40 Under 40: Charging ahead
Photography by Shawn Harper
It’s hard to qualify the past year, except to say we survived. 2020 brought a pandemic, economic upheaval, and personal heartbreak to so many businesses and families.
When safer-at-home edicts canceled most indoor, in-person events, a new virtual reality took hold as we all learned about Zoom meetings and Google Meets and did our best to retain some sense of normalcy. Between COVID, remote working, and a nationwide struggle to understand our history and where we’re headed, there remains more than a glimmer of hope for the future of Madison, Dane County, and beyond.
Introducing the 2021 Class of 40 Under 40, an exceptionally bright group of young professionals leading the charge. They’ve survived despite the pandemic, and many have grown because of it. As their office buildings for the most part sat empty and face masks become an everyday fashion, this group proved their adaptability and strived to succeed while armed only with a laptop, cellphone, and an internet connection. We honor the 2021 class for its perseverance and accomplishments in a most difficult year.
For a class-by-class look at the past 21 years of honorees, check out the 40 Under 40 archive at IBMadison.com/40Under40Archive.
Lesley Chapin is one of only five board certified dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) clinicians in Wisconsin.
She never wanted to work in the criminal justice system, but as part of her licensing requirement, she accepted a job at a men’s maximum-security prison with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. It was eye-opening.
“The need for mental health services was so immense and the resources so slim,” she recalls, fueling a passion to help those with histories of self-injury, suicide attempts, substance abuse, and other high-risk behaviors.
Chapin has witnessed firsthand the benefits of DBT, which she describes as a life-saving treatment, and now she trains others as well.
When the pandemic struck last March, she had a plan prepared in two days to shift the Pauquette Center’s offices to a telehealth delivery system. She spearheaded the opening of its Madison clinic and recently opened another in Whitewater, in collaboration with UW–Whitewater, in part to train psychology students and to serve the community’s mental health needs.
In 1994, a young Paul Christensen found a job mowing the lawn for 1901 Inc. (formerly known as H&H Industries), a mechanical and plumbing company in Madison.
Now he owns the company.
Christensen went from apprentice to a top-performing foreman to project manager before acquiring the company in 2011. He recently added two new departments — electrical and controls — and purchased a fire protection company, increasing sales by 23%.
Being invited to present to a large group in Washington, D.C. on the topic of lean construction and best practices and becoming an Epic Systems partner are among his proudest career achievements.
Around the community, Christensen is involved in Kids Building Wisconsin, a program that teaches children about the trades, and he’s co-chairing the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk. When he isn’t helping others, he’ll likely be found coaching his own children in sports or enjoying fast cars, snowmobiles, and four-wheeling. “Work hard, play harder,” he says.
Eric Christoffersen joined Grams & Christoffersen S.C. 13 years ago. In 2012, he opened the Stoughton office and vowed to expand even more. He assumed his new title in January 2020 and true to his word, the Middleton office relocated to west Madison, and two more locations, Waunakee and Verona, were added.
The law firm specializes in estate planning and business succession, two areas Christoffersen is well-schooled in after spending five years planning and implementing his firm’s succession strategy with founding Shareholder David Grams as he transitioned the company’s ownership to its second generation: Christoffersen and law partner Bailey Lagman.
He’s also proud to provide pro bono legal advice and services for less financially privileged seniors through a partnership he implemented with two area senior centers.
At home, nothing beats watching sci-fi movies with his wife and girls or going on solo runs — his thinking time. “My team always knows when I’m home from a run because I will send them messages about all my latest ideas!”
Megan Diaz-Ricks’ can-do attitude became especially evident when COVID forced Common Wealth Development (CWD) to go virtual.
Among its many missions, CWD finds employment opportunities for Madison youth who experience high barriers to employment such as incarceration, disability, retention, accessibility. Thanks to Diaz-Ricks’ collaborative planning, youth remained engaged throughout 2020 — trained and supported by their paired mentors as staff continued to find jobs.
By design, rent revenue from business incubator tenants pays for CWD’s youth and adult workforce development programs, so when the incubators themselves were severely impacted, Diaz-Ricks initiated a rent-deferral program and communicated weekly to keep tenants informed about available funding programs.
And when its summer internship programs with city departments were threatened, she created a project for interns to conduct preliminary viability research on an affordable housing complex that caters to youth transitioning out of foster care or group homes.
As Kevin Femal’s responsibilities increased at EMS Industrial, he also recognized and tackled personal fears head-on for the good of the business and his family.
Femal attended Toastmaster’s meetings for a year and a two-day seminar in Ohio to overcome his fear of public speaking. Then, his deep-rooted fear of flying was mostly alleviated by an eight-week class taught by a pilot at Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee.
On firmer ground now, Femal established a communications task force at EMS Industrial resulting in new communication protocols, a newsletter, and regularly scheduled meetings. He wrote the company’s 59-page employee handbook, established its first onboarding process, and hired 50 people over two years to cover looming retirements, employee churn, and anticipated growth.
A past (and perhaps future) Ironman, Femal is the volunteer committee chair for CATCH (Community Around the Children’s Hospital), and at night, he checks work at the door to be more present with his wife and four children.
Chris Fernandez co-founded EnsoData with UW–Madison graduates Sam Rusk and Nick Glattard.
In 2017, EnsoData was one of the first companies to gain FDA clearance for its use of artificial intelligence in sleep study analyses. Today, EnsoSleep is used in more than 400 U.S. clinics to analyze sleep disorders, diagnosing about 14,000 disorders every month while saving clinicians thousands of hours of manual input.
One of Fernandez’s proudest moments was being invited to present on a panel with physicians from Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the vice president of Fitbit after EnsoData’s first publication was accepted by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. He was just 24 years old at the time.
EnsoData recently closed on a $9 million Series A funding round and is making global inroads. “We’ve already expanded into Latin America and become one of the largest technology companies supporting diagnostics in Colombia,” he says. “It’s exciting to have an impact beyond the United States.”
In her former position as an administrator for the Division of Adult Institutions for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Makda Fessahaye led and managed the operations of 36 state correctional facilities and the department’s emergency operations center through a very tumultuous year.
As COVID-19 forced the suspension of in-person visitations at state institutions last year, Fessahaye successfully lobbied for free video visitations for all persons under their care.
“As an administration, we have worked to humanize persons in our care in our language, in our policies, and in our behavior,” she explains.
Fessahaye earned her law degree from Marquette University and is the immediate past president of the Wisconsin Association of African American Lawyers. She also co-founded Brunch of Professionals, a diverse group of women engaging virtually over brunch to discuss current events and social issues.
She loves to read and sing, but in January Fessahaye began a new job with the city of Milwaukee, which is likely singing her praises now.
As Meriter Hospital’s first-ever diversity, equity, and inclusion manager, Kingsley Gobourne established the hospital’s DEI strategy (including education and training programs) and budget. He installed all-gender restrooms on various floors and developed and implemented Meriter’s nursing assistance program for people of color, named for the late Gloria Jones Bey, a well-known nursing administrator and community advocate.
Gobourne proudly created Meriter’s Journey to Diversity Equity and Inclusion Council, explaining: “It is a diverse representation of Meriter and together as a group we work to find solutions to improve outcomes for staff and patients using our DEI lens and experiences.”
As a nod to his very first job working on a friend’s Blanchardville farm, Gobourne launched Artemis Provisions and Cheese, a farm-to-table delivery service that brings meats, cheese, and other farm products to homes when COVID-19 disrupted food supplies.
Lindsey Hamielec’s team at M3 played a pivotal role in onboarding and integration in the company’s first two acquisitions in over 50 years.
As if that wasn’t challenging enough, transitioning new employees during a pandemic when everything goes virtual and migrating their systems into M3’s involved a combined measure of calm and expertise. “I acted quickly to shift our focus to a remote onboarding strategy and worked closely with my team to build out an entire on-demand training program,” Hamielec states.
In fact, throughout her employment at M3, Hamielec has helped the company on large-scale projects and played a pivotal role in converting its main customer database to a totally new system.
She serves as co-chair of the Lead United donor network for United Way of Dane County, while at home she enjoys cooking and recently became a vegetarian.
Hamielec’s challenge now is finding recipes that even her meat-loving family will enjoy.
Brett Hansen joined the Stark Co. as a sales agent in late 2013. He held two jobs at the time, working the real estate side on weeknights and weekends to build his business until he was ready to go full-time.
Less than a year later, in September 2014, Hansen was named a top producing new agent at a Stark Co. agent appreciation breakfast and he never looked back.
In 2015, Hansen teamed up with his brother and best friend, Eric, to create the Hansen Home Team. While they were eager, they had no systems in place and no staff. “We were a couple of knuckleheads working day and night and trying to figure it out,” Brett recalls.
Since then, the Hansen Home Team has added five people, and not only was the month of June 2020 Brett’s personal best, but amid a pandemic, 2020 was the team’s best year ever, with 150 recorded closings.
The growing company also supports The River Food Pantry, The Road Home, and the American Family Children’s Hospital with charitable events — live or virtual.
After spending 10 years working for advertising and PR firms in New York City, Katie Hepler returned to Madison armed with a new MBA and a new goal, switching from running a global PR agency to becoming a chief marketing officer.
At Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, she developed a TV and radio campaign, “Here for You,” that garnered 78 million impressions. Digital video ads were viewed 4.2 million times throughout the state, Hepler notes, “increasing the purchase intent of dairy milk vs. other ‘milks’ for over 65,000 visitors.”
Through social media, she invited people to engage with farmers in Skype-style interviews that resulted in 557,000 engagements and over 3,300 comments.
Hepler commits a big part of her life to cooking and fitness, and proudly finished a 2016 Ironman race in Lake Placid, New York under her personal goal time of 13 hours. She’s also a whiz at pinochle, which she describes as “similar to sheepshead, easier than bridge, and harder than euchre.”
After high school, Joshua Holt enlisted in the military and served in the Army Reserves for five years. Lessons he learned as a soldier — from the importance of personal appearance to realizing that individuals can’t do everything on their own — have proven invaluable in his real estate career.
Holt chairs the technology committee within the Keller Williams Agent Leadership Council, instructing agents on proprietary tools that helped grow sales volume by 3.57% across two offices compared to 2019 and increased per-agent average sales by $370,000. An independent contractor, the Holt Real Estate Team also saw a 236% increase in sales over two years.
He serves on the board at the Stoughton Chamber of Commerce and is a service officer and executive committee member at the Stoughton American Legion Post 59, advocating for the needs of his fellow veterans.
But his happiest place is in the kitchen, cooking beside his young daughter who is responsible for her dad’s extensive knowledge of American Girl dolls and their histories.
Wendy Jirsa is one banking executive who is accountable to herself and to her employer. After earning an associate degree in 2002, Jirsa committed herself to completing her bachelor’s degree. For years, she studied nights and weekends, enrolling in one class at a time while raising three “very busy” children.
Years of hard work finally paid off in December, when Jirsa graduated from Upper Iowa University with a bachelor’s degree in financial management and was rewarded with a promotion to vice president to boot!
Since joining Capitol Bank in 2013, she’s helped grow deposits from $32 million to just over $133.3 million, making Capitol Bank Verona the largest bank by deposits in the Verona market for two consecutive years.
Involved with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS), Jirsa is particularly proud to have been named the 2019 LLS Madison Woman of the Year for her part in raising $63,000 for the cause. She’s now chairing the LLS Madison Man and Woman of the Year Leadership Team committee for the 2021 and 2022 campaigns.
As a business transactional attorney specializing in outside general counsel, mergers and acquisitions, and real estate law, Danielle Johnson continues to set benchmarks at Neider & Boucher S.C.
This athlete has always been driven to succeed, whether as a starter on the Macalester College varsity basketball team, where she still is the 13th highest scorer in school history or in her passion to continue the dream of her idol, late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in paving the way for women in law.
Among her community work, Johnson is an on-call business coach for the Doyenne Group and serves on the board of the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association, striving to keep youth, particularly younger girls, interested in basketball.
Her favorite quote comes from positive thinker, Norman Vincent Peal: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Johnson’s star is shining brightly. In 2019, she was recognized as a Wisconsin Up and Coming Lawyer by the Wisconsin Law Journal.
Josh Klemons is a digital storyteller and Twitter whiz who recently worked on the political campaigns of two State Assembly candidates — Francesca Hong and Samba Baldeh.
This admitted “news junky” spends about half his time in the political space, and before starting his business in Madison, he crisscrossed the U.S., living in a dozen cities, including three moves in just nine months. It proved unsustainable.
Reverbal Communications thrived last year as local execs pivoted to a virtual world, allowing Klemons to hire its first employee. His secret? Focusing on his core strengths — social media, email marketing, blogging, and podcasting — and learning to subcontract.
A musician and singer/songwriter, Klemons worked hard to overcome a fear of public speaking and now educates and trains others on digital marketing and social media.
He also recognized years ago that he is a natural at conflict resolution, which led him to earn a master’s degree from American University in international peace and conflict resolution with a concentration on the Middle East.
Jared Klingeisen was the first person hired by Medable to build the company’s operational structure, tools, and delivery system.
At the time, the company employed 20 people and had no revenue. Now it’s considered one of the fastest-growing technology companies in Silicon Valley, with over $130 million in private funding raised to date.
Klingeisen is the first in his deeply rooted farming family to graduate from college. The Marquette University grad double majored in finance and international business and now helps the life sciences company deliver life-changing treatments for cancer and psoriasis that could benefit millions of patients.
Around town, he’s a mentor at Merlin Mentors, a principal partner with the Foundation for Madison Public Schools, and a frequent volunteer with the Goodman Community Center as a basketball coach and fitness mentor.
A speed reader — and evidently a speed traveler — Klingeisen visited all 50 states over a five-year period, capturing a photo of himself in front of a state landmark as proof!
Jordan Kosnick earned his financial stripes on his own, 2,000 miles away in Phoenix at the age of 22. After graduating from Arizona State University, he built a financial services practice “in a city where 90% of the contacts I had were either still in school or a year from finishing college.” His achievements didn’t go unnoticed by his dad and brother, who later asked him to join their team in Madison.
Formerly the chief development officer, Kosnick’s success in the company’s internship program and in driving new business resulted in his recent promotion to managing director. As a result of his efforts, the company will add 40 new advisors across three offices this year.
In the community, he is a proud founding member of both the Edgewood High School Anti-Racism and Equity Committees, and the Diversity and Inclusion Council at Kosnick Financial Group.
A singer-songwriter and fitness afficionado, Kosnick also enjoys cooking with his home-grown herbs, spices, and peppers, and tending to house plants.
After seven years with the John Hancock Financial Network (JHFN), Jeffrey Lamb was stunned when told JHFN lost its primary marketing source and that the name, “John Hancock” could no longer be used.
Another door soon opened, however, when the owner of Wealth Distribution Strategies (WDS) asked Lamb to partner and buy the business when he retired.
Lamb became the sole owner of WDS in 2019 as his staff and assets under management continued to climb. Now part of the Harbour Investments group, a local independent broker dealer for 200-plus financial advisors, WDS has been the top performing of all of Harbour Investments’ teams for the past two years, with Lamb named the top advisor for the past three.
At the end of 2020, Lamb’s company was on pace to have the highest client retention rate, at over 99%.
Family is everything to Lamb and his wife, who feel blessed to have four healthy children. Their focus now is on giving back to help families who may not be as fortunate.
At American Family Insurance, Meghan Leatherman keeps corporate leaders and employees connected. She created a column called “Perspectives” that gives AmFam leaders the opportunity to respond in real time to current events, and she created a video series to connect more than 2,000 information technology employees nationwide with the company’s chief technology officer and its five brands.
Leatherman holds an accreditation in public relations from the Public Relations Society ofAmerica and serves as president of the PRSA-Madison chapter.
Her career has already run the gamut, from a Southeastern Conference university to a global consulting firm. “I can thrive in a board room or bar, in heels or yoga pants,” she quips.
In 2013, this CrossFit enthusiast launched crossfitandpregnant.com to document her exercise-while-pregnant journey. The blog went viral and was featured on Today and in the Huffington Post, among other media.
In perhaps the ultimate measure of acceptance, or not, Jimmy Kimmel even spoofed it!
Dawn Mullarney’s primary role is to build and develop relationships with centers of influence in the community, which proved difficult after COVID-19 shut down face-to-face events.
Undeterred, she scheduled a series of 20 virtual networking events between July and December that attracted over 200 area professionals. She also held 198 meetings with new prospects or referral partners to get them better acquainted with the State Bank of Cross Plains.
Once so painfully shy that her sister would speak on her behalf, Mullarney now co-hosts Wealthways, a State Bank-sponsored podcast designed to bring current issues to the forefront, such as moving upward, female empowerment, and wealth management.
A passionate volunteer with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS), Mullarney led the fundraising campaign for the 2019 Man and Woman of the Year event. After raising nearly $25,000 on her own, her efforts doubly paid off when she became the proud recipient of the LLS Mission Integration Award.
Forced to go all-virtual in 2020, Saran Ouk expanded her company’s reach. That’s not surprising, considering her uncanny ability to make lemonade from lemons. [See IBMadison.com/a-fighting-spirit/]
Ouk was born in a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand, and not long after arriving in America, her family moved to Madison. She learned to speak English here, and after high school graduation worked two jobs, scrimping and saving until, in her early 20s, she could purchase a home for her family. “Ever since then I learned that nothing is impossible,” Ouk states.
Her company, ConNEXTions, matches underrepresented young adults with business mentors willing to share their business acumen to guide them on a road toward financial and entrepreneurial success. She’s helped launch small catering, massage, and technology businesses, sharing best practices and dos and don’ts she learned along the way.
Ouk is also a volunteer and mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County, and a business advisor and coach around town.
Pharmacist and clinical pharmacologist Gina Patel is on the fast track to success. She launched Patel Kwan Consultancy in 2019 as the sole employee. It was profitable within its first month, and by year two, three team members were added.
PK Consultancy specializes in specific aspects of drug development based on clinical pharmacology and pharmacokinetics, or PK, to help guide development of new drugs for treating cancer, depression, the development of antibiotics, and orphan diseases. “There are over 7,000 diseases that are known, and the vast majority have no treatment options,” Patel explains. She aims to change that one day.
At the request of the UW–Madison School of Pharmacy, Patel developed a three-credit master’s course on pharmacokinetics, and now she’s a popular adjunct professor as well.
Married to husband Jason Kwan, their family life includes a 2-year-old son, three cats, and a dog. Kwan is not involved in the business, but the opportunity to use the initials PK in the company name was simply too good to pass up!
Amos Pearson admits to making many poor choices as a teen, which makes his rise to success all the more impressive.
He credits his grandparents and Dennis Tiziani, who “gave him a shot” at Cherokee Country Club, with setting him on the right course. Pearson went on to earn a finance degree from Madison College, graduating with a 4.0 GPA.
Promoted to lead Monona Bank’s executive banking department, his ability to gain the trust of high-net-worth individuals and business owners played a significant role in increasing the department’s deposits from zero to more than $75 million in less than three years.
He’s a proud member of the bank’s Diversity and Equity Committee, and his volunteer work reflects a sincere interest in helping young people understand their true potential.
“Looking back, if you had told my 18-year-old self what my life would be like now, I would not have believed you,” he says.
Pearson swapped golf for family years ago, but his wife and two children know that Sundays in fall are all about the Green Bay Packers.
Gaurav Pranami has two patents and one pending patent application from a previous job at Dow Chemical Co., and now he’s impacting research at Imbed Biosciences, a local tissue engineering company.
With 8.6 million patients annually seeking treatment for chronic ulcers, Pranami led the effort to secure $1.75 million in Small Business Innovation Research grants from the National Institutes of Health for the development of a prototype for Microlyte Matrix, which promotes growth and accelerates wound healing.
In its early development, the prototype was too sensitive to moisture and unable to be manufactured in Wisconsin’s dry winters. Pranami reformulated the prototype and developed a process capable of producing 54,000 square feet of material a month, lowering manufacturing costs and making it commercially viable.
Thousands of patients with difficult-to-heal wounds are now benefiting from the product every month, he notes.
A vegan, Pranami led fundraising for the COVID-canceled Madison Vegan Fest in 2020.
Elisa Romanowich and her husband and business partner purchased Craig’s Cake Shop in November 2018. By January 2020, the hand-baked, custom cake business was flourishing, with bookings trending 50% higher than when the couple first purchased the business.
Then COVID-19 hit, bringing the business to a halt. Craig’s Cake Shop pivoted to curbside tasting plates in a to-go version followed by private Zoom calls with wedding customers to gauge reactions and discuss plans.
“Being able to interact via virtual video chat allowed me to get to know each couple and still hear directly about their vision for their wedding day and dessert menu,” Romanowich says.
Last year, micro-weddings helped the business outside of Dane County, while in Verona, a display cooler was added to the shop’s front lobby so people could purchase mini-cakes, cupcakes, and push-up cake pops.
At last report, sales grew by 30% in 2020, while mini-cake and custom all-occasion cake sales never slowed and continue to grow, proving COVID-19 is no match for sweet cravings!
Findorff Project Manager Peter Saindon scheduled, managed, and reviewed the work of dozens of subcontractors to keep the $150 million Verona Area High School project moving on budget and on time. In fact, over the last four years he’s been tasked with nearly 800,000 square feet of learning space at five different locations, and he’s currently involved with the Monona Grove School District.
Saindon served in the Wisconsin Army National Guard for eight years as a mechanic, crew chief, and gunner on UH-60A Blackhawk helicopters and was deployed to Iraq in 2003.
In 2009, he graduated from UW–Madison with a degree in civil and environmental engineering.
These days, his most impactful role, besides that of husband and father, is counseling young men struggling with addiction through a local recovery group. Saindon has led more than six such groups, manages three team leaders with their own groups, and travels throughout the state launching more groups as needed.
At home, he has developed a culinary knack for making wood-fired pizza.
Tanya Salman may be one of the youngest Michael Best associates to be voted partner, and she accomplished that dream about a year earlier than she would have at many firms.
Last summer, Salman co-chaired a virtual summer associate program across Michael Best offices nationwide. In Madison, she was particularly excited to find five highly qualified women, including three of color, who agreed to join the firm full time.
She’s successfully represented clients in multimillion-dollar litigation matters and has become a go-to model for the firm’s young attorneys, especially those of color. Around town Salman is involved with the Madison Public Library Foundation, Opera for the Young, and Girls on the Run, among others.
In 2015, undaunted by the fact that she is not a runner, she trained for a half-marathon simply to push herself beyond her comfort zone. Salman wiped out in mile five but regrouped. “I’m proud to say that I completed the half-marathon and it’s highly unlikely that there will ever be a second!”
Jessica Sarbacker started the crop insurance department at State Bank of Cross Plains from scratch. Under her watch, the department now has five agents doing $7 million in underwriting.
Crop insurance, a government program, is unique in that prices are the same everywhere. What differs competitively is the relationship and trust one builds in the agricultural community.
So, when a colleague in the business contacted Sarbacker about selling his book of business when he retired, not only was it a compliment, but she also facilitated the sale, increasing State Bank’s portfolio by 40%.
Sarbacker represents the fourth generation on her family’s 900-acre farm and also co-owns Heritage Holsteins with her husband. The other side of the Holstein business focuses on genetics, where the couple raise and sell their elite champion’s siblings and offspring nationwide.
She enjoys agvocating — educating the public about farming and agriculture — and serves on countless agriculture-related boards. She’s also “incredibly fast” at stacking hay bales!
After years as a prosecutor, Rachel Sattler realized that being “inspired” was not the same as being “happy.”
Fitting into “the narrow norms of an entrenched justice system that was not designed to encourage or appreciate the participation of women” wasn’t working, she says, so she forged her own path and became a more creative advocate for survivors of sensitive crimes.
Sattler is the founding attorney with the Crime Victims’ Rights Project at Legal Action of Wisconsin. Working on behalf of victims, she and her team offer free legal representation to those who may have legal issues related to their privacy and other rights. It is the first project of its kind in the state.
She also co-founded Dane County Multi Agency Center Inc. (DaneMAC), a nonprofit improving outcomes and empowering survivors of sensitive crimes.
At home, Sattler enjoys time at home with her husband, reading, and watching Bravo.
Greg Scalzo wears many hats for Good Karma Brands, but perhaps the most important in 2020 was his keep-advertisers-happy cap.
“We had more cancellations in six months than we had in my 10 years with ESPN Madison,” Scalzo relates, due to the economic impact of COVID-19 and an uncertain future.
Nearly everything was either canceled or went virtual, from games to tailgating events, to the Wisconsin Sports Awards, to radio contests and sports promotions. Local talk show hosts, including Scalzo, went live from their homes, sometimes challenged for sports content.
At the end of the year, Scalzo’s sales teams emerged bruised but not beaten, and ESPN Madison’s product expanded rather than contracted, resulting in a positive finish.
“Scalzo and Brust,” a local sports talk show, was picked up in Milwaukee and elevated to afternoon drive in both the Madison and Milwaukee markets while Scalzo’s leadership in ESPN’s smallest market earned him the title of Most Valuable Teammate companywide.
Isaac Showaki had dreamed of becoming a U.S. citizen since the age of four. After 32 years, his dream finally came true. Showaki is both a citizen and a brewer, and Octopi is the leading beverage copacker in the Midwest.
The business has mushroomed from six to 110 employees in five years, and in 2019, it ranked No. 160 on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in the U.S. More recently, Octopi tripled its capacity with a $13 million expansion, and more growth is planned.
Showaki says he “failed into success.” After graduating from Boston University, employers shut him out due to his immigration status, so he left the country for 10 years. Looking back, he’s learned to always prepare for the worst, because it will happen, he says, and he came to appreciate the importance of allowing new ideas time to develop.
Octopi raises over $50,000 a year for charity. The Giving Brewery, which allows participating nonprofits to collaborate with them on a beverage, gives all proceeds from sales back to the nonprofits.
Building Opportunities for Student Success (BOSS) is the brainchild of Megan Simmons, formerly with Flad Architects, who felt compelled to address Wisconsin’s need for diverse representation and access to the field of architecture.
With grant support from the Wisconsin Architects Foundation Research Initiative and a partnership with the Madison School District and other local organizations, more than 30 first-generation, low-income minority high school students participated in four BOSS workshops during the 2019–2020 school year. Forty volunteer mentors from 10 architecture firms and three Wisconsin higher education institutions also responded.
Last summer, five high school students earned school credit to attend BOSS’ (COVID-modified) six-week paid internship.
After the 40 Under 40 class was announced, Simmons’ husband accepted a two-year job in England and the couple relocated. BOSS continues on with Simmons working more fervently than ever, but that commute is a doozie!
He may not be a James Holzhauer or Ken Jennings, but in 2012, Daniel Allen Sims made an appearance on Jeopardy! after two years of trying and studying six days a week while working full-time. It’s one of the “coolest things” he’s ever done, though Sims is more balanced these days.
“I lean into things that either ground, inspire, or propel me,” he says. “Not much else.”
Working for the Salvation Army gives him that inspirational boost. Over the past year, he’s reimagined the major gifts program, built a donor portfolio, and worked hard to generate community excitement around a new shelter and affordable housing complex on East Washington Avenue. As many organizations have struggled, the Salvation Army reports a nearly 40% increase in giving year over year.
Sims serves as board director for ACCESS Community Health Centers, and when asked for words to live by, he quotes his late great-grandmother: “If you’re always the smartest person in the room, pick a new room.”
Philip Smith was the go-to guy last year when Aberdean Consulting was informed that its software vendor would no longer be supporting an application that secured nearly 3,000 client computers across 20 states. The plan he devised kept Aberdean’s end-user devices secure without incurring any extra operating costs or adding another technical resource.
As the pandemic shifted businesses into remote workspaces, Smith led the technical team in a series of lunch-and-learn webinars focusing on cloud technologies. More than 1,000 people attended, with more events scheduled.
His most significant contribution to date is the implementation of a remote monitoring and management tool to monitor client infrastructures. Aberdean supports three times the number of clients now, yet after-hour, on-call events decreased 15% annually over the past three years.
At home, Smith is a model railroad buff who builds and displays large-scale models with thousands of pieces, calling it “a pleasant diversion” from the day-to-day.
Jay Thomsen began as a college intern and climbed the ladder at Vogel Bros. until being promoted to vice president.
He spearheaded the implementation of client relationship management software that allowed the company to be more strategic in its pursuit of projects. As a result, Vogel Bros. now has a backlog and was recently selected for a major school project that could mean nearly $125 million of construction. It’s especially sweet, Thomsen relates, because Vogel Bros. had been attempting to make inroads into that particular school district for 20 years.
Thomsen is inspired every morning by an email he printed and taped inside his closet at home. It was his 2009 layoff notice from Vogel Bros. after the local economy tanked, and it reminds him every day to work hard and lead in a manner that keeps the company from ever having to go through that turmoil again.
In 2011, Thomsen skied in his first American Birkebeiner despite never having cross-country skied before. He finished in just over six hours and has cut his time significantly ever since.
Every summer, the United Way relies on a team of loaned executives (on loan from their companies) to work on its annual giving campaign. In 2020, with nearly all of its corporate partners going remote, Steve Ticknor successfully translated the program’s two-week training program, resources, and employer campaigns into a digital format, and he set up a tracking system/dashboard to monitor leading indicators.
In 2017, Ticknor brought the LINC (Lead. Impact. Network. Change.) brand to town. He describes the national United Way young-professionals group as “a way to tell the community’s story to Dane County’s next generation of leaders through hands-on volunteer ‘philanthro’ parties.” Its 250 members have helped raise over $200,000 for the community thus far.
Ticknor enjoys working out, video games, and cosplay — or dressing up as a pop-culture character with costumes he makes from scratch. “This is something I’m definitely ready to embarrass my future kids with,” he says. Among his favorites: Ant-Man, Samurai Captain America, and Forward Madison Plague Doctor.
Megan Vander Wyst
Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin
Recognizing that food insecurities were about to skyrocket by an estimated 40%, Megan Vander Wyst shifted gears when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020.
Vander Wyst leads the mobile pantry program and immediately increased food distributions. Pre-COVID, Second Harvest operated 27 recurring monthly mobile pantries throughout its 16-county service area. In the middle of the pandemic, she transformed the nimble mobile pantry program in response to increased community need.
Between March and October, there were a total of 240 smaller “pop-up” distributions in addition to the recurring mobile pantries, serving over 12,500 households. In fact, in October alone, Second Harvest held 32 mobile pantries and 65 pop-up distributions serving over 9,500 households and resulting in 39% more pounds of food distributed than the previous October.
When she’s not busy feeding the community, Vander Wyst enjoys culturally immersive and purposeful travel and photography.
Phillip Waara launched eCIO in Nov. 2019 to offer nonprofits low-cost investment management and board management services.
He created a registered investment advisory with the SEC, implemented the company’s compliance program, and conducted video-based sales presentations. In less than a year, sales grew to over $100,000 in recurring revenue and 40 nonprofits were onboarded.
But when COVID-19 hit, nonprofits delayed investment decisions. With in-person meetings off the table, Waara and his three partners adapted eCIO’s online portal to a full-board management suite, offering video conferencing, online document storage, event planning, hosted discussions, and more. Most importantly, they offered the software to nonprofits for free.
Businesses outside the nonprofit realm started calling, leading to a second product line.
Waara grew up in a log home in Upper Michigan with a wood-burning stove as its only heat source. Harvesting wood from the land developed into an appreciation for timber and his talent for woodworking and hand-hewing logs.
Ryan Waite is a continual learner who is batting 1.000 (22 for 22) when it comes to classes and exams required in the insurance industry. Policies change every year, he explains, due to evolving risks like Uber, Airbnb, Turo, cyberattacks, autonomous cars, or a global pandemic. “I’m a bit of an insurance nerd for saying this, but it’s an exciting time to be in the insurance industry!”
Waite received the Independent Insurance Agents of Wisconsin’s “Emerging Leader of the Year Award” in 2017, and as a current member of IIAW’s Industry Relations Committee, he’s involved in the beta testing of the Internet of Insurance, software to more efficiently connect insurance agents, company underwriters, and a business looking for an insurance proposal.
In Madison, Waite serves on the boards of CATCH (Community Around the Children’s Hospital) and High Point Swim Club. He also co-founded Madison Area Connectors and the Short Game Golf Outing, a 14-hole event that has raised more than $26,000 for the American Family Children’s Hospital.
Carrie Waters Schmidt decided a while back to focus her financial planning business on three main groups: the LGBTQ+ community; recent divorcees; and people wanting to invest their conscience (environmental, social welfare, religion, etc.).
She was among the first in Madison to earn an accredited domestic partner advisor designation, the first designee in Wisconsin to become a chartered socially responsible investment counselor, and she’s working on a certified divorce financial analyst certification as well.
Waters Schmidt serves as board president of YogAutism, which benefits people on the autism spectrum through a yoga-inspired program, and when she learned that the Navajo nation was battling COVID, she organized a mask and preventative supplies drive (hand sanitizers, toothbrushes, gift cards, etc.). Three shipments have been delivered thus far.
Born with clubbed feet, energy and perseverance are her inspirational forces. She’s run a 5K, rides horses, and as a reiki master, is trained in energy healing on both people and animals.
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