2019 Executives of the Year: Setting standards
Photographs by Bobbie Harte
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From the pages of In Business magazine.
With the conviction that quality management is the most essential ingredient in business success, IB launched the Executive of the Year awards program six years ago. Our belief that executive excellence is worth celebrating has grown stronger with time, and so this year we honor eight business and nonprofit leaders for their exemplary business leadership, innovation, and company success.
With the exception of the lifetime achievement winner, this particular honor is based on company and community contributions during the past 12 months. The following executives were judged to be the best performers of the past year, and they will be honored at an awards reception on Tuesday, Feb. 19, at the Overture Center for the Arts:
- Matthew Gonnering, CEO, Widen Enterprises
- Ralph Middlecamp, CEO & Executive Director (retired), District Council of Madison Inc. Society of St. Vincent de Paul
- Dan Rashke, CEO, Total Administrative Service Corp.
- Tom Spitz, CEO; Dave Fink, president, Settlers bank
- Kate Perleberg, CFO, RISE Wisconsin
- Henry Sanders, Jr., CEO, Madison365 and Selfless Ambition
- Paul Hager, CEO, Information Technology Professionals
For more details about the Executive of the Year event and to purchase tickets, visit IBMadison.com/ExecutiveOfTheYear.
We also owe a debt of gratitude to our panel of judges, all of them past Executive of the Year award winners, including Beth Donley, CEO of Stemina Biomarker Discovery; Tim Lightner, owner of TWO MEN AND A TRUCK; and Joe Pleshek, president and CEO of Terso Solutions Inc. With our thanks to them for a job well done, we present the 2019 Executive of the Year winners. Special thanks to Rubins for “chair-ing” our photo shoot.
2019 Executive of the Year, Medium Company Executive of the Year
When you’re a provider of digital asset management (DAM) software, you gain a pretty good understanding of organizational assets. For Widen Enterprises CEO Matthew Gonnering, those assets begin with people, the employees he calls the “Wideneers,” which is why he invests so much in professional development and culture.
Widen, which now has 368,000 users in 158 countries, has been certified by WorldBlu as a “Freedom-Centered Workplace,” which is the antithesis of the traditional top-down command model. “The easiest way to explain the freedom-centered workplace is to talk about what the opposite looks like,” Gonnering explains. “The opposite of a freedom-centered workplace is a fear-based workplace. If you can imagine a very top-down, mandated environment that is culturally challenged — you just don’t like showing up for work every day.
“Information does not flow freely, it’s difficult to collaborate, and employees don’t know what’s going on, all of which creates fear within organizations.”
In contrast, Gonnering is determined to be open with information to empower project teams, and he has decentralized decision making because “that’s where all the expertise is.” This mindset is centered on the Greek term “eudaimonia,” which refers to human flourishing. The concept has been around for centuries, but Gonnering learned about it from a friend in the MBA program at UW–Madison. “He was a PhD in psychology and he was talking about the term eudaimonia from a psychologist’s perspective,” Gonnering recalls, “and I started to dig into it from a business perspective because it very much resonated with me.”
Lifetime Achievement Award
Asked why poverty remains so widespread and challenging to fight, Ralph Middlecamp notes there are a broad spectrum of causes, and generational poverty has a different set of solutions than situational poverty.
“We erroneously tend to lump many types of poverty together under one heading,” explains the now retired CEO and executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s District Council of Madison. “There are different answers for different kinds of poverty.”
Finding answers has been his life’s work, whether it’s building a loyal workforce culture in which everyone understands the organization’s mission — “Many could take a job somewhere else and make more money,” Middlecamp notes — his ability to lead the innovation of new service offerings for people in need, or with his current, post-retirement gig as the Society’s national president.
One of the answers is empowering others to get involved. At the heart of Middlecamp’s rewarding work is the one-on-one meetings with people who suffer in poverty, but his ability to reach out has been absolutely critical. In his last full year as the local CEO, total donations exceeded $2.5 million, more than double the amount of donations at the start of his tenure. Most of that came in donations of food but also for clothing, furniture and bedding, housing, prescriptions, and utilities and rent.
“The community,” he notes, “is the shareholder of an organization like ours,” which is why he’s blessed that he landed in a good place — the local nonprofit industry. In Madison, “We have big-city problems, but we still feel that we can do something constructive about them.”
Large Company Executive of the Year
Thanks to Dan Rashke’s commitment to social responsibility, Total Administrative Services Corp. is recognized as one of the best philanthropic companies in Wisconsin. Thanks to his business acumen, TASC, now a $120 million company, is poised for more explosive growth.
Rashke, CEO of the Madison-based administrator of employee benefit programs, is quick to point out that management can envision programs such as TASC’s Universal Benefit Account and the Combined Federal Campaign, but his staff has to execute to woo customers.
The UBA, which was built from the ground up, enables client businesses to work outside of legislative silos when it comes to employee benefits such as health savings accounts or flexible spending accounts, thereby eliminating costly administrative burdens.
The CFC, a new online charity enrollment and donation system to accommodate federal workplace giving, already has centralized and digitized what used to be a cumbersome, paper-based system. It was the first donation system to meet rigorous security standards established by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and before the government shutdown put things in limbo, workplace giving was trending up.
Rashke also gives a lot of thought to TASC’s internal giving, combining 40 hours of PTO for volunteering with a Dollars for Doers program that resulted in more than 5,500 hours of community volunteer time by TASC employees. He’s an advocate of even more giving, inside and outside of TASC, through enactment of the federal Everyday Philanthropist Act, a bipartisan bill that would enable pre-tax giving.