CEO of the Year finalists, A to H
The list includes Gov. John Hickenlooper
When Kristi Alford founded the structured cable services company E2 Optics in 2010, she knew what kind of culture she wanted to build. “I am very entrepreneurial, not a micro-manager,” she says. “I love to hear from people doing that task. I am not in the field pulling that cable but they are, so giving them ownership in their job makes it more effective and more efficient.”
The company began with data centers and now provides services for government, financial, health care and other industries. E2 Optics provides services including structured cabling, audio visual, video and unified communications, security and wireless. Companies need cable for many areas, such as security, conference rooms and emergency services, and they want one-stop shopping.
“Now you’re paying one contractor that has credentials and certifications to do all of it,” she says. “We can pull all four of those cables at one time.” The company has 230 employees and recently opened project sites in Dublin, Ireland and Montreal.
Paul Brinkman and his brother Kevin launched Brinkman Partners in Paul’s home in 2005. The Fort Collins-based real estate firm handles commercial brokerage, construction, development and other services. Paul says the best thing about being CEO is having the ability to develop relationships. At the start, “we envisioned a culture that was exciting for employees, fostered an entrepreneurial spirit, focused on relationships, and left a positive impact on our community,” he says. “Today, that vision still holds true.”
Brinkman says this year they were able to make some ambitious changes to the construction company by becoming 100 percent employee-owned through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). “I never would have imagined that in just over a decade, we would be in a position to offer a broader ownership model that furthers opportunities for all of our employees.”
Before becoming CEO of Boulder-based Zayo Group, Dan Caruso was an angel investor whose firm, Bear Equity, helped found Envysion, the Superior-based video surveillance and business intelligence company. He served as chairman of Envysion from 2006 to 2013. Zayo, founded in 2007, provides communications infrastructure services, including fiber and bandwidth connectivity, colocation and cloud services to businesses. In 2015, Zayo had revenues of $1.721 billion and a net loss of $76.2 million, compared to revenues of $1.347 billion and a net loss of $155.3 million in 2014.
Mike Fries is a 30-year veteran of the cable and media industry, and has spent nearly his entire career building international distribution and programming businesses.
Liberty Global is an international cable company providing 27 million customers with 57 million video, voice and broadband internet services. Liberty Global has operations in 14 countries and generates more than $18 billion in annual revenue. Fries was appointed president and CEO in 2005 and is a member of Liberty Global's board of directors and its two-person executive committee along with the company’s chairman, John C. Malone.
Steamboat Springs-based Big Agnes makes outdoor gear, including the Big Agnes System bags, which have an integrated pad sleeve to keep users comfortable and warm without rolling off the pad. The company also offers traditional mummy bags, and, against some early advice, tents.
“Our sales manager, who has been with us since the early days, told us to not make tents after our first year in business,” says Gamber, who, with partners, launched Big Agnes in 2001. “Our tent sales have never been stronger.” Gamber focuses mostly on product development. “The best part of being CEO of Big Agnes is ... in between a lot of hard work ... ‘product testing’ nights spent out under the stars.”
Gamber is also CEO and co-founder of Honey Stinger, which makes honey-based foods. His family was in the honey, beekeeping and energy bar business and his grandparents and their business partners famously came up with the honey bear shape for bottles of honey.
Kathy Hagan Brown
When she was growing up, Kathy Hagan Brown’s father, Tom Hagan, encouraged her to be an entrepreneur. The elder Hagan, who co-founded the advertising agency Karsh Hagan, gave her very clear career guidance. “My dad said, ‘You can study anything except advertising,’” she recalls. So she opted for a pre-medical school track, which turned out to be far from the right fit. “I loved creating writing.”
Finally convincing her dad to let her join his company, more than 20 years later Karsh Hagan, now an independent agency, has what Kathy Hagan Brown calls “a great group” of 65 employees. “You are coming up with big ideas, you are constantly learning new things, the people are creative, they’re thinking outside the box, and the business is constantly changing.”
Love Grown Foods
Love Grown Foods, which makes wheat-free cereal and granola, was launched in 2008 when founders Alex Hasulak and Maddy D’Amato were undergraduates at the University of Denver. City Market in Aspen was the first grocery store to carry the cereals, and in 2015 the foods gained distribution into Kroger (parent of City Market, King Soopers and others) nationwide. The foods are also available in Whole Foods.
Ryan Heckman grew up in rural Colorado, and in 1992 and 1994 he was a member of the U.S. Olympic Ski team. Today, he is CEO of ICON Eyecare, a regional surgical eye care provider, and is also the co-chairman of the board of advisers for Quarterly Forum, a local leadership organization.
“As a skier, I had to depend on myself,” says Heckman, who also has a background as an investment professional and in private equity. “As a CEO, my performance depends on the team’s ability to execute. In many ways, relying on others has been a healthy transition for me, and I feel more fulfilled in this role.”
ICON has brick-and-mortar locations in Colorado and Texas. “As an industry, we are blessed with lots of demand but managing multiple sites in multiple states can be challenging with respect to cultural unity and managing with the right precision and routines,” Heckman says. “We like to say that each office should have its own personality, but we need to be culturally aligned with as much standardization as possible. Doing so provides more consistent care and experiences to our patients.”
John Hickenlooper has accrued some major career changes over the years –from geologist to restaurant owner to mayor of Denver, and finally, governor. The Pennsylvania native was elected to Colorado's highest office in 2011, and under his leadership, the state legislature has passed five consecutive balanced budgets, and his administration has launched initiatives such as the Colorado Blueprint and the Colorado Innovation Network. The governor calls the other CEO finalists “exceptional,” and says it’s no surprise many of them know each other.
“These leaders know they can be more successful through collaboration than competition. This recipe helps ensure that our economy and business climate remain the top in the nation."