Frederick’s Top 50 CEOs: David Stone, Melissa Torres, James “Jim” Warfield, Tom Willie and Bruce Zavos

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:

David Stone has guided Kensington Glass for nearly forty years, building it into the leading fabricator and installer of high-end interior architectural glass in the Baltimore-Washington region. For the last three years, company growth has been in the 70% range as part of a long-term growth strategy.

Melissa Torres revitalized the Frederick Flight Center, helping the company overcome debt and improve their prospects by bringing in talented managers and instructors and optimizing existing staff to improve productivity. The Flight Center is now profiting and employee morale is at an all-time high.

James “Jim” Warfield is a third-generation owner of the Frederick Motor Company, which recently celebrated a century of business in Frederick County. He is hard-working, treats his employees like family and gives back over $1,500 a month to various community charities.

Tom Willie has raised over $20M in capital from financial, corporate and strategic investors for Blue Pillar. He is always trying to improve himself, the company and individual employees. Tom is willing to try new things, while still holding steadfast to the things that are working well and keeping Blue Pillar focused.

Bruce Zavos leads the team at Zavos Architecture & Design with the dedication and creativity that define their work. Under his leadership, the firm has received multiple design and preservation awards. He is also involved with his community, serving on many boards and organizations.

What brought you to Frederick County?

David: We started our fabrication plant here in 2001 to be close to another company and then subsequently moved our entire company here in 2013 as a result of downsizing during the last major recession. We now have two facilities in the county (one of which we own) and expect to grow into more space in the coming years. We enjoy the open space and proximity to the markets we serve. When we moved here from Montgomery County, we had a large number of employees who commuted here from the DC region, and I would guess that more than thirty of them have since moved to the county to be closer to work. The majority of our new hires are from the Frederick area now.

Melissa: I was a stay-at-home mother with a financial background who flew in my younger years and wanted to start flying again when my youngest went to kindergarten. I went to Advanced Helicopter for flying lessons. That’s where it all began.  Years later, I was flying for Advanced and RC&A, then moved to running the finances for Advanced to coming in and restructuring the Frederick Flight Center.

James: Born and raised in Frederick.

Tom: I moved to Frederick County in late 2003 to take over the reins of a company based in Germantown, MD. After selling that company in 2013, I joined Blue Pillar and subsequently made the decision to bring the corporate headquarters to downtown Frederick.  My family and I have been happy residents of Urbana in southern Frederick since coming here.

Bruce: My wife, Eileen Ebert, is a pediatrician with the Frederick Pediatric Center. When she was offered a position after residency, we explored Frederick and determined it would be a great place to raise our family and put down roots. We have never regretted the decision.

Please describe your personal values or your strategic leadership ideas for your company.

David: We attract talent by focusing on the employees who are inspired by our strategy of growth and opportunity. I spend a lot of time teaching others the value of seeing the world from other perspectives and how to manage their emotions and those of others. The result is an opportunity-based culture which breeds a strong sense of loyalty among the staff. We hire based on technical competency and promote based on emotional intelligence and ability to inspire and lead. My time is spent 100% on strategic priorities and mentoring my six direct reports, and their jobs are primarily focused on training and supporting their L3 level direct reports. The glass industry is small as a whole, and finding skilled labor is difficult, particularly in glass manufacturing. More than half of our employees have never worked for another glass company and we must train them ourselves. Our plan is to once again double the size of our company in the next five years and build the employees we need to achieve that goal.

Melissa: I strive to help my employees reach whatever goals they may have. I believe in a family atmosphere and would like to support my employees in whatever way I can.

James: We focus on treating customers and staff as we would expect to be treated. It's simple stuff!

Tom: Internally, and from the moment I joined Blue Pillar, my focus has been to create a culture in the company of open communication, trust and positive "constructive conflict" whereby any member of the team can share ideas and feedback at all levels of the company with the understanding that we all have the best intentions of making this company something miraculous in our industry.

Externally, it was all about making sure that the company understood what our "true north" was, our reason for being passionate about what we are doing even on the bad days like all start-ups are bound to have. At Blue Pillar, our passion and mission is to make our customer's products better. We know and embrace that if we do our job superbly, the proof will be in how well our customers succeed in their endeavors, and if we do that successfully over and over again, then financial success is bound to be the result.

Bruce: I believe in a very collaborative, team approach. In architecture, there are many stakeholders with differing agendas that need to work in concert to achieve a successful project outcome. By empowering my staff, and allowing them to make decisions and find solutions independently, I have allowed them to grow and contribute to the firm’s success.

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?

David: We have a history of reinventing ourselves as required to remain relevant and allow us to grow. We were originally a two-person art glass studio started in 1976, making expensive, handmade glass products for wealthy homeowners. When the recession of 1990 struck, most of our commissions were cancelled or delayed, and we were obliged to change our market strategy. We settled on installing glass in commercial office interiors. Over the next ten years, that sector grew and we grew with it. We were unique in that no other glass companies focused on interior work until much later.

In 2001, we started a fabrication facility where we manufacture finished architectural glass products. To this date, we are the only glass company in the USA that both manufactures and installs this type of work. We have introduced numerous new and innovative strategies to maximize the benefit of having these separate but interlinked capacities in-house. At this point, 75% of our work is commercial installation work and 25% is fabrication and only about 30% of our manufacturing capacity is expended on glass that we install ourselves. The rest is made for outside customers and we are constantly innovating our processes for quality improvement, manufacturing methodology and delivery techniques.

We recently achieved ISO 9001 Certification for our manufacturing group, and are now pursuing this certification for our installation group as well. ISO 9001 is a quality-driven process that will allow us to deliver our projects in a more consistent manner and, while it is virtually unheard of to certify a contract installation system, we believe it is a key to creating a more scalable business. Over the years, we have survived setbacks and managed through numerous recessions and market shifts, each of which made us stronger and taught the hard lessons that can only be learned under stress. Going forward, the future is bright as the need for our products and expertise continues to grow exponentially, the competing market capacity is weak and the barriers to entry for new competitors are great. We are literally five steps ahead of our competition and looking to increase that lead. Another new area of opportunity that we're pursuing is to move into the field of exterior building envelopes, which are the exterior building skins. We've started to pursue this new (to us) line of business.

Melissa: There is a turnaround story. Still working on it.

James: Nothing towards ordinary! I'm always up for trying new ideas. Some of the strangest plans make for great marketing. But, we aim for conservative financial decisions while trying to create annual growth.

Tom: I joined Blue Pillar at a very interesting time in the company's history.  The company had been around for ~6 years by the time I joined in November 2003, and almost all our business was driven by one-time sales of hardware and software to hospitals, which have an incredibly long sales cycle. Unfortunately, we also closed 2003 with over 98% of our revenue coming from one major hospital customer. Quite simply, things were not healthy on the business side. Over the course of the first two years as CEO, the leadership team and I determined and implemented a massive and fundamental shift in our business away from hospitals primarily and into providing Internet of Things solutions to the world's largest electric, gas and water companies so they could sell new services to all different types of facilities. This strategic shift has been incredibly rewarding on many levels.  We have been able to bring outside investment of ~$25M into the business; we have completely diversified our customer base with no one customer accounting for more than 20% of our revenue, and we have shifted our business from one-time sales to recurring sales/services.  The company has won dozens of prestigious industry awards since our strategic shift and is widely recognized as a market leader in our new space.  Revenue, specifically the recurring revenue generated by the new services, has grown by >2x every year since launching our new strategy.

Bruce: We have initiated a number of creative processes to provide better service to our clients. We provide a project questionnaire at the project initiation to better understand the client’s needs. We assign a project team that follows the project throughout. We have instituted a number of quality controls that help assure our clients of better coordinated documents and services. We use the latest state-of-the art software to deliver our projects.

After the devastation of the 2007 financial crash, we have increased our revenues by 15% yearly. Last fiscal year, 2017, was our highest grossing year to date.

Who is the leader you most admire and why?

David: I would say a blend of Barack Obama, Steve Jobs and Abraham Lincoln, who all overcame significant headwinds and adversity but were able to achieve great things by their ability to communicate, persevere, inspire and garner the respect of their detractors.

James: Roger Penske, for his diverse accomplishments in business and life.

Tom: From a pure leadership perspective, it has to be Martin Luther King, Jr.  The obstacles he faced and the challenges he needed to overcome in trying to convey his dream are unlike anything most of us will ever face in any aspect of our lives. And yet, I take so much from his ability to face these challenges, focus on the positive ways to achieve change and provide inspiration and hope to millions along the way. In a small and admittedly insignificant way, running a startup company has some things in common with Dr. King's journey. Most start-ups have their own dream to make a big change in the world.  Most start-ups face an uphill climb and long odds to succeed. Most start-ups need inspiration and hope that come from leadership to stay the course in difficult times.  If, in any small way, I can emulate Dr. King's ability to do this successfully within my professional life, I certainly would be proud.

Bruce: Martin Luther King, Jr., because he changed the paradigm. He was able to show through his own actions how to deal with issues that have been prevalent in our society, and made us look within ourselves to change our behaviors.

What do you love to do for fun in Frederick County? On any given weekend, where could you be found?

David: Although I don't personally live in Frederick County, I travel for leisure, drink wine for a hobby and enjoy the many local golf courses that the county has to offer. When at home, I like to spend time with my family (both my kids live in Frederick), my wife and dogs and lounging by the pool.

Melissa: I have a new puppy who I bring to work every day. I take him and my kids hiking on the weekends. I hope to start training my kids to fly soon. That may also be happening on the weekends. I mostly try and relax and swim a few laps.

James: I love to be outdoors, so it would have to be one of our great parks. Or downtown at one of our great restaurants.

Tom: Like most families with school-age children, I cannot think of many weekends where we are not on a baseball diamond, basketball court, tennis court or any other sports our sons decide to play along the way.  And like most families, we take a lot of joy from watching our kids participate. For me personally, this joy has extended to coaching, something I have done every single year since coming to Frederick in both baseball and basketball. In addition to coaching, I serve as the Commissioner of Urbana's Youth Baseball and Softball program, which is one of the largest organizations of its kind in all of Maryland, with over 50 teams playing every spring and fall. 

Outside of sports, we are blessed with a core group of friends who often find reasons to get together as families, whether that be for cookouts, beach weekends, vacations, or a simple get-together. It takes a village, and we are happy to have our own version of this in Urbana.

Bruce: We generally support all the local restaurants by dining out.  I spend a significant amount of time riding my bicycle in the county, enjoying the country roads and mountain climbs. We also enjoy the various festivals and events around the city and county.