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Business Feature

20 From 2020: Business people who made a difference


For business leaders, each year presents its own set of challenges. However, none have been quite like the challenges of 2020, which included the COVID-19 pandemic. But, as with most challenges, area leaders demonstrated innovation and perseverance, and successes are to be found.

Each and every day — even in 2020 — good things are happening in central Iowa’s communities, thanks to the hardworking individuals who care about their community and are willing to put forth the extra effort to make them happen.

CITYVIEW’s Business Journal recognizes 20 of these business leaders for their efforts and accomplishments with the “20 from 2020: People who made a difference” designation.

Last year was the first of the CITYVIEW Business Journal recognitions.

“We held a similar promotion and event in years past with our community business journals, and it was a big hit and a fun way to recognize people,” says CITYVIEW Editor and Publisher Shane Goodman. “So we thought we would continue this tradition with the CITYVIEW Business Journal.

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Last year’s promotion was a success, so we are sharing with our 100,000 readers the positive things a new group of folks have done.”

Readers submitted nominations, and an advisory panel narrowed down the selected to 20 individuals it believed had made the biggest difference in Des Moines and its surrounding communities.

Here are this year’s honorees:

William F. Peard
Former Mayor of Waukee
Executive Vice President, Iowa Cable & Telecommunications Association

Looking back on his eight years as a Waukee City Council member and subsequent 14 years as mayor, Bill Peard sees much progress of which he is proud. “Waukee had a lot happen in 23 years,” he says. Among the most far-reaching projects was completion of the I-80 Interchange and Grand Prairie Parkway — major projects contributing to Waukee’s growth. “We started lobbying for an interchange a long time ago. It has allowed traffic in and out of Waukee in a more organized way.” Peard also cites founding the Waukee Leadership Institute as a major accomplishment, noting the importance of training new community leaders.

Jody White
Executive Director, Founding Partner
Dress for Success Des Moines

Jody White cites starting Dress for Success Des Moines as the best business decision she has made. “Here we are, almost 10 years later. Dress for Success Des Moines has helped more than 2,500 women, who are supporting more than 5,000 children, transitioning back into the workforce. Our goal each day is to make every client know that they are valued and that they have a purpose. Employment allows them to provide a higher quality of life for their families. Our favorite phone call is when a woman calls our office to say, ‘I got the job!’ Sustained employment is the key to reducing families living in poverty.”

Lori Slings
Vice President, Mortgage Lending
Bankers Trust

Even while adjusting to working remotely, Lori Slings has successfully seen $28 million in mortgage loans issued in her role as vice president, mortgage lending. She cites successes in her other roles as well. As a Southeast Polk Board of Education director, she is proud of the district passing a $92 million bond referendum, as well as the district’s “handling of the COVID-19 pandemic for students, staff and community” and its “ongoing adjustment of Return to Learn Education programming.” She is also proud of filing and campaigning for State Representative House District 30 and of using her personal social media to promote local businesses.

Bobbi Segura
Regional Manager
Women Lead Change

Holding a successful conference with 900-plus attendees was her biggest accomplishment in 2020, says Bobbi Segura. The Women Lead Change Central Iowa Conference was notable because “we transitioned from the original plan to hold a two-day in-person conference to a one-day virtual conference,” she says. “Keeping important connections and relationships with our supporters and volunteers during this interesting time” was important, she added. “In my work, one of the most important things that I do is to maintain important relationships. I used to do it all in person. I’m learning how to do it successfully in the virtual world these days.”

Robert Johnson
Founder and owner

The Iowa Restaurant Association’s 2019 Restaurateur of the Year, Robert Johnson, founder/owner of B-Bop’s, had a business model well suited for the pandemic. With a focus on its signature double drive-thru, the restaurants continued their success, and an 11th store opened in Ames this year. While turnover of employees is common in the industry, Johnson places an emphasis on retaining “great people” and takes pride in “promoting from within.” Of course, delivering burgers “made to order” is important, too, and B-Bop’s has been voted the best burger in CITYVIEW’s Best Of Des Moines poll for 27 years running.

Van Harden
Morning Host
iHeartMedia Des Moines, WHO Radio

Van Harden will retire Jan. 8 — “50 years to the day after I opened my first microphone in Perry, Iowa … after all those years of loving and serving our community.” He says he was in junior high when he made “the best business decision I’ve ever made.” When his father pressured him to choose a career, Harden says, “I realized I was frequently listening to the radio, and the people on the air sounded like they were having fun, so I told my dad, ‘I’ve made a decision. I want to be on the radio.’ He looked puzzled, then smiled and said, ‘Well, you’ll get over that!’ ” Of course, the rest is history.

Dennis Peterson
HR Business Partner
Oasis a Paychex® Company

When it comes to navigating the pandemic waters, Dennis Peterson
was a resource for many business owners and managers, and he cites this as his biggest accomplishment for 2020. He says he is most proud of “helping central Iowa employers navigate the pandemic, providing them employee relations support to keep them apprised of regulatory requirements and advising them of best practices to keep their employees productive and engaged while dealing with a completely different work environment.”

Emily Steele
Founder and CEO
Love Local

In 2020, Emily Steele created an online course, “Local Business
Foundations,” to help businesses succeed even in difficult times. “Many local business owners want simple-to-use, cost effective
marketing and business growth strategies. I teach the tools they can run with immediately to cultivate new customers, keep repeat business, and build a local legacy brand people love and refer people to frequently.” Steele has spent 10-plus years building her brands POP UP YOGA DSM, FemCity Des Moines, and the hummingbirds. “I am so proud of this course because it’s allowed me to support a lot of different people on the local business journey.”

Misty Fontanini
Curbin’ Cuisine

Little did Misty Fontanini know, when she and husband Jarrod opened their restaurant, that COVID-19 would strike within months. She says her biggest accomplishment has been “building a successful restaurant and customer following despite one of the biggest pandemics in the world. I was not going to let a virus take down our newly opened business. The best trait a restaurant owner must have is adaptability. Even without a pandemic plaguing our nation, a restaurant is ever changing, and an owner needs to be able to adjust to the constant changes smoothly and seamlessly.”

Ron Sorenson
General Manager
98.9, KFMG Radio (The Des Moines Community Radio Foundation)

Ron Sorenson cites starting KFMG Radio as his greatest career accomplishment. And his greatest accomplishment in 2020? “Saving this radio station.” COVID-19 presented new obstacles, but Sorenson says, “We were able to raise over $20,000 in donations from our audience, which has allowed us to stay on the air. We’ve also modified our work schedules to limit the number of persons in the station at any one time.” In turn, Sorenson says, “We devote a significant amount of time supporting the central Iowa Cultural Community and the nonprofit community in Des Moines. That’s our way of giving back.”

Amanda Grask
Rodan + Fields

“The best business decision I have made was nine years ago when I said yes to an entrepreneurial opportunity with Rodan + Fields, opening a door to an income source outside corporate America,” says Amanda Grask. Her success as an entrepreneur has allowed her to help “others to begin their own journey of personal empowerment,” she says. “Whether it be for additional income, to gain a like-minded community of friends, or for a sense of accomplishment to build something of their own and leave a legacy for their family, the fact that I have played a role in so many lives is humbling.”

Todd McDonald
Founder and President
ATW Training Solutions

“As I look back at 2020, I’m most proud of our ability to impact the success of other businesses and community projects,” says Todd McDonald. “Within one week of businesses across the state and country sending their workers home because of COVID, we produced and distributed two training videos on how to work at home productively and how to lead and manage those at home. We made these available for free to whomever wanted to use them.” As president of the Waukee Betterment Foundation, McDonald is proud of the organization “raising $3 million dollars to build an all-inclusive play area in the new Waukee Triumph Park.” It is now under construction.

Tim Brand
Founder and CEO
Many Hands

“This year has challenged my leadership like none other,” says Tim Brand. “Instead of sitting in panic mode, we adjusted the sails and got to work… We opened our largest thrift store on June 8 in Clive. We were able to navigate the pandemic without laying off a single staff member, hired additional staff in mid-summer, donated 22 tons of food to families in need, paid people to sew 1,800 masks to protect our community, and purchased over $2,000 worth of local business gift cards to give away to our customers when businesses were able to reopen. Instead of looking at what we didn’t have, we looked at what we did have and gave to those around us to create a better future.”

Joshua V. Barr
Civil & Human Rights Commission, City of Des Moines

While many people might think that the Civil and Human Rights Commission winning an Emmy for the documentary “Breaking Bread, Building Bridges” was Director Joshua V. Barr’s biggest accomplishment of 2020, Barr says, “to those who say that, I get it, but I’d say my proudest accomplishment in 2020 has been continuing to press on in spite of the pandemic and civil unrest. Instead of shirking away, we have stepped up. I was out there during the protests with the youth trying to gain a better understanding of their concerns and organizing town halls to get the community and people in power a chance to listen to one another.”

Tony Bohnenkamp
DSMTV Live, Pianopalooza

“In a year where nearly all my gigs were cancelled, I got to write all
the music for a Christmas movie, and I started an Internet streaming
channel called DSMTV Live,” says Tony Bohnenkamp of 2020. His best business decision? “Starting piano and drum lessons at age 5… But seriously, in 1997 I was working in the field I went to college for and was presented with the opportunity to switch my career to music, and I would regret it to this day if I hadn’t… DSMTV Live has provided an opportunity to put on live music shows without having a
gathering of people, and it’s provided a source of income, although that income is a fraction of what it would normally be.”

Forrest Ridgway
Bike World

“Our biggest accomplishment of 2020 and a source of great pride was the teamwork our staff exemplified during a business year of
product shortages combined with high consumer demand while operating a COVID safe environment,” says Forrest Ridgway, who has been in the business for more than 40 years. Bicycling continues to grow in popularity and was boosted by the pandemic. “I have had the pleasure of selling bicycles that provide a source of transportation and recreation and also being part of the evolution of the trail system in and around the metro that facilitates both. We are and will continue to be the ‘store that supports the sport.’ ”

Ted Weaver
Real Estate Broker, Clive City Councilman, Incoming President Des
Moines Area Association of Realtors
RE/MAX Concepts

In each of his three roles, Ted Weaver found adapting to the COVID-19 environment had to be a priority. “The real estate industry was forced to pivot in virtually every aspect of how we do business — everything from how we show homes and perform open houses, to virtual client meetings and remote closings. DMAAR was integral in
providing guidance… Likewise, in my role as a city councilman, we had many difficult decisions that had to balance public safety, employee safety and fiscal responsibility while still providing critical
municipal services the public expects such as fire, police, EMS and utility services.”

Kirk Mickelsen
KRM Development, LLC

When Kirk Mickelsen talks about success, he talks about people. “We have really strong people in our organization who have done a really great job of taking care of our customers. Our purpose is making the building experience memorable… Not many things are more personal than buying a house.” Business continues to be strong during COVID-19, and KRM Development has grown to 35 people “and will continue to grow.” His advice for growing a successful business: “Having a true vision and purpose really helps guide you. We have a strong vision and a good plan and road map to see us there. The process and organization are key.”

Carlos Rojas
Blue Bean

“While COVID-19 isn’t something specific I was prepared for,
disruption is something that I have always embraced,” says Carlos
Rojas. “Spending the last 23 years leading innovation efforts has taught me one thing… always be working on the next best version.” COVID-19 closures led Rojas and his team to “rethink what we do and how we do it. Online ordering for example, took top priority and got developed within 48 hours. Upon the reopening for businesses, we removed seating and increased the experience of a personal space while redefining productivity. We didn’t do it alone. We thank all the contributions from our guests who helped design this new version of Blue Bean.”

Lou Sipolt, Jr.
Media Personality

“Being able to adjust to restrictions imposed because of the pandemic and continuing to help create an outstanding product while serving the community in a safe and responsible way” is his biggest accomplishment in the last year, says Lou Sipolt, Jr. The key has been “staying agile enough to adapt to any given obstacle… Follow all guidelines and then take them to the next level to promote that we can live with this virus in a safe and responsible manner.” He says his decision to pursue media instead of veterinary school has “resulted in helping save more animals than I could ever imagine by helping get thousands of shelter animals adopted and helping initiate changes to animal abuse laws in Iowa.” ♦

One Comment

  1. Susan Judkins says:

    We’re lucky to have each of these individuals in our metro community – and I’m especially glad to have Council Member Ted Weaver in Clive!

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