Darden School honors resilient Virginia businesses
The five winners represent some of the most resilient businesses in Virginia — those that display growth, a dogged entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to community in areas facing high unemployment, high poverty and low entrepreneurial activity.
“The Resilience Awards recognize small businesses that do things the right way. These companies foster innovation, strengthen communities and create jobs,” said Darden Professor and IBiS academic director Greg Fairchild, a nationally known expert on entrepreneurship. “Over the past few years I’ve been amazed at the dedication and perseverance that these business owners demonstrate.”
“On behalf of the panel of judges, I would like to congratulate this year’s winners and finalists. These businesses truly embody the word ‘resilience’ and bring real value to their communities and greater society,” said W. Tayloe Murphy Jr. Murphy, chairman of the judging panel.
To help spur economic growth and entrepreneurial efforts in hard-hit areas of the commonwealth, Tayloe Murphy Resilience Award winners receive more than recognition from one of the top business schools in the world.
Through ongoing media coverage, opportunities to engage key business and government leaders and enrollment in a week-long Executive Education course at Darden, Resilience Award winners gain visibility and resources to help their company and community continue to grow and succeed.
The competition is held by Darden’s Institute for Business in Society (IBiS) and presented in part by sponsorship from Virginia Business.
Manufacturing/Wholesale Sector: Blue Ridge Optics
From the town of Bedford, Blue Ridge Optics provides the world’s leading aerospace contractors with high quality, thin film coatings and laser components. Since President Walter Siehien founded the company seven years ago, Blue Ridge Optics has grown from two to 22 employees and become an industry leader. But, with more than 90 percent of sales revenue coming from the U.S. military, the company had to restructure its operations last year due to looming cutbacks in defense spending. To diversify its portfolio, Blue Ridge Optics targeted the commercial and medical laser optics industries, shifted marketing and invested in automated manufacturing equipment. In just one year, the company posted sales of 28 percent to commercial and medical sectors while projecting an overall sales increase of 20 percent for 2013. Following its philosophy of planned growth with an emphasis on a retainable, well-compensated employee base will play a major role in Blue Ridge Optics’ long term success and its positive impact on Bedford.
“Unlike our competitors, our focus is on research and development goals versus manufacturing volume. Our commitment to R&D is what makes Blue Ridge Optics a trusted partner and why the world’s leading researchers turn to our experienced engineers.” — Walter Siehien, president & CEO
Agriculture Sector: Culpeper Farmers’ Cooperative, Inc.
Established in 1932 to provide quality service and products that benefit and contribute to the agricultural community, Culpeper Farmers’ Cooperative is a shining example of resilience. For the agriculture industry, the last decade has been marked with unusual volatility — heavily fluctuating market prices and a significant decrease in usable farm land due to increased development both nationally and locally. In response to these challenges, the Cooperative updated credit account practices and streamlined inventories and product offerings at each of its five retail stores. It also became one of only two feed mills in Virginia that are Safe Feed/Safe Food certified, annually purchasing more than 800,000 bushels of locally grown grain. Over the past four years, the Cooperative has donated more than $120,000 to 4H and Future Farmers of America. It provides land for a community garden and, during the summer, hosts a farmers’ market. The Cooperative continues to support the counties of Culpeper, Fauquier and Rappahannock with its forward-thinking approach, effective management and community focus.
“Some of our best strategic moves have come from the flexibility that we have due to our size. We encourage our individual stores to think outside the box, and when they find a successful niche we try to replicate it at other locations.”— David Durr, general manager
Manufacturing/Wholesale Sector: Roberts Awning and Sign
Roberts Awning and Sign has built and installed awnings for Petersburg residents and businesses for more than a century. But Owner Bobby Goodwin has his sights on regional growth since starting his own awning business in 2005, acquiring the Roberts name in 2011 and purchasing the assets to regional awning company Norvell earlier this year. Under Goodwin’s management and with a new business model that focuses on authorized dealers, Roberts Awning and Sign has been able to produce greater sales than at any other time in its 100-year history — but not without challenges. At one point, Roberts had to rely on a competitor to perform work for its customers while searching for new leadership to manage its sign operation. Still, the company took time to collect donations after Hurricane Sandy and drove two trailers of supplies to New York on behalf of the Petersburg community. While many manufacturing jobs have moved away from the city and industrial buildings are being repurposed for housing, Roberts Awning and Sign is staying put.
“We treat our employees and customers with respect and appreciation. Being honest, fair and quality minded are all components that I’ve found combine to create a constructive and successful business. If you can provide a quality product at a fair price and exercise good customer service in the process, I don’t believe you can go wrong.” — Bobby Goodwin, owner
Service Sector: SHINE Systems & Technologies
SHINE Systems & Technologies first began generating revenue in 2008, before the financial crisis — a difficult climate for entering the marketplace. But the identity intelligence, analytics, technology and consulting company founded by Jeff Thomas has succeeded in living up to its name, quadrupling its profits in just the last year. With an employee base of nearly 50 percent veterans, SHINE provides intelligence and forensics programs for federal, state and local governments. Following defense budget cuts caused by the federal sequestration, SHINE turned its focus to state contracts, an expansion of law enforcement products and services and strategic consulting for commercial markets. But perhaps SHINE’s greatest challenge has been retaining its federal SBA-certified HUBZone small business status; with three offices in HUBZones, the company has hired nearly 50 employees living in areas of high unemployment. Committed to these communities, SHINE donates every year to local food banks, toy drops and back-to-school drives. Most recently, the company was recognized as one of the fastest growing private businesses as a 2013 Inc. 500 recipient.
“SHINE isn’t an acronym; it’s a belief and practice that if customers, employees and partners are empowered to shine, success will be a collective experience. Our culture will remain our force multiplier.” — Jeff Thomas, president
Chairman’s Award: Container First Services
In 2009, Container First Services (CFS) purchased a landfill from the City of Petersburg that was facing closure. Renaming it the Tri-Cities Regional Landfill, CFS applied its very own patented, innovative solution using recyclable materials to expand and extend its life. CFS also took on Petersburg’s curbside waste program this year, introduced recycling services and began implementation of an educational outreach program for residents and community groups to help revitalize the city. Since Robert Guidry founded the company with 14 employees in 2008, CFS has grown to employ more than 60 and has yet to experience a layoff. The company’s greatest challenge has been keeping up with expansion as it stretches beyond the Tri-Cities region — most recently purchasing the Lunenburg County landfill and opening its second operation. CFS puts 2 percent of revenue back into the communities it serves each year. Last year, the company began an endowed scholarship fund in memory of Grayson Payne Austin, which will recognize one Prince George County student-athlete annually.
“Our environment is not one of ‘corporate’ but one of ‘comfortable’ day-to-day business operations. Our employees appreciate that senior leadership is willing to work alongside them, fill-in where necessary and help get the job done.” — Robert W. Guidry, president & CEO