Firms' go-to employees

Worker innovations credited for improving operations, bottom lines
2012-01-29T00:00:00Z Firms' go-to employeesDale Quinn Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 29, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Saving cash and bringing in new business is a big deal for any company - especially in a lingering downturn that locally has yet to show significant signs of recovery.

The Arizona Daily Star asked readers to submit examples of Southern Arizona's innovative and outstanding employees who helped their companies excel in 2011.

Some entries were for individuals whose innovation sprang from the foreclosure crisis. Others stretched their companies' resources to save money and make operations run more smoothly.

One anticipated an issue before a client realized it might be a problem; another comes up with creative solutions for challenges on a daily basis. All were described by their colleagues as hard-working and thoughtful.

Eric Coppus

• Employer: Raytheon Missile Systems

• Outstanding contribution: Coppus, who works in Raytheon's finance department, anticipated a challenge and came up with a solution before those affected realized what the problem was.

While Team Leader Matthew Wise couldn't get into specific detail due to confidential contracts, he said Coppus developed a series of automated tools to track incoming funds from many sources. His system allows managers and customers to view a budget accurately and easily.

Coppus developed a system of tracking that goes beyond the normal level, anticipating a customer's needs before they realized it, Wise said.

With knowledge in computer programming and finance, Coppus is able to combine those skills to develop solutions, Wise said.

"Overall, the tool has been applauded for its ability to meet the current requirements and adapt to changes as they come in," Wise said.

Robert "Bobby" Corbin

• Employer: The Janzen Wahl Group LLC

• Outstanding contribution: Working for a precision cleaning laboratory that serves the aerospace industry, Corbin recently faced the challenge of cleaning hoses less than an inchwide ranging in length from 5 to 100 feet.

The hoses were going to be used by an aerospace company for high-pressure, high-purity gas distribution, so they had to be clean, said Doug Wahl, who owns Janzen Wahl with his wife, Debra Janzen. "The hose can't contribute any contamination," Wahl said.

At first, Corbin used the gas nitrogen to clean the long hoses, but that was getting too expensive. So Corbin got to thinking and came up with the idea of using a cost-effective vacuum pump, Wahl said.

Corbin, who studied chemical engineering at the University of Arizona, uses that kind of innovative problem-solving every day. No two jobs are alike and he has to quickly come up with new ideas, Wahl said.

"He has grown with our business and helped us succeed," Wahl said.

Jessica Lanum

• Employer: Jacoby & Meyers Law Offices

• Outstanding contribution: Lanum, a legal assistant, helps clients mired in crises with insurance and medical issues, said Bonnie Dombrowski, an attorney with Jacoby & Meyers.

While she's willing to go the extra mile to help those clients, she knows to stop short of providing any legal advice and refer them to a lawyer, Dombrowski said.

As a personal-injury lawyer, Dombrowski said her cases often seem to have a million loose ends. "What stood out for me initially was her ability to tie up every loose end," she said.

On top of that, she's intelligent, hard-working and loyal. "She just has that combination that is rare to find in an employee," Dombrowski said.

Kevin Lingafelter

• Employer: Kachina Sign Center

• Outstanding contribution: Lingafelter's innovative problem solving saves his customers money, said Ellen Hundshamer, Kachina Sign's owner.

When choosing the material that's going to make up the surface of a sign, Lingafelter considers how long the sign is supposed to last. If it's a temporary sign, sometimes he'll go with chloroplast, rather than more costly aluminum.

Examining the life of the sign as it relates to the price of materials keeps costs down, Hundshamer said.

Lingafelter recently installed a single-piece, 16-foot-tall sign for a client. He called around until he found a large enough sheet of steel and tracked down what kind of paint to use that would last the longest.

Lingafelter started manufacturing signs with the company in 2005 and, through his creativity and leadership, worked his way to shop foreman, Hundshamer said.

Evelia Martinez

• Employer: Don't Borrow Trouble Pima County

• Outstanding contribution: With hard work and persistence, Martinez, who provides help for cash-strapped homeowners, has been able to get people their homes back after a foreclosure sales.

In one case, a woman thought she was working toward a loan modification with Bank of America, said Frances Villa, a fair-lending specialist with Don't Borrow Trouble. Then, though the woman didn't realize it, her house was foreclosed upon and sold to Fannie Mae.

Upon learning the homeowner had been working toward a modification, representatives at Fannie Mae told the woman to contact Martinez.

By acting fast - within 30 days of the foreclosure sale - Martinez was able to rescind the sale, Villa said.

The Arizona Attorney General's Office and other lenders will now point homeowners toward Don't Borrow Trouble when they're facing foreclosure and time is running out.

"The organization is well-known, and it's because of her," Villa said.

Carla Monzingo

• Employer: Pride Property Inspections

• Outstanding contribution: Using her diligent organizational skills, Monzingo keeps track of inspection reports for real estate agents and buyers.

She also developed a Realtor packet to improve marketing strategies and bring in new clients.

When Pride Property Inspections moved into a new space, Monzingo made sure all important information was accessible, said owner Mark Timpani.

She's developed new ways to sort documents and pays close attention to details, which means the company's reports are precise and accurate for clients.

"She had organizational skills coming in, but for our specific company she had to design her own system," Timpani said.

She did all this last year while expecting her first child, Timpani added.

Bryan Pitkin

• Employer: MEB Management Services

• Outstanding contribution: Upon realizing that properties run by MEB - which manages rental units throughout Tucson - were being charged sewer fees for water that wasn't related to sewer usage, Pitkin went looking for a solution.

Pitkin, the company's regional maintenance supervisor, worked with city and county officials to add special flow meters to allow measurement of that water, so the property wouldn't be charged for it, said Melanie Morrison, MEB's co-owner.

That ended up saving thousands of dollars at those properties, she said.

Pitkin also found new, more efficient water heaters and added flow meters that can better detect leaks in landscaping irrigation. That's important for a company always looking to reduce cost and consumption, Morrison said.

Problem-solving has always been one of Pitkin's strengths, but in tough economic times, he's been able to squeeze extra life out of what's already in place at MEB's properties, she said.

"He's always been really innovative, but now he's been more focused on rehab than in the past."

James Racina

• Employer: EZ Messenger

• Outstanding contribution: Racina, who works for a business that files and serves court documents for municipalities, was instrumental in moving the company toward an electronic system.

Before that, EZ Messenger filed court documents completely by hand, which consumed valuable resources, said the company's owner Stephen Ezell.

"It's really something that's kind of revolutionized our industry," Ezell said.

Now, high-volume clients have moved to the paperless system, which has allowed for seamless exchange of data and documents between them and EZ Messenger.

Even though Racina wasn't originally assigned to the project, "he took it upon himself to learn the system, develop niche applications for the system and communicate these results to clients and our personnel," said Ezell.

Mark Reinhart

• Employer: Eegee's

• Outstanding contribution: Reinhart's innovation comes in the flavor of strawberries and raspberries with a splash of pineapple and orange juice.

Among other tasks, Reinhart, Eegee's assistant director of operations, concocts flavors for the sandwich shops' fruit slush. He came up with Holly Berry, a mixture of berries and fruit juices that became the No. 2-selling flavor in the company's history, said director of operations Robert Jensen.

It can take a bit of experimentation to come up with the right combination, but Reinhart has years of experience balancing out flavors.

"He's gotten to where he can almost hit it perfect with everything the very first time," Jensen said.

Reinhart has also streamlined food production as the company has grown. He's purchased machines to ease the processes of making dough, cookies and meatballs, and got them up and running. "We're putting out massive quantities of food, so Mark comes up with ways to automate it," Jensen said.

TJ Rodriguez

• Employer: Catalina Realty LLC

• Outstanding contribution: Heading up a team that represents banks selling foreclosed properties, Rodriguez is constantly teaching himself about new procedures for dealing with financially distressed properties, said David Hall, the owner of Catalina Realty.

"A lot of these banks, they're no nonsense," Hall said. If a real-estate company messes up a deal, a bank will just go with another agent.

A self-starter, Rodriguez takes it upon himself to learn the process of any new bank the company starts working with, Hall said.

Rodriguez's proficiency in dealing with foreclosed properties has allowed Hall to focus on bringing in new clients.

Also, Hall said he's had to deal with personal and health issues in the past year, and Rodriguez stepped in to help run the company as needed: "I don't even need to be in the office. TJ's got it covered."

Laura Smithson

• Employer: Devereux Arizona

• Outstanding contribution: Smithson led Devereux, a behavioral-health and child-welfare organization, to be recognized by a national human-rights group for its support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

After a self-assessment Smithson initiated, Devereux became the only organization in Arizona to participate in the Human Rights Campaign's "All Children-All Families" initiative, said Paul Davis, Devereux's director of community-based services.

The initiative recognizes organizations that help match LGBT families with children in need.

Smithson has also led Devereux's recruiting, training and licensing of LGBT caregivers for foster children in Pima County, Davis said. In doing so, she works with a group that is often overlooked or discriminated against, he said.

"The truth is our LGBT families have provided a significant resource for stable, loving families at a time when Southern Arizona needs all the foster and adoptive families we can get," Davis said.

Management team led by TJ Zarling and supported by Carrie Stone, Jared Morgan, William Godinez and David Thomas

• Employer: Excel Mechanical Inc.

• Outstanding contribution: In an economy that's been devastating to construction, TJ Zarling and his team completely revamped Excel Mechanical, said owner Jim Zarling.

Through their work the company saw some of its highest profits last year, Jim Zarling said.

"They've actually turned it around in a really cruddy, cruddy economy for construction," he said.

The management team increased communication and eased tension between employees who work on plumbing systems and those who work on ventilation.

Team members also developed a way to track contact with clients: from initial meetings, to estimates, to follow-up checks when the job is done. That ensures that customers know the company is accountable for the work it provides, Jim Zarling said.

TJ Zarling and his team also made it clear what duties are expected from workers within a certain pay scale, so employees know when to ask for a raise. To increase productivity, the managers began using quarterly, performance-based bonuses, Jim Zarling said.

The Workers readers singled out are …

Arizona Daily Star readers said these employees go above and beyond their jobs' expectations. Whether it be designing a 16-foot-tall sign, helping a family avoid foreclosure, finding jobs in the devastated construction field or creating a fruit-slush flavor, they get it done right.

Contact Star reporter Dale Quinn at dquinn@azstarnet.com or 573-4197.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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