ASU award finalists learned from recession’s tests

by Betty Beard – Nov. 8, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

Whether they are winners of Spirit of Enterprise Awards on Tuesday or not, these entrepreneurs have one thing going for them.

Businesses that make it through tough economic conditions like those Arizona has experienced over the past four years have a “heightened awareness” that it takes more work to survive on your own, said Gary Naumann, director of Arizona State University’s Spirit of Enterprise Center at the W.P. Carey School of Business.

And that means they are more likely to last.

“You have just got to run a little harder,” Naumann said.

“It’s not like our Internet bubble of the late ’90s where everyone was pretty much oblivious to everything. Just get the money and run. Now it’s like, ‘Wait a minute. I have to really figure this out and what if, what if, what if,’ ” he said. “It’s a good thing that makes for long-term healthier companies.”

The center he heads will honor five businesses Tuesday with the 15th annual Spirit of Enterprise Awards. They were selected from about 50 applications and 10 finalists. The awards recognize companies that demonstrate energy, ethics and excellence in entrepreneurship.

Owners of several finalist companies that were formed in previous economic downturns said the experience did strengthen them.

Margaret Dunn, owner of the company that operates Ollie the Trolley in Scottsdale, entered the trolley business in Omaha, Neb., in 1986 during another severe economic downturn.

After selling her first business, she started Dunn Transportation in Scottsdale in 1993 and has seen a lot of economic ebbs and flows. She kept all her 55 employees during the recent recession but had to cut back their hours for a while.

“Our philosophy is when times are great, we don’t go overboard and we don’t go buying and getting into debt,” Dunn said. “And when times are tough, we tighten up. You become more resistant to economic downturns with the length of time of being in business.”

Phoenix Analysis and Design Technologies, a mechanical-engineering sales and services company, was founded by four former Honeywell engineers in 1994. It originally targeted the aerospace industry and has since diversified into just about any field where a physical product is made.

“We never expect the good times to last, and we plan for worse-case scenarios,” said spokesman Eric Miller of the company’s philosophy.

Newer companies are learning that, too.

In retrospect, Clint Rowley, who owns Real Property Management East Valley with his wife, Kim, said it was probably “lunacy” to give up high-income jobs in 2007 to start a real-estate-management company as the real-estate market was beginning to plummet.

“We went back to scraping up pennies until we got things up and running,” Clint said.

The company manages single-family-home rentals and the business has grown to about 1,300 rentals. The years 2009 and 2010 were catastrophic as about 600 of the managed homes went into foreclosure.

“It (the recession) has made us much more conscientious about what we are doing. We have worked real hard to keep our overhead low,” he said.

Other finalists are:

Angel MedFlight Worldwide Air Ambulance, a company transporting sick and injured patients in medically configured jets between health-care facilities around the world.

Fortis Networks, a minority-owned and -managed company providing fiber-optic engineering and design, communication- and utility-construction services, and wireless engineering.

Jones Studio Inc., an architecture and interior-design firm with a focus on sustainability that has expanded operations to Southeast Asia.

Mountainside Fitness, a gym company started by a college student in 1991 that now has 1,000 employees and nine locations and aids charity and community efforts.

Virginia Auto Service, a family-owned business that provides every customer with a car wash by hand, free shuttle service, free roadside assistance and a two-year, 24,000-mile warranty on all parts and labor.

WebPT, a software company offering physical therapists’ time-saving tools for electronic medical records and has added 25 new employees this year alone and 6,000 users in 50 states and Canada.

The Worthy Institute, a private community organization that has provided more than 10,000 families with services including family-support programs, a children’s obesity initiative, teen substance-abuse prevention, diversity training and other efforts to address health disparities among at-risk and underserved populations.

Spirit of Enterprise Awards

What: 15th annual lunch ceremony at which five companies will receive the Spirit of Enterprise Special Achievement in Entrepreneurship Award, Arizona Lottery Overcoming Adversity Award, Gary L. Trujillo Minority Enterprise Award sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, the Hahnco Cos. Entrepreneurial Leadership Award, and U.S. Bank Emerging Entrepreneur Award.

Where: Westin Kierland Resort and Spa’s grand ballroom, 6902 E. Greenway Parkway, Scottsdale

When: 11:15 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday

Cost: Limited number of seats are available for $125 each, to be paid with credit cards.


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