Kansas City Chamber of Commerce names Bishop-McCann its top small business

05/29/2014 2:40 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce honored a Kansas City-based meetings, events and incentive travel management company with its top award Thursday.

Bishop-McCann was recognized as the chamber’s 2014 Small Business of the Year and received the Mr. K Award, named after the late Ewing Marion Kauffman, founder of Marion Laboratories and the original owner of the Kansas City Royals.

More than 600 people attended the chamber’s 28th annual small business awards luncheon at the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center. The luncheon, which was sold out, is one of the largest of its kind in the country.

The Mr. K award is based on business growth or sustainability, exemplary employee relations and a commitment to community service.

More than 1,000 small businesses were nominated, and about 100 companies from across the metro — including companies in international shipping, credit card processing, advertising agencies and architects — went through the application process. Then a group of judges narrowed the list to the top 10 companies. Bishop-McCann was then selected for the top award.

In accepting the award, Dan Nilsen, the company’s chief executive officer and co-founder, thanked his staff, saying, “You make me proud of you every single day of my life.” He also thanked his banker, Missouri Bank, and two mentors, Ken Rashid and Lirel Holt, as well as the chamber.

“There’s a lot of people in this city that will be proud that you chose a company owned by an openly gay man to receive this award,” said Nilsen, who also founded the Mid-America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, an affiliate of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, in 2012.

Nilsen was fresh out of college when he went to work for Marion Laboratories in Los Angeles in 1985. He learned some core values from Ewing Kauffman, including, “Treat others as you want to be treated — with dignity and respect.” Kauffman also told him to always plan ahead and strive to be uncommon, including being first in the market with ideas.

Since Nilsen helped launch Bishop-McCann 17 years ago, he said he had tried to live by those values daily. There wasn’t a Bishop or a McCann. Nilsen and his then business partner, Steve Hines, made up the name, thinking it made the business sound bigger than just a couple of employees. (Nilsen bought Hines out in 2004.)

Bishop-McCann now has 74 employees and four offices — Kansas City, Chicago, Minneapolis and San Francisco.

For the last five years, Bishop-McCann has been recognized as one of the 25 largest and most influential meetings and incentive companies in North America by Corporate Meetings & Incentives Magazine.

Nilsen also supplemented his business degree by going through the Kauffman FastTrac program and the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program. He later assembled an advisory board of seasoned professionals.

“If you don’t have a mentor you need to get one. You can’t do it on your own,” Nilsen said Thursday.

Bishop-McCann started in the pharmaceutical industry but quickly expanded its client list and its offerings. The company now designs and produces meetings, incentives and live events worldwide. In 2012, it added production and creative services. In 2013, the company created a sister company, BX Worldwide, to provide speaker and entertainment services.

A decade ago, Nilsen bought a long vacant, 100-year-old building at 1701 Walnut St. in the Crossroads Arts District and redeveloped it for the company’s headquarters.

In keeping with another Kauffman value of “those who produce share in the profits,” Bishop-McCann’s full-time employees earn a month-long sabbatical every five years. If the employee wants to use the sabbatical for a dream vacation, the company will match up to $3,800 in travel funds every five years.

“That’s a retention strategy; I’m no dummy. And we have very low turnover,” Nilsen said. “I hire these people who care so much about this company. You have to have people who get and accept good leadership. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

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To reach Joyce Smith, call 816-234-4692 or send email to jsmith@kcstar.com. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter at JoyceKC.

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