Best of Madison Business 2015: Investing in Innovation

Three leaders fostering innovation in their work
Best of Madison Business 2015: Investing in Innovation
2015 Best of Madison Business Award winners Zach Brandon, Leslie Ann Howard and Daniel Rashke.

Leslie Ann Howard

Lifetime Achievement Award

It might be a stretch to suggest Madison is totally unique in the relationship between the community’s business sector and its major philanthropic organizations. It is, however, an extraordinarily close and important relationship that plays a major role in defining civic life in this city. And with all due respect to the indispensable Madison Community Foundation, nowhere does that relationship play out to more positive effect than United Way of Dane County. United Way’s board of directors, campaign chairs, Agenda for Change teams and scores of volunteers are a who’s who of the area’s most prominent business leaders. Madison’s business sector understands the broader community, its assets and its needs in a profound way as a result of United Way’s strategic vision and leadership. And it’s the leadership we honor this year with our 2015 Best of Madison Business Lifetime Achievement Award.

Leslie Ann Howard has been at United Way of Dane County for thirty-three years, twenty-five of those as president and CEO. During that time, United Way has become arguably Madison’s most powerful voice for community health, education, safety and the common good. Whereas most United Ways are seen primarily as fundraising organizations, United Way of Dane County under Howard’s leadership became a community impact organization. And in building that model, with an innovative and flexible Agenda for Change at its core, Howard sought the support of Madison’s business leaders and made them full partners in the work. As a result, Madison’s most pressing issues and needs have the wisdom, experience, resources and commitment of its best and brightest leaders, and many of them come from the community’s leading businesses and corporations. Howard has won the respect and trust of Madison’s business community not only by being a careful steward of the generous financial contributions those businesses make, but by overseeing creation of a shared vision for positive change and improvement.

It is perhaps slightly unusual that we would honor the retiring leader of an organization like United Way with an award of this kind. But Howard is an unusual leader. Her tenure as president and CEO has had an unusual impact on Madison. Her retirement at the end of this year is an unusually significant event. Leslie Ann Howard is the Best of Madison Business, 2015.

Daniel Rashke

Brian Howell Excellence in Innovation Award

Innovation remains one of the core concepts in twenty-first-century global economic development. It’s a word at risk of over-exposure, but it is essential to growth and change. And it is by definition virtually limitless in its application. As the owner, president and CEO of the top five nationally ranked, third-party administrators of employee benefit plans company Total Administrative Services Corporation, or TASC, Daniel Rashke is an example of the elasticity of innovation. There’s been the more traditional recognition, with TASC and its chief development officer, Pam Reynolds, being named 2014 Industry Innovator by the Institute of Healthcare Consumerism for outstanding leadership and innovative health care benefit solutions. And there’s the Daniel N. Rashke and Patricia M. Rashke Family Foundation collecting charitable donations that benefit philanthropy, volunteerism and private grant making. But there’s the less traditional as well, in particular the GiveBack program that is “a vehicle that will encourage businesses to integrate active philanthropy among their workforces.” Launched at TASC in 2014, and now being offered to other organizations nationally, GiveBack is “a way to engage and empower employees by providing them with innovative options to earn, raise, track and donate money to charitable causes, through financial or volunteer actions.” All of this grows out of the “TASC Cares” internal philanthropic arm of the business, which is simply part of the cultural fabric of TASC. It’s no coincidence that Rashke just happens to also be an active board member of United Way of Dane County, having also served on the Vision Council, Campaign Cabinet and as chair of one of the United Way’s solution teams. On top of all that, he will chair the 2015 United Way Campaign. If we look at Leslie Ann Howard as making the ask in the investing in innovation equation, Dan Rashke is the response. We honor Rashke with this year’s Brian Howell Award for Excellence in Innovation.

Zach Brandon

George Nelson Future Madison Leadership Award

From the day in 2012 that Zach Bandon was hired as the president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, investing in innovation has been an integral part of his vision for the region’s business sector as well as the growth and strategic development of the region itself. Brandon has thrown open the doors of the Chamber to more diversity, new, young entrepreneurs and start-ups, new relations locally, nationally and globally and has established himself as one of Madison’s most important civic leaders. All in two years. Not that his resume of entrepreneur and small business owner, three-time Madison Common Council member, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Commerce and director of the Wisconsin Angel Network isn’t an impressive preparation for the job of leading the Chamber. But Brandon is uncommonly skilled at maneuvering among all of those entities to promote business and at the same time keeping a keen sense of the greater good of the Greater Madison region. The forty-one-year-old Brandon has already had a big influence on how the region has positioned itself for the future, and he has skillfully kept Madison as his primary focus. He is the perfect person to join Hammes Corporation president Bob Dunn, who developed the new Edgewater Hotel, as the first two winners of the George Nelson Future Madison Leadership Award.