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One of the most popular books on business transformation today is “Patients Come Second.” It is aimed at health care providers and espouses the premise that you cannot take outstanding care of your patients without first attending to the needs of your employees.

This is a radical concept in health care as the patient had always been considered the nucleus for organizations. What is becoming clear is the tenet that without a workforce at its peak in performance, providing an exceptional patient experience is quite difficult.

It takes the three “E’s”

Ensuring your workforce is healthy and well so that every associate can perform at his or her peak level means more than just providing a brochure rack with health information in the lunchroom. It takes engagement, education and empowerment.

At Akron General, we have engaged our employees by offering a comprehensive Be Well program that provides easy-to-follow steps including wellness screening and health risk assessment. Employees have their body mass index measured and are screened for high blood pressure, cholesterol, nicotine use and other indicators.

Through the use of an internal website, employees can access the latest educational materials on an entire range of medical conditions that offer encouragement and advice on getting and staying healthy. The website keeps track of their progress and tallies point toward their wellness goal.

Finally, employees are empowered through incentives to actively participate in activities that will lead to their better health. By completing simple steps and collecting the required points, employees save real dollars off their organization-sponsored health insurance premiums.

Over the course of several years, enhancements to our Be Well employee wellness program have helped to increase participation in many of the free and low-cost resources offered to employees including an on-site fitness center, on-site massage, wellness lectures and the annual wellness screening. Comparative data from 2011 and 2012 shows aggregate improvement in certain categories for employees who have participated.

Fully embrace the program

Some say programs like this are unsustainable. That is true only if an organization does not fully embrace a wellness culture starting at the top of the leadership chart. Everyone, from the CEO down, needs to walk the talk.

It takes engagement, education and empowerment, and a major commitment from the organization to embrace its employees and create a culture of wellness.

Our country is experiencing a sea change in health care, a major transformation away from the concept of focusing on sick care to preventing illness through wellness initiatives. Since 1997, Akron General has led this charge. Now, the nation is noticing.

The first step in creating a culture of wellness and ensuring a healthy workforce is by making a commitment. We are committed to working with employers to help them create a culture of wellness and prevent sickness and injury within their organizations.

While much has been debated about the cost-benefit ratio of wellness programs, it is important to remember the words of American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson who is quoted as saying, “The first wealth is health.”

After all, isn’t good leadership all about doing what’s right?


Dr. Thomas “Tim” L. Stover, MBA, is president and CEO of Akron General Health System. Contact Dr. Stover at For more information, visit


Twitter: @MyAkronGeneral

“America’s colleges and universities have gotten the entrepreneurial bug.” So says a recent report from the U.S. Department of Commerce titled, “The Innovative and Entrepreneurial University.” From my vantage point on various national boards and committees related to our nation’s economic competitiveness, I wonder why it is that business and industry are either unaware of, or ignoring, the massive potential synergies of this largely untapped and increasingly enthusiastic university resource. 

Perhaps this is because of old notions of universities as isolated “ivory towers,” but that could not be further from the truth. The fact is that the role of universities has changed dramatically — we are now anchors for clusters of innovation and generators of multiple forms of capital, including creative, social, financial and natural capital. We have become conveners and developers dedicated to the principles of relevance, connectivity and productivity.

Research is vital

Here is why university-based research is so vital to Northeast Ohio’s economy:

Jeremy Siegel, a professor of finance at The Wharton School of Business, observed that, “Economic growth is based on advances in productivity, and productivity is based on discovery and innovation.”

In fact, nearly every economist agrees that the creation of new technological knowledge through research is our most direct economic avenue for acquiring added value.

They understand that when new knowledge is quantified in a market environment, it creates fuller employment, capital formation, growing profits and surpluses for reinvestment.

Put more simply, research begets new companies, which beget new jobs, which beget economic expansions and ultimately the creation of new wealth. It’s the economic version of “the birds and the bees.”

Unfortunately, too few companies recognize that academic research is a source of innovation with the potential to ignite economic chain reactions within their businesses. U.S. colleges and universities perform the bulk of our country’s basic research, and they compete for approximately $32.6 billion of federal support for research.

Seize the opportunity

For innovation to flourish, we might expect that the source of knowledge creation — basic research at our universities — would be closely linked to its application by industry. But industry presently supports less than 6 percent of university research in the U.S., a figure that has declined from a high of 7 percent. This is a major disconnect — and an opportunity waiting to be seized.

Northeast Ohio is making progress in developing its innovation ecosystem, as witnessed by such government, industry and academic collaborations as the National Center for Education and Research on Corrosion and Materials Performance in Akron, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown and the Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network in Cleveland.

Indeed, at The University of Akron we have moved far beyond the traditional tools for licensing and commercialization to create a broad-based and robust platform, or “tool chest” for economic development that focuses on collaboration with the private sector.

To truly grow NEO’s innovation ecosystem, more corporations and businesses need to leverage the opportunities presented by those universities and colleges bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. 

Luis M. Proenza is president of The University of Akron and serves on the Executive Committee of the Council on Competitiveness, the Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy at the National Academies, as well as its Council of the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable. For more information, visit






In 1990, Bob Bowman, an economic development specialist hired by the predecessor to the Greater Akron Chamber, asked me to travel with him to the Hannover Trade Fair, the world’s most important technology show. Since that time, members of our Economic Development department have attended the show every year to showcase our city and state to foreign companies, hoping to attract them to invest here and provide needed jobs for our residents.

And guess what? It’s worked. Akron’s long-term efforts to attract foreign investment have paid off handsomely in the number of manufacturing jobs and the amount of investment.

As of 2011, Akron has attracted 758 new jobs from foreign companies since 1990, with a current annual payroll of $73 million.

The new tax revenues help pay for services we all use. For the larger community, the city/chamber collaboration has attracted 613 new jobs for area residents, with an annual payroll of $51 million to cities such as Fairlawn, Green, Mogadore, Stow, Wadsworth and Copley and Bath townships.

From 2003 to 2011, I visited Israel, Finland, China, France, Germany and Japan in search of manufacturing jobs for Akron. The travel costs in the past decade alone were $78,698, an average of $7,869 per year. I used the time overseas to forge relationships with international business people and bring jobs back to Akron.

From 2003 to 2011, Akron has been successful in attracting 12 new international companies to open shop here; 10 new international companies have established operations in Greater Akron; and the city has worked with nine foreign companies to stay in Akron and expand (including Bridgestone and Sterling Jewelers).

Companies new to Akron because of the city’s job-attraction efforts: 7 Signal, Finland; ShinEtsu, Japan; FMI, China; Roechling, Germany; Shincor, Japan; NI Medical, Israel; Universal Tire, Korea; AMTEC, Germany; ICS Systems, Israel; Includis, Germany; Coletene Whaledent, Switzerland; and Item MB Kit System, Germany.

Companies new to the Greater Akron region linked to city travels: Soprema, France; DSM Elastomers, Netherlands; Kumho Research, Korea; Janorpot Int’l, Netherlands; Wacker Polymer, Germany; Technoform, Germany; Groenveld Transport, Netherlands; Pepperl and Fuchs, Germany; VMI Americas, Netherlands; and TLT Babcock, Germany.

Companies I have worked with to stay and expand in Akron (Akron area): Becker Pumps, Germany; Troester ESI, Germany; West Akron Polymer, France/ Brazil; Diamond Network, Japan-Mitsubushi; Sterling Jewelers, United Kingdom; Coretec, Canada; Eliokem, France; Bridgestone Research, Japan; and Aircraft Braking/Meggitt, United Kingdom.

The new and expanded companies have committed to provide a combined 5,259 jobs for area residents and $313 million in investment directly to Akron and Greater Akron.

For every dollar spent on my travel, $3,979 is coming back to Akron in investment in buildings and equipment, and an income tax increase of over $500,000 occurs every year.

Would you not invest $1 if you knew you would get a return of almost $4,000? It doesn’t happen by magic — it has taken hard work, cooperation, collaboration and exhaustive schedules to generate this success. Often, it takes multiple trips to develop the bonds and forge the type of relationships needed to convince someone to put their entire life savings on the line and move to Akron. But, as you can see, it pays off in the long run.


First sworn in as mayor in 1987, Don Plusquellic’s career in public service now spans five decades. The mayor’s most important mission, along with improving education, has been securing and fortifying Akron’s economic future. For more information, visit




You can’t pick up a newspaper, business publication or magazine without reading about this month’s mega-data breach. “Stolen: 3.5 million credit card numbers, complete with contact information” and so on all seem like headlines detailing sizable losses coming from large corporations specifically being targeted for their treasures. 

Unfortunately, each of these breaches were not the result of some large company’s loss. Instead, they occurred at companies with annual revenues under $50 million.

Let’s face it. Large corporations have data that is of interest to attackers, but they also focus on keeping that data secure.

While large breaches tend to dominate the headlines and are often accompanied with names of companies you and I recognize, the majority of data breaches occur at a level much lower. And these are only the breaches that are being reported. Baseline, in its article, “Data Breaches May Be Worse Than Reported,” found that 57 percent of survey respondents reported that they had experienced a breach but had not disclosed it.

The reality is that many smaller businesses are actually at a much higher risk for experiencing a data breach than companies at the highest levels. For the small and midsize business, we find two significant factors that contribute to the significance of breaches:

  • Belief that they have nothing of interest to a hacker, and
  • The feeling that their systems are secure.

 We’re not a target

Time and time again we hear from business owners that they’re not concerned about the security of their information technology because they “don’t have anything of interest” to an attacker, falsely believing that this removes them as a target.

While that may have been the case 10 or 15 years ago, organizations today are a target simply because they have an Internet presence. On the low end attacks, an organization may be targeted simply for the use of its resources: disk space to allow the hacker to store his or her pirated software, music and video collection; or maybe the attacker is interested in the organization’s Internet connection to help disguise his or her identity as he or she launches an attack against another prized target. 

Our systems are secure

Information security is truly one of those areas that, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” It is complex and a specialty in-and-of-itself.

The problem in most organizations is that the IT department is there to keep the systems running and to make them as easy to use for end-users as possible. This goal is mutually exclusive of security — where the goal is to limit access and make it as hard as possible for an attacker.

A secure approach has collateral effects on ease-of-use, which many organizations are unwilling to compromise, thereby making their systems more vulnerable. 

A change in attitude

In order to effectively address an organization’s IT security, business owners must understand that their organization is under constant siege. Regardless of size, attackers are interested in your organization’s resources.

If our homes and neighborhoods were under the same kind of attacks, there would be criminals rattling our windows and trying our doors to see if they could get in — every minute of every day.

We of course would not stand for that, but in the digital neighborhood where this activity is mostly invisible, we ignore it or turn our heads believing it isn’t occurring.  Understanding the true threat is the first step in improving your organization’s security.


Damon S. Hacker, MBA, CCE, CISA, is co-founder, president and CEO of Vestige Digital Investigations, a Digital Forensics and IT Security firm with offices in Cleveland, Columbus and Pittsburgh. He can be reached at (330) 721-1205 or For more information, visit


Thursday, 21 November 2013 20:37

CreateAthon 2013

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Forty marketing professionals. Fifteen pots of coffee. A hundred new marketing ideas. All in just 24 hours, on zero sleep and at zero cost to the community. The WhiteSpace Creative 2013 CreateAthon was our largest, most substantial effort yet.

One agency re-branding three deserving nonprofits — the Cuyahoga Valley Youth Ballet, the Battered Women’s Shelter and the Victim’s Assistance Program — from the ground up.

In 2002, when WhiteSpace was a nine-person design shop wanting to give back to the community, we kicked off our first CreateAthon. The brainchild of a South Carolina-based firm, Riggs Partners, the National CreateAthon was a fledgling round-the-clock creative marathon providing pro bono marketing and communication services to nonprofit organizations.

In retrospect, our inaugural CreateAthon’s uncomplicated nature reflected WhiteSpace as an agency at the time. We were just four designers, two account executives, a copywriter, an office manager and an intern producing a few modest communication materials.

Growth in size and ability

In the 12 years since that premier event, WhiteSpace has grown substantially in both size and ability. As our agency has evolved, so has our approach to CreateAthon. Getting bigger meant we could make a bigger impact.

Sure, increasing the number of nonprofits and projects also increased our stress level. Heads banging on keyboards at 1 a.m. Brisk walks through downtown Akron at 2 a.m. Adult beverages uncapped around 5 a.m.

It also added to our degree of satisfaction. Early on Friday morning, when we finally revealed our projects to the nonprofits, we got more heads nodding with approval. More smiles. More tears of appreciation.

To date, the WhiteSpace CreateAthon has benefited more than 100 nonprofit organizations throughout Northeast Ohio. That’s more than 300 projects — valued at more than half a million dollars — making a difference for thousands of people throughout the region.

Over the past two years, the WhiteSpace CreateAthon has morphed into an Extreme Brand Makeover competition where nonprofits compete for a branding “package” valued at more than $25,000. It’s another reflection of our company’s restructuring. Rather than producing individual projects for our clients, WhiteSpace — as an agency and for CreateAthon — is immersed in developing integrated programs.

You don’t have to outgrow the concept

CreateAthon is a perfect example of how a company doesn’t have to outgrow a concept. Yes, WhiteSpace has changed significantly over the past 12 years, but the important things have remained the same. Last September, as the sun began to rise and signaled the end of our 12th CreateAthon event, I looked around at the 40 WhiteSpace employees wearing sweats, baseball caps and slippers in place of their pressed pants, ties and heels. These are people who not only gave up sleep, but precious time with their families. I realized then, that whatever our size, it’s WhiteSpace’s commitment to attracting others who share the belief that “it’s not what you get; it’s what you give” that keeps us successful.

As WhiteSpace — and CreateAthon — continue to grow, I can’t help but think how fortunate I am to have gathered this exceptional group of talent that cares about the extra things we do as a company, that cares about each other, that cares about the long-term success of our clients and, especially, cares about our community. Even at 3 a.m. ●


Keeven White is the president and CEO of WhiteSpace Creative. He openly shares his expertise and experience with the community through a variety of speaking engagements and has been recognized for his business, creative and community service efforts. Contact him at For more information, visit

Thursday, 21 November 2013 20:34

How to earn a good name

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It’s safe to say that individuals are more likely to do business with organizations they trust. With that in mind, establishing and preserving a good name is critical to the long-term success of any organization.

In my book “Trust Is The Tie-Breaker” I provide checklists, step-by-step instructions and real-world examples organizations need to succeed. Here are the three cornerstones to building a good name for your organization.

Ask tough questions

Reputation building starts with asking tough questions and insisting on truthful answers. Here is a partial list of questions you should be asking: 

  • Are you getting and keeping the customers you really need?
  • Are you able to recruit and retain excellent employees?
  • Are you creating important new relationships on a regular basis?
  • Is your business growing at the rate it should?
  • Do stakeholders know what makes you distinctive?
  • Do you really care about stakeholders in ways they understand and appreciate?
  • Do you have vulnerabilities that need to be fixed before they blow up into a crisis?
  • Do your company’s actions match its words?
  • Do you give people reasons to trust?

If a good reputation is on your wish list, ask the tough questions and get the right people in the room to help answer them. Then, implement an improvement agenda. 

Focus on the relationships that matter

Every company has 10 or 20 key relationships. It’s never a big number, but it’s the people who can make or break your enterprise. Their impact on your company’s reputation is huge. 

Keep them current. Ask for their advice. Track those relationships. Provide lots of TLC along the way. Be upfront with those key relationships when there is a problem or an issue. Never, ever surprise them. Whether the news is good or bad, they need to hear it from you first. 

Set the bar high

What goal is higher than wanting to be the organization of choice?

That starts with establishing your organization as distinctive in ways that mean something to your stakeholders. 

You can achieve distinctiveness in the workplace when you encourage a culture that values teamwork or which constantly reinforces the expectation of high ethical standards. 

You can achieve distinctiveness with customers by constant repetition of actions that place their interests ahead of yours or by services that are truly easy to navigate. 

Almost without exception, organizations can identify distinctiveness and those that can’t do so today can identify potential to reach that goal tomorrow. 

Define what your organization does really well. Make sure everyone reinforces that distinctiveness in ways that address benefits to others. ●


Davis Young is the principal of DY Author & Speaker LLC and is the author of “Trust is the Tiebreaker,” an e-book published by Smart Business Network, currently on Contact Young at (440) 248-9550 or



Thursday, 21 November 2013 15:21

Why you can’t treat social media like a road trip

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The idea of driving aimlessly seems glamorous in movies and songs. In reality, few of us get in a car without knowing how to reach our destination. We’ve created smartphone apps, GPS devices and satellite mapping to make our trips as efficient as possible and to avoid what we know to be an inconvenient, expensive outcome — getting lost.

I bring up this idea because many companies using social media have inadvertently become lost drivers. They start using social platforms with the goal of reaching some number of likes, retweets or shares, but as they embark on their social media strategies, many experience a disconnect between the content they post, blog and tweet and their progress on measurable business goals. These companies are driving without a roadmap; they just don’t know it.

Sound familiar? If social media isn’t working for you, your social media approaches may be missing a fundamental component: an effective content strategy. Here are three ways a solid content strategy will enhance your company’s social media success.


A like is just a like
All social media engagement is not created equally. To be successful, the social media activity that you generate needs to support your marketing goals — whether you want to improve employee engagement, boost customer conversions or build interest in a new product.
Creating a content strategy before you engage in social media will help your business clarify the specific marketing goals you want to achieve through content, as well as what messages you need to communicate to reach those goals. This process will ensure you get the right likes, shares and retweets from social interactions.


Social is a vehicle
Social media is a vehicle for sharing compelling content with your audience, and it doesn’t work if you don’t know what issues, topics and trends your audience finds compelling. Part of developing a content strategy involves learning how those you are trying to reach want to be talked to. Where do they go for information? How much time do they spend online? What kind of content are they looking for from your industry?
By getting to know the interests and pain points of your audience (customers, employees, shareholders, etc.), you can develop tactics to reach your online audience more effectively, saving you time and enhancing your company’s social influence.


Relevant content is meaningful
Kings of social content don’t become that way by luck. They use strategic tactics to connect with their audience through the right channels at the right times. More importantly, they make these connections meaningful and memorable by posting and sharing strategic, relevant content that their audiences desire.
When you deliver social content that your audience members find valuable or interesting, they’ll reward you by sharing your content, engaging with your business and, ideally, helping to promote your reputation as a thought leader in your business or industry. A content strategy allows you to do that by providing a roadmap for what kinds of informative, helpful, educational or creative content you need to make meaningful interactions.

As a recent Huffington Post article put it, the golden rule of the web is clear: “To know us better is to sell us better.” Ultimately, being successful in the social media space means taking the time to map out what success looks like. In this sense, a solid content strategy is not only an important component of any social media strategy, it’s the key to driving the results your business wants.


Michael Marzec is chief strategy officer of Smart Business and SBN Interactive. Reach him at or (440) 250-7078.

When Albert “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap was the CEO at Sunbeam in the late ’90s, he had a reputation for ruthlessness. Besides massively downsizing the company, he was also known to intimidate everyone around him and resort to yelling and fist pounding.

While extreme, Dunlap’s behavior is an example of the type of “dictator” leadership that used to be fairly common in the C-suite. Rules were rules, there were no exceptions for anything and people were just a line item on a budget. Need to cut thousands of jobs? Don’t think twice about it.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Christ-like leader. This leader focuses more on building people up rather than tearing them down. This type of leader understands that there are rules, but sometimes to do the right thing, the rules need to be broken. For example, during the economic downturn, some Christ-like leaders went well beyond what was called for to make sure laid-off employees were taken care of.

They made sure they had the use of office resources to look for a new job and did everything they could to lessen the hardships. They weren’t required to do this; it was just the right thing to do. They saw employees as human, not just numbers on a spreadsheet.

Does it cost money to take the more humane route with your leadership? Yes and no. From a short-term, bottom-line perspective, it probably does cost a few more dollars to help people through a hardship. But long term, it can pay dividends. By treating people with respect and doing the right thing, it helps eliminate animosity toward you and your company from both the ex-employees and current ones. Maybe there are some good employees who you wanted to keep, but couldn’t afford. By showing compassion, when the economy turned around, they were far more likely to consider coming back than if they had just been shown the door with little regard to their well-being.

And what happens when these ex-employees end up in key positions in companies that could be customers? Do you think an ex-employee who you mistreated is going to buy anything from you or recommend your company to someone? It’s a small world, and what goes around often comes around, so it’s always best to treat people as best you can.

You can lead like a dictator and still get results. But do the ends justify the means? Will you conquer all, only to find yourself alone with no friends, the equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol?” Or will you have an epiphany and realize there’s a better way to do things?

During this holiday season, think about your leadership style and the long-term effect it has on people’s lives. If this exercise makes you uncomfortable, then maybe it’s time to change how you lead. ●

What would it take for a company to succeed if its leader could effectively do only one of the following: innovate, instigate or administrate? We all know that an innovator is the one who sees things that aren’t and asks why not? The instigator sees things that are and asks why? The administrator doesn’t necessarily ask profound questions but, instead, is dogged about crossing the “t’s,” dotting the “i’s” and making sure that whatever is supposed to happen happens.

Ideally, a top leader combines all three traits while being charismatic, intellectual, pragmatic and able to make decisions faster than a speeding bullet. Although some of us might fantasize that we are Superman or Superwoman, with a sense of exaggerated omnipotence, the bubble usually bursts when we’re confronted simultaneously with multiple situations that require the versatility of a Swiss army knife.

Business leaders come in all shapes and sizes with various skill sets and styles that are invaluable, depending on the priorities of a company at any given point in time.

Every business needs an innovator to differentiate the company. Without a unique something or other, there isn’t a compelling reason to exist. Once those special products or services that distinguish the business from others are discovered and in place, it takes an instigator to continuously re-examine and challenge every aspect of the business that leads to continued improvements, both functionally and economically. It also takes an administrator — someone who can keep all the balls in the air, ensuring that everyone in the organization is in sync and delivering the finished products as promised to keep customers coming back.

As politicians and pundits of all types have pounded into our heads in recent years, “It takes a village to raise a child.” All who practice the art and science of business have learned that, instead of a village, it takes a diverse team working together to make one plus one equal three.

On the ideal team, each member possesses different strengths, contributing to the greater good. The exceptional leader is best when he or she is an effective chef who knows how to mix the different skills together to create a winning recipe.

In many companies, however, leaders tend to surround themselves with clones who share similar abilities, interests and backgrounds. As an example, a manufacturer may have a management team comprised solely of engineers, or a marketing organization could have salespeople who came up through the ranks calling all the shots.

If everyone in an organization comes from the same mold, what tends to happen is, figuratively, one lies and the others swear to it. This builds to a crescendo of complacency and perpetual mediocrity.

There is a better way. Good leaders surround themselves with others who complement their capabilities, and savvy leaders select those with dramatically different backgrounds who will challenge their thinking because they’re not carbon copies of the boss. This opens new horizons, forges breakthroughs and leads to optimal daily performance.

Strange bedfellows can stimulate, nudge and keep each other moving toward the previously unexplored.

To have a sustainable and effective organization, you can’t have one type without all the others. While everyone on the team may not always agree, each player must always be committed to making the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

The single most important skill of the leader who has to pull all the pieces and parts together is to have the versatility of that Swiss army knife — selecting the precise tool to accomplish the objective at hand. ●


Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Reach him with comments at

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