A Fairfax man is trying to improve the image of American businesses by launching a national awards program that he hopes will be to business what the Oscars, Tonys, Grammys and Emmys are to the entertainment industry.

Michael P. Gallagher, 44, has dubbed the program the American Business Awards. Trophies that will be handed out at the first ceremony in April in New York City will be called "Stevies," which Gallagher drew from the Greek word for Stephen, stefanos, which means "crowned."

Gallagher already has the Stevies design. The hand-cast statues are a foot tall and finished in 24-karat gold, with Stevie holding up a crystal pyramid. Now, he is looking for businesses to help nominate other businesses and finance the program.

Gallagher's dogged attempt to win recognition for U.S. business leaders is partly inspired by the highly publicized wave of corporate scandals and bankruptcies involving major companies such as Enron and WorldCom.

"This kind of service is vital now more than ever," he said. "There are executives and gifted people running 5 million businesses here, but just a few bad managers are giving all of the business world a bad name."

The Stevies, he said, could help to "restore public confidence and investor trust."

Ten years ago, Gallagher said, he noticed that there was not enough acknowledgment of the work that many people in the business world were doing to make money for their companies and to contribute to the U.S. economy.

"It really struck me how few opportunities there were for people outside of those other fields to get recognition," he said. At that time, however, he said, "I just wasn't in a position to do it financially. And I really just wasn't emotionally ready to do it yet."

In those days, the Bronx-born Gallagher was a recent transplant to Northern Virginia and busy producing and managing trade shows in and around Washington. Attracted to the area after visits to his brother-in-law here, Gallagher and his wife decided to relocate in 1988. "We got sick of New York," he said.

While earning an MBA at George Mason University, Gallagher was first exposed to the Internet. A professor "convinced me this was going to change the world," he said of the then text-only, no-graphics Web. Gallagher decided then that he wanted to work with a dot-com company.

After stints with two Fairfax companies, Gallagher resigned in December 2001 to found the American Business Awards.

Businesses can make nominations in 48 categories such as best executive, best creative team, best customer service organization, best overall company and best corporate Web site. The nominations are solicited from companies through mailings, ads in business periodicals and on the radio.

Judges will include business leaders such as Rich Karlgaard, the publisher of Forbes; Richard Klimoski, dean of the school of management at George Mason; and developer Donald Trump.

The program is sponsored by such business media as Forbes Inc., Wired Magazine and Business TalkRadio, which will broadcast the April ceremony. Gallagher said he has paid start-up costs but hopes that the Stevies eventually pay for themselves through selling sponsorships and entry fees that companies pay to submit nominations.

Gallagher, who splits time between Fairfax and the Stevies offices in New York, said his goal is to distinguish the American Business Awards from other honors by raising their profile "to the point where if somebody wins it, their mother hears about it. When you call your mother and say, 'I won a Stevie,' she says, 'I know, I saw it on TV.' You sort of aspire to that."

More information is at www.stevieawards.com.