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

Evelyn Torres
Solaris Technologies // CEO

Everything about Solaris Technologies Inc. is the opposite of what stereotypes say it should be.

Stereotype: Cheap foreign labor means telecommunications and networking equipment should be built outside U.S. borders.

Solaris’ answer: Although the Irving-based company does build its fiber-optic systems in China, most of its gear is made in Texas.

Stereotype: In the upper ranks of companies that make telecommunications gear, it’s strictly an old boy’s club—meaning, white males only.

Solaris’ answer: Chief executive Evelyn Torres.

That’s not the end of the stereotype-busting that Torres and her 37-employee crew do at Solaris. Think that the Latin American telecom market is scary? Not to Torres, who has seen Solaris’ revenue climb from $3.5 million in 2011 to $6 million last year, largely on the strength of selling gear in that region.

There’s more. Torres expects Solaris, which she launched in late 2010 after holding high-level roles at Nokia and Braniff International Airlines, to clock $20 million in sales in 2013. The twist: Solaris has landed contracts worth unspecified amounts with large wireless telecom services companies in the United States—a group that usually buys from the biggest equipment vendors in the world.

Not surprisingly, Torres is as driven as any entrepreneur you will find.

“I’m not in it for the money,” she says. “This is my passion.”
—Jeff Bounds

Edward Lennox            
Service King Paint and Body LLC // Founder

After taking a class in high school, Edward Lennox knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life: automobile paint and body repair. By the time he was 23 years old, he’d already gone into business for himself.

A neighbor—a retired Dallas Independent School District bus driver—took a liking to him and invested $10,000. With that, Lennox started Service King Paint and Body LLC in 1976. By 1996, annual revenue reached more than $20 million, and the company had 150 employees and six locations. The success was a turning point.

“I had developed and matured in my life and my career, and knew it was a good time to expand,” Lennox says. “The biggest challenge was having the personnel [to support growth]. That’s when I had the idea to have a minority shareholder program.”

The initial plan, which started with 15 managers, called for a 20 percent reserve of company stock for upper management.

“That was the best idea I ever had,” he says. “It was like it took on legs of its own.”

By the time Dallas-based Service King was sold last year to Washington D.C.-based private-equity firm The Carlyle Group, nearly 100 managers were enrolled—12 had became multimillionaires—and annual revenue had hit $275 million.

Lennox is now enjoying retirement at the ripe old age of 59.
—Shashana Pearson-Hormillosa

Tony Aquila                   
Solera Holdings Inc. // Founder, Chairman, and CEO

There’s only one thing worse than getting into an auto accident: dealing with the insurance companies and the repair garage. How does the body shop know what parts to order and what paint to use? And how can the work get done without arguments between the consumer, the insurance adjuster, and the repair guy over how much everything costs?

“It’s a mangled object that has to be restored,” says Tony Aquila, founder, chairman, and CEO of Westlake’s Solera Holdings Inc. Fortunately, Aquila has a solution. His company makes software that automates the chore of handling automotive claims. From scheduling repairs to finding recycled parts, Solera’s offering helps take the friction out of the process, according to Aquila.

Solera has roughly 75,000 customers for its technology, and revenue for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2012, was $790.2 million, up from nearly $684.7 million in the company’s 2011 fiscal year.

In early May, Solera had a market value of nearly $4 billion, its stock having gone up over 300 percent since the company went public in May 2007.

And the growth won’t stop there, if Aquila has his way. He expects Solera’s global workforce of 2,500 to expand to 2,800 by the end of this year. Perhaps more important, he has set a goal of getting Solera to $2 billion in revenue and $800 million in adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization by the year 2020.
 —Jeff Bounds

Brian Schultz               
Studio Movie Grill // Founder, Owner, and President

looking at the movie theater industry, it’s hard to deny that Brian Schultz helped breathe new life into it when he founded Studio Movie Grill in 1999.

Beginning with the first location in Addison, the company now operates in five states, with more than 3,500 employees. It expects to serve about 7 million moviegoers this year.

Schultz sums up the key to Studio Movie Grill’s success in two words: fanatical execution. Every detail is crafted to ensure that guests have a consistently great experience every time they visit, including the menu, which is updated twice each year. “That focus on execution is the way we differentiate ourselves from the traditional theater and anyone who tries to copy us in the category,” Schultz says.

Studio Movie Grill is spreading its vision of the movie theater experience to Indianapolis and Columbus after the summer, in addition to preparing to move its office into a larger space to accommodate its ever-growing operations.

Beyond the the facts and figures, Schultz strives to maintain a company culture that prefers to measure its success by its impact on the community. The company helps Children’s Medical Center raise funds every year, and revitalizes neighborhoods by  renovating theaters around the country, including the recently opened Studio Movie Grill at Spring Valley and North Central Expressway. The theater company is out to “change the world, one movie at a time,” Schultz says.
—Sheila Dang

William “Skip” Woodall III      
Vent-A-Hood/Milestone Distributors // CEO, VAH Ltd.
Kirk Woodall                            
Vent-A-Hood/Milestone Distributors // CEO, Milestone Distributors
Blair Woodall
Vent-A-Hood/Milestone Distributors // Executive Committee Member
Blake E. Woodall
Vent-A-Hood/Milestone Distributors // Vice President of Sales

Designing products is William Miles “Skip” Woodall’s passion. He gets to indulge it every day as CEO of a division of the company founded and still operated by his family after 80 years.

The Vent-A-Hood brand got its start in 1933 with an inventor who had an idea for residential vent hoods. The company was supported by Dallas financier Carr P. Collins, who hired his nephew, Miles Woodall Jr., to manage it.

Today, the operational reins are in the hands of Woodall’s sons, Skip, who serves as  CEO of VAH Ltd.; Blake E. Woodall, who’s vice president of sales; Kirk Woodall, CEO of Milestone Distributors; and Blair P. Woodall, Executive Committee member.

Skip Woodall has worked at Vent-A-Hood since he was 12 years old, starting out on the assembly line. He says he knows how to do every job in the company, but the one he enjoys most is design. He holds a number of patents and has several pending.

The company’s products are manufactured in its Richardson factory. Revenue, which comes from its three divisions, Vent-A-Hood Ltd., Vent-A-Hood Realty, and Milestone Distributors, has grown 37 percent during the past three years. It’s up 20 percent so far in 2013.

“Our big secret is that we keep our employees,” Woodall says. “We have several people who have worked here 25 or 30 years.”
—Glenda Vosburgh

Randall Starr
TopGolf International // Chief Development Officer
Neil Allen
TopGolf International // Chief Operating Officer
Erik Anderson
TopGolf International // Executive Chairman

It starts with Saturday morning coffee. That’s when Randall Starr, Neil Allen, and Erik Anderson drink java and discuss business. The three find the weekly check-in—sometimes done virtually—keeps TopGolf International running smoothly.

The “management by committee” style has worked well as TopGolf has rebuilt itself from a minor player into an entertainment powerhouse. Although the company recently hired a new CEO, there’s no indication yet the dynamic committee style will exit the scene.

The obstacles were many when the threesome took over in January 2011: The company lacked vision, and its locations were underperforming financially.

The three made giant leaps quickly. Within a year, TopGolf relocated Chicago and London offices to Dallas, created a brand values statement, and introduced a company culture that focused on providing guests with a memorable experience with its high-tech driving ranges and entertainment concept. It also hired an architectural heavyweight to redesign its facilities and conceived a new business model.

Agreeing on a core vision focused the trio. “A framework really helps you move quickly,” Starr says.

In 2012, revenue was $48 million. This year sales could reach $100 million, due in part to new facilities and improved revenue at existing locations. A publicly traded real estate investment trust liked the revamped TopGolf so much that it has sunk $40 million into the concept so far and plans to finance the next eight to 10 facilities.

“We have a strong sense of mission and culture,” Anderson says. “We tend not to promote ourselves. We are always promoting TopGolf.”
—Kerry Curry