Seven Earn EOY Awards

June 10, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Seven West Michigan entrepreneurs were honored last night for their extraordinary track records and for demonstrating excellence in such areas as innovation, financial performance and personal commitment to their businesses and communities.

About 400 attended the Ernst & Young West Michigan Entrepreneur of the Year 2005 award ceremony at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

Winning the award for Business Services were brothers Jeffrey and William Bennett of Otterbase Technical Services Inc.

William Bennett attributed the success of the company to its employees, and his own to the support of his wife and the values instilled by his parents.

When the brothers decided to launch the supplemental staffing company in 1998, both walked away from promising careers. Jeffrey Bennett had proposed to his wife the day before he quit his job, and the newlyweds spent their first year in a subsidized housing development.

“I’ve noticed how the definition of success has changed for me over the years,” he said. “My two-year-old son learns how to say ‘I love you, Dad,’ and I’ve got a new definition of success.

“It’s important to remember that the success of your company can be judged on the impact you have on other people’s lives.”

“Being able to live and work in Grand Rapids is a blessing I can never take for granted,” said Plainfield Floral & Gifts Inc. owner Bing Goei, winner of the award for Retail & Entertainment.

Goei came to the United States with his family in 1960 as an Indonesian refugee. He worked in a floral wholesale business through high school and college, and for many years ran his own. After a stint working for the Christian Reformed Church, Goei made a transition into the retail floral business.

With the acquisition of first Plainfield Floral and later the bankrupt Eastern Floral & Gifts, Goei has in less than a decade built the region’s most successful and innovative floral chain.

“Success is a gift from God through the good people he has put in my life,” he said. “I can’t thank them enough.”

Community Shores Bank Chairman, CEO and President Jose Infante is another example of the American dream. He moved with his family from Cuba when he was nine and after a lifetime in the banking industry, founded his own.

He knows many of his customers personally — many from his days coaching Little League — and is strongly committed to his employees. His chooses his employees for their ability to provide good customer service, and encourages their involvement in the community. What is good for employees, he believes, is good for business.

“Entrepreneur is a great title,” he said. “But truthfully, this is a team award. Without the team, it doesn’t get done. I’m grateful to be the face of the team.”

Ronald Schults, CEO of The Abonmarche Group in Benton Harbor, said very little of how he built his firm into one of the world’s most respected marina, engineering, oceanographic and design firms when he accepted his award in the Architecture & Design category at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel ceremony.

Nor did he mention his company’s current work creating a marina/waterfront master plan for the city of Shanghai.

Instead, Schults said he felt a greater entrepreneurial accomplishment was the launch of Lory’s Place, an organization that provides free peer support group services for grieving children and their families throughout Southwest Michigan and Northern Indiana.

He founded the center to help other families face the challenges that his own had struggled through the previous year following the unexpected death of his wife, Lory.

William Deary, CEO of Great Lakes Home Health and Hospice shared a similar perspective when accepting the award for Consumer Products and Services. He attributed the dedication and passion of his employees to his company’s success.

Deary founded the venture partially to fulfill a promise to his wife, Cherilyn, to someday return to her hometown of Jackson. After returning home in 1993 to care for her ailing grandfather, she noticed a need for home health care services and convinced Deary, then a Fortune 50 executive, to fill it.

Technology award winner Daniel Blackledge named his Kalamazoo-based company, BlueGranite Inc., after the heavy rocks he had to clear from the fields of his family farm as a child.

Following a career as a teacher, college professor, consultant to General Motors and RE/MAX franchise salesman, Blackledge had little knowledge of technology or the Internet when he launched what has become his most successful of the four companies he has owned.

Today, BlueGranite has evolved into a full service eBusiness provider and has distinguished itself by its ability to provide clients with real world applications for next generation technologies.

West Michigan award winners are now eligible for consideration for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year 2005 national program. Winners in several national categories and overall national E&Y Entrepreneur Of The Year will be announced at the annual awards in Palm Springs, Calif., in November. The national winner will go on to compete in the world event held in Monte Carlo.

Recipients of the Entrepreneur Of The Year award become lifetime members of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Hall of Fame.

The West Michigan awards were sponsored by Fifth Third Bank; Marsh Inc.; Miller, Johnson; Seidman College of Business; Grand Rapids Business Journal; WGVU; and Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations.    

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