Our fourth annual company-building awards

No doubt about it: Sharon Puryear was nervous. Here she was, as a finalist at the New Jersey Entrepreneur of the Year banquet, surrounded by fine food, well-wishers, and good conversation. There was just one problem: she couldn't relax enough to enjoy any of it. "My stomach was in knots," she recalls.

Puryear had put a lot of work into preparing for this June evening. It had all started early in the year, when a fellow member of the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners wanted to nominate her for the Entrepreneur of the Year award, sponsored each year by Inc., Ernst & Young, and Merrill Lynch. Puryear thought, Why not? She was happy to tell the story of how she and her husband, James, had built their trucking business, Western Industries Inc., in South Kearny, N.J. So Puryear's associate got her a copy of the four-page Entrepreneur of the Year nomination form, and Puryear set to work.

It wasn't easy. The nomination form called for everything from a description of the business to financials to a personal biography. And although Puryear loves the details of her business, she wasn't used to writing about them. As the deadline approached, it took a reminding phone call from a New Jersey Ernst & Young office to get her to finish up. "Thank God for Fed Ex!" she says.

Then came the on-site interview. When the Ernst & Young and Merrill Lynch executives showed up to visit Western Industries, they had plenty of hard questions about Puryear's long-term plans and goals -- questions that, in the rush of day-to-day business, she hadn't given as much attention to as she'd have liked. "I really thought that I blew the whole thing."

The interviewers thought otherwise. They recommended her highly to the judging panel, a group of eight local business leaders. (Though close to 90 companies had applied to the New Jersey Entrepreneur of the Year program, only about 30 would become finalists, and only 11 of those would become winners in various categories.) Before the New Jersey judges met in May, they had received pounds of information on the strongest candidates. They spent an entire morning choosing the finalists and winners. One of those winners was Puryear -- who became New Jersey's 1992 Woman Entrepreneur of the Year.

After her name was announced at the banquet and Puryear went up to receive applause, congratulations, and her award, somehow all that nervousness didn't matter so much. "I was elated," she says. "I had never really won anything before."

* * *

It's people like Sharon Puryear who make our lives here at Inc. so difficult during the Entrepreneur of the Year judging season. That's because there are so many of them, and their stories are all so good. This year judging panels of business leaders in 38 regions selected 333 Entrepreneur of the Year winners out of 1,138 finalists -- all of whom went through the same rigorous process Puryear experienced. Those finalists had been chosen from 2,619 nominations. (Although there are six national-award categories, local judges create categories that fit their regions; Los Angeles, for example, has an Entertainment Entrepreneur of the Year.)

Even before people like Puryear knew they had won, the local Ernst & Young offices had forwarded the 333 regional winners' nomination packages to our Boston office. Each writer and editor received a share of nomination forms to review, and each had to make a case for the strongest candidates to a team of editors. That group then had the difficult task of choosing 19 finalists to present to the national judging panel.

And what a panel it was: one prominent venture capitalist and six well-known entrepreneurs. All gathered around a table at the Boston Harbor Hotel armed with notes, arguments, and stacks of nomination materials to support their choices. Debates flared up at each stage of the judging: How much weight should be given to profit margins alone? Did we want to give an award to a company that does all its manufacturing outside the United States? What makes a company socially responsible? And how much should the growth -- or lack of growth -- in an industry affect the way we see a company's performance? After a morning of lively discussion, the judges finally selected the 1992 Entrepreneur of the Year, as well as winners in the Master, Emerging, Turnaround, Supporter, and Socially Responsible categories.

That's where the official process ended, and Inc.'s writers got to work. The national finalists are listed below, with the winners in each category profiled on the pages that follow. The regional winners are listed in [Article link]. We have the space to tell only a few of their stories, but we want to extend our congratulations to all the national finalists and regional winners, who, like Sharon Puryear, shared their stories with us. They are all winners.


THE FINALISTS

THE ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR

These individuals, based on recent achievements, exemplify company building at its best.

Scott D. Cook and Tom Proulx

Intuit

Menlo Park, Calif.

Libby and Sam Edelman

Sam & Libby

San Carlos, Calif.

Donald J. Ehrlich

Wabash National

Lafayette, Ind.

George Perlegos

Atmel

San Jose, Calif.

Howard Schultz

Starbucks Coffee

Seattle

THE MASTER ENTREPRENEUR

These individuals have demonstrated the ability to maintain management excellence over a sustained period of time.

Leon A. Gorman

L. L. Bean

Freeport, Maine

George P. Mitchell

Mitchell Energy & Development

The Woodlands, Tex.

Richard M. Schulze

Best Buy

Minneapolis

THE EMERGING ENTREPRENEUR

These individuals exemplify the start-up process at its best.

Randy J. Daughenbaugh and Dean P. Stull

Hauser Chemical Research

Boulder, Colo.

Peter J. Kight

Checkfree

Westerville, Ohio

Randy C. Schaaf

UltraCare Products

Marion, Ohio

THE TURNAROUND ENTREPRENEUR

These individuals have applied management skills to resurrect or reposition a declining or moribund company.

Charles A. Laverty

Curaflex Health Services

Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

Laurence B. Mindel

Il Fornaio America

San Francisco

THE SUPPORTER OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP

These individuals have applied management skills to support, encourage, and facilitate others in the development and growth of companies.

June Lavelle

Fulton-Carroll Center

Chicago

Walter H. Plosila

Montgomery County High Technology Council

Rockville, Md.

John Polk

Council of Smaller Enterprises

Cleveland

THE SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE ENTREPRENEUR

These individuals have applied company-building and management skills to community, social, or environmental problems.

Pam Del Duca

The Delstar Group

Scottsdale, Ariz.

Martin J. Koldyke

Frontenac

Chicago

Kathleen Perez, Peggy Powell, Rick Surpin, and the worker/owners

Cooperative Home Care Associates

The Bronx, N.Y. n