Entrepreneurs of the Year: Financial Services

| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

 

Award Recipient: Stuart Ellis, CEO, Charter School Capital [Portland]

Public charter schools often face difficulties securing financing from sources such as banks and state agencies. But while traditional lenders don’t always see the potential or value in these customers, Stuart Ellis does. He cofounded Portland-based Charter School Capital in 2006 to provide working capital and creative financing solutions to public charter schools. He believed in the concept so much, he funded 50 percent of the startup capital costs with a significant portion of his personal net worth.

By early 2007, the company had all the pieces—strategy, investors, client schools—in place, when, just prior to the first transaction, the credit markets crashed and outside backing evaporated overnight. Ellis and his team pursued traditional and nontraditional capital sources in the illiquid credit markets of 2008. Ellis steered a steady path. Despite the rough market conditions and a lack of investors, Charter School Capital was still able to provide low-cost funding to qualified schools. Through the investment of time, energy, reputations and forgone salary, the fledgling financing company was able to hold out until the right long-term funding solution could be put in place—and without suffering any disruption to serving its growing population of client schools.

Finalist: Gary J. Oakland, President & CEO, BECU [Seattle]

Gary Oakland shifted the focus at BECU away from the bottom line and onto members and customers. Letting the credit union’s mission of “people helping people” drive decisions contributed to low employee turnover and consistently high customer loyalty/service scores. Among Oakland’s recent strategies was implementing an interest-rate structure that encourages better saving habits. During Oakland’s 25-year tenure as CEO, BECU has become the fourth-largest credit union in the nation, with more than 675,000 members.

 

 

Finalist: Nicholas Kaiser, Chairman & Equity Portfolio Manager, Saturna Capital  [Bellingham]

Building on experience that goes back to an early career in sales and as a portfolio manager, Nicholas Kaiser established the first U.S. mutual fund operated in accordance with Islamic principles. Established in Bellingham in 1989, Saturna Capital Corp.’s Sharia-compliant investments have yielded a reported 35-fold increase in assets during the past seven years. Though he is not a Muslim, Kaiser invests his personal wealth in the funds and sets aside at least 10 percent of pretax profits to contribute to local community-based organizations.

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