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updated: 12/28/2016 9:38 AM

A look back at some powerful people

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  • Mike Hrbacek, owner of The Packaging Wholesalers, inside his warehouse in Elgin. He invested $5.4 million of renovations into the building.

    Mike Hrbacek, owner of The Packaging Wholesalers, inside his warehouse in Elgin. He invested $5.4 million of renovations into the building.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Richard Jurek

    Richard Jurek

  • Andrew Hanson, his dad Craig Hanson and Craig's brother Phil run C.H. Hanson, a 150 year old company that makes tools and stencils.

    Andrew Hanson, his dad Craig Hanson and Craig's brother Phil run C.H. Hanson, a 150 year old company that makes tools and stencils.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Rendering of the new Echo headquarters in Lake Zurich.

    Rendering of the new Echo headquarters in Lake Zurich.
    Courtesy of Echo

 
 

Writing this column about local business is one of the favorite parts of my job as editor of the Daily Herald Business Ledger.

With every issue, I'm able to talk to the owners of small businesses or leaders of larger companies about what made them start the business, what has made them successful and what advice they may have for others in the industry. It's fascinating to discover the motivation that drives these business people. During nearly every interview, I think to myself, and often say, "I can tell that you really enjoy what you do." I can clearly see the passion for their business, for their employees and for the future.

As the year comes to a close, I often go back through previous issues and look at my columns to remind myself of these amazing, inspiring individuals.

Here are a few highlights from 2016.

The moon in the man

A strong passion for space may keep the boyish spark in the eye of Richard Jurek, an author and Oak Brook marketing executive. "Space has been a theme in my life," said Jurek, who considers himself a child of the Apollo Generation, those born between 1961, when former President Kennedy announced plans to send astronauts to the moon and 1972, the year of the last crewed moon landing.

"Space missions created extreme excitement," said Jurek, who 20 years ago became involved in collecting space artifacts. "I am able to tap into my hobby and hone the language and communication skills that help me perform better in my corporate life," he said.

'No' turns to grow

Mike Hrbacek's philosophy on the word "no" may be a primary reason he is running a successful business in Elgin that sells packaging materials to companies across the country. He says he grew up with little money and grew to dislike the word "no" as it was often what he heard from his father when he would ask for things.

When he hit the workforce, he would not take "no" for an answer and an inner drive grew when he started The Packaging Wholesalers. He has grown the business and most recently purchased the former Sherwin Williams building in Elgin for $4 million and completed a $5.7 million renovation.

All the right tools

Naperville manufacturer C.H. Hanson, a family business run by the fourth and fifth generation, is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

Christian Henry Hanson founded the company in 1866, basing it off the stencil business he learned in Denmark. Andrew Hanson, the great great grandson of the founder now runs the growing company with his uncle, Phil, who serves as president and his father, Craig, the CEO.

The company offers about 6,000 products that include construction layout tools, marking devices, safety products, machines and work holding vices. About 10 years ago, the family business moved from Franklin Park to its 20-acre Naperville campus that includes 15,000 square feet for office space, 80,000 square feet for manufacturing and warehousing and enough land to double in size in the future.

Echo expands exponentially

Lake Zurich-based Echo Inc. is expanding again. The maker of high-end gas powered outdoor power equipment started construction on a 51,000-square-foot two story corporate office center at the existing facility at 400 Oakwood Road.

The shell of the building is up with an expected completion next fall. The campus, with 865 employees, also houses Echo's manufacturing and distribution operations. The huge expansion comes about six years after the company opened a new 129,000-square-foot warehouse at on the property of Echo, a subsidiary of Yamabiko Corp. in Japan.

Cancer causes a change

Michelle Rathman battled malignant melanoma skin cancer and then the early stages of breast cancer several years ago.

The president of Impact Communications says the experience changed her life on so many levels, including altering the focus of her business. "Cancer was the best gift I ever received. I realized this was my calling," said Rathman, who changed her marketing focus to hospitals. She now specializes in critical access hospitals, which are often small, rural facilities.

She started immersing herself in health care and now focuses on facilitating change in hospitals, whether through communication or culture.

Rathman has formed a team of doctors, psychologists and a former hospital CEO to work with hospitals that are struggling, whether it be high doctor turnover, a low ranking or the need for tax support.

• Thank you for looking back at the highlights.

I am looking forward to interviewing and writing about many more inspiring business leaders in 2017.

If you have ideas for me, I always welcome suggestions at kmikus@dailyherald.com.

Happy New Year.