The A-Players: 2014 Top Small Business Executives

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by Rita Palmisano

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Categories: categoryTop STL Executives
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by Julia Paulus Ogilvie
Finding the right people to help you move your buisness forward is a big challenge. Learn the motivations and traits of St. Louis’ most remarkable executives.

Sara Gerstner | Extra Help, Inc.

Combining Experience and Entrepreneurial Roots for Success

When she was growing up in the Metro East, Sara Gerstner knew she would eventually move back to the area after college. And after graduating from Ohio Northern University in 2005, she did.

“I was lucky to get hired straight out of college by one of the greatest places to work, Build-A-Bear Workshop,” she says. “In my three years there I was able to learn different functions of HR, including compensation, benefits and HR information systems. It is an experience that I will always be grateful for.”

After she watched her dad, who is a small-business owner, succeed in an industry he loves, when Gerstner saw an opportunity to get back to that small-family-business environment and discover a passion of her own, she took it. “In 2008, an opportunity to work as a staffing specialist with Extra Help Inc. came up that I felt was right for me at the time,” she says.

An entrepreneurial organization at its roots, Extra Help looks out for emerging leaders to grow the business to new levels and for this reason added Gerstner to its team, according to owner Teresa Katubig. Today Gerstner is the director of operations at Extra Help’s St. Louis location.

“Sara has led the team in the St. Louis market by building relationships and making it her own,” says Teresa Katubig, owner of Extra Help. “She continues to learn new facets of the HR industry, such as business development and recruitment.”

While Gerstner enjoys working with other small businesses on their hiring processes, recruiting and other human resources functions, her greatest accomplishment has been creating the company’s high school graduate apprenticeship program with Code Red Education. “It’s a great program to cultivate local tech talent and prepare them for the work force,” she says. “I am anticipating over 100 students ready for work in May of 2015.”

David Kidd | SteadyRain

Creating the Cutting Edge

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in integrated marketing communications, David Kidd began his career in retail marketing. He focused on developing strategies to integrate emerging digital marketing trends with the in-store shopper marketing experience to improve consumer engagement.

In 2011 Kidd received a new opportunity with SteadyRain as an online marketing specialist, shifting gears to develop digital marketing strategies for clients of all sizes and industries.

“We were drawn to his tenacity and motivation,” says Thompson Knox, a partner at SteadyRain. “It was clear even from his first interview that he’s an individual who doesn’t let obstacles impede his ability to get things done. His innovation in previous positions was also impressive, and his dedication to deliver cutting-edge solutions has proven to be a trait he carries with him at SteadyRain as well.”

Kidd’s drive and innovation helped him earn a promotion to senior online marketing specialist within a year. “My role focused more heavily on business development and management of the online marketing team,” says Kidd. “As a result of our growth, I was promoted to director of online marketing in January 2014.”

Since taking the lead of SteadyRain’s online marketing services, Kidd has helped transform the processes for delivery and, most important, has built an industry-leading reporting model, according to Knox. “Our reporting and monthly insight provides clients actionable data, which allows them to make smart, instinctive marketing decisions about channels that are technically complex and, oftentimes, new to marketing managers and CMOs with whom we interact,” says Knox. “This reporting feature adds incredible value for marketing decision makers who need a better understanding about the effectiveness of both online marketing channels.”

In the future, Kidd’s primary focus will continue to be on growing the online marketing department and expanding its online marketing service offerings to provide clients with cutting-edge marketing strategy.

Nancy Hopp | Midwest Litigation Services

Pushing Forward With Passion

After stumbling upon court reporting, Nancy Hopp spent 25 years as a court reporter, the bulk of those as a partner in a court reporting firm. As much as she loved it, she became keenly interested in the new technology surrounding it. “In 2003 I accepted a position with a San Francisco-based litigation support software company,” she says. “I traveled around the country, giving seminars to attorneys, court reporters and other legal professionals on how technology can improve their efficiency and productivity. I also worked in marketing and managed a reseller channel. These varied duties gave me a good general background in business.”

In 2012, Debbie Weaver, a fellow court reporter and owner of Midwest Litigation Services, approached Hopp about helping her lead her company as chief operating officer. “I believe the biggest character that drew me to hiring Nancy as my chief operating officer was observing over the 20-plus years I have known her, her continual work ethic and integrity – it has never changed or wavered no matter the task or job she was involved in,” says Weaver.

Hopp couldn’t resist the pull of returning to the court reporting industry, her first passion.

“The chief operating officer role allows me to call upon all my strengths to help move Midwest Litigation Services forward,” says Hopp. “My years as a court reporter and firm owner, coupled with my corporate business experience in the litigation support software industry, I think make me uniquely qualified for this position.”

Weaver agrees, recognizing Hopp’s ability to perform at a high level while maintaining a focus on creating results that are aligned with the goals of the organization. “As a leader, Nancy has not only shown a commitment to Midwest, she has a genuine passion for work and has the ability to create trusting relationships,” Weaver says.

Holly Breuer | Purk & Associates

Taking Ownership and Action

Jennah Purk met Holly Breuer 15 years ago when Breuer was interviewing for a position as an intern at the firm Purk worked for. “Her maturity, leadership and work ethic made her stand out from the other candidates,” Purk says.

While Breuer developed her technical skill set and moved up the ranks, her positive attitude always remained strong, according to Purk. It was only natural that when Purk and her husband, Bill, decided to start their own firm, Purk & Associates, in 2009, they would want Breuer to come with them. She happily made the move. “As a CPA for the firm, I specialize in both tax and business valuation, working with clients from all business sectors,” says Breuer. “As director, I work with our team members through staffing engagements, training and supervision and help to run the daily operations of the firm, from handling our education program for the CPAs to reviewing our software periodically with our vendors.”

Breuer’s inclination to take ownership at the firm gives the Purks complete confidence in her ability to handle the ever-growing range of responsibilities she has. “She makes decisions without having to consult with us every step of the way and treats the firm like she owns it,” says Purk. “Whether it’s with operations or policy improvements or handling client or team issues, she takes the bull by the horns. Her maturity and innovation allows her to do so.”

While Breuer has made a clear impact on the direction of the firm, she is driven just by the idea of doing her best each day. “I’m more about the daily wins – my own or those of fellow team members – than a major accomplishment,” she says. “I am, however, always grateful when a client appreciates my work.”


Christopher Armstrong | Woods Basement Systems

A Natural Born Leader

When Christopher Armstrong joined Woods Basement Systems 2½ years ago, he had many years of experience in the construction field in areas such as foundation foreman/laborer, concrete flatwork, home remodeling, ironwork and project management. With these qualifications, he didn’t have to find the opportunity at Woods Basement Systems. It found him. Armstrong was equally drawn to the company for the excellence it strives to give every customer and for its honest reputation. “This was the missing piece in my professional career,” he says.

Although Armstrong was brought in as an installer, he quickly moved into a foreman’s position, and he was recently promoted again to production manager. “I have always felt the need to do more and strived to excel at each position from entry level to leadership roles,” he says.

In his role today, Armstrong provides leadership to his department by acting as a model. “One of the things that I find most important is to constantly be a positive motivator, which includes recognizing hard work and achievements; always giving attaboys; and staying connected to the people that surround me, our company and our valued customers,” he says.

Dave Thompson, the company’s marketing specialist, believes this is where Armstrong excels. “Leadership can be developed and honed, but with Chris his natural leadership qualities have catapulted him into the production manager position just two months ago,” he says. “His recent changes, or rather efficient adjustments with his keen sense of productivity, to the culture of quality and value Woods stands for has already made an impact on our bottom line. All the while he is building the morale of the whole production department.”

Armstrong’s leadership extends beyond his daily work. “Recently when we did work for Habitat St. Charles, Chris’ whole family came out with us to volunteer,” says Thompson. “So goes the leader, so goes the family.”

In the future, Armstrong looks forward to continued success with hopes of never finding his true ceiling within the company.

Annie Biondo | Towers Studios

Sharing Her Passion with Co-workers and Cleints

After graduating with her bachelor’s degree in computer animation in 2010 and working as a freelance artist doing animation, motion graphics and video editing for local studios in the St. Louis area, Annie Biondo found an opportunity with Tower Studios as a videographer in January 2012.

Seeing the owners’ passion and drive as well as the way they care for their team, Biondo was immediately attracted to the company. “I was hired as a freelance video editor, but I was curious about the filming process,” she says. “My employers took their time to teach me what I needed to know to shoot video, and I soon became a first shooter within the company.”

A quick study, Biondo rose up the ranks, becoming lead videographer in 2013 and post-production manager this year. “We are constantly growing and learning, we work as a team, and I truly feel everyone at the studio has a love and obsession for the video industry.  Everyone has such a positive attitude. We all want to share our work with each other. It’s hard to not want to move forward and pour what I can into the company.”

Biondo’s own passion has become clear to not only her teammates but also her clients. “We are using Tower Studios to produce some unique marketing videos and have been very impressed with Annie’s drive to reach our goals,” says Roger Buck, director of marketing for Flesh Co. “The videos we are producing have some unique design element challenges which have been met due to Annie’s extra efforts.”
In the future, Biondo hopes to continue to grow and learn new things at Tower Studios. “I want to work as hard as I can to keep the company growing and to always keep our staff thinking creatively,” she says. “I want everyone to be able to think of Tower Studios and smile, in hopes that we have affected them in a positive way. Whether it is a client, co-worker, friend or even stranger, I want them to see us for our kind character, our professionalism and, above all, our product.”




Jackie Kemp | BSR Services, Inc.

Developing the Skills to Succeed

In 2007, Jackie Kemp learned through a friend who worked at BSR Services Inc., a St. Louis snow and ice management company, that the company needed part-time help during the busy winter months. When Kemp decided to interview, the fit was apparent to her and the company’s owner. “Her personality seemed to instantly mesh well with our team,” says Carl Bolm, owner and president of BSR Services. “I knew Jackie had strong work ethics from her previous job, and it was truly apparent when she would come to the office during heavy winter storms. She had no hesitation, regardless if it were night or day, to handle her responsibilities throughout the winter months.”

With hard work, Kemp turned her part-time job into a full-time position with BSR. Today she is the company’s business development coordinator and is always eager to continue to develop her skills. “The industry is always evolving thanks to new technology and improved equipment,” she says. “I enjoy learning about these changes and incorporating them into my daily responsibilities. I love going to work every day because I work with a great team of experts.”

In addition to learning from team members, Kemp has sought out industry training to further her expertise. “I recently received two industry certifications: the Advanced Snow Manager from Snow & Ice Management Association,” she says. “I was recognized as one of the first in the entire country to earn this certification, plus I was the first woman to achieve this. I also earned certification as an ASCA-C Professional through the Accredited Snow Contractors Association (ASCA).”

Her dedication makes her a company standout and contributor to its success. “Jackie is key to our operations running smoothly and efficiently,” says Bolm. “Our business is year-round, and she is always there to complete each and every task. She is a hard worker who never complains and is willing to take on assignments large or small.”

Executive Team | Global Products Inc.

Supporting Vision and Global Growth

At Global Products Inc., Rebecca Herwick, president and CEO, continually keeps the company moving forward with strategic plans. To assist her in making her vision a reality, the company’s executive team members are tasked with challenges to ensure they meet their one- to three-year strategic plans. This executive team is made up of four people: Jan Weyrich, director of operations; Shirley Rehm, director of sales and marketing; Mark Hite, director of finance; and Duane Furner, director of global warehousing and logistics, all of whom were hired for their individual expertise and ability to dialogue, according to Herwick.

Today Herwick believes her executive team makes it possible for the company to achieve its vision. “I am able to pursue the vision and global growth of our company knowing that the infrastructure is there to support my initiatives 100%,” she says. “They are quick to comprehend and integrate the information throughout the Global team.”

Global’s executive team members stay enthusiastic in their roles because of the challenges of growth, new business opportunities and the task of developing the solutions. “This company is constantly moving forward and entering into new market opportunities,” says Weyrich. “This provides opportunities for the company to become stronger but also for our personnel to learn new skills and become educated in doing business worldwide.”

Furner finds the opportunity to tackle hard problems exciting. “Global is developing solutions for difficult distribution points,” he says. “Global is developing solutions to facilitate foreign trade. Global is developing solutions that will not only help internally but they are solutions that can act as a platform for new business opportunities with other partners. We’re never satisfied with where we are. There’s always the question ‘What’s next?’”

For the future, the executive team at Global looks forward to working together to continue to move the business forward in its ever-evolving mission. “We plan to replicate our current design, manufacture and worldwide distribution into a global model,” says Rehm. “We will be a global trading company, enabling other companies to export and distribute their products worldwide.”