Young. Hungry. Driven. Innovative. Original. Creative. Savvy. Ready.
Many apt words have been used to describe this year’s class of 40 Under Forty achievers, from the nominations the Business Examiner Media Group received while gathering choosing this year’s honorees to the praise of peers and business partners and peers with whom they work daily.
Certainly, this year’s 40 join an elite tradition in the South Sound’s business community, a tradition of young talent rising to keep the region’s economic landscape fresh and vibrant. The Business Examiner Media Group has been identifying and awarding such talent since 2003, and this year’s crop promises to be no different in terms of present and potential impact.
This year’s class, though, brings with it a flavor and character all its own, a unique identity brought about as much by the makeup of its members as by the current state of the area’s economy. A full quarter of this class, for example, is made up of entrepreneurs who either founded their own companies or struck out into business on their own after years of paying their dues.
“A lot of it, to put it simply, has to do with how it is now,” said Justin Stiefel, honoree and founder of Heritage Distilling Co. Inc. of Gig Harbor. “We’re not in the stage anymore of the business cycle of our country when you can rely on others for your long-term security and success.
“No longer should your plan be to go work for a corporation for 30 years. That model is gone, and you can’t rely on somebody else to plan your retirement for you. What are you going to do to overcome that? You have to have a good plan.”
Our honored entrepreneurs have shown just that. Holly Roso, for example, became the owner of Travelchair five years ago, taking a firm that was losing money at, in her words, “an alarming rate” into a company that has grown 30 percent in the last 12 months. Ally Cullinane is the co-founder of Tacoma-based Lynnae’s Gourmet Pickles, a family-owned company that now sells over 10,000 jars of pickles nationwide. And despite the ups and downs of the economy, Erle Thompson’s Home Makeovers Made Simple business has grown every year since its inception in 2006.
And while Stiefel, Roso, Cullinane , Thompson and the other risk-takers in this year’s class have proven the mettle of their own acumen, a common note between them remains the humility to understand that business is a day-to-day journey.
“I still learning something new every day,” noted Cullinane. “Entrepreneurs are sometimes too prideful to ask questions … (I) ask as many industry questions as possible, which has led to my company’s many successes today.”
The region’s banking and financial industry is also well-represented in this year’s class, with Timberland, Key Bank, Wells Fargo and Morgan Stanley boasting employees to be recognized at the 2014 program. Five attorneys also stand to be honored, ranging from a policy advisor (RaShelle Davis) at the office of the Governor of Washington, to half of a duo finding success as a two-woman firm in Tacoma (Jennifer Andrews).
And perhaps most indicative of the South Sound’s continuing dedication to the betterment of the lives of its residents, this year’s class is peppered with honorees working for nonprofit groups and business incubators, from organizations dedicated to the mentorship of local youth to groups focused on keeping the South Sound’s work force employed. And many honorees who aren’t directly involved sit on various boards and contribute their time to myriad local causes, not just to network, but because of a genuine desire to make their community a better place.
“It’s been a lifelong passion to always help those in need,” said Brittney Hamilton, honoree and executive director of nonprofit Operation Ward 57, which helps wounded soldiers in the area. “Why would I not help if I have the financial means? And when I don’t have the financial means, why would I not help by lending my time and labor? And if I don’t have the time to be there physically, why would I not be available to talk and lend a shoulder?
“And if I can do that, I am going to ask you to do that, and I am going to have you ask your friends to do that, and together, we are going to make a difference to someone. It just seems like the right thing to do. Why? Because I would want someone to do the same for me.”
“They (people in the region) want to know that your stuff is being sourced from local farmers,” added Stiefel, who makes sure his business gives back to the community whose support it has earned. “Local suppliers. That you’re hiring local folks. And that you’re also willing to give the time and energy and support and dedication to support local causes.
“We’re in a position now where we can use our company to help lots of worthy causes here in the area … That’s a chance we have to give back, and we love to do it.”
“We all have a commonality in the sense that we share leadership and passion for our community,” said Jessica Rice, honoree and staffing consultant at Express Employment Professionals in Olympia. “Even the members (of the class) I haven’t met yet, we’re all actively engaged in reaching out and working to make a difference.”
Of course, this year’s class offers a diversity of experience outside the realms of work and altruism, as well.
Honoree Jinnie Hanson of the Boys and Girls Club of South Puget Sound, for example, was a member of the first Pacific Lutheran University class to study abroad in Antarctica. Eve Cunningham, pioneering physician at Franciscan Women’s Health, wrote a novel while in medical school. Carol Duris of Timberland Bank doubles as a farmer with a multi-generation family connection to Puyallup strawberry fields. And Stephanie Hemphill, executive director of the Lacey Chamber of Commerce, has spent four years as a member of the Seagals, the Superbowl champion Seattle Seahawks’ cheerleading squad.
As in so many classes before, though, the biggest unifying thread in this year’s class remains its members’ continuing commitment to self-improvement, yet another positive sign for the future of the South Sound’s business core.
“We all are invested in being true professionals and working to inspire others in the way that we’ve been inspired,” said Rice. “I feel like the greatest common denominator between all of us is that we continue to strive to be better and grow and really give back in everything that we do.”