ROSANA PRIVITERA BIONDO, Mark One Electric
When you’ve spent 16 years building the family business into one of the city’s biggest electrical contractors, and the growth curve is almost always up, success is as easy as flipping a switch, right? Wrong, says Rosana Privitera Biondo, president of Mark One Electric: “It is not,” she says wryly, “as easy as it looks.” That’s true for a lot of business owners, but perhaps more so for a woman in an industry dominated by men. And, just to make it even more challenging, knowing that your leadership decisions will also affect some of those closest to you—Biondo has three brothers serving as vice presidents of the company their father bought in 1974. The upside? When your passions are family and business, at least she’s got both under one roof.
Biondo is no stranger to the kind of oafish surprise a lot of men register when they learn that she’s running the show at a contracting company. Or when a prospective client expresses doubts about giving her firm the work. But, she says, “Sometimes, you just do what comes naturally to confront the challenges you are faced with.” And that means drawing on something inside. “It’s innate within,” Biondo says of her own measure of resolve. But some of it, she says, comes from daily life experience. Either way, she says, when you’re in a leadership role, “either you have it, or you don’t.” Mark One’s fingerprints are all over some of the most highly visible construction projects this region has seen over the past decade. And, more personally, she’s been a crusader on behalf of other women in business, because she sees the value of punching a hole in the glass ceiling. One final measure of Biondo’s drive: civic involvement. She sits on nearly a dozen non-profit boards or civic organizations, covering the arts, hospitals, foundations and more, and has been involved in a long list of trade organizations and civic initiatives. “I enjoy serving and meeting new people. It is important,” she says, “to do the right thing.”
MIKE PHILLIPS, Century 21 All-Pro
Mike Phillips had just about enough of life in his native Southern California. After 15 years in international business, the hours were too long, the rewards not worth the time sacrificed with his wife and four children. Following the lead of his parents in their retirement, the Phillips clan headed for Kansas City in 1999. The rest of the story can be measured in real-estate market share. Phillips traded in his business background for a realty license and went to work. Many rookie agents don’t record a sale in their first 90 days learning the ropes, he said, but “I got my first check within two weeks.” He still remembers the reaction after telling his boss he hoped to have his own agency within a year: “The guy never stopped laughing.” Well, nobody’s laughing now. Within a decade, The Wall Street Journal was proclaiming Mike Phillips the No. 1 realty pro in the nation, in numbers of transactions completed for 2008—a feat sandwiched by two years at No. 3. Phillips specializes in foreclosure resale, and business has been very good. But it didn’t just fall into his lap: This success was a calculated response to market forces. “When I saw people I personally knew buying houses that were way out of their financial brackets, or that had no business with home ownership at that point in their lives, I knew it was too good to be true,” Phillips said. “I knew the system was going to break.” He wedded his entrepreneurial zeal with a keen understanding of the Internet’s power. With dozens of Web site URLs packing punch for various aspects of his business, and by taking advantage of social media explosion, Century 21 All-Pro has been among Ingram’s listing of the 100 fastest-growing companies in this region each of the past two years. Phillips was born with that drive, both for the battle and the successful outcome: “I am a gluttonous consumer of time and energy. I love learning from other people,” he says. “I love watching the deals come together and finding solutions to issues that others consider roadblocks.”