Utah’s business landscape is rich with professionals who have led the state to success. Each year, Utah Business is proud to honor a selection of CEOs who play an integral role in building the Beehive State. These eight professionals exude innovation, show sound business strategies and have demonstrated financial success for their companies. Whether in the private, public, government or nonprofit sector, these executives are successful leaders within their companies and their communities. Please join us in recognizing this impressive group of professionals who are looking beyond today’s tumultuous economic times and taking Utah’s business community a step further.
Sidney C. Paulson
As CEO of SelectHealth, formerly IHC Health Plans, Sidney C. Paulson has been a leading light in the insurance industry and Utah’s overall health care system. Paulson, who joined SelectHealth 16 years ago as vice president of sales and was later appointed CEO in 2002, has implemented numerous strategies and programs to advance the company and Utah’s overall health care landscape. Today, under Paulson’s leadership, the company serves more than 500,000 people and has recently added new programs, including a dental insurance plan and a children’s insurance plan that offers assistance to low-income families.
Paulson says that knowing he’s helping Utah stay healthy is what keeps him motivated day after day. “I love my job. I could retire, but I don’t,” he says, adding that what he enjoys most about his position are his colleagues and employees. “I like and enjoy my co-workers. Everyone from the people who are at the security desk to the people who clean the building at night—I value their important role in the company and love to work around them.”
Paulson adds that one of his greatest achievements as CEO of SelectHealth is building a company that people enjoy working for. “You can create a great building, but the culture of a company is how you and your employees feel each day. And, that feeling is passed down to customers.”
Murphy Winfield, SelectHealth’s vice president of provider relations, contracting and marketing, says Paulson takes a people-come-first attitude in all that he does. “Sid really cares about the employees who make up SelectHealth. He realizes that the success of our organization is really about the individual success of each person who is at SelectHealth,” Winfield says. “He really tries his best to make sure that all of our employees have opportunities and that their opinions count and by doing that, we have been a successful organization.”
As health care woes hit Utah, Paulson says he’s ready. He advises other CEOs, regardless of industry, to be ready for challenges, too. “I face challenges head on,” he says. “I believe that a CEO needs to understand clearly what a challenge is, discuss it in detail and discuss alternatives and solutions. Don’t hide from [challenges]. Recognize challenges and recognize that you’ll always have them. There is an inherit risk in life. People who don’t acknowledge that there’s risk, well, they don’t grow, they don’t learn.”
Private – Medium
As leader of Interbank FX, one of Utah’s fastest growing companies, Todd Crosland says commitment to customers is key to making any business successful. “We try to align our interests with our customers. To help our customers, we provide tools, training and technology for them to be more effective in foreign exchange trading and commodity training. I believe that if we have profitable customers, we’ll have a profitable company.”
His strategy is working: In 2008, the company’s customers reached more than $650 billion in trading revenue and the company reached more than $65 million in revenue. Interbank FX also grew its employee base by roughly 25 percent.
Crosland attributes the company’s stellar year to the hard work of its employees. “We have a great company and it starts with our management team. As I look at our key managers, from operations to technology to compliance, we really have the key people on our bus who are running this company. I give a lot of discretion and authority. They’re basically entrepreneurs within their own responsibilities.”
Mark Osterloh, vice president of operations at Interbank FX, says that though Crosland gives Interbank FX employees freedom to do their jobs, Crosland’s leadership has been integral to the company’s success. “It’s because of his management style that we’ve been able to continue to grow,” Osterloh says. “Todd had the vision to see that we needed to continue growing and we’re not done yet.”
When he’s not leading Interbank FX, Crosland and his wife devote their time to a microcap lending foundation in the Philippines. The foundation helps fund numerous businesses—everything from helping a farmer buy pigs to getting a small convenience store up and running. “We served about 5,000 people last year with small loans,” he says. “And, the people we’ve helped—they’re entrepreneurs that I really respect.”
Crosland, who started Interbank FX from the ground up, says to be a successful entrepreneur you’ve got to jump right in. “I’ve never applied for a job in my life. For better or worse, I’ve always done my own thing and I’ve had a lot of fun. Sometimes you’re the last one to get paid, but there are rewards as well,” he says. “I’ve had a lot of surprises—some have been pleasant surprises, some haven’t been so pleasant. I just roll up my sleeves and get the job done.”
Private – Small
Rick Alden lives and breathes by a work hard, play hard mantra. As CEO of Park City-based Skullcandy, Alden’s energetic outlook has equaled success for the company: today Skullcandy has the second most popularly selling headphone in the U.S. and was recently ranked as the no. 31 fastest growing company on the Inc. 500.
Launched in 2003, Alden attributes much of the Skullcandy’s success to its innovative branding techniques. “We have approached the audio world differently primarily through branding and unique product designs,” he says. “We view audio as a lifestyle product, not just a utility device. The style and brand energy is every bit as important as the quality and audio delivery. People have to feel great about what the product says about them in addition to how they feel about the quality of the music it delivers. Brand is king, but product has to match the story. We continue to innovate both.”
Alden also attributes Skullcandy’s roaring success to his team. “I would describe my leadership style as almost non-existent. I’ve never been much of a leader. I hire amazing leaders,” he says. “I believe the number one job of the CEO is to be the cultural rudder and filter for the company. This carries through every aspect of the company from recruiting to product development. It is then the job of all management to be the cultural filters for each of their departments. It is critical that every employee of the company be the best possible version of our most core customer.”
According to Jeremy Andrus, president of Skullcandy, Rick’s energy and live-life attitude inspires employees—and anyone else around him—to take their work and personal lives to the next level. “Rick is larger than life in his personality,” Andrus says. “He has a motto that ‘no good idea is found behind a desk’ and encourages people to be out of the office—on the mountain, at the skate park, at concerts.”
A die-hard entrepreneur, Alden says risk is part of the game. “I only gamble with my life and my family’s welfare,” he says. “Risk is a subjective term, and the concept of risk is skewed for any entrepreneur. Anyone willing to risk his home and welfare to bring a new product to market is going to have a distorted view of risk.”
Private – Large
Provo Craft is breaking the mold of the traditional crafting company. Under James Thornton’s leadership, the 35-year-old company has moved from providing crafting supplies to offering innovative technology that can be used everywhere from the classroom to the boardroom. In fact, today many recognize Provo Craft as an innovative technological company.
“We’re much more of a technology company, focused on developing consumer electronic products,” Thornton says. “When we looked at the craft industry awhile back, we found that there was a great opportunity to bring technology to the industry. We created an innovative category of crafting tools.”
Fraser Bullock, chairman of the board at Provo Craft, says its Thornton’s innovative thinking that has equaled success for the company. “Jim starts with an ideal of building a world-class company in every dimension and he has taken the company to a new level, beyond horizons that weren’t thought of in any dimensions before,” Bullock says. “People are attracted to a dynamic vision, of achieving something beyond what is possible and Jim creates that vision, he creates the environment under which people can succeed and he drives the company to extraordinary performance.”
Thornton’s innovative thinking is positioning the company for prolonged success. In 2008, the company grew its top line business by 50 percent and increased profitability by 104 percent. After such a banner year, Thornton says he’s prepared to face 2009 head on. “While other companies are hunkering down to avoid the storm, we’re looking for opportunities to expand,” he says. “A lot of companies think it’s all about trying to avoid challenges, but for me it’s better to tackle those challenges head on. In 2009, we have to be creative. My plan is not to outrun the problems, but to come up with creative solutions and tackle them.”
Thornton adds that collaboration is vital to overcoming challenges. “I love to get in a room with as many employees as we can fit. It’s a very collaborate culture where we invite robust dialogue,” he says. “I’ve found that the best solutions for an organization often don’t come from the top of a management team, but instead come from areas within the organization that traditionally you wouldn’t hear ideas come from unless you invite them.”
Thornton says that there are two distinguishing factors that separate good leaders from great leaders. “Great leaders surround themselves with good people and then they give those people all the credit,” he says. “I have found that if you share the success with your employees, when challenges come, they’ll stand by you.”
Public – Small
As the airline industry faces its own set of hardships in today’s turbulent times, Alpine Air is flying straight to success. Under the leadership of CEO Gene Mallette, the Provo-based airline is slated to experience one of its best years in 2009. “We’re doing very, very well. We’ve worked hard to make sure our revenue is contracted, so we have predictability to our profits,” Mallette says. “We can plan on continued growth and continued profitability.”
While Mallette is confident about 2009, the skies weren’t always so friendly for Alpine Air. Mallette says the company experienced stormy conditions in 2004 through 2006. “We were losing about $35,000 a day,” he says, explaining that the airline was taking the cuts in an attempt to win a future bid. “We had to endure for a year and a half, losing money on every flight we took. We lost millions of dollars. But, we bit the bullet and we recouped everything we lost,” he says.
Though times were tough, Mallette attributes the company’s current success to the future focus he and his employees maintained during its rough patch. Today, Mallette says his employees are key to the company’s success and considers them the company’s greatest asset. “How I measure success is having a company with long-term profitable business that can empower its employees to succeed,” he says. “Sharing is huge to our company and I want the employees to succeed. We did not cut back one person or one shift since the economic debacle started. In contrast, we’re continuing to grow even in the face of potential stagnation that we’re all facing.”
Bill Distefano, Alpine Air general manager, says Mallette’s leadership has paved the way for the company to take-off and soar. “He provides an environment for not only his managers, but for all of his employees to be successful. And, not only in a business sense, but in their personal lives and their daily lives,” Distefano says, adding that Mallette’s greatest quality is his sincere concern for others. “If you’re a friend of Gene’s, you’re a friend for life. He’s always there to take care of the people he comes into contact with.”
Governor’s Office of Economic Development
Though fighting the economic storm like the rest of the nation, the state of Utah has kept its head above water and has one of the nation’s strongest economies. Much of the state’s resilience lies in the efforts of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) and its director, Jason Perry. Leading GOED since 2006, Jason Perry has played an integral role in positioning Utah as the place for business. Under his leadership, companies like Disney, Oracle, Procter and Gamble and Sephora have planted roots in the Beehive State, bringing with them hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars to the local economy.
Previously serving as deputy director of the Utah Department of Commerce, Jason Perry says what drives him each day is the knowledge that he’s making a difference for numerous individuals across the state. “I get a lot of motivation from the impacts that [GOED] is having,” he says. “If we recruit a company to the state of Utah and that company produces a lot of jobs, I can see immediately the results of our efforts. And, I can see what’s happening for my kids and family, too—these are the jobs they will have one day. That’s a pretty good motivator—knowing that you are changing things in the state.”
Jason Perry says every move he makes begins with a question: “How will this benefit the state?” He adds that it’s crucial to his position to understand that the government doesn’t create jobs; instead, the government creates the environment for companies to flourish. Community culture is also vital to the state’s success, he adds. “I’ve been surprised to see just how cooperative our community can be. I always knew that the community was [cooperative], but I have now actually seen competitors trying to recruit other competitors because it helps the state of Utah.”
As for these tumultuous economic times, Jason Perry thinks that the state of Utah will remain strong. “I look at challenges as opportunities. There are a lot of risky moves, but we’re doing what’s best for the state and what’s best for the constituents,” he says. “We’ve recruited the right people in GOED who will think big and think strategically. We’ve also leveraged some of the great resources out in the community…Last year was a stellar year for the state of Utah. And now, a lot of companies are looking for a safe place to relocate to and expand, and Utah is seen as one of those places.”
Public – Medium
Starting at Wasatch Electric as an accountant in 1974, Tim Homer climbed the corporate ladder and became CEO in 1994—smack in the middle of a bankruptcy crisis. Though taking the reigns under perilous times, Homer has since led the company to more than 16 years of consistent growth and profitability. Today, under Homer’s leadership, Wasatch Electric has played a leading role in building Utah; in fact, if you’ve attended a Real Salt Lake soccer game, used WiFi on FrontRunner or attended a class at Salt Lake Community College’s new campus, you’ve benefitted from the work and expertise of Wasatch Electric.
Homer says that vital to any company’s success is having a plan in place for good and bad times. “The most important thing an executive can do is to identify strategies,” he says. “I’ve tried to make sure we understand where we’re going and that we understand what options are available to us.”
Matthew Pierce, director, productivity and quality management at EMCOR Group, Inc., Wasatch Electric’s parent company, says that it’s Homer’s foresight and planning abilities that have kept the company moving. “Tim has shown a unique ability to see what is coming in order to prepare to serve customers when the time is right, while maintaining a solid core business,” he says.
A CPA by training, Homer says that a practice he’s learned along the way is not to take himself too seriously. “We have a lot of fun at work and we don’t take things too seriously,” he says. “As decisions are made and as things happen, if you allow emotions to take the lead, you’ll sometimes regret what happens. We like to sit back and plot our way through things rather than making rash decisions.”
As for advice to someone just taking the reigns of a company, Homer says, “Know who you are. Stay grounded. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Recognize that the people around you have strengths and utilize those strengths.” And, the most important piece of advice he ever received: “Marry the right person and never do anything that will embarrass your mother.”
At the end of the day, Homer says he owes much of his success to his colleagues. “When we achieve success, no matter what we do, there’s usually more than one person involved in it. I would attribute Wasatch Electric’s success to the people I work with.”
Public – Large
Founded in 1999 by Patrick Byrne, Overstock.com has survived economic ups and downs—including the dot-com crash—and is slated for growth in the coming years. In fact, while many companies hit the breaks in 2008, Overstock.com increased its revenue by 23 percent and the Website’s product offerings by a staggering 92 percent, under Byrne’s leadership,
According to Jonathan Johnson, president of Overstock.com, the online retailer’s success is directly tied to Byrne’s out-of-the-box thinking and leadership style. “Patrick’s a doer. He’s clear in what he wants people to do and then he expects them to do it. He also expects full accountability,” Johnson says. “Patrick is always willing to do the right thing, even when it’s not the popular thing or conventional thing.”
Taking a stand, even when that stand is unpopular, is a motto that Byrne lives and breathes by. That was evident in 2005 when he made national headlines by forewarning Wall Street’s collapse from corrupt practices within the industry, a weakened Securities & Exchange Commission and journalists who were taken in by hedge funds. Though scrutinized at the time, many now take Byrne’s warnings seriously, especially considering today’s turbulent economic conditions.
Today, Byrne says finding a cause and sticking with it is worth it in the end. “I encourage all to conquer their fear of offending someone by taking a stand, even on a controversial issue. I urge my colleagues not to waste the unique opportunity that their current position affords while bemoaning the inefficiency of government action. Instead, they should take advantage of their positions to bring about positive change in the world.”
Another way Byrne remains committed to helping others is through Worldstock.com, a division of Overstock.com that sells handcrafted products—like jewelry, apparel and household wares—created by artisans from developing countries. The artisans are paid an average of more than 60 percent of the sales price; since the site was launched, artisans spanning the globe have sold their merchandise and have been paid more than $30 million.
Byrne says that he believes strongly in human capital and is proud to boast the company’s “customer service ethic that has been ranked as no. 2 in the U.S.” He adds that teaching is the best part of his job. In fact, Byrne considers education another top priority; over the past few years, Byrne has funded and founded many schools, and also serves as co-chair of the Milton & Rose Friedman Foundation.