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Profiles of the finalists for the 2014 Financial Executive of the Year Award

Rochester Business Journal
May 16, 2014

(Photo by Kimberly McKinzie)

Small organization

Jay Baker
iCardiac Technologies Inc.

Jay Baker has been a part of two of the area’s big deals over the past decade.

As controller for Lenel Systems International Inc., Baker helped to grow and track the company from a startup to an established firm ranking 39th on Inc. magazine’s 2000 list of the fastest-growing privately held companies.

“I love small companies, and I think that one of the things that you have to be willing to do in a small company is you really have to be able to check your ego at the door,” Baker said.

Through its sale to United Technologies Corp. for $440 million in 2005, he ensured a smooth transition and the integration of Lenel’s financial reporting systems.

In 2007 Baker became chief financial officer for iCardiac Technologies Inc., where he recently oversaw a deal with California-based Norwest Venture Partners, which bought a majority stake in the local firm.

Since Baker joined iCardiac, the firm’s revenues have been multiplied by a factor of 15 and employment has grown to more than 75 people from fewer than 15.

Baker also has been involved in Reason2Smile Inc., which supports orphans and at-risk children in Kenya. He used his financial know-how to help set up the non-profit and do its annual filings.

In 2004 he co-founded Marrow Drive Rochester with colleague Alex Zapesochny. The organization has added roughly 7,500 people into the National Bone Marrow Registry. For the past six years Baker has led the Stephen Ministry at the United Methodist Church of Webster, where he provides Christian care for adult males who are going through difficult times.

One of the proudest achievements is his service as a Stephen minister, he said.

“You’re not trying to fix what they’re going through; you’re trying to just listen, help guide them, pray with them, show your Christian faith with them,” he said. “That’s an extremely important part of my life.”

—Kerry Feltner

Leonard DiSalvo
JML Optical Industries LLC

It is no small endeavor to undertake an ownership transition from a sole proprietor to a private equity firm. That was the case at JML Optical Industries LLC.

In summer 2011, BB&T Capital Partners, a private equity firm based in North Carolina, bought a majority interest in the Pittsford firm from JML founder Joseph Lobozzo.

Since then, a big challenge for Leonard DiSalvo, JML’s chief financial officer, has been to create a business system that allows the company to understand and analyze the profitability of the business.

Significant improvements were needed to value and manage inventory, analyze the company’s gross margin and devise more detailed reporting, he said.

DiSalvo and his team worked to meet the challenges, including the implementation this year of a new software system.

“We improved our ability to drill down on data to support key business decisions based on our metrics,” DiSalvo said. “The company now has the ability to plan and respond effectively to business investments and staffing decisions.”

The company also has continued to grow. DiSalvo did not disclose sales for the firm but said JML expects revenue to increase 10 percent this year.

DiSalvo has been with JML, an optical component designer and manufacturer, since 2011. Before JML, he was CFO and vice president of finance for Harbinger Group Inc., formerly Zapata Corp. He also served as East Coast accounting manager for Constellation Brands Inc.

When not working, DiSalvo is active in the community in organizations such as the Rochester Technology & Manufacturing Association and Nazareth College of Rochester’s financial advisory council.

—Andrea Deckert

Susan Gurak
Monroe Community College Foundation

In the scholarship arm of Monroe Community College, Susan Gurak works to ensure funds change the lives of students.

“We wind up giving back to so many students that wouldn’t be able to go to college without us,” she said. “(We are) securing private funds to make that happen, so that’s huge for me. It’s giving them a start to succeed.”

She manages more than $10 million in endowments, temporarily restricted and unrestricted funds. As chief financial officer, she serves as the Monroe Community College Foundation’s liaison to the finance, investment, audit, real estate and grant committees.

Under Gurak’s watch every audit in the past seven years has received a clean opinion.

Since her start in 2000, she has helped the foundation increase its endowment from $3 million. She has also helped to secure $2.5 million in financing as an accountant on two capital campaigns for a $12 million campus project.

In working closely with private donors and college representatives, she monitors the use of funds to make sure they are being applied efficiently and logically.

Gurak also has served on the board of the Rochester District Youth Soccer League since 2000. She assists with the coordination of games and helps the treasurer with financial reviews. She has been the treasurer of the New York State West Youth Soccer Association since 2013.

She also supports Parents for the Advancement of Catholic Education at St. Joseph’s School as a volunteer on the finance committee.

The power of a college degree always will be relevant, she said.

“It’s always stuck with me; the value of an education is huge,” she said. “I have three children of my own, and it’s a no-brainer: (They) will go to college.”
—Kerry Feltner

Medium organization

Thomas Johnson
Conifer Realty LLC

The most rewarding part of Thomas Johnson’s job is seeing the people he works with develop and grow.

“The most important part of my job is to be a coach to the people in my group,” he said. “If I do my job well, I help them to reach for their potential.”

Johnson is executive vice president, chief financial officer and principal of Conifer Realty LLC. In his role, he is responsible for all finance, accounting, tax and information technology functions.

He did not disclose financial information about the business, but he said Conifer owns and manages more than 13,000 apartment units in New York, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania. It employs some 600 people and has 28 new projects in development that will add more than 2,200 apartment units.

Johnson, who has been with Conifer since November 2008, has more than two decades of experience in the financial field.

Before joining Conifer, he held financial leadership roles with United Franchise Group and Textwise Co. LLC. He also co-founded Casual Friday, a multimillion-dollar identity apparel business, and spent six years in finance roles at Eastman Kodak Credit Corp., a leasing subsidiary of Eastman Kodak Co.

Since the business at Conifer is fairly complex and full of transactions, Johnson said, his biggest challenge is keeping himself out of the details.

“I have a great group of very smart people who are much better at the details than I am,” he said. “I try to focus my time on people and process, but I’m always challenged by the temptation to dive into the details.”

When not working, Johnson tries to spend the majority of his time with his family and has been a youth basketball coach with the Northcoast Travel Basketball program in Webster. Through Conifer, he volunteers for events with the United Way of Greater Rochester and the American Diabetes Association.

—Andrea Deckert

Tracy Petrichick
Arc of Monroe County

Tracy Petrichick wants her door always to be open.

The vice president of financial and business operations at the Arc of Monroe County, Petrichick said she has striven to keep lines of communication open throughout the non-profit organization and get input from many stakeholders.

That approach has been important, given the challenges the Arc of Monroe County has faced, she added.

“We’re primarily government-funded, which brings about some instability when there are funding changes,” she said. “We faced a $1.6 million budget cut a few years ago and had to find ways to not just survive the cut but to ensure that services weren’t cut for those people we support.”

The decisions made were not easy and not always popular but did allow the organization to continue its services without having to make cuts that would hurt clients, Petrichick said.

The Arc of Monroe has 40 locations across the county serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. The organization reported nearly $38.5 million in annual revenue on its most recent filing, for 2012.

Petrichick said her nomination for the award is a good reflection not only on the work she has done but on the entire organization in putting programs first.

“After the award was announced, I’ve had so many people reach out to me from the employee base and the board, and it’s nice for them to see that we’re being recognized in this way,” she said.

—Nate Dougherty

Gita Ramachandran
ACM Medical Laboratory Inc.

Being a positive role model is an important part of Gita Ramachandran’s life.

“As soon as you pass into that management role, you now have people who report to you, who are relying on some guidance from you,” said the chief financial officer of ACM Medical Laboratory Inc. “One needs to be extremely cognizant of that role (or) responsibility you’ve assumed.”

In nearly three years at ACM, Ramachandran has restructured the company’s banking relationships, led the implementation of a new billing system for its medical diagnostic business and played a key role in the acquisition and integration of central laboratory operations in Singapore and China.

The company has 600 employees worldwide, including 450 to 500 in Rochester. ACM adds $100 million annually to the bottom line of its parent company, Unity Health System, Ramachandran notes.

On the clinical trial side, ACM logs growth of 10 to 16 percent a year, while the medical diagnostic side sees revenue growth of 3 to 5 percent annually, she said.

“With growth you need to make sure you have the right systems in place to be able to adjust to that growth,” Ramachandran said.

Integrity and ethics are inherent requirements of any finance function, Ramachandran said, because reporting results are the basis for making short-term and long-term operating and strategic decisions.

“Integrity, completeness and accuracy are very important,” she added.

Community service also is important, she said. She serves on the board of directors for Threshold Center for Alternative Youth Services, which has merged with the Community Place of Greater Rochester, and is on the advisory board of the Center for Youth.

“It can’t be just leadership at work; you have to have leadership at home, at work and the community,” Ramachandran said.

—Velvet Spicer


large organization

Paul Perrotto
Hillside Family of Agencies

Hillside Family of Agencies is blazing a new trail, Paul Perrotto said.

The non-profit agency has become a leader in a new model of funding that blends private and public support, which Perrotto said is evidenced by the organization’s success in New York State’s Pay for Success program.

Pay for Success projects have performance goals set by the state but are funded through private and philanthropic investors. The state then repays investors based on the performance of each program. Hillside was named a finalist for a proposal to provide alternatives for high-risk youths to keep them out of the Family Court system.The chief financial officer and strategic development officer at Hillside, Perrotto plays a major role in the new funding system.

“We’re taking a leadership role in this shift from largely government funding to new types of investors,” Perrotto said.

Hillside served nearly 10,000 families in 2013 while taking in $133.8 million in revenue, the organization states in its annual report.

Hillside also has seen growth within many individual programs. The Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection, which works with at-risk high school students to keep them on track to graduation and prepare them for success after high school, has expanded across New York and into Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Perrotto said his being an award finalist is a tangible result of the work the agency has done to expand.

“This really reflects the work of so many people,” he said.

—Nate Dougherty

James Stenger
Lewis Tree Service Inc.

Sometimes a company’s success has more to do with reputation than numbers, and ethics plays a key role in that, James Stenger said.

“For me and for our organization, it’s being honest and trustworthy and doing what’s right,” said Stenger, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Lewis Tree Service Inc. “And always acting with integrity.”

In his four years with the employee-owned company, Stenger has been instrumental in revamping its treasury management and credit facility and has helped the organization complete an acquisition in Canada that gives Lewis Tree Service coverage of the entire country.

Stenger also oversaw the restructuring of the information technology systems, which brought increased dependability and capabilities along with staff productivity improvements.

Lewis Tree Service has some 3,500 employees at locations throughout the United States and Canada, including nearly 100 people in Rochester. The company has had annual growth of 5 percent over the last three years.

“But growth isn’t really what I focus on,” Stenger said. “Mine is bottom line, and that’s the (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) and making sure that any growth we do experience is going to contribute to increased share price of this company.”

Stenger also believes in playing a role in the community’s betterment. He is involved with Junior Achievement in Rochester and has done work for the WXXI Public Broadcasting Council and Foodlink Inc.

“You have to give back to the community,” he said. “The community is what enables you to get to where you are. We have an obligation, and I feel an obligation, to continually give back.”
—Velvet Spicer

John Whittier
The Palmer Family of Companies Inc.

John Whittier has managed the money of the Palmer Family of Cos. Inc. for all but three of his 15 years at the Henrietta-based business, including its most dynamic periods of growth. The family-owned distributor of fresh and frozen foods has increased revenue by 300 percent since Whittier joined the company in 1999.

The company includes primary operators Palmer Food Services Inc. in Henrietta and C&C Food Distributors and Brokers Inc. in Syracuse. Combined revenues were more than $600 million in 2013, Whittier said, with higher revenues projected for this year.

“It’s been exciting,” he said. “It’s been a challenge. Both companies have moved into new buildings within the last three years. That alone has a whole set of challenges.

“More businesses, I think, go out of business because they don’t manage growth well. A lot of times it’s a challenge in trying to take the needed risks to fuel the growth and making good decisions on that.”

Whittier joined the firm after three years in the automotive finance business and, before that, 10 years with HSBC Bank USA N.A.

He served as chief financial officer and corporate treasurer for five years, with the additional responsibility of interim general manager during the fifth year, before becoming vice president and general manager from 2004 to 2007.

Whittier returned to CFO and treasurer in 2007. Sales have doubled and pre-tax profits in 2013 were six times higher than in 2007, the company said.

Whittier is responsible for finances at Palmer Foods, at C&C and at affiliated entities DMP Real Estate LLC and Palmair LLC. He oversees an administrative and financial staff of 15.

—Thomas Adams

Public Company

Efrain Rivera
Paychex Inc.

Efrain Rivera would rather be heard than seen.

The senior vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer at Paychex Inc. since June 2011, Rivera has helped guide the company on a course of steady growth that produced $2.33 billion in revenue for fiscal 2013.

Rivera played a major role in the company’s growth but expresses a preference to remain unseen, saying his award reflects the work of the entire Paychex team.

“When you really digest the meaning of it, you realize that you’re most effective when you’re the least visible and the work you’ve accomplished is shared as a team. That’s deeply personal to me,” he said.

The work was not always easy, Rivera acknowledged. The company faced challenges during the last recession and the ensuing period of slow economic growth, but Rivera said the company’s leadership team moved quickly to adjust.

“I take pride in being part of a team that navigated Paychex through the downturn after the recession,” he said. “We’ve had a long period of growth from the 2009 to 2010 time frame where we’ve adjusted to the new normal. We came together and crafted a strategy appropriate for the market conditions now.”

Rivera said growth will continue. Paychex has expanded its offerings to clients, investing in technology while spearheading a geographical expansion that recently saw the company make its first move into South America.

“We have a huge opportunity in our sweet spot of the under-50 (employee) segment of businesses,” he said. “We have an enormous opportunity to grow our payroll, and our HR services side has been growing in importance and seeing double-digit growth.”

Rivera serves on the board of governors of the Hillside Family of Agencies and the executive advisory board of the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School.

—Nate Dougherty

Turnaround specialist

Raymond Steinmetz Jr.
The Upstate National Bank

As senior vice president and chief financial officer at the Upstate National Bank, Raymond Steinmetz Jr. handles traditional money-related issues and also the ever-complicated regulatory environment of his industry.

“There are a lot of regulated businesses out there, so everybody fights their own battle to stay within what the government says you can and cannot do,” he said. “Probably the most difficult part I’ve had to face is, in a smaller institution, you wear so many more hats. You’re doing that because you’re trying to keep your expenses down.”

Steinmetz prepares the West Main Street commercial bank’s business plans, initiates and manages the bank’s investment activity, and manages the accounting, accounts payable, human resources and management information systems departments.

He also prepares the bank’s financial statements for presentation to regulators as well as board members, and he is the liaison with examiners and auditors.

Steinmetz moved here in September 2011, five months after veteran banker Kathleen Whelehan was hired as president and CEO, and replaced the bank’s retiring CFO.

When the top executives in compliance, human resources and information technology later left, Steinmetz assumed those duties as well.

“Today you do your banking on your phone,” he said. “We don’t have large technology departments. Usually it’s the CFO who has to come up with how all these things are going to work.”

Upstate improved from a net loss of $348,000 in 2011 to net income of $180,000 in 2012 and $336,000 in 2013.

Steinmetz has been a banker for most of his 40 years as a financial executive. He spent seven years with two community banks in Florida and 25 years before that with three banks in the Pittsburgh metro area.

—Thomas Adams

5/16/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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