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Our Lady of the Wayside is privileged to take care of children and adults with developmental disabilities. The only way our nonprofit can successfully support these 500 individuals is by taking care of business.

Now, buckle up because this is where I step over the yellow safety line and put into print what could be considered a shocking philosophy for a nonprofit CEO: We do not want financial stability. What we must have is responsible fiscal growth.


Baptism by fire

The dicey economy has been a baptism by fire and gone are the days of operating through a traditionally passive nonprofit model. Financial discipline, accountability and sustainability are not optional. Ensuring the organizational health of the agency demands that we manage several fronts simultaneously: 

  • Political wind-shifts: Scrutinized for impending changes in human service policy.
  • County, state and federal support: Painstakingly monitored to ensure we’re positioned at the mouth of all applicable funding streams.
  • Local marketplace: Measured to make certain we remain competitive.
  • Internal checks and balances: Positioned to evaluate strengths and weaknesses in service delivery and administrative operations.
  • Agency mission: Acts as our operational GPS at all times.


50 years of success

Approaching our 50th anniversary, The Wayside has obtained a depth of experience that has taught us how managed growth, promoting economies of scale is paramount to the success of our business model.

Hardcore business practices mixed with nonprofit sensibilities gave us the “iron fist in a velvet glove” approach necessary to thrive in an ever-changing economic and political landscape. Factors contributing to our success: 

  • Organizational agility: Responding before or in tandem with major shifts in governmental policy or funding.
  • Outcome-based strategic thinking: Short-term and long-range planning focused on methodically developing goals and objectives
  • Partnerships: Vendors, donors, corporations, small businesses, other nonprofits; the fact that our mission supersedes everything we do, uniquely positions us in the community to acquire partnerships with like-minded people and organizations.
  • Entrepreneurship: What needs do the people we serve have and how can we fill those needs? It’s a question we ask and answer over and over again.
  • Talent: Our board is comprised of some of the most business-savvy and compassionate individuals in Northeast Ohio. Common sense dictates that you’re nowhere without a strong team and we have places to go. 

A strong dashboard is what our stakeholders rightly demand. It is also what the children and adults with disabilities we serve are rightly entitled to expect. In their own way, both make major investments in our organization and our responsibility to them is what motivates us to advance our mission by taking care of business.

Terry Davis
president and CEO

Our Lady of the Wayside, a regional leader in residential, respite, transportation and adult day programming for children and adults with developmental disabilities.
Terry is an avid golfer.

Entrepreneurs who have built growing, profitable businesses know how to overcome enormous obstacles. Along the way, they have accumulated deep knowledge of their end-markets and make decisions based on decades of experience. Nonetheless, I hear a common line when speaking with entrepreneurs about ownership changes for their long-term transition: “I’ve never done this before.”

Even confident entrepreneurs procrastinate when it comes to planning that involves changes in ownership. Make this critical event go well by considering some dos and don’ts. 

Don’t: Wait for retirement to be the prompt for succession planning.  

Do: Consider selling a portion of equity in your business in order to bring in a financial partner well before you want to hand over the reins. Partnering with a private equity firm, also referred to as a financial sponsor, can result in a game plan where you keep the lead role as well as a meaningful share in ownership. This can give you some personal liquidity, as well as the resources of your partner to undertake bold growth strategies.

Good financial partners bring experience in executing these strategies, committed capital to make them happen and ongoing attention to building out the management team to be ready for growth in years to come. This also helps ensure that your ultimate transition away from the company will not have a detrimental impact on the business. 

Don’t: Put off succession planning because, “I’m so busy right now growing the business.”

Do: Get acquainted with business owners who have sold all or a portion of their company’s ownership to find out about their experiences. Reach out to an adviser, attorney or accounting professional. Speak with investment professionals at a private equity firm in your area to hear how they could help your company grow. The best time to learn about your options is before you need to achieve liquidity. 

Don’t: Skimp on investing in your business before a sale in an effort to boost operating profit. While this might have a short-term effect of making operating profit appear larger, it will be discovered by your buyer and either hurt your transaction valuation or diminish the prospects of a sale altogether. 

Do: Be ready to answer the question, “What would I do if I had unlimited access to capital?” This can be a tough question to answer — you’ll need accurate intelligence about market share and growth potential of your current offerings, new product line opportunities and viability of entering new geographies.  

As you review your business strategy each year, succession planning should be an active consideration, no matter how far away you may be from retirement. You may find that outside capital and resources from a financial sponsor can maximize growth while also fostering a longer-term, multi-step succession plan. Regardless of the path you choose, the best entrepreneurs examine this topic regularly — well before an actual transition is desired.


Cheryl Strom
associate director, origination

The Riverside Co., the largest global private equity firm serving the smaller end of the middle market, for seven years.
She also serves on outside advisory boards for two privately held, founder-owned companies.

Laura Bennett told herself shortly after co-founding Embrace Pet Insurance that if she could share her knowledge with other women and people who were looking to start a business, she would.

“I couldn’t find any women who had raised venture capital funding,” she says. “There were a few men, but not many. And I knew that it was sort of different for women. You’re just looked at differently. So I couldn’t find any.”

Fortunately, she hooked up with JumpStart Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to Northeast Ohio entrepreneurs to start and grow their companies. That allowed Embrace Pet Insurance to get off the ground, but Bennett still felt the need to help women in business.


Network time

It was time for her to start her own network. A little more than a year ago, she founded the Burning River Coffee Community, best described as a loosely knit mentoring organization.

“It’s a gathering of women every month or so, mostly at breakfast time at either Panera Bread or in the Embrace offices,” she says. “It’s to help women move their businesses forward.”

And it’s not just a case of a small business that receives attention from the mentors. There is a range of entities, from high-growth-potential companies to those who struggle to raise money. Some don’t have to raise venture capital funding but at this point want to take their business to the next level, to sell across the U.S. or globally.

Bennett has been there and done that and wants to share how to get in deeper. She could have just taken the attitude of, “I’m here now, and I’m taking no prisoners!” But she didn’t, and took her message to the Burning River group.



“I say to them, you know, it is incredibly hard but if you share your struggles and your challenges with the group, you would be amazed how invigorating it is,” she says. “It’s energy from the group that you get. When you have a group of business people together, there is always some benefit that will come out of it.

“I encourage women to network, and to find other women in the same boat because it is very lonely being an entrepreneur,” she says. “I think women benefit more from finding other women in similar circumstances who they could relate to. It doesn’t matter if your business is related to the other woman’s business, but perhaps you are at the same stage, you have the same issues — a lot of people have the same issues; it’s just a different business.

“It’s that sort of strength, camaraderie and resilience that you need, because you need someone to keep encouraging you. That is what I recommend that women do, and I thought of this organization to help with that.”

We couldn’t have said it better. That’s great advice for anyone, and especially for women as we feature our annual “Perspectives — Women Who Excel” issue. ●


Dennis Seeds
Managing editor

Smart Business Cleveland
Dennis is interested in the people and businesses making a difference in Cleveland.
(440) 250-7037



No matter how well you make your products or provide your services, one of your customers will eventually experience a problem. The way that you deal with these inevitable problems determines how your customers view your company, and ultimately, if they’ll buy from you again. Do you know how well your customer service processes are working? 

To prepare for the recent holidays, I decided to replace our dwindling and mismatched collection of wine glasses. I browsed the Web, and placed an order for 16 — eight whites and eight reds.

A few days later, my shipment arrived with two cartons of four white wine glasses. In place of the eight missing reds, however, I was surprised to find a breast milk storage system! I’m not sure how or why it was confused for wine glasses at the distribution center, but there it was. So began my experience with the retailer’s customer service process.


Broken merchandise

After three weeks and multiple conversations with their polite, but scripted and heavily-accented, customer “service” agents, my red wine glasses finally arrived. The bad news was that they had been poorly packed and one glass had shattered.

Luckily, the retailer allowed merchandise purchased on their website to be returned to any of its stores. Wanting to avoid their “customer frustration” call center, I took the carton containing the broken glass to my local store. After working with the returns clerk, a cranky computer, the supervisor and the retailer’s internal help line, they found a way to credit me for the entire eight glasses! At last, my 30-minute “easy” return ordeal was over.

Putting on my “business hat” afterward, I calculated the retailer’s monetary loss from the breakdown in their processes:

  • $30 for the breast milk storage system I couldn’t return, because, according to the retailer’s system, it never “existed.”
  • $15 extra credit to me for the four extra glasses that I hadn’t returned because the system only sold them in units of eight.
  • About $200 for 60 minutes of a corporate help line plus a busy in-store supervisor’s time.

Conservatively, my $30 order of wine glasses cost the retailer at least $245. Obviously, it only takes a very small percentage of these situations to consume the low margins of a retailer.


The bigger picture

First, how many customers not as loyal as myself would choose to ever even order anything again from this retailer?

Second, outsourcing customer service can save money on a spreadsheet, but if these company representatives can’t be understood by customers or solve their issues, where are the savings?

Third, inefficient, inflexible computer systems cost valuable employee time, frustrate customers and, in my case, doubled the credit that I deserved.

What about your customer service processes? Do you know how well they really work and what they really cost you? Maybe, like my experience with my favorite retailer, they aren’t working as you expect.

Cheryl B. McMillan
Chair, Northeast Ohio

Vistage International is a leading international organization for CEOs, presidents, business owners and senior executives.
Cheryl also leads local peer advisory boards comprised of CEO’s and senior executives from non-competing companies.

Whether you are starting a business, already in business or within a corporation, an advisory board should be an active part of your professional interactions.

This board, or circle of influencers, is a group of people with a level of expertise and insight you would not independently achieve, helping to guide your professional journey.

When I interviewed many successful leaders to build my own board, I quickly learned that most notable leaders proactively surround themselves with mentors and sponsors who can help fill their recognized and unrecognized gaps. Some leaders have different advisory boards that are segmented. For example, one leader I interviewed is an executive in corporate America, an author and leads the board for a nonprofit foundation.

I realized that even though I did not proactively select people up to that point, I had people I already called when I had good news, bad news or needed business advice.

You also have an advisory board of people that guides you through your professional journey. Now, ask yourself, “Does my current advisory board align with my professional goals?”

If you are like most, you may have some work to do, but it is worth the investment.

A few suggestions to attract great people:

  • Work on yourself first — become what you want to attract.
  • Define your goals — be able to describe where you want to go next and why.
  • Help others first — before asking, offer to help others on their goals.

When developing an advisory board, consider avoiding these don’ts:

  • Don’t leave the selection of the board to chance.
  • Don’t only select those you currently know.
  • Don’t only select people who look or act like you.
  • Don’t get caught up with titles.
  • Don’t build it and forget it.
  • Don’t expect it to stay the same.


The last one always stuck out for me, which is unfortunate but true. Your professional goals will change over time and so should your advisory board, as its main goals are to encourage, challenge and advise you through your career.

These days, with the help of social media, advisory boards have no boundaries. There are new forms of online networking that can be excellent tools to connect with new professionals and align to industry experts. I have actively joined professional groups within LinkedIn where I have observed conversations, posts and levels of expertise. I have proactively connected with professionals that exude a level of expertise that aligns to where I want to go next.

Once you have taken the time to proactively build your board, consider these points to maximize its impact:

  • Do communicate regularly with members.
  • Do share specific milestones and desired direction for more impactful results.
  • Do offer to help your members with their initiatives.
  • Do ask for constructive criticism and welcome honest feedback.
  • Do integrate suggestions where relevant and effective.

    JJ DiGeronimo
    Purposeful Woman and Tech Savvy Women
    JJ is the author of “The Working Woman’s GPS” and “Before You Say YES.” and Women in STEM advocate.


Can you name a single aspect of business that doesn’t require communication? Of course not. Whether that communication is internal, external or both, nothing happens that doesn’t demand effective communication. If you want to win, it needs to be done well.

That just makes common sense.

What isn’t logical, is the environment in which businesses communicate today. Here are five major communication challenges facing every company: 


We live in an angry country right now. People are angry with their leaders, their media, their judicial system, their schools and, yes, with corporate America. As they lash out, that makes doing business more difficult.

Communication of any type is immediately suspect. Walking a calm, reasoned path through this anger is difficult. Does your company take time to really listen to stakeholders and let them know they have been heard?


The challenge of making sure people know what makes your company, your product, your services different and special is perhaps the biggest single hurdle you need to clear with communication. When you do that, you cut through the noise. You establish competitive advantage.

Is your leadership team making an effective case for your organization every single day?


Customers, employees and other stakeholders are increasingly impatient. In the future, expect anger and its associated noise to breed even more impatience. Nobody wants to wait for anything. Looking ahead, companies will need to find new ways to protect their turf quickly. Has your leadership team talked about that? 


Customers need reasons to continue to do business with you. Employees need reasons to stay. People always have choices and they do not hesitate to act on those choices — one way or the other.

Is your leadership team focused on stakeholder loyalty and what needs to happen to earn that every single day? 


There is a lot of uncertainty out there. That impacts anger, noise, impatience and loyalty issues. It’s an important underlying challenge in the environment in which your company seeks to create and grow relationships.

Does your leadership team understand the ongoing need to communicate on a timely basis with employees, customers and others so they know and embrace what your company stands for in an uncertain world? 

Confronting and doing all you can to address these five obstacles is an important pathway to success.


Davis Young

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



Being promoted to a management position does not make you a leader or guarantee success in your position. Managers and CEOs frequently fail and are replaced. To be successful, one must learn how to harness the power of teamwork — to create a people force that will not be denied.

Imagine the following story: A young Confederate officer was squarely facing Union positions about 1,000 yards across a field. Both sides were well-entrenched. The young officer was told to take his unit out of its fortified position and make a charge at dawn.

At dawn, he leaped out of his position and yelled, “Charge, follow me!” He ran forward 100 yards then turned and looked back. None of his unit had moved. At that moment, this young officer learned the difference between leadership and management responsibility.

Teamwork is the most important achievement a leader needs to develop. I first learned the power of teamwork in the Marine Corps — that no one is more important than anyone else on the team. I have applied this in my business career.

It takes time to learn how to build and motivate a team. Each person has different ambitions, personal problems, illnesses and abilities. If you can deal effectively with all the problems and challenges, your team will come to admire and respect you and want to achieve the same objectives.

Here are some principles on leadership and teamwork that I learned from the Marine Corps: 

  • Set an example. The Marine Corps teaches you never to ask your people to do more than you are willing to do yourself. In business, if you are unwilling to take a red-eye flight to California or to confront the tough problems, how can you expect your people to do so?
  • Develop loyalty downward. Care about your people first. Some people have trouble with that one, but what it really means is, “Do I care more about Mal Mixon, or do I care more about my team?” I always feel that I want my people to be well-paid and to reach self-realization. If they do, I am automatically wealthy and successful.
  • Make integrity a priority. Never make a promise that you do not intend to honor or keep. My people can trust me. They know that I tell them the truth. I never lie to them.
  • Keep your tenacity and resolution strong. Cultivate an unfaltering determination to achieve your plans and goals. Some things are never going to happen exactly the way you think they will. If you think you can or think you cannot, you are probably right.
  • Become a professional expert. A snow job never works. Become a great marketer, a great engineer, a great operating person or whatever. A leader recognizes his or her weaknesses and does not always act like the smartest person in the room.
  • Emphasize courage. Face difficult problems and circumstances squarely and lead where others may be apprehensive or unsure. Have the mentality of, “I like to deal with problems. I like to fix things, because I know when I fix it, the company is going to be a lot better.”

Mal Mixon
Invacare Corporation
A complete story of Mal’s rise from rags to riches is told in his book “An American Journey,” published by Smart Business Books. It can be found at and on

Fear. We all know what it feels like: The rising sensation that you might not be strong enough for what you’re about to face. Unlike in nature, where animals can quickly size up their likelihood of survival, our ability to recognize a threat and weigh our chances isn’t always so refined. In the business world, leaders often flee when what they really need to do is move forward.

Ego is also at play. Leaders often choose to stick with the plan, even when it isn’t working, rather than make changes and risk the consequences.

This isn’t a new phenomenon and yet the cost of fear is constantly rising. We live in a world where the pace of change is ever accelerating and the future is difficult to predict. As leaders, we’re often forced to make decisions without all the information we want or need — and yet timely action is a must.

What’s required is agility and confidence — the ability to look change in the face, decide how to act and move boldly in that direction. Leaders who wallow in fear get stuck in place. They suffer from “analysis paralysis” — waiting so long to make decisions that it’s too late to act. In order to be effective, leaders must push past the paralysis and be willing to take risks and face change head-on.

Here are a few ways to begin the process of breaking through the fear of change:

Admit you don’t know everything

The CEO of Manco, Jack Kahl, used to have a famous Socrates quote on his door: “I know one thing, that I know nothing.” Jack set the tone for the organization by continually driving home the message that everyone, beginning with him, was to be constantly learning, experimenting and improving. 


Start mild before wild

Risk-averse businesses don’t have to go from zero to 60 overnight. They can begin by identifying mild strategies for increasing their risk exposure and move on as they become more comfortable.

The key is this: Whatever change you make, it has to be observably different. You must define in advance the impact you’re seeking to achieve so that you can measure whether you reached it. If you’re the only one who can see or feel the change, it isn’t significant enough. In order to accelerate results, your action must be observable to other people.


Question your motives

Even when teams or companies are in trouble, processes that are no longer doing any good are held on to. This happens because leaders want to prove that they’re right, rather than experiment with something new. If you find yourself continuing to push stale processes, ask yourself why.


Try on different lenses

No two people see the world in exactly the same way. As comfortable as we get seeing things our own way, the fact is we need to seek out the perspectives of others. Great innovations and change initiatives have begun precisely that way — when the circle of ideas was expanded to include people who might not otherwise have been consulted.


The ability to respond effectively in the face of change is a learned habit. And like any habit, it requires consistent practice over time to take root. Take the first step by experimenting with these strategies. Over time, your agility and confidence in the face of fear will undoubtedly grow.


Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger and columnist for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc.®, a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the worlds most influential companies. For more information, visit or contact Smith at


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We all know what traditional chief operating officers do and what characteristics typically make them tick. There is another type of COO that every company needs — whether they admit it or not — who shares the same initials as the former, but who has diametric responsibilities.

This person is a chief opportunity officer, although the title sometimes varies because the word opportunity conveys the wrong message to the less pragmatic.

The characteristics of this rare bird were probably honed when he or she was a small child. Most parents didn’t talk much about this offspring’s special traits outside the home.


High-energy personalities

We have all seen these kids in action. They have too much energy, are in perpetual motion and feel compelled to touch everything in sight.

They also ask questions and make statements that can shock or antagonize even the most understanding adult.

When they go off to school, they’re the ones who neglect to raise their hands when answering questions, but instead blurt out their responses. And most of the time they’re right, which tends to further aggravate teachers.

At their first job, they continue to be in constant motion, questioning everyone, everything and sometimes ignoring the chain of command. At the same time, however, they seem to discover previously unthought-of alternatives to thorny issues.

If they’re lucky, a more senior manager spots the hidden talents of this potential COO and begins instilling a little, much needed, discipline and tutoring on the realities of being politically correct to get things done.

In short order, this heretofore rogue player begins to climb the organizational ladder, scoring a series of meaningful and unique accomplishments. This garners heightened recognition and a reputation as someone who can think outside the box and isn’t afraid to take well-calculated risks.


Making waves comes easy

Many of these iconoclasts’ ideas seem at first blush to be prosaic — the idea so obvious and simple it leaves everyone in the organization scratching their heads asking, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Other times, what initially seems to be an off-the-wall concept suddenly takes shape and emerges as a breakthrough.

We all know the names of innovators who have excelled and possessed the characteristics  described. Some are famous business rock stars, such as the legendary Steve Jobs of Apple or Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Others are unknown hidden gems within the ranks of America’s most admired, successful companies.

Many times companies don’t parade them in public, due to the commotion they invariably cause — the same reasons their parents exposed them sparingly to outsiders.

This type of innovator devotes his or her energy to looking for low-hanging fruit, or that special something that can transform a business from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

Their techniques are non-conventional and they frequently ruffle feathers. Usually for them to succeed, they must work in an organization that recognizes the fact that not everyone has to be cut from the same cloth.

Every once in a while, these one-time outcasts emerge as the leader of the enterprise with the letter “E” replacing the middle “O” in their earlier title. After that occurs, the newly minted CEO will deny to the death that he was ever the kid whose parents were reluctant to take anywhere.


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


When a breakdown happens in your production line, you’re ready to do whatever it takes to get things running again. What business leader hasn’t been there? And, if it hasn’t happened to your production line, maybe your computer system has crashed or some other essential aspect of your business. When these breakdowns happen, you’re ready to call anyone who can fix it.

Consider this story, told by former Browns coach Sam Rutigliano at a recent Men’s Fellowship Group in Westlake that wanted to hear his messages of inspiration — and connection.


A parable for the office

One day, a business owner’s production line breaks down. For an hour and a half he can’t get a hold of anyone to get the equipment repaired. And as we all know too well, time is money. While the business owner is frantically searching for help, a guy with a small hammer is sitting on a chair nearby claiming he can fix it. The owner says to himself, “This guy doesn’t have both oars in the water. What does he mean he can fix it? Forget it!”

Another hour goes by and the owner has now become so frustrated, he tells the man with the hammer, “Go ahead and fix it.” So the guy with the hammer gets up, takes aim, makes a sharp rap and everything is instantly in working order! The owner is ecstatic; he can’t believe the man fixed the machinery so quickly and asks how much he owes him. The guy says, “You owe me $1,000.” The owner can’t believe his ears, “A thousand dollars? It only took you five seconds!”

The man with the hammer replies, “That’s right. I’m going to charge you $1 for hitting the bolt, but $999 for hitting the right bolt.”

The lesson — making connections is important.

“Isn’t that what we are all trying to do every single day — connect?” Rutigliano says.

After all, the man with the hammer had the skill, but he and the owner had no connection.


People skills are a priority

It’s been said that the higher you go in business, the more your people skills are important and the less your technical skills matter. So as you climb the ladder, remember that it is more about relating to people than it is about clearing off your desk.

Soft skills shouldn’t get such short shrift. Some leaders may think it’s a weakness to show emotion toward the workforce. They simply need to realize the importance of regularly making a one-on-one connection that will build and help the organization achieve significant goals.

But who is that leader who will connect with you personally?

“For all of us, there is that one guy, that one person who sometime in your life is able to connect with you and get you on the right path,” Rutigliano says. For the former coach, who makes it known he has accepted Christ as his personal savior, focusing on one’s self will never reveal life’s purpose.

“It is in Christ that we find who we are, what we are and what we are living for,” he says. “The elemental purpose for our being on earth is to bring others to Christ. You make a living by what you earn, but you make a life by what you give to others.”

And giving to others means connecting to people — their values, the causes they support, their likes and dislikes, goals and desires, friends and families, their boundaries — on a human level. It’s as simple as that.

Dennis Seeds is managing editor of Smart Business Cleveland. If you have an interesting story to share about a person or business making a difference in Cleveland, please send an email to

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