Man of action

Robert E. Comben Jr. is known as a
business leader who gets projects
accomplished. Comben, president and CEO of Vocational Guidance Services,
has expanded programs, services, partnerships and the physical reach of the 116-year-old nonprofit since he was named to
its top spot in 1997.

VGS provides vocational training, work
experience and job placement services for
Northeast Ohio residents challenged by disabilities and/or economic disadvantages.
Among VGS’ more notable services is the
manufacture of women’s dress pants and
skirts for the U.S. Armed Services. Under
Comben’s leadership, VGS is one of the
largest and most successful private, not-for-profit training agencies in Ohio, serving
clients in 16 Ohio counties.

“VGS serves in excess of 5,000 consumers
every year with barriers to employment,”
Comben says. “We will competitively place
into the community more than 1,000 people
(each year) with significant disabilities or other barriers to employment.

And on any given day, we are
providing almost 1,000 employment slots in our social enterprises.”

Much of this has happened
on Comben’s watch.

He helped expand the nonprofit’s services into Columbus, where VGS clients serve
on cleaning crews that manage
15 buildings at The Ohio State
University. Comben forged innovative relationships with organizations such as Dress
for Success Cleveland, which two years
ago became a partner of VGS and is housed
in VGS’ East 55th Street headquarters.

And most recently, Comben spearheaded
construction of a 36,000-square-foot training
center to better serve the thousands of people VGS provides services for each year.

A 2002 graduate of Leadership Cleveland,
Comben also has been instrumental in
expanding VGS’ programs — including 60 new programs launched between 2004 and 2005, and
another 32 programs launched
during the first 10 months of

One example is VGS’ Retail
Sales Training Program — an
eight-week course funded in
2005 by Key Foundation that
trains people with disabilities
and economic disadvantages for
careers in retail sales by teaching
them customer service, floor sales, loss prevention and safety, inventory, merchandising
and computer literacy.

Students practice their skills in a paid,
three-week practical course, and the program provides trained candidates for
Northeast Ohio retail employers that have
difficulty attracting and retaining retail

HOW TO REACH: Vocational Guidance Services, (216) 881-6014