Despite cancer, executive races toward goals in business, life

  • Ben Niernberg was diagnosed with colon cancer when he was 37, but that didn't stop him from later training and completing the Chicago Marathon.

    Ben Niernberg was diagnosed with colon cancer when he was 37, but that didn't stop him from later training and completing the Chicago Marathon. COURTESY OF BEN NIERNBERG

  • Ben Niernberg, right, with Joakim Noah, center for the Chicago Bulls, at a recent fundraiser.

    Ben Niernberg, right, with Joakim Noah, center for the Chicago Bulls, at a recent fundraiser. COURTESY OF BEN NIERNBERG

  • Ben Niernberg

    Ben Niernberg

  • Wilbur You

    Wilbur You

  • William Terlato

    William Terlato

  • Christopher Williams

    Christopher Williams

  • Deborah Finn

    Deborah Finn

Posted12/13/2015 6:12 AM

Ben Niernberg of Buffalo Grove hardly expected a diagnosis of colon cancer at 37.

But it was the harsh reality he faced two years ago after a colonoscopy. He went through surgery and the rigors of chemotherapy for about 10 months. He then vowed to keep moving head, so much so, that he even worked during those months while undergoing treatments.


Afterward, he set goals. He started working out and running. He trained and completed the Chicago Marathon. He also tested his limits by skiing, backpacking and rock climbing, including Devils Tower national monument in Wyoming.

"Battling cancer is a lonely battle," he said. "As much as you have friends and family with you, it's still something you face alone. But it's your ability to stay positive and how you fight that helps shape your life. I wasn't going to let it win."

The executive vice president of business development and operations at Northbrook-based Proper Title LLC said his journey started when he was growing up in Santa Monica, California. He and his family eventually moved to Philadelphia, where he went to high school and then the University of Delaware to earn a degree in political science.

After college, he started working at Xerox and later he and a partner started a company called Novelties Specalist in New York. After four years, that company was sold and he worked in sales at Canon.

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That's when he was recruited to work at Proper Title to help re-energize the sales culture, he said.

"That came from out of nowhere and I never expected it," he said.

Proper Title, he said, had sales of $2.5 million in 2013. But he and others helped to change the culture for sales and it increased to $4.5 million in 2014. Sales are projected to be about $10.4 million this year. The company also boosted its workforce from 32 o 52, he said.

They changed the old model on how they did business and helped to change the culture. They also looked to differentiate itself in a longtime industry, he said.

Now at 39, Niernberg looks back at the last two years and all that's happened both in his career and his life.

"At the time, I didn't say 'Why me?' It was just wow, I was in shock and then went right into how do I beat this and what do I need to do?"


He wanted to ensure a future for himself and his two children, so he looked ahead all the time.

Now he's training for the Chicago Marathon for 2016 and perhaps the New York Marathon in 2017, he said.

He also helped to launch Proper Giving, a charitable program that raises money for Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago and other organizations. His company contributes $10 for every title insurance purchase and $3 for every refinancing transaction. Contributions so far are expected to be about $40,000 this year, he said.

"Your attitude in life is what you make it, whether you're planning a marathon, or your life, or things with your kids," he said.

Adding more wine

William A. Terlato, CEO of Lake Bluff-based Terlato Wines International, continues to expand the company's global reach. Terlato Wines will now import wines from Distell Group in South Africa that includes Nederburg, Two Oceans, Plaisir de Merle and Durbanville Hills.

Entrepreneur's firm honored

Entrepreneur Wilbur You, who was featured in this column in June 2014, said his marketing and design agency, Naperville-based Youtech & Associations Inc., is now rated No. 7 of design firms in the nation. The ranking was issued by, which takes into account mobile website rankings, traffic and sales generated by responsive websites.


Christopher Williams, an attorney with experience in securities law, has joined Lavelle Law Ltd. in Palatine. Williams was previously an examiner with the Department of Trading and Financial Compliance Examinations at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, known as FINRA, in Chicago. ... Deborah Finn has been promoted to chief marketing officer at Baxter & Woodman Inc. in Crystal Lake. ... Karen Aranza McKinney is the new sales account executive at S-Cube, the custom fixtures division of Specialty Store Services in Des Plaines.

CEO Tom Gruenwald and CFO Tom Minichiello of Aurora-based Westell Technologies Inc. spoke at the Benchmark Company Micro Cap Discovery One-on-One Conference in Chicago last week. ... Brian Moore is the new business development officer at Blooming Color Inc. in Lombard. ... Nancy Bigley, CEO and president of Bottle & Bottega, said more art-and-wine studios are planned for Des Plaines, Mount Prospect and Park Ridge.

Mark Hoffman, owner and vice president of A la Carte Entertainment, and his father Fred Hoffman, launched Sweet Caroline's Crab n Que in Hoffman Estates. ... Lynn Woods is the new executive director at Oak Trace, a senior living community in Downers Grove. Woods previously served as executive director for Brookdale Senior Living, ... Scott Fitch is the new managing director for the West Coast for Wynnchurch Capital, a private equity firm in Rosemont.

Judy Dawson is the new development specialist at Invest Aurora, Aurora's economic development partnership. ... Christiana Shi has been appointed to the board of directors at Deerfield-based Mondelez. Shi is president of Direct-to-Consumer for NIKE Inc.

• There's more to business than just the bottom line. We want to tell you about the people that make business work. Send news about people in business to Follow Anna Marie Kukec on LinkedIn and Facebook and as AMKukec on Twitter.

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