CEOs credit success to mentors, hard work

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BELOIT — Local CEOs shared a bit about their companies and themselves during a "Breakfast with the Big Cheese” on Friday morning at Regal-Beloit.

The breakfast event was hosted by the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce's Rising Professionals group.

Several of the CEOs reported working in a variety of industries, and stressed how life doesn't always move in a linear direction. They advocated having passion, purpose, good communication skills and the ability to take risks.

Beloit Health System's President and CEO Tim McKevett, who started working with Beloit Health System 31 years ago, said his first job was as an intern working a tent at the Rock County 4-H Fair promoting the health system. Although he wished he could have started out in a more advanced position, he said the experience taught him how to get people together. As he moved up in his career he said he had fantastic mentors along the way who taught him valuable lessons.

"Have patience. Look for every opportunity you can to get involved and make a difference, and push the envelope," he said. "When somebody tells you ‘no,’ and that you can't do it, "ask why not?’"

Blackhawk Community Credit Union CEO and President Sherri Stumpf said she grew up in a time when women were only told to be a nurse or a teacher. When she graduated high school she got two medical certificates and worked in hospitals. She later worked in manufacturing and at Home Depot’s corporate offices. Her background was in human resources where she learned to coach and mentor leaders which she said helped prepare her to one day become a CEO.

"Any opportunity that's put before you, take it," she said. "People recognize when you are the kind of person who will do absolutely anything."

When she joined Blackhawk Community Credit Union, she was eventually asked to step up and be a CEO. Her reputation in the industry is as "the fixer."

Cotta Transmission CEO Wayne Hanna said his background was eclectic as well. As a kid he worked alongside his father in the airline simulation business. He later became a chemical engineer and worked for a company making cellophane. Because it wasn't a growing industry, he was brought in to help save the company. The experience instilled in him the skills of doing whatever was asked of him.

Hanna later ran a defense operation, started his own company making trade show booths and worked with mergers and acquisitions. He later bought a machine tool company and sold it before moving to the area and working for Cotta Transmission.

"Do whatever's asked. It doesn't mean the path is straight, but people recognize it when you do it, and things get done," Hanna said.

Blackhawk Region United Way President and CEO Mary Fanning-Penny said her story wasn't linear either. She first worked in grassroots political mobilization. Her first professional job was as a case manager at YWCA where she was profoundly affected by clients who had suffered abuse.

She transitioned into legal advocacy and volunteer coordination and later worked in public relations for the leadership team. She said she had to believe in herself to make others believe in her, something especially important for young women. She later worked as a communications manager at General Motors where she eventually disseminated information about the company's eventual close.

Fanny-Penny opted not to work in Detroit with GM, and had a stint with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and then at Alliant Energy in corporate communications and then at Rotary Botanical Gardens as the executive director where she developed her managerial skills.

She encouraged young professionals to learn to excel in open and transparent communication to transcend difficult work and life situations.

Comply 365 CTO Dude Frank started his company in his basement along with his wife, Kerry, with eight employees. It grew to 17 employees in Roscoe and in 2012 transitioned into the Ironworks building in Beloit.

Frank stressed the importance of having a driving purpose in one’s life. He started off his career as a pastor for 15 years working in non-profits and in smaller churches. To supplement his income, he worked in sales, at a car dealership and at other jobs where he learned managerial skills. He used the skills he learned along the way to build a company which is profitable and can give money back to charity to help others in the world.

“We are serial entrepreneurs. We wanted a business to help change the world,” he said.

He encouraged others to give back by being a mentor.

“When you grow as an individual, you grow because of something somebody put in you. How selfish would it be for you not to give that to someone else,” he said.

He also told the young professionals that the culture of their companies will drive either positive or negative relationships between co-workers, which will spill over to clients and partners.

“Pay very specific attention to your culture. If you build it wrong, it's extremely hard to change,” he said.

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