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.

Cobalt Capital Partners
Lewis Friedland
Managing Partner

Being an entrepreneur is a lot like being a surfer, says Lewis Friedland: “There are moments of terror and moments of exhilaration.”

Like a good surfer, the managing partner of Irving-based Cobalt Capital Partners has remained loose and trusted his instincts throughout his career to find opportunities. And the results speak for themselves.

Cobalt, a real estate investment company that Friedland founded in 2002 in partnership with financial firm USAA, is just his latest success. Specializing in light-industrial properties, it has more than $1 billion of real estate assets in 16 major metro areas and annual revenue exceeding $100 million.

In the late 1980s, Friedland developed successful office and industrial projects as a Trammell Crow Co. partner. In the early 1990s, he founded the Friedland Co., a real estate services business in Richmond, Va.—as well as another firm, Crimson Partners, to redevelop and renovate distressed Resolution Trust Corp. properties.

As the economy gained steam he moved in 1997 to Dallas, where he helped recapitalize and rejuvenate a moribund REIT, American Industrial Properties.

The thread throughout Friedland’s career has been a flexible outlook. “There’s no playbook when you’re an entrepreneur,” he says. “A lot of it is learned and developed as you go.” —S.G.

Concho Resources
Tim Leach
Chairman, President, & CEO

Tim Leach wasn’t born in West Texas—he grew up in Houston—but he takes a great deal of pride in how Midland-based Concho Resources has benefited the region.

As one of the largest operators in the Permian Basin, the company will spend $1.4 billion this year on capital expenditures, and that money has a “big positive economic effect,” says Leach. Concho’s success is also gratifying in that it’s attracting a new generation of young people to the oil and gas business, he says, and he hopes they’ll learn and earn enough to build their own companies someday.

Leach made the leap into starting his own company in 1998, when he and several fellow executives from Parker & Parseley Petroleum left to form a company called Concho I. That was successfully sold and so was its successor, Concho II. In 2004, Leach launched Concho III, which became Concho Resources when it went public in 2007. Today its market capitalization tops $9 billion.

The common thread with each company has been the Permian Basin. Although the area has been producing oil since the 1920s, the Permian has been “reinvented” in the last 10 years, Leach says. “Don’t ever think you know everything” about leadership, Leach says—because the future always holds surprises. —M.D.

Darling International Inc.
Randy Stuewe

There is no glamour in the rendering, recycling, and recovery of our nation’s food industry. When Randy Stuewe’s daughter introduced him to her fifth-grade class, she used the term “used-cow dealer.”

As CEO at 128-year-old Darling International Inc., Stuewe’s business is dealing with bones and guts. The company’s conversion of animal byproducts and bakery waste is one of the oldest and greenest industries around. When Stuewe was hired as chief executive in 2003, though, his main job was to put lipstick on the distressed Irving company for a quick sale.

“As I studied the company, I looked at the board several times and said, ‘Guys, this is a great company with a fabulous supply chain ..,’ ” he says, having relied on his industry experience at Cargill and ConAgra.

Stuewe rebranded and re-energized Darling International into a fat, feed, fertilizer, and fuel business that pulled in $724.9 million in fiscal 2010, a $127.1 million increase over 2009. He projects 2011 revenue will be between $1.6 billion and $2 billion.

“While you’ve got to have the right mix of assets to do that, it’s ultimately being able to step into an organization and figure out who’s good at what,” he says. “It really starts with the people, and you have to display the passion that you want the people to have. Then it’s really magical to step back and watch. Sometimes businesses just forget that they were good at it.” —Karen Nielsen

Conifer Revenue Cycle Solutions
Stephen Mooney

Fulfilling his dream of being an entrepreneur wasn’t easy for Stephen Mooney. His father—Mooney’s role model—had espoused a very different path for his son. “He was a bricklayer, and he was always pushing me toward the stability of working for a company,” Mooney recalls.

Ultimately, Mooney discovered a way to be an entrepreneur—within a major corporation. Three years ago, as the then-head of patient-financial services for Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare Corp., Mooney persuaded the company to let his business unit stand alone—and to serve hospitals both outside and inside the Tenet system.

That proved to be a stroke of genius. Conifer Revenue Cycle Solutions, as the business is called, now provides critical services for 84 hospitals in 15 states, while employing more than 3,000 people. Mooney projects 2011 revenue will double last year’s.

The Frisco-based business helps hospitals and healthcare systems with revenue-cycle management—which means everything from maximizing revenue growth to getting payers to pay. Outsourcing that work frees hospitals to focus on patient care.

Today the leadership of Tenet, which owns Conifer, looks smart for greenlighting Mooney’s plan. As for Mooney, he couldn’t be happier. “I’ve always thought of myself as an entrepreneur,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to do my own thing.” —S.G.

Daryl Flood Inc.
Daryl Flood
President and CEO

When Daryl Flood proposed adding a logistics business within his moving company, his management team objected that such an operation was non-core and would soak up too much capital. “They fought me and dragged their feet,” says Flood, president and CEO of Daryl Flood Inc. “But I persevered, and now we have a $10 million business that complements the other things we’re doing.”

Flood’s determination is storied. He has started and run eight companies over the course of his career. He founded Daryl Flood Inc., in 1982 “from nothing,” as he puts it.

Flood, who was 33 at the time, sold his home for start-up cash and talked a bank into giving him a loan. With just $300,000 and a tireless work ethic, he built a business that today has $53 million in revenue and 350 employees.

“There are people who may be richer and smarter than me, but nobody’s going to out-work me,” says Flood, whose business is based in Coppell and has offices in Austin, Houston, El Paso, and Lubbock.

Moving businesses are extremely sensitive to economic cycles, and Daryl Flood Inc., has been no exception. In the 2008-2009 downturn,
revenues plunged 20% overnight. “People just stopped moving,” Flood explains.

He didn’t put off taking the tough steps that the times required. The company laid off employees and asked others to take pay cuts. That quick action helped it pull through, as did the loyalty of customers such as a manufacturer that has used Flood’s services for 29 years so far. —S.G.

Enercon Services Inc.
John Richardson

Power-industry consultant Enercon Services Inc. has compensated for a shrinking talent market with a big in-house training program—and it hasn’t slowed its work one bit.

“In our business, you’ve got to keep people doing billable work and meeting demanding schedules,” explains John Richardson, president of the Tulsa, Okla.-based company.

No problem: Enercon’s program trains employees on the fly through a combination of in-person and e-learning, some of it on company time and some of it on employees’ time.

That find-a-way mentality is typical of 28-year-old Enercon—and Richardson. With his help, the company came out of nowhere in the 1980s to dominate design and engineering services for nuclear-power plants. It’s also become an important environmental consultant.

The 1,155-employee business has grown 35 percent each of the two past years; 2011 revenue should be $200 million. A key factor is increased outsourcing demand due to aging talent at Enercon’s clients—a situation that should last another three to five years.

Richardson’s optimistic outlook is unshaken by Japan’s Fukushima nuclear-power plant disaster. “Several [U.S.] plants are going to be licensed this year and are already into the construction stages,” he says. “Then after that, there will probably be another wave of plants once the dust settles.” —S.G.