Pacesetters 2004

Things move quickly and constantly in the business world. A Mass Mutual study found that CEOs of nonfamily businesses have an average tenure of four years, the same length of time that Smart Business has been recognizing its annual roster of Pacesetters.

Corporate Pittsburgh doesn’t seem to experience the dramatic highs or lows or the games of musical chairs in the executive suites and boardrooms that typify business in some faster-paced markets.

Nonetheless, there have been substantial changes in assignments and direction on the part of past Pacesetters and their companies since we began back in 2000 to recognize local business luminaries for the designation.

James Liken left his post as president and CEO of Respironics Inc. this year to become its vice chairman after leading a stellar turnaround of the medical products company. Roger Byford left the CEO post at Vocollect to go back to his first love, doing research for the company’s voice recognition products. Jim Cederna pursued consulting work after leaving the CEO post at Calgon Carbon.

Jerry Thompson, former director of Ketchum’s Pittsburgh office, went to work at the firm’s new regional office in Chicago after yet another scaling back of the office here. Frank Brooks Robinson left the helm of the Regional Industrial Development Corp. for retirement following a long and distinguished career. Not one to remain idle for long, though, Robinson was elected to chair the board of the Carnegie Institute.

Dennis Yablonsky left the Pittsburgh Digital Greenhouse to join Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration. Bill Newlin gave up his post as CEO at Buchanan Ingersoll last year to join Dick’s Sporting Goods, while Thomas Van Kirk succeeded him at the firm. Rick Stafford finally managed to retire as the Allegheny Conference attracted Florida’s Michael Langley to take the organization’s post as CEO. Internet service provider Stargate was sliced up and sold off in bankruptcy court, leaving its young founder, Marc Ruscitto, looking for a new challenge.

A profoundly sad departure was the death last year of Fred Rogers, a gentle soul and gifted communicator who left an indelible mark not only on Pittsburgh, but on the entire globe.

In true Pittsburgh style, a number of Pacesetters have stayed the course at their companies. Atul Bansal, CEO of Laurel Networks, is still at it at one of a handful of dot-com era tech companies that hasn’t burned through all of its cash and looks like it will make it. Andy Fraley and Dave Nelsen are managing to keep CoManage, another tech venture that raised investors’ expectations into the stratosphere, viable as well. Rob Cochran has expanded the already huge #1 Cochran auto dealership in Monroeville into one of General Motors Corp.’s largest.

At Smart Business, we’ve come to expect a nearly inexhaustible supply of talented, dedicated business leaders in the Pittsburgh region worthy of recognition. For 2004, we’ve selected a group of Pacesetters that is the smallest yet, but they are individuals who exemplify the dedication, hard work and talent that resides in the best of the best.

We honor their accomplishments and extend our best wishes for their continued success, no matter how things may change.