The Frederick County Office of Economic Development (OED) received 146 nominations for lead executives, founders, entrepreneurs and company owners of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations for Frederick’s Top 50 CEOs. The final list included criteria based on the CEO’s individual responses on the following: Strategic leadership concepts; significant growth under his or her leadership; number of employees; tenure; company’s turnover rate; company’s median salary; number of times CEO was nominated; and the CEO’s involvement in the community.
Get to know four of the top 50 this month:
Charles “Chuck” Roberts has been with Wonder Book & Videos, Inc. since its founding in 1980. He works side-by-side with his employees and has donated several hundred thousand books to the Frederick County Public Schools system. Wonder Book employs over 100 workers and continues to grow.
The values of integrity, service and excellence that Bill Robertson learned during his time in the United States Air Force are at the core of VaLogic, a service provider in the Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industry.
Gary L. Rollins brings professionalism and personal care to grieving families at the Gary L. Rollins Funeral Home. He provides exceptional services at reasonable rates and is a kind and considerate employer.
Scott Ryser’s strong work ethic has made Yakabod a respected and sought after secure software development company in a highly competitive field. Scott’s commitment to his employees is exceptional, and he is a true supporter and advocate for the community around him.
What brought you to Frederick County?
Chuck: I grew up in Rockville, Maryland. In 1980, I took a "summer job" at a used bookstore in Gaithersburg, intending to go to grad school in the fall. Within a month, I decided I wanted to open a bookstore of my own. I always loved Frederick for its beauty, location and diversity. As it didn't have a used bookstore at the time, it was a natural decision to open there.
Bill: I worked in a surrounding county and saw the potential Frederick County had for growth, especially life science industries. Of equal importance, it was a great place to start my company and a great place for my family.
Gary: I was raised in Frederick, and I saw a need in the community for a minority-owned funeral home.
Scott: When we were looking to open our first office back in 2003, beautiful historic downtown Frederick had the vibe and sense of community we were looking for. We didn't find any competitive locations. And the fact that it was equidistant between our two founders and a reverse commute for everyone else sealed the deal. Now it's home, and we wouldn't be anywhere else.
Please describe your personal values or your strategic leadership ideas for your company.
Chuck: The founding principles were two-fold and continue to this day. 1.) The love of all books (but especially old ones); 2.) A passion to find ways to find new homes (reusing/recycling) for as many used books as possible. Most of these are books that would otherwise be lost or discarded.
Bill: I am a big believer in the value of being a servant-leader, giving back to the community, helping others succeed and inspiring those around me. Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do. These values were instilled upon me from my time serving in the United States Air Force. My time in the USAF fueled my passion for helping others.
Gary: I always put God first. My staff and I treat our families with the utmost respect. We cater our services to that of the family's wishes. Not everyone is the same, so it is imperative that we listen to those needs and provide the services that they desire. I also implore my staff to uphold dignity in every aspect of our business.
Scott: Our company is built on five core values: grace, excellence, consistency, passion, integrity—which, as founders, we derived from our faith. Our tagline is “Do Stuff That Matters.” And we've always treated our team like work-family. Those things authentically define our culture and our leadership style.
Since you founded or started with your company, what innovative new ideas or concepts did you implement? What has your sales growth been like and is there a turnaround story?
Chuck: Innovation has been a necessity for survival all along. One huge decision was to embrace online/internet bookselling early on (1997). That decision most certainly saved the company. In the last 20 years, 90% of brick-and-mortar used bookstores have closed. A second major innovation was the creation and expansion of our Books By the Foot division for interior designers and TV/movie prop masters. This has given us the ability to repurpose millions of books that would otherwise have been destroyed.
Bill: VaLogic was created to become an industry leader in the MD biotech hub for compliance and technical service needs. Our services capabilities have expanded tremendously through the last several years to meet the growing needs of our clients. In the past 12 months, we have made a $1.4M expansion to our facility, adding 12,000 square feet of laboratory, bioprocessing and storage capabilities. Our revenues over the last three years have gone from $1.6M and target to exceed $3M in 2018, and 2019 projected revenues of $5M+. Beyond the numbers, our team has grown from 12 to currently 21, with expectations of hiring 6 more employees before the end of 2018.
Gary: Over the course of the last few years, we have moved away from many of our manual processes and hand-written practices by implementing better usage of technology. In doing so, we have embraced a green initiative, cultivating a more environmentally-friendly atmosphere. We have also executed more checklist-driven practices to ensure that things are completed accurately and in a timely manner. This practice also ensures that the needs of our families are met. In addition, we have become more active in providing educational seminars regarding “at need” and “pre-need” services in the community. In the last 5 years, we have seen revenue growth of around 20%.
Scott: We were a very early entrant into the enterprise social software space—before Gartner had actually identified the category. Others in our space focused on VC-driven mass market products; we instead bootstrapped/self-funded by pioneering secure applications for the technology in the Intelligence Community (and other markets that require IC-grade security.) We're very much the overnight success—that was only 17 years in the making. For those of you who remember the breakout business book Good to Great, we are proof of Jim Collin's flywheel: After years of slowly building our product, infrastructure and customer base, we've recently been accelerating (30% growth last year, probably 25% or more this year.)
Who is the leader you most admire and why?
Chuck: I would choose a leading author – J.R.R. Tolkien. His ability to create an entire world—a universe—by thinking outside the box and doing something that had never been done before was inspiring. His clear distinction between good and evil and right and wrong has always guided my personal and business philosophy.
Bill: One of my more admired business leaders is Jack Welch. Jack recognized the importance of people and teams, ensuring “every brain was in the game” and that everyone was empowered, encouraged and rewarded for success.
Scott: Trick question, I have admiration for lots of leaders, both famous and "hidden." If I have to pick just one, it's Jesus, for all the obvious reasons. Another one I've been thinking about recently is LeBron James – not as much for what he's done on the basketball court, but rather for how he's consistently leveraged that for the good of his community at a relatively young age.
What do you love to do for fun in Frederick County? On any given weekend, where could you be found?
Chuck: The magic of Frederick is that there is so much to choose from. The abundance of nature and wilderness can make feel you are in Montana within a short drive. The hundreds of years of all kinds of history make its study endlessly fascinating. The city of Frederick and so many of the towns in the county offer a delightful and diverse choice of events, entertainment, shopping and dining. There is so much to explore in the towns and outside them.
Bill: On the weekends you can either find me enjoying a nice hike, concert or bike ride with my daughters, as well as enjoying the different events that are held downtown with my family and friends, trying some of the new amazing restaurants downtown or going to one of my favorites in Frederick (Madrones).
Gary: I am a historic car enthusiast. I am currently the president of the car club I belong to, Road Knights. I am also active in my church, Jackson Chapel United Methodist Church. I am also a member of the Funeral Directors and Mortician Association of MD, where I currently serve as president. Another organization I belong to is the Mountain City IBPOE of W 382, where I serve as the director for the Frederick’s Finest Marching Band. Last, but certainly not least, I enjoy going out to eat, going to concerts or catching a movie with my wife, as well as spending time with my 6 and 8-year-old granddaughters.
Scott: Something active and outdoors, like cycling or hiking. Or just enjoying community events with friends. It seems there is ALWAYS something going on in Frederick!