Utah is defined and shaped by its entrepreneurial culture. It’s what fuels the state’s legendary sales force, underlies our vibrant network marketing industry and launches a multitude of new ambitious ventures each year. The annual EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® program celebrates and ignites this entrepreneurial culture by honoring the people taking risks, making tough decisions and pinpointing opportunities in order to launch and grow their businesses. The following pages are filled with the inspiring stories of these entrepreneurs who are fueling Utah’s future.
With 40 years of experience as a board-certified optician in private practice, Joseph Carbone was all too familiar with the huge need for eye care for underserved children. And he decided to do something about it, leaving his private practice behind to launch Eye Care 4 Kids, a nonprofit organization that brings eye care services to children whose families can’t afford it.
About one in four children need some kind of corrective eyewear, he says. But the need skyrockets for economically challenged communities, where 30 – 50 percent of children go without necessary professional eye care services. The implications of that are tremendous, says Carbone. “If a child can’t see, he can’t read, if he can’t read, he can’t learn, and if he can’t learn, he’s going to get in trouble”
Fifteen years after the launch of Eye Care 4 Kids, the organization has provided more than 100,000 kids with professional eye exams, vision screenings and, if needed, “new, really cool eye glasses.”
The nonprofit now has a presence in five states including a family clinic, laboratory, school-based clinics, other community-based clinics and even mobile clinics. “Not only do the kids need the services, but we need to take the services to the kids,” explains Carbone.
“I would like to see an Eye Care 4 Kids in every major city across the United States. This is America. There is no reason a child should go years without an eye examination, without professional eye care, without a silly pair of glasses.”
Glenn Hileman knows what it means to be in a tight spot.
Highmark School Development had lost its funding from lenders and was threatening to go under. Instead of accepting defeat, Hileman dug in.
“I knew the resources were out there, and if I could just get the capital resources aligned, that this would be something that was viable and had great promise. The vision of delivering on a much bigger scale is still what drives me,” he says. “We are making a difference in the lives of families and the kids who are attending our schools.”
At any given time, around 30,000 students are attending Highmark-developed charter schools. Hileman says the company’s focus is on helping provide educators with a facility where they can do their most effective teaching and keep on a budget the school can afford. The company can also develop specialty schools, such as STEM- or performing arts-centered facilities. Hileman says being able to help schools do their job better makes his job fulfilling.
“I’ve worked in a lot of different areas in my life and my career, but it’s rare that you get an opportunity to walk in and see children being educated and see the excitement that occurs when it’s done right. Knowing the things that we do—whether it’s finance or construction or design—has an impact on those kids really is meaningful,” he says.
“The clearer the vision, the more likely the outcome. If I get discouraged, which I do, I stay focused on the outcome and I don’t let the issues slow me down. I work on solutions and continue to remind myself why it is that I’m beating my head against a wall until we come up with the solution that’s necessary to address the problem.”
President & CEO, Millcreek Engineering Company
Millcreek Engineering is a heavy industry engineering and design firm. “We develop the plants that build the raw materials that build all the things you use in your daily lives,” says founder Rick Hoggan. The company helps design plants that process and generate precious metals, fertilizers, rare-earth elements and more.
For example, one current project involves lithium. “We take geothermal brine and generate power from the heat, and then we strip out pure lithium. This is a huge driver for the battery of the future, for electric cars,” says Hoggan.
The challenge for Millcreek Engineering is to develop these plants to include innovative processes that are environmentally sensitive and energy efficient. “No project’s the same. It’s not cookie cutter,” he says. “It’s custom design, it’s unique challenges, it’s chemistry, it’s engineering, and we have the best team in the world to do that.”
In fact, the company, which was founded in 1997, has recently broadened its scope with projects in Central and South America, Europe and Asia. “My biggest challenge is to see where Millcreek needs to be positioned, so we look at the industries that are on the rise and then we position ourselves to be in those industries,” says Hoggan.
President & CEO, Shamrock Plumbing
Kevin Flannery created Shamrock Plumbing after working for $10 an hour and realizing it wasn’t enough. “[I had] no benefits at home, no insurance, no holidays, no vacation. You can’t raise six kids on $10 an hour,” says Flannery. “So I had to do something different, and necessity is the mother of invention, so I started Shamrock. And lo and behold, here we are.”
Flannery has never forgotten the circumstances from which he started Shamrock. He and his co-founders believe in “doing things right, doing the right thing and for the right reasons,” says Flannery, and he still carries a sense of responsibility for his now nearly 130 employees.
“I’m always concerned about job security for my employees. I really do love the people that work for me. I think they feel the same way,” he says. “We hang out with them. We go hunting. Everything I do is based around this company—the company is my life, and I can’t put a dollar value on my life. It’s the people. That’s the whole thing.”
Flannery is also the president and co-founder of the Mayan Miracle Foundation and has traveled to the Yucatan Peninsula over 125 times to give aid to families in remote villages.
In Steven Richards’ past career as a lawyer, he noticed that offices would often adopt the personality of the person at the top. That insight into office culture helped him create a productive one of his own when he founded Lindon-based BetterBody Foods and Nutrition.
“I would like to think our culture [is] hardworking, where there’s a sense of honesty and trust, where we enjoy one another’s company, where we’re compassionate in our times of need, because we all go through rough times. That’s the kind of culture I’d like to establish,” he says.
Over the last several years, Richards, also the company’s president and CEO, has tried to build up BetterBody with quality nutritional products with mass appeal, and a workforce of the right people to develop and sell them. Diversity in skill sets, personalities and temperaments can be good for business, he says, as long as management does its job of facilitating, not inhibiting, employees.
“They’re within the confines of the same organization, but at the end of the day, they’re a little different; everybody succeeds in a little bit different environment,” he says. “Give them flexibility so they can be the best that they can be, and then make sure you aren’t doing things to inhibit their growth and their success or that actually demotivates them.”
“The hardest thing and the best thing about business is people, relationships and seeing that growth and development and that excitement that can be created.”
Co-founder & CEO, IdealShape
David Meine is a serial entrepreneur who has launched, grown and sold more than a dozen companies. The key to being a successful entrepreneur, he says, is to solve a problem—and that’s what he set out to do with IdealShape, a company that provides meal replacement products for those trying to lose weight. “I know that what I’m doing right now is going to affect someone’s life and is going to improve their life,” says Meine.
IdealShape markets entirely via the internet. This allows the company to control its message and complement its products with information and fitness plans. Meine says the products must taste great and work well in order to keep customers coming back. The company must be doing something right—it clocked a 300 percent growth rate and has jumped from 18 to nearly 100 employees within a year.
Growth in sales has gone hand-in-hand with product development. Meine explains that customers quickly tire of flavors, so IdealShape regularly retires flavors and introduces new ones. The company has also introduced new fitness and educational products, as well as a new probiotic offering. “We’re just constantly developing these products, and that’s what’s going to take us to a $1 billion company,” he says.
CEO, Wise Company, Inc.
Pace setter. That’s how Aaron Jackson, president and CEO of freeze-dried and dehydrated food products supplier Wise Company, Inc., describes himself.
“I come from a humble beginning. I have this drive that exists in me to accomplish things that my family hasn’t and to provide things for my family. I’m also a pace setter,” says Jackson. “I have a tremendous amount of drive and that’s how I’ve led here at Wise.”
Leading Wise, now a leading supplier in its market, has been both Jackson’s profession and passion for the past three years. He was previously with Tyson Foods and MOM Brands, and building on those experiences has allowed Jackson to create an innovative, inclusive culture at Wise while expanding the company’s reach.
“I love coming in every day, knowing that there are going to be problems to solve, but also be incredible opportunities for our organization. Leading those efforts has been very rewarding for me, personally,” Jackson says. “We really are an organization that is entrepreneurial with a framework of discipline… I think that professionally, the biggest achievement I’ve had is the success that I’ve had growing businesses in very difficult markets.”
Consumer Distribution & Manufacturing
Jeremy Andrus considers himself a “consumer products guy.” After his success at headphone and speaker company Skullcandy, Andrus found himself a new niche as the CEO of a 30-year-old brand, Traeger Grills. He’s vocal about the process of having to re-invigorate the company and reinvent the brand, but he says that all has been an exhilarating and challenging process.
“Building a business, it gives me energy that I can’t even describe. It’s what gets me excited Sunday night about getting in Monday morning,” says Andrus. Under his leadership, Traeger grew nearly 30 percent in 2015, moved its headquarters to Utah, and is innovating, adding a Wi-Fi enabled grill to its lineup this fall.
Andrus says he’s loved the opportunity and the ability leading a company like Traeger has afforded him to influence the lives of his employees.
“What I really love about a growing business is the culture and how it influences the people,” says Andrus. “You can spend a lot of time thinking about strategy and product and supply chain, but to me, the real lasting legacy is building a culture that really makes people say, ‘This is really the greatest career experience that I could have.’”
“I’m a big believer that the way that you scale a business and make it great is by creating a set of cultural values that [everyone] buy[s] into. And then they make decisions based on those cultural values, not by what someone tells them. They don’t need to ask a question. They know what we stand for.”
President & CEO, MityLite
When John Dudash joined MityLite in 2010, he says it was known in the industry as a table company. But Dudash saw an opportunity to help Mity grow with new products, new channels and new markets.
“The largest obstacle that Mity Incorporated had was the belief in its own potential,” he says. “We had great people, we had a great opportunity to grow the business, and I don’t think the business saw it that way. And once I was able to convince key leadership and the constituency as a whole that we could be more than we were, everything fell into place.”
Now Mity is known as a full-service, banquet room and meeting room supplier of furniture. In addition to tables, the company offers banquet chairs, dance floors, lounge chairs and task chairs. On top of that, Mity has a team of designers that can work with customers to create a 100 percent custom product that will best suit their needs. “Just making and selling chairs wasn’t the objective,” explains Dudash. “The objective was to create a customer experience around our products … the subliminal benefit of that was we could then be categorized and our image and our definition would expand beyond just a table company.”
Ann Dalton, CEO
Andrew McBride, President
Ann Dalton and Andrew McBride are a team. As complementary parts of their company, Perfectly Posh, each brings their own expertise to the brand. Dalton, whose background is in design, is passionate about keeping the brand fun and fresh while still maintaining a high quality of product.
“We’re very transparent about the ingredients we use, the things we put in our products, the things that we make available,” says Dalton. “People feel very safe using them and they’re a great and wonderful experience… We look forward to staying on trend, to doing all sorts of fun and exciting things in the skincare space.”
McBride brings a background in finance and analytics, and he laughs that Perfectly Posh was not what he would have expected as the business he would have a hand in leading.
“I don’t know if I saw myself in a pampering company with pink and polka dots, for sure. I knew I wanted to be somewhere where my passion aligned with my purpose in life. What I love about this brand is working with those individuals—whether it’s the pampering purpose for the customer or it’s the life-changing experiences that our sales consultants have as they take their personal goals and use their interaction with our companies to achieve those goals,” says McBride. “Everything I could have possibly dreamed of is working with those people every day and being inspired by their stories.”
Residential & Commercial Services
Over the last few years, Utah-based CBC Advisors has grown tremendously, blossoming from a regional commercial real estate firm to one that holds its own coast to coast—but has taken care to preserve its entrepreneurial spirit. Brandon Fugal, chairman of CBC Advisors, says part of that recent growth and success comes from the firm’s focus on forming relationships with clients to be better able to help them find just what they need.
“Our focus is not transitional in nature; we focus on relationships. We’ve always viewed ourselves and our professionals as trusted advisors to the captains of industry, to business leaders,” he says.
The firm also has embraced big data and what impact that information can make for them and their clients, he says. CBC Advisors has the largest research and data division in the state and encourages agents to develop their own proprietary research for their clients’ benefit, he says.
“Being able to wield that proprietary intelligence in order to help our clients anticipate future challenges and swings in the market, and really identify opportunities that no one else is really seeing right now, really sets us apart and gives our clients a competitive edge,” Fugal says.
Fugal’s goal is to change the face of the commercial real estate industry and expand the platforms and methods that work so well for CBC Advisors internationally in the future.
“Our culture, our office dynamic is so different—polar opposite by design from the rest of the market—and I think that is why we’re seeing so much success. I think that is why we’re seeing such great national expansion taking place. It’s really resonating with people, regardless of what market you’re in or what your background is. There are principles that are true, that are timeless, when it comes to business.”
Founder and CEO, Edge Pest Control
What gives Edge its edge is its attention to detail and quality, says founder and CEO Andrew Richardson.
“We’ve developed our own proprietary software that helps us actually pay attention to detail. When you’ve got 100 technicians on the road, to get consistency across the board you have to have software that enables you to be consistent and pay attention to detail,” he says.
That software has been helpful as the pest control and lawn care company has grown to ensure that the workers are delivering a service the company can stand by in Utah and in its seven other offices across the country.
“At the beginning, you touch everything—as the founder, you touch everything, you’re in control of everything, and as you grow, you can’t. So then to have your people do the same thing you would do if you were there, I think, is very, very difficult,” he says.
Richardson says maintaining the same kind of oversight and quality control on the company as it has grown has been a challenge, but the software and ample training have helped fill in any gaps. As the company continues to grow, Richardson says, “The sky’s the limit in this situation.”
Co-founders & Co-owners
When Shaun Alldredge and Shane Perkins launched Legend Solar, they had a tough row to hoe. Utah is considered unfriendly for solar—the state was given a D score by Solar Power Rocks due to legislative policy, a lack of property and sales tax exemptions and other factors. But the two entrepreneurs blazed new paths for solar in Utah, educating legislators, city planners, homeowners associations and others about the industry.
“We had to dust off net-metering agreements with small power companies, help them understand how solar worked and the changes that the industry itself had evolved to … so pioneering was really the key to getting through the barrier of the state being a D-rated state,” says Perkins.
Now Legend Solar is in aggressive expansion mode. The company’s revenue increased by 400 percent in 2015, and now Alldredge and Perkins are eyeing expansion into other states.
A serious focus on quality it what separates Legend Solar from other companies, says Alldredge. The company provides a 10-year support warrantee on top of the manufacturer’s 25-year warrantee. In addition to that, Legend Solar guarantees the energy production of its systems. “We will literally write a check to a customer at the end of the year if they haven’t gotten the production we told them they’d get,” says Alldredge.
Retail & Consumer Products
Mike McEwan launched Jane.com while working a full-time job. Each day after work, he’d put in another five or six hours building Jane.com. The pivotal turning point was when he made the decision to quit his job so he could devote 100 percent of his effort to the company. “Giving it its full attention and jumping in with both feet was probably the point where we said, OK, we’re really doing this,” he says. “It was really exciting to me that we’d made it to a point where I felt comfortable paying myself a salary and being able to take care of my family.”
However, McEwan says Jane.com is not a lifestyle company. He plans to grow it beyond its local roots into a national brand. “The long-term vision and goal is we want to be a household name,” he says. The daily deals site already features 1,800 sellers with thousands of products. McEwan says surprise is the unique element that draws in customers, with the site posting about 250 new deals every day. “We try to focus on meeting customers’ needs right now, and listening to them and understanding what they need in a shopping experience and products that they’d like to see on Jane.com.”
President & CEO, BGZ Brands
Anyone in the mobile device business knows that being in the industry means having to adapt to rules that sometimes change overnight.
The same holds true for BGZ Brands, which has been making accessories to protect mobile devices for almost 15 years. Although BGZ Brands—then BodyGuardz—was started in 2002, its industry changed with the introduction of the iPhone in 2006. The developments since have made it tough to keep up, says Kirk Feller, company president and CEO, but also exciting.
“Those challenges move us to the next level. We look to innovation as the driver for our company,” Feller says.
BGZ Brands was started from Fuller’s basement and funded from savings. To distinguish itself from companies that could make higher volumes of cheaper products, BGZ Brands started selling higher-quality products in smaller volumes, which was attractive to resellers that didn’t want to warehouse hundreds or thousands of extra units. The company’s humble beginnings and focus on quality have also attracted large partners, including Dell and AT&T.
“This is a world economy now—you can’t just do something in our little Draper now; you can affect the whole world,” Feller says. “There’s literally nothing you can’t accomplish.”
CEO, Young Automotive Group
As the third-generation leader of a 91-year-old company, Spencer Young has learned a lot about how to best steer a business. He has weathered tremendous challenges in his career—only 2 percent of third-generation businesses succeed, he says—and has led Young Automotive Group to tremendous success, as well as prepped the next generation to take over when he steps down.
The main points Young stresses in business leadership are simple: hire smart, develop your people and invest in your relationships. “The relationships with people, internally [as well as] the relationship with sponsors, with manufacturers, with our bankers, with everybody, are critical to business,” he says. “People and relationships, I think, are probably the most critical things.”
Young is also an avid world traveler and mountain climber. Even in his hobbies, he sees potential to draw lessons for business. “It gives you a new perspective at those altitudes—how big the mountain is. The elevations can be deadly if you don’t acclimate properly. I have said to many of my people that in a career, you have to acclimate properly,” he says. “If you don’t grow slowly and strategically and with the right people, it could kill you. It could wipe your business out.”
There are plenty of companies selling digital certificates to websites. Where DigiCert stands out is its focus on helping customers beyond that sale—from obtaining a certificate and its installation to monitoring it and fixing any hiccups. “We help them control the entire certificate life cycle, not just purchasing the certificate,” says DigiCert CEO Nicholas Hales.
That priority on service is true of DigiCert’s entire philosophy, Hales says, through every department and every employee.
“A lot of people look at customer service as strictly a number you call and someone answers the phone. That is customer service. A lot of companies look at it as a necessary evil,” he says. “We try to take the principles of the brick-and-mortar world in sales and marketing and bring them to the internet, where the customer is king, and try to treat the customer as someone you’re providing the service to, not solving a problem for. So it’s not just the guy who answers the phone for support. It’s not just a guy who answers an email or a message. It’s more than that: Every department within the company needs to be customer-centric and worry about what that customer experience is.”
“One of the keys to success is surrounding yourself with people who are brighter than you, who have knowledge in areas you don’t have.”
President & CEO, Connexion Point
The Affordable Care Act’s passage in 2012 did many things—most of them topics that are hotly debated in political spheres. But the way it has given the consumer a place at the healthcare table, once reserved only for hospitals, clinics and insurance companies, has transformed the industry—and given Connexion Point room to grow.
“We’ve grown so fast—over the past three years, we’ve grown over 77 percent every year,” says Robert McMichael, president and CEO of Connexion Point.
With such explosive growth, McMichael says it’s important to pay attention to company culture, and make sure it doesn’t get lost in the sea of new employees and bigger budgets. The complexity the act has brought allows Connexion Point to use big data and other means to help everyone at the table understand the process better and help it run more smoothly. McMichael says being able to tackle these problems is one of the best parts about entrepreneurship.
“As an entrepreneur, you have the opportunity to look at real-world problems and actually implement them, find real-world solutions and have the opportunity in real time to develop a solution and implement it and not run through the entire bureaucratic process of a large company.”
Building a better company, both for employees and customers, is based in understanding: understanding what your customer wants, what your employees need—and making sure you provide it. That’s the philosophy that company co-founders Ryan McCoy and Ryan Williams bring to Partner Fusion, whether it’s creating a healthy, engaging corporate culture for those who work at the company or finding out what makes the best customer service experience .
“We test our way into everything. We like to go in and just see how the consumer wants to transact. Do they want to use a certain device? Do they want to call by phone? We try not to make assumptions and let the data dictate what the market really wants, and then we adjust accordingly,” says Williams.
Engagement at work, at home, and in projects, says McCoy, is what keeps him motivated and passionate—and he wants to make sure that all of Partner Fusion’s employees have the same opportunities for engagement.
“Work/life balance means different things to different people. We are not trying to define what that needs to mean to each employee,” adds McCoy. “… We’re flexible with work arrangements. We want people to feel comfortable at work. People enjoy who they work with, they enjoy the environment they’re working in, and they enjoy and are engaged in the products they’re working on.”
Nearly two years ago, Carine Clark faced a big challenge: fusing a fast-growing, young tech company with an established, strongly academic research firm. MartizCX was the result of the fusion of Utah-born Allegiance with Maritz Market Research. Now, the company offers customer experience (CX) programs and services to companies in every industry. “We help them do a better job of taking care of customers, and help them understand how customers think, feel, and what they say,” says Clark.
Clark says the company is working to stay on the cutting edge of CX technology and trends with services like predictive analytics, which enable clients to apply survey data to their entire customer base.
“Since we’re an innovative technology company, we’re always looking for ‘how can we capture the imagination of our customers and how can we do a better job?’” she says. “No one really does what we do.”
The marriage of Allegiance with Maritz offered an opportunity for the company to reevaluate and reengineer its culture. Clark says she wanted to build a company that not only attracted top talent, but kept them happy and engaged. “Because the best people have options. They can work anywhere they want,” she says. “We changed everything: the dress code, the vacation policy, the benefits, how we talk to our employees, how we deal with problems, how we escalate issues, how we develop—everything really was thoughtful.”
“I love that I get to have a startup mentality in a company that has some scale. Because it’s so exciting to build, and it’s so exciting to grow, but it’s also exciting to have some resources so that we can be growing into new countries and into new markets, and to really push some of the new technologies. I want to stay ahead of everyone for a long time.”
Co-founder & CEO, Lucid Software
Karl Sun was a veteran of Google—he started the tech giant’s China office and then led business development there. He also created Google’s patent department and established its patent strategy. But he saw the seeds of something great in the charting application that had been developed by Lucid Software CTO Ben Dilts, and he joined the company to help it fulfill a greater vision.
Lucid Software’s applications enable people to organize information and ideas in a visual way. “You can take pretty complicated ideas and lay them out in a way that you can see, and so you can understand—whether it’s an idea or a process, or whether you’re going through a training program—you can lay all that out in a way that people can understand the complicated information quickly, at a glance,” says Sun.
The company’s flagship products—Lucidchart and Lucidpress—are used by more than six million people. And the company itself has grown from one to more than 100 employees since 2010. Sun says his goals are to continue increasing Lucid Software’s user base and to expand its offering with new products, features and functionality.
Founder & CEO, MX
Ryan Caldwell, founder and CEO of MX, is energized by building things. Whether it’s the door he recently built for his home or nurturing a company like MX, the creation of new things is what motivates him.
“Creating is something that is exhilarating, and some of the most beautiful forms of creating are building organizations and companies that can, at scale, have impact. I also experience a huge amount of joy from just building something—the ideation and the fabrication of a material object,” says Caldwell.
In creating MX, a company that helps individuals understand and manage their finances, Caldwell says that much of that creative power went into molding a company culture that is “pure and productive.” He adds that company culture shouldn’t just be about the company’s bottom line—he also wants to hire people who have a sense of perspective and a desire to give back.
“I’ve been asked in countless interviews ‘what’s your advantage?’” says Caldwell. “It always comes back to the people. … Every single different aspect of our company is driven by this great talented people who believe in the mission, who believe in having the impact that they want to have.”