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CEO of the Year 2012: Small company finalists



(Now in its eighth year, the ColoradoBiz CEO of the Year award seeks to recognize outstanding professional achievement and community impact while taking into account obstacles surmounted, career-long body of work or other unique elements of the CEO’s life and work. Nominations from Colorado’s business community, ColoradoBiz readers and staff are evaluated by a judging panel made up of the magazine’s editorial board and, this year, representatives from the Colorado Association of Commerce & Industry.)

Here are this year's finalists in the "Small Company" category:

Chris Conroy

president and owner,
Yeti Cycles, Golden

Founded in the 1980s and bought and sold by Schwinn in the 1990s, mountain-bike maker Yeti enjoyed 30 percent growth in 2012, hitting about $20 million in sales, under Conroy's guidance.

Conroy thinks the uptick is in large part due to the company's innovation. "We launched new suspension technology called Switch last year," he says, describing the concept as "a pivot within a pivot" that makes for a pedaling platform that's at once more stable and efficient. "It really is the next iteration of suspension technology. We had a run on the tables on all of the editor's choice awards."

To accommodate the growth, Yeti doubled its square footage in a new building in Golden. Conroy credits Yeti's employees for the company's success. "We make sure we hire people who are our end consumers," he explains. "Everybody here is a hard-core rider.

"My management style is hire the best people, deliver leadership and style, and let them get it done," says Conroy. "I'll put the staff here against anyone in the industry. Whatever it is, we deliver best in class."

Craig Lieberman,

founder and president, 34 Degrees LLC

34 Degrees LLC makes nine kinds of crisp breads. Founder and president Craig Lieberman makes making crisp breads sound like a whole lot of fun.

Lieberman launched 34 Degrees in 2003 upon returning to Colorado from graduate work in Sydney, Australia. Sydney is located at latitude 34 degrees south, and Lieberman began the company by importing Aussie crisp bread crackers and other products, thus the company name.

Four years later the fledgling Boulder-based business invested in a big oven and began manufacturing its own goodies. Today 34 Degrees makes five savory and four sweet crackers and sells them at Costco, Wal-Mart, King Soopers, Whole Foods and elsewhere. The company also garnered effusive praise from the people most in the know, namely cheese makers at Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery; Arcala, Calif.-based Cypress Grove Chevre; Central Point, Oregon-based Rogue Creamery; and so on.

Food & Wine magazine named 34 Degrees' crackers one of its "Editor’s Top 10 ‘Objects of our Obsession’" in the magazine’s October 2012 issue.

The company expects 58 percent revenue growth this year atop 2011’s 28 percent increase.

Kevin Price

founder and CEO, Accucode Inc.

Kevin Price founded AccuCode Inc. in 1996. One way to mark the company’s more recent progress is to note that when it began appearing on the Inc. 5000 in 2002, it had $5.6 million in revenue and 20 employees. This year Centennial-based AccuCode ranked No. 3,286 on the list, the sixth time it has earned that distinction, with 2011 revenue of $25.8 million revenue and 52 employees. The company has said it projects 2012 sales of more than $30 million.

AccuCode specializes in software development, barcode and RFID, mobile computing, mobile applications, retail commerce, point of sale, hardware procurement and lifecycle management, and wireless networks for retail, transportation, and the supply chain.

AccuCode in 2003 pioneered "as-a-service solutions," software bundles dedicated to solving a single big corporate problem, and today a booming industry trend.

The company also has turned its talents and technology to good use by providing equipment and technology solutions to help track Hurricane Katrina victims.

Lisa Calkins

CEO, Amadeus Consulting

Lisa Calkins co-founded Amadeus Consulting in 1994 when it employed three people. Today Boulder-based Amadeus employs 73 experts in digital marketing, custom software development and mobile app development. Much of the energy that Calkins brought to that growth derived from her longtime dedication to creating intelligent technology solutions with successful business results, to paraphrase a company slogan. "Her passion for weaving technology into every facet of the business is the fire that fuels Amadeus Consulting's operation," a colleague wrote recently.

Amadeus’ sales have grown more than 225 percent in the past five years. The company has placed on the Inc. 5000 list since 2006.

Some of Amadeus Consulting’s latest challenges have had to do with mobile computing. Calkins led the development of the company’s mobile team, which so far has created more than 100 mobile applications for iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7 platforms, and already is ranked as a top mobile app developer.

Last year Amadeus Consulting was named one of 50 Colorado Companies to Watch and profiled in the June 2011 issue of ColoradoBiz.

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Jeff Bisberg

founder, president and CEO, Albeo Technologies

Albeo Technologies produces "Industrial Strength LED Lighting," its motto says.

Under the guidance of Jeff Bisberg, the company also has produced industrial strength expansion. Among many other milestones, Boulder-based Albeo Technologies increased its 2011 revenue to more than $10.5 million from $1.47 million revenue in 2008.

Not coincident and just as important, Albeo Technologies turned a profit in 2010.

"Albeo achieved this growth by making LED light fixtures that are brighter, more efficient and longer lasting than competitors and selling them to Fortune 500 companies like Apple, Caterpillar and other large institutions," a company statement explains.

Albeo offers products and expertise in LED lighting including industrial lighting, commercial lighting, cold storage warehouse lighting, high-bay lighting and parking garage lighting.

For 2012, Albeo forecasts more than $15 million in sales and also closed $6.5 million in venture capital. The company had 19 employees in Colorado in 2008; today it has 65.

James Vigesaa,

CEO, Bleeker Vigesaa Brown General Contractors

James Vigesaa has always wanted to own a construction business.

"A lot of people like to do construction as their vocation because you see the results of your work," says Vigesaa, CEO and co-owner of Bleeker Vigesaa Brown General Contractors. After earning a bachelor of science degree in construction management in 1988 from the University of Nebraska, he worked for several contractors as project manager and pre-construction director. In 2003 he co-founded BVB, which today has 14 full-time employees.

The Brighton-based company specializes in dental offices and medical offices, building 35 to 40 of them each year. BVB promotes itself by sponsoring events such as the Rocky Mountain Dental Convention, Metro Denver Dental Society annual meeting, and the Platt Valley Medical Center Foundation’s Faces of the Future concert.

Restaurants are the company’s next largest niche, and BVB will soon begin building locations of Ted’s Montana Grill, Panda Express and McDonalds. The eateries are not that different from dental and medical offices, Vigesaa says. "Most of the work is not in the lobby where you see it," he says. "There is a lot of plumbing and electrical behind the scenes."

Bob Witham,

president and owner, Two Rivers Winery

Two Rivers Winery in Grand Junction was enjoying sales growth of 15 percent a year until the recession hit, and now sales are steadily flat. That’s pretty good for a business run by two people whose knowledge about wine was that they liked drinking it.

Bob Witham, an executive at a long-term care company, and his wife Billie, an accountant, did some research in 1999 when they bought the land that now holds the winery. They soon found they needed to hire a winemaking expert. Other tasks, such as marketing, fell to Witham, so he learned quickly.

"When you are in the wine business your objective is to get strong and immediate brand recognition," he says. "That’s why we have tasting rooms." Two Rivers Winery also has a 10-bedroom country inn and a conference and events center.

Two Rivers Winery is set to sell 13,475 cases of wine this year. The company bought a Palisades winery and named it Mas Rios, Spanish for "more rivers." They’re using it as a storage facility now, but Witham says eventually it will produce 6,000 more cases a year.

John Kelley

Chairman & CEO, CereScan Corp.

John Kelley is CEO of CereScan Corp., a brain imaging provider that offers Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT).

Kelley joined CereScan in 2009. He had been CEO of McData Corp., and the storage company was bought by Brocade Communications Systems Inc. in 2007. Kelley says his tech background is right for the brain-imaging business. "The brain is a gigantic computer," he says. "I look at it as a device rather than a spectacular magical organ."

CereScan patients include athletes and soldiers who suffered a concussion and want to know if their current depression is due to their brain not healing properly. There are also parents inquiring whether their kids were wrongly diagnosed with ADHD, and baby boomers wondering if a parent has Alzheimer’s disease. CereScan recently began working with the NFL to do baseline scans of players’ brains, to see what changes the brain undergoes if the player later suffers a concussion.

The Denver-based company abandoned plans to open a clinic in Seattle, but does plan to open in Florida and Texas within the next year. CereScan has 13 employees.

Patrick Meiering,

CEO, Zuke’s

In the 1990s, Patrick Meiering worked as a strategic planning consultant with an Albuquerque, N.M.-based firm called Management Technologies. One day he and his chocolate Labrador, Zuke, were hiking, and the dog became exhausted. Meiering broke off a piece of his energy bar, fed it to the dog, and came up with the idea to create energy-boosting treats for dogs.

Meiering started his own company, Durango-based Zuke’s, which makes dog and cat treats. The company has 21 full-time employees and recently expanded the line of dog treats with grain-free Lil’ Links and nutrient-packed Supers. The work demands constant creativity. "Either in creating new products or addressing the needs of employees and the marketplace itself, you are constantly creating, adapting and pivoting in a growing business," Meiering says.

His brother, Chris Meiering, works at Zuke's in the marketing and IT division. Chris and Patrick helped start the Dog and Cat Cancer Fund, a nonprofit that provides dog and cat owners with the life-saving treatments their dogs and cats need if they have cancer.

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