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Small-Business Owners to Be Honored by SBA

April 08, 1999|MARLA DICKERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Not many entrepreneurs have had a rougher start than Valencia businesswoman Margo Groger did.

When her husband passed away, she knew little about the spa and whirlpool fittings business he had left behind. Then a devastating fire burned the assembly plant to the ground. But the former junior high school counselor was determined to make good on her husband's legacy. In the process, she has grown sales fivefold, led the company into new markets and been selected the Los Angeles Small Business Administration's 1999 Small Business Person of the Year.

"The business was like a bud on a flower," said Groger, president of G-G Industries. "I needed to learn how to tend and nurture it so it would grow."

Groger is one of nearly a dozen entrepreneurs and small-business advocates who will be honored in June by the local SBA as part of the agency's Small Business Week Award competition.

The ceremonies are an annual tribute to entrepreneurship, something Groger never realized she had an aptitude for in the days when she was counseling 12- to 14-year-olds in the public schools. But those listening skills have proved invaluable since she took over the business in 1985. She says keeping her ears open to customers, employees and advisors helped her take the business from a $2-million assembly operation to a $10.5-million manufacturing concern with 85 employees.

"Listening to an irate customer isn't all that different from listening to an irate parent," Groger said. "I truly believe that interpersonal relationships have helped this business to grow."

Other regional SBA winners include:

* Young Entrepreneur of the Year: Jason Hollander, 27, president and chief executive of 28th Street Publishing Inc. Hollander started the company as a student at USC, where he found plenty of material for his 28th Street Magazine, which focuses on Southern California campus life.

* Exporter of the Year: William Smolenske, president of Santa Barbara Peripherals Inc., an international supplier of computer peripherals and components whose sales reached $28 million in 1998.

* Welfare to Work: Rena Burns, president of Santa Monica-based Automated Data Sciences/CADscan, which provides information technology services to government. She hires and trains welfare recipients for upward mobility in her organization.

These and other awards will be presented at the SBA's 18th annual Small Business Week awards luncheon, which is sponsored in part by the Los Angeles Times. The June 4 event will be at the Hotel Intercontinental in downtown Los Angeles.

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