Southern Oregon Business Awards for 2020

By Jim Teece
Publisher – SouthernOregonBusiness.com
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

What a crazy year. From Pandemic shut downs to fires that wiped out entire communities in Southern Oregon, 2020 is a year that will never be forgotten, yet will want to be forgotten by many. 

During this year I directly witnessed great leadership and courage and I wanted to share with you 4 stories and give out much deserved awards. 

So I’m creating the first ever Southern Oregon Business Awards for leadership, courage and tenacity in a time of crisis. 

I have to tell you that I am not a journalist so this is personal. I picked these stories and the people in them to receive the award because I worked with them directly. They are my friends. I witnessed it happening and I was there. 

So without further ado, I present to you the top 3 award winners in reverse order, plus the runner up. 

Note – If you didn’t make the list, I’m sorry. It was hard except for #1, to rank you all. Just know what you do is important and how you do what you do, inspires small business owners like me to do more. 

Runner up – The team at Project A 

Project A
ProjectA.com

I know, I know, it’s not fair, I own the company, but I have to tell you that this rag tag group of crazy programmers, designers and network engineers stepped it up in 2020 and donated thousands of hours of work to help companies and people through the pandemic and then through the fires and I could not be more proud.

When People’s Bank needed a way to track all the PPP loans, we donated a system to help them, because we knew it would help the community. When the fires happened, the Project A team stood up several tools to help the community take care of each other.

Because we saw the financial impact of both the pandemic and the fires had on our community, we donated an upgrade to the St. Vincent de Paul tracking system (that we donated 12 years go) to help them help more people, faster.

These are just a couple of the stories from 2020. We donated countless hours to so many companies to help them through this once in a lifetime crisis and we also found time to work with two amazing women with a great idea and donated the site we launched at LiveAndWorkInAshland.com.

#3 – Cynthia Scherr 

Cynthia Scherr
Scherr Management Consulting
ScherrConsults.com

I have known Cynthia for years. She is a management consultant that helps business owners grow their business and helps keep them on target. She is good at what she does and she is an asset to Southern Oregon. 

A couple of years ago she approached me with this idea of starting something for entrepreneurs and she launched the E2E Network.  A casual gathering of entrepreneurs that meet to share what they do and how they do it. It developed into a deep dive into a local business monthly and became a mobile place to find inspiration from other entrepreneurs without dues or membership. 

When we shut down the economy because of the pandemic, she reached out to me and said now more than ever, E2E has to keep meeting and she did. She convened us via Zoom during the beginning of the lockdown to learn about PPP loans and she brought us together after the fires to help us learn what we can do to help rebuild.

She even teamed up with another amazing woman in the community and together launched LiveAndWorkInAshland.com. I stood back offering my support when she asked for it, but I proudly watched her work with our entire business community to offer calm guidance and leadership when we needed it most. 

#2 – Morgan George 

Morgan George
Northwest Pizza
nwpizzapasta.com

Morgan was a student of mine a couple of years ago in a 10 week marketing class I taught at SOU. He played football and ran a bar or nightclub after graduating.

When he opened Northwest Pizza, we loved going there and seeing how he took care of the community while running his business. I was proud of him.

You could tell that he was hard working, fun loving, caring and crazy like me.

Dena and I love visiting every once in a while (We do not eat out very often and we spread it around so we don’t see him as often as we would like) and think of him as an extended part of our family.

When the pandemic and our lockdowns happened, he did something that helped everyone get through it, including me. He stepped up and took control.

Using a crazy video format on social, Morgan would record a daily greeting while driving to work or home from work after a 12 hour shift, sharing with us how his day was going, what he was doing to make sure his business was going to survive.

But he also did something more. He helped spread hope and love. He would stop by other restaurants and buy gift cards from them and give them away with his pizzas. He truly made us all feel that we were all in this together. And then he started feeding the homeless (or house less as he would say into the camera) boxes and boxes of pizzas.

He would deliver them and they would get to folks that needed it. He worked insane hours (he always does) and he kept doing amazing work and reminding us through these daily video feeds of his, that we will get through this, together. I couldn’t be more proud of him. 

#1 – Ken Trautman… and the staff and board of People’s Bank. 

Ken Trautman
People’s Bank of Commerce
peoplesbank.bank

Yes, I serve on the board, so you can exclude me from the amazing award, but I had a front row seat and watched as it all happened and I was blown away, all year long. 

I remember when Ken called me on a Sunday after we locked down and they announced the PPP loans. It’s not normal for Ken to call me on a Sunday, so I knew it was important. He wanted to know if I would help him find a way to get this PPP money to as many businesses as fast as we could before it was all gone.

Of course I said I would do what ever it would take. (It’s what you say to someone that wants to make a difference) He was calling his executive team after our chat to find a way to make this all work.

In the end People’s Bank worked 24×7 for weeks until the money ran out and ended up helping over 900 small businesses get over $91 million. 

While the bank was heads down achieving this, Ken dropped another bombshell. He told his team that he and then CFO Russ got COVID and died and that Jeri, was in the hospital and unable to step into Kens place (This wasn’t true of course).

Then he sat back and watched as the company he started 21 years earlier had to react to this immediate succession exercise in the middle of the PPP flood and pandemic.

They came out of the 9 day exercise with flying colors and Ken found his successor. Julia Beattie showed her skills at being able to handle herself and her teams through the real crisis and the fake one Ken placed on top. Julia became president of the bank soon after.

Then the fires happened. Ken called me on the weekend again and he shared with me an idea he had to help rebuild. The bank was going to donate $1,000,000 to rebuilding and the employees were going to donate $215,000 to immediate relief efforts. He needed board support and I pledged mine with a big proud smile on my face.

Then as an encore to an encore, Ken presented an opportunity to the board to merge with a smaller bank based out of the willamette valley. The merger, if approved, would make People’s Bank the 3rd largest Oregon bank and help fulfill some board strategies.

The year flew by. Ken took the Pandemic, the fires, the succession transition and growing the bank in stride. Looking back at 2020, it was easy for me to pick my #1.

Ken Trautman is a great leader who leaped forward in uncertain times and showed us all what he and the bank are made of. He cares about the communities he serves and the company he helped start and build. I look back at 2020 and Ken’s leadership through it all, with awe and extreme pride. 

Congratulations all.  Thank you for your leadership and inspiration.  When I grow up I want to be just like you.

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