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Runner Up - Sarasota/Manatee

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  • | 6:00 p.m. June 1, 2007
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Runner's Up - Sarasota/Manatee

Neil McCurry Jr.

For Neil McCurry, Jr., the Sarasota 500 isn't the Gulf Coast version of a famous car race. Instead, it represents the days McCurry says he worked consecutively when he first opened People's Community Bank in 1999.

McCurry's dedication, strummed by worries he would fall behind other bankers with more experience - he was 33 years old when he founded the bank, after all - paid off during the housing boom earlier this decade. People's blossomed and quickly grew into one of Sarasota's fastest growing and top-performing community banks. Says McCurry: "I'm a big believer in that you have to work harder than anyone else."

And McCurry reached the ultimate payoff for many community bankers on Jan. 19, when he sold People's to Montgomery, Ala.-based regional bank Superior Bancorp in a deal worth $77 million. Superior paid 3.2 times book value for the bank, an above average premium based on other sales of community banks in People's market.

While the deal is akin to earning a checkered flag in the community banking race, McCurry, 40, isn't taking any long vacations to reward himself. He signed a five-year non-compete contract with Superior to stay on as its executive leading the Florida market. People's has three branches and that number is expected to grow with Superior's backing, as are the bank's clients and products.

And although the affable McCurry built the bank on his ability to recruit top employees and top-shelf customers, his true passion is on the products side. He considers the regular meetings he holds with staff as his research and development laboratory. They regularly seek new products or improvements on old ones, with a focus on what McCurry considers the bank's niche: Net interest margin.

Like many of his banking brethren, McCurry says he's achieved such stellar results - in net interest and other margins -by sticking with the community banking principles of knowing your customers and staying within your means and your market. "If I need a map to get somewhere," McCurry says, "I shouldn't be lending there."

In addition to overcoming competitive banking challenges, McCurry, a Bradenton native and the son of a banker, has a history of pushing himself outside the financial world: He has competed in the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon and spent two summers backpacking in an Alaskan Tundra.

Entrepreneurial TIP: Fear of failure shouldn't prevent anyone from trying something gutsy - just make sure you understand what failure means, Neil McCurry says, and it's not something that will be "debilitating."


2004 revenue: $9.04 million

2005: $15.37 million; 70% growth

2006: $21.31; 39% growth

Average Annual Growth: 54.5%

2004 employees: 39

2005 employees: 48

2006 employees: 48

Norbert Donelly

In 1988, Norbert Donelly thought he'd be rekindling the hippie-style European backpacking days of his youth, only this time with his wife, kids and a rented home in Italy for two years.

Donelly's plans abruptly changed, though, when his wife's father, John Winslow, became sick and was no longer able to run Terivs Tumbler, a Venice-based drinkware manufacturing business. The business was sick too, as it had just $300,000 in sales, 12 employees and had shown little, if any growth promise.

And Donelly, despite his background in banking, investing and sales - as well as his degree in economics from Brown University - was far from a perfect fit to lead the company at all, much less turn it around. "I had no training in how to run a business," says Donelly, 56. "I didn't know anything about manufacturing."

He knew some key business principles, though, starting with the one that says 'get help from and hire people smarter than yourself.' He did that, and by necessity he also learned how to delegate. By the early 1990s, Donelly began building Tervis into what it is today: A marketing and gift company with 170-plus employees and $25 million in annual revenues.

Donelly, a New Jersey native, shies away from taking credit for the success. He regularly defers to the company's first non-family chief executive, Laura Spencer, as a catalyst for growing the company - long before she was promoted to CEO in 2006.

Spencer brought a number-crunching expertise and big business attitude when she was hired as the chief financial officer in 1997, when the company had $2 million in annual revenues "At first," Donelly says, of the early-going before Spencer, "I wouldn't call an attorney or a CPA because I thought they were too expensive."

Still, despite having Spencer and some other esteemed advisors over the years, what Donelly refers to as his "mentality of frugality" has stuck. Indeed, it took a lot of prodding to convince Donelly the company's $7 million 55,000-square-foot headquarters it moved into early last year was worth it.

With Spencer in control of daily company operations, Donelly has been looking to cut back his hours, to the point where he tries to take Fridays and most Mondays off. When he's fully retired, he intends to work with some Sarasota-area charities and nonprofits.

Entrepreneurial TIP: Norbert Donelly says one mistake entrepreneurs make is overreacting. "Don't overreact to short-term circumstance," says Donelly. "You don't have to do something all the time."


2004 revenue: $14 million

2005: $17 million; 21% growth

2006: $24 million; 41% growth

Average Annual Growth: 31%

2004 employees: 112

2005 employees: 139

2006 employees: 170

Stephen Sutter

The name Stephen Sutter is well known in commercial construction, and for good reason: Sutter and his two sons have built the family's 104-year-old business into one of the most respected, and highest-revenue generating, roofing companies on the Gulf Coast.

It's not like 1979, though, when Sutter started with virtually nothing, making cold calls from a cramped office he shared with a partner in an Orlando business park. The Sutter name might have been gold in West Virginia, where Sutter's grandfather founded the original company, but in Florida back then it might as well have been dirt. Says Sutter, recalling the entire experience: "It was pretty dismal, actually."

Sutter, who referred to himself as the "get-work guy" landed Tropicana has a client in 1980 and he and his crew completed a major re-roofing project at the beverage company's Bradenton headquarters. Almost like a parade, a list of clients in the Sarasota area followed soon after, including Halfacre and W.G. Mills.

The next parade, which is still running today, was full of more revenues, employees and office locations. Sutter Roofing, of which Sutter serves as president and still works a full schedule at 60 years old, now has four Gulf Coast offices, 330 employees and nearly $50 million in annual revenues. "We did the fundamentals well," Sutter says, "and all of a sudden it grew exponentially."

Still, the lean days are never far from Sutter's mind. He still maintains his theory that the company should look to build repeat business from existing customers as often as possible. It's a theory he has hammered into his two sons, Doug and Brad Sutter, who are executives with the company. And it works, too: About 80% of the company's clients represent repeat business.

"There's no customer like the existing customer," Sutter says. "If you could take care of that customer, they will always be back."

Sutter says besides the satisfaction of actually running the company, his greatest accomplishment of late has been seeing some of the younger employees at the company take on new leadership roles. The head of the Fort Myers office, for example, started with the company as a roofer.

As well known as Sutter has become, he now faces another challenge related to making sure people know he's out there: He's been with the company so long and his sons are so active, some in the business community assume Sutter's retired.

Entrepreneurial TIP: When starting your own business, no matter how much you think you know money and finances, get a good accountant you trust - right away - and let him do his thing, says Stephen Sutter.


2004 revenue: $28.5 million

2005: $35.4 million; 24% growth

2006: $49.3 million 39% growth

Average Annual Growth: 31.5%

2004 employees: 180

2005 employees: 250

2006 employees: 325

Gary Shaprio

Gary Shapiro built a lucrative entrepreneurial career out of tinkering with ordinary necessity.

The necessity part stems from a tin panel ceiling-installation his budding company, The American Tin Ceiling, was working on in 2001 in a condo on the 10th floor of the Siesta Towers in Siesta Key.

The job was a complete labor disaster: It took a crew of five men working a full week to carry 80 sheets of plywood up the stairs - the sheets didn't fit in the elevator.

There had to be a better way, thought Shapiro. He and a company engineer created a now-patented system called SnapLock, which allows the panels to be screwed into a ceiling made of out drywall and plaster, among other materials. There's no heavy-lifting and it can be self-installed.

With the invention, the company went from being an ordinary contractor and installer to becoming a worldwide distributor of tin ceiling panels, and in the process, it became a 45-employee, $8 million annual revenue business.

What's more, the model of selling direct to home owners and contractors works so well, Shapiro says, he's turned down potential partnerships with Home Depot.

"We have taken a 130-year-old product and commoditized it," says Shapiro. "It's just a niche we found, and we hope to keep driving it."

The New Jersey-born Shapiro previously owned several other businesses in Florida, including a fast food restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, which became the first store in the state to sell lotto tickets, and a company that installed hurricane protective film in the windows of businesses and homes.

Shapiro, 58, didn't know the first thing about tin or ceilings when he retired with his wife in Bradenton in the late 1990s. He set out to build a cherry-wood library in his home, only he didn't like the bland ceiling panels. The custom-made panels he ultimately ordered from a Canadian company were a hit with friends and relatives and soon after, American Tin Ceilings was born.

Shapiro has since invested $2 million into the company, most of it coming from the sale of the hurricane film business. He says $1 million was spent on start-up costs.

The company has grown in some other ways, in addition to expanding its employees and revenues. Employees created a menu of panel colors from left over powders, a recycling process that even impressed DuPont scientists; designers have built a 2,500-page Web site; and the company has developed a quirky client list that includes Naomi Judd, Dick Clark and several federal government buildings.

Entrepreneurial TIP: Never let a salesman or self-described "closer" run a

company with more than $1 million in annual revenues, Gary Shapiro says. That size calls for leaders, not sellers.


2004 revenue: $2 million

2005: $5 million; 150% growth

2006: $8 million; 60% growth

Average Annual Growth: 105%

2004 employees: 3

2005 employees: 12

2006 employees: 22


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