Most Admired Business Leaders 2015

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by Julia Paulus Ogilvie

Business isn’t all about numbers and spreadsheets. St. Louis business owners are some of the most generous CEOs in the nation, giving financial support and their time to creating a better community. Meet some of the area’s Most Admired Business Leaders, as nominated by their peers.

Giving the Gifts of Time, Treasure and Talent/Michael Murphy, Parkside Financial Bank & Trust

A longtime commercial banker, Michael Murphy had always done a little charity work here and there, but he really got the itch to get more involved in giving back when he was in his mid-thirties. The question was which charity to choose.

In the summer of 2001, Murphy and his wife welcomed twin daughters. Unfortunately, the twins had to spend their first two weeks in the NICU at Mercy Hospital. “My wife and I were blessed to live just a few minutes from Mercy, so we could easily split time between the hospital with our new babies and home with our other four young children,” says Murphy, the senior lender and chief credit officer at Parkside Financial Bank & Trust.

A short time after, Murphy attended a Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) golf tournament in Memphis, Tennessee. “There I saw a promotional video portraying an out-of-town family that had stayed at the Ronald McDonald House while their child received medical care at a nearby hospital,” he says. “Then it hit me that what the Ronald McDonald House does for families while they have to deal with a child in the hospital is amazing and wonderful. I had found ‘my’ charity.”

So much so that upon his return to St. Louis, Murphy looked up the RMHC. “In true small-town St. Louis fashion, I discovered my backdoor neighbor, Jim Finger, was the chairman of the board,” he says. “He introduced me to Dan Harbaugh, who has been president of RMHC for over 20 years. Dan and I immediately became friends – he does that with everyone he meets – and I got involved.”

Murphy first served on the finance committee and later on several other committees and then the board. “Finally, since I wouldn’t go away, they let me be chairman of the board,” he says. “My final term expires this month. It’s been a great 13 years and an incredible experience working with so many wonderful people for such a great organization that does so much for so many.”

Murphy is a firm believer that all people should find ways to give, whether it’s time, talent, treasure or a combination. “I am so abundantly blessed with a wonderful wife and family, a great house in a great community, and a great job that I feel I can’t give enough back,” he says.
Murphy’s goal is to always give what he can in terms of time, talent, compassion and friendship to have a positive impact on others. “Donating money is great and always needed for every worthy cause, but helping people is what volunteering is all about,” he says.

Helping Those In Need/Eric Cope, Smiles Squared

When Eric Cope decided to travel to Guatemala in 2011 to volunteer at a dental clinic that served children, he had no plan to take the work home with him. However, Cope and his wife saw vulnerable children in pain because of circumstances beyond their control: poverty. Having adopted their son from Guatemala six years earlier, Cope was so personally affected that he decided to take action.

“During this experience, I was talking with a nurse and realized that many of the kids there didn’t actually own a toothbrush or have access to dental care,” he says. “They had painfully diseased mouths and numerous cavities. What struck my wife and I was that the pain and issues they were experiencing was totally preventable.”

At a gut level, the Copes realized that a basic necessity like a toothbrush shouldn’t be a luxury to others and that having access to something as simple as a toothbrush could dramatically affect people’s lives and overall health. “Understanding this, we decided to start a company to address this need,” he says. “We thought about donating toothbrushes but realized that was only a short-term fix.”

As a fan of  TOMS Shoes and its buy-one, give-one model, Cope thought bringing to market a great product with a giving component would be the best form of sustainability.  “When you buy a Smile Squared toothbrush, we donate one to a child in need,” says Cope. “That’s our promise. It’s quite simple.”

While Cope’s original goal was to donate toothbrushes to children in Guatemala, he quickly realized that he was addressing a problem that affected children worldwide.  “After launching Smile Squared, I sent a few toothbrushes to my cousin,” he says. “She’s a teacher here in Missouri. When she got the package, she wrote back stating she was going to give them to some of her students that were extremely poor and didn’t have basic necessities. This was an eye-opener that prompted me to support local nonprofits.”

To date, Smile Squared has donated over 110,000 toothbrushes to organizations in over 20 countries and in all 50 states. Smile Squared toothbrushes are sold in many local stores, such as Schnucks Markets. “We donate locally for toothbrushes purchased locally,” says Cope. “I love the fact that local businesses can band together to help our local community.”

Cope believes that giving starts at home and where you are. “If you have a passion or heart for something or a desire to make a difference, research and talk to friends and organizations that are doing things that are working,” he says. “There are so many opportunities here in St. Louis. Be open to asking the simple question of ‘How can I help and be involved?’”


Blessed to Give Back/Tom Holloway, The Bank of Edwardsville

 The day Tom Holloway started his first full-time job in banking at First Granite City National Bank, he learned about taking the payroll deduction for the United Way. With encouragement from his employer, Holloway did so, starting small and adding to it over the years.

Today Holloway is a 40-year contributor to the United Way in addition to other charities. “My first board membership was with Hospice of Southern Illinois in Granite City,” he says. “My dad died of cancer when I was 3 years old. My mom explained to me how an organization like Hospice of Madison County would have helped her then. I took that position in 1978.”

Holloway has lived by a simple mantra when it comes to supporting his community. “I remember hearing the expression in church ‘Give until it hurts,’” he says. “Then I heard the expression ‘Give until it feels good.’ I experienced this by being in the community and seeing how my contributions directly helped people in need.”

Now approaching his retirement as the president and CEO of The Bank of Edwardsville, Holloway gives mainly in two ways: through his church and the United Way. “Over the years, I chaired boards with the United Way, worked its annual campaigns and contributed through payroll deduction,” he says. “I know the money given to the United Way will serve the needy. My church contributes to an organization called the Christian Activity Center in East St. Louis. I give time and dollars to it.”

Although Holloway has led a dedicated career in banking, he believes giving back is just about deciding to find the time. “When I am away from the office because of community work, I know I will be in the office in the evening or on the weekend,” he says. “You just have to find the time even when it’s not particularly convenient.”

Just as he was encouraged to consider the United Way, Holloway encourages others who are looking to give back to do the same. “I always think the United Way is a great place to start,” he says. “Through the United Way, employees often become involved with allocations committees to understand how money given to the United Way is helping people at United Way agencies. It becomes a springboard to finding charities to contribute to and board memberships.”


Fulfilling Community Needs/Gregg Cole, Cole & Company, PC

When Gregg Cole was growing up, he regularly saw his parents helping others in order to leave things better than where they started. Whether they were helping with their parish, booster and parent organizations, or the youth sports and activities Cole and his sister were involved in, they set an example of giving back.

Once Cole reached high school, his desire to give back came naturally. “I began to help with what my parents were doing,” he says. “When I got to Maryville University and was playing basketball, I helped with the Special Olympics. I remember knowing that I got so much more out of it personally than I could have ever given those kids by sharing my basketball talent.”

After earning his undergraduate degree in accounting from Maryville University in 1994, Cole went into public accounting, and by 2000 he was running his own firm, Cole & Company, PC. Despite his busy professional life helping fellow business owners with their accounting or tax issues, he stays dedicated to giving back, incorporating lessons he learned earlier in life.

With a focus on community improvement, Cole dedicates time to Maryville University, from which he gained so much. Having previously served on the John E. Simon School of Business Advisory Board, Cole is now chairing the Athletics Leadership Council. “The Maryville athletic program has grown a lot now with great people there,” he says. It’s in a much better place now than when I left there.”

In addition to his time spent fostering development at Maryville, Cole volunteers with youth sports. “I have kids, and there are many valuable lessons I can teach through sports,” he says. “Discipline, hard work and sportsmanship can all be learned through sports and passed on through coaching.”

As a husband, father and business owner, Cole says there’s one reason he can do these things: his wife. “She has similar passions to me and is always helping with my kids’ sports and activities,” he says. “In my business I have intentionally focused on growing it the right way so that it’s not as dependent on me. This way I have time to be a leader in the community and with my kids.”

Cole’s hope is that he and other athletic leaders are building great leaders for tomorrow. “I hope we are helping kids to learn how to take on leadership roles and to see that they can do things better together than on their own,” he says. “I want them to care about the community, one another and doing what’s right.”