2017 Forty Under 40
Utah has the youngest population in the nation, and that fact is reflected in the youthful leaders within its business community. From entrepreneurs and innovators to executives and professionals, our 2017 Forty Under 40 honorees each bring unique strengths to their organizations and to our state. These leaders are shining stars in Utah’s business firmament, and we can’t wait to see what the future will bring for these ambitious execs. Join us as we honor the business standouts of today who will shape the landscape of tomorrow.
Shaun Alldredge and Shane Perkins launched Legend Solar in 2012, working out of their cars and using the free Wi-Fi at their favorite St. George bakery to bring solar options to residents and businesses in the Intermountain West.
Just five short years later, the company has become a dominant player in the region’s solar industry. In 2015, Legend Solar achieved 400 percent growth, representing a revenue increase from $3.7 million to $18.3 million year over year. In the first six months of 2016, the company saw a 269 percent increase over the same period in 2015.
Also in 2016, Alldredge and Perkins gave a $10 million donation to Dixie State University’s football stadium renovation—now known as Legend Solar Stadium—the largest donation in the school’s history. On top of the financial donation, Legend Solar is installing a 1,500 KW solar system on the campus. Recently the company also announced a solar array donation for Brigham Young University.
Shaun Alldredge’s first job: “I had a paper route from the time I was 11 or 12.”
Shane Perkins’ passion: “I eat, sleep and drink golfing and hunting.”
Kent Andersen began his career in local government and economic development in California, where he helped with the redesign of the Sacramento Kings arena. After returning home to Utah, he worked for the city of Syracuse and now Layton City, where he leads the development of the East Gate Business and Research Park. In partnership with the Military Installation Development Authority, Andersen created the Runway at East Gate MIDA Project Area to facilitate commercial use of the Hill Air Force Base runway. Andersen also focuses on redevelopment projects in historic downtown Layton, including the preservation and restoration of the Historic Layton Train Station.
The Great Recession changed the philosophy of local governments about how to operate, he says, giving them a greater focus on economic diversification and operating more efficiently. It’s a challenge Andersen has relished—his days are filled with everything from assisting with building renovations to courting manufacturers. “I chose a career in civil service to assist members of a community. I know that when I do my job well or when I complete challenging projects, I have an opportunity to improve someone’s life,” he says.
First job: “When I was 14, I got a summer job working in the snack bar at the North Star Drive-In Theater in Harrisville, Utah. To me it was a dream job, hanging out at the drive-in and eating popcorn. What could be better?”
At the start of his career, Jeffrey Bland worked in New York City for three years for a global investment advisory firm. But his rural roots called to him, inspiring an idea to create an investment advisory firm that would cater to ranchers and farmers across the West. So at 30 years old, Bland became the youngest founder of a registered investment advisory firm in Utah. Today, Burrus Financial Services manages $171 million in assets with an average 48 percent growth per year for the past five years.
Bland says the culture of the planning industry traditionally was to keep investment information close to the vest. “This can create a setting where the advisor knows all and the client knows none,” he says. “In response to this issue, we have created educational workshops that teach the basics of investing and empower people to avoid financial pitfalls, make better decisions and save more money.”
Now, 11 years after founding the company, Bland says the firm’s “most important initiative is providing the exact same high level of service to a much larger volume of clients. This is a new challenge and my entire team is growing as a result.”
First job: Fly-fishing guide at the HF Bar Ranch in Wyoming
Erica Brown joined Thanksgiving Point as communications director in 2006 and was promoted to vice president of marketing in 2012. During her tenure, she has helped turn Thanksgiving Point into a destination renowned for its unique visitor experiences. For example, she was the leader behind last year’s Luminaria holiday light show—a first-of-its-kind display in the area.
Brown also helped with the organization’s capital campaign to fund the Museum of Natural Curiosity. The museum has proved wildly popular, drawing nearly 700,000 visitors in the first year. The museum and signature events like Luminaria and the Tulip Festival have driven membership rates from 7,000 households to over 20,000.
“Being a good leader means asking lots of questions, being transparent, giving people opportunities to grow and fostering a work environment where everyone is bought into the mission. I focus on creating a culture of ‘includers’ who invite others into our projects, ideas and lives,” says Brown. “It’s fun to recognize talent and reward it with new challenges. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing someone who works with you grow and flourish in new roles.”
Role model: “Beyoncé. She is a wife, mother, friend, artist, businessperson, activist and successful person. The greatest professional compliment I’ve ever received was when my account representative at Thanksgiving Point’s advertising agency introduced me as, ‘the Beyoncé of Thanksgiving Point.’”
James Burton became a partner at Kirton McConkie at the age of 32, making him one of the youngest to ever become partner at the firm. Burton manages a heavy caseload of complex patent and trademark litigation matters throughout the United States. He is also the current chair of the firm’s Intellectual Property group, where he oversees 25 IP attorneys.
“I love helping clients resolve their disputes,” he says. “IP matters can be exceptionally challenging and complex, both from a technology standpoint and otherwise. To take the complex and make it simple is very challenging, yet very rewarding.”
Burton was the third generation in his family to serve an LDS mission to Germany, and later in his career he was appointed as a German Honorary Consul. In that role, he serves as the official representative of Germany in Utah and assists resident Germans with State Department needs like passport applications, visa issues, German notary services and more. He also works to build relationships between Utah and Germany, and he regularly hosts groups of German diplomats and business leaders visiting Utah, introducing them to the people and businesses here.
Last book read: Traitor to His Class: the Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt by H. W. Brands
When considering what makes a great lawyer, natural storytelling ability is probably not the first thing many would think of. Yet, for Jordan Cameron, storytelling and tenacity are the qualities he believes contributed to his success. “I still don’t view myself as a lawyer,” he says. “I view myself as a storyteller. The script is outlined by the facts of each case, but it is up to me to tell it.”
In 2009, Cameron began developing a technology to be used by internet access services to identify and track violations of federal law occurring over their networks. That technology has since been used successfully to identify violations of the CAN-SPAM Act and link them to the parties hiding in the shadows of the internet.
Now Cameron is known nationally as an expert in this field, and he is one of the only attorneys in the country who has paired law with technology in order to successfully litigate these types of cases. He has represented clients in over 70 cases arising under the CAN-SPAM Act, resulting in millions of dollars in settlements and judgments and has acted as a consultant to other attorneys in dozens of other matters.
Favorite Utah diversion: “My all-time favorite Utah diversion is called Shooting the Tube. If you’ve done it, you know what I am talking about. If you haven’t, I’d prefer to keep the mystery alive.”
Paul Dickson got his first taste of entrepreneurship as a kid selling day-old goods from his father’s bakery. In college, he co-founded a smart-grid energy management company, which was eventually sold to Vivint. He flexed his entrepreneurial muscles again when Vivint expanded with the formation of Vivint Solar, where Dickson was part of the founding management team.
Dickson likes the excitement of a fast-growing company, especially one dealing with an industry with as much rapid technological and regulatory change as renewable energy. “I really enjoy seeing the people I work with grow and progress, and I appreciate that I too am still learning, growing and being challenged,” he says.
Vivint Solar has grown quickly, which has given Dickson a challenge in adapting his strategies and processes to reflect the new conditions of the business. “Having been at Vivint Solar since the beginning, I need to remind myself that the things we did in the past to be successful are often not the same things that will make us successful in the future,” he says. “Remembering this has helped me to be more successful and agile.”
Favorite social media platform: “Instagram. I don’t post much, but I like to see what my family and friends are up to.”
Kris Distefano was the youngest vice president ever placed at America First Credit Union and he remains the youngest person currently in its senior management. Most recently, he championed the America First Innovations Center, a new concept that is part branch, part learning workshop and part tech playground, giving credit union members hands-on access to state-of-the-art technology and financial systems. Distefano also championed the technology inside the center, including the first Teller Assist Unit and first “Remote Expert” solution.
“The credit union and banking industry has changed a lot in the last 15 years,” says Distefano. “The Great Recession has made the biggest impact on the industry, with changes ranging from new regulations to altered competitive landscapes. I’ve learned that focusing on the members (customers) must be at the heart of your business if you want to be successful.”
In his role heading up sales for the credit union, Distefano has implemented new incentive plan that encourages employees to build relationships with members rather than push products. “When you have great people working with and for you, half the challenge is getting out of the way and letting them do their job,” he says.
First job: Mopping floors at the airport
Although Jesse Dowdle leads the quality assurance, architecture and engineering teams as vice president of technology for RizePoint, his educational back ground is quite different—he holds dual degrees in History and Journalism. But at the beginning of his career he got a job as a writer and designer of video games, and that drew him into the tech field.
Before joining RizePoint, Dowdle was with Workfront, a company that grew rapidly from 20 to 700 employees during his tenure. The engineering team along grew by 50 percent, and, remarkably, Dowdle kept the turnover rate on the team to 5 percent.
“I’m happiest when I’m working with brilliant people solving hard, meaningful problems. That usually means I spend my time recruiting talent, then designing and delivering products to market,” he says. “In the end, it’s still about using technology to solve problems. If we can put a great product out there that does the job people hire it to do, I’m a happy camper.”
Dowdle is also happy about the role RizePoint plays in the community, providing STEM scholarships and participating in coding camps, among other things. “All of us in the tech community in Utah have a responsibility to prepare the up-and-coming generation to do amazing things!” he says.
Favorite Utah diversion: “Hitting the slopes with family and friends for a day of fresh powder skiing. What could be better?”
For Scott Eaker, the secret to success isn’t rocket science. “I try my best to put all I’ve got into what I believe, care about the people I work with, and do things because I believe they are right and make the world a better place,” he says.
Eaker, a first-generation college student, originally studied motorsports engineering, which led to working with airplanes, and finally rockets. “Rockets are cool! When you see one fly, the power is so incredible the ground rumbles and you feel it from miles away,” he says. “Rockets are important in keeping our nation safe, enabling exploration and making many technologies each of us enjoy today possible. And they are a reflection of the incredible people that make them.”
The space industry now is evolving as an established, mature field is blended with youth and innovation in response to the market’s clamor for new products. Eaker relishes being part of frontier-challenging exploration, as well as helping further communication and science through his work. He says he encourages younger people to discover and follow their passion, so they might find the corner of the world where they can do the most good. And if it turns out their passion is rockets, he says, that’s all the better.
Role model: “Keith Richards. I want to still be rockin’ when I’m 72.”
Luz Escamilla is currently serving her third term in the Utah State Senate, while still acting as the vice president for community development at Zions Bank. Escamilla first became a state senator at the age of 29, after sitting in a committee hearing where she felt her voice, and the voices of many others, were not being represented. Her work at Zions Bank came after years of working in the public sector, when she was offered the opportunity to serve startups and existing businesses looking toward growth as director of Zions Bank’s newly formed Business Resource Center.
While she is incredibly busy, Escamilla finds great joy in the work that she does as a public servant and as a banker who can “be part of [a business-owner’s] growth, both at a personal or business level.”
“As a state senator, I get to see the direct impact public policy has, not only on one individual, but on hundreds of thousands of residents of this great state. You have the capacity to bring those types of changes with legislation,” says Escamilla. “One of my favorite parts of being a senator is the many opportunities I have to interact with the young residents of our state. I love visiting schools and feeling hope for the future of our nation after spending time with the children of our state.”
Role Model: “My mom is my role model; she is a strong woman that under very difficult medical conditions was able to finish an advanced post graduate degree.”
On any given day, Scott Evans might be writing a wine and cocktail list, scheduling menu tastings, working with managers, or any other of a host of tasks under his wide purview. “There are rarely two days alike,” he says. “I get equal pleasure from providing an unforgettable dining experience for a guest, inspiring a server or cook to truly love food or wine, and mentoring a chef or manager.”
Evans got his start in the restaurant business at age 14, working at an eatery down the street from his house. Food has always held a special place in his heart—sampling world cuisine with his father proved to be a powerful bonding tool. In 2009, Evans opened Pago. Soon after came a second restaurant, and within a year’s time, he had doubled that number. The importance of maintaining a great dining experience on every level—from food to atmosphere to culture and everything in between—really came into the forefront during that time, he says. The number of restaurants under the Pago group’s umbrella, now numbering five, has also made Evans lean more heavily on his managers as he prioritizes his time among all of his projects.
Favorite Utah diversion: “Snowboarding and split-boarding are still my largest diversions. Followed by soccer—I am still on two competitive men’s soccer teams.”
Brian Everill purchased his first Master Muffler franchise at the age of 21, just after returning from an LDS mission. Just four short years later, he bought into another franchise that operated four additional locations. In the year before he bought the company, it saw $2.24 million in annual sales. Within five years, annual sales had more than doubled to $5.24 million. And last year, Everill expanded his company with the acquisition of Master Muffler West Valley. He also launched another franchise concept, Master Lube, which now has three locations.
“When I purchased the corporation I was the youngest employee in the company. I was overconfident and headstrong. Winning the respect and trust of the tenured staff was extremely challenging as I needed them on board to move forward; however, they wanted to see change and improvement before they bought in,” explains Everill. “I learned that I cannot succeed without my team. Standing shoulder to shoulder with my crew has made us grow.”
Everill is passionate about family-owned businesses, and he co-founded the Family Owned Business Alliance of America, an organization dedicated to helping families grow their businesses.
Role model: “My father is my idol for fairness, balance, temperance, for being even keeled and for what I want to model my life after. He is famous for saying the most in fewest words, and I admire and look up to him greatly.”
The intersection of psychology and beauty is where April Benincosa Francom makes her home. Whether as a bartender, waiter, makeup artist, hair stylist or salon owner, Francom has always worked with people. While weighing her desire to continue her psychology studies in a Master’s degree, Francom realized she could influence others as an entrepreneur and hair stylist instead.
“Life is about progress. I am pulled to my mission of helping creatives and passionate people find their path. It is not a job or a career—it is my mission,” she says. “I am so motivated to elevate the hair industry in Utah that keeps me going every day.”
Francom continues to invest in herself and her businesses—she now owns three franchises—by taking business, social media, empowerment and styling classes. She is deeply driven to give back, and has fielded numerous apprenticeships in her businesses, as well as volunteering in schools and giving haircuts to underserved youth. She says she tries to practice self-love, gratitude and empathy to mold her own leadership style.
“I believe that by serving others and treating others with respect they will treat you in kind. You
can’t get what you don’t give,” she says.
Last book read: The Code of the Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani
At the age of 23, while many others are still trying to figure out their career path, Sarah Marsing Franklin was receiving her Ph.D. from BYU. Franklin went on to become a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA in 2007, and at the age of 29 returned to Utah, where the University of Utah afforded her the opportunity to open her own research lab. Today, Franklin investigates the epigenetic regulation of gene expression during the development of heart disease, and has published or collaborated on dozens of scientific and scholarly articles.
“I love the feeling of stepping to the edge of knowledge and then trying to take that next leap into the unknown to uncover something that’s completely new, to add to human knowledge [and] to shape our understanding of the body,” she says.
With all her achievement, science is still far from Franklin’s only love. While her work in her research is immensely important, Franklin also dedicates herself to serving the less fortunate. For the past nine years, she has worked extensively with the homeless community, volunteering for The Road Home and helping to found an organization called CARE-Cuts, which provides haircuts and makeovers for the homeless. She has also started a nonprofit called Hope Worldwide Utah, providing week-long humanitarian trips to volunteers to go to and serve orphanages or refugee camps.
Role Model: Albert Einstein and Marie Curie
Auric Solar was a smaller, less well-known company when it completed the installation of the solar array on the Rio Tinto Stadium. Bobby Gibson seized the opportunity by organizing a switch-flipping event for the array, garnering media coverage on every TV station and newspaper in Salt Lake. He also partnered with Real Salt Lake’s PR team on messaging that spread worldwide in sports media.
Thanks in large part to these and other marketing efforts, Auric Solar has achieved annual revenue growth of 300 percent and now employs over 200 people.
“Auric Solar was one of a handful of solar companies when we started. Now there are over 100 solar companies in Utah alone. That increase in competition energizes us and challenges us to never settle,” says Gibson. “We continue to adapt and find new ways to tell our story. We started basic with TV and radio. Now we have aggressive billboard, digital and social campaigns. … We were one of the first solar companies in Utah to use aerial photography and videography to give people a chance to visually test drive solar.”
Favorite social media platform: “Instagram—I’m very visual, and I like photography and video. Instagram is perfect for that.”
After graduating from Brigham Young University, Stephanie Hewlett began her accounting career in the New York City office of PwC. She spent 10 years there, working with several media and technology clients. Later, as a senior manager, she was asked to take an assignment in Los Angeles, where she unexpectedly found herself spearheading the firm’s response to one of the largest corporate cyber attacks in U.S. history.
Now Hewlett serves as the first female assurance partner of PwC Utah. In a state with a burgeoning tech industry, Hewlett is helping to build PwC’s technology practice in Utah. She is also devoted to mentoring junior professionals in her industry.
“Being a woman in a mostly male dominated industry remains a challenge,” she says. “In Utah’s accounting landscape, less than 1 percent of partner positions are occupied by women. I have learned to embrace my strengths as a female professional and want to help other women embrace their strengths—and to realize there is no need to change who they are!”
First job: “I worked at a local frozen yogurt shop during high-school. After much practice, I mastered the yogurt ‘twirl’ from the machines—in either a cup or a cone—as well as making waffle cones. … I have come a long way from my days at the yogurt shop, but I still crave a fresh waffle cone from time to time.”
Jacob Hiller and his business partner founded their outsourced IT services firm, INTELITECHS, in 2011. The company has expanded quickly since that time, both through organic client growth and through acquisitions. Staring with just two clients in 2011, company now services more than 300 clients. Hiller also founded INTELICOM, LLC, a telecommunications company that provides telecom services to INTELITECHS’ clients and others.
Hiller says he loves entrepreneurship, and he also enjoys helping other entrepreneurs solve problems in their businesses. “Business owners come to me wanting to implement technology to increase their success, but they don’t know what to do,” he says. “The best part of my job is the process of learning about their system of operations, then matching the ideal technology to create the outcome they hoped for. I love to come into a situation where people are frustrated, and then calm the storm and find a solution. It can be stressful, but then it is that much more rewarding when I find a solution in the end.”
Last book read: “Driven, the autobiography of Larry Miller. This is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read and I read it at least once per year. When I started INTELITECHS I read it three or four times for motivation. It helped lay the roadmap for my business.”
Mitch Lamb was working in commercial banking when the original founder of L9 came to him seeking financing. He was intrigued by the business’ concept—and even more intrigued with how quickly the founder was able to repay the loan. Lamb felt he could add value to the company with his operational skills, and the founder agreed. Lamb started as COO in 2010, was promoted to CEO in 2014, and bought out the founder with a business partner in 2015.
Sales can be unpredictable in the sports equipment industry—a heavy snow year, for example, means more sales, while a dry year could hurt the bottom line. With sales that can fluctuate by as much as 30 percent, Lamb has had to implement processes that help even out the company’s income.
But Lamb says he enjoys the challenge of making skiing and biking affordable for people. “These sports are so wholesome and rewarding but have historically been very expensive and therefore difficult to get into,” he says. “At L9 we’ve turned that on its head and it is so fun to see so many people getting back into these sports.”
Favorite Utah diversion: “It would almost be impossible to decide between rappelling down a ZNP slot canyon, skiing the Wasatch with my wife and five kids, or boating in Lake Powell.”
The 2008 financial crash was difficult for a lot of people, but Bradley Lavery was one of those hit hardest. “I ended up losing everything. I lost my home, my cars, my investments, all my businesses, everything. I had to start over from zero. Everything I had worked my entire life up to that point was gone,” he says.
Since he had already experienced failure, Lavery wasn’t intimidated to try something big, and found passion in starting Western Timber Frame, which offers elevated timber shade structures for residential backyards. Within a few years, the company was generating tens of millions of dollars in sales, and Lavery had to grapple with a completely different problem: how to keep up with the business’ explosive growth. With several patented designs and construction methods, Western Timber Frame is now the top pergola and pavilion kit manufacturer in North America.
Lavery says he is proud of the impact his company’s products have on people’s lives. “I would hear continually from [clients] about how it was so much better than they expected and how much they enjoy living life outdoors again … that’s what I enjoy so much.”
First job: “Learning to build a house with wood. I started framing houses when I just turned 15 years old. I moved on to start my first building company when I was 17 years old.”
Before taking his talents to Vivint Smart Home, Matt Mahar had a career in sports. He was a college basketball player, and then worked for EA Sports, helping to launch three NBA Live games and developing online games for EA Sports’ NHL franchise. He also worked at Nike as the director of software experience design. This history in the field of sports has led him to channel his competitive drive into his career.
“I think my sports background, especially as a college basketball player, has fueled my competitive drive. I’m a hypercompetitive individual and always want to win,” says Mahar. “I want to be the best leader and build the best design team in Utah. I want Vivint Smart Home to lead the smart home industry with the best design solutions that people have ever seen. I want to do the best possible work all the time.”
At Vivint Smart Home, Mahar has revamped the company’s design aesthetic, helped overhaul the mobile app and has received international recognition for his and his team’s work, winning two Red Dot Product Design awards. He continues to help his team by being a “thought partner,” creating and debuting new products for Vivint Smart Home.
First job: Digging ditches for optical fiber to be laid in new subdivisions
Dr. Joe Maio’s career began in the Air Force, where he not only completed more than 300 hours of continuing education for advanced dental techniques, but also learned foundations of leadership that continue to serve him to this day.
“As I learned in the military, don’t expect anyone to do anything you haven’t properly trained them to do; nor anything you wouldn’t do yourself,” says Maio. “Being a leader is about inspiring others to go to places they have never been before. To challenge them, to guide them, and to develop them.”
Maio has built on his strong foundation to become the CEO of Apex Dental, where he has taken the dental practice from one location to eight, from seven employees to 94, and from $800,000 in yearly gross revenues to nearly $30 million over the last five years.
“I love the challenge of running an enterprise and developing strategies for growth that will allow us to provide our services to as many people as we can in our community,” he says. “We continually look for ways to develop our people both personally and professionally, and help them become the best versions of themselves.”
Last book read: It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff
Travis Mecham began working in the auto glass industry at the age of 18. He worked for a few companies before landing at TechnaGlass, where he decided to work hard and put all his effort into building a career in the industry. The effort paid off. By 23, he was chosen to be the manager of a new TechnaGlass location in Provo. From there, he was promoted to director of operations; then in 2013, he became vice president.
Mecham says that early on as a manager, he realized the power of mentorship. “I did everything I could to not only train my employees to do their jobs well but also trained them how to do mine. … Soon employees that I had trained in my Provo store with little to no experience in the industry were being promoted and given opportunities to manage their own stores as TechnaGlass continued to grow.”
In 2006, Mecham realized TechnaGlass needed a better way to recruit and develop workers. So he created a unique training program that in four weeks takes someone with no glass experience and turns them into a certified windshield repair technician. Now over half of the company’s store managers got their start in the TechnaGlass training program.
Favorite Utah diversion: “Fly fishing. … There is nothing I enjoy more than to be alone on a river trying to trick a trout into biting what I have to offer.”
In his role with CBRE, Darin Mellot consults with staff and clients regarding economic trends in the Southwest region, which covers Utah, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. He has authored several regional, national and global research papers for CBRE, and has given numerous presentations.
In 2011, Mellot was appointed to the Utah Economic Council, a joint venture between the Salt Lake Chamber, the University of Utah and the Utah Governor’s Office of Management and Budget. He also serves on the board of directors for the Economic Club of Utah, as well as the executive board of the Utah Foundation.
“Real estate research requires one to stay on top of a constantly changing landscape,” says Mellot. “I’ve always been a news junkie. I’d be following current events and reading the business section no matter what I was doing. Now, I get paid to do it! In short, I enjoy connecting the macro with the micro, understanding how things interact and informing clients what the implications are for them.”
Preferred social media platform: “Twitter. It’s to the point and one of the best ways to capture news flow.”
When Jed Millburn started Millburn & Company in 2010, he had six years of experience under his belt as a multifamily property broker and enough ambition to give him a leg up when he struck out on his own. But as his business flourished, he found he needed a different skillset to manage both the brokerage and managerial facets of the company.
“As a multifamily broker, I didn’t manage a large group of people; instead I was using my sales skills, financial analysis skills, and simply managing the transaction process,” he says. “I quickly realized that I not only needed to implement much of what I had learned as a broker, but add to it, by improving my people management skills. We went from zero employees six years ago to five executives and over 130 onsite management personnel. This transition was sometimes difficult for me, because I was so used to doing everything myself.”
Since the company’s founding, Millburn has raised and invested over $175 million in capital from private investors and has acquired 21 properties totaling more than 4,000 multifamily units, valued at more than $700 million across the western United States.
First job: “I started a lawn care business at age 13. I remember earning $4 an hour and thinking I had hit the jack pot!”
Jamie Morningstar always knew she had a knack for math and problem-solving, so the decision to go into software engineering was easy. What she hadn’t realized was that she also had a rare blend of technical, communication and prioritization skills that have made her shine in her career. “By understanding and leveraging my strengths and keeping my eyes open for opportunities around me, I am able to learn quickly and climb the corporate jungle gym effectively,” she says.
Some of her projects at Qualtrics have included a new voice-of-the-customer platform and a text analysis project to make free text comments analyzable and actionable for Qualtrics clients. In its first week of availability, users of the text tools analyzed almost 1.2 million survey responses, improving the speed and quality of analysis for over 3,000 unique users.
Morningstar is also passionate about encouraging and mentoring other women interested in the tech field. She founded Qualtrics Women Leadership Development and leads its mentor group initiative. During the first quarter of the initiative, 167 women at Qualtrics signed up to participate in 31 mentor groups.
Role model: “I love the worldview of Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables. She mindfully seeks the enchantment and wonder in the world around her, is a woman of action, embraces her own uniqueness, and constantly inspires those around her to make their world a better and more beautiful place.”
Brandon Peay was working in Pearth, Australia, when he heard a startup based near his Davis County hometown had closed a large Series A funding round. Peay, who had been building a career at Bain & Company helping Fortune 1000 companies solve some of their thorniest issues, was intrigued by both its success and its mission. After a meeting with Pluralsight leaders, he found himself hooked.
Peay has relished in the company’s quest to close the technology skills gap, as well as the puzzle of how to help the company grow its strongest. “I enjoy the constant stream of challenges in scaling a business,” he says. “Those challenges are unpredictable. There is always the next mountain to climb, and that’s a thrill.”
Peay has had a large hand in Pluralsight’s aggressive M&A strategy, having led negotiations and the execution of its recent HackHands acquisition. Peay is also instrumental in Code School, a Pluralsight company that provides online coding courses. Under Peay’s leadership, Code School’s profitability has tripled in the past six months.
Favorite social media platform: “Twitter … It’s where I curate my news, sports updates and industry information. I like that I can connect with some of the world’s most brilliant minds and get real-time insight into their thought leadership.”
Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. So it was with the creation of Jive Communications, says John Pope. “I had a couple of other businesses and we needed phone systems, and none of the ones that were out in the market at the time were really at the right price point or had the right feature set and flexibility,” he says.
So Pope launched Jive Communications, a cloud-based telecommunications service that provides businesses top-notch communication tools without large capital investments in on-site PBX systems. Now at 500 employees, Jive has clearly flourished by pioneering this industry.
“Early on, our industry was very focused on small businesses, Mom and Pop, and over the years we’ve moved up market, and now we’re serving some of the largest companies out there,” says Pope. “The needs of a small business verses a midmarket or Fortune 500 company are quite different, so we’ve had to model our business to that shift.”
Passion: “I am passionate about working with my son to restore automobiles. … I love being able to get my hands on a project and sort of learn with him and hunt down parts and just see the finished product.”
Cameron Simonsen is the third generation in his family to be active in the commercial real estate industry. Simonsen represents many of the top national retail clients in the country, as well as major local developers. In fact, he has brought many national brands to the Utah market for the first time. Some of his clients include Wadsworth Development Group, The Boyer Company, Liljenquist Properties, The TJ Maxx Companies, Buffalo Wild Wings and The Habit Burger.
“The retail world has evolved dramatically over the last decade. Many of the once-dominant retailers from less than a decade ago no longer exist (Circuit City, Borders Books, Sports Authority, etc.). Online sales will continue to affect the retail industry moving forward, but I’ve tried to adapt my business and stay focused on the retailers that continue to thrive,” says Simonsen. “I try to stay focused on concepts that continue to reinvent themselves and focus on a positive consumer experience.”
Favorite Utah diversion: “Fly fishing on the Provo River or Green River. … When I need a break, a day on the river is the ticket for me. It is the only activity that I do where my mind is completely present and focused on just one thing.”
Graphic design, says Peder Singleton, was always in his blood. As a kid, he enjoyed creativity, loving to draw and paint and invent. It wasn’t until his 20s, however, that Singleton realized he could funnel that creativity into an actual career. He was director of creative production at Struck until 2014, when he joined glasses.com as its creative director. That company was subsequently purchased by the largest eyewear company in the world.
“[I enjoy] making things, creating stuff—whether it’s starting from scratch or taking a mess of scattered pieces of a brand and redesigning the entire thing. I love the idea that I can start with literally nothing and create a real, physical product that I can brand, package and sell. I love solving problems and communicating ideas through creative applications,” says Singleton.
To aid in the success of sales, marketing or business development, he says the story needs to be told visually, with great design and creativity, and so he feels he stakes his reputation on everything he creates. “I want my personal brand to be strong, creative and dependable, and exceeding goals ties right back into that,” he says.
Favorite Utah Diversion: “Do funeral potatoes count? If not, I love our National Parks.”
After finishing her bachelor’s degree at 16, Sarah Spencer began applying to law schools and started attending at 18. Spencer has been practicing law since 2004 and has quickly risen through the ranks within her firm. In fact, she has already accumulated more appeals and appearances before appellate courts than some practitioners would achieve in a lifetime.
While the law often has a reputation for being a battleground, Spencer finds many of her clients prefer compromise and negotiation. “It is very gratifying to turn a negative situation into a positive one, no matter whether that means fiercely litigating a case all the way through a final appeal or resolving a case early on by negotiation,” she says.
Spencer is passionate about pro bono work, and she chaired the Utah State Bar’s Wills for Heroes outreach effort to first responders, producing hundreds of wills, powers of attorney, medical directives and other necessary documents. She later expanded the program to reach seniors through a Wills for Seniors effort.
Favorite Utah diversion: “When I’m not working, you can find me skiing Utah powder, skydiving from airplanes, helicopters and hot air balloons, and flying around at iFly, the vertical wind tunnel in Ogden.”
When Matt Sterbenz was only five years old, he first learned the basics of skiing. That first original curiosity blossomed into a full-fledged passion, and Sterbenz became a professional skier in a discipline called freeskiing. He gained national and international recognition for his performances at the X-Games and other events.
During his athletic career, Sterbenz noticed that he and other athletes skied for European brands while the freeskiing movement was predominately a North American passion. He and a few other athletes began 4FRNT, a brand “designed to support the sport’s best skiers and provide a platform where together, we can establish leadership for our young sport,” says Sterbenz.
“We debuted in 2002, at the turn of the SLC Winter Olympics, and we built the brand up by offering ownership to the athletes to come aboard and help us design skis,” he says. “This structure in ownership and design is still what fuels the competitive advantage the brand has today in how we are governed, operate and authentically stand out.”
Now, 4FRNT is sold through more than 100 retailers in North America and over a dozen distributors internationally, although its most significant growth comes from its website.
First job: Fry cook in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
With over 15 years of experience in tax consulting, Joe Stoddard is a specialist in research and development (R&D) tax incentives, a skill he partly honed working in a national accounting firm. R&D tax claims can save a business hundreds of thousands of dollars, which can then be used for reinvestment in the business, into the economy, or into the community. Eide Bailly recruited Stoddard for this expertise, which is often only found in large markets.
Today, Stoddard oversees two specialty groups, the R&D tax practice and the cost segregation group for Eide Bailly. In just one year, his R&D team has grown to 10 full-time staff members. The experience of creating that team, says Stoddard, not only helped the firm, but also led to his own development.
“I was charged with building a team nationwide for Eide Bailly—covering 29 offices in 13 states. As I worked to build this team, I’ve grown immensely as it has required me to step way outside my comfort zone,” says Stoddard. “I’m a firm believer that spending the most time and energy on priorities likely to pay off most in the long term is a key to success.”
Passion: “I play the stand-up bass and I really enjoy playing ‘50s style rockabilly/country music.”
Advertising is an industry constantly in flux. But it’s that constant change, with new problems to solve and landscapes to explore, that Adam Stoker loves about working in advertising.
As a child, Stoker said he was always interested in ads, always asking his father what commercials were trying to accomplish. He worked at a small advertising agency to put himself through school at BYU, and then eventually went to work for an agency in St. George. The agency grew rapidly, from three people bringing in $1 million in revenue per year to 17 employees bringing in $8 million per year. Last year, Stoker purchased the agency with partners he feels complement his abilities.
“I’m motivated by progress. I’ve never been content with where I currently am. Because I’m always trying to progress, get better and get smarter, I feel like I’ve been prepared for a lot of the challenges that have been put in front of me,” he says. “My business partner makes fun of me because when something needs to be done … I try to get things done as soon as I find out about them. By tackling problems or issues immediately, they don’t impede my progress or the progress of our business.”
Passion: Basketball and BYU sports
Meghan Tuohig has been working her way through the ranks at Overstock.com since joining the company in early 2004. That experience, along with her interest in design, put her in the perfect position to lead the company’s building redesign project last year.
The Overstock.com Peace Coliseum in Midvale houses more than 1,500 employees in an open, natural light-flooded layout—a reflection of the changing attitudes about what a workplace should accomplish. “I started my professional career when corporate spaces were filled with walled offices and private cubicles. Now, millennial employees are looking for open office settings, and often expect more amenities in the workplace,” Tuohig says.
Throughout the project, for which Tuohig completed a program in interior design and architecture at New York University, she found frequent communication and seeking collaboration from colleagues was necessary for success. She also tries to emphasize transparency in her day-to-day duties and lead by example. “I love knowing that my work makes a difference in the satisfaction of our workforce,” she says. “My efforts can have a positive impact on the lives of my colleagues.”
Passion: “I have always loved home improvement. You’ll often find me with a paint brush, drill, or tape measure in my hands. My collection of power tools is impressive!”
Melanie Vartabedian has been steeped in the legal profession since a young age—her father was a judge, and she would visit him at the courthouse even as a toddler. But the legal industry has changed since her father’s day—and since she first began working in the industry. There is an increased need to be business-savvy, she says, as well as sharp legally, in terms of generating clients and working efficiently.
“I enjoy working with people—both within my law firm, with other lawyers, and with my clients—to figure out how to solve complex problems,” she says. “This often entails thinking outside of the box to come to the best resolution for the client.”
Vartabedian is an active leader of Ballard Women, where she leads events geared toward professional development for women in the firm. She also serves on the firm’s Diversity Council, helping organize diversity events and weighing in on important issues of diversity and inclusion in the firm.
“Serving as a mentor is one of my favorite things to do,” she says. “It is a mutually beneficial relationship—I feel that I get as much out of it as do my mentees.”
Role model: “I admire our current and former female Supreme Court justices, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor.”
It’s not every middle-schooler that enjoys reading The Wall Street Journal like Jason Ware did, but the ones that do might end up with a lifelong passion for economics just like Ware, who carved out a career path in wealth management after gaining a BS in economics at the University of Utah and an MBA at Westminster College. His love of learning about the field has never wavered.
“There are few fields out there that quench one’s thirst for constant learning in the way that investment management does. Whether it’s macroeconomic and financial market research, politics, industry analysis, or studying a specific stock, my job has a way of forcing you to quickly become highly proficient across a wide range of topics,” says Ware.
As CIO, Ware oversees the firm’s rigorous top-down investment research process; his work provides the foundation for client portfolio construction and forms the basis for the firm’s opinions and outlook on the global economy and financial markets.
Ware’s deep insight has turned him into a frequent resource for the financial press. He is frequently quoted in articles from Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, Investment News and American Banker. He is also a regular guest on CNBC television talking stocks and the market.
Passion: “I believe that as we progress into the twenty-first century, anyone who considers themselves a realist must make the environment a top priority.”
Molly Westbrook heads up a 9-million-square-foot office space property management portfolio for Cushman & Wakefield Commerce. Westbrook says she greatly enjoys the property management side of the real estate business “because it requires both financial acumen and strong people skills.”
She is also deeply interested in sustainability. In a previous role, she led a year-long energy-saving effort for the 500,000-square-foot Cottonwood Corporate Center. The project involved retrofitting 180 lamps and installing self-adjusting astronomical timers to exterior lighting. And a building automation system now runs the HVAC equipment at peak efficiency.
As a result of the effort, the Cottonwood Corporate Center attained an Energy Star score of 94 as well as LEED Gold Certification, and it earned a regional Outstanding Building of the Year (TOBY) award. The property also saw 17 percent energy savings, equating to an annual savings of $35,000.
“I have and continue to read case studies and other business literature regarding various methods for improving a building’s green presence. It seems that companies are adopting new methods for improving sustainability goals every day,” Westbrook says.
Role model: “My mom is my role model. She was both a strong business professional and a major player in her career. She showed me what it was to lead a team, be professional, and yet still be a loving mother to me and my siblings.”
Whitney Wilkinson is a jack-of-all-trades. In one day, she might write a video script, analyze data, develop a creative campaign and teach a class. In the past, Wilkinson was in the PR and marketing office for Utah State University, where she says her claim to fame was creating a new (and now much-beloved) flavor of Aggie Ice Cream named “Aggie Blue Mint.”
While she’s worked in the past with startups, agencies, government and advertising, Wilkinson says she’s always found her way back to higher education. This love for higher education also bleeds into her personal time, as Wilkinson is especially dedicated to helping underserved populations achieve the dream of a college education.
“I think it’s the combination of encouraging students achieve their goals and telling their success stories that drives me,” she says. “In working with students, I enjoy helping them discover their potential and find a path to achieving their goals. Helping students find their path and realize their potential is extremely gratifying.”
Favorite Utah diversion: “I love time spending time at my family’s cabin near Oakley.”
Being what he calls a “very results-driven individual,” Graham Wood believes in making the most out of whatever changes life brings. “We are not around forever, and I think we should live life to the fullest and not waste any days,” he says. “Challenges are not a deterrent to me because I know that they are inevitable in life and certainly will not stop me from achieving my goals.”
This quality is an important one for the CEO of a growing company. Fluent Home, the home automation company that Wood leads, has seen a great deal of change since Wood established it as Titan Alarm in 2011. The company currently secures over 85,000 homes across the United States and Canada. In 2014, Titan Alarm merged with another company, and Wood decided to rename the newly-formed company Fluent Home.
“This evolution of home automation has had a great impact on our industry and is pushing us to constantly strive for the best technology and service. One of the things we did to adapt to these changes is change our name from Titan Alarm to Fluent Home,” says Wood. “We dropped the ‘Alarm’ in our old brand as we wanted to be known in the consumer market as a home automation company that does more than just secure your home.”
Last Book Read: Screw Business as Usual by Richard Branson