Sponsored by C-Level Magazine, Calhoun Companies and Lux Law Firm, the Champions of Business awards were created to celebrate distinct and exemplary independently owned businesses and leaders in the Twin Cities metro area.
The five award categories honor the people who support, own or work for small businesses – 500 or fewer employees – and make significant contributions to their companies and communities.
The 2016 winners were selected by a panel made up of representatives from the three sponsors.
Small Business of the Year
This organization has provided benefits for their community and demonstrated excellence in their industry. This organization has an encouraging work environment and leads their industry in innovation and positive change.
CLM: What engages and excites Ewald employees?
Ewald: In a workplace that is creative, effective and fun, Ewald Consulting employees get the opportunity to work on a wide array of different projects and initiatives across a wide swath of industries. Our employees have the opportunity to have their good work make a difference for a variety of professions, from qualitative research to cardiology, from sand and gravel mining to financial planning, from defense lawyers to legal medicine and seemingly every profession in between. In our mission statement, we make it clear that we operate at the intersection of business, government and society to make a difference in their industries, and do things for our clients that improve their professions.
CLM: Could you share a few examples of how you encourage employees to get involved in Ewald’s community initiatives?
Ewald: We have a workforce that is engaged independently in countless volunteer activities outside the office – things like coaching youth sports, helping at the zoo, directing faith-based initiatives and organizing fitness events. In addition, we make volunteer activities a regular part of our company-organized events, annually spending an evening helping out at a charity called Feed My Starving Children, packing meals to help malnourished families in 70 countries around the world.
CLM: What do you find most rewarding about being a part of the Twin Cities based small business community?
Ewald: This region is a great place to do business. We have a well-educated workforce, we have a major international airport hub, and we are centrally located between the East and West coasts. Add Minnesota’s renowned quality of life and it’s a great place to employ professionals.
CLM: What advice do you have for anyone interested in starting their own small business?
Ewald: Having a well-developed business plan and all of the best in equipment is a great start, but your most important assets will always be the ones who walk in the door in the morning and head home in the evening. Hiring and retaining good people who have natural talents, a willingness to learn and grow, and a desire to do great work on behalf of your clients, is the key to success no matter what is the size of your business.
Woman of the Year
Ingrid Mattsson of Uponor North America
This woman has distinguished herself within her organization, profession and community. She has shown excellence in leadership, business growth and innovation. She has contributed to her field and the community she lives and works in.
CLM: Uponor North America is part of the small business community in Minnesota and also part of a larger global company. Could you talk about why this mix appeals to employees?
Mattsson: I think it’s very appealing because on the one hand, you still get that intimacy of a small to mid-size company – people know each other here and there is a lot of cross-functional interaction. As we grow, we’re focused on being agile and responsive, which is sometimes easier to do when you’re smaller. And on the other hand, it’s wonderful to interact with colleagues from around the world; share ideas, product opportunities and build a global brand together.
CLM: Uponor North America is committed to people, planet and profit. Can you share an example of how you demonstrate the triple bottom line locally?
Mattsson: I could give you many examples as the triple bottom line is truly a driving force. Sustainability is at the foundation of our strategic planning and comes to us both bottom up and top down. With regards to People, we value and invest in our employees in many ways from education to wellness opportunities as well as our employees having a voice that’s heard. We also value the people of the community through our community relations efforts. Business has such an important role to play in how communities are cared for and we’re stepping up to this responsibility. With regards to Planet, we are very focused on minimizing our footprint both in terms of efficiency of energy and water. In addition, the products that we sell contribute to sustainable, high-performance buildings. And, of course, we are focused on Profitability. In order to be a healthy, sustaining company, we have to remain strong and profitable. A lot of people are depending on the success of this company.
CLM: What advice do you have for women looking for career opportunities in manufacturing?
Mattsson: There are many great opportunities for women both in manufacturing and the plumbing and heating industry as a whole. Opportunities range from the STEM aspect of science and engineering as there is so much research and development happening to create new products; in addition, there are communications and marketing opportunities that happen at all levels of the industry to promote those products. And for women who enjoy working with their hands, there are many opportunities on the manufacturing floor as well as being an installer. The industry is really in need of every facet of construction and if one works at a great company like Uponor, one can experience growth, camaraderie and the satisfaction of working at a company committed to doing the right thing.
CLM: Uponor North America’s values are “Connect. Build. Inspire.” What inspires you?
Mattsson: Many things, but I’d have to say courage. I am inspired by those who stand up to wrongs to make them right. I’m inspired by the courage of our soldiers who fight for our safety every day. I’m inspired by the courage of those who get up and go every day when they are challenged with disability or depression or tremendous responsibility. Courage can be big or small, but either way, it’s still impressive and inspiring.
Right Hand Award
John Thwing of Wells Fargo
This award recognizes the business owners “right-hand,” an employee or service provider who has gone above and beyond in their relationship with the organization. He or she has continuously shown exemplary work ethic, positivity, self-motivation and strong performance while remaining modest and humble.
CLM: You’ve been supporting Minnesota’s small businesses for nearly 30 years. What do you find most rewarding about working with small business owners?
Thwing: The best part is that our work changes people lives and makes small business dreams come true. Most of my clients are buying a business or buying a building for their business, and closing the transaction is often the culmination of a long held dream. I also enjoy that many of the sellers in our transactions are also small business owners that are repeating the financial rewards of years of hard work.
CLM: What is one unusual trait or characteristic you appreciate in people you work alongside?
Thwing: I appreciate people that are passionate about their work and about small business. The most interesting thing about me are the interesting and passionate business owners, advisers and agents I get to meet along the way. We get to work with an amazing variety of businesses and people.
CLM: Could you tell us why you’re called the SBA guy?
Thwing: I am called The SBA Guy because it is not only what I do, it is who I am. I live and breathe not just SBA financing, but the personal, business and transactional issues that need to be understood to make each particular small business dream come true. And while some people are intimidated by bankers, no one is intimidated by a “guy!”
CLM: What do you think is important for service providers to know in order for them to work effectively with small businesses?
Thwing: In most small businesses, the business and the owner are very closely linked – financially and emotionally. Good advice requires an understanding of both the business and the owner’s personal circumstances and goals. Small business owners can be emotional, and that can and often should affect their decisions. Business solutions need to address both business issues and the personal needs and feelings of the owner.
Tony Sorensen of Versique Consulting & Search
This organization has created social change for the world and community around them. It believes in people over profit and its goal is to create large scale and systematic social change. This organization embraces the triple bottom-line approach: people, planet and profit.
CLM: What inspired you to build a company culture that values giving back?
Sorensen: In launching Versique, one of my driving strategies was to invest in people, and what they’re passionate about. To build a company that was focused on more than simply making money. To provide our employees the opportunity to invest in what matters most to them – their families, their careers and their community. We are passionate about giving back to the community because we have been given so much. For that reason, we established a volunteer committee that plans opportunities for our employees and their families to give back – from clothing drives to food drives to interview prep workshops.
CLM: You count many organizations among your community partners, including Simon Says Give, Stop Hunger Now and Dress for Success. Could you tell us more about your recent clothing drive with Dress for Success?
Sorensen: Our fifth annual clothing drive was held May 4 at the Metropolitan Ballroom. We collected professional clothing attire to benefit Dress for Success Twin Cities and the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans. At the event, we had a variety of silent auction and raffle opportunities, as well as live music, appetizers and drinks, and a word from the Dress for Success Executive Director. The purpose of the event is to raise awareness for these great organizations that promote economic independence among individuals who need assistance getting back into the working world.
CLM: What advice do you have for other companies interested in developing community partnerships?
Sorensen: One of the easiest ways to get involved is by investing in an organization that shares a common purpose with your company – in our case, helping people with their careers. For example, we’ve partnered with Dress for Success, whose goal is to get people back into the working world through providing professional attire, a network of support, and career development tools. We also suggest starting close to home – ask your employees what their passions are. With this approach, we’ve partnered with a number of organizations that our employees were already involved with, like Second Harvest Heartland, Ya!, and Movember.
CLM: Core values play a large role in your company culture. Could you highlight one of your values for our readers?
Sorensen: Our core values are collaboration, continuous improvement, results driven, and community involvement. Each of these core values defines how we drive our business at Versique across all of our divisions, including consulting, search, and digital marketing services. Collaboration is an especially unique core value within the industry. We’re dedicated to accomplishing great things together, and we work together as a team to bring the best service to our clients. Referrals and combined meetings happen often across our different divisions, and our employees are stronger in their careers because of the collaboration from others within the company.
Industry & Community Leader
Jennifer Smith of Innovative Office Solutions
This person is a leader within the community, their profession and organization. This person has demonstrated a positive impact on their community and is a dedicated and active leader that provides guidance to others while trailblazing into the future.
CLM: Core values and a strong brand promise play a large role in your corporate culture. Could you highlight one of your core values for our readers?
Smith: Be Involved is one of my favorite core values, it gets right at the heart of something we hold dear. We’re always working to be involved in the success of our employees and provide them with opportunities to be “All In” with Innovative. We offer workplace wellness opportunities, a growth and learning curriculum, volunteering and charitable initiatives to name a few; all aimed at making Innovative a rewarding place to work, grow, and give back.
CLM: What is your company’s ‘intentional’ culture, and how has it helped you grow?
Smith: When we started Innovative, our culture could be defined as accidental. We gathered a group of like-minded individuals and set out to create something great. Everyone held the same set of values and everyone knew their role. As we found success and growth, we were bringing in a lot of new people and we had to be very intentional about our culture in order to protect what we held dear and what had brought us success. We developed our vision, core values, brand promise and refined our brand, all designed to clearly articulate who we were as a company and how we wanted to operate. Our culture is something we protect very closely; we hire to it, we train to it regularly and ultimately it serves as the secret sauce for how we show up every day.
CLM: You’re involved in a number of groups including the Forum for the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. Why do you believe it’s important that small business owners get involved in professional groups?
Smith: It is critical to participate in professional groups. The opportunity to learn, make new business contacts and new friends are limitless. I have learned so much through my participation in professional groups, and also uncovered a number of new business opportunities. I am frequently able to bring back new ideas to my team that help us improve or refine our business.
CLM: What inspires you about networking with other small business owners?
Smith: Being active in the small business community has taught me so much and in turn, given me many opportunities to give back and help others. I love hearing the stories of other small businesses and sharing my own; through that process we all become stronger as we learn from and support each other.