The dramatic growth along Interstates 75 and 71 in Butler and Warren counties has been fueled by the efforts of both large and small businesses. The 75/71 Business Hall of Fame was created to recognize those leaders who have had a positive impact on the region through their economic, cultural and civic efforts. The Hall of Fame’s 2016 class will be recognized April 20 at a reception and dinner at the Miami Valley Gaming event center in Monroe. The event is sponsored by Taft Stettinius & Hollister, Flagel Huber Flagel and TechSolve.

Posthumous Inductee
Harry Wilks
Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park

Harry Wilks was undoubtedly a man of vision and passion. Luckily for the Tristate and Hamilton, he loved to share those traits with the region.

Born in Chicago in 1925, his family moved to Hamilton when he was 2. From an early age, he showed a variety of interests as well as a strong work ethic. While attending Hamilton High School, he was voted class president twice, was editor of the school newspaper, lettered in basketball and swimming, and was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” by his classmates.

He served during World War II, and returned to the region to attend college at Ohio University, Miami University and the University of Cincinnati. He loved travel, photography and history, and graduated with a degree in law.

Over the years, he established himself as an entrepreneur as well as a lawyer. He purchased and rehabbed buildings in Hamilton, even when it wasn’t the popular thing to do. 

He also showcased his love for Hamilton. He served on philanthropic committees, on Hamilton City Council and as a state representative. In 2002, he developed the idea for making Hamilton into the City of Sculpture. 

He also remained devoted to Miami University. He made a large donation to the school, which established the Wilks School for Leadership. He established a free lecture series at the Hamilton Campus. He even joined the Miami University Board of Trustees

Along the way, he won many awards, including JC Man of the Year, YMCA Outstanding Volunteer (1991), Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year (1992), Honoree of the Butler county Business Hall of Fame and Post Corbett Award for contribution to the arts in Greater Cincinnati.

What Wilks is most known for, however, is the Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park. Originally purchased as a home in 1986, he began to envision a sculpture park surrounding it. The vision continued to grow, with the park now hosting an on-site school for music and visual arts and a personally selected collection of ancient sculpture. 

- Corinne Minard

Margaret Hess
Warren County Career Center

Maggie Hess wants to make a difference in people’s lives.

That’s what motivated her to pursue a career in education and administration.

“I’ve worked with preschoolers and worked with adults over the years. You just never know the impact you’re going to make as a teacher or even as an administrator with those you work with. You can really open doors for people.”

A native of Mason, Hess has been superintendent of the WCCC since 2004. She started her career as a special education and elementary education teacher in the South and, after moving back to Ohio, became a special education supervisor in Brown and Highland counties before joining Great Oaks as a special education supervisor and later campus administrator.

In Warren County she’s been involved in a wide variety of community activities.

She’s past president and a member of the Lebanon Rotary; a member of the Warren County Foundation board, the United Way of Warren County and Big Brothers and Sisters of Warren and Clinton Counties; and been involved with the Lebanon Otterbein board, the Countryside YMCA, the Area Progress Council of Warren Count, and Project Excellence, the county’s teacher recognition effort. The Lebanon Chamber of Commerce named her citizen of the year in 2013.

Lebanon businessman Mike Geygan, who’s active in the community, has known Hess since she was named superintendent. 

“She works well with the surrounding districts and looks out for the career center students, both high school and adults,” he says. “Everybody respects her and likes her. She’s done a great job.”

Hess, who is a widow, has three grown children and five grandchildren. “I feel truly fortunate to work here at the career center and be involved in the community in the ways I have,” she says. 

“I’m probably getting credit for the work a lot of people do every day,” she says of being named to the 71/75 Business Hall of Fame. “I’d like to thank all the folks I work with here and in the community.”

– Mike Boyer 

Fabian Schmahl
ThyssenKrupp Bilstein of America

When Fabian Schmahl came to the United States in 2000, his plan was to stay a couple years.

Today, 16 years later, he’s put down roots managing one of Hamilton’s largest employers, ThyssenKrupp Bilstein of America.

“He is a rare combination of vision and execution, and I am thrilled that he is an integral part of Hamilton’s renaissance,” says Joshua Smith, Hamilton’s city manager.

Since becoming president and CEO of the manufacturer of automotive shocks in 2008, ThyssenKrupp Bilstein has grown employment nearly four times to about 700 in Hamilton.

In the last five years, the company has announced four expansions nearly tripling the plant’s size, the most recent a 30,000-square-foot addition, the second phase of a $26 million expansion that’s expected to continue adding jobs.

Both Enquirer Media and the Business Courier have recognized the plant as a top workplace. Last year Butler County Board of Developmental Disabilities also named the company employer of the year for hiring about 20 workers with disabilities.

The idea came from a plant production manager who was exposed to the capabilities of the county developmental disabilities board during the Leadership Hamilton program.

“I think it is the responsibility of any employer in the community to look for and create those ‘win-win’ situations,” he says. “I see it as a big success and I highly recommend any business leader do the same.”

The plant’s community efforts include the employee-driven Build 2 Give Back initiative supporting community projects and sponsorship of the Sojourner Recovery Services’ annual 5K run.

Schmahl, who grew up in central Germany, says he always had an inclination toward math and sciences.

“At the same time I liked to deal with people,” he says. “I wanted to deal more with people, customers and employees. That brought me more into the engineering side.” 

In the U.S., Schmahl worked in sales for Thyssen businesses in New Jersey, Green Bay, Wis., and Kansas before coming to Hamilton.

One of his first moves was an employee survey that identified five areas of need: communications, training, teamwork, leadership and recognition. 

“We worked very hard on those five topics. Even today, I have the results from the 2008 survey hanging on the wall in front of me,” he says.

The key to manufacturing success?

“It starts with leadership, having a clear vision of where you want to go with the company,” he says. 

– MB

Dave Lippert
Hamilton Caster & Manufacturing Co.

Dave Lippert is serving as chairman of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce for a second time.

“I guess they’re giving me a second chance to get it right,” quips Lippert, who previously served as chamber chairman several years ago.

But his commitment to his hometown is no joke.

“I guess it’s in our DNA,” says Lippert, who says his father, Bob Lippert, who he succeeded as president of Hamilton Caster, also was heavily involved in community activities.

Lippert and his brothers and cousin are the fourth generation of the family-owned and managed industrial caster and cart manufacturer, Hamilton’s oldest continually owned business. The company was started in 1907 by Lippert’s great-grandfather, John A. Weigel.

Besides being involved in the chamber, Lippert is active with, and a past president of, the Greater Hamilton Safety Council, serves on the Hamilton Community Foundation’s scholarship selection committee, and is a member, and past chair, of the Hamilton City Schools Advisory Council.

In 2013 he received the Hamilton Heritage Award for Outstanding Community Involvement. In the past, Lippert has served as chair of the United Way Campaign (Butler County), as a board member of the Fitton Center for Creative and Performing Arts, and as classroom business consultant for Junior Achievement, on the Miami University Engineering Advisory board and as an elder for an area church leadership team.

Like other family members Lippert worked for Hamilton Caster growing up but he didn’t initially plan on making it his career. He won an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he earned an engineering degree, and spent several years as an Air Force pilot instructor.

He told an interviewer last year: “After looking at the military lifestyle, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it for another 15 years.”

So he left the Air Force and rejoined Hamilton Caster as a project manager in 1982 and was elected president in 1995 when his father retired.

One of his main goals now, he says, is to see that Hamilton Caster’s 109-year history of family ownership continues into a fifth and six generation. 

- MB

Mark Smith
Fort Hamilton Hospital, Kettering Health Network

When Mark Smith first came to Hamilton in 2013, he knew very little about the city. He and the hospital quickly called a meeting of civic leaders.

“I spent some time just talking with them. Tell me about Hamilton. What’s important about this city? What’s its heritage and history? What do we need to know as a hospital?” he says. “They’re an incredibly welcoming and accepting group of people. When they see that someone is interested and making a difference in their community, they’re all in.”

Almost three years later, Smith is another one of those leaders preaching the gospel of Hamilton. “I’ve become an evangelist for Hamilton,” he says. 

Smith’s road to the region wasn’t an obvious one. Trained as an attorney and CPA, he first delved into the health care field when he became chief financial officer for a hospital in Lincoln, Neb.

“They specifically wanted someone who was business savvy but was not a traditional hospital administrator. I certainly fit the bill,” he says.

He quickly found health care to be an interesting, challenging and satisfying industry. “One of the things that’s very motivational to me about health care is that you can see the impact you’re having on people’s lives,” he says.

In 2005, he joined the Kettering Health Network as CFO at Greene Memorial Hospital. He wished to join an organization that focused on mission, something he found in the Kettering Health Network. Over the next couple years, he became president of Sycamore Medical Center and then corporate vice president for the network. He came to Fort Hamilton Hospital while the president was on maternity leave, and then found himself staying on when she decided not to return. 

Since he took over as president in June 2013, the hospital has seen a series of successes. The hospital’s patient safety rating has gone from a C to an A. In Truven’s surveys of the top hospitals in the country, Fort Hamilton has gone from being in the low 50th percentile to well above the 90th. The hospital built a $6 million expansion of its ED. And it’s opened the Joslin Diabetes Center to give residents more access to diabetic care, education and disease management.

Personally, Smith considers raising his two sons his “greatest work in progress.” But professionally, he is proud of the work he and his team have been able to do at Fort Hamilton, in particular “returning this hospital to a sound financial footing while we simultaneously have been able to improve our quality outcomes and improve our patient experience.” 

- CM