20 in Their 20s
Many people in their 20s haven’t yet decided what they want to be when they grow up, but that isn’t the case for the group of twenty-somethings Utah Business is honoring in its first-ever Twenty in their 20s awards program. From founding and owning their own companies to moving up the corporate ladder at record speed, these young, business-savvy executives are bringing new ideas and a fresh approach to Utah’s business community. Join us as we celebrate what’s sure to be just the beginning of their successful careers.
Jonathan Owens worked for a year in both research and therapy after graduating with a bachelor’s degree before he realized neither area was meant for him. A short time later, opportunity knocked in the form of commercial real estate.
From the beginning, Owens has charted significant increases in sales year-over-year.
“He doubled his first year’s sales at Cushman & Wakefield | Commerce in his second [year], increased his second year’s amount by 40 percent in his third [year], and is well on pace to achieve an astounding 450 percent increase of his first year’s sales for 2015,” says Trigger Reital, Owens’ nominator and managing director at Cushman & Wakefield | Commerce. “His track record demonstrates an unsurpassed commitment to improvement and staying abreast of the commercial real estate industry’s trends.”
Though he’s been phenomenally successful, Owens says what’s more important than financial success to him is earning the respect of his peers and clients. Because of this, his ambition is focused more on continuing to build a positive reputation as a trustworthy, respected professional.
Last book read: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Social platform of choice: I’m not involved much with social media, but my friends and I use Snapchat a lot to trade laughs.
To say Tony Christensen knows his stuff is an understatement. After graduating from Dixie State University and joining the financial industry in early 2009, he was awarded New Associate of the Year, 1-4 Year Associate and eventually hit Blue Chip Circle at MassMutual Intermountain West in 2014.
These milestones and five years of experience led Christensen to form his own company, Statera, with business partner David Harris. They currently manage over $20 million in assets and regularly manage multi-million dollar accounts.
Christensen credits many things to his ambition to succeed. “My ambition stems from the way I was raised, the friends I had as a young adult, and the people I associated with as I got older,” he says.
Brady Murray, Christensen’s nominator and president of MassMutual Intermountain West, adds that Christensen is successful because he works continually to think outside the status quo to develop more efficient systems. “One system that stands out in his current efforts is a marketing system that allows him to not only reach out to the elusive millennial generation, but to generate meaningful communication to allow them to face the unseen future and feel empowered instead of overwhelmed with planning for the unknown,” he says.
Favorite activity to unwind: Golf, or sports of any kind.
Social platform of choice: Instagram. In its purest form, I think Instagram is the best way for people to know who I am when I’m not at work.
Not long after graduating with a degree in finance, Winslow Young began his career at Oz Marketing.
“Marketing is one of my favorite sides to business because it can be a useful, creative outlet developing new and creative campaigns,” he says. “I have always been technologically savvy and self-taught myself how to run search and display marketing campaigns, eventually becoming Google and Bing certified.”
Young grew the digital marketing department at Oz Marketing from less than $10,000 per month to over $70,000 per month. During this time he also enrolled in the MBA program at Westminster College, where he graduated in 2015.
Under his direction, Oz Marketing has fostered a client base that extends through Utah and into Southern Idaho. This list includes companies such as Rocky Mountain Raceways, Saunders Outdoor and Young Automotive Group.
“Winslow has excelled in all forms of advertising, but has brought skill and creativity into new media, always with documented and analyzed results in his position as managing director at Oz Marketing,” says Kelly Moss, vice president at Young Automotive Group and Young’s nominator.
Young is also involved with the Davis Chamber of Commerce and Ski Utah, and he helps to raise money for the Davis Education Foundation and the Utah Pride Center.
Last book read: Youtility by Jay Baer
Juel Iverson has an inability to be satisfied with “good enough.” Not only did she graduate with her bachelor’s degree in English in only three years, she did it while working three jobs. While working toward her MBA, she landed a job at Allen Communication, where she works with numerous Fortune 500 clients consulting on enterprise-wide learning solutions.
Nate Chai, vice president of product operations, says he’s worked with many learning and performance professionals over the years, but Iverson stands out. “She’s easily one of the smartest and most creative people I know,” he says. “She pairs those abilities with a strong work ethic and great people skills—in fact, I suspect there’s very little she can’t do once she puts her mind to it.”
Iverson welcomes challenges in life and work. “I’m looking forward to the challenge of constantly pushing myself, obtaining new knowledge, meeting new people, and archiving a lifetime of adventures and career success,” she says.
Iverson also volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters and is an avid cyclist who has earned eight individual state championships and was ranked 6th nationally for two consecutive years.
Social platform of choice: I spend the most time on Tumblr—I love the unique and interesting things that pop up from a variety of folks all over the world.
Sable Petersen began working at Progrexion in 2011, and since then she has taken on a variety of roles, from direct response marketing to website usability. As the brand and consumer insights manager, she has been able to identify the meaning behind the organization’s brands and build the story that inspires its vision.
“Watching an entire organization adopt, support and build around a vision you’ve established is incredible,” she says.
Petersen can be credited for establishing and launching a new consumer brand, CreditRepair.com, as well as mission statements for many large consumer brands.
Celeste Edmunds, Progrexion’s PR director and Petersen’s nominator, says Petersen stands out at Progrexion because she is doing something she absolutely loves.“She is passionate and fully dedicated to her work,” she says. “She is unique because she is not afraid to take the company by the hand and lead them down the paths that are necessary in a very fearless and bold way.”
Petersen hopes to continue to make a difference at Progrexion in the future. “You must always be moving forward and looking forward,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to make a difference and an impact with my work no matter how big or small.”
Favorite activity to unwind: Handmade bookbinding. I make hand-sewn books—not to be confused with scrapbooking. Bookbinding is an art for me.
In just three short years, Matthew Martinez has managed to take the business world by storm. He set extreme sales records as sales executive at ADP, which included achieving back-to-back President’s Club in his first year and second year, a feat that’s virtually unheard of. He has also been promoted to manage a team of seven in less than two years.
A college athletic career playing football with the Utah Utes followed by a transition into the world of business wasn’t a simple thing for Martinez, he says, but he’s grateful he made that transition. “The experiences and insights gained in that short three years have been absolutely huge,” he says. “I have grown so much personally, as well as professionally.
I have learned to not fear failure.”
Outside of his career, Martinez founded a nonprofit organization called Ute Athlete Connect, which helps aid college athletes in their transition from sports to the professional world by introducing them to internships and mentoring. Abigail Burns, a clinical specialist at Boston Scientific and Martinez’s nominator, says Martinez has helped place many University of Utah football players in roles that give them an insight into a desired career path when the NFL doesn’t work out.
Social platform of choice: I like to use Facebook to network and build a brand for Athlete Connect. I’ve had great success connecting with alumni and potential employers that are more than willing to help.
A passion for the arts has inspired Katie Cockrell to succeed throughout her life.
Together with her twin sister, she created a dance and active wear line, katieandkellie, that can be seen on several local dance teams, including at Utah Valley University and Corner Canyon High School in Draper, but Cockrell’s passion doesn’t stop at design.
Cockrell has also acted in more than 30 commercials, including national brands such as Sara Lee Bread and Marriott, and produces and co-hosts a monthly segment on Park City TV’s Mountain Morning Show. She also currently works with local branding agency Brand+Aid.
Cockrell says it’s extremely flattering to hear her accomplishments called successes, because she feels like she’s still in the process stage of achieving everything she wants to do in life.
“I’m most proud of my pursuit of my goals and having the courage to go after my dreams,” she says. “It’s hard to put yourself out there and try, and it never gets easier, but the risk is worth it.”
What do you watch on Netflix? I just finished watching the entire series of Friends. I had never watched Friends before that.
Social platform of choice: I love Instagram. It’s a great way to get quick snapshots into people’s daily lives. Follow me @katiecockrell.
To say Kevin Phelps knows a lot about the digital marketing space would be an understatement.
The 25-year-old started a career at OrangeSoda as an analyst at 18 with no experience, went on to SEO.com as the youngest senior manager at 21, and founded GuestBlogPoster at 22 with no investment and grew it to 30 full-time employees and $1.7 million in annual revenue. And his success doesn’t stop there.
He merged GuestBlogPoster with Big Leap at 23, sold GuestBlogPoster to Boostability at 24, and still owns half of Big Leap at 25, along with his brother, Bryan. He also plans to launch Multifuse, what he calls “a totally new style of marketing company,” on Nov. 10.
“I have always been impressed with Kevin’s ability to act on his instincts,” says Boostability CEO Travis Thorpe, Phelps’ nominator. “When Kevin noticed the digital marketing industry changing, he didn’t just sit back to watch what would happen next. He went out and created a company to sell his own unique solution. It’s been a pleasure watching Kevin grow from a typical 18-year-old to a serial entrepreneur in seven short years and I’m excited to see what his talents bring us in the future.”
What do you watch on Netflix? Friends, Breaking Bad, House of Cards and Arrested Development, in that order.
Social platform of choice: Google+ because I like my alone time. Just kidding. Facebook because it is where everyone is, and Reddit because of the specific communities.
Wayne Sleight is the perfect example of starting at the bottom and working his way to the top—all the way to the 97th Floor.
When Sleight was hired at 97th Floor, it was in an assistant role. But within just a few months, Sleight was bringing winning ideas to 97th Floor’s CEO, Chris Bennett, that have helped the company grow to 50 employees with offices in Utah and California. In addition, the company’s revenue has more than tripled since Sleight started, and in 2014, he helped 97th Floor win over 27 awards, one of which was Agency of the Year.
“Wayne started as my assistant and now is an executive and more importantly a partner at 97th Floor,” says Bennett, Sleight’s nominator. “He structured our hiring strategies, [and] he paved the way for other employees to assist him in streamlining our workflow and internal communication. … Wayne [also] stepped [in and] created our budgets and got us on track to be able to have the office we have and offer competitive salaries.”
Sleight says he’s proud of helping establish a company that has a reputation for delivering high-quality results that is beloved by nearly all employees, both past and present.
Last book read: Drive by Dan Pink
Social platform of choice: Twitter. Donald Trump is hilarious on there.
Since their early 20s, Cody Chamberlain and Matt Sneyd have worked together to continually grow their real estate company, The Muve Group. Together, the two have sold more than $30 million in traditional real estate, and have built a team of eight employees that as a team have sold more than $100 million in real estate.
The duo’s success stems from the core value of integrity, says Sneyd. “When we first started to consider rebranding our company in 2013 we wanted to have our company stand for something. We wanted our core values to show through our brand. We wanted to stand out from the pack of agents and flippers in Salt Lake. We saw that there was a lack of integrity in the quality of the majority of remodels and new construction projects in our area and wanted to change that.”
Chamberlain says he is most proud of the brand and market position they have built for their company. “It is very rewarding to be known for what we do and to have built a very good name for ourselves in the SLC real estate community,” he says.
Chamberlain’s last book read: 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
Sneyd’s social platform of choice: My favorite right now is Instagram. I like it because it is short and sweet. Many social media platforms are getting bogged down with a ton of content and distractions.
Rudy Larsen (27) – Not pictured
Founder/CEO, Scandia Company
Rudy Larsen graduated high school in 2006 with a huge passion for business. With no further education he began Lawn Butler in 2007.
One man and a mower producing $30,000 a year became a corporation of 160 full-time employees, seven companies and $8 million annually in just seven years. Larsen has grown his companies organically without any outside investment and, with the exception of one, he owns 100 percent of all of his companies and acts as CEO for them all.
Because of his age, getting the capital to grow his businesses was tough. “Loaning a 19-year-old boy nearly a quarter million dollars was a tough sell for bankers to bite. Eventually, I found someone who believed in me and my dream, and that was a turning point in my business,” he says.
Scott Poelman, co-founder of Olympus Wealth Management and Larsen’s nominator, says, “He started out as a teenager who had a dream of being a businessman. He set seemingly insurmountable goals for himself and was determined to achieve them,” he says. “He learned to be strong and demand results but still be compassionate and understanding of others. He learned to be slow to react and think about all sides of a situation. He learned to take advice from others to better himself and the company.”
Social platform of choice: LinkedIn. It’s not what you know but who you know.
Evan Griffin began his career selling online marketing solutions at local tech company OrangeSoda, where he developed a love for digital marketing and technology. After having several successes there—including building OrangeSoda’s first learning management system/partner certification program—he continued his career at MityLite, where he was integral in helping to execute the company’s rebranding campaign and subsequent website.
Griffin says when he looks back at his career collectively, he is most proud of the moments where he’s been able to bridge the gap between sales and marketing. “Every great ad, tool, system or marketing outreach that I executed is at the result of identifying a need with sales and solving it together with a team of highly creative individuals,” he says.
Outside of work, Griffin is a talented baseball player—he even participated in an open MLB tryout in 2014 in California—and is the published author of an iPad children’s book. He has also received BYU’s public speaking award, the J. LaVar and Helen Bateman Memorial Award.
Favorite activity to unwind: I love to grab dinner and a movie with my wife.
What do you watch on Netflix? I watch a ton of documentaries on Netflix. When I’m not watching that, I usually watch The Office or The Wonder Years.
Elli Bishop considers herself equal parts curious and competitive—the perfect combination to fuel her ambition. And ambitious she is. After originally pursuing a career in the legal field, Bishop realized her true calling was elsewhere. That’s when CLEARLINK came knocking. She began her career there in 2010 and has since become an expert in search engine optimization, outreach and content creation.
Today, Bishop manages CLEARLINK’s outreach team, and recently she was given ownership of the entire outreach channel within the marketing department. “That’s a huge accomplishment that I’ve been working toward for years,” she says.
Bishop says she learned very quickly that she couldn’t wait for someone to tell her what she should do to be successful. “If I had waited for someone to swoop me up and show me how to be successful, I’d still be sitting where I was years ago,” she says. “I decided to find a gap in our marketing processes that I wanted to fill. I became the best at filling it, proved the value of hiring more people to do the same, and then built a team to completely close the gap. I got to a point where my managers and peers couldn’t deny that I not only had the ability and drive to lead the team, but that I was already doing it.”
Social platform of choice: Facebook. I have to keep in touch with old friends from college, high school and even elementary school.
A summer of making churros at Lagoon at age 14 was the turning point for Michael Aguilar, who learned then that he had an insatiable ambition and a passion for work. These are the values that have allowed him to excel to executive-level positions in his professional career, including director of operations for The Leonardo Museum at age 24 and program director for Ronald McDonald House Charities at age 26.
Aguilar credits his success to living his life by those values. “My ambition has allowed me to reach a certain level of success that I’m incredibly proud of,” he says. “What makes me more proud, however, is that I haven’t climbed the professional, educational or social ladders by stepping on anyone else. I’m here because I’m a man of integrity, respect, commitment, curiosity and passion.”
In addition to his professional career, Aguilar serves on two boards, The Utah Pride Center and The Utah Somos Foundation, and he provides coaching and assistance to a handful of other nonprofit organizations.
Last book read: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
What do you watch on Netflix? I am horribly guilty of binge-watching Netflix shows. My favorite “guilty pleasure” of late, however, is House of Cards.
By the time Shan Shan Li was 25, she had worked on over a dozen national and global B2B accounts including Verizon Wireless, Microsoft and Mastercard while working for MRM//McCann.
During this time, she also completed her MBA at the University of Utah, where she was the youngest professional as well as one of the few minority females out of a class of less than 5 percent women.
Today, she oversees all digital investment strategies on behalf of digital display and acquisition media advertising solutions within both client services and media engagement disciplines at Alliance Health. In her first six months at Alliance alone, she was able to increase display revenue by 125 percent by refining the operational process for display while building upon both new incremental and existing client relationships.
“I have a strong desire to excel and achieve in everything that I do in life,” Li says. “Life is very short. … There are on average only 4,160 weeks in our lifetime. I’ve personally lived 1,352—33 percent of mine. … This [is] major motivation to literally make every day count.”
Favorite activity to unwind: Painting, lifting weights and playing Nintendo with some Haagen-Dazs green tea and coffee ice cream in a waffle bowl. The rest of my time is devoted to the spoiling of my two kittens, Apti and Grey Fluff (still to be named).
At the age of 20, Nelson Mills had already graduated from college at Columbia University and was the co-founder of an art consulting firm called Fairweather & Mills, LLC, where he negotiated a contract for a $3.5 million sculpture.
He pursued an academic career at Tel Aviv University and then transferred to the Ph.D. in political science program at Trinity College Dublin. He later withdrew, decided to move West, and found a position at SmartMouth Communications, where he was promoted to director in just eight months. He now runs and manages a variety of in-person training programs as well as the development of new products.
“I am most proud of my role in the development of our eLearning platform and course, SmartMouth OnDemand,” he says. “It is an amazing experience to watch a project go from a couple [of] thoughts on a whiteboard to a finished product. I take great pride in helping make this project a reality and I am very proud of the quality of the product.”
In addition to his career, Mills is the head coach of local rowing team, Utah Crew. Last spring, Utah Crew fielded some of the most successful boats in the club’s history, and Mills says he looks forward to leading them to more success this next year.
Favorite activity to unwind: I love to read or hike. Nothing is more relaxing than a good book or walking through the great outdoors.
In 2011, Blair Spence immigrated to Utah from Glasgow, Scotland, with just three suitcases and a desire to work. She started out doing part-time copy editing work, which led her to begin a career in marketing at Avant8. She quickly worked her way up in the company, doing almost every job along the way, and now works as vice president of operations.
With her help, Avant8 has grown from two employees to 12 in the last four years, and is now considered one of the most progressive and reputable marketing, web, design, SEO and social media firms in the state.
“We worked on a bootstrap budget for a long time. This really teaches you how to prioritize and work efficiently, since you literally can’t afford to waste resources. We didn’t have many additional staff for the first couple of years, so a lot of tasks fell to me because there was no one else. It meant that I learned a lot different skills, things I wouldn’t have had the chance to touch if I worked at a bigger organization,” say Spence.
Spence is also committed to supporting the entrepreneurial community and devotes a significant amount of her time to pro-bono work to support and help startups and other small businesses succeed.
What do you watch on Netflix? My preference is a good BBC drama or comedy. Being Scottish, I was raised on them and miss them much! My current favourite is Luther and I also love The IT Crowd.
When Sidharth Oberoi began attending the University of Utah in 2010, he received the opportunity to run the Utah chapter of a Stanford-based math tutoring company. There, he tutored the children of economist and New York Times bestselling author Paul Zane Pilzer, who was impressed with how quickly his children improved and surpassed the other students in class.
Pilzer approached Oberoi about creating a peer-based learning after-school program. That’s when Zaniac was born. The company began with a focus on math alone, but Oberoi quickly realized it needed to branch out to science, technology and engineering as well—or STEM education.
“Starting Zaniac is the thing I am most proud of to date,” Oberoi says. “Creating a company that serves a crucial component that is missing from education today was absolutely necessary and I am proud to have provided thousands of students across the country with opportunity to learn science, technology, engineering and math concepts.”
Oberoi is involved in all facets of Zaniac, including playing a major role in its advancement in innovative curriculum and business development. Zaniac currently has six locations nationwide, including in Utah, Connecticut, Florida and New York, with 10 locations expected to open by the end of 2015.
Favorite activity to unwind: Most recently, running while listening to podcasts. It’s a great way to de-stress after a long day of work. It helps clear the mind and listening to others speak is soothing.
By the age of 16, Kainoa Clark had already founded an animal adoption and rescue agency out of Utah County, which grew to become one of the largest and most successful animal nonprofits in the Intermountain West.
Since then, Clark has taught training classes and seminars for the Petsmart corporation as one of their youngest corporate hires to date. He developed curriculum and training modules, which are still in use today.
He also co-founded and was the managing partner for Peaks Dental Assisting School, leaving for the opportunity to head client relations at a software company called Wendia North America. He then spent time working for Orabrush, where he was recruited as an advisory board member and helped to develop the marketing, branding and positioning of a new product which would be named by the Utah Marketing Association as the “Best Digital Campaign of 2013.”
Clark became the marketing director there before taking the role of vice president of global marketing for Switzerland-based Wendia International in Orem.
Outside of his work, Clark also does freelance consulting work for both Utah-based and national companies in the areas of branding, positioning, media relations, partnerships and marketing.
Favorite activity to unwind: Traveling with my best friends is the best way to unwind. Horseback riding. It is a hobby I picked up to manage my stress and I love it!