Article

Trailblazers

10 Companies Preserving Utah’s Legacy

Heidi Kulicke and Candace M. Little

January 20, 2012

Setting the standard for today’s start-ups, Utah Business magazine's 2010 Trailblazers are a force to be reckoned with. By keeping their eyes on the prize from day one, mediocrity was never an option. These enduring companies remained true to their values, kept their integrity intact and consequently, built a solid reputation and earned respect from their peers. As these companies demonstrate, commitment to quality doesn’t go unnoticed--doing the right thing pays off in the long run. Join us as we congratulate 10 deserving companies who have blazed the way for others through times of treasure and turmoil. Utah Food Bank Jim Pugh, Chief Executive Officer Utah Food Bank is the central hub for food collection and distribution for more than 125 emergency food pantries and non-profit organizations across the state. Utah Food Bank’s program delivery is recognized on a community, state and national level. But it delivers more than something to eat—it delivers hope. Many pioneers in the organization, including Lowell Bennion, created the hope for Utah communities through their vision and hard work. Jim Pugh, CEO of Utah Food Bank says Bennion really captured the vision of how a community can pull together and help the needy. “Utah Food Bank strives to fulfill the Lowell Bennion model of direct service, focusing on the fact that every bag and every dollar makes a difference and that the collective efforts of our state can transform the lives of our neighbors,” he says. It is with every food drive, every can, every hour of volunteer service that Utah Food Bank is able to feed hungry people in Utah. “We believe that in a state as generous as Utah, no one should have to make the decision of having enough to eat or paying for utilities or medical expenses,” says Pugh. “We have gone from distributing less than 100,000 pounds of food (78,000 meals) with one battered pick-up truck to this year’s projected distribution of 30 million pounds of food (23.4 million meals).” While Utah Food Bank has held different names and broader views over the past 106 years, its mission to to meet the immediate basic needs of people in its communities has remained the same. Since the 1970’s, Utah Food Bank has narrowed its focus from advocacy to more direct-service oriented food banking. The organization has adapted as the need for food has become more complex. “It has become more business-like in its efforts to boost marketing and communications outreach,” says Pugh. “Through the newly-implemented RoadNet route planning software and updated inventory process, food collection and distribution endeavors have been streamlined.” Snowbasin: A Sun Valley Resort Kent Lyons, General Manager Success comes season after season to Snowbasin, not only because of snow, says Kent Lyons, general manager, but because of good company organization and goals. “We hold an emphasis on long-term goals rather than short-term profits and a belief that hard work done intelligently will generate successful results,” he says. “We believe in being honest with our guests, employees, and community and try to involve all concerned parties with our operations and future plans.” Currently controlled by Earl and Carol Holding of Sun Valley Resort and the Little America hotel, Snowbasin continually made upgrades its infrastructure, invested in becoming a four season resort, and embraced large-scale events such as the 2002 Winter Games, Dew Tour, as well as the XTERRA USA National Championships during the summer seasons. Now, Snowbasin offers nearly 3,000 vertical feet and 3,000 skiable acres of diverse terrain, and one of the largest and most advanced automated snowmaking systems in the world. “We have realized that our future lies not in where we currently are but in what we can become,” says Lyons. “We have built upper-scale buildings, ski lifts, and other visible assets but also invested heavily in supporting infrastructure that will never be seen by our guests. We have also worked diligently to attract new guests to the resort by adding terrain park expansion and events that have proved to be popular with youth and families.” Snowbasin recently ranked in the top 10 resorts in North America for on-mountain food, service, and lifts by Ski Magazine and has been highly ranked by various national publications for the past 10 years. Lyon says one key to providing a great value to their customers has been their efforts to promote from within the organization “which allows our dedicated employees to feel a sense of ownership in the company. This dedication has led to pride in the products that we provide and better concern for the needs and desires of our guests.” Strong & Hanni Law Firm Catherine Larson, Managing Shareholder Also pictured?: Steve Trayner, Managing Partner Values like hard work, dedication and understanding clients’ needs are Strong and Hanni’s goals and the keys to its continued success, says Catherine Larson, managing shareholder. “By working with clients to understand their needs and goals we then work hard and are dedicated to see that those needs are taken care of and those goals are achieved,” says Larson. “The success of Strong & Hanni is also premised on the reputation for high standards of professionalism, ethics and civility.” The firm’s dedication to hard work and high standards also seeps into Utah’s community. Strong & Hanni encourages each partner, associate, and paralegal to provide pro bono legal services to deserving individuals or organizations that cannot afford legal work. The firm also sponsors a wide variety of annual events and programs among local high schools and communities, charitable organizations and fundraisers, and the local Utah business community and entrepreneurs. Larson says the firm also works hard at keeping up with technology trends in the legal industry, as well as adjusting their business model to stay profitable while providing quality legal services. But overall, Larson says the best thing the firm can do is create a culture of bright, ambitious, hard-working attorneys and staff. “We have developed a philosophy of allowing each attorney to be an entrepreneur. This has caused the attorneys to have ownership in their work and the future of the firm,” she says. Established in 1888, the firm has been known as Strong & Hanni since 1962 when Gordon R. Strong and Glenn C. Hanni joined practices. Strong began building the firm by working as a claims adjuster for State Farm at night and doing its legal work during the day. This hard work helped establish the firm’s reputation as a premier insurance defense firm. Hanni partnered with Gordon Strong, known for his experience, knowledge and leadership. These men instilled the values the firm lives by today. Strong & Hanni has since added multiple practice areas and is recognized for its business, corporate and commercial litigation and transactional practice as well as its history in insurance defense litigation. Utah State University Stan Albrecht, President The economy has hit state institutions of higher education two ways—budget cuts and increased enrollment. Utah State is no exception says President Stan Albrecht. His optimism is clear, though. “We’ll come out stronger and better than we were going in,” he says. Other challenges impact the university, and have made it stronger over the years. Albrecht describes a tragedy involving 8 students and 1 faculty member in a car accident. When faced with hard circumstances, Albrecht turns to the students for support. “Whatever the problem or whatever the issue on the most difficult of days, all I need to do is walk out on to the quad and talk with our students.” Utah State started in 1888 as part of the federal land grant university system, which established property with a purpose to serve the people of Utah. A dedication to service, Albrecht says, is one of the core missions that set Utah State apart from others in the state. The university accomplishes this mission in two main ways—service-learning programs coordinate students to participate in service opportunities as part of their classes. Also, the university serves every county in Utah through its extension offices across the state. Utah State has grown from a focused agricultural college to becoming expert educators and researches in a wide range of fields. For instance, the Space Dynamics Lab makes the university very unique. Albrecht says the university has had more students launch experiments on a rock than any other university in the world. And the College of Education is currently ranked in the top 2 percent of the 1,100 others in the United States. Also, the university has a resident string quartet that is recognized throughout the world. Albrecht sees the university expanding in the future with growth of its regional campuses, more research dollars added to its now $140 million annually, and becoming more involved in economic development, intellectual property and company spin-offs. Moreton & Company Edward Moreton, Chairman—the title he gave Edward Moreton, Chairman of the Board—the title the PR person gave Moreton & Company has been in the Moreton family for 4 generations. Ed Moreton, the company leader of the third generation says he has enjoyed seeing the growth of the company, helping insure clients, and providing a living for working and retired employees. But nothing has made him happier than seeing his son carry on the legacy of the generation of Moreton men before him. This legacy is one of constant growth and innovation. J.B. Moreton founded the company in 1910, selling a wide variety of insurance from offices at The Boston Building, the tallest building in Salt Lake City at the time. It seems his choice of office space paralleled his lofty goals. At the time of his death, 31 years later, the company’s premiums exceeded $400,000. Moreton & Company has doubled in size every five years, all the while passing through the hands of one son to the next; Fred, then Ed, and now Bill, who leads the company today. There are numerous reasons for the steady growth. Bill Moreton says, “The quality of our employees sets us apart. Our professionals acquire an exceptional knowledge and understanding of the insurance market and they maintain a strong understanding of the needs of our customers.” Securing and retaining customers is also important to Moreton & Company. Its clients range from small family businesses to large entities like Questar and Intermountain Health. It also insured the 2002 Winter Olympics Games, marking the first time in Olympics history that a local insurance broker provided the Games’ risk management and employee benefit services. Ed Moreton says they have stayed competitive because of the company’s strong belief in innovation and using modern technology. Moreton & Company was one of the first insurance companies to use an automotive accounting system, it was an early adopter of the Internet and eventually it worked with IBM to develop an agency company interface. Ed Moreton says this innovation services more clients, allowing better pricing and insurance services. Mark Miller Dealerships Mark Miller, Chairman From a very young age, Mark Miller, chairman of Mark Miller Dealerships, remembers a sign hanging in his father’s office. It read “We cannot afford to have a single dissatisfied customer.” Taking that statement seriously has made all the difference, as the company’s current motto “Famous for Customer Service” proves longevity and success over its 76-year history. Miller says the tagline motivates them to do what they do best over and over. “It’s what drives our company. From an employee’s first training session they learn their most important job is to take care of our customers,” he says. The company traces its roots to 1934 when Fred A. Carleson and Harry Carleson, Miller’s grandfather, bought a Ford dealership in downtown Salt Lake City. This began a series of inventory changes within the company, first giving up Ford and adding Pontiac, Cadillac, GMC, Rambler, and in later years, adding Subaru, Toyota and Scion to the lineup. The Mark Miller family of companies now includes Mark Miller Buick, Mark Miller Subaru Mid Town, Mark Miller Subaru South Towne, Mark Miller Toyota Scion and a real estate holding company, MARKAT Company, LLC. The Millers also have a family foundation called The Mark and Kathie Miller Foundation which plays an active role in the Salt Lake non-profit community. A true pioneer in the automobile industry, the company developed one of the first in-house computer systems to manage their business, says Miller. They continue looking to technology and green initiatives as an answer to today’s challenging economic marketplace. “Our new Toyota facility was one of the first LEED certified environmentally friendly and energy efficient dealerships in the country,” he adds. And in spite of tough times in the automobile industry, the company’s employee turnover rate remains low. “We put a lot of effort into attracting, selecting and retaining great employees. Our General Managers have been with us for 40, 34 and 11 years,” Miller says. Mountain West Telecom Jaron Payzant, Chief Executive Officer As Utah’s oldest and largest privately held telecom provider, Mountain West Telecom originally provided and serviced sound and paging systems in 1949. Embracing technology and championing change, the company evolved and now provides a broad range of telecommunications; voice and data network products such as voice solutions, carrier services, support services, structured cabling, data routing and security to businesses throughout the world. Acquiring the Salt Lake City division of IKON Telecommunications in 2001 nearly tripled Mountain West's customer base. And while several other competitors have folded during the recent economic challenges, Mountain West Telecom has thrived, investing over $1 million into a new state-of-the-art Network Operations Center. “We are a high-integrity organization that continues to build our business for the long term,” says Jaron Payzant, CEO, explaining that the company’s ability to execute its business plan and remain debt-free has helped it survive downward economic cycles through the years. Now the company continues its commitment to improve service to customers locally and globally while working to acquire new customers. “We find our competition continuing to try and duplicate our service offerings, but in the end it’s the customers that judge you on your ability to deliver on your commitments. Our strength has been our ability to execute on those promises,” Payzant says. Utah Central Credit Union Brett Blackburn, President First established in 1940 as the “credit union for credit unions,” Utah Central Credit Union started as a place where other credit union executives placed their money. Current regulations prohibited them from using their own financial institutions for loans. With a strong passion for customer service, innovation and excellence, UCCU has upheld its commitment to members and its role within the state’s credit union community. “Since our founding, we have created unique products and strategies – not only for our members – but for all of Utah’s credit unions,” says Brett Blackburn, president. The slogan “We’re in it together” fuels the credit union to implement policies, product offerings and executive decisions designed to benefit each member through every stage of life. “We stay ahead of the curve, customizing our products and services quickly and efficiently so our members thrive in good or bad economic conditions. Our “members-first” philosophy means that we always do what’s best for our members – not the bottom line,” says Blackburn. A combination of staying true to its philosophy and simple fiscal wisdom helped UCCU avoid the financial turmoil so many other financial institutions experienced over the past few years. “It’s a balancing act between knowing when to play it safe and when to take smart, calculated risks,” Blackburn adds. Serving its members doesn’t stop at the credit union’s doors, says Blackburn. Actively involved in bettering the community, UCCU provides Christmas gifts to 600 children at one of Salt Lake’s most impoverished elementary schools. The credit union is also the major corporate donor for the Angel’s Hands Foundation, which raises money through an annual charity golf tournament. Proceeds help pay for more than 80 rare medical diseases that are often rejected by medical insurance. “We have a great desire to support and sustain the communities in which we live; not just with words, but powerful actions and deeds that lift and help those in need,” says Blackburn. Cummings Studio Chocolates Marion S. Cummings, Owner Chocolate is anything but ordinary for those who are familiar with the candies produced by Cummings Studio Chocolates. It’s a complete sensory experience, started more than 85 years ago. At 15 years of age, V. Clyde Cummings enrolled in a home economics class at Salt Lake High School. There he discovered he was a natural at the art of candy making. Friends and family loved his chocolates so much he began making them regularly. Then in 1924, he made candy making his full-time business and opened a store at the corner of 900 S. and 700 East. Tweaking his recipes to produce light and airy yet creamy and smooth centers, he mastered a secret method still used today by the employees of Cummings Studio Chocolates. Over the years, the company remained true to its values and refuses to compromise quality in order to increase revenue. Only the finest ingredients are used in the confections, including a rare South American chocolate, Tehuantepec, used by only one other candy maker in the U.S. “My father-in-law found this particular chocolate and told my husband not to change it, and my husband told me not to change it. So we just don’t change it,” says Marion Cummings, owner. Marion took control of the business after her husband, Paul, passed away in 2000 and takes great pride in the company’s loyalty to its customers. The company keeps detailed files with its client’s purchases—now it has about 3,000 customer files. “When customers call in, they want it packed to their assortment. And if we make a mistake, we hear about it,” she says. Cummings Studio Chocolates regularly ships candies throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia. And the candies are always made in small batches to ensure the highest quality and best flavor, avoiding preservatives and freezing. This commitment to quality makes Cummings Studio Chocolates a leader in the chocolate industry, garnering it national attention on cable television’s Food Network. Midwest Commercial Interiors Marshall Tate, President Working to improve workplaces one business at a time, Midwest Commercial Interiors is committed to creating high-performance work environments. Providing companies with the tools and environment to succeed is what Midwest has been doing best since 1938. Though the company initially sold office supplies, it eventually expanded to offer furniture and interior design. Through the changes it maintained its founding principles; an unwavering commitment to do the right thing for its customers, employees, business partners, associates and neighbors. But the primary tradition passed on from decade to decade, says Marshall Tate, president, are the relationships they’ve built with clients. Building on the company’s solid foundation and history, Midwest continues to help them utilize their interior office space in the best way possible. “A couple of simple principles have guided us over the last 75 years; really learn about our clients, reach for the highest level of design excellence, offer the most compelling products available, empower our own people and then set out to blow away our clients’ expectations in every phase of our engagement,” says Tate. Midwest understands the importance of staying ahead of trends and incorporating technology and innovation within the design process. “The days of the mass cubicle farms are over. Today, there’s a real emphasis on collaboration and teamwork. And we’ve evolved to help organizations understand their role in this,” Tate says. Helping so many different companies improve their office spaces keeps work fun and rewarding, says Tate. “The most rewarding part is working with a small company and seeing their reaction to the finished product. They’re blown away with something they helped create. They didn’t know it was possible,” he says. While expanding out of state is definitely a possibility for the thriving company, Midwest enjoys staying true to its roots. “This is where our core client base is. The economy has proved to be very resilient here, and it’s also a friendly business environment to be a part of,” Tate says.
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