Runner Up - Tampa Bay
Jacob Beckel likes to say in his heart, he's really a corner pharmacist wearing a white coat who helps little kids get over colds and grandmas recover from hip injuries. Not what he really is, as the founder and chief executive of a $22 million, 130-employee health care and drug company.
But Beckel, 52, can only blame himself for being the latter. Mainly, he can only blame his steadfast ability to eliminate the words permanent failure from his internal vocabulary. "The good thing about the U.S.," says, "is that there are no debtors' prisons. If you fail at one business, just go start another."
After owning several pharmacies and health care companies in Greater Tampa the last 25 years, Beckel's latest business, AnazaoHealth Corp., is far from failing. The company has been growing its revenues about 25% a year the past few years, mostly by applying modern technology to older drugs and medicines used for pain management. The company, named for the Greek word "to come to life again," then mails its products to customers nationwide.
AnazaoHealth has four divisions. The one growing the fastest and with the most long-term growth potential, says Beckel, is for nuclear medicine, where the company's pharmacists and scientists develop products such as a radioactive iodine that fights thyroid cancer. Other divisions include one for brachytherapy, which fills prescriptions for radiation seeds that are surgically implanted to kill prostate cancer; and one for liquid pain medications, which are injected through a catheter into the spinal column of patients with chronic inoperable pain.
Heady stuff, especially for Beckel, who, along with his eight siblings, grew up on his family's dairy farm in northwestern Minnesota. While Beckel knew early on he didn't want to enter the family business, he wasn't sure what he did want to do for a career when he was recruited to play football at North Dakota State University in Fargo in the 1970s.
A professional football career didn't work out. But Beckel did earn a degree in pharmacy and later, after moving to Florida upon the recommendation of two fraternity brothers working as pharmacists in the Tampa area, he did open his own drug store.
Beckel now considers himself a businessman, not a pharmacist. "Business is not hard. But business is persistence," he says. "If you don't want to work 80 or 90 hours a week, don't go into business for yourself."
Entrepreneurial TIP: Jacob Beckel says budding entrepreneurs should work for someone else in their chosen field before starting their own. Adds Beckel: "Learn from others' mistakes."
BY THE NUMBERS
2004 revenue: $13.5 million
2005: $17.4 million; 29% growth
2006: $22 million; 26% growth
Average Annual Growth: 27%
2004 employees: 84
2005 employees: 96
2006 employees: 102
Frank Winston Crum
Frank Crum raises alpacas on a family farm in Lutz, wears his long gray hair pulled into a ponytail and runs a professional employer organization with $1.2 billion in revenue - one of the largest in the Tampa Bay area.
He's not your typical CEO, if there really is such a thing. No, he's a former minister who talks about his reliance on his heavenly father and the desire to do the right thing for the right reason, always.
Like other successful entrepreneurs recognized by the Review, Crum, 57, has had to remake his company, FrankCrum Inc., over the years to ensure its survival. He started the undercapitalized business in 1981 as a staffing agency with help from his father, Frank Crum Sr.
Crum is considered a pioneer in the PEO industry and the company now provides services to businesses in 40 states.
When the workers' compensation crisis hit Florida about seven years ago, Crum started his own insurance carrier. It was a laborious process that required the approval of state regulators and about $7 million. Thanks to that decision, gross billings grew from $385 million in 2002 to $1.3 billion projected for 2007.
More years than not, the business has been profitable. Crum attributes the company's long-term profitability to taking care of customers and employees who remain loyal.
FrankCrum offers paid medical insurance for employees, long- and short-term disability, a 401(k) plan where the company matches up to 4% and a subsidized restaurant at company headquarters in Clearwater, along with other benefits.
The company occupies a lavish, secure 128,000-square-foot building on 15 acres in downtown Clearwater. Crum bought it for $14 million, less than half its original cost, in 2004.
Today, FrankCrum continues to reinvent itself, making sure it offers services to differentiate the company from its competitors. It started "Frank Advice," a phone-in service that allows customers to get legal advice on employment issues.
Another new service Crum says is that each company client now receives a group health insurance rate based on its own history, not that of the entire group of companies. Those that manage costs best receive the best rates. Conversely those with the most claims pay a higher rate.
Crum says: "One of the things that has always separated us from other companies is we always try to do the right thing for the right reasons."
As for live and learn, the entrepreneur says he waited far too long to hire in-house legal counsel and to establish a human resources department.
For instance, the company was fined in California for failing to type a deduction on several payroll stubs for two weeks. The money was withheld correctly, it just wasn't reflected on the employees' paperwork.
"I would have had an HR department long before I did if I knew what I knew today," Crum says. "But when you're young you think you're invincible."
Entrepreneurial TIP: Surround yourself with smarter people who are good at what they do. Listen to them and reward them.
BY THE NUMBERS
Year Gross Billings*
2007** $1.3 billion
2006 $1.255 billion
2005 $1.207 billion
2004 $1.086 billion
2003 838 million
2002 385 million
2001 231 million
2000 161 million
1995 53 million
Year Leased Employees
* Gross billings, not gross revenues ** Projected
Jose Morales wasn't used to making big decisions on his own in the early 1980s, having just finished a tour of duty with the Air Force - not exactly a hotbed of independent thinking.
The Air Force had set up Morales, a native of Miami, with a scholarship to attend the University of Florida and told him to choose from three potential engineering majors: civil, mechanical or electric.
"I wasn't very mechanical," Morales says, "and I was scared of electricity, so I chose civil."
It turned out to be the right choice. After returning to the Air Force as an officer and then working as a consultant and engineer for a few Tampa-area firms, Morales decided in 2001 he had enough experience - and guts - to start his own firm. He went from the ultimate bureaucracy to the ultimate startup.
That startup, J2 Engineering, turns five years old this year on a growth spurt. Revenues for the Tampa-based firm, which has branched out into construction and environmental consulting in addition to engineering, have grown an average of 81% a year the last three years. It passed $20 million in annual revenues late in 2006.
The company got going in 2001 by successfully applying to be part of the U.S. Small Business Administration's 8(a) program that gives minority business owners preferential treatment in the awarding of government contracts. J2 has picked up about 85% of it contracts from that program, with clients including the city of Tampa, the Hillsborough Aviation Authority and the military.
But being part of the program, says Morales, doesn't guarantee repeat business. The company, with offices in Pensacola, Gainesville, Atlanta and Little Rock, Ark., in addition to Tampa, still has to provide good service and results to succeed.
Morales decided early on with J2 the only way the business would succeed would be to have a top-notch work environment, where employees would have legitimate growth opportunities, both in terms of expanding paychecks and promotions. "It's not a big company," Morales says, "but it's not being run as a mom and pop shop."
Employee perks include matching up to 25% of every dollar invested by an employee in the firm's 401(k) plan, health insurance at no cost and bonuses of as much as $1,000 throughout the year. What's more, Morales says when the company graduates from the 8(a) program within the next four years, employees will have a chance at owning parts of the firm.
Entrepreneurial TIP: Don't get caught up in dreaming about how
successful a business could be. "Keep your goals and expectations realistic," Jose Morales says.
BY THE NUMBERS
2004 revenue: $6.8 million
2005: $15.6; 129% growth
2006: $20.7 million; 32% growth
Average Annual Growth: 81%
2004 employees: 38
2005 employees: 46
2006 employees: 60
Entrepreneur Marty Schaffel says there's one thing that ruins his lunch: Employees that spew the company line.
"I hate it when employees tell me what they think I want to hear," says Schaffel, who founded Audio-Visual Innovations Inc. in 1979 with a do-or-die attitude. "The only people I have respect for are people who tell me what they truly think and believe, not what I want to hear."
Perhaps Schaffel's penchant for honesty has enabled him to make his Tampa-based company the national leader in the audio-visual industry. A University of Florida graduate, he started the business in 1979 as a 27-year-old salesman with $2,000 in savings and a desire to be his own boss.
In the pre-personal computer days, he gambled that he could sell enough Kroy machines to companies so they could create their own fliers, brochures and stationery that he'd be able to cover the $10,000 "optimistic" check he'd written. He did and made another $4,000.
By the end of his first full year in business, Schaffel had sold enough Kroy machines to generate a recurring revenue stream of $1 million annually for the machine's ribbons and printers.
That was just the start. Kroy machines are ancient history for the company that now installs equipment that looks like it belongs on a spacecraft. Some of its bigger clients are the military, Ford Motor Co. and Hard Rock Hotel.
Over the past five years, Audio-Visual Innovations has grown 150% to projected revenue of $250 million this year.
"We're having a record year," he says. "It's spectacular."
And that's after a fairly large hiccup last year. AVI's late entrance into the residential market was poorly timed; the company lost between $1 million and $2 million on that venture before it stopped the bleeding.
"We were still profitable in 2006, we had our best year ever," the president says. "I keep wondering what it would have been like if we hadn't had that hiccup. But if you don't take risks, you stand still and you eventually finding yourself going backwards."
With about 740 employees, AVI has 25 offices, with an additional 40 locations in hotels and resorts, including the United States, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
Schaffel, 55, has been redefining his role over the past 18 months as he continues to delegate more, relying on his president of sales and chief executive officer to oversee day-to-day operations.
His focus: relationships.
Schaffel, the sole owner, works with larger customers and on larger initiatives. And he determines where the company should be headed next.
"I'm worrying less about explosive growth and more about making sure we continue to be good at what we do," he says. "While our focus isn't on growth, but to be the best at what we're doing, there seems to be a co-relation."
He knows how important it is to remake the company as technology and times changes.
If not, his company would have gone the way of the Kroy machine and become a dusty relic of the past.
Entrepreneurial TIP: Hire good people and listen to what they have to say, even if it is critical.
BY THE NUMBERS
2002: $100 million
2003: $125 million; 25% growth
2004: $170 million; 36% growth
2005: $200 million; 17.6% growth
2006: $217 million; 8.5% growth
2007: $250 million; 15.2% growth
2007: 740; 2006: 740; 2005: 720