Dallas Entrepreneurs of the Year 2012
The finalists in this year’s Ernst & Young program show they have the grit it takes to achieve success.
Global Leading Foods
Founder and President
In 2009, Kelley Battles, 39-year-old CEO of Coppell-based Global Leading Foods, made a bold business plan at a time when start-up capital was scarce. He secured two investors, liquidated his assets, and purchased a $2.5 million High Pressure Processing machine—a non-thermal way to package perishable foods without the need for unhealthy preservatives.
That sacrifice was huge, Battles says, and hard. But since then, he has gone from working from home in food brokering products to having close to 50 employees and a 30,000-square-foot processing plant. “It’s a totally different ballgame than where I was three or four years ago,” he says.
GLF, which has grown some 300 percent in the 18 months the HPP machine has been operational, occupies a unique position. There’s always a demand for outsourced processing, Battles says, as the initial investment in equipment is prohibitively steep.
As a result of ramped-up demand for HPP-processed foods and relationships with retailers like Sam’s Club and Costco, Battles secured funding for a second machine in April.
Just a year ago, he wouldn’t have believed the success he’s talking about today, he says: “It’s a ride. Emotionally, financially, spiritually, family, everything.”
Freese and Nichols Inc.
Robert F. Pence
President and CEO
Companies typically consider economic indicators for the next few years as part of a strategic planning process. Strategic planning at Freese and Nichols Inc. is a 12-month process that looks a full 15 years into the future. That practice was instrumental in positioning the 118-year-old Fort Worth concern for growth during one of the worst economic downturns in U.S. history.
“We watch the economy, sales tax revenue, and other things, and for about two years we saw this about to trend,” Robert Pence says. “The first thing we did was increase our marketing efforts, and that worked out well for us. Then we looked at new business.”
Known for its engineering and architecture services, the company moved into midstream energy services when it was tapped by Chesapeake Energy to provide engineering support for development of more than 270 natural gas wells on Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport property. The company’s foray into that industry has contributed significantly to its record revenue. Chesapeake now comprises about 10 percent of FNI’s total business.
Today the futures committee is targeting power transformers as a growth area. Plans for a new North Carolina office are also under way.
– Glenda Vosburgh
Gold Metal Recyclers
Ken Goldberg and Neil Goldberg
Kenny Goldberg was proud of his framed diploma for his finance degree from The University of Texas. He hung it on his wall at his first job, which took him to Lubbock. After a year, he believed he deserved a raise. “I worked up the nerve to talk to the district manager. He was a tough guy.”
Goldberg asked for a raise from $600 a month to $700; he was denied. The next day Lubbock was in his rearview mirror.
He and his brother, Neil, launched Gold Metal Recyclers with $5,000 in 1976. Today, the Dallas-based company recycles more than half-a-billion pounds of metal a year and generates annual revenue of more than $750 million.
Getting there hasn’t been particularly easy. In 2008, the brothers realized they’d have to buckle down to survive. For the first time in their history, they had to lay off employees. But they continued buying product from clients.
“We were here for our customers, whether we could sell the product or not,” Kenny Goldberg says. “By taking the more difficult route of staying in the market every day, we came out much stronger with a much larger market share on the other end.”
Howard Moore and Sri Ayyeppen
Howard Moore and his business partner, Sri Ayyeppen, are proud of the fact that they’ve built Keste LLC one person at a time. “The story of our company is really the story of our people,” Moore says. “We historically have a very low turnover. I read a comment by the founder of Virgin Airlines [Richard Branson] that I really like: ‘When you have happy employees, you have happy customers.’ I believe that’s absolutely true.”
Keste, which recently opened a new 32,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility in Plano, is an Oracle Platinum partner and systems integrator that automates the process of selling custom-manufactured products for many of the world’s most successful companies. Moore launched the company in 2004 with his own funds, and has never taken on outside investors.
Ayyeppen says he and Moore bootstrapped the company in the beginning, working two or three “shifts” a day, and everyone did every job at one time or another. “Our first customers then became our salespeople, bringing new customers through word of mouth,” he says.
Keste has clients throughout the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia, and has created more than 200 high-paying jobs in the United States and India.
— Glenda Vosburgh
President and CEO
Pardeep Kohli is an engineer at heart, so he can’t help himself from scribbling when he’s near a whiteboard. But the 21-year wireless industry veteran also has mastered the business side of Mavenir Systems, which has grown at a compounded annual rate in excess of 180 percent through 2011. Part of that success is due to investor confidence in his business plan; the company has raised $105 million since 2005.
Mavenir is a telecom service provider enabling carriers to offer Skype-like features on mobile devices with a better user experience. Kohli says his company’s competitors include telecom giants Ericsson and Huawei.
Prior to Mavenir, he co-founded Spatial Wireless, which was acquired by Alcatel for $300 million.
“Over the last 10 years, the market has become more mature, but there are a lot of companies like Lucent and DSC that have disappeared,” he says. “There is room for innovative companies [like Mavenir] to gain market share.”
In five years, Kohli projects the Richardson company will employ more than 1,000, up from 525 this year, and grow revenue from $90 million to more than $200 million. “I want us still to be nimble and flexible to work with the customers we want to work with,” he says.
— Karen Nielsen
Laredo Petroleum Holdings Inc.
Chairman and CEO
Randy Foutch says the best business advice anyone has ever given him is, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.”
“As a result, my philosophy, for both my organization and for myself, is to plan for success,” Foutch says. “People and organizations that do this tend to have three traits in common: They know where they are, they know where they want to be, and they have a plan for getting there.”
Based in Tulsa, Okla., Laredo Petroleum went public in December 2011 and has performed strongly in the public markets. Its business strategy focuses on the exploration and development of oil and gas properties in the mid-continent region of the United States.
The company’s management team has an average of 30 years of industry experience, and plays a big role in strategic planning.
“I have learned to trust in the collective knowledge of my management team and organization,” Foutch says. “We constantly solicit input from those around us and have come to call on their expertise in turbulent times.” Laredo’s portfolio has more than 6,000 identified potential locations, Foutch says. At the company’s current drilling rate, that represents about 20 years of drilling inventory.
— Glenda Vosburgh