Building the Future

uccessful business people are builders. Whether it’s a company, a product line or a reputation, the best in business—through vision, talent and determination—build. This year, our 2010 Best of Madison Business Award winners are builders in the truest sense of the word, building a foundation for this community’s most important civic assets, building a new employment and economic development sector and building … buildings.

J.H. Findorff & Son Inc.

Madison would not look the way it does without J.H. Findorff & Son Inc. For 119 years now Findorff has been constructing the built environment in which many of us live, work, worship and play. The company’s website has pictures of nearly 150 Findorff projects. They ring the Capitol Square, highlighted by Monona Terrace, then stretch out to CUNA Mutual Insurance’s headquarters, The Don & Marilyn Anderson HospiceCare Center, Epic Systems, and back to the UW campus, the zoo, hospitals, schools and churches, and the magnificent Chazen Museum of Art addition going up before our very eyes. And in a meaningful and symbolic commitment to this city,

Findorff rebuilt its own headquarters on the South Bedford and West Wilson site of the company’s offices for the last 100 years, a stunning building that is itself a contribution to the city’s architecture and design. Findorff president and ownership partner Rich Lynch is adamant about crediting the strong leadership team at the helm of the company. But there is no better ambassador than Lynch himself. His personality and generous spirit and love of community are reflected in Findorff’s support for the American Diabetes Association’s “Tour de Cure,” Project Home’s “Hammer with a Heart,” the Construction Careers Initiative and especially United Way, where Lynch takes the helm for the 2010 campaign.

Madison Community Foundation

If Findorff’s buildings are the bricks and mortar foundation of this community, the philanthropic infrastructure has been built by the Madison Community Foundation. From modest beginnings in 1946, MCF today encompasses more than 860 individual funds with assets in excess of $100 million. Donor advised and designated funds meet rigorous standards in support of this community’s most important cultural and civic institutions. Under the leadership (since 1997) of MCF president Kathleen Woit, an experienced and talented staff, and an outstanding board of some of the city’s most prominent leaders, the foundation has earned the trust of those with the means and the interest to invest in Madison’s future. But even more impressive is Woit’s passion and commitment to the Madison of today, nimbly allocating undesignated funds to the community’s most pressing needs. It’s a reflection of her, too. She’s a native, a “homey,” and she wears her love for this city on her sleeve. Healthy communities have a handful of bedrock pillars of support upon which they rely. The Madison Community Foundation is one of those for this community and Woit’s role in building it has won respect, trust and admiration.

Venture Investors

Successful building requires innovation. In the context of Madison’s increasingly important and successful biomedical sector, innovation is typically associated with science, research and discovery. But as every start-up and aspiring entrepreneur has learned, innovation is a fundamental need in funding as well. John Neis has been recognized by none less than Forbes as one of the top 100 dealmakers in the world. The managing director of Venture Investors and head of that company’s health care practice, Neis has served on the board of directors of companies from formation to initial public offer or sale, including Virent Energy Systems, Deltanoid Pharmaceuticals, Tomo Therapy and Third Wave Technologies. The governor appointed Neis to the board of the Wisconsin Technology Council and he serves on the advisory board of the University of Wisconsin School of Business. Simply put, the future of greater Madison as a globally recognized and competitive biotechnology center depends on a steady and growing stream of venture capital and angel investments.

Neis is widely respected for his skill, his knowledge and his style. As we considered candidates for this honor we’ll just say he was highly recommended. His contribution to cutting-edge research and science companies was just what Madison Magazine’s late editor Brian Howell had in mind when he drew attention to the importance of innovation in the life sciences and new technology. John Neis is this year’s winner of the Brian D. Howell Award for Excellence in Innovation.

Look around this great city and you’ll see the Findorff cranes dotting the skyline. Look deeper and you’ll see the biotech companies emerging, growing and forming a cluster of economic development. Look deeper yet and find a foundation of philanthropic support and structure that make this city great. Madison is built upon all three.

Neil Heinen is editorial director of Madison Magazine.