Lindsey Grant

Thursday, 29 June 2006 20:00

Finding a focus

When Daniel J. Elsener was named president of Marian College in 2001, the college had run deficits of more than $1 million and there was no clear strategy for its future.

“We had exhausted our goodwill with our bankers, our alumni, our donors, etc.,” Elsener says. “The enrollment was stagnant or dropping, and we had facilities that were ill-prepared to meet new challenges. I wanted a good challenge in my life and I found one.”

Elsener, along with other key executives, set clear goals for the organization and developed a plan to repay debt and lower operating costs, and in the 2004-2005 fiscal year, Marian College posted revenue of more than $31 million.

Smart Business spoke with Elsener about he how turned Marian College around and brought it out of the red.

How did you develop a plan to turn Marian College around?
We took the entire board and the senior administrators down to Oldenburg, Ind., and took a look at a two-page mission and turned it into a coherent sentence. We did the same with the vision, reaffirmed the values, set out some key goals and went to work.

I analyzed it as a place with great people and a great history, but we didn’t have a razor-sharp focus and we didn’t have a lot of time to overanalyze. If you don’t make a choice of exactly what you want to be or what you want to do, then you are making a choice to be somewhat fuzzy and out of focus and not clear to the market. And that is always deadly.

How did you restore the college to financial health?
We started to focus on exactly who we are and how we could get better. About six months before I started, we hired a CFO from the business and professional world ... and he brought excellent systems, a very keen mind and a discipline to the organization. He was key.

It was focusing effort at every level of the organization and hiring key leaders. Obviously, when you are out of focus, that is the key job of the leaders. We had to do that, and we had to make tough decisions about what we could and could not do.

How did you improve efficiency and reduce operating costs?
The first thing you have to do is reanalyze every business function and see if it is operating smoothly. We looked for efficiencies and right-sizing the organization. One of the key things that we did was focus on what we could not offer well and not do it anymore, because the market wouldn’t support it.

When it all comes down to it, we had a serious income problem. We said we better get very aggressive about marketing precisely what we are to the right people.

Also, that same marketing strategy (applied) to donors. We have had an explosion in enrollment and donors that has helped us produce a better product.

A good friend of the college gave us a gift and ... asked me to (take) that money and do a study of colleges like ours. This was one of the critical things we did, and I would recommend it to anyone coming into a difficult situation.

She said to study colleges that have similarities to yours that are now doing really well but at one time were not, and see how they did it. We learned a lot from that and have mimicked the common formula.

How did you apply what you learned from other turnarounds to Marian?
No. 1, by choosing some priorities, you are choosing a positive destiny. You can’t just say, ‘Let’s just give everyone a little bit so they’ll be happy, and let’s be a little bit of everything to everybody.’ It’s just the opposite. Let’s make some choices and, in an organized and thoughtful way, abandon other things.

Secondly, we found it interesting that successful colleges that are our size are remarkably adept at partnering — making synergies with their community. The good thing about partnering is then people know you and know your worth in the community and they invest.

We also found out that almost all colleges that made a turnaround hired a new president. We had just done that. They also added a lot of new people to their board, increased involvement in the community and started a strong marketing program. We just hired our first VP for marketing communications, and he has done a wonderful job.

There were some very common traits by successful turnarounds. We continue to remind ourselves of those traits, and we’re focused on moving forward.

HOW TO REACH: Marian College,

Thursday, 29 June 2006 06:54

Combining forces

Michael Shaut discovered that two heads are better than one when it comes to starting a company. Both Shaut and Robert deRose owned businesses in the student loan field and ended up selling them to larger companies. They both were interested in starting another company in the same field, so they decided to join forces.

“We put our heads together and some money together and said, ‘We think we can do it better together,’” Shaut says. “I had a piece of the business, and he had a piece of the business ... It was really his strengths and my strengths put together from a marketing and financing and customer service perspective.”

The result, Education Lending Group, is a specialty finance company principally engaged in providing student loan products, services and solutions to students, parents and schools.

What makes Education Lending Group stand out from the competition is the fact that it is vertically integrated — everything is done in-house.

“Most of the competitors in the marketplace, except a handful, are not vertically integrated,” Shaut says. “They don’t do their own servicing; they outsource that to third-party providers. And we concluded that to really be a player and a force in the industry we needed to be vertically integrated and that’s where we have several-hundred employees down in Cleveland that service our loans, both originate them — meaning they take the applications, process the applications and disburse the funds for the loans — and then collect the loans and manage them going forward in terms of customer service, status and things like that.”

Being vertically integrated has allowed the company to grow at a rapid pace, and Shaut took it public in 2003.

In 2005, Education Lending Group was acquired by CIT Group, which provides the company with the resources to further accelerate its growth. With the help of its parent company, Shaut says it won’t be long before his company becomes one of the top lenders in the nation.

“We’re going to be in the top three lenders in the nation in the next couple years,” Shaut says. “We should break into the top 10 shortly, if not this year, and then the top five before the end of the decade.”

HOW TO REACH: Education Lending Group, (216) 706-7444 or

Thursday, 29 June 2006 06:46

Connecting a community

OneCommunity, formerly OneCleveland, has improved the quality of life in Northeast Ohio, provided jobs for many of its residents and stimulated the area’s economic development.

The nonprofit provider of community-based, ultra-broadband networking services was the brainchild of Lev Gonick, OneCommunity chairman and CIO at Case Western Reserve University. Imagining the effect that this technology could have on the community, Gonick, along with Scot Rourke and a handful of others, worked to make his idea a reality.

“It really started as a grassroots initiative with a combination of civic leaders and entrepreneurs about how we could build a technology industry here,” says Rourke, president of OneCommunity.

The company’s goal was to leverage Northeast Ohio’s dark fiber — underground fiber that largely lies dormant — to improve the community’s access to information and resources.

“Since we have (dark fiber) in mass throughout our community, it actually has a million times the capacity of the copper that the rest of the United States is dependent upon for their information and communications technology, like the Internet,” Rourke says. “This actually has potential to be a terrific regional competitive advantage for us, as we can do things like move data and video and high definition, as an example.”

Fiber optic rings were installed by City Signal and First Energy to help OneCommunity create the nation’s first community-wide ultra-broadband network. The nonprofit offers its services to educational organizations, research institutions, local and regional governments, health care organizations, cultural institutions and nonprofit organizations.

Since its founding, OneCommunity has helped teachers expand learning opportunities for their students, helped the poor get access to government services and accelerated medical research by allowing clinicians to seamlessly share data.

“We really help everyone in this community that delivers services,” Rourke says. “We help build their capacity to do it more effectively, also more cost-effectively, and enhance their services, as well. We engage the local tech companies to do this work, so we’re also creating jobs for the many tech companies that we work with, which is one of our favorite things to do. Our goal is to create a very healthy tech community here.”

HOW TO REACH: OneCommunity, (216) 403-0877 or

Wednesday, 28 June 2006 12:57

Blossoming business

Cindy Lowry first started making dried flower arrangements because she wasn’t fulfilled in her job as an accountant. About 10 years later, her flower arrangements have turned into a booming business.

Lowry managed to finance her company, Blossom Bucket Inc., by continuing to work full time while making arrangements and selling them at retail shows and small stores. Everything was going well, until a company with more resources picked up on Lowry’s success.

“We found that a large company had bought all of our designs and sent them over to China and was having them manufactured in China,” Lowry says.

So Lowry and her husband confronted the president of the company, and they negotiated a deal — if he gave them his connections in China, Lowry wouldn’t sue. The company’s president took the deal, and Blossom Bucket entered the importing business.

“We felt like that was really the thing we needed to be doing,” Lowry says. “... It’s been a slow, steady growth, but once we started importing, things started coming around and we really started into our rapid growth.”

As Blossom Bucket grew in popularity and increased its inventory, large corporate-owned chains showed an interest in the company’s products. Lowry was faced with a dilemma: How could she cater to these large businesses without alienating the small independent stores that helped her grow her business?

“I’ll always be concerned about protecting our core base,” Lowry says. “It’s mostly ma and pop stores, and we do Hallmark stores and small drugstores. We have taken our line and made a new line. We still sell to the large companies, like the TJ Maxxes, but they cannot have the same line that we sell to our small core base.”

The products made for the large, corporate-owned stores are bigger and brighter. They look like a Blossom Bucket product, but they don’t have the uniqueness of a product you would find in a local gift shop. This new product line turned out to be the perfect solution for Blossom Bucket. Sales are at an all-time high and Lowery has maintained relationships with the small businesses, while building new relationships with large chain stores that offer the company more avenues for success.

HOW TO REACH: Blossom Bucket, (330) 834-2551 or

Friday, 19 May 2006 05:24

Roberto R. Herencia

As president of Banco Popular North America, Roberto R. Herencia stresses the importance of taking care of his employees, whom he calls dream-makers.That’s because if you treat your employees well, they, in turn will treat your customers well, says Herencia, who is responsible for the day-to-day operations of 137 bank branches in six states. Banco Popular, the U.S. subsidiary of Popular Inc., has $12.1 billion in assets, and its net income increased 79 percent in 2005 to reach a record $100 million. Smart Business spoke with Herencia about how he puts people first and creates an atmosphere of open communication.

Make dreams happen. We call our employees people. We call our people dream-makers. Our tag line is, ‘Make dreams happen.’ We believe that we are here not to open checking accounts or make loans, we are really here to facilitate dreams for our customers and communities.

We get very personal with a small group of people and say, “Tell us about your dreams’ and ‘How can the bank help you achieve those dreams?’ We call them dream-making sessions. We are hoping and trusting that by us conducting those sessions internally, our people will then conduct those sessions with customers.

We want to create a level of intimacy with our customers where they feel that we care about what their dreams are and that they care about us and what we’re doing enough that they’re happy to refer family to us, customers to us.

Put people first. We have spent quite a bit of time and we give a lot of attention to people practices. We truly believe that the way you achieve customer satisfaction and the way you achieve financial performance long-term is through your people.

Your people are the ones who are going to be interacting with your customers, and they are interacting and living in the communities where you want to do business. It has to start with having best-in-class practices.

We added community service paid time off. They get 16 hours a year for community service that they are paid for. We try to inspire people to serve in organizations and causes that are aligned with the major causes that the bank supports.

People are seeing that we are helping them and giving them avenues to be active in the community, as well as have flexibility with their time.

Create dialogue. We do an annual formal survey of our people, just to see what their level of satisfaction is. And then we do mini-surveys throughout the year, we call them pulse surveys, just to make sure that we are tracking how our people are feeling about important issues, so that we can react in time and not depend on an annual survey. The participation rate in those surveys is 94 percent, which is unheard of.

We have a whole set of programs to make sure that the communication with our people is very strong., not only that senior management is talking to people, but those vehicles of communication allow people to talk back, so that we can have dialogue.

We have what we call town halls with our people, and they all come together and we share the good and the ugly. These are structured sessions, but they are very informative, and we open them for all of our people in every region.

Define your goals. We engage our people through all of that and also what we call shared agreements. At the beginning of every planning cycle, our people participate in helping us create what are our top goals, our top objectives for that three-year period.

We call those shared agreements, and we organized those around four pillars — people, customers, community and financial performance. Each pillar has three or four very high-level goals.

One of our goals in the community pillar is to have 100 percent participation of our people using their community paid time off. Another goal is to have 100 percent giving of our officers to the Banco Popular foundation.

Establish a vision. We have a clear vision of what we want to do and become, which is to become the premier community bank in each of the markets that we serve. We engage with our people around, ‘What does it mean to become the premier community bank?’ We have the shared agreement that guides us in terms of, ‘Are we making progress of hitting those shared agreements, and therefore, our vision?’

We do believe that engaged people will result in engaged customers. It takes time, it won’t happen overnight, but we see a very high correlation between improvement in people surveys and improvement in customer surveys.

Remember, it’s not about you. Submerge your ego. It’s about the vision. It’s about the team. It’s about the goals we have together as an organization. The CEO and the senior management in general need to submerge their ego and make sure it’s not about them and it’s not about them looking good individually.

It is about building great teams so that at any point in time, you can be succeeded and the organization can move on successfully. There are great CEOs out there who are successful only during their tenure because they are highly capable individuals and can probably move mountains, but it’s mostly because of their influence.

But they did not necessarily create a great team behind them.

HOW TO REACH: Banco Popular North America, (800) 377-0800 or

Monday, 15 May 2006 11:25

The Cloninger file

Born: Houston

Education: Bachelor’s degree and master’s degree, business administration, University of Texas at Austin

What is the greatest business lesson you’ve learned?
To be a good listener. I’m willing to listen to just about anything for a period of time, and I try to respect the opinions of everyone.

I try to understand where they are coming from because I know everyone approaches a problem with a different point of view, and as an executive management person, you’ve got to have patience and be a good listener in order to fully understand the different aspects of a problem. To be able to form a conclusion and a course of action based on the information you have at hand is one of my strengths, and a lesson I have learned is the importance of listening and respecting different opinions.

Whom do you admire most in business and why?
I admire Alan Greenspan’s management of the economy in the United States over his tenure as chairman of the Federal Reserve because I’ve seen economic volatility in the U.S., and I think Greenspan helped manage the national economy on a rational and controlled basis. I have respect for what he did.

On being named president of Aflac: Coming into Aflac as somebody recognized as a financial person and growing into the president’s role, where you have to deal with a wide breadth of issues that are nonfinancial, in addition to financial responsibilities, is something I’m proud of having achieved.

Thursday, 27 April 2006 07:28

True believer

When Al Hansen took over EMS Technologies in 2001, one of his managers told him to cut his losses and sell the company. Instead, Hansen cut that manager — and three others — who didn’t believe in the company, and he developed a plan to turn EMS around.

It wasn’t going to be an easy process, and Hansen’s initial reaction was disappointment. The company had nothing going for it. Clients were threatening to sue, employees were looking for new jobs and growth seemed improbable.

“The company was in pretty bad shape,” says Hansen, president and CEO. “I referred to it as a target-rich environment, and what I mean by that is there were lots and lots of things that needed to be done at EMS Technologies to make it a survivable company, a company with a future.”

To secure EMS’ future, Hansen had to create a better corporate culture, mend strained relationships with clients and find a way to grow.

Gaining employees’ trust
The first step toward making sure that EMS Technologies, a designer and manufacturer of wireless, satellite and defense solutions, had a future was to convince the employees that it did. The company had just gone through two major layoffs, and morale was low.

His first day on the job, Hansen walked around the office to get a feel for his new employees. His disappointment only deepened when he discovered that teamwork was not in their vocabulary, and very few even knew the vision of the company. The root of those problems turned out to be the four managers Hansen ultimately fired because they didn’t have faith in the company.

“If you don’t have a person who believes in what they are doing and believes in the company, you are not going to be a success,” says Hansen.

With the right management in place, Hansen then had to develop a vision for the company.

“Our vision needs to be under nine words, because people have a hard time remembering the vision,” says Hansen. “I don’t want a long dissertation. I want something that people can easily remember.”

Hansen and his managers did better than nine words. EMS Technologies’ vision — Achieve global leadership through innovative technology — is a mere six words.

It is easy to remember not only because it is short, but because all employees can buy into it. The vision is simple and broad enough that it makes sense to employees, no matter what sector of the company they are in, and they can relate to it and feel like they are a part of making it a reality.

Next, Hansen needed to change the work environment so that it would promote teamwork and a more family-like atmosphere. In order to rid the company of grumbling and gossip, Hansen did his best to weaken rumors by informing all 1,400 employees about everything going on within the company.

“One hundred percent of rumors are not right, but they get everybody upset, so I worked extremely hard to bring open communication to the company,” says Hansen.

Quarterly meetings encouraged employees to ask questions. A company newspaper was started so that employees could see in writing the things that were happening. And Hansen made an effort to meet with all new employees to make sure that they really understood the company’s vision and knew where it was headed.

Then he brought together all employees and told them he wanted them to help rebuild EMS Technologies. After all, they knew more about the company than he did.

“CEOs think they know what is going on, but the people doing the job know what is going on,” says Hansen, who assembled a random group of 12 to 15 employees — everyone from janitors to engineers — to evaluate his performance.

The group was a way for Hansen to hear how his employees felt about the job he was doing. The company’s CFO was convinced that the employees would just complain that they wanted more pay and better benefits, but that was not the case.

The unanimous suggestion they offered was to give them the right tools to do their jobs. They had old, outdated equipment that wasn’t much use when they were trying to come up with new, innovative technology. They were embarrassed to bring clients into the office because the conference room was too small and had mismatched, stained furniture.

“The company’s philosophy was not to buy new equipment but to buy old equipment,” says Hansen. “If that happens, that means your competitors have an advantage because they have new equipment.”

Although Hansen began making improvements immediately, including replacing the conference room furniture, adding videoconferencing and audiovisual equipment, and providing more employees with laptops so they could work remotely, his first grade from the employee group was a C. That provided him with the motivation to do a better job.

“I don’t know how many CEOs would have the guts to do that, because you certainly allow yourself to be criticized,” says Hansen. “I think it’s great that you can put a group of people together, and they can stand up in front of the CEO and tell him that he’s not doing his job right without a fear of losing their jobs. That’s meant more to me than anything — to have my employees trust me that much and help me with the management. That sort of an environment you can’t buy. You have to build it.”

The culture-building starts by taking care of one another and being more family-like, says Hansen. As an example, the company’s HR director told Hansen that an employee was on extended medical leave and about to lose medical coverage. The director didn’t want to set a precedent by extending her coverage, so he asked Hansen for his opinion.

Hansen told him, “I’m not going to tell you what to do, but the question I want you to ask yourself is, ‘Is EMS a company with a heart?’” The next day, the HR director extended the woman’s medical coverage.

“That showed that the company was concerned about its employees,” says Hansen. “That spread like wildfire throughout the company.”

Another way Hansen creates a family-like environment is by spending time with the actual families of his employees. He holds family picnics and gives out 20 college scholarships to employees’ children each year. All employees — not just management — vote on who receives scholarships, giving them a chance to get to know their co-workers and helping them be more comfortable working together as a team.

Other ways Hansen encouraged employees to get to know each other better was by making the holiday party all-inclusive (it previously was only for management) and starting a company-subsidized social club that provides opportunities for employees to spend time together outside of work at baseball games, white-water rafting trips and other events.

Although all of those things were important in improving morale and team-building, Hansen thought it was also important for employees to share in the success of the company, so he doubled the company’s 401(k) contribution.

“We made the largest contributions to the retirement program in the history of the company on a continual basis,” says Hansen. “People have expectations, whether it is to put their kids through school, buy a house or a car. It’s the managers’ role to help people meet those. We are focused in that area.”

Hansen’s efforts to improve EMS’ corporate culture have paid off. From 2000 to 2005, employee turnover dropped from 27 percent to 10 percent; for engineering employees, it dropped from 27 percent to 3 percent.

And when you have happy employees, you are much more likely to have happy clients.

Thinking outside the box
Having happy employees was a step in the right direction, but Hansen needed to do something more drastic to keep clients who were angry with the service they had received from taking their business elsewhere.

Hansen tried to smooth things over by meeting with clients face-to-face. He told them that he knew things had been bad and that they had every right to be angry, but if they stuck through this tough time, it would get better. And then he gave them a timeline of his recovery plan, so that they would know when to expect changes.

Although owning up to your company’s mistakes is a tough thing to do, Hansen gained his clients’ respect, and the majority stuck with him.

One of those clients had even threatened to sue EMS in the past. A year later, the leader of that company came to the EMS office to discuss a new project and couldn’t believe his eyes. He said it was like being in a different company, and that was when Hansen knew he was succeeding in the transformation.

But even though the company was back on the right track, that didn’t mean that Hansen could take a break. His vision centered around innovative technology, and without innovation, EMS would not grow. It needed a strong engineering infrastructure to support innovation, money to put into R&D and a work environment that inspires innovation.

In the past five years, EMS has put close to $70 million into engineering infrastructure to make sure that the engineers have all of the tools and equipment they need to do their jobs. Hansen created an innovative work atmosphere by challenging his engineers to think of themselves like inventors. Their task was to come up with new inventions, and then he would help them secure a patent.

When a patent is approved, the company holds a luncheon in the inventor’s honor, and he or she is given a plaque in the EMS Hall of Fame. By having the entire company honor and celebrate the engineers’ inventions, they are motivated to keep coming up with new innovative ideas.

However, the benefits of innovation don’t always outweigh the costs.

“Technology for technology’s sake is not a business,” says Hansen. “You have to structure your company toward the business end of it. Each company submits its R&D efforts for the year, and then I review it to make sure the technology that we are pursuing is beneficial to the company and also we get the highest return from that R&D dollar.”

Hansen is still growing the company and putting it back on the path to profitability, and a dollar not spent on R&D is a dollar that the company gains in profit. And just because someone has an innovative idea doesn’t mean it will work out.

Sometimes the market just isn’t ready for it. That was the case with the Space & Technology/Montreal division of EMS. For the three years that the division was in business, it never made money.

“The technology was before its time,” says Hansen. “This technology will be successful five years down the road. I thought it was going to come about a lot sooner. When I realized the technology was still a long way off and that the company was losing money and I couldn’t sustain it, I decided to sell it.”

Hansen’s biggest regret is that he didn’t sell that company sooner. And although innovation is a risky business, it can also be quite profitable. Hansen experienced that firsthand about five years ago when he invested $2 million in high-speed data at a time when the company was low on cash.

“It was more than likely the best $2 million I’ve ever spent,” says Hansen. “because we have now become the world’s leader in developing and selling high-speed data, voice and video to aircraft and ground units.”

Today, everyone from CNN reporters to the president uses EMS Technologies’ products. And Hansen’s story of how he turned around the company is used by the Army to train new generals on transformation.

Hansen’s disappointment has transformed into joy, and the company that was once destined for bankruptcy now has a promising future as it posted 2005 revenue of $310 million, up from $246.5 million in 2004.

“The company is doing just fabulous,” he says. “Whatever we are doing seems to be working.”

HOW TO REACH: EMS Technologies, (770) 263-9200 or

Tuesday, 25 April 2006 20:00

Building relationships

When Brian Mann became managing partner of Mann Properties, he had big shoes to fill — those of his father.

Upon taking over the business his father founded, Mann knew he needed to develop a plan to ensure the company’s longevity. He created goals for the future and increased the emphasis on customer service because that was one thing he felt he could control.

“In the real estate business, every project is different,” says Mann. “If we continue to focus on satisfying the customer and meeting the customer’s needs and building relationships where we understand the customer’s needs before we start a project, I think we will always create something of high quality.”

Today, Mann Properties has a 90 percent client retention rate, and its revenue has increased more than 35 percent in the past two years to reach $35 million.

Smart Business spoke with Mann about how he inspires employees and builds close relationships with clients.

What did you differently from your father when you joined the company?
We didn’t have a real growth strategy until I became managing partner. We hadn’t identified other markets we wanted to go into, we hadn’t identified necessarily medium- to long-term growth goals as it pertained to the different types of real estate that we did business in.

I like to think that I have been aggressive in setting goals and inspiring the people who work here to achieve those goals. I tried to make good decisions in land acquisition. I tried to have good relationships with clients and turn it more into a partnership than necessarily a client-vendor relationship. I think we have done that.

How do inspire employees to achieve the goals you set?
That’s a learning process — trying to make people feel that, no matter what they do within our organization, they are adding to the greater idea of what we are trying to achieve. I like to feel personally that what we are doing here is more than just making money. It’s about creating something lasting that is good for the community, no matter what community we are doing business in.

It’s certainly not an easy thing to do to make everyone from the receptionist on up feel a part of that, but it is certainly what we try to do. We seek a lot of feedback. We only have 35 or 36 employees. When you are that size, I have a lot of contact with every employee all the time.

We seek a lot of feedback from our employees as to how we are accomplishing our mission, vision and values. We have very well-defined mission, vision and value statements that we try to reinforce constantly. Our performance reviews are based on those things — mission, vision and values — and how a given employee is helping the company achieve it or how we think they are helping us achieve it.

We are asking for a lot of feedback about, ‘Are we on the right track to achieving what we say we are all about as a management team?’

How do you maintain a family atmosphere as the company grows?
It has a lot to do with personality. I don’t think anyone would describe me of being stiff or aloof. I communicate very openly. I am very emotional about what I do because it excites me so much. I’m not the boss you are intimated by, or someone who is very formal. I am much more collaborative and familiar with the people who work here.

My dad is the same way as the patriarch of the company. Because of that, either the people who have chosen to work with us here are that way as well, or it has brought that part of their personality out. When communication is open and everyone is a little bit emotionally tied to what is going on, it breeds a sort of family-esque feel in the organization.

How do you build close relationships with your clients?
The real estate development community in general, whether it’s residential, retail, industrial or whatever, people involved in real estate development have a reputation; you’re always wondering if you are getting the straight story.

I certainly hope that we are seen as being much different than that after you have the opportunity to work with us, that we are open and you’re getting the straight story. We’re fair as far as pricing our products. We’re responsive as far as addressing problems.

We always try to make it a win-win situation. If our client is unsuccessful, then we are going to be unsuccessful as well in the long run. I think this open communication really goes a long way in building relationships.

We do a lot of surveying of our existing tenants to see how satisfied they are. Buildings age. Things wear out. There’s nothing you can do about that, but how well do you respond to it when you have the opportunity to respond?

Setting proper expectations and delivering what you say you are going to deliver goes an awful long way.

HOW TO REACH: Mann Properties,

Anthony S. Barth was named president and CEO of two affiliated companies, Delta Dental Insurance Co. and PMI Dental Health Plan. Barth previously worked as executive vice president and chief operating officer for Delta Dental of California, Pennsylvania and its affiliates.

Barth, who continues in his role as enterprise COO, takes over the president and CEO positions from Robert Elliott, who recently retired.

“Mr. Barth and I will continue to work closely on the important initiatives these two companies are involved in, and which are closely connected with the direction of our overall enterprise,” says Gary Radine, president and CEO for Delta Dental of California, Pennsylvania, and the holding company system that includes affiliated operations in 16 states plus the District of Columbia.

Prior to being named COO in 2001, Barth, a graduate of California State University-Northridge, served as senior vice president and COO for the two affiliate companies he now presides over. Prior to joining the Delta system in 1988, he worked with a major accounting firm and a benefits consulting practice.

Delta Dental Insurance Co., based in Alpharetta, Ga., covers roughly 1.5 million enrollees and operates Delta Dental Plans in 10 states.

Calysto Communications hired Nia Evans as account supervisor.

She brings 10 years of agency and corporate experience in public relations and strategic marketing communications. Prior to joining Calysto, Evans worked for Interface Inc., where she managed all aspects of brand management for the company’s hospitality, health care and retail business segments. Prior to that, she worked at Eastman Kodak Co. as public relations manager for its US&C consumer imaging division.

Tom Conophy was appointed to the newly created position of chief information officer for InterContinental Hotels Group.

He joins the company from Starwood Hotels & Resorts International, where he was executive vice president and chief technology officer. Prior to Starwood, he was senior vice president for strategic architecture for Sabre Inc. He has also held senior technology management positions at Galileo International and Century Analysis Inc.

Kaplan IT Learning promoted Theresa Lundquist to vice president and general manager to lead the global operations of Perfect Access Speer. She oversees all operations and management, including sales, marketing, product development, field operations and applications.

Lundquist most recently worked as consultant and business operations executive, and she held a variety of management positions within the Perfect Access Speer organization for nearly 10 years.

SunTrust Banks Inc. promoted Mimi Breeden to corporate executive vice president and director of human resources.

She most recently worked as manager of SunTrust’s private wealth management line of business, where she was responsible for the domestic and international wealth management areas, as well as financial planning, music and motor sports banking and credit advisory services.

The Sheraton Atlanta Hotel named Daniel Senden director of sales and marketing.

Senden previously worked as director of sales for the hotel. In his new role, he oversees all aspects of sales, marketing, advertising and public relations efforts for the hotel.

Before joining the hotel in 2002, he worked as director of sales and marketing for Chateau Elan Winery and Resort. Prior to that, he served as director of sales and marketing for the Atlanta Capitol Plaza.

Southern Co. made two organizational changes.

Earl Parsons was named vice president - system contracts officer and associate general counsel. He previously worked as vice president of fuel services within the company.

Jeff Wallace was named vice president of fuel services. He most recently worked as vice president of planning and utility relations at Georgia Power, a subsidiary of the company.

The Home Depot appointed Angelo Mozilo to its board of directors.

Mozilo is chairman and CEO of Countrywide Financial Corp. He founded Countrywide in 1969, and the company is now a member of the S&P 500, Fortune 500 and Forbes Global 2,000.

Hunton & Williams LLP added James A. Harvey and James E. Meadows as partners.

Harvey co-chairs the global technology and sourcing practice group. He joins the firm from Alston & Bird, where he founded and led the firm’s privacy and data management task force and its open source task force.

Meadows joins Hunton & Williams from Duane Morris. He has 20 years of experience in the technology and sourcing field. His practice focuses on technology transactions and related legal matters.

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Wednesday, 01 March 2006 04:40

Forward thinking

As Sequent approached its 10-year anniversary, CEO and founder William Hutter and President Joe Cole were faced with a tough question — where did they see Sequent going in the next 10 years?

Although the consulting and outsourcing firm was doing perfectly fine, they wanted it to do better.

Hutter’s original vision in 1995 was to create a company with services focused on helping small business owners take care of their employees. Ten years ago, that meant helping with human resources, but today, those needs have changed.

Hutter and Cole knew that Sequent needed to change as well, and they began formulating a plan to transition Sequent to meet the needs of a changing marketplace and position it for growth.

The pair recognized an opportunity to add more service offerings, such as information technology, customer care, and accounting and finance to their human resource services, and saw that the middle market was underserved and targeted it to fuel growth.

They put together a plan to position Sequent to profit from changes in the market. That plan is a continuously evolving process, but Sequent has already begun to reap the benefits as its revenue grew from $136 million in 2003 to $197 million in 2005.

To continue this growth, Hutter and Cole are focusing on three key elements: people, new services and acquisitions.

People first
With growth and new services comes a need for new employees. But finding those employees can be a challenge when you don’t want to change the corporate culture you have worked so hard to create.

“I think that one of the things that set us apart is the fact that everybody in the organization realizes that what we do affects people’s lives,” says Cole. “And they take that very seriously. They also take a great deal of pride in what they do as a result of that. I think our compassion as an organization is really critical to our overall success.”

Cole realizes that Sequent can’t have that compassion without the right employees, but finding those with the talent you need and the values you want is difficult. Finding employees who fit into a specific position adds an extra challenge — one that Cole decided he could do without.

“One of the things that we do as an organization is we don’t try to hire a person to fit a position. Rather, we try to identify a person who has certain talents, skills, experiences and expertise,” he says. “If we feel that they have certain talent, skills, experiences and expertise, and that they are a good fit with the organization, then we try to bring them into the organization and put them into a position to really play to those strengths.”

However, finding those employees is only half the battle.

“We have a quote down in our solutions center on the wall from Fred Smith (CEO of FedEx),” says Cole. “The quote says, ‘Alignment is the essence of management.’”

That quote is a reminder to employees that their values and goals should be aligned with the company’s vision and mission. And it is a reminder to management that employees’ compensation and the support they receive should be aligned with their performance.

“Making sure that you attracted the right people and that you aligned them with your overall company goals and objectives is a great opportunity for marketplace differentiation,” says Cole. “That is one of the things that is really driving our vision and creating an opportunity for Sequent.”

So how does Cole align his employees with Sequent’s mission and vision?

“First of all, you have to clearly define your mission,” he says. “And ... you have to have it defined from all perspectives in the organization.”

In Sequent’s case, the mission of the organization is to help clients improve their corporate performance through the integration of people strategies, process management and technology.

From that mission come Sequent’s goals and objectives.

“The main goal of the organization is to really serve our client companies and their people,” says Cole, who then ties people’s positions at the company in with the mission.

“If we have our mission and we have input from throughout the organization, we can identify goals and objectives that support that mission, and then we provide our people compensation that reinforces the behavior to support those goals and objectives, give them the proper training and give them the proper tools to be effective.”

Once Cole aligned his employees with the company’s mission, he focused on Sequent’s clients and their needs.

Service expansion
The next step to grow Sequent was to research which services would be of use to clients and potential clients.

“We always try to be on the cutting edge of understanding marketplace opportunities,” says Cole. “We’ve done both qualitative and quantitative research with existing customers, general businesses out there and also our former clients, and we try to access marketplace opportunity and things that were driving their organization. Those are the kinds of things we were seeking to know on an intimate level.”

Sequent looked at both the small and mid-sized business markets before deciding which services to add to its core offerings.

“We started out offering a bundle package of services that we call our professional employer services,” says Cole. “Out of that came other human consulting opportunities. That has really broadened and grown from there, and we say (to clients), ‘Gee, we have helped you out with this, maybe we can help you out with some other things.’

“We have broadened our offerings into information technology, customer care, and we’re moving into accounting and finance.”

Offering multiple services within one organization opens the door for cross-selling between departments. And Cole says it is every employee’s obligation to identify these cross-selling opportunities and help make the sale.

“We don’t want to leave it to chance,” says Cole. “What we want to do is be purposeful about making sure that anyone who is outwardly facing understands the breadth and depth of our entire organization and has the ability to, at least on the surface, identify an opportunity and then get the (appropriate people involved).”

According to Cole, education — of both employees and clients — is the key to making cross-selling work. Cole educates his employees through a business development forum in which employees learn about different areas of the organization and are educated on what kinds of opportunities Sequent is looking with cross-selling and how to recognize those opportunities.

It is the employees’ job to educate clients and potential clients about the benefits of Sequent’s offerings.

“Part of our approach to everything we do is education,” says Cole. “We don’t think we can really sell anybody anything. Rather, all we can do is educate them about what we do, other issues in the marketplace, our past experiences and things like that. It’s through that education that we are able to identify opportunities in the marketplace.”

Acquiring growth
Cole has acted on opportunities for Sequent to expand externally, as well. In the past year, the company has made key acquisitions that have added to the services it can offer clients.

It recently acquired technology firm 180° Strategies; the Human Resource Information System, a consulting practice; and insurance consulting firm Beacon Management Group. Cole believes there are more acquisitions in Sequent’s future, but he plans to approach these opportunities cautiously.

“If the ’80s and ’90s taught us anything, it is that mergers are not necessarily the easiest things and don’t necessarily culminate to equal something that is greater than the two parts,” says Cole. “In other words, two plus two does not always equal four, but if you can make two plus two equal five, then you really have something.”

That was the case when Sequent acquired Beacon Management Group and then joined forces with law firm of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey. Together, the three entities created Sequent Insurance Group, which offers organizations within the insurance industry opportunities to improve their corporate performance with specific offerings catered to them.

“By bringing the three entities together, there seemed to be a real synergy created,” says Cole. “It really was just trying to identify at a strategic level different skills, expertise and marketplace potential.”

For Cole, one of the biggest challenges when it comes to acquisitions is effectively evaluating whether bringing two entities together really will create something of greater value.

“It’s kind of like a marriage in many respects,” says Cole. “In a marriage, there are a lot of things to contemplate and a lot of things you need to discuss before you decide to make that commitment. It’s the same thing (with acquisitions). These are pretty big commitments in coming together, so you are going to want to make sure that all of those fundamental philosophies are in alignment.”

Cole aligns potential acquisitions with Sequent’s mission the same way he aligns his employees with it.

“We look for a philosophical match,” he says. “We spent a lot of time and energy in getting to know the principals of those organizations and validating the fact that we are like-minded in those key areas.”

Whether he realizes it or not, Cole has used Fred Smith’s quote to guide him through the expansion of Sequent. Not only is alignment the essence of management, it is also the key to growth and expansion.

Cole aligned his employees with Sequent’s mission, new services with clients’ needs and acquisitions with Sequent’s values to create a larger, more profitable company with services to improve the culture of small and mid-sized companies.

“There’s convergence from every perspective, yet the foundation, the 10 year heritage that we have, has positioned us well to take advantage of marketplace opportunities.”

HOW TO REACH: Sequent, (888) 456-3627 or