SBN Staff

Edward Nicholson is a life-long academic. He has seen the inner workings of numerous college institutions across the country and has held positions ranging from professor to dean. In 1989 Nicholson found himself in Pittsburgh as president of Robert Morris University and helped transform the institution into what it is today.

“At the time, Robert Morris was a focused institution in business,” says Nicholson, who retired as president of the institution in 2005.

Robert Morris also had a large number of students enrolled in two-year associate degree programs, but Nicholson realized it would be hard to compete on price with the public community colleges.

“Many of the private and some of the public universities were starting undergraduate programs in business, which was sort of our bread and butter,” Nicholson says. “We were competitively under a great deal of pressure.”

Nicholson decided Robert Morris needed to become a broader-based university and offer programs in the humanities such as teacher education, engineering, health care and medical sciences.

“To do that and to grow fairly rapidly, we decided to get out of the business of offering associate degrees and focus our growth on the campus in Moon Township,” he says. “Our strategy was to leverage our one big competitive advantage, and that was to expand our Division I athletic programs. The first thing I did was start a football program.”

Over the years, Robert Morris introduced enough new Division I athletic programs — 23 — to have more than the University of Pittsburgh, which boasted 21. As a consequence, the new programs in engineering, health care and social sciences grew and easily made up for the students who were no longer around seeking associate degrees.

“We didn’t see any rapid growth in the number of students we were serving, but what we did see was pretty rapid growth in the number seeking bachelor degrees,” he says.

In 2003, Nicholson furthered the institution’s strategy surrounding Division I athletics by purchasing recreational facilities on Neville Island. The facilities included a golf dome for winter golf and indoor soccer, an indoor and outdoor ice rink for hockey and outdoor fields for lacrosse.

With the addition of this asset, Robert Morris was able to bring the NCAA Division I Ice Hockey tournament, the Frozen Four, to Pittsburgh in 2013.

“That facility was sort of the culmination of our strategy of using our Division I prominence to build new programs and recruit students,” Nicholson says.

Despite all the successes that Nicholson had while serving as president of Robert Morris, his toughest challenge remained convincing people that the institution was more than a good business school.

“When you have such a successful reputation over the past 60 years and have built your brand and your identity, it is a challenge to change that brand successfully,” he says. “Today, I think we have changed that brand successfully.”

While the business school is still the largest component of the institution, Robert Morris has a school of nursing, a school of engineering, a school of education and has been able to build credibility in all of those academic fields. It now competes on a broad basis in the marketplace with the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State, Grove City College and Slippery Rock University.


How to reach: Robert Morris University, (800) 762-0097 or


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H. Rochelle Stachel is one of the first women to work in the male-dominated industry of steel mills and chemical plants. As such, Stachel understands the importance of having a support structure in place in order to achieve one’s goals.

This “serving leader” philosophy is a clear reflection of HRV Conformance Verification Associates Inc., an innovative materials and construction inspection company that puts people first.

As founder and CEO of HRV, Stachel has grown the company from its humble beginnings out of the basement of her home into a multimillion-dollar venture that has become a mainstay of the region with significant presence in the industry.

Under her leadership, HRV revolutionized normal company structure and how companies marketed themselves in the materials and construction inspection services industry. HRV’s methodology was to develop a local presence within the market by hiring local inspectors, while having expert project managers work directly with the customer and the inspectors.

The project managers bring a product line expertise while providing oversight to the local inspectors. The project managers are critical to HRV’s business model as they are the face of the company and supervise the local inspectors. HRV also developed a local presence at the manufacturing facilities for materials providing pre-fabrication inspections. This helps to limit the amount of post fabrication issues.

The local workforce provided HRV a competitive advantage over the competition as customers were required to give notice of at least 48-hours before receiving inspection services. HRV has the ability to have inspectors onsite overnight if required.

Under Stachel’s direction, the company’s business model focuses on providing a high-quality service at a competitive cost.


How to reach: HRV Conformance Verification Associates Inc., (412) 788-2522 or


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Monday, 30 September 2013 12:00

2013 Pacesetter - Emerging - Fiducia Group

Charley Kennedy has been an industry leader in the Pittsburgh region for the last 25 years. Prior to founding Fiducia Group in 2008, he was a key member of a Pittsburgh-based startup retirement services company called Invesmart. Previously, Kennedy was an executive at Federated Investors and other organizations based in Western Pennsylvania.

Kennedy’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to start Fiducia Group, of which he is managing principal today. Fiducia Group is engaged by employers to provide support with their workplace retirement program. Today the company has more than $1 billion in assets under management and has had an average growth rate of 65 percent since inception.

Fiducia Group acts as an investment adviser for employer workplace retirement programs and provides services to help employees better understand and take advantage of their retirement plan so they have successful retirement outcomes.

Kennedy’s vision with Fiducia Group is to assist employers with the historic problems facing workplace retirement plans. Hidden fees, poor service and a lack of employee guidance are just some of the issues facing many employer retirement programs. Fiducia Group’s model is designed to overcome these obstacles.

Kennedy’s vision and entrepreneurial approach have led to the addition of three other principal partners at Fiducia Group including an expansion into the Washington, D.C./Northern Virginia market. The firm’s growth has brought national attention to the organization.

Kennedy and his company are dedicated to making the region a better place to live and work. He is a founder and board member of the Pittsburgh Retirement Professionals, started in 2012, to bring together business leaders and companies to focus on assisting employers with their retirement programs.


How to reach: Fiducia Group, (855) 220-2520 or


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Thanks to Thomas Mattei, who holds a doctor of pharmacy, with the help of other key leaders of Duquesne University’s Mylan School of Pharmacy, its Academic Partners Program was established, helping change the mission of the school and increasing its success in receiving extramural funding.

The School of Pharmacy is now seen as a community health care provider and part of the regional safety net for underserved, vulnerable residents of the region and as a resource to improve the success of its academic partners.

Mattei, who is associate dean of professional programs, set up the Academic Partners Program as a collaboration of health care organizations, civic groups, churches, safety net providers and employers of pharmacy-related service programs that enhance health outcomes, quality of life and health resource utilization of the patients, clients, employees and residents served by the program, which utilizes faculty and staff of the School of Pharmacy.

In addition to providing direct disease management and wellness programs, a considerable portion of the school’s involvement is to help identify residents within a particular service area that have undiagnosed or under-treated diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia and asthma, and their subsequent referral for appropriate care.

The program provides clinical rotations for student pharmacists in partner sites including acute care hospitals, ambulatory care centers, physician offices, senior living campuses, homeless shelters, pediatric facilities, employer sites, mobile health units, community pharmacies and the school’s academic research centers of care and service.

Due to Mattei’s efforts and the success of the program, the school has been recognized nationally, statewide and locally.


How to reach: Duquesne University Mylan School of Pharmacy, (412) 396-6000 or


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Debra Mortillaro and her company, Dreadnought Wines, have been setting the pace for small independent wine distributors by focusing on retail customers and innovations that would make buying wine a better experience for the customer.

Dreadnought Wines was the first to use credit cards for the sale of alcohol in Pennsylvania, have a wine-of-the-month club and sell wine accessories and glassware before the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board did, which are just a few examples of the pacesetting ideas that have been the mission of the alcohol distributor.

Mortillaro, who is co-owner along with Mike Gonze, also started a trucking division that focuses on moving alcohol within the state of Pennsylvania, aligning it with Dreadnought Wines’ current business contacts while also looking into other avenues, knowing that this class of license could also be legislated out of existence. This business has seen a growth of more than 25 percent a year since purchasing one of its competitors two years ago.

In addition to the trucking company expansion, the education portion of the business, with the goal of having several outlets within and beyond the Pittsburgh arena, is a top priority. Dreadnought Wines is working with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust certification program out of London to expand its offerings beyond the consumer to restaurant and beverage professionals. With Mortillaro’s background as a chef, food classes are being looked at as a future offering as well.

Continuing to find ways to protect her 34-year-old business from legislature that is determined to change the face of their industry has also been a focus for Mortillaro. Working with local politicians has refined her ability to clearly demonstrate her side of a complex issue. She has worked with other wine distributors on this issue to help protect their class of license during the proposed legislative changes.

In addition, she has worked to help the public understand the consequences of the proposed laws for the liquor system in Pennsylvania.

Mortillaro has kept her company on pace with the changing wine scene in Pittsburgh by these expansions and employing people with worldwide experience in the areas of wine sales, education and logistics. Always looking for the next trend in the beverage industry has kept Dreadnought on the forefront of its business.

Mortillaro has worked to keep her company viable by expanding into the Philadelphia market, starting with wine sales to on-premise locations and hiring a person to work with the Harrisburg office of the PLCB to expand the offerings via the luxury system. This expansion has increased the sales of wine to on-premise accounts by 110 percent and created a whole new stream of sales that have grown by 10 percent a year for the past three years.


How to reach: Dreadnought Wines, (412) 391-1709 or


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If you were to ask Ken Zeff, founder and CEO of Crazy Mocha, what his favorite drink from the coffee chain is, he would have a hard time giving you an answer — not because he has so many favorites, but because he isn’t a coffee drinker.

Zeff understands how crazy that sounds, but says it’s been a good thing for business because instead of buying what he likes, he focuses on what customers are asking for at Crazy Mocha. And for anyone who has followed the company’s growth in the past 13 years, it’s obvious that Zeff’s methods are working.

Zeff started Crazy Mocha in 2000 and was determined to utilize his Pittsburgh roots by creating a welcoming environment while highlighting Pittsburgh-based companies for development, products and services. He is proud of his company’s focus on helping other small businesses grow.

For example, Crazy Mocha selected a small local distributor adding more than 30 percent growth to its business seven years straight. The same can be said for Crazy Mocha’s coffee distributor who added 43 percent growth since the partnership began.

Zeff says the focus is always on the local economy. Not only has Crazy Mocha created jobs, payroll taxes and sales taxes, but the residual effect of its business can be felt by multiple distributors, contractors and professional companies.

Today, the company’s biggest impact is on locations. Crazy Mocha has taken risk in neighborhoods that others have overlooked such as Lawrenceville and the Northside. In both cases the buildings were vacant for years. In the Northside case, the building was almost beyond repair — now, with Crazy Mocha’s presence, a deli and a taco shop have emerged. Neither of those businesses would exist without the Crazy Mocha anchor.

In 2003, Crazy Mocha had just three locations. During 2004, the operation doubled to six locations and 25 employees. The rapid pace of expansion raised questions among observers about whether the growth was sustainable. In 2007, Zeff opened a store at PPG Place near an existing Starbucks. The new location was to fill the void left by the closure of La Prima Espresso. Other downtown locations were developed to improve brand awareness and by 2008 the chain had grown to 21 locations and had more than 100 employees.

Today, Crazy Mocha has 30 locations, including a few outside the city of Pittsburgh. Of those locations, 14 were takeovers from coffee operators that failed, and in every case the company has made those locations profitable.


How to reach: Crazy Mocha, (412) 404-2318 or


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Lifetime Acheivement








Since 2004 when Mark Brennan was named president and CEO of Clearview Federal Credit Union, he has proven he is a leader dedicated to his organization, his colleagues and his community. He has not only improved the relationship between local credit unions and helped grow Clearview to serve more than 80,000 members, but he has remained true to the credit union’s mission to provide genuine service and high-quality financial products.

Brennan stands out as a pacesetter who inspires other business leaders to become mindful of their organizations’ impact on the community and its people, and to always support people helping people. Under his leadership, Clearview has successfully transitioned from a single sponsor credit union into a community-based credit union serving consumers in the Southwestern Pennsylvania region and meeting their financial service needs.

This shift has allowed Clearview, and in turn credit unions in general, to achieve broader recognition in the area so that consumers might look to credit unions as a new way to manage their money rather than through traditional banking. Brennan has also worked to create partnerships between Clearview and other credit unions.

These groups, though they are in competition with one another, continue to work together on key initiatives and programs to benefit each of their organizations.

In addition, Clearview has implemented the use of technology-based products and services for its members and remains an innovative leader in an effort to satisfy members’ needs for convenience and ease of use online and on mobile delivery systems.


How to reach: Clearview Federal Credit Union, (412) 269-3011 or


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Monday, 30 September 2013 20:00

Raising the tide in Northeast Ohio

ABCO Fire Protection, founder of the Live Safe Foundation, took top honors recently as recipient of the Shatten Civic Distinction Award from The Entrepreneurs EDGE.

Each year, as part of the Leading EDGE Awards Program, The Entrepreneurs EDGE highlights one of 101 companies with the award. The award recognizes a Leading EDGE honoree that exemplifies the spirit of Richard Shatten, who had a strong love for the Northeast Ohio community and gave his time tirelessly in an effort to make it better for everyone. His life was cut short in 2002 when he died of a brain tumor. By shedding light on companies that give back like he did, EDGE honors his memory and continues to build on the ideas that he so passionately supported.

The Live Save Foundation was founded in 2009 by Jill Marcinick of ABCO to provide safety education, awareness and lifesaving tools to the community. It is an Ohio based non-profit devoted to causes that will reduce national fire fatalities and losses.

ABCO employees and volunteers at Live Safe have worked to enhance the missions of such organizations at The Ohio State University Medical Burn Center, Society of Fire Protection Engineers, Center for Campus Fire Safety, Christine Wilson Foundation, Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, Christine’s Christmas, International Association of Fallen Firefighters, Leadership Dublin and others.

As part of the activities at the awards ceremony, EDGE asked attendees to participate in an exercise to demonstrate the power of a dollar. Attendees were asked to place $1 in an envelope. As a result EDGE matched funds and $500 was raised that ABCO could use for the charitable cause of its choice.

Inspired by the exercise and the Shatten Civic Distinction Award, the Live Safe Foundation through a strategic programmatic partnership with ABCO Fire Protection is partnering to provide the “Live Safe with the ABCO-Shatten Education Fund.” The fund has been established to support the communities where ABCO associates live and work. The $500, as a starting point, will offer financial assistance for college students.

The education fund application requires students to submit an essay on creating unique education solutions related to fire safety and living in a fire-safe environment. According to the U.S. Department of Education, there were more than 19 million students enrolled in two- and four-year institutions in fall 2009, and for many, this was their first time living away from home and facing new experiences.

The National Fire Protection Association reports in a fall 2010 survey that U.S. fire departments responded to more than 1.3 million fires and 2 million false alarms in 2009. The data represents a serious problem in the country as home fires caused 85 percent of the civilian fire deaths. ABCO and the Live Safe Foundation believe through leadership and awareness, students can make an impact on their peers.

The vision for the fund is to enable recipients to support their education in areas where ABCO associates live and work. The funds may be used to help purchase supplies and textbooks. In the future, it may provide a “lifeline” to students overcoming the impact of an emergency and helping them stay on track. In addition to the funds provided, students will be given a special Custom Student Fire Safety Kit when going off to college, including a fire extinguisher, photoelectric smoke detector, and access to the Flashpoint online fire safety curriculum from the National Institute of Fire and Safety Training.

The Shatten Civic Distinction Award is presented by The Entrepreneurs EDGE with sponsorship support from Fairmount Minerals and Davey Tree. In addition to recognition at the annual Leading EDGE Awards Dinner and Program, recipients are recognized with a tree-planting ceremony at their company location in the fall. The program has honored eight exemplary companies since its inception, including ABCO Fire Protection, BrandMuscle, Fairmount Minerals, HumanArc, Main Street Gourmet, Marous Brothers, PartsSource and Shearer’s Foods.

The Entrepreneurs EDGE drives growth for companies by bringing together their leadership teams to share best practices and inspire each other to pursue high-value opportunities. EDGE is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and is the only NEO economic development group that is focused on helping midsized companies strengthen their leadership teams in order to take their companies to the next level. ●


EDGE operates with a mission of enhancing the Northeast Ohio community where quality of life and opportunity abound for all. Civic engagement is intertwined in everything EDGE does, from the Leading EDGE Awards Program to their midsized company membership and student programs. For more information on The Entrepreneurs Edge, go to

Monte Carlo has seen a lot of risk takers in its day, but not many have been like those who attended the recent EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year conference. These risk takers may use the term “gamble” every now and then, but they more often use their willingness to take a risk as a way to overcome the challenges of running a business.

The collection of the world’s most accomplished entrepreneurs at the conference were innovators, futurists, turnaround specialists and problem solvers.

From this highly qualified group of leaders comes some quality insights into rising above the challenges that could have blocked the success they envisioned for themselves and their companies. ●


“We have a phrase: ‘Market leaders need to meet market innovators.’ It’s a ‘two-fer’ because the innovators often need to have partnerships with the market leaders in order to really scale their companies. That could be as simple as a distribution agreement. It could be joint R&D. It could be capital. It could be a variety of things that form a partnership.

Likewise, if you think of firms like Procter & Gamble that have had edicts from the top that half of their innovation will come from outside the ivory tower, then those are the kinds of opportunities that we hope to be able to continue to bring.

Go and find those innovators … and likewise for the innovators, make sure your reach out and look for strategic partnerships that help your business grow.”

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


“Cost pressures are always high. What we need to make sure we do is continue to innovate our audit services and all our services to make sure we make maximum use of technology. We also need to make sure we take advantage of both time zone arbitrage and cost arbitrage where talent zones are present.”

Jim Turley, retired global chairman and CEO, EY


“The drive to always want to get better and do more is what keeps me going. It’s hard for me to turn it off and say, ‘That’s great.’ I’m always thinking about tomorrow. You can’t take things for granted in our business.”

Corey Shapoff, president and founder, SME Entertainment Group


“When you have a monopoly, it slows innovation. It reduces competition and is generally not good for the market. Once you have an open Internet with no government operating on top of it, then I’m very optimistic about humanity when it comes to producing things.”

Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web


“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 isle. 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. 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., Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 United States, 2013 World Entrepreneur Of The Year


“In our country, our main challenges are new regulations and new financial reforms that we have to comply with. We are getting together for meetings inside the bank in different areas to study each one of the reforms.

Also at the Association of Banking Industry in Mexico, we have an association of the 44 authorized banks where we get together in different commissions to make sure that we can modify some of the new policies that are going to come out later this year.”

Lorenzo Barrera Segovia, founder and CEO, Banco BASE, Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Mexico


“One of the main challenges is how to train the talent we have in Latin America. Latin America has 600 million people and 1 million IT workers. The next step is to train more people and convince people to adopt technology as a career. If you provide the proper entrepreneurial environment to that, maybe the next Google or Facebook can come from Latin America.”

Martin Migoya, CEO, Globant, Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Argentina


“One of the biggest challenges the industry faces is trying to figure out what the impact of the natural gas/shale gas revolution is going to have on us. Suddenly there is cheap natural gas, which is going to be more challenging for renewable projects to compete with. Rather than looking at it as an either-or world, you have to look at how the two technologies can work together.”

Jim Davis, president, Chevron Energy Solutions


“Zonamerica is a different kind of company, a business and technology park. But in general, we have a financial sector, we have 60 banks, a wealth of private funds, we have call centers, cell services and headquarters for companies that want to develop business in the region. The problem is all these companies require very qualified personnel. Our core purpose is to attract the best human resources to produce or offer the product. So we created a database and we have, at this moment, more than 24,000 people registered. Then these companies, according to the needs they have, can see and select the personnel they want. And then we also have schools to teach skills to prepare people for these kinds of employment.”

Orlando Dovat, founder and CEO, Zonamerica, Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Uruguay


“Zonamerica is a different kind of company, a business and technology park. But in general, we have a financial sector, we have 60 banks, a wealth of private funds, we have call centers, cell services and headquarters for companies that want to develop business in the region. The problem is all these companies require very qualified personnel. Our core purpose is to attract the best human resources to produce or offer the product. So we created a database and we have, at this moment, more than 24,000 people registered. Then these companies, according to the needs they have, can see and select the personnel they want. And then we also have schools to teach skills to prepare people for these kinds of employment.”

Orlando Dovat, founder and CEO, Zonamerica, Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Uruguay


“Probably the most difficult cost control challenge is managing staff salary software. There is a specific reason for that within our company — we are going through a system conversion, so when we acquire practices, they each have their different practice management software. Some are fully computerized; some are not computerized at all. We at one point had 18 different systems within our company. We have converted all of our 107 locations onto one platform this year, so with training and obviously the unknowns that occur with changing people's worlds by changing their operational platform, that's our biggest challenge this year. Having said that, that will allow us to create a line of central efficiencies in the coming years.”

Dr. Alan Ulsifer, CEO, president and chair, FYidoctors, Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Canada


Companies that have looked into using the IC-DISC (Interest-Charge Domestic International Sales Corporation) provisions of the tax code, intended to help U.S. companies compete internationally, might remember that the incentive essentially reduces the top federal tax rate on income from certain qualified goods and services from 39.6 to 20 percent.

“Partly because it is thought of as a manufacturing and export incentive, many companies have dismissed the IC-DISC. Many more have misinterpreted the rules, which actually do not require manufacturing or exporting,” says Amit Mathur, CPA, director at WTP Advisors.

Pete Chudyk, head of the tax consulting practice at Maloney + Novotny LLC, says “We have helped many companies realize that the definition of ‘qualified export’ sales for IC-DISC purposes is explicitly based on use outside of the U.S., and does not literally require the exporting of goods.”

Smart Business spoke with Mathur and top accounting firms about five IC-DISC myths that lead to business owners missing or underutilizing the valuable government incentive.

Myth 1: Products must be exported.

Perhaps the most widely held IC-DISC misinterpretation is that a company must export a product and sell to a foreign customer to qualify for benefits.

While the product generally must be ultimately used outside of the U.S. — without being further manufactured by another party inside the U.S. — there is no requirement that the product be exported, or that the customer be foreign. In some cases, the product may even return to the U.S. For example, an Ohio auto parts maker that sells to General Motors Co. can claim benefits if the parts are incorporated into a car GM builds in Mexico. A special component rule allows these parts to qualify after being incorporated into another product abroad that returns to the U.S.

Mike Trabert, a partner at Skoda Minotti, says “Any closely held manufacturer or distributor should examine where the ultimate use of their products occurs. While they may not consider themselves ‘exporters,’ significant and easy to implement tax benefits may be available.”

Myth 2: The taxpayer must manufacture the product.

Closely held distributors and brokers, as well as the final manufacturers, of any U.S.-made product are eligible for IC-DISC benefits for any given qualified sale or lease. Unlike the Domestic Production Activities Deduction often enjoyed in tandem with the IC-DISC — both benefits can be claimed — manufacture by the taxpayer is not required.

Myth 3: Business operations will be disrupted.

A popular misconception is that using an IC-DISC will require a new entity to sell qualified exported goods in order to obtain the tax savings. This fear of having to alter contracts, logistics, payments, etc., is totally unfounded. There is actually no effect on cash flow or any other business operations from using an IC-DISC. Other than receiving a commission from the related operating company and immediately paying a dividend back to the company, or its owners, the IC-DISC typically does not perform any activities whatsoever.

Myth 4: IC-DISC benefits are limited to $10 million of qualified sales.

No limitation exists on the amount of qualified export sales that can generate IC-DISC benefits. Originally, the IC-DISC provided a deferral benefit, and the amount that could be deferred was related to only $10 million of qualified export sales.

Myth 5: IC-DISC commission is 4 percent of export sales or 50 percent of export income.

IC-DISC savings result from allowable commission paid to an IC-DISC, generating an expense at ordinary rates (39.6 percent) with the same amount typically being paid from the IC-DISC to its shareholders as a dividend, taxed at dividend rates (top rate 20 percent). Many believe this commission amount is limited to 4 percent of export sales or 50 percent of export taxable income.

In reality, each qualified export transaction can use either of these basic methods, or a host of other methods explicitly encouraged in the regulations that can be more beneficial. Some methods even allow loss transactions to generate a commission.

Amit Mathur, CPA, is a director at WTP Advisors. Reach him at (216) 292-6732 or

Learn more about the IC-DISC

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