More than 550 people gathered at the Knoxville Convention Center on May 2 to celebrate the finalist and winners of the 10th annual Pinnacle Business Awards.
The event, sponsored BB&T, honored recipients in 10 award categories, which highlight the range of businesses that make up the thriving Knoxville-area economy, and honor contributions to business enterprise and the greater community.
2014 Pinnacle award winners:
The Impact Award is given to an East Tennessee non-charitable business committed to making the region a better place to live through the development and support of community projects or programs. This year’s finalists were Alcoa, Inc., Copper Cellar Restaurants, and Gerdau.
This year’s winner is Copper Cellar Restaurants. Since 1975, the restaurant group — which is composed of Calhoun’s, Copper Cellar, Smoky Mountain Brewery, Chesapeake’s, and the Cherokee Grill — has made it a priority to make East Tennessee a better place to live. Annually, the restaurant group works with the Knoxville News Sentinel Open to benefit the Empty Stocking Fund, which provides toys and food for families in need during the holiday season. It also provides free meals for veterans to thank them for their service on Veterans Day. In 2013, it provided more than $40,000 in meals to 3,000-plus veterans. Last October, the company’s “Making Strides for More Birthdays” program raised $33,753 for the American Cancer Society. In addition to helping people in the community, Copper Cellar Restaurants is committed to improving the environment through various green practices.
The Innovator Award, presented by Sword & Shield Enterprise Security, is given to an East Tennessee business that has developed a new technology, innovative product, or service, or applied a business system or service in an innovative way. Finalists this year were ChoiceSpine, Functional Pathways, and Gigmark Interactive Media.
Gigmark Interactive Media took home this year’s award. The company, founded by 2012 Pinnacle Young Entrepreneur Award winner Parker Frost, first came onto the scene in 2007 with a unique piece of technology – the Interactive Flash Drive. The product provides customers with an interactive sales and marketing tool. Unlike an ordinary USB drive that has to be manually updated by the user, Gigmark’s IFD automatically updates itself and provides important insights into the behavior of the user. Gigmark has seen substantial growth since 2007. The company has acquired Digital Media Graphics in 2010, which in turn purchased Bluegill Creative in 2013. It also launched a new platform called YakityApp, which is a fundraising platform for nonprofits.
The Small Business Excellence Award, presented by BB&T, honors an East Tennessee small business that has 50 employees or less company-wide. The winner demonstrates the ability to overcome obstacles as well as a historical index of growth in revenues and workforce. Finalists in this category were 3 Minute Magic Carwash of Knoxville, ExpoQuip, Inc., and Master Dry Foundation and Waterproofing Specialists.
This year’s recipient is Master Dry Foundation and Waterproofing Specialists. Specializing in foundation repair, basement waterproofing, and crawl space repair, Master Dry is a family-owned and operated business that’s been in Knoxville since 2009. When it began operations, the company had five employees and two service trucks. Today, Master Dry boasts more than 40 staff members and 20 service vehicles. Owners Joshua Smith and Jonathan Babcock attribute the company’s success to following a guiding tenant in its mission statement — “do what’s right.” One way the company ensures quality behind its work is by not using subcontractors to perform any of the labor – it employs its own electricians and a full-time professional engineer.
The Minority-Owned Business Excellence Award, presented by Covenant Health, recognizes companies that have achieved notable growth and are at least 51 percent owned by an ethnic minority. This year’s finalists were H&T Enterprises, Inc.; Markets Demand More, LLC; and Security Walls.
Security Walls received this year’s award. As retired special agent for the FBI, Juanita Walls combined her investigative skills and business savvy to create Security Walls in 2003. The company specializes in providing comprehensive security solutions and investigative services to government and private sector clients. Based in Knoxville, Security Walls provides services in 10 states and employs more than 400 security specialists. The company regularly contracts with the U.S. Department of Energy, Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Department of Defense. Security Wall’s revenues have increased dramatically over the last three years and projections for 2014 are double that of 2013.
The Woman-Owned Business Excellence Award, presented by LBMC, is given to an outstanding East Tennessee woman-owned business. Companies must be at least 51 percent owned and operated by one or more women. Cannon & Cannon, Inc; Harmony Family Center; and KaTom Restaurant Supply, Inc. were finalists for this category.
This year’s winner is KaTom Restaurant Supply, Inc. Patricia Bible and her husband, Tim, started the company in their garage in 1987 as a better way to supply the restaurants they owned. The idea proved to be successful, and soon the Bibles moved their in-home business to a small warehouse where they began selling a wider array of restaurant supplies. In 2001, Bible took the reins after the unexpected death of her husband. Since then, the staff has grown by 70 positions and the company has seen revenues increase five-fold. Between 2009 and 2012, the company’s revenue grew 186 percent from $15.2 million to $43.6 million. KaTom has been deemed by Inc. magazine as one of the 5,000 fastest growing companies in America. In 2012, KaTom moved from a modest 20,000-square-foot warehouse to a 100,000-square-foot facility in Kodak, Tenn., where it can fulfill orders on the more than 190,000 products listed on katom.com. The company also maintains drop-ship agreements with nearly 600 vendors.
The Business Excellence Award is divided into a mid-sized category for businesses with 51-200 total employees, and a large category for those companies with 201 or more employees. The Business Excellence Awards recognize East Tennessee businesses that have shown remarkable profitability, growth, and stability. Companies must have a significant presence in East Tennessee and be nationally or internationally recognized in their respective sectors.
Finalists for the Business Excellence Award (mid-size company), presented by the Knoxville Chamber, were Coulter & Justus, Harper Auto Square, and Visionary Solutions, LLC.
This year’s recipient is Coulter & Justus. Since 1993, financial firm has been serving the Knoxville area with top-notch accounting and financial service. Formed with 17 employees and less than $1 million in revenue, the firm has steadily grown to have more than 70 employees and over $10 million in revenue. When the firm began, it was limited to audit and tax compliance services. However, now those services have expanded to include audits; taxes; wealth management; litigation support; and valuation and transaction advisory; and specialty services. Coulter & Justus operate offices in Knoxville and Oak Ridge. The firm serves a broad range of clients, including publicly held companies in the U.S. and Canada, non-profits, family businesses, and entrepreneurs.
Finalists for the Business Excellence Award (large company), presented by ARG Financial Staffing, included 21st Mortgage, Cornerstone of Recovery, and U.S. Cellular.
This year’s winner is 21st Mortgage. Since it began in 1995, the company has offered financing plans for manufactured home customers. At first, the company primarily focused on serving customers in the South, but now it has expanded to provide more than 100,000 manufactured home loans across the country. 21st Mortgage has operated profitably since opening its doors. It currently owns or services 173,600 manufactured home loans, which total approximately $7.5 billion. The company’s business isn’t the only thing that has grown since it began. When the company opened it had four employees - three of which were its founders. Today, 21st Mortgage has nearly 600 team members working in its downtown Knoxville office. The company has been the largest employer of graduates from the University of Tennessee, Maryville College, and East Tennessee State University since 2006, and boasts competitive compensation and benefits packages for its team members.
The Lifetime Achievement Award is presented periodically by the Chamber to an individual who has exhibited a history of distinguished service to the organization. Winners of this award have dedicated tireless hours to helping ensure the Chamber is serving the business community appropriately and effectively.
This year, the Chamber honors Dr. Joe Johnson. For nearly three decades, University of Tennessee President Emeritus Dr. Joe Johnson has been actively engaged with the Chamber. He currently serves on the Chamber’s finance committee, a committee he has actively served on for 15 years. He has been engaged with the Chamber since 1989 when he was the executive vice president for development at UT and recognized the symbiosis between the university and the business community. Johnson served as president of UT from 1990 to 1999. In addition to the Chamber, Johnson holds membership in a number of honor societies and educational organizations, and has served on a number of non-profit community boards in membership and leadership positions including Smoky Mountain Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Helen Ross McNabb Mental Health Center Foundation, and Knox Area Rescue Ministries among others
The Young Entrepreneur Award, presented by UT-Battelle, is presented to a young professional, 40 years of age or younger as of May 2, 2014, who lives and works in East Tennessee and has achieved success while overcoming obstacles, to become one of tomorrow’s top business leaders. The winner will have started or is at risk in ownership in their non-franchisee business. They will have taken their business practices and moved a company from early growth to some maturity. Devin Driscoll of Next Level Training, Joseph Nother of Designsensory, and John Sharpe of StaffSource LLC were finalists for this year’s award.
John Sharpe is the 2014 recipient. Sharpe founded StaffSource LLC in 2002 to focus on providing professional recruiting and staffing services. Since then, StaffSource has grown to become the parent company of multiple subsidiaries: ARG Financial Staffing, Southeastern Technology Consultants, and ARG Executive Search. In 2012, Sharpe started a separate company, StaffSource Employee Solutions, which specializes in payroll and employee administration management. As president, Sharpe said he designs strategy, drives execution, and provides leadership for the organization as it works toward its goals. Through his leadership, he said his company has achieved aggressive growth. StaffSource’s average growth rate is 40 percent, while the organization has grown into a $5 million company, employing 15 internal staff members.
The James A. Haslam II Chairman’s Leadership Award is given to a longtime business leader that exhibits strength in character, resolve, and a commitment to the community, as well as has demonstrated exemplary success in the regional business community.
This year’s honoree is Randy Boyd. Through his passion and dedication to animals and education, Boyd has had a tremendous impact on Knoxville’s community. As founder and CEO of Radio Systems Corporation, he has built a successful business that focuses on providing the best products and care for pets. In 2009, his brand PetSafe teamed up with Knoxville and Knox County to make the area the “Most Pet Friendly Community” by donating a total $600,000 for the construction of six dog parks around the area. The dog parks, along with countless volunteer hours and more than $500,000 in charitable donations, won Radio Systems Corporation the 2013 Impact Award Pinnacle award.
In 2008, Boyd sought to better the lives of the students living in Knox County by founding KnoxAchieves. The program was created to increase higher education opportunities for Knox County students by providing last dollar scholarships and mentor guidance. KnoxAchieves was so successful at the county level that it has now been renamed and rolled out at the state level as tnAchieves. Because of Boyd’s efforts, students from 23 of the state’s 95 counties have now had the opportunity to attend college at no cost. Because of the immense success tnAchieves has had, Gov. Bill Haslam asked Boyd to be his special advisor on education in 2012. In this role, he spearheaded the governor’s Drive to 55 initiative, which aims to bring the percentage of Tennesseans with college degrees or certifications to 55 percent by the year 2025. The state is currently at 32 percent.
Boyd serves on the board of several non-profit organizations, including Innovation Valley, Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center, Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, University of Tennessee College of Business Development Council, University of Tennessee Alumni Association, and Knox County's Great Schools Partnership.