Two Great Reasons — and Ways — to Celebrate

Robert Jordan was a truck driver for 20-plus years. During that time, he had it in his head that trucks idling at rest stops were not only polluting the air and wasting diesel fuel, but the trucks aren’t so comfortable in the idle position. Still, we have to appreciate that a trucker lives in his or her vehicle during long-haul trips — they sleep there, often eat there, and even watch television and relax there. So, of course, they need power to maintain a constant temperature or to power utensils.

But he had a different idea. Jordan put all of his free time into the invention of an idle-free system. He put all of his free time into it, and a lot of money building a prototype. He worried over a detail over dinner, and woke up early, inspired. When his wife, he jokes (?) was about at her wits end with his obsession, he actually created a viable model. And then he created a viable, earth-changing business.

Now he’s got a pretty interesting story to tell, and he will. Likewise, ten other companies and one individual are about to take their places as examples of “best practices” in their industries during a hard economy, and two very different speakers (one being Jordan) will knock your socks off. Certainly you will be inspired and delighted with their successes, too. So this year, I hope you’ll join me at the Dane County Small Business Awards event on June 18th, from 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. at the Sheraton Hotel on John Nolen Drive.

The other speaker is Greg Piefer, the 33-year-old president of Phoenix Nuclear Labs who recently graced the cover of IB. He is seeking to commercialize peaceful uses of nuclear power, and it could be, in the near future, that if you get an MRI, it will be available in hospitals at bedside, available because of the isotope generator he’s created. He’s also commercializing a detector for the thousands of cargo shipments that come into this country every day — one that fits on a crane and can scan the container before it hits U.S. soil, and in minutes instead of hours. It’s really revolutionary to our notion of Homeland Security, and yes, the military is very interested in his work.

The high point of the program, of course, comes when Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, my able co-host at these events for the past many years, presents the awards to this year’s winners — who will not be unveiled here! You’ll have to come and see the big reveal at the awards show!

I have been on the steering committee for these awards since my first days at IB, and every year it is more and more thrilling to meet the company owners who win the awards, and to meet their employees. It’s exciting to see their flush of pride when their company name is announced.

Two Awards, Unique Winners
Just to make sure we’re all clear — we have two major awards programs in the spring. Both have been featured on our radio program “In Business with Jody & Joan,” and so I don’t want to leave you confused.

Wisconsin Family Business Awards
This program is brought to you by Smith & Gesteland, LLP, a CPA and consulting firm, and sponsored by DeWitt Ross & Stevens S.C., a law firm; and Associated Bank. The Wisconsin Family Business of the Year Award was created to highlight and celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of family businesses that make an impact on the Wisconsin business community.

I’m a judge for that event, and will be there, too, because it is an absolutely wonderful program, with Neil Fauerbach serving as emcee. Every year there are tearful recipients (the winners aren’t announced until the banquet) and amazing stories.

Since the beginning of that program seven years ago, 44 family-owned companies have been recognized for their contributions to their communities, their industries, and the economy. The winners have come from all parts of the state, from La Crosse to Green Bay, and from Madison to Peshtigo.

This year, marketing guru Barry Callen will be the featured keynote. One family business will be selected for Grand Awards in each category of small (under 50 employees), medium (50-99), and large (100 or more) companies. Special awards will also be given to companies excelling in a particular area. An independent panel of judges will select the award recipients. Awards will be presented at an evening banquet to be held in Madison on May 13, 2010. Watch the Web site for more information at

Dane County Small Business Awards
Celebrating 28 years this year, this is the oldest annual awards program in Dane County. The theme this year is “Innovation in Tough Economic Times.” I don’t get to judge these awards because I’m on the steering committee, and it should be stressed that both awards programs insist on impartial judging, as they should, so I’m happy just to announce the winners of the Dane County Small Business Awards in my role as emcee.

This award recognizes excellence in three areas: business acumen, being a good place to work for employees, and also the winners must be active in the community in a “give back” mode.

These awards — as I mentioned earlier, 10 company winners and one individual award — are sponsored by Centro Hispano, Chase, In Business Magazine, Madison Gas and Electric, Mid-West Family Boradcasting, Urban league of Greater Madison, UW-Madison Small Business Development Center, and Wisconsin Business Development Finance Corp. I’d like to give a special call out to Neil Lerner and Jim Morhbacher, who have been on the committee since its inception, and both gentlemen take a strong lead in bringing you this event each year (as well as the other committee members). More information is available at

I hope to see you at both awards. Check the Web sites for registration materials. Both offer chances to network with other folks, and you’ll hear great stories that bring us all back to the reasons we give our time and talents to our own endeavors and organizations. So come celebrate! I’d like to meet and greet old friends and new.

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