Business Leader of the Year: Steve Ferguson, chairman of Cook Group, Inc., Bloomington – “Steve Ferguson is a class act and has a thoughtful and calming way about him. He is a perpetual optimist and has a good way of getting people to focus on the right things, the task at hand and getting it done,” offers Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar. “I think we all should aspire to be like Steve in terms of his approach to business and in particular his approach to interpersonal interactions.”
An attorney by trade, Ferguson was a Cook Group consultant for more than two decades before finally being persuaded to make the partnership official in the early 1990s. He was company founder Bill Cook’s confidante and trusted advisor (Cook passed away in 2011).
Today, the Cook Group (which also includes enterprises in the retail, real estate and travel/transportation industries) employs 11,000, has annual sales of approximately $2 billion and generates more than a million medical device products each day.
The importance of what the core company does hits home daily, Ferguson says.
“We see those stories – a child who is surviving, a parent who lives to see his grandchildren. I would think everybody in the company, whether they are on the floor manufacturing or in leadership, realizes that every device is going to affect somebody’s life.”
Another Cook legacy that Ferguson has been heavily involved with is building restoration. Ferguson led the affiliate responsible for these projects, which began locally in Bloomington in the 1970s. The crowning jewel would come in 2007 with the return to glory of the West Baden Hotel and creation of the French Lick Resort.
“It’s an impact project. There’s a lot of involvement in the bricks and mortar, and I think we’ve done a very nice job there. But it’s much more than that. To bring it back to life and to have people visit there and enjoy it, which was one of the things Bill always wanted.”
Ferguson spends three workdays at Cook headquarters in Bloomington and two at the French Lick Resort. He listens to those running the day-day-day operations and imparts his wisdom without telling them what to do. It’s all done with a positive attitude that he finds so important.
“I think you need to be around positive people and you need to be a positive person yourself. If someone asks how I am, I always say ‘I couldn’t be better.’ I get up every day feeling like that,” shares the 72-year-old.
A welcome activity for Ferguson is volunteering and community involvement, which he believes is something everybody should embrace. One such effort that remains near and dear to his heart is the 800 basketball games he coached. Other highlights: He served 12 years on the IU Board of Trustees and was a member of the state’s Higher Education Commission and Indiana’s Education Roundtable.
Government Leader of the Year: former U.S Sen. Richard Lugar – “Few government leaders have made as wide and positive an impact as Richard Lugar has for his home state and nation,” offers Brinegar. “In fact, ‘Government Leader of a Lifetime’ might well be a more appropriate designation.” Lugar was also the inaugural Government Leader of the Year in 1990.
After two terms as Indianapolis mayor, Lugar represented Indiana for 36 years in the U.S. Senate.
During his time in the Senate, Lugar was known for his bipartisanship and thoughtful approach to various complex issues – including the dismantling of weapons of mass destruction. As a testament to these traits and his many accomplishments, Lugar is one of the recipients of this year’s Presidential Medal of Freedom – the nation’s highest civilian honor presented to those who have made especially meritorious contributions to U.S. security or national interests.
The 81-year-old Lugar hasn’t slowed down after leaving Congress. As president of the Lugar Center in Washington D.C., he continues his work on many of the same passions that dominated his career, including energy and national security issues. Recent diplomacy efforts included trips to South Korea, Azerbaijan and Montenegro.
“(Energy) is still politically charged; the battle over the Keystone XL pipeline seems to go on and on and on. Many people take the point of view that climate change requires that all fossil fuels be curtailed. I’m optimistic – balance of payments are down, production in the United States is up and our foreign policy has changed because of much less dependence upon the Middle East and other areas that are hostile to us,” Lugar explains.
Regarding money matters, he has confidence Americans can find solutions to the many challenges.
“My hope is that there is going to be more optimism. We are in a degree of economic recovery, even if not as strong as all of us wish it was, that compared to other countries … we are still the strongest and are recognized that way. The dollar is still the best currency; this is where the Chinese want to put their reserves,” he emphasizes.
Lugar has also expanded his relationship with the University of Indianapolis to form the Lugar Academy, which provides students with unique learning experiences here and in Washington. Lugar also teaches university students in Indiana and at Georgetown University.
When he’s not helping to prepare the next generation of business and civic leaders, you might find Lugar on the 604-acre Marion County family farm that he still manages today, planting and pruning trees with his son, Bob. Family is especially important to Lugar; he met longtime wife, Charlene, when the two served as co-presidents of the Denison University student body.
“We have continued to be supportive of each other through all the public life ups and downs and the raising of four wonderful sons, who I have enormous pride in and have great achievements of their own. These have been critical factors in my ability to serve. My family has wanted to be teammates in this and I’ve included them,” he adds.
Community of the Year: Bedford – “A community that adapts to changing industries and citizen needs is one that will succeed,” states Brinegar. “To see Bedford thrive and capitalize on partnerships at all levels to support its businesses and residents is heartening. The community sets a wonderful example.”
Bedford’s comprehensive plan (which hadn’t been updated in 25 years) centers on strategic investment and downtown revitalization. The city honed in on expanding education and workforce development efforts; diversifying and continuing to support growing industries, including health care and defense manufacturing; plus beautifying buildings and offering affordable housing for seniors.
Strengthened partnerships among the city, county and private sector paved the way for the community to focus on the high unemployment rate that was burdening the small city of 14,000 in south central Indiana.
Bedford's progress was recognized by the state earlier this year, as it was chosen as a Stellar Community. Only two Indiana communities are designated as such each year. The award brings $19 million in state, local and private funds to Bedford for planned improvements.
The awards dinner followed the Indiana Chamber’s fall board of directors and annual membership meetings. Indiana Chamber Volunteers of the Year were announced during a lunch ceremony: Ron Christian (Vectren, Evansville); Mike Campbell (recently retired from Neace Lukens, Indianapolis); and Melissa Proffitt Reese (Ice Miller, Indianapolis).
Patty Prosser, managing partner of Career Consultants - Oi Partners, of Indianapolis, was elected the Indiana Chamber’s 2014 chair of the board of directors.
RECENT INDIANA CHAMBER ANNUAL AWARD WINNERS:
Business Leader of the Year
Scott Dorsey – 2012
Jean Wojtowicz – 2011
Mike Wells – 2010
John Swisher – 2009
Tony George – 2008
Community of the Year
Indianapolis – 2012
Kokomo – 2011
Terre Haute – 2010
Valparaiso – 2009
Noblesville – 2008
Government Leader of the Year
Sen. Carlin Yoder and Rep. Jerry Torr – 2012
Speaker of the House Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long – 2011
Tony Bennett, state superintendent of public instruction – 2010
Stan Jones, former state commissioner for higher education – 2009
Former Gov. Joe Kernan and Chief Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court Randall Shepard – 2008