Last call for Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

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Published: April 2,2001

Ted Turner was an EoY in 1989. Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos was one in 1997, two years before he was named Time’s Person of the Year. And Howard Schultz of Starbucks Coffee joined the elite EoY club in 1991.

The EoY, Ernst & Young LLP lingo for “Entrepreneur of the Year,” has become the Oscar of the business world.

“Forget Harvard, Stanford and other top-league alma maters. Arguably, the most prestigious alumni association is the Entrepreneur of the Year Institute,” wrote USA Today in its Feb. 11, 2000 issue.

This year, the search is on for nominations of Mississippi-based entrepreneurs as part of the annual EoY awards, the pre-eminent program honoring outstanding owners of fast-growing companies. Completed nomination packages for Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards Program must be submitted to Ernst & Young by April 6, 2001.

“We’ve had three national winners from our region,” said Lisa Jo Everett, program manager for Ernst & Young in New Orleans, who said more than 100 nomination packages have been mailed this year. “The program honors the leading businesses in the U.S., and I’d encourage companies to submit nomination packages before the end of the week.”

To be considered, the company must have been in operation for at least two years. If publicly held, the company’s founder must be an active member of top management. Owners and managers who are primarily responsible for the company’s growth are eligible. There is no fee for nominations, and self -nominations are encouraged, as are those from suppliers, customers and others who work with entrepreneurs.

“Mississippi has so many business success stories to tell that selecting the winners is, of necessity, an onerous task,” said Mississippi Business Journal publisher Joe D. Jones. “I’m glad that we are a media sponsor and not a judge.”

The initial competition is conducted regionally with Mississippi and Louisiana treated as one region. Local award recipients will be selected by a panel of independent judges comprised of leaders from the region’s business, academic and civic organizations. Regional finalists will be invited to a two-day event in New Orleans June 14-15, 2001, at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside. Regional award recipients are then eligible to compete for one of several national award categories, including the 2001 National Entrepreneur of the Year, which will be held in November in Palm Springs, Calif.

Other categories and industry segments include e-business, technology/communication, retail, real estate/construction, health sciences, manufacturing, service and the region’s highest award, Master Entrepreneur of the Year.

Past National Entrepreneur of the Year award winners include a virtual “Who’s Who” of business leaders, such as Steve Case of America Online and Michael Dell of Dell Computer Corporation. Scott Kriens, the force behind Juniper Networks, a company that is building next generation infrastructure to enable faster and more efficient transmission of Internet data, was named the 2000 U.S. Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

In 1998, the Mississippi/Louisiana region produced three national winners: Edward B. Boettner and M. Pres Kabacoff of Historic Restoration Inc. received the National EoY in the real estate/construction category, and David I. Oreck of Oreck Corp. and Ruth Fertel of Ruths Chris’ Steak House were named National EoYs in the retail and consumer products division.

Nancy Dickson, marketing manager for Ernst & Young, said regional finalists in the 2000 program had combined revenues of $1 billion and employed more than 8,500 people.

“So often, we here the negative stories about businesses and the downturn in the economy and how that impacts Mississippi and Louisiana,” she said. “This program focuses on the positive, on the successful men and women who are the backbone of our communities.”

Last year, William T. “Bill” Hogg, founder of Valley Innovative Services, Trendline Corp. and many other successful businesses in metro Jackson, was selected the region’s Master Entrepreneur.

“Bill Hogg employs close to 2,000 people and has been creating new, successful businesses since 1947,” Dickson said. “And we have entrepreneurs like Billy Mounger who have been extremely creative and forward thinking in creating several businesses, the most recent of which he has taken public. These are just two examples of outstanding role models. These people deserve to be honored for their accomplishments.”

A second-year sponsor, the Mississippi Business Journal will publish a special publication honoring and highlighting the accomplishments of Mississippians who make it to the final round.

“In many ways, entrepreneurs are like artists,” said Jones. “They don’t follow the crowd; they lead it. Leading crowds involves having a vision and the drive necessary to move that vision to reality. They try, frequently fail, and then try again. It is much easiest just to ‘go with the flow,’ but entrepreneurs have an itch that can only be satisfied by following their dreams.”

For example, in the early 1990s, Howard Industries engineers built computers for the company because they couldn’t find ones that could tolerate the rugged environment of a transformer manufacturing plant. From that, the company’s computer division flourished. Last year, Billy and Linda Howard were regional finalists, winning the Manufacturing Award.

“We believe very strongly in windows of opportunity,” said Linda Howard, president of Howard Industries and Howard Computers.

“First of all, you have to be able to recognize a window of opportunity when it comes along. Secondly, you have to have enough self-discipline to see if it’s a window you want to take advantage of or not. If it is, you have to make the appropriate decision and take advantage of that window. If you watch for windows of opportunity and take advantage of them, your priorities change constantly.”

Other regional finalists last year included James D. Alexander of A&B Electric in Meridian; William Alias III and John H. Lewis of Security Check in Oxford; William M. “Billy” Mounger II of Tritel Inc.; and Gail Pittman of Gail Pittman Inc. in Ridgeland.

“All of us should be appreciative for the successes of these folks,” Jones said. “They have created jobs, supported their community and told the world that Mississippi is a good place to start and grow businesses.”

The tale of Tritel’s rise reads likes a Cinderella story. But, as Mounger recalled, it took years of long hours and hard work to make it look easy.

“We may have set a record for starting a company, creating an employee base to more than 800 employees, building out in nine of 10 major markets with 800 cell sites and 38 stores, raising high-yield bonds, a senior bank syndication and doing an IPO — all within the same year,” Mounger said.

And Gail Pittman, founder of Gail Pittman Inc., a multi-million dollar operation that makes and markets hand-painted dinnerware and accessories worldwide, said it took a long time to be considered “an overnight success.”

“Though the headlines favor the big, new plants moving into town, savvy economic developers know that the vast majority of jobs are created by small business — not by the multi-nationals,” Jones said. “Our free enterprise system depends on entrepreneurs building businesses to deliver their product or service. Rarely do these feats get properly recognized. For this reason, all of us owe a debt of gratitude to Ernst & Young for conducting the Entrepreneur of the Year Awards Program.”

Created and produced by Ernst & Young, the EoY program is nationally sponsored by USA Today, CNN
and CNNfn, NASDAQ/AMEX and the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Regional sponsors include Hibernia, Jones, Walker, Bowne; New Orleans City Business; WWL-Channel 4 and the Miss

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