Defining Excellence

Organizations that reach beyond their grasp help more than just themselves—they elevate entire communities.

By Joe Sweeney

 Perhaps it’s a sign of aging, but despite being an optimist, I find myself increasingly complaining about terrible customer service.

We have several vacation rental homes at the Lake of the Ozarks, and anyone vested in the lake region knows first-hand that it may be the most unproductive regional work force on the planet. Trying to get things done at the lake is nearly impossible. There is not enough room on the pages of this edition to tell the story, hence I shift to elaborate instead on exceptional service.

That’s a topic we love to explore. When we bought Ingram’s in 1997, we inherited a few traditions, including the annual feature known today as the Best of Business Kansas City Awards. This readers-choice awards program has evolved over the years and we’ve honored more than 1,000 companies that, in the eyes of our discerning readers, are the best at what they do in the Kansas City region in a wide array of categories. Rather than survey our readers for their recommendations this transient year, Ingram’s editors stepped back to study the winners over the years.

We’re reporting on their long-term success and what they’re doing to survive COVID-19. There are 51 organizations that have won seven or more Gold Awards since the program’s inception. Nearly all of them—48—are still running strong, and nearly all of their executives in leadership roles have had the challenge of their lifetimes trying to sustain this challenging year. I’ve never known any of the past honorees to be ungrateful for their Best of Business recognition.

They know that when consumers hold them in a positive light, it will serve as a beacon to inspire others. Some people, hard as it seems to comprehend, simply don’t get that. They look at superior performance with the same disdain they used to direct at the smartest kid in sixth grade, the one who was getting straight A’s every year.

What those people fail to appreciate is that achievement, and the drive to excel, is what pushes organizations forward. From that comes growth, profits, the ability to pay a better wage, the ability to reward shareholders, and, yes, the likelihood of footing a bigger tax bill. It becomes a feedback loop of success that, in the end, benefits everyone who lives here.

Think that’s just happy talk? Let’s consider a few of the all-time greats in Best of Business, some featured in this issue. Start with J.E. Dunn Construction. Back when we bought the magazine, it was a family business with revenues of $686 million and about 1,600 employees. That’s about $2.62 billion in current dollars.

But Dunn isn’t a $2.62 billion company today. Last year, it had $4.2 billion in revenues as an ESOP organization, and just shy of 4,000 employees. So roughly 2,400 more people have jobs today—with good pay and the chance to share in ownership—because this hometown company had leaders who understood what it meant to press for organizational excellence.

Precisely the same dynamic applies to companies like Burns & McDonnell (also employee-owned) and to the University of Kansas Health System, a public health authority. By focusing intentionally on delivering high-quality products and superior services, each has become a market leader in its sector.

It’s hard to understand why capitalism, done that well, gets a bad rap these days. I honestly can’t think of a more qualified group of judges than Ingram’s influential and affluent readers and consumers.

We can say without hesitancy that our repeat Gold award honorees are among the Best of the Best. It’s a privilege to view these extraordinary companies from a new perspective, and to share their insights with what they’re doing not only to make it through this challenging year but to sling-shot forward when the fog lifts. Support these companies and the others that often rank among the Best of Business honorees. They are the essential businesses in this region in the eyes of Ingram’s and our valued readers.

About the author


Joe Sweeney

Editor-In-Chief & Publisher

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