Home Posts tagged Top Entrepreneur
Cover Story

A Breed Apart: Antonacci Family Continues to Bring Businesses to the Winner’s Circle

Frank M. Antonacci with ‘Lindy the Great.’ Frank M. Antonacci with ‘Lindy the Great.’

In the early 1950s, Guy ‘Sonny’ Antonacci started a sanitation business with a single truck. That venture has evolved into a diversified, multi-generational family business that includes a horse-racing farm, a family-entertainment facility known as Sonny’s Place, and a country club in Hampden known as GreatHorse. Each component of this conglomerate was the product of vision, entrepreneurial spirit, hard work (lots of that), and some luck. For their ability to breed winners — at the track and in business — the Antonacci family has been named BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneurs for 2018.

Frank M. Antonacci was asked to talk about his grandfather, the late Guy ‘Sonny’ Antonacci, and put his life and entrepreneurial spirit into some kind of perspective.

It was a straightforward request, but Frank M. (the M is to distinguish him from his father, Frank A. — “I’m not a junior, and he’s not a senior”) paused and then struggled somewhat as he searched for the words and phrases to get the job done.

“He was … a special man,” he said finally. “He was a visionary; he was incredibly spiritual, but tough. He was incredibly kind, yet aggressive.”

Frank’s cousin, Guy, named after his grandfather, obviously, agreed, and also put the word ‘visionary’ to heavy use.

“He would see things 20 years before anyone else would,” he told BusinessWest. “He wanted to get in the bottled-water business in the ’70s with my father and uncle, but they asked him, ‘who’s going to pay for a bottle of water?’ He’s laughing up there now, that’s for sure.”

It was Sonny who started a trash business in New York, back roughly 65 years ago, with a single truck named the ‘Mary Anne,’ after his wife. With that one truck — more or less — he and subsequent generations would go on to build a number of successful, high-profile businesses, including the enterprise that sprang from the Mary Anne, USA Waste & Recycling, one of the largest companies of its kind in the region.

There’s also a horse farm, Lindy Farms in Somers, that has bred and trained a string of champion trotters; Sonny’s Place in Somers, named, obviously, after the patriarch, a huge and continually growing family-entertainment venue that now includes everything from miniature golf to ziplining to a century-old carousel (more on it later); and, last but not least, GreatHorse, the high-end private golf club created on the site of the old Hampden Country Club but looking nothing much like its predecessor; in a nod to Lindy Farms, there are horse references throughout, right down to the banquet hall, named the Starting Gate.

 

Guy, left, and Frank Antonacci Guy, left, and Frank Antonacci stand by a photo of their grandfather, ‘Sonny,’ in the lobby of USA Waste & Recycling.

As we examine this stable of successful businesses (yes, that’s the first of many horse and racing terms you’ll read), we’ll start by going in the wayback machine to July 1969 and, more specifically, a Sports Illustrated article (printed in an issue with Vince Lombardi on the cover) chronicling the meteoric rise of a horse called Lindy’s Pride, bought for $15,000 by Sonny Antonacci and several cousins.

All of whom, the SI writer recalled, grew up working on ice trucks before they worked on garbage trucks, and struggled for many years to build the business.

“We’re still down to earth,” a different Frank Antonacci, Guy’s cousin, told SI as their horse was preparing to race in the prestigious Hambletonian, the number-one prize in harness racing, which he would win. “We’ve all been working since we were 13; we know what a buck is. Today … there’s not one of us who’s not successful. We’ve been lucky.”

Maybe. But in many respects, this family has made its own luck, and continues to do so today. Indeed while it’s easy to say that all of this — and ‘all’ means the horses, the go-karts at Sonny’s Place, and the country club — was born of New York trash. But in reality, it was all born of an entrepreneurial spirit and an ability to see something that wasn’t there before.

Indeed, Sonny’s Place was formerly a ramshackle driving range, said Guy Antonacci. “There were days when we’d see maybe a few people come in; it was like that driving range in Tin Cup, with a pink 1960 Volkswagen Beetle out front,” he recalled, making a reference to the popular movie starring Kevin Costner, who played a down-on-his-luck golf pro and operator of a range frequented by more armadillos than duffers.

And Hampden Country Club was essentially dying on the vine when the family bought it a decade ago and decided, eventually, after an initial attempt at a mere makeover, to transform it into the most luxurious, and exclusive, club in the region.

Sonny’s Place, the elaborate family-entertainment complex in Somers, now stands on the site of a little-used driving range likened to the one in the movie ‘Tin Cup.’

For their efforts over the past seven decades or so, the Antonacci family — and yes, that includes Sonny, his brothers, and cousins — have been chosen as BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneurs for 2018. This amounts to a lifetime achievement award for the family — actually, several lifetimes.

Because today, as decades ago, members of this family stay humble and understand the meaning of a buck — and how to make one as well.

This becomes clear in an extensive interview with Guy and Frank M., chosen spokespeople for a family that knows what it’s like to breed winners — as in horses and business ventures.

Harnessing Entrepreneurial Spirit

There was a light snow falling on Christmas Eve morning, and it lent even more beauty to a place where it abounds — Lindy Farms.

There, Frank M. talked about the business and especially the large, handsome horse called Lindy the Great. A trotter, he enjoyed a successful 2018, winning several races, and on this morning was getting a brushing and some R&R before heading to Florida for the off season.

“We’re still down to earth. We’ve all been working since we were 13; we know what a buck is. Today … there’s not one of us who’s not successful. We’ve been lucky.”

Lindy the Great, 16.1 hands high (not 16.2 or 16.3), by Frank’s guess, is the embodiment — one of many, actually — of the multi-faceted businesses ventures that did, indeed, spring from New York trash.

Our story begins with that trash truck called the Mary Anne and the venture that became known as the South Shore Sanitation. While remaining a relatively small operation, it provided the wherewithal to venture into horses — and much more.

In 1974, Sonny, following a priest who had been reassigned to a church in Somers, moved his family there, said Frank, adding that, while he was ‘retired’ at age 40, he didn’t stay retired for long at all.

He and Mary Anne started Somers Sanitation, again, with one truck (this one didn’t have a name), and quickly grew the enterprise, which now stretches from the Vermont border to Southern Connecticut.

What was originally envisioned as a ‘makeover’ became the total transformation known as GreatHorse. What was originally envisioned as a ‘makeover’ became the total transformation known as GreatHorse.

Today, it boasts five hubs and 16 transfer stations, serving a wide range of businesses and communities in Connecticut and Western Mass.

It was with profits from the trash business that Sonny Antonacci and several cousins ventured into horse racing. Their passion for the sport began when they attended races at Roosevelt Raceway on Long Island, and it went to a much higher and different level when they bought their first horse, named Galahad Hanover, and shortly renamed Lindy’s Pride, in 1967.

That horse would go on to win not only the Hambletonian, but the illustrious trotting Triple Crown, and essentially set a tone for Lindy Farms, named, sort of, after the town of Lindenhurst on Long Island, where the Antonaccis grew up.

Over the years, the operation, now in Somers, Enfield, and Hampden, Mass., has continued its winning ways and expanded on several fronts.

“Until about 15 years ago, it was focused on standardbreds — trotters and pacers,” Frank explained. “But in recent years, we’re expanded into thoroughbred racing, and we’ve had some success there, as well.”

Especially with a stallion called No Nay Never. “He might be the hottest freshman stallion in the world this year,” he said, noting that, as a 2-year-old, he won honors as ‘Thoroughbred of the Year’ in Europe.

The racing business, like the trash business before it, typifies how this family approaches business — by going all in. They don’t just want to be a player in an industry; they want to dominate that industry.

Indeed, horse breeding and racing has become a passion for three generations of family members, and the level of excellence attained becomes apparent in the number of trophies and awards on display at the offices of USA Waste & Recycling.

Sonny Antonacci is considered a visionary when it comes to breeding standardbred racehorses, said his grandson, Frank, and he bred more Hambletonian horses than any individual breeder. In 2001, Sonny, along with his cousin Frank, were elected to the Harness Racing Hall of Fame’s Hall of Immortals.

That racing tradition continued with the next generation, his sons, Jerry and Frank, who have remained active in promoting the industry. Frank is currently director of the Hambletonian Society, which oversees the development, administration, and promotion of the harness-racing industry throughout the country, and he’s also director of the U.S. Trotting Assoc., the governing body of the entire domestic industry.

And Frank M. (known as Frankie to family members) has taken up that mantle. He’s now the head trainer at Lindy Racing Stable and has been making a name for himself within the sport, winning the U.S. Trotting Assoc. ‘Breakthrough Award’ in 2010.

Positive Turns

While there are no trophies, ribbons, plaques, or prize winnings to quantify success in their other business ventures, the Antonaccis’ drive to take the lead — and keep it — in whatever field they happen to get into is clearly evident.

It can be seen with both Sonny’s Place and GreatHorse, which came to fruition the same way the trash and horse-racing ventures did — through vision and a lot of hard work.

And a conversation at the dinner table, said Guy, who vividly remembers this one regarding that old, run-down driving range the family acquired a dozen or so years ago and what might be done with it.

Previous Top Entrepreneurs

• 2017: Owners and managers of the Springfield Thunderbirds
• 2016: Paul Kozub, founder and president of V-One Vodka
• 2015: The D’Amour Family, founders of Big Y
• 2014: Delcie Bean, president of Paragus Strategic IT
• 2013: Tim Van Epps, president and CEO of Sandri LLC
• 2012: Rick Crews and Jim Brennan, franchisees of Doctors Express
• 2011: Heriberto Flores, director of the New England Farm Workers’ Council and Partners for Community
• 2010: Bob Bolduc, founder and CEO of Pride
• 2009: Holyoke Gas & Electric
• 2008: Arlene Kelly and Kim Sanborn, founders of Human Resource Solutions and Convergent Solutions Inc.
• 2007: John Maybury, president of Maybury Material Handling
• 2006: Rocco, Jim, and Jayson Falcone, principals of Rocky’s Hardware Stores and Falcone Retail Properties
• 2005: James (Jeb) Balise, president of Balise Motor Sales
• 2004: Craig Melin, then-president and CEO of Cooley Dickinson Hospital
• 2003: Tony Dolphin, president of Springboard Technologies
• 2002: Timm Tobin, then-president of Tobin Systems Inc.
• 2001: Dan Kelley, then-president of Equal Access Partners
• 2000: Jim Ross, Doug Brown, and Richard DiGeronimo, then-principals of Concourse Communications
• 1999: Andrew Scibelli, then-president of Springfield Technical Community College
• 1998: Eric Suher, president of E.S. Sports
• 1997: Peter Rosskothen and Larry Perreault, then-co-owners of the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House
• 1996: David Epstein, president and co-founder of JavaNet and the JavaNet Café

“There were days when we’d have one customer come and spend $8 on a bucket of balls, and we kept thinking, ‘what else can we do with this place?’” he recalled. “My brother and Frankie’s youngest brother were probably about 10, 11, or 12 at the time, and really looking for something that they could grow up having fun at. So we said, ‘everyone loves miniature golf; maybe we should try that.’”

They did, and from those humble beginnings — miniature golf and a food truck with ice cream — new additions have been added seemingly every year since. Go-karts and batting cages came next, followed by a full restaurant, an arcade, a pavilion, rock-climbing walls, laser tag, miniature bowling, virtual reality, live concerts, and more.

The facility has become a destination not just for families, but for a growing number of companies looking to host outings or team-building exercises. The business plan, unofficial in nature, has always been to continually build on the foundation and — in keeping with the tone of those original conversations — keep looking for new ways to utilize a large and highly visible tract of land.

The latest manifestation of this philosophy was the addition, in 2017, of a carousel with a long and proud history and, yes, a number of handsome horses.

Built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1925, the ride’s first home was Delaware Beach. It then had a lengthy stay at Lakewood Park in Waterbury, Conn., and then, after refurbishment, at Kiddieland Park in Melrose, Ill.

It was languishing in a storage container at Chicago Land when Guy’s father, Jerry, the main driver in the creation and continued growth of Sonny’s Place, found it and concluded that it was the next big piece in the puzzle.

“It’s a work of art, all hard-carved wooden horses and sleighs,” said Guy, noting that it opened for business last August. “We’re having it refinished now, and maybe a third of the 48 horses have been restored; it’s been a labor of love.”

The same can be said of Greathorse, which, like the carousel — and the old driving range itself — was a restoration effort that required some vision, and then some capital and a good business plan.

As Guy — who turned pro and played on a few of golf’s mini-tours before coming to the realization that the big stage was beyond his skill level — recalls the story, the family actually started looking for a golf course to buy nearly 20 years ago to further diversify the family business beyond trash and horses.

The search was put aside, especially as Sonny’s Place was being developed, and then taken up again at the start of this decade, with a number of options in play before settling on the former Hampden Country Club, then heading for the auction block.

“We could see that it had a lot of potential, but also a lot of scars to it,” he recalled. “What sold the place was the view, and we knew that, with some vision and some work, the place could be something.

“I’d be lying if I sat here and told you when we bought the place we had the grand vision of doing what we did,” he went on, noting that a mere facelift was the original plan. “But as we got into it … as Frankie has said, we really don’t half-ass anything; everything we do, we do to the best of our ability.”

Spring in Their Step

Frank M. says he can’t recall not being in business or entrepreneurial.

Indeed, while he was involved with the family businesses, in some capacity, since he was teenager, he was also looking to hang out his own shingle, and did, at age 15.

The venture — born from another of those Sunday afternoon conversations at the dinner table — was called College Bound Cleanups, a “concierge-type service for old ladies who needed their basement cleaned out, or their garage.

“It was a summer kind of thing,” he recalled. “I brought in a partner who was 16 — I needed someone with a driver’s license — and we had a little dumptruck and did cleanups. We had a little ad in the Reminder, and we did OK for ourselves.”

Like the generations that came before him, he added, noting that he eventually put his own venture aside and focused on horses and trash, sometimes in that order, sometimes the other. And there was, and is, always talk about new opportunities and paths to go down, like Sonny Antonacci projecting a need for bottled water.

“Business … it’s part of every conversation we have,” said Frank, referring to the family’s entrepreneurial DNA and a passion for finding and developing new business opportunities. And these traits have been passed down from one generation to the next. Frank can even see it in his young children.

“I drive around with my kids, we’ll go past various strip malls, and they’ll look to see if it’s the good guys or the bad guys picking up the [trash] containers,” he said. “I see it my older son [age 7] already; he’s trying to understand how business works.”

Within the Antonacci stable of enterprise, business works maybe a little differently than in most places, said the third-generation spokespeople.

“What people have a hard time understanding about our business and our family is that it’s different — I call it ‘sloppy,’” said Frank, who understood that he needed to explain that term and did.

“We’re not very structured,” he told BusinessWest. “The way we do things is a little unorthodox, and there isn’t the bureaucratic organization you see in other businesses or families. People will say, ‘what’s your title?’ or this or that. It’s a lot looser than that.”

‘Loose.’ ‘Sloppy.’ ‘Unorthodox.’ Whatever it is, it seems to be working, and in the traditionally challenging setting of a multi-generational family business, or set of businesses, to be more precise.

There are actually four generations still involved. Indeed, Frankie and Guy said their fathers, Frank and Jerry, have breakfast with their mother every morning. “And they’re probably running things by her every day,” said Frank M.

The second generation, as noted, remains passionate about all aspects of the business operation, but especially the horse breeding and racing, they said.

Meanwhile, there are many third-generation members involved, or soon to be involved, including Guy’s brother Matthew, 24, and Frank’s brothers, Chris and Phillip.

Overall, said both Guy and Frank M., the generations have worked well together, and each has been allowed to make their mark — and their own contributions.

“Our fathers and uncles have allowed us to follow our passions, expand the businesses, and bring our own look and feel,” said Frank. “And to this point, everyone who’s been involved in the businesses has helped them grow and prosper. Why change the formula?”

Why indeed?

At the Finish Line

‘Sonny’ Antonacci never did get into the bottled-water business, his sons having persuaded him that there was no future in it. That’s family lore, anyway.

“His famous line was, ‘you’ll see … bottled water will be more than a gallon of gas,” said Frank M. “And he was right — and that’s just one example.”

Indeed, while the Antonacci family never became part of the multi-billion-dollar bottled-water industry, it has certainly had far more hits than misses. In business, as in harness racing, it has found the winner’s circle far more often than most.

Having capital from the trash business has certainly helped, but so too has been the ability to see other opportunities where others did not, having true entrepreneurial spirit — and, yes, being kind but also aggressive.

‘Sonny’ had all those attributes, and so have the generations that have followed him.

That’s why this family is BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneurs for 2018.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Class of 2018 Difference Makers

Bob Bolduc Cooks Up New Ways to Better the Lives of Young People

005_bolducbob-diff2017When Mavis Wanczyk scored the single largest lottery win in U.S. history last August — with a ticket purchased at a Pride station in Chicopee — she wasn’t the only winner. No, the store — meaning its owner, Bob Bolduc — got a $50,000 bonus from the state as well.

A few weeks later, Bolduc distributed $1,000 checks to more than 20 Springfield elementary schools to help teachers make classroom purchases they’d normally have to pay for out of pocket. The rest of the 50 grand was distributed among a variety of youth- and education-centric organizations that Bolduc already supports year-round.

“I decided to give it to the kids,” he told BusinessWest, shrugging off any suggestion that it was a tough call. “It’s a windfall; it’s not my money. So it was an easy decision to make.”

Mary Anne’s Kids was another recipient of a $1,000 bonus. An arm of the Center for Human Development, it’s a fund that provides opportunities for children in foster care that would not typically be paid for by the state, from summer camps to extra-curricular programs.

We didn’t even ask for it; he just gave it to us. He’s the grandfather of Mary Anne’s Kids, and a wonderful man. He’s been a godsend to our program.”

“We didn’t even ask for it; he just gave it to us,” said Jim Williams, the fund’s long-time director, before detailing some of the ways Pride’s support of Mary Anne’s Kids through the years makes the $1,000 gift, really, just a drop in the bucket. “He’s the grandfather of Mary Anne’s Kids, and a wonderful man. He’s been a godsend to our program.”

Indeed, since its inception and for more than a decade since, Bolduc has contributed significant dollars to “children who otherwise would not have funds to go to college, go to prom, all the extraordinary things your children and mine have the opportunity to do,” Williams explained. “Bob has basically been our big-ticket guy. He was there when we started, and he’s been there every year.”

Take, for example, the $20,000 or so worth of gifts that pour in every December from Chistmas trees set up in all Pride stores, adorned with tags listing a child’s age, gender, and gift request. Customers buy most of them, and Bolduc covers the rest. And as the holiday approaches, he closes the diner he owns off Mass Pike exit 6 in Chicopee and hosts 120 foster children for a party with Santa Claus.

Williams said Bolduc has personally funded purchases ranging from a handicap-accessible bicycle to a gravestone for one foster child’s brother, who was killed in a drive-by shooting.

“I can tell you this: throughout my career at CHD, Bob has been such a genuine man,” Williams said. “I can’t tell enough good things about him.”

When he sat down with BusinessWest, Bolduc characterized supporting one’s community as an imperative for local businesses, one he came to understand early in his career building the Pride empire, when he and his wife became involved with a number of nonprofits and he began to recognize the needs they had.

“Every nonprofit needs money,” he said. “So I called the people we buy from — Coke, Frito-Lay, all the big companies — and asked, ‘would you give me some money for this little nonprofit that’s trying to help people?’ They’d say, ‘no, we only do national ones — March of Dimes, Muscular Dystrophy Society, American Cancer Society — so we can’t give to all the local companies.’

“A light went off for me — ‘a-ha! If they can’t give, who’s going to give? It’s got to be the little guy,’” he continued. “That’s when we decided to put all our money locally. And it was a no-brainer. The more nonprofits you get involved with, the more you realize how many needs there are, how many kids are really hurting.”

Indeed, kids — youth welfare and education, to be specific — are the beating heart of Bolduc’s philanthropic bent. To name just a few examples:

• Pride recently raised $10,000 to support Square One’s work with high-risk children and families;

• Bolduc has been a business partner for Lincoln Elementary School in Springfield, where he sends volunteer readers and donates supplies as requested. He and his wife also supply hats, mittens, and socks for all the students. “We realized these kids don’t have hats and gloves for wintertime — some of them don’t even have toothbrushes,” he said. “This is happening right here, in Springfield”;

• Pride participated in a North End Community Task Force dealing with gang violence and related problems;

• In partnership with Brightside for Children and Families, Bolduc provided a van outfitted as a mobile library, as well as a driver and warehouse space. The van travels around the area in the summer, providing kids with summer reading books;

• Pride collaborates with WMAS on its annual Coats for Kids campaign; and

• The company regularly fund-raises for various causes such as Wounded Warriors and Puerto Rico hurricane relief, by supplying donation cans at all Pride stores.

But what makes Bolduc a true Difference Maker, as if his philanthropy weren’t enough, is the way he sees his role as not just a businessman, but someone with the opportunity to impact individual lives — of kids in need, yes, but also his employees, many of whom come from poverty — and watch as they turn around and collectively impact their communities for the better.

Food for Thought

Born in Indian Orchard, Bolduc graduated from Notre Dame University with a degree in mechanical engineering, then earned an MBA at Purdue University, before returning to his home state.

After working as a quality engineer at American Bosch in the 1960s, he enlisted in the Army and served in Vietnam. Back in the States, he briefly went to work at his father’s gas station in Indian Orchard in 1970 before buying him out, thus becoming the third generation of the family to run that business — a business, by the way, that just marked its 100th anniversary.

Bob Bolduc and Pride Stores President Marsha Del Monte (right) present a $10,000 check

Bob Bolduc and Pride Stores President Marsha Del Monte (right) present a $10,000 check to Square One’s Kristine Allard and President and CEO Joan Kagan.

In addition to running the station, Bolduc became a tire and auto-parts wholesaler, specifically a distributor for BF Goodrich and Continental, and became proficient enough at it to be chosen to address a national sales convention of Goodrich retailers at age 30.

But in 1976, he made the shift that would define his career, buying a self-serve gas station in Indian Orchard. Over the years, he would gradually expand his business, creating the chain of stores known today as Pride. But, more importantly, he developed a reputation as an industry innovator by marrying the self-service station with another emerging phenomenon, the convenience store.

Other innovations would follow; Pride would eventually become the first chain in Western Mass. to put a Dunkin’ Donuts in the stores, then the first to incorporate a Subway. But where the company has really made a name, in recent years, is with its own fresh-food production.

“The industry has gone from repair shops to convenience stores, then convenience stores started selling coffee,” Bolduc recalled. “The convenience stores got bigger — lots bigger — and started selling more food items, then they got even bigger, to what we call superstores; we’re talking stores between 5,000 and 7,000 square feet, with at least six pumps, sometimes eight or 10, and selling lots more food items.”

But several factors have hit convenience stores hard in recent years, he noted. Fuel efficiency is up. People are driving less, and public transportation has improved. Cigarette sales are way down, and online lottery purchases are cutting into in-store sales.

“All these things that drive our business are disappearing, and we’re looking at a business where the future expectation is for decreased sales, not increased sales,” he noted.

On the other hand, “people still have to eat three times a day, and they’re looking for convenience all the time, and families aren’t sitting down for breakfast and lunch anymore, and sometimes not even dinner; they’re buying food at restaurants or convenience stores.”

The goal, then, he said, has been to improve food quality at Pride to the point where people will see the chain not as a gas station that sells food, but as a food store that sells gas.

To support that shift, the Pride Kitchen, located at the company’s headquarters on Cottage Street in Springfield, runs two shifts of staff making fresh sandwiches, salads, fruit and yogurt parfaits, and — in a bakery that opened in 2017 — fresh muffins, donuts, cookies, brownies, and pastries. A third shift belongs to the drivers who bring all this fresh fare to stores across the region, making food service at Pride a truly 24-hour operation.

Newer stores feature a Pride Grill, where morning visitors can down fresh-cooked eggs before picking up a made-to-order sandwich for lunch at the deli, as well as drive-thru windows and mobile ordering. This isn’t, as Bolduc noted repeatedly, the convenience-store food of the past.

By studying trends and repositioning the company as a place where revenues will grow, not decrease, he’s not only boosting his own bottom line, but also the gaggle of nonprofits, schools, and individuals that benefit from his philanthropy.

See the Need, Meet the Need

It’s a passion, he said, that was sparked during his time at Notre Dame, when he volunteered in a disadvantaged area of Chicago during spring break.

“That was an eye-opener,” he said. “We stayed with an African-American family with a 14-year-old boy. We brought him to see a Blackhawks game because he liked hockey. That was the first time he’d ever been downtown.”

Having grown up in a family with a successful business, he saw up close for the first time how not everyone had the resources he took for granted. Once he and his wife, who also had a heart for volunteerism, resettled in Springfield and found success with Pride, they got involved in a number of nonprofit boards, and — thanks to his failed pitches to the likes of Coke and Frito-Lay — quickly came to understand the importance of local philanthropy.

The Pride stores themselves often function as vehicles for this work, such as his partnership with Square One. He and the early-education provider came up with the idea of selling ‘Square One squares’ at Pride locations for a dollar, where donors could write their names on squares to be posted at the cashier’s counter.

“Bob took the donations and matched a portion of them, rounding them up to a $10,000 gift to Square One, which was awesome,” said Kristine Allard, chief development and communication officer at Square One.

After Mavis Wanczyk scored her record-breaking jackpot at this Chicopee Pride station, Bob Bolduc distributed the store’s $50,000 bonus “windfall” to dozens of schools and nonprofits.

After Mavis Wanczyk scored her record-breaking jackpot at this Chicopee Pride station, Bob Bolduc distributed the store’s $50,000 bonus “windfall” to dozens of schools and nonprofits.

“That’s the kind of thing we rely on the business community for, to provide us funding to offset where our greatest expenses are,” she added. “When we’re able to approach someone like Bob, who understands that and sees the value in that, it helps us get the word out to other businesses, and we can leverage those dollars and leverage those opportunities to show other businesses what Pride is doing for our community. So it’s good for his business and good for Square One.”

Bolduc wishes more businesses could understand that synergy — or at least acknowledge the needs that exist.

“There are more than 200 homeless kids in the city school system, who go back to shelters at night,” he said. “People don’t know that they don’t go home; they go to shelters. Or, they don’t know that Square One gives kids a better meal on Friday, because they’re not going to get another good meal until they go back to school Monday morning. This is in Springfield. It becomes pretty obvious when you dig deeper and you see it — then you say, sure, the American Heart Association is wonderful, but the big people are taking care of them. The more you see locally, the more involved you get.”

Allard, for one, appreciates that attitude.

“From a development standpoint, from a fund-raising standpoint, it’s really refreshing to see someone who thinks the way he does,” she told BusinessWest. “By supporting the work of nonprofits, it’s good for his business, which is good for his employees. By investing in the work being done to help the community, it works out for everybody.”

On the Way Up

Bolduc was quick to note that his company has long supported arts, hospitals, and religious institutions — the types of entities that create quality of life in a community. But perhaps the most critical component is education, particularly in a city — Springfield — where around half of high-schoolers drop out. He says efforts to change that have to start early, which explains his support of Square One.

“If you don’t get a good education, you can’t get a decent job, and the cycle continues. So what’s the one solution to break the cycle? Education.”

He noted that the first person in a family to attend college is usually not the last, which is why he and his wife provide scholarships to area students. “That’s my message — we need to support education and help kids break out of the cycle.”

But he’s helping them break out in more ways than one. Since transforming one of Springfield’s most visible eyesores, at the foot of the North End Bridge, into a thriving Pride superstore almost a decade ago, he has drawn a steady stream of young employees from a neighborhood with high levels of poverty, and helped them embark on careers. And soon, he plans to do the same with new store in the McKnight area of Mason Square.

“At Pride, we’re happy with the fact that we provide jobs and careers,” he said. “We don’t have a human resources department; it’s called Career Development. We are very happy to take a young person who wants to grow and teach them the business and watch them grow up into management, provide for their families, bring in relatives and, in some cases, their kids as they get older. We’re very proud of that.”

The McKnight Neighborhood Council unanimously endorsed the development, he added. “They asked, ‘will you employ local people?’ We said, ‘100%.’”

He noted that the North End Pride station has seen crime drop significantly in the area over the past five years, thanks to the community policing program he has supported, but also, perhaps, due to growing employment opportunities like the ones Pride provides.

“These are good people. I tell them, ‘come to work every day, and we’ll teach you and give you good pay,’ and there’s an amazing turnaround. Some don’t take to it, but a lot of them do. We see the success stories. My goal is to someday see them do the same things for someone else. It’s that simple.”

That legacy and culture Bolduc aims to create is why, seven years after being named BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneur for his innovative business growth, he is now being recognized as a Difference Maker, recognizing far more impactful successes.

“These are his future employees and his future customers,” Allard said. “We need to invest in our youth. If we’re not looking at our youth as the future of our community, we’re doing ourselves a great disservice.”

That’s a message Bolduc wants every local business to hear, and to respond to in any way they can afford, because the needs never go away.

“For anyone who wants to get involved, give me a call,” he said, “because I guarantee you’ll get more out of it then you put it.”

That investment doesn’t have to be a $50,000 lottery windfall, but such good fortune certainly doesn’t hurt.

“He’s a great person,” Allard said. “When that [lottery] news came out, no one would have minded had he kept it. But he said, ‘why not give it away?’ It was really refreshing to hear that.”

For a career spent saying ‘why not?’ — in both his business and the community — Bob Bolduc has plenty to take pride in, as he continues to make a difference.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion

Editorial

Over the past 22 years, BusinessWest has had a number of intriguing recipients of its Top Entrepreneur award.

Many would fall in the category of ‘traditional’ when it comes to entrepreneurs, including last year’s honoree, Paul Kozub, creator and president of V-One Vodka, and the 2015 recipients, the second and third generations of the D’Amour family, owners of Big Y supermarkets.

But some honorees would definitely be considered non-traditional, or outside the box (there’s an entrepreneurial term). These would include former Springfield Technical Community College President Andrew Scibelli, who, among other things, created the Technology Park across from the main campus at the start of this century. That term ‘non-traditional’ would also describe former Cooley Dickinson Hospital President Craig Melin, who not only led that institution back from the financial brink, but spearheaded the creation of a number of cutting-edge programs.

At first blush, it might seem fair to label this year’s honoree — the owners and managers of the Springfield Thunderbirds — to be a non-traditional selection, or at least a combination of both. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the Red Sox being named Top Entrepreneurs, or the Alabama Crimson Tide, for that matter.

But this team’s owners and managers exemplify all the basic tenets of entrepreneurship — from risk taking to meeting a recognized need within the market; from introducing a new product to thinking outside the box (there’s that phrase again).

Wait, introducing a new product? Hockey isn’t a new product. Yes, and that’s a point we’ll come back to in a minute.

First, the risk-taking part. It was a calculated risk, but a risk nonetheless. After all, when the owners of the Springfield Falcons decided to move the team to Arizona, there were many in this region saying that Greater Springfield was not a hockey town and could not support a professional sports team.

They put their faith in Springfield native Nate Costa, a veteran administrator with the American Hockey League who had previously gained significant experience in group sales and other aspects of team management and promotion with the league’s franchise in San Antonio.”

But a group of owners, led by Paul Picknelly, owner of Monarch Place, decided that Springfield not only needed a hockey team at this critical time in its history — with MGM already building its casino and several other forms of progress in evidence — but that it would support one as well.

They put their faith in Springfield native Nate Costa, a veteran administrator with the American Hockey League who had previously gained significant experience in group sales and other aspects of team management and promotion with the league’s franchise in San Antonio.

He came to Springfield with a game plan, and it called for bringing a lot more than hockey to the residents of this region.

Indeed, he and his front-office team have delivered experiences, rather than three periods of hockey. These experiences have included live music, special promotions (a Star Wars-themed night, wrestling greats in attendance, and bring your dog to the game, for example), and tributes to some of the sport’s greats (like Willie Oree) and the legacy of hockey in Springfield.

This is thinking outside the box, and it culminated with bringing Red Sox legend David Ortiz to the MassMutual Center in November for a night they’ll be talking about for years.

As for those owners, they didn’t just buy the team and hand the keys to Costa. They’ve invested time, energy, and imagination to the task of bringing people to the MassMutual Center — and bringing them back repeatedly — and building the brand they’ve created.

Call it teamwork, another one of those fundamentals of entrepreneurship.

All of them are on display with the Thunderbirds, a team that has captured the region’s attention and held onto it by doing what all good entrepreneurs do — finding ways to continuously improve and deliver what the customer wants and needs.

An outside-the-box choice for Top Entrepreneur? Maybe, but not really. This is just a good business success story. v

Opinion

Editorial

Back at the start of this century, BusinessWest awarded its coveted Top Entrepreneur Award, established just a few years earlier, to Andrew Scibelli, then president of Springfield Technical Community College.

The choice, while heralded by some, drew some rather cynical e-mails and phone calls from observers who really couldn’t understand how an educator — and a state employee, no less — could win an award for entrepreneurship.

Such thinking, while in some ways understandable, is nonetheless narrow and shortsighted. In fact, this region’s colleges and universities have provided some of the best examples of entrepreneurial thinking over the past few decades — and they keep coming.

So much so that when the decision makers at BusinessWest gather to discuss potential honorees for the Top Entrepreneur Award, several from the ranks of higher education typically come under consideration.

Bay Path University’s new doctorate program in Occupational Therapy (see story, page 27), the school’s first, is only the latest of dozens of entrepreneurial endeavors launched by the school since Carol Leary became president in 1994 — including, ironically enough, an MBA program in Entrepreneurial Thinking & Innovative Practices — and Bay Path is just one of many schools to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset.

Indeed, other examples abound, from UMass Amherst’s opening of a campus in downtown Springfield to American International College’s introduction of new programs and aggressive pursuit of students not only across this country but in other countries; from Westfield State University’s large investment in a school-operated dining service (inspired by UMass Amherst’s hugely successful program) to Western New England University’s new Pharmacy program; from Elms College’s aggressive investments in new programs (which have brought it back from fiscal distress) to new campus-center projects at STCC and Holyoke Community College.

The list goes on, and on, and on.

But let’s back up a minute and put all this in perspective.

First, what does it mean to be entrepreneurial? It means moving a business or organization forward by recognizing opportunities and seizing them effectively. Some would call it calculated risk-taking, and that description works as well.

Successful entrepreneurs know that, no matter what field they’re in, be it manufacturing, healthcare, or financial services, they can’t stand still, expecting to do things as they’ve always done them, and hope to succeed.

It’s the same in higher education. These institutions can’t stand still, especially at a time of immense change — including smaller high-school graduating classes — and competition.

Back in 2000, Scibelli was honored for many initiatives, but especially his work to create partnerships with a host of major corporations that created learning (and job) opportunities for students, and also for his work to convert the former Digital Equipment Corp. complex located across from the STCC campus into a technology park that has brought hundreds of jobs to this area.

Today, schools are being entrepreneurial in a host of ways, all designed to create opportunities for those schools (meaning much-needed revenue) but also deliver all-important value to those that are meeting the high cost of a college education today.

The cynics would say it’s easy to be entrepreneurial when you’re spending the taxpayers’ money — which is what the presidents of the public colleges and universities are doing, in essence — or when you have huge endowments to draw from as you consider building new science buildings and dormitories.

But our public schools are not well-supported by this state, and, by and large, the private schools are not sitting on Harvard-like endowments. The investments they’ve made have definitely been calculated risks, but risks nonetheless.

Standing still was not, and is not, an option.

And there are lessons here — both literally and figuratively — to be learned and embraced by all area business owners.

Opinion

Editorial

Milton Bradley. Horace Smith. Daniel Wesson. Curtis and Prestley Blake. Paul and Gerry D’Amour. Everett Barney. Theodor Geisel. Paul Kozub?

OK, maybe it’s too soon to place the founder of V-One Vodka in the same paragraph as the founders of Friendly Ice Cream, Dr. Seuss, the inventor of the clip-on ice skate, iconic gunmakers, and some of the other entrepreneurs who have shaped the local landscape.

But, then again, maybe not. While Kozub doesn’t have anything from his company on display at the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History (the unofficial litmus test for being one of the region’s truly historic entrepreneurs), he shares many traits with those (and that’s everyone else listed above) who do.

These include a thirst for risk taking, a fervent imagination, a large dose of determination, and a willingness to confront — and tackle — the innumerable and constant challenges standing in the way of a successful business.

For these reasons, Kozub has been named BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneur for 2016 (see story, page 20). Those others mentioned above came decades, if not a century and a half, before the award was established in 1996 (the D’Amours started Big Y too early to be recognized, but successive generations were honored just last year for their efforts to grow and diversify the corporation), but Kozub is in the right place at the right time.

Not to simply win our award, but to capitalize on the growing popularity of what he called ‘craft vodkas,’ a phrase that certainly sums up V-One.

The Top Entrepreneur award honors those who possess entrepreneurial spirit, but, more specifically, those who have been able to harness it effectively and fashion a success story.

V-One is already what most people would consider a success — a brand that is now available in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, and, yes, some airports in Europe, and hundreds of specific locations, generating a few million dollars in sales annually.

But Kozub wants to make it more of a success, naturally, by taking the brand national, a move that will require capital, patience, determination, and above all else, a solid battle plan and the tools necessary to carry it out.

For putting that plan together, and for leaving no stone unturned, as he put it, in preparation for this national launch, Kozub has been recognized as the Top Entrepreneur for 2016.

He’s in good company, as the chart on page 28 reveals. Indeed, in addition to the D’Amour family, previous winners include Peter Rosskothen, who co-founded the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House; Jeb Balise, president of Balise Motor Sales; Timm Van Epps, president and CEO of Sandri LLC; Holyoke Gas & Electric; Bob Bolduc, founder and CEO of Pride; former STCC President Andrew Scibelli; and many others.

And we hope Kozub creates more company for the years to come.

Indeed, as we’ve said on many occasions, there are many effective economic-development strategies for this region, and one of them is to encourage entrepreneurship and mentor those who choose that route.

While most think of economic development as filling industrial parks and attracting large employers such as CRRC and MGM, this is only one component of a larger strategy, and a small one, given the immense competition for such major employers today and the geographic disadvantages hindering this region.

Spurring entrepreneurship and mentoring small-business owners is a strategy that requires considerable time and patience; there is no instant gratification here. But it often yields lasting results, and it can put a region — as in the cases of Silicon Valley and the city of Cambridge — on the map.

Encouraging more would-be entrepreneurs to join Smith, Wesson, Bradley, Geisel, Barney, and, yes, Kozub is one of the reasons we launched the Top Entrepreneur award 20 years ago.

The larger reason was to recognize those who are taking risks, building companies, and creating jobs. And we look forward to adding more names to an already-impressive list of winners.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Continuing a tradition that began more than 20 years ago, BusinessWest will profile the winner of its ‘Top Entrepreneur’ award in its next issue, to be released Jan. 9.

The award pays homage to the region’s more-than-250-yeard-old tradition of entrepreneurship, said Associate Publisher Kate Campiti, and honors individuals, families, and companies that are carrying on that tradition.

Previous winners of the award, first presented in 1996, include Peter Rosskothen, co-creator of the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House, former Springfield Technical Community College President Andrew Scibelli, the D’Amour family, founders of Big Y, Timm Van Epps, president and CEO of Sandri LLC, the Holyoke Gas & Electric, Jeb Balise, president of Balise Motor Sales, and many others.

Business Management Sections

Anatomy of an ESOP

Delcie Bean recalls that he was advised — by more than one individual and on more than one occasion — that it might not be wise to initiate an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) while the company was still very much in a strong growth mode. But he decided this self-described gamble was certainly worth taking — and for many reasons.

Delcie Bean

Delcie Bean

Delcie Bean likened an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, as one is commonly called, to an onion.

By that, he obviously meant that it has many layers of intrigue and complexity, as he found out while researching, planning, and eventually executing one for the company, Paragus Strategic IT, that he founded 17 years ago, when he was just 16.

“My initial understanding of an ESOP amounted to this 30,000-foot view,” he explained. “Over the past 2 ½ years, we kept peeling back the layers. I’ve learned more about this over the past few years than I could ever have imagined.”

Despite all these layers, Bean, as he explained why and how he went down this path, said there are two basic truths that he started with and that were still there when he peeled away all those layers: That this is, at least in his mind, the proper and fair course to take, and it is also (and this is in nearly everyone’s mind) a gamble.

“There’s a big part of me that believes that it’s the right thing to do — the fair and equitable thing to do,” he explained. “It’s not like I work that much harder than anyone else here, and there are people here who I’m sure work much harder than I do some days.

“To me, I always just felt uncomfortable with the fact that this young company was growing so fast and amassing a decent evaluation,” he went on, “but, for the most part, that was predominantly just to benefit me; I didn’t really like that.”

As for that second basic truth, Bean said he’s gambling that if he fast-forwards 10 years … 60% of the valuation of the business (as an employee-owned company) will be roughly the same or more as 100% of the valuation if he had remained the sole share holder in the venture.

“And I’ll never really know the answer to that, because we won’t be able to see both, obviously,” he told BusinessWest. “But it is something I really believe is possible. However, it takes a lot more than just forming an ESOP — there’s a lot of cultivation, education, and motivation needed. But if we get it right, then I think we can leverage the ESOP to grow the company, not only faster, but better, making it healthier, more stable, and more resilient than it could have been had I owned it and just had a bunch of employees.”

Referencing this ‘gamble’ part of the equation, Bean noted that he was actually advised — very early and quite often — against taking this step now, when the company is still very much in a growth mode, as opposed to full maturity or something approaching it, when ESOPs are a far more attractive option.

“They told me I might be leaving a lot of money on the table,” he said, adding that he didn’t want to wait 10 years or even 10 more months, because he thinks this gamble is well worth taking, and one he believes other business owners should take as well.

Paragus owners

Delcie Bean, third from right, joins other Paragus owners at a recent reception to mark the closing on the company’s ESOP.

Why? Primarily because giving employees an ownership stake in the company can — that’s the operative word here — bring advantages ranging from greater ability to recruit and retain talented workers, to improved morale, to an even sharper focus on growth and strategies to enable a company to function more effectively and more profitably.

And as one small, yet hopefully effective example, Bean pointed to … the company’s postage machine, or, to be more, precise, to the fact it’s been retired in favor of simply placing stamps on envelopes (no one has to lick them anymore).

“One of the employees pointed out that the cost of our postage machine we were renting, for the amount of postage we were using, just didn’t make sense,” he explained. “We thought ‘we’re a business, we’re supposed to have a postage machine; no one puts stamps on envelopes anymore.’ But she ran the math and figured out it would save us $1,800 a year to just pay for stamps and put them on, even with the labor added in.”

But overall, ESOPs are undertaken for more far-reaching, and more long-term, strategic thinking and implementation, he went on, noting that with ownership of the company comes what amounts to a greater stake in its success.

For this issue and its focus on business management, BusinessWest uses the Paragus ESOP as a window into this complex and often misunderstood business tool, and also at what Bean believes it will mean for his already-highly-visible company.

Taking Stock

To help explain just how onion-like and complicated an ESOP is, Bean said the plan to initiate one was actually announced to staff at a company retreat nearly three years ago, and he had undertaken preliminary research and calculations long before that.

Then, as now, the company was defined by strong growth (roughly 24% per year has been the average), as well as physical expansion — the company is already starting to feel snug in new quarters opened in Hadley just two years ago — a constantly growing staff, and the mounting challenge of finding and keeping talented help in that climate.

In all ways, the arrow was pointing decidedly up.

And this is not the time, as noted earlier, when business consultants advise ownership to go the ESOP route.

But Bean, who has generated headlines in recent years for all kinds of reasons — from almost-permanent residence on Inc. magazine’s fastest-growing companies list, to BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneur award for 2014, to the opening of new businesses and a unique training facility to prepare people for careers in IT — decided it was time to generate one of a different kind.

And, again, he said there were many motivations, and primarily a desire to share the wealth — in part because it should be shared, in his thinking, but also because doing so would benefit the company.

Seeking to feel more comfortable with the manner in which the pie would be divided, Bean started doing some research.

It involved books, articles, case studies, and some recent examples, locally and nationally. As noted with the onion reference, he learned that ESOPs are quite involved and require planning, execution, and a large team to handle both.

As part of the exercise, Bean became closely acquainted with the ESOP undertaken by a Springfield, Ill.-based company that remanufactures and resells engines. That case was considerably different — the venture had been bought, the buyer announced its intention to sell it or shut it down, and the employees, fearing the loss of their jobs, secured the capital to buy it — but the machinations were similar enough to make it a learning experience.

There were others, including the ones at Harpoon Brewery and Chibone Yogurt, Bean went on, adding that his research revealed that in most cases, ESOPs are initiated by companies looking to raise capital for equipment purchases and other reasons, or by owners looking for an effective exit strategy.

“As Baby Boomers look to retire, if they don’t have a succession plan already created they may use ESOPs to help them with that challenge,” he said, adding that given current demographic trends and the lack of succession plans at companies large and small, it’s likely that there will be an uptick in ESOPs in the years to come.

Despite his aggressive research, though, Bean found it very difficult to find an ESOP quite like the one he was planning, for all those reasons stated earlier.

“I’m not looking to go anywhere,” he said, adding that this was a point he had to drive home to his employees over the course of the nearly three years it took to bring the plan to fruition. “Rather, it’s a commitment that I’m all in.”

ESOP’s Fable

And as he explained ‘all in,’ Bean offered some specifics as to how this ESOP works, and, more importantly, how he expects the company to leverage it in the years and decades to come.

He started by saying that unlike those cases where an ESOP is an exit strategy, no funding was raised by employees and no cash changed hands. In essence, 40% of Paragus (roughly $1.4 million) was gifted to the 40 or so employees in the form of a trust that is wholly owned by the employees of the company. And this share of the company becomes a type of retirement plan, or another retirement plan as the case may be (there’s a 401(k) program already in place).

“Once a year, employees will get a statement showing how many shares they have in their account, and what the valuation (of the company) is, and therefore what those shares are worth and what their account is worth,” he explained, adding that the ESOP becomes a perc — in his mind, a very attractive one.

We need to help the employees understand, from the context of their job, the things they can do to have an impact that matters and that can change the bottom line. We have an obligation to simplify the business down so that every position has a metric that they can understand, that is tracked, is clear, and that ties into our profitability, so they know what they can do.”

Indeed, the company has a 10-year goal for growth and valuation ($40 million to be specific), and if it is hit, he projects that the average ESOP account, governed by ERISSA, will be worth “in the low six figures.”

As for leveraging the ESOP, which closed June 8, Bean said the company had already generated a culture of ownership — reinforced with rewards — throughout its ranks, but the ESOP will hopefully take it to a higher level.

“In order for this gamble to work, there is an obligation on the part of the employee, but there’s also an obligation on us,” he explained, meaning company leadership. “We need to provide education, training, and motivation.

“We need to help the employees understand, from the context of their job, the things they can do to have an impact that matters and that can change the bottom line,” he went on. “We have an obligation to simplify the business down so that every position has a metric that they can understand, that is tracked, is clear, and that ties into our profitability, so they know what they can do.”

Elaborating, he said that each position has such a metric, and, therefore, steps, or operating strategies, that can improve profitability. Examples include everything from purchasing policies, to the level of customer service provided by service techs, to that postage machine.

At present, the company is looking at every position from the vantage point of creating a metric and providing employees with the tools, and motivation, to know where and how to work harder and better.

“If they don’t know where to invest the effort, then even if they want to, they won’t do it,” he explained, adding that one key through all of us is to take steps that improve profitability while not negatively impacting quality of service.

The Bottom Line

When asked if and how the company would begin to know if this gamble was paying off, Bean said a look at the numbers about 16 months from now would provide some clues.

“We’ve been averaging about 24% growth over the past seven years; if we can increase that number, I think we can be fairly confident that it’s because of the ESOP as the biggest factor,” he explained. “We’ll know at the end of 2017, when we’ve had a full year with this; we’ll see if we beat that 24% number.”

But the company is looking well beyond the end of next year, he added quickly, noting that the key isn’t achieving more-profound growth, it’s sustaining it.

“It’s not about a short-term bump, it’s about a long-term sustainable approach,” he said in conclusion, adding that he firmly believes an ESOP can help attain all that, and that’s why he took this gamble.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

LONGMEADOW — Bay Path University’s 12th Annual Innovative Thinking and Entrepreneurship Lecture will feature Delcie Bean, Founder and CEO of Paragus Strategic IT.

Bean, a serial tech entrepreneur, will speak to the lens of innovation and also discuss the role it has played in his successes and failures during his presentation, “Innovation: The Great Differentiator,” on Thursday, Oct. 29 at 7:30 a.m. on the university’s Longmeadow campus.

Having started his first company at age 8 and a nonprofit at the age of 13, Bean is a born entrepreneur who thrives on coming up with ideas, building businesses, and having fun in the process. His mission is to use business and technological innovation as a positive force to impact the lives of clients, employees, colleagues, and the community as a whole. A frequent speaker at local and regional events on technology and entrepreneurship, Bean was named BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneur for 2014, and received the Continued Excellence Award at BusinessWest’s 2015 40 Under 40 Gala.

Inc. magazine has acknowledged Paragus as one of the 5,000 fastest-growing privately held companies in America four years in a row. In 2013, CRN Global ranked Paragus the 30th-fastest-growing IT company in the U.S. In 2014, the company was awarded the coveted Employer’s Choice Award by the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast and the Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce.

“Innovation: The Great Differentiator” is sponsored by the Bay Path University Advisory Council and the School of Science and Management. This event is free and open to the public, but registration is strongly recommended. To register, visit www.baypath.edu.

Daily News

Delcie Bean IV

Delcie Bean IV

HOLYOKE — Serial entrepreneur Delcie Bean IV took home BusinessWest’s inaugural Continued Excellence Award at last night’s ninth annual 40 Under Forty gala.

It was yet another honor for the owner of Paragus Strategic IT, who was named BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneur for 2014. For the Continued Excellence Award, which will be awarded annually to a former 40 Under Forty honoree who has continued to expand his or her business accomplishments and community impact, Bean was among about 40 individuals nominated by their peers and judged by an independent panel.

“Nothing I have done has not been without the help of at least 100 other people,” Bean said to more than 650 attendees of the 40 Under Forty event at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. He cited, as one example, the 24 high-school students who graduated this week from Tech Foundry, a nonprofit he started to provide IT workforce training and job skills to young people.

A member of the 40 Under Forty Class of 2008 when he was just 21, Bean has since seen Paragus grow 450% and earn status as one of Inc. magazine’s fastest-growing companies on several occasions, and recently earn the Top Employer of Choice Award from the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast. He’s also started a second business venture, Waterdog Technologies, a technology-distribution company.

Meanwhile, within the community, he has been active with Valley Venture Mentors, River Valley Investors, and DevelopSpringfield; is a board member for Up Academy Springfield; and serves as a board member for the Mass. Department of Elementary & Secondary Education’s Digital Literacy and Computer Science Standards Panel.

In his short acceptance speech last night, Bean put the focus not on himself, but on the promise of the Pioneer Valley.

“I’m just one of many people who helped me get to where I am,” he said. “I’m so incredibly grateful to be here, to be part of the Valley. And you know what? I think there’s so much more we can do. I really, really think this Valley has a huge story ahead of it. I’m excited to be a part of that, and I hope you guys will join me. And, with that challenge, let’s see what’s next.”

The other four finalists for the Continued Excellence Award were Kamari Collins (40 Under Forty class of 2009), dean of Academic Advising and Student Success at Springfield Technical Community College; Jeff Fialky (class of 2008), partner at Bacon Wilson, P.C.; Cinda Jones (class of 2007), president of Cowls Lumber Co.; and Kristin Leutz (class of 2010), vice president of Philanthropic Services for the Community Foundation of Western Mass.

The judges for the inaugural award were Carol Campbell, president of Chicopee Industrial Contractors; Eric Gouvin, dean of the Western New England School of Law; and Kirk Smith, former director of the YMCA of Greater Springfield.

Features
Continued Excellence Award Finalists Are Announced

40under40continuousExcellenceAwardOnlineThe judges have cast their ballots, and their scores have determined the five finalists for BusinessWest’s first Continued Excellence Award, or CEA.

And, as with the 40 Under Forty competition that inspired this new recognition program, the defining element for the list of finalists is diversity.

Indeed, those with the highest scores among nearly 40 nominees for the CEA include a serial entrepreneur, an attorney, one of the forces behind the region’s hugely successful Valley Gives program, the current president of one of the state’s oldest family-run businesses, and an administrator in the region’s large and prestigious higher-education sector.

“We created the Continued Excellence Award to recognize 40 Under Forty honorees who have done anything but rest on their laurels,” said BusinessWest Associate Publisher Kate Campiti. “We wanted to single out for recognition those who have built upon their strong records of service in business, within the community, and as regional leaders. And these five finalists have certainly done that.”

The winner of the inaugural CEA will be announced at this year’s 40 Under Forty Gala, slated for June 18 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House.

The finalists, as determined by scores submitted by three judges — Carol Campbell, president of Chicopee Industrial Contractors; Eric Gouvin, dean of the Western New England School of Law; and Kirk Smith, former director of the YMCA of Greater Springfield — are:


Delcie Bean IV

Delcie Bean IV

Delcie Bean IV

A member of the 40 Under Forty Class of 2008 at age 21, Bean is the founder of Valley Computer Works, now known as Paragus Strategic IT. Since that time, he’s gone on to be named BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneur for 2014, seen Paragus grow 450% and earn status as one of Inc. magazine’s fastest-growing companies on several occasions, and recently have his company earn the Top Employer of Choice Award from the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast. He’s also started a second business venture, Waterdog Technologies, a technology-distribution company.

Meanwhile, within the community, Bean started the nonprofit Tech Foundry, an organization that provides training and workplace skills to high-school students. He’s also been active with Valley Venture Mentors, River Valley Investors, and DevelopSpringfield; is a board member for Up Academy Springfield; and serves as a board member for the Mass. Department of Elementary & Secondary Education’s Digital Literacy and Computer Science Standards Panel.

Kamari Collins

Kamari Collins

Kamari Collins

When nominated for the 40 Under Forty Class of 2009, Collins was an academic counselor at Springfield Technical Community College and an individual devoted to helping young people get on the right path — and stay on it. Over the ensuing years, he’s built upon his professional résumé and become involved in many different programs aimed at providing guidance and mentorship.

Collins was promoted to director of Academic Advising at STCC in 2012, and in 2014, he was named dean of Academic Advising and Student Success, and currently leads a staff of more than 25 professionals.

Within the community, he lends his time, energy, and imagination to several organizations, including the Children’s Study Home, the Urban League of Springfield Inc., the Community Foundation Education Committee, the Pioneer Valley AHEC/Reach Advisory Board, and the Lower Pioneer Valley Career and Technical Education Center’s Building and Property Maintenance Advisory Board.


Jeff Fialky

 Jeff Fialky


Jeff Fialky

Another member of the 40 Under Forty Class of 2008, Fialky has added a number of lines to the résumé that helped him earn that distinction.

For starters, in 2012, he was named a partner at the Springfield-based law firm Bacon Wilson, which he joined as an associate, and is active in leadership capacities with the firm. But he has also become a leader within the Greater Springfield business community.

Former president of the Young Professional Society of Greater Spring-field, Fialky currently serves as chair of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, and is also on the board of trustees of the Springfield Museums. In his capacity with the chamber, he has spent the past several years working with city officials and groups such as Valley Venture Mentors to foster economic development in the city and advance a 10-year economic strategic plan for Springfield.

Cinda Jones

Cinda Jones

Cinda Jones

When she placed among the highest scorers in BusinessWest’s inaugural 40 Under Forty competition in 2007, Cinda Jones was noted mostly as the ninth-generation president of Cowls Lumber Co. (one of the oldest family-owned businesses in the nation) and as president of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce. Over the past eight years, she has built upon that résumé in many ways.

Indeed, she has expanded the Cowls business in several directions, but primarily through an initiative to convert the company’s sawmill into a multi-purpose arts and entertainment facility called the Mill District. One multi-use building, the Trolley Barn, hosts the Lift Salon and Bread & Butter Café, along with several residential units, and additional development is planned on the sprawling site.

While entrepreneurial, Jones is also a staunch protector of the environment. In 2011, for example, she brokered and closed the state’s largest-ever private conservation project, the Paul C. Jones Working Forest, a 3,486-acre conservation restriction in Leverett and Shutesbury named for her recently deceased father.

Kristin Leutz

Kristin Leutz

Kristin Leutz

A member of the 40 Under Forty Class of 2010, Leutz has added to an impressive list of business accomplishments and initiatives within the community over the past five years.

As vice president of Philanthropic Services for the Community Foundation, she played a leading role in efforts to bring Valley Gives from a concept on a drawing board to a hugely successful three-year pilot program that raised more than $5 million for hundreds of nonprofits across Western Mass.

Within the community, meanwhile, Leutz, who has started several businesses, has become a mentor to other entrepreneurs, donating time and energy to Valley Venture Mentors and contributing to the launch of its Accelerator program.

She has also been involved with a number of nonprofit groups, including the Women’s Fund of Western Mass., and often meets with nonprofit leaders, volunteers, and staff to coach them, especially with regard to fund-raising and organizational development.