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Brian Keesee didn’t disappoint the banker who signed off on his first business loan. In fact, he impressed him so much that, more than a decade later, the same man helped select Keesee as Small Business Person of the Year.

The Southern Region of the Maryland Small Business Development Center usually anoints a company, not a person, for an annual award, said Bill Hitte, an SBDC business counselor. But because Keesee co-owns two Waldorf businesses, Crown Trophy and Pothole Pros, the group decided to honor the man instead.

Keesee’s company will make his award, a clear crystal mounted on a base, as it has made all Leading Edge Awards since the program began 12 years ago.

The SBDC Small Business Person of the Year Award is one of six Leading Edge Awards organized by The Corporate Center at the College of Southern Maryland. It always goes to an SBDC client.

Keesee has succeeded as an entrepreneur for the same reason that he seemed like a good risk when he was just starting out, at 24, fresh out of the U.S. Air Force, said Hitte, who once sat across the desk from Keesee as a loan officer for Old Line Bank.

“I would say he does a lot of homework before he gets involved in a business and I think that’s a really good story to tell those who want to be involved in business. My view is, he learns as much as he can about the industry and the particular business type before he will make a commitment to jumping into doing it,” Hitte said.

Keesee also caught the group’s eye for trading in two completely different industries, Hitte said.

While Keesee has owned his franchise trophy business for about 15 years, last year he helped found a local franchise of a pothole repair business with another local entrepreneur.

While the fields are unrelated, the basics of business stayed the same, Keesee said.

“It’s really not so much from the industry but just small business overall, how to interact with customers. I’ve learned a lot about marketing and dealing with different types of customers. Probably more than anything else, a lot of my business contacts [help] everything that I’ve gained over the years through Crown Trophy, through being on the board of the [Charles County] Chamber of Commerce,” Keesee said.

He remains engaged with the business community, referring clients to SBDC and giving free talks to aspiring entrepreneurs, Keesee and Hitte said.

Sometimes the SBDC serves clients best by restraining them, not encouraging them, Keesee said.

“I’ve sent plenty of folks over the years who are either trying to start a business or have already started or [are] having some growing pains or hitting some roadblocks. They give really good, candid advice. I know a couple people they talked to say they want to be in business, and after long interviews with them make them realize maybe they weren’t” ready for entrepreneurship after all, Keesee said. “It goes both ways. They’re very candid with their advice.”

Passion for business

Keesee’s first foray into business was starting an odd-jobs business as a child, he said.

“I guess that was around sixth grade. That’s something my family always jokes about, ever since then, that’s what they always talk about when they talk about how early I got interested in small business. It lasted for a couple years. I’d still have people calling me to rake leaves or clean out their basement,” Keesee said.

He decided to open a trophy franchise because he never got the “one great idea” that would let him start his own company, he said. His research suggested the trophy business had “somewhat reasonable” start-up costs, while the Crown Trophy management gives franchisees freedom to run stores their own way.

Keesee is consistently one of the company’s most profitable franchisees among about 150, said Scott Kelly, executive vice president of Crown Trophy Inc., which is based in Hawthorne, N.Y.

Keesee also emerged as a leader early, helping found the company’s franchise owners association, which represents franchisees’ interests to company executives, Kelly said.

Kelly was hired less than a year after Keesee bought his franchise, Kelly said.

“I knew then, and I had just started with headquarters, [that] he had what it took: He was organized and detailed, not to the point to slow him down, but just really had a plan and would execute the plan phase after phase. He’s done that when he started the business, as he’s grown the business, even with his employees, internally restructuring a few times,” Keesee said.

Keesee’s wife, Angie, also deserves credit for the company’s more recent successes, Kelly said.

“I think the two of them together complement one another nicely. I think they both have different sets of strengths that have helped them succeed,” Kelly said. “Brian is extremely strategic; he doesn’t have a knee-jerk reaction to situations. He methodically looks at what’s in front of him, the task at hand, and figures out the task at hand, figures out a couple different strategies, so he can get the result he wants in the end. A chess player, if you will.”