By J.D. Booth
Oct. 25, 2012
Few people today would argue the fact that it's the entrepreneurs of this world who are truly responsible for most of the jobs created.
Indeed, whether the companies make it to the list of the biggest companies or not, they-and the entrepreneurs who created those ventures in the first place-are the heart and soul of the engine that drives our economy.
Certainly, as is the case with so many, there are those that stand out from the crowd, those "Entrepreneurs of Distinction" that Corp! magazine continues to feature.
Among them are those like Roger Betten Jr., who remembers to this day a conversation he had with his Dad before the pair founded MFP, one of the largest distributors of motion control and fluid power systems in the country. "If we wanted to be a nice family business, we needed to go on our own."
Or John Bornoty, who runs The Big Salad, a fast casual restaurant in Grosse Pointe that's poised to enter the world of franchising. "When I was young, I took risks and would shoot from the hip. Sometimes it worked but more times not. The lesson learned over the years is to take calculated risks."
And Joseph Cipriano Jr., whose restoration company, Fraser-based ConstrucTeam Inc., is operated on the principle of constant change. "The only guarantee in life is that things will change. You simply cannot rely on yesterday's standards and expect to be the winner today."
Come along on our journey as we explore this year's crop of Michigan Entrepreneurs of Distinction. We think you'll agree with us that their stories are both instructional and inspiring.
Property Maintenance Inc.
A decade ago, long before the housing market began to suffer one of the worst declines in history, Deanna Alfredo was working as a legal secretary in a firm specializing in foreclosures. Alfredo liked the work, but she had big dreams. Much bigger dreams. Now president and CEO of Property Maintenance Inc., Alfredo has carved out a niche by providing what turned out to be an essential service, bringing homes that have seen better days up to shape so they can bring the best possible price. And now the owners of those foreclosed properties-typically banks or other lenders-rely on Alfredo's firm to recoup as much value as possible from the properties. Alfredo has put her experience in real estate and organizational skills (she ran restaurants in Atlanta and Georgia before moving to Michigan) to work on behalf of a growing list of clients. "I was at the right place at the right time," she says. Now her firm is a nationally recognized leader in the preservation of foreclosed homes.
Angott Search Group
Now the head of an executive search team, Mark Angott began working in the business more than three decades ago. Today, he's still putting his name on the line every day, leading some 20 employees with principles of honesty, integrity, and professionalism. Angott took over the business from his mentor, Dennis Sullivan, who he calls "the driving force" behind what is now Angott Search Group. He's still learning. One key lesson: "To not expect everyone to be like me. They all have different motivations, aspirations and goals. Not everyone is as driven and motivated as others." At the same time, Angott acknowledges that different leadership styles are needed to bring along a younger generation. "We've tried to adjust a number of ways we run our business to adapt to all these changes." Angott is now serving as a mentor and acknowledged leader in the search business, especially in the banking and financial services industries, areas where he has specialized.
Entrepreneurs like Dan Barcheski typically focus in on a need and then work toward meeting that need. And so it was that Barcheski hit on the simple idea of lowering an organization's cost of doing business, all the while enhancing the speed by which they could deliver their own products or services. By creating a model that he's applied to Axios Inc., Barcheski focuses on three key attributes -- attraction, retention and productivity-which he and his team have woven into a core value proposition. Providing staff with a Fortune 500 benefit package means giving Axios clients a step up when it comes to attracting staff, which Axios brings to the table. Barcheski credits his parents with the inspiration to make a life that's decidedly entrepreneurial. "They instilled in me the belief that if I put my mind to accomplishing something I could do it. Because of their encouragement throughout my life, l was driven to start Axios." And don't think for a minute that Barcheski is someone you can brush aside easily. "Regardless of the number of times that you are knocked down, if you continue to get up and fight you will be successful." Barcheski admits working in a climate where interference from the public sector has been a challenge. And still he perseveres. "We do our utmost to run our company as efficiently and productively as possible. By using LeanSigma principles, we drive waste and defects out of our systems, which creates the opportunity for us to lower our overall cost of doing business." He's also turned the company into one that's being owned by employees. "That has allowed our team the opportunity to participate in the success of the company and also provided them with the ownership attitude needed to compete in the marketplace."
Barrick Enterprises Inc.
It might not be glamorous, but Robert Barrick loves what he does-bring gasoline and diesel fuel to a growing list of brand name outlets throughout the Detroit region. From modest beginnings-just two gas station/convenience stores in 1977-Barrick has transformed what is still a family owned business into a much bigger enterprise, one where his 14 trucks-under the B&R Trucking name-bring fuels to some five different brands, among them Marathon, BP, Shell, Valero and Citgo. It's been a steady progression, with one key common thread throughout: Barrick has seen the opportunity and jumped on it, acknowledging that his customers and their customers need the energy his company provides on a daily basis.
Roger Betten Jr.
MFP Automation Engineering
When Roger Betten Jr.'s father started the company his son now runs, it was actually the second family business for the Bettens, the first having been bought out by a large corporation. Then the rules were changed. Betten Jr. remembers the conversations that lead to the formation in 1991 of MFP Automation Engineering. "If we wanted to be a nice family business, we needed to go on our own." Betten Sr. has been retired for four years now, but Roger Jr. is continuing the tradition, one he says is based on a genuine desire to grow the business and assemble the team necessary to get the job done. "I like the test," says the younger Betten, who has grown the venture into one with 60 people serving the fluid power market.
The Big Salad
Now president of The Big Salad, a fast casual restaurant that's turning from one location to a developing franchised chain, John Bornoty has been making a difference in the world of entrepreneurship almost all his life. "Ever since I was a small boy, I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur," says Bornoty. While the belief that it's "better to create for others than be created by others" has taken the form of an idea for specializing in custom salads, soups and sandwiches, an entrepreneur like Bornoty both deeply understands and embraces the risks. "When I was young, I took risks and would shoot from the hip. Sometimes it worked but more times not. The lesson learned over the years is to take calculated risks. Think through the process, reflect on your experience, run the numbers, then listen to your gut." Today's challenges include keeping up with technology and using it to keep up with customer demands. And, especially in the restaurant business, finding good employees. But Bornoty has learned to embrace the challenges rather than fight them. Another sign of a great entrepreneur.
Having cut his PR teeth in larger agencies and dealing with Fortune 500 clients (Microsoft and eBay as just two examples), Brown had a vision for providing nimble, creative and effective publicity services to small-to-medium sized Michigan-based companies. Launching PublicCity PR in 2008 (perhaps one of the most challenging periods from an economic perspective), Brown has nevertheless been able to prove that his vision was (and is) exactly what was needed: personal attention and measurable results at an affordable budget. Brown credits his grandfather, a barber who he says "always worked hard to be able to provide for his family, never complained and enjoyed his work," with instilling those characteristics in himself. Today, with just three professionals (one being Brown's wife, Hope), PublicCity is continuing that tradition. One of Brown's biggest lessons learned is to not be afraid to start. Certainly his clients must be happy he jumped in. On numerous occasions, PublicCity PR's media placements, locally and sometimes nationally, have had a direct effect on a client's bottom line.
Joseph P. Cipriano Jr.
The founder of ConstrucTeam, a full-service insurance restoration firm established in March 2006, Joe Cipriano cut his entrepreneurial teeth in the restaurant business, having watched his father, grandfather, uncles and most of his cousins own and operate their own companies during what he calls "my most impressionable years." Now it's Cipriano's turn to shine. A defining moment, he says, was the rise of Ronald Reagan as the country's leader. "It has been 32 years since my first exposure to him and I am even more inspired today by his words and actions than ever before." Today, Cipriano has held on to what he says is one of his most valuable lessons learned, to always be flexible in your approach, no matter what. "The only guarantee in life," he says, "is that things will change. You simply cannot rely on yesterday's standards and expect to be the winner today." Even as technology continues to change and, in many cases, make life easier, Cipriano holds to three basic principles in evaluating whether he'll take on a new tool. "First, identify if your customer base both internally and externally can understand and embrace the new advances quickly. Second, will it improve your service that you can see a return on investment within one or two business quarters? Third, try to identify if it might have staying power or likely turn into a fad that will quickly be outpaced by another technology."
Relevar Home Care
Misty Delegato was actually in the process of identifying and analyzing the potential for a nurse staffing business when she was laid off from her employer. That was eight years ago and Delegato has not looked back. "I felt that it was something that was meant to be," she told her husband. "I just feel like now I have to do it." Today, Delegato runs Relevar, a home care services company with the simplest of purpose: "We want to be the best." Relevar (which means "relief" in Spanish) helps those who might otherwise have no other choice but to be in a nursing facility, stay in their home. An entrepreneur by necessity if not by design, Delegato has her own advice for those who might be thinking about a similar path. "Be courageous enough to ask for help." For Delegato, help in starting Relevar Home Care came from the Macomb/St. Clair Small Business Technology Development Center, where professionals gave her what she says was valuable advice. "The experience has been fabulous. I recommend the SBTDC to everyone I know. I cannot thank them enough."
Gerald 'Jerry' Diez
The Diez Group
Gerald Frank Diez (known to all as Jerry) is a first generation American, his father having escaped the plight and political wars in Spain. While the "American Dream" was awhile in coming, Diez overcame poverty and discrimination with a combination of strong family values, honesty and hard work. Attributing his eventual success to the strength of his family and a strong Hispanic heritage, Diez became an entrepreneur. Now the owner of Delaco Steel, Lapeer Metal Stamping Company, Delaco Steel Processing LLC, April Steel and JIT, Jerry Diez has happily shared the joy of running these businesses with members of his family, who are proud to display values passed down from their father and grandfather. Today, projects like Focus:HOPE, and its technology center as well as the nutrition centers throughout the Southeast Michigan, are outlets for Diez philosophy of giving back to the community, creating a positive attitude for the greater good and investing in people by employing them and providing an opportunity for economic empowerment, one person at a time.
Remember (if you're of that era) when concerts began to take on a whole new dimension, not just from a sound perspective but as an entire light-driven event? Stefan Graf certainly does, having been at the forefront of that revolution. Now principal at Illuminart (which he founded specifically to meet the needs of commercial, retail and residential architectural projects), Graf is now a Fellow of the International Association of Lighting Designers, having built one of the most robust resumes in the process of taking the lighting industry to a "next level." It's what one might expect from someone who developed the first automated stage light. Graf has won at least 38 international illumination design awards and working for some of the world's most recognizable brands-among them Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Volvo, Haworth and Circuit City.
WJG Business Concepts
Bill Griffith facilitates. And he does it very well. Having fulfilled all the necessary qualifications from Resource Associates, Griffith has joined a handful of selected individuals across the country having achieved the designation "Certified Facilitator." He also brings a knowledge and understanding of Resource Associates' Attribute Index, as well as DISC and Values Index. To what end? "Improved results," says Griffith. "We help companies take a unique look at their businesses," he notes. "These assessments will help individuals identify how they prefer to behave and why they are motivated to do things. By having a better understanding of the motivation behind their behaviors, individuals can better align their environment with what creates the most passion for them and select the work that ensures more meaning and success and produce less stress while doing it." Griffith adds that organizations can benefit from this alignment enabling them to create high performance teams. Facilitating in leadership, management, entrepreneurial leadership, sales and strategic thinking are all arrows in Bill Griffith's quiver.
With more than two decades in law enforcement and investigation, Norbert Grundy has the kind of background that is a perfect match for starting a firm specializing in working to eradicate fraud from the medical insurance industry. That's the mission of CarePlus Technologies, which Grundy formed in 2011, specifically to help reduce instances of fraud. Grundy holds a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice and has received numerous citations and awards for his work with the city of Detroit. Before founding CarePlus, Grundy cut his teeth in the field of medical insurance, in the process discovering a lack of standards for how claims were processed. Today, CarePlus serves as a consulting service as well as staffing, logistics and technology solutions.
When the NFL Super Bowl came to Detroit in 2006, so did Paul Howard's Cliff Bell's, a fully restored art deco supper club in downtown Detroit that features full dinner service, great drinks, live jazz on a nightly basis and event facilities. And yes, Cliff Bell was a real person, an entrepreneur in his own right who ran legal (and illegal) drinking establishments pre and post-Prohibition days. Today, the club is emblematic of the resurgence of Detroit, says Howard, an entrepreneur who says the trait is hereditary. "My mother ran daycare in our house, my father worked as a neighborhood handyman during various layoffs from Chrysler and all six of my siblings have engaged in some sort of entrepreneurial pursuit." Today, Howard has learned to trust his instincts in the business, even as with growth, he hears more and more voices and more opinions. And he faces the challenges of running a business on a daily basis head on. "Running a business is like playing a game of Whac-a-Mole. If I'm in bed, the moles rule the day." Howard agrees that life today (especially business life) is fast-paced. The consequence is that long-term planning is much more difficult than it was in the past. He thinks policymakers could learn from understanding what he has to face everyday. "The policies we make in the office at 3 o'clock in the afternoon don't always translate well to a busy restaurant at 10 o'clock on Saturday night. I would advise lawmakers to avoid making policies without having a deep understanding of the real world implications. There are no such things as 'unintended consequences,' just poor planning."
Curo Rx Inc.
Bringing innovation to an industry that's almost entirely traditional from a technology standpoint is what keeps Lina Kalvyte energized. As CEO and founder of Curo Rx, a Grand Rapids-based provider of prescription medications to long-term care facilities, Kalvyte seems to have carved out a very specialized business through personal contact. When the phone rings, someone answers. Sounds simple, but Kalvyte's Curo Rx is breaking the mold by doing so. She also understands how important that personal touch is to the success of the venture. "I'm interested in improving experiences and I'm persistent about knowledge and details," Kalvyte has said. "You will find similar qualities in members of the Curo Rx team. We all know we have people depending on our commitment." Curo Rx uses personalized, multi-dosage packaging to help care providers. "We package 30-day supply blister cards then color code and label to clarify dates, times or special directions. By compartmentalizing meds to match physician orders, we reduce the possibility of errors that can occur with the traditional method of opening many bottles of pills and capsules, counting them out into open cups, and distributing from a tray that holds hundreds of individuals' prescriptions," says Kalvyte. By connecting a Curo Rx representative to each client and hand delivery of each order, the customer service and accompanying simplified medical record keeping, Kalvyte believes she has found an important and successful niche in an otherwise crowded market.
When Gregg Lebster took his executive MBA at Michigan State University, he had one thing in mind: the creation of his own company. He accomplished that with WaterSolve, a firm that provides dewatering services for a wide range of clients, among them municipal, industrial, pulp and paper, marine, oil extraction, agriculture, and food and beverage. The entrepreneur is already highly focused, having decided to do what he does best. "If you try to do too many things at once, you can tend to become diluted and the quality and efficiency tends to drop." With that in mind, Lebster is out to build a company that's a leader in its field of work. He's also got a keen eye on the bottom line. "Money is still very tight, so it's critical to watch cash flow, especially in a growing business," he adds. "With a fast changing technological marketplace, it's critical to keep employees up to speed on this new technology in order to take advantage of the efficiency boost that would otherwise be a disadvantage to competitors that are learning it." As far as his wish list is concerned, Lebster is looking for a better handle on health care costs and taxation policies that provide an environment for growth.
No one could possibly fault John Lewandowski for not having a work ethic. The Grand Rapids owner of a company focused on making his customers a little safer in their daily grind can't imagine being anything but an entrepreneur, having purchased the company in 1990 after working for the previous owner for three years. Today, he's a leader when it comes to providing fire protection, alarms, security and surveillance systems to commercial property owners. Along the way, he's worked for others, but today those days are a distant memory. He's grown the company in ways that perhaps only someone with that entrepreneurial spirit might imagine. And still, he acknowledges he stumbled into the business after working full time while taking a full load in university. "I thought working for a small company might be the way to go," he says. Today Approved Protection is among the most recognized in its market (which includes west Michigan and northern Indiana), with 33 on staff and a wealth of experience behind it.
Busy Bea's Services Inc.
It's been quite a ride for Cindy Locklin, a Certified Public Accountant with an extensive background working on projects that involved transforming systems at international and domestic firms alike. But it's a burgeoning cleaning business based in Grand Rapids that has her full attention these days. Starting the firm in 2000, four years later she sold the residential services part of Busy Bea's, choosing to focus on serving the commercial market, notably medical, now at least 60 percent of its revenue. One of Locklin's "secrets" is the ability to attract and retain employees, not only through better pay and benefits but also in recognition. "Our employees are the face of our business to our customers and we do everything we can to nurture their growth, show appreciation and recognize and reward them for their efforts." Locklin is also a boss with heart. "We recently hired a gentleman whom had been looking for work for years and had given up. With the high unemployment, special needs folks had little chance to be hired. We had to find the right fit for proper supervision and when we did we wanted to give him a chance. His dad was in tears and the son was apprehensive but excited." Locklin adds that treating others with dignity and respect is something she calls a personal mission. "They need an opportunity to provide a living for their family and the opportunity to succeed and grow and be supported. I have had employees working for me who were able to buy their first home or buy a car of their own and we shared in their success. We try to be the employer that supports those that work hard to achieve and be successful but run into small roadblocks and need a little extra hand."
The idea behind Sheila McBride's company was one that was created out of necessity, helping her son achieve the academic qualifications necessary to enter university on a basketball scholarship. While developing a system for rapidly determining his academic eligibility, GradeCheck was born. Since then, McBride has taken the system to the next level, a home base for students, parents and their academic advisers. The company provides academic coaches, assesses individual student results and provides feedback on core course requirements for high school graduation, test scores and eligibility status of employment readiness, vocational training or college acceptance. McBride's degree in business from Columbia College and a master's degree in organizational management as well as her graduation from the Detroit Entrepreneurship Institute have her on a path to continued success.
Green Lancer Energy Inc.
Perhaps decades from now, when the world is a much greener place, those who take solar, wind and other renewable energy projects for granted will further praise people like Patrick McCabe for their insight and tenacity. Today, as co-founder and chief technical officer of GreenLancer, McCabe is applying his mechanical engineering skills and expertise to developing the business model for the company, designing and implementing its Web platform and a host of other integration tasks that will move the green industry forward into the mainstream of energy transformation. The essence of GreenLancer's idea? Pull together the experts in the field to work on green energy projects, saving a client the time (and money) required to seek out qualified expertise to make that project a reality. Through his founding of StellarPV, a company that provided solar engineering services to contractors in SE Michigan, McCabe was directly involved in the development and design of many of Michigan's largest solar projects, and has been instrumental on many other projects in 25 states and six countries.
Think doing good is easy? Debra Minton's clients at Philanthropia Partners know it's no piece of cake, which is why this particular entrepreneur has assembled a growing list of organizations eager to put her experience in fundraising, coaching, planned giving and implementation to work for them. Since founding the company in 2008, Minton has found countless opportunities to make a lasting difference in the effectiveness of West Michigan organizations. Along the way, she's learned ways to balance her work, focusing on development of the business as well as serving her clients in practical ways. She's also constantly being motivated as well. "It's deeply satisfying when I see them make progress, go to a new level, receive their largest gift or increase their service capacity," says Minton. Making it easier for entrepreneurs like her to succeed is among her keenest wishes. "We need to make business startups easier by creating policies that significantly reduce reporting, paperwork, regulation and taxes. We also must find a way to bring down the cost of health care and require more medical pricing transparency for consumers."
Staying in Muskegon, with the proximity to Lake Michigan, and enjoying the experience with his family is high on the list of priorities for Eric Ringelberg, who started Next IT in 2001 after several years on the road. More than a decade later, the company continues to specialize in industry-specific technology solutions for small- and medium-sized businesses. With humble beginnings (in Ringelberg's basement), the firm has expanded at least twice and now has a broadened presence in the Grand Rapids and Muskegon area. Ringelberg credits his service with the Michigan Army National Guard and a stint as a radar technician with the Navy for giving him a financial edge (he was able to get a bachelor's degree on the GI Bill while working as a technology consultant).
Metro Office Environments Inc.
With more than 25 years' experience in the office furniture industry, Mark Schefke discovered the best way of bringing clients a higher level of client service was to form his own company. In 1994, that's exactly what he did, launching Metro Office Environments with his wife, Veronica. Now the largest mid-market furniture dealership in Michigan, the company covers a broad range of services, from computer design and interior facility design to project management, inventory management and product refurbishing and installations. It's Schefke's dedication to total customer satisfaction that brings it all together. "Our company philosophy is to keep client service and satisfaction a priority; we want to see our clients as repeat customers and build relationships that will enable our company to grow. I am pleased to say that our sales executives and staff are some of the best professionals in the industry."
Duo Security Inc.
Protecting a company's data networks is serious business. No one knows that better than Duo Song, CEO of Duo Security, an Ann Arbor-based firm that has Google Ventures among its backers. Song, who was previously chief architect, cloud computing at Barracuda Networks, also co-founded Arbor Networks, which has been protecting 80 percent of the world's top service providers since 2000. Dug built the Ã¯Â¬Ârst network anomaly detection product (acquired by NFR and Check Point), and is well-known for his open-source security contributions including OpenBSD and OpenSSH. Today, Dug Song's latest company, which began in 2009, is solving the biggest problems in computer security today-account takeover and online fraud-by making strong authentication easy and scalable. More than 800 organizations in 80-plus countries rely on Duo for their security.
If there's one thing Bob Sutherland knows, it's cherries. As "the largest exclusive retailer of cherry products in the world," his Cherry Republic sells 179 cherry products, using a combination of four stores as well as mail order and Internet, all the while giving a visible boost to northern Michigan and its agriculture industry. Sutherland is not new at creating value as an entrepreneur. It's something he's been doing since age 7. "It is just my love, just what I know, just what comes natural to me," says Sutherland. The son of educators who knew both the strengths and limitations of school, Sutherland says he was encouraged to learn and take risks. He's already had some of those lessons ingrained, one in particular. "Never ever for a second think you know enough about anything," he says, quoting Abraham Lincoln as crediting an unrelenting desire to learn as his biggest asset. "Learning does something even more important. It helps improve a person's intuition and whenever I go away from my intuition, I get burned." Sutherland says he loves the creative part of entrepreneurism. "Each day, I love that I have blank spaces to create in." He'd also like to grow Cherry Republic, even in the face of a market for financing that remains tight.
When it comes to food and beverage catering and event services in the Detroit area, one could search for a long time before finding someone as good as Tammy Tedesco and her Edibles Rex business. Since 1994, Tedesco has been satisfying the most distinguished palates, a natural extension of a small restaurant she opened two years earlier in Grosse Pointe Woods. Now having built a superb reputation for quality carry out meals, Tedesco continues to show a personal commitment to developing a loyal customer base. And the honors continue to flow, even as the business grows.
Governments buy stuff. Lots of stuff. But not every potential supplier to governments knows how to effectively sell their goods or services to those at various levels of government who buy. That's where Jon Tellier comes into the picture. A veteran who earned an engineering degree from the United States Military Academy, Tellier is an admitted "process freak" who understands what it takes for a company to win government business. And, with the help of his wife, Sue Schweim Tellier, he's built JetCo Solutions, a company that's become very good at passing on that knowledge, creating a research-laden "business to government" tactical marketing plan that incorporates the client's existing brand and customizes it for the government audience. It's no easy task, says Jon Tellier, even with more than 20 years of experience behind him. Still, he's unrelenting in his focus on behalf of clients. "We immediately begin finding opportunities through heavy research, we work through bid/no-bid evaluations with clients, we provide proposal management and professional writing, we submit bids, perform post-bid evaluation and follow up. We become each client's government sales department." Five years after launching JetCo Solutions, the Telliers have helped companies earn more than $2 billion in government contracts. Jon Tellier says his "unrelenting competitive streak" is part of what makes him such a hard-core entrepreneur. "I hate losing, and I love finding win themes that result in contract wins for clients."
Freedom One Financial Group
Having grown up in a family of entrepreneurs, Mark Wayne was used to hearing about his parents' successful business ventures, listening in dinner table discussions that typically began with questions related to various projects. Today Wayne and his wife are passing on that heritage to their own children. "I'm incredibly proud of the fact that my son (who is in high school) just sold his growing lawn care business and one of the things that I am most pleased with is that when he wrote up his own contract, he made certain to insert a clause into the agreement that would nullify the deal if his roster of clients were not satisfied with their service after three cuttings. That kind of care for his customers and attention to detail at such a young age left me speechless." Lessons learned along the way for Mark Wayne have included the fact that "you can't do two things at once." Or at least not very well. "Multitasking to me has always been like being in a perpetual state of lacking attention. When I try to focus and block out the extraneous noise, that is when good things have happened." Wayne calls it the "focus factor." Wayne remains busy with Freedom One Financial, but not too busy that he forgets his family remains his number one priority. But doing so means he needs to continue to be focused. "I need to have a successful day at work, to feel good about what I accomplished and go home with a clear head. I think it's critically important not to bring problems home from the office. I am always reminding myself that I go to work in order create a successful environment for my family, and that the harder I work at the office, the more time I can spend with them."
Imagine for a moment this scenario: a distant relative has died and you are a beneficiary. But no one knows how to reach you. That very real situation formed the basis for the formation of Assets International, a firm that specializes in locating missing persons and assets - with Michael Zwick now serving as its president. A lawyer who started his own practice in 1996, Zwick had originally taken on Assets International as a client in 2001, three years later becoming a partner and president. Since then, he has helped the firm recover millions for the firm's clients. Zwick says "building something that would last" is at the heart of what has inspired him over the years. Still, perhaps with the discipline of the lawyer he is, Zwick has learned to ask questions before leaping. Even more important, he says, is asking others who have relevant insight what they think. "As you listen to the answers, don't be too proud or defensive of your ideas," he cautions. "Even the greatest thinkers have had ideas that were doomed for failure." At the same time: "Never stop imagining." As for the future, Zwick advocates policies that encourage healthy risk taking. "I question the wisdom of legislation that for many industries isn't sustainable. We can't frighten off prospective entrepreneurs from even trying."