Our 2017 honorees have made a lasting mark on their respective organizations.
From the pages of In Business magazine.
During the four-year history of IB’s annual Executive of the Year program, we have recognized an impressive array of local executives representing a wide variety of industries. We have always set out to honor organizational excellence, and the 2017 class doesn’t disappoint. In fact, this class features several leaders who helped steer their respective companies through some of the most difficult times their industries ever faced.
In this year’s Executive of the Year presentation, we honor local business leaders who have made their mark in banking, commercial real estate and development, health insurance, venture capital, and the grocery industry.
This year’s competition was fierce and we owe a debt to our panel of judges, three of whom were Executive of the Year award winners in 2016 — Beth Donley, CEO of Stemina Biomarker Discovery and our 2016 Executive of the Year; Paul Tonnesen, CEO of Fiskars and Large Company Executive of the Year; and Tim Lightner, owner of TWO MEN AND A TRUCK and Medium Company Executive of the Year. One EOY judge, Zach Brandon, president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, was included among IB’s 2014 Most Influential in Greater Madison.
As in years past, judges were asked to examine all of the nomination forms to determine the winner for the top award, the annual Executive of the Year. In addition to selecting the overall winner, they chose six category winners — small, medium, and large company, lifetime achievement, and two new awards, family business and startup — and they picked our Chief Financial Officer of the Year. With gratitude for the fine work of our judges, we present the 2017 Executive of the Year winners.
Executive of the Year, Family Business Executive of the Year
Man Behind the Market
Metcalfe’s Market is a fourth generation family-owned business that’s been around for a century, both of which are accomplishments in their own right. It’s also a big legacy to uphold.
Company President Tim Metcalfe has been there for 25 of those years, 16 in his current role leading the retail grocer’s three locations — two in Madison and one in Wauwatosa. Metcalfe is a firm believer that being a small retailer operating in the shadows of larger national chain stores is a good thing. “Our thinking tends to be longer term and not in the short term,” notes Metcalfe. “It doesn’t mean that we don’t take risks, because part of our job is to grow.
“What makes us different as a small, independent grocer — but still a relatively large operation with many moving parts — is we are very nimble, “Metcalfe continues. “We can watch our customers very closely and service their needs, and we can still turn very quickly. We can also make commitments to things that larger operations may not be willing to do because they have to do it in 300 stores even though it might only work in 10 of them.”
It’s a big reason why Metcalfe and his team at Metcalfe’s in Wauwatosa, which operates under the Sentry banner, are thriving — rather than simply existing — in a retail food market that seems to change by the day and barely resembles what it was even a couple years ago.
“You really have to work for your grocery customers nowadays,” Metcalfe says. “It’s all about innovation and offering new products. If you’re nimble, I think you can carve your niche.”
In recent months the Wauwatosa store underwent an extensive makeover as the neighborhood near the store transitions from areas of warehouses and industrial space to more residential space. At the same time, the store is embracing the changes that are reshaping the retail food industry in the United States.
About $165 billion of food is wasted annually in the U.S., according to Metcalfe. The grocer has been an industry leader in the implementation of technology designed to end food waste and has partnered with Madison-based Pinpoint Software Inc. to specifically prevent food waste caused by expired products on grocery store shelves. Through a new initiative called Stop Waste Together, Metcalfe’s customers have the opportunity to save between 20% and 30% by purchasing specially marked, soon-to-expire items throughout the store. Metcalfe’s is the first grocer to participate in the initiative.
“We don’t believe that we have ownership over the company, even though on a piece of paper it says that we are the owners,” Metcalfe says. “We truly believe we are caretakers and our job is to care for, polish, and nurture this family business and deliver it to the next generation.”
Large Company Executive of the Year
Herald of Health Insurance
Perhaps the biggest understatement in business is to say the health insurance industry is a volatile one. There’s also no end in sight to the changes coming for health insurers and their customers.P
At least outwardly, Terry Bolz, president and CEO of Unity Health Plans Insurance Corp., doesn’t seem fazed by any of it, despite his own company going through significant changes in the past year.
Unity merged with Gundersen Health Plan (GHP) in a transaction that closed in May 2016, combining Gundersen’s 79,000 members with Unity’s 186,140 to make it one of the state’s largest health insurance companies.
The past year has been one of rapid yet organized change for all employees. Although anticipated for some time, the proposed merger with Onalaska-based Gundersen brought with it some initial growing pains.
While Bolz knew that Gundersen was a like-minded organization, the real work began when results from a Barrett culture survey were made available. To the surprise of no one, the results revealed that Gundersen had its own distinct culture, one that significantly differed from the culture at Unity.
“Unity was much more of a system and process-driven organization, and the Gundersen folks were much more relationship-based,” Bolz explains. “Thankfully, we have people with a lot of really bright ideas from both companies, and we were able to get people at the table and consciously redefine our values to combine both.”
Bolz personally interviewed dozens of employees at all levels to better grasp the differences in culture. The result was an exercise in learning about new partners and implementing the best practices of both institutions. “Our members are patients of UW Health and Gundersen and we will just adapt and put the processes in place to make whatever changes we need to. I think we’re well positioned as an organization to do that.”
Medium Company Executive of the Year
Betting on His Bank
Complacency isn’t something Jim Tubbs does well.
Early in 2016, the State Bank of Cross Plains president and CEO grew frustrated with his bank’s performance.
“We had the right people in the right seats on the bus, as the saying goes, but we weren’t making the kind of progress I knew we were capable of,” Tubbs explains. “It wasn’t the people, so it had to be the way we were doing business.”
Tubbs had the bank’s leadership group revamp everything about the strategic plan to look through the eyes of its customers. One innovation was hiring a dedicated learning and development officer. Banks the size of State Bank of Cross Plains typically aren’t able to commit resources to consistently work on employee development. The goal of hiring the learning and development officer was to not only create an environment and company culture that makes State Bank a nice place to work, but also a nice place to bank.
One employee satisfaction measure the bank uses is whether employees would recommend working at State Bank of Cross Plains to their friends and family, and employee referrals and recruitment to help fill open positions rose 33% in 2016.
Back when the Great Recession was in full swing and the bank was hurting, Tubbs went to his board of directors and explained that they should raise more capital by selling more shares of stock. Every single board member voluntarily chose to buy into the future of the bank. Tubbs’ next step was to develop an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). He sold the idea to employees, sharing his own financial commitment to the bank.
In the end, more than two-thirds of State Bank employees joined the ESOP, moving more than $2 million of their 401(k) contributions into the ESOP program. Those who invested in the bank back in 2012 have enjoyed a 55% increase in their shares. “The true measure of how you lead happens when things are good,” says Tubbs. “Where do you put your attention and energy to build on strengths and perform to potential?”
Small Company Executive of the Year
Steve Peotter is no stranger to the turmoil that faced the nation’s financial institutions during the Great Recession.
When he joined Oregon Community Bank in January 2011, it was a very difficult time for the bank. “The recession was here and many of our clients and small business owners were going through significant financial difficulties,” Peotter recalls. “Based on some choices we had made, our bank was forced into a written agreement with our bank regulators due to our overall financial condition. This public agreement basically stated that we needed to make significant changes — both internally and externally — or risk further negative occurrences.”
Peotter admits that in his first year as CEO, Oregon Community Bank endured its worst financial year in the history of the organization, losing millions of dollars. “It was the best thing for us,” Peotter says. “By doing what we needed to do, we were able to step past the mistakes we had made and position ourselves for a better future.”
That future involved a complete relaunch of Oregon Community Bank in 2013. In this short time frame, Oregon Community Bank went from having its worst year ever in 2011 to its three best years ever in 2014, 2015, and 2016 — in increasing order.
Last year Oregon Community Bank grew assets by 18% and launched a new operation in Waunakee. The bank now employs more people than it ever has, and provides them with family supporting wages and scheduling flexibility.
Oregon Community Bank also forecast growth in the Dane County housing market. During the middle of 2015, the bank’s leadership made a strategic decision to quadruple its mortgage team. “We believed that Dane County housing and the overall mortgage market would be strong in 2016,” notes Peotter. “Thanks to this vision of mortgage growth, and the talented individuals that we added to our bank, we set a new record for mortgage revenue for our bank.”
Startup Executive of the Year
Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained
They say the mark of a serial entrepreneur is creating a successful business venture that enhances the desire to try to duplicate that success a second or third or fourth time. That makes it fitting that our Startup Executive of the Year, Mark Bakken, founder and managing partner of HealthX Ventures, is on his fourth startup, and this one is aimed at giving other startups a leg up.
HealthX is a seed and early-stage fund that invests in health care startups. In October 2016, HealthX closed its flagship fund with more than $20 million in capital commitments from leading limited partners across the U.S. The company made five investments from that first fund, which includes investments in Madison-based firms Redox and EnsoData.
“It’s been exciting to redo things, start again, think outside the box, and try to create something that’s sustainable,” comments Bakken, who in 2010 founded Nordic, which has grown to become the world’s largest Epic consulting practice. “I’ve personally invested in more than 30 other startups throughout Dane County and other places over the course of my career.”
Madison is already becoming a growing startup hub, and the region has found a niche in digital health technology that Bakken is betting will yield a new generation of successful companies. According to Bakken, it’s a numbers game. There’s a density of people in Dane County who “speak the language” but those people don’t typically have the means to take a chance on their own company.
“You have physicians with lots of good ideas but they might be making a really good living as a physician so they aren’t highly motivated to throw that away to try something new.”
For Bakken, venture investing is basically a way to help other startups learn from his mistakes. “HealthX provides a great opportunity for the community to create some more great companies that could be as big as Epic but they have to start somewhere. Someone has to believe in them early.”
CFO of the Year
Financing the Future
Some people seem born to work, likely because they don’t view their careers as “work,” so it’s hardly surprising that Michael Launder, executive vice president of finance for MIG Commercial Real Estate, has come out of retirement once before. Forgive us for being skeptical that his impending second retirement will last.
MIG President and CEO Bradley Hutter hired Launder out of retirement in 2007, though Launder admits it wasn’t a difficult sell for Hutter. “Quite honestly, I found I wasn’t very good at
retirement and really missed the people and intellectual engagement that work provides,” explains Launder.
When he came on board his first project was helping to complete the financing for the Arbor Gate development along the Beltline. Less than eight months later, Lehmann Brothers collapsed and the greatest real estate recession since the 1930s struck, with property values falling 35% nearly overnight. “We had the financial ability, along with our partner in the project, to feed the negative cash flow until things turned around,” says Launder. “Today, Arbor Gate is 100% leased and is one of our best cash-flowing properties.”
Since Launder’s hire, he’s overseen and financially managed MIG’s development, financing, and refinancing of approximately $80 million in commercial property, both newly developed or acquired. In the past 12 months, Launder managed financing for the award-winning Parmenter Center in Middleton, and he also worked with the City of Middleton to piece together a financially viable commercial project set on the banks of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. That kind of workload is par for the course for Launder. “My first job out of college, I worked for a company run by a former Notre Dame football player,” Launder says. “My first week of work he told me he expected two things from me: To work hard and to add value to the company. I have carried that with me in all my professional career, and still feel leading by example is the strongest form of leadership.”
Lifetime Achievement Award
A Career Built on Teamwork
For award purists, it might seem silly to give a lifetime achievement award to someone who’s still building and creating, but when that someone is George Gialamas, the title certainly fits. For over 40 years, Gialamas, the CEO of The Gialamas Co., and his team have been instrumental in several major commercial developments in and around Madison.
In 1976, Gialamas and his wife, Candy, founded The Gialamas Co., which specializes in Class A Commercial Real Estate in Madison and the surrounding area. His dedication to promoting economic growth in the area includes the ownership and development of one of the state’s premier business and research developments, Old Sauk Trails Park.
Early on, Gialamas saw the potential of Madison’s west side for future development and started by developing residential and commercial space in the High Point Road area before moving on to Old Sauk Trails Park. Since 1984, Old Sauk Trails Park has grown to 62 buildings, housing in excess of 200 companies and occupying close to 3 million square feet, while providing millions of dollars in annual property tax income for the city
Gialamas is currently working on the 63rd building for Old Sauk Trails Park, which is being constructed with state-of-the-art technology to ensure energy savings and an extended lifespan. Always in search of the next great design or engineering innovation, Gialamas has also been an innovator, installing some of the first building digital control systems and building the first Gold LEED-certified multitenant building in Wisconsin.
Despite his leadership, Gialamas is quick to redirect accolades to his team at The Gialamas Co. “We’re fortunate to have long-term key employees with a vast amount of knowledge and dedication to our clients and business,” Gialamas says. “My team is the best I’ve ever worked with and I consider them my second family. They have an incredible work ethic and really are the foundation of our success.”
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