Another Successful Annual Dinner in the Books

Over 1,500 folks participated in last night's Annual Awards Dinner, and the central theme was to honor Indiana's contribution to the U.S. military. It was an enjoyable, yet humbling evening. I'd like to thank my coworkers for putting on another memorable event. The keynote from Gen. Stan McChrystal was enlightening, and here is some information about the award winners:

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

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Pete Dye Course Captures Golf Digest Honor

Combine legendary golf course designer Pete Dye with the scenic French Lick location and the result was pretty much guaranteed to be a winner. The latest affirmation is a Golf Digest ranking (No. 93) on the list of America's 100 Greatest Courses.

The publication's biennial review of America's greatest courses appears in the February 2013 issue. Established in 1966, it is the game’s oldest course rankings list and considered the leading symbol of golf course excellence in the industry. Golf Digest used over 1,100 members of its Course Ranking Panel and asked each to submit ballots based on seven criteria including shot values, resistance to scoring, design variety, memorability, aesthetics, conditioning, and ambience.
 
“We are very honored to be recognized by Golf Digest as one of America’s 100 Greatest Courses,” said Dave Harner, director of golf for French Lick Resort. “This ranking is a testament to the vision of our late founder Bill Cook, Steve Ferguson and the legendary Pete Dye who together developed arguably one of the most visually stunning courses in America solidifying French Lick Resort as one of the elite golf resort destinations in the country.”
 
Bill Cook, the late founder of Cook Group Inc, together with Steve Ferguson, chairman of the board, acquired the historic French Lick Springs and West Baden Springs hotels in 2005 and immediately began restoring the properties including the already popular Donald Ross golf course. They brought in Pete Dye, a native of Indiana, to design and develop the next great “must play” course, which has succeeded in putting French Lick Resort on the map as one of the country’s leading golf destinations.
 
Ron Whitten, Golf Digest senior editor of architecture, describes the Dye course as  “A mind-boggling creation by octogenarian architect Pete Dye, it sits on perhaps the highest point in the state, a mountaintop leveled and transformed into a spider web of terraced fairways and perched greens guarded by every kind of bunker imaginable, from sand traps and waste areas to pot holes to puckered ones dubbed volcano bunkers. We predict a PGA Championship for this course.”
 
Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Courses only includes 18 public or resort facilities. The Pete Dye Course joins just three other Midwest public/resort courses that made the elite list including Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run in Wisconsin, and Arcadia Bluffs in Michigan.
 
 
 

 

Bill Cook: Recollections of an Indiana Icon

In mid-year 1999 (with about 15 months under my belt at the Indiana Chamber), I learned that Bill Cook had been selected as the organization’s Business Leader of the Year. Despite 15 prior years of newspaper and other interviewing experience, I was one nervous guy heading to the office of the Bloomington entrepreneur and community stalwart.

You see, Cook was not especially fond of doing interviews. He was a little reluctant this time also, but agreed with the coaxing of longtime friend and business partner Steve Ferguson — a true Indiana Chamber champion for many years. Before getting down to the business of discussing business, we talked about some of his passions. These included the drum and bugle corps championships (Cook used to drive the bus for the Star of Indiana group that he founded), flying planes, owning a basketball team in Manchester, England and more. I think the casual conversation relaxed me more than him.

The news of Cook’s passing last night was a shocker. I pulled out that November 1999 article. You can read from many sources about Cook’s long list of accomplishments, but some of the words he shared with me a dozen years ago still resonate. Asked what it takes to build a business or restore a historic building, he said:

"It’s a matter of risk taking and being prepared to make decisions and make them quickly. Our approach to business over the years has been that we believe in trying almost everything if it involves medicine. We found out you can’t second guess whether any product is going to be essential."

As for the decision-making, Cook added, "I found you can’t do that with a committee; it has to be done personally. My personal belief is that many people use committees as a cop-out. I just never believed seeking a consensus was the best way to go. You have to have enough of an ego to believe you’re right some of the time. I don’t think I’m different than anyone else. I do like to take risks and the potential benefit that means."

At the time, Cook was in the process of making twice-a-week or so trips from Bloomington to oversee renovation of the historic West Baden Springs Hotel. That, of course, eventually became part of the French Lick Resort complex that attracts visitors from near and far for golf, gaming and more.

In 1999, Cook called the project "fun" but admitted he had questioned what he had gotten himself into.

"It was a labor of love. It was also an ego trip. The scope of this thing was so big it challenged my comprehension … I didn’t really think I wouldn’t complete the building though."

The late Myles Brand, former Indiana University president, described a familiar scene at board of trustees meetings that involved Cook.

"Bill would sit back, listen, think, scribble things on his pad and then come up with an idea no one else thought of. Bill goes right to the heart of the matter. When he speaks, we all listen."

They listened for a long time and the legacy of Bill Cook will carry on for many years to come.

Ferguson Discusses Medical Device Tax Troubles

Yes, our current health care system is broken. No, a multi-billion dollar annual tax on medical device companies should not be part of any so-called solution. As our country seeks to emerge from the recession, the last thing we should be doing is discouraging entrepreneurs and businesses that are providing all-important technologies and jobs.  Continued innovation, not intervention, is what is needed.

Steve Ferguson, a longtime Indiana business and community leader, describes why the tax is so bad for our state. Ferguson, the 2010 Indiana Chamber board chairman and chairman of Cook Group in Bloomington, talked with Gerry Dick of Inside INdiana Business.