From left: Kevin Luing, chairman, Berkeley College; Ron Terry, vice president corporate responsibility, New York Life; Robert Sanders, founder and CEO, Hospitality Resource Group; Therese Ferretti, president, Collins Brothers Moving Corp.; and Jon Dorf, founder and managing partner, The Dorf Law Firm.
Despite the current bleak economic climate, there are still local businesses that have emerged as winners in terms of growth, innovation and dedication to the local community. For the past eight years, the Business Council of Westchester has been recognizing those businesses that stand out from the rest and this year, the 2009 Business Hall of Fame Winners will be honored at an event set for Wednesday, April 22 at the Glen Island Harbor Club in New Rochelle.
In making its selections, the Business Council acknowledged the successes of five Westchester businesses that represent a benchmark of excellence in their respective areas. The 2009 Business Hall of Fame winners include: Hospitality Resource Group in White Plains for Entrepreneur; the Dorf Law Firm in Mamaroneck for Small Business; Therese Ferretti and Collins Brothers Moving Corp. in Larchmont for Women in Business; Berkeley College in White Plains for Family Business; and New York Life Insurance Company in Sleepy Hollow for Corporate Citizenship.
“The Westchester County Business Hall of Fame is an opportunity to honor the great accomplishments and contributions of Westchester’s top businesses,” said Business Council President and CEO Dr. Marsha Gordon. “We have an exceptional roster of winners this year and I look forward to celebrating their success on April 22.”
Hospitality Resource Group, White Plains
Just 12 years ago, Robert Sanders, the founder and CEO of Hospitality Resource Group Inc. (HRG), started his own company in the garage of his Mahopac home with no employees and no customers, but with a really big dream. Today, he and his partners Laura McNerney, president, and Michael Lattari, chief operating officer, oversee a 19-person firm with offices in White Plains, Manhattan and Newtown, CT.
HRG, which now handles about 50 events a year, is actually a management consortium of four unique companies: Event Solutions, which creates and plans events for corporate and non-profit clients; Strategic Training Solutions, which provides customized corporate training programs; Allegis Communications, which offers marketing and public relations services; and iQuest Designs that creates everything from custom table linens to themed sets for trade shows and meetings.
“We were so honored to receive this prestigious award from the Business Council,” said Sanders. “When I got the call, I put the whole team on the phone and there was this huge cheer throughout the office!”
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Sanders got his first taste of the hospitality business in high school and college, when he worked as a chef at Vinny’s in Pleasantville. In 1984, he joined the Marriott and stayed there for 12 years. Later, he joined Abigail Kirsch as vice president of sales and marketing. “I’ve always loved the hospitality industry, sales, and working with people–that’s what prompted me to start my own business,” he said.
From 1997 to 2000, Sanders met as many people as he could and got involved in a large number of community organizations. At the end of 2000, the business started to take off, only to be hurt just one year later after Sept.11. “That was a defining moment, “he recalled. “A lot of businesses were canceling meetings, but we hung in there and actually did a lot of pro-bono work. We didn’t want to bail out on our customers and as a result, we were able to build stronger relationships.”
Even in today’s economy, the company is still going strong. “Larger clients are still holding meetings but are taking a different approach. They’re more regionally driven and there are a lot of webinars and conference calls instead of bringing in everyone,” he added. “Things are changing, but we’re always ready to adapt to those changes.”
Women in Business:
Therese Ferretti, President
Collins Brothers Moving Corp., Larchmont
Therese Ferretti, president of Collins Brothers Moving Corp. in Larchmont knows everything about her business. In fact, she’s been on the move herself for almost 25 years, starting as a receptionist and moving her way all the way to the top spot. “I knew when I walked in the door that this was going to be an exciting place to work,” she said. “It’s a family-oriented business, very progressive, and I felt that the potential for growth was unlimited. It turns out that it was.”
Now, being honored by the Business Council of Westchester is yet another moving experience for Ferretti. “I was honored to have been nominated for this prestigious award. To find out that I’d won was one of the most exciting moments of my life,” said Ferretti. “My success is due in large part to the dedicated, professional people I work with.”
Founded in 1920 by William Collins, the company moved furniture and other freight by horse and wagon. His two sons William and Hugh took over the business in 1958 and began to concentrate on moving household goods. In 1972, Frank Webers bought the company, which at the time had only three employees and two vans. Today Collins Brothers employs more than 600 people at eight locations in four states.
Ferretti recalls taking to her new job right away, back in 1985. She learned everything she could about the business while attending college full time at night. Her first major break was heading up a project to find another warehouse location in the area. After finding land in Brewster, she worked with architects, contractors and attorneys to construct three warehouses totaling 150,000 square feet. Once completed, she organized the key personnel there and remains responsible for its overall operations.
In addition to moving households, much of the company’s business is dedicated to national and international relocation, working with clients like Prudential Relocation to coordinate employee transfers. Collins Brothers also works with various industries such as hotels, condominium developers and hospitals, receiving new products, storing them and then delivering them. Over the years, it has also acquired moving firms in Southampton, NY and Dulles, VA and Dallas.
Ferretti lives in Rye with her husband Mike and daughters Erica, 10 and Darcy, 6. Given her line of business, it’s no surprise she likes to travel, particularly to upstate New York and Florida. She is involved with the local Girl Scouts and the company will again be involved in “Swim Across America” this July. The fundraising event taking place along Long Island Sound raises more than $1 million a year for cancer research.
Small Business Success:
The Dorf Law Firm, Mamaroneck
The Dorf Law Firm, LLP in Mamaroneck, headed by founder and Managing Partner John Dorf, is one of a few companies in this economy that are actually expanding. The firm is adding another attorney to handle its growing corporate business, bringing the total number of employees to 13.
The firm’s seven attorneys handle everything from mergers and acquisitions to commercial and residential real estate transactions, trademark and copyright, wills and estates, and litigation. Most of its clients are based in Westchester, but the firm also serves the greater New York metro area. “I was surprised, honored and elated to receive this special award from the Business Council,” said Dorf.
A 1990 graduate of Albany Law School, Dorf started his company just two years later after working for some smaller law firms in the area. “At that time, my hair wasn’t grey and I walked a lot quicker,” he quipped.
Recalling his decision to open his own law practice, Dorf sent out his formal announcement about the new firm on April 1, 1992. “I remember some of my friends thinking that it was just an April Fool’s joke,” he said. “I know it was rather early in my career to do this, but I was ready to make the leap.” Jogging down Mamaroneck Avenue one day, he came across a law office under construction. It later became his office for four years.
In the beginning, Dorf admitted, it was tough getting business, so he did a lot of public defense work to pay the bills. However, the more contacts he made, the more clients the firm received and in 1997, he moved his offices to the Town Hall building on Boston Post Road.
Currently, Dorf is the chair of the Westchester County Bar Association’s Law Office Management Special Committee and serves as Town Prosecutor for the Town of Mamaroneck. Last year, he received the Pace Setter Award from Pace University and the County Bar Association. He lives in Mamaroneck with his wife and two daughters, Brianny, 4 and Alexa, 9. He is also a contributing columnist for Westchester Commerce and is General Counsel to The Business Council of Westchester.
Receiving the Small Business Award may be especially fitting for the Dorf Law Firm since “Dorf” is a German word meaning “small village or town.”
Family Business Success:
Berkeley College, White Plains
Berkeley College has been part of the Westchester landscape for more than 60 years, and has always remained a family business. “We were so happy and excited to be chosen as this year’s Business Council Hall of Fame winner,” said Kevin Luing, chairman of Berkeley College. “It’s such an honor for us.”
Founded by the Brick family in 1931 in East Orange, NJ, Berkeley had its roots as a secretarial school. “At that time, many women didn’t go to college, so this was designed to provide office training for women in the New York metro area,” explained Luing. From one location and an initial graduating class of 50 students, Berkeley today boasts seven locations and more than 7,000 students.
The Brick family continued to run the school until 1965, expanding its locations to Manhattan and White Plains. Luing’s father, who had been working with McGraw Hill selling textbooks eventually bought the school and it remains a family business with Kevin and his three brothers Randy, Tim and Brian. “As yet, there are no grandchildren involved, but that could change in years to come,” added Luing.
The biggest changes in the last 40 years have been transforming the school to a co-educational facility, and adding many new degree programs such as business administration, paralegal, criminal justice, fashion, marketing and management, interior design management, and more. The college offers both associates and bachelors degrees and is currently working on a MBA curriculum, which is expected to be ready in another two to three years.
“We keep evolving based on what students are looking for, said Luing. Berkeley has also added on online degree program that is steadily growing and able to serve students worldwide.
In 2001, the college moved from its campus on Red Oak Lane in Harrison to Church Street in downtown White Plains to be closer to mass transportation. Most students are from Westchester, but Berkeley also offers a 225-bed residence hall for those living out of the area.
“Students also come here for our internships and career placement, “added Luing. “While the current economy may make things a little more difficult, we do have good relationships with local employers and many of our internships often lead to full time jobs.”
New York Life Insurance Company, Sleepy Hollow
“New York Life is proud to be a part of the Westchester community and honored to be named to the Westchester Business Council’s 2009 Hall of Fame for our contributions and commitment to the local community where our employees and agents live and work,” said Chris Park, vice president, corporate responsibility, New York Life.
Founded in 1845, New York Life Insurance Company is a Fortune 100 company, one of the largest mutual life insurance companies in the U.S. and one of the largest life insurers in the world. Headquartered in New York City, New York Life expanded into Westchester County five years ago, moving 1,000 employees to Sleepy Hollow. Since that time, the company has been named as one of the “Best Places to Work” in Westchester and has received an ENERGY STAR award for operating one of the most efficient buildings in the nation.
An avid supporter of the local community, the New York Life Foundation has provided 61 grants totaling $1.17 million to Westchester non-profit organizations since opening its Sleepy Hollow campus in 2004. Some of these organizations include Cardinal McCloskey Services, Child Care Council of Westchester, Family Services of Westchester, Historic Hudson Valley, Hudson River Museum of Westchester, White Plains Library Foundation and more.
In addition, through the company’s Volunteers for Life program, employees donate their hours to several charitable organizations throughout the county including Big Brothers Big Sisters Workplace and school-based Mentoring programs, Back-to-School Clothes for Kids, WestHab, Bythedale Children’s Hospital, and many others. Last year, employees donated more than 2,000 volunteer hours
Another way the company has proved itself to be a good corporate citizen is by creating partnerships with various other organizations such as Friends of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve and Phelps Memorial Hospital for parking accommodations for various events.
New York Life’s family of companies offers life insurance, retirement income, investments and long-term care insurance. New York Life Investments provides institutional asset management and retirement plan services. Other New York Life affiliates provide an array of securities products and services, as well as institutional and retail mutual funds.