An accountant can serve many types of roles for CEOs, from hands-off keeper of books to proactive, fully engaged adviser. It’s up to executives to decide how heavily they want to rely on their accountants. But in general, the more interaction they have, the fewer financial surprises they’ll run into.

“Usually, by the time the end of the year rolls around, there’s very little ability to interact proactively before things occur,” says Walter McGrail, senior manager of Cendrowski Corporate Advisors. “Year-end planning is basically summarizing what you did. There may be some limited opportunities to postpone or accelerate some things. Whereas meeting throughout the year is clearly a more well-intentioned way to get to the bottom line of maximizing tax savings.”

It’s almost always best to give your accountant an opportunity to weigh in ahead of time on most nonroutine types of transactions.

“After a major transaction has occurred, the only thing you can do is post-mortem type tax planning,” McGrail says. “When it’s already cast in stone, all you can do is take a look at the documentation and advise what the tax ramifications will be. But if you had been put in touch with somebody earlier, perhaps through some proper tax planning you could have changed the character of income recognition or postponed the taxability for a year.”

CEOs who consult with their accountants regularly and ahead of time on major transactions are much more likely to get good value for the services their accountant provides.

“These are the types of things that help make me an investment rather than an expense,” McGrail says. “The two things that your tax adviser should be able to help you with are making sure you take into account the most advantageous tax rates and, whenever possible, delaying paying taxes to the following year. Delaying a tax payment by a year saves the present value of that money. Character and timing are always the biggest issues in the tax planning arena.”

Walter McGrail, senior manager of Cendrowski Corporate Advisors, provides tax and business consultation to public, private, and family-owned businesses, as well as accounting malpractice defense and forensic accounting services.

HOW TO REACH: Cendrowski Corporate Advisors, www.cca-advisors.com, (866) 717-1607

Published in Chicago

An accountant can serve many types of roles for CEOs, from hands-off keeper of books to proactive, fully engaged adviser. It’s up to executives to decide how heavily they want to rely on their accountants. But in general, the more interaction they have, the fewer financial surprises they’ll run into.

“The more contact we have, the better,” says Leif Erickson, associate director in the tax department of SS&G. “It’s really crucial, especially right now, with everything that’s going on. There’s so much uncertainty out there with regard to the tax law and the new things that are coming on the horizon.”

A key area that Erickson says he’s been helping clients with is business combinations, in which a companies seek to buy a portion of another company and they need to decide whether to structure the transaction as a stock acquisition or an asset acquisition.

“Getting us involved on the front end can help to at least lay out the tax consequences of structuring the transaction this way or that way,” Erickson says. “And a lot of times, the tax ramifications are not necessarily at the forefront; the tax side isn’t really going to be the driving force behind the decision. But it’s at least something that the CEO and CFO can think about — these are the things that are out there, these are the benefits, these are the things that maybe we want to negotiate as part of the deal.”

Another important area is inventory management, especially when inventory quantities rise quickly over a short period.

“A client recently came to us, and they’d had a tremendous spike in their inventory and were experiencing tremendous price increases,” Erickson says. “So we looked at it, and we said, ‘Have you looked into LIFO [last-in, first-out inventory accounting]? They hadn’t given it much thought. By switching them over to LIFO, it produced huge savings. The first year, I think we got a $700,000 reserve for that client, so that was an added deduction of $700,000. We were able to turn it into a big positive with regard to the tax side of things.”

Leif Erickson, associate director in the tax department of SS&G, specializes in corporate and individual tax planning, FAS 109 calculation, LIFO studies and cost segregation studies.

HOW TO REACH: SS&G, www.ssandg.com, (330) 668-9696

Published in Akron/Canton

“We live in Greater Cleveland, we work in Greater Cleveland, now we are working on making Cleveland even greater!” was the beginning of a recent marketing campaign for Metro Lexus. Well, after having the privilege of participating on the panel of judges for this year’s WCCS Awards, you can rest assured that the business community around Northeast Ohio is striving daily to raise the bar and establish new standards of what it means to be “world-class.”

Before I share with you what emerged for me as the common thread that runs through the fabric of the DNA of each of these inspiring organizations, I must first ask you to take a deep breath and try to pull yourself away from your desk and into one of those meditative states of mind. Summer is here, the birds are chirping, and you just finished mowing the lawn. It’s a perfect 85-degree Cleveland day and you have decided to reward yourself with a cold beverage and reflect on life. It has become a perfect “sit on the deck” moment” that we all cherish so much. Unfortunately, the buzzing of a little gnat gets into your ear, annoys you and effectively kills the mood. Your obsession soon becomes squashing the gnat. But regardless of the enormous size disadvantage for the gnat, it keeps coming at you — relentless and fearless. It is willing to continue its pursuit until you either go inside or it ends up on the wrong side of yesterday’s newspaper.

This tenacity, gnat tenacity, for customer service and customer experience resounded through the presentations. It left me both inspired and reminded of what sustains and evolves the great companies — a tenacious commitment to world-class excellence and customer service. As I challenged myself to find new ways to inspire that type of culture within my own organization, I realized that, in many cases, it was already happening. If we recognize those who already have this special approach and allow them the flexibility to make the right decisions for the customer, it will ultimately result in a contagious culture of customer service. Do you just want good customer service within your organization, or are you willing to take on the sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenges that come along with being the best? You may have a competitor that is tenacious and passionate about being the best.

John Spearry is the general manager of Metro Lexus. Reach him at John_Spearry@metrolexus.com or visit www.metrolexus.com.

Published in Cleveland

It’s not an easy task to become a new associate in Moen’s consumer service department. Every new hire spends 500 hours in intense classroom training to learn about Moen products, processes, warranties, and much more. This dedication to customer service detail is exactly what President David Lingafelter and Moen Inc., strive for.

Moen Inc. is the No. 1 faucet brand in North America, manufacturing kitchen and bath faucets, showerheads, accessories, bath safety products and kitchen sinks for residential and commercial applications. The company puts an increased focus on consumer service training so new hires understand the importance of a satisfied customer and one that continues to come back to Moen products.

Much of those 500 hours of training is delivered in a classroom setting of small groups of 10 or less associates to ensure excellent one-on-one training. Following that initial training each new hire goes on to spend one year in a training/mentoring program focused on understanding who the Moen customer is and how to best serve their needs.

This process is tough and the company realizes that not everyone can be part of the consumer services department. The company hires a third party service to recruit and screen potential applicants. Once hired, new associates work at Moen on a temporary basis for the first six months to ensure a good fit. If the employee does what is expected and more, they are moved to full-time employment.

Providing best-in-class customer service is one of the pillars on which Moen is founded and continues to thrive. Beyond just new hires, Moen encourages all existing employees to visit the consumer services department on an annual basis. Those who do find the experience priceless, as it reinforces the reason why Moen has been established — to create Moen advocates for life.

How to Reach: Moen Inc., (800) 289-6636 or www.moen.com

Published in Cleveland

Within a mile radius of the Marriott Cleveland East, there are at least 10 other lodging establishments where a guest can stay. But those 10 aren’t Marriott hotels.

“We know that if we don’t provide world-class customer service, our guests can choose another lower-priced alternative,” says General Manager Kenny Didier. “By following our mission statement and providing genuine care to our guests, they will keep coming back.”

Marriott’s mission statement is about serving the associates, the customer, and the community. Marriott's fundamental beliefs are enduring and are key to its continued success.

“We make it our mission and goal to give both business and leisure travelers the extra warmth and hospitality that makes staying at the Marriott Cleveland East like being at their home rather than at a hotel,” Didier says.

To facilitate the empowered associate culture at the hotel, a Guest at Risk program has been established to resolve guest inconveniences and problems. A guest at risk is a guest who has been identified as being at risk of having a less than perfect experience. Accordingly, the hotel makes a point to deliver absolute resolution regardless of the severity of the problem. The issue is documented into a computer program called Guestware. The guest receives follow-up calls to make sure there are no further needs.

After six months of this program, the hotel is proud to say it started 2012 consistently ranked in the top 5 percent of all Marriott Hotels when ranked for overall satisfaction by guests.

To deliver world-class customer service, it all starts with hiring the right person with the right attitude. After a careful selection process that includes testing conducted by the Gallup organization, successful candidates are brought on board and mentored by a seasoned trainer. Customer service hires receive additional training to develop their skills, including lecture, role play, multimedia and guest testimonials to instill the Marriott’s world-class culture even more.

How to reach: Marriott Cleveland East, (216) 378-9191 or www.marriott.com

Published in Cleveland

Barbara Linville was very frustrated when after three months, nothing had been done to repair her mother’s portable oxygen concentrator, which she had taken in July 2010 to a medical repair company in Apex, N.C. Her mother had been using a loaner unit in the meantime, but she was still upset that none of her phone calls were being returned.

She finally decided to call the manufacturer, Invacare Corp., and talked to Kandee Koleski, a customer service supervisor. Koleski called the repair shop and after much persistence, had the shop send the unit to Invacare where it received priority attention for repair. Linville’s mother had her unit returned in time for her trip to her winter home in early November.

“We still would not have my mother’s unit if it were not for the persistence of your good employee,” Linville says in an e-mail to Invacare, a manufacturer of medical products from beds to wheelchairs.

At Invacare, under the leadership of President and CEO Gerry Blouch, customer service representatives promote and live an “E4” mantra: exceptional service, every time through employee empowerment. CSRs subscribe to this philosophy with the goal of providing customers with the level of service that makes it easy to do business with them. By introducing this philosophy early in the training of new hires, it lays the foundation for exceptional service and provides the team with the awareness and support to be self-directed. In addition, team members learn to have confidence in their own abilities to do what is right on behalf of the customer and the organization.

The Invacare culture empowers and rewards employees as part of a team which enjoys competition and winning. Continued personal growth is encouraged by fostering a close relationship with the leadership team whose main responsibility is to coach and mentor.

The company has been frequently recognized for its qualities of leadership, compensation, training, workplace flexibility and diversity.

How to reach: Invacare Corp., (440) 329-6000 or www.invacare.com

Published in Cleveland

Industrial Heat Sources faced a situation where it appeared as through one of its customers was in the wrong. While welding together samples of one of its products using a tool bought from Industrial Heat, there was an explosive short.

Since the tool was two months out of warranty, IHS had a seemingly legitimate reason to not solve the problem. But it would have left this customer in a bad spot and forever tainted their relationship going forward.

So IHS did what companies do when they truly value their customers and want to do whatever they can to help them do their job. The company looked at the nature of the problem, looked at the machine’s low number of work hours and said it would cover the costs of the repair, even if the manufacturer would not.

The thoughtful gesture made a big impact on the customer and that is what Ken Paine, the company’s owner and president, strives to do all the time.

“We have referred many customers your way since purchasing the two pieces of equipment from you and we will certainly continue to do so,” states the customer testimonial. “However, it will be with renewed confidence that we are referring our customers to a reputable firm that understands that the sale is not the end of the transaction or the business relationship.”

This philosophy of doing what’s right all the time, whether it’s by the book or not, has earned IHS kudos from customers at all levels. The company makes it a point to always be there, staffing a person at all times during office hours to make sure that customers have a real person to talk to when they make a call.

Training is constant to make sure that not only employees are up to speed on the latest tools, but that customers have all the knowledge they need to get the job done.

How to reach: Industrial Heat Sources, (216) 661-5000 or www.ihshotair.com

Published in Cleveland

It can happen in an instant. An employee is sitting at their desk and a call comes in from a frustrated customer. This customer begins talking about a very complicated and difficult situation that needs to be resolved right away.

Suddenly, this employee is faced with trying to process the words of an emotional customer on the fly in hopes of developing a solution that will meet their needs. If the employee isn’t trained the right way, the company’s got a big problem.

Fortunately for CEO William Brooks and his team at Hyatt Legal Plans, the training of customer service representatives is a constant aspect of firm operations. And that led to a 96.7 percent client satisfaction rate for the firm’s call center, according to a 2011 customer survey.

CSRs are trained to be able to handle virtually any situation they might encounter. They are trained on “red flags,” words that when spoken indicate a certain type of problem. When Hyatt is looking to hire customer service representatives, personality is a major factor as the firm needs people who have a pleasant demeanor and won’t lose their cool in what can be an emotional situation.

The conversations that take place between CSR and customer are constantly reviewed and studied for ways to improve the service. The goal is to be proactive and to find as many solutions as possible before they are even found to be a problem.

When employees do provide great service to customers, they are recognized for it. There is a level of pride that comes with helping customers and it’s a feeling that permeates every level of Hyatt Legal Plans.

If there is a means to make it better, every effort will be made to do it. It’s not the satisfaction of the firm that matters most. It’s the customer.

How to reach: Hyatt Legal Plans, (216) 241-0022 or www.legalplans.com

Published in Cleveland

At Firestone Country Club, members pay the premium of a private club membership in lieu of golfing and dining in public facilities because they value personalized customer service. The club, led by General Manager Mark Gore, strives to maintain the utmost in customer service, because if it doesn’t, people won’t perceive the value of their membership.

For this reason, Firestone Country Club regularly evaluates how it can improve its members’ experience of the club. The organization’s leaders believe that continuous improvement will keep the club at the forefront of customer service.

Firestone Country Club regards every person that walks through its doors, whether member or guest, as a VIP. staffers aim to impress everyone with their personalized service and attention to detail, including the club’s three steps of service:

-          Warm welcomes: Recognizing all members and guests by name.

-          Magic moments: Random acts of kindness and the resolve to make people’s day.

-          Fond farewells: Leaving a lasting impression and extending a warm invitation to return.

Each of Firestone Country Club’s front-line employees must pass a select test that ensures that they have the personality, work ethic, and “servant’s heart” necessary to work and excel in the private club industry. The employee’s attitude is key, so the club hires only people who demonstrate a positive attitude and an outgoing personality.

Firestone Country Club encourages employees to provide first-class customer service by recognizing them when a member or guest compliments them or when another employee notices them giving exemplary service. The club’s STAR Recognition Program enables employees to earn rewards via a point system. When employees receive rewards under this program, it underlines for them the importance of the service culture that Firestone Country Club strives to maintain.

HOW TO REACH: Firestone Country Club, (330) 644-8441 or www.firestonecountryclub.com

Published in Cleveland

When Findaway World was founded, the leaders wanted employees to feel empowered to act on their own to solve customer problems. So they created a list of core values that they hoped would serve as the foundation for the business.

This philosophy has served the company well and is a big reason behind the success of the world’s first self-playing audiobook.

Co-founder and CEO Mitch Kroll wanted a company that creates products that are simple for customers to use and one that has systems in place that make it simple to resolve problems.

Employees are asked to take responsibility and give respect, to exceed expectations at all levels and always do what’s right. They are hired because of their ability to embrace change and pursue growth and do so with a high level of passion. As the company’s name implies, they are asked to always, ‘Find a way.’

Kroll doesn’t believe in the idea of a few VIP customers. Rather he views all his customers as being worthy of that kind of exemplary service. That applies whether you’re buying a few products from his company or you’re a library purchasing thousands of units every year.

When problems do occur, a study is undertaken to determine what happened and why it happened. The idea is to find out what can be done to prevent the problem from happening again.

This is all possible because employees don’t have to wait for their superior to give the OK to take action. They have been trained to handle situations on their own and they know what to do. It creates an environment where people believe things will get done rather than wondering if they can be done.

It’s a big reason why the company has become such a success.

How to reach: Findaway World, (440) 893-0808 or www.findawayworld.com

Published in Cleveland