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Article

Trailblazers—12 Enduring Companies Building Utah

True Grit, Companies keeping their Brand Alive and Prominent In Utah’s Business Territory

By Linda T. Kennedy

May 9, 2009


Few periods in history demonstrate the brawn, courage and spirit of forging new frontiers like the Old West and its legends. Utah’s business heritage is rich with those legends, situated from one end of the state to the other and our 2009 Utah Business Trailblazers personify some of the best of them. Tough economic times and threats to their survival have always been part of these 12 company’s journey, many of them starting for the purpose of strengthening the community and solving its ills. So come sit a spell, and let us tell you about back in the day when.... 1891 Matt Packard, Pres. & CEO Central Bank of Provo nabbed the outlaws. Nothing quite captures the spirit of the “wild west” better than a story about bandits holding up banks and townsmen coming to the rescue. And Central Bank President Matt Packard has a good one. As a matter of fact, it’s about his own bank founded by his great-great-grandfather, Milan, almost 123 years ago, before Utah became the 45th state in the Union. It’s no horse tale; he still has the original minutes of the meeting held June 1, 1898, a few days after the hold up. “Two men entered the bank and presented guns at the bookkeeper, Mr. Packard (relationship to Milan unknown), ordered him to hold up his hands. While one of the men kept Mr. Packard covered with his gun, the other came around behind the counter and took all the gold and currency in sight, and about $90 in silver. The full amount taken being $3,008. The men then backed out of the bank, jumped into a buggy standing near, and drove toward the mouth of Hobble Creek Canyon. The alarm being given, they were immediately pursued...in a very short time, a large number of citizens were also in pursuit. Respectfully, H.L. Cummings, Cashier.” Matt Packard says the community pulling together has been the constant story of the bank since its beginnings as The Springville Banking Company, and through decades of challenges and hardship. During the Great Depression, the bank was one of few U.S. banks that remained healthy and didn’t require Government Debenture Capital. And with today’s financial crisis, Central Bank has not applied for TARP funds from the government. “We have coped because we learned from our predecessors loan-to-value ratios that came from the experience of the Depression and as such, we took on less risk than some institutions when real estate values decreased so dramatically,” says Matt Packard about the current financial crisis. “We also saved our earnings and carry a high capital ratio to help with the inevitable rainy day that always comes with up and down business cycles.” Those savings have resulted in more than $600 million in assets that includes more than $400 million in loans in Utah and more than $450 million in local deposits. “We are taking our local community neighbor’s money in as deposits and lending it out to other community members—a responsibility that we take very seriously.” And what happened to those bandits? The good guys won, of course. 1919 Rick Woodbury, Pres. & CEO Woodbury Corporation built the framework for Utah’s real estate future. Rick Woodbury says his 90-year-old family commercial real estate business has always been about solving problems. It started, after all, when his grandfather, F. Orin Woodbury, was looking for a solution to a problem. “When he got married, he actually wanted to be in the furniture business, but he didn’t have any money,” says Woodbury. “So, he started selling real estate and at night he would buy homes and fix them up, so my grandmother said she lived in eight or nine houses her first 10 years of marriage.” By the time Orin Woodbury had enough money to be in the furniture business, he was not interested in it anymore. Instead, he spearheaded the establishment of multiple listing services in Utah. When his brother and grandson, Rick Wood’s father, later joined the business, the company moved toward real estate development and property management. “Today, we call ourselves kind of a multi-dimensional commercial real estate development company. We have about eight million square feet of retail space and about 55 shopping centers, approximately a million and a half square feet of office space and nine hotels,” explains Rick Woodbury, adding that the company’s new Falcon Hill project, near Hill Air Force base, is one of the most significant projects the company has been involved with. But solving problems relating to the ownership of commercial real estate properties is still what the company does best, says Rick Woodbury. Whether it’s a piece of vacant land or a building that’s being underutilized, he says staying open to new ideas is the company’s tool for finding successful solutions. “Nothing beats hard work though, and often you have problems and really the only way to solve it is to just get down and get your hands dirty and work and solve the problem.” 1951 Dave Hogan, President Wadman Corporation completed its first project with no pay. Many of Wadman Corporation’s employee’s careers follow in the heritage of how the company started; careers may begin small, but grow into something much bigger. That’s how it worked for founder V. Jay Wadman when he started the company in 1951 with small remodel jobs, but quickly moved into school and retail construction. “He came back from WWII, got married and our started our company,” says Dave Hogan, president of Wadman Corp. “The first job that Jay had was a $1,500 job, and ironically he didn’t get paid for it. He had a really rocky start. However, Jay went to work and kept working and building the company.” Now the second-generation construction management firm in Weber County is licensed and operating in 11 western states performing projects as small as $1,000 to a $90 million resort. Hogan, who started out in the industry sweeping job sites, says many of the employees running Wadman’s multi-million dollar projects as superintendents or project managers, started as laborers in the company. He attributes their success to the company’s “cultural revolution,” a leadership training initiative which he says has transformed the way the company does business. “Wadman Corporation has sponsored every employee through many hours of intense leadership training because the firm strongly believes that if you improve the person, you improve the performance, you improve the company and ultimately you improve the community and world at large.” According to Hogan, Wadman Corp. experienced its greatest productivity and growth during its 58-year history over the last two years. And in 2008, Wadman’s repeat business with clients reached an all-time high, results Hogan ties directly to the leadership training initiative. 1904 Deborah Bayle, Pres. & CEO United Way of Salt Lake worked to shut down extortion. Next time you play the game Monopoly and pick up a Community Chest card, you can know you’re holding something related to Utah’s rich community service heritage through the United Way of Salt Lake non-profit organization. The organization actually started as the Salt Lake Charity Association in 1904 when a group of visionaries wanted to help the poor and end grafting in the community. It then changed its name during the Great Depression (the time monopoly was created) to the Community Chest. After several name changes, the organization became United Way in 1972 and United Way of Salt Lake in 2002. Even though the organization’s name has changed over the years, its initial mission has not, which is to make the community a better place to live in. But now the organization’s efforts have shifted from primarily a fund raising/distribution model to a problem solving organization. “We improve lives by bringing people and resources together to solve our community’s most serious social problems,” says United Way of Salt Lake President Deborah Bayle. “Through comprehensive research, we identify the most serious issues, develop a series of targeted objectives and invest time, effort and resources into finding solutions.” In 2008, this model generated more than $2 million in cash and goods over a 45-day period through a Neighbor-to-Neighbor Response program. The initiative addressed the impact the falling economy had on financially struggling families, and the resources were immediately distributed to them. Now, Bayle says, United Way’s goals are to create a long-lasting, systemic change so it can prevent problems from happening to people in the first place. “We have tremendous leadership through our board of directors and professional staff,” she says. “These leaders have remarkable foresight and are willing to take risks to develop a new approach or initiate a new strategy for advancing our work and our mission.” 1951 Ted Barnes, Managing Partner Clyde Snow & Sessions led the way on water law issues. For nearly 60 years, Clyde Snow & Sessions’ attorneys have served their clients in a unique way, says Ted Barn’s, managing partner. “[The firm] is large enough to tackle big problems and small enough to give [our clients] personal attention,” he says, adding that this also applies when the firm’s attorneys are operating as volunteers in the community. Founded in 1951 by Edward W. Clyde, the firm originally specialized in water law and general litigation. Now 29 lawyers, who have practiced together for 25 years, cover a wide range of areas including criminal law, tax and business planning, mergers and acquisitions, real estate, family law and employment and construction law. And they take their expertise to organizations such as The Guadalupe Center, the Jewish Community Center, McGillis School and the Hansen Planetarium. “Clyde Snow & Sessions lawyers have been deeply involved in Bar Association and pro bono work,” says Barnes. “We have present and former Utah State Bar Commissioners, one of whom played a prominent role in developing the Bar Association’s mandatory New Lawyer Mentoring Program.” Barnes says willingness to adapt has enabled the firm to evolve and remain relevant over time, not only to their clients but their own staff, as well. “It has embraced the efficiencies of technology and has afforded lifestyle accommodations to its lawyers, including pioneering part-time partnership arrangements for working mothers,” he says. Firms like Clyde Snow & Sessions were historically prohibited from advertising, but electronic media has changed that and allowed the firm to expand across the state, working in all counties and district courts in Utah. “The firm has also become increasingly flexible in its professional affiliations, adding experienced lawyers in an of counsel capacity to make their particular expertise available to our clients,” says Barnes. 1914 Steve Lewis, Vice Chairman, Lewis Stages & Richard Bizzaro, CEO, All Resort Group Lewis Stages had an original passenger capacity of about three. From shuttling a few miners in a single Model T Ford in 1914, to athletes and spectators during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, Lewis Stages (formerly Lewis Brothers Stages) has covered a lot of ground during the last 95 years. And as Vice Chairman Steve Lewis says, the company has helped turn the wheels of history. “As unofficial hosts to the Soviet missile inspectors for 13 years, our involvement with the successful INF Treaty helped to thaw and disarm the Cold War, and introduced a generation of second level Russian leaders to the reality of our successful capitalist system, which in a small way helped change the world,” he says, explaining Lewis Stages shepherded the Russian missile inspectors stationed in Utah during the 80s. Lewis says learning to adapt to the changing transportation needs of the community helped his grandfather, Orson, grow and expand his small line-haul operator business in mining communities during the Depression to moving hundreds of thousands of Army Air Corp pilots trainees during World War II. The transition into a charter coach specialist happened in the 50s, and with it, leadership transitions. Orson Lewis passed the business to his son, Joe, after he returned from serving in Europe during World War II, and in the 70s, Joe passed it to his son Steve. Six years ago, Richard Bizzaro and Gordon Cummins of the All Resort Group, Utah’s largest private passenger fleet, bought Lewis Stages, but it is still an entity of its own. Steve Lewis says despite changes and challenges, such as fuel price fluctuations, he still comes to work each day like it was his first day. “It is a lot of fun helping people enjoy their dream vacations,” he says. “We generally enjoy adding in some small way to their fun. That’s what makes this often difficult job rewarding.” 1909 Don Adams, President Bear River Mutual once only covered what went up in smoke. There used to be a time, says Don Adams, president at Bear River Mutual Insurance Company, that many Utah farmers and business owners didn’t think insurance was a necessity. Instead, they believed that in times of disaster, volunteers would come to the rescue and help rebuild a business or a barn. Also, many considered insurance unaffordable. “The company was initially formed because many farmers felt they couldn’t afford insurance offered by Utah’s other insurance companies,” says Adams. One hundred years later, people are still coming to the rescue in accidents or when a home burns to the ground, but from an idea that Bear River founder Willard Snow Hansen had with 15 other founders:pool resources among a select group of people with similar values and characteristics who are insured, and lessen the financial uncertainties that can come from a property or casualty loss. Initially, the company only insured against loss by fire or lightning. It added auto insurance in the 1930s, then a package homeowner policy in 1961. Now the company will end 2009 with policies generating nearly $85 million in annual premiums and assets of $140 million. In 2007, Bear River was listed by A.M. Best magazine as the fifth largest personal lines carrier in the state of Utah. Adams says Bear River stays ahead of other insurance companies by trying to build relationships that upholds its “where values count” philosophy. “We want to build a relationship that lets everyone know we are trying to do the right thing whether [someone] is insured with us or filing a claim against us,” says Adams. “Although it is not a perfect system, we are the only ones who show up with money-in-hand to help restore some of the damage that was created. All of our premiums go toward helping someone in our pool of customers meet the tragedy they are experiencing.” 1958 Becky Potts, president Morris Murdock Travel sent out the Saints. A company that now covers every kind of travel for every kind of traveler actually had its beginnings as the travel coordinator for missionaries and employees of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1950s. And while faith-based travel with LDS Church History trips is still a Morris Murdock Travel specialty, planning travel for a worldwide missionary system allowed to the agency to build a reputation as the international travel experts in Utah. “In order to stay competitive in the travel business, you need to have travel professionals that have traveled the globe and can give expert suggestions to their clients,” says Becky Potts, Morris Murdock Travel president, explaining that having well-traveled employees allows them to pass their first-hand experience on to their clients. But for a while, the company was challenged with the advent of the Internet. “The Internet became very busy and a lot of people were on the Internet,” she says. “But people are finding now, because most people are Internet savvy, is when they see the offerings, they’re not quite sure what their going to receive. So, actually what we’re seeing now is a big shift of people coming back to the agency saying, ‘there are so many offerings and it’s so confusing I don’t even know what to pick.’” Morris Murdock Travel consultants are using technology that checks and compares online pricing that Potts says may not be available in online travel reservation systems. But as part of a five-year strategic plan to move them ahead of the competition, the company covers its online savvy clients with an option to book on the Web at www.morrismurdock.com. And for those who want to bring their own travel expertise to Morris Murdock Travel, they’ve created a business development program called SOLO. The program offers Utahns the chance to own their own travel agency business. 1948 Sam Clark, President Dale Barton Agency founder started with an army surplus desk, a typewriter and experience selling construction machinery. The philosophy that drives Dale Barton Agency today is the same as it was when Eliot Dale Barton founded the company in 1948: “Our word is our bond.” “The saying is both literally and figuratively important in explaining how we carry out business in the Surety Bond and Insurance industries,” says Sam Clark, president of Dale Barton Agency and the founder’s son-in-law. “We operate and work with people who do what they say they will do.” Clark says being able to problem solve within deadlines has brought the agency national recognition. As one of the region’s largest surety bond and insurance agencies, Dale Barton provides coverage and advice to a diverse clientele throughout the Intermountain West. And the company is still considered a specialist in providing construction specific surety bonds and insurance to general contractors, subcontractors, specialty contractors and other businesses. Its speciality has resulted in the agency’s involvement in major construction projects such the conference center for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, high rise office buildings in downtown Salt Lake, buildings on Utah’s major college and university campuses and military projects. “We’ve been involved in every aspect of Utah’s construction industry,” says Clark. Since surety bonds are required by law on some construction projects, Clark says the agency has had to look at the challenges the economy has brought to the construction industry with optimism. “The people we work with and like to work with are very hard working people and sometimes you have to look at how you can work smarter instead of harder,” says Clark. “As the economy changes, you look to adjust where the needs are to be more efficient and effective and stronger so everything comes together for a successful ending.” 1886 J. Larry Richards, President LDS Business College was founded in a board meeting conducted on boxes. LDS Business College is an example of what can be accomplished when great minds come together despite where they come together. Almost 123 years ago, the two-year, practical skills college was launched in an old bookstore, which the day before had been ravaged by a fire. “All those present at the meeting sat on boxes and other improvised seats while water dripped down upon them from the partly destroyed roof,” says LDS Business College President J. Larry Richards, who took the post in January. It was a bit of an ironic beginning, since Dr. Karl G. Maeser, principal of the Brigham Young Academy in Provo, supported William B. Dougall’s proposal for an academy in Salt Lake similar to the Provo Academy, provided funds could be raised for a suitable building with proper furnishings. That was accomplished when the school opened on November 15, 1886 in the LDS Church’s Social Hall with 84 students. And even though it moved several times since then, most recently to the Triad Campus in Salt Lake, Richards says it continues to meet the founder’s ideals. “Our final standard of success is our students’ contribution to an involvement in their communities, families and countries, wherever they live,” says Richards. Now, a student body of about 1,400 spend time in organized service learning projects designed to help them use their education to benefit the community, says Richards, including participating in the United Way Day of Caring. “We annually send hundreds of graduates into the workforce who have lived a code of honor that develops in them a work ethic highly prized in today’s work world,” he says. 1934 Bruce Fery, Exec. Vice president Little America Hotels and Resorts rose out of the Wyoming dust. Although the first Little America Hotel actually started in Wyoming in 1934, its owner, Earl Holding, started in Utah. “He was born and raised in Salt Lake City during the Depression,” says Bruce Fery, vice president of Grand America Hotels. “His working-class family instilled in him a strong work ethic, a dedication to quality, and a lifelong commitment to giving back to the community.” What started as a business with fewer than 50 employees at the Wyoming hotel is now part of an organization that brings more than 2,600 employees to Utah’s economy. And it started with Holding pulling Little America West, near Green River Wyoming on Interstate 80, out of despair. “Holding entered the lodging business almost by default,” explains Fery. “In 1952, while working for the Covey family, Holding was offered the opportunity to turn around a failing fuel service station and motel in rugged southwestern Wyoming. At the time, the property had just 12 guest rooms, 2 gas pumps and a 24 seat café. Today, under Holding’s guidance, the same property now boasts 140 luxurious guest rooms, 16 fueling islands, a travel center and a repair shop.” The Little America Hotel in Salt Lake was the second property built in the early 1940s with 300 rooms. Now Holdings properties include four Little America Hotels in Utah, Wyoming and Arizona, and other resorts in Idaho and San Diego. “In Salt Lake City, the Holdings continue to demonstrate their commitment to the local community,” Fery says. “In the early 1980s, the Holdings moved the corporate offices of Sinclair Oil from Denver to Salt Lake City. Their investment in Snowbasin Ski Resort transformed it from a minor ski hill into an Olympic venue. And the Grand America Hotel, built for the 2002 Olympics, regularly hosts visiting dignitaries and major Fortune 500 events.” 1956 Jack Buttars, President The University of Utah Federal Credit Union founders had to put their trust in each other. Initially, University of Utah Federal Credit Union membership was limited to University of Utah faculty. “It started with a small group of business professors from the University of Utah who actually had a difficult time securing small loans from banks,” explains Jack Buttars, president of the Credit Union. “So they pulled their money together and designed a program to use their money collaboratively to take care of their loan and deposit needs.” Fourteen branches later, Buttars says, the credit union’s services are available to anyone living in Salt Lake County. And now the collaborative design is operating with $550 million in assets. “The values we’re all about are people,” says Buttars. “It’s a coop of people helping people.” This collaborative spirit extends into the community with the Credit Union’s Warm the Soles program. Every year during the holiday season, the credit union provides shoes for less fortunate children; members, volunteers and employees donate an average of $20,000 in new shoes each year. Buttars attributes the overriding success of the credit union to its strong volunteer commitment and says it has carried the company through the economy’s tough times. “Some volunteers have been with us for 30 years and that’s very rare. They really set the standard and tone of where we’ve come and point the direction of where we want to go.”
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