Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers Stepping Down

Huntsville Hospital Health System CEO David Spillers is stepping down.

David Spillers

Spillers, who has guided the system since 2006, will retire in July, according to a news release. Jeff Samz, executive vice president and COO, will succeed Spillers.

“It has been a great ride but it’s time to do some things that I have not taken the time to do while working,” Spillers said in the release. “I have been privileged over the past 33 years to work in healthcare during a period of incredible changes and challenges. None have been bigger than the pandemic that we face today. Our team has performed incredibly well and I am confident that we will ultimately win this battle.

Jeff Samz

“We’ve served our community for 125 years but there is more work to be done. I am also blessed to work with what I consider to be the best leadership team and the best board that any health system could have. I can step away knowing that what we have built here will continue to thrive and grow.”

“Spillers has led the Health System to “unparalleled growth and success,” said Philip Bentley, chairman of the Health Care Authority governing board. Spillers will continue to serve the system as a consultant, he said.

Major achievements of Spillers’ 15-year tenure in Huntsville include the opening of Madison  Hospital in 2012; and the rapid development of HH Health System which is now comprised of hospitals in Athens, Decatur, Sheffield, Red Bay, Boaz, and Guntersville, along with affiliate relationships with  other hospitals in the Tennessee Valley.

Total employment of the Health System exceeds 15,000, making  the organization among the top five largest publicly-owned health systems in the nation. New  technologies, services, and facilities have been completed across the region under Spillers’ leadership,  including massive renovations in Decatur and new construction in Athens. In Huntsville, a seven-story,  $175 million Orthopedic & Spine Tower is scheduled for completion this summer.  

Bentley noted Spillers’ leadership during the pandemic, as well.

“David’s leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic may be his greatest accomplishment,” Bentley said. “Few leaders could do what he has done as our hospitals have  responded to the crisis.

“David has always kept our team focused on quality, safety and  service. Our patients are getting outstanding care in all of our facilities. We will be forever grateful for  his contributions.”  

Samz has been COO since 2009 and has nearly 30 years experience in hospital administration, including Vanderbilt Health in Nashville and Duke Health and Mission Health in North Carolina.

“You can’t find a more qualified person to be the next CEO of this system,” said Spillers. “I am  happy for the organization and for Jeff that he will succeed me.”  

Bentley echoed Spillers’ comments: “We have the utmost confidence in Jeff.  He is well prepared to lead our organization. We know him and trust that under his leadership we will  continue to excel.”

Spillers said that he would remain in Huntsville after retiring.

“Cindy and I love Huntsville. It’s  our home now,” he said. “Running a system like ours consumes most of your time. I look forward to having more  time to do the things I have put off for many years.” 

 

Q&A with Ben Lovett: Man Behind the Development of Huntsville Amphitheater

Q: Maybe there are more rock stars than I know who are involved in business ventures, but I am fascinated by your involvement on such a corporate level. Can you talk about that?

Ben Lovett: I have been an entrepreneur my whole life. I started my first business in event promotion on the rock scene about 20 years ago and then opened a record label publishing artists’ records about 15 years ago.

I see my life with Mumford & Sons as my artistic outlet, but there is a side of me that believes in having a day job. Owning these companies is great honest work.

I started doing venues about six years ago and started Venue Group with my brother Greg (Lovett). He has a very strong career in business and most recently he was CFO of Soho House & Co. before joining us as CFO at Venue Group.

Our dad was in corporate management and consulting for 45 years and we grew up in that environment, a household that brought a certain amount of buttoned-up ones and twos, crossing the Ts and dotting the I’s when it comes to industry and running a successful business.

Q: Are you actually involved in building these music venues from the acoustic and design standpoint or are you just a consultant to those who do?  

A: I roll up my sleeves and get into the intimate detail.

I think you don’t want any single element of the venue to let you down both from the artist’s experience and from the patron’s experience, because that’s really what it is all about.

When you attract a Jimmy Buffet or Travis Scott, or whoever it might be through a venue, you want them to say, ‘That was pretty good. I want to come back here and play when I am on tour.’

You can’t underestimate their (artist’s) experience whether it is the sound on the stage, the temperature in the dressing room, or the limitations of the production loading docks.

But from the patron’s point of view, you might have done a lot of things well. The sound was great, and the lights were great, but if it takes half an hour to get the car out of the car park at the end of the night, then patrons say to themselves, there was so much right about the experience, but there was something that let me down.

We are looking at the detail, both the artists’ and the patrons’ (experience) to make sure we are not going to fall short on this venue.

Q: Is Huntsville really the first of these venues you are building?

A: Yes, Huntsville Amphitheater is Venue Group’s first amphitheater in the U.S., and this is a very specific type of building, an open-air theatre.

We’ve joined up with some great veterans of the industry like Mike Luba and Don Sullivan, who brought back the Forest Hills Stadium in New York. He has been in this industry for decades and I have collaborated with him on a number of projects.

Given the importance and scale of this project, we decided to partner on it, so we’re not going into it completely cold. We’re leaning on our experience and it’s a good collaboration.

Q: Without sounding corny, but ‘‘of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world” – why Huntsville?

A: Huntsville is a wonderful place.

I think in my travels across the U.S., it has occurred to me that some of the secondary and tertiary markets and cities have a bit of insecurity about them, an inferiority complex. But as far as I see it, Huntsville has people of great stature and it not only deserves to be one of the great U.S. cities, but it is really on its way to being so.

I don’t think it is as hard to imagine building a world-class venue in Huntsville.

The city government is incredibly well run. Our first meetings with the current administration a couple of years ago with Mayor (Tommy) Battle, Shane Davis and John Hamilton – these people are smart, they are ambitious, and they are aware of the responsibility they have in public office. These are, I think, some of the best examples of city officials I have ever met, and I have met a lot of people on different project across the years in the U.S.

So that is a big part of it, and also, just the rate of growth right now in Huntsville is off the scale. You’ve got all of these new jobs, all of this new activity, but what are these people doing on the weekend?

I think the task we’ve been given is to stop people from running off to Birmingham or Nashville or Atlanta to spend their hard-earned money on the weekend.

Let’s keep them here in Huntsville, keep them happy, and let’s entertain them with incredible food and beverage options that will make Huntsville into a great city in the next chapter of the South.

Q: Are you aware of how hot it gets in Huntsville in July and August?

A: I am very aware of the heat and I must say from snowy New York, I think every day I could live in Huntsville full time!

Q: Back in my concert-going days, the only place to eat after a late-night concert was Krystal or perhaps you know it as White Castle. I heard you talk about how food is a centerpiece of the venue experience. Can you explain what that means for Huntsville?

A: Yes, the food experience has changed.

The food element is something that is very important to us, but probably not something people deem as important across the industry.

We think there is such an opportunity with 8,000 people coming out to West Huntsville multiple times a year, to enjoy a concert.

For many people, it will be their one night out that month or one big night out that year and it needs to be from start to finish, exceptional.

Most venues see the show as the main event.

But if you go beyond the show, those people are going to want to park efficiently. They will want to have dinner and some drinks. We see these things as a kind of equal match to the main event itself.

We want to work with people in Huntsville, within Madison County and around the region to showcase their delicious cuisine, whether it is a Poke Bowl or pizza, to those 8,000 people. We want to offer patrons the best options, and we want them to be great, so they become part of their memory of that event.

And we want people to know that is open and available 365 days a year. We want to make Huntsville an inbound destination when the show is on, and when the show is off.

On days when there is no concert happening, people will be able to go and enjoy Huntsville as a new destination where they can hang out with friends and sometimes see big scale arena performances.

Q: One last question about your music – for a British rock band, Mumford & Sons has a very American folksy sound. Where does that come from?

A: I think it is just a fascination with “the other” and it’s been that way for years.

If you think about the Rolling Stones coming to Muscle Shoals all those years ago, it was a British band wanting to learn and nurture themselves with southern American roots.

It’s gone back and forth. A lot of American bands have felt the same way about British and Celtic music, and some of it is that historic relationship culturally between the U.K. and the U.S.

It has led me to living here and growing a family in the U.S. I love this country and I love the South. I think there is an incredible romance about it, so I’m all in.

Q: Can we expect to see you playing here a lot?

A: Playing here is definitely on the agenda!

Construction Begins on 8,000-Seat Huntsville Amphitheater

Construction has begun on the long awaited state-of-the-art, 8,000-seat Huntsville Amphitheater at MidCity and the new West Huntsville Park. It also marks a 15-month countdown to an April 2022 opening.

The city’s amphitheater will soon rise from this red clay in Huntsville’s MidCity District. (Photo/Steve Babin)

The City of Huntsville and Venue Group, founded by Ben Lovett of the Grammy Award-winning rock band Mumford & Sons, made the announcement.

The project brings to life Huntsville’s long-time vision for an iconic major music venue that will serve the community and bring top music talent to the region. It is also a major contributor in the city’s Music Initiative to build a music and cultural-based economy throughout the region.

Huntsville Venue Group, a joint venture partnership led by Ryan Murphy, former CEO of the St. Augustine (Fla.) Amphitheater, will be operating the venue on behalf of the city. He will be assisted by leadership from the global Venue Group team including Lovett and his brother Greg, Graham Brown, and Jesse Mann, in partnership with industry veterans Mike Luba, Don Sullivan, Jeff Kicklighter and Al Santos.

According to Dennis Madsen, the city’s manager of Urban & Long Range Planning, who also oversees the Music Initiative, Lovett’s involvement is extraordinary because artists have a lot to say about the venues in which they perform.

“Artists themselves like to play in some venues because of the atmosphere and environment,” said Madsen. “I believe Ben Lovett’s motivation in starting Venue Group was driven by wanting to create more of those types of venues.”

Mayor Tommy Battle said the city has wanted to build more than an amphitheater. They want a facility that will help grow Huntsville’s music and culture economy.

“It will allow us to become a community of curators, where we can develop our own creative content that is unique to Huntsville that we can share globally,” said Battle. “In addition to arts festivals, markets, and world-famous musicians, we’ll be able to incubate our own talent, showing that our next great entrepreneurs don’t all have to be in space and missile defense.”

Murphy believes the main reason Venue Group won the contract for the Huntsville Amphitheater was because they had a shared vision of a year-round operation and of making it a community asset.

“When I saw Huntsville doing this Music Initiative, I was so impressed. They are putting the road map together. They understand the economics of it and the importance of it,” he said. “I have to say they stepped up to understand that music is not just a quality-of-life issue that adds to the culture and arts in a city.

“Huntsville understands music is an economic driver and that it creates jobs.”

He said having worked in local government for 15 years, it is often hard for local government to understand the benefits of a music and culture economy because there is not a lot of long-term vision.

“We are creating something that is not just your run-of-the-mill amphitheater stage and lawn,” Murphy said. “The uniqueness of the architecture and the uniqueness of how it will be operated makes it much more of a community asset.”

Part of that uniqueness will be the Amphitheater’s integration into the new West Huntsville Park. The city will be preserving much of the natural trees and wooded areas and will be creating nature and hiking trails throughout the surrounding area.

There has been some early criticism that so elaborate a venue may well bring in 20 major concerts a year, but what about the remaining 345 days a year?

“That would be the biggest waste of taxpayer dollars, even if 20 big names a year was an economic driver, brought more quality of life to the residents, and provided jobs,” said Murphy. “What we’re going to create is a community asset. The Huntsville Amphitheater will be an extension of the new West Huntsville Park so that on any given day there may be multiple stages set up with multiple areas of engagement, much of it free.”

From a gospel Sunday brunch with barbecue and great gospel groups, to local Saturday afternoon music showcases, Murphy said the aim is to create a venue the community will get behind because they know on any given day year-round, they will find something really cool going on there.

“It will attract major concerts that have never been seen in North Alabama, but it will also be scaled appropriately with plenty of flexible space and will be affordable for nonprofits and local events to lease space to fit any occasion from farmer’s markets and graduation ceremonies to small arts festivals,” he said.

Another unique aspect of the Huntsville Amphitheater is the result of Lovett’s vision to build a new era of world class music venues combined with significant community growth and amenities. Among those amenities is food – good food.

Huntsville Venue Group is in talks with regional chefs and local food vendors to bring to life its prized food village that will operate year-round. The village will provide food and beverage options to patrons of the Amphitheatre and also serve as an additional amenity and social space for MidCity.

“One of the biggest trends in the past 10 years has been an elevation of the quality and variety of food offerings, especially around music,” said Lovett. “We believe there is a huge amount of opportunity in the hospitality side of entertainment to deliver food and drinks of such excellence that they stand on their own two feet as an offering not simply as a way to ‘tide you over,’ quench the thirst, or satiate the hunger temporarily.

“We have to aspire for higher standards than that. One of the reasons that Huntsville is so appealing to me and the team is it feels like going the extra mile is in the DNA of this city and we intend to go the extra mile when it comes to not just the concert experience, but the restaurants and bars that lay adjacent and that will serve customers year-round.”

Murphy also said Huntsville Venue Group is going to be involved in the entire community.

“Whether they are festivals downtown or smaller venues in town struggling to get back on their feet after COVID, we are going to help them, too,” he said. “The Huntsville Amphitheater will not open in isolation. We are watching the recommendation coming from the Initiative’s music audit, and we are going to help every step of the way.”

 

Sit Down with Success: Lynn Troy, CEO of Troy 7

Sitdown with Success is a feature of the Huntsville Business Journal on entrepreneurs and their keys to success. This month’s subject is Lynn Troy, founder/president/CEO of Troy 7.

Lynn Troy: “Fear of the unknown shouldn’t hold anyone back.” (Photo/Steve Babin)

Lynn Troy calls herself an unlikely entrepreneur. Coming up through the ranks at Teledyne Brown Engineering from a co-op position while completing her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from UAH, starting her own government contracting business was not a long-term goal. That changed when she and her husband John got married and a contract they were working on seemed to be slipping away.

Troy7 has been a contender for the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce Small Business Best Place to Work Award for eight consecutive years from 2013-2020, and a winner for six of those years. In 2020, Troy7 was named the Chamber’s Woman Owned Small Business of the Year.

A graduate of the Huntsville Leadership Flagship Class (L29), Troy serves on several local non-profit boards. She is vice chair of Economic Development for the Huntsville Madison Chamber of Commerce Executive Committee; vice president of the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity; treasurer and finance chair for the Community Foundation; 2021 chair of the American Heart Association’s Heart Ball Executive Leadership Team; and 305 8th Street.

She also serves on UAH’s Last Mile Committee; Women’s Philanthropy Society’s Advisory Board; and is a Hudson Alpha Ambassador.

In 2018, Lynn received the Russell G. Brown Executive Leadership award and was recognized as one of Alabama Media Groups Women Who Shape the State.

In 2013 she received the Technology Award from WEDC’s Women Honoring Women.

What initially attracted you to the Missile Defense industry?

When I was in the ninth grade, I had to do a paper on Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” (Strategic Defense Initiative) program and honestly, I had no idea that was going to be my career destiny.

I thought I was going to be a lawyer, but those plans changed when I found myself a young mother in high school and unable to go off to college or law school.

My dad encouraged me to pursue engineering. He was a mechanical engineer, and knew UAH had an excellent engineering program. He thought electrical would give me the broadest career options, so I enrolled at UAH. When I began working in the Optics Department developing infrared signature models of rockets, that’s when I knew I was hooked on missile defense.

You started working for Teledyne Brown Engineering while you were still at UAH, is that correct?

Teledyne Brown Engineering hired me into their co-op program when I was 18 years old and I had just completed my freshman year at UAH. I was so deeply grateful for the opportunity to have my first real job that I honestly thought I would retire from TBE one day.

It took me 5½ years to complete my electrical engineering degree but along the way I learned so much about government contracting and the various work Teledyne was doing.

I was able to rotate through different assignments and when I landed in the Optics Department, I was hooked, and had found something that I truly loved doing.

It sounds like you had a strong support system behind you at TBE.

I had some amazing mentors who invested in me and helped me not only technically, but who encouraged me to pursue leadership positions.

I was selected for an incredible opportunity to participate in TBE’s Female and Minority Management Training program.

What triggered your starting your own business?

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Teledyne Brown was forced to divest the contract I supported to another company, and Teledyne Solutions was created. While we all hoped it would be an adequate solution to create the separation the government required, after a few years the government decided it was still not enough.

It was during this time, the idea of forming a new company came to being. I had recently remarried and the date was July 7, 2007 or 07/07/07, and that is where I came up with the name of our company, Troy7.

My husband John truly believed we could, together, start a new business.

It was a hard decision to leave TBE after almost 20 years and so many wonderful opportunities, but within a relatively short time after we left, Teledyne Solutions was forced to dissolve as an entity, so I believe we made the best decision we could for us and our family.

How did Troy7 evolve?

With the uncertainty and likely loss of the contract we were on at Teledyne becoming more troubling, we began looking for alternative customers and contracts, and discovered an opportunity with the MEADS (Medium Extended Air Defense System) program.

MEADS was a tri-national (US, Italy, Germany) program that evolved out of the U.S. Patriot program, and they were nearing their test phase and needed targets to test their system against.

Target flight testing was truly both mine and John’s professional passions. I loved the threat analysis, which ensured the target matched the threat of interest in optical, radar, and flight performance characteristics.

John loved the rockets themselves and knew every detail about them and processing the telemetry flight data on-site all over the world.

We believed we would never have a better opportunity to see if we could build a company doing what we loved than that moment, so, we pulled the trigger and incorporated Troy7 on Nov. 28, 2007, less than  five months after we got married.

Looking back, it’s pretty surreal that we both quit what had been very stable and wonderful jobs and took that leap together. But we both felt strongly that we needed each other, and wouldn’t have been successful if only one of us had tried to do it without the other.

Was the MEADS program your launch pad, so to speak?

We didn’t bring a contract with us for the MEADS work. It was new work, and we worked with (Space and Missile Defense Command) and the NAMEADSMA (NATO MEADS Management Agency) team to set up their Targets Test Program. We were incredibly blessed to support that effort for five years and many flight tests at White Sands Missile Range.

The final test in the program was a dual intercept mission with a south bound ballistic target – John was the Test Conductor – and a north bound air breathing QF-4 target – where I was stationed.

The MEADS system performed brilliantly and successfully destroyed both targets.

It is a little weird to celebrate the destruction of your work, but that’s the life of targets engineers!

During those five years we were working hard to develop new customers and contract vehicles to grow our business and it was a lot of very long days and nights and several years of no vacations or down time, but it was worth it, and I would do it all again.

In a lot of ways, those early formative years are the most fun and exciting, even though you are tired and struggling at times.

What specific challenges did you face in getting started on your own?

I think the biggest challenge we faced in getting started was all the things we didn’t know we didn’t know.

Lynn Troy: “Huntsville is rich with successful small businesses whose founders and leaders are eager to advise and mentor new small businesses.” (Photo/Steve Babin)

I often tell people, I was too naïve to realize how much I didn’t know about the business side, insurances, taxes, corporation rules, the FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulation), accounting, etc. And it’s probably for the best.

I think it is fear of all those unknowns that holds people back.

I joke that John and I were still in our honeymoon phase, so we were willing to figure it all out as we went. And that is one of the beautiful things about Huntsville. There are so many wonderful and successful people in this town who are all willing to help you, share their experiences, and guide you through the unknowns. Fear of the unknown shouldn’t hold anyone back.

What vision do you have for your business in the future?

We experienced some change in 2020 when John retired.

He had a goal to retire on his 60th birthday so we worked hard to make that a reality last September.

He still comes in a couple days a week to wrap up a project, but it’s more like he’s a consultant, not day-to-day.

This was a huge change for me personally and professionally, and we spent a lot of time talking through the future and our goals.

We know it’s time for us to shift our focus from predominantly subcontracting to going after more prime contracts. We have been so blessed to work with some of the best primes in Huntsville and we have learned so much from them.

It’s our goal to grow into a prime role and treat our teammates as well as we have been treated. Although our biggest customer is the Missile Defense Agency, we also support the Army, NASA, and the Air Force.

Our first priority is ensuring we continue providing excellent support to these customers and exploring prime contract options across our customer base is our current growth focus for the future.

What advice would you give to someone interested in getting into the government contracting business?

Don’t be afraid to fail but be prepared to learn from the surprises and disappointments you will inevitably encounter.

One of my mentors from UAH, Dr. Bassem Mahafza, told me to imagine myself 10 years into the future and ask myself would I look back and regret it if I didn’t at least try. I’m still grateful for his wise counsel.

Number two – build the dream and the vision of your business in your mind before you start building the business. The opportunities will change and the paths to them will detour, but it is essential to know what you’re striving to accomplish before you take the first step toward that goal.

Number three – don’t be afraid to ask for help and seek advice. Huntsville is rich with successful small businesses whose founders and leaders are eager to advise and mentor new small businesses.

Troy7 and I personally have benefitted greatly from Huntsville small business leaders for over 13 years. I continue to try to pay it forward and help mentor new small businesses the same way I was blessed with help.

I will say, there are more barriers to entry today than when we started Troy7. Expensive IT infrastructure requirements, slower and more restrictive acquisitions, and downward pressure on rates, to name a few.

All of these factors require careful consideration but should not be deal breakers since there are so many resources available to help.

And probably the most important advice I could offer – carefully choose your employees and respect and take care of them. From the bottom of my heart, I believe Troy7 has thrived because of our dedicated and talented Troy7 family. It is not just the services we offer that make Troy7 a successful company. It’s our people.

Convention & Visitors Bureau Promotes Dendy

Lori Dendy has been promoted to executive assistant for the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Dendy, who formerly served as administrative assistant, oversees accounting, record-keeping, human resources and reporting responsibilities for the organization, in addition to her role assisting Bureau President & CEO Judy Ryals.

A Huntsville native, Dendy began working at the bureau part-time as a visitor information assistant in the Visitor Center. She also served in marketing, public relations and volunteer role for organizations including the Volunteer Center of Huntsville/Madison County, Huntsville City Schools, the Community Free Clinic, Alabama Youth Ballet Theatre, EarlyWorks Society, and Valley United Methodist Church Lay Leadership and Children’s Ministry.

Dendy majored in marketing and received her bachelor’s in business administration from Auburn.

Sit Down with Success: Bob Baron ‘in Motion’ with Baron Critical Weather Intelligence

Sitdown with Success is a feature of the Huntsville Business Journal on entrepreneurs and their keys to success. This month’s subject is Bob Baron, founder/president/CEO of Baron Critical Weather Intelligence.

Many Huntsville residents will recognize Bob Baron from local TV weather and his famous “weather in motion,” but immediately following one of Huntsville’s largest, most destructive, and unexpected tornadoes hit the city in 1989, Bob Baron formed Baron Services to try and find ways to keep people all over the world, safer in dangerous weather events.

 

You were an on-air celebrity here and in Tampa as Chief Meteorologist in the 1970s and 1980s. Why did you take a more behind-the-scenes stance by starting your own company?

When the F-4 tornado struck Huntsville in November 1989, I was Chief Meteorologist at Channel 48. It came without warning and I realized that what I thought were weather tools were just weather gadgets.

I thought the community was well prepared for severe weather, but in analyzing the disaster, we determined that we needed to find a way to detect dangerous events; disseminate very specific advisories to those in harm’s way; and to effect immediate response. That detection, dissemination, and response had to occur within 10 minutes, or you started losing lives.

That has been our focus for 30 years.

 

What attracted you to the technical aspects of the weather?

I transitioned from radio to TV and then to TV weather around 1977. It was a glorious time as the first “big data”, satellites, and modern radar were launching at the same time as computerization. I loved working with both, and interfacing with the public on a daily basis; and every day we were either creating or introducing new technology to the public.

 

What are some of the technologies you have created and implemented since you started the company?

Our first product facilitated live radar and strike-by-strike lightning and allowed the user to zoom in on a storm, instantly draw out a direction and (area of threat), and then pull the communities at risk, as well as the estimated time of storm arrival.

Then we got into storm tracking. Over time we patented the ability to send alerts to cell phones of those only in harm’s way.

In the wake of the 2011 Super Outbreak of tornadoes, the Governor’s task force determined a need to have a statewide alerting system focused exclusively on those directly in harm’s way. Only our company could provide it, and it would take forever to have all state entities sign off on the system; so, we decided to provide it for free.

Over the last eight years, Baron has been providing the free Safety Net alerting service statewide. We have launched millions of alerts and anyone can still download the Alabama Safety Net free and receive not only the most precise alerting, but also a wide variety of other weather information like live radar and tropical weather data.

 

Why did you change the name from Baron Services to Baron Critical Weather Intelligence?

Baron is a national and international player not only in weather data but also Doppler weather radars. The company was chosen by the National Weather Service to upgrade all 171 of their Nexrad radar to next generation Dual Polarity.

Our official name remains Baron Services, Inc.  but over the years we adopted uses of “Baron Weather, home of Critical Weather Intelligence”, which speaks more directly to what we do.

 

What has been the hardest parts about developing weather technology?

If things were easy, everyone would be doing them.

Our development of early Doppler radars and more recently, building out the technology and hardware for Dual Polarity, which is sending out simultaneous horizontal and vertical signals that are then analyzed when those signals bounce back, may be the most challenging work we have done.

But we also felt a great sense of accomplishment developing the data stream, the hardware, firmware, and software to send over very narrow bandwidth to provide weather to the cockpit as displayed in real-time on all major avionics. For the past 17 years, that has been one of my favorite successes.

 

What vision do you have for your business in the future?

Our company has three major verticals: broadcast, international weather services, and what we call enterprise, which provides weather data in various formats to assist other developers.

This later effort is becoming quite successful as we add insurance and fleet customers, among others; and I see great opportunities for advancement as we are able to reach out to the marketplace.

We have developed a next generation TV broadcast system that also includes the ability to do traffic programs, and all of this is being extremely well received.

We recently finished development of a brand new next-gen processor for our radar market that allows us to provide a highly competitive product around the world that I’m looking to add to our marketing going forward.

 

What advice would you give to someone interested in getting into weather technology or the development of weather-related equipment, research, or work?

For me, most of my experience has been applied science – power user, if you will. But you also need the researcher. It is a team effort with room for success for everyone. I believe weather, the big umbrella, is a rapidly growing area both in applied meteorology and meteorological research.

Sitdown with Success: Bruce Summerville of Inline Lighting and Electric Supply

Sitdown with Success is a feature of the Huntsville Business Journal on entrepreneurs and their keys to success. This month’s subject is Bruce Summerville of Inline Lighting and Electric Supply.

Bruce Summerville: “… a lot of customers lean on some of our people for technical expertise. That’s really what distinguishes us from most of our competition.” (Photo/Steve Babin)

Bruce Summerville started Inline Electric Supply in 1988 after he and three co-workers were fired from their jobs at a Westinghouse supply branch here in Huntsville for plotting to start their own business. Today, there are 13 locations in Alabama, one in Tennessee and one in Georgia.

How did you come to Huntsville and what was it like in the early days starting a business?

My father was an electrical contractor in Georgia, so I grew up in the business. I was working as an electrician at an electrical supply house in Atlanta while going to school at Georgia Tech. When I came to Huntsville, I was only going to stay about six months and here I am over 30 years later.

After getting fired from Westinghouse, we started the business in my basement. Shortly afterward, we found this building on Bob Wallace. We were electrical only and operated out of the back of the building. Five years later, we moved into the front of the building, which gave us space to start a lighting showroom.

Our business model is Business-to-Business. We sell to installers, electrical contractors, and industrial plants. On the showroom side, we sell to builders or to homeowners building a home.

I’m sure with technology, the lighting industry has changed a lot over 30 years?

Oh yes. The advent of LED has completely changed the lighting industry, where seven years ago, it didn’t exist. On the residential side, it has migrated more slowly, but commercial, industrial, and outdoor lighting is radically different. It is 100 percent LED.

Before, commercial and industrial lighting was either fluorescent or what we called HID (high-intensity discharge), which was either mercury vapor or metal halide. You couldn’t control it. It was basically either off or on.

LED lighting is instantly on, very much controllable. It is all dimmable so there are a lot of controls involved.

What do you attribute most to your success?

We have significant inventories and keep a lot of product on hand; but definitely, the biggest thing is people.

We have a lot of people who are very knowledgeable about our industry and about our product and quite honestly, a lot of customers lean on some of our people for technical expertise. That’s really what distinguishes us from most of our competition.

In 2012, we went from three owners including myself to 260 owners when we went 100 percent employee owned.

Because of the Employee Stock Ownership Plan, we went from $60 million to $160 million in revenue because we attracted a much better grade of people because they now have a stake in the success of the business.

I think the employee ownership has been a key advantage for us.

Has COVID-19 caused you any problems getting product?

Every day, 10 hours a day, we’re trying to find material. It is a constant struggle. Everything that comes out of Mexico is a continuous problem. A lot of the Asian product is coming back, but anything coming out of the Americas is still a struggle.

What would you tell somebody thinking about starting a lighting business?

It’s pretty capital intensive. If we were starting out today, it would be a struggle because it takes so much money to invest in inventory.

Starting a new business is challenging no matter what, and it is the same for this industry. But I would say hiring the best people will help you be successful.

What have been the biggest challenges you have faced over the past 30 years, COVID included I suppose?

The financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 was tough because the construction market was hit so hard.

When I talk to people who own restaurants and hotels, I feel almost ashamed to say it, but our business has been up about 10 percent this year. It is hard to brag about that when so many people are struggling, but I think we are certainly fortunate to be in the area of the country where there’s so much going on in terms of construction. That has helped carry our business through the pandemic.

Slyman Named State Building Group’s Builder of the Year

Todd Slyman

Todd Slyman of Huntsville has been named the Home Builders Association of Alabama’s Jerry Kyser Builder of the Year for 2020. He was honored during the HBAA’s Convention awards presentation recently in Destin, Fla.

The Jerry Kyser Builder of the Year Award recognizes a builder member from a local association with more than 500 members who has shown outstanding service to their local and state associations, their community and the building industry as a whole.

Slyman of Placemakers North America has been a member of the Huntsville Madison County Builders Association since 1993. He has served in numerous leadership roles there, including president in 1999. He was inducted into the HCMBA Housing Hall of Fame in 2008.

Slyman has also been active within the HBAA, serving as president in 2012. He has also served on the HBAA’s Governmental Affairs Committee, Affordable Housing Committee, and the Alabama Home Builders Foundation.  He was inducted into the Alabama Building Industry Hall of Fame in 2018.

Contenders for 2020 Small Business of the Year Announced

More than 160 businesses and individuals are in contention for top honors at the 35th annual Huntsville-Madison County Chamber Small Business of the Year Awards.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oct. 20 event will be a virtual presentation. It will be from 4-6 p.m. and fees are $25 for individual members and $50 for individual nonmembers.

The categories and contenders are:

Culinary Business of the Year

Emerging Business of the Year

Local “Creative” of the Year

Government Contracting: Professional Services of the Year

Government Contracting: Technology Business of the Year

Medical Practice of the Year

Nonprofit of the Year

Professional Services Business of the Year

Retailer of the Year

Service Business of the Year

Technology Business of the Year

Woman-Owned Business of the Year

Young Professional of the Year

Russell G Brown Executive Leadership Award

With a Heart of Gold, Colin Wayne and Redline Make Products of Steel

TANNER — Decorated Army veteran seriously injured in Afghanistan.

Redline Steel has produced some 5 million products from its 110,000 square-foot facility in SouthPoint Business Park.

Traveling the world as a fitness model.

Entrepreneur and steel manufacturing guru.

Humanitarian and philanthropist in line to receive Huntsville’s “Key to the City”.

A person can accomplish a lot in just 31 years. Ask Huntsville native and social media extraordinaire Colin Wayne.

His company, Redline Steel, is ranked 110th among the Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Private Companies in America – and is the fastest-growing company in the state

. In addition, Inc. 5000 recognized Redline Steel as the No. 4 Fastest Growing Manufacturing Company nationally with a recorded growth increase of 3,215 percent from 2019 to 2020.

Quickly becoming one of the largest steel monogram companies in the U.S., Redline Steel is expecting to surpass $100 million in sales by the end of the year.

But, to Wayne, giving to the community is what moves him.

“I am an entrepreneur, but I have always been a humanitarian and philanthropist at heart,” he said.

Wayne’s journey to becoming a steel manufacturing expert has been nothing short of extraordinary.

He was seriously injured in a rocket attack eight years ago in Afghanistan and spent six months in physical therapy and recovery from lumbar fusion surgery on his back.

Transitioning out of the Army in 2013, he traveled the world as a fitness model gracing the cover of more than 50 men’s health magazines and promoting products for Under Armour and Nike.

Moving back to Huntsville in 2015, it was a fortuitous business transaction that led Wayne to steel manufacturing and eventually build Redline Steel into his own company in January 2016.

Colin Wayne makes a presentation to Huntsville Police Capt. Mike Izzo. (Redline Photo)

Since then, Wayne has paid his good fortune back to the local, regional, and national communities that have resulted in his success many times over.

His company donated $50,000 to the Huntsville Police Department and, in 2017, donated $25,000 to the American Red Cross. Redline Steel has also given back to Alabama farmers, veterans groups, schoolteachers, and truckers.

In the meantime, like hundreds of other businesses, Redline Steel has been adversely affected by the pandemic.

But, unlike hundreds of other businesses, he didn’t let it adversely affect his employees. Redline Steel employs more than 85 employees and based on current projections, Wayne expects that to reach over 100 by end of the year.

“When the coronavirus hit this spring, I doubled our workforce, and we did not lay anyone off, even during the worst of it,” Wayne said. “Then, to lessen the negative impact, I paid all our employees’ house payments in April.

“The coronavirus has been challenging because we have struggled like everyone else to find ways to combat it and keep going. It caused a lot of stress on the company’s growth because of the unknowns and we have had more unemployment the past couple months than we have had in over 50 years.

“People aren’t spending like they were before the pandemic, so we had to get creative to find different ways to monetize.”

He said now that almost every state including Alabama has mandatory mask requirements, they began getting a lot of requests for them through their website. They set up a partnership to make and sell face masks but – to him – that wasn’t enough.

“We donated over $4 million in products to provide support for essential healthcare workers and partnered with my friend, actress Megan Fox, to donate $3.2 million to medical support personnel and first responders,” he said.

From its 110,000 square-foot facility in SouthPoint Business Park just off Interstates 65 and 565 in Tanner, Redline Steel manages all manufacturing and fulfillment coming from their online retail store. In its first four years in business, they have moved some 5 million products. Their mostly steel-based products include personalized and monogrammed gifts, home décor, jewelry, children’s items, and accessories.

Colin Wayne takes a selfie with President Trump after a ceremony in Washington.

This year, President Trump invited him to the White House where he awarded Wayne with a signed commendation plaque. They also took a selfie together and Trump bought an American flag from his company’s Patriotic Flag Collection.

More recently, he was nominated for the 2020 Russell G. Brown Executive Leadership Award in Alabama for Small Businesses and will be receiving Huntsville’s Key to the City recognition for his charitable community involvement.

In August, Redline Steel launched three nonprofit campaigns.

“I look for causes whose missions align with my values and beliefs,” Wayne said. “My five-year-old niece was recently diagnosed with cancer and the Olivia Hope Foundation specializes in pediatric cancer.

“She is currently in remission, but she is still on oral chemotherapy and it is very difficult.”

The Olivia Hope Foundation was created in honor of 11-year-old Olivia Hope LoRusso, who lost a 15-month fight with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Redline Steel is offering exclusive home décor pieces with every donation. For information, visit oliviahope.org.

“We are also launching a campaign with Midnight Mission,” he said. “They feed the homeless and, of course, that is important to me because 70 percent of homeless people are war veterans.”

In August, a long list of Hollywood celebrities teamed up with Habitat for Humanity to promote a social media campaign called #Hammertime. Redline Steel became involved by making a special steel hammer to send to every person who donated $25 or more.

“And Habitat for Humanity,” he said. “They are a much larger organization obviously, but they are also a Christian organization that helps people in need to build homes.”