Class Acts

Great combinations are often memorable, and while we won't assert there's an Astaire-and-Rogers quality to melding our annual Executive Register and Executive Hall of Fame, we will let you be the judge.

From this point forward, IB plans to publish the annual Executive Register and Hall of Fame classes in the July edition, and we could not be more impressed with both.

In the past couple of years, IB has been more inclusive in selecting its Executive Register class, which is why you will find more than 950 names of management people who are civically involved in some way, shape, or form. This is not a lifetime achievement recognition because some ER selections drop off the list or climb back on, depending on the level of involvement they indicate on their online professional profiles (

But inside these pages, you will find all manner of executives who help make Madison the community it is. Some of them are briefly profiled in a series of executive vignettes.

Meanwhile, this year's Hall of Fame class is an impressive group that features James Bakke, president and CEO of Sub-Zero, Inc./Wolf Appliance; Dr. Frank Byrne, president of St. Mary's Hospital; James Garner, CEO of Sergenian's Floor Coverings; George Nelson, executive vice president of the Evening Telegram Company (dba Morgan Murphy Media); and Toni Sikes, a general partner in Calumet Venture Fund who also founded The Guild.

Our special thanks go out to the Class of 2011 for its help in identifying this year's Hall of Fame talent. The selecting class includes: James Imhoff, chairman and CEO of First Weber Group; Laurie Benson, CEO of LSB Unlimited and the former chief executive of Inacom Innovation Systems; John Larson, chairman and CEO of National Guardian Life Insurance Group; David Kruger, president of Fiore Companies; and Jay Smith, chairman and CEO of Teel Plastics.

As you read the business stories of the Class of 2012, you'll understand why the Class of 2011 held them in such high regard.

James Bakke

President and CEO, Sub-Zero and Wolf Appliance

In terms of Hall of Fame recognition, this isn't James Bakke's first rodeo. Thanks to a legacy of innovation started by his grandfather Westye and advanced by his father, Bud, who both preceded him as company leaders, James Bakke already is a member of the National Kitchen and Bath Hall of Fame, class of 2009.

Nor is this the first time Bakke, president and chief executive officer of Sub-Zero and Wolf Appliance, has been recognized as an innovator. With the company's built-in refrigeration lines and sophisticated food preservation system and line of wine storage equipment, Bakke was recognized by Builder magazine as one of the 30 top innovators of the past 30 years in the home-building products industry. Other prominent award recipients have included Herbert Kohler of the Kohler Co.

As part of the third generation of his family to lead Sub-Zero, he was named president in 1990 and CEO two years later, and the subsequent period of innovation has been among the most prolific in company history. With the introduction of energy-efficient kitchen products produced by a manufacturing process that has reduced the company's carbon footprint, Bakke's company is top-ranked in terms of appliance quality (also according to Builder magazine). In addition, Wolf received J.D. Power & Associates' No. 1 customer satisfaction ranking for cooking appliances.

Bakke's Hall-of-Fame sponsors note his insistence that all Sub-Zero/Wolf manufacturing remain in the United States, and they cite the high percentages (up to 75%) of company products that are made from recycled material, the measures taken to reduce air and waste stream pollution (no wastewater is produced in its manufacturing process), and the company's continuing investment in energy efficiency research and development.

Others also have taken notice. Sub-Zero's plant in Goodyear, Ariz. recently was recognized with two design/environmental awards, including the 2012 EnVisioneer of the Year Award for the use of chiller systems that save $371,000 per year and reduce annual carbon emissions by 3.6 million pounds, as compared to a conventional chiller plant.

Closer to home, Sub-Zero/Wolf's Corporate University, a learning environment also known as EDGE (Employee Development & Growth Every Day), develops the company's managers of the future. Offered through the University of Wisconsiin-Madison School of Business, the program is tailored to Sub-Zero/Wolf's preference for developing leaders through, as Bakke put it, "real, live assignments." In preparation for the presidency, Bakke himself spent 10 years working in various capacities within the company, including assembler, customer service representative, regional sales manager, plant manager, national sales manager, and executive vice president.

In addition to his corporate commitments, Bakke has served on the board of directors of the Madison Ronald McDonald House, is an active board member of Agrace HospiceCare, donates his time to the Greater Madison United Way Campaign, and encourages Sub-Zero/Wolf employees to follow suit. The organization's own foundation adds another layer of commitment to local charities like the Boys & Girls Club and UW Children's Hospital.

"When you're in the position I am, supporting the community is important," Bakke said. "Agrace HospiceCare and Ronald McDonald House are two great organizations that benefit the Madison community, and those are some of the activities that are worthwhile, along with the United Way. People that can donate time should donate time to these types of organizations."

James Garner

CEO, Sergenian's Floor Coverings

He was one of the first flooring retailers in the nation to develop a product-recycling program. He was chosen by the mayor of Madison to help develop a vital redevelopment strategy for Todd Drive. In fact, whenever there is a need in South Madison, people rely on him to bat cleanup.

James Garner, CEO of Sergenian's Floor Coverings, likes to joke that he grew up at 1205 Fish Hatchery Road and now conducts business at 2001 Fish Hatchery. "So you can see how far I've come in life," he deadpans.

Actually, the many economic development and neighborhood improvement groups he's associated with would beg to differ. Whether it's the South Metropolitan Planning Council, the South Metro Business Association, or national industry associations, there are many different spokes on his wheel of influence. "Whether you're giving back to the local community or giving back to a national group, you're always helping other businesses," he explained. "That's very important to me."

His involvement has been a series of chain reactions. In the 1990s, Alder Tim Bruer suggested Garner as business representative for a new south side planning council (South Metro), which Garner would chair within a year. It wasn't long before the group was working on Park Street revitalization, and that led to the creation of smaller, more narrowly focused groups like Park Street Partners.

Another SMPC initiative brought in UW-Madison as a community partner, which evolved to oversight of the Villager Mall master plan and the Todd Drive-Beltline project, which launched the Arbor Gate redevelopment.

Eventually, Garner would serve on what he calls his "greatest love," the Small Business Advisory Council, tasked with forming guidelines to help businesses weather the impacts of street construction projects.

Garner is proud of that service because he and others pointed the quality-of-life needle upward. "You can see how these things, when you work with different community groups, can evolve from your service," he noted. "It does not happen overnight, but you make plans for it."

Garner has seen many flooring industry changes, but perhaps the most profound change – going green – has yet to be widespread. It has gained traction in Madison, but not so much at flooring stores he recently purchased in Florida, or nationally. By "green," Garner is not talking about new polyester or corn-based flooring, he's talking recycling – genuine recycling that keeps carpets and their components out of landfills.

Actually, Garner calls it his "reclamation" program. Sergenian's works with a third party to ensure that any flooring products that can't truly be recycled into new carpet are used in other industries or go the "waste-to-energy" route, where they're taken to a plant and burned to produce energy.

Even if it didn't resonate locally, "it's what we believe in, so we're going to do it," he said.

As a lifelong resident of Madison, Garner wouldn't change much about his hometown, but what he would change is profound and hard to pull off. He would make Madison more business friendly, without sacrificing its civic intensity. Said Garner: "I think that is the one thing I could change if I could be mayor for a day, to make it more business friendly, and to look at the tax base we've got and try to expand it so that local government can do the things it wants to do."

Toni Sikes

General partner, Calumet Venture Fund; founder and former CEO, The Guild

Toni Sikes has been at the helm of a start up, and now she wants
to help capitalize promising early-stage companies. She has complete understanding of what they go through, both in terms of securing capital and holding on during tough times.

Her Hall of Fame sponsor, Laurie Benson, lauded Sikes for how she handled every chief executive's worst nightmare – having to let people go. Not one or two isolated underperformers, but dozens of talented employees who were about to be let go through no fault of their own.

That would be during her first tenure with The Guild, an e-commerce business established in the 1990s to serve as an online retailer of original art and fine craft items that allows artists to sell their work without having to carry a large inventory. One might wonder how layoffs could occur during a time of rapid growth, but the dotcom bust of April 2000 created those kinds of contradictions.

Few people saw it coming, especially fast-growing companies like The Guild, which 14 months earlier had secured a second round of financing worth $25 million. "We grew from about 18 people to over 100 people, and that's really fast for a small company," Sikes recalled. "We were hiring every smart person who walked in the door."

Unfortunately, the fall happened more quickly than the rise. After technology stocks began to lose value, investors cut off The Guild's capital supply and told Sikes she would have to make it on her own. The only way to do that was with significant staff cuts. Her approach to the layoffs seems obvious, but she acknowledged, "It's amazing how badly people carry this out.

"First, you want to do it with compassion," she continued. "Second, handle it with honesty. In our case, it wasn't because people were doing a poor job, it was because of the economic climate. We were very generous in our severance packages. We gave them written packages that clearly spelled out COBRA, and we set up an outsourcing system to help them find other jobs."

When the dust cleared, there were two rounds of layoffs. The first took the company down to 60 employees. Several months later, when the company was sold (Sikes eventually would buy it back), some departments were merged into a new parent company and the workforce was reduced to 30. In time, Sikes would grow it back to 58 employees before another recession pared the workforce to its present 20.

Those were difficult decisions, but Sikes proudly notes that many of those employees are still in touch after forming a strong bond in a short period of time.

That speaks volumes about the corporate culture she established with The Guild, but in her new position with Calumet Venture Partners, she's looking to help others become the next Epic Systems or American Girl. She also hopes the Wisconsin Legislature can begin to leverage private investments through the creation of a state fund that supports companies in Wisconsin's core industry strengths.

"I talk to entrepreneurs every day who are looking for $200,000, $300,000, or $500,000 for their companies," Sikes related. "There are so many great ideas and companies in Madison. If they can just get a little bit of funding, they will be able to establish themselves, hire people, and prove their concept."

George Nelson

Executive vice president, Morgan Murphy Media

When George Nelson ponders what Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center means to Madison, he's still somewhat astonished at the gauntlet of hurdles its backers were forced to clear.

Nelson, executive vice president of the Evening Telegram Co. (dba Morgan Murphy Media), was one of the driving forces behind the ultimately successful attempt to build a convention asset that was envisioned several decades before its construction.

"When I see it there, I pinch myself because everything has its time and place," he noted. "When you consider that Monona Terrace was 60 years in the making, there are so many different things that happened before we were able to put it together. We just learned from history not to repeat those things and to put it all together."

Monona Terrace was revived by then and current Mayor Paul Soglin, and given crucial impetus by former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who committed state funding. However, the project also had its opponents, whom Nelson recalls as well meaning but misinformed and often tenacious.

He also ticked off the names of Monona Terrace evangelists who provided ample counterweight – Jerry Frautschi, Don Helfrecht, and Mary Lou Munts among them – in what he called a "real battle."

While Nelson shared the credit, his Hall of Fame sponsor, John Larson, stated that it's impossible to overstate the impact he had on the realization of what he called "a 50-year community dream." More broadly, Larson credits Nelson with changing Madison's landscape "physically, culturally, and charitably," noting the area is dotted with buildings, organizations, neighborhoods, and nonprofits that he has influenced in some way.

Nelson also has been involved in projects such as Madison College's Truax Campus, American Family Children's Hospital, and the Ronald McDonald House. As a member of the faculty-business group known as the Madison Town and Gown Club, the well-connected Nelson could hardly turn them down. "I don't want to call it expertise, but where I can offer value is that I know a ton of people at very high levels," he said, "and I know a lot of people within the university."

"It's all about the quality of life here," he added. "It's all about how you were brought up and what values you have. I grew up in a family that believed deeply in giving back to the community, and that has carried forward."

He also carries a sense of balanced journalism in an area where many media outlets, particularly the cable TV variety, have moved to liberal or conservative advocacy. After starting out as a banker, he gravitated to broadcast journalism through his father, who was an investor in Channel 3 (WISC-TV), a Morgan Murphy Media station, when it first went on the air. His father served on the board for years, and George eventually succeeded him. Eventually, he was asked to handle the business side of the operation, but he has enormous admiration for the work of local television journalists.

His case is bolstered by the blunt questions President Obama often gets when he speaks to local TV reporters. "I think you get the best news, as close to unbiased as you can, with your local network news operations," Nelson asserted. "They have journalistic standards they want to maintain. Fox News says they are fair and balanced. Believe me, I think our Channel 3 is fair and balanced. It's got to be that way."

Frank Byrne

President and CEO, St. Mary's Hospital

Following the above statement, Dr. Frank Byrne would go on to thank his employees and his family, but whoever is most responsible, his selection to the Executive Hall of Fame is quite remarkable for a guy who's only been in town since 2004. Then again, when you've immersed yourself in the community to the extent Byrne has, it's easy to make up for lost time.

There is not enough room to chronicle everything he's done or still does, but suffice to say impact has trumped a lack of tenure. In addition to support of numerous nonprofits, community outreach has been a hallmark of Byrne's tenure. His "Frankly Speaking" blog, quarterly Town Hall meetings, and monthly breakfasts with people in the business community have helped St. Mary's build and strengthen relationships. Byrne's service as "Principal for a Day" in the Madison School District gave him a chance to explain how people's health status and education are interwoven and dependent on one another.

"It also helps inform our work at St. Mary's," he said of the outreach. "One of the things the sisters have taught us over the past 100 years is don't wait for people to come to you. Go out and meet them where they are, so it's another way to interact and to learn what our community's needs are."

While dedicated to the broader community, Byrne has been at the epicenter of transformative change at St. Mary's. From hospital expansion to the installation of electronic medical records to championing patient data exchange in emergency room settings, Byrne has embraced several strategic advances. St. Mary's is among a small percentage of hospitals to achieve a Stage 7 level of meaningful electronic medical record use, as provided for under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

In typical fashion, he credits predecessors for teeing things up for him, but he's also picked up where they left off. Under Byrne, St. Mary's has expanded its shared governance program to all areas of the hospital, including physicians. The Whole System Shared Decision-Making (WSSDM) model in nursing has been in place for 20 years, and Byrne views its multidisciplinary benefits as the future of health care management. "It's based on the fact we know the breakthroughs we need to achieve will happen through multidisciplinary collaboration and teamwork," he said. "The days of hierarchical command and control are long gone."

The results are hard to argue with. St. Mary's boasts a turnover rate of less than half the industry average. The hospital has been recognized for quality by organizations like Forward Wisconsin, and it's a three-time winner of the prestigious Magnet Award for nursing excellence, which is achieved by less than 3% of hospitals nationwide.

No matter how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act (a decision that should be known by this time), Byrne says the train has left the station in terms of the improvements the ACA reinforces. He's specifically referring to the emphasis on value over volume of services, a concept he embraces as a way to control costs without sacrificing quality. To avoid costly re-admissions, and the resulting Medicare penalties, St. Mary's is focusing on better coordinating care for people who are discharged, and better managing care for people with chronic diseases like congestive heart issues and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

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