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Nominees for financial executive awards

Small For-Profit

Steve Mowers
Claims Recovery Financial Services LLC

Witnessing the downfall of the first company he worked for was an eye-opening experience for Steve Mowers.

“They had over 500 employees, and things were phenomenal,” Mowers said. “Within two years, the company had lost large portions of its business, reduced its headcount to 80 and had to file for bankruptcy.”

Seeing “many good people” lose their jobs drove him to put people first at work.

“I am motivated to make sure that the management of the company has all of the best information to make the best decisions, and avoiding bad situations happening to good people,” he said. “I am also very concerned about the impact that management’s decisions has on the employees and the broader community. Sometimes you can’t avoid a bad outcome—but, management needs to be aware … and do the right thing for its employees and community.”

As chief financial officer and chief operating officer for Claims Recovery Financial Services LLC, he has focused on improving the company’s accounting system and financial reporting while also managing the finance, human resources and IT departments.

“In my 28 years of mortgage banking, I have never worked with someone who is as knowledgeable, dedicated and as collaborative as Steve is,” wrote Jodi Gaines, CEO of Claims Recovery Financial Services, in support of his nomination. He “has successfully taken on some of our toughest projects and never shies away from a challenge. Steve’s ability to lead by example with effective communication skills makes those around him better.”

Previously, Mowers was with ACM Medical Laboratory as the director of revenue and billing. He earned a B.S. in accounting from RIT and an MBA from the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School.

A former board member of the Cobblestone School, he currently volunteers with the Boy Scouts of America, Troop 50.
—RBJ staff

William Pelino
Greater Rochester Independent Practice Association

As chief financial officer and chief operating officer of the Greater Rochester Independent Practice Association, William Pelino takes the most satisfaction in being a member of the team.

“I am fortunate to work every day with an incredibly talented and dedicated team of professionals in information technology, care management, network relations and administration that are part of an outstanding physician network and health care system, Rochester Regional Health,” Pelino said. “Our high performing GRIPA team diligently works to improve the quality of care delivered in our community, which is very important to me.”

Over his career at GRIPA, Pelino led many of the organization’s major initiatives and reduced operating expenses by 20 percent in one year.

“Bill is a talented financial executive. I know his advice is frequently sought and respected by his business colleagues,” wrote Christopher Gerace, vice president and chief financial officer of Bryant & Stratton College, in his support of Pelino’s nomination.  “However, beyond Bill’s many achievements, perhaps the best thing I can say about him is that he is an individual of exceptional character.”

That character was exhibited in Pelino’s response to being nominated.

“This (award) consideration is more a testament to our team than any one person,” he said.

Pelino worked for Paychex as controller of the human resources business unit before joining GRIPA. He received his BBA in accounting from the University of Notre Dame, and went on to acquire an MBA from the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School.

A member of the Rochester Academy of Medicine’s finance committee, he is also a former treasurer and executive board member of the Rochester Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation—where he grew the chapter’s annual revenue from $200,000 to more than $1 million in four years.
—RBJ staff

 Michael Williams
IEC Electronics Corp.

Michael Williams finds working at a small public company to be “very dynamic.”

At IEC Electronics Corp., he has been able to use his expertise to assist different teams in various company projects. One of these teams is working to implement a new enterprise resource planning software platform.

“I enjoy being involved in all aspects of the business,” said Williams.

As vice president of finance and chief financial officer, Williams helped lead the company through a change of its CEO and board of directors, while shepherding the renegotiation of several amendments to IEC’s credit facility. Through his stewardship, IEC’s debt was lowered from $35 million to $13 million.

Williams also enjoys taking the time to mentor his team and contribute to the company culture.

“IEC has a very down-to-earth culture and a great working environment,” he said.

Many agree that Williams himself is a vital part of that positive working environment.

“Mike is personable and very easy to work with and is a true team player,” said Jim Jenkins, partner at Harter Secrest & Emery LLP, in his nomination. “He is a champion and defender of his team members and supports them in their growth and development.”

In addition to his role with IEC, Williams served as vice president finance and controller for Bausch & Lomb Inc. He holds a BBA in accounting from St. Bonaventure University, as well as an MBA from the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School.
—RBJ staff

 Medium For-Profit

Daniel Crist
SMP Corp.

Daniel Crist went to college to be a math teacher. But he ended up as an accountant with an affinity for having his books balanced.

As a financial professional, Crist’s affinity for having things be just so has expanded into a mastership of Excel and designing his own programming tools. As a result, his fellow business leaders have the ability to access data not readily available through accounting software, Crist said, which allows the company to flourish.

“I claim myself as an efficiency buff,” Crist said. “I like to make sure things can be done quickly and simply.”

Crist has been CFO of IT solutions provider SMP Corp. for just under a decade. Previously, he was a controller with Tra-Mac Group LLC, Schuler-Haas Electric Corp. and DiMarco Constructors, and a manager with Perry Pink & Semmler, CPAs.

The tools Crist deploys—whether integrating accounting platforms, automating financial reporting or programming dashboards for SMP’s leaders—keep SMP running smoothly day to day.

“We can’t be running our day-to-day without knowing where we’ve been, where we are today and where we’re going,” Crist said.

He acquired his B.S. in accounting from SUNY College at Brockport.

According to SMP, Crist’s introduction of new financial management techniques led the organization to double its employee base to almost 100 and grow profits from $20 million to $90 million.

“Dan delivers great financial guidance to SMP that has helped the company achieve strong growth,” owners Kristen and Eric Rorapaugh wrote in Crist’s nomination. “At the same time, he conveys warmth and compassion while reinforcing the importance of wellness and balance in our lives every day.”
—Amaris Elliott-Engel

Robert Pepe
LaBella Associates DPC

When Robert Pepe joined LaBella Associates DPC back in 1990, there were just 35 employees.

Today the firm has 475 employees and 14 offices, including one in Madrid. The firm has grown in net revenue from $12.8 million in 2010 to $47.3 million in 2016.

“In 27 years of leading LaBella’s team of architects and engineers, Rob himself has become a principal architect of the firm’s financial and operational strategy,” firm officials wrote in their nomination. “Our evolution from a team of 35 to 475 is attributable to his leadership and his role in our company.”

LaBella is a full-service delivery firm, offering architecture, engineering, planning and land surveying.

“If we got a phone call to design a city, we could do that,” Pepe said.

The company has completed six acquisitions under Pepe’s leadership. One of his responsibilities, Pepe said, is to integrate the cultures of the firms LaBella Associates acquires, which can be a challenge if there are culture clashes.

Active in the community, Pepe is on the SUNY College at Brockport board of trustees. He also attended SUNY Brockport and earned his B.S. in accounting there.

As the chief financial officer for a professional services organization, Pepe answers to 150 shareholders. He said transparency is important, and his role in promoting transparency at LaBella Associates is one of the reasons the firm nominated him.

“The workforce in this company, they’re numbers people,” Pepe said. “They’re designers, engineers and architects. Many people do have an interest in the financial information about the company. This company has always been transparent in its financial information.”
—Amaris Elliott-Engel

 Mitchell Starr
WorldWide Electric Corp.

Mitchell Starr wouldn’t have become an accountant if his profession still just involved tabulating numbers and wearing green visors.

“I find accountants today are much more consultative,” Starr said. “It’s helping the organization become more financially aware so we can make more money.”

A certified public accountant by training, for the past 30 years Starr has worked to rebuild companies that are losing money to make them ready for a merger and acquisition.

“I go to turn companies around,” Starr said.

Starr joined WorldWide Electric Corp., a distributor of motor control and gearing, about three years ago as chief financial officer. The company was facing a declining market, reduced margins and heavy debt load, says Patrick Toms, national sales manager for WorldWide.

Over the past three years, WorldWide has been able to keep its profits up even though revenue is down—without laying anyone off, Starr noted.

Starr has particularly specialized in working as an interim CFO and president for manufacturing firms, including for companies making capital goods, pharmaceuticals and electronic and medical components.

“I love the smell of oil,” said Starr, who does his own drywalling and electrical work at home.

Starr earned his degree in accounting and finance from the University at Buffalo. He also has worked for KPMG LLP, Bausch & Lomb Inc. and UCB Manufacturing Inc., a pharmaceuticals firm.

According to Nancy Catarisano, managing partner at Insero & Co. CPAs, Starr is the best operational CFO she has ever worked with. She has recommended him to many companies over her career—including to WorldWide.

“In every situation, the company saw significant improvement in their financial results,” Catarisano wrote in support of his nomination.
—Amaris Elliott-Engel

 Small nonprofit

Barbara Bennett
National Multiple Sclerosis Society

Doing her part to help make a difference is what drives Barbara Bennett, who serves as the director of strategic finance at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

“Every day I get to see how the work that I do impacts the lives of families living with MS, which keeps me motivated to do my best and make a difference,” said Bennett.

She started out with the organization in 2000 as the director of finance for the Upstate New York Chapter. Over time, she took on responsibility for three additional chapters—creating a centralized finance model for all four chapters and expanding her oversight from $3.2 million to more than $22 million.

After the National MS Society underwent a systemwide unification process, Bennett was named the director of strategic finance. She continues to improve procedures and find new ways to shrink administrative costs for the organization.

“I have seen her financial acumen firsthand and have been inspired by her dedication to her career and her passion for the MS Society,” wrote Bryan Kenney, managing director of Deloitte, in his nomination. “Because of her superior skills and expertise … during the transition, (she) was asked to re-create a centralized chart of accounts and create a training program for finance staff across the country.”

Before joining the National MS Society, Bennett was with Bonadio & Co. LLP as a senior auditor. She acquired her B.S. in accounting from SUNY Fredonia.
—RBJ staff

Eileen Cavalier
East House Corp.

When she first came to East House Corp. as the director of finance in 2012, Eileen Cavalier arrived during a time of transition.

In addition to overseeing the organization’s $9.3 million budget, Cavalier wound up taking a lead role in merging five offices into a central headquarters, assisting with closing two group homes and moving the residents to Paul Wolk Commons and being a key player in completing two significant capital projects.

But that isn’t all she took on.

Cavalier “also assumed responsibility for our IT department,” Gregory Soehner, president and CEO of East House, wrote in support of her nomination. “She developed and hired personnel for hardware, software and IT support, as well as developed a five-year hardware replacement plan, updated software on all units and completed conversion to a new operation system. The effectiveness and efficiency of our IT has never been better.”

Cavalier’s diligent leadership resulted in her promotion to vice president of finance and information technology; she now manages a budget of $13.3 million.

“I’ve had wonderful opportunities to grow, both professionally and personally, while taking on challenging projects that allow me to make a positive impact on people’s lives,” she said.

Before coming to East House, Cavalier worked at the Arc of Monroe County as the controller and finance director. She earned a BBA in accounting from St. Bonaventure University.

Also active in the community, Cavalier is treasurer of the Rochester Childfirst Network, past treasurer of the Flower City Down Syndrome Network, and a member of the Upstate Women in Housing and Finance Association.
—RBJ staff

Cathy Vail
Holy Sepulchre Cemetery

When Cathy Vail joined the nonprofit world over six years ago, she admits that she did not envision working at a cemetery. It turned out to be the perfect fit for her.

“It’s such a unique and rewarding job,” said the chief financial officer of Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. “The people I work with are the most compassionate and caring individuals I’ve ever met. Each and every day, they deal with people during what is most likely one of the worst times in their lives.”

Vail helped to smoothly guide the organization through some major changes: transitioning to an updated accounting system, which involved creating new reports and finding ways to make the system as efficient as possible, as well as executing a new time and labor reporting process—complicated by having a union and nonunion workforce plus seasonal employees.

Vail “is respected by others and regularly challenges the status quo to help ensure we have the best possible outcome,” wrote Lynn Sullivan, CEO of Holy Sepulchre Cemetery and Ascension Garden, in her nomination. “Whether in terms of ensuring financials are accurate, to improving processes, to training her team, to providing backup wherever necessary, she is a true asset to our organization.

Prior to joining Holy Sepulchre, Vail was the interim executive director and chief financial officer of Providence Housing Development Corp. She holds a B.S. in accounting from LeMoyne College in Syracuse.

Vail serves on the board of directors and the finance committee for both Pathstone and the Mary M. Gooley Hemophilia Center. She also volunteers her time to help with the cemetery’s many events, such as placing 5,300 American flags on veterans’ graves during Memorial Day for the Boy Scout project.

“The nonprofit industry is not what the general population believes it to be,” Vail said. “It’s a group of extremely dedicated people who put their blood, sweat and tears into their mission in helping those less fortunate and those in need.”
—RBJ staff

Medium nonprofit

Laurie Leo
Roberts Wesleyan College and Northeastern Seminary

Laurie Leo has served as chief financial officer for players in some big industries, including education at Roberts Wesleyan College and Northeastern Seminary, financial services at First American Equipment Finance and the steel industry at Klein Steel Service.

But what she is most proud of, Leo says, is raising her two “amazing” children while her spouse also was occupied with an intense career at an accounting firm. Her daughter is now 21 and her son is now 20.

Leo demonstrated integrity, leadership, kindness and a commitment to community service at the same time as First American was being acquired by a $30 billion publicly traded bank, according to William Verhelle, First American’s retired CEO.

“She is the finest CFO, and the finest executive, with whom I have ever been privileged to work,” Verhelle wrote in his support of Leo’s nomination.

When the opportunity to join Roberts Wesleyan as chief financial officer arose in 2015, it combined two of Leo’s biggest passions — education and her faith, she said.

“This is exactly where God intended me to be,” Leo added.

Leo said she originally wanted to teach business, but instead she has ended up as a financial professional responsible for strategic planning, financial management, compliance and oversight of auxiliary services like IT.

Transparency with the college community about her work as a CFO is her modus operandi, Leo said.

“My role is as a teacher and my craft is finance,” she said.

Leo also has been active as a nonprofit leader and is currently a board member at the Children’s Agenda, which advocates for effective policies for children.
—Amaris Elliott-Engel

Lisa Marcello
Episcopal SeniorLife Communities

As a financial executive, Lisa Marcello has specialized in nonprofit agencies, spending 17 years as executive vice president/chief financial officer at Episcopal SeniorLife Communities and 10 years as chief financial officer at Arc of Monroe County.
   “She is gifted in her ability to see the big picture and understand the complexities of a rapidly changing health care environment and the ever-increasing expectation of the consumer,” wrote Loren Ranaletta, Episcopal SeniorLife’s president and CEO, who nominated Marcello for the award.
   During the past three years, Marcello has not only been managing all aspects of Episcopal SeniorLife’s $33.1 million financial operations, but she began guiding the development of two affordable housing communities in Greece and Henrietta and managing the construction of a third project. Marcello also turned around an underperforming assisted living facility to almost break-even.
   She also negotiated the organization’s contracts with local hospitals and managed care companies during a wholesale change in Medicare payments into bundled payment streams and Medicaid payments into managed care contracts
   Health care is “a complex industry with many variables,” Marcello said. “You have to be able to manage them sometimes without completely understanding them all. You are dealing with people’s lives at a time when they are vulnerable; that makes successful financial outcomes very important.”

Marcello attended Syracuse University, where she earned her B.S. in accounting. She is also a board member of several organizations, including Pathstone, Family Service Communities and Sojourner House.
   “Lisa is not only an asset to ESLC, but to the long-term care industry,” wrote Jeremy Coomey, ESLC’s board chairman, supporting her nomination. “As our local population ages, we need more financial executives like her to ensure quality senior care options.”
—Amaris Elliott-Engel

Mike Perry
Friendly Senior Living

Mike Perry can’t help but get emotional when he thinks of the patient who told him she would go blind because she couldn’t afford to pay for her care.

That moment, which still causes him to choke up, has stayed with him, Perry said, and has informed his thinking as a health care executive.

He has served as senior vice president/chief financial officer for the Friendly Senior Living continuum in Rochester for the past nine years. He also has had significant executive roles with the Lakeside Health System in Brockport, the United Memorial Medical Center in Batavia, the Genesee County Nursing Home in Batavia and other health care providers.

“Any time I’ve done my job, be it as an administrator or as a fiscal agent, I’ve often thought that we must make sure we are doing our jobs so people don’t have to take less than what they need,” Perry said.

Perry has become an expert at negotiating Medicaid rate appeals, including a $976,000 reimbursement to Friendly Senior. He also has the expertise to lead health care entities outright: as interim CEO for Friendly Senior and the Lakeside Health System, as president of Lakeside’s Health’s Lakeside Beikirch Care Center and as CEO of the Genesee County Nursing Home.

“We are very fortunate to have a chief financial officer who is not only well versed in the financial realm, but who has a nursing home administrator license and understands the operations of senior living,” wrote Glen Cooper, president and CEO of Friendly Senior Living, in support of Perry’s nomination.

Perry earned his B.S. in business administration from RIT, going on to acquire an MBA from Canisius College in Buffalo.
—Amaris Elliott-Engel

 Large Companies

Christopher Gorecki
Excellus BlueCross BlueShield

When Christopher Gorecki became senior vice president of finance for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield back in 2014, the healthcare insurance giant was experiencing difficulties.

“The company was losing quite a bit of money from an operating basis,” Gorecki said.

Putting his shoulder to the wheel, Gorecki created and led a team that helped the firm turn its losses into gains. The CPA is also senior vice president of Finance at Lifetime Healthcare Inc., Excellus BCBS’s parent company.

The year before Gorecki joined Excellus BCBS, the company’s operating loss before investments and taxes came to $75 million on $6 billion of revenue.

“A lot of it had to do with government rate cuts and revenue shortages,” Gorecki said.

Putting together what he calls “a team of team players,” Gorecki helped his firm turn that trend around.

“Among his achievements, Chris led and supported collaborative efforts to improve medical expense trend projections and accuracy, companywide administrative efficiencies, underwriting practices and budgeting and forecasting processes,” said Dorothy Coleman, Excellus BCBS’s executive vice president and CFO. “I am very fortunate to have Chris on my team.”

Those efforts helped boost Excellus BCBS’s bottom line. In 2016, the firm posted a $140 million gain—before investments and taxes—on $6 billion in revenue.

Beyond his full-time work, Gorecki has long devoted himself to supporting the fight against diabetes.

“My younger brother has Type 1 diabetes, and suffers from a lot of complications with it,” he said.

He sits on the board of the local chapter of the American Diabetes Association and chairs the committee running the Manning & Napier Tour de Cure, the association’s local fundraiser.
—Mike Costanza

Michael Grover
Financial Institutions Inc.

You might say that a college course sent Michael Grover down a different life path.

Grover was an undergraduate business administration major at the SUNY College at Geneseo when he found himself in a required course—introductory accounting.

“I did really well,” Grover said. “I liked it.”

Switching his major to accounting, Grover set out on the trail to his career.

“When you’re good at something, you kind of tend to go in that direction,” he said.

In 1999, Grover joined Financial Institutions Inc. as a senior accountant. Since then, he has taken on greater and greater responsibilities within the company. In 2005, FISI combined its five banks into one—Five Star Bank. He is now senior vice president, chief accounting officer for Five Star and FISI.

Along the way, Grover has accomplished much of personal and professional merit. In 2015, he acquired a master of business administration degree from the Simon Business School’s Executive MBA program.

At the same time, Grover was on the team that helped FISI take on a number of assets, including Buffalo-based Courier Capital LLC, a wealth management firm that it acquired in 2016.

“Every company is different, so you’ve got to do a lot of modeling and a lot of due diligence to make sure that you’re paying a fair price and you’re getting what you’ve paid for,” he said. “It’s what I would consider the fun stuff.”

Grover’s personal and professional skills have gained accolades from the professionals with whom he works.

“Mike has an unflappable demeanor and personality that allows him to stay calm during challenging and stressful situations,” wrote Alex McClean, a partner at Harter Secrest & Emery LLP, in his nomination. “His expertise and judgment set him apart.”
—Mike Costanza

 Mark Prunoske
Thompson Health

The numbers started coming out right for Mark Prunoske when he was a teenager in Hornell, Steuben County.

“I took two years of high school accounting, and it resonated for me,” said the senior vice president of finance/CFO of Thompson Health.

That love of numbers and challenges drew Prunoske into a career.

After joining Thompson Health as a financial analyst in 1997, Prunoske began advancing to more responsible positions in the Canandaigua-based nonprofit. At the same time, he acquired a master of science in medical management from the University of Rochester’s  Simon Business School.

When Thompson Health was trying to raise the approximately $40 million needed to build the Constellation Center for Health and Healing, Prunoske put that expertise to good use.

“I secured financing of about $29 million for the project,” he said.

Completed in 2012, the approximately 65,000 square-foot addition to the F.F. Thompson Hospital houses operating rooms, rehabilitation services and a kitchen/cafeteria.

Prunoske was also the financial point person for Thompson Health when the system affiliated with the University of Rochester Medical Center. By joining together, the two organizations were able to collectively use their resources to meet the region’s health care needs. The arrangement has also helped Thompson cut its costs.

“We were able to leverage the buying power of the university,” Prunoske said. “In our first year, we had over a million dollars of savings.”

Such gains have helped Thompson Health show positive operating margins and experience year-over-year revenue growth over the past three years. President and CEO Michael F. Stapleton Jr. credits Prunoske for helping the nonprofit to be successful.

“Mark has such an extensive knowledge base of hospital financing,” Stapleton said. “I have the utmost trust and confidence in him, which makes my job easier.”
—Mike Costanza

(c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-363-7269 or email madams@bridgetowermedia.com.

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