Superstars: General Management

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

Inna Kinney

President and CEO

Economic and Community Development Institute

In 1974, 11-year-old Inna Kinney's family resettled in Columbus from the USSR. "My father wanted to create for himself and his family a better life," she recalls.

At first, it was hard--and humbling. Kinney's father, Lev Kuchersky, an engineer in the Soviet Union, took a job cleaning toilets. But the family's fortunes improved markedly when Kuchersky opened Lev's Pawn Shop, which grew to 18 locations in Ohio and Indiana.

Kinney, who went to college at age 17 and wed at 19, moved to Chicago for a while. When she came back to Columbus with her husband and children, she volunteered at Jewish Family Services (JFS), the organization that had helped her family relocate decades before. At JFS, she sought to help others achieve their own vision of the American dream. "I wanted to give individuals opportunities we never had when we came to the United States," she says.

In 2004, Kinney grew the JFS program into the Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI), an independent 501(c)3 organization that focuses on job creation, one business at a time. So far, its efforts have generated 2,000 businesses and 4,000 jobs, says Kinney.

ECDI supports clients, many of whom are among the "working poor," with services such as financial literacy, business incubation, educational access grants, down-payment assistance, and home repair programs for seniors and people with disabilities.

Since it was founded, the 23-employee organization has received more than $25 million in funding. In 2010, more than $3 million of ECDI's $3.1 million budget came from government sources, including the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the U.S. Treasury and the Ohio, Franklin County and Columbus departments of development. The remainder came from corporations, foundations and individual donors.

ECDI is the local intermediary microlender for the SBA, the local U.S. Treasury-designated Community Development Financial Institution and the official microlender for Franklin County and Columbus. The nonprofit extends loans of $500 to $100,000 to help entrepreneurs create and expand their enterprises. It also supports Columbus City Schools' I Know I Can program, which helps students enter and succeed in college. Participating in that particular program "feeds my soul," Kinney, 48, says.

ECDI is expanding its offerings with programs such as Invest Local Ohio, which makes small business loans using funds that come, in part, from community investors. Also in the works is an on-site commercial kitchen space and food court for clients.

As president and CEO, Kinney guides the nonprofit's long-term strategy, fundraising and fiscal oversight and educates policymakers and others about its work. "We have been very fortunate that this community understands the importance of entrepreneurship," she says.

Ed Stan, who chairs ECDI's board of directors, is used to working with strong women--the former R.G. Barry Corp. director and executive vice president worked with the slipper maker's founder, Florence Zacks Melton, for many years. He says Kinney is a "powerhouse," passionate about the organization's mission and able to galvanize others into action.

Kinney is often called on to convince government and financial service agencies that ECDI's cause is worth their cash. "When she sits in front of them and tells her story, she gets the funding," Stan says. He credits "her tenaciousness and her relationships, because she's a very personable person. She's very credible, and when she sits in front of someone, whether it's the SBA or Huntington, you cannot resist."

Neil Mortine

CEO, Fahlgren Inc.

President, Fahlgren Mortine Public Relations

It's a chilly mid-February day, yet Neil Mortine's skin has the slightest bronze cast thanks to a recent jaunt to Hawaii. The suntan is hard-earned: Mortine, who has more than 30 years' experience in corporate communications and marketing, just went on his first two-week vacation in 25 years.

There's been little time to rest for Mortine, CEO of Fahlgren Inc. and president of Fahlgren Mortine Public Relations. The latter is one of three business units under the corporate umbrella, along with Fahlgren Advertising and Fahlgren Grip Digital.

Under Mortine's leadership, Fahlgren has amassed more than 150 clients--including 10 Fortune 500 companies--covering 26 states. Notables include McDonald's, Cardinal Health, Elmer's, Kroger, the Ohio Department of Development Division of Tourism and Nationwide Children's Hospital.

Mortine discovered public relations as a student at Ohio State University. "I always enjoyed writing and was a good writer, and then I took one of Walt Seifert's classes at OSU, and I just got hooked," he says. Upon graduation in 1977, he had three job offers: one from a daily newspaper in southeast Ohio that paid $6,000 and two from PR firms dangling $12,000 salaries. "It was an easy decision," says Mortine, 56.

After a stint in Cleveland, Mortine returned to Columbus in 1986 to introduce PR capabilities to ad agency Lord Sullivan and Yoder (LSY). Seventeen years later, Fahlgren acquired LSY, where Mortine was president and chief operating officer. He celebrates his 25th anniversary with the company this year. "It's the culture of this place," Mortine explains. "I love the business itself, too--it's a fascinating and ever-changing business."

In 2008, Mortine received an honor in his mentor's name: the Walt Seifert Award for Outstanding Service to PRSA from the Central Ohio Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Not that he's all work and no play--Mortine has a reputation for being an office prankster, especially when it comes to new hires. "Scaring the hell out of people never gets old," he says with a laugh.

The last few years have been a time of transition for Fahlgren, which is headquarted at Easton and has offices in Cleveland, Dayton, Cincinnati, Toledo, Fort Lauderdale, Denver and Parkersburg, W.V. Its 2008 gross revenue was $19.2 million. But, says Mortine, "2009 to 2010 were not good years for anybody. We saw loss of clients and diminishing of budgets." In 2009, the year before Mortine was named CEO, Fahlgren cut its staff by 15 percent, to 125 workers.

Things are looking up, however. Revenue grew 3 percent in 2010, and Mortine expects a 10 percent increase this year. The company also has broadened its scope through acquisitions. Last year, Fahlgren acquired Grip Technology and Edward Howard and Company. Earlier this year, it purchased Sabatino/Day.

Cathy Lyttle, vice president of corporate communications and investor relations for Worthington Industries (a Fahlgren Mortine client), has known Mortine for nearly 15 years. They met when she was vice president of JMAC Hockey, helping direct the startup of the Columbus Blue Jackets' business office. Mortine "was willing to bring the resources to the table, because he knew I needed help, and he wanted to do whatever he could to help bring things off the ground," she says.

Through the years, Lyttle and Mortine have served together on the boards of Columbus State Community College, Franklin Park Conservatory and the McConnell Arts Center. Mortine has "blossomed" over the last decade, says Lyttle. "I felt like Neil was my little secret, and now everybody knows Neil."

Reprinted from the April 2011 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.