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Posted: December 01, 2012

CEO of the Year 2012: Large company finalists

Lisa Ryckman

Margaret Kelly,

CEO, RE/MAX International

The girl who learned the fundamentals of business at her family's machine shop in Detroit now oversees RE/MAX International's operations across North America and 91 countries.

Margaret Kelly joined RE/MAX, a global real estate franchiser, as a financial analyst in 1987 and moved quickly through the ranks: from senior vice president in 1997 to president in 2002 and CEO three years after that.

As CEO, Kelly considers her greatest accomplishment growing RE/MAX despite a deep recession and housing crisis, and giving back to the community.

"Our plan was to motivate our agents to re-educate themselves so they could be more productive in a challenging market. At the same time, we focused on international growth," Kelly says.

From 2005 to 2012, RE/MAX grew its international footprint 47 percent, expanding from 62 to 91 countries, Kelly says. At the same time, RE/MAX surpassed the $100 million donation level with Children’s Miracle Network hospitals.

"And as a two-time cancer survivor, I pushed RE/MAX to become a national sponsor of Komen for the Cure," Kelly says. "Growing the business and giving back - two efforts I’m equally proud of."

Mike Kaplan,

CEO, Aspen Skiing Co.

For Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Mike Kaplan, sustainability isn't just about the environment. It's also about financial success, a strong community and happy employees – and Aspen Skiing has plenty of all three.

During the recession, the company actually enhanced customer service and marketing while avoiding layoffs or cuts in wages or benefits. To cut costs, the company used a "frontline staffing program," where all salaried employees volunteered at least one day a week to fill hourly positions lost through attrition.

"From checking lift tickets, staffing the parking booth, or cleaning toilets and bussing tables, it has been an "all hands on deck" approach," says Kaplan, whose company operates four mountains in the Aspen area. "It has saved significant money, and perhaps most importantly, it has put our management more directly in touch with our workforce and customers."

Kaplan, who began his career as ski school supervisor at Aspen Mountain after earning an MBA from the University of Denver in 1993, points with pride to the company's environmental initiatives, including a 3-megawatt coal methane capture/power generation project.

"We are succeeding in staying true to our core values and our intention to be in business forever," Kaplan says.

Larissa Herda,

president & CEO, tw telecom

There's no question that tw telecom has changed since Larissa Herda became president and CEO 14 years ago.

Her steady leadership has grown the provider of managed networking solutions from $26 million in revenue in 1996 to $1.4 billion in 2011 and has moved its broadband network into a total of 75 U.S. markets. Herda has expanded its Internet and ethernet products and overseen a $290 million IPO and made tw telecom into one of the world’s top 10 most connected IP networks.

Herda led the company through the recession with a philosophy of investing for growth and actually hiring rather than laying off, an accomplishment she has cited with pride.

"We invested in new products, in new systems, in furthering our industry-leading customer experience," Herda says.

Herda's business leadership and community efforts have won her praise and awards: She was named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for the Rocky Mountain Region and Telecom Executive of the Year by the Denver Telecom Professionals. She also received the "Swede" Johnson Hope Award presented by the Colorado Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Women of Distinction Award from the Girl Scouts of America.

Robert Engel

President and CEO, CoBank

At CoBank, the customer is the boss – literally. And as president and CEO, Robert Engel is dedicated to keeping the boss happy.

"We're not in the transaction business; we're in the relationship business," says Engel, who joined CoBank in 2000 and has more than 25 years of banking experience and eight years of accounting experience. "It's kind of like an old-fashioned bank."

The Denver-based national lender to agribusiness and rural utilities is a cooperative owned by its more than 2,000 customers who bank at centers across the U.S. Recipients of CoBank loans are required to buy stock in the company.

CoBank reported $706.6 million in net income in 2011, up 15 percent from the year before. Interest income rose 13 percent to $1.1 billion. CoBank also merged with U.S. AgBank during 2011, further solidifying CoBank's sturdy financial base.

"We were able to effectively meet the borrowing needs of customers and build the financial strength of the bank, despite difficult conditions in the financial markets and the broader U.S. economy," Engel says. "We remain focused on delivering on our value proposition for customer-owners, and on ensuring the bank can fulfill its mission serving vital industries in rural America."

Gus Reall,

CEO, Stolle Machinery Co.

Gus Reall has a real can-do attitude.

In the last year, the CEO of Stolle Machinery – a global supplier of can-making equipment – has overseen a 42,000 square-foot expansion of Stolle's Centennial manufacturing facility and sale of the company to a Japanese firm.

Ironically, the quality of Stolle's product is the source of one of the company's biggest challenges: Its can-making machinery lasts for decades, which means the company relies on global growth of the can market for its bottom line, Reall says.

"A constant investment in technology is required – even in slower times – to maintain a lead position in the world," Reall says. "Maintaining and growing our position is the ultimate challenge (because) every country that we do business in would, of course, like to become self-sufficient."

Reall, who has an MBA and a degree in mechanical engineering, began his career in the can machinery industry as an engineer with National Standard Co. in 1983 – a level of experience typical of his senior staff. He considers himself fortunate to be part of Stolle's 142-year history.

"We stand as proof," Reall says, "that a U.S. machinery company can be not only a technology leader but manufacture capital equipment locally and export to the world."

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Lisa Ryckman is the Associate Editor/Online at ColoradoBiz. Contact her at

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