Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame at BGSU inducts first nine members

BOWLING GREEN, O.—Nine highly successful entrepreneurs who hold academic or honorary degrees from Bowling Green State University comprise the first class of inductees into BGSU’s Dallas-Hamilton Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame.

Honored at the inaugural black-tie induction ceremony on April 17 were:

• Robert Battaglia of San Rafael, Calif., co-founder and CEO of One Legal ;

• The late William Carl, co-founder of the Golden Corral restaurant chain. Accepting the award was his widow, Caroline, of Raleigh, N.C.;

• William Dallas of Grand Rapids, Minn., chairman and CEO of Ownit Mortgage Solutions, Sysdome Corp. and MindBox LLC, and co-founder of Fox Sports Grill;

• Steven Demos of Nederland, Colo., founder and former president of WhiteWave Inc.;

• Scott Hamilton of Franklin, Tenn., 1984 Olympic gold-medal figure skater and creator of the “Stars on Ice” tour;

• Cheryl Krueger of New Albany, president and CEO of Cheryl&Co.;

• J. Robert Sebo of Salem, retired senior vice president for Paychex Inc.;

• Robert Thompson of Plymouth, Mich., co-founder and retired president of Thompson-McCully Co., and

• Ronald Whitehouse of Free Union, Va., past chairman of the board for HQ Network Systems Inc. in San Francisco, and former CEO and owner of HQ Chicago, HQ Florida, HQ Indianapolis and HQ San Diego.

The new Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame recognizes BGSU graduates and honorary-degree holders who have achieved distinction for founding, leading or building a new business enterprise for five years or more.

The Hall of Fame “honors the men and women of BGSU who, through their passion and perseverance, and with integrity, pursued their dreams and changed the world,” added Milt Baker, executive in residence and director of the Dallas-Hamilton Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. “They have become a role model for us all, and we are proud to recognize their contributions to their communities and to the nation.”

Helping select the initial members was Alan Webber, co-founder and former editor of Fast Company magazine and a speaker at last April’s Sebo Lecture Series in Entrepreneurship at BGSU. “Some of the more common traits I found among these men and women were innovation, vision, a passion for change, employee involvement, and exemplary citizenship,” Webber said in a video that was part of the induction ceremony.

Robert Battaglia
Battaglia’s business, One Legal , was formerly known as Fax & File Legal Services. The company created the fax court filing business when fax machines were still relatively new. Battaglia, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from BGSU in 1960, “actually changed the legally acceptable process of getting courts and lawyers to accept faxed documents in lieu of signed originals,” Webber noted, adding that “it took a long time and a lot of effort to make this change, one that really paid off for Bob and the legal community.

“His effort illustrates how entrepreneurs can improve the quality of life by simplifying established practices and how their work can lead to some of the revolutions we take for granted today, like online banking.”

The former president of GMAC Real Estate in California, Battaglia founded, built and sold five companies. His first entrepreneurial ventures were in Hong Kong, where he had two companies involved in apparel manufacturing and retailing, publishing and international trading. They were sold to a local conglomerate, Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. In the Philippines, another company started and operated eight pizza restaurants in metropolitan Manila. He returned to the United States and founded Fettucine Brothers, which was sold to Kraft Foods in 1987. He also founded Snow Lion Financial Group, which he sold in 1981.

William Carl
Carl, who died in 2005, also earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration. After graduating in 1963, he moved to Florida to work for Burroughs Corp., where he met North Carolina native James Maynard. In 1972, they opened a family steakhouse in Fayetteville, N.C., called the Golden Steer, which was later renamed Golden Corral.

The company now operates and franchises about 470 U.S. restaurants, serving a variety of steak, chicken and pork entrees along with the Golden Choice Buffet, offering hot meats, pasta, pizza and fresh vegetables. The restaurants also feature a Brass Bell Bakery.

Maynard controls Golden Corral through his Investors Management Corp. holding company, of which Carl was co-founder and director. Carl, who grew up in Sylvania, was also president of Multifoods Corp. prior to his death.

Webber described Carl as “a quick learner who, shortly after college, learned and mastered the restaurant business. … A key differentiator in Bill’s success, in my mind, is the inclusion of his store managers as partners, which directly led to the consistent growth and economic performance this business enterprise generated. This illustrates how important strong leadership and focused communications are in successful businesses.”

William Dallas
Dallas received a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies from BGSU in 1977. In 2004, he and Scott Hamilton provided the seed money to establish the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership that bears their names in the University’s College of Business Administration.

In 1981, Dallas co-founded First Franklin Financial Corp., which he has served as chairman, CEO and chairman emeritus. After leaving day-to-day management of First Franklin—now a subsidiary of National City Bank—he returned to Dallas Capital Management, which he founded in 1999 in Westlake Village, Calif., to diversify his financial interests. Dallas Capital now owns, advises and/or operates Ownit Mortgage Solutions, Sysdome (formerly Affinity), MindBox and B&B Restaurant Ventures, which Dallas and his partner, Bill Freeman, co-founded with Fox Sports. A nationwide rollout of Fox Sports Grill is under way.

“Bill has shown us that his passion and entrepreneurial spirit carry over into many different areas, from starting his own ventures to championing the next generation of entrepreneurs,” said Webber about Dallas, who is also the chairman of Diversified Capital Corp. in Northern California.

Steven Demos
WhiteWave Inc., which Demos founded in 1977, and its successor, WhiteWave Foods, is the largest producer and marketer of soymilk products in the United States. WhiteWave products are sold in over 96 percent of the nation’s supermarkets, and the Silk brand is the top revenue-producing soymilk in America. Demos sold WhiteWave to Dean Foods in 2002.

After earning a bachelor of arts degree from BGSU in 1970, Demos started a natural nut butter company called Naturally Nuts. He also ran a retail vegetarian delicatessen, The Cow of China, and started White Wave Tofu, the forerunner of WhiteWave Inc. With $500 he borrowed from a neighbor to start the company, he made the tofu in his apartment kitchen.

Demos was named the Boulder, Colo., Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur to Watch in 1977, Entrepreneur of Distinction in 1996 and, in 2003, a member of the Boulder Business Hall of Fame. WhiteWave was the Colorado recipient of the U.S. Small Business Administration Entrepreneurial Success 2001 award and, the same year, Inc. Magazine added the business to its list of the 500 fastest growing companies in America.

Demos, whom Webber called “the classic entrepreneur,” has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Fortune and USA Today, among other publications. “Steve had a better idea, delivering healthy foods to the world,” Webber explained. “His vision drove him to take the company worldwide.”

Scott Hamilton
A Bowling Green native and 1994 recipient of an honorary degree from BGSU, Hamilton became a businessman after capping his amateur figure-skating career with the Olympic gold medal.

Turning professional, he encountered resistance from promoters and television executives who believed that only female figure skaters could draw an audience. So he created his own professional ice revue, “The Scott Hamilton America Tour,” which evolved into “Stars on Ice.” His personality, humor and showmanship revolutionized the role of the male figure skater and helped create a new audience for figure skating. After 12 years of unsuccessfully pitching proposals to skeptical TV executives, he won the first in a series of prime-time network specials.

“Scott’s success illustrates the point that with vision, passion and perseverance, you can break the established paradigm,” Webber said.

Hamilton is also an analyst/commentator for televised figure skating and a member of the board of directors for Special Olympics International.

Cheryl Krueger
In 1981, equipped with an old-fashioned cookie recipe passed down from her grandmother, a BGSU degree in business and home economics and high-profile business experience, Krueger started Cheryl’s Cookies, a single-store cookie company that has evolved into a multimillion-dollar corporation.

The 1974 Bowling Green graduate started her business career as a buyer with Burdine’s Department Store in Miami, Fla. She then worked as merchandise manager for The Limited from 1976-81 and, from 1981-84, helped finance her fledgling cookie business as vice president of sales for Chaus Sportswear. In 1985, she went full-time with Cheryl’s Cookies, which, after expanding beyond cookies, became Cheryl&Co. in 1988. The company was named one of the country’s “Top 500 Women-Owned Businesses” for four consecutive years; in March 2005, online gift retailer 1-800-Flowers.com agreed to buy all of its stock.

Working Woman magazine selected Krueger as “Entrepreneur of the Year” in 1999, and she and her company are featured in former U.S. Rep. John Kasich’s book, “Courage is Contagious,” about people who make a difference in their community. Cheryl&Co., said Webber, “has been a leader in giving back to the community, strongly supporting workers with disabilities and promoting cancer research.”

J. Robert Sebo
For 14 years, after earning his BGSU degree in business administration in 1958, Sebo was district sales manager of the Cadillac Motor Division of General Motors in western New York.

Then, in 1974, he became associated with Tom Golisano and his new company, Paychex, who employed only two people at the time. Under an agreement with Golisano, Sebo began Paychex Inc. of Ohio, concentrating on the geographical area from Salem northwest to Cleveland.

Focusing on small and midsized businesses with fewer than 100 employees, Paychex now processes the payrolls of about 560,000 clients. The company also provides automatic tax payment, direct deposit, and wage garnishment processing. “With Bob’s contribution, Paychex Inc. went from a startup to the second-largest automated payroll system company in the U.S.,” said Webber, adding that its success “reinforces that entrepreneurs are the driving force behind innovation in the economy.”

Sebo is now a BGSU trustee and principal sponsor of the annual Sebo Lecture Series in Entrepreneurship on campus.

Robert Thompson
With his uncle, Wilfred McCully, Thompson founded the Thompson-McCully Co., which became Michigan’s largest asphalt and paving contracting company. In 1999, he sold the company to Dublin, Ireland-based CRH for $422 million. After the sale, he gave $128 million to his 550 employees, awarding $2,000 per year of service to workers with retirement plans and between $1 million and $2 million, depending on seniority and merit, to those without retirement plans.

“What is most remarkable about Bob, in my opinion, is his involvement and empowerment of his work force and the use of this to stimulate his company’s performance,” Webber said. “Bob’s entrepreneurial success illustrates the significance of providing each employee with a stake in the success of the company.”

The former Air Force fighter pilot received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from BGSU in 2006, 51 years after earning his bachelor of science degree from the University. He and his wife, Ellen, also a BGSU graduate, gave the lead gift toward the renovation and expansion of what is now the Bowen-Thompson Student Union on campus.

Ronald Whitehouse
Whitehouse’s company, HQ, has provided “a cost-effective alternative to traditional office leasing by providing highly flexible office and support services to everything from small business to Fortune 500 companies,” said Webber.

Whitehouse, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from BGSU in 1967, “recognized that the world of work was changing,” Webber added. “He parlayed this trend into success by providing a much-needed solution,” and his ownership of HQ offices in various cities demonstrated “how an innovative idea can be successful when expanded to other markets,” he said.

Whitehouse also was CEO and owner of Whitehouse Industries Inc. and Johnston Boiler Co. At his alma mater, he is co-chair of Building Dreams: The Centennial Campaign for BGSU and a member of the BGSU Foundation Inc. Board of Directors and the Intercollegiate Athletics and Sebo Athletic Center steering committees.

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(Posted April 18, 2008 )