Advocating for professional women

TaKeysha Sheppard Cheney, Founder, Publisher and CEO, The Women’s Book

TaKeysha Sheppard Cheney, Founder, Publisher and CEO, The Women’s Book

TaKeysha Sheppard Cheney knows the economic power women hold. Despite strong purchasing power and frequent business startups, though, she says women still have much to strive for to achieve entrepreneurial equality and success.

Cheney founded The Women’s Book, a print and online directory of local resources for women, to both inspire and promote that success by informing women of the tools that are available to help them. Recognizing that today’s professional woman is busy, she has developed a multi-platform marketing strategy to expand the publication’s reach and thus its impact. Cheney’s success can be seen in her organization’s continued growth. In addition to the Columbus edition, The Women’s Book has expanded to Cincinnati and will soon launch in Cleveland.

Because of her success as both a businesswoman and an advocate for other professional women, Smart Business, U.S. Bank and Blue Technologies named Cheney to the 2011 class of Columbus Smart Leader honorees. She told us how The Women’s Book has achieved growth in a challenged media market by using multiple communication outlets and by building relationships with both individuals and organizations.

Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

The publishing sector is very competitive — we are all competing for attention in a very crowded print and online world while navigating an ever-evolving field of new Web-based technologies. It can be especially tough starting a new magazine. Many don’t last beyond the first year, let alone first issue, because there are so many different aspects of this type of business that you have to manage effectively and simultaneously, from achieving publishing deadlines to sales and distribution goals.

Now in our third year and approaching our third media market, we have been able to grow The Women’s Book by creating great content that connects, informs and inspires our readers and building relationships with advertisers that help them showcase what they are doing to serve and benefit women. We have also kept our overhead as low as possible, recruited a lean but passionate and capable team, and implemented grassroots-inspired marketing strategies to complement our very limited marketing budget.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

I have leveraged my passion for entrepreneurship and the empowerment of women to build a successful business. I saw a need to create a multimedia outlet that connects readers to resources created for and by women. You don’t have to be a member or subscribe to our publications to access or benefit from them.

Our target audience consists of busy, professional women who are ‘juggling it all,’ so they can be very hard to reach. Our marketing strategy must be comprehensive to communicate with them effectively.

From the start, we have used a combination of print, Web and event marketing strategies to engage readers. We have also built mutually beneficial relationships with a diverse range of nonprofits, corporations and professional associations. We help to promote their programs and events in exchange for distributing our publications at their events. These partnerships help us to reach a highly targeted market with maximum efficiency for our advertisers.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

The Women’s Book raises the profile and increases support of women leaders, woman-owned businesses and nonprofits or groups that primarily serve women and girls. Women are major drivers of the economy — they comprise the largest part of the population, make over 80 percent of consumer purchasing decisions and are starting businesses at twice the rate of men.

While women have made great gains, there is still much that needs to be done to ensure they have at least an equal presence in a diverse range of leadership roles, greater access to community support services, and marketing outlets devoted to increasing revenue for their businesses.

How to reach: The Women’s Book, (614) 678-8008 or

See all of the 2011 Columbus Smart Leaders on the next page.

A perfect fit

Eleanor Alvarez, President, LeaderStat LLC

Eleanor Alvarez, President, LeaderStat LLC

Eleanor Alvarez attributes LeaderStat LLC’s steady growth to its dedication to matching, not just placing, talented professionals with post-acute and senior care providers. The company uses a custom profiling process to ensure a good fit with clients. By first identifying and recruiting based on an organization’s specific needs and culture, LeaderStat can then place individuals deemed compatible in interim, consulting and permanent positions.

As company president, Alvarez provides consulting and management support to more than 500 long-term care clients nationally. Her management experience in long-term care both as a provider and a consultant allows her to understand the needs of both the health care company and the employee.

Because of her success at providing personalized service, Smart Business, U.S. Bank and Blue Technologies named Alvarez to the 2011 class of Columbus Smart Leader honorees. She explained how innovative recruiting, combined with cutting-edge technology and a creative environment, allows the company to make a significant difference in the quality of patient care and services.

Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

The limited availability of outside capital has been a challenge for us. Our growth has been totally supported by our own cash over our 10 years of operation. While we still attained steady growth through our own financing, we could grow more quickly with outside capital.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

We believe that our success in finding and placing talented leadership in the post-acute and senior living setting is greatly enhanced through our use of technology. We invested in a dynamic recruitment database to support our executive placement efforts. In addition, we are leveraging videoconferencing systems for high-level interviews to increase effectiveness and decrease travel costs.

We also recognized that our office environment was critical to our performance. We needed a new space to accommodate our growth as our company expanded in Columbus. We searched for a creative, open environment that is exciting and motivational. We found a great location with big open spaces, huge windows, outdoor decks, walking paths and a lake in a scenic setting. Our new office has greatly added to our quality of life. We are attracting a higher level of staff and seeing increased energy and productivity in our team.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

Our greatest impact is bringing talented leadership to long-term care facilities. We improve the lives of our elders and the quality of care and services for patients by placing dedicated professionals with them who make a difference. We are proud to have served more than 800 clients nationwide, bringing them both short-term and long-term management solutions. It is rewarding to serve such an important sector of the health care arena.

How to reach: LeaderStat LLC, (877) 699-7828 or

See all of the 2011 Columbus Smart Leaders on the next page.

Building a database of philanthropy

Doug Kridler, President and CEO, The Columbus Foundation

Doug Kridler, President and CEO, The Columbus Foundation

For Doug Kridler, president and CEO of The Columbus Foundation, philanthropy is about moving communities forward and building bonds between the inhabitants. To encourage philanthropy, Kridler says citizens must be given convenient access to information on local nonprofit organizations, including what they stand for and exactly how to donate. To this end, The Columbus Foundation has created an online database of such information.

The foundation has enabled more than 1,800 individuals, families and businesses to create unique funds to support community causes they care about. Donors have granted more than $1.2 billion since its founding in 1943, making The Columbus Foundation the ninth largest community foundation in the nation.

Because of Kridler’s leadership in inspiring investment in central Ohio, Smart Business, U.S. Bank and Blue Technologies named him to the 2011 class of Columbus Smart Leader honorees. Kridler told us how The Columbus Foundation uses its information database to make philanthropy easier and more accessible.

Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

There is a need for donors to have access to the best information possible to make sure that what they are given is informed and effective. We created an online information and giving platform that enables foundation donors and the general public to access information about our local nonprofits’ finances, stewardship, mission and programs online, anytime.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

Innovative leaders are those that recognize that great ideas can come from anywhere in an organization. I try to nurture an atmosphere of support and respect for innovative thought throughout our organization.

In terms of innovation in our services to our donors and to our community, Power Philanthropy, our online database of community information, is cutting edge in our field. It helps donors get online, 24/7 access to information to help ensure that their giving is as informed and effective as possible.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

Philanthropy invests in the best ideas to help people move their lives and their community forward.  Last year, we and our donors invested over $80 million. We also work hard to celebrate points of community accomplishment.  The Gallup Organization recently released a three-year, 26-city study that concluded that ‘Emotional connection does drive economic growth in communities. Surprisingly, social offerings, openness and beauty are far more important than people’s perceptions of the economy, jobs or basic services in creating a lasting emotional bond between people and their community.’ We are about building that bond, the community pride that inspires optimism and continued investment in community progress.

How to reach: The Columbus Foundation, (614) 251-4000 or

See all of the 2011 Columbus Smart Leaders on the next page.

A new vision of adapting to change

Derrick Clay, Vice President, New Visions Group LLC

Derrick Clay, Vice President, New Visions Group LLC

After the 2010 statewide election resulted in a drastic political party upheaval, New Visions Group found itself facing an unfamiliar landscape. Vice President Derrick Clay and his associates knew they would have to find ways to help clients navigate the new system.

It was a challenge not altogether unheard of for the company. The very nature of the government relations and lobbying firm means it constantly operates in the capricious realm of politics as it positions businesses, not-for-profit organizations and trade groups for business opportunities with Ohio municipalities, the state legislature and statewide government agencies. But Clay and his team strive to be adaptable, using established experience to develop new strategies. Clay’s ability to make knowledgeable political predictions and, more importantly, his ability to acclimate keeps the company on top of government change so it can best cater to client needs.

Because of this, Smart Business, U.S. Bank and Blue Technologies named Clay to the 2011 class of Columbus Smart Leader honorees. He told us how New Visions Group has kept on top of challenges, such as the recent political regime change, and continued to provide the company’s usual caliber of service — all while working to give back to the community.

Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

Although people across Ohio anticipated some changes in the state’s political landscape during the 2010 statewide elections, many were surprised to see a complete sweep of the statewide offices from the GOP. New Visions Group has been through many elections where incumbents were voted out of office; however, this election was different. It forced us to re-evaluate our strategy so that our clients would be in the best possible position with the new administration. The day after the election, our staff did a S.W.O.T. analysis of our company. We spent time discussing each of our clients and how we could continue to provide them with quality service while learning the intricacies of the new administration. The result was beneficial in the end because, through our self-evaluation, we used our strengths to position our clients at the local level and neutralized our weaknesses by outsourcing our technology.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum hired New Visions Group a few years ago to assist them with government relations in the state capital. Although the RRHF is an international icon, many members of the Ohio legislature and people outside of Cleveland had not experienced this wonderful museum. So, in addition to a series of tours and visits to the RRHF, we organized an annual legislative lobby day at the statehouse to educate the members of the legislature about the RRHF and its enormous economic impact on the state. We also incorporated the wonderful members of the RRHF board to engage with legislators and community leaders on the importance of its existence and to garner support for the brand new RRHF Library and Archive at Cuyahoga Community College.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

Community involvement is not only important to me but to all of New Visions Group. I am on the Executive Committee of Action for Children and serve as board chair of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. MORPC and the board are responsible for approving millions of dollars in transportation, housing, sustainability and environmental projects throughout Central Ohio. The projects that we approve trickle down to our member governments. From there, those counties, municipalities, townships and villages contract with local businesses who hire local residents to do the work, which feeds our local economy. MORPC is very important to our region, and I am glad to be a part of it.

How to reach: New Visions Group LLC, (614) 280-1299 or

See all of the 2011 Columbus Smart Leaders on the next page.

Educating future leaders

Christine Poon, Dean, Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University

Christine Poon, Dean, Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University

Christine Poon says the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University is at the heart of an inextricable relationship between the university and the economic health of Ohio. As dean, she has led the college in training students with a strong business program led by knowledgeable faculty.

In addition to turning out well-trained graduates, the college focuses on providing a vast array of resources to attract, retain and create new business in the area. Poon said the goal is to ultimately uplift the local economy through these efforts.

Because of her leadership in expanding the college’s resources to accommodate enrollment growth and attract new business, Smart Business, U.S. Bank and Blue Technologies named Poon to the 2011 class of Columbus Smart Leader honorees. She told us how the Fisher College of Business has worked to update its physical and educational assets and to form strong partnerships.

Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

As the reputation of Fisher College of Business grows, so does our need for space to accommodate the increasing number of students admitted into our academic programs. The students of today require far more than a book and a pencil — technology plays a central, continuously evolving role in the classroom. So, although Fisher campus is only a decade old, we needed to provide more modern spaces for learning, team building and collaboration.

An opportunity opened up to rethink our use of the Mason Hall building. We formed a task force to complete a needs assessment and identified a chair to shepherd blueprints and lead the construction project. A year later, we are preparing for the reopening of a building that truly mirrors the workspaces of today — open, interactive and wired.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

The competition to attract high-quality students is fierce. After graduation, students face equal competition in the job market. We recognize that as the academic quality of our undergraduate student body increases, so must our efforts to offer an ‘MBA-like’ educational experience. During the 2010-2011 academic year, Fisher launched two pilot industry clusters in health care and energy and sustainability. In concert with the business community and select alumni, we sought to deepen our students’ understanding of these specific industries in order to better position them for future careers.

Each cluster attracted high-achieving students. Among students participating in the industry cluster program, 85 percent secured summer internships. Of that number, 25 percent secured internships with companies participating in the program. During the next academic year, we will add a third cluster focusing on financial services. We believe that Fisher’s industry cluster program is a win-win for students and for the business community. Students receive a depth of industry knowledge unparalleled in the undergraduate experience, while businesses gain access to top students eager explore specific skills.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

One way in which Fisher makes a significant impact in the economy of our state and nation is through our Centers of Excellence. Fisher Centers facilitate a powerful connection with the business community through research, business to business collaboration, partnerships with government, student engagement and mentoring and knowledge creation.

Our areas of focus include entrepreneurship, operations strategy and management, among others. We are currently collaborating with GE to unveil a national center on middle market research — the first of its kind in the nation. Fisher Centers of Excellence link faculty expertise, student creativity, and the business community to provide critical insights that grow business and impact the economy.

How to reach: The Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University, (614) 292-8937 or

See all of the 2011 Columbus Smart Leaders on the next page.

See Talia Mashiach turn a simple idea into a thriving business

Entrepreneurship arises from the strangest of places.

For Talia Mashiach, founder and CEO of Eved, her winding path began shortly after she accompanied her musician husband to a meeting at a hotel where he hoped to generate more referrals for his band.

“I come from a technology background,” she says. “But I love thinking about business models. I had done some back-end technology work for his band’s website, and he figured I could help with some ideas that would lead to more business.”

The meeting didn’t go as planned.

“I went with him, and the hotel executive said, ‘Well, we don’t just want to confirm bands. Our people waste so much time manually handling logistics and dealing with these multiple suppliers, can you handle everything for us?’” Mashiach says.

Mashiach didn’t know anything about that business, but she did understand how to deploy technology-based solutions.

“When I looked at it, I really saw a supply chain play, which has been done similarly in other avenues but just not in the events side,” she says. “I couldn’t get over how manual everything was, and how many logistics and how many times things needed to change. So we came up with this idea.”

Smart Business sat down with Mashiach, who was named to the 2009 class of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Women, and talked about the roots of innovation for her 50-plus employee organization.

Q: What were the early applications you developed at Eved?

I saw a big opportunity in the long run but knew we needed to start with being able to come up with a model in which we would put people in-house in the hotel. We would create technology that managed the supply chain and assets, between us and what we call the whole sales squires, the actual people who have the products — the band leaders, the florists.

The hotels had become channel partners, so when their clients came to the hotel and were looking for something, they’d say, ‘OK, anything you need outside of rooms and food or beverage you go to Eved for.’

I put a plan together to really scale this company by creating an international platform that would bring all the members of the event supply chain online to be able to communicate through an online marketplace.

Q: What do you offer in products and services for your clients?

Primarily, Eved is a meeting and event marketplace that allows supply chain members to communicate and trim back (on expenses) with one another. There’s about $150 billion spent on offline communications and transactions in the U.S. market alone. A lot goes on in the middle — from ground transportation management to restaurant reservations — and that’s really what our software platform is about.

Q: What is an example of a business challenge that your organization faced and the solution you used?

What most people don’t realize is when you bring out this hybrid technology, you are trying to change behavior. … You have to understand and create business processes, as well as the technology support for those business processes. It’s not so much training — how to click, where to click and what to do within the software. … It’s about reaching out, personally, and working with them on how to use our software to better change their business practices and grow their companies.

Q: What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned and how do you apply that to how you run the company?

The greatest lesson I’ve probably learned is from a mentor who taught me that everything in life, but especially in business, is relationships with other people. Whether it’s managing people, whether its sales, whether its clients, it’s taking the time to understand who those people are, what makes them tick and what’s important to them.

Q: What are your plans in terms of growth?

We’ll continue to figure out the best ways to create experiences for clients and (how to) use the technology to best service them. As a technology platform, we see tremendous growth opportunity. There’s so much out there. … People don’t realize that when somebody does a conference, (they) are touching so many different businesses, so we have to bring them all onto the platform.

And then there’s a lot of growth internationally. While we have international members already, they have to serve the U.S.-based companies. We haven’t even scratched the surface of the opportunities there.

How to reach: Eved LLC,

Belief in ‘WE’

Dave Blom, President, OhioHealth

Dave Blom, President, OhioHealth

Not even Dave Blom can predict where exactly the health care reform will leave his industry. But he does know that OhioHealth, the umbrella of not-for-profit, faith-based hospitals and health care organizations where he’s president, will survive the changes if “they” unite as “we.”

OhioHealth’s new branding campaign reflects this cohesiveness with the idea that, “WE are more than a health system. WE are a belief system,” as it says on the website. Blom needs a true team, not just a collection of more than 40 care sites, to innovate and improve the quality of care that OhioHealth provides. So he leads OhioHealth on a pursuit of “systemness” — building teamwork and applying best practices with the common vision of improving the convenience and quality of health care for all members of the community, regardless of their ability to pay.

Because of this, Smart Business, U.S. Bank and Blue Technologies named Blom to the 2011 class of Columbus Smart Leader honorees. He shared how OhioHealth overcomes the changes in health care with cohesiveness and curiosity.

Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

It is no secret that health care is undergoing major change and has been for some time. We also know with health care reform, the changes are going to intensify. But no one really knows exactly how or to what degree — there is still a large degree of uncertainty. What we do know is that we have to change how we deliver care. We have to learn to do more with less while always delivering value. Most importantly, at all times, we must maintain and improve quality, access and service.

OhioHealth has been on a ‘systemness’ journey for a few years now, and it has really intensified in the last couple of years, given the changing health care landscape. We are our community’s leading provider of health care, and it is our responsibility to ensure we are positioned to meet our mission in the future. The challenge we faced is that the more than 40 care sites under the OhioHealth umbrella have largely functioned independently in the past. That approach just won’t cut it as health care changes.

Today, we are not only deploying best practices across our organization; we are looking at all processes throughout our organization. It goes even deeper — it’s about a culture shift. We’re asking our associates and physicians to think differently about what they do and how we can do it better together, and they are making it happen. Today, we have more than 35 teams with hundreds of associates and physicians working on projects that will strengthen both our organization and how we deliver care.

It is a work in progress, but we are making great strides. The organization has achieved quality and service levels worthy of national recognition and a workplace culture noted by Fortune magazine as a best place to work, while lowering costs and achieving efficiency levels that will position the organization for the inevitable pressures of a changing health care industry.

The strategy has created cohesiveness, as exemplified by our new branding campaign: Believe in WE. It represents how we are committed to working together to do what’s best for our patients. And that is in partnership with our patients and the community; they are a part of WE.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

At the heart of innovation is a healthy sense of curiosity. It is important to give people an outlet to explore how their ideas can be translated and applied in a meaningful way, especially in an organization comprised of caregivers who already have a natural instinct to improve the lives of others.

In 2006, we introduced the OhioHealth Research and Innovation Institute. OHRI offers an array of services to support clinicians in conducting investigational research studies that could eventually impact the standard of care for our patients. Whether it is a medical breakthrough, a new procedure or a medical device, OHRI supports the process of taking innovative ideas that have the potential to improve the delivery of health care from concept and research to commercialization.

In fact, new medical products developed by OhioHealth clinicians and first introduced at OhioHealth’s hospitals are now marketed internationally.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

OhioHealth’s most significant impact is on the health of our community. Our facilities and services are spread out geographically so we are available when and where patients need health care.

That takes 21,000 associates, physicians and volunteers who not only work in and around Columbus; they also live here and take pride in their communities. That is a powerful force in the economic health of central Ohio.

As a not-for-profit health care system, every dollar OhioHealth earns is reinvested in our community to improve quality of care, increase access to care and enhance service to patients and their families. One of the most tangible measures of that investment is the amount of community benefit we provide each year.

In 2010, OhioHealth provided $191 million in community benefit, exceeding the amount of taxes we would have paid if we were a for-profit business. More than $80 million of that was charity care for members of our community who are uninsured and lack the ability to pay for care.

How to reach: OhioHealth,

See all 2011 Columbus Smart Leaders on the next page.

Growing a social enterprise with service

Marjory Pizzuti, President and CEO, Goodwill Columbus

Marjory Pizzuti, President and CEO, Goodwill Columbus

Marjory Pizzuti measures the success of Goodwill Columbus through stories — like the one about Kurt, who has a mild developmental disability, and took a step toward independence by moving out of the house he had lived in with his mother for 50 years and into his own home through Goodwill’s Supported Living program.

But you could also measure the organization’s mission of “building independence, quality of life and work opportunities for individuals with disabilities and other barriers” with numbers — like the 1.2 million hours of service it provides every year to more than 3,300 clients or the 13 new donation centers and two new stores it recently added.

Because of this, Smart Business, U.S. Bank and Blue Technologies named Pizzuti to the 2011 class of Columbus Smart Leader honorees. She shared how she overcomes challenges to help disabled individuals gain independence, enter the job market and support the local economy — all the while making her company a great place to work.

Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

Shortly after I arrived at Goodwill Columbus in January 2005, it became apparent that we needed to diversify our revenue sources to ensure the long-term financial viability of our agency. With the full support of our board of directors, we launched a strategic growth initiative for our retail stores. The goal of the business plan was to generate additional earned income to support our mission-related programs and services that serve individuals with disabilities or other barriers.

In the past three years, we have opened 13 new attended donation centers and two additional stores. Our focus is on high-quality, gently used items as well as excellent customer service in clean, neat and well-stocked stores. The strategy is working, as we plan to open our sixth store later in 2011 and continue to expand our retail business operations as part of our strong and successful ‘social enterprise’ model.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

I believe in a servant-leadership style of executive management and encourage participation and inclusion by all employees and stakeholders. Clearly, the most valuable resource at any organization or business is our human capital, and we must focus energetically on ways to invest in our staff.

All of our employees receive a full-day orientation where they receive safety and disability-awareness training. The orientation also focuses on customer satisfaction using FISH! training, the world-famous Seattle Pike Place Fish Market program that helps employees make a personal choice to bring amazing passion, playfulness, commitment and positive attitude to work every day.

The Goodwill Health and Wellness Center offers two state-of-the-art workout facilities free of charge to employees, as well as for our on-site and residential day program for participants with developmental disabilities.

I also welcome small group ‘Conversations with the CEO’ where employees may ask questions that are printed with a response in the employee newsletter, as well as participation in Vision Forums that are held at least once a year. These sessions provide an opportunity for all staff members to participate in a series of presentations on Goodwill’s strategic plans to encourage and inspire a collegial and collaborative environment of ‘One Goodwill.’

All of these efforts demonstrate a focus on employee satisfaction, which leads to better customer service and client interactions. A survey conducted in early 2010 indicated that 93.2 percent of employees believe that Goodwill Columbus is a great place to work, and we continue to seek feedback from our staff as part of our organization’s culture of continuous improvement.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

Goodwill Columbus is a $35 million agency with nearly 900 employees, which ranks us as the 62nd largest employer in Franklin County. Our 16 programs and services provide dignity and enhanced quality of life opportunities for more than 3,300 clients each year, representing more than 1.2 million hours of service to those individuals. We serve participants with developmental disabilities in both our day and residential programs. Job training and placement services are provided for our clients with disabilities or other barriers to employment. Goodwill believes that every citizen deserves the opportunity to earn a paycheck. The unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities is significantly higher than for the rest of the population. By focusing on helping those individuals enter the job market, we provide them with dignity and independence, as well as the opportunity to become taxpayers who support our local economy.

How to reach: Goodwill Columbus, (614) 294-5181 or

See all of the 2011 Columbus Smart Leaders on the next page.

Cheryl Osborn on maintaining stable growth

Cheryl Osborn

Cheryl Osborn, president, Casco Contractors Inc.

Surviving this economy has been a challenge for all companies, especially those in commercial real estate like Casco Contractors Inc. But it’s not the biggest challenge on President Cheryl Osborn’s mind.

Her sights are set higher — on not just surviving but maintaining stable growth through the downturn. She achieves this by creating open lines of communication to stay in tune with her employees’ workloads and putting technology in place to manage projects and keep everyone in the field informed, as well.

These processes have helped the firm, which specializes in Commercial Tenant Improvements, keep efficiency, quality and consistency first. And now, Osborn is looking forward to projected 2011 revenue that nearly doubles last year’s.

Because of this, Smart Business, ThinkASG, IBM and Union Bank named Osborn to the class of 2011 Smart Leader honorees. She shared how she maintains quality during growth and applies innovative technology to better manage her team.

Q: Give an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

Stable, managed growth is probably the biggest challenge that we have faced. Maintaining stringent quality standards can be challenging when a company is growing quickly, but our reputation has been built on the quality of our service, so quality control is something we take very seriously and always have in mind every step of the way. To maintain quality:

  • I provide my employees with every possible tool to help them manage their responsibilities.
  • I maintain open lines of communication to stay aware of workloads. And when someone is struggling, I work with them to determine if they are actually overloaded or if perhaps they need help managing time and resources better.
  • When I deem necessary, and once I’ve assessed that the company volume can support it, I hire additional people to fill positions at various levels of management or support.


We have created processes for the field and the office that specifically focus on efficiency, quality and consistency. We also use technology to improve communication and ensure that everyone involved has the latest information — something that is critical in an industry where changes are frequent and not having the correct information can cause major setbacks to both the budget and the schedule. Our superintendents all have e-mail via BlackBerrys, access to high-tech cameras, and we can send them drawings electronically — which is something that is very cutting edge.

How to reach: Casco Contractors Inc., (949) 679-6880 or

Read the entire interview with Cheryl Osborn at

Jack Partridge innovates at Columbia Gas of Ohio

Jack Partridge, President, Columbia Gas of Ohio

Usually when your natural gas provider decides to replace thousands of miles of pipeline, it spells potential inconvenience for customers. But when you’re working with Columbia Gas of Ohio, they’re one step ahead. That’s because President Jack Partridge keeps the company’s customers front-of-mind – which is pretty innovative in the regulated utility industry. 

Because of this, Smart Business, US Bank and Blue Technologies named Partridge to the 2011 class of Columbus Smart Leader honorees. He told us how he maneuvers challenges like these with communication, setting his company apart with innovative service.

Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

The Challenge: Several years ago, in the interest of safety and reliability, we knew we needed to significantly accelerate the replacement of major portions of our 20,000-mile natural gas pipeline system in our 61-county service territory (capital spend of more than $2 billion during the next 20 years). We knew we were going to be in customers’ backyards and busting up pavement on the streets of the communities we serve more than ever before. We also realized we needed our regulators to authorize us to recover this investment of major capital in Ohio.

The Solution: We launched a proactive, comprehensive communication/education plan targeted to all our stakeholders – from one-on-one meetings with community and government leaders to presentations for civic organizations to bill stuffers and door hangers and news releases – all with the same message: ‘Yes, we are going to be visible in your community. We will minimize disruptions.  The benefits are: first, safety and reliability, more jobs, property tax benefits to the community, economic development benefits, better sizing pipe to growth areas, less leaks, lower O&M expenses, etc.’

In terms of our regulators, we conveyed we will be investing more capital in Ohio than ever before, and the investment will enable us to keep our costs down.

To date, this program has been extremely effective. We have seen no material increase in complaints. I credit this to effective communication and very effective operations planning and execution.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

We are innovators in the utility industry in terms of how we maximize value in a regulated environment and how we work with our customers.

Utility companies, being regulated, typically file rate cases to recover their costs from customers. This usually involves nine months or more of litigation (beating your customers up, in a legal sense, in a hearing room). We have adopted an innovative approach to this combative, unproductive process. We gather all our stakeholders around a table in a collaborative fashion prior to filing a rate case to find out what their needs are, be candid about our needs, and negotiate true win-wins. Our objective is to file a settlement with the PUCO for approval – ideally a multi-year agreement that’s agreed to by all parties. We have been successful – our most recent rate case was in 2008 and resulted in a settlement approved by the PUCO. This has allowed us to establish more positive relationships with our customers and regulators.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

We serve the entire Central Ohio region and realize we have an obligation to not only supply customers with reasonably priced natural gas every day, but to be good community partners in terms of providing corporate, philanthropic and employee participation contributions. In terms of direct economic impact, natural gas prices are the lowest they have been in the last eight to 10 years. This has a huge positive impact on residential, commercial and industrial customers.

I personally serve as chairman of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce board, and I am a member of the Columbus2020 board and the Columbus Partnership. These require a great deal of time, but it’s time well spent. The Columbus2020 Economic Development initiative is for real and will provide great value for the investment in our Central Ohio region.

How to reach: Columbia Gas of Ohio,