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Posted: December 01, 2009

CEO of the Year Finalists

Here are all the top contenders

MICHAEL GASS, CEO/UNITED LAUNCH ALLIANCE

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 This joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin is on track to complete 16 launches by the end of the year - which would bring its total to 37 successful launches in three years of operations. Its most recent launch was for WorldView-2 for Longmont-based DigitalGlobe.

"With a good launch campaign our No.1 focus is on mission success, but you still have to manage all the other elements of the business, from customer relations to shareholders as well as employees," Gass says.

Aviation Week magazine recently credited Gass for managing the task of "bringing together two highly competitive organizations under the single umbrella." For Gass, that meant ensuring that the Lockheed Martin side of the company he came from meshed with the Boeing operation. One of the first steps he took was to have the chief of Lockheed's Atlas rocket program switch roles with the chief of Boeing's Delta program.

"That forced them to learn the heritage processes, the product, and to get to know the best of the best so we can make the right decisions," said Gass, whose aerospace career spans nearly three decades.

With Colorado ranked No. 2 nationally in number of aerospace workers and NASA working toward manned flights to the moon and Mars, ULA, with 1,800 workers in Colorado, is poised for the international spotlight.

Gass was the recipient of the 2009 Peter B. Teets Award from the National Defense Industrial Association for championing the cause of space transportation. He is co-chair of Gov. Ritter's P-20 Council and a volunteer at many nonprofits, including Denver Rescue Mission.

 He also is a major supporter of United Way and is a past chairman of the Mile High United Way campaign.  -- Mike Cote                                                                                                                                                     

COLLEEN ABDOULAH, CEO AND PRESIDENT/WideOpenWest (WOW!)

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This Englewood-based Internet, cable and phone company was named Independent Operator of the Year in 2008 by CableFAX magazine. Abdoulah also ranked among the magazine's Top 50 women in cable in the U.S. this year.

"Lots of people think CEOs have a dream job. Abdoulah makes sure her employees live the dream, but customers derive enjoyment, too," the magazine said in its November issue.

At the beginning of this year, the dream looked a bit shaky. Abdoulah addressed the prospect of a tough economy by calling all-hands meetings, sending out a video message and ensuring WOW! employees that it was her duty to ensure they all had jobs. But they all would face sacrifices, including no merit increases or bonuses and a suspension of the company's 401(k) match. Abdoulah outlined the worst-case scenario steps that would lead to cutting jobs - but the company never had to take them.

"We're not only going to make budget, we're going to beat budget slightly, which means we will be able to give back a portion of everybody's bonus to them," Abdoulah said.

WOW!, which serves Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, consistently wins high customer service marks in all three of its categories from JD Power. The company marked an industry first this year when it won first-place awards in each of the three services it provides: phone, Internet and cable.

"We have people that will go above and beyond, and customers appreciate that," she said.

Women in Cable Telecommunications recognized WOW! this year as one of the top five employers in the cable and telecommunications industry that provides exceptional support toward the advancement of women in the workplace. -- Mike Cote

GREG MAFFEI, PRESIDENT AND CEO/LIBERTY MEDIA

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If you want evidence of why we included Liberty Media's Greg Maffei in our CEO of the Year finalists, all you need to do is read the transcript of the Fortune 500 company's Q3 earnings call.

Maffei was able to tell analysts in November that all of Liberty's stocks reached 52-week highs during the quarter. Its public equity portfolio grew by nearly $2 billion, led by double-digit gains from DirectTV, Expedia and Sirius XM Radio. Its name-brand assets include QVC, Starz, GSN, Ticketmaster and the Atlanta Braves.

We spoke with Maffei on Nov. 19 - hours after shareholders approved a spinoff of Liberty Media's controlling stake in satellite broadcaster DirecTV.

"It's a part of a trend that we have had of building up business units, seeing value and covering their value but really allowing our shareholders to fully recognize their value by passing the asset out and merging it into its most attractive form," said Maffei, who became president and CEO of the Douglas County company in 2006.

Maffei, second in command to Liberty Chairman John Malone, oversees a $10.5 billion company that regularly works on complex deals.

"I'm blessed with a strong team that knows how to plan, strategize and execute on these transactions and integrate the companies," he said.

For the third quarter, Liberty Media's share price was up nearly 15 percent, prompting investment firm Gabelli & Co. to include the company in its Focus Five - stocks expected to beat the market.
Maffei said he was proud of establishing a new tradition for LibertyGives, the company's philanthropic program. Every year a team of employees chooses a theme, such as helping at-risk youth.

"We can make judgments about things we think are the most effective," he said. -- Mike Cote

PAT BOWLEN, PRESIDENTAND CEO/DENVER BRONCOS

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Pat Bowlen is a CEO of the Year finalist because of his crisis management in the months leading up to his 26th year as the Denver Broncos' owner.

Sure, one could argue that an NFL owner doesn't face the same business pressures other CEOs do, what with the league's lucrative television deals, league-wide revenue sharing and taxpayer support in most cities, including Denver. Still, the Broncos are the most visible business in the Rocky Mountain region, and that carries uncommon pressure to generate a winning product.

And so Bowlen capped last year's underwhelming 8-8 season by doing what was best for the organization rather than what was easiest. He not only fired Mike Shanahan; he tabbed as a replacement 32-year-old Josh McDaniels, an offensive coordinator from the New England Patriots who had never been a head coach at any level. After the Broncos complied with All Pro quarterback Jay Cutler's demand to be traded, a seeming disaster at the time, Bowlen reached out to his customer base, writing an open letter to season-ticket holders.

"It has never been about one player, and it never will be," Bowlen wrote. "Coach McDaniels shares this vision, and everyone in the organization - players, coaches and staff - must understand and accept this unconditionally. If anyone does not, that person will not be a part of this franchise."

The Broncos have cooled considerably since their 6-0 start, but the chaotic off-season put Bowlen's leadership to the test like no other, and the Broncos' president and CEO quietly showed he was up to it. -- Mike Taylor

CRAIG SMITH, CEO/ServiceMagic

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Craig Smith was named ServiceMagic's CEO in January 2008, and since then the industry leader in the online home-service referral space has built its competitive edge by adding an office in Kansas City, Mo., expanding to the United Kingdom, creating a background-check service for customers and purchasing a firm in Bethesda, Md., that builds custom websites for the home-service category.

Most of the firm's employees - 782 out of the 987 total - work out of the company headquarters in Golden. Even amid the recession, ServiceMagic added about 200 employees in Colorado in 2009. Smith expects the company to hire another 170 employees in Colorado next year. Revenues for the first three quarters of this year were up 16 percent from the same period a year ago, from $98 million in 2008 to $113 million this year.

"We have hired aggressively in the last year," said Smith, 34, who joined ServiceMagic in 2000 as vice president of business development.

ServiceMagic was launched in 1998 by Michael Beaudoin and Rodney Rice. It was acquired by IAC/InterActiveCorp in 2004. Beaudoin and Rice remain involved as co-chairmen. The company's business model provides a free online marketplace for homeowners to connect with qualified contractors and service professionals. The 63,000 approved service providers pay from $6 to $50 for leads. The company will field 5 million customer-service requests this year.

This year ServiceMagic launched a corporate philanthropy program in which employees get time off to volunteer with a nonprofit. So far the company has donated 800 hours and roughly $30,000 to causes ranging from the Children's Hospital in Denver to the Make a Wish Foundation.

"It's something that's relatively new for ServiceMagic and certainly rare in light of the current economic times to be what I think is pretty engaged," Smith says. -- Mike Taylor

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