Central Ohio’s Smart 50 Awards celebrate area’s top executives

This year’s Smart 50 class is a diverse group of executives leading a wide range of organizations.
The men and women who comprise this year’s honorees may be different, but they all share one common trait: passion. They’re passionate about their teams, their clients, the vendors they work with, and yes, above all, their respective organizations.
It’s this passion that drives them to live the tenets on which the Smart 50 is built — innovation, impact and sustainability.
These leaders innovate, both individually and through cultures of innovation. They have an impact on their organizations, their industries and the communities where their team members live, work and play. And they are all engaged in building organizations that will sustain long after they are no longer the leaders.

Keynote Speaker

Michael Stevens, Chief Innovation Officer, City of Columbus

Michael Stevens is six months into his role as the city’s first chief innovation officer. He spent five years in Chicago, but prior to that was deputy director of the Columbus Department of Development.
He oversees the Smart Columbus project. The U.S. Department of Transportation $40 million Smart City Challenge is a holistic vision for how technology can help all residents move easily and access opportunity. Columbus was awarded another $10 million from Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
As the Smart 50 keynote speaker, Smart Business caught up with Stevens for a Smart Columbus update.
SB: What exactly is a chief innovation officer?
MS: A lot of it is how do we make sure, as we advance into the 21st century, that we find ways to effectively and efficiently deliver government services to our residents at a level they’ve come to expect, knowing we’re in an environment where resources will always be challenged. How do we work with the private sector and use public/private partnerships to advance initiatives that support the city and its residents?
SB: Where is Smart Columbus at this point? What are your immediate and long-term plans?
MS: Year one has been a lot of work around developing the foundation, so when we put the 15 U.S. DOT projects out on the street, so to speak, they are thoughtful and meaningful to the community.
In the near term, American Electric Power, a significant partner, is doing a lot around grid modernization, renewable energy, as well as investing in charging infrastructure. Columbus residents, over the next six to nine months, are going to see a lot more around the charging infrastructure and electric vehicles.
The Columbus Partnership, who co-leads Smart Columbus, is planning Ride and Drive events — information sessions where consumers can drive electric vehicles by different manufacturers. It will make people aware of the possibilities, price points and what they need to do to have an electric vehicle.
In the long-term, we will have digital short-range communication radios in 3,000 vehicles that can connect vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to infrastructure. Volunteers will put those radios in, and by the end of 2020, we’ll have tested and gathered data on a connected vehicle environment. The U.S. DOT is interested to see what environment moves goods, services and people faster and more efficiently.
We’re going to eventually run an autonomous shuttle in our commercial district, Easton, to see how it interacts with non-autonomous vehicles.
In our downtown district, we’re working on an enhanced permit parking system and delivery zone application to help with parking and the movement of vehicles. We’re also working on an application for event parking.
SB: What has been the biggest challenge so far?
MS: The work has been more like a startup, very different than typical government-regulated work. We’re fortunate to have great private support so we’ve been able to overcome issues.
A challenge is the expectations are high. It’s a year into it and people want to see things. I explain that it’s a four-year grant because the federal government recognized you’ve got to spend that first year organizing for success, so when we’re done, we can share with other communities what went well and what didn’t go well.
SB: What’s your biggest message to the business community?
MS: It’s to encourage them to take a long-term view. It’s more than just a four-year grant. It’s an initiative that we’re working to make sustainable after the funding goes away. There’s going to be real opportunities for businesses to continue to engage and benefit from what we’re doing, but also to add to it and help it grow.

Quick links:
Noni Banks, The Diva Movement | George Barrett, Cardinal Health | Frederic Bertley, COSI | Adam Benner, Land-Grant Brewing Co. | Joelle Brock, Leading EDJE | Kumar Buvanendaran, Prime AE Group Inc. | Ron Calhoun, Palmer-Donavin | Mimi Dane, Flying Horse Farms | Mike Davis, Engineered Profiles LLC | Philip Derrow, Ohio Transmission Corp. | Troy Gabriel, Franklin Equipment LLC | Matthew Goldstein, Besa | Derek Grosso, Columbus Young Professionals Club | Dianne Grote Adams, Safex Inc. | Paula Haines, Freedom a la Cart | Matt Hollis, Elytus | Lisa Huang, Advanced Engineering Consultants | Sumithra Jagannath, ZED Digital | Andy Joseph, Apeks Supercritical | Branndon Kelley, American Municipal Power Inc. | Michelle Kerr, Lightwell Inc. | Yogesh Khandelwal, geoAMPS LLC | Merry Korn, Pearl Interactive Network | Jennifer Kuntz, Greenleaf Job Training Services | Stephanie Leader, Leaderpromos | Kim Maggard, City of Whitehall | Purba Majumder, Cybervation Inc. | David B. Meleca, David B. Meleca Architects LLC | Jeff Meyers, Chepri LLC | David Miller, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants | Craig Mohre, The New Albany Community Foundation | Bob Parsons, Dismas Distribution Services | Jennifer Peterson, Easton | Lacey Picazo, ZoCo Design | Ronald A. Pizzuti, The Pizzuti Cos. | Rich Ritter, Retirement Plans Inc. | Hiten Shah, Marketing and Engineering Solutions (MES) Inc. | Linda Shetina Logan, Greater Columbus Sports Commission | Kimberly A. Shoemaker, Acloché LLC | Shannon Skaggs, Quantum Health | Dwight E. Smith, Sophisticated Systems Inc. | Nicci Sprouse, A-LIST INTRODUCTIONS | Diana Spurgus, Business System Solutions Inc. | Greg Ubert, Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea | J. Michael Vargo, VARGO Cos. | Steve Wathen, Equity | Kimmi Wernli, Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter | Guy Worley, Columbus Downtown Development Corp. | Scott Zemba, Zemba Bros Inc. | Jim Zink & Mike McGuire, Zink Foodservice

Honorees listed in alphabetical order by last name

Noni Banks
Founder and president
The Diva Movement
Noni Banks founded The Diva Movement in 2012 to give emerging women leaders and solo entrepreneurs the tools, support and resources to grow in life and business. Banks is passionate about ensuring women have a seat at the table and their voices are heard.
Banks began the Diva Movement after recovering from a painful divorce that left her homeless and a single mother. She knows the pain of allowing her dreams to die so someone else’s could live. Now, she tirelessly supports hundreds of members from across the country.
Her all-female networking events are uplifting, electrifying experiences that leave women inspired; every woman walks away feeling like family. The Diva Movement is a diverse community of purpose-driven women eager to see other women win.
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George Barrett
Chairman and CEO
Cardinal Health
Under George Barrett, Cardinal Health has evolved from drug and supply distributor to change agent — creating or acquiring product lines, consulting services and software to help hospitals, pharmacies and physician practices operate efficiently and reduce the cost of care. Through every integration and discovery, the team never loses sight of the ultimate goal: serving patients and their families.
One example is the Fortune 15 company’s innovation center, Fuse. Biomedical engineers, designers and scientists collaborate with providers and patients to develop ideas such as medication synchronization technology where patients pick up pharmacy prescriptions monthly, rather than weekly.
Barrett believes facing problems head on and breaking through barriers creates the most effective leadership. With his passion for inclusiveness, the more than 40,000 employees contribute diverse opinions and experiences.
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Frederic Bertley, Ph.D.
President and CEO
Frederic Bertley became the fifth leader of COSI (Center of Science and Industry) at a pivotal time. COSI is bringing dinosaurs to Columbus and developing an eight-acre park and underground parking garage.
Bertley wasn’t planning to leave Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute, but COSI impressed him when it hosted an Association of Science and Technology Centers conference in 2012. He is recognized as a thought leader in applied science, science education and community engagement.
Now he’s looking to improve a renowned and award-winning institute while still keeping as close to the science as he can. He wants to transplant a version of the science festival he helped the Franklin develop. It culminates with a daylong carnival and echoes his mantra: Take science where people live, learn and lounge.
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Adam Benner
Land-Grant Brewing Co.
The Land-Grant Brewing Co. catapulted to startup microbrewery after a successful Kickstarter.com campaign. Adam Benner’s commitment to smart business practices helped his company’s sales, production, placement and staff grow exponentially.
He used his experience focusing on process improvement through technology to develop an internal platform that runs Land-Grant’s daily operations, GRIST. The cloud system, which integrates with QuickBooks, includes recipe management, inventory controls, batch and keg tracking, and modules to manage customers, invoices, inventory and daily deliveries.
Community stewardship and involvement is a priority. Benner employs a full-time outreach coordinator; sought out East Franklinton as his headquarters to help support the neighborhood’s revitalization; has raised thousands for charities; and donates spent grain and trub — leftover yeast and hop particulate — to local farms for feed and compost additives.
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Joelle Brock
President and CEO
Leading EDJE
Joelle Brock and her partners founded Leading EDJE, an IT consulting firm, 10 years ago. They wanted to focus on building strong teams (internally and externally) by developing a unique culture of exceptional and loyal people.
Over the past two years, Brock implemented an entrepreneur’s operating system, or EOS, that enabled Leading EDJE to grow more than 50 percent. A large part of this system is making sure every team member knows, understands and exercises the core values, which are putting team first; being dedicated to growth; doing the right thing, not the right now thing; approaching problem solving passionately; and communicating effectively.
While solving business problems by creating innovative, custom technology solutions is the service Leading EDJE provides, strong teams have driven the company’s growth.
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Kumar Buvanendaran
Prime AE Group Inc.
Over the past five years, PRIME AE Group Inc., a multidiscipline engineering and architectural firm, increased its office locations from five to 13 under the aggressive growth plan of Kumar Buvanendaran. The company also went from approximately 100 employees to more than 400.
In late 2016, Buvanendaran’s foresight as an expert in strategic acquisition predicted controversial changes that would have had staff potentially seeking opportunities elsewhere. By addressing this concern, he was able to attract top talent and provide a platform at PRIME for career advancement in a less bureaucratic environment and open the door for more growth in the future.
While known for his transparency — being honest, clear and approachable while communicating PRIME’s strategic direction — Buvanendaran also focused on diversity and inclusion this year.
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Ron Calhoun
A forward-thinker, Ron Calhoun has helped Palmer-Donavin, a 110-year-old wholesale distributor of residential building materials, stay ahead of the competition since 1995. Most recently, he set a plan, PDriven Vision 2020, to grow to $300 million in revenue with an EBITDA target of 8 percent of sales.
The company also launched an online tracking service for its delivery trucks that became the most popular page on its website. Calhoun takes no credit for successes like these, but he stands on the front line when things go wrong with a customer.
In the past four years, he acquired two companies to diversify and enhance customer service. The acquired companies formed a new division, where sales grew 49 percent, and the company’s culture — employee owned — helped Calhoun integrate the acquisitions.
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Mimi Dane
President and CEO
Flying Horse Farms
Building relationships, expanding community connections and advancing the mission of camp have been the tenets of Mimi Dane’s tenure at Flying Horse Farms. For instance, Abercrombie & Fitch employees have volunteered at the camp, where children with serious illnesses and their families attend free of charge, since its beginning. In 2015, A&F expanded its partnership to include the entire SeriousFun Children’s Network. A&F has committed to raise $7.5 million and donate another $7.5 million in goods and services over the next five years.
In addition, Dane has been instrumental in the growth of not only the number of employees, but also the staff’s level of expertise. Her commitment to professional development has been integral to the education and retention of key executives and staff.
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Mike Davis
Engineered Profiles LLC
Engineered Profiles LLC, under the direction of Mike Davis, took a hard look at itself and determined that it had to do a better job hiring, training and retaining production employees in order to grow.
Historically, the plastic extruder — formerly Crane Plastics — required four temporary employees to convert one to full-time status, and on average a new employee took two years to become a senior operator.
The new, internally developed training program blends classroom and line experience. Experienced hires are fast tracked; others get step-by-step instruction with take-home materials and audio/visual aids. Twenty new operators were trained in the program’s first three months; 18 are still with the company.
Engineered Profiles is also creating lesson plans for advanced techniques and processes to further develop all employees.
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Philip Derrow
President and CEO
Ohio Transmission Corp.
Ohio Transmission Corp., the parent company of OTP Industrial Solutions and Air Technologies®, understands who and what it is and what its role is in the marketplace.
In 1998, Philip Derrow took over the company his father founded in 1963. He recognizes any organization is bigger than its leader and has led OTC through both internal change and external growth.
For example, OTC had 290 associates in 2006. When revenue dropped by 25 percent during the recession, the company adhered to its long tradition of no layoffs. Instead, it underwent a rebranding effort, revamped its website and even hired employees. Today, OTC has more than 800 employees.
OTC’s significant growth is due to its bold new ideas, strategic acquisitions and a strong focus on corporate culture.
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Troy Gabriel
Managing partner
Franklin Equipment LLC
Franklin Equipment LLC began with a goal to effectively do both rental and sales for construction and agriculture equipment. In less than a decade, under Troy Gabriel’s leadership, the company has expanded into 10 cities.
Franklin differentiates itself through strategic and focused marketing initiatives. It uses traditional (radio, TV, print, billboard, telemarketing), social and new (web, digital, geofencing) media as well as large-scale special events. When opening a new location, the marketing and leadership teams mobilize to create buzz and generate sales. The goal is to minimize the number of days it takes to become cash flow positive.
Franklin prides itself on clean, organized stores and well-dressed employees. Employees also are empowered to satisfy customer needs and solve their problems, including 24/7 parts delivery and service.
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Matthew Goldstein
Executive director
Matthew Goldstein couldn’t find easy opportunities to volunteer more, despite working weekends at a suicide hotline. So, he left his corporate job and founded Besa, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting those who need it most by connecting people and businesses with local charities.
In four years, Besa has organized more than 1,000 volunteer projects, rallied people to give more than 27,000 volunteer hours and provided $900,000 in community impact through more than 75 nonprofit partners.
Not only does Besa have a public web portal where individuals can easily find and sign up for roughly 20 volunteer opportunities each month citywide, the organization also developed Besa Promise, a software platform that helps corporations, such as Big Lots, Safelite AutoGlass and GBQ Partners, manage their philanthropic efforts.
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Derek Grosso
CEO and founder
Columbus Young Professionals Club
Derek Grosso only knew one person when he first moved to Columbus, so he started the Columbus Young Professionals Club. It is a networking group, social club, volunteer network and an athletics coordinator all rolled into one that today has more than 25,000 members. This year, the organization, which is the nation’s largest membership club for young professionals, expanded its Ohio Young Professionals Weekend into a full week of programming.
The club is also expanding into other cities, establishing young professionals clubs in Nashville and Milwaukee.
Additionally, Grosso’s consulting company, The Grosso Group, advises young professional organizations and membership clubs around the country. Grosso has helped launch or grow more than 50 young professional organizations and initiatives over the past five years in nearly a dozen cities.
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Dianne Grote Adams
President and owner
Safex Inc.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Safex Inc. has changed the picture of occupational health and safety consulting in Central Ohio by making it a business about people. Under the leadership of Dianne Grote Adams, the customer experience is driven by attention to detail, customer-oriented processes and a no tolerance policy for anything but quality.
The company delivers training and regulatory information, taking safety beyond the realm of just OSHA compliance by offering webinars and hybrid module training courses (online and in-person). This provides an outlet for health and safety needs without the out-of-office or travel time generally associated with these services.
Grote Adams also places focus on employee growth and professional development by encouraging continued education and involvement in professional organizations and networking opportunities.
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Paula Haines
Executive director
Freedom a la Cart
Paula Haines has led the way in rethinking how Freedom a la Cart’s businesses can employ and empower survivors of human trafficking to build a new life of self-sufficiency and freedom. Haines believes in putting the people (survivors) before the product (catering menu items). Freedom focuses on teaching survivors the importance of attendance, action and attitude.
Haines founded and implemented three successful fundraisers for Freedom. She served as board president for two years before stepping into a full-time role in 2016.
Additionally, Haines spearheaded the reorganization of the workforce development program to include a wider range of supportive services and implemented a new business plan. Freedom recently opened a café at Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Northside Branch. It plans to establish its own brick-and-mortar café in the near future.
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Matt Hollis
For the past decade, Matt Hollis has led the Elytus team in disrupting the waste management industry nationwide. On a mission to live out its motto, “Waste Nothing,” Elytus provides waste management and environmental services to more than 50 clients, including many popular chain restaurants and grocery stores.
Hollis and his team use an innovative, proprietary software technology called WINStream. The company offers a diverse range of services from diversion planning, to composting, grease trap and fry oil disposal, hood cleaning and more. Additionally, Elytus’ clients have the advantage of direct contracting for those needs without managing it themselves.
Even the Elytus headquarters is a zero waste facility that features repurposed woods and metals, electric car charging stations and numerous sustainability practices.
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Lisa Huang, Ph.D., PE, RCDD
Advanced Engineering Consultants
Lisa Huang’s willingness to take chances and her industry insight helped her build Advanced Engineering Consultants. She earned her bachelor’s degree in China, eventually coming to Columbus for her Ph.D. She started the mechanical, electrical and plumbing firm in her basement.
Huang found success first in the federal market. She emphasizes completing projects on schedule and on budget without jeopardizing quality, and works closely with principals and project managers to ensure they’re happy and achieving their professional goals.
AEC differentiates itself through high-quality, innovative MEP engineering solutions for building systems and infrastructure. It has held numerous multi-year state agency contracts, worked for the city of Columbus several times, and been brought into the fold by other firms, such as providing electrical engineering designs for the new Franklin County jail.
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Sumithra Jagannath
ZED Digital
Sumithra Jagannath and the ZED Digital team have a passion for making Central Ohio a leader in digital marketing. ZED is one of only a handful of firms in the country capable of providing web personalization and big data aggregation solutions. Jagannath believes web personalization is the next technology trend, as companies that personalize their website see, on average, a 19 percent increase in online sales.
ZED also offers a search engine that can find information from deep web databases and a transportation visualization tool that provides real-time tracking along transit lines.
Part of the Smart City project, ZED has worked with the Central Ohio Transit Authority, the City of Gahanna, the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District and the Ohio Department of Transportation.
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Andy Joseph
Apeks Supercritical
Apeks Supercritical began as a side business for Andy Joseph in 2001. Today, Apeks — a manufacturer of botanical oil extraction systems utilizing subcritical and supercritical CO2 that is used in part to extract oils from cannabis to create concentrates for medicinal use — is a $12 million company that will sell its 500th system this year.
Joseph, who holds five patents, and his team of engineers and fabricators continually improve Apeks systems. The R&D department tests new areas every day.
In 2015, to meet customer demand and increase the company’s processing capabilities, Joseph built a 17,0000-square foot facility in Johnstown. As Joseph applies to become a licensed operator of medical cannabis, there are plans to extend the current building into a 48,000-square foot facility, employing up to 75 people.
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Branndon Kelley
CIO and vice president
American Municipal Power Inc.
Since he started with American Municipal Power Inc. in 2009, Branndon Kelley has led AMP through a complete IT transformation.
The nonprofit wholesale power supplier and services provider has moved from a company that buys electricity to one that generates power. Kelley and his team use security protocols, tools, detection and protection to maintain solutions that are critical to AMP’s 650,000 customers — 135 members in nine states — and the national grid.
When AMP struggled to find a single source of company data and a reliable system with better accuracy, Kelley undertook multiple projects and virtualized 95 percent of the company’s infrastructure. The new system has blocked more than 4,300 attacks since implementation.
Kelley was recognized as Intelligent Utility’s CIO of the Year and received other CIO awards for innovation and impact.
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Michelle Kerr
President and founder
Lightwell Inc.
Lightwell Inc. has assisted more than 1,000 companies across a variety of industries with their technology needs. Under Michelle Kerr’s leadership, Lightwell has invested in technologies, training and systems to improve productivity, gain valuable insights, optimize processes, increase customer satisfaction and facilitate growth and expansion.
Kerr’s development, sales and management teams meet regularly to discuss ideas. Some of these are further developed in partnership with key clients. Lightwell then takes the solutions to market through its direct sales team, partnerships with technology companies (like IBM) and targeted marketing.
In addition to its U.S.-based development resources, Kerr also built a dedicated development office in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Among other awards, Lightwell has been on the Inc. 5000 list of the nation’s fastest growing privately held companies seven times.
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Yogesh Khandelwal
Yogesh Khandelwal has started five companies, but his latest endeavor is geoAMPS LLC, which specializes in software solutions to manage land rights and infrastructure assets.
Khandelwal reinvented geoAMPS several times since its 2011 launch, expanding the product line to include the oil and gas, alternative energy, transit and telecom industries. The first mobile solution in the space, it reduces duplication and time for workflows and approvals and increases compliance and retention of knowledge for more than 5,000 users. Clients report operational savings of over 35 percent.
Recently, geoAMPS went through organizational restructuring and procedural changes for the software development. However, Khandelwal’s decision to keep development in-house has been critical for growth. geoAMPS has a team of roughly 30 developers near his hometown of Pune, India.
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Merry Korn
President and CEO
Pearl Interactive Network
Pearl Interactive Network, a contact center and program management and staffing company, is poised for significant growth. Merry Korn’s social enterprise employs 500 people, giving priority to veterans, people with disabilities and military spouses.
Korn is launching a new product, a Supportive Care and Remote Monitoring service. It combines program management and staffing with telehealth technology. Case managers in a call center communicate with assigned older adults to coordinate daily care and respond to alerts from vital sign and environmental technology monitors.
Korn believes the time is right to roll out the SCRM model. There is increased need to care for older adults, pending restrictions on government funding for nursing homes, and pressure from both federal agencies and health plans to reduce unnecessary hospital and emergency room costs.
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Jennifer Kuntz
Founder and CEO
Greenleaf Job Training Services
Greenleaf Job Training Services is a for-profit business in a field where most of its competitors are nonprofits. It finds jobs for veterans, individuals with learning disabilities, and people with visual and hearing impairments, traumatic brain injuries and significant employment barriers. That means the company must operate efficiently and respond quickly to changes in the government and business environments.
Jennifer Kuntz’s entrepreneurial ingenuity is showcased by the fact that, in the past year alone, she spearheaded four new business-to-business initiatives that draw on the core strengths of Greenleaf and could drive new sources of revenue. For example, Kuntz realized the same work skills that her team teaches could be used by other businesses. So, she developed a customized soft-skills training program to improve employee behavior and habits.
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Stephanie Leader
Leaderpromos started as a promotional products and apparel business serving Central Ohio in 1995. Stephanie Leader has grown the business to a top-notch promotional company with nationwide capabilities and 12 different promotional marketing services.
Technology is a core competency. Leader hired IT and website teams to develop Leaderpromos.com, one of the first promotional products websites. The award-winning website, updated daily, has more than 40,000 products/apparel pieces, live chat ability and an idea board for users to save favorite items. Technology has helped better connect her offices and serve customers with quicker response times. She also allocated money toward internet advertising and SEO best practices to elevate her brand presence online.
In 2017, Leaderpromos launched a proprietary, next-generation platform for its web store clients.
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Kim Maggard
City of Whitehall
Kim Maggard is propelling every aspect of the city of Whitehall forward from infrastructure to parks and recreation, businesses, schools and more. Working to reverse Whitehall’s negative stigma, she launched a rebranding campaign in 2012.
Since her election, the city has hired six additional police officers and two school resource offers, created a narcotics bureau and become one of the first suburbs to employ K-9 units.
Whitehall added programs for first-time and existing homeowners to revive aging housing stock and increase home ownership rates and values.
Since 2012, more than 1,500 new jobs have been created or committed to and an additional $50 million in payroll has been established. By the end of this year, Whitehall will see more than $60 million of capital investment per square mile.
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Purba Majumder
Cybervation Inc.
Purba Majumder has led Cybervation Inc. through more than 19 years of sustainable growth, helping to scale the company to over 300 professionals within a global market. Majumder has spearheaded and co-authored Cybervation’s problem-solving platforms. Notably, the platforms built in the last 12 months include BistroUX for Restaurants, WannaScribe for workflow management and TrainVirtually for online training.
However, Cybervation is also doing great things in the community. Majumder’s nonprofit initiative, CoolTechGirls, has helped promote women’s leadership and girls in technology since 2013. A joint initiative with the City of Dublin, the Dublin Entrepreneurial Center and Cybervation, CoolTechGirls distributes valuable career-related information to students and parents through a variety of interactive and educational programming. To date, over 800 girls have attended its programs.
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David B. Meleca, FAIA, NACARB
David B. Meleca Architects LLC
For more than 20 years, David B. Meleca has led his team at David B. Meleca Architects LLC in a number of projects utilizing his proven “creativity through tradition” philosophy.
Meleca approaches all projects, big or small, with a commitment to create a sense of lasting place. He doesn’t view each undertaking as simply work or a momentary transaction. Instead, Meleca fully engulfs himself in each aspect of a project.
Meleca has created innovative spaces of worship that combine history with contemporary needs, such as the Church of the Resurrection in New Albany, St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Westerville and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Pickerington. Other notable projects include the Nationwide Arena District, the Cap at Union Station, Safe Auto Insurance’s corporate headquarters and the Victoria’s Secret flagship store at Easton Town Center.
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Jeff Meyers
President and CEO
Chepri LLC
Chepri LLC is a local leader in software, mobile app development and web development, under Jeff Meyers’ leadership.
Meyers encourages creative thought and is an active participant in Chepri brainstorming sessions where he drives the discussion and spitballs ideas with the team. With a wide range of technology specialists, everyone on the team has an ongoing educational requirement. Chepri also dedicates time during its weekly staff meeting to discuss current tech news.
Through these exercises, exciting concepts arise. AppMassive creates mobile apps from existing websites and is simple enough to help novices take a WordPress website to the App store. Dine Engine focuses on changing the way fast casual and quick service restaurants do business with integrated online ordering solutions, kiosks, delivery management and more.
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David Miller
President and COO
Cameron Mitchell Restaurants
David Miller has been integral to the growth of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants over the past 20 years, as CMR has gone from three restaurants to more than 80 across the country.
From guiding the development of the company’s diverse concepts to CMR’s catering and construction companies, Miller’s deliberate, thoughtful counsel has been critical.
He remains very active at the associate level, taking the time to provide advice and counsel. He is able to do so because he started as a general manager at Cap City Fine Diner and worked his way up the corporate ladder. Miller regularly travels to each location to conduct roundtable discussions and interactive meetings with company associates. He also spends time participating in manager meetings and training classes.
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Craig Mohre
President and CEO
The New Albany Community Foundation
As the founder of a highly respected philanthropic organization with one full-time and one part-time employee, Craig Mohre is readily identified by his peers as a forward-thinking and innovative collaborator who helps make extraordinary things happen.
He has helped more than 10,000 Central Ohio area high school students interact with eminent speakers and leaders — David McCullough, John Glenn, Charlie Rose, Doris Kearns Goodwin, T. Boone Pickens, Fareed Zakaria, Mariel Hemingway, Michael Pollan, Jon Meacham, Peggy Noonan, David Petraeus, Patrick Kennedy and more — through The Jefferson Series and its Student Lecture Series. The Jefferson Series promotes lifelong learning, community dialogue and a greater understanding of the compelling issues of our time.
He also championed and assembled resources for the Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts.
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Bob Parsons
Managing partner and CEO
Dismas Distribution Services
When Bob Parsons took over Dismas Distribution Services, it served only a handful of low-margin clients and workflow was inconsistent. Parsons capitalized on the retail and apparel niche, forging relationships with powerhouses like Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works and Express. Revenue skyrocketed and Dismas outgrew its warehouse space.
Parsons then created a three-year strategic plan to address every facet of the supply chain value-added services company. Today, that same document drives daily decisions, as Parsons and his board prepare for the plan’s first update. In the last year alone, the strategic plan led to a client engagement plan, a new website, a recruitment and retention campaign, an expansion of its specialty sewing services and the adoption of Traction, a practical business method.
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Jennifer Peterson
Chief executive
Since joining the team in 2015, Jennifer Peterson’s philanthropic leadership has magnified Easton’s community-oriented initiatives.
One initiative dear to Peterson’s heart is the Change for Charity Meter program. Each year, Peterson and members of the executive leadership team select six organizations from a pool of applicants to receive proceeds from Easton’s parking meters and parking tickets.
She also has boosted Easton’s cornerstone events, which are hosted by the Easton Community Foundation to help raise funds for institutions focused on family health and advocacy in Central Ohio. Some past benefactors include Nationwide Children’s Hospital, The Buckeye Ranch, The Center for Family Safety and Healing, Ross Heart Hospital and OSUCCC-James.
In addition, under Peterson’s leadership, nearly 100 students have received renewable two-year scholarships estimated at over $300,000.
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Lacey Picazo
Founder and principal
ZoCo Design
When Lacey Picazo was in two-day labor with her first child, she led a conference call. This is an example of the passion that helped create a career for herself and the ZoCo Design team.
ZoCo helps prominent groups in corporate innovation, including Singularity University in Silicon Valley, Rocketspace in San Francisco, Cardinal Health and the Royal Bank of Scotland, with digital design and branding.
ZoCo’s quality of work and client list is impressive, but even more notable is the culture. In an industry where agencies overwork teams to meet deadlines, the ZoCo crew leaves at reasonable hours. When excess projects occur, Picazo sees it as her responsibility to work 30-hour weekends.
Picazo also builds educational resources for the community and startups through Lumos, the accelerator she co-founded.
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Ronald A. Pizzuti
Chairman and CEO
The Pizzuti Cos.
One of the country’s leading full-service real estate development firms, The Pizzuti Cos. has developed more than 45 million square feet of Class A office, industrial, mixed-use, hospitality, residential and institutional properties in its more than 40 years in business.
From the beginning, Ronald A. Pizzuti focused on bringing his experience in retail merchandizing and a dedication to incorporating quality and aesthetics into development projects. This attention to detail — and a companywide commitment to create projects that hold their value — has served as the foundation for success.
The company also stays ahead of the curve on changing market demands. Long known as a developer of award-winning build-to-suits and industrial and office parks, Pizzuti recently has undertaken several hospitality and mixed-use projects, including The Joseph in downtown Columbus.
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Rich Ritter
President and CEO
Retirement Plans Inc.
Retirement Plans Inc. helps organizations run a successful 401(k) plan, but Rich Ritter’s drive stems from a passion for educating people about their plan benefits. His perspective originates from his grandmother’s reduced standard of living in retirement.
To achieve this mission, Ritter developed a series of educational luncheons, the Straight Talk Series, in 2013. On a nearly monthly basis, RPI hosts sessions that feature Ritter and other experts in law, accounting, compliance, investments and economics, who speak on running a 401(k) plan or the overall business climate. Nearly 750 attendees, who don’t have to be current RPI customers, have benefited from this in the past four years.
The RPI team also likes to meet with employees one-on-one to take the discussion to a personal, highly relevant level.
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Hiten Shah
President and CEO
Marketing and Engineering Solutions (MES) Inc.
Marketing and Engineering Solutions (MES) Inc. has grown 60 percent a year — increasing team members and adding new suppliers and customers every quarter. The full-service provider of global manufacturing and supply chain management services has operations and suppliers in China, India and Vietnam and customers in the United Kingdom, Spain, Mexico and the U.S.
Despite many seemingly out-of-control variables, MES has successfully improved its supply chain metrics, customer satisfaction rankings and on-time delivery. MES partly attributes this achievement to its significant involvement in five universities that are leaders in supply chain research.
Sponsoring a variety of university projects has provided MES with unique opportunities to leverage students’ talents and capabilities, review cutting-edge supply chain research, solicit and garner counsel from accomplished and discipline-leading professors, and access state-of-the-art analytical tools.
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Linda Shetina Logan
Executive Director
Greater Columbus Sports Commission
Over the past 20 years, Linda Shetina Logan has brought her vision of Columbus as a premier sports destination to life through the Greater Columbus Sports Commission. What had always been isolated sports interests operating within their own spheres of influence (collegiate, amateur, professional, private, city, county, state) has become a citywide mosaic of successful, lucrative and diverse sports entertainment.
With the assistance of Logan and her ever-growing passionate staff, the GCSC bid on and won more than 400 new sporting events, generating an estimated $400 million in visitor spending and contributing significantly to the local economy.
As one of the first generation of women to work in sports administration, she also uses her position, passion and ability as a natural connector to empower and mentor women and girls.
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Kimberly A. Shoemaker
Acloché LLC
Since being appointed CEO in 2010, Kimberly A. Shoemaker has helped Acloché LLC increase revenue and involvement with nonprofits and the community, while promoting a high commitment to diversity. As a result, the staffing firm has received numerous industry and community awards and recognitions.
Acloché uses a collaborative approach. It believes that the best way to solve a problem is to get feedback from those experiencing issues through surveys, conversations and market research. Committees of experienced team members review the feedback, determine a course of action and implement new services or solutions. Participation by Acloché’s clients and employees results in significantly higher buy-in and commitment to the final outcome.
Shoemaker is always accessible to employees and clients and makes herself available for feedback, problem-resolution or brainstorming.
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Shannon Skaggs
Quantum Health
Shannon Skaggs works hard to take confusion out of both the health care system and operations at Quantum Health to enable employees to better serve clients.
The company has achieved an average membership growth of 40 percent the past five years. As the person who oversees recruiting, Skaggs’ creativity in social media advertising and targeted recruiting has led to 14 applications for every open position. He also formed a career development team for all employees, resulting in an 84 percent internal promotion rate.
A huge “techie,” Skaggs uses his experience to create new ways for employees to stay in conversations with members. He has spearheaded initiatives surrounding the proprietary consumer insights system, and his role-playing strategies and technological enhancements help Quantum Health train more effectively.
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Dwight E. Smith
Sophisticated Systems Inc.
Dwight E. Smith always envisioned Sophisticated Systems Inc. as a shining example of what a business leader committed to making a difference in the community can do. It’s a philosophy that has guided his leadership over the past 27 years as the company has made strategic acquisitions, enhanced its solution offerings, changed its organizational structure and otherwise adapted to an evolving technology landscape.
In 2015, the company shifted from three siloed lines of business to a single client-facing solution. Last year, SSI introduced its employee recognition program with two awards — a CEO Leadership Award and a Gazelle Award that recognizes individuals who demonstrate initiative and participate in process improvement. This spring, SSI rolled out its first employee satisfaction survey and developed action items from those results.
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Nicci Sprouse
Nicci Sprouse believes there is something to be said for old-fashioned, tried-and-true dating philosophies. She founded A-LIST INTRODUCTIONS in 2011, specifically focusing on dating for C-suiters. Her clients’ professions do not allow the anonymity to find someone online or on their own, and most don’t have the time or energy to waste on dates without potential. They value her expertise and appreciate the individual attention and guidance they receive. By taking a scientific approach, focusing on emotional intelligence, in addition to personal interview assessments, Sprouse has interviewed and matched over 1,000 successful singles and has become known as Columbus’ foremost executive matchmaker.
She targets secondary markets throughout the Midwest, and recently expanded her territory into Cincinnati in the fall of 2016.
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Diana Spurgus
Business System Solutions Inc.
“Always do what’s right, even if no one is looking” is the personal and professional motto of Diana Spurgus of Business System Solutions Inc.
Over the past 20 years, BSSI has been an outsourced IT department for companies with 15 to 100 computers. Spurgus believes that business drives technology — not the other way around. She ensures BSSI employees are trained to explain technology in a clear and concise way (no geek speak). They read material, such as business books, to gain a better understanding of clients’ needs. Today, BSSI is building a new office and client revenue has grown 59 percent over the past two years.
Spurgus also created a nonprofit temporary staffing agency, TeenWorks, in 2003 that helps youth from economically disadvantaged backgrounds experience the world of work.
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Greg Ubert
President and owner
Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea
Greg Ubert started Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea in 1991 with a tiny, gas-fired coffee roaster in a one-room office. Specialty coffee was in its infancy. Today, the top coffee roaster provides coffee and coffeehouse products while creating a value chain of mutual benefit with growers and other suppliers.
When Ubert saw coffeehouse customers struggling, he developed the service platform “7 Steps to Success” — the basis for Crimson Cup’s coffee franchise alternative program. The accompanying book has become an operating guide for hundreds of entrepreneurs. Crimson Cup doesn’t take ownership or require them to pay franchise fees or royalties.
The company not only has a company-owned coffee house for marketing, customer service and drink preparation ideas, its innovation lab features areas for coffee evaluation, roasting, training and gathering.
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J. Michael Vargo
President and CEO
VARGO Cos. is helping businesses move beyond traditional fulfillment and distribution methodologies. Its Continuous Order Fulfillment Engine software works for large companies with peak-order days of 400,000 or 500,000 units a day, as well as small companies that might have a minimum of 2,000 orders a day.
Even with the leading warehouse execution system, J. Michael Vargo and his team of 52 isn’t resting on its laurels. The company developed two new COFE® modules that give managers real-time information about their distribution centers from anywhere, on any device. Managers also can build individual custom statistical and analytical reports.
Vargo and his leadership team believe in letting go of old, tired processes that no longer work. Today, almost 70 percent of VARGO’s business comes from designing custom-engineered, material-handling systems.
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Steve Wathen
Equity, started by Steve Wathen in 1987, has grown from one Ohio office to 10 offices nationwide. The full-service commercial real estate company also has four other affiliated companies.
The core of Equity’s success lies in its values, as conceived by Wathen — known affectionately in-house as “Steve-isms” — absolute integrity, pursuing excellence, inspiring personal growth and honoring God. The Equity intolerables are lack of integrity, poor customer service and disparaging Equity.
Equity leaders lead from the front by example. Wathen stresses the value of staying emotionally “cool” and only being animated in ways that inspire the positive, business-forward results.
Wathen is also co-founder of Franklinton Rising, a faith-based nonprofit focused on reducing generational poverty. It prepares at-risk young adults for construction careers while rehabbing blighted homes in Franklinton.
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Kimmi Wernli
Owner and president
Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter
Kimmi Wernli has taken over her historic family peanut butter business and identified ways for Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter to break into new markets, in particular tapping into a savvy young audience via social media.
Her family owned both the Krema Products Co. and Crazy Richard’s brands, and Wernli decided to merge Krema into the Crazy Richard’s brand. She worked tirelessly with her sales team, national grocery store distributors and the marketing team to ensure a smooth transition.
Although Crazy Richard’s had national distribution, the brand lacked a voice and presence on social media. The brand is now very active on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
Wernil is also following her passion for supporting healthy kids and families through ongoing charity work and contributions.
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Guy Worley
Columbus Downtown Development Corp.
Guy Worley has generated national attention from orchestrating first-of-its kind development projects through the Columbus Downtown Development Corp. From the National Veterans Memorial & Museum and John F. Wolfe Columbus Commons to the Scioto Mile and more, his leadership at the CDDC has been a key driver in creating an open and vibrant downtown.
Worley also was the impetus behind the much-needed 2010-2020 Downtown Strategic Plan, which involved more than 50 stakeholder interviews and five public meetings with more than 600 attendees that generated over 1,100 survey responses. The result: a smart investment and prioritization plan to propel Columbus forward via eight key strategies, 10 principles and 12 catalytic ideas.
Never scared of a challenge, Worley’s collaborative and forward-thinking leadership has raised over $2.5 billion in investments.
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Scott Zemba
President and CEO
Zemba Bros Inc.
Scott Zemba, and his brother, Steve, started what is now Zemba Bros. Inc. in 1987 with a push lawnmower and a “no one will outwork us” attitude.
Today, the growing family of Zanesville companies specializes in industrial, commercial and residential construction, excavation, rail transportation and mining. With its vertical integration, Zemba Bros. can cross-train employees and employ them year-round.
Zemba emphasizes that good business boils down to: always bring the right tools, the right people and a relentless drive to get the job done with the best possible solution for customers.
During a period of explosive growth, Zemba felt the weight of his organization’s success. He shifted focus to the discovery, adoption and implementation of more sustainable systems, which has improved operations and office efficiencies by over 50 percent.
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Jim Zink and Mike McGuire
Managing partners
Zink Foodservice
After purchasing the company from its founder, Jim Zink expanded the size and profitability of Zink Foodservice with his partner, Mike McGuire. Zink Foodservice represents more than 40 manufacturers and sells their products throughout the Midwest.
The Zink core values directs the company’s approach to food service: excellence, customer-first, results driven, forward-focused and that we care. The five-point approach has allowed Zink to expand from the kitchen equipment it started with to the smallwares and other tabletop items it now also represents. Inside this, Zink Foodservice sells more than $200 million in product annually.
The partners divided the team into three different sales teams: tabletop and smallwares, equipment, and health care and education, which allows the team to specialize and have a better understanding of the market they represent.
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Sponsor notes

In March, U.S. Bank was honored for the third consecutive year by the Ethisphere® Institute as a World’s Most Ethical Company®. U.S. Bank is the largest U.S.-based bank ever to make the list.
“We are proud to be on the Ethisphere list because it validates our employees’ commitment to our customers and our communities,” said Andy Cecere, president and CEO. “We help our customers build financially secure futures every day — and those relationships are built on trust.”
Quantum Health is an award-winning consumer navigation and care coordination company that works within the benefit plans of large self-funded employers with the sole purpose of helping each person who has to use the health care system get through their journey in a safe and efficient manner. Quantum Health delivers an unparalleled consumer experience based on empathy and trust, enabling employers to achieve industry-leading satisfaction rates and independently validated claim savings. Their model is based on years of consumer research and insights learned from guiding millions of consumers and their providers through their health care journey.
Clark Schaefer Hackett (CSH) is a top 100 CPA and advisory firm, and our passion is delivering results through remarkable relationships. We believe better relationships produce better results, and we train our staff to create remarkable, results-oriented relationships with clients and each other.
Our firm’s mission is to better the lives of our clients, people and communities. While it is one mission, each of the three components are important to our success. We better lives by helping clients achieve and sustain high financial performance, and by maximizing career opportunities for our associates. Bettering the communities where we live and work is equally important. We create opportunities for staff and shareholders to make a difference in their communities each year. Beyond firm-sponsored charitable events, each CSH associate is given eight hours of paid volunteer time off annually so they can contribute to a cause they are passionate about.
As CSH strives to grow and innovate, we recognize the critical need to develop smart, talented leaders. These individuals will guide our organization into the future, so we actively work to provide opportunities for professional advancement and increase the diversity of our firm’s leadership.
CSH is proud to support events like the Smart 50 Awards, which recognizes leaders who are making positive changes to the business landscape.
At Aon, we believe a “smart” leader is someone who is:
Collaborative. Someone who is able to create an environment where different points of view are welcomed, and then takes the time to listen and evaluate the varying ideas. It is difficult to be the leader of the organization and actually consider an idea or agenda that is opposite of your own. It is even more difficult to remove our personal pride from a situation to accept and implement the opposing view.
A communicator. It is hard work to be able to translate the ideas, goals, visions, etc., inside your mind to numerous employees without anything getting lost during the process. Making sure everyone buys into and believes the message is the best thing for the company overall and shouldn’t focus on individual success. The whole team needs to be on the same page or else the group gets pulled apart in different directions because someone else’s message is more compelling.
Confident. This is a fine line because being too confident can be just as disastrous. Leaders need to believe in the guiding light of the company or else it will become apparent to those who are responsible for carrying out the directives. Those in charge also need to have faith when delegating responsibilities. There are many ways to accomplish an objective and people rarely do it in the exact same manner.
Taft is constantly looking for “smart” ways to improve client service and increase value across our nine offices to distinguish ourselves from our peers. We encourage our 750-plus employees to do the same. We would like to share three of the “smart” traits we have adopted that we believe will resonate best with the 2017 Smart 50 honorees.
Play to win. At Taft, we have adopted a “Play to Win” mindset. Playing to win doesn’t simply mean delivering winning and effective results for our clients. It means everyone on the team shares the same goals and is responsible for winning. At Taft, we are all equal contributors toward that goal whether we are partners, associates or staff. It means being a winning organization in all aspects of what we do, and from the viewpoints of all constituents that we touch, to deliver positive results for our clients and our employees.
Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork. High achievers relish the chance to work with other all-stars. Great executives stewarding great companies thrive on the energy gained from impassioned involvement by all team members including outside service providers and advisers who embrace common goals and enthusiastically collaborate to achieve the desired winning results. Employees at Taft are trained and incentivized to be team players, to have our clients’ and each other’s backs, and to feel vested in all we do.
Give back. Like the Smart 50 honorees, we are enriched by our personal commitments to our families, friends, clients and communities. By giving back, we level the playing field for those less fortunate and we are reminded of the deep responsibilities we have as good citizens. Giving back means more than just community involvement. It means ensuring a culture of inclusion, embracing diverse perspectives, cultures and life experiences, and adopting a greater sense of purpose.
Engagement doesn’t happen overnight. It is the result of a long-term commitment by your organization to connect with and invest in the wants and needs of your target audience.
Convero develops content marketing programs that increase engagement and performance. Our five-step process delivers detailed plans — from strategy and planning to execution and measurement — for organizations across a wide range of industries, including banking and finance, health care, higher education, manufacturing and associations.
In business for more than 20 years, Blue Technologies has built a strong executive team to lead and grow our organization under the team philosophy “Commitment to Excellence — EVERY DAY.” In pursuit of this high level of excellence, these “smart” leaders have shown three key traits critical to Blue’s ongoing success.
We’ve found that the best leaders are:
INSPIRED: While “what we do” is vital at Blue Technologies, it has never been as important as “why we do it.” That’s why we believe one of the most important qualities in a successful leader is to be inspired. We’ve built a team of like-minded individuals who are inspired to live up to the “Commitment to Excellence — EVERY DAY” in both their personal and professional lives.
COMMUNICATIVE: Additionally, we’ve found that excellent leaders are also excellent communicators. Blue’s leaders work to translate their visions clearly, so that our team is always working toward the same goals. With mutual end-goals in mind, and a sense of trust and openness to communicate ideas and problems, our staff is able to be more productive and positive throughout the workday.
DISCIPLINED: Lastly, the difference between good and great leaders often comes down to self-discipline. A great leader is highly motivated to do what it takes to get the job done right, without excuses or procrastination. At Blue Technologies, our leaders are focused on success, strive for continuous improvement and lead by example — setting standards by which the rest of the organization is held.
VisionaryGREENCREST was inspired in 1990. Our inspiration was founded on the recognized need of privately held businesses to have a chief marketing officer’s voice at their boardroom table to better compete — without the cost of a full-time employee.
The vision that formed GREENCREST is the vision that continues to drive our differentiation.
Our focus is on helping businesses compete at a higher level and win market share. We elevate our clients’ profiles within the markets they serve so they are known, heard and recognized.
We create success stories. We stay abreast of trends and invest in new methods to stay well ahead of the curve. We are vigilant in being responsive to market shifts.
Smart solutions – GREENCREST keenly understands how marketing can impact the growth of a business. Our philosophy is to uncover an organization’s brand and create a strategic plan that propels a company to reach its growth goals.
The GREENCREST culture inspires our team to be the best at what we do. We strive for certifications, continuous education and business best practices. We teach our clients how to be smart marketers and help them implement smart strategy to drive their businesses to a market leadership position.
Trusted partner – The GREENCREST business model is one that establishes a high level of trust, accountability to budget and performance metrics. It is very proactive. We are given full access to our clients’ teams and operate more like a staff member than an outsourced service provider.
As a part of our commitment to our clients, we self-perform all our work. This provides our clients with a dedicated, consistent, accessible and accountable team to oversee all marketing functions on their behalf.
At GREENCREST we come to work everyday to make a difference in the businesses we serve, the communities in which we work and live and the lives of those we touch along the way. We work to make a difference.
GREENCREST is a 27-year-old brand development, strategic and online marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into industry leaders™. For more information: (614) 885-7921 or [email protected].
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