Dallas Entrepreneurs of the Year 2011

See what the remarkable finalists in this year’s Ernst & Young competition have been doing at their growing companies.

American Trailer Works Inc.
Thomas C. Keene
Executive Chairman

Thomas C. Keene has an unconventional life story. He’s the father of five teenage boys, all of them within three years of age; he’s lived in virtually every corner of the world. And his pioneering, entrepreneurial spirit has made him a forerunner in consolidating the heretofore-unglamorous industry of utility trailers.

In a niche once thought of as a rather mundane, mom-and-pop field, Keene has introduced professional business practices to each of his acquisitions, with the end goal of forming a dynamic and unique multi-brand, multi-channel enterprise.
Since purchasing his first company in the trailer industry in 2008 alongside his partner Douglas D. Wheat, Keene has grown Southlake-based American Trailer Works into the clear industry leader, boasting the broadest range of utility trailers available along with products sold through more than 4,000 outlets across North America.

Keene’s greatest challenge to date has been managing through one of the worst economic downturns in the country’s history. Shortly after his first acquisition in 2008, he watched the industrial economy stop cold. Instead of growing fearful at the impending recession, Keene viewed it as an opportunity to grow. He introduced new products, added sales and marketing personnel, changed the company’s marketing approaches and, in return, gained market share every month. —Kristy Alpert

Approach Resources
J. Ross Craft

Ross Craft is the first to admit he doesn’t have all the answers. That’s why he encourages each of his employees to share ideas on how to improve the company—and then makes sure to give them credit for it.

It’s also a lesson learned from his father, a crew foreman for an energy company, who taught him that good managers pay attention and listen to what their people say.
Craft understands, too, because he was an employee before he became an employer. He worked as a petroleum engineer for more than a decade-and-a-half before jumping into entrepreneurship.

In 1998 Craft co-founded Athanor Resources, which was sold in 2002 with the financial backing of Yorktown Partners. Athanor was successful enough that Yorktown backed Craft again when he launched Approach in 2004. It went public three years later.

That principle of listening paid off in spades when Craft’s technical team told him Approach had found oil where it shouldn’t be. After checking and rechecking, the company announced late last year the discovery of the Wolffork oil shale play in the Permian Basin.

Since then, the Fort Worth-based company’s market capitalization has more than tripled, to over $660 million. Craft is quick to point out that the success has been a team effort. From the roustabouts to the CFO, “everybody has played a role in this,” he says. —Mark Druskoff

Archipelago Learning
Timothy J. McEwen
President and CEO

Employees of Archipelago Learning have a “missionary zeal” about their work, Timothy McEwen says. “Many of them are former educators. I myself was at one time an elementary school teacher,” he says. “We believe education is important in life and for our country to be able to compete.”

Archipelago Learning specializes in subscription-based, on-demand digital content delivered online. The system includes standards-based instruction, practice, assessments, reporting, and productivity tools. The company’s flagship offering is called Study Island.

When McEwen joined Archipelago Learning in 2007, the Dallas-based company had $14 million in sales and was in 5,800 schools. At the end of 2010, the company’s programs were in 37,500 schools and it had $63 million in sales.

“We believe that we are on the cusp of the digital transformation of education,” McEwen says, “and we’re excited about that.”

Archipelago Learning made its first acquisition as a public company in 2010, when it snapped up United Kingdom-based EducationCity.

The company also made major enhancements to its products, despite funding cuts, layoffs, and an uncertain regulatory environment for school districts, Archipelago’s customers.

“When schools are forced to cut their staffs, they need our programs even more,” McEwen says. “We’re extremely low-priced compared to other programs, and schools know that they need technology.” —Glenda Vosburgh

BHG Behavioral Health Group
Andrew Galloway Love
Co-founder, Chairman, and CEO
Jim Draudt
Co-founder and COO

Former Stanford University classmates Andy Love and Jim Draudt founded BHG Behavioral Health Group in 2006. Since then the company has grown to 20 treatment centers across seven states.

Dallas-based BHG provides treatment services for opiate addiction—from prescription drugs to heroine—and specializes in medication-assisted treatment in an outpatient setting. Its revenue increased 30 percent from 2008 to 2010.

“The key [to the company’s success] is that we provide a service that shows an immediate benefit,” says Draudt (above at right, with Love).

In some ways, a bad economy benefits businesses like BHG, Love says. “If people have jobs, it’s easier for them to maintain their habit. If the job goes away, they either go to illicit drugs or they get treatment.”

BHG tailors treatment plans to the patient’s history and personal experiences. It treats the physical aspects of addiction via medication replacement therapy using methadone or Suboxone, and the psychological aspects of addiction with behavioral counseling.

Medication replacement treatment can be controversial, but the stigma attached to it is unfair, Love says. “Substance abuse is not a character flaw; it’s a disease of the brain,” he says. “People should recognize this for what it is: the first step in treating these addictions.” —G.V.

Cambium Learning Group Inc.
Ronald Klausner

The lion’s share of Cambium Learning Group’s revenue comes from school districts, and most are struggling with shrinking budgets in the wake of government funding cuts. Challenging economic times, however, didn’t signal Cambium CEO Ronald Klausner to stop investing in the company.

“What leadership often does in trying times—and there’s no question these are trying times—is cut back on R&D [research and development]. To me, that’s a problem,” Klausner says. “We have continued to invest in R&D and we’ve continued to diversify, and that has kept the company strong.”

The Dallas-based company provides education products for PreK-12th grade—primarily for at-risk students—including intervention curricula, educational technologies, and services.

“Most educators come into [the field] because they want to make a difference for children, and their jobs often depend on that,” Klausner says. “We’re very transparent about students’ outcomes. We demonstrate that we can make a difference.”

Although 2010 was a challenging year—Cambium’s adjusted net revenue was down 3 percent compared to 2009, from $201 million to $194 million—the company continued to invest in growth initiatives in the areas of marketing, sales, product development, and upgrades to its e-commerce and e-marketing capabilities. —G.V.

Benchmark Financial
Bryan Harlan

Benchmark Financial didn’t do anything special to become successful—it just made suitable mortgage loans to qualified borrowers.

During a period in which hundreds of mortgage lenders have put themselves out of business by acting more like gamblers, Benchmark stands apart, explains Bryan Harlan, CEO of the Plano-based mortgage banker.

Many lenders “took on too much risk or didn’t manage their P&L,” Harlan says. “We didn’t do anything different–we just did the right thing.”

Benchmark wasn’t completely unscathed by the mortgage meltdown. It underwrote a number of subprime loans and has had to buy back many of them. But the soundly managed company was protected by a cash cushion.

“We’ve spent millions of dollars on buying back loans, but obviously we could afford to,” says Harlan. “We’ve reinvested back into the business.”

A bigger challenge has been the shrunken demand for home loans across the country. To negotiate the difficult environment, Benchmark has retrenched, culling its branch network, and slashing its employee rolls to 250 from more than 1,500.

Partly as a result, revenue has risen steadily, from $27 million in 2008 to $32.5 million in 2009 and $35.5 million in 2010.

“We’ve been able to make the hard decisions and manage our business, unlike most mortgage companies,” Harlan says. —Steve Garmhausen