Lute Harmon loves a big idea.
So the Great Lakes Publishing chairman and then-Inside Business publisher didn’t hesitate to act when a staffer suggested commemorating Cleveland’s bicentennial year of 1996 by establishing a Business Hall of Fame.
The town was throwing a party for itself, but no one was bothering to recognize the people who had helped build the place.
So Harmon called local business denizens Richard Pogue, former managing partner at Cleveland’s Jones Day law firm, and Sam Miller, co-chairman and treasurer of Forest City Enterprises, for their support and advice.
“I told Lute it was very important in designating this Hall of Fame that he start with the three Ws — work, wealth and wisdom — and that anybody who qualified in two out of the three should be eligible,” Miller remembers. “Work? I was talking about work for the community, work for the good of the people. Wealth? I wasn’t talking about billionaires. I was talking about people who were comfortable. Wisdom? That’s something God doesn’t hand out in a bountiful manner.”
Harmon and his editors compiled a list of 82 posthumous charter members who they believed exemplified the three Ws, legends that included everyone from Standard Oil co-founder John D. Rockefeller to Hector Boiardi, better known as Chef Boy-ar-dee. They then selected 24 living inductees that ran the gamut from sports-management pioneer Mark H. McCormack, founder of International Management Group, to Bonne Bell head Jess Bell, who introduced the perennially popular line of Lip Smackers flavored glosses during the 1970s.
It was a bold undertaking. Inside Business, after all, was still a supplement to sister publication Cleveland Magazine. But the inductees accepted their invitations to a ceremony at the Renaissance Cleveland.
“Everybody appreciated it,” Miller, an inaugural inductee, recalls.
A tradition was born, one that continues 15 years later. The following pages contain profiles that collectively serve as an introduction to the 2010 Northeast Ohio Hall of Fame inductees: Lonnie Coleman
, president and CEO of Coleman Spohn Corp.; Umberto Fedeli
, president and CEO of the Fedeli Group; Charles Ratner
, president and CEO of Forest City Enterprises; Thomas Strauss
, president and CEO of Summa Health System; and Jacqueline Woods
, retired president and CEO of AT&T Ohio. All will be honored during a dinner and program Nov. 4 at the InterContinental Hotel Cleveland.
All Business Hall of Fame inductions are special. But Harmon remembers the very first as a particularly marvelous evening.
“We filled up the ballroom,” he says. “We had all these people onstage, two tiers of seating for these 24 top, top executives.”
Soon thereafter, Pogue, one of the inductees on that stage, volunteered to put together an eight- to 10-member nominating committee of previous inductees and other business and civic leaders to choose candidates from an ever-changing master list. At his suggestion, the selection process’ scope grew to include executives from throughout Northeast Ohio.
He was inspired by fledgling nonprofits such as JumpStart and the Regional Business Council, now known as Team NEO, that were promoting the concept of Northeast Ohio organizations working together for the area’s collective gain — a concept he ardently supported.
As a result, the Class of 2000 included the likes of Stanley Gault, former chairman and CEO of The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in Akron and former chairman and CEO of Rubbermaid Inc. in Wooster, and Howard Flood, chairman emeritus of FirstMerit Corp. in Akron.
“Since 2000, 60 percent of inductees have come from areas outside of Cleveland,” notes Pogue, now an adviser at Jones Day. “It’s definitely a regional program now.”
Gault, now retired, believes that expanded scope has endowed the Business Hall of Fame with the potential to become a powerful promotional tool for Northeast Ohio.
He points out that it not only showcases the accomplishments of inductees but also their organizations and employees. “Hopefully, such recognition and exposure can be useful and effective in recruiting businesses to our area,” he says.
According to Timken Co. chairman W.R. “Tim” Timken Jr., the hall’s influence extends across the Atlantic Ocean. He found his status as a 2001 inductee was a boon during his subsequent tenure as U.S. ambassador to Germany.
“[Europeans] have little knowledge of American businesspeople,” he explains. “The fact that others from our state thought enough of me to put me in the Business Hall of Fame helped my credibility. And it shows that extraordinary things of excellence are going on in the great state of Ohio.”
Indeed, 2009 inductee William Considine, president and CEO of Akron Children’s Hospital, says just listening to fellow inductees’ success stories during the induction program generates a wealth of positive energy.
“That’s enormously important to motivating people and developing the right mindset,” he says. “Having a can-do attitude is 90 percent of getting something done.”
Although the pool of candidates has increased in the past 15 years, the criteria for choosing them has not changed. The selection process stresses Miller’s W of work on behalf of the community.
“It’s part of the business culture here,” Harmon says. “Probably the most outstanding part of the Cleveland business community is giving back.”
One of Harmon’s favorite big ideas for giving back is a bricks-and-mortar Business Hall of Fame, ideally housed in a museum that tells the story of Northeast Ohio industry and commerce.
But until that physical hall becomes a reality, Inside Business’ annual inductions will continue to serve as a tribute to those leaders who built the foundations of the area’s economy.
“You realize that you’re standing on somebody’s shoulders,” Harmon says. “It’s a wonderful reminder of that lesson.”