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2004 Best Bosses Randy Cohen

2004 Best Bosses Randy Cohen

Winning Workplaces' Best Bosses 2004 Distinguished Finalists

Stephen Adele, President, iSatori Global Technologies, Golden, Colorado
Steve Adele has bootstrapped iSatori, a three-year-old marketer and distributor of dietary performance-based supplements, with the goal of being an ethical, research-based provider of nutritional supplements. The 12-employee firm is growing rapidly and building a broad geographic market through its Web-based sales. From the beginning, Steve has worked to utilize current management tools, and he has attracted a loyal employee base that the firm invests heavily in developing further. Along with aggressive growth goals, the firm has a clearly articulated code of ethics that employees take pride in. Their efforts are rewarded tangibly through profit sharing and intangibly through a strong sense of teamwork and a family-friendly work environment.

Randy Cohen, CEO, Ticketcity.com, Austin, Texas
Ticketcity.com is a 14-year-old company that sells tickets to concerts, theater and sporting events. CEO Randy Cohen stresses open communication in the workplace and devotes considerable time to coaching his managers on how to address employee concerns. Senior managers follow a model that Cohen calls “LAER”: Listen to what employees say, Acknowledge their remarks by repeating it back, Explore their comments with follow-up questions, and Respond accordingly to their concerns. The company has grown from $8 million in sales in 1999 to more than $14 million in 2003. In addition the company successfully acquired and integrated another ticket brokerage into their operation, engaging employees in the decision to purchase Soldout.com in 1999.

Cynthia Driskill, President and CEO, CDG & Associates, Carrollton, Texas
In the 17 years since Cynthia Driskill founded CDG & Associates, a Human Resources Information Systems consulting firm, she has seen the marketplace for HRIS support expand dramatically and contract even more quickly. The company has sustained itself with a current base of 30 employees by creating a learning organization and focusing on a mission of self actualization through servant leadership. To support this mission, the company has adopted open-book management, sharing all financial data with employees, and has created an employee stock ownership plan. Knowing that client satisfaction and return are key to success, and that consultants’ job satisfaction is tied to client relationships, the firm has adopted an employee “Passion Survey” to measure employee satisfaction and established clear goals to increase employee “passion” for their work. This is a distinct challenge since the company is largely virtual with consultants working 100 percent at client sites.

Sandra S. Fekete, CEO, Fekete + Company, Columbus, Ohio
Fekete + Company, a nine-person, 21-year-old marketing communications business, learned the importance of a strong culture and sound leadership by nearly losing what they had built together. In 2000, Sandra Fekete was approached by a larger agency to sell the firm and did so, only to watch it go under. Rallying as an intact team, they recreated Fekete+Company, and within a year had regained the momentum they had prior to the sale. They also retained all of their clients. Fekete+Company’s employees are experienced professionals who are attracted to the firm because it provides strong work/life balance. Flexibility and trust that all will do their jobs are hallmarks for the organization. Sandra Fekete’s goal is to help the staff fulfill their potential, and she makes it her business to know her employees’ professional goals. They measure productivity, keeping their metrics simple and easy to capture. Fekete says they are proud to have created a company that has “soul.”

Nathan Fineberg, President and CEO, Interface Software, Oak Brook, Illinois
In an economy in which investment in software has been deferred or rejected altogether, Nate Fineberg has kept Interface Software, a 109-employee developer of customer relationship management for professional services organizations, growing and profitable. While a superior product and exemplary customer relationships are drivers of success, both of these rely upon an able and engaged workforce. To keep employees energized and their attention on their work, Interface has developed a specific “employee life” role that coordinates programs that range from work-related support services and volunteerism opportunities to employee-run peer recognition programs. Employees actively participate in the business through firm-wide meetings, employee-stock ownership and shared financials. A “no-jerk” policy, which insists workers treat each other with respect, assures that employees enjoy strong peer relationships.

Carolyn Gable, President/CEO, New Age Transportation, Lake Zurich, Illinois
New Age Transportation is a 15-year-old, third-party logistics company. CEO Carolyn Gable, a former waitress and the single mother of five children, started the organization out of her home. Today New Age Transportation is a $25-million company. The organization has averaged 37 percent growth over the last five years and has worked with such high-profile clients as AOL Time Warner and Charter Communications. Gable has fostered an environment where employees, particularly those with children, can focus on their jobs while still maintaining a healthy work/life balance. Their offices include an onsite playroom where working parents can bring their children, a “quiet room” where employees can take a break and recharge, and a deck with a grill where the staff can get together for barbecues on warm days. Gable also encourages her staff to take care of themselves outside of the office by paying for health club memberships and offering employees $250 per quarter for up to a year to quit smoking.

Joseph R. Krusinski, CEO, Krusinski Construction Company, Oak Brook, Illinois
Joseph Krusinski founded Krusinski Construction Company 31 years ago, and it has grown to employ 45 full-time employees. Today, it generates more than $35 million in revenues annually. The economic rollercoaster of the last few years has led the firm to employ new management approaches, such as involving employees in a strategic planning process, and seeking employee suggestions for cost-saving ideas, sales leads and productivity improvements. The firm has also initiated a client-satisfaction survey, a new safety program, and common access to information technology tools. There has always been a sense of family among the company’s employees, and family members are active in the business; Joe’s brother Jerry became President and COO early in 2004. Further, the firm’s commitment to employees was demonstrated in the most recent recession when despite declining revenues, there were no layoffs of permanent employees.

Jeff Medeiros, President, rs-unix.com, San Francisco, California
San Francisco-based rs-unix.com is an eight-year-old information technology consulting firm that provides IBM solutions to businesses. Jeff Medeiros has placed an emphasis on building teams and rewarding them for customer satisfaction. The company uses an innovative software program called the IT Change Control Database to solicit feedback on issues affecting productivity. Requests are prioritized according to impact and cost to the company and reviewed weekly by the operations manager. The system has allowed the company to address problems quickly and efficiently, raising both productivity and employee morale. The firm’s emphasis on teamwork, communication and customer satisfaction has helped it weather the recent downturn in the IT market. Last year, the company posted one of its best years ever with 51 percent sales growth.

Marco Monsalve, President and CEO, McManis & Monsalve Associates, Manassas, Virginia
Marco Monsalve acquired McManis and Monsalve in 2000, and in four years the management consulting firm that works with both government and business has grown from five to 23 employees with virtually no employee turnover. In addition, it has grown its revenues 370 percent. Employees are actively involved in making key decisions, such as an office relocation in which all participated in a series of exercises designed to optimize both business processes and geographic location. The outcome was that the firm moved to a “virtual” shared space arrangement with all employees being supported to establish home offices, resulting in a 30-percent cost reduction. The firm emphasizes employee training, provides quarterly reviews of all employees, and assigns each employee a mentor. Communication is assured by quarterly staff meetings and an annual business meeting.

Jeff Morris, President, Alexis Fire Equipment Company, Alexis, Illinois
Alexis Fire Equipment Company is a 59-year-old builder of customized fire trucks. Jeff Morris has focused the energy of this family business on quality and customer satisfaction. Employees at Alexis Fire Equipment Company take pride in their work and Morris recognizes their contributions: Anyone whose craftsmanship was instrumental in building a piece of equipment are listed on a tag placed inside the door of the vehicle. More importantly, employees are confident that their work is valued: There is no union in this ISO 9001-certified operation, and the staff has opted for a performance-based pay plan. Jeff has led the organization into the global economy, consistently growing revenue and doubling the staff over the last five years with limited turnover.

John Nicholson, Principal, Botanicals, Inc., Chicago, Illinois
Botanicals, Inc. is a 17-person, special-event floral design firm that has wed aesthetic flair with sound business principles to grow significantly in recent years. John Nicholson intuitively understood the importance of developing a meaningful and compelling ethic and set of company values from the start. By adding the discipline of clear business goals and developing strong sales and marketing expertise, he has moved the organization to a new level of success. Through it all, employees have remained loyal: Turnover is less than 6 percent, largely because employees are hired less for their skill set than for their potential and desire to learn the business. Nicholson then invests in training employees in the Botanicals ethic with an emphasis on customer service values.

Valerie W. Perlowitz, President and CEO, Reliable Integration Services, Inc., Vienna, Virginia
Reliable Integration Services is a 16-year-old systems integration company. Valerie Perlowitz works from a philosophy that “no failure is intolerable, but errors are to be used to learn.” The company provides employees with upward of 80 hours per year of training for each employee and empowers them to make decisions. An employee forum that they call the “Site Lead Council” allows workers, including those who are generally offsite, to voice concerns about the workplace to senior management. Reliable’s emphasis on employee development and communication has helped improve business performance. The firm has experienced 30 percent sales growth per year over the last five years in a struggling IT market.

Eric Plantenberg, President, Freedom Speakers and Trainers, Madison, Wisconsin
Freedom Speakers & Trainers, a firm that specializes in training and motivational speeches, has logged an annual sales growth of 23.4 percent during a period in which training budgets are being cut. What’s more, its staff has expanded from six in 2001 to 27 today. Eric Plantenberg has developed a performance-driven and principle-based firm that is also somewhat virtual, with fewer than half of the employees working out of the organization’s headquarters. To stay connected, they hold weekly teleconferences and quarterly two-day retreats. Each employee has clarity concerning job function and goals, and Eric, as the visionary and primary motivator, keeps a steady eye on moving the business forward.

Satish Sachev, President, Klein and Hoffman, Inc., Chicago, Illinois
Klein and Hoffman is a 50-year-old, 77-employee consulting engineering firm that has both grown its revenues and retained its employees through the most recent recession. Satish Sachev leads the second-generation of officers of the firm, and he was instrumental in the transition from ownership by the founders (Frank Klein and Ed Hoffman) to a shared-ownership group with seven officers. Among his priorities has been creating new means of gaining employee input into the key decisions of the firm and providing employees with both career-development and financial incentives to assure a stable and motivated workforce.

Jai Shekhawat, CEO and Co-Founder, Fieldglass, Inc., Chicago, Illinois
In just four years Fieldglass has become a leader among providers of technology and solutions for services procurement. The quickly-growing, 70-employee firm has retained both employees and customers, making it one of the most stable workforces in the services procurement space, and its products are gaining visibility in the industry. Jai Shekhawat has built a culture designed to attract and retain talented knowledge workers, one that stresses self-determination, output, creative problem solving, motivation and high achievement. The firm focuses on employee development and satisfaction, providing certification training in the company’s primary application and regular performance discussions, and it encourages employee initiative and problem solving. Jai appeals to employees’ entrepreneurial spirit and desire for meaningful work. He encourages an environment of collective opportunity (all employees are shareholders) and open communication (the company’s’ financial results are shared openly). Employees respond with initiative and a high level of trust in Jai’s leadership.

David Silverstein, President and CEO, Breakthrough Management Group, Longmont, Colorado
Breakthrough Management Group is a five-year-old, 84-employee Six Sigma training and consulting group with an average annual growth rate that approaches 100 percent. David Silverstein has led this growth with minimal turnover by focusing on his employees. Unlike many of his competitors, he hires full-time, permanent consultants rather than contract workers, limits their travel to 60 percent rather than the industry norm of 90 percent, provides continuous training, involves remote employees in the business, and engages the staff in growing the business. These practices have led to building stable relationships with clients and continually developing innovative products and services, which have resulted in Breakthrough being deemed the “world’s fastest growing Six Sigma training and consulting firm.”

Margie Traylor, Founding Manager, Sitewire Marketspace Solutions LLC, Tempe, Arizona
Sitewire is a five-year-old e-marketing consulting firm. Co-founder Margie Traylor provides her staff with opportunities to grow with the organization. She works with her people to continually asses where employees’ skills will be best utilized and fills the majority of high-level positions from within. As a result, the company has experienced only one instance of voluntary turnover in its entire history. The firm has grown at an impressive rate from its inception and has tripled monthly revenue since the beginning of 2003.

Bruce Turkel, CEO/Executive Creative Director, Turkel, Coconut Grove, Florida
Turkel is a 20-year-old advertising and brand management agency. The firm is one of the few remaining independent-owned advertising agencies in the Southeast. Bruce Turkel’s company has managed to remain competitive in this rapidly consolidating industry by emphasizing teamwork and open communication. The agency has a flat structure that leverages the creativity of the entire staff. Through the organization’s intranet and scheduling system, any employee can stop a job or voice a concern on a project at any time. As a result, Turkel is able to address small problems before they get out of hand and ensure quality work for their clients. Currently, the agency is averaging $7 million of revenue per employee, a figure almost unheard of in the advertising industry.

Dawn M. Willey, President and Founder, Bridgeforce, Inc., New Castle, Delaware
Bridgeforce provides an array of consulting services to the financial services industry and, as a young, entrepreneurial presence in a sophisticated and well-populated segment, it focuses on differentiating itself through quality of service to its clients. Dawn Willey knows that the quality of the firm’s services are directly linked to the quality of the consulting team, and she has invested a great deal in building a strong team of consultants who can grow with the firm. In addition to hiring the best consultants, the firm conscientiously provides them with feedback and developmental opportunities. There is a strategic focus on the marketplace, and the firm is building a values-based culture that stands for integrity, commitment, excellence, innovation, and confidentiality. Dawn involves employees in addressing issues facing the firm, and puts their ideas to work. Bridgeforce’s record of growth in a soft economy predicts that it will be a force to be reckoned with by larger consulting firms for years to come.

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Winning Workplaces and FSB: FORTUNE Small Business received over 200 nominations for this year's Best Bosses program. These included many great leaders who have produced impressive business results through enlightened people practices. Below is a list of some notable finalists and their accomplishments:
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