by Bekah Porter

CEDAR RAPIDS – A Cedar Rapids businessman has been named one of the nation’s top entrepreneurs.

This past month, John Bloomhall, CEO of the Cedar Rapids-based international animal feed company Diamond V, was honored as one of four national finalists in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year competition for 2010.

“It was very shocking, but it was a great honor,” Mr. Bloomhall said.

The global competition starts first with a regional competition, which Mr. Bloomhall won when he was named Entrepreneur of the Year for the Upper Midwest Region. He earned that title after a nomination was submitted on his behalf and after officials with the competition came out and interviewed him.

“What they do is come out and interview the nominee and his management team and learn more about the company and what they’ve done,” he said. “But what I’ve learned about going through the process is that it’s about a lot more than just business results. It’s about giving back and overcoming obstacles.”

And such was the theme, Mr. Bloomhall said, when he attended the awards banquet for the national contest, which took the form of the Strategic Growth Forum.

“It was first class all the way,” Mr. Bloomhall said.

Jay Leno emceed the event, and other guest speakers included executives with Procter & Gamble and Ford Motor Co.

“And then, what the (Ernst & Young competition) does is go through and divide the awards by industry, and I was in the distribution and manufacturing industry, which was one of the largest groups with about 300 regional award winners,” Mr. Bloomhall said. “And from there, they narrow it down to about four finalists, and I was one of those four finalists, although I wasn’t the ultimate winner. When they announced I was one of the final four, I about fell out my chair. I just wasn’t expecting it at all.”

Yet he said that once the awards ceremony continued, he started to see why his Cedar Rapids company made the list.

“There was definitely a trend of winners who overcame obstacles and created something positive out of that,” Mr. Bloomhall said.

For example, the winner of the entire competition, Howard Lutnik of the brokerage company BGC Partners Inc., encountered an indescribable obstacle when 658 of his 960 New York-based employees died during the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Every member of the company’s board of directors died, except for Mr. Lutnik, who had taken his child to school that morning.

In the months after the tragedy, Mr. Lutnik decided to stay in business, if for no other reason than to support the bereaved families. Since then, the company has returned to profit, has given more than $180 million to the families who lost loved ones and even made the promise to all families of those employed at the company at the time that every child of those families is guaranteed a job at the company, if the child ever desires.

“I mean, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place when (Mr. Lutnik) was telling his story,” Mr. Bloomhall said. “It was amazing. You could just see the tears around the room.”

During the event, Diamond V’s flood story was also shared with the executives attending.

“It was a great opportunity to reflect back on us and our story,” Mr. Bloomhall said.

Right before the flood, Diamond V started a new company, Embria Health Sciences, which makes a dietary supplement, and the company built a $12 million facility.

Then natural disaster struck, and the company responded to the flood with a determination to resume operations. According to Mr. Bloomhall, Diamond V was the first company to start operating again in the flood zone.

“We had our manufacturing facility up and running in eight and a half days after getting access to the facility, and then we had our headquarters completely cleaned out and operating in three and a half months,” he said.

Then, in 2009, the company built a $25 million manufacturing plant.

“And that didn’t replace the flood-damaged plant. That was in addition to the existing plant,” Mr. Bloomhall said. “When we experienced Mother Nature, we knew that we wanted to come back and create more jobs, and that’s what we did.”

For this reason, he said he thinks he rose to the top of the entrepreneur list, despite the fact that he is a third generation family owner of the company that has been in business for seven decades.

“At first, I was like, ‘Am I an entrepreneur? I don’t think so,’” he said. “I didn’t start this company. But then, I got to thinking about how 15 years ago, Diamond V was a family-owned business, but then I helped to transition the company to a professionally managed business that is family-owned. I’ve helped improve our financial results, and I’ve helped improve our revenue growth and top line.”

He went on to say that under his leadership, the company has doubled the revenue growth and opened companies in countries across the world, including China, Mexico and Holland.

“But none of those companies are manufacturing facilities,” Mr. Bloomhall said. “Everything that is sold around the world is made right here in Iowa.”

Additionally, when Mr. Bloomhall took over the company, it had two products.

“And today, half of our revenues are from products that didn’t even exist in the year 2000,” he said. “We’ve become much more of an entrepreneurial company than we were historically, and I think that’s why I was at that (awards ceremony). It’s not so much because of me, but because of the great people I have and how we respond to innovation, as well as disaster.”

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Samantha Kollasch currently serves as Chief Digital Officer at the Corridor Business Journal. After graduating from the University of Iowa with a BS in Management Information Systems....