The Double Lives of Leading Local Executives
Small-business owner Dave Wirig would blend in well at any business luncheon. Scott Kadrlik looks like you’d expect a managing partner in an accounting firm to look. Tabatha Erck’s appearance is perfectly congruent with her role as CEO of a thriving chiropractic network.
Looks can be deceiving. After shedding their business attire, one of these three executives dons a wig and spandex and transforms into a rock musician. Another grabs a microphone and hits Twin Cities stages as a stand-up comedian. The third guns a BMW and races around Brainerd International Raceway at 140 miles per hour.
Are they the exceptions or the rule among the seemingly staid world of corporate America? It’s hard to know how many high-level execs are living double lives, but we’ve found a bunch of them.
Rock God / Dave Wirig
Co-founder and CFO of Medical Solutions, Inc., a provider of new and reconditioned medical equipment (medicalsolutionsinc.com)
Plays guitar under the alias Davey Roxx for heavy metal band Hair Metal Mania (hairmetalmania.com)
When Dave Wirig, 44, and his lifelong friend, Dave Delgado, decided to start a business of their own in 1996, they had two criteria: It should have controllable outcomes and be in an industry that could withstand tough economic times. “Dave and I were trained in sales,” Wirig says. “We knew we would do well if the company was direct-sales-oriented. We chose the medical field because it’s so interesting; there are always cutting-edge breakthroughs and new products coming out.”
The two Daves ended up founding Medical Solutions, Inc. Medical Solutions purchases new equipment directly from more than 50 manufacturers, but also buys used equipment from medical facilities throughout the country. The bulk of the company’s sales come from surgical tables, stress-testing systems, EKG machines, and autoclaves, but they’re willing to buy whatever comes their way. “We may get a call to liquidate a metropolitan-area clinic,” Wirig says. “That equipment, which may be outdated for that owner, may be perfect for a rural clinic or hospital.”
Much has changed in the 16 years since Wirig and Delgado opened up shop. Revenue has surpassed $2 million, and in 2007 the pair purchased a 12,000-square-foot commercial building in Maple Grove. One thing hasn’t changed: The two of them are still the firm’s only employees, handling everything from sales to shipping. “We had salespeople, but they lacked incentive,” Wirig says. “We learned that bigger is not necessarily better.”
Medical Solutions is all that Wirig hoped it would be. Even so, he felt that something important in life was missing. “When we started the company, I put my guitar down,” he says. “I didn’t pick it up again for eight or nine years. One day, I finally sat down and listened to what my body and soul were telling me. I was missing playing the guitar and the way it helped me express my creative side. Once I started playing again and making music, it was so wonderful I didn’t want to stop.”
What Wirig also missed was the euphoria of performing for a live audience as he did in his college years. Feeling the itch to join a band, he turned to Craigslist and quickly connected with a group in need of a guitarist. For a couple of years, the band played soft rock and pop under the name Hard to Handle. Then, at Wirig’s urging, they morphed into an ’80s rock tribute band called Hair Metal Mania, with a set list that includes greatest hits from Poison, MÃ¶tley CrÃ¼e, Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister, et al.
The members had to look the part. Add a wig and Spandex, and balding, mild-mannered Wirig was transformed into Davey Roxx. “When I put on that wig, Dave Wirig ceases to exist,” he says. “The only person present is Davey Roxx, rock god.”
As Roxx, Wirig goes all-out to embody the persona. “I was in theater in high school so I have a background,” says Wirig, who also supplies back-up vocals. “Playing the part is as much acting as it is guitar performance.”
The band’s biggest gig was headlining at St. Croix Casino in Turtle Lake, Wisconsin, last summer, but no matter where they perform, Wirig marvels that the audience always buys the act. “What amazes me the most is that people listen with their eyes as much as they do with their ears,” he says. “When they see someone in rock star garb with a rock star persona, they have trouble distinguishing whether it’s a real rock star or just a medical equipment guy with a wig. That speaks to the authenticity of the show.”
Indeed, Wirig doesn’t just view Davey Roxx as a fun alias; he’s fully committed to the identity, even speaking about him in the third person: “He is a perfectionist and wants to play and perform as authentically as possible. Even though I’m 44, I’m still interested in getting better. Putting in all that time and repetition to learn and perform the songs has definitely helped me be a more patient person in every aspect of my life.”
Wirig, who dreamed of being a rock star as a guitar-obsessed teenager, manages to keep his double life in perspective. “It’s a different gratification to sell a surgical table than it is to play your favorite song onstage,” he says. “They’re both equally wonderful and neither can replace the other. Then again, I don’t have women screaming my name when I sell a surgical table.”
Jet Fighter Pilot / Dan Sullivan
Consultant to superDimension, a producer of medical devices (superdimension.com)
Charter member of the Hoppers, the first civilian formation team of MiG fighter jet trainers (hopperflight.com)
When Dan Sullivan was named CEO of Plymouth-based superDimension in 2006, he took revenue at the medical device company from less than $1 million to $30 million in 2011. “We pioneered a new market for the diagnosis and early treatment of lung cancer,” says Sullivan, who has continued to consult for the company after it was sold to Ireland-based Covidien in 2012. “By catching it early, the 10-year survival rate goes from 15 percent to 90 percent.”
It’s not surprising that Sullivan, 57, got superDimension flying high. He’s part of the Hoppers, a group of flying enthusiasts who stage air shows in four MiG fighter jet trainers. They were trained by a former F-15 instructor to fly formation to Air Force standards. “Flying a jet in formation is the most intense concentration you can possibly imagine,” says Sullivan, who owns three military jets. “The Hoppers are my second family. We literally trust our lives to each other. It’s a bond so deep, you can’t break it and you can’t describe it.”
The Hoppers make a special effort to connect with and inspire kids. “When a kid comes up to us at an air show with their eyes lit up, we love it,” Sullivan says. “Our goal is for kids to gain an appreciation of what these jets are about and walk away thinking, ‘I could do that too.’ ”
Semi-Cop / Joe Thornton
Senior director of brand management for Stream Global Services, which operates call centers all over the world (stream.com)
Member of the Woodbury Police Reserves
As the senior director of branding for Eagan-based Stream Global Services, which provides business process outsourcing (BPO) services primarily for Fortune 1,000 clients, Joe Thornton, 48, manages message development and strategic communications for the company, which has more than 50 service centers and 35,000 employees in 23 countries.
Thornton, a former news anchor and news director at KDLH-TV, the CBS affiliate in Duluth, assumed his current position in December 2011 after a five-year stint at St. Paul-based Lawson Software, where he was director of media relations.
After spending the day dealing with media and industry analysts, Thornton turns his attention to upholding the integrity of a very different brand. For one or two weekend night-shifts a month, he dons the uniform of the Woodbury Police Reserves, an all-volunteer team whose members function as uniformed officers representing the department. “I take this work very seriously because there’s a responsibility that comes with putting on that uniform and representing the police department,” Thornton says. “There’s a big difference between what reserve officers do and what sworn officers do, but to the community we’re cops. We wear essentially the same uniform and drive in marked squad cars.”
Reserve officers do not have authority to arrest or detain suspects, but they do assist with general patrol and hands-on activities such as transporting prisoners to jail, drunks to detox, and domestic violence victims to shelters; patrolling parks; assisting crime scene security; providing crowd and traffic management at community events; and helping with disaster response. “Transporting a prisoner or taking someone to detox can take a police officer off the street for an hour or two,” Thornton says. “If we can perform that function, the sworn officer can stay on the street to stop drunk drivers, respond to medical emergencies, and catch more bad guys.”
Serving in a law enforcement capacity had never been on Thornton’s radar until the summer day in 2010 when he picked up the phone and found himself speaking to Mark Buratczuk, who led the reserves at the time. Buratczuk had seen an email Thornton had sent on behalf of his family thanking all of the officers for the work they do. When Buratczuk suggested that Thornton consider joining the reserves, Thornton laughed. “I told him I was in my mid-40s and a PR guy by trade,” Thornton recalls. “I said he probably wanted someone who was younger and eager to become a cop. Buratczuk said, ‘No, we try to balance our program with people who are civically minded and have an appreciation for what law enforcement professionals do.’ ”
Given that reserve officers drive squad cars, carry Tasers, and represent the Woodbury Police Department, the application process included an extensive background check, psychiatric evaluation, and rigorous interview process. After being accepted, Thornton was trained in police procedure, self-defense, and how to respond to different scenarios in real-life settings. That training is ongoing, says Thornton, who now co-leads the 12-member reserves.
Working with and alongside sworn officers has deepened Thornton’s respect for what people in public safety do. “My appreciation for police officers has been multiplied many times over,” he says. “There are exceptional people doing exceptional work out there. The importance of their work becomes even more evident when you get a firsthand look at what goes on in the middle of the night in a Twin Cities suburb.”
Racetrack Legend / Tabatha Erck
CEO of Chiropractic Care of Minnesota, Inc. (chirocare.com)
Performance driving at racetracks
As CEO of Shoreview-based Chiropractic Care of Minnesota, Inc., Tabatha Erck, 44, oversees the nonprofit’s flagship product, ChiroCare, a chiropractic network with 1,600 providers. ChiroCare is hired by insurance providers to perform many of the same functions that insurance companies do, but with an exclusive focus on chiropractic benefits, practitioners, and clinics. After launching a new acupuncture network called AcuNet on December 1, Erck has shifted into overdrive to get the network up to speed.
Shifting and speed are right in Erck’s wheelhouse. Erck, who joined the BMW Car Club of America eight years ago, trains with professional drivers at the Dakota County Technical College on its driving track in Rosemount and at Brainerd International Raceway, reaching speeds of up to 140 mph. In her first session, she had to navigate through a slalom course of orange cones. “The first couple of times I hit every single cone,” she says. “Within an hour, I was able to go through at 60 miles per hour without touching the cones, but moving them because I was that close.”
A passionate advocate for car safety, Erck volunteers for the Tire Rack Street Survival teen driving program, teaching teens how to drive at the Dakota County track. “We teach them everything about driving, from adjusting their mirrors to handling their vehicles on icy roads,” she says. “That is five times more rewarding than anything else I do.”