Frederick’s Top 50 CEOs: Darryl Sampey, Ph.D., Steve Schmidt, Lonnie Spires and David Staz

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:

Darryl Sampey, Ph.D. has significantly increased revenues for BioFactura since joining the firm over a decade ago. His dedication and insight have also allowed BioFactura to increase their number of full-time employees and obtain contract work from major pharmaceutical companies. Darryl continues to file new patents and publish in scientific journals.

When Steve Schmidt started Frederick Air, it was only him and his truck. Steve had a vision and built a successful business that now provides services for thousands of customers and employs over 30 workers. Under his leadership, Frederick Air has donated over $150,000 to the community.

Lonnie Spires is the CEO of A2LA, an independent non-profit internationally recognized for its accreditation of laboratories and laboratory-related services. He is an advocate and supporter of his employees, encouraging and challenging them to provide their customers with the best service possible.

Since David Staz joined Dairy Maid Dairy, the company has doubled its volume, producing 30 million gallons of milk annually. He spent many hours working overtime to make this growth possible, and encourages employee involvement, organizing cookouts, group trips and other events.

What brought you to Frederick County?

Darryl: I have lived in Frederick for 10 years, brought the company up from Rockville 5 years ago, graduated from the FITCI incubator 3 years ago and built a new R&D and biomanufacturing facility at Riverside Research Park.

Steve: I grew up in Montgomery County. When I contemplated starting a family, I needed to put down roots and purchase a larger home, and I found that Frederick County was much more family-friendly and affordable. I was working in Rockville and when I started my business. In 1992, I completed the relocation to Frederick County. I've been in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) industry for over 30 years.  After receiving an associate’s degree in engineering, I quickly joined a local heating and air conditioning service company and continued my education in the evenings at an Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) trade school.  With additional schooling, the achievement of a Master HVAC License and eight years of experience under my belt, I felt prepared to launch Frederick Air, Inc.

Lonnie: I was looking for a new career opportunity and a good place for my family. I was already familiar with A2LA from working at a company on the receiving end of its services. A professional friend encouraged me to apply and the rest is history. I am originally from Kansas and moved up to Michigan for career opportunities. I worked my way up through various companies, including Raytheon, Comtel, Dynamic Technologies, and Trescal. I come from humble beginnings and believe in hard work and creativity to overcome obstacles.

David: I have been in the dairy industry most of my life. When Dairy Farmers of America purchased Dairy Maid Dairy from the Vonas, I was hired to run the business.

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

Darryl: I founded BioFactura 14 years ago with a small group of like-minded co-founders who believed that we could get lifesaving medicines to the clinic faster and more efficiently than the typical large pharmaceutical company. Driven by solid science, creativity and the ultimate goal of helping those with unmet medical needs, we empower our team to innovate and rapidly reach solutions to difficult problems in a range of diseases and medical conditions.

Steve: Frederick Air, Inc. was founded on my personal convictions of honesty, integrity and faith in God.

At Frederick Air, our values are guided by the following:

  • All decisions are made with honesty and integrity, period.
  • Everything is done with excellence.
  • Teamwork is essential to our success.
  • We respect others and treat them the way we would want to be treated.
  • We do not sell to customers, we educate them.
  • We practice servant leadership.
  • We pursue opportunities to be generous and compassionate, internally and externally.
  • We are engaged in our community.

After working in a few companies at the beginning of my career and experiencing poor treatment by employers, I determined to treat all my co-workers with the utmost respect and honor. We maintain a very relaxed and family-friendly atmosphere each and every day.The bottom line: If our team is happy and content; our customers will be as well.

Lonnie: At all the companies that I have been at, I have found success in all aspects of running and growing businesses. I consider myself a critical thinker with strong financial understanding. I have come a long way from my original technician days and possess diverse technical and business management expertise in implementing lean processes to drive corporate performance, customer satisfaction and profitability. My philosophy is to maintain focus on business growth opportunities while promoting employee development. People are very important to me, and we have a family focus at our organization. I have a competitive spirit and encourage my staff and others within the organization to do so as well. It is very fulfilling to win tough challenges through creativity, drive and teamwork.

I really see our organization becoming more focused on the customers. We want to make sure we are giving them what they want, and even thinking about things they need but haven't asked for yet. Empowering employees is the initial step towards being a more customer-focused organization. Our employees are our customers, and I really encourage transparency and celebrating the wins.

David: Our employees are our most valuable assets. We can train people to do most functions and we can buy new machines, but without all of our great associates, our business would never run.  To hire and retain these great associates, we need to create a work environment that has fair pay, very good benefits and allows for a good home/work balance. We help make that happen by offering three-week vacations when you start.

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?

Darryl: I and my co-founders invented a commercial biomanufacturing system called StableFast that is being utilized at BioFactura to develop and manufacture the next-generation generic drugs called "biosimilars." These biosimilars will significantly reduce the cost of healthcare and bring lifesaving drugs to those currently without access to these products. Over the last five years since our move to Frederick, our company has transformed itself from a one-person organization dependent on government grants to a rapidly growing profitable commercial concern with revenue growth of over 50% for the last two years.

Steve: I started the company completely by myself with no business experience or financial backing. I saw that others had companies that were successful and saw no reason why I could not do the same thing. I was always reaching for the next level of success with confidence that my investments in the future would pan out. . . no fear!  I have always treated our customers with respect and honesty. One of the keys to success has been controlling our growth by simultaneously cutting out unprofitable work. Whenever we would start to grow, I would accept the growth with open arms but keep it under control by weaning ourselves off of work that proved unprofitable.  As a result, we have kept our geographic service territory limited to Frederick County and have ceased doing new construction or other work that is difficult to perform profitably. We have had pretty consistent growth over the years. When we experienced a bit of a setback in 2008, along with the rest of the nation, I made a point of not only maintaining our marketing efforts, but also increasing them. Since most of my competition was holding back, we experienced a net increase and effect way beyond our purchasing levels.  One final factor of success is that I have always had the courage to confront difficult business decisions, and resist the temptation to procrastinate or shrink back from challenges that could have really hurt or crippled our business. I am fortunate that my son, Dave, has the business sense and temperament to continue our family business into the future. I have been mentoring him for the last 5 years.

Lonnie: Since I started about two years ago, my main goal was to break down silos. We had many departments not communicating well with others, and this caused unnecessary tension and redundancy of work. Once the walls were torn down, we focused on shared vision and created a plan and actionable items that helped us get to the goals of the organization. The team has a focus, and we are always transparent with all employees on where we are and where we need to be. We have started a leadership development program to identify and train leaders, ultimately creating a succession plan. For the first time in A2LA's history, we are working together as a team and can be focused on the employees, customers and strategy for increasing A2LA's upward trajectory. There is no turnaround strategy, but we are increasing revenue at a higher frequency than before.

David: I started the day Dairy Farmers of America purchased the company. Since that day, our team has double the gallons of milk we process and sell, and we have completed several significant expansion projects. The first project was a waste pre-treatment operation that allows us to send almost clear water to the Frederick Waste Treatment facility, creating a large reduction in our environmental impact. The second major project, which was just finished, has increased our capacity to process milk by 65%.

Who is the leader you most admire and why?

Darryl: My father, Patrick Sampey, who prepared four children for amazing careers (three Ph.D.’s in biosciences!).  He and my mom always supported our crazy ideas and encouraged us to take them as far as possible, but always with honesty and integrity.

Ronald Reagan always seemed to operate consistently, according to his stated values and with complete confidence.  He was not afraid to confront what was wrong and celebrate achievement.

Lonnie: Steven Hanvey was the first CEO that inspired me early in my career.  He was the leader of the company that I was working at during that particular time. I was a technician at the time and never actually had a conversation with him, but I had seen him present on more than one occasion. I was inspired by his charisma, his presence and his professionalism.  He really set the early bar for someone I wanted to be like. A leader I admired and who shaped my later years was Stephen Covey. I have read so many of his books and my leadership style has been heavily influence by his management philosophies. I always appreciated his leadership and his dedication to his family. He taught me to see beyond assumptions within an organization, and to never let existing boundaries hinder the ability for productive change.

David: Abraham Lincoln—his tenacity to keep trying even after repeated failures, and his willingness to take on huge issues because he believed it was the right thing to do.

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

Darryl: Cycling in the mountains, running on the backroads or just cooking a great dinner at home with the family.

Steve: I love being on the water. I'm an avid boater and find it very relaxing. I also enjoy hiking in our parks and kayaking in streams. Walking around downtown and enjoying our many restaurants is also great!

Lonnie: I travel a lot to promote A2LA, but when I am home, I like to spend as much time as possible with my family. I have fallen in love with the Frederick area and there is not a single family member and close friend that hasn't been out to see the community. I like to visit the downtown Frederick area, take my dog in with me to the office, have sushi at Lazy Fish and visit Costco with the family. It’s enjoying the simple parts of our community that I find the most value in.

David: I am a bicycle rider. My wife and I ride a tandem. We love the covered bridge rides. We ride the Tour de Frederick.