Best Up-and-Coming Business Leader Under 40
Ryan Wiederstein, R&R Realty Group/Realty Technology Services Inc. Photo by Duane Tinkey
Best Up-and-Coming Business Leader Under 40 Ryan Wiederstein, R&R Realty Group/Realty Technology Services Inc. Photo by Duane Tinkey

Best Up-and-Coming Business Leader Under 40

Ryan Wiederstein, R&R Realty Group/Realty Technology Services Inc.

Pairing computer technology with a business bound up in land and buildings could result in a fog of confusion. For Ryan Wiederstein, it has provided a focused career.

Wiederstein is the chief information officer for R&R Realty Group and president of its wholly owned subsidiary, Realty Technology Services Inc. (RTS).

RTS provides a range of data services for R&R Realty's more than 300 tenants and gives the company an advantage in selling and leasing the more than 5 million square feet of property that it manages.

"Realty Technology Services has a niche business model," Wiederstein said. "We work at the intersection of real estate and technology. The ability to leverage one on the other to make the organization better is invaluable. RTS plays a part in every deal, and we are impacting the overall success of the organization.

"I believe that our clients recognize this value, and it has become a significant advantage for R&R as a full-service real estate company."

Wiederstein went to work for R&R Realty in 2001 as its information technology manager. He had graduated from Drake University the year before with a degree in information services.

In 2006, he became the company's chief information officer and took the lead role with RTS, which R&R Realty had launched a few years earlier to provide basic data services.

Now the business operates, buys and sells data centers. It also provides voice and data cabling, tenant access control systems, telephone services and audio/video capabilities.

Wiederstein has gained broad exposure and recognition for his leadership abilities, because RTS plays an integral role in most deals conducted by its multifaceted parent company.

His experience at R&R has been priceless, he said.

"I grew up on a farm with a strong work ethic and then carried that through college as I worked throughout my years at Drake," Wiederstein said. "I had four years of IT work experience when I graduated, and it provided momentum moving forward into the business world.

"I also have highly experienced mentors at R&R. I see how decisions are being made and how leadership is developed. That is something you can't buy."

About his rapid advancement at R&R Realty and RTS, he said: "If anything, it may be a little too fast. There's something to be said about peaking too early."

On the other hand, his career has moved quickly because real estate and technology follow a high-speed pace, he said.

"I love coming to work not knowing the challenges and opportunities the day will bring," he said. "My passion for real estate and technology, combined with working for a great organization, makes my job very exciting."

Runners-up: Karlton Kleiss, DeWaay Capital Management; Tom Mulrooney, Iowa Health - Des Moines

Best CEO

David Vellinga, Mercy Medical Center

David Vellinga isn't hesitant to say that he's got the best job around.

"It's hard for me to believe I've been here for more than 10 years already," said Vellinga, president and CEO of Mercy Medical Center - Des Moines. "It's gone incredibly fast."

Anyone serving as Mercy's top executive would be as likely to have been named best CEO, he said, because of the organization's heritage and strength.

"The great thing about being the CEO at Mercy Medical Center and all of its affiliates is that it's the best job available in a large geographic area," he said. "I say that because Mercy has a huge, dramatic legacy of the Sisters of Mercy that allow all of our physicians and associates to buy into something that's greater than themselves."

Founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1893, Mercy is Des Moines' longest continuously operating hospital and one of the largest employers in the state, with more than 6,900 employees and a medical staff of 900 physicians and allied health professionals.

Prior to coming to Des Moines in 1999, Vellinga served as president and CEO of North Iowa Mercy Medical Center in Mason City, and had also served in various administrative roles at Mercy and with the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City.

Mercy has clearly grown with Greater Des Moines, Vellinga noted. Eight years ago, the organization launched Mercy Momentum, an initiative to modernize and expand its facilities throughout Central Iowa. This fall, the "capstone" of Mercy Momentum will be the opening of the West Lakes hospital in West Des Moines, Vellinga said. In total, Mercy has invested more than $600 million in new or expanded facilities in Central Iowa during the past eight years, he said.

There have been challenges as well, Vellinga said.

"I think the biggest challenge is really the challenge that all of us have faced in the last 18 months to two years," he said. "As the national and world economies have changed dramatically, how do we as an organization -- with huge responsibilities to patients and their families as well as our associates and their families -- meet that need in an uncertain economic environment?

"What's most rewarding is that I see our associates really appreciating the opportunity given to them that in spite of these dramatic economic times, Mercy should still strive to meet the growing needs of our community."

Runners-up: Mark Rupprecht, R&R Realty Group; Craig Damos, The Weitz Co.

Best Business for Supporting Charity

Principal Financial Group Inc.

The spirit of charitable giving runs deep at Principal Financial Group Inc. For proof, look no further than the annual Principal Charity Classic, the Champions Tour golf tournament that raises funds for children-oriented nonprofit organizations.

Last year, the event generated $605,000 that was shared by Blank Children's Hospital, Bravo Greater Des Moines, the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, United Way of Central Iowa and Variety - The Children's Charity.

The tournament receives the most public attention, but Principal's generosity stretches beyond tee to green.

"Part of the culture of the Principal is to support communities where our employees live and work," said Mary O'Keefe, senior vice president and chief marketing officer.

Principal focuses on skill-based volunteerism through its Principal Volunteer Network, which matches employees with community organizations and needs that can best utilize their skills.

In 2008, more than 500 people volunteered 2,100 hours through a program called Days of Action to support United Way agencies. Principal's Volunteer Time Off (VTO) program provides each employee with eight hours of paid time off each year to work with organizations that qualify for tax-exempt status. Employees used 35,000 hours of VTO last year.

Last year, Principal and the Principal Financial Group Foundation Inc. contributed more than $11.2 million through its charitable grants program to more than 750 community agencies in cities where it has a presence.

The company considers the $60 million Principal Riverwalk as its signature project. It is under construction downtown and links bridges, the Brenton Skating Plaza, Long Look Garden, the Union Railroad pedestrian bridge, Hansen Triangle and Meredith Trail, all highlighting the downtown riverfront.

"The economy has put increased pressures on our industry and on us all as individuals," O'Keefe said. "However, charitable giving remains strong at the Principal."

Runners-up: Wells Fargo & Co.; Hy-Vee Inc.

Best Nonprofit Organization

United Way of Central Iowa

United Way of Central Iowa has made its mark on Greater Des Moines by pooling the efforts and financial donations of a long list of people, a cross section of the community. This year, however, the organization has added something new that depends on the generosity of just a few.

"We're implementing a 'Live United' challenge match," said Shannon Cofield, the president of United Way of Central Iowa for five years. "A few donors have stepped up to give a one-time gift to create a pool of money. Anyone who increases their gift or gives for the first time, we will match that" with money from the pool. The organization hopes to see the total reach $500,000.

The annual fund-raising campaign is the key to United Way's success, and Central Iowa has increased its total every year for more than 20 years, Cofield said. Last year was no exception, although the nationwide recession made it an even bigger challenge. The 2008 campaign raised $25,012,240, compared with $25,004,315 in 2007.

Central Iowa lost its spot as the region with the highest per-capita giving to United Way, but still holds this distinction: Its residents gave more last year per resident than any other campaign above the $10 million level.

Bankers Trust Co. President Suku Radia serves as chairman for this year's fund-raising drive. He can point donors to the stellar ratings earned by United Way under Cofield's leadership. Charity Navigator gives the nonprofit four stars, its highest rating, and Cofield noted, "Of the top 100 United Ways, we're ranked No. 1 in efficiency."

As her organization evolves with the times, Cofield said, "We're working closely with a couple of firms in town who have expertise around social media and media partnerships. We're promoting online giving to people who don't have access to that in their workplace. We're going to make sure to promote to everybody this year."

Runners-up: Mercy Medical Center; Iowa Health - Des Moines

Best City Government Conducive To Business

West Des Moines

The Aviva USA headquarters is nearing completion; so are two hospitals. The shopping centers are bustling, and planning continues for the development of land in the southwest corner of town. All in all, business continues to boom in West Des Moines.

In 2008, the city issued $490 million in building permits, "the biggest total in the 116 years of the city," said Mayor Steve Gaer.

This year, West Des Moines is feeling the effects of the recession. The value of 2009's building permits is expected to finish at about $50 million. Construction of a proposed business park west of Jordan Creek Town Center has yet to begin; the owner of Jordan Creek -- Chicago-based General Growth Properties Inc. -- filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection; and the collapse of Regency Homes slowed residential construction plans.

Gaer figures this year will turn out to be just a speed bump, however. "I think we were very fortunate that when the recession hit, we had a huge amount of momentum on our side," he said.

That momentum makes it easy to be optimistic.

"We have had at least 10 companies contact the city and say, 'As soon as Microsoft (Corp.) breaks ground, we're interested in building,'" he said. Microsoft hasn't started constructing its proposed server center yet, but it did buy the necessary land and, according to Gaer, told Gov. Chet Culver that it's not a matter of if, but when construction will start.

Gaer believes Jordan Creek's future is secure, because the mall ranks among the top third of General Growth's best-performing properties. If another owner becomes necessary, it's likely one will step forward.

A big key to the next phase of business development in the suburb is a proposed interchange on Interstate 80 at Alice's Road. A bridge is already under construction at that site, and Gaer is confident the federal government will approve an accompanying set of ramps, perhaps as early as 2010.

Rather than relying on momentum alone, Gaer said, "we try to have a positive approach when people come to the community. When they come in to City Hall, instead of telling them no, we sit down and try to figure out a way to make it work for them and the city both."

Runners-up: Des Moines; Urbandale

Best Metro Business Leader

J. Barry Griswell, Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines

At this time last year, J. Barry Griswell wondered whether his leadership abilities would be forgotten after he stepped down as CEO and president of Principal Financial Group Inc.

Not a chance.

Griswell moved directly from Principal to president of the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, a position that has kept him squarely in the public eye.

The difference is that from his current window he has a view of the area's social needs and is charged with raising the money to confront them.

"I think in some ways that maybe there was a bias when I was at Principal," Griswell said. "I think it's very meaningful to win as president of the Community Foundation.

"The Community Foundation is part of this recognition; it provides a great platform."

Though the foundation does not have the complexity of an international corporation such as Principal, taking over its leadership is a sizable task. The organization manages more than $142 million in assets, administers more than 600 charitable funds created by Iowans and in 2008 distributed nearly $28 million in grants.

Griswell said his challenge at the foundation is to "raise the game and be active and help the community to determine its needs and the ways to solve them."

As a longtime corporate leader now moving in the nonprofit world, Griswell's leadership approach remains much the same: working to "connect with people, understand where they are coming from and show compassion," he said.

Griswell reveals much about his life and approach to leadership in "The Adversity Paradox," which he co-wrote with Bob Jennings.

"The book exposed everything that I did wrong," he said. "As long as you've learned from your mistakes, you can learn from even the things that you're not proud of."

In other words, a life of hard knocks can develop strong leaders.

"If you learn how to deal with adversity, there is little that can shake your confidence," Griswell said.

He remains active in a variety of organizations, serving as a board member for Principal and also for Herman Miller Inc. He is a member of the boards of trustees of United Way of America and Americans for the Arts, and he is a trustee of his alma mater, Berry College in Rome, Ga.

In addition, Griswell and his wife, Michele, to improve the quality of life and create economic opportunities for families living in the nation's poorest county on the Crow Creek Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Runners-up: Suku Radia, Bankers Trust Co.; Doug Reichardt, Holmes Murphy & Associates

Best Politician On Business Issues

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley

At the age of 75, Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley has reached impressive levels of public recognition and political power. He's quoted and discussed regularly in the media, and, more important, he has a solid place in the inner circle that decides the course of legislation.

In his 29th year as a senator, Grassley serves as the ranking Republican member of the Senate Finance Committee. Although he occasionally draws fire for his off-the-cuff comments, he also enjoys a reputation for honesty and integrity. The Wall Street Journal recently wrote: "We know Mr. Grassley is as immune to political pressure as anyone in the Senate."

Fortunately for business interests, Grassley often uses his influence to help their causes. Last fall, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) named him a Guardian of Small Business for his voting record on behalf of America's small business owners in the 110th Congress. From the NFIB's perspective, Grassley cast pro-business votes on 100 percent of the business-related bills.

This summer, he introduced the Small Business Tax Relief Act of 2009. If passed intact, it would, in part:

• Increase the amount of capital expenditures that small businesses could expense to $500,000 from $250,000 to encourage businesses to invest in new equipment.

• Allow more small C corporations to benefit from the lower tax rates for the smallest C corporations.

• Take the general business credits out of the alternative minimum tax for sole proprietorships, flow-throughs and non-publicly-traded C corporations with $50 million or less in annual gross receipts.

• Extend the one-year carryback for general business credits to a five-year carryback for small businesses.

Runners-up: State Sen. Brad Zaun; West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer

Best Minority Business Leader

Suku Radia, Bankers Trust Co.

Mike Earley wasn't surprised that Business Record readers have for a third time chosen his friend Suku Radia as "best minority business leader." Radia received that honor in 2004 and again in 2007. Radia, president and CEO of Bankers Trust Co., "sets an example of treating people like he would want to be treated," said Earley, who, with the bank's board, tapped Radia to succeed him in March 2008.

"He's certainly well-deserving," added Earley, who has known Radia for more than 30 years. "He has a tremendous work ethic. He's a fantastic guy who loves his community."

Radia joined Bankers Trust last year after serving for eight years as vice president and chief financial officer of Meredith Corp.

"My predecessor set the bar high," Radia wrote of Earley in Bankers Trust's 2008 annual report. "I was fortunate to have his counsel as I acclimated to my new position. And I was also fortunate to inherit a finely oiled machine filled with talented and caring people."

Despite tumultuous economic times, Bankers Trust increased its loan volume by 8.5 percent to $1.65 billion last year, while increasing total assets by $237 million, the seventh-best year for growth in the company's nearly 100-year history.

The company's commitment to diversity continues as well. Earlier this year, Bankers Trust received the Greater Des Moines Partnership's annual Diversity Award, presented to companies "that strive to create opportunity and embrace a workplace culture that includes diversity from the foundation up."

Of Indian descent but born and raised in Uganda, Radia came to the United States in 1971 to attend Iowa State University. While in college, his family was forced to leave Uganda and he was unable to return. He joined KPMG after earning his accounting degree and CPA certification. He became a nationally recognized tax expert during his 25 years at KPMG LLP, where he was managing partner of the Des Moines office.

Runners-up: Christopher McDonald, Belin Lamson McCormick Zumbach Flynn; Eric Idehen, Wells Fargo & Co.