New CEOs of the Year are recognized.

Sandra Harbrecht, President, CEO and Owner, Paul Werth Associates

About: Full-service strategic communications firm helping businesses and organizations in a variety of sectors develop and maintain positive reputations and relationships with their key customers and stakeholders.

In position: Since 1983

Previous: Elementary and special education teacher

Sandy Harbrecht is a teacher at heart and a life-long learner who absorbs as much from her C-suite clients as she imparts.

“Probably the best part of being in this business is the ability to meet and work with the caliber of people I've been exposed to,” Harbrecht says. “That has really been something very, very special and I suspect somewhat unique. You can't help but learn from others if you just pay attention and reflect on what you're seeing and hearing (while) trying to help guide the decision-making in some of these situations.”

The president, CEO and owner of Paul Werth Associates is Columbus CEO's 2017 CEO of the Year for small for-profits.

The communications and public relations consulting firm her late father founded in 1963 helps central Ohio businesses and organizations build and maintain favorable reputations no matter what challenges they face. It's a role that keeps Harbrecht high on corporate leaders' list of confidants but out of the public eye.

“I've had a chance to work with Steve Steinour when he was working through the turn-around of the Huntington; Alex Shumate and all the things he's done in the community and at Ohio State. The list goes on; but what a gift that has been,” she says.

Harbrecht's first career was teaching elementary and special education students, and then her father, a Columbus PR icon, brought her in to run his business.

She first thought of herself as a leader, Harbrecht confesses, “when I realized I was solely responsible for the revenues and the profits of the company. … All of a sudden, it wasn't my dad's responsibility, it wasn't anybody else's. It was mine. That really was a focusing moment and still is.”

Keeping an organization “financially healthy and resilient” remains high on her list of key leadership qualities—along with integrity, competence and “the relentless pursuit of excellence.”

Grading her own strengths, Harbrecht says she is good at analyzing complex situations, developing creative options and then empowering a team to implement solutions with confidence. “The other thing I've been successful with is recognizing and nurturing talent; probably comes from my background as a teacher. It's really important to me to nurture the talent of the people I'm around.”

But while she is teaching, she is also learning, and some of the best lessons come in private meetings she has with corporate leaders.

“I get to see what they're really all about,” Harbrecht says. “I've just been inspired by the strength of character that many of my CEO clients have shown, their courage in the face of adversity; with some, their tenacity, their ability to adapt their businesses as circumstances have changed; their ability to anticipate where the future is going and to prepare for that. That has been a tremendous source of learning for me in working with and coaching and being coached, really, by my clients.”

One of the best lessons she learned early on, Harbrecht says, came when her father told her, “Don't try to be me. Be yourself.” She recalls it was “very liberating for him to give me permission to figure out my own way and my own style and my own voice and my own way of showing up.”

She also maintains a strong advisory group for her company, bringing in talents to complement the firm's strategic direction. Her advisors have been “encouraging and supportive. They've pushed me, they've asked tough questions. An advisory board is just a wonderful way to tap into the wisdom of others” Harbrecht says. “Those advisory board members who will pick up the phone and call you when they have an idea are just invaluable. People who are willing to spend the time to get to know your business and to think about you and your business outside of the meeting times.”

Small For-Profit Finalists

Jess Kittrell, Co-founder and Co-owner, 101 Beer Kitchen

Jess Kittrell came to Columbus from Toledo to study business and finance at Ohio State University, but she ended up also finding her spouse and business partner for what promises to be a growing restaurant chain.

Co-founder and co-owner of 101 Beer Kitchen, Kittrell came to OSU with a work ethic that started when she was 13 and enabled her to pay for her education by working full-time jobs while taking full course loads.

Kittrell developed an affinity for the restaurant business while working her way through school, but first she put her finance education to use as a bank underwriter and then overseeing capital budgets for retailer Abercrombie & Fitch.

With complementary skills and shared passion for food, beverage and hospitality, Kittrell and her husband, Thad, opened their first 101 Beer Kitchen in Dublin in 2012. They have since added locations in Gahanna and Westerville, with goals of someday opening more of the same and different concepts.

Kittrell oversees office and non-operational components of the restaurants with two full time and two part time employees.

The couple's four children, aged 4 to 11, like to help with menu development.

R. Lang & B. Konya, Co-founders, MiddleWest Spirits, LLC

With complementary skills and experiences, Brady Konya and Ryan Lang joined forces to create award-winning distilled spirits in a newly-honored award-winning facility. They founded MiddleWest Spirits in 2008, started commercial production in 2010 and began winning awards for its OYO vodkas and whiskeys and Vim & Petal gins.

More recently, their newly expanded Weinland Park artisan distillery and restaurant, the Service Bar, received a design award.

Lang is a fourth-generation distiller who has a background in agriculture, viticulture, distillation and manufacturing. He previously worked at Ingersoll Rand, focused on strategic supply chainoperations as well asmanufacturing flow, plan design and plantoperations. Lang also was founder and president of the Ohio Craft DistillerGuild, which advocated for more favorable distilling laws.

Konya is responsible for sales, marketing, finance and other back-office operations. He spearheaded creation of the new full-service restaurantand technical bar program calledtheService Bar. He also founded andoperated WorkshopCo, a sharedwork studio to supportsmall creative businesses. He previously was in senior management for a global digital marketingfirm that was sold to Microsoft.

Elizabeth McCormick, President and Co-owner, UNIGLOBE Travel Designers

Elizabeth Blount McCormick leads a family-owned travel business, but she journeyed through a career in retail fashion before returning home to UNIGLOBE Travel Designers, where she has been president and co-owner since 2012.

McCormick grew up in Bexley before starting a career with Gap Inc. in San Francisco. She moved to Miami while gaining greater responsibilities with GAP and then to New Jersey for with another clothing line.

Her experiences in retail gave her the opportunity to travel across the US and Mexico as well as to Tunisia, India, Portugal and Peru. She brought her corporate traveler perspective to UNIGLOBE in 2006, joining her mother and continuing to develop leadership experience, bringing in new accounts and nearly doubled the company's revenue in two years.

UNIGLOBE won the 2016 SBA Minority Small Business of the Year award from the U.S. Small Business Administration-Columbus District office.

McCormick is a member of The Wellington School Alumni Board, the Women's Leadership Council of United Way of Central Ohio, the Women's President's Organization and is on the board of the National Association of Women's Business Owners-Columbus.

Mary Yost is the editor.