TOP 100: Eight top Capital Region executives share their challenges, innovations and big audacious goals

LaurieAronsonLAURIE ARONSON
President and CEO, Lipsey’s

What was your company’s biggest accomplishment this year, and how did you grow as a result?

The biggest accomplishment of 2014 no doubt was our move into our new distribution center and offices. The additional space allowed us to hire new team members to help us achieve our lofty goals. It also allowed us to expand our inventory selection and process orders more efficiently.

What was the biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge of the year was in March 2014. March is historically our biggest month of the entire year. It was also the month before we moved into our new distribution center. Our warehouse was stocked full of merchandise and there was no room at all to maneuver. However, we had hefty goals to meet and needed to work extra hours in order to process our shipments with same day shipping. It was a team effort to continue to conduct business as usual while our working conditions were not ideal. Even our desks had already begun to be moved from one office to the new office, so many team members were operating from tables and temporary furniture. The persistence and strong dedication of ALL of our team members made us stronger in the end with a record month.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from the past year in business?

Formulate a plan! Always have a Plan A and a Plan B. With our extremely detailed moving plan from our old distribution center to our new one, we knew that we needed the assistance of all of our team members. Because we began with a plan six months prior, our big move was pulled off without a hitch.

What’s one thing people would be surprised to learn about your company? 

At Lipsey’s, we hire for personality and we train for skills. That one hiring tactic has proven successful for us for many, many years.

 

 

Will Kiser.Hargrove 2WILL KISER
Vice president of operations/Gulf Region, Hargrove & Associates Inc.

What was the biggest challenge your company faced this year, and how did you overcome it?

Our biggest challenge has been managing our growth while maintaining the culture of the company.  This is always something that we watch closely as we integrate new people into the Team.  We have a variety of methods that we employ when building an office to make sure that we get the “Hargrove Culture” that has made us successful. It starts with hiring dedicated technical professionals who have the right attitude and getting them connected to our current Teammates to learn our approach to project execution.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from the past year in business?

Communication is key in everything that we do. As our clients continue to change their operations to “do more with less,” we are discovering over and over again how important it is to listen to their needs and be flexible in how we provide help.

What’s your big, audacious goal for the coming year?

My big, audacious goal for the year is to develop relationships with some new plants and refineries in the area—even if we only team with them on small projects. Hargrove’s approach to growth is to build new relationships by showcasing our project execution expertise and commitment to service with smaller projects that build the trust for larger opportunities. We have found that once they get to know our culture and see our team’s willingness to do the small things that make clients’ operations more efficient and sustainable, they recognize that this commitment to the team is the core of Hargrove and a real differentiator in the engineering market.

What do you think will be the issue at the forefront for Capital Region companies in the year to come, and what’s your advice for managing it?

Baton Rouge is expecting significant growth in the construction industry over the next year, which is outstanding for the community. As our clients seek to increase their production, the engineering and construction community must be able to rise to the occasion with the right resources to meet the demands at the best cost. Building a workforce of professionals committed to safety, quality, and integrity should be at the forefront of our initiative to build a better Capital Region.

What are the most important characteristics of an innovative company?

Emphasis on the team, proactive not reactive, and being driven to compete and win. We’ve been told by our clients that it is Hargrove’s modest, confident swagger and the cohesiveness of the Hargrove team that bonds us together by the intangible desire to support each other and our teammates on the client’s side.

 

 

Justin Harvey.A+ CorpJUSTIN HARVEY
President, A+ Corporation

What was your company’s biggest accomplishment this year, and how did you grow as a result?

We have been able to keep sales steady, despite the extreme decline in oil and natural gas prices. As a result, we’ve been able to hire more workers, purchase new machinery and implement new processes.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from the past year in business?

We are coming off a year where we increased sales by 24%. By not immediately increasing expenditures at the same rate of sales, we’ve been able to increase available cash. This has allowed us to invest in new machinery, processes and people while we aren’t growing in sales. It is hard to grow an infrastructure when sales are increasing by double-digit percentages. Sometimes it is good to have time to focus on the foundation of the business (although I’d much prefer growing sales).

What’s your big, audacious goal for the coming year?

Our goal is to automate as much of our manual manufacturing processes as possible. This will help us to keep our quality high while increasing production. We are also finalizing an industry-first approach to designing, quoting and selling analytical sample systems through our new configurator. This is a process we’ve been doing manually and it will significantly decrease the amount of time it takes for a customer to get a quote for a bespoke sample system.

What’s one thing people would be surprised to learn about your company? 

We are a local company but the vast majority of our sales come from outside the state of Louisiana, and a good percentage comes from outside the country.

What innovations are you planning for 2016?

We have several pending patents which should hit the market in 2016 and hopefully have a great impact on our business. One has the potential to change the way certain types of substances are sampled and analyzed.

 

 

Sue Anne Cox Kleinpeter.vuSUE ANNE KLEINPETER COX
President and CEO, Kleinpeter Farms Dairy

What was your company’s biggest accomplishment this year, and how did you grow as a result?

Restructuring management was the company’s biggest accomplishment, starting with the recruiting of seasoned General Manager Brent Fisher, Quality Control Manager Bud Kleinpeter, Chief Engineer Tim Craig, Risk Management and Safety Manager Martha Lee, and Warehouse/Inventory Control and Procurement Manager Andy Kershaw. They join Plant Manager Fred Smith, Director of Sales Kenny Kleinpeter, Information Technology Director Kris Braud, Dock/Cooler Manager David Spears, Distribution Manager Mike Visor and Farm Manager Mike Price to form a highly dedicated upper management team committed to providing a top-quality product at a fair price while focusing on establishing stronger customer relations leading to desired sales growth.

What was the biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?

Regaining our customer’s trust, after a drop in quality, continues to be our biggest challenge, though we’ve made great strides. This is being accomplished first by aligning with Business First Bank, which helped us retool/replace plant equipment; working closely with business strategists John Schneider of Dillard Schneider and RRM & Company; successfully becoming a certified Safe Quality Food Processing Facility; and implementing an employee training program focused on the individuals working at Kleinpeter Farms.

What’s your big, audacious goal for the coming year?

Now that we have successfully restored our quality and have a great management team poised to face future challenges, focus is being shifted to ensuring excellent and efficient distribution. Look for our new trucks in the coming months.

What’s the best innovation your company incorporated this year?

With the hiring of assistant manager Vanessa Thibodeaux, we’ve developed and implemented a job-training program which includes cross-training of employees at all levels.

What innovations are you planning for 2016?

We stay current on the ever-changing advances in technology and continue to utilize new technologies that offer improved logistics, service, and product quality.

 

 

Mike DePaul 2.vuMICHAEL DEPAUL
COO, LUBA Workers’ Comp.

What was your company’s biggest accomplishment this year, and how did you grow as a result?

Our biggest accomplishment this year has been our expansion into the Texas marketplace. Just like our expansions into Mississippi and Arkansas, Texas was a logical next step for LUBA. We’ve seen our team grow together as they navigate new markets and evolve the exceptional customer service we provide our agents and policyholders.

What was the biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?

Workers’ Comp has become increasingly more competitive in the states we operate in. We overcome that by remaining loyal to the select network of independent insurance agents who sell our product. We are dedicated to earning their trust, first and foremost. If we remain honest, dependable partners the rest will take care of itself. We focus on delivering Genuine Dependability every day.

What do you think will be the issue at the forefront for Capital Region companies in the year to come, and what’s your advice for managing it?

I think that continuing to attract talent to this area remains the overall biggest challenge. We all have different opinions as to why, but I believe education and economic development are the keys to success. We as a business community have an opportunity to take an active role in helping to change the future. The new East Baton Rouge School Board and its leadership seems to recognize this and is off to a good start actively recruiting businesses to partner with local schools.

What’s the best innovation your company incorporated this year?

We are in the process of implementing the use of “predictive analytics” in our business review process. However, I find in today’s world it can be easy to let technology replace human interaction if you’re not careful. We see data as a support tool, but at the end of the day, it’s still up to our underwriters and their individual decision making processes.

What are the most important characteristics of an innovative company?

Hiring broad-minded people is the first, and easiest, step to innovation, but it’s keeping those people motivated and stimulated that’s most important. If you’re always working as a team to look down the road and anticipate ways you can improve your business, you’re innovating.

 

 

EEric Sternberg.StarmountRICH STERNBERG
CEO, Starmount Life Insurance Co./AlwaysCare Benefits Inc.

What was your company’s biggest accomplishment this year, and how did you grow as a result?

Completing our five-year growth plan a year ahead of schedule and developing a new, 2020 business plan, which will facilitate a meaningful business transformation and continued, significant growth over the next five years.

What was the biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?

Change and turmoil continue to impact the world of health care and the way health insurance and supplemental benefit products are delivered to consumers. Frankly, the pace of the market shift seems to be accelerating with massive consolidations underway. This affects the way we work with the insurance agents who partner with us to market our products, our employer clients, and plan members (the employees who are the end consumers of our dental, vision and other insurance services). Our answer continues to be a relentless focus on what matters to our stakeholders and taking the steps to ensure their needs are met. Ultimately, our business is driven by sales of products that are increasingly viewed as commodities. Our success depends on delivering our products and services both efficiently and with a level of service and attention to detail our competitors cannot match.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from the past year in business?

Change is the only constant in business. While this isn’t a revelation, it is more relevant than ever. Listening, evaluating, deciding and executing (all with a healthy dose of patience) are the critical components for success in today’s environment.

What’s your big, audacious goal for the coming year?

We expect to grow close to 30 percent this year, which will take us to well over $100 million in revenue for the first time.

What’s one thing people would be surprised to learn about your company? 

While we have a strong, local business, we are seeing tremendous growth outside of Louisiana. We love exporting Louisiana culture, and send king cakes to many out-of-state clients each year around Mardi Gras. This absolutely delights our customers, and we receive more thank you letters and emails as a result of this special promotion than almost anything else we do.

 

 

Q&A Lautaro de la CruzLAUTARO DE LA CRUZ
General manager, Roofing Solutions

What was your company’s biggest accomplishment this year, and how did you grow as a result?

In 2014, we grew significantly, driven by our backlog of projects at our existing branches and by the opening of a new branch in Jackson, Mississippi. We had a good first year in Mississippi, and have a good backlog and capable team in place there.

What was the biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge was to successfully execute our growing backlog of projects. Additionally, there were jobs, due to their complexity, that challenged us, forcing us to create new capabilities to ensure that we continued to meet or exceed customer expectations. We have always used challenges to make the company stronger. That involves creating new capabilities and new ways of performing the work.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from the past year in business?

Size is not everything; staying committed to established standards of quality is more important. Therefore, it is critical that we be clear about our company’s mission and values, ensuring that they are broadly communicated and understood by everyone in the company. No matter the task, that task should be tied to a common mission and clear values. That way, our company can be more consistent in its results.

What do you think will be the issue at the forefront for Capital Region companies in the year to come, and what’s your advice for managing it?

The economy of Louisiana is extremely dependent upon the price of oil. Now that we are in a period when prices are down, it will trigger cancellations of investments. The question will be, how do we keep the economy vibrant despite low oil prices? Louisiana, and the Capital Region, should work to diversify its economic base so that it grows stronger and is not dependent upon one single industry.

What’s one thing people would be surprised to learn about your company? 

That the owners of the company are natives of Costa Rica. In fact, we have an office in Costa Rica, which we opened in 2013 and expanded last year. Therefore, we act locally and think globally, taking advantage of opportunities that other companies might not see without a global mindset. This impacts how we build our business model and how we run processes.

 

 

Mike ReitzMIKE REITZ
CEO, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana

What was the biggest challenge your company faced this year, and how did you overcome it?

We are always faced with balancing the costs of care with providing our customers with affordable health plans to protect them from these costs. As you can imagine, when the cost of care goes up, our rates must go up in order to cover it. We are meeting this challenge by implementing programs like Quality Blue Primary Care, an innovative program for coordinating care with patients, doctors and hospitals; and by working with lawmakers, doctors, pharmacy benefit managers and the public to educate everyone about the skyrocketing price of medications that drive costs upward for everyone from insurers like us to taxpayers.

What’s the best innovation your company incorporated this year?

We launched a program—Quality Blue Primary Care—focused on helping primary care doctors in our networks better manage the chronic conditions of their patients. Through the program, we offer physicians software, tools and data to track care and transform their practices, putting resources in place so they can concentrate on what they do best— treating patients. And we financially reward them for taking extra steps toward improved health outcomes.

What were the results?

Data show that after only one full year, the primary care physicians participating are getting better results for patients who have chronic conditions targeted in the program. In a 10-month period, there was a 12% improvement on diabetes quality measures, a 28% improvement on hypertension quality measures, a 32% improvement on vascular disease quality measures and a 69% improvement on chronic kidney disease measures. Our Quality Blue Primary Care program is a good model of how insurers and physicians can create a team-based environment that supports our mutual customers. It also shows we have a real opportunity to rein in healthcare costs while improving the health of Louisianans.

What innovations are you planning for 2016?

As a health insurer, we will continue to grow Quality Blue Primary Care as early data indicates the potential of this program to help our customers get better health outcomes, which will in turn lower their medical costs. As a business, Blue Cross is implementing a groundbreaking corporate vision strategy for success in improving health and access to care for Louisiana citizens. The long-term, three-part strategy to create a better health care system targets poor outcomes and high costs of care in Louisiana through revolutionary changes in how we do business.

What are the most important characteristics of an innovative company?

Innovative companies are flexible. But just as important, they have a unique ability to be forward thinking while also being conscious of the present—where they are—and the past, as in how they got there. It’s the ability to integrate the past, present and future into a leadership mindset.

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