Business, Civic Leader Jerre Stead Named Business Person of the Year
One evening last September, when the devastating scope of destruction from Colorado's floods became apparent, business executive Jerre Stead got a call from the governor's office. Would Mr. Stead, asked a staffer, be willing to talk to the governor about becoming chief recovery officer to manage post-flood rebuilding?
Stead pondered the offer—and made his decision after a startling wildlife encounter that he took as a sign. More on that later.
But the decision was never really in doubt. Stead—rhymes with "bread"—has never backed away from a challenge, business or civic.
The executive chairman of Douglas County-based information purveyor IHS Inc. is a renowned corporate turnaround artist whose résumé is a list of one business success after another.
For recognition of his achievements at IHS and for directing flood recovery, Stead has been named 2013 Business Person of the Year by The Denver Post.
During his 13-year tenure at IHS, Stead launched one of Colorado's most successful initial public stock offerings and routinely posts impressive results in revenue, net income, and shareholder return.
If a savvy investor had purchased $10,000 of IHS stock on the first day of the 2005 offering, it would be worth about $73,000 today.
IHS provides data and strategic information to clients in energy, product life cycle, security, and environment. Sales have jumped from $476 million in 2005 to what analysts project will be $2.2 billion this fiscal year.
But in addition to running one of Colorado's largest and fastest-growing public companies, Stead has earned acclaim for getting Colorado back on its feet much sooner than was believed possible after flooding damaged or destroyed more than 20,000 homes and 200 miles of roads.
"One of the things that make thriving communities are people who step up like this," said Gov. John Hickenlooper. "Jerre is a perfect example."
Stead personifies energy on a corporate and personal level. On the eve of his 71st birthday, he works a schedule that would wear out many executives half his age.
Here's a typical day: Up at 3:30 a.m. Floor exercises for 20 minutes. Another 20 minutes of meditation and reading. Check email. Go out for a predawn run of 4 or 5 miles around the Inverness Business Park.
"I know all the security guards around here pretty well," Stead says.
Then he's into the Inverness headquarters of IHS before almost anyone else arrives. Works a long day, followed as likely as not by an evening event for one of the many charities he supports.
Stead's selection as Business Person of the Year is "an excellent choice," said Denver venture capitalist Steve Halstedt of Centennial Ventures. Halstedt is chairman of OpenWorld Learning, a Denver-based nonprofit that promotes child education. Stead and his wife, Mary Joy, are major supporters.
"I cannot say enough good things about their active involvement and their commitment to kids, to technology education, and to providing opportunities for those less blessed than themselves," Halstedt said.
Stead in 2013 stepped down as chief executive of IHS in a planned succession but remains the firm's executive chairman. In 2012, the last year in which he worked as a full-time CEO, his total compensation was $5.1 million—a handsome paycheck but still ranking only 37th among the highest-paid executives of Colorado-based companies.
Yet Stead disdains an extravagant lifestyle, choosing instead to use years of CEO salaries and stock awards to maximize his philanthropic gifts. Among them: $25 million to the University of Iowa College of Business, $20 million to the university's Department of Pediatrics, $10 million to a Methodist seminary in Illinois, and $9 million to Alzheimer's research.
Among Stead's fans is business legend Michael Armstrong, the former CEO and chairman of AT&T, who now serves as the lead independent director on the IHS board.
Armstrong recalls that years ago, IHS compiled business data and sent it to clients on microfiche—a now-archaic technology that compiled pages of text on photographic film.
"Here was a private company that was very low-tech, didn't innovate, didn't create," he said. "Now, Jerre has turned that into what is today high-tech, high-growth, one of the most successful companies on the New York Stock Exchange."
Under Stead's watch, IHS has grown internally and by acquiring nearly 60 companies. Some of the most notable acquisitions are R.L. Polk & Co., Cambridge Energy Research Associates, Global Insights, and Jane's Information Group.
Corporate acquisitions don't always work out. Armstrong notes that spectacular implosions such as Enron and WorldCom were caused in part by unsuccessful acquisitions.
"But Jerre has done successful acquisitions," Armstrong said. "Every single one we did, we integrated into one brand, one management system, one market strategy."
Armstrong said IHS's directors were unanimous in their support of Stead accepting Hickenlooper's request to become chief recovery officer even as Stead was spending plenty of time helping Scott Key ease into his new position as CEO of IHS.
Stead himself knew it was the right step to take, but the decision was affirmed in an unusual way.
On the morning after Hickenlooper's office made the phone call, Stead decided to think it over during a characteristic early-morning run, this time from his vacation home in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Stead walked out the back door and suddenly saw a bobcat holding in its jaws a dead rabbit on top of the adobe wall bordering the home.
Momentarily startled, Stead took a step back and fell into his swimming pool.
"It's what I call a 'God wink.' The floods, the swimming pool, getting wet—it all kind of came together," Stead said. "That sealed my decision."
Hickenlooper's chief of staff, Roxane White, has known Stead for years.
Flood-recovery efforts, she noted, have resulted from the efforts of thousands of people and dozens of agencies.
"Not to take away from anybody's individual role, but coordinating all those functions and bringing everyone together, you really need someone like Jerre Stead," she said. "The thing with Jerre is that when he commits, he commits 110 percent.
"He's one of the most powerful executives I know, yet he's one of the nicest and most compatible people I've ever met."