Winner’s Success Etched in Stone

Article by Elizabeth Hlotyak

Walker & Zanger Inc. one of the winning companies, exemplifies the spirit of the entrepreneurs honored this year by the Ernst & Young entrepreneur awards program.

Starting in 1952, as a small family-owned business, importing marble from Portugal and Italy to the United States, Walker & Zanger has grown to become a leading importer and distributor of stone materials. Celebrating its 50th year, the company has approximately 400 employees. Its annual revenue in 2001 was more than $99 million.

“We have our corporate office in Mount Vernon along with a local branch facility and three warehouses,” said Leon Zanger, chairman and chief executive officer of Walker & Zanger. Zanger, a native of Belgium, came to this country in 1944 as a young war refugee and less then 10 years later he created his stone company.

“We also have administrative offices in Sylmar, Calif., which is a suburb of Los Angeles, and we have warehouses and showrooms in many cities in the United States. All together, we have 17 locations.”

To add to the celebration of its 50th year of operation, Walker & Zanger was awarded with one of the 2002 Southwest Connecticut/New York Hudson Valley Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in the category of construction and specialty products. This award was shared with finalist Gerry Ryan of Discover General Contracting Corp. of Mount Vernon.

“This is the most wonderful experience I have ever had,” said Zanger at the awards ceremony, which was held at the Greenwich Hyatt, Greenwich, Conn., on June 20. “God bless America.”

Ernst & Young’s awards program honored other local owners and key players of fast-growing companies whose work and perseverance created and sustained successful growing businesses.

Along with Leon Zanger and Gerry Ryan, another Westchester entrepreneur, Lillian Vernon, CEO of Rye-based Lillian Vernon Corp., was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Connecticut winners included, Farooq Kathwari, chairman of Ethan Allen Interiors of Danbury; Kevin Johnson, president of DIANON Systems Inc. of Stamford; Cynthia Bigelow, senior vice president, David Bigelow, chairman of the board, Eunice Bigelow, co-president, and Lori Bigelow, senior vice president, of R.C. Bigelow Inc. of Fairfield; Vincent Annunziata, CEO of TradeCapture Inc. of Stamford; and Victor Livinov, president, and Gene Shklover, CEO and co-founder, of GRT Corp. of Stamford.

Michele Benjamin, president of Benjamin Enterprises of Middletown, received the services category award.

The recipients are chosen for their company’s financial performance, as well as vision, innovation and creativity.

Additional important criteria are the persistence demonstrated by the entrepreneurs and their commitment to their business and community.

Selected by a panel of independent judges, the awardees are now eligible to participate in the National Entrepreneur of The Year Awards program. All of the national winners will be announced and honored at a gala during the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year International Conference in Palm Springs, Calif., Nov. 21 to 24. “All of our people on the West Coast say that it is there turn now,” said Zanger about the national awards.

Founded and produced by Ernst & Young, the program is nationally sponsored by USA Today, CNN, the Nasdaq Stock Market and the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Some of the local sponsors included Cummings & Lockwood, Day Berry & Howard L.L.P., Independence Community Bank, Reckson Associates Realty Corp., Shipman & Goodwin L.L.P, Starr 99.9 FM radio and two former awardees, Sobe Beverages and TranSwitch.

Previous award recipients include such business leaders as Michael Dell of Dell Computer Corp., Jim McCann of 1-800 Flowers, Steve Case of American Online and Howard Schultz of Starbucks Coffee.

Originally written by Elizabeth Hlotyak on July 8th, 2002 and printed in the Westchester County Business Journal, Vol 41, No. 26.