Born: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology, The State University of New York at Buffalo
First job: I worked in catering halls for years. I was 16. I worked as a busboy, head busboy, waiter, bartender. I think everyone should be a waiter at least at some point in time. You learn so much about how to deal with crisis, how to deal with people, how to make them happy on a personal level. Before that, I worked in camps doing music I was the music instructor, but really that was my first real job.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Probably a rock star. I’m not giving up on that. When I was 16, I was playing in a band, and we were playing at these clubs in Brooklyn and opening up for big names at the time. … It’s sad; when I was 16, I kind of peaked my rock stardom. I’ve been in a band almost ever since up until a couple years ago.
Whom do you admire most and why?
In life, and I know this is so cliché, but definitely my father just because he was also a musician and he was also extremely creative and passionate about life. The one thing that he instilled was he was always happy to go to work who the hell is always happy to go to work? Everyone has bad days. Everyone has problems, but he never showed that to the family.
What’s your favorite movie?
I’d say ‘Fight Club’ is probably my No. 1 favorite movie. ‘Fight Club’ is one of my favorite movies because it encapsulates a point in time when I first graduated college, it encapsulates where we were as a culture at that time, the challenges that we face, and there’s a lot of good lessons about materialism and counterculture.
Lunenfeld on establishing a vision and values: The vision needs to serve as a prediction, and it should be a work in progress slightly unattainable. For us, the vision is that Moxie is creating the agency of the future. We are creating it’s not to say that we are or we’ve achieved this. It’s creating that sense of a work in progress and something that we’re all striving for.
You can’t put [your core values] up on a wall and say, ‘This is what we are today.’ When we were crystallizing what our values were, it was really a reflection of who we are, not who we want to be. The difference between your values and your vision should be who you are. Your vision should be who you want to be.
Everyone really underestimates how important, what people consider, the soft stuff is in a company the touchy-feeling things. I was a cultural anthropology major in school, so for me, it’s all about what drives your culture, what are the things you stand for, what are the symbols that point those things out. When you think about it, a company really needs to be a drive, a culture, a vision, and everything you do has to ring true to that, otherwise everyone’s just going to call bullshit on you.
Week after uncomfortable week, Donald Trump leaned across the edge of his famous boardroom table, his hands locked together, his lips curled in a sneer, and stared some poor sucker right out the door. During eight seasons of his reality television show, “The Apprentice,” Trump has mastered the ability to pound out the two words that no employee, not even a contestant eager for fame and fortune, wants to hear.
As has been the case so many times during the last couple of decades, Trump proved to be far ahead of the curve. He mastered the fine art of the fire long prior to the start of our current recession, long prior to millions of workers hearing the same words, more or less, as that unfortunate contestant on the other side of the table. But perhaps Trump and you will not need to utter those words as often this year as you did last year.
The national unemployment rate dropped to 10 percent in November 2009 from 10.2 percent in October, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure, however slight, represents enough of a drop to provide some glimmer of hope to human resources and human capital experts across the nation and some hope that the start of a long recovery will soon be under way.
“A sharp employer can use the current economic system to get their employees even more engaged in the business. The whole issue of human resources is really built on common sense and good human interaction,” says Gordon St. John, managing director, East Region, United States, Buck Consultants LLC. “Employers can be talking to their employees about what the challenges are and looking to their employees to help find more solutions.”
All of which means that, after a long and frustrating year filled with layoffs, wage freezes, the elimination of bonuses and perks, and the addition of more assignments for employees already under stress, the economy and the human resources industry might start to take a turn for the better at some point this year. Challenges do remain, of course, but there is hope.
Whenever the figures and charts tick upward, the time to move will be as soon as possible. Will you be prepared?Focus on your top employees
The challenges throughout the last year focused on how to maintain the revenue, trim the budget and retain as many employees as possible. Almost every business of every size lost something and, more important, somebody as evidenced by that aforementioned unemployment rate, which has increased during almost every month since April 2008.
You might still need to trim your budget, but you will also need to focus on identifying and retaining your high-performance and high-potential employees. So often, those employees might think the grass is greener on the other side of the proverbial fence. But what about when the grass is brown? What about when there is no grass? Heck, forget the grass, what about when there is no fence? They remain where they are for as long as necessary, as they are doing now because there are so few available positions in the marketplace.
Then they leave.
That is, at least, the consensus among dozens of human resources and human capital experts.
“Employers are doing whatever they need to do,” St. John says. “But they need to take care, because employees have long memories, and the manner in which employers get through these difficult times will not be lost on their employees. There’s not a lot of job-hopping going on these days, but when things get better, which they ultimately will, employers will have had to have done a good job of communicating openly and treating their employees as well as they could have.”
The process of retaining your employees has already started, with your top workers likely influenced by how you handled the fallout from the shock of the recession. If you handled layoffs with dignity, communicating why decisions were made and what they meant for the future, that helped. So did any revenue investment in those top workers, from compensation and bonuses to training programs and seminars. And if you talked with those top workers and relayed to them where they fit in the vision for your business, that would have been about the best thing you could have done.
“Employees talk, so when it gets around to human-resources-type programs, over coffee or at a holiday party or wherever, people talk about what their organizations are doing, whether or not health care is provided, how much you have to pay for health care,” St. John says. “If an employee has a negative perception of those things and becomes aware that there are those perceptions, they may not be able to act on it immediately, but they will keep that in mind and look for other opportunities.”Develop and share your plan
In addition to identifying and targeting your high-performance and high-potential employees to prepare for a future of healthy economics, you should develop a plan to address possible human resources challenges and plot the path you want your business to follow during the next couple of years.
Chief among your objectives for that plan should be the development of a balance between continued cost reduction and simultaneously positioning for growth. During the last year, many companies have aimed to manage and contain all costs related to human resources and human capital because they have been trying to do little more than survive. Survival is important, but it is also important to not damage the viability of your business in the big picture, well beyond these few years and even beyond this new decade.
Once you develop your plan, share it with your employees, especially your key employees. That advice might sound obvious, but experts say that too many business owners fail to relay information to their managers and their employees. And even in a good environment, employees who only hear about meetings behind closed doors and have no idea what is happening and what is about to happen will often speculate incorrectly, either causing additional stress or inadvertently spreading incorrect information. In short, you can still have those meetings behind closed doors, just be sure to share what is said on the other side of the oak.
“Communication is big, particularly from the senior executives,” says Josh Sorkin, senior vice president of enterprise services, Hudson. “It’s about what they’re doing to invest in not only the people but in the business overall, in making the employee base feel the company is investing in the longer term.”
Communication is a key to developing a successful human resources department, either internally or by bringing in an outside firm. You want your employees aware of what is happening in your business, and you want them to be engaged.
“With all of the changes going on in the economy and all of the uncertainty, it’s important to remain engaged with your employee base, to have them stay focused on the business at hand and not be distracted by news in the marketplace or internal chatter within their own companies,” Sorkin says. “It’s important for them to be focused on the tasks at hand and make sure you keep your business profitable and looking forward.”
Employment litigation is on the rise, with many cases dealing with workplace misconduct in the form of harassment or discrimination. The recession has incited our already litigious society to the point where employees will sue over misconduct instead of simply leaving the company.
Employers need to take action promptly once a complaint is received, conduct a thorough and fair investigation, and take action against the harasser to warn other employees that misconduct is not tolerated.
“If you don’t conduct an investigation, the behavior could become worse and involve other employees,” says Charles Huddleston, a shareholder with Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC. “There can also be a lot of time and money involved in employment law cases, and it can generate a lot of ill will and bad publicity for your company.”
Smart Business spoke with Huddleston about developing policies concerning workplace misconduct and investigating incidents.
How are workplace misconduct complaints received?
Complaints can come directly from the victim or from someone who has seen or heard about the incident. Anybody in a management position should report an incident if they see it or hear about it. If it’s not passed on to the appropriate people and the harassing continues, the company will be held responsible.
Anywhere employees are undertaking activities for the employer can be considered the workplace, including a reception area, a business trip or client delivery. The mere fact that harassment or discrimination is occurring off the normal worksite does not immunize you from liability or relieve managers from taking steps to stop it if it’s seen or known.
What is involved in a misconduct investigation?
Investigations should be done promptly, thoroughly and fairly. The severity of the complaint will often determine how promptly the investigation should be handled. Investigations can be unpleasant and, many times, tend to drop to the bottom of people’s lists, particularly if the harasser is someone you know or like or it’s the boss. But every day you don’t take care of it could mean another day that the harassment or discrimination is continuing, and possibly getting worse, if the charge turns out to be true.
You also need to thoroughly investigate the complaint, and make sure all employees who may be involved are interviewed. If the complaint is accurate, odds are this wasn’t the first incident with the harasser, so you need to take time to seek out other potential victims to help build a clearer case.
You should have a trained investigator involved, mainly from the human resources department. Having more than one person involved allows for a fair investigation. If one investigator works closely with the harasser, he or she can step down from the investigation. If the harasser is someone with power and you want to make sure the investigation is handled fairly and the victim is able to tell his or her side of the story, then you may need to bring in an outside investigator; often the company brings in its outside legal counsel to handle the investigation in this situation. It’s also good to have at least one female involved, because female victims will be more comfortable talking to other females about an alleged incident.
Many times, victims will come forward to report an incident, but don’t want to do anything about it. You need to communicate that some sort of investigation needs to take place to stop the misconduct from happening. You should develop a strong anti-retaliation policy so that nothing can happen to the victim after reporting an incident.
How can you develop good policies and procedures to prevent workplace misconduct?
Policies should tell employees who to report incidents to and that all complaints will be investigated. Having policies in place and a good record of investigating, and taking actions to stop misconduct, gives employees no excuse to not report misconduct.
You need to make sure your policies are up to date and include employment law changes from the last several years. Supervisors and managers should be trained, as well as investigators, at least every other year so they’re up to date on the policies and any law changes. Investigators also need extra training on how to properly interview people to try and track down the facts to prove or disprove the allegation.
What action should you take following an investigation?
The severity of the conduct will determine how severe the punishment will be. You don’t always have to fire somebody, but you can take steps to try and change the person’s behavior before further actions are taken. The employee could receive counseling, have reprimand placed in his or her file, and have his or her behavior monitored by the victim and others working closely with him or her. The harasser can also receive extra training on appropriate workplace conduct and language. The employee should be terminated if the behavior continues or the initial incident was too severe.
What are the benefits of putting proper policies in place against workplace misconduct?
Having the proper policies in place and a good track record of investigations gives you a better defense if someone complains. If no report was made by the victim, it can actually give you a legal defense to certain claims. It can also send a message to your employees. The first time someone is reprimanded for harassment, even if it’s not made known publicly, people hear about it and know this is taken seriously.
The number of complaints can actually go down if you put the proper training and education in place, and if you create an environment where workplace misconduct is not tolerated.
Charles Huddleston is a shareholder with Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC. Reach him at (404) 221-6536 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shortly after the opening credits of the film “Tomorrow Never Dies,” James Bond received a cell phone from the Q Branch of the British Secret Service. The phone was able to transmit incoming and outgoing calls, of course, but it was also able to scan, analyze and transmit fingerprints, and pick locks with a stylized antenna. And it could also fire away as a stun gun.
Not bad for 1997.
A little less than 13 years later, there is nothing that lethal anywhere in the world of telecommunications. There are, however, plenty of developments, especially regarding Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, that might make you feel a little bit like 007. And cut a chunk of money from your monthly expenses.
Developed in earnest during the first Internet boom of the early 1990s, VoIP utilizes the Internet to make inexpensive, if not free, phone calls to just about any number around the world. All you need is a computer, broadband Internet access and a voice on the other end of the digital line. For years, media and industry experts trumpeted VoIP as the next big thing, but the Internet capabilities lagged behind the technology, leading to garbled conversations and snowfalls of static.
With the rise of faster and more efficient Internet access during much of the last decade, VoIP increased in scope and performance. Dartmouth University installed a network across its campus in 2003. Oprah stumped for a popular VoIP service last year. Even the government is starting to take advantage of the new technology, with the Social Security Administration in the process of converting to a VoIP network at its more than 1,500 field offices.
All of that combined means that VoIP is not the next big thing. It is the now big thing.
“The entire industry has gone beyond the experimentation phase,” says Tom LoFrisco, executive director of business product management, AT&T. “Carriers, manufacturers, everyone is headed in the direction where they will be able to supply Voice over IP.
“It’s decided. It’s a business standard.”Make technology work for you
What makes VoIP so special is what it is able to do for you, for your business, for telecommunications as you know it.
There are the audio and video calls, which are available for either nothing or next to nothing on a number of popular Web sites. But if you choose to rely on those sites and the public Internet to run your business, industry experts say that you will leave yourself susceptible to many of the problems common to insecure data networks, including hackers, spyware, malware and any number of viruses.
A better option might be to install a VoIP network through a larger carrier to ensure that your voice and data will be secure. The cost to install a new network is high normally between $20,000 and $30,000 for businesses with 50 or so lines, though quotes and actual costs vary case by case but the savings can add up thanks to the 20 to 30 percent that most industry experts say you can save on your monthly bill. And besides, you will have plenty more tools, the kinds once thought limited to secret agents, to enhance how you do business.
“There are just a slew of new features that existing networks don’t have,” LoFrisco says. “There’s ‘Find Me Follow Me,’ where calls can ring your different assigned handsets simultaneously. There’s integration with other voice applications. And the key is that most of those features can be provisioned and managed at the user level.”
Many of the features provided by larger carriers have been available for more than a decade but at a far higher price. As recently as a couple of years ago, only Fortune 500 companies and the like were able to afford IP features, including unified messaging, where your voice mails are converted to text and arrive seamlessly with your e-mails, and secure access to the company network for employees working anywhere in the world.
“I have an application that runs on my computer that, wherever I am in the world, as long as I have broadband Internet, everybody else in the corporation can see where I am if I’m working remotely in Washington, D.C., if I’m in a meeting in Albany or Dallas and then I’m available to communicate in multiple ways with my colleagues,” says Stephen Brown, vice president of U.S. Systems Engineering, Mitel. “They can instant message me across the network; they can click to call me, which will route the call to the soft phone on my computer or a desk phone where I’ve logged in.
“It really reduces a lot of the complexities from a communications perspective.”
Your employees can even work from home with the same equipment, technology and access available to them at the office. Just hand them a VoIP phone, tell them to take it home and plug it in, and they will be able to work and sound as if they are at their desk. This feature is ideal for call centers and companies that offer 24-hour service because it opens the door to hire remote workers across the nation and around the world. It will also benefit employers who might want to decrease the size of their office and the amount of their rent but maintain the size of their work force or smaller companies that want to appear bigger to customers.Think about the future
Though VoIP networks might initially seem like some sort of futuristic technology that will be difficult to install and more difficult to understand, it will likely be an easier transition than rotary to touch-tone or analog to digital. You might not even need to install new phones or schedule much time, if any, to train employees how to maximize use of the new features.
“Nothing’s ever simple, but the way the process works is, when you come aboard, there is some level of knowledge you need to have in order to learn, and you need to be willing to learn,” says Rich Klepacz, senior product manager for core voice and broadband services, Cbeyond. “Once it’s turned on, it’s almost a matter of plug and play.”
If you can figure out how to use your remote control to flip channels, record your favorite shows and insert a DVD with the push of three buttons, you will probably be able to figure out a few additional features on your phone, especially if they help you run your business more efficiently.
Of course, a VoIP network might not be necessary for all businesses. If you have only one office and a handful of employees who never work in the field, if you receive far more calls than you send or if you want to install the newest technology just to say that you have it, you probably have little need for VoIP. But if you have offices in multiple cities, even multiple states, to tie together with one network or if you have any employees out in the field, a VoIP network might be a sound investment.
“Over the years, I’ve seen that the small business owner is becoming a lot more technically savvy,” Klepacz says. “They really are becoming smarter users.”
Wellness programs are an important way to get your employees energized and involved in maintaining healthy lifestyles. They’re also a good way to manage your health care costs and lower health insurance premiums and deductibles. The programs are designed to give some type of incentive, typically monetary, for meeting certain health requirements.
But before you start implementing your program, you need to make sure it’s compliant with many of the health care laws.
“You run into some large financial penalties if you do not comply with these laws,” says Nick Tomlinson, an associate with Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC.
Smart Business learned more from Tomlinson about making sure your wellness program is compliant with the various statutes.
What compliance issues are associated with wellness programs?
The two big ones are the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). The HIPAA rules make sure you’re not discriminating against the least healthy of people, those who would benefit the most from wellness programs.
GINA has a broad prohibition against the collection of genetic information. This affects wellness programs because many use health risk assessments (HRAs) to collect medical information on members. The HRA should not contain any information regarding family medical history, because that is considered genetic information under GINA.
What penalties do you run into by not complying with these statutes?
Penalties for employers who violate GINA range from $50,000 to $300,000, as it is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. GINA also has a built-in penalty for health plans. There is a $100 fee for each day and each participant that a plan is not compliant. For example, if you’re noncompliant for 10 participants for 10 days, you’ll receive a $100,000 penalty. There is a $500,000 cap on this. So it can go on for a while and adds up fairly quickly.
How can you make sure your wellness program is compliant with the nondiscrimination rules?
You’re subject to the nondiscrimination rules if your plan is part of a group health plan and has certain participation incentives. One way to comply is to allow everyone to participate in the program, regardless of the end result. For example, you offer employees a monetary incentive for participating in a health fair, regardless of the outcome.
However, you have to worry about discrimination if your plan requires members to maintain certain metrics to receive an incentive. You can engage in benign discrimination but have to meet five crucial steps.
- The incentive must be no more than 20 percent of your contribution to the health plan.
- The program must promote health or prevent disease and must be available to all similarly situated individuals in the company.
- You must provide a reasonable alternative for employees who cannot meet the metric due to a health condition. For example, an employee with diabetes may not be able to meet the body mass index requirement, so you can provide an alternative standard so that person can participate in some form and get the same incentive.
- You have to communicate this alternative to program members. You don’t have to tell them what it is, but they at least need to be aware of it.
- All members need to be able to qualify for the incentive at least once per year.
How can you make sure your wellness program is compliant with GINA?
GINA was passed in May 2008, but the regulations were issued at the beginning of October 2009, so everyone is concerned about it now. GINA defines ‘genetic information’ as the testing of an individual’s genetics through means such as a blood test or by providing family medical history. While your plan might be compliant with the nondiscrimination rules, it may not be compliant with GINA. For example, you offer employees incentive for completing an HRA. You’re not discriminating, but the HRA might be full of questions related to family medical history.
There are two ways to make your program compliant. The first is to take out all genetic or family history questions from your HRA and still offer an incentive for taking it, sans these questions. But you have to be careful about the questions you’re asking. You may not be directly asking about family medical history, but a question might lend itself to revealing this type of information. For example, asking someone if they’ve ever been tested for a certain disease might reveal some genetic information. You have to tell employees to not reveal any information related to family medical history when completing the HRA.
You can also offer an HRA that includes family history questions, but it can’t be tied to an incentive. How you implement the wellness program is also key, and you can work with your attorney or third-party administrator to make sure you’re compliant with the rules.
The GINA regulations are still evolving and cover a broad area, including employment-based decisions. You need to be communicating with your vendors to make sure your plan and program are compliant with the new regulations, especially as the new plan year rolls around.
Nick Tomlinson is an associate with Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC. Reach him at (404) 221-6537 or email@example.com.
When Primus Builders Inc. started growing, Richard O’Connell faced the difficult challenge of transitioning the design-build engineering and construction firm from a small business, where he could do everything himself, into a larger organization. For the first time, he had to come to terms with the fact that other people would do things differently than himself, but their way could still be successful.
“I’m satisfied with the results, but everyone has different processes to get a task done,” the president and founding partner says. “That’s been tough, because the company for the first two or three years was just a handful of people, and it doubled and tripled and quadrupled, so obviously you just can’t do everything and be everything to everybody.”
O’Connell has adapted, and today, he has 36 employees whom he’s learned to trust, and the team collectively has made the firm a roughly $65 million business.
Smart Business spoke with O’Connell about the principles that have helped him successfully grow his business.
Focus on your customers. It is important how you deliver a project and how you service your customer and the quality product that you put out. There were some expectations along the way to meet standards, so it wasn’t a total hand-off-the-wheel approach of just get it done on this date and under budget and we’re satisfied. We place a high emphasis on our customers. One of our strengths is we seldom or rarely ever lose a customer and that’s been a big key of our growth.
We’ve developed these customers over the years and it’s our job to make sure they’re getting exactly what they expected and getting the level of service they’re expecting.
Don’t take the customers for granted. Be your customer’s advocate inside your office. It’s easy for people to get off track in what’s important for the customer. It doesn’t hurt to go out and take them to lunch once a month. You’re in the area, you’re making a sales call, so you’ll say, ‘Hey, I’m in the neighborhood — do you mind if I come by and I take you out to lunch?’ Be there when they don’t have projects going on, as well. Just don’t take it for granted. Communication is key. We just want to always be providing a service.
Create accountability with employees. You need to make people accountable. If you’re going to assign a task, you need to hold them to deadlines and get that implementation done. If you let it hang out there, it usually just hangs out there, and there’s no follow-up on it, and it’ll be frustrating. We struggle at times with it, but I think holding people to deadlines is crucial. People don’t want to fail — they’ll find a way to succeed because we’re always too busy in the day to day to do anything outside of what we do day to day.
You can take their paycheck away, but that doesn’t work. The ultimate goal is you want everybody to feel like they’re a partner in the business and they’re a part of something and their contributions are recognized and rewarded — and that if they do the job, they can make a true difference, and it’s not just getting bundled up and somebody else taking all the credit. We try to pass the credit where it’s appropriate, and I think most people do not want to fail. As long as they have the tools and they can see the reward and get that job satisfaction, I think they’re going to be somewhat accountable for their actions and for the end results.
Have a family atmosphere. People work hard, and they’re recognized for it. I try to run it that way but the bigger you get, it does get harder to keep that family atmosphere.
A couple years ago, one of the fellows turned 50. We had a surprise birthday party for him in Wilmington, N.C. We took the whole company to Wilmington. We’ve had Labor Day lobster festivals at the lake houses. The Christmas party, we’ve had it at my house the last two years, and we invite outside vendors and customers. We just hold them in high regard because they’re going to make a difference for us.
Don’t take your people for granted. We’re selling a service, and it’s our people. If you take people for granted, it just becomes a job to them, and they’re punching a clock. I called my employees at Thanksgiving — I called every one of them and wished them a happy Thanksgiving. Some years, I call on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, but I like to reach out to them and let them know I’m thinking about them and I appreciate all their hard work.
Get buy-in for goals. If you keep pushing the theme, you start to see people buy in to it by actions. Actions speak louder than words. We’ve pushed a couple of agendas recently with getting LEED certification, and we’ve got several people moving in that direction. We had to incorporate new software, and one of the operations managers took point on that, and that was a little painful because people were used to doing things one way, and they had to learn a new system, but we felt like in the long run it would be best for the company. I’ve had to take point on certain agendas I’ve wanted to promote and they were tasked with pushing it through and getting people to buy in and execute for that plan.
We haven’t done a lot to get people excited about it. These are tools we need to adapt to be more successful in our business — that’s how I promoted it. That’s just what we need to do, and for the most part, it’s worked OK.
While the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is investing in the nation’s transportation infrastructure, the projects it creates may also disrupt successful existing businesses. Changes to the configuration of roads connecting fully developed real estate sites will often generate significant impacts to adjacent businesses.
“When faced with condemnation, you should be aware of your legal rights and be on the lookout for the long-term interests of your business and real property,” says Ivy Cadle, an associate with Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC.
Smart Business learned more from Cadle about various aspects of the condemnation process.
Can you prepare for condemnation?
Yes. An attorney can connect you with specialized land use experts, engineers and real estate appraisers who can best protect your interests because they work in this area on a routine basis. Preparation is especially important for income producing properties where legal formalities are often pivotal.
There is no such thing as a ‘standard condemnation clause’ and the clause’s language may favor different parties in different circumstances. Lessees and lessors should review their condemnation clauses and be aware of their terms.
Owner/operators need to be sure the business owner leases the real property from a distinct corporate owner. If the Department of Transportation takes only a portion of your property and severely disrupts your business, failure to heed this advice may foreclose your right to compensation for business losses.
Like many other aspects of business, a strong fundamental understanding of your rights is important as many factors will influence the outcome of your particular case.
What role will negotiation play in the condemnation process?
In Georgia, condemnors are legally required to negotiate with property owners. At times, condemnation may be avoided and damages mitigated through negotiation. You may be aware of a condemnation through public meetings or notices, but at some point, a right of way acquisition agent will provide you with an offer based on the condemnor’s independent appraisal.
When negotiating, it is important to know your rights. The condemnor must provide you with a written offer. This offer must be equal to or greater than the damages calculated by the condemnor’s independent appraiser. You also have a right to a summary of the basis for that estimate. You even have a right to commission an independent appraisal and use this information as you and your attorney see fit. Qualified experts can communicate your goals to the condemning authority while enhancing your understanding of the nuances of the project.
Good negotiation strategy allows you to explore your position while maximizing the value of your case. While negotiations are not always successful, they often result in a better understanding of the issues by both parties. Through negotiation, you may also be able to maintain critical characteristics of your property or business, like access and parking, that may have been lost to condemnation.
What happens during the actual condemnation process?
Condemnation is imminent when you receive a 10-day letter requiring you accept the offer on the table or face condemnation. To legally condemn property, compensation must be first paid. Georgia requires payment of just and adequate compensation but the standard varies by state. Just and adequate compensation is generally based on the property’s fair market value and includes compensation for consequential damages to any remaining property.
The day the property is condemned, the condemnor must pay money into the court’s registry. This payment is based on the condemnor’s estimate of just and adequate compensation. Payment of the funds and filing of the petition transfers title to the condemning authority so you no longer own the property, but you don’t know that until you are served with the lawsuit. After service, you must respond in 30 days or you will forfeit your right to dispute the valuation to the property that was, just a few days ago, under your ownership.
One element of damage that may be forfeited is business damages. This element of compensation is not typically included in the condemnor’s independent appraisal and is rarely included in an initial offer. Business damages may only be recovered in certain circumstances and a thorough knowledge of condemnation law is required to accurately assess recoverable business losses. One method includes comparing the business’s fair market value before and after the taking while considering lost profits or lost earning ability.
What do I need to know if I have been served with a condemnation petition?
If you are dissatisfied with the estimate of just and adequate compensation paid into court, you need to act quickly. Your property has been taken and you need to respond immediately. You should also know that each named condemnee has the right to prove his or her entitlement to any portion of the deposited compensation.
You may choose to fight the taking but it is rare that a property owner keeps his or her property. A rejected petition is often quickly cured and refiled. Rather than fighting the right to condemn, most trials focus on issues of value. Georgia property owners are entitled to a jury trial on the issue of compensation. Qualified attorneys and experts will allow you to assess the risks and rewards associated with litigation and they will help you proceed in a way that is adapted to your individual circumstances.
Ivy Cadle is an associate with Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (404) 589-0009.
Linda A. Klein is the managing shareholder of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz’s Georgia offices and is a member of the firm’s board of directors. Klein’s practice includes most types of business dispute resolution, including contract law, professional liability and employment law.
Q. How can following legal advice save money for a company?
We all have our own jobs that we do, and the owner of a business is very good at running his or her business, but they may not be lawyers. Just as you would go to a doctor for a checkup, legal advice is much the same way. By going to a lawyer who understands the legal implications of what your business does, you’ll be able to get a legal checkup. Sometimes the lawyer can point out something you could do better, and if you do that, you could avoid a lawsuit or a government investigation.
Q. When should a business seek legal counsel?
When you are going to begin a business is an excellent time. If two people have an idea and decide to start a business together, there needs to be a plan for when they are not happy and are not working well together. Because when things are going well, you don’t see what the potential problems are. When you plan for the worst, you have a map for resolution of a possible dispute that was set way in advance, and perhaps, there will be no litigation or a very low-cost resolution.
Q. Can a company negotiate a flat fee for some services?
Law firms are always open to working with clients to find the best method of paying for their services that works for both the client and the law firm. It was large businesses that got law firms more used to doing billable hours, because there was a perception that clients would get a better value from hourly billing. As business has changed, business owners want to know what something is going to cost.
Many companies are outsourcing their IT functions as a way to cut costs, improve service and turn their attention to their core competencies. Before you make the decision to follow suit, you need to look at several key factors to make sure you’re doing it at the right time and for the right reasons, says Courtney Stoll, director of operations and administration at Arke Systems LLC.
Smart Business spoke with Stoll about how to decide whether outsourcing is right for your company and how making the move can help you focus on what really matters for your business.
What factors should business leaders look at when deciding whether outsourcing is right for their company?
There are three key factors that come into play when determining whether your company should outsource. First, you have to analyze whether you have the right team in place to quickly execute the IT project you’re considering. Do you have the staff available, or would placing them on this project jeopardize other responsibilities they are tasked with? You need to look at experience: Do you have experts on staff who are familiar with executing similar projects, or are you missing a critical piece of the puzzle to achieving success?
Second, you also need to consider the strategic value of the project. Is the effective execution of the project critical to your business? If you run into problems with the project, is there room for delay or potential failure or is it critical that it succeed the first time?
And finally, how do the resources required for the project align with your company’s core business competencies? If the project is outside the scope of your core competencies, you may want to consider outsourcing. In addition, outsourcing can provide you with an outside opinion on a problem that you may be struggling to solve internally on your own.
When is the right time to begin outsourcing?
Before you begin a new project, you should consider whether you would be better served by outsourcing it. It’s difficult to make that transition in the middle of a project if you discover that you don’t have the capabilities to do it in-house, so it’s critical to make that determination before you begin.
Another good time to begin outsourcing is if you are making step improvements in your processes and not just targeting incremental improvements. By outsourcing, you can make transformational change in your organization instead of simply taking small steps to improve what you’re already doing.
How can outsourcing help you focus on your company’s core competencies?
Outsourcing allows you to place responsibility for the less critical areas of your company on someone else, enabling your company and your people to focus on your key processes and initiatives that are revenue generators to your business.
Outsourcing also creates a single point of accountability and allows you to better define and regulate that process. Doing so creates a win-win partnership, establishing goals and rewards on both sides of the relationship for hitting requirements, with shared benefits and results for both parties.
How can outsourcing benefit a company in a down economy?
Outsourcing your IT functions can not only help you reduce costs, which is critical in today’s economy, it can also increase innovation by your employees and help make substantial improvements in processes at your company.
Companies have long outsourced functions outside of their core competencies, such as accounting, human resources, staffing and collections. Outsourcing IT functions to the right partner is no different. In a down economy, it’s common for businesses to reduce their staff, and by using an outsourcing partner, you can keep your company running smoothly with fewer employees and relieve the burden on your existing staff members.
Plus, outsourcing can help improve your company’s cash flow by reducing your payroll costs and by allowing you to work out financing and payment schedules with your outsourcing partner. Paying just for the work done by the partner also relieves you of absorbing the overhead of benefits, such as health insurance and 401(k) matches.
And finally, by outsourcing you are freeing your managers to focus their attention on more strategic, bigger-picture activities that have a higher value to your company.
How can outsourcing better position your company to grow as the economy improves?
Outsourcing allows you to achieve a high level of performance in mission-critical areas, enabling your company to quickly build scale and establish best-in-class processes. No business can maintain experts in every area that it needs to run smoothly, and having partnerships with experts that will grow with you and help you maintain your competitive edge is critical.
How do you find the right outsourcing partner?
In the past, functions such as debt collecting were outsourced to the lowest bidder. But as the functions that are outsourced have become more complex, you need to identify the company that offers you the best value for your money, not just the company with the lowest price.
Look for a company that has experience in your industry, that can work closely with your company and that has an experienced operations team.
Courtney Stoll is director of operations and administration at Arke Systems LLC. Reach her at email@example.com or (404) 812-3123.
Born: Livingston, N.J.
Education: Bachelor of science degree in finance, Lehigh University
What has been the best advice you have ever received?
Do the right thing. Always do the right thing.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
I think having the courage to follow a dream. I went off and started my own business, and that took a lot of courage and guts and sanity. But I think I’m glad I did it.
As a kid, what was your first job?
My first job was paving driveways for money in the summer in high school. Very glamorous, right?
What did you learn from that job that still applies today?
If you work hard and harder than anybody else, you can be successful.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to play basketball for the New York Knicks. I wasn’t even close. But if they ever call me, I’m going.
What is your favorite board game and why?
Monopoly. It’s just an interesting combination of strategy, and I just like the strategy of it.
With more than 2,000 franchisees, the Roark Capital Group portfolio includes such brands as Cinnabon, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Schlotzsky’s Deli, Seattle’s Best Coffee, McAlister’s Deli, Carvel, Primrose Schools, PSC Info Group, Money Mailer, BatteriesPlus, DX Marketing and FASTSIGNS, among others.