Bealls Inc., Star2Star Communications LLC executives nominated for Ernst & Young award

MANATEE -- Manatee County claims two finalists for Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year award for the Florida region.

Robert M. Beall II, chairman of Bradenton's Bealls Inc., is nominated in the hospitality and retail category and Norman Worthington, CEO of Sarasota-based Star2Star Communications LLC is nominated in the technology category.

"These finalists were selected from more than 70 nominations by a panel of independent judges," Greg Rosica, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Florida program partner said in a release. "We are very proud to recognize such a successful group of entrepreneurs."

Beall, 71, has been with Bealls for 45 years. The national company, which began as a small store front in downtown Bradenton, celebrates its 100th year in business this year.

Beall started as a window washer and then became a janitor for Bealls when he was still in school. He became chairman in 1994 and he has played a part in Bealls' many developments.

Although nominees can self-nominate, Beall said he did not nominate himself and was notified of the nomination three or four months ago.

"I think it's an honor for the company and it's an honor for me," Beall said. "So I feel good about it. I appreciate the recognition that they've bestowed on me by this nomination."

Beall's grandfather opened The Dollar Limit store, known as the first Bealls, in downtown Bradenton in 1915. His father continued the Bealls saga and opened the first Bealls department store in a Westgate shopping center. Beall said that's when the company's greatest accomplishments began, and it has only grown since.

He was attending graduate school in New York City while working for Bloomingdale's Department Store and when Bealls opened a seventh store, Beall decided to re-join the company. Bealls continued to open department stores and eventually opened Bealls Outlets as well. Other accomplishments Beall is proud of is the success Bealls has had with online shopping and the new, more-upscale Bunulu stores, set to open this fall.

"There are hundreds of people that are responsible for our success," Beall said. "Thousands of people, really."

Worthington's Star2Star Communications LLC provides communications to companies. Star2Star takes voice, video, mobile and fax and combines it all into one system. Worthington, 56, initially was only an investor for the company as it was starting up in 2006. But as he did research and found out more about what its goals were, he proposed to the founder that he be the CEO.

Worthington's technology company interest started when he dipped his toes into programming in his first year of law school in the 1980's. He realized he didn't want to be a lawyer and ended up starting his own software company by the time he finished his law degree.

"It was much out of a desire to find some sort of a diversion; I found myself up at the library for the liberal

arts college," Worthington said. "I picked up a programming book and just started writing software."

Worthington found he enjoyed not only programming but also investing in a company. The first company was one of nine technology companies that Worthington has invested in. Although he's been involved in technology start-ups for years, Worthington was reluctant to jump in with both feet and accept the award nomination.

He received notification from Ernst & Young representatives that he and Star2Star had been identified as a potential nominee. It took the push of Star2Star's marketing director for him to accept. He said the nomination was more gratifying than he expected, but couldn't have won the nomination without Star2Star's 300 employees. The company plans to add 100 employees in the next year.

"I think it's a little unfair that I'm 'the guy,'" Worthington said. "It makes me a little uncomfortable that I get the recognition, but at the same time very gratifying and I'm very pleased to be named this way."

Worthington is proud of Star2Star for pioneering its own technology with the goal of helping business communications run smoother. He said new technologies and channels of communication have completely changed the way businesses communicate, and his company tries to cater to helping businesses adjust.

Star2Star was named one of Infonetics Research's Top Ten North America Hosted Business Voice over Internet Protocol/Unified Communications Providers, in addition to other big telecommunications names such as AT&T and Verizon.

Star2Star's third-party marketing method has also gained recognition in the industry. Instead of marking directly to the end customer, Star2Star's sales force markets to a middle man who in turn sells the products to the end customer.

Award recipients will be announced at a black-tie gala on Thursday, June 11 in Orlando.

There are entrepreneur finalists in nine categories for Florida. One from each of the nine categories will move on to compete for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year national award reception in Palm Desert, California, where they'll also have the opportunity to attend an entrepreneurs forum.

The national awards are divided into different categories than those used for the regional awards and one overall national Entrepreneur of the Year is selected.

In the award's 29 years, Boland said Florida has had more nominees win the national award than any other region. Some regions include multiple states, but Florida is a region on its own because Ernst & Young has offices in five Florida cities. Florida also has enough entrepreneurs to require it to be a region on its own.

"There's a lot of good entrepreneurial activity going on in Florida," Boland said.

Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow her on Twitter @jayohday.