800 reasons to celebrate
From the pages of In Business magazine.
Twenty years goes by in the blink of an eye, but thankfully, Greater Madison’s talent pool does not.
In Business has been showcasing some of its best and brightest professionals under the age of 40 since 2001 and, remarkably, 90 percent of past honorees still live and work in the Madison area.
Our first 40 Under 40 class included familiar names like Jonathan Bogatay from North Central Group, Corey Chambas from First Business Bank, and Sean Cleary, Cleary Building Corp. Beth Prochaska, who was recently named president/CEO at Potter Lawson, was in the inaugural group, too, as was Tammy Rozek, general manager of East Towne Mall.
Twenty years and 800 members later, the 2020 class is equally as impressive and thankfully more diverse. They include talented attorneys and architects, bankers and business owners, executive directors and entrepreneurs, wealth managers and health educators, and others who continue making Greater Madison even greater.
The 2020 class will be honored at a networking reception on Wednesday, March 4, from 5 to 7 p.m., at the Madison Club, 5 E. Wilson St.
For a class-by-class look at past honorees, check out the 40 Under 40 archive at: IBMadison.com/40Under40Archive.
The QTI Group
Diversity and inclusion is simply good business, and at The QTI Group, Summer Rector is leading the charge, noting: “For us to better our clients and our communities, we needed to formalize our commitment to [D&I] through words and actions.”
Shareholders agreed, and QTI now provides D&I training for its employees and partners with community organizations to advance D&I objectives. Rector chairs the company’s first-ever Belonging, Inclusion, and Diversity committee, and she’s become an in-demand speaker on the subject.
Last September, she upped her game, presenting at her first national conference for PayScale, regarded as a global thought leader in the field of compensation and total reports.
Rector is very involved in the Literacy Network as board vice president of the governance committee, and she’s a member of the Madison Area Diversity Roundtable.
This busy mom of two enjoys listening to podcasts while running early in the morning. “A lot of my best ideas come on the treadmill!”
Organizational Events Manager
By all accounts, Corinn Ploessl is having a blast! If she’s not planning an event, she’s likely at one.
Last year, Ploessl planned and produced the Destination Madison Awards, or DMAs, from nominations to celebration. The awards recognized people in the hospitality and tourism industry who went over and beyond to make a visitor’s experience great.
She’s led Young Professionals Week for the past five years; chaired United Way of Dane County’s Rosenberry Society in 2018; and presided over Madison Magnet; not to mention all of the fundraising she’s accomplished through the years.
Ploessl’s proudest moments, though, were three specific events she planned around the Bucky on Parade event in 2018. The finale event she helped coordinate raised nearly $850,000 of the $1 million total dollars generated by Bucky on Parade.
At home, she loves to bake, saying the precision and accuracy required to follow recipes suits her Type A personality perfectly.
VP-Commercial Payment Solutions
Wisconsin Bank & Trust, a subsidiary of Heartland Financial
As a young man, Greg Banks made a lot of decisions based on money and learned an important lesson as a result.
“Chasing money isn’t a successful strategy,” he says. “Finding something you love doing and are committed to 100 percent is a much better strategy for success.”
Since joining the WB&T/Heartland Financial team, Banks has become an award-winning performer, growing the company’s overall portfolio by more than 300 percent and being the organization’s top referral partner.
A positive force in the local community, Banks works with Rev. Dr. Alex Gee to help improve race relations, and he volunteers at the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development and the Northport Community Center. A proven fundraiser, he’s also on the boards of Rubin for Kids, Gift of Adoption, and Coaches vs. Cancer.
Perhaps some of his energy comes from the “really strong coffee” he roasts at home from raw, green coffee beans.
President/Certified Financial Planner
Midwest Financial Group
Matt Cuplin entered the financial industry when he was just 24. Thirteen years later, he was named president of Midwest Financial Group (MFG).
Company founder Mark Miehe was his mentor. “I now run the firm that [Mark] started 30 years ago and have much to thank him for,” Cuplin states.
Admittedly, it was a slow process that took years of commitment and sacrifice as Cuplin self-taught himself the curriculum necessary to pass the CFP exam.
Since becoming president in 2017, he’s added five employees, expanded the company’s employee benefits division, and opened a Madison east location, among other growth strategies. Cuplin came here as a transplant without knowing anyone and has built a solid clientele, and now he’s on track to bring in over $1 million dollars in revenue — on his own.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 30, the happily married father of three chose to double down rather than give in.
“I learned that balance is key in life.”
Madison Festivals Inc.
Last May, Sara Klemme joined Madison Festivals — the organization that owns Taste of Madison, Madison Marathon, and Run Madtown, all fundraisers.L
Three months later, Klemme’s marketing strategies resulted in a very successful Taste of Madison in September, with public donations to Dane County nonprofits rising 36 percent compared to 2018.
In 2014, Klemme joined the team at The Edgewater Madison before the renovated hotel even existed. As the director of special events, she still considers one of her greatest accomplishments to be planning the Edgewater’s Grand Opening Extravaganza, a multithemed, invite-only event for 2,000 people.
Others, however, might argue that Klemme’s greatest accomplishment came in 2016, when she and her husband resigned from their corporate careers, sold their home and belongings, packed up their kids, and went on a 10-month road trip, visiting 22 states.
What did she learn from that experience? “My purpose is to positively impact [others].”
Senior Vice President
Seventeen years ago, Chase Brieman was seriously doubting himself. Hired as an intern with CBRE, a national commercial real estate firm, he was 21 years old, paid 100 percent commission, and entrusted to handle multimillion dollar deals.
Fast forward to 2020. While Brieman may still get asked how old he his, as SVP his expertise in the market has sharpened dramatically.
He worked on the sale of the former Oscar Mayer plant and its 1.7 million square feet of office and industrial space, and now he’s leasing and handling redevelopment opportunities for its new owners, as well.
In fact, he’s handled over $600 million in commercial real estate transactions thus far, “and I’m looking forward to hitting $1 billion in sales someday,” he promises.
Brieman also serves as a director on the board of Blackhawk Church Town Center.
For relaxation, he enjoys fishing, hiking, traveling, and music. At home, he does most of the cooking for his family of four, with a knack for pizzas, steaks, tacos, and paella.
McFarland State Bank
Since launching his career in banking, Dan Carey survived a banking crisis that led to his first employer being placed on an FDIC consent order. He was on the team to right the ship, which took four years and later led to a merger with McFarland State Bank.
Emerging from that, Carey studied and later convinced his board of directors to be the first and only lending institution in the state to implement PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy), a financing program that enables property owners to obtain low-cost, long-term loans for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and water conservation improvement.
Since 2018, Carey has also closed over $50 million in commercial loans.
This married father of two also co-owns In Over My Head Stables, a racehorse business venture, with his cousin. Together, they’re carrying on their late grandfather’s passion and enabling fractional ownership of racehorses to help promote the sport. As the president of the Wisconsin Harness Horse Association, he promotes harness racing at county fairs.
Curate is a civic intelligence company co-founded by Taralinda Willis and her husband, Dale, that is leveraging artificial intelligence to change the way organizations engage with local government.
The company’s database allows developers and government professionals to track projects, policies, and hot topics around the country, and it’s “growing like crazy,” Willis reports.
Curate raised $1.65 million from investors, which was more than she sought initially, and she’s now working on round two.
In the community, Willis serves on the board of 100state and mentors a high school senior through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County.
As a couple, they operate like a well-oiled machine.
“Many people tell me they couldn’t assemble an IKEA desk with their partner,” Willis notes, “so the fact that Dale and I are running a business together and making decisions every day far more complicated than IKEA furniture is a hidden talent we both have!”
Benjamin L. Swanson
Business Banking Officer
State Bank of Cross Plains
Ben Swanson is the kind of leader people need in a crisis. In August of 2018, he helped Shop-Vac floodwater from State Bank of Cross Plains’ (SBCP) office, and later drove to Black Earth with other employees to offer extra hands wherever they were needed.
State Bank of Cross Plains was open for business the next day, and after FEMA left the area, Swanson remained on the board of the Dane County Long-Term Recovery Committee to complete recovery work.
About six years ago, he transitioned from retail banking to business banking and has since developed into a formidable commercial lender.
Last summer, when SBCP merged with United Bank & Trust, he was selected to introduce UB&T’s lenders to its corporate philosophy.
An outdoorsman and bird hunter, Swanson co-founded Gateway to the Driftless Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit promoting local economic development through outdoor recreation in northwestern Dane County, and he volunteers at his son’s school whenever needed.
Layla Qarout left her West Bank home and family in 2000, amid escalating political turmoil, to pursue an education in the U.S. It was her most difficult and yet rewarding decision.
At ERDMAN, a health care-focused architecture and engineering firm, she’s pursuing a formal architectural license.
“I aspire to be a successful medical planner,” Qarout states. She’s currently volunteering in the UW Hospital Emergency Department as a team member, which also gives her the opportunity to study the ER workflow from every possible perspective.
When she was 25, Qarout returned to the Middle East to teach architecture.
“[My students] saw me as their teacher, a friend, and an equal,” she relates, “something that is rare in Middle Eastern culture, where the relationship between professors and students is a formal one.”
Qarout has two homes now and visits her family once a year. “I am happy, independent, and surrounded by people who help me thrive in both,” she says.
Imagine being a project manager on a subcontracted job and suddenly having the contractor file for bankruptcy in the middle of the project.
Luckily for JP Cullen, George Cullen’s sound decision-making helped navigate the team through project completion and legal implications. As a result, the company limited its risk exposure and finished ahead of time.
In the past year, he’s overhauled the company’s business-development process, resulting in a higher percentage of projects won, and he helped secure a repeat customer the company had pursued for decades.
Cullen serves on the boards of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and is an Honorary Commander for the 115th Fighter Wing, a business outreach program between the Air National Guard and Dane County businesses.
Among his proudest personal achievements was being a four-year letter winner on the defensive line for Georgetown University football while earning a double major in finance and management.
Haley Saalsaa Miller
Agency Relations Coordinator
AVID Risk Solutions
Haley Saalsaa Miller has been with AVID Risk Solutions, an independent insurance agency, for six of the company’s eight years.
She worked in sales for four years until about 15 months ago when she proposed a new role for herself, as agency relations coordinator. “I spent hours thinking of what AVID needed and where the gaps were within the company,” she explains.
Company leadership listened to her proposal and agreed.
AVID Risk didn’t have a marketing department at the time, she says, and with seven offices and 70 employees, she’s been unifying its identity and growing brand awareness.
Saalsaa Miller is active on boards around the area including the Madison Area Builders Association’s government affairs committee, the Rotary Club of Madison, and the UW Carbone Cancer Center Emerging Leader board.
At home, there are few things better than cooking for family and friends. She enjoys surfing and owns a surfboard, but unfortunately hasn’t seen an ocean for years.
Neider & Boucher S.C.
Maggie Premo is proud to be the youngest attorney and only the second woman to ever be appointed to shareholder at Neider & Boucher, a 25-year-old law firm, and she earned that title after just three-and-a-half years.
Premo was appointed to lead the Trust and Estates practice group largely because of her ability to streamline the group’s document drafting system, allowing attorneys to focus more on business development and less on document creation. It all helped increase the group’s efficiency and profitability, she says.
Shortly after joining the Dane County Humane Society board, Premo ensured that its legislative committee will become more involved in effecting changes to the state’s animal-welfare laws. She’s also a volunteer coordinator for the Wisconsin State Bar’s Attorney Hotline, providing state residents with free legal guidance.
Premo has completed five, 34-mile American Birkebeiner cross-country ski races in northern Wisconsin — no, they never get easier — and she’s an avid UW basketball fan.
Anesis Center for Marriage and Family Therapy
Myra McNair left a job with a large mental health agency in 2016 to launch her own agency. Within a year, she hired two clinicians.
Last year, Anesis doubled its staff, reached its first million-dollar budget, opened a satellite clinic on Madison’s north side, and formed partnerships with the Goodman Community Center (GCC), Centro Hispano, and others. Currently, it employs more than 20 clinical employees who serve about 275 people.
“Ordinarily, these kinds of services aren’t readily available to those who lack insurance, access to transportation, and/or struggle with cultural/language barriers,” she reports.
McNair is involved in racial bridge building as a board member of Collaboration Project, which encourages partnerships between churches and community. She’s also served on multiracial/multicultural leadership teams with women at Blackhawk Church.
An avid traveler with a (secret) passion for dance, McNair proudly overcame her own lifelong fear of heights through ziplining and parasailing.
Even though he’s this year’s youngest 40 Under 40 honoree, Nick Myers is wise enough to understand the importance of artificial intelligence and its possible implications for Wisconsin and the world.
RedFox AI is an information technology and artificial intelligence consulting firm. Myers says it’s Wisconsin’s only IT consulting firm offering expertise in voice-assistant technology. In the past year, the company added three clients and increased revenues by 30 percent.
He’s working with one Australian organization to develop a custom Google Assistant Action to help boost membership, as well as using voice assistant technology to help people register for the organization’s events.
He was the keynote speaker at the Social Media Marketing Summit and Awards in Sydney, Australia and was also invited to participate in an international panel in Bangkok, Thailand on the future of AI and technology in the hands of youth.
In his downtime, Myers enjoys socializing, reading fiction, and playing video games.
Molly Gallmeier was the first employee hired by Talavant co-founders Dave DuVarney and Rob Long in 2015. “[They] gave me a laptop and said, ‘We’re a data and analytics consulting firm. Go sell.’”
And sell she did.
Talavant now has 24 employees, offices in both Madison and Milwaukee, and revenues have grown 50 percent year over year largely because of her efforts.
With prior staffing experience, Gallmeier recognized that the fast-growing company needed improvements in the amount of time spent onboarding, so she led her team in implementing HR software that significantly reduced it from four hours to just 30 minutes.
While Gallmeier never dreamed she’d have a career in technology, now she’s encouraging other young girls and women to follow her lead into a STEM career. Last fall, she spearheaded the launch of Madison’s Women in Technology Wisconsin chapter.
Notes DuVarney, “I could see a drive inside her that I knew was unique.”
Kurt D. Rose
HR Recruitment and Retention Specialist
UW–Madison, School of Education
Kurt Rose joined the School of Education just over a year ago to manage and implement a new online performance-management system that replaced annual, paper performance reviews, among other changes.
The new system received some expected blowback because supervisors and employees are now expected to meet several times a year rather than just once.
Rose worked diligently as a liaison between central HR and employers and supervisors to provide clarity and allay any staff concerns.
Around town, he is president of the Young Professionals chapter of the Urban League of Greater Madison; and vice president of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.-Madison Alumni Chapter, a group he joined in 2012.
Notes Dr. Ruben Anthony Jr., president/CEO of the Urban League of Dane County:
“When [Rose] began as the undergraduate advisor, the chapter was in decline, but today [it’s] one of the strongest black Greek letter organizations on campus.
“He has been a very humble change agent.”
North Star Resource Group
Financial advisor Austin Streeper never wanted to be a “salesman.”
Never say never.
Years ago, as he wrangled with the decision of whether or not to open his own financial practice because of his fear of sales, his mentor casually commented, “Everyone is selling something whether they know it or not.”
Instantly, his outlook changed.
Streeper launched his financial advisory practice a decade ago and has been cultivating business partnerships and building his reputation ever since. His niche? Conducting financial literacy seminars for employees, “almost as an HR perk,” he says.
The soft-sell approach has boosted both his confidence and his bottom line. Last year, he increased cases written by 100 percent and revenues spiked 20 percent over 2018.
Streeper is on the UW Carbone Cancer Center Emerging Leadership board and The Canopy Center board. He’s also proud to be a member of 100 Men of Dane County and the Madison Elks Lodge.
Senior Project Manager
Total Administrative Services Corp.
When Tammy Steller first came to TASC, she had to dive in head first to learn about an industry she knew nothing about.
Now she’s mastered skills as a project manager, business analyst, and overall program manager.
She’s developed into a key liaison between all aspects of the corporation — business development through sales and business technology services — and as such, she has grown to be an integral part of TASC’s success.
Utilizing TASC’s paid volunteer-time policy, Steller has become a staunch supporter of Habitat for Humanity.
“To work alongside the homeowners and get to know them and their struggles, was a true eye-opener,” she relates.
An avid reader who completes between seven and 10 books a month, Steller’s other hobbies include downhill skiing and boating, but she’s also a deer and turkey hunter with “steller” shot-making ability.
“I can hit a target dead center with a rifle at 243 yards,” she reports.
Epic Systems Corp.
Megan Sollenberger developed a staffing analysis for administration teams across Epic’s HR department that helps leadership determine how much time employees are spending on core work.
“From that data, we were able to easily see where silos existed and quickly developed a plan to start cross-team training,” she notes.
She enjoys her job because she loves Wiki coding. “There’s something about figuring out HTML coding that has been really exciting.”
Sollenberger, a young mom, started the Dane County Diaper Bank in 2018 to provide a free, monthly stipend of diapers to families in need across the county.
In 2019, DCDB distributed over 100,000 diapers to 120 children every month, and the list continues to grow, she says.
As the only employee, Sollenberger accepts no salary for her work.
Recently, she wrote a children’s book scheduled for release this year. “The series is aimed at children 5 and under and was inspired by my oldest son, who is on the autism spectrum.”
Kenneth M. Albridge III
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
As an in-demand patent litigation attorney, Ken Albridge is one of Michael Best & Friedrich’s top attorneys in terms of billable hours.
Meticulous and precise, Albridge earned a degree in mechanical engineering first and has gone on to represent multiple large clients in high-profile patent cases in federal courts across the country.
“[Ken’s] strong technical background has allowed him to not just handle but to thrive in managing — and winning — complex IP and commercial litigation,” notes Amy O. Bruchs, managing partner at the firm’s Madison office.
It’s a far cry from Albridge’s very first job at age 16, selling carpeting services through a telemarketing company, where he learned “that I did not want a career in telemarketing,” he jokes.
Albridge is active in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County, and was proud to have mentored a once struggling nine-year-old child through to his high school graduation in 2018, a moment Albridge considers among his greatest personal achievements.
WPS Health Solutions
Sara Redford just started her new job at WPS on Feb. 27, but in her previous role as the State Procurement Director for the Department of Administration, she helped innovate state procurement operations by negotiating a contract for electronic signature to streamline procedures and save state agencies money.
She also led a project to overhaul the State Procurement Manual — an outdated policy guide published in 1982 that had mushroomed into a 600-page document with 151 policy sections over the years. “[It} was difficult to access and was not in line with changing systems and state laws,” Redford notes.
Last September, a trimmer version was unveiled, with just 73 policy sections, half the pages, and a new website.
Redford’s life changed dramatically in 2014. She was critically injured when she was run over by a large truck, and later that same year she lost both her mother and brother-in-law.
Realizing now how fleeting life can be, she’s made a quilt for many close to her to let them know just how much she appreciates them.
L. Anthony Hudson
BMO Wealth Management
When Anthony Hudson accepted his position at BMO Wealth Management, the $2 billion business ranked in the bottom third in performance. These days, it ranks fifth out of 17 teams and has increased net income by 35 percent over the previous year.
Hudson contributes to BMO’s Black Professional Network and Linkages, which are programs focused on recruiting, retaining, and developing diverse professionals statewide.
In Dane County, he serves on the boards of the Urban League, the Boys and Girls Club, and United Way.
Hudson co-founded the Greater Milwaukee African American Employee Resource Group Connection, comprised of local leaders of color from Milwaukee’s most prominent corporations. “[It focuses] on community, connections, and career development for over 70 African American local professionals from Rockwell, MillerCoors, Northwestern Mutual, Johnson Controls, and others,” Anthony states.
The objective? To try to retain diverse talent and fight Milwaukee’s “brain drain” issue.
Wisconsin Horse Council, dba Midwest Horse Fair
It’s hard to characterize what Megan Hanuszczak went through in 2017 as an employee of the Midwest Horse Fair, one of the largest equine events in the world.
True grit may be a start.
Armed with proof that the organization’s general manager had been embezzling for a number of years, Hanuszczak approached the board chair to deliver the shocking news.
The organization was in a momentary state of chaos. Turnover grew to 60 percent, while Hanuszczak’s honesty would later be rewarded with the permanent executive director role.
Since then, her leadership and creativity has boosted the Horse Fair’s attendance, sponsorships, and soothed the concerns of vendors to the point that now there’s a waiting list!
Notes Pam Jahnke, director, blogger, and radio host of the “Midwest Farm Report”: “Many in professional positions never have to face that kind of challenge and work with not only a staff, but a board of directors. All that and under the age of 40!”
Lift Consulting LLC
Matt Pletzer has worn every hat since building LIFT Consulting, a business and sales consulting firm he launched in 2015. In the past year, the company doubled its staff and revenues increased by 30 percent.
The strategies he teaches are career changing, notes Curt Fuszard, executive director of REACH-A-Child, whose son trained under Pletzer for two years.
A serial entrepreneur, Pletzer hints at another project under development, one that will teach entrepreneurial, underprivileged kids some professional skills by the time they enter the workforce.
And in the local community, he’s served on boards for Middleton Outreach Ministries, Gigi’s Playhouse, and 100 Men of Dane County.
Pletzer also founded a hunting competition to benefit pancreatic cancer research and to honor his late father and hunting partner, who lost his battle in 2013.
“Every time I’m in the deer stand, I think of him and hope that wherever he is, he’s as happy as he was while hunting.”
Ronak Mehta MD
Ronak Mehta, a UW Health family physician, created an online side business, Nerdbugs, to combine her two favorite things: silly puns and medicine.
Nerdbugs are plush, smiling body organs that can be purchased as get-well gifts, toys, or for educational purposes. They also make great “neuron my mind” gifts between friends, she suggests.
While impacting the health of her patients is her first passion, Mehta launched Nerdbugs to bring a smile to the faces of strangers worldwide facing tough stretches in their health.
With the mission, “spread kindness, stay nerdy,” Nerdbugs isn’t rocket science, but the puns are priceless:
Aorta: “I aorta tell you how much I love you!”
Gallbladder: “Who you gonna call? Stone busters!”
Lungs: “We be-lung together!”
Uterus: “Who put the cuter-us in uterus?”
Intestines: “Intestined for greatness!”
Mehta the “punny” doctor might well redefine bedside manner.
Head of Global Innovation
American Printing House for the Blind
“I was once one of those blind kids growing up who was not able to access certain technology, so I always wanted to be the one who changed that for others,” explains Greg Stilson, who joined the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) in January.
In his previous role at Aira Tech Corp., Stilson played a key role in the development of the company’s smart glasses for blind and low-vision (BLV) individuals. The glasses interface with smartphones and a remote professional agent who “sees” the user’s surroundings, enabling agents to serve as visual interpreters so that blind individuals can gain greater independence and productivity in their daily lives.
At HumanWare, Stilson helped develop the first braille tablet device for blind students.
In his new APH role, he’ll continue improving methods and products to help BLV students learn foundational braille literacy skills, access STEM content, and improve their technology toolbox.
Stilson, from Rio, Wisconsin, has also played piano since he was four years old.
Diamond Assets LLC
Over the past two years, Diamond McKenna has saved Milton-based Diamond Assets LLC nearly $1 million in labor costs by improving work flow, and she’s only just beginning.
She’s working to double production outflow again without increasing square footage.
Diamond Assets, a company she co-owns with her husband, Mike, is a national asset management organization specializing in IT buy-back programs for organizations, largely school districts.
In 2017, Diamond was elected to a three-year term on the Milton School Board of Education in her first run, collecting the largest number of votes, despite being new to town and not having a child in the school system.
Her ability to lead, her compassion, philanthropic soul, and relatability to those around her is truly what makes this Diamond shine.
Notes one co-worker: “Her mantra is that she will not ask anyone to do any work that she has not done or would not do,” adding that by the end of 2018, after just four years, Diamond Assets LLC grew from a $250,000 company to over $43 million.
Big Top Events Soccer LLC, dba Forward Madison FC
As general manager of the Madison Mallards and four other baseball teams around the state, Conor Caloia, Big Top Sports and Events, was tapped last year by President Vern Stenman to handle day-to-day operations for Forward Madison FC (FMFC), Madison’s first professional soccer team.
“[Our mission] is to provide entertainment and value to our local communities,” Caloia remarks, as evidenced by inviting the local community to select the team name and its mascot — the Flamingos. Launching the team is Caloia’s proudest career achievement to date.
In FMFC’s inaugural season at Breese Stevens Field, the Flamingos led USL League One in average attendance (4,300 fans/game) and in revenues from ticket sales, advertising, and team merchandise. The latter, Caloia adds, has been shipped to all 50 states and nine countries.
On weekends, he enjoys watching European soccer, but he’s also a whiz at naming state and country capital cities, a hidden talent he describes as “absolutely useless.”
Senior Project Manager
CG Schmidt Inc.
Nicole Cuellar, a woman in the male-dominated construction industry, says she represents only 1 percent of female field or project managers across the country.
It wasn’t easy to earn her stripes, especially when female mentors were practically nonexistent.
Now at CG Schmidt, Cuellar has become a respected project manager. She’s led the team on a $12.9 million, 40,000-square-foot school addition and remodel for the only school (Pre-K through 12) in Barneveld; and relocated to Los Angeles to help manage a $238 million project for Alaska Airlines in the very active Los Angeles International Airport.
Currently, Cuellar is managing the construction of the $25 million Youth Performing Arts Center in Madison, while mentoring other women hoping to walk in her boots in the construction industry.
“There’s going to be a whole generation of young, female construction professionals who are looking for their own voice, just like I was, and I want to help them find it.”
Badger Sports Properties
Alex Vitanye markets and sells corporate partnership programs for the UW–Madison Athletics and Campus Marketing.
Propelled by his success at Learfield IMG College’s Xavier Sports Properties in Ohio, he was promoted to the Madison market three years ago. Since then, his book of business has grown 10 percent and he’s one of only a few Learfield employees managing more than $3 million in sponsorship contracts.
Recently elected to the Madison Magnet board, Vitanye’s also involved in Downtown Rotary, Downtown Madison Inc., and the Clean Lakes Alliance.
He’s also mentoring Jontez, a young man he met through Big Brothers Big Sisters, and in his spare time he enjoys officiating high school basketball and girls’ lacrosse.
“People often think I’m crazy for signing up to be yelled at, heckled, or worse,” Vitanye admits, but it speaks to his conflict-resolution skills.
On a side note, Vitanye recently earned his Beer Tasting and Serving certification, the first step toward becoming a cicerone.
The Gordon Flesch Co. Inc.
“The Gordon Flesch Company (GFC) is going through an intense period of growth and transformation,” notes Kelly Dolphin, who was recently promoted to VP of finance after just six years with the nation’s largest independent office technology company.
“She came to GFC with no history or experience in our industry and has learned it faster than anyone we have ever brought on,” states CEO Tom Flesch.
With GFC in acquisition mode, Dolphin scouts for targets, strategizes, and performs due diligence.
She was deeply involved in the company’s recent acquisition of Advanced Systems Inc., and she’s committed to ensuring that the company grows organically into managed IT, software consulting, artificial intelligence, and content-management software.
Somehow this mom of three — a card shark who learned to play poker as a youngster — still finds time to serve in the community as VP and volunteer coordinator for the Hawks Landing Swim & Dive Team.
Sarah Best Strategy
Sarah Best launched a digital marketing agency in 2014 to fix what she describes as a “broken agency culture where employees have to choose between being good parents and being good workers, where customers are treated as conversions instead of people with unique motivations and needs, and where gears grind so slowly that companies’ results suffer.”
She had won social media awards previously but says her business knowledge needed a lot of work. “When I pitched my idea to MERLIN MENTORS … I had no idea what a P&L was,” Best admits.
That’s no longer a concern.
In 2019, her company experienced 26 percent revenue growth and expanded its team accordingly. Among her clients are The Nature Conservancy (global), YMCA of the USA, and the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Best is a published poet, a visual artist, and a dance-film curator. She and her partner, Dan, are members of the Arthur Murray Dance Studio and recently performed their first cha-cha routine in front of others at Union South.
Laura Victoria Barnard
Grakei Maids LLC
Raised in the slums near Buenos Aires, Argentina, Laura Barnard moved to the U.S. in 2001 — just before an economic crisis hit her native country.
On the advice of a friend in Madison, she relocated here and has since proven her value in the service industry.
Her company, Grakei Maids (a combination of her children’s names), launched in 2011 and now has 22 employees.
“I created [the company] with the purpose of providing affordable home cleaning to working families and working single mothers and fathers,” Barnard explains.
In 2013, she partnered with Cleaning With a Reason, a national nonprofit, to donate cleaning services to women undergoing cancer treatment. She’s proud to note that since then, Grakei Maids has provided nearly $16,000 in pro bono work to nearly 35 women.
Among Barnard’s hobbies: exploring old, abandoned homes and collecting history books. She’s also a pastry chef who enjoys whipping up European pastries and pizzas.
Stacy A. Alexejun
Quarles & Brady LLP
“I went from no job to my dream job,” notes Stacy Alexejun, a product liability and intellectual property attorney at Quarles & Brady LLP.
During the Great Recession in 2009, she had no job offers despite graduating cum laude from Marquette University Law School. Undeterred, Alexejun competed for and landed a judicial clerk position with Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Annette Kingsland Ziegler and stayed for three years.
In 2019, Alexejun received the Outstanding Mentor Award from the Young Lawyers Division of the Wisconsin State Bar, and she now serves on nonprofit boards around Madison.
She credits her husband and her on-call mother with helping her balance life as a mom to a three-year-old daughter with her career as a litigator.
Last year, she persuaded 10 other associates to join her in the firm’s first-ever Polar Plunge. Together, they raised over $3,000 for Special Olympics Wisconsin under the team name “Quarles & Brrrrrady LLP.”
Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp. (WWBIC)
At WWBIC, An Nguyen helped bring Kiva to Madison and other parts of the state. Kiva is a crowdfunding loan program that supports up to $10,000 at zero percent interest for up to 36 months without the need for collateral.
“The biggest challenge,” he explains, “is to deploy responsible capital to the low-moderate-income entrepreneurs in a sustainable way.” He learned quickly that strong community partnerships go a long way in achieving this goal.
Nguyen designed the Nano-Grant program funded by the city of Madison, which provides $1,000 in grants linked directly to the Kiva program. He also designed a Kiva WWBIC Companion Loan Program for low-moderate-income entrepreneurs “to bridge the gap of Kiva capital and WWBIC traditional capital,” eliminating the collateral requirement.
But he’s most proud to have earned an MBA from UW–Madison last year, and he thanks his wife, Trish, whom Nguyen considers his greatest friend, supporter, mentor, and contributor to his success.
When Dan Bertelson purchased the RE/MAX Preferred real estate franchisees in 2011, the country was coming out of a recession and the local firm had languished, losing nearly $350,000 a year.
Sixteen months later, it was profitable.
Since then, Bertelson has added four offices — he now has 12 across five counties — and doubled the number of real estate agents.
After all, he’d been through much worse. Bertelson, an Army veteran who survived a combat zone in Northern Iraq in 2004 and 2005, now counsels other vets and their families struggling with post-war burdens. He’s proud to stand guard at local military funerals, especially those lacking family or next of kin, as a member of the Patriot Guard Riders.
Among his favorite local charities: Habitat for Humanity and the Children’s Miracle Network.
A rocker at heart — Bertelson once sported purple hair — he’s played drums since he was a teenager and occasionally still performs live.
Orange Shoe Personal Fitness
Katie Michel has been involved with Orange Shoe Personal Fitness for over 15 years.
After owning one franchise location, Michel began negotiations in 2016 to buy out the entire holdings company. After nearly a year of meetings with advisors and attorneys, she sealed the deal.
Since taking over as CEO, Michel has added four Orange Shoe locations and the company has experienced over 40 percent growth.
She’s involved in all systems and operations decisions for Orange Shoe, including but not limited to product negotiations, sales of new locations, real estate acquisitions, and construction project implementation.
She still finds time to volunteer as a community recreational basketball coach for 13-year-old girls in Deerfield.
“[My] greatest joy comes from seeing people do more than they thought they could,” Michel says. She finds joy in quiet time, too — canoeing, paddle boarding, gardening, and yoga. In fact, Michel has taught yoga on beautiful beaches in seven different countries.
Jenerate Wellness LLC
Jen Heller once dealt with severe thyroid issues, headaches, and other symptoms that led her to a practitioner who determined Heller’s body was loaded with lead and mercury toxins. On her suggestion, Heller studied the benefits of infrared saunas and ended up purchasing one for her home.
After 14 months, her body was detoxified and 125-pounds lighter, and Heller credits the infrared sauna — plus a healthy diet and exercise — for saving her life.
Now she speaks nationwide about safe detoxification related to cancer prevention, and she’s donated infrared saunas to fire stations, including the City of Madison Fire Department (Station No. 1), to safely detoxify firefighters from toxins they may encounter during fire calls.
At her Waunakee studio, customers can schedule time in the infrared saunas or purchase one for their own use.
The business has increased employees, profitability, and last September Heller became a co-owner of the infrared sauna company she so believes in.
Carex Consulting Group
Theresa Balsiger left a promising career with a well-established Madison employer in 2018 to join Carex Consulting Group, a small unknown startup.
Taking that risk and being able to financially support herself is now one of her proudest career achievements.
Carex, a talent-recruitment firm, has had a banner year, she reports, scaling to 75 employees and more than doubling revenues, and she’s played a major role in that success. Balsiger hired 10 employees who’ve helped recruit 100 partner clients over the past year.
She’s also developed a comprehensive compensation plan and a professional development strategy as the company builds a name for itself. Key to her career success, she says, is learning the importance of adapting strategies to market changes, offering a diversity of products and services, and never giving up.
Around town, Balsiger currently serves on the boards of One City Schools and Operation Fresh Start, and she volunteers with Junior Achievement.
Celebrating 20 years of the 40 Under 40 — Where are they now?
As IB honors this 20th class of 40 Under 40 honorees, we will also commemorate this milestone by looking back, through a series of online “Where Are They Now” features (2015 class and prior), on many of the recipients who have received this high honor. To ensure that you don’t miss any of these updates, subscribe to our IB Ezine at IBMadison.com/ezine.
Just a few of the many names that IB will be featuring throughout the year:
- Tom Pietras, class of 2001
- Lauri Droster, class of 2002
- Renee Moe, class of 2004
- Jim Tubbs, class of 2004
- Jason Edge, class of 2005
Don’t miss any of these! Subscribe to the IB Ezine at: IBMadison.com/ezine.
Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.