May 1, 2008

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Forging a Path Along Utah's Corporate Trail

A tradition of pioneering spirit has built Utah into one of the nation’s stro...Read More

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Article

Forging a Path Along Utah's Corporate Trail

Sarah Ryther-Francom

May 1, 2008


A tradition of pioneering spirit has built Utah into one of the nation’s strongest states for business today. Each year, a group of lasting companies are profiled in Utah Business. The 12 companies that make up this year’s list have created a legacy of quality, integrity and service. The selected companies are exemplary not only for their longevity – each company reaches back at least 50 years – but for their commitment to Utah’s economy and community. Enduring through economic ups and downs, these companies have built a heritage along Utah’s corporate horizon. Savage Services Corporation Allen Alexander, President & CEO Neal Savage, Vice Chairman 1946 When Kenneth Savage returned from the Navy in 1946, he had nothing more than $600 and a dream to open his own business. With the help of his father, Cornelius Savage, Kenneth’s dream became a reality when he purchased a KB-5 International truck and started C.A. Savage and Son. With the added help of his younger brothers, Neal and Luke, the company took flight. “[C.A. Savage and Son] had pretty humble beginnings,” says Allen Alexander, current CEO and president of Savage Services Corporation. “The company began with the brothers hauling coal from the mines in central Utah to hospitals, churches and businesses. They would load and unload that truck with shovels, all by hand.” According to Alexander, more than 60 years of dedication and hard work turned the company into what it is today. Originally focusing on hauling coal and timber, the company has grown to include real estate development, equipment manufacturing, rail operation and more. Savage Services Corporation now operates more than 100 locations across the United States and Canada. Alexander says that the company’s longtime success can be attributed to the brothers’ dedication to see the company grow, no matter the cost. “The three brothers had a desire to continue the business long past themselves,” says Alexander. “Their long-term view included keeping most of the earnings of the business in the business, so it would continue to grow. And even though the company is family owned, the brothers were always committed to putting the best leadership in place. They made sure that the business was run professionally with a long-term view.” Alexander says that what makes Savage Services Corporation unique is its commitment to customers and employees. “At the end of the day, we have a lot of equipment, but anybody can have those things. What sets us apart is that we are a group of committed people who are safe, professional and well trained. We work together and understand our customers’ needs. Together we make a great company.” Cyprus Credit Union Dale Catten, President and CEO 1928 “People can make a difference when they work together,” says Dale Catten, CEO and president of Cyprus Credit Union. That notion - people helping people - is what led to the establishment of Cyprus Credit Union, says Catten. The credit union started in 1928 by a small group of Utah Copper Company employees. “They needed reasonable financial services and decided that they could utilize and help each other,” Catten says. With assets totaling less than $100 and a shoe box-sized filing cabinet holding their records, Cyprus Credit Union was formed. Since its establishment the credit union has experienced ups and downs, but has become a staple in Utah’s financial realm. Today, Cyprus Credit Union has grown into a full service financial institution, surpassing more than $500 million in assets and including approximately 70,000 members. Catten says that what keeps the credit union unique from other financial institutions is its ability to build and maintain relationships. “From the very beginning, [Cyprus Credit Union] was made up of Kennecott employees and their families, and everyone knew everyone,” he says. “Today, we still try to know all of our members and our goal is to maintain our ‘we know you’ attitude. We’ve created a situation where families - generation after generation - can participate with us and belong to our community.” With a proven history of success, Catten says that Cyprus Credit Union is ready to face whatever comes in the future. “Evolution of the [financial] industry was quiet for a long time, but now it’s changing almost on a daily basis. We are always looking at new products and services for the very distant future. We’re always ready to help our new members with our services,” he says. “We’re all about people helping people,” he adds. “It’s the cooperative nature of our industry and that helps make our employees and customers happy.” Kennecott Utah Copper Andrew Harding, President & CEO 1903 At the heart of Utah’s pioneer spirit is the mining community, says Andrew Harding, current president and CEO of Kennecott Utah Copper. “Mining has championed the state of Utah for over 100 years. We have plans to extend the company’s life through 2036, but mining and the production of copper could last much longer than that,” says Harding. The original Utah Copper Company was created in 1903 to mine and process low grade copper ore. During that time, most mining experts agreed that the company would never make money: the ore grade was too low. During the next 100 years, however, those experts were proven wrong time and time again, as the company continually experienced success, says Harding. Accomplishments have continued in recent years, says Harding. In 2007, production of refined copper rose to 292,800 tons, exceeding 2006 levels of 240,200, a 22 percent increase. Last year gold reached a 7 percent increase over 2002 and silver increased by 5 percent over 2002. Harding says that the biggest challenge that Kennecott Utah Copper and the mining industry as a whole have faced is the changing corporate and social attitudes towards the environment. “Mining by its very nature has an impact on the environment. The approach that Kennecott is taking is guided by a philosophy to balance the impact on the environment, the social impacts and the need to make a return for the shareholder,” Harding says. “We’ve spent a lot of time bringing Kennecott into the modern age. In the 1990s, our smelter was cleanest in the world. Now, years later, it’s still the cleanest smelter in the world.” Utah Banker’s Association Howard Headlee, President 1908 Utah is quickly becoming a global financial center, and much of that can be attributed to the Utah Bankers Association (UBA), says Howard Headlee, CEO and president of the UBA. Celebrating its 100 year anniversary this year, UBA has a history of helping Utah’s banks find success. Since its establishment in 1908, the UBA has worked to promote, protect and provide for Utah’s banking industry, says Headlee. “The Utah Bankers Association instills trust and draws attention to the positive things that the banking industry does. We also protect the industry from misguided regulations, bad laws and other things that would hurt [a bank’s] ability to serve its customers. The Utah Banking Association provides banks with a number of products and services.” Headlee says that the UBA has helped Utah’s banks through challenging times and is prepared to help banks face future economic ups and downs. “People can look back on the challenges we’ve faced through the Great Depression, World War I and World War II and see the cooperative way bankers worked together to get through those challenges,” Headlee says. “The banking industry in Utah has come through [economic] incidents with flying colors and that’s promoted trust internationally and within the state of Utah.” Headlee says that the UBA’s bedrock of principles includes integrity, honesty and trust. “Economic environments change. Our main challenge, then, is operating in a way to maintain that trust and promote that trust.” Banks are integral to the community, Headlee says. “People must always be able to rely on banks and trust banks with their most important assets. Our history shows that we operate in a way to maintain that trust and promote that trust and be at the heart of the community.” The Layton Companies David Layton, President and CEO 1953 Though he originally wanted to be a banker, Allen Layton found his true calling when he started Layton Construction, says David Layton, Allen’s son and current CEO and president of The Layton Companies. “My dad grew up during the Great Depression, living in a tiny house in Davis County. He always wanted to become a banker because he saw the bankers making the money. One day he looked through a surveying instrument on a construction site and from that day on, he wanted to become a civil engineer,” says Layton. “Later on, my dad got called into World War II and was injured in the Battle of the Bulge. He was given a full medical disability by the government, but instead of retiring, he decided that he was going to fulfill his dream and established Layton Construction.” Since its opening in 1953, Layton Construction has grown from a one-man operation to include more than 800 employees and multiple companies. Today, the company, now named The Layton Companies, has revenues surpassing $300 million and is ranked the 77th largest commercial contractor in the United States. At present, the company is working on the Real Soccer Stadium, expansion of the University of Utah Medical Center and has donated its services to build a Rose Park community center. Layton says that the company has experienced long-lasting success because it was built on a foundation of honesty and fairness. “My dad used to say, ‘Our word is our bond.’ We’ve brought that idea into the company today with the phrase ‘constructing with integrity.’ Our principles are to build with quality and integrity, have truth and honor in the way we deal with our customers and clients and have unity in the way we work as an organization.” Layton says that the company has also experienced success because it invests in its employees. “We invest heavily in our people. In the end, it’s really about people working with people to deliver a project.” Westminster College Michael Bassis, President 1875 Since its founding in 1875 as a preparatory school, Westminster College has evolved into an independent liberal arts college and is now considered to be one of Utah’s points of pride. “[Westminster] has grown into an institution that combines the best qualities of a small liberal arts college with the best qualities of a small university,” says Michael Bassis, president of Westminster College. Today, the school offers 37 undergraduate programs and 10 graduate programs — programs that have earned the school national acclaim from the likes of U.S. News & World Report and Princeton Review, among others. But times weren’t always so rosy for Westminster College. In 1929, a devastating fire destroyed 14,000 books in the school’s library. In the 1970s, Westminster College faced near financial ruin. And, until the 1980s, the school’s iconic building, Converse Hall, was painted Pepto-Bismol pink. “It looked like a pink submarine,” jokes Bassis. Since then, the school has received a major makeover, with new buildings and seven educational centers added and an expansion of its athletic program. “Our campus has really become something,” says Bassis. “But you need more than just the right look and feel to be a good school and that’s what makes us unique: we offer outstanding education.” Bassis says that what makes Westminster exceptional are the school’s strategic teaching guidelines. “We have a very single-minded focus on our students and their learning. Our faculty develops personal relationships with their students and our faculty cares about students as people,” he says. “In addition to the traditional subject matter, we teach subjects like critical thinking, ethical awareness, collaboration, integrative thinking and applied problem solving. Westminster emphasizes active and engaged learning. Our students learn through experience and collaboration.” While Bassis says that he’s enjoyed watching the school’s evolution, what he enjoys most is when students leave Westminster. “Students come into Westminster as shy and naïve individuals. When they graduate, they are self-confident individuals who have ideas about themselves and the world. I get the most joy out of watching them understand the contributions that they can make." Provo Orem Chamber of Commerce Steven Densley, President 1887 Established by a group of fruit farmers in 1887, the Provo Orem Chamber of Commerce is now helping Utah Valley become the Beehive State’s technology center, says Steve Densley, president of the Provo Orem Chamber of Commerce. “This valley, which was once full of farmers, has become more and more known as Silicon Valley,” he says. Since its beginning more than 100 years ago, the Provo Orem Chamber has witnessed dramatic changes in Utah County, Densley says. “Geneva Steel was a big part of the community. When it closed, we absorbed those jobs into the community, which was a challenge, but we did it,” he says. “Then Novell came and led the charge in information technology. It’s been interesting to see the community change.” Densley says that the proximity of Brigham Young University and Utah Valley State College makes the Provo/Orem area a young, vibrant community. He adds, however, that the area’s youthful population also poses challenges for the business community. “There are probably about 60,000 college-aged kids in Utah County, so businesses have to remember that we have a vast amount of turnover,” Densley says. “The extreme transient nature hurts us because the students don’t have a vested interest in our future, but it also helps because we have many highly talented young people with new ideas and the community remains vibrant and creative.” Because the area is full of creativity and innovation, Densley says that one of the chamber’s main goals is to help entrepreneurs turn their ideas into businesses. “We have so many people that want to own and run their own businesses,” he says. “We’re here to help people who are ready to go into business and to encourage those who aren’t really ready to wait.” All in all, Densley says that he’s encouraged by the area’s dynamic economic situation. “We’ve got a talented, young workforce with many who are multi-lingual. Our transportation system is growing, which will help businesses grow. We also have a high sense of educational value. Collectively, we’ve got tremendous potential,” Densley says. Gossner Foods Dolores Gossner Wheeler, President and CEO 1966 Edwin Gossner brought the art of Swiss cheese making straight from the Swiss Alps to the Rocky Mountains when he opened Gossner Foods, says Dolores Gossner Wheeler, Edwin’s daughter and current CEO and president of Gossner Foods. “[Gossner Foods] started out in the middle of the hay field and we’ve just continued to grow over the years,” says Wheeler. “We now have 250 to 300 farming families in Utah and Idaho that send milk to us.” Since opening in 1966, Gossner Foods has focused on producing Swiss cheese — a product that has a growing national reputation, Wheeler says. The company has since expanded its products to include more than 30 cheese varieties, including cheddar, Monterey Jack and Muenster. Beyond cheese, Gossner Foods is also well known for its milk product that can be kept un-refrigerated for months. This milk is popular in communities around the world where refrigeration is limited, and is also widely used in the U.S. Military. Gossner says that it’s a combination of vision and determination that has made Gossner Foods a long-lasting Utah company. “Our family, the farmers and our employees are all determined to put out the best product. It all comes down to being a great company that has great people,” she says. Gossner adds that if any company wants to reach success, it must invest in its employees. “We have employees who have been with us for years and have worked their way up the company. If you give your employees opportunities and a future, your company will have longevity and continue to grow,” she says. “Our people live the dream and the vision of Gossner Foods with us. We have longevity and that means that we’re here to stay.” Fabian & Clendenin Peter Billings, President 1919 A true American story is how Peter Billings describes law firm Fabian and Clendenin’s beginning in Utah. “Fabian and Clendenin was started by two soldiers [Harold Fabian and Beverly Clendenin] who met during World War I and decided to start a law firm. After they returned from the war, they put the firm together in 1919,” says Billings, current president of the firm. Fabian and Clendenin has played an integral role in shaping and protecting Utah’s environment, says Billings. “In the 1920s, the firm was hired secretly to buy up the land in what is now Teton National Park,” he says. “The firm also helped establish the state park system, Dead Horse Point and Sugar House Park. Fabian and Clendenin has a long history in preserving Utah’s environment and natural resources.” Today, the two-man firm has evolved to include more than 50 attorneys. Though the firm is made up of a diverse group of attorneys from across the United States, Billings says that what makes Fabian and Clendenin unique is its commitment to Utah-based values. “We compete with many national and regional firms and we always have Utah values at the heart of our business,” he says. “We look only at our local community rather than national.” Billings adds that Fabian and Clendenin has an underlying principle of service, which has led the firm to enduring success. “The standard for success for any law firm has got to be to provide good service,” he says. “Our organization has kept going because we’ve attracted people who genuinely like each other, work well together and share a common philosophy of service to the client.” MHTN Architects Bryce Jones, President and CEO 1923 If you can dream it, MHTN Architects can build it, says Bryce Jones, CEO and president of MHTN Architects. “We love to see an idea born, grow out of the ground and become real,” Jones says. “We listen to our clients, try to solve their problems and concerns, and make their visions turn into reality.” Established in 1923, MHTN Architects is one of Utah’s oldest architectural companies, with projects found throughout Utah, including the historic Saltair site and Deseret News building to the modern Main Street Plaza and Salt Palace Expansion. In recent years, MHTN Architects has experienced above average success, with doubled gross revenues, says Jones. The firm has also received numerous local and national awards, and is considered to be one of Utah’s top full service architectural companies. Jones says that the MHTN Architects’ longtime success is due to the company’s original philosophy to focus on effective communication with the customer. “MHTN Architects’ original founders were very sensitive to the needs of their clients and we feel the same way today,” Jones says. “We solve our client’s problems through communication. We think of ourselves as good listeners who will answer our clients’ needs.” As MHTN Architects moves into the future, Jones says that the firm hopes to continue building Utah. “The growth of the Wasatch Front has provided an opportunity for our firm to help with that growth and meet the demands of today’s clients,” he says. “We enjoy helping Utah grow.” Granite Mill W. Gary Sandberg, President and CEO 1907 Not many can travel from one end of Utah to the other and see a grandparent’s standing legacy. “There is work all over that was done by my grandfather and my father,” says W. Gary Sandberg, current CEO and president of Granite Mill. “[Granite Mill’s] legacy goes back 100 years and we plan to continue the legacy.” Granite Mill was founded by Swedish immigrant Fred R. Sandberg in 1907. Though its original focus was residential and church construction, Granite Mill’s reach eventually extended to schools, hospitals and hotels. Today, Granite Mill is a full service architectural firm with work found throughout Utah, including the Grand America Hotel, Abravanel Hall and the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Granite Mill’s work can also be seen around the world, as the company has worked on more than 20 LDS temples. Sandberg says that one of the main reasons Granite Mill has experienced success over the years is due to its employees. “We don’t just build cabinets, we build people,” Sandberg says. “Our people are honest, skillful and have integrity. Our employees that are with us and want to be with us will have jobs for life. Our average employee has been with us over 18 years.” As for the future of Granite Mill, Sandberg says he’s going to take one day at a time. “Every day is a new day, with new equipment, machinery, market changes and, of course, there are always ups and downs. By building on the solid foundation that we have, we’re prepared to face any future challenges.” Sandberg says that what keeps him excited about the company is the knowledge that he’s building a legacy for future generations. “We create something that our employees can show their children and grandchildren,” he says, adding, “My grandfather used to say in a broken Swedish accent, ‘We don’t do all the mill work around, we just do the best.’ Today, we still live by that notion — we don’t expect to do it all, but everything we do is the very best mill work. Granite Mill was built on a legacy of integrity, service and quality. We hope to carry on the tradition.” Les Olson Company Larry Olson, President and Co-CEO Jim Olson, Co-CEO 1956 Maintaining a family-centered philosophy is what makes the Les Olson Company successful, say brothers Larry and Jim Olson. “Everyone is family,” says Larry Olson, current CEO and president of the Les Olson Company. “We’re a family business and all of our employees are family.” The Les Olson Company was established in 1956 with little more than a dream. “We all remember the night our dad came home and told Mom he had quit his job,” says Olson. “He was no longer going to work for someone else. All 12 of us kids broke open our piggy banks and invested our money – a total of $63. The family business was formed and Dad began selling out of the trunk of the family car.” More than 50 years later, the Les Olson Company has grown to be one of the nation’s largest independent dealers of Sharp multifunctional digital systems and employs more than 200 people across Utah and Nevada. Olson says the company is unique because it follows old-fashion customer service standards. “We provide the highest quality, state-of-the-art business equipment at the fairest prices possible backed by superior service and support. As we strive to accomplish this mission, we remember that our father always said, ‘People are important.’ We do our best to treat everyone with respect,” he says. Along the same line, the brothers agree that also key to the company’s success is remembering that the customer is always right. “From the beginning, Dad focused his efforts on customer service, continually reminding us that he was not our boss, the customer was. Dad always said, ‘Anyone can sell a machine, but if you can’t provide service you’re out of business.’ We strive each day to provide the best service possible to all of our customers. “We continually strive to follow the principles and practices established by our parents to keep the business strong,” Olson adds. “Family values are always at the heart of who we are. We strive to be honest and fair in all our dealings with our customers.”
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