A jeweler, a pizza titan, a railroader and two longtime executives who steered area corporations are to be inducted into the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce's Business Hall of Fame.
The five will be recognized during an April 23 gala at the Holland Performing Arts Center.
Nominated by their peers, the honorees will join 122 other pace-setters whose contributions to the growth and development of Omaha were grand enough to hoist them into the permanent Business Hall of Fame display at the Durham Museum. The hall was established in 1993 to commemorate the chamber's 100th anniversary.
This year's inductees are: Mogens C. Bay, chairman and CEO of Valmont Industries Inc.; Marshall E. Faith, vice chairman, the Scoular Co.; Susan M. Jacques, president and CEO of Borsheims Fine Jewelry; William M. “Willy” Theisen, president of Business Ventures; and James R. Young, chairman of Union Pacific Corp.
Then 27 and armed with a $50,000 loan, Willy Theisen opened an Omaha pizza parlor that soon exploded into an empire of more than 900 restaurants.
Godfather's Pizza, which launched his business success, would become the country's fastest-growing restaurant chain before he sold his interest in the mid-1980s.
Theisen credited a strategy he called KISS: “Keep it simple, stupid.”
His lawyer, Richard Jeffries, also pointed out Theisen's personal magnetism. Said Jeffries in a 1985 interview: “Under Willy, it was like tent religion. (Franchisees) wanted to touch the man.”
Now 67, Theisen has come full circle with the pizza pie. His latest venture, Pitch Coal-Fire Pizzeria, opened in Dundee in 2009. In between, Theisen's food savvy led him to various food-related enterprises, including controlling interest in GB Foods Inc., and its chain of Green Burrito restaurants, and Famous Dave's franchises.
Notable also for his flair and once fabled Regency mansion, Theisen awed many when his personal helicopter took off from the home. Celebrities dropped by; Santa Claus often visited with neighbors.
What meant most, Theisen says, are opportunities created for hundreds of employees, some of whom followed the entrepreneurial path. He was inducted in 2002 into the Omaha Restaurant Association's Hospitality Hall of Fame.
He served two terms on the Omaha Airport Authority board and is on the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority board.
As a child growing up in the country now called Zimbabwe, Susan Jacques was captivated by shiny shells and colorful rocks.
Her fascination matured into a formal education in jewels and gems and, in 1982, she arrived in Omaha for a job as appraiser and sales clerk at Borsheims.
A fast-rising star, at age 34 Jacques was appointed president and chief executive of the jewelry operation.
At 53, she is among the youngest inductees in the Omaha Business Hall of Fame.
Among her fans is Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett, who summoned her to his office in 1994 after then-Borsheims CEO Donald Yale announced he would depart. Buffett, who had purchased the jewelry store in 1989, offered Jacques the CEO job she's held ever since, guiding Borsheims to increased worldwide prominence.
The mother of three sons, Jacques in 2010 received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women's Jewelry Association, and in 1997 was inducted into the National Jeweler's Hall of Fame — a distinction that at that time had been bestowed on only two other women in the industry.
Her other honors include the Award for Excellence in Retail in 1999 by the Women's Jewelry Association and the 2011 outstanding leader award from the Women's Center for Advancement. Trade and community roles include the Creighton University board and the Young Presidents' Organization.
She also is honorary chairwoman of the Friend of Diamond Development Initiative, which ensures diamonds are used for positive development in Africa and South American communities where diamonds are sourced.
The locally grown Jim Young began his Union Pacific Railroad career in 1978 — just after graduating from college and two years after getting married — and in 2005 ascended to the top executive spot.
He's been on medical leave since announcing last year that he's battling pancreatic cancer, but he remains board chairman.
During the transition, officials said they wanted to maintain momentum that Young helped to create. A focus on growth and customer service helped the 150-year-old Omaha-based company chug through the recession.
Young, now 60, held positions including senior vice president, corporate treasurer and chief financial officer.
Bob Turner, a U.P. senior vice president, recalls Young saying that he was prepared to take the first job offer he got after graduating from the University of Nebraska at Omaha because he needed to pay off debts. Union Pacific called, and he's been with the continent's largest railroad ever since.
Earlier this month, Young was honored by both major railroad trade magazines. Railway Age magazine named Young its railroader of the year for 2012, and Progressive Railroading called Young its railroad innovator of 2012.
Young is a past board chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and is on governing boards of the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Creighton University. He and college sweetheart wife Shirley raised three children and were involved with youth sports and church activities.
The pair were leaders in the Heritage Services effort that helped fund Omaha South High's new Collin Field. A 1970 South High graduate, Young played Packer football at “the hole” before it was revamped.
Marshall Faith bought a majority interest in the Scoular-Bishop Grain Co. in 1967, when employees numbered about 10.
His career at what became known as the Omaha-based Scoular Co. has spanned more than four decades. The employee count is approaching 700.
Under Faith's leadership, the agribusiness firm grew from a three-grain-elevator operation to the fourth-largest grain warehousing company in the U.S., with 75 facilities in eight states. Forbes Magazine ranked Scoular the 56th-largest privately held U.S. corporation, having reached annual sales of about $6.1 billion.
In a 1981 interview, Faith, now 83, attributed much of the grain-trading growth to Nebraska's location and said employee ownership was a key element of success. “Nebraska is a most dramatic growth state,” he said. “It's a hotbed of agricultural activity.”
A native of Salina, Kan., Faith earned a bachelor's degree in Milling Administration from Kansas State University before launching his grain industry career with Pillsbury in 1951 and later joining Bartlett & Co. Grain in 1962 as vice president.
He served as CEO of Scoular for 23 years, was elected chairman of the board in 1987 and today is vice chairman.
Faith and his wife, Mona, have four grown children. He has served in leadership roles for industry and civic organizations, including the Nebraska Leadership Council; a Strategic Air Command committee; and the boards of Aksarben, Boy Scouts, Nebraska Methodist Hospital, Joslyn Art Museum, United Way of the Midlands and Youth for Christ.
Mogens Bay came a long way to make his mark in local business circles.
Born in Denmark, Bay joined Valmont Industries in 1979 after meeting the company's founder at a business meeting in China, where Bay had been stationed with his previous employer. After spending time in Spain as a Valmont vice president of sales and then marketing, he was assigned to corporate headquarters in 1986.
By the time (the late) Valmont founder Robert B. Daugherty named Bay CEO in 1993, Bay had spent a dozen years bolstering the company's international operations.
In an earlier interview, Bay, now 64, said he never had a plan or ambition to be at the top. “I tried to talk him (Daugherty) out of it.”
Since 1997, Bay has been board chairman of the company that manufactures irrigation systems, infrastructure poles and windmill support structures.
He studied law at Aarhus University from 1968 to 1970 and graduated from the EAC College of International Business in Copenhagen in 1973 before serving a year with the Royal Guards of the Danish Army. A graduate of the Harvard Business School's Advanced Management Program, Bay serves on numerous community and business boards, including ConAgra Foods, Peter Kiewit Sons' Inc., Creighton University, Heritage Services and the Omaha Zoological Society.
He and wife Cindy have a daughter and three grandsons.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1224, firstname.lastname@example.org