Humble beginnings are no barrier to success. Always do the right thing. Develop a niche. Set goals. Take calculated risks. Communicate—and then communicate some more. Streamline. Be creative and innovative. Trust and empower your employees. Truly serve your customers. Work hard. Follow the Golden Rule. And be persistent.

That’s the collective wisdom of the dynamic businesspeople chosen as finalists in Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year 2010 competition, which is structured as a regional competition en route to national and international award winners. On the following pages you’ll learn why these 38 outstanding leaders have risen to the pinnacle of their professions—and how they’re building communities, families, and legacies as well as their companies. Their success stories have the stamp of approval from this year’s Ernst & Young judges, who know a thing or two about success in life themselves.

The judges are: M. Jay Allison, president, CEO, and board chairman of energy company Comstock Resources Inc.; David Boone, CEO of American CareSource Holdings Inc., which arranges ancillary medical services for insurance providers; Matrice Ellis-Kirk, managing partner, diversity advisory services, at Heidrick & Struggles, an international recruiting firm; John M. Matheson, managing director of Ikhana Group LLC and former president and CEO of Global Power Equipment Group Inc.; Juli Spottiswood, president and CEO of Parago Inc., a rewards-based incentives company; Stephen Valenta, managing director in NASDAQ’s OMX (corporate client) Group; Charles D. Vogt, president and CEO of IP technology firm GENBAND; and Gail Warrior-Lawrence, president and CEO of construction-services company Warrior Group.

We congratulate this year’s regional finalists—as well as the big winners—in Ernst & Young’s Southwest Area-North (North Texas/Arkansas/Oklahoma), all of whom were scheduled to be honored June 19 at a gala awards ceremony at the Sheraton Dallas.

Entrepreneurs_judges THE JUDGES (left to right): M. Jay Allison, David Boone, Matrice Ellis-Kirk, John M. Matheson, Juli Spottiswood, Stephen Valenta, Charles D. Vogt, and Gail Warrior-Lawrence.


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1000Bulbs.com
Kim Pedersen
CEO and Founder

Kim Pedersen’s former classmates might have voted him Least Likely to Succeed had the yearbook contained such an “honor.” Academically challenged and with few friends, he began smoking marijuana at 18. The drug would destroy the next 12 years of his life.

That was then. For the past 16 years, Pedersen has owned a Garland-based lighting distribution firm, 1000Bulbs.com, with 20 percent to 70 percent annual revenue growth. He employs 105 people.

A nephew nudged him into web sales in 1996, before e-commerce was a buzzword. He’s been continuously innovating since and sets daily, weekly, and long-term goals.

His worst mistake early on, he says, was failing to meet the needs of his employees. But he has since turned to the Bible’s Book of Proverbs as a leadership guide.

Pedersen said he gains inspiration from those who beat great odds. For example, he loves to watch the “Miracle on Ice,” the Americans’ defeat of the Russians in Olympics ice hockey in 1980.

He hopes his own failure-to-success story inspires as well. “Not only can you change, but you can make a difference in other people’s lives,” Pedersen says, “not only yours.” —Kerry Curry

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Alsbridge Inc.
Ben Trowbridge
CEO

Two recent acquisitions have enabled Alsbridge to differentiate itself from its competitors with a data-driven approach to its IT and business process outsourcing consultancy.

The company’s recent acquisition of Dallas-based TAG adds expertise in the telecom network space. The acquisition was part of Alsbridge’s strategy to acquire data-rich consulting capabilities under one roof to help big companies reduce costs and improve back-office operations, says Ben Trowbridge, Alsbridge CEO.

In 2008 Alsbridge, also based in Dallas, acquired ProBenchmark and its database of hardware and software pricing. As a result, says Trowbridge, “we have the single largest repository of IT and outsourcing prices in the industry.”

The company is in talks with several businesses and expects another acquisition this year, he adds.

As big Dallas brands like EDS, Perot Systems, and ACS fade due to acquisitions by large corporations with headquarters elsewhere, Trowbridge sees the Alsbridge brand rising to greater prominence. The firm expects to grow its local work force from 85 to 100 in the next quarter. It also has a London office.

“We are the new way in how outsourcing is being procured and managed on a long-term basis,” Trowbridge says. —K.C.

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American Fidelity Assurance Co.
Bill Cameron
Chairman and CEO

In 1977, a plane carrying Bill Cameron’s family home from a ski trip slammed into a Colorado mountainside. The accident killed his father, paralyzed his mother, and severely injured him and his sister. They spent two days in the wreckage before being rescued.

Cameron, a teenager at the time, recalls how employees at American Fidelity Assurance Co., an insurance firm built by his father and grandfather, rallied around the family.

The tragedy still shapes his management of the 50-year-old Oklahoma City-based business and drives home its mission of providing for families in their time of need, he says.

Since taking the helm in 1994, Cameron has refocused the business, exiting the major medical field and concentrating on the firm’s core strength: disability insurance.

He promotes an extended-family culture for the 1,500 employees, focusing on teamwork and honesty. He allows workers time off to volunteer, matches their charitable donations, offers telecommuting, and rewards performance with a bonus plan open to everyone.

“We are a bunch of good people trying to do the right thing for people,” he says. —K.C.

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American Unit Inc.
Devender Aerrabolu
CEO and President

Devender Aerrabolu always dreamed of helping people run their own businesses. He took that vision along with his experience in IT and started his own company, American Unit Inc., in 2003. With $500 invested and the tenacity of a soon-to-be father, Aerrabolu quickly grew Frisco-based American Unit into a leading technology firm specializing in custom business management solutions.

Turning the one-man-operated company into a one-stop-shop for IT professionals—and now employing more than 250 and boasting partnerships with Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP—took some innovative thinking on Aerrabolu’s part.

In 2004 he created a hybrid model that included an off-shore element to keep each project progressing day and night. “I wanted to be able to offer something innovative and seamless to my customers,” says Aerrabolu. “It has improved quality, and the delivery and customer-service aspects for our client are very effective.”

By applying similar innovative practices to reward his employees, Aerrabolu’s company repeatedly has been voted one of the best places to work in Texas. —Kristy Alpert