Colorful cast of characters

The 2016 40 Under 40 show their true colors

From the pages of In Business magazine.

If the adult coloring craze is any indication, chromotherapy is back in vogue among people of all ages, especially the young adults who are moored to technology and seeking simple ways to unplug. As we present our annual 40 Under 40 class, we provide information about their professional and civic contributions and their favorite colors because the latter might say more about them than any other quality.

The fascination with adult coloring is no surprise to Mark Schmitz, principal and creative director of Zebradog Dynamic Environment Design, a Madison-based facility brand integration firm. Schmitz believes it’s a natural result of the daily media bombardment we face. “We’ve been so inundated with media and with our handheld stuff and our computers and everything else that we’re craving baby powder and coloring books,” he says.

Experts believe our favorite colors say a great deal about us — from the action-orientation of red, to the need for socialization associated with orange, to the analytical coolness of blue, to the need for logic and order linked with yellow, to the yearning for security connected with green. Similarly, if your true colors are purple or violet, you’re quest for perfection never ends, while lovers of black crave power and control over their lives, and middle-of-the-road gray devotees are more likely to be the cool and composed types. Meanwhile, gold diggers aren’t shy about displaying their charisma, and anyone wearing white is said to long for simplicity.

In truth, there are as many color theories as there are personalities, and our 40 Under 40 showcases a bit of their childlike whimsy through their own coloring efforts, displayed alongside their profiles on the following pages.

Read on as we explore how Madison’s most promising young professionals color their world and the lives of people around them.

Nic Alexander

Vice President

The Alexander Co. Inc.
Age: 32

Nic Alexander says it was never a foregone conclusion that he would work in the family business. After seven years as The Alexander Co.’s director of marketing, he left to cofound a local advertising agency. That experience, he says, likely helped propel his advancement when he later returned to the family business.

When he’s not busy reimagining new space, Alexander’s interests usually involve food and music. He’s worked in professional kitchens and volunteers as a radio personality for 98.7 WVMO-LP, Monona’s low-power station. He most admires Napster founder Sean Parker and Herb Alpert (of Tijuana Brass fame) for being visionaries in their fields.

Now working for his brother, Joe, the company’s president, Alexander says he has no desire to ever leave the family business, but someday he hopes to make and sell cured meats as a side business.

Favorite color: None. “Every color has an appropriate time and place.”

Dan Anderson

Human Resources Employment Officer 

State Bank of Cross Plains
Age: 37

Dan Anderson remembers finishing his first marathon and learning lessons about focus, commitment, and motivation. Halfway through, his running shoe had been torn, removing the outside support during the final 13 miles. In that long stretch, his foot landed on pavement instead of the shoe’s cushion. “There was a lot of pain but I focused on my goal and committed to finishing the race. I not only finished but hit my target time.”

Anderson, a UW–La Crosse graduate, has been hitting the target ever since in his role with State Bank of Cross Plains and his activities with Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Urban League. He derives great satisfaction in finding meaningful work for people who face social or economic barriers.

Favorite color: “Green. In an odd coincidence, it seems the hardest work is put into obtaining green things (lawn, money, and an appetite for green eggs and ham).”

Alejandro Arango-Escalante

I/S Financial Senior Analyst

American Family Insurance
Age: 36

After six years with Kraft Foods, “Alex” Arango-Escalante is relatively new to American Family Insurance but appears well armed for his new career. While at Kraft, several promotions culminated with his final role as cost manager for the Oscar Mayer Cold Cuts category. He’s also well armed in another sense, having served as a sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, which gave him the discipline and drive that allows him to succeed.

A board member and treasurer of the Latino Chamber of Commerce and also an advisory board member at Overture Center, he admires Jorge Hidalgo, co-owner and general manager of Wilde East Towne Honda, and Eve Gervaise. Hidalgo because of his military and career achievements and Gervaise because he tutored her early on and has watched her succeed from high school dropout to the Marines to CitiBank.

Favorite color: Red. “Perhaps because it’s a color associated with risk and danger.”

Erin Arango-Escalante

Director, Client Relations & Early Years 

WIDA, UW–Madison
Age: 35

As an educator, Erin Arango-Escalante has a lofty ambition: to become the U.S. assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement. The position, housed within the U.S. Department of Education, is focused on things she’s dedicated her career to — the development of educational interventions and nontraditional programs — but it also oversees competitive grant programs that support innovative ideas to fight educational inequities.

Having already developed a bilingual early childhood and evaluation center in New York that serves children with disabilities, Arango-Escalante’s interest in evidence-based practices could well take her to the nation’s capital. Her current focus is on early childhood education in Wisconsin and raising children ages 4 and 7.

Favorite color: The “orange-pink” color that illuminates the sky during sunsets. “My family loves to go boating and seeing these colors in the sky and over the lake is the most relaxing and comforting scene.”

Dana Arnold

Director – PR and Social Media, Partner

Age: 39

After growing and selling a successful public relations agency in Phoenix, Ariz., Dana Arnold says she’s living her dream with Hiebing. She’s more than tripled the size of the agency’s PR and social media department and spearheaded the opening of the agency’s Austin office. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that Arnold was rewarded with a partnership and board position.

Arnold would most like to emulate Summit Credit Union CEO Kim Sponem, whom she describes as a proponent of female empowerment. “She chose to zig when everyone else zagged,” Arnold notes. She also holds PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi in high esteem. “I think she’s remarkable,” Arnold says, adding that she admires her vision, leadership, and diplomacy.

Arnold loves running, but with @BigKitchen as her Twitter handle, cooking is her creative outlet. She even enjoyed a brief stint as a cooking show co-host in Phoenix.

Favorite color: Orange. “It’s bright and unexpected.”



Jeffrey Beckmann Jr.

Financial Controller

J&K Security Solutions
Age: 32

You might say that Jeffrey Beckmann is loyal to the Corps — the U.S. Marine Corps, for which he served from 2002–2006 as an artilleryman and infantryman. The integrity, discipline, and attention to detail of that experience influences the sense of professionalism he exhibits today. Yet the people he wants to emulate aren’t military icons such as MacArthur and Schwarzkopf but business generals such as Buffet and Jobs.

Perhaps that’s why Beckmann is loyal to the community, too. The UW–Milwaukee graduate organized a charity golf tournament that in its first three years raised nearly $160,000 for Domestic Abuse Intervention Services. “Hands down the greatest professional accomplishment I’ve ever had,” he says.

Favorite color: Green. “In the Marine Corps we had a saying: ‘We’re all green.’ We’d have 120 Marines in our platoon that came from 120 different walks in life, but none of that mattered because we were all wearing the same green uniforms.”

Ben Beere


Wrench Auto Service Inc.
Age: 39

Ben Beere somehow found a way to integrate two very different passions: agriculture and cars. When he was just 26 years old, he and a fraternity brother opened Wrench Auto Service, an independent auto repair shop in Middleton, and he’s especially proud that it took less than 10 years for the business hit $1 million in sales.

He credits Rick Genin of Genin’s Auto Care and Will Sparks of Terry’s Car Care for their mentorship. “They are always positive and honest about their thoughts and feedback, which is invaluable to a young business owner.” Beere hopes to own several Wrench Auto Service shops.

With two ag-related degrees from UW–Madison, Beere also remains active with Delta Theta Sigma Alumni Corp., a university-based organization helping young men and women further their secondary education in agriculture.

Favorite color: Navy blue. “It’s in the company logo and to me it represents integrity, strength, and professionalism.”

Christine Benedict

Vice President for Enrollment Management

Edgewood College
Age: 38

As someone involved in the planning of the Edgewood College’s Community Scholars Program for students with academic potential and financial need, Christine Benedict’s proudest professional moment isn’t difficult to recall. The opportunity to inform one of the first recipients and hear her say the scholarship “will change my life and the life of my whole family” had a profound impact on her.

Then again, helping young people is a persistent theme in Benedict’s life. As a former board chair, she’s also proud to be part of the growth in Girls on the Run of Dane County, which seeks to inspire girls in grades 3–8 to achieve the goal of completing a 5K run and reach their potential in other ways.

Favorite color: Blue and yellow. “Blue is calming to me — thoughts of a cloudless sky and endless ocean. Yellow inspires joy — flowers in full bloom, sunshine, and warm, cozy fires.”

Jeannie  Cullen Schultz

Healthcare Construction Director

JP Cullen
Age: 32

Jeannie Cullen Schultz is all about teamwork, both on the basketball court and in her role at JP Cullen. As the head of the family’s standalone health care division, Cullen’s team has blown away their 2015–2016 financial business plan by 204%, and she expects to build on that success throughout Dane County.

A college athlete at Dartmouth College, Cullen Schultz played in back-to-back NCAA basketball tournaments, but her proudest achievement, besides being a 5th generation family business member, is her toddler-son, Cullen.

She admires former UW basketball coach Bo Ryan for getting the most out of his teams, and Steve Ross, president of North American Mechanical, her former employer. “He taught me how to trust and give individuals opportunities to be responsible for profit and loss, which in our business is key.”

Favorite color: Orange. “It’s just always been my favorite, which works nice since I am a Bears fan!”

Chad Eschler          

Business Development

J.H. Findorff & Son Inc.
Age: 38

Chad Eschler is thankful to wife Michelle for many things, but the amazing experience of travel is right at the top of the list. He credits Michelle for opening his eyes to the joys of backpacking in the Appalachians, mud baths in Costa Rica, and snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, among other trips.

He’s also going places at J.H. Findorff. The UW–Whitewater graduate recently transitioned from managing Findorff’s special projects group to a position in business development with an emphasis on science and technology. “Becoming more focused on the forever growing biotech and software industries and their impact on our local economy is rewarding work,” he says.

Favorite colors: Yellow and blue. “When I was young, I always wanted a 1950s yellow Chevy truck.” As an adult, taking a Caribbean vacation with wife Michelle, he’s “always amazed by how blue the water is when we get near the reef.”



Mandi Gausewitz

Chief Operating Officer

Goldstein & Associates
Age: 35

Shortly after college graduation, Mandi Gausewitz went to France expecting a job as a kindergarten teaching assistant, but when she arrived she learned her job had been filled and she was on her own in a foreign country with no job and no place to stay. She ended up finding a position at a local high school and the yearlong cultural experience shaped her life. “I’m much more independent because of it,” she says.

Among her proudest career moments was being named COO after 11 years at Goldstein & Associates where she oversees a staff of 20 and a seven-figure budget.

She’s on the board at the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, and when she’s not volunteering elsewhere, she might be found decorating her home for various holidays with any of about 50 LEGO building sets she owns.

Favorite color: Green. “Ever since I had a box of Crayolas, sea green was my favorite color.”

Laura Gmeinder


Laura Gmeinder Coaching & Consulting LLC
Age: 38

Many people encounter a mid-life crisis, but Laura Gmeinder learned life lessons while going through a “quarter-life crisis.” Now as the founder of her own coaching and consulting company, she’s determined to give clients ideas and inspiration for their own personal journey.

Gmeinder’s epiphany came after seven years in the corporate world when she realized she was called to do more with her life. Was it a company? Was it another job? It took several years to find her purpose and learn how to bring her dreams to life in the form of her own company and the organization Ladies Who Lead, a community of women dedicated to supporting one another on their leadership journeys.

Favorite color: (Badger) Red. “I am high energy, talk fast when I get excited, and am very passionate about the people and things that matter most to me. I’ve been told my energy is infectious!”

Charlie Goldstone


Frank Productions Concerts LLC
Age: 35

Ten years ago, Frank Productions offered the city an idea to revamp its annual Halloween event, which had declined from bawdiness to bedlam through the years. Charlie Goldstone headed up the effort to present a safer option, and he’s been the lead producer of “Freakfest” ever since, working with the city to design stage sites and develop crowd-safety plans. He also helped bring the Avett Brothers to town in a first-ever concert at Breese Stevens Field, and hints at overseeing a new venue in 2016 that could add more than 100 new events to the city.

“My vision is to elevate Madison’s reputation as a must-play destination for top-tier artists,” he says. “[Frank Productions] will be an integral part of the city’s strategy to retain young professionals by strengthening the vibrancy of the city’s nightlife.”

Favorite color: Black. “It’s the color of my favorite album jacket — Smell the Glove by Spinal Tap.

Mark Greene

Senior Director

United Way of Dane County
Age: 38

Mark Greene has a great deal to be proud of during his first 38 years of life. There is his military service, where he earned six air medals and two aerial achievement medals while piloting more than 170 combat missions over Afghanistan and Iraq, experiences that gave him valuable insights on leadership, politics, and human nature.

Then there is the pride Greene feels in being part of a United Way team that raised $19.5 million this past year for its Community Agenda for Change, which helps Dane County families find pathways out of poverty. He describes his employer as the “community’s connector” because it mobilizes nonprofits, businesses, and others to tackle persistent challenges in education, intergenerational poverty, and health.

Favorite color: Blue. “It looks great. It’s a versatile color that can be worn any day of the week or time of year. Also, it reminds me of clear skies, which are always nice.”

Diana Henry

Director of Public Relations

Rippe Keane Marketing
Age: 39

Diana Henry has probably been in more living rooms than most people, but since leaving the television news business, the former anchor/reporter arguably has become involved in more important things — encouraging women to get mammograms or personally raising $16,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Western Wisconsin chapter, where she was honored as 2015 Volunteer of the Year.

In addition to handling PR at Rippe Keane, Henry is active with Friends of Diabetes Research and serves on the UW Carbone Cancer Center Emerging Leadership Board.

“Transitioning from television news to the ‘dark side,’ as people call it, was eye-opening,” she acknowledges. “I have enjoyed learning a new trade and skills and look forward to what the journey will bring next.”

Favorite color: Black. “It can be paired with any color and it’s slimming! My 5th grade math teacher called me ‘Mrs. [Johnny] Cash’ because I wore black so often!”



Jason Ilstrup

General Manager

Age: 39

For Jason Ilstrup, hospitality is about more than managing a hotel, it’s about community outreach. When he first joined HotelRED, he learned the surrounding neighborhood was opposed to the development. He also knew that Madison appreciates small businesses, which the boutique hotel happens to be, and his service in the Peace Corps probably helped as he proceeded through the lens of a small business owner — hiring local people, holding regular neighborhood events, and eventually winning people over.

Ilstrup is also helping to spread the word about Madison as a destination. In concert with the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau, he created and founded Madison Hotel Week, an annual 10-day travel promotion for local lodging. His effort was recognized with the 2015 Wisconsin Hotel & Lodging Association Innkeeper of the Year award.

Favorite color: Blue. “I’ve always found it very soothing. It calms me down and keeps everything on an even keel.”

Megan Jerabek

Shareholder – Attorney

von Briesen & Roper S.C.
Age: 34

It took Megan Jerabek only seven years to make shareholder with von Briesen & Roper, where she also co-chairs the firm’s Trusts & Estates Section. Last year, she was also named one of the Wisconsin Law Journal’s Up and Coming Lawyers.

The working mom credits her own mother for teaching her the importance of being successful both at work and at home, but Jerabek admits technology has also made things easier. “I can work all day, pick up my kids, have a family dinner, tuck them in, and then sign back onto work after they are in bed,” she notes. “I love that my kids get to see me working to accomplish my professional goals.”

She admires Susan Schmitz of Downtown Madison Inc. for her infectious passion for the community and Police Chief Mike Koval for his ability to simultaneously be strong and empathetic when faced with a number of community challenges.

Favorite color: Green. “Because I’m Irish.”

Amy Kerwin

President and Founder

Primates Inc.
Age: 39

Despite what her interests would indicate, Amy Kerwin is not one to monkey around. That’s true even though her favorite book is Thanking the Monkey, her favorite movie is Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and the person she would most like to emulate is Jane Goodall, the famed British anthropologist who has brought so much attention to the plight of the African chimpanzee and the cause of primate conservation.

Kerwin is most proud of establishing Primates Inc., a nonprofit organization, and her efforts to raise funds to construct a monkey sanctuary. After working with 97 rhesus monkeys in a UW–Madison lab and having discussions with other researchers working with primates, she realized that monkeys eventually need a space to retire.

Favorite color: Green. “It represents nature. I want to bring as much vegetation to the monkey sanctuary indoor environments as possible to simulate a natural environment.”

Alicia Kiser

Human Resources Manager – Recruitment & Retention

M3 Insurance Solutions Inc.
Age: 30

In 2012, the average life insurance agent was 56 years old, male, and white, according to LIMRA, an insurance trade publication, but at M3, Alicia Kiser may be single-handedly changing that stat.

Her commitment to broadening the company’s diversity and working to educate young professionals and community groups about careers in the insurance industry no doubt played a large role in her being named the 2014 Athena Young Professional Award winner. She’s also board chair for Girls on the Run of Dane County and a member of the Madison Area Diversity Roundtable.

“I have a hard time being a bystander when I am involved in a project or organization,” she acknowledges. “My philosophy here is ‘go big or go home.’”

Kiser loves to travel, and aims to visit a new country each year with her husband. “I believe travel is extremely important to providing perspective,” she notes.

Favorite color: Green. “For no good reason. I just like it.”

Erin Ladwig

President, Investment Advisor Representative

Forward Financial Planning
Age: 31

Erin Ladwig’s favorite workplace perk is being her own boss, which dovetails into her biggest career achievement — launching Forward Financial Planning, an independent financial services firm, at the age of 29. She doesn’t regret it because she can’t stand to settle. “There is a new obstacle to overcome every day. However, I’m a firm believer in ‘the bigger the challenge, the greater the reward.’”

Another reward for Ladwig is serving as event chair and vice president for the young professionals organization CONNECT Madison. The UW–Madison grad has been an emerging young professional and community contributor for quite some time, serving as a volunteer tax preparer and volunteering for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, Books for the World, and the Canopy Center.

Favorite color: Yellow. “It has been since I was a little girl. I love it because it gives me a feeling of happiness and makes me smile!”



Jessica Lewis

Intellectual Property Attorney, Associate

Quarles & Brady LLP
Age: 39

Before becoming a lawyer Jessica Lewis steered a scientific course, earning a Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology. “I’m proud of my scientific contributions as well as my achievement in an area of law that demands both technical and legal expertise,” she says.

Lewis also volunteers as a patent attorney through LegalCORPS, working with inventors on a pro bono basis, and helped one client obtain patent protection for a dual-use food container. She’s also a director on the board of Fetch Wisconsin Rescue Inc., which saves the lives of at-risk dogs in high-kill shelters through care, rehabilitation, and adoption.

She admires Angela Kujak, assistant general counsel at WARF, for her commitment to mentoring professionals, and Lynn Wood, director of Leadership Greater Madison, for promoting civic engagement.

In her free time, Lewis enjoys live-band karaoke, which in her view is “pretty much the best thing ever!”

Favorite color: Red. “It keeps things interesting.”

Kate Lind


Aspect Consulting LLC
Age: 35

This is Kate Lind’s kind of year. With political campaigns being waged 24/7, there’s a lot for political junkies to savor, but Lind is a political professional who has experienced the exhilaration of successful campaigns and the disappointment of faltering ones. An admirer of presidential icon Ronald Reagan, she was asked to join Gov. Walker’s presidential campaign as treasurer and co-general counsel. Even though Walker dropped out, she describes it as an amazing, career-defining opportunity.

As president of a political consulting firm that specializes in campaign finance compliance for both candidates and party committees, Lind loves being a business owner in a unique field because it gives her the opportunity to be innovative and independent.

Favorite color: Gray. “It’s clean and calming. It also goes with every other color. I know this because my dog is gray and his hairballs look divine on everything!”

Israel Lopez


Chins Up Foundation
Age: 28

Attorney Israel Lopez founded the Chins Up Foundation in 2011. Similar to Big Brothers Big Sisters, Chins Up uses student-athletes as mentors. “When I was a child I had an impactful experience with a Badger football player named Donnel Thompson that changed my life,” Lopez recounts.

From Milwaukee’s inner city, his mother left him when he was in eighth grade and by the time he was 15 he was homeless and living in a car. Still he managed to graduate with a 3.0 GPA and was awarded a football scholarship by Concordia University-St. Paul.

Lopez takes to heart the Steve Jobs quote, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do.” That’s because nobody believed Chins Up would come to fruition.

On the side, he’s a professional actor who has appeared in short films and commercials.

Favorite color: Light blue. “It’s calming for me.”

Dani Luckett

Director of Development

Madison Children’s Museum
Age: 37

In her capacity with Madison Children’s Museum, Dani Luckett has an enviable workplace perk. Nearly everyday, she sees children having a blast in the museum while learning through play. “It’s hard to top that,” she notes.

Luckett has been in her current position for only six months, and because it’s such a joyful place to work, it quickly felt like home. She still dreams of becoming a rock-and-roll singer, but she already has achieved rock-star status by helping young people reach their potential. Her most notable achievement is helping to build UW–Madison’s Great People Scholarship program, a $20 million matching gift campaign to establish more student financial aid scholarships.

Favorite color: Purple. “It’s a serious color, like blue, but with a splash of pink. My mom inspired my love of purple because it’s always been her favorite, too. This apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.”

Josh Marron

Senior Vice President – Business Banking

Middleton Community Bank
Age: 34

Josh Marron was a science guy when he first graduated from UW–Stevens Point, a far cry from the banking world. That transition happened years ago, when he was hired as a personal banking assistant for Middleton Community Bank.

Now he holds the bank’s largest loan portfolio and a career trajectory that is a huge source of pride. “My ultimate goal is to become the president/CEO of a community bank,” he notes.

This year Marron will become the president of the Middleton Chamber of Commerce, allowing him to give back to the community that has supported him, but his proudest achievement is his role as dad to two children.

He shares that parental role with Katie, his wife and fellow wine enthusiast. “We will never miss the opportunity to share a good red wine, and we do like to share!”

Favorite color: Blue. “I’ve always been fascinated with water.”



Dr. Charity McMahon


Body & Spine Chiropractic Wellness Center
Age: 34

Charity McMahon has got your back, which is pretty much a prerequisite when you run a chiropractic clinic. Body & Spine is focused on the health and wellness of the entire family and the fact that it even got off the ground during the economic crisis of 2009 is McMahon’s biggest professional accomplishment.

During that uncertain time, the UW–Stevens Point grad was able to secure financing and open a business that addresses a key component of wellness care. She also tends to the community’s wellness by serving with The Business Forum-Madison, the ATHENA committee, and the Green County Cheese Days board.

Favorite color: White. “I love how clean and crisp it looks. It makes everything look pure and innocent. I also love the snow in the winter! Since it’s hard to color with white, my second choice would be blue. It reminds me of the sky on a clear, bright, sunny day!”

Steve Mendez

Senior Marketing Specialist

CUNA Mutual Group
Age: 36

Steve Mendez came to Madison in 2008 and has been working not only at CUNA Mutual Group but also to develop a better future for the community. Mendez leads the marketing and communications for Madison Urban Ministry’s capital campaign steering committee and he’s also involved with and a consultant to the Latino Professionals Association.

At CUNA Mutual Group, Mendez established the first Latino Employee Resource Group because “people from less-represented backgrounds aren’t as likely to reach for the brass ring if they don’t see others like them in the ranks.”

For inspiration, he keeps a 1977 biography of J.W. Marriott next to his bed, explaining that the global hotel and resort mogul started as an A&W Root Beer franchisee before building his global hospitality empire. “I keep his principles with me every day.”

Favorite color: Light green. “It’s calming and restful and for me and provides fertile ground for centered energy, focus, and growth.”

Rachel Neill

Vice President of Candidate Relations

Age: 32

Making entrepreneurial connections is a big part of Rachel Neill’s life. She has worked for Nordic, the largest Epic consulting firm in the world (ranked #1 in the Klas health care research service), helping it grow from less than 10 people to more than 500 consultants nationwide. In that time, she has risen from director to a vice president’s spot.

As the cofounder of 1 Million Cups Madison, Neill helps connect entrepreneurs with the wider community. One of the goals is to help get more women and minorities exposure to Madison’s entrepreneurial scene while helping new businesses grow and create jobs. Also a collaborator with StartingBlock Madison and a mentor with both Gener8tor and Capital Entrepreneurs, Neill is traveling a career path that allows her to be an active part of change in Madison.

Favorite color: Purple. “I love that purple is both strong and feminine, two attributes I hope I convey.”

Ben Pechan

Corporate Controller

JP Cullen
Age: 30

Just as general contractor JP Cullen has expanded at a rapid pace over the past several years, so have Ben Pechan’s responsibilities. He’s become an internal expert on matters of multi-state business operations and hopes one day to take on the role of CFO. “I like that our company CFO wears a lot of hats,” he says, “like chief legal officer, chief risk officer, or HR director. I want to be a part of the next generation of success at JP Cullen.”

Pechan also volunteers his time on the board at the American Red Cross and on the UW–Whitewater and Blackhawk Technical College accounting advisory boards.

Video games and a good glass of scotch are his guilty pleasures. “My wife says I do a little too much of both!” he confesses.

Favorite color: Blue. “I’ve always been a big fan of anything on the water. In my closet, half of my shirts are blue.”

Rob Plesha

VP – Actuarial Services, Small Group and Individual Business

Unity Health Insurance
Age: 33

Rob Plesha is the first to admit that a career in health insurance isn’t something every kid dreams about, but now that he’s forging a career in what he describes an incredibly dynamic and fulfilling field, he feels fortunate. “Who would have thought insurance could be this fun?” he asks.

Fun indeed, especially for someone who hasn’t set a goal he hasn’t achieved and has enjoyed corporate success at a relatively young age. At 29, Plesha became the youngest officer in the 30-year history of Unity Health Insurance, and his extensive list of external commitments — as a guest lecturer at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Edgewood College, and the Society of Actuaries — attest to the respect he’s gained.

Favorite color: Red. “I don’t know why but it seems to be the best color to personify my personality. Also, my love for the Badgers makes red an easy choice!”



Devin Renner

Creative Director – Sales & Marketing

True Coffee Roasters
Age: 35

Devin Renner has won several awards in his lifetime, from sales awards to two Silver Addys received for commercials he wrote and produced.

Yet his greatest personal achievement was graduating from high school. That’s because his early years didn’t start out well. By the time he was five, he and his sister had lost both parents and were sent to live with relatives “who had no desire to have us.”

He describes the next 10 years as “horrific and violent.” By the time he was 17, he ran away from everything, found an apartment, re-enrolled in school, and eventually graduated from high school and college.

With a troubled past in the rearview mirror, karaoke competitions with his girlfriend are a favorite activity. “Most of my friends would probably be surprised to find me rocking out to Cindy Lauper over Thanksgiving.”

Favorite color: “Blue because it reminds me of Spock, Superman, and pie.”

Ryan Rist

Director of Innovation

American Family Insurance
Age: 37

It’s pretty appropriate that Ryan Rist is the director of innovation for one of Dane County’s largest employers because his biggest professional achievement was predicated on innovation — hook, line, and sinker. After Rist cofounded a software startup that uses lake survey data to predict the location of fish for recreational anglers, he won the coveted Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest in the IT category.

Rist won the honor not because the governor was an avid fisherman but because he had developed patented technology to compress and search bathymetric data, and he eventually sold the technology to a major marine electronics company. To nobody’s surprise, he’s now actively involved in UW–Madison’s Internet of Things Lab and the steering committee of the Wisconsin Innovation Awards.

Favorite color: Blue. “It’s the color of the sky and the ocean, both of which are beautiful and inspiring and humbling at the same time.”

Brock Ryan


AVID Risk Solutions Inc.
Age: 39

About four years ago, Brock Ryan left what was a comfortable, established position at a large area insurance firm to cofound AVID Risk Solutions, an independent insurance agency, despite a competitive market and a questionable economy. Nearly four years later, AVID Risk has grown to include 33 associates and locations in both Madison and Milwaukee.

Ryan’s ability to forge ahead despite the odds may have been honed between the hash marks as a football player for the University of Iowa football team, and in particular for former head coach Hayden Fry, whom he holds in high esteem. “He truly led by example and expected the best out of his players on and off the field.”

But he is especially appreciative of the AVID Risk employees who joined that first year. “They took a chance and believed in our vision,” he says.

Favorite color: Green. “It ties into my Gaelic heritage.”

Niko Skievaski


Age: 29

Niko Skievaski became an entrepreneur the moment he left Epic. At the time, he wondered why there weren’t more ex-Epic employees in Madison’s startup ecosystem. He started 100state to give entrepreneurs a place to collaborate, and it has grown to be Wisconsin’s largest coworking space.

Skievaski didn’t stop there, starting 100health to help launch health technology companies within the walls of 100state. In so doing, he discovered an acute need for data standards to exchange health care data. Then, already armed with knowledge of EHR systems, Skievaski launched Redox to connect health data to software applications in the cloud.

Favorite color: Redox green. “I don’t think we chose green because it’s always been my favorite color, but it was definitely an influence. I grew up in Phoenix where you’ll find little green in the dry landscape. Green might be a backlash to the browns and golds that painted my childhood in the desert.”

Tod Sloan


Epic Systems Corp.
Age: 31

Arguably one of the coolest spots in Dane County is the ever-expanding Epic campus where Tod Sloan is fortunate to be front and center of Epic’s expansion and the point person for overall campus-space planning.

He’s handled all of the logistics related to the opening of 11 office buildings, the closings of three leased properties, and other remodeling projects. There will be more, he promises. “2016 will be our busiest year yet as we plan to open five more buildings.”

Sloan grew up in the restaurant business where he developed a passion for both eating and cooking. He admires chef Tory Miller for the restaurants he’s brought to Madison, and hopes one day that he will own his own establishment. “I love seeing the way people feel when they come to a place to unwind after work or celebrate,” he says.

Favorite color: Green. “I’m Irish Catholic (Notre Dame football) and golf courses!”



Jack Sosnowski


Noble Chef Hospitality
Age: 34

Have you heard of serial entrepreneurs? Jack Sosnowski is a serial restaurateur.

As the owner of five Madison restaurants/bars under the umbrella of Noble Chef Hospitality, a family owned restaurant group, Sosnowski is happily marinated in this fickle business.

He makes it work by maintaining a family vibe that runs through each restaurant and taking shifts at each property to stay involved with a team that has grown from two people to more than 100 in less than 10 years. The Noble Chef began as a bar where Jack was the sole bartender and wife Julie was the server; inspired by respected New York restaurateurs such as Danny Meyer and Bob Brown, the couple has grown it into a broad company with many deliciously different concepts.

Favorite color: Blue. “My son loves to swim, so the ocean is a favorite place of my family and blue makes me think of that.”

Seth Teigen

Regional Vice President – Ancillary Services

SSM Health Care of Wisconsin
Age: 34

It was a proud moment for Seth Teigen’s family when he was named the American College of Healthcare Executives-Wisconsin Chapter’s “Young Healthcare Executive of the Year.” His mother won the same award 15 years earlier.

Teigen serves as president of both the ACHE-WI Chapter and Turville Bay MRI and Radiation Oncology Center boards and holds executive board positions with Stoughton Hospital Imaging Services, St. Clare Hospital Imaging Services, and Shared Imaging Services. It’s all part of checking boxes toward fulfilling his dream of becoming the president of a hospital or health care system.

Teigen counts his wife and two young sons as his greatest accomplishment, but his favorite hobby is golf. “Talking about golf, reading about golf, and trying to figure out how I could turn my children into professional golfers,” he states.

Favorite color: Green “because it reminds me of a lot of things: the Master’s golf tournament and the Green Bay Packers.”

Jeff Vercauteren


Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek S.C.
Age: 32

When the city of Madison began to rewrite its controversial Landmarks Ordinance, the smart money was on a long, arduous process. However, much of the anticipated controversy was avoided and the process produced a balanced ordinance unanimously adopted by the Common Council.

Some of the credit goes to local attorney Jeff Vercauteren, who during the process represented five downtown property owners. Without the relationships he built with neighborhood organizations and his ability to coordinate with historic preservation groups, the process would have been more contentious.

Favorite color: Black and gray. “A few years back, I read an article about Steve Jobs and the fact he wore essentially the same type of clothes every day, including his trademark black turtleneck. The article concluded that many creative types experience decision fatigue from having to make menial decisions throughout the day. By removing some of those decisions, such as deciding what to wear, a person has more capacity to be creative.”

Ryan Von Haden

Partner/Vice President – Business Accounts

TRICOR Insurance
Age: 34

Ryan Von Haden is honored to be the first person outside of the Fritz family to be an owner at TRICOR insurance, a business with 31 locations, nearly 250 employees, and about $300 million in annual sales. He aims to become the president and CEO.

The sports enthusiast admires friend and entrepreneur Mark Wilson, president and founder of TermSync, and Tom Melms, owner of Badger Cab Co. “Mark drives me to constantly think outside the box and look for ways to improve myself,” Von Haden says, while Melms had the vision to differentiate his company with vehicles that run on propane instead of gas.

Von Haden’s best personal achievement is his family, and while he used to play baseball and basketball, he’s now happy to enjoy a round of golf or another “quiet” sport.

Favorite color: Red. “It’s the main color of Wisconsin — other than green and gold!”

Jim Yinko

Regional Sales Director

Total Administrative Services Corp. (TASC)
Age: 39

Jim Yinko’s most cherished achievements include the realization that when you make time to improve the lives of people around you, especially through philanthropic efforts, you create great relationships, you give back, and you have all the time you need to finish other goals.

Not that Yinko has ignored other goals, even as he devotes time to the American Heart Association’s annual walk (team captain), Kennedy Little League baseball (coach), and Madison Hatters baseball (assistant coach). He achieved a top 5% sales designation as an account executive in telecommunications, and consistently has produced an annual net gain of more than 50% at TASC.

Favorite color: Blue. “Blue reminds me of opportunity and vastness of the earth. The many shades of blue are all around us, continually reminding us of endless opportunities we are afforded.”



Chromotherapy comes to the office

The psychology of color has been explored in literature, architecture, and office design — among other realms.

As an office designer, Zebradog’s Mark Schmitz understands that color is enormously important in the work he does, and he notes that chromotherapy is a very specific science. Some also refer to it as light therapy or “colorology” or use other terms to describe the practice of applying color into human environments, but it’s a real science illustrated by the fact that employers can benefit.

“More and more, people are starting to understand that color has an enormous effect on mood, behaviors, and feelings,” he states. “In our visually sophisticated society, we’re doing more to help our employees than ever before because recruiting and retention has become a huge issue.”

The office palette

When assessing color in the workspace, there are some limiting factors, according to Robin Stroebel, founder and CEO of Interior Logic. Stroebel says Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED standards often drive the lack of color. One of those standards is high light reflectancy and this is why interiors have become very neutral — whites, creams, and textures — and have little color except for some accents in core spaces.

“It’s more about texture and materials, especially reclaimed,” she says. “There are very few plain old drywall walls. We’ve seen a lot more glass in order to get light into the building. Where there is an accent, sometimes in lieu of that they might use a wood or something that tends to warm it up. You try to get those elements in because some people think the LEED environments are cold.”

The wise use of color in office settings can influence mood and employee retention. (Photos: Zebradog)

For Schmitz, the application of color in an office setting begins with an analysis of business activities. In a human resources department, where personnel management takes place, that drives a color palette in the green spectrum because green is a balanced color and it allows for calmness in dealing with human beings.

Financial areas call for blue, which is why blue tones are often found in the accountants’ wing. Blue also is used in health care branding because it’s a soothing-pain color and it’s also a very professional color. Many financial companies will use navy blue.

Orange and yellow are the energy colors, the ones you use “to increase your cardio,” Schmitz says, and therefore ideal for a sales environment.

The red spectrum caters to a motor skills awareness that’s good for appetite, “so we use red in the company cafeterias and those kinds of spaces,” he notes.

“In areas that have more energy like a staff café, you might do some brainstorming in other creative areas,” Stroebel says. “Then they might want to add other graphic elements such as more graphic imagery or geometric graphic designs.”

Keep color in perspective

Schmitz cautions there is little evidence to suggest that color changes behavior, but it does influence how we feel. He also notes that while color is important, lighting is equally as important. “Color is only light reflecting off of a surface,” he notes. “So lighting has an absolute and total affect on every environment you’re in. We talk about color, color, color, but red can work in certain environments if it is lit properly, and it can be absolutely destructive in environments where it is not lit properly.”

Stroebel notes that color is but one element in a holistic design. “My concern when I talk about color is that it sounds more like a decorating term than as part of a holistic design,” she notes. “Color is just one microcosm of the overall design.”



Less colorful ways to relieve stress, spark creativity

Years ago on the iconic television series M*A*S*H, the late actor Allan Arbus played a psychiatrist who ended his appearance by offering advice about dealing with the madness of war: “Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice. Pull down your pants and slide on the ice.”

Thankfully, the madness of life in today’s connected world hasn’t prompted too many people to take such counsel literally, but they are trying to deal with constant media bombardment in creatively therapeutic ways. To do so, some are reverting back to the childhood joys of coloring, whether it’s with crayons, colored pencils, or markers, but that’s not the only novel way members of our 40 Under 40 class have found to fight stress and stimulate creativity.

Many of them cited the conventional methods such as regular exercise, listening to music, getting lost in a good book, or enjoying the outdoors, but others go just a bit off the beaten path.

Slamming stress

For Laura Gmeinder (Laura Gmeinder Coaching & Consulting), relaxation came on a drive up the California coastline. Gmeinder, who loves spending time on or by the water, enjoyed the Pacific view with her boyfriend on a trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and the photo capture of these breathtaking views is still paying stress-relieving dividends.

“At the end of the line, I had the opportunity to play captain when we went sailing in the San Francisco Bay,” she recounted. “The sounds of water and the breeze are so relaxing! I love looking at the pictures when I feel stress creeping in.”

In addition to exercise, Dan Anderson (State Bank of Cross Plains) finds value in “mindfulness” activities. “Meditation or a similar activity is a great way to tap into what’s controlling your headspace,” he says. “It really helps increase awareness of lingering stresses so I know which core problems I need to address and with whom.”

Aspect Consulting’s Kate Lind finds relief in alternative environments: “My favorite way to reduce stress during the workday is to sneak away to grab a solo lunch, preferably at a dive bar where I can enjoy a peaceful cup of the soup of the day,” she states. “I generally stare at whatever happens to be on the TV and come up with silent guesses about the lives of the other lone lunchers. It is my favorite mini-escape and always makes me feel recharged.”

Chad Eschler (J.H. Findorff & Son) simply likes to get away. “My wife Michelle has always loved to travel, so when we met she introduced me to traveling. We have been to quite a few places over the years, but our traveling really helps me get re-energized about life. From our crazy road trips where we hop in a car for the week with our two boys with no plans, to hitting the swim-up bar at an all-inclusive resort, our traveling is another great stress reducer.”

One of restaurateur Jack Sosnowski’s methods would please vineyard operators. “Learning about wine and being able to share that with others is a stress relief for me, and being with my kids always brings out creativity in many different ways,” he states. “When I am not with family, reality TV is a great escape and shows like Downton Abbey take me back to a different era, so I briefly step out of the now.”

Creative juices

Many of the same conventional approaches apply to sparking creativity, but again there were methods that defy convention.

Israel Lopez (Chins Up Foundation) travels to his own mental world. “I sit in a dark, enclosed room and meditate,” he says. “It's kind of like The Waterboy: ‘Visualize and attack.’”

Gmeinder is admittedly “very visual,” and likes to collect inspiring online images. “I love tearing pictures out of magazines to create vision boards,” she explained. “Last year I turned my front door into one so that every time I walked out into the world I would think about my dreams and goals.”

Anderson identifies podcasts and audio books as the best way to spark creativity. “I’m a self-proclaimed learn-it-all,” he states. “I want to absorb all the ideas I can in one day. All I need is one idea from a thought leader and my inspiration ignites for new projects or initiatives.”

UW–Madison’s Erin Arango-Escalante uses community service. “My creativity is especially sparked when I am able to volunteer with community-based organizations,” she says. “My favorite current project is creating two new playgrounds for young children. I love to think about play in the context of creating outdoor play spaces.”

For Niko Skievaski (Redox), three-hour flights have always been thought provoking. “I’m held captive with nothing but my noise canceling headphones, Internet-free laptop, and a deadline approaching at 500 miles per hour,” he noted. “I make it a goal to knock out that blog post I’ve been meaning to get to, or whip out good, old Photoshop and create something more visual.”

Nordic’s Rachel Neill gets her best ideas in the shower. “Something about the warm water and white noise make it ideal for thinking,” she states. “I’ve been known to bring a waterproof board and pen in with me to capture my thoughts.”

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