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Playing upon her strengths Featured

9:37am EDT July 22, 2002

Janice Gusich opened the doors of Akhia Public Relations with three clients on six-month contracts.

She started her own business after her long-time employer, M.H.W. Advertising and Public Relations, closed suddenly after 40 years of operation in Cleveland.

Nearly four years later, Gusich still has those same three clients and many more, and she's moved her offices three times to accommodate the firm's tremendous growth. Now settled in Hudson, Gusich reveals the universal truths that have kept her motivated and successful.

"My biggest inspiration was my dad," she says. "He was a tool and die maker with eight children. He believed in loyalty and working hard for what you want. It's funny, out of eight of us, five own our own businesses. I think that's a great example of what comes from a strong work ethic."

Gusich had her first job at age 13. By the time she was 16, she had saved enough money to buy her first car. Her predisposition for hard work proved both an asset and a challenge when she became an entrepreneur.

"My first inclination is to write that proposal or do other work for a client," Gusich says. "I had to train myself to work on visionary issues that were vital to the company's growth.

"In the beginning, you have to do everything yourself, from hiring the cleaning staff to bringing in new business. There is some security in doing the work and achieving, so it's hard to step out into areas you don't know about. It's uncertain ground, but if you're going to grow a business, you have to step into territory you've never charted before."

Performing the job of CEO, while difficult at first, is now Gusich's favorite part of the day. She says her leadership role is to provide a vision, inspire and provide support for employees.

"One of the things I'm most proud of is that I've been able to build a wonderful, supportive and talented staff," Gusich says. "That makes my job easy. When I'm under pressure, I can simply look around me and feel confident with a quality staff I know will perform."

Gusich used lived the 8-to-5 grind, commuting more than an hour to work with an infant in daycare.

"I was unhappy, exhausted and I hated every minute of it," Gusich says. "Too many companies are worried about the bottom line. As a result, they don't have quality people and they don't have fulfilled employees. You will always get a better product from a happy employee."

Akhia offers a flexible schedule to accommodate employees' personal lives and aspirations. It also boasts a zero turnover rate among its eight full-time employees.

"The most important thing I can provide is a quality of work life," Gusich says. "I think my staff chooses to be here because it fits their lifestyle. People love coming work when it helps them achieve both their personal and business goals."

Maintaining balance is a priority.

"I take the time to be as good of a parent as I am a CEO," she says. "I couldn't look at myself in the mirror if I worked at the expense of my kids and I would never ask my employees to do that, either."

Listening to others has paid off for Gusich on the road to becoming a CEO.

"I also listen carefully to anyone that I admire," she says. "I knew how to do PR work but I didn't know how to run my own business, so I asked those that I admired. If I'm in a room with someone like Bob Schneider (CEO of Patio Enclosures Inc.) who built his own business from scratch and turned it into a multimillion dollar business ... when he talks, I listen."

Gusich credits Schneider, a long-time client, with one of the most important lessons she learned about growing a business.

"Bob said to me, 'Don't worry about getting new business. Do a good job with the business you have and new business will come to you,'" Gusich says.

Part of doing a good job is putting herself in her clients' shoes.

"I take a personal interest in my clients' businesses," she says. "If I owned their business, what would I want to achieve? That helps me become a good custodian of their money and their aspirations."

One of the most important lessons she says she can share with clients is to pay attention to their image.

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression," Gusich says. "That's something I did right away.

"It's a hard lesson for a small business but image means everything." How to reach: Akhia Public Relations, (330) 463-5650