Dallas Entrepreneurs of the Year 2013

They’ve made it through the tough times—and now they’re reaping the rewards. The finalists in this year’s Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year program prove they have staying power.

Photography by Stanton Stephens

Chris Dahlander
Snappy Salads // Founder and CEO

People scoffed at the idea. A restaurant menu consisting entirely of salad? Unheard of. Especially in Dallas, what Chris Dahlander calls a “steak and potato” kind of city.

But Dahlander didn’t want to be like everyone else, and he certainly didn’t want to eat like everyone else. His personal vision paired with bold enthusiasm helped him start what would become Snappy Salads, a profitable and growing company.

The idea started with hunger pains on a flight to Los Angeles, and with a lofty goal: to change the way Dallas eats. But Dahlander had his work cut out for him. He pitched his idea to a long list of bankers, retail brokers, and food-supply companies before getting the support he needed to open his first Snappy Salads in 2006. Today Dahlander has five locations, with a sixth in the works.

Dahlander’s restaurant offers salads that are “so good, even guys like” to eat them, he says, quoting his chain’s tagline. Environmental sustainability is also a part of Snappy’s business practice.

The company employs nearly 150 people and has had positive growth every year since it opened, even throughout the recession.

“They thought I was crazy, but I didn’t let that stop me,” Dahlander says. “It took determination—a lot of determination—to get to where I am today, and a lot of convincing people that this was the right thing to do.”
—Aimee Pass

Chris Macfarland  
Masergy Communications Inc. // CEO

change may be difficult for many companies, but Masergy Communications Inc. is making it look easy.

Founded in 2000, near the peak of the telecommunications bubble, the Plano-based company made its name by supplying phone, video, and data services that help connect large organizations’ operations worldwide.

“We saw our customers ask us to do a lot more based on the success we’ve had,” says Chris MacFarland, who in July 2010 was promoted from the company’s chief operating officer to CEO.

And so, during the last 18 months, Masergy (pronounced “MAY-sir-gee”) has begun adding a raft of new services, including taking on responsibility for protecting its customers’ data and networks from the cold, cruel world. For instance, Masergy now monitors networking and telecom gear like switches and routers, telling its customers about problems so they can nip issues in the bud.

Something must be going right, because Masergy keeps growing. For its fiscal 2013 year ending June 30, the 250-employee business will clock a bit more than $170 million in revenue, up from roughly $140 million in fiscal 2012, MacFarland says.

In 2010, the company filed for an initial public offering of stock worth up to $100 million, but yanked the deal the next year amid market tumult. ABRY Partners, a Boston private equity firm, acquired a controlling stake in Masergy in 2011; terms of that deal weren’t disclosed.

MacFarland won’t rule out the possibility of an IPO for Masergy down the road. “We’re growing the business profitably,” he says. “We’re excited about where the business is going over the next five or 10 years.”
—Jeff Bounds

Brian Williams
OneSource Virtual // CEO

Growth has been meteoric at Irving-based OneSource Virtual, which provides business process cloud-sourcing services through a partnership with Workday Inc. Revenue has more than doubled each year for the past three years. It forecasts revenue in excess of $40 million in 2013. ¶ Still, CEO Brian Williams sees it differently. “We’ve held our foot on the brake,” he says. “We are about to unleash the beast and really attack the market.”

A private equity infusion helped the company pay off its debt and will allow it to hire workers at a faster pace. OneSource, which employs 280, expects to hire up to 100 people this year, and it will begin offering services in Canada, too.

OneSource deploys Workday enterprise resource planning technology for companies and provides related services. Cloudsourcing has changed the way companies think about business process outsourcing, making it affordable, flexible, and risk-free, Williams says. “We’ve made it more digestible,” he says. “The technology can grow with you.”

As CEO, Williams keeps his calendar relatively free to strategize and innovate. “To grow, you must constantly innovate,” he says. “The old saying ‘If it isn’t broke don’t fix it’ is the worst thing you can say around me. It’s always broke. If it isn’t broke, break it and fix it.”
— Kerry Curry

Peter J. Burlage     
Peerless Mfg. Co. // President and CEO

Eighty-year-old Peerless Mfg. Co. was a family-operated and predominately domestic business when Peter Burlage was appointed president and CEO in 2006. His immediate, primary objective became to expand the company to international markets.

Peerless provides products and systems designed to that make energy safe, efficient, and clean through two business segments—Environmental Systems and Process Products. It has operations in eight countries with sales agents and licensees in 27 countries.

Revenue during the past three years increased from $117 million to $135 million. Nearly 60 percent of its revenue comes from international sales.

“Our challenge is transferring the knowledge base of very experienced, long-serving employees who are now teachers of employees in foreign markets,” Burlage says.

Employees who before had not been required to travel now journey to other countries to work. The move into global markets also required changing the company’s decision-making method from a centrally controlled, hierarchal system to a decentralized method. That resulted in different responsibilities for some executives, who left the company. Peerless focused on hiring individuals who were experienced in change management, and leadership coaches were brought in to help drive change.

Burlage’s management style is to empower people to do their best work: “I trust them and I remove roadblocks.”
—Glenda Vosburgh

Brian Dick  
Quest Resource Management Group // CEO

when brian dick presented his idea for a mobile tire recycling operation to his employer, the 38-year-old got turned down. That rejection was serendipitous. That’s because the employer introduced Dick to the company’s investor, who provided seed money to start Quest.

That same former employer also connected Dick to the world’s largest retailer: Wal-Mart. In a dream that sounds too good to be true, the huge chain became Frisco-based Quest’s first client when it agreed to test the company’s tire recycling program in seven states.

In the ensuing six years, Quest transformed itself from providing a single service into a diverse environmental management firm. “If you do your job well and you do it efficiently and provide value to your clients, there will be more opportunities,” Dick says.

In the early days, Dick worked out of his home and held business meetings at what he called his “branch office”—a local Starbucks. Today, Quest clients include AT&T and FedEx, and the company manages waste at 12,000 locations across the United States and in Puerto Rico and Canada. It expects 2012 revenue of $131 million to grow to more than $150 million this year.

The company recently acquired a consulting firm and is in talks to acquire a solid waste management company. Quest employs just 65 people­—known internally as “Questers”—and relies on a robust data management system to run lean.

Dick also challenges employees to innovate, take action, and think outside the box, especially when it comes to customer service. “The answer is always ‘yes,’ ” he says. “We push very hard to never tell the client no.”
—Kerry Curry

Nabil Taleb, Nadim “Ned” Taleb
Nexius Solutions Inc. // Co-founders

Nexius solutions Inc. has several lines of business, all of which are relatively easy to understand. For instance, the Allen business helps crunch and analyze large amounts of data so its large wireless telecommunications services customers, such as Dallas-based AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless, and Sprint, can make their networks run better.

What’s hard to grasp is how the brothers who co-founded Nexius—Nabil and Nadim Taleb—make it all happen.

After all, privately held Nexius has 500 employees spread across four continents. And although the company started in 2001, and thus has endured two major nosedives in spending by big wireless companies, the Taleb brothers have never turned to external debt or equity investors for help.

To this day, the Talebs own the business along with their employees. “It takes a lot of hard work and dedication,” Nabil Taleb says.

Because neither he nor Nadim is much of a chest-beater about success, few outside Nexius know that the business will bring in about $150 million in revenue this year, up from $73 million in 2012.

But don’t expect Nexius’ growth to stop there. With a stable of large U.S. wireless services carriers as customers, Nexius is moving to offer its service suite in regions like South America and the Middle East. In addition, the Talebs want to offer the company’s big data crunching and analytical abilities in other number-heavy industries like insurance, banking, and retail.
—Jeff Bounds