Tom Stalf applies his experience to managing Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s diverse operations

Tom Stalf, president and CEO of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, started as a zookeeper in his hometown of Coal Valley, Illinois. He was responsible for reptiles, big cats and elephants.

“I worked in a fairly small zoo, and by doing that, you have to wear many hats. It gave me so much information that I was able to grow — and go from zoo keeping to education to management and then to CEO,” Stalf says.

By working his way up from the bottom, Stalf learned every step of the way. Like many business leaders, that experience makes it easier to manage the whole organization when you get to the top.

 

Drawing on knowledge of the industry

After 20 years in Illinois, Stalf made the move over to Columbus’ much bigger zoo in 2010, which employs 2,000 people, earns $76 million in annual revenue and has a $240 million economic impact each year.

“My transition from my hometown zoo to Columbus was so much easier for me because I had the experience that I needed from beginning as an entry-level zoo staff and working up to senior management,” he says. “That on-the-job training was so essential for me. It’s easy for me to help with design and management because I know what it takes to run the zoo.”

In the zoo industry, many CEOs, presidents or executive directors come from banks and businesses, and they struggle, Stalf says. Three or four years after they start, the majority of them are gone.

Zoos are just different.

“When you’re dealing with animals and guests and staff, there is so much diversity in your management of your job as the leader,” Stalf says. “This isn’t about balancing numbers. It’s about animal welfare and it’s about guest experience, and then it’s about balancing numbers.

“And it’s a struggle for folks to jump into the zoo world at the top. Most people are not successful.”

 

Bringing in repeat customers

Managing the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is even more challenging because it’s more diverse than most zoological institutions. But that diversity is what keeps guests coming back again and again.

The zoo has a for-profit water park, a public golf course, a strong educational component and a 10,000-acre conservation facility. The zoo’s largest expansion in history, Heart of Africa — where a soybean field was turned into a savanna —opened at the end of May.

Fifty-six percent of the zoo’s visitors, some 82,000 households, buy a membership so they can return on multiple days, experiencing the many different options from aquariums and safaris to swimming, golfing, camping and zip lines.

PizzaRev taps passion to give customers a new way to eat an iconic dish

Nicholas Eckerman felt enough was enough when it came to the cheapening of the pizza-eating experience in America.

“We looked at pizza as being constantly compromised,” Eckerman says. “Take a pizza that always had to be communal, always had to be shared. We wanted to go in the opposite direction. We wanted to create a product that was about a personal experience.”

So Eckerman; his father, Rodney; Rodney’s longtime business partner, Irv; and Irv’s son, Jeff, set out to create a pizza restaurant that would make Cosmo Kramer of  TV’s “Seinfeld” fame very proud. At PizzaRev, you get to make your own pizza with whatever toppings you choose to put on it.

“When you order a pizza, you’re usually looking at a menu and going through it saying, ‘Let’s see,’” says Irv, who along with Rodney serves as co-CEO at PizzaRev. “You have plenty of time because the waiter hasn’t shown up yet. In our case, you’re front and center with a person saying, ‘What kind of sauce do you want? You’re engaged from start to finish and most people love that because they’ve never experienced it.”

PizzaRev opened its first store in April 2012, opened two more later that year and by 2014, had nine stores in Southern California. The company has created 400 new jobs in Greater Los Angeles, and thanks to a franchising deal with Buffalo Wild Wings, now has a presence in Minnesota and is looking to continue to grow its brand across the country.

“We anticipate having 28 or so stores by the end of this year,” Irv says. “We believe there is nothing about great thin crust pizza at your choice, customized the way you want it at one price, and done fast, that people don’t like. So we believe as long as we keep delivering on the model, the upside is endless.”

 

Look for desire

One of the keys to PizzaRev’s success is its ability to find people who bring self-confidence to their work, says Nicholas, who is the company’s COO.

“Those who make it into our organization are people who we believe are self-confident,” Nicholas says. “I don’t mean in the realm of speaking or of being overly confident. I mean they want to get out and do something. They wanted this job or they are confident enough to come and tell us they want to do this job.”

In any business, skill and character are obviously the key traits that you look for when considering someone for a job. But it’s more than just looking for people who are smart or who have the ability to work well with others. How much do they want to work for you?

“That’s what we look for in our team members,” Nicholas says. “They are interested in food and beverage and in getting skills out of the process for themselves. They want to learn something that they can continue to grow with our company or that they can take to another company or to their career. We want them to learn skills. We don’t want it to just be a job.”

Once you identify people who fit that mold and bring them in the door, the next step is to help them succeed in their work.

“It’s finding appropriate skill sets and motivation for the people you are going to work with,” Irv says. “If you can find people who can fulfill the job description and motivate them to do more with their ability, sometimes people are better than they even think they can be. When you put them into the job or you put them into a new position or a new idea, your attitude toward the growth of that position and how you inspire them determines how inspired they will be at the end of the day.”

 

Maintain the engagement

Once you’ve got your employees on your side and feeling upbeat about what you’re doing, you work on exciting your customers and doing what you can to keep them coming back for more.

“We never sit back and just watch things happen,” Nicholas says. “We want it to be better every single day. We want to engage every customer to the next level of even where we’re at today.”

He says his proudest moments leading PizzaRev are when he sees employees strengthen that engagement and advance in the organization.

“It’s been rewarding to  building a foundation that others can build careers off of,” Nicholas says.

 

2013 Healthcare Reform Seminar Wrap-Up

2013 Healthcare Reform Seminar

In mid-July, Smart Business held the 2013 Healthcare Reform Seminar, presented by SummaCare, and sponsored by Rea & Associates, Sequent, Roetzel & Andress, The Greater Akron Chamber, and hosted by Firestone Country Club. More than 200 people heard insight, advice and strategy from a panel of experts on what employers need to know about healthcare reform.

Contact these insightful panelists to learn more:

Kevin Cavalier, vice president of sales, SummaCare

Bill Hutter, founder & CEO, Sequent

Paul Jackson, partner, Roetzel & Andress

Joseph Popp, tax supervisor, Rea & Associates

Marty Hauser, CEO, SummaCare (Panel Moderator)

Contact Smart Business to get a copy of the presentation.

 

How Turner Construction built the Global Center for Health Innovation and Cleveland Convention Center ahead of schedule

John Dewine, Vice President and Construction Project Executive, Turner Construction Co.

John Dewine, Vice President and Construction Project Executive, Turner Construction Co.

John Dewine looks out his window on the ninth floor of the Standard Building in downtown Cleveland at the construction project he has been leading — The Global Center for Health Innovation (GCHI) and Cleveland Convention Center (CCC). Dewine, a Turner Construction Co. vice president and construction project executive, is no stranger to construction as a 37-year Turner veteran, and no stranger to Cleveland either, as he worked on both the Key Tower and Quicken Loans Arena projects.

Turner Construction, a design/build contractor, brought Dewine to Cleveland to head the project, which the firm completed three months ahead of schedule and on budget in June this year with the help of URS and LMN Architects.

“We got hired in early May 2010,” Dewine says. “From May through the end of 2010 we worked with the designers, engineers, Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. (MMPI) and the county to conduct a series of budgetary estimates and checks to make sure that the project design was staying on budget, providing the programming needs and scope that the county wanted.”

The GCHI (formerly known as the medical mart) and CCC are a $465 million Cuyahoga County project being developed, managed and marketed by MMPI. GCHI brings buyers and sellers together at the world’s first market facility designed specifically for the health care industry.

The state-of-the-art facility integrates permanent showrooms with convention and conference facilities to uniquely meet the innovation, education and commerce needs of the medical marketplace. GCHI showrooms will feature the latest technology from the world’s premier health care and medical manufacturers while the convention center is designed to host health care industry trade shows and conventions.

“The GCHI will be occupied by companies such as GE Healthcare, Cleveland Clinic and Invacare,” Dewine says. “There will be areas for collaboration, which Cleveland Clinic CEO Delos ‘Toby’ Cosgrove hopes will help yield next generation innovations for the medical field.”

The build

The GCHI and CCC project had numerous engineering feats and challenges that Dewine and his team, along with the help of 168 small business enterprise contractors had to overcome.

“On Jan. 3, 2011, at midnight, Armageddon took downtown Cleveland when we started to put in barriers and fencing to corner off three city blocks,” Dewine says.

The GCHI and CCC is located at the corner of St. Clair Avenue and Ontario Street. Before any structure was put in place, a lot of prep work was done to prepare the area for the new buildings.

“In downtown Cleveland the geology is such that the bedrock is almost 200 feet down,” he says. “For heavily loaded buildings, caissons or drilled shafts are imbedded into the rock, and it’s a very unknown-type process. We have an idea of what we’re going to encounter, but you don’t know until you’re drilling the hole.”

Dewine and his team encountered a lot of methane gas, so much that they installed a permanent methane venting system in the facility. But that wasn’t the only issue the Earth’s crust offered.

“The structure and strength of the clays that you drill through are such that if you drilled a hole and left it overnight it would squeeze shut,” he says. “That’s not a good thing, because if it squeezes shut it creates a void somewhere else, maybe under another building. So we had to put steel casings down as we went to prevent the walls from caving in. Getting through that caisson process was huge.”

Besides the groundwork, Public Auditorium and the old convention center provided several challenges for Dewine and his team.

“In the 1960s when they built the old convention center, they successfully incorporated a lot of mechanical and electrical equipment from the convention center to help service and feed Public Auditorium,” Dewine says. “We had to unhook and separate Public Auditorium from the convention center so we could tear the convention center down. Public Auditorium stayed in service, so it was very specific as to what we could and couldn’t do until we had enough of it isolated.”

The other thing that was a real challenge during the build was that the old convention center’s loading dock was at the same elevation as the floor. To create a true loading dock where the trucks are lower for ease of loading in and loading out, Turner had to lower the existing floor by 8 feet.

“As the loading dock goes underneath Lakeside Avenue, we had to lower the subgrade within 2 feet of a 99-inch brick sewer that was installed in the 1880s,” he says. “That took some extra precautions and measures to ensure something catastrophic didn’t happen.

“We had to make sure we didn’t collapse Lakeside Avenue in the process. We had to shore up Lakeside Avenue, remove the columns that supported it with temporary means, dig it out and lower it, put new foundations in and new columns back in, and then release the loads.”

Dewine says the real success of the project and the reason it was completed ahead of schedule was due to a very positive preconstruction period. Turner and its partners were able to sequence the 17-acre site and attack it from a number of locations at the same time.

“I believe the project got completed early because of how successful we were in sequencing the work,” he says. “When we put our guaranteed maximum price schedule together we had about 350 items in the schedule. At the end, we we’re well over 4,000.

“As items became identified and determined in the schedule, we could micromanage it so that you measure and know what you have to accomplish each week. What you don’t accomplish you have to have a recovery plan for how you get it done the next week. It takes a tremendous amount of communication.”

Turner had a general project manager/superintendent meeting every Thursday morning. In addition, the different areas — north of Lakeside Avenue, south of Lakeside Avenue, the GCHI and Public Auditorium — each had their own separate meetings as well.

The result of all those meetings and the hard work done by thousands of people is a finished project ahead of schedule, on budget and without any major accidents. Dewine is happy to now look out his window across the street at a completed GCHI and CCC.

“It’s a real good feeling,” he says. “It’s the successful result of a lot of efforts from a lot of good people. We were blessed with the contractors that ended up being successful in bidding and being awarded the project. We’ve had well over 6,000 employees take home paychecks as a part of this project. The level of cooperation has been unsurpassed.”

By the numbers

The GCHI and CCC is located in the nation’s medical capital, home to the largest concentration of medical leadership in the U.S. More than 230,000 health care professionals, including 43,000 at Cleveland Clinic and 25,000 at University Hospitals, along with more than 600 biomedical companies are located within the region.

Building Size — 1,003,000 million square feet

  • Site Area — 14.6 Acres
  • LEED Certified Silver

Global Center for Health Innovation

  • 235,000 square feet
  • 100,000 square feet of permanent show room space
  • 11,000 square foot junior ballroom
  • 2,000 square feet of retail space
  • Outside windows pattern evokes strips of DNA

Cleveland Convention Center

  • 767,000 square feet under Malls B and C
  • 230,000 square feet of high-quality exhibit hall space
  • 60,000 square feet of high-tech, flexible meeting room space
  • 32,000 square foot column-free ballroom
  • 17-truck capacity loading dock
  • 90-foot interval columns to carry a load equivalent to a 65-story building

How Timothy Yager led a strategy to get Revol Wireless winning again in the prepaid provider space

Timothy Yager, President and CEO, Revol Wireless

Timothy Yager, President and CEO, Revol Wireless

When Timothy Yager started at Revol Wireless in the fall of 2011, the company had been losing customers every month for an extended period of time. Late 2009 through the first half of 2011 were tough years for the organization — rumors of bankruptcy and new ownership were being floated around and the wireless communications provider was in desperate need of change.

“The company was having some financial issues,” says Yager, president and CEO. “So my arrival was a chance to hit the reset button for Revol, not only for our customers, but for our employees and say, ‘It’s a new day. The ownership change has happened and they’ve brought in new management and we’re going to focus the company on winning.’”

When Revol was first launched, it was a more than 300-employee, $100 million company. It had a reputation as being on the cutting edge of the prepaid wireless industry.

“Revol had a lot of success early on because it offered unlimited voice and those kinds of things on a prepaid platform,” Yager says. “They were the only provider in the footprint offering that type of service.”

In 2008 and 2009, other prepaid providers started moving in and the competitive forces grew. In a hypercompetitive industry such as wireless, Revol wasn’t as competitive as it should have been and it quickly began to fall behind.

“They needed some help getting the business turned around,” Yager says.

Here’s how Yager reinvigorated Revol Wireless with a strategy to get the prepaid provider winning again.

Evaluate the business

Prior to Yager’s arrival, Revol’s strategy and day-to-day operations were hindered by its capital structure, which brought about a slow-to-react atmosphere. Once the company was free from that structure, there were a lot of people who were looking for strong guidance, enthusiastic leadership and setting of general objectives to get the company back on track.

When Yager was first introduced to the team, it was a transformation in enthusiasm, direction and general motivation. Everybody suddenly had a place to go and a job to do. Yager brought a lot of that enthusiasm and direction to the table, and that’s exactly what people needed.

“Those first few days and weeks were really about analyzing the team that was here and where the strengths and weaknesses were,” Yager says. “The other thing was trying to change the focus and mindset of the company.”

Yager wanted to instill a strategy that said the company was in it to win it. It didn’t happen overnight, but employees started to recognize that there was a new philosophy.

“Revol had gotten mired in the minutia and a lot of times in companies that are struggling, people retreat from making decisions,” he says. “One of the biggest things I did was come in and start making decisions.”

Simple things like “yes and no” decisions went a long way toward starting to improve morale and helped employees realize there was a new sheriff in town. Yager represented new ownership, new direction and new thought.

“I think people started to feel empowered to be successful,” he says. “In a turnaround situation, one of the biggest things you’ve got to do is make decisions. So often companies get polarized with the fear of making the wrong decision that they make no decision, and I firmly believe that sometimes a wrong decision is better than no decision.

“If people are just constantly treading water and they don’t know whether they’re going up, down, right or left, it zaps the life out of a company.”

People respect leaders who come into a company and lay out a plan of attack, are upfront about the plan and who are forceful.

“I can remember that first meeting and saying, ‘I’m not going to do everything right and I’m not going to pretend to do everything right, but we’re going to make decisions, have short meetings, focus on what needs to get done and we’re going to get it done,’” Yager says. “In our wireless industry, where it is so competitive, we don’t have the luxury of taking six months to analyze everything.

“Sometimes you’ve got to look at the facts, make a decision and move on.”

Be decisive

Revol started 2012 losing customers every month, just as it had been the year prior, but with Yager on board the wheels were in motion for the company to move forward.

“When I came in, one of the first things I did was put some extra incentives out there to our dealers to sell some phones,” Yager says. “I was trying to buy some enthusiasm from our partners to get reinvigorated about selling the Revol brand.”

Another key decision Yager made was to get out in the field and visit a lot of the company’s owned doors and indirect doors to help get the message across that it’s a new Revol and a new day.

“Those were things that didn’t cost a lot of money, but helped move the business forward because it put a face with a name they were starting to see on emails,” he says. “It also gave them a chance to meet me and realize that I’m a relatively aggressive guy.

“When you’ve got five to eight competitors in a marketplace, you’ve got to be aggressive, and by people meeting me and realizing that I wasn’t just saying we were playing to win, they could tell by meeting with me that we want to win the game.”

One of the most crucial issues that Revol and Yager identified that needed to be changed was their network.

“Revol was still operating on an older technology called 1X and had slower data speeds,” he says. “In today’s world of smartphones, Androids and everything else, data is key.”

Shortly after Yager joined the company, the board approved a plan to upgrade the network to a 3G network.

“Our key initiative in 2012 was the company deploying 3G,” he says. “We launched that service in September last year and noticed an immediate uptick in our sales to customers as well as a stickiness of our existing customers.”

Move forward

Yager’s key to helping Revol right the ship was his ability to deliver on his decisions. He was careful not to promise too much.

“I came in and made a few simple promises — two or three key things and then I spent a year beating the drum on those things to do it,” Yager says. “Too often people come in and make a laundry list of 26 items they’re going to promise. No one can get that done in a reasonable timeframe and you lose credibility. Pick and choose what needs to get done and then deliver on it.”

In 2012 Revol was all about getting 3G launched. In 2013 the company is all about selling phones and keeping customers happy.

“When we launched our 3G network we saw an immediate turnaround to our gross sales and our net sales,” he says. “We have more than doubled our sales in January 2013 from January 2012. We’ve really seen that the successes are bearing out.”

Everyone at Revol had to put in the hard work to get the pieces in place, but now that that’s done, the company has seen noticeable improvement. To continue to see those sales and revenue numbers increase, the company has to keep a focus on growing its customers.

“I’m happy to report they are growing,” Yager says. “I’m excited about what we can achieve this year. Last year we had a hard time competing from a sales perspective because we hadn’t upgraded the network. This year we’ve got those key ground-level type things in place, so I’m looking forward to being able to execute and win.

“We have almost a singular focus in 2013, which is to grow the business. There’s really only one way to grow the business, and that’s to be successful in adding new subscribers and keeping existing subscribers.”

How to reach: Revol Wireless, (800) 738-6547 or www.revol.com

Huntington-CSU partnership to provide $1.2 million to Cleveland State

An exclusive partnership between Huntington Bank and Cleveland State University will bring new customers to the bank — and $1.2 million to CSU for scholarships and academic programming over a 10-year period.

“It is hugely significant for Huntington in that we partnered with one of the most important institutions in Cleveland,” says Dan Walsh, Huntington Bank Greater Cleveland Region president. “I think it underscores our commitment to the community.

“This extraordinary university contributes significantly to the vibrancy and economy of our city.”

CSU will receive $50,000 in scholarships, a minimum of three paid Huntington internships per year and $250,000 to support the university’s Allen Theatre Project, the “Power of Three.” In addition, the bank will work with CSU to develop a financial literacy program for students in order to help build a financial foundation in their lives.

Huntington hopes to target incoming freshmen as well as the 90,000 CSU alumni.

“We are very bullish on the growth going forward,” Walsh says. “And we will continue to grow our relationship. We are very excited about this going beyond the next 10 years.

“Huntington will be tracking those alumni who open accounts so we can monitor our deal with Cleveland State. We can give extra credit if we see this threshold of new customers or profitability.”

Huntington, with its launch of branches in Giant Eagle grocery stores, has the largest branch network of Cleveland banks. A full-service branch is now open on the CSU campus, and a new Huntington Bank Vikings debit card will be issued to customers.

CSU President Ronald Berkman welcomed the relationship, which was finalized after a competitive bidding-type process to become “The Official Bank of Cleveland State University.”

“The scholarships and internships Huntington will provide will be invaluable to many of our students,” Berkman says.

2013 ERC / Smart Business Workplace Practices Survey: Workplace makeover

Sue Ann Naso

Sue Ann Naso, President, Staffing Solutions Enterprises

If you had any doubt about the recession being in the rearview mirror, consider this tidbit from the ERC/Smart Business Workplace Practices Survey. In the last 14 years, only two years — 2009 and 2010 — have returned results with Northeast Ohio companies reporting the poor economy as their toughest challenge. For the 11th year, companies in 2013 are reporting that their biggest challenge has been hiring and retaining talent.

The survey, which has been a collaborative effort between ERC and Smart Business since 2001, is aimed to let you know what companies in Northeast Ohio are doing to drive their businesses forward.

This year in particular showed an overwhelming amount of companies, 49.5 percent, listing hiring and retaining talent as their No. 1 challenge.

The other concern many Northeast Ohio workplaces have includes health care costs and the uncertainty of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The good news is that a mere 5 percent of companies named economic conditions as the toughest challenge.

Lauren Rudman, President, Cleveland Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

Lauren Rudman, President, Cleveland Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

“Hiring continues to be strong,” says SueAnn Naso, president of Staffing Solutions Enterprises. “We see more and more companies adding recruiting talent, and it’s getting much more competitive to find those people, which is a good sign.”

Companies in Northeast Ohio are ramping up their recruiting efforts with 84.2 percent utilizing Internet job boards, and 50 percent utilizing social media to recruit talent.

“On the hiring side, you see a lot more LinkedIn activity,” says Lauren Rudman, president of the Cleveland Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “LinkedIn is still the No. 1 way to go, but I’ve also seen job opportunities pop up on Twitter and Facebook.

“Word of mouth is still a great way to go if your company has a referral program. Between social media, specifically LinkedIn, and word of mouth, those are still the No. 1 and No. 2 ways that work for recruiters and talent acquisition teams.”

While companies are finding ways to recruit more talent, they are also very focused on retaining that top talent once they have it.

“We’ve seen a continued emphasis on things like workplace flexibility and investing in training and development as ways to retain employees,” Naso says. “They’re focusing on keeping their turnover numbers as low as possible.”

According to the survey, 77.7 percent of companies provide financial assistance to employees to upgrade their skills through advanced education or job-related training. In addition, 28.6 percent offer a mentoring program.

“Training and development is a big one, especially for some of the millennials (Generation Y),” Naso says. “They really are focused on learning and growing, so I’ve seen a lot more hiring of people that do training and development, creating leadership training programs and having a leadership track so these young professionals see a career path and aren’t looking outside the company for growth.”

Today, there are more training and development programs than there were in the recent past and there are a couple of things that factor into that.

“One is the economy,” Rudman says. “Unfortunately, when things go bad, training and development is the first thing to get cut. As the economy continues to get better, those will either come back into play or grow.

“Another big part of it, too, is Generation Y in the workplace. Generation Y wants development, training and to know how they’re doing. Companies need to recognize that in order to retain top talent they have to provide these resources like mentoring, coaching and development opportunities because they want it more than some of the generations in the past.”

According to the companies that responded to the survey, roughly 75 hours of training are provided to new-hires in their first 90 days. Another way more companies are incentivizing employees to stay at their current company is through workplace flexibility.

“That has been a huge trend,” Naso says. “There has been a study that mentioned that about 78 percent of U.S. workers are looking at workplace flexibility as a primary reason why they’re either staying where they’re at or making a move. That is as important to them as compensation.”

According to the 2013 survey, 44.3 percent of companies in Northeast Ohio are offering flextime, 14.8 percent are offering compressed workweeks, 17.2 percent offer telecommuting and 32 percent offer a work-from-home option.

“It’s interesting because workplace flexibility tends to be something a little different to each person,” Naso says. “We’re seeing companies trying to put things in place that provide a variety of options for employees. It depends on the type of job or their focus and how they can create that flexibility.”

While hiring and retaining employees remains the top challenge, the upcoming ACA and its pending changes to health care costs have companies anxious about what the result will be.

“One trend we are seeing that was published recently in one of the staffing industry magazines is that temporary staffing jobs hit a record high in May as companies are trying to lighten the burden of the whole Obamacare regulation,” Naso says. “Instead of adding staff, they are using contingent labor to manage some of that.”

In fact, according to the survey, the average percentage of the workforce that was temporary of the companies polled was 3.6 percent, the highest since 2006. The percentage of contingent workers in 2013 was 8.6 percent.

“In preparation (for the ACA), a lot of companies are attending conferences and meetings,” Naso says. “However, I haven’t seen any hard and fast actions yet. I haven’t seen companies that have actually reduced their part-time staff from 35 hours to 28 hours or anything like that. They’re all in that wait and see mode.”

Due to the uncertainty of the ACA, a lot of employers and companies are being proactive.

“We’re seeing companies bringing in wellness coaches, reimbursing employees for gym memberships and bringing healthy food into their organizations via vending machines or fresh produce stands,” Rudman says.

“Biometric screening is another big one. You see a lot of those efforts happening, which down the road can hopefully impact and decline health care costs for those companies, as well as employee’s out-of-pocket costs.”

The biggest decision looming for companies is whether they will “play” or “pay” with the ACA.

“Pay means that the company is not going to offer health care and they will pay the penalty, which is $2,000 per employee, and then those employees will be a part of the health care exchange that the government is offering,” Naso says.

“Play means a company will provide a health insurance plan that meets all the new government standards. Even companies that currently offer insurance could be affected because their current plan may not meet those requirements anymore.”

One of the requirements is that health care doesn’t cost an employee more than 9.5 percent of their salary. There is also a minimum coverage.

“Companies that currently have a plan could have increased expense because they may have to pay more of the premium or increase the amount of coverage, which increases the cost of the premium,” she says. “At the moment I have heard that more companies are going to play than pay. But it’s still a huge unknown.”

Despite what may result from the ACA, there is no doubt that companies in Northeast Ohio are once again flourishing and waving goodbye to the recession. Smart Business thanks ERC and those companies that participated in this year’s Workplace Practices Survey.

Former franchisee turned franchisor, Wan Kim reinvigorates Smoothie King as CEO

Wan Kim, Global CEO, Smoothie King Franchises Inc.

Wan Kim, Global CEO, Smoothie King Franchises Inc.

Imagine it’s a hot day. You’re thirsty and hungry, but don’t want anything unhealthy. There aren’t many options available to meet all those needs. In the early ’70s, the concept of the smoothie was born out of this unmet need. Opened in 1973, Smoothie King Franchises Inc. was the original smoothie brand.

In 2001, Wan Kim had this same urge to find a healthy option to quench his thirst and satisfy his hunger. He had his first experience with a Smoothie King smoothie while studying at University of California at Irvine. The high quality, healthy product had him hooked immediately.

Kim was so impacted by the product that he became a Smoothie King franchisee in South Korea. Since 2003 he has owned several Smoothie King franchises, and in 2012 when the opportunity came about to own the brand, he jumped at the chance.

“I bought the company in July 2012,” says Kim, Global CEO. “I really love this brand. It’s not because I’m the owner, but because we have great products. There are a lot of changes still happening, but it’s exciting.”

Smoothie King, a 300-employee, more than $230 million organization, is now 40 years old. The brand has more than 700 stores and a presence in the United States, Korea and Singapore. Despite the company’s established age and fairly big size, a new owner and plenty of potential market opportunity leave the brand in growth mode today.

“Our next five-year growth plan is to open 1,000 stores in the U.S. and 500 outside the U.S.,” Kim says. “Last year the company did about 26 franchise openings. This year in the first quarter the company has done 40 to 45 signings.”

Kim’s experience as a franchisee and now a franchisor has given the company new life and Kim is excited about where he can bring the brand and its smoothies in the near future.

Here’s how Kim is spreading the word about Smoothie King in the U.S. and overseas.

Understand all areas of your business

Kim was a franchisee for nearly a decade in South Korea. His stores were some of the highest grossing for Smoothie King before he became CEO.

“Obviously franchisees and franchisors have some different views, but eventually the bottom line is to make a better brand,” Kim says. “The path they take can be different, so you have to keep communicating to each other and look at the bigger picture.”

Kim has a very unique advantage over numerous other franchise CEOs. He now has experience as a franchisee and a franchisor.

“I have both aspects and know what a franchise wants and needs, and I know how I need to communicate,” he says. “In any kind of business, sometimes people forget why we do it. So that’s why I keep communicating and keep telling our people why we do this business. We have a great mission and a great vision. We just have to talk about it.

“A lot of people want to make money and be comfortable and I get that and that’s very, very important, but there has to be another reason why we do this. Smoothie King is a healthy choice and our mission is to help people live a better lifestyle.”

While the company’s mission is to help people live a healthier lifestyle, Kim wanted to make sure that the company’s franchises were in good health also.

“As soon as I bought the company I looked at how many single franchisees we have, because when I was a franchisee I thought becoming a multi-unit franchisee was actually very challenging,” he says. “As a franchisor, they don’t understand what kind of challenges franchisees have when they have a second or third location.

“I started to visit some multi-unit franchisees that we have to look at what kind of system they have in place. Today, we are assembling all those systems so that whenever we have a single franchisee try to become a multi-unit franchisee we have some system to help them grow.”

Having those systems in place will become very beneficial as Kim continues to look at ways he can expand the brand.

“Right now we are in growth mode and are opening a lot of stores and also expanding into other countries,” Kim says. “When you grow, you are hiring a lot of people and when you’re expanding outside the United States you encounter different cultures. In order for me to assemble all those differences I need a really strong mission for why we do this business so that it doesn’t matter what kind of culture or background you’re from.”

Prepare for growth mode

Today, Kim is focused on growing the Smoothie King brand outside the U.S. and in the Southern parts of the U.S. where the company has a strong presence, but a lot of potential still remains.

“We want to make sure that we secure our market before we expand to a different part of the U.S.,” Kim says. “That expansion is happening in Florida, Texas, Georgia and other southern parts of the U.S. Going outside the United States we are looking at Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan and the Middle East. Our goal is to open two markets this year and two more markets next year.”

Fast-paced growth like Smoothie King is expecting requires a strong culture and mission that make the company attractive anywhere it goes.

“When you are in growth mode I would advise that you want to have a really strong culture in your organization, so that whomever you hire can be blended into your culture,” he says. “You have to set up a strong mission, vision and keep communicating with your employees.”

When you take your company outside of the United States you will experience a lot of cultural difference, and you have to be prepared for it.

“A lot of times when people don’t have any experience with different cultures they will think it’s wrong, but in fact it’s different,” Kim says. “In order for you to go to other countries and do business you have to learn how to respect their culture. If you don’t respect their culture they will know immediately. You have to educate your employees.”

The vast cultural differences Smoothie King employees will experience as the brand continues to expand isn’t the only change they’ll have to accept, they’ll also have to buy into the sheer amount of growth that Kim sees in the company’s future.

“A lot of times when companies grow employees don’t really see how far we can go,” he says. “When we start to grow there is a lot of work coming in and a lot of things are changing. It is very important that I need to keep communicating with employees that we can get there, because if you don’t believe we can get there, then it’s not going to happen.”

One of the first things Kim did when he bought the company was to tell the employees about the growth plan and a lot of people didn’t buy in.

“They were thinking, ‘Oh, it’s a new owner; of course he’s going to be thinking of growth, but it’s not possible,’” he says. “So I had to keep communicating that it’s going to happen and one by one, I started to show them that this would happen and then it really happened and people believed in the plan. I know there are still people who don’t believe where we can go, so I still have to communicate.”

Kim bought the company a little more than a year ago and he is having a blast seeing the company succeed little by little.

“I tell my employees to imagine if we were the size of any big fast food company, the world could be a different place,” he says. “It’s not just about making money and having success. It’s also about influencing more and more people to live a healthier lifestyle.”

How to reach: Smoothie King Franchises Inc., (985) 635-6973 or www.smoothieking.com

How top global entrepreneurs turn vision into reality

Recently, I had the privilege of attending the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year conference in Monte Carlo. I’m back to report that entrepreneurship is alive and thriving around the globe!

It was a whirlwind of a trip, packed with networking, thought-provoking panel discussions and personal interviews. We heard from a remarkable panel of speakers including Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize recipient; Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web; John Cleese, award-winning actor, author, humorist and Monty Python legend; and many more.

I also had the opportunity to sit down with some of the world’s most accomplished entrepreneurs. These business leaders come from more than 60 countries that combined represent a staggering 94 percent of the global economy.

In this issue and in the months to come, you’ll learn what the world’s greatest entrepreneurs have to say about leadership, innovation, overcoming challenges, bringing their visions to life and much, much more. You’ll also hear from the leadership at EY as to the importance of celebrating entrepreneurship.

Transforming vision into reality

“Be careful about making assumptions. Those assumptions can lead you down a pretty dangerous path. It is OK to make assumptions and have confidence but you had better do your due diligence as well. An assumption is having those critical for the business make sure it is happening. I am very trusting of people and in the past have had some unfortunate instances where I did make assumptions about something and they were completely the wrong assumptions.”

Dr. Alan Ulsifer, CEO, president and chair of FYidoctors

 

Americas Director for the Entrepreneur of the Year Program, EY

Bryan Pearce, Americas Director, Entrepreneur of the Year Program and Venture Capital Advisory Group, EY

“Growth obviously continues to be a challenge. The markets demand growth if you are a publicly traded company, and growth is a metric of how the business is doing. If you want to continue to attract the best people, attract the right sources of capital to your business, you have to demonstrate that things are going well and growth is one measure that people look to. I think that if you are a business in an established market, growth can be a challenge because those markets by and large are growing more slowly. So in order to get more rapid growth, many companies are looking at emerging markets and trying to figure out what their strategy should be for emerging markets, those that have double-digit growth potential.”

Bryan Pearce, Americas Director, Entrepreneur Of The Year and Venture Capital Advisory Group EY

 

“One of the toughest things for me was that people have a certain image of my country, Colombia. They don’t trust a company there to have good quality and do good work, but I am very proud to offer those qualities from Colombia. It is not easy but it is something that you can accomplish. I have been down a lot of times, but the good thing I have noticed is that every time something like that happened, I have been able to obtain positive things out of it. I have been broke multiple times, but from being broke I have been able to learn from it and rebuild.

nat_eoy_MarioHernandez

Mario Hernandez, founder and president, Mario Hernandez

Mario Hernandez, founder and president, Mario Hernandez

 

Jim Turley leaves his post as Global Chairman and CEO for EY with deep admiration for the entrepreneurs who continue to use their vision and spirit of innovation to change the world.

“They have got this wonderful ability to think outside themselves, to look at the world outside these windows and see the needs that exist out there,” says Turley, who officially retired on July 1.

“Then they’ve got a vision to create a product or service or an idea to meet the need they have seen. They have got the courage to risk everything and they are as persistent as can be. Most of them fail the first time out. But they get up, clean themselves off and do it again.”

 

Jim Turley, former Global Chairman and CEO, EY

Jim Turley, former Global Chairman and CEO, EY

“Work carefully with a few people who get a twinkle in their eye. If you talk about your idea, some people will respond with excitement because they get it, but not everybody. Maybe you talk to 300 people and three people will get it. Work with those three people. The web took off because a few people all over the world got it. You get the support from a few people who get it and then it builds from there.”

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web

 

Corey Shapoff has a job that many would envy, booking well-known musical acts such as Maroon 5, Katy Perry, Christina Aguilera and Kelly Clarkson for live concerts and private corporate events. But he doesn’t take much time to stop and think about all the famous people on his call list.

“I’m a grinder,” says Shapoff, president and founder of SME Entertainment Group. “I’m the kind of guy who is always looking to what’s next. You’re only as good to me as your last deal.”

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web

It’s that instinctual drive to always try to do it better that is embedded in the true entrepreneur and allows the next vision to become a reality.

“It’s hard for me to turn it off and say, ‘That’s great,’” Shapoff says. “I’m always thinking about tomorrow. You just can’t take things for granted in our business.”

 

“The skill sets of an entrepreneur involve understanding how to create business. So if you’re going to give back, why not work with kids who need it the most and actually teach them and help them to be entrepreneurs. That’s what is going to grow our economy and create stability where otherwise we’re going to have a lot of social unrest.”

Amy Rosen, president and CEO, Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship

 

Lorenzo Barrera Segovia, founder and CEO, Banco Base

Lorenzo Barrera Segovia, founder and CEO, Banco Base

“When you’re an entrepreneur you feel like you have never met a deal that you didn’t like. You only have limited resources and limited time to be successful. You have to stay disciplined and focused and being able to say what we are not is every bit as important as being able to say what we are.”

Jim Davis, president, Chevron Energy Solutions

 

“It’s important that you have teamwork and all your top players are well motivated with passion, principles and values. We make sure that people know where we are going and what our main objective is for that year. We promote teamwork inside and outside the company. Our directors have to make sure they are sharing our company values and principles with each of their team members.”

Lorenzo Barrera Segovia, founder and CEO, Banco Base

 

Martin Migoya, CEO, Globant

Martin Migoya, CEO, Globant

“For entrepreneurs you get a great idea, you start your business and then you have to keep focused. Keep executing that idea if that idea is big enough. Never fall into the temptation of getting out of your business or change it unless it’s strategic. Secondly, try to get financing as late as you can. Never get financing as soon as you can. Thirdly, create a great team and culture, because that’s what will prevail and create value for shareholders and your community. That’s how you scale your business. The last one is to dream big.”

Martin Migoya, CEO, Globant

 

“It was nothing but a gut feeling. The only thing I knew was there was a big opportunity in yogurt. I grew up with yogurt. Being from Turkey yogurt was a big part of our diet. I wasn’t sure if I could do it – break through in the world of yogurt in retail.

Hamdi Ulukaya, founder, president and CEO, Chobani Inc.

Hamdi Ulukaya, founder, president and CEO, Chobani Inc.

The category was owned by two major companies; Dannon and Yopliat owned about 70 percent of the market, and they had been there for years. As a startup you go to the specialty stores first. That’s how you start and you grow and once you reach a certain level then you go to the big retailers.

I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to go to the big retailers and be in the regular dairy aisle. That was a crazy idea and nobody thought that would go, but at least we tried. When we tried, we convinced one retailer in New York, ShopRite. The result from that was we were able to expand to a couple of other retailers. After the second or third customer that we had success with for our yogurt, I knew it wasn’t going to be about selling, it was about making enough.”

Hamdi Ulukaya, founder, president and CEO, Chobani Inc.

Marc Hill used his brand launching knowledge to take the best-known playing cards into new markets

Marc Hill, Jarden Corp.

Marc Hill, Jarden Corp.

Marc Hill has held numerous sales and marketing roles responsible for launching brands and products in new markets around the world for power tool companies such as Black & Decker and DeWalt. Two years ago, he left the power tool industry to take a role working at Jarden Corp. and the U.S. Playing Card Co., more specifically.

So why did he leave a career in power tools to come to the world of playing cards? It was an opportunity to be the boss. Hill became president and CEO of U.S. Playing Card Co. in April 2011.

Just as Hill had worked with well-known brands like Black & Decker and DeWalt, he would now be working to boost legendary brands such as Bicycle, Bee and Hoyle playing cards.

“It’s about developing great products and working with great people,” Hill says. “That is what drives it. Having a strong brand is also supportive. Those are the drivers that make me go in a new direction.”

Hill had the opportunity to take the knowledge gained over his career and lead a company.

“I have a chance to put my thumbprint onto an organization to lead strategy, lead people, and lead the culture,” Hill says. “I wanted to take that opportunity.”

U.S. Playing Card Co. has been around since 1867 and with 500 employees, it produces some of the best-known playing cards in the world. Hill was now responsible for growing the company’s many brands, as well as furthering its strategic goals.

Evaluate the business

As a first-time president and CEO and as a leader entering a new business and industry, Hill had to make sure he took the time to understand what U.S. Playing Card Co. was all about.

“First, you want to get to know the people,” Hill says. “At the end of the day, you can have great strategies, but you have to have great people to execute. So I spent time meeting the people and meeting the team. Then I spent time understanding the company’s current strategy and understanding where we have been and where we want to go.”

That is how Hill spent his first couple of weeks in the business. He wanted to understand who was doing what in the company, what talent U.S. Playing Card had, and what made this company great.

“This company has a long, long history of having great products and great people, so I wanted to make sure I understood what their DNA was,” he says.

The next step for Hill was really evaluating what strategies were in place and how they could be improved.

“I said, ‘Let’s formulate a strategy that puts us into meeting the objectives of our corporation,’” Hill says. “How do we continue to have a sustainable business? Where do we need to grow? Where do we need to peel back a bit?”

Hill spent his first 30 days in his new role learning where the company was, what it had and what it did in terms of products, people and processes. His next 60 days were spent developing a strategy with his team to say where the company could go over the next two to five years.

“We have not deviated from that strategy, and we will continue to push that forward,” he says. “We will tweak it here and there if we have some challenges on one side or another, but the overarching strategy that we set forth we have not deviated off.”

Implement your strategy

With such well-known products, Hill wanted to see where he could expand the reach of U.S. Playing Card’s brands as part of his new strategy.

“With the history that we have in North America and the customer base we have today, we felt that the U.S. just had to be tweaked, but we really had to invest in our international business — South America and Asia,” Hill says.

The current Macau market for gaming in Asia is growing by leaps and bounds.

“It almost dwarfs what Vegas is doing as far as the amount of revenue that’s being poured into Macau and also Singapore and the Philippines,” he says.

With his focus set on new markets for the company’s products, Hill says that keeping an open mind about strategy was helpful as an incoming CEO.

“You have to come in with open eyes and look at what you have,” he says. “Don’t come in with preconceived notions because sometimes you might just need to tweak something versus making wholesale changes.”

As the leader of the organization, people are looking to you to lead them. If you’re not clear in what you’re trying to do, they’ll have a hard time following you.

“You have to be very clear on what you’re trying to do and make sure that you rely upon the great talent that you have,” Hill says. “Don’t live on an island and stay in your office and come out and say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do,’ because you’re not as smart as eight people in a room that challenge and trust each other.”

U.S. Playing Card Co.’s strategy to penetrate new markets revolved around having resources in those geographies.

“Our strategy was about resources, so we opened an office in Macau,” Hill says. “We hired a sales organization in Macau to go and develop our sales opportunities, not just in Macau, but also throughout the Asian region, which includes Singapore, Korea, the Philippines and other markets.

“You want to skate where the puck is going to be and that’s what we have done,” he says.

Hill made investments in order to further U.S. Playing Card Co. as the No. 1 name in casino playing cards in the U.S., Latin America, Europe and Africa. The new strategy continues to drive that momentum into the Asian market.

“You have to trust that everybody is trying to do the right thing and build a strategy that is not rigid where you can’t make tweaks to it, but you have to have a good strategy that people buy in to,” he says. “That’s what will make the company better.”

A key to making the company’s new markets successful is being on the ground in those areas so that you are face-to-face with customers.

“You have to see your customers,” he says. “You have to see what their issues are that you can resolve for them and you can only do that if you are on the ground. It’s hard for someone in the U.S. to fly to Singapore, fly to the Philippines, fly to Korea or Cambodia every six to 12 weeks and have a relationship. That’s why we have put those resources into those markets.”

Growth strategies give you a clear vision for what you’re trying to do. They help focus your energy, resources and spending in the right buckets.

“If you don’t have a strong strategy you’ll try a lot of different things,” Hill says. “For us, we know where we need to go and where we need to put our resources and we’re doing that. That’s why a clear, defined strategy is so important. Everybody understands where we’re trying to go.”

In April 2013, Hill left U.S. Playing Card Co. to head up another business within the Jarden Corp. portfolio. He now has another opportunity to put his thumbprint on an organization.

How to reach: U.S. Playing Card Co., (800) 543-2273 or www.usplayingcard.com