For 17 suburban business owners, the risk of jumping with a parachute into the realm of entrepreneurialship is better than the certainty of jumping without one.
The business leaders were honored Thursday evening at the Daily Herald Business Ledger's 13th annual Entrepreneurial Excellence Awards. About 200 people gathered at Medinah Banquets in Addison to acknowledge this year's honorees and celebrate their accomplishments.
The EEA recognizes outstanding growth, innovation and risk taking among suburban business professionals. The award honors individuals who demonstrate best traits of entrepreneurship, including willingness to take risk, drive, perseverance and business creativity. They are also recognized for their spirit and achievement in community service.
Throughout the evening, the honorees spoke of the parachutes -- whether it was family, friends or mentors -- who helped encourage and guide them to make their businesses successful.
Keynote speaker Roy Spencer -- who used the parachute analogy in outlining traits of successful entrepreneurs -- challenged the honorees to build on four qualities to make their success and their business stronger. The founder and president of Perma-Seal Basement Systems of Downers Grove, said first and foremost, the entrepreneurs should be a role model and encourage others to succeed.
"Tell your story. Let others know it can be done. Don't sugarcoat anything," Spencer said.
Secondly, he urged them to "practice benevolent capitalism." He suggested the owners develop an ethics policy as part of their mission statement and follow it, and treat your employees as your most important resource. It's these business practices that generate customer loyalty and create the jobs and energy that fuel the economic engine, he said.
"It is the work of the ethical businesses that goes unnoticed," Spencer added.
He also urged them to give back to the community. A successful business returns the favor by involving itself in the community it serves, Spencer said.
"It's the stagnation of wealth that is a problem," he said. "Keep the cash flowing."
Finally, he urged the entrepreneurs to have fun in what they do.
"Do something that feeds you, challenges you, makes you laugh," he said. "Always keep a good perspective."
Maureen O'Brien, CEO of Global Women's Leadership Forum of Batavia and honoree in the early stage category, echoed the parachute theme in thanking the ones who help her and encouraging the group to find theirs.
"Find the parachutes that lift you up, carry you when you can't walk, and encourage you to -- if not think outside the box -- make the box bigger," she said.
Carey Smolensky, president and founder of Mobile Music Disc Jockey Services Inc. of Wheeling and honoree in the lifetime achievement category, added an entrepreneur needs to be flexible and able to handle failure in order to succeed.
He noted that his business started as a DJ service and now handles corporate events worldwide.
"Evolution is the key to innovation," he said.
Lifetime achievement honoree Dan Sergi, president and CEO of Wine Sergi & Co. in St. Charles, summed things up by noting that an entrepreneur needs to be passionate about his business.
"If you do your career, do it with energy, commit to it, and live your life that way," Sergi said.
Full profiles of all EEA honorees will be featured in the Oct 29 edition of the Daily Herald Business Ledger.
Presenting sponsors for this year's EEA were B. Gunther and Co., Perma-Seal Basement Systems, NIU/MBA College of Business and the DuPage County Bar Association. Corporate sponsors were WIND-AM 560 and LeaderBoard Tournament Systems.