Perfect vision, otherwise referred to as 20/20 vision, is the ability for an individual to see clearly both in their near field of vision as well as far away. Likewise, a 20/20 executive, such as those featured in the following pages, has a clear vision for their business in both the short and long term. These executives strive to do what is right for their companies, employees, communities and state.
The search for this year’s 20/20 Executives began several months ago when Nevada Business Magazine’s editorial staff asked Nevadans to nominate individuals who have had 20/20 vision in their companies. The nomination form asked for those individuals that are innovative in the face of hardship and have demonstrated a drive to move their organizations forward regardless of what obstacles may be in the way.
Each of the following 20 executives was chosen for displaying the qualities of a true visionary. They have each shown an ability to work creatively in tough situation, they are all leaders in their industry and each has ambitions for their organizations that stretch far into the future.
What began 16 years ago with an old computer, a landline phone and a dining room table has now grown into a multimillion dollar technology staffing organization through the efforts of Debbie Banko. Link Technologies is a national organization based in Las Vegas and Banko has worked hard to ensure the company’s success.
“For me, successful entrepreneurship has always come down to three things,” said Banko. “Support the client, hire good people and stay active in the community through networking and charitable giving.”
Banko practices what she preaches and, as a result, has managed to grow Link Technologies despite the most recent recession. In fact, the organization, which remains innovative in the IT staffing arena, has thrived and built a loyal customer base.
“Nevada is a small community,” said Banko. “If you excel at supporting your clients, you become part of that community, instead of just an outside vendor.”
Ridge House is an organization that helps individuals with a history of addiction as well as recently released felons re-enter society as competent, law-abiding citizens. At the non-profit’s helm is Steven Burt who serves as executive director.
Under his leadership, Ridge House has taken those that otherwise might return to drugs or crime and has fostered, cared for and encouraged them, eventually helping them realize their place as valued members of society. Even more impressive, the organization helps them turn around for good. While the state of Nevada’s three year rate of recidivism is around 75 percent, the Ridge House has managed to lower that rate in their clients to a striking 25 percent under Burt’s leadership.
“I believe in giving everyone the opportunity to make a difference in their lives and in other’s lives,” said Burt. “Every day I am inspired by transformational experiences by people who had nothing and now help others achieve their goals.”
Baseball is America’s pastime, and quickly becoming a summer staple in Reno thanks, in large part, to the efforts of Eric Edelstein. Having joined the Reno Aces Baseball franchise three years ago as president, Edelstein has since revolutionized how the community views the Greater Nevada Field ballpark. While the ballpark was created to host baseball games, Edelstein has worked to add other events to keep the park open year-round.
“I hope to guide Greater Nevada Field to be the community center for Reno, hosting world class events, sporting and non-sporting, all year,” he said.
To that end, Edelstein has helped bring in a professional soccer franchise to co-habitate with the Reno Aces and has launched a Non-Baseball Events department. The newly formed department’s mission is to add events such as the City of Reno’s annual Ice Rink and the Nevada Craft Brewers event, both of which were recently held at the park.
“I believe in being passionately curious and striving to learn and grow every day,” said Edelstein.
With a vision 44 years ago to turn a small coffee shop and motor lodge into a casino and resort, John Farahi has taken the long-view when it comes to success. What began as the Golden Road Motor Inn with 142 rooms is now the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa with 824 rooms, 61,000 square feet of gaming, 50,000 square feet of conference and banquet space and a 30,000 square foot spa. And, Farahi’s name has become synonymous with Nevada entrepreneurship.
The CEO of Monarch Casino & Resort, Inc. (the holding company of Atlantis) credits his success to having a, “clear vision of our mission as an entertainment company, a team that is committed to excellence [and remaining] financially conservative with long-term objectives.”
Those clear goals have been effective and helped Farahi’s organization stay successful even during tough times. In fact, during the recent recession and despite pressure to do so, Monarch didn’t lay off any employees or enforce furloughs or forfeiture of vacation time.
Farahi looks to the future and said that 20/20 vision in his company means, “clearly understanding long-term objectives and having the team and resources to deliver on their goals.”
Real estate has not had an easy time of it in the recent past and brokers, especially, have had to prove their mettle through the recession. In order for a brokerage firm to survive the downturn, its team must be resillient, creative and have solid leadership. Nancy Fennell, president and “chief innovator” of Dickson Realty, is an example of that leadership and has demonstrated how a firm with communication and strong vision can achieve success.
Fennell’s goal for Dickson Realty is, “to build a profitable company of excellence with outstanding realtors and staff that contribute to the overall success of our community.”
She works to achieve that goal through a variety of ways including building relationships with both clients and employees, leading by example and maintaining a commitment to her employees, clients and community.
“Nancy is unlike any other executive I have encountered in the nearly 40 years of my professional life,” said Andrew Reel, chief marketing and technology officer for the firm. “She has a clear vision for the future of her company and has the gifts of clarity and eloquence to convey the overall Dickson Realty vision.”
Serving over 385,000 residents in the Reno/Sparks area, Mark Foree, general manager for Truckee Meadows Water Authority (TMWA), has a significant responsibility on his shoulders, one he doesn’t take lightly. Born and raised in Winnemucca, Foree is no stranger to the water needs of a desert state and his background as a civil engineer has been invaluable as he oversees the community-owned water utility.
“My vision is everyone’s vision at TMWA,” said Foree. “To enhance the quality of life in the Truckee Meadows by delivering exceptional, customer-focused water services.”
Foree has been with TMWA for 15 years and has had a number of successes during his tenure. In fact, just last year, Foree oversaw the intricate merging of two water authorities into TMWA. He has been instrumental in leading the region through a long-standing drought through planning and forethought. TMWA has even consistently brought in a 90 percent customer satisfaction rating despite the challenges facing the organization.
Wanting to create a brokerage firm that efficiently produces favorable outcomes through the use of technology and employee innovation, Brendan Keating, along with partners, founded Logic Commercial Real Estate less than a year ago.
Keating recognized the importance of being a local resource for their clients and has assembled a team with roots in Southern Nevada, including many who are born and bred. In fact, Keating himself was born at Sunrise Hospital and has spent his professional career helping expand the Southern Nevada market.
“Having the right assets on our balance sheet is part of having 20/20 vision,” said Keating. “Our assets are our team members. Service businesses like ours are valuable because of the people on our team.”
Keating recognizes that his team has been integral to the organization’s success and he credits them with the company’s growth. He hopes to make Logic one of the largest locally owned brokerage and property management companies in Southern Nevada.
“I believe we have something special brewing at our company,” he said. “If we can keep the culture and commitment to our values, we will create a valuable enterprise that we will share with our employees who helped us get there.”
“My vision is to continue to build a practice that provides multi-disciplinary care and fully realize ‘comprehensive’ in the practice’s name,” said James Kilber, executive director for Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada (CCCN).
While an incredibly lofty goal, Kilber, along with his team at CCCN, is living up to the vision. Kilber joined the company in 2007 and has since helped it achieve significant growth including year-over-year revenue increases, more patient visits and high employee retention rates. His achievements at the organization are numerous and have benefited the Southern Nevada community in a variety of ways including helping the state become known for cancer treatment and research.
Kilber explained that the over 550 employees who make up the team at CCCN are critical to his role as a visionary leader.
“I couldn’t do my job without their expertise,” he said. “In return, I need to be there for my employees. Our employees are our best resource and most important asset. If you don’t have a great team, then you can’t grow.”
Founded 13 years ago, Noble Studios is a digital marketing agency based in Northern Nevada with a global roster of clients. The company has a “work hard, play hard” culture that focuses on happy employees taking care of happy clients. Much of that culture is due to the efforts of Season Lopiccolo, co-founder and chief operating officer of the company.
“Since day one, my vision for Noble has revolved around the idea of building a business that will remain relevant in an industry that is constantly evolving,” said Lopiccolo. She added that there is a saying amongst the employees at Noble, “‘We chart our course by the stars and not by the ships around us.’ In other words,” Lopiccolo explained, “our success is directly affected by our ability to communicate with one another.”
That communication has proven to be key for Noble which has grown by leaps since it’s inception in 2003. The organization, which started with Season and her husband Jarrod, now has over 40 employees and has helped pave the way to Washoe County becoming a haven for technology companies.
A Sparks-based manufacturer of commercial plumbing products with worldwide offices, Haws Corporation is over a 100 years old. Having been with the organization for 10 years, which may seem like a drop in the bucket to such a long-standing company, Michael Markovsky has nevertheless been critical to driving Haws forward.
“20/20 means normal or perfect,” said Markovsky. “We aren’t either of those things, nor do we want to be. But, we are constantly adapting and innovating to help define whatever the new normal will or could be.”
He went on to add that his vision for the company is, “establishing bold goals and accomplishing those goals by doing things differently than one would expect from a company that has been around for over a century.”
And, by anyone’s measure of success, Markovsky has been successful. He has been instrumental in restructuring Haws to create better efficiencies and promote leadership from within. He has also worked to establish an “Innovation Team” to work on new product developments.
Armed with the axiom “large enough to be relevant, small enough to be personal,” Scott Muelrath started with the Henderson Chamber of Commerce (HCC) four and a half years ago with the intention of growing the organization. That intention has born fruit and the chamber has grown from 700 members to over 1,200. Taking on a new mantra, “business growth through personal connections” Muelrath, who serves as president and CEO, works hard to provide relevance for members.
“People want to do business with people they know, and the HCC serves as the conduit to make this happen,” said Muelrath. “I also believe in innovation and constantly evolving to meet our members’ needs. This gives you an edge in the marketplace. I have an open door to new ideas and am always receptive to dynamic thinking, concepts and people. There is always something to learn and improve upon.”
That attitude has been instrumental in the meteoric growth of the chamber and Muelrath expects that growth to continue.
“Our organization works for the betterment and benefit of others, and we now achieve that in so many measurable ways,” he said.
No industry has faced quite as many changes over the last decade as the health insurance industry. Overseeing many of those changes in Nevada, Mike Murphy, who serves as Nevada president and general manager for Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield has had anything but a simple job. Anthem is Nevada’s second largest carrier and has a membership of over 300,000 in the state; it’s safe to say that Murphy has a lot on his plate.
“Every day there’s a flood of new information and issues demanding immediate attention,” said Murphy. “The key is being able to distinguish the signal from the noise and make sure we are always focused on what really matters – expanding access to high-quality, affordable healthcare in Nevada.”
To that end, Murphy has been working towards building collaborative relationships within the community while creatively addressing cost challenges. He says that in achieving these goals its critical that Anthem is, “helping consumers fully understand their benefits, enabling members to develop relationships with healthcare providers who truly care about them [and] arming providers with the tools and resources they can use to meet their patients’ needs.”
He added that, “it all comes back to achieving affordability for employers, consumers and providers.”
“Having 20/20 vision means mapping out a future that extends beyond our role in the community, working with others to create a vision of what Southern Nevada wants to become and effectively working towards progress,” said Tina Quigley, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC).
Quigley has been with the RTC for the past 11 years, working her way from deputy general manager to general manager, a role which she has held for the past four years. Having achieved several important “wins” for the RTC in Southern Nevada, Quigley has her eye on the larger picture for the community. She has spearheaded several innovative programs including a fuel revenue indexing program which will provide over $700 million for 221 transportation infrastructure projects by the end of this year.
“The secret to my success is to surround myself with smart, passionate and innovative people who are just as committed to enhancing Southern Nevada as I am,” explained Quigley. “It takes a team, and I am fortunate to have one of the most dedicated and hard-working teams in Nevada.”
When he founded Promo Direct, Inc. in 1991, Dave Sarro likely had no idea the number of changes his industry would see in the quarter century since. However, like any true innovator, Sarro found those changes to be a challenge rather than a hindrance and positioned his business to thrive in advance of an online world.
When asked the secret to his success Sarro said, “I’m not sure anyone has a secret. For me, I have tried to study our competitors very carefully and do things a little better in all areas of our business. In addition, my foresight to investing heavily into technology has had a significant impact on Promo Direct’s success.”
Originally founded as a traditional ad specialty company, Sarro has since changed the organization’s business model not once, but twice, in an effort to adapt to market changes. He also heavily invested in Promo Direct’s online presence, creating a proprietary web-based software platform for the organization.
Dan Schwartz has a history in helping business thrive and that history has come in handy in his last one and a half years in office. He’s taken a private career in finance and turned it into a public career as Treasurer of the state of Nevada. In the first year of being in office, Schwartz has improved investment returns on the overall general fund by over 60 percent and has increased returns on the Local Government Investment Pool by fivefold.
Schwartz said his vision for Nevada is two-fold. “To aim to be a competent, honest and responsive public official. If I can put money in residents’ pockets through jobs, growing their tax dollars, preventing fraud and abuse and educate their kids by encouraging a ‘culture of education’, I’m halfway there.”
The second part of his vision involves moving Nevada forward and helping the state innovate beyond gaming, mining and tourism.
“I’ve blended my financial background with practical experience to develop my skills and build businesses,” said Schwartz. He added that he has, “learned to respect other people’s ideas and suggestions, while keeping a commitment to honesty and knowing how to get the job done.”
Value-based healthcare is a philosophy based on the tenet that healthcare should maximize value for patients. Dr. Randal Shelin has been at the forefront of implementing value-based healthcare at Desert Radiology. Having been with the organization since 2001, he has been president since 2012.
Shelin has made a commitment to improving healthcare in Southern Nevada through Desert Radiology in a number of ways. He has sought to improve technology, allowing the imaging company to ensure a rapid transition of information for patients between providers. He has also worked to become more involved in how examinations are ordered.
“We are working with our business partners to ensure that when a provider orders a test, it is the right test for their patient and it is truly needed,” Shelin said. “Only by getting the most utility out of our limited heatlhcare dollars will we ever be able to control costs.”
Shelin added that, “understanding one’s own limitations is critical to being an effective 20/20 executive. I may have a vision of where I want to take my company, but unless I can pull my team together, communicate that vision and execute a plan to make it happen, it will remain just that: a vision.”
Beginning with a friend, the combination of two delicious recipes and a great idea, Nothing Bundt Cakes was half the brain-child of Debbie Shwetz who co-founded the baked goods partnership in 1997. Since then, Shwetz has helped take the organization to new places through franchising opportunities.
“In 2006 we franchised our company,” said Shwetz. “Our vision then, and now, was to provide a homemade-quality product that was moist and delicious and would meet the needs of our guests. By never wavering from our quality promise, we would be able to extend a business opportunity to others so they too could recognize their dreams of entrepreneurship.”
Nothing Bundt Cakes now has 139 locations in 24 states and Shwetz has been instrumental in developing the sales process, writing manuals, maintaining compliance records and putting in place the bakery opening process.
“I believe a good leader keeps an open mind and has the ability to disagree with a member of their team, yet leave that disagreement with locked arms around a decision that will move the company forward,” said Shwetz. “Realizing through 20/20 hindsight where you can improve allows you the 20/20 vision to continue to reach for greater excellence.”
Affinity Gaming, which operates 11 properties in Nevada, Iowa, Colorado and Missouri, has had Michael Silberling, chief executive officer, at its helm for the past two years. Silberling brings with him over 20 years of casino industry management experience and has put that knowledge to good use at Affinity. Since becoming CEO, Silberling has helped the organization grow by over 20 percent and has seen net revenues of nearly $400 million.
“My success comes from a vehement attention to hiring the right people that are motivated and driven to oversee efficient processes to achieve the vision of our company,” said Silberling. “We’ve learned how to deploy technology to support company goals in profitability, customer service and team member morale, while not losing touch with the personal and relationship side of the hospitality sector. I refuse to accept inefficiency and wastefulness, so every resource is used to its maximum potential.”
K2 Energy, which was founded by Dr. Johnnie Stoker in 2006, is a lithium iron phosphate technology company working to replace common lithium batteries. Stoker founded the company when the previous organization he worked for, which was also based in Henderson, decided to move their jobs to China. He then hired some of his co-workers and started K2 Energy. Stoker’s vision for K2 is, “to be recognized as the technology and manufacturing leader in lithium ion (lithium iron phosphate) batteries and systems.”
To that end, Stoker has been focusing the company’s efforts on projects that set them apart as a technology leader. The company delivers anywhere from two to three new products or product improvements per year. Additionally, K2 was able to grow through the recession, when many other technology companies, even those with government subsidies, failed.
Stoker said that the key to his success is, “good people, a hard working team and an attitude that failure is not an option. The K2 team is competitive with any team in the world for problem solving and innovation.”
A leader in engineering, information technology, program and acquisition services and multimedia, Arcata Associates has been in business for 37 years. Leading the organization today is Tim Wong, president and chief executive officer.
“When I took the helm of Arcata Associates as president and CEO in 1993, I had a vision to significantly broaden the company’s defense work and expand into NASA,” he said. “Today, I’m proud to say that we’ve achieved that goal, but we’re not done yet. We’re constantly aiming to grow, excel and innovate.”
Wong’s plans to innovate include positioning Arcata to be an “integral member of programs that are setting scientific milestones in space and aeronautics.” He also wants to assist in preparing the men and women of the United State’s military forces to defend the nation.
“As U.S. and allied fighter pilots enter enemy airspace or astronauts climb into their space vehicle for the first human mission to Mars, we want them to be confident that the best engineers, scientists and technical support personnel have used their expertise and experience to ensure mission success,” said Wong.
When asked what he though made a 20/20 executive he said, “A visionary 20/20 executive believes that dreams can become reality with hard work, a talented and dedicated team and a commitment to integrity. That’s what I strive for.”