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Copper Cactus Awards recognize top small firms

Citizen Staff



In business, as in life, there are many firsts that bear remembering.

There’s the first dollar made.

First contract signed.

The first employee hired and the first fired.

But then there’s also the first time you’re recognized by peers and public for a job well done.

Everyone wants and needs praise, but sometimes it gets lost in the clutter of getting the job done.

Sterling Capital Mortgage’s Krista Konrad and Sonora Behavioral Health Network’s Karen Wiese can add this year’s Copper Cactus Award to their lists of firsts to remember.

Both took home awards from the fifth annual celebration of small business Thursday night.

Konrad’s office won the award as one of Tucson’s best places to work.

“When I received the nomination, I went, ‘Are they mailing this to the right place?’ ” said Konrad, the branch manager-vice president of the Tucson office at 5151 E. Broadway.

“We looked at each other and realized we really do like each other, and we do like working here.”

Konrad yesterday said she and her 11 employees were “walking around on cloud nine. The nomination process was wonderful for us because it gave us a recognized pride.”

When she took over the office about 3 1/2 years ago, Konrad said, its management system didn’t work for her.

The secret to creating a good workplace is in how employees are treated, she said.

“I feel it is being respectful and courteous to each other as human beings,” aside from the benefits and good pay, she said.

Many decisions at the office are made by consensus, and everyone is held accountable.

Karen Wiese can remember when Sonora Behavioral Health was Sterling’s size.

“We formed in 1994 in our garage . . . with no air conditioning,” she said, laughing.

The business that Wiese; her husband, George; and Maureen Copeland started has become a 32-bed hospital for psychiatric patients, employing 125 people.

Sonora Behavioral Health took top honors in the Business Growth category for businesses with 100-250 employees.

One reason for the success may be the company’s philosophy.

“My dream someday is that companies will be designated as Fortunate 500 companies instead of Fortune 500 companies. This won’t be based on size, but on trusting that values and beliefs are right in the long term by focusing on the quality of the work environment for employees and quality of services provided to customers,” Wiese said at the event.

Many of the employees Wiese hires come from people they know.

“Good people beget good people,” she said.

To illustrate this, she told of when the company moved to its offices at 6050 N. Corona Road.

“Many (employees) helped us move furniture over here and do other start-up stuff such as washing the windows and dusting,” she said.

The company plans to add about 35 people as soon as it expands.

“We started as a tenant, and we recently purchased the building through the Business Development Finance Corp.,” Wiese said.

Now the facility will grow to 52 beds.

Wiese said she is able to retain employees through Sonora’s Integrity, Accountability and Pride of Work program.

“We treat our employees as customers and have an open-door policy.”

Treating people right also extends to the whole community, and this year the judge’s selected Bookman’s, a locally-owned chain of used-book stores, as the Community Service winner in the 100-250 employee category.

“To quote Groucho Marx, ‘I’m not sure I want to be in any club that would have me as a member,’ ” owner Bob Schlessinger joked, gesturing to the crowd.

“In this day of Enrons and WorldComs, I’m glad to be part of a club where greed isn’t the first thing.”

For Howard Stewart, president of AGM Container Controls, a manufacturer of moisture control devices for packaging, the night was doubly meaningful: First, his company received the Best Place to Work Award for companies with 50-99 employees. Then he was honored as the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Leader of the Year.

“The only thing I’ve ever won on a personal level before was in high school. I won Most Sarcastic. This is quite a step up,” he said.

Then he got serious.

“Those of you in this room go beyond just providing jobs. By your very presence here tonight, you are sending the message that you care about employees and that you care about this community. What can I say? I am honored to be one of you.”


Here are the finalists for the 2002 Wells Fargo Copper Cactus Awards and the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Leader of the Year Award. Winners in each category are indicated by an asterisk.

Business growth

- 1-19 employees: *Dakotacom.net, Sheftel Associates Dermatology, Tucson Rework & Door

- 20-49 employees: Arizona Car Care, *Pepper-Viner Cos.

- 50-99 employees: *Beyond Bread, Joe Cristiani’s Mobile Communications, AGM Container Controls

- 100-250 employees: Bookman’s, *Sonora Behavioral Health Hospital

Community service

- 1-19 employees: *Funtasticks Family Fun Park, Personally Delivered, Water Mart & Ecopure Bottled Water

- 20-49 employees: Magpies Gourmet Pizza, *Chestnut Construction

- 50-99 employees: *Joe Cristiani’s Mobile Communications, AGM Container Controls, Zonge Engineering & Research Organization

- 100-250 employees: *Bookman’s, Buffalo Exchange

Best place to work

- 1-19 employees: Great Scott Enterprises, Funtasticks Family Fun Park, *Sterling Capital Mortgage

- 20-49 employees: *Hammell & Co., Errol L. Montgomery & Associates, Chestnut Construction

- 50-99 employees: *AGM Container Controls, Joe Cristiani’s Mobile Communications, MMLA Inc.

- 100-250 employees: Qualified Mechanical Contractors, *Buffalo Exchange, Bookman’s

Scholarship winners

- Lindsay Dragoo, Sahuaro High School

- Bita Abrams, Mountain View High School

- Rebecca Goldstein, Cibola High School (Yuma)

TMCC Small Business Leader of the Year

- *AGM Container Controls, Howard Stewart; Dakotacom.net, Pamela Crim; Arizona Car Care, Ronald Krapa

PHOTO CREDIT: Photos by Chris Mooney

CUTLINE: Krista Konrad emcees events at the Copper Cactus Awards on Thursday at The Westin La Paloma.

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