initiative is all about employee growth. Management has goals to hold it accountable for team members being successful in this education program. Talan U gives employees a clear path of what it takes to move forward and upward, encouraging innovation in an aging industry.


Doug Riddle
Fleet Team

Fleet Team is a trusted consulting fleet management and material handling equipment business that helps clients lower their total cost of ownership while elevating fleet efficiencies.

As a strategic consulting partner focused on optimizing the fleet management practices of Fortune 100 to 500 companies, the business has grown significantly in just three years under the leadership of President Doug Riddle.

With 25 years of experience in the industry, his problem-solving approach led Fleet Team to grow from managing 10,000 client assets to over 25,000, driven by an aggressive growth strategy across the U.S. and into Canada. Much of the change comes from his vision to solve key pain points for clients with data and technology, leading to the launch of proprietary software that uncovered opportunities for cost reduction and efficiencies.


Steve Rosenberg
President and CEO

What started as an early school psychology initiative focusing on prevention and intervention strategies for underserved students in the 1970s at Kent State University has grown significantly. PSI, led by President and CEO Steve Rosenberg, now includes a wide range of staff and programs in educational and school health fields serving students in K-12 settings.

Rosenberg wanted to impact schools in the most efficient and significant ways possible since the start of PSI over 40 years ago. Today, the business serves more than 500 schools in Ohio and Michigan, with a wide range of services and models.

Post pandemic, PSI has emerged offering the traditional service offerings and has developed virtual, bilingual and other school services to propel education systems in this new era of education needs.


Evan Schumann
L’uva Bella Winery

At 25, Evan Schumann funded his first acquisition, that of L’uva Bella Winery, with his personal funds and a strategic business plan. His business acumen helped him transition L’uva Bella Winery from a regional winery to a multistate distributed CPG business in three short years.

When Schumann, who now serves as president, took over the winery, he slashed 80 percent of the wine SKUs and focused on the top 20 percent. This required a rebrand, product innovation and a go-to market strategy that helped penetrate the Ohio market and beyond.

After six months, LB wines outgrew its production capacity and invested in a seven-figure expansion. The rebrand garnered interest in the ultra-competitive Gen Z and millennial markets, and retailers placed its SKUs in thousands of more doors.


Chris Smith
ThenDesign Architecture

ThenDesign Architecture (TDA), founded in 1989, specializing in the design of K-12 educational spaces. President Chris Smith joined the architectural firm in 1998 and, as part of a well-orchestrated succession plan, became partner in 2004.

Over the past decade, Smith has overseen more than $1 billion in construction projects throughout Ohio, including during the recent pandemic. Under his leadership, TDA has grown to a staff of over 50 professionals and has established itself as a leader in educational design.

The firm is widely recognized as a thought leader in conceiving and delivering learning environments that enrich the lives of children, parents and their communities. Whether it’s the individuals and communities it redesigns for, its clients or the creative individuals it hires, people come first at TDA.


Taurean Spratt
Vice president and general manager
Turner Construction

Turner Construction’s new builds, expansions and renovations are vast and varied. Turner excels across many market segments, including aviation, convention centers, green buildings, health care, higher education, industrial, interiors, sports and more.

Working across broad market segments ensures the health of the company, protecting it from specific market slumps and propelling it into innovatively advanced builds.

The company takes pride in offering opportunities to team members that encourage talent development and help with retention. Taurean Spratt joined Turner 19 years ago as a co-op and has progressed through roles including cost engineer, project engineer, project manager and business manager, and in his current role as vice president and general manager, he continues to have a positive impact on the company and its success.


George Sullivan
Equity Trust Co.

Under the leadership of CEO George Sullivan, Equity Trust Co. is an innovator in the self-directed IRA space, making it easier than ever for investors to find and invest in private market opportunities. The firm’s innovative offerings have gotten the attention of cutting-edge fintech firms, creating opportunities to bring self-directed IRAs to more investors.

Between strong sales numbers and an acquisition, Equity Trust continues to build upon several years of record growth. In August, Sullivan led the company through the acquisition of Midland Trust, a self-directed IRA company in Fort Myers, Florida. The transaction expands the company’s product depth and expertise, better positioning the business as the premier self-directed IRA custodian. To date, sales are exceeding 2022 revenue by 32 percent.


James Taddeo
Senior vice president of Operations

Flexjet, a private air travel company, offers a range of private aircraft and travel options, including fractional private ownership and leasing. Operations at the company have changed a lot in the last 25 years and Senior vice president of Operations James Taddeo has played major role in transforming the organization. Beginning as a line service professional, he has displayed unparalleled dedication, commitment and an unwavering pursuit of excellence. Today, he leads and mentors more than 300 employees and is responsible for managing a fleet of more than 200 private aircraft.

Taddeo’s responsibilities include overseeing intricate details of trip scheduling, maintenance and crew coordination. He helped create new programs during the global pandemic, developed professional growth programs and was recently instrumental in orchestrating the move of Flexjet’s operations center.


Seth Uhrman
State Industrial Products

State Industrial Products has been a staple in the Cleveland community since the manufacturing business was founded in 1911. It continued to grow and, in 1966, it expanded to a new headquarters and manufacturing facility in Cleveland’s manufacturing district. And in 2010, it acquired the 200,000-square-foot Hebron, Ohio, manufacturing plant that remains the center of its production business.

Today, the private company has more than 750 employees and manufacturers and distributes over 1,000 products throughout the U.S. and Canada and remains one of America’s most successful privately held companies.

State has three main divisions — State Chemical Solutions, State Cleaning Solutions and State Contract Manufacturing — serving the ever-changing needs of its clients by bringing businesses the chemical products they need to operate their facilities.


Linda Uveges
The City Mission

For 113 years, The City Mission has served those struggling with homelessness and/or crisis in Cleveland. One way the organization supports the Cleveland community is by offering on-site access to wraparound services for residents.

After working at The City Mission for nearly 20 years in a number of roles, Linda Uveges was appointed CEO in 2021, overseeing about 76 employees across two locations. Staff members work together across departments to provide high-quality services to residents, and in the last two years, an average of 2,432 volunteers joined with staff to serve those battling homelessness.

And to keep the organization moving forward, Uveges regularly meets with community and government leaders, board members and staff to gain perspectives on ways to build the growing City Mission.


Daniel Walsh
Founder and CEO
Citymark Capital

Citymark Capital, a Cleveland-based real estate private equity firm, provides investors with capital solutions through a comprehensive real estate investment platform. Led by Daniel Walsh, founder and CEO, Citymark Capital unlocks opportunities to create attractive risk-adjusted returns for investors by investing across the capital stack in multifamily properties.

The Citymark platform is the culmination of Walsh’s nearly 20 years of experience in real estate and banking. Leveraging his deep industry knowledge, the firm has been at the forefront of the current market dislocation.

Capital markets change rapidly, and through Walsh’s extensive industry knowledge, coupled with the experienced team he has built, the firm is uniquely positioned as a market leader, with a disciplined approach and agility to invest in the optimal parts of the capital stack as the market dictates.


Ed Weinfurtner
Executive chairman and co-owner
Great Day Improvements LLC

Ed Weinfurtner is executive chairman and co-owner of Great Day Improvements LLC, the parent company of eight direct-to-consumer brands across more than 170 locations in more than 90 markets.

For 30 years, Weinfurtner has been an owner, investor and operator of multiple privately held businesses in a variety of industries. In 2014, he acquired Great Day, a distressed young company operating in just 12 locations. Today, under his leadership and guidance, Great Day is now the fifth-largest home remodeling company in the country, according to Qualified Remodeler’s 2023 Top 500 List, with more than 2,700 employees, including 500 in Northeast Ohio.

His philosophy is to best serve customers and employees, provide a great environment and the tools and infrastructure to deliver a best-in-class experience.


Gretchen Wendell
COO – Food & Beverage
Gervasi Vineyard

In just 13 years, Gervasi Vineyard has grown to be among the largest employers in Stark County. With two main private event spaces, it’s become a major wedding and special event destination with the capacity to hold up to six weddings in a weekend. Much of that growth has stemmed from guests’ input, which led to adding a spa and educational wine-tasting experiences this year.

Gretchen Wendell, COO – Food & Beverage, is credited for major changes in operations, including updating technology. She’s an original hire who now manages over 300 employees and leads all hiring efforts for both front-of-house and back-of-house positions. She also oversees education, training and retention and has successfully led the opening of four Gervasi Vineyard outlets.


Rob Whittall
Managing partner
Dyke Yaxley LLC

Dyke Yaxley is an international accountancy firm specializing in providing U.S./U.K. tax and business advisory services to business and individual clients on both sides of the Atlantic. Headquartered in Cleveland, the firm has an office in Shrewsbury, U.K., serving a niche market that many larger accountancy firms can’t accommodate, including cross-border experiences.

Rob Whittall opened Dyke Yaxley after spending 30 years working at companies including a Big Four accounting firm and a top regional accounting firm. As managing partner, he’s guided the firm’s success for the last 12 years, actively seeking out change rather than waiting for change to adapt. Whittall attributes much of the company’s success to its focus on offering resources to team members to succeed, both professionally and personally.


John Wilson Jr.
AQUA DOC Lake & Pond Management

John Wilson Jr. has owned AQUA DOC Lake & Pond Management for more than 40 years. The company is dedicated to keeping lakes, ponds and waterscapes beautiful through programs including controlling nuisance algae and aquatic vegetation while maintaining a healthy and balanced ecosystem.

From running the business by himself with one truck, today Wilson has more than 175 employees, with 100 trucks and nine offices that serve 10 states, offering stormwater maintenance, inspection and repair programs that are critical to reducing flood damage and various forms of pollution in waterways. Wilson has instilled a growth mentality in his employees that has resulted in double-digit growth in eight of the past 10 years.

AQUA DOC is staffed with biologists, licensed aquatic specialists, experts in fountain and aeration technology and state-certified stormwater specialists.


Brian M. Zimmerman
Cleveland Metroparks

Cleveland Metroparks’ acquisition and transformation of nearly 750 acres of lakefront has helped revitalize Cleveland’s urban core, connecting previously underserved residents to the regional trail network, centers of employment and Cleveland’s lakefront.

Strong collaboration has resulted in Cleveland Metroparks strategically expanding park access to 49 communities across six counties, including 25,000 acres of protected parkland and forests.

Led by CEO Brian M. Zimmerman, Cleveland Metroparks looks for opportunities to leverage outside funding and support to advance projects and programs that serve its more than 19 million annual visitors.

Cleveland Metroparks recently secured the largest private donation in the organization’s history, a $13 million gift to expand park access on Cleveland’s east side, and six new project partners have secured $8 million that will reimagine Cleveland’s east side lakefront.