Dustin S. Klein
When A. Malachi Mixon III assembled a group of Cleveland area investors in 1979 to purchase Invacare Corp. from Johnson & Johnson in a leveraged buyout, the idea for such a financial transaction was nearly unheard of.
Twenty-one years later, Mixon, chairman and CEO, has transformed Invacare into a public company with more than $875 million in annual sales and locations around the world.
Such is the power of innovation.
Along with Thomas Sullivan of RPM, Jacqueline Woods of Ameritech Ohio/SBC and Dr. Luis Proenza of the University of Akron, Mixon will discuss how smart ideas can impact business on Sept. 7, 2000 at the Innovation in Business Conference.
SBN magazine, with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Ohio, will honor nearly a dozen business owners in the categories of Master Innovator, Visionary and Rising Star for smart ideas at the conference, which will explore the impact innovation has in the business world.
The highlight of the evening will be an interactive panel discussion featuring Mixon, Sullivan, Woods and Proenza. Robert Conrad, general manager and president of WCLV-95.5, will moderate the program.
Sponsors for the Innovation in Business Conference include Arthur Anderson LLP, Brouse McDowell, SARCOM/Frontway, ICG Communications, Pfizer and Product Imagineers, companies that pride themselves on their organizations' abilities to innovate.
So who will be honored as Visionaries -- business owners or companies which have demonstrated years of smart idea integration -- and Rising Stars -- those you may not have heard of yet but which are shaping the very way we do business? Our judging panel is poring over the entries to determine the honorees. Check out the September issue of SBN to find out who they are. For more information on the conference, contact SBN at (216) 228-6397. Dustin Klein (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of SBN.
There's a certain feeling you get the moment you enter an innovative company -- you can almost feel a buzz of excitement and energy in the air.
Employees seem more motivated, management walks the halls with a purpose and the owners resonate with passion as they talk about the company and the mission.
This year's honorees at the Innovation in Business Conference proffered that type of message to the judging panel through their insightful nomination forms and discussions and/or visits by staff members of SBN magazine over the years.
Co-developed by SBN and founding sponsor Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Ohio, the Innovation in Business Conference is designed to honor those companies and individuals who eat, sleep and breathe innovation. Rather than judge a company based strictly on its revenue or profits, the Innovation in Business awards are about those people whose drive to stay one step ahead of the competition is almost as strong as their wonder at developing new processes, products and services.
Honorees are recognized in three categories -- Master Innovators, Visionaries and Rising Stars.
Each year, the four members of the conference's panel discussion are named Master Innovators as recognition for their years of proving they have what it takes to take charge in the race for innovation. This year's group of Thomas Sullivan, A. Malachi Mixon, Jacqueline Woods and Dr. Luis Proenza join last year's inaugural group of panelists -- Jack Kahl, Thomas Murdough, David Daberko and Robert Mahoney.
To be considered as Visionaries, individuals or companies must demonstrate their ideas not only were one step ahead of their industry competitors, but that it was possible to turn those ideas into successful businesses.
Rising Stars are those people or businesses that are quickly garnering recognition from their peers. They may be successful young companies or start-ups that are sure to effect change within their respective industries. They are the ones whose names you'll be hearing a lot more of in the years to come.
So who exactly are the judges that helped decide which companies and individuals would be recognized at the Innovation in Business Conference? It's a group comprised of former honorees, creativity consultants and staff members at SBN:
- Edward Tromczyski, co-founder of PlanSoft, 1999 Rising Star honoree;
- Ken Thompson, CEO of Rainbow Printing, 1999 Visionary honoree;
- Jack Ricchiuto, a Cleveland-based management consultant who helps business owners build creativity in their companies;
- Denny Proux, an Akron-based creativity consultant;
- Connie Swenson, editor of SBN Akron/Stark;
- Dustin S. Klein, editor of SBN Cleveland;
- Michael Marzec, publisher of SBN.
(Ups) to Primus Venture Partners. The Mayfield Heights-based VC firm invested $6 million in Secant Technologies as lead investor of Secant's first round of external financing. With the move, Primus solidifies its place as one of the most committed VC firms for local companies seeking financing.
(Downs) to Richmont Capital Partners. The Dallas-based largest shareholder in Royal Appliance (at 19.7 percent) won't budge on its demand for a per-share price "in the low double digits." With Royal's stock hovering around five bucks a share, it's no wonder the company hasn't been able to suck up a buyer.
(Ups) to Bridgestone. The maker of Firestone tires made a bold move in recalling three types of popular ATV-style tires. Rather than suffer the maelstrom that was sure to accompany the outbreak of tire-associated problems, the company quickly pulled the product from the shelf and announced plans to compensate consumers. Better to have the rubber hit the pavement than have the pavement tear it asunder.
(Downs) to Bridgestone. While the decision to recall Firestone tires was certainly a smart one, putting Ohio tire consumers at the bottom of the list hasn't done much to instill a sense of trust into the region Firestone once called home, then abandoned for Nashville, Tenn.
(Ups) to the honorees of the 2000 Innovation in Business Conference. Their dedication to pursuing new ideas, products and processes leads the way for all business owners. Now if someone could just develop that teleportation device ...
Nancy Lesic knows a thing or two about dealing with the media in a crisis situation. In late 1995 and early 1996, after Art Modell announced he was moving the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, Lesic was a key player in the fight to save the Browns.
At the time, she was Mayor Michael White's press secretary. She directed media relations for all city departments and managed communications programs for economic development projects such as the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But the Browns campaign was by far the most extensive of her career.
"We launched an aggressive campaign designed to put national attention on the issue of franchise relocation," Lesic recalls. "We met with community leaders, political leaders and private sector officials to devise a strategy to put maximum pressure on the NFL and on legislators -- in Maryland and Ohio and on Capitol Hill.
"The media blitz was heavy," she says. "Press events were held almost daily over a three-month period -- either in the form of protests from loyal Browns fans, lawsuits filed and disclosures about Modell's secret dealings with Baltimore and how he deceived Clevelanders."
Lesic left the White administration earlier this year to found the Cleveland office of Columbus-based HMS Success Public Relations. The firm provides a range of services to business owners, including image campaigns and media relations.
Explains Lesic, "Our role is to support clients with professional services that project and protect the client's reputation; build public and opinion leader support for the client's services and products; clarify and promote the client's position on public issues; and create an increasingly receptive legislative and regulatory climate."
While she doesn't expect her clients to suddenly find themselves engaged in a battle with the NFL any time soon, handling crisis situations is an issue business owners must prepare for on a regular basis. Whether it's massive layoffs, a stock price tumble or a product recall akin to Bridgestone/Firestone's most recent problems, Lesic says there are four key areas business owners must recognize when dealing with the media.
Build a relationship with the media
"Get to know the reporters who are covering that specific beat and try to develop a relationship that will endure over time," Lesic suggests. "That means connecting with the reporter on a somewhat regular basis, not just calling upon him or her to pitch stories or complain about errors."
The time, she says, will be well spent because it will provide insight of what kind of news the reporter is interested in. Your view of what's news as a CEO may be vastly different than what the reporter thinks readers would be interested in.
"If you take the time to understand what the reporter considers to be important, you'll be better able to shape your news in such a way that it is of value to the reporter and you'll have more success in telling your story," she says. "The frequency of having routine, informal discussions with reporters will depend on the level of interaction the organization has with the media, but a quarterly lunch would be a good bet."
Understand the cynics
"Let's face it -- reporters are a cynical bunch," she says. "Maintaining integrity is the biggest factor in successful media relations, and it's not difficult to accomplish."
To that end, Lesic says business owners must be candid when talking to reporters.
"Certainly not careless, but candid," she says. "Respect the reporter -- even if you think the questions are obtuse. The reporter is probably not stupid, but slyly trying to get to a specific fact or answer."
Finally, return calls promptly.
"Respect reporters' deadlines," she says. "These will go a long way in achieving that 'benefit of a doubt' that you may really need one day in the face of a controversy or negative story."
Never let down your guard
"I can't stress coordination enough," Lesic says. "I've seen, time after time, entities react too quickly to put out the fire and cause themselves more problems, some virtually insurmountable. Take the necessary time, while keeping deadlines in mind, to investigate the situation fully."
And, she warns, don't unequivocally deny anything without inquiring about actions of other members of the organization.
"I don't mean to sound like a cynic, but don't come to conclusions like, 'That's absolutely false' or 'We're absolutely right' or 'We're absolutely innocent' without checking all the facts," she says. "Expect that reporters will know the answers to the questions they are asking."
Above all, don't respond prematurely.
"You shouldn't respond to a lawsuit filed if you haven't read the filing yet."
Don't bite on "what if" questions
"There are many instances in which the entity in question may be 100 percent blameless, but I'm trying to stress the importance of coordinating with your colleagues and with your advisers," Lesic says. "I suggest bouncing statements off of others who you respect."
In responding to a crisis, be sure to consider the consequences of your statements -- legally, internally, politically and to your stakeholders.
"At the same time, recognize that you have a responsibility to stakeholders in providing information," she says. "But be certain the information you are providing is accurate. And, be diligent in following up as necessary with new information as it becomes available."
The bottom line is that the groundwork for dealing with a crisis situation can be built long before any problems occur.
"A company's image can't be changed overnight," Lesic says. "Most companies who suffer some harm to their reputation haven't built up what they stand for."
And, when something goes wrong, they are extremely susceptible to rumors and other attacks.
"Before something like that happens, it's important that the company establishes their reputation," she says. "And they should establish policies on dealing with the media, government and others. In those policies, they should be open and cooperative to the extent that they can be.
"It's integral to developing a reputation as being a trustworthy organization." How to reach: HMS Success, (216) 696-7686
Dustin Klein (email@example.com) is editor of SBN.
(Ups) to Realty One. Its new cybercafé-like Visions of Home store is a unique idea that removes unneeded pressure from prospects while providing maximum information about the home buying process. Unlike many of its competitors, the Cleveland-based real estate firm actually gets the impact the Internet has -- and will have -- upon the real estate industry.
(Downs) to Brookpark Mayor Tom Coyne. His eminent domain battle with Cleveland Mayor Michael White over the IX Center land is doing more harm than good. Coyne's outmoded contention that his city will lose tax revenue if it loses the land doesn't outweigh the region's need to use that property to ensure its long-term future. Let's hope the courts understand the underlying issues involved and make the right call. Otherwise, Northeast Ohio's economic resurgence could crash and burn.
(Ups) to Toy Craze. The Beachwood toy maker launched its Crazy Bones partnership with McDonald's last month, putting Crazy Bones toys in Happy Meals worldwide. It's great recognition for an up-and-coming Cleveland success story.
(Downs) to rising energy prices. Soaring natural gas and oil prices are hitting manufacturers where it hurts -- their bottom lines. Lower than expected earnings and higher than expected prices have started whispers of the word "surcharge." Don't look now but there are storm clouds over the horizon.
(Ups) to Everstream Inc. The Solon-based Web streaming company received $6 million from publishing giants Knight-Ridder Inc., Pulitzer Inc. and Gannett Co. Everstream offers Web-based tuners for more than 260 newspapers and a variety of music channels. The investment is good news for expansion of a new publishing model on the Net.
Attracting and retaining qualified employees is the top challenge for business owners today.
As it's become more evident that simply matching competitors' offers dollar for dollar won't be enough to land the talent you desire, the importance of developing -- and maintaining -- quality compensation packages and a challenging workplace atmosphere have never been greater.
So, have you ever wondered what an $80,000 a year position within your company looks like on the balance books? And what beyond that cash value you can offer to enhance the attractiveness of the position and your company?
According to Patricia K. Zingheim and Jay R. Schuster, authors of "Pay People Right! Breakthrough Reward Strategies to Create Great Companies," their research into companies that are reacting to the current labor market shows the following:
- $52,500 Base pay
- $ 5,250 Variable pay (cash incentive or stock option grants)
- $21,750 Benefits (health, life and disability insurance; vacation, holidays and sick leave; retirement packages)
- $500 Recognition value (cash or noncash)
$80,000 Total value
More than half a person's waking hours are spent in the workplace, so it should come as no surprise that in this tight labor market, people tend to gravitate toward employers that provide opportunities to grow professionally.
Ask yourself the following questions when considering whether a prospective employee will choose your company over a competitor's:
- Do you provide formal annual training?
- Is career planning part of your entry-level program?
- How does your business offer effective performance management?
- Are coaching and ongoing feedback provided at all levels?
Fostering a positive workplace
The days of setting up an office built from cubicles and corner offices, where management interacts with the rest of the staff only to bark orders and ensure production runs smoothly, are long gone, replaced with cooperation, mutual respect and open-door policies.
If you don't agree, your company's probably losing employees, your competitors are passing you by -- or closing in on you -- and whether you believe it or not, there's dissension in your ranks.
In organizations such as Progressive Insurance and numerous young Web design firms across Northeast Ohio, employees are encouraged to perform with an open office space, coffee bars, game rooms and a feeling that they can come to work each day and be judged by performance, not the clothes they wear or the size of their office.
Even consulting firms such as Ernst & Young have embraced the movement, doing away with formal dress codes and moving toward casual days every day.
While heading toward one extreme from the other isn't necessarily right for every company, the question is whether your business provides employees with the following to keep them motivated and challenged:
- Quality leadership and colleagues
- Interesting or attractive work
- Work force involvement
- Open communications
Creating opportunities for the future
No one likes a dead-end job. And prospects -- even just out of college -- are savvier than ever. They're looking for employers who recognize their aspirations to move up the corporate food chain.
Consider an internal review of your company's health and long-term goals. Are they attractive enough that you would want to work for your company if you were in a prospect's shoes?
Ask yourself if your business has the following attributes:
- A company vision that's clearly articulated
- Financial stability and a solid growth initiative
- Sound plans for the company's future
- A good company image and reputation in the community
The bottom line, say authors Zingheim and Schuster, is that in order to find out whether your business can compete for quality talent, you must look internally and determine whether the business is one that provides more than simply a paycheck to employees.
>If that's the case, they say, your company should do well in this new economy. How to reach: "Pay People Right! Breakthrough Reward Strategies to Create Great Companies" Jossey-Bass Publishers, (800) 225-5945
Dustin Klein (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of SBN.
Unconditional acceptance is dead.
Just because the word president or CEO follows your name on the company letterhead doesn't mean your employees look at you as a leader. Leadership is not a trait that should be assumed or taken for granted.
Gone are the days when staff members follow your instructions simply because you say so. The trend today is to lead by example or build a consensus to get every employee on the same page. Whatever your style, learning to work within the flow of the organization instead of against it to affect change is a concept many business owners fail to grasp.
"People tend to make the same mistakes over and over again in managing stress, motivating others and dealing with conflict and change," explains Robert Pater, author of "Leading From Within: Martial Arts Skills for Dynamic Business and Management."
They tend to fight the employees rather than convince them to work together as a team.
The role of executives has changed. Pater claims leaders can't simply issue memos and expect to succeed. In his book, he compares mastery of the ancient martial arts to effective leadership.
"For centuries, these skills have made world leaders," he says. "Martial artists focus on developing the power of control, maintaining inner calmness under attack and using concentration to attain goals."
Pater offers four ways to earn black belt leader status.
Proximity provides power.
"In a business situation, deal with your staff face-to-face," he says. "Develop leadership by reducing distance wherever you can -- position your office close to staff members, bridge emotional barriers by reaching out and stand at a comfortably close distance when talking to your employees."
Contact is the beginning of a successful encounter. The proper use of contact allows a leader to direct another person toward a desired goal.
"Seek out co-workers to help make decisions," suggests Pater. "Solicit their views and let them know as soon as possible about new programs or other changes you implement within your business. Reach out in every way you can and don't wait for them to come to you."
Martial artists know they waste energy when they attack an opponent's strength and maximize their resources when they respond to an opponent's weakness.
"Time your responses," Pater says. "When it's time to listen, listen. When it's time to talk, talk. Pick your battles wisely, identifying when and where you can make the strongest impact."
Keep your center
To move or unbalance an opponent, martial artists focus on the centerline -- the point of balance that runs from the head to the feet. Strength applied to the centerline will move even the largest attacker.
"To move an organization where you want it to go, focus on the centerline that runs through the head (upper management), heart (middle management), abdomen (staff) and legs (support staff)," Pater says. "Concentrate your efforts there and the rest of the organization will move as well." How to reach: Robert Pater, (503) 977-2094
Dustin Klein (email@example.com) is editor of SBN.
The Pillar Award, sponsored by Medical Mutual of Ohio and presented by SBN magazine, honors companies of all sizes for giving back to the community.
Its purpose is to encourage a charitable environment and recognize creative efforts that make a difference through a four-pronged effort to:
- Publicize the issue of community service as it applies to the realities of today's competitive business world;
- Share creative ideas about how companies of all sizes are having a positive impact in their communities;
- Honor companies that go well beyond the minimum expectation of community service;
- Create a sustaining fund, administered by the Cleveland Foundation, to aid local nonprofit organizations in their mission to serve the people of Northeast Ohio. Including this year's donation, the sustaining Pillar Fund contains in excess of $30,000.
This year marks the third year of the Pillar Award. Each year, nominations are judged by an independent panel. Planning for the Pillar Award begins in January.
For more information on next year's event, contact SBN at (216) 228-6397. Dustin Klein (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of SBN.
(Ups) to Charter One Financial Inc. In an otherwise soft economy, the Cleveland-based bank has been tearing up the acquisition and expansion trail. It recently snapped up Chicago's Alliance Bancorp and moved much of its banking services online. Could this be groundwork to make the bank a player in a potential National City or KeyCorp M&A?
(Downs) to the auto and manufacturing industries. No matter what happens with the rest of the economy, a litany of layoffs and plant closings reveal that these two sectors are in serious trouble. Let's just hope they don't pull the rest of the economy into a sustained tailspin.
(Ups) to Cleveland Browns' management. Butch Davis, a no-nonsense guy with a history of breathing new life into struggling franchises, is a perfect match for the underachieving Browns. He should have an immediate impact on the wins column.
(Downs) to Hank Kassigheit. The Cleveland Lumberjacks hockey club owner should have weighed his pocketbook a little more carefully before buying the team last October and assuring the IHL that he had enough cash flow to make it through the 2000-2001 season. Poor ticket sales -- a problem before he bought the club -- isn't a good reason for the mess he's in.
(Downs) to energy suppliers, who are reporting record earnings in the midst of a nationwide energy crisis and skyrocketing natural gas and oil prices. We're for free trade and deregulation as much as the next business owner, but something smells rotten about the current state of affairs.
A few years ago, I told the story of Terence Profughi, CEO of HiTecmetal Group Inc. (SBN October 1998).
Profughi mastered business acquisitions so cleverly that he developed a 74-page manual dedicated to the process. It detailed everything from how to target a potential acquisition to integrating separate janitorial services. One thing in particular struck me about Profughi's experience -- he understood how to walk away from a deal that didn't make financial sense.
When analyzing a deal, it's imperative to think with your head and not your heart. It's easy to fall in love with a company and want to make the deal work. But if the numbers don't jive, grit your teeth and walk away.
The reasoning is simple. Why invest in a business in which you have little or no chance of getting a return on your investment just because you like the company? It's better to wash your hands of a bad deal than to step into a hole that's only going to get deeper.
Recently, I faced a similar situation.
In April, my wife and I bought the house we have rented since late 1999. But the deal almost didn't happen.
The landlord and I agreed upon numerous parts of the deal -- sales price, part of our rent wrapped into the down payment, even how we would split the costs of repairing housing violations the point-of-sale inspection would uncover. It appeared, on the surface, that we had thought of everything. I was even eligible for additional financing from the city to help rehab the property.
But, as I've written in my column numerous times, an essential part of business is to always be prepared for the worst. And, like the myriad hitting and pitching instructors in baseball who teach skills to younger players but never could quite do it for themselves, I didn't practice what I preached.
The point-of-sale inspection revealed several significant housing violations that, on top of the rehabilitation project, would have cost us more money than we would ever get out of the house later and more money than we truly could afford to ante up without going further into debt. In essence, it was a potential money pit. But, we wanted the house.
For several weeks, I worked with the mortgage lender. He could have lent us enough to make it work -- but my wife and I continued to question how much money we were willing to invest. Was it worth stretching our finances to the limit or were we better off waiting to buy a different house?
Finally, I turned back to the seller and explained that unless he was willing to renegotiate the deal, we would walk. He acquiesced, and together we made the numbers work.
Today, we're first-time homeowners and couldn't be happier. It is an example, however, of how fragile a deal can be.
The lesson is easy: In life -- as in business -- when the numbers don't work, walk away, even when your heart says otherwise. Dustin Klein (email@example.com) is editor of SBN Magazine.