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2022 Men of Influence

Local Businessmen Reflect on Success, Their Mentors, and Their Legacies

What makes a person successful? We asked four local business owners what they owe their success to, who mentored them, inspired them, what moved them forward and what keeps them going. Read a condensed version of their answers here, and visit citylifestyle.com/highlandsranch to read more about their stories.

Hard Work, Find the Win-Win

Mike Heflebower, Funeral Director/Owner

Heflebower Funeral and Cremation Services

What is something you would have liked to have known as a young man starting out in your career or young adult years?  You can include valuable lessons learned from family values, valuable advice you were given, impactful mentors, inspirations, failure that led to blessings, even work you may have done mentoring or teaching others.        

I was always told and shown by my parents that hard work pays off. It does. The funeral industry has long hours in very difficult situations, but it allows you to be on the front lines of caring for people.  We give our time to them and take time away from our own families all day and night. Even with these times, this occupation is rewarding in so many ways it is hard to describe. My parents had a huge influence on my life as they grew up with very little and worked hard to make a great life. I watched as they helped people and volunteered in our community.  My wife has been an inspiration to me. Her hard work and dedication to our family is so inspiring. I was very blessed to have worked with and for some amazing individuals in the funeral industry.  They have all helped me become who I am today. I always try to take the best from everything that happens - finding the Win-Win in all things helps bring light to all situations.

Tell us about yourself, background, hometown, education, work experiences, your family and how you came to live/work in Highlands Ranch/South Metro area.

I grew up in a small town of around 3,000 people in the midwest, went to college and played football while majoring in biological sciences. I went to mortuary school in Kansas City and received my first licenses in Nebraska as a Funeral Director and Embalmer in 1990. My wife Tammy and I have been married for nearly 32 years and have two adult sons, Logan and Nate. I practiced in Nebraska for 17 years managing funeral homes and cemeteries. Our family moved here in 2006. I worked as a funeral director in the metro until we opened our own family funeral home in Highlands Ranch in 2013.

My wife Dr. Tammy Heflebower is an award winning author and world renowned speaker in the field of education.

Our oldest son Logan is the General Manager of our Pet cremation division - The Last Paws.  He played baseball at Regis University in Denver and is engaged to be married to Cortney Sexton in September ‘22.

Our youngest son Nate is a Senior at UCCS where he plays baseball and will graduate in May with a degree in communications.

My parents Betty and Lee live in Littleton and my Mother in Law Carolyn lives at Legacy Village in Castle Pines. 

How did you end up in your current position?

I worked around the Denver metro for several years in different capacities for several large companies.  After a few years I decided our community and surrounding area needed someone to care for them and their families locally so I started my own company.  I felt the need to care more about people than about money.

What do you do in your free time?  How do you unwind?  Hobbies or Pastimes?

We are very close with our family.  Our two boys are in the area and my parents live in Littleton and my mother in law lives close to us so we spend a lot of time with them. For many years our free time has been watching our two sons play baseball.  Both have played NCAA DII baseball in the state. This has also been a hobby and a pastime. My wife and I enjoy road biking, mountain biking, skiing, hiking and traveling.

Do you have any goals or future plans you are working towards, professionally or personally?

 I intend to stay busy in the company for many years to come. I love caring for our friends and neighbors. When you love what you do it doesn’t feel like a job. I look forward to the continued growth and scope of our company My wife and I plan to travel some more while we are able and in good health

What makes you laugh?

Our boys make us laugh!   They are quite entertaining when we all get together.  They feed off of each other. My occupation can be quite daunting so when the times are right, enjoying time with friends and family and sharing a good laugh is so very enjoyable and important to balancing life.

Service to Others, Say Yes to Opportunity

Jim Chavez, Executive Director

Latin American Educational Foundation

What is something you would have liked to have known as a young man starting out in your career or young adult years?  You can include valuable lessons learned from family values, valuable advice you were given, impactful mentors, inspirations, failure that led to blessings, even work you may have done mentoring or teaching others.    

Looking back at my earlier years of my career, I was so focused on working hard and long hours, always pushing to accomplish more, to achieve higher positions and working for that “corner office,” and working for my own personal gain.  Looking back, that work wasn’t always fulfilling or satisfying.   I would have liked to recognize earlier just how meaningful and rewarding it is to help others.  Today, I truly enjoy helping younger students and young professionals, including my staff and teammates further their careers and opportunities.    I truly appreciate the lessons I have learned from our community elders and mentors who have helped connect me to opportunities to serve.  One thing I have learned or believe, it at that good things happen when you say “Yes”.  Saying yes to opportunities more often lead to meeting new and interesting people, tackling new challenges, and personally rewarding experiences.  The most important things to me today are people and relationship. Good things come from helping people do the good they seek to do. 

Tell us about yourself, background, hometown, education, short work experiences, your family and how you came to live/work in Highlands Ranch/South Metro area.

I am a Colorado native, born and raised in Northglenn, Colorado. I went to Colorado State University and studied Accounting. I started my career as a CPA, with the Big Eight accounting firm of Ernst & Whinney, which became Ernst & Young. After several years, I took a finance position with Waste Management Technologies. Then in the mid 90s, I made a major transition into the College Savings business, first working to design and launch Colorado’s first prepaid tuition program, which became known as CollegeInvest, and then working across the country to help many other states create their own college savings programs. During these years, I was introduced to the Latin American Educational Foundation. After serving on the board for several years, I had the opportunity to lead LAEF, which I have now done since 2003.

In 1997, I relocated back to the Denver area to begin my work in the college savings business.  Highlands Ranch was still very new. But we found a new house in Westridge and were very excited with the area, the open space, bike trails, and schools. My kids went to school here, and even though they have moved on themselves, I have stayed, still enjoying the amenities, location and proximity to so much. It has been amazing to see the major development and growth of Highlands Ranch over these past 25 years.

How did you end up in your current position?

I was a board member at LAEF in 2003, when we found ourselves unexpectedly without a leader. I had already served on the board for several years and held leadership positions on the board. I was asked if I would consider running the organization and leading us through a challenging transition and situation.

What do you do in your free time?  How do you unwind?  Hobbies or Pastimes?

I start my days pretty early, but always start with a work out at the gym. I make it a point to leave my phone at home, and honestly cherish that time each day when I don’t have my phone ringing, or checking emails or texts. But I also really value and look forward to spending time with friends and colleagues at the end of the day, enjoying happy hour at a local restaurant or patio here in Highlands Ranch. I also try to squeeze in some golf and motorcycle rides on the weekends. Again, both of these activities are ones where I set my phone aside and don’t look at it!  

Do you have any goals or future plans you are working towards, professionally or personally?

 On a personal level, I really am determined to spend more time skiing this next year, and improving my golf game. I also am looking forward to traveling more, and overseas again! I would like to travel to Spain and Portugal, since that is where my ancestral origins are. Professionally, I still believe deeply in serving our communities, especially in areas that impact people’s quality of life. I get excited about working on big societal issues, being involved in strategic and systematic changes to impact and improve the social determinants of health, education, affordable housing, and more.

What makes you laugh?

This is an interesting question. Frankly, I don’t think we laugh enough today, and we definitely don’t laugh at ourselves nearly enough. But I really find dry humor and sarcasm funny. And self-deprecating humor too, starting with myself. I can still watch reruns of Seinfeld and laugh out loud.  I actually just watched Shrek again….and found myself laughing at so much of the movie.

Collaborative Mindset, Different Perspectives

Javion Blake

Jus Chill International, Founder

What is something you would have liked to have known as a young man starting out in your career or young adult years?  You can include valuable lessons learned from family values, valuable advice you were given, impactful mentors, inspirations, failure that led to blessings, even work you may have done mentoring or teaching others.   

I think that the most important things that I have come to learn, especially from a career front, is the importance of being confident, remaining humble and  developing a habit of exploring other people’s perspectives. Several years ago,  after graduating from my masters and working for a few years as a Product Design  Engineer; I started to observe certain phenomena with the inner workings of the world around us. One of the things that became very apparent at that time was most of the globes’ challenges were not necessarily the lack of the resources but the  misalignment of the resources typically caused by a lack of adequate knowledge. In  short, poverty or lack of development was not a technical problem instead it was a mindset and access to information problem. I believed this so strongly, I still  believe that to a lesser degree, but the part that I forgot to consider more intensively  were the people. I completely overlooked the other person’s perspective that was  reinforced by poverty and lack of development every day. So, I was thinking of thriving while several across from me were thinking of survival. It was not until  several attempts to fast track several development projects that I realized that the  people and their perception must be at the center of the solution. It does not matter  if that person’s perception is incorrect from a logical framework, they will be  holding that perspective near and dear. Thus, it is important that any solution that  can be considered a win-win must be derived from the opposing party's perception in mind. In addition to all that, I learnt the significance of thinking from a  collaborative mindset over a competitive one. As the saying states, if you want to  go fast then go alone, but if you want to go far then go with others.  

Tell us about yourself, background, hometown, education, short work  experiences, your family and how you came to live/work in Highlands  Ranch/South Metro area.

I am a native Jamaican where I lived mainly until my late teenage years. Specifically, I  grew up in Western Jamaica just outside of Montego Bay. After starting University in  Jamaica at the University of Technology in Kingston, I transferred to Montana States  University in Bozeman where I pursued a BSc. in Mechanical Engineering with an  Aerospace minor. After I had completed my undergrad, I felt like I was not ready to  leave Montana, so I decided to start my MSc. in Industrial and Management  Engineering. In the first year of my masters, I got accepted to do an internship at a  manufacturing company in the Denver area. So, I was spending my summers working in  Denver and going back to Montana at the end of the summer breaks. This would  continue for two years, and I was asked to come onboard fulltime after graduation. That  is what fueled my move to Denver over seven (7) years ago. I was doing Product  Design Engineering work for that company for over five (5) years until I decided to move  to something different in the autumn of 2019. I had started several side projects during  my time, and I decided to pursue one of those side projects directly after leaving. That  project to develop a food company using breadfruits as the main ingredient. In 2020,  after developing the Breadfruit Chips product and having an MVP (minimum viable  product) that could be sold on the market; I decided to go back to an Engineering job  with a medical device company based in Englewood, CO. 

How did you end up in your current position? 

Currently, I am still working to build Jus Chill which is the brand of food products that I  started in 2019. In addition, I am working to build a program at the World Trade Center  Denver that seeks to empower immigrants to become involved with international trade. So far, the program has impacted over 100 immigrants from 45 different countries. I decided to take on this role because I saw the value of empowering our immigrant community to assist us in building back better especially in areas around the supply chain that is currently undergoing substantial instability. In addition, I am very involved with volunteering as the WorldDenver Young Professional Board president. As a visible figure in the globally minded young professional groups of the community I get involved with certain initiatives that align well with the mission of making Colorado and Denver metro an even more global destination.  

What do you do in your free time? How do you unwind? Hobbies or Pastimes? 

I must say that free time is one of those things that I have not really seen much of over  the past 2-3 years. I am not complaining; it is the life I have chosen. However, whenever  I get the chance or decide I need a break, getting out to nature either for a bike or hiking  the mountains is my typical go-to activity. Additionally, I enjoy meeting people when the chance arises, whether that is international visitors visiting Denver through the State  Department programs or just catching up with locals in the young professional  community for a networking event; it is a good way to connect and stay grounded. Prior  to becoming a little busier, I really enjoyed traveling to national parks. I am looking  forward to restarting some more of that traveling. I really like eating wholesome meals, and it is not uncommon for me to visit a restaurant by myself. In many ways, this  might be the unwinding thing that I do most often, all seasons. 

Do you have any goals or future you are working towards, professionally or  personally? 

We are currently working on making Breadfruit a more popular staple in the diets of the  American mainstream. We envision having our Jus Chill in over 15% of the American  pantry. That will surely take us some energy to get there but I think it is a very  worthwhile goal. Additionally, I am working on seeing a more inclusive representation of  immigrants in the mainstream of the Denver community both from an entrepreneurial  perspective or just diverse young leaders especially from an immigrant background. 

What makes you laugh? 

Knowing confidently in myself that I have done my best at the end of the day, and that I  have contributed value to my community!

Embrace Failure as Opportunity, Take Risks

Marc Gaudreault

Trubucha, Founder

What is something you would have liked to have known as a young man starting out in your career or young adult years?  You can include valuable lessons learned from family values, valuable advice you were given, impactful mentors, inspirations, failure that led to blessings, even work you may have done mentoring or teaching others.             

So many lessons learned! Work hard, be relentless and persevere and don't be afraid to fail. Much learning occurs when we fail. Be compassionate, show empathy and work from a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity. Be grateful for every opportunity and embrace it even if it scares you.  One of our brands was started as a result of our oldest daughter.  At 5 years old, she wanted to work at farmers markets to make money. I felt this was a  great way for her to learn how businesses work, and teach her practical skills for math and communicating. As a result Sophia's Lemonade was born.  Two of my greatest mentors are my children. Everyday I want to build a better world/community for them and I want them to experience the successes and failures that we all have on a daily basis. Not just in business but in life. As the parable of the chinese farmer says: Maybe so, Maybe not. We’ll see

Tell us about yourself, background, hometown, education, short work experiences, your family and how you came to live/work in Highlands Ranch/South Metro area.

I was born in Colorado but at the age of 3 we moved back to our family farm in Nebraska. In junior high we moved to Windsor, Colorado which I still consider my hometown growing up. I worked every summer in Junior High and forward with my dad. Most of this was in the automotive world. By the time I graduated from highschool I knew how to work on cars and knew how to paint them as well. After graduating I started at a community college and opened my first business, Anthony’s Formalwear. I owned that business for 9 years then sold it. I worked in wealth management for 21 years and was one of the Founding Partners of what is now called Western Wealth Advisors.

How did you end up in your current position?

Brewing kombucha was my stress reliever from my main job managing money as a wealth manager. I loved doing that but it had its moments of high stress. We started selling kombucha at farmers markets with the help of our neighbors, the next thing we knew it had taken off and started to require more and more time. I have always been an entrepreneur and have alway enjoyed starting new ventures. One of my favorite things about it is that everyday is different.  Many days lots of surprises or fires pop up. Most of all I love what I do now because of the people we get to meet and serve.

What do you do in your free time?  How do you unwind?  Hobbies or Pastimes?

My free time is dedicated to my family and spending time with them. We love to travel and try to get away as often as we can. The last couple of years has been difficult with Covid and now shortages and with expanding so down time is not something that there has been much surplus of.

Do you have any goals or future plans you are working towards, professionally or personally?

Everyday I am working towards my goals, our family goals and our business goals.  As it relates to business we always have about 5 to 10 projects that we have in the pipeline. Currently we are in the process of rebranding to Tru Goodness Brands, Inc and are in the process of expanding our production by taking on a new space. In addition to that we have a sparkling water and sparkling tea brand we are working on which will be coming out in the next couple of months. We also purchased a canning line to start canning many of our beverages and are looking to expand to co pack and can products for other companies as well. With the addition of the canning line we will start to look to get many of our beverages on store shelves and will continue doing events and farmers markets in Colorado.

What makes you laugh?

Friends and family.  I have two very sweet but silly girls that keep me entertained and laughing all the time.

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