Being unafraid of failure is the common thread among the 13 recipients of the 15th Annual Entrepreneurship “E-Day” Excellence Awards presented by the Northwest Indiana Small Business Development Center.
Each knows the region and its character, traits guest speaker Penny Lewandowski says are vital for growing businesses. “Talking about community is my mantra,” says Lewandowski, director of entrepreneurship development at the Edward Lowe Foundation in Maryland.
Describing herself as a revolutionary because of her contrarian nature, Lewandowski says the E-Day recipients are also revolutionaries. “Entrepreneurs have been at the core of every revolution,” she says. “They think differently and have a feeling that things have to be different.”
Joshua Lybolt, regional director of the Northwest Indiana SBDC, praises the winners and says each demonstrates the courage, drive and initiative that fuel Northwest Indiana’s economy.
Women in Business Champion of the Year: Maggie Reister Walters
When Maggie Reister Walters was a music teacher, she never imagined she’d end up in financial marketing and consulting. After a year of teaching, she says, “It got to the point that I needed a change.”
She took a career evaluation class at Indiana University and the profession that popped up was sales and marketing. “I thought it was wrong,” says Walters, who today is a partner with Matt Dilts in WestPoint Financial Group in Merrillville.
In nominating his wife, Tom Walters says, “She has a penchant for helping other women. She has all this enthusiasm and energy she passes on to others.”
In 1993, she organized the first Women’s Expo in Northwest Indiana. Today, she lobbies the legislature on behalf of women-owned businesses and working women for pay equity, pension, health benefits and other financial issues. “I love helping other people,” she says.
Over the next decade, Walters says, “There will be a more holistic approach to financial/life planning. Our clients are not that different from us. They view retirement differently than past generations. Many of us find ourselves reinventing our lives, starting the business we always wanted to start, going back to school, launching a not-for-profit venture we have dreamed about. Our role as planners is evolving into that of consultant and coach. Of course, technology and products will continue to evolve as well,” she says.
“We’ll really start going paperless,” says Walters, “and as a result there will be less privacy. I don’t see how we can avoid it.”
Small Business Advocate of the Year: Rex Richards
Rex Richards draws inspiration from his father, a small business owner who started with $1,000 in borrowed money and built a business that in 13 years was worth $15 million. “I saw Mom and Dad start from nothing. I saw them struggle and succeed and put people to work,” says Richards.
Today, he heads the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce, spending time helping entrepreneurs. In his career, Richards has worked for or been in charge of seven chambers of commerce in three states.
Richards was nominated by Danielle Oeding, vice president of sales and marketing for the Valparaiso chamber. “An advocate is defined as one who argues for a cause, or supports and intercedes for someone,” says Oeding. “That definition most definitely describes Rex Richards’ efforts for small business.”
Over the next few years, Richards says, “I see the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce being a major business organization for most of Porter County, attracting members from all over the region.”
Richards says he also sees the chamber becoming more involved in economic development. “Chambers are like any other business. Some are successful and some are not. Some are growing and some are not. We have to be thinking ahead in order to grow.”
Small Business Journalist of the Year: Andrea Pearman
When Erica Passauer talks about Andrea Pearman, the first thing she mentions is her “vibrant personality.”
“That, combined with her public relations and marketing ability, sells Northwest Indiana,” says Passauer, vice president of lending for the Regional Development Company.
For her part, Pearman says her focus is her clients. After starting her own marketing firm, she began publishing magazines to fill niches ranging from employment to education for students and seniors.
But, says Pearman, she hasn’t been able to do it all on her own. She says her employees—her team at Diversified Marketing Strategies Inc.—are why she’s been successful. “One of the greatest gifts my team gives to me is thinking outside the box. Knowledge is power, and that gives you the ability to be able to adapt. We have to be proactive rather than reactive.”
In the future, Pearman says, businesses like hers are going to have to learn that the traditional boundaries are fading. “We need to respond to go outside our boundaries. In this business, we’re going to have to look at multiple publications. We’re going to have to be able to adapt. The ability to respond is crucial. We have to be proactive rather than reactive.”
Minority Small Business Person of the Year: Rita Bacevich
Since Rita Bacevich founded HDW Commercial Interiors in 1991, the company has grown from a residential designer to a commercial design firm focusing on health care and education.
Three years ago, Bacevich moved from Hobart to Schererville into a 3,600-square-foot office, more than triple the size of the company’s original building. In 2009, she opened a satellite office in South Bend.
Bacevich was nominated by Martha Sandoval of First Midwest Bank, who described Bacevich as “an excellent example of what minority business owners can achieve and what all business owners should strive for.”
Bacevich talks about changes in the business. “Fifteen years ago, it was a simple matter or ordering a desk and choosing a paint color. Over the years we have happily made things a little more complicated for ourselves—adding space planning, CAD drawings, project specifications and delving into the rigors of education and health care design.”
Looking into the future, Bacevich says, “Although the economy has thrown all of us for a loop, it has given us the opportunity to think outside the box, create new relationships, attempt new strategies and investigate new products and new revenue sources. In short, it is a chance to evolve our business.”
Emerging Small Business of the Year: Riah Salon, Gwen and Robert Shaver
Years ago when Gwen Shaver got her hair done, she came home disappointed—not with the way her hair looked, but with the way she was treated. She told herself that if she ever got the opportunity to open her own salon, it would be different. Since 2002, when she opened Riah Salon in St. John with her husband, Robert, she has made that difference.
At Riah Salon (that’s “hair” spelled backwards) Shaver’s focus is on natural beauty, the use of environmentally friendly products, and career development for stylists. “We’ve grown steadily for seven years,” says Gwen. “People are particular about where they spend their money, so we try to make this an experience.”
In nominating the Shavers, Michael Schneider, vice president of commercial lending at First Financial in Schererville, calls them “a real feel good story.” “I like all of my clients, but the Shavers have a drive and a vision. They knew what it was going to take to make them unique.”
For her business, Gwen Shaver says she expects the size of her staff to double. Currently it has eight stylists, two apprentices and three coordinators. “I want to specialize, but add some other services like hair extensions,” she says.
“I also want to find people interested in the salon business, but it’s hard to find people who are consistent.” She says she wants to seek out “successful people” to enter the field so she can pass on her love of the salon business to others.
Entrepreneurial Success: Livemercial, Johnny Mathis Jr.
Since then, Mathis’ company has delivered more than $1 billion in sales for some 3,000 products. “Without knowing it, I created the first YouTube, but I had no idea how to use it other than advertising.”
Today Mathis works with inventors and small business to bring their products to an audience through Livemercial. The concept so impressed Rebecca “Beck” Bamberger, CEO of BAM Communications in San Diego, that she nominated Mathis for the E-Day award.
“In these tough economic times when businesses are going bankrupt and closing, Johnny represents the entrepreneur of today—he’s fearless and optimistic, yet pragmatic and thoughtful in taking Livemercial in a new direction.”
Mathis says he’s “passionate about inventors,” because they come up with a simple idea that solves a problem. “We were fortunate because we had no competition for four or five years and we were able to reinvest earnings into growing the company,” says Mathis. Not bad for a guy who taught himself computer programming instead of going to college.
As much as Livemercial has evolved in its short history, Mathis says he expects the company to evolve that much or more in the coming decade. “In the future, I expect us to grow horizontally instead of vertically within the industry. I see us going into new markets. I see us getting more into innovation. I see us capitalizing on new ideas, which is the lifeblood of this industry.”
Small Business Person of the Year: Danny S. Jones, Security Industries Inc.
When Danny Jones received his E-Day plaque, he publicly thanked his father.
“My business came from him,” says Jones, owner of Security Industries Inc. in Hobart. “My dad is 81 and he owned a small fence company. He’s old-school. When he shook hands with you, he meant it. He always told me when I was working for him, ‘Do a better job.’”
Jones says he never understood that until he started his fencing and security company. He now realizes what his dad meant. “Eighty percent isn’t good enough.”
Brian Rusin, vice president of commercial lending at Peoples Bank, nominated Jones. “He came to us because he needed funding on a relatively quick basis to capitalize on a business opportunity. He takes advice and whenever he has promised something, it happens.”
Jones says the key to his success is understanding customers. “We need to know whether a simple chain-link fence will do the job or whether we need something more sophisticated.”
In the past six years, Jones says his company has quadrupled in size, and he expects the growth to continue. “In this post-9/11 age, we’re going to see a broader push for security. We’re leaving the chain-link age and moving to more security control. It’s full-speed ahead right now and I see that continuing for awhile, especially at airports, factories, refineries, water departments and sanitary districts. This is an evolution, but it is a great deal of change in our industry.”
NWI Small Business Development Corp. Client of the Year: Legacy Environmental, Carl and Lorrie Lisek
Carl Lisek isn’t a newcomer to the environmental bandwagon. Caring for the environment is why he started Legacy Environmental in 2003.
“I was involved before green was cool,” says Lisek. But he wants to do more than simply clean up someone else’s problem. He wants to promote products that aren’t laced with harsh chemicals or solvents.
It’s why Legacy Environmental uses products made with soybeans and other eco-friendly ingredients. His company also works to educate clients about how they can become more environmentally friendly. “It’s a behavioral change,” says Lisek, whose company shows clients how big their environmental footprint is and provides solutions on how to make it smaller.
In nominating Lisek for the E-Day award, LeAnn McCrum, NWI SBDC small business advisor, says, “The Liseks are leaving behind a legacy as they bring environmental issues to the forefront. They have the background, expertise and passion to help companies and the state make the shift to become greener.”
Lisek says that over the next 10 years, “There will be a huge opportunity for business in Indiana.” Because technology and processes are exploding onto the market, Lisek says the next few years will see an opportunity “in verifying those technologies. The market’s going to be completely different. Customers are being bombarded with information and they don’t know who to trust. With the right information and the right push for education, this picture can be completely changed.”
NWI Small Business Development Corp. Champion of the Year: Brian Rusin
“He understands that small businesses need the community’s support to continue to grow and prosper and boost our economy,” says Spearman. Rusin, vice president of commercial lending at Peoples Bank, is modest about what he does, adding that he is motivated by helping small businesses obtain financing and by being an advisor to each company.
“Knowing what a business owner is going through is important,” says Rusin. “The heart of business is relationships. You can do Internet banking now, but commercial banking is relationship-driven.”
That’s why Rusin is available to clients regardless of the time of day. “We need to make things convenient for our clients, not necessarily what’s convenient for us.”
In the coming years, Rusin says, convenience is going to the biggest change in his business. “There is going to be more convenience for customers. They’re going to have to know I’m available when they need me.”
NWI Small Business Development Corp. Champion of the Year: Matt Saltanovitz
Matt Saltanovitz never expected to be an E-Day winner. The heart of what he does is telling stories, and his stories have earned The Times assistant business/topical editor respect among the region’s businesses.
Saltanovitz says newspaper reporting and editing have interested him since high school. Lesly Bailey, communications coordinator for the NWI Small Business Development Corp., says Saltanovitz understands the power of information. “He uses his knowledge and expertise to filter through the daily stream of business stories, serving as a guide to what Northwest Indiana professionals need to know.”
Saltanovitz says he learned that business reporting isn’t “boring numbers and statistics.” It is about people. “I wanted to learn about the small shops we frequent every day,” he says. “I just like the stories of people. It’s a huge risk for someone starting out on their own and I admire that.”
Saltanovitz says the newspaper industry is changing rapidly, with more readers electing to read news online, but he sees a need for reporters regardless of whether the news is on paper or a computer monitor. “There will always be a need for reporting. It may not be the way we see it now, but ultimately, what we do will still be around.”
Lifetime Achievement Award: Leigh E. Morris
Leigh Morris’s deep, booming voice is full of enthusiasm. The 74-year-old is on his third career, this one as deputy commissioner of the Indiana Department of Transportation for Toll Road oversight and chairman of the Regional Development Authority. He previously was CEO of LaPorte Hospital and served one term as LaPorte mayor.
Morris says he loves the challenge. “Transportation is an essential prerequisite to economic development.”
In nominating Morris, Joshua Lybolt, regional director for the NWI Small Business Development Corp., says, “Leigh is a leader with a vision. He has worked toward that vision in all the years he has served Northwest Indiana through different roles, and he continues to follow that vision as he takes on new challenges to make the region a better place.”
Morris says that when Gov. Mitch Daniels leased the Toll Road to Australian and Spanish investors, taxpayers accused Indiana of selling it to foreign investors. Morris points out the Toll Road wasn’t sold, but leased for $3 billion, money that’s created thousands of construction jobs on hundreds of road and bridge projects.
“It wasn’t a particularly popular move,” says Morris, who’s given 75 talks about the sale in two years. In the next 10 years, Morris says transportation is going to be a key economic development tool, not only for Northwest Indiana, but for the entire state. “We simply don’t have the resources going into transportation that we need.”
Sometime in the next few years, Morris says, it will be vital to develop an intermodal hub in Northwest Indiana, where trains and trucks can come together. He also says that in the next 10 years, transportation experts are going to have to figure out how to fund construction and repair of roads and bridges without depending on gasoline taxes.