Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison stands as an inspiration to others, that you should never quit fighting to achieve your goals.

Undrafted out of college, he was cut four times before making it onto a National Football League active roster. Signed a third time by the Steelers in 2004, he didn’t earn the starter’s job until 2007, replacing Joey Porter at the position.

Fast forward and Harrison has been named The Associated Press 2008 Defensive Player of the Year.

It was all due to opportunity, perseverance, talent and hard work. Harrison has been quoted as saying, “Somebody else’s misfortune is somebody else’s fortune. It’s just hard work, perseverance and little blessings here and there.”

Another motivating factor, he has been quoted as saying, has been the desire to show that despite what others may think of his talents, he can do the job — and do it very well indeed.

Saluting Our Market Leaders for a Job Well Done

Going above and beyond is what distinguishes our nine market leaders. Their experiences, perseverance, dedication and commitment to core values have helped their companies survive — and thrive — in today’s uncertain economy.

Nominated by a panel of readers, industry experts and staff, the individuals selected as our 2009 Market Leaders are (in alphabetical order):

• Mark Bernhard, president of Bernhard Woodwork Ltd. With a “lifetime” of experience in the woodworking industry, Bernhard has been able to guide the architectural woodworking giant to a new level of progress. A key strategy, he says, “We not only invest in keeping our plant modern and purchasing the newest technologies, but also in our people and processes. You can learn so many things from others if you keep an open mind, both outside your business, but especially internally, from your own people.”

• Mike Carson, founder and president of Closet Works Inc. Although he hadn’t planned a career in the closet industry, it wasn’t until he had an epiphany of sorts — his father had paid $1,500 to have a white melamine closet system installed — that Carson entered the field with a vengeance. Twelve years after founding his company, Carson was instrumental in launching The National Closet Group, an organization that brings together professional, independent companies in the home storage and organization industry.

• Kevin Kuske, general wood manager at Steelcase Inc. With a degree in chemical engineering, he began working for Steelcase 11 years ago and has been instrumental in helping the office furniture giant reinvent its Wood business. “It also gave us a chance to take a business that has a tremendous and long history related to sustainability, and instead of moving incrementally forward, to take a leap. In the past two years, we have eliminated formaldehyde from our finish and PVC completely from our newest platforms,” he says.

• Pernille Lopez, president of IKEA North America. Since taking over as president, she has directed IKEA’s growth from a small retailer to a national home furnishings chain. Store expansions, a heightened Internet presence and other marketing strategies “that allow us to get onto people’s radar screens” have enabled Lopez to drive the company to greater market growth despite a down economy.

• Bill LePage, vice president of operations for The Simple Furniture Co. LePage helped direct the RTA company’s efforts on sustainability, including the development of an eco-friendly RTA line of children’s furniture. Kudos have been awarded to its Ecotots line, which has been featured on the nationally syndicated Today show.

• Mark Richey, president of Mark Richey Woodworking & Design. Richey’s success in the architectural millwork industry has come from his strong environmental initiatives as well as empowering employees. “This approach has led to fewer mistakes, more accountability and better scheduling. It also makes for a more interesting and rewarding work experience,” he says.

• Kevin Sauder, president and CEO of Sauder Woodworking. Sauder is a strong advocate of environmental initiatives. Sauder Woodworking, the largest North American producer of RTA furniture, produces almost 300 tons of wood waste daily — yet has not taken a load of wood waste to the landfill in more than nine years. In addition to improving profitability in the core RTA business, Sauder’s goals include improving supply chain management and “keeping our employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers and communities proud of what we do.”

• Bill Weaver, president and CEO of Canyon Creek Cabinet Co. Weaver took a small company on the verge of bankruptcy and built it into a major regional cabinet manufacturer. “We are taking the opportunity during this downturn to enhance our manufacturing capabilities and strengthen all aspects of our company,” Weaver says. Plans are also underway to continue to grow its market share and expand geographically.

• Andy Wilzoch, owner and president of Premier EuroCase. With the goal of always moving forward and reinvesting in infrastructure, Wilzoch’s use of technology has propelled Premier EuroCase out of a 1,000-square-foot shop to its current size of 200,000 square feet. “Somehow, it was a natural progression of things, with an emphasis on staying flexible,” he says.

Today’s market leaders don’t just react — they think beyond current circumstances in planning a course for the future. Read more about these 2009 Market Leaders here.

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