Celebrating exemplary leaders

Greater Madison is home to many effective business and nonprofit leaders, and this year we honor some of the very best with our 2020 Executive of the Year awards.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Quality management isn’t the only ingredient in business success, but it is the most essential one. With that conviction, IB launched the Executive of the Year awards program seven years ago, and in that time, our belief that executive excellence is worth celebrating has only grown stronger. This year, we honor five business and nonprofit leaders as part of an executive awards program that celebrates exemplary business leadership, innovation, and company success.

As part of the seventh annual Executive of the Year presentation, a panel of judges selected high-performing executives in small, medium, and large companies, as well as a Lifetime Achievement winner and our overall Executive of the Year.

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 Wednesday, Jan. 29, at the Overture Center for the Arts:

  • Dave Franchino, president and principal, Delve
  • Casey Liakos, president, Carex Consulting Group
  • Andrew Gundlach, owner and president, Argent Companies (Anytime Fitness of Southern Wisconsin)
  • Mindy MacWilliams, executive vice president–Wisconsin/Illinois, Atmosphere Commercial Interiors
  • Salli Martyniak, retiring president, Forward Community Investments

They join an impressive list of area business and nonprofit executives honored during the first six years of the Executive of the Year program. For more details about the Executive of the Year event and to purchase tickets, visit IBMadison.com/ExecutiveOfTheYear.

We couldn’t compile this group of top leaders without the help of our panel of judges, all of them past Executive of the Year award winners, including Beth Donley, CEO of Stemina Biomarker Discovery; Matthew Gonnering, CEO of Widen Enterprises; and Henry Sanders, CEO of Madison365 and Selfless Ambition. With our thanks to them for a job well done, we present the 2020 Executive of the Year winners.

Executive of the Year

Dave Franchino

Leading in a time of change

2019 was a watershed year for Dave Franchino, president and principal, as he led the transition of 52-year-old Design Concepts to a rebranding as Delve.

Delve’s leadership team believed the product-design company had outgrown the rather generic name of Design Concepts and wanted a brand that better reflected the multidisciplinary, in-depth design, and innovation services it provides. Delve represents the leaders’ commitment to deep understanding of user and client needs, their curiosity and drive to explore, technical acumen, and willingness to get their hands dirty. Recognizing the growing importance of virtual reality in design, Franchino provided time and resources for the company to develop a virtual reality (VR) lab that its designers use to prototype concepts.

The company also continued a growth pattern begun with the opening of a Boston office in 2018 by moving its San Francisco studio to a larger location. Over the past fiscal year, Delve’s team of employees across its three offices has grown 26 percent to service a corresponding 16 percent increase in the number of projects and a 19 percent increase in the total number of clients, resulting in a 21 percent increase in revenue. In addition to leading the rebranding effort, Franchino began hosting a podcast on creating a culture of innovation within organizations called Delve Talks. In the first six episodes, he interviewed leaders from Kohler Co., American Family Insurance, General Motors, Dexcom, CUNA Mutual, and Verily. The second season will launch this month.

Through all of the recent changes, Franchino has led by creating an open-book culture. He shares the company’s financials with all employees monthly, spreading responsibility in a way that empowers everyone to contribute their best. He was nominated for the EOY award by his staff. “I’m humbled my co-workers think I’m worthy of this award,” says Franchino. “I work with an amazing group of talented, smart, and hardworking people — they’re truly the best staff I could possibly ask for. I learn from them every day and it means a lot to me that they nominated me for this. I’m also inspired by this award. It makes me want to double down on my efforts to grow, learn, and do more to continue to drive our firm forward.”

Small Company Executive of the Year

Casey Liakos

Reinventing staffing and recruiting

Casey Liakos was a founding team member of Madison-based Carex Consulting Group and as president has helped the staffing company grow rapidly in just three years.

Prior to joining Carex, Liakos dedicated his career to the goal of improving health care via high-quality and cost-effective use of technology. Throughout his 15-plus years in health-care IT, he saw the industry through a number of important lenses: software vendor, health-care provider, insurance payer, and consulting-services provider. That served to give Liakos a well-rounded view of the health care and business landscapes, which he uses to assess and synthesize client partner needs.

Liakos brought his experience from the Epic consulting space to help reinvent staffing and recruiting with Carex, a philosophy on which the company walks the walk. Carex has had zero voluntary turnover since opening its doors, and Liakos has worked to develop subscription models, helping more than 90 people find full-time careers last year alone, and he has built numerous community relationships.

Liakos has led the company by helping to create new product offerings and being a pillar in the Madison community, helping to advise other startups and getting involved in community organizations such as Rotary.

Liakos has also gone out of his way to build a strong corporate culture at Carex, shepherding growth at the company to the tune of 50 employees by the end of 2019. Additionally, Liakos has been responsible for developing profitable new business lines, expanding Carex’s geographic markets, growing the number of partners the company works with to 100, and being integral in Carex receiving two Wisconsin Innovation Awards nominations.

“Obviously it’s very flattering and it feels good to be recognized by those who are in the trenches with you every day,” remarks Liakos on receiving this honor. “I credit my co-founders, leaders, and staff at Carex for the successes, growth, and strong brand we’ve built. I’m honored to serve this team every day.”



Medium Company Executive of the Year

Andrew Gundlach

Fit to lead

Andrew Gundlach’s data could speak for itself: 34 Anytime Fitness locations, 171 employees, an average membership base of 28,000, $19.5 million in revenue, and an average lifetime value of $1,246.90 per member. He’s achieved those numbers by never settling for average.

As owner and president of Argent Companies/Anytime Fitness of Southern Wisconsin, Gundlach was one of the first Anytime Fitness franchisees to offer members personal training for their first month at no additional cost, which has resulted in more than 2,000 new physical therapy clients and more than 200,000 training sessions over the past year.

Breaking from industry standards, all of Gundlach’s trainers are full-time, salaried employees with benefits. By investing in his training staff, he's reduced trainer turnover, resulting in higher quality training experiences for gym members.

The company’s growth and profitability are also on an upward trend because Gundlach is constantly investing in his clubs with ongoing remodels, updates, and new technologies.

Now, after 13 years of growing his Anytime Fitness business, Gundlach is expanding his holdings to include real estate and another franchise fitness concept, Basecamp Fitness. The first Madison Basecamp Fitness was set to open at the end of 2019, and by expanding into another fitness brand, Gundlach looks to capture an even larger share of the fitness market in Madison.

One year ago, Gundlach opened his 34th Anytime Fitness location in Richland Center, making him the largest sole proprietor of Anytime Fitness gyms. Additionally, in 2019, Mario Sanchez, a trainer at Gundlach’s Middleton gym, was selected as one of the top three Anytime Fitness trainers in the United States, which is a credit to the system Gundlach has created to develop exceptional personal trainers.

“Being selected by my peers for this award is very humbling,” says Gundlach. “Dane County is home to so many great companies and leaders that I have always looked up to and respected, and to win this award among so many deserving people was very unexpected.”

Large Company Executive of the Year

Mindy MacWilliams

Designer leadership

Atmosphere Commercial Interiors partners with its clients to design, furnish, and deliver beautiful places to work. Serving as a workplace “beautician” of sorts is Mindy MacWilliams, who has spent 30 years with Atmosphere, the past six as executive vice president–Wisconsin/Illinois, and her work has changed executive thinking about the true purpose of office design.

Most recently, MacWilliams led the Wisconsin/Illinois region to a sales increase of 32 percent, and oversaw the conceptualization, staffing, and creation of a new Eau Claire office in just six months. MacWilliams adapted her business model and initiated the addition of new positions, for an overall staff increase of 22 percent, which has positioned the company for further growth throughout Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

An innovator, MacWilliams developed a business plan and led her teams in converting three regional offices into worklabs that showcase Atmosphere’s flexible workstyles. The worklab model allows business leaders and designers to experience concepts that improve employee engagement and productivity.

MacWilliams also oversees the mentoring and training of new and existing team members. She led the roll out of company-wide core values and helped solidify their regional adoption. And in Atmosphere’s most recent team member engagement survey, MacWilliams’ teams responded with 93 percent positive team member engagement, a 2 percent increase over the company’s previous annual survey.

In addition to her leadership role, MacWilliams manages two major client relationships for the Wisconsin/Illinois region. Her clients note that she is “beyond amazing to work with. She never fails to constantly go above and beyond for her clients and makes sure that they are always satisfied.”

“This nomination and peer selection is such an honor, especially knowing there are so many others as deserving as me,” comments MacWilliams. “I am humbled to receive the award because I am privileged to lead an amazing team who are the ones at the core of our success.”

Lifetime Achievement Award

Salli Martyniak

A career spent making a difference

Salli Martyniak has built Forward Community Investments into a game-changing nonprofit institution for Wisconsin. FCI is an investor, connector, and advisor to mission-driven organizations that reduce racial inequities and socioeconomic disparities throughout the Badger State, and during her 16 years as president FCI’s loan portfolio has grown tenfold and the breadth of its impact spread even further into all corners of the state.

Martyniak has brought millions of dollars of New Market Tax Credits into Wisconsin, at levels that amaze colleagues. At a recent community conference, leaders from much larger organizations were overheard commenting how “FCI has cracked the code” in getting NTMCs, given its multiyear track record of securing an allocation, which is far from commonplace. FCI succeeds because it nurtures relationships that support the success of community projects.

Martyniak also recognized the value of having staff representation outside of Madison. She was instrumental in hiring the organization’s first full-time staff person in Milwaukee, and it’s Martyniak’s vision, connections, dedication, and acumen that have helped grow FCI from a local loan fund — The Dane Fund — to a statewide community development financial institution (CDFI) that has changed the way people think about investing equity for equity.

Martyniak was also the driving force behind a multiday Community Investing Conference years ago that brought national, regional, and local experts together to show community leaders of Wisconsin that community investing made good sense — and garnered good returns — long before the quadruple bottom line was part of business vernacular.

Martyniak began transitioning out of her role as president at the end of 2019, though she’s quick to say she isn’t retiring; she has more work to do, she’s just ready to do it at her own pace.

“I am humbled to the point of tears,” says Martyniak about her Lifetime Achievement recognition. “I really do consider myself blessed to have found a career that includes so many exceptionally bright, kind people who are dedicated to doing good in their communities. To be nominated for the Executive of the Year award is a gift; at the same time, to have people like Melanie Schmidt in my life who would take the time and energy — and think enough of me — to nominate me for this award is an even bigger gift.”

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.