While Tupperware is still going strong, the in-home sales technique has been adopted to promote everything from candles and kitchen supplies to more intimate wares such as lotions and lingerie, which is what Pure Romance specializes in. Founded in 1993 by Patty Brisben, the company relies on a network of more than 6,000 female sales consultants to sell sensual products from their living rooms.
The concept has been wildly successful Pure Romance reported $40 million in revenue in 2004 and expects revenue this year to be close to $53 million.
The secret to Pure Romance’s growth isn’t having a great product, which it does, or rolling out huge marketing campaigns, which it also does. The secret is constant consultant training and support.
Smart Business spoke with Pure Romance President Chris Cicchinelli about how the company trains its independent work force and keeps the message consistent, and how he plans to grow the company.
Do you see most of your growth in recruiting consultants or through product sales?
In the recruiting side. The products are a byproduct of this company the relationship side of it, the female camaraderie that we’re able to give, the experience of the party that we’re able to give, those are [our real tools]. Women see that and say, ‘I want to be involved with somebody like that. I want to be able to help women.’
Before, when I first started, people were like, [whispers] ‘Oh, I can’t sell toys. Oh, my gosh, I can’t do that.’ Now women are like, ‘You know what? I’m going to open up. Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives said it’s OK.’ Since those shows have aired, and since Pure Romance has been advertising and taking this business mainstream, people have been more interested, more willing to experience and open up their wild side a little bit.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of working with independent consultants?
The benefits? I don’t need 8,000 store locations, with 8,000 different managers, 8,000 water bills, 8,000 different electric bills. That’s the good part.
Some of the drawbacks of using consultants? Consistency of the message is probably one of the hardest things. You know, when you work in a corporate environment, the message is drilled into you, drilled into you, drilled into you. When you don’t have that same message being drilled in every day, you can kind of get away from the core message that we’re trying to get across.
With 6,200 consultants, how do you gauge and maintain that message consistency?
That is the biggest, biggest thing that we do. We travel all over the country. We get out to see as many of our consultants as possible whenever we can.
When we come into markets, we say, ‘Hey, we want you to come and meet with us at this time, we want to take a look at your presentation, you’re doing good numbers.’ And we even take some of the girls that are doing not-so-hot numbers and say, ‘Hey, come on in here, let’s take a look and see if we can help your presentation.’
Every presentation has come from our CEO, so everybody has taken her party and then taken it to the next level.
How do you train and educate consultants?
One, we have bimonthly meetings in 63 cities across the United States. I have a trained team that goes out to each of the different cities and works with all the consultants in those different regions. The other way is through our monthly newsletters and our bimonthly publications. We also send CDs, DVDs, CD-ROMs, all kinds of training materials once a month to our girls to keep them updated on the ongoing trends, what’s going on with new products, what are some of the new ingredients we’ve added to the products, stuff like that.
We also hired in a Health and Education Department. We got a young lady with the Kinsey Institute ... because a lot of women are having questions about the human body, about anatomy, about how these products actually work and what phases they work in.
What else does Pure Romance do to support its consultants?
The difference between Pure Romance [and everyone else] is that Pure Romance goes out and spends between $2.5 (million) and $2.8 million each year in marketing for consultants. We do that because we understand.
I don’t want this ever happening, when you hand that business card over and people go, ‘I’ve never heard of you. What is this?’ I want them to go, ‘You know, I think I’ve read about you or heard of you. Hey, did you throw that party for Jessica Simpson?’
I want the girls to know that they have a company that’s going out to work for them. When people think of parties and they think of relationships, they think of Pure Romance. We’ll go out there and we’re going to build this for you. You do your part and you hand out your cards, and you preach the message.
How to reach: Pure Romance, (888) ROMANCE or http://www.pureromance.com
As the leader of OSI Systems, a Hawthorne-based manufacturing company, Chopra has handled 19 acquisitions in the past 10 years, some of which pulled the company into unfamiliar territory. Founded in 1987 as an optoelectronics manufacturing company, OSI Systems today is also involved in manufacturing products for the security and health care industries.
With so many companies in such varied fields, it’s a wonder Chopra is able to keep everything under control. But through a system of carefully selected acquisitions and a laid-back but not lax attitude toward management, he’s found a way to keep overall profits up, employee turnover down and the people around him ready for the next great challenge.
Chopra shares his thoughts on acquisitions, his leadership style and building a strong management team.
Fundamentally, the first thing that we look at, [a company] must have a synergistic fit into what we are, and we are in these three areas: security, medical device manufacturing and selling, and optoelectronics. We’re not going to go do something at a chemical company or a software company. The second thing is, it must have a manufacturing angle. We will not go look at a medical company in which there is service but no manufacturing, because ultimately, we are a manufacturing company.
Once those two tests are passed, we look at the company management, because we’re not rich in management. We look toward the acquisition to bring that top management with it. We’ve never done an acquisition where management did not get rewarded, and that’s why we don’t have too much turnover.
Globally, we don’t care where it is. We’ll go look at a company anywhere half the company acquisitions we’ve done have been outside the U.S. The world is your market, not the United States. Whether they are profitable or not, we do our own due diligence and analysis, and if we can make them profitable, we will go do it.
Ideally, [we want the] entrepreneurs that started the company, because they are the best people. Otherwise, [we look for] well-rounded management. And they better have thick skin, because small companies are very tough. They need to have a track record of staying with the business, and they have to have a track record of taking risks.
And there’s got to be entrepreneurship. There’s got to be. Because in this business, they’re not the GEs and Lockheeds. When we buy a business, we expect that business to have a voice, and whatever they do is a big portion of our going-forward strategy, so we want people we can work with.
Most companies, when they buy a business especially if that business is in a different field - they try to teach the company to do it their way. We definitely don’t want to make that mistake, and we’ve tried very hard to make sure that we learn what they do. And then where we can contribute to make it better, more effective, we do that. We don’t just automatically assume that they don’t know that they’re doing, and since we bought the company, we should tell them what to do.
When we buy a company, not only do we have an opportunity to reap the benefits of synergies in similar marketing and quality control and engineering and top-line revenue growth, and in the back office of finance, we have one other additional benefit that other companies don’t have - insourcing. We are a manufacturing company. So every time we go buy an acquisition, whenever they are sending outside to buy, they are giving that margin to someone else.
If we can bring that manufacturing into one of our other companies, we keep that margin. That is the extra benefit that we have, and that is the strategy behind being in three businesses. Think of it like an inverted pyramid.
On the bottom is our semiconductor optoelectronic manufacturing, and then we grow toward both sectors in security and health care, which at one time were both customers for us.
Challenges are always [there with acquisitions], because you buy a company and you have to assimilate it. At the end of the day, all companies, all technologies are people. If you cannot assimilate the people into your organization, and you cannot see and capitalize on the synergies, you will never make it.
I’m fundamentally an engineer. I think like an engineer, I act like an engineer, I dress up like an engineer, and the people around me are also in the same kind of mode. I’m a very informal leader. I don’t talk too much about bureaucracy or formalities. And frankly, I’m just one of the boys.
I thrive on challenges. I thrive on giving challenges to the people around me. We have a lot of informal group meetings and discussions. Ultimately, I don’t want people to be yes men around me, and I don’t think they are.
I always practice one motto that I have a mediocre decision at the right time is a better decision than an ideal decision at the wrong time. So make some mediocre decisions time is running away. You can always correct it. Be ready to accept some failures, say, ‘You know, I made a mistake,’ and then change it.
I can’t stand people who basically say, ‘I told you so’ and just sit on the sidelines until things go wrong. They’ve got to just jump in and say, ‘OK, I made a mistake, let’s change it.’ This is an evolving, learning experience. We all need to learn from each other.
How to reach: OSI Systems Inc., (310) 978-0516, www.osi-systems.com
The best business leaders have ultimate faith that their service or product is the absolute best in the market, that their co-workers and employees will perform successfully, that the client or customer will bring its business back time and again.
Kevin Hassey, president of LCA-Vision, has this kind of faith in his company. But he also understands that faith alone cannot run a business. There are other factors, according to Hassey, that have made LCA, the owner of a nationwide chain of LasikPlus Vision Centers, one of the nation’s largest providers of LASIK vision-correction surgery, so successful.
“One is just having a great product and market it well,” Hassey says. “Second is that we’re pretty much nuts about our satisfaction level patient satisfaction and associate satisfaction. And then third is being relentless on expansion. So that’s pretty much what we do. We work at the product, we market it well, we make sure that everybody’s happy and we’re expanding. It’s kind of that simple.”
The trust factor
It may seem simple on the surface, but business success can’t be explained in three easy steps there’s more to it. Take, for example, patient satisfaction.
“We put an enormous amount of effort into our patient rate,” says Hassey. “We believe that our biggest marketing vehicle is word-of-mouth referral business for us.”
But how does the company achieve that great patient rate, that positive word of mouth?
The first step, says Hassey, is building trust.
“We listen well,” he says. “We identify what [the patient’s] concerns are and work to address those concerns. We recognize that when our technicians see someone, it may be the 100th person they’ve seen that month, but to that person they’re seeing, it’s their only pair of eyes.
“They’re trying to have a really serious conversation about their eyes and what their particular needs are and whether LASIK surgery can address those needs. Our folks have to be at the top of their game for every patient, and they’re trained to attend each patient individually.”
LCA also builds trust by providing free eye examinations. Anyone interested in having LASIK surgery can set up an appointment for an in-depth, no-obligation appraisal.
“The preoperative evaluation takes 90 minutes,” says Hassey. “I think the patient is wowed by the fact that we’re able to commit that much time without any financial obligation, and also the fact that we do such extraordinary tests. We don’t want to operate on anybody that isn’t right for LASIK, so we do multiple tests to get to the right answer. People appreciate that.”
They certainly do. Since opening its first American center in 1995 (the company began applying laser operating technology in 1991 in Canada after that country approved laser vision correction procedures), LCA-Vision has performed more than 400,000 laser eye surgeries.
“I think the patients recognize that we truly care about them, and that’s why they refer a lot of family and friends to us,” Hassey says.
Winning by caring
The culture of caring not only helps increase LCA’s sales, it also helps keep employment costs down by reducing turnover, as happy employees are less likely to leave. The company gauges employee satisfaction using tools such as surveys, and takes the responses to heart, using them to do what it can to keep people happy.
“We don’t sit in an ivory tower and assume we know what’s going on with associates,” Hassey says. “Success all about understanding people and product. People means hiring the right ones, giving them the right tools, training them, keeping them happy. The product side is just having an outstanding product that all those people are going to work on.”
And Hassey’s confidence in LCA’s product means he can focus on motivating and encouraging his employees.
“My big goal is that I want everybody to win and celebrate that we won. I try being ... the best cheerleader to help everybody get to their goals,” he says.
Hassey also helps employees succeed by establishing clear rules and expectations.
“Nobody here is just doing stuff hoping that things will turn out OK,” Hassey says. “They know exactly what we want from them; they’ve outlined their own passport to achieving what we want from them and they’re passionate about getting there. So communication here is very direct, very clear. There’s no ambiguity.”
That speaks highly of LCA’s leadership. According to Hassey, great leaders are “clear, demanding and passionate. Clear regarding expectations, demanding regarding meeting those expectations, but also a passionate listener.” So when Hassey’s employees run into problems or obstacles, he’s passionate about helping them work through them.
Part of it goes back to the caring culture at LCA, and part of it can be attributed to his philosophy on leadership, but there’s another reason Hassey wants his employees to be successful when they win, he wins.
“By and large, my responsibilities are parceled out to all the different people in the organization,” he says. “When their goals are achieved, my goals are achieved as well.” And when that happens, everyone wins.
Another not-so-simple aspect of LCA’s success is what Hassey refers to as “relentless expansion.” LCA has 41 centers in 19 states, and plans to open another 10 to 12 company-owned centers this year, focusing on organic, sales-driven growth. The growth is driven largely by an aggressive marketing plan, about which Hassey is rather coy.
“Without giving away many details, I’d say that we believe most importantly in having a great product,” he says. A great product and excellent service drive the referral business no small feat but LASIK is a popular and potentially lucrative procedure, gaining new practitioners as fast as new patients. In a field at risk of becoming oversaturated, attracting clients in new markets can be challenging.
Hassey says that differentiation is the LCA key to success when entering a new market.
“Our biggest point of differentiation is focus,” he says. “Two-thirds of the LASIK category is done by private physicians, and they’re doing a bunch of other procedures, as well. We are one of the very few people who focus exclusively on LASIK. It’s all we do, and we just focus on doing very well.”
LCA uses this LASIK-only specialization to stay competitive on price, as well. LASIK surgery is usually elective and generally not covered by insurance companies, and prospective patients are looking for the most reliable service at the best price.
“We view ourselves as LASIK for everybody,” says Hassey, “so our prices are three-quarters of the industry average. We keep the prices down by marketing our product pretty aggressively and by [specializing]. We’re not leading from a glaucoma operation to a LASIK operation back to a glaucoma operation. We’re perfectly streamlined.”
The business is streamlined, but not entirely smooth. While LCA has been successful in opening each of its centers, it has run into a few challenges. One, says Hassey, is working with the brand, keeping it consistent across markets. Another is making personnel decisions.
And the two challenges aren’t exclusive in a service organization, people are the foundation of the product. Maintaining a consistent brand includes maintaining a consistent staff.
“We really believe that’s important,” Hassey says. “Not settling on anything, not compromising on brand.”
This uncompromising dedication to consistent service has propelled LCA to success. That, and a little bit of faith.
HOW TO REACH: (513) 792-9292; http://www.lca.com
Creativity and outside-the-box thinking are key assets for any entrepreneur. Combined with a little business savvy, they can save a business on the verge of collapse. Take, for example, Stella Moga and Le Chaperon Rouge.
Moga, a Romanian immigrant, began her first Le Chaperon Rouge daycare center in a church basement with just three children. Nine months later, she had 89 enrolled in her program, and a long waiting list. But when she tried to expand her business, she ran into problems.
Rent on any building large enough to house her budding business was expensive. Knowing that if she raised her fees, her center might become unaffordable to some clients, Moga decided to buy a place instead. She found the perfect building, met with the owner and proudly presented a $5,000 down payment. However, the owner wanted $50,000.
The obvious solution was to take out a loan, but no bank would give Moga one. She had few assets, little savings and only a year of business experience.
Never one to be deterred, Moga struck a deal with the building's owner. She would give him her $5,000 and pay a monthly rent for a year. If, at the end of the year, she didn't have the $50,000 down payment, she would give the owner everything she had saved and shut down the business. And if she had the money, the building was hers.
On the morning of Dec. 31, the day before her down payment was due, Moga found herself $7,000 short of her goal. So she struck another deal, this time with her clients - anyone who paid for two or more weeks in advance would receive a 20 percent discount. By the end of the day, Moga had the full down payment, and the building was hers.
Without her creative dealings, Moga would never have become the successful entrepreneur she is today.
How to reach: www.lechaperonrouge.com
In the business world, there are times where being a small business has its disadvantages.
Lines of credit and loans may be more difficult to obtain. Certain employee benefits, such as life insurance or vision coverage, may be unavailable or prohibitively expensive without hundreds of employees. And many business products or services are designed for and marketed to mid-sized to large business, ignoring the small business market entirely.
Enter Steve Weber. In 2002, he attended a Microsoft product seminar focused on small business technology solutions, and realized that while the product was available, Microsoft didn't have nearly enough business partners to effectively serve the market.
In August 2002, Weber opened GNS Partners, an IT consulting firm focused on developing infrastructure for retail management.
GNS Partners approaches business with an understanding of how small businesses work and what they need. While small businesses can make purchasing decisions quickly, they can't buy entire systems all at once, so GNS helps them develop a three-year roadmap to help budget for infrastructure technology and reduce disruptions in production.
GNS also provides IT support 24/7, a common and expected perk for large companies but a rarity in the small business market.
One of the newest initiatives GNS Partners has introduced to the small retailer market is infrastructure protection. The service, called PreResponsive Threat Control (PTC), monitors a company's infrastructure and checks for poor patch management, failed backups and weak points susceptible to viruses, spam and spyware. When a problem is found, the PTC system takes proactive steps to protect the infrastructure from damage.
Small businesses may have more challenges to overcome than their large counterparts, but now, thanks to Weber and GNS Partners, IT solutions are no longer out of reach.
How to reach: GNS Partners, www.gnspartners.com or (614) 501 6607
Change is ever-present in business. From new technology to employee turnover to emerging competition, there is always something to keep entrepreneurs and owners on their toes. For Health Design Plus (HDP), a provider of self-funded health care plans for regional businesses, changes have given President and CEO Ruth Coleman the opportunity to turn a burden into a blessing.
When Coleman founded HDP in 1988, computers were virtually unheard of in business offices. As the company expanded its services, it developed systems and processes based on paper documents, and as its client base expanded, so did the amount of paperwork. By 2002, HDP was using computers in many areas but it was still processing several million paper claims documents each year.
Coleman realized that pushing papers was time-consuming and expensive, and it was preventing the company from complying with complex health care regulations. The system needed an overhaul.
HDP's five-system overhaul cost more than $1 million and forced the company to stop taking on new clients. But through attrition and employees who couldn't transition to the electronic environment, the company cut almost $1 million in salary expenses, and the temporary hold on new clients allowed it to build a solid foundation to support growth and new product development.
HDP continues to improve in efficiency, and has been able to gradually add new programs and products to its technology portfolio.
In addition, the company dropped from 100 percent of its claims processed on paper to just 4 percent.
This overhaul allows HDP to change with the region. As small companies grow and more mid-sized companies move to the area, HDP can accommodate them, staying ahead of competition capable only of handling smaller clients.
For Coleman and Health Designs Plus, adapting to change meant initial setbacks and hardship, but those changes produced improvements that ultimately made for a stronger, healthier company.
How to reach: www.hdplus.com
Talk to Cincinnati mayor Charlie Luken, and you'll realize that any differences are miniscule. CEOs and executives spend their days finding ways to manage thousands of employees, develop and grow their business, outwit their competition and keep the fickle customer coming back for more.
Charlie Luken and his executive staff do much of the same: Manage a staff of 6,000 employees, develop and grow the city, ensure Cincinnati remains competitive against the suburbs and keep the fickle voter happy.
Even the major issues a mayor faces parallel those that plague business leaders. While CEOs and managers worry about fraud and embezzlement and try to find creative ways to motivate their employees, Luken must deal with rising crime rates and find ways to revitalize and improve the city.
Given the strong correlation between running a city and a corporation, it's no surprise that Luken takes management strategies and lessons from business leaders.
"I know some of the way I do business now, after being mayor for 12 years, was developed from CEOs I've met, from people who understand the importance of defining goals, surrounding yourself with good people, and building loyalty, which I think smart CEOs understand and implement every day," Luken says.
After receiving an undergraduate degree from Notre Dame and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Cincinnati Law School, Luken was elected to Cincinnati City Council in 1981. In 1984, his council peers elected him mayor, in much the same way a board elects its chairman.
After leaving his post in 1991 to serve as a U.S. congressman and then as news anchor for WLWT Channel 5, Luken decided to return to city government. In 1999, he was once again elected mayor of Cincinnati.
Since then, he has made safety and city improvement his focus. In his State of the City address in 2003, he identified crime as the city's No. 1 problem, and initiated the CLEAN program. CLEAN is an acronym for Communication (among the mayor, the city manager and the police staff), Leadership (from prominent religious, civic and political organization members), Evaluation, Allocation of Resources (including an increase in the police budget) and Neighborhood (involvement of and cooperation with neighborhood leaders). Luken also secured $100,000 toward the purchase and installation of thermal imaging cameras for Cincinnati's fire houses.
He's also developed initiatives to boost the local economy, attract attention to downtown businesses, and revitalize the Over-the-Rhine area. Under his leadership, the downtown Convention Center began an expansion and reconfiguration project. New housing and studios went up downtown, aimed at attracting artists and art organizations.
Under the Vine Street Initiative, the area will get a face lift and a Neighborhood Pride Center will be constructed, complete with meeting space for area businesses and city officials. Also in Over-the-Rhine, the Arts Academy is building a new facility.
None of these initiatives would be possible without the assistance of the business community. Smart Business spoke with Luken about the keys to managing Cincinnati and how the business community helps make it happen.
Q: You've led the city through crisis situations. As a leader, what do you think the primary responsibilities are in managing a crisis, be it in government or business?
The old expression 'Timing is everything,' applies here, and unfortunately, you can't pick your timing. Sometimes things that are really out of your control happen, and I think that the true test of leadership is to be able to manage in a difficult time.
The qualities that I have found most helpful are focus and perseverance. You have to clearly define your goals, and you have to decide on a strategy to accomplish them and then stick to it.
Sometimes people try to wear you out, but if you have the right tools -- focus and perseverance -- you will win out.
What qualities do you look for when hiring and building a senior staff?
Intelligence, creativity, loyalty. I think they're all important.
You need people who are bright, you need people who are creative and you need people who will be part of a team. And that means getting behind, being supportive and loyal to the objectives of the office.
How do you gauge that when you're interviewing a prospective employee?
I don't have any rules about that. Intuitively, I think you get a sense talking to people what their skills are, what their capabilities are. I don't have any hard and fast rules.
I've found that if you have a position and you have in your head a sense of what kind of person you want to fill it, then you can usually accomplish that through the interview process. But I think it's almost intuitive.
How do you manage the challenges of growth in Cincinnati?
Partnerships. Cities do not prosper without the involvement and support of their business community, and we have a very active, supportive one here in Cincinnati.
Relationships are strong. [The businesses] are involved in the economic development of the city, and their involvement goes beyond just the realm of corporate duties. They're involved in the day-to-day operations of the city.
Fostering this kind of partnership has a lot to do with developing relationships and clearly articulating your vision for what you want the city to be. You have to convey a sense that you have clearly defined goals and understand the importance of a healthy business climate.
And if you do that, there's plenty of goodwill in the business community to support the right agenda.
How do you balance the interests of the general public with those of the business community?
Well, that is very tough. And the reason it's tough is because the business community is out of touch with the folks on the street, and the folks on the street oftentimes don't trust CEOs.
So you have to do what you can to breed trust and understanding between them. They come from very different points of view, and it is always a struggle to blend the interests of the voters of the city with those of the business community.
Well, I think their interests are the same, they just come at things from different perspectives. And so you have to constantly intercede to keep people on the same page. But it can work.
For example, we have something here in Cincinnati called 3CDC (Cincinnati Center City Development Corp.). It's a nonprofit development corporation headed by A.G. Lafley, the CEO of Procter & Gamble.
This group is trying to help develop downtown in one of our low-income neighborhoods called Over-the-Rhine. And establishing trust between some of the businesspeople who are in that group and the residents of the area has been a challenge, but by sitting down, face-to-face, and talking things out, we've reached a common goal.
People are supportive of that, and it has been a great success story.
What are the most crucial business issues facing Cincinnati?
Small business. I think it has to be small business, because we have done a good job of keeping our large corporate headquarters in Cincinnati.
But what I worry about for Cincinnati, or any other large city, is making new, emerging small businesses feel welcome in the city, and that is a challenge. So we have done things like revise our permit process and our regulatory process to make it more understandable for small businesses.
I just worry that a lot of the new small business growth is located in the suburbs.
What is your vision for the future of Cincinnati?
In a word, growth. I think the city's got to grow in the number of residents that live here, the tax base, the small businesses.
And I think cities are going to have to define themselves as places that are interesting and diverse, and if we do that, we will succeed, but if we don't, we will lose out to the sprawl of suburbia.
How to reach: Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken, (513) 352-3250 or firstname.lastname@example.org
But for Robert Briggs, chairman of the Fund for Our Economic Future, optimism isn't about being naïve or unrealistic; it's a conscious decision to acknowledge and address problems and still maintain a positive attitude.
"People who try to be positive get up in the morning and say, 'I'm not going to let my problems bother me or anybody else. I'm going to be upbeat and positive.' I think that's what we, as a region, have to do," says Briggs, who also serves as executive director of the Akron-based GAR Foundation and is vice chair of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Board.
By working to improve the economy and promote northeast Ohio's assets, the fund's goal is to infuse the region with a healthy dose of optimism. It launched in February 2004 as a philanthropic economic problem-solver with three objectives -- generate a regional dialogue, establish and track economic indicators, and give grants.
It's the third objective, grant-making, that the fund is best known for. In July 2004, the Funders' Committee (the decision-making body comprised of donors) granted more than $8 million to four regional nonprofits -- BioEnterprise, JumpStart, NorTech and Team NEO. These were chosen because of their dedication to fostering and growing small businesses, funding technology innovation and encouraging businesses to locate and expand in Northeast Ohio.
Smart Business spoke with Briggs, chairman emeritus and former CEO of law firm Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs, about how the fund helps its grantees succeed, which issues need attention and why Northeast Ohio is one of the best places in America to do business.
How do you decide which nonprofits to support?
It's a very democratic process. Everyone on the Funders' Committee gets a vote. Ashland County has come up with $100,000, through a combination of contributions from the county government, which is a first; the city government, which is a first; the university, which is a first; the community foundation. A couple of other community leaders came up with $100,000. They all have the same one vote that the Cleveland Foundation has, who came up with $10 million. That factor was very important in drawing in outside communities.
As you begin new relationships, what are you doing to maintain those you've already formed?
We are in constant communication. Imbedded in each organization is a representative from the fund. They're not officially board members, but they're invited to attend every single board meeting, they're invited to and attend every single executive meeting, they receive all the materials that all the board members receive and they give quarterly reports to the funders.
And in order for them to get a second round of grants, they have to give a detailed report, which our due diligence team will follow up on, as to how they've progressed in all of the benchmarks that we've provided, which include specific diversity-inclusion benchmarks.
How do you manage your partners' expectations?
We are a very transparent organization and very accessible. While I am the chair, there are a number of us who speak for the Funders' Committee, because we're all so interconnected with what we're doing.
We maintain close relationships with these folks, and we laid out from the get-go what our expectations were and determined what their expectations were, so I don't think there's any discrepancy there. Because of mutual transparency and our involvement with the organizations, so far it seems that we've managed very well.
What are the greatest challenges facing the fund?
No. 1, overcoming city-centric parochialism. No. 2, overcoming malaise on the part of our citizens, the chronic depression where people, when asked where they're from, say, 'Oh, I'm from Cleveland,' or Akron, and look at the ground and shuffle their feet. It ought to be, 'I'm from Northeast Ohio, and I live in Akron, and things are great there.'
And they are.
We have our challenges, of course -- to overcome that parochialism, to infuse a positive attitude. But we're not talking about blind boosterism. We're talking about being able to sell real assets and potential and get people excited. We have great patience and great optimism and a great team.
Also, sustainability is an issue. We've got that on our radar screen and we've got some ideas. We're entrepreneurial enough and connected enough that we can come up with some approaches to sustain us.
The fund is involved in other projects besides grant-giving. How will these programs help battle civic malaise?
Another of our projects is going to be a massive civic engagement program. The focus will be, No. 1, to inform. We want to reach literally hundreds of thousands of people in the region and explain what regionalism is and what it isn't. [We want to] talk about not only our challenges, which everybody talks about all the time, but talk about our assets and how we can leverage those assets.
Second, we want to focus. We want to get feedback. We want to have civic engagement, an enlightened dialogue. We want people to tell us what they think the most important priorities are for the region -- we don't presume to set those priorities.
And third, we want to mobilize. We need to proactively mobilize the citizens, as well as the media and the corporate community, health and human services, to work together collaboratively to make this thing happen. We have a lot of naysayers who say, 'Eh, it's great, and it's good thinking, but you're not going to do it.' And we don't believe it, obviously.
We've decided that we're not going to be spectators anymore; we're going to be good citizens, we're going to be proactive, we're going to gravitate toward bringing this region back to the greatness it once was.
What are Northeast Ohio's key assets?
We have an extraordinary manufacturing [sector]. We have a very good industrial base, which has a great capacity. We have extraordinary health and human services organizations, a phenomenal network of higher education organizations, world-class arts and culture organizations, major and minor league teams. And we've got the lake and the parks. The list just goes on and on and on.
Fast forward 15 years: What do you see for the region?
Wow, that's a toughie. Because when I think of what the region was 35 years ago and how I thought it was going to be in five years, I would never have predicted that we would be where we are, in some positive ways and some negative ways.
But best of all worlds? That we have a world-class collaborative region that has worked to bring this region back to economic, social and diverse prominence throughout the world, where our diversity is a major asset and where we've expanded to other Great Lakes regions to essentially do the same thing.
We have an environment of continuing improvement, where the foundation community has, through another generation, brought on new folks to continue the momentum, and there is an electricity, an attractiveness and a tremendous marketing arm for the region to market the assets we have. I see great potential.
How to reach: Fund for Our Economic Future, (216) 615-7583, www.futurefundNEO.org
Dr. Denise Reading presides over Cuyahoga Community College's Corporate College. She's the perfect fit for leadership in academia, combining business savvy, colorful anecdotes and an understanding of the issues facing the college and the surrounding community to reach her goals.
Eliza Wing started Cleveland.com and survived the dot-com bust, growing through partnerships with organizations such as The Plain Dealer. While she attributes much of her success to being "in the right place at the right time," it's difficult to believe that's true. Wing has many characteristics vital to business success -- she's an articulate speaker, an intent listener and a skilled manager.
Margaret Wong, an immigrant from Hong Kong, founded Margaret W. Wong & Associates, one of the nation's premier immigration law firms. She's the antithesis of all lawyer jokes, simultaneously talented, warm and humble.
Stella Moga immigrated from Romania and, appalled at the daycare options she found here, started Le Chaperon Rouge daycare and education centers. Her success is no surprise; with her bold personality and overflowing energy, Moga gives the impression that she can do anything she sets her mind to.
Dr. Holly Thacker founded and directs one of the first women's health fellowships at the Women's Health Center at the Gault Women's Health and Breast Pavilion at The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. She is straightforward and direct, pleasant and kind without the schmooze. In a world of big talkers, Thacker is a doer.
These women hold varied titles, varied levels of education and varied dreams. They champion very different causes, including women, children, immigrants, education, even the city of Cleveland.
But under the surface, these women have common bonds. They're all intelligent, creative, innovative, entrepreneurial thinkers. They're engaged in their communities. They're driven to succeed.
And, what may be the most important characteristic of all, they are passionate. Passionate about what they do, what they believe and what they want to see accomplished. Passionate about improving lives. Passionate about improving Cleveland.
Education for a better Cleveland
"Look at our region," Dr. Denise Reading says, "and you look at the opportunities and the barriers. The more we do to help people start their businesses, because they are loyal to the region -- this is where they grew up, this is where their family is -- to me, that's our best chance at growing our economy. To me, it's a better risk, if you will, than trying to attract other corporations to relocate here."
Listening to Reading, two things are quickly apparent; one, she has a sharp business sense, and two, she's passionate about what she does. And as president of Tri-C's Corporate College, Reading applies her business sense and passion to a new cause -- driving Cleveland's economy through education.
"I came here 17 years ago," says Reading, "and my sense is the people who grow up in Cleveland love their home. They want to come back to it, they want to be a part of it. So let's let them build it. Let's let this next generation build our future, like the American Greetings or Sherwin-Williams or other companies that have been here."
Reading is taking an active role in making that happen, not just because of her affection for Cleveland but also because of her work ethic.
"I think those of us who can, should," she says. "We cannot lean on any other leader from a corporation or political places. I come from a model that says talk less, do more, and I think our region has had a lot of summits, a lot of conversation, a lot of talking. It's time to get up and do. Do something, do anything."
Reading's "anything" is helping Cleveland through Corporate College.
"You can never separate education from economic development," she says. "An educated community is a more productive community."
By teaching more business leaders and hopeful entrepreneurs solid business skills, businesses will have a better chance of flourishing in Cleveland, improving the local economy. But what are those skills that managers, leaders and entrepreneurs need?
"There are two things from my own career," Reading says. "One is you need to have vision. And that vision is not only for what your organization can be and do but it's also the vision to see the talent within your organization and draw it forth. Making that connection is really important.
"And I think the second thing, for my own sake, is I know clearly what I'm good at, what I stink at and what I detest doing," she says. "I have always, luckily, been able to draw the talent to work with me in a leadership team to augment that."
A common leadership mistake, she says, is believing that, as a leader, you must have all the answers. It's a mistake she, herself, has made. But today, she knows that she doesn't have them all.
"I know what I've got," Reading says. "Now who can I go get to come and help me do this thing?"
In addition to having the right skill set, entrepreneurs need to be prepared to tackle common business issues. A big one is striking a balance between work and the outside world -- family, vacations, personal time. But Reading suggests that "striking a balance" may be the wrong approach.
"It's not a matter of balance," she says. "I think this is part of my entrepreneurial way of seeing the world, but if I'm with my nieces and nephews, there's something to learn there that helps me the next morning with my job."
Reading uses her nephew, Tyler, as an example.
"He's selling shots of cologne in the boy's locker room -- 50 cents a shot -- to these middle school boys after gym," she says. "The next day, I'm in my job, and I'm working with this guy who's been in sales for all these years, and I'm thinking, 'How do I give Tyler's energy to Tom?'"
Reading found that the trick to staying upbeat and excited about work is to ask, "How does this enrich all my life?" Life, she says, is many things -- work, yes, but also family and community service and even herself.
Sometimes, Reading says, she wants "to lie on the sofa and do nothing for three hours but read a book, and not read just journals from my industry. The book of fiction I'm reading today may do more for my work tomorrow than those journals could."
Another common issue leaders tackle is drawing a line between being the boss and being a friend.
"We think that all the people who work for us are going to be our friends and our pseudo-family, right up until the point when you tell them no, or you have to discipline them or you have to make a decision," she says.
Developing a buddy-buddy friendship with employees, Reading says, is actually doing them a disservice.
"If they went to the movie with you on Friday night and thought you were best friends and everything was great, and then on Monday, they come in and you tell them, 'No you can't do this,' then you're giving them two different messages," she says. "It hurts more to be disciplined by your friend than by your boss."
Above and beyond all these things, Reading believes that Cleveland's leaders need one key element that can't be taught in a classroom -- passion.
"There are women at the highest executive levels saying, 'You know, I think I'm going to do something for myself,'" Reading says. "There's also the people behind the checkout counter saying, 'Maybe I should open my own business.' Who will succeed? It's not a class issue; it's a passion issue."
Because of this passion, Reading is confident she can help Cleveland.
"You know, I was a record-breaking coffee and orange juice seller for Procter & Gamble," she says. "But I kept driving along in my car going, 'Does this make a difference?' You know, we all have different talents, and where we apply our talents is what makes a difference.
"If you love what you do, if you have passion for it, you don't need any motiv ational speakers," she says. "You don't need anybody else at your job to say, 'Get up and let's go.' You don't say, 'I'm burned out.' You might get tired, you might get weary in the journey ... but if you've got passion, if you believe it's going to change our region in some way, you're going to want to do it."
That passion is precisely what keeps Eliza Wing going each day. She carries the belief that she can and will help create a stronger sense of connection and unity in Cleveland.
As the president and CEO of Cleveland.com, she's utilized the Internet to do just that. But Wing isn't just concerned with the city's community; she's also concerned with her company's internal community and corporate culture.
"What I like the very best is community relationships -- forming relationships with people and supporting Cleveland, because we're never going to leave Cleveland," she says. "And that's a big thing for us. The Plain Dealer is one of our core affiliates. We can't go anywhere, so we have to help the city.
"I also just love working with people, and I love managing people. And I never understand people who are at the top of the business and aren't like that. And you do hear that. Personally, I make it a point to let [employees] know that work doesn't always have to come first. We're very family-oriented."
And not just family-oriented. One might say Cleveland.com is also oriented toward camaraderie. Wing makes a point to foster relationships and a sense of community among employees, especially among people in like-minded positions, not only for their sake, but for her sake, as well, because as the boss, she can't be everyone's friend.
"It was a hard lesson for me to learn that not everyone is going to like me," she says. "Especially when you're in the middle of a tough negotiation and it's not going the way the person across the table wants it to go. It's just business, and people aren't always going to get along."
But for the most part, the atmosphere around the Cleveland.com office is positive.
"I love coming to work every day," Wing says. "And so do my managers. And that rubs off on everyone. It's that sense of openness, willingness to listen to people of all different types. That's another thing that I've tried to teach my managers, who sometimes get frustrated by people who are different. Well, you know, did you think that their process might be a little bit different than yours? And what might they bring to the table? That helps people feel valued."
And cultivating valued employees is what great management is all about.
The drive to succeed
In certain fields, talented management only gets you so far. For attorney Margaret Wong, founder of Margaret W. Wong & Associates, one of the nation's premier immigration law firms, it was other factors --most notably her steady and determined drive to succeed -- that got her where she is today.
"I let my work consume me," Wong says. "If anything, that's my weakness. But that's life. You want to be a great lawyer, you don't get balance. You get out, you cry, you scream, you get your job done, and then you walk away smiling and you say thank you."
It's no secret what keeps her so driven and determined to succeed when it comes to law -- she loves what she does.
There are other benefits to being so passionate, so driven, not the least of which is being the boss. And being the boss is a position that suits Wong well. As boss, she gets to decide what cases the firm will take, and sometimes it takes a case just because Wong wants to.
"I'm the boss," Wong says. "She's my friend, he's my old-time client, it's just someone I want to help. Because I say so."
It's not always smooth sailing as the boss. Some cases Wong accepts don't turn out as expected; other times, she passes on important cases. But she doesn't balk at making a mistake. and she's learned to accept these errors with grace.
"I'm the first one to say, 'Oh, I'm sorry,'" says Wong. "I'll say, 'Oops, we shouldn't have done this, but we're all in it together ... it's done. Let's go.'"
And her drive keeps her looking forward, moving on to the next case and the next great challenge.
A good challenge never scared Stella Moga. In 1982, she founded Le Chaperon Rouge daycare and education centers with three children in the basement of a church.
"The reason I started my first school was I enrolled my son in a daycare center and they let him cry all day," Moga says. "They didn't care about his condition there, and when I came to get him, he was handed to me like a package they didn't want."
Moga started her business because she saw a need for better childcare in Cleveland.
"I want to upgrade the standards of daycare in this country," she says. "[There are] too many children in the classroom, not the right food, not the right stimulation, and the teachers don't want to engage with the children."
Today, with eight centers, more than 120 teachers and almost 1,000 children under her care, she's doing her part to make change.
Moga attributes her success to one main factor -- the spirit of sacrifice. It may sound daunting, but sacrifice is what it takes to keep a business running well.
"If you don't want to put 180 percent into the project you have or you want to stop to work on something else, you won't make it," she says. "You have to have that sacrifice. You have to wake up at 6 o'clock in the morning -- I hate to wake up at 6 o'clock in the morning. If you're not ready to do that, then don't be in business."
For Moga, it's just that simple. She made the sacrifice -- put in the long hours and the hard work, and she's been very successful.
And yet, Moga finds her work rewarding.
"You get to a point in the business where it's not a matter of money anymore," she says. "I make a good living. I work very hard. I started from nothing, now ... I have an amazing house. I could stop right now and relax. But I have the desire to help. I want to help; I want to do a good job."
Her desire to help has grown past just the children in her care to all the people in her organization, even brand new ones.
"What I do with my new employees or when I hear that somebody needs a job is, I look that person in the eye and I ask, 'What are your near-future plans?'" Moga says.
If that person doesn't have an answer, she directs them toward teaching.
"I can guide that person, step-by-step," she says. "What to do about getting accredited to be a teacher, how to present yourself to my clientele, how to reach that child in the classroom. It's amazing how you can inspire somebody to do better."
And inspiring her employees to better things is where Moga's talent really lies.
A healthy partnership
Dr. Holly Thacker knows exactly what inspires her -- women's health. In fact, she's taken on the challenge of improving health care for all women in Cleveland.
Thacker helped develop a collaborative center that brought general physicians and specialists together for an interdisciplinary approach to women's health. Opening three years ago, The Women's Health Center at The Cleveland Clinic Foundation became kind of one-stop health shopping for all women. And the center crosses traditional lines by offering more than just plain old health care -- it also sponsors educational events for women and physicians.
"I'm very interested in community outreach," says Thacker, "It's so important. We're here in Cleveland; we're staying in Cleveland. And as part of our community outreach here in Cleveland, I partnered with Speaking of Women's Health (a nonprofit organization that sponsors women's health conventions across the nation). I think it speaks to women, because they really want to know about their health, and they really want to be educated and entertained and pampered, and it's been really fun to partner with different businesses and companies that support our event. It really is such a win-win opportunity."
In reality, the partnerships Thacker cultivated create more of a win-win-win-win opportunity. Every one involved benefits: The Women's Health Center, The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Speaking of Women's Health, the women of Cleveland and even the city of Cleveland. Thacker's story is a great example of how strong partnerships can create rippling benefits -- not just for a single company or organization, but for the entire community.
How to reach: Corporate College, (866) 806-2677; cleveland.com, (216) 515-2525; Margaret W. Wong & Associates, (216) 566-9908; Le Chaperon Rouge, (440) 930-9040; The Women's Health Center at The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, (216) 444-4HER
Editor's note: To hear these five dynamic women speak about leadership, management and how they run their organizations, join them and Smart Business April 19 at the Women in Business Conference. For more information, visit www.sbnonline.com.
The same can be said for businesses. Each business, large or small, is a vital part of its surrounding community, employing residents and contributing to the local economy. And because each business is part of this larger community web, partnerships and alliances are essential to a business' success.
That's where Michael Fisher comes in. As head of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, Fisher's job is to be the partner of every Cincinnati business, ensuring they're connected and growing strong.
"One of my principle roles," says Fisher, "is to be an ambassador for the chamber, but also to be a place where business leaders can share the ideas they have and the issues/concerns they have."
When major issues arise, he and the chamber help businesses tackle them. Two strong initiatives Fisher has led are the Cincinnati USA Partnership, a campaign to draw the attention of business leaders and investors to the area, and the Minority Business Accelerator program, designed to grow and maintain Cincinnati's minority business community.
But Fisher still has more to do to keep Cincinnati on track to becoming a strong, healthy business community. Smart Business spoke with him about how he's helping drive the region's business growth.
How do you and the chamber help facilitate business growth within the region?
Some of the programs and services we provide member companies -- whether that's bottom-line benefit programs like our workers' compensation program or health insurance offerings or even our office supply program with Office Depot -- those are things that help lower costs, which help them overall from a profitability standpoint.
From a programmatic standpoint, we do things like our strategic planning program with Partners in Change, called Strategic 8.4. It's a pretty disciplined approach to helping companies take a look at their markets, competitive strengths and weaknesses, figure out exactly what's the path to grow their business and put in the business disciplines to do that. We also offer CEO roundtables, which get the leaders of small to mid-sized businesses together with their peers in small groups.
We have an effort called the Cincinnati USA Partnership that brings together investors from both the public and business sectors to pool resources and market this region nationally and globally to attract companies here. We're about filling the pipeline. We're out at the trade shows.
We're working with site selection consultants from around the country and around the world. We're working with PR firms in Japan, France, Germany and other places that have had a strong tradition of investing in the Greater Cincinnati area. That's part of how we facilitate growth - this collaborative dimension of the investor group for this Cincinnati USA Partnership, bringing together public-sector investors who all see some value, and I'm talking about the city of Cincinnati, Hamilton County, the cities of Mason and Fairfield and Blue Ash, and the three northern Kentucky counties, and on and on, all pooling their efforts to help market our region.
How successful has that partnership been?
There are lots of ways to measure that, but I think it's been very successful. Just the fact that we are able to get the private and public sector to come together to champion this region's strengths, that's successful. This is the beginning of the fifth five-year cycle that we've done this, and we now have roughly 100 Japanese-owned firms in our region. Part of that that comes from the marketing efforts.
If you look at it in financial terms, this current five-year cycle that we just kicked off in 2004, we will have raised nearly $22.5 million for our various economic development and partnership activities, so we're just at about 98 percent of the goal that we had set out.
If you look at some of the other initiatives we are funding, (such as a) minority business accelerator, which is about tapping into the demand on Corporate America's side for a more diverse supplier base and leveraging the growing strengths of minority businesses in our community, we think that initiative is starting to get some traction. This year, we've helped facilitate six or seven joint ventures and/or acquisitions of size with minority businesses, and a number of sizeable customer contracts with big companies on behalf of our minority businesses.
What metrics are you using to measure the success not only of these things, but also of becoming a Favorite American City by your goal of 2007?
For us to be perceived as one of the favorite American business centers, others have to say it's so. This year, for example, we were named as one of America's most livable communities by Partners for Livable Communities. We were rated as one of the top 10 metro areas for new and expanded facilities by Site Selection magazine.
When Esquire says you're one of the top 10 cities that rock, or American Style magazine says you're one of the top five arts destinations, those are the ways we start to gauge whether, in fact, we're becoming one of America's favorite business centers -- when third parties validate it.
Beyond that, we have some notions about what we're aiming for over the next few years -- everything from retaining and growing the number of Fortune 1000 headquartered companies to the wage and capital investment rates in our region exceeding the national averages, so that the new jobs created are at a higher wage rate than the national average.
And, with regard to the minority business accelerator and our other growth initiative, Cincy Tech USA, which is about helping regionally based tech companies develop and grow -- as we look at metrics over the long term, in the context of this becoming one of the world's favorite business centers, in those cases we're looking at the number of companies that get to certain size thresholds, we're looking at job growth, those kinds of metrics relative to minority business and technology businesses.
You mentioned CEO roundtables, but how else do you personally reach out and get CEOs involved?
I try to get out in lots of ways and visit with them. I go out and see business leaders. I (also) reference my own personal involvement with YPO (Young Presidents Organization). And, there's my own involvement in a number of civic and business organization boards. But I make a lot of pointed visits.
When we kick-start some of these initiatives that I've talked about, I go out and personally ask people to get involved.
This most recent cycle, we have created something called Team 100. Team 100 is targeted at entrepreneurs, trying to encourage them to become investors in this region's economic health and future by becoming investors at the $10,000 per year level.
We've recruited 10 or 12 of their peers as sort of our volunteer leadership team for that. It's spearheaded by a very successful entrepreneur, a guy named Dave Hershey, and another entrepreneur who's been an example of one of those successful minority joint ventures, Scott Robertson (owner of Globe Business Interiors Inc.). We'll go out and ask these people (the entrepreneurs) what's important to them, what they think are the needs and opportunities, not only for their own business but for the whole region's economy.
Then we try to match up some of their interests and passion around things we believe will be good for moving the economy forward.
What would you say your most difficult challenge is in managing the chamber?
The important challenge is continuing to work on and find ways to help bring together the entire region to compete in this global economy. As I said, we've got three states, 15 counties, and it's easy for those things to get in the way of remembering that what we're all about is trying to bring more job growth and more economic success for our region's citizens.
We need to keep working hard at bri nging everyone together and taking advantage of the amazing range of assets we have throughout the region.
The other thing is just continuing to help people have a positive self-image of our community. We do have enormous strengths -- whether that's a world-class airport, outstanding colleges and universities, great work forces, Fortune 1000 companies, dynamic entrepreneurial community, great arts, beautiful parks and a great location.
A third one for me, just in a leadership and management role, is managing through the potential for what I call issue fatigue. Not only me, but if I think about how fortunate we are to have so many businesspeople and civic leaders engaged in helping make the community better, just keep in mind that it really is a continuous improvement mindset that we have to keep front and center.
And, while we will have issues to work on, whether those are in the arena of health care or tax reform or physical infrastructure, whatever those are, we just need to keep working diligently on them and not let them collectively overwhelm our passion and desire to keep moving forward.
What are the most critical issues facing Cincinnati's business economy?
This notion of coming together to compete as a region and leveraging the assets and strengths we have. We need to do that as we help continue to transform this region's diverse and historically successful economy to a new economy region.
Second, continuing to make progress on the inclusiveness of our economy, whether that's for minority businesses or young professionals or immigrants or creative class types. That in an era where recruiting and retaining and unleashing top talent is the name of the game, this notion of our region continuing to make progress on a spirit of inclusiveness is awfully important.
Third, to continue to become more globally savvy, particularly our small and mid-market companies. We are exploring the idea of this year taking a group of business leaders on a business development trip to China. There are lots of ways to tap into the opportunities, as well as the competitive challenges of the global economy. It's part of what's important to the continued progress of our region's economy, especially for the small to mid-sized companies.
Finally, this is a 165-year-old organization, the chamber, so how do you take advantage of those historic strengths and the credibility and reach it has. From a managerial standpoint, that's really what I put a lot of time and energy into.
We've been able to introduce a range of business tools and disciplines in how we manage our own business -- everything from a balanced scorecard to clear definitions around our purpose and mission statement and values, our strategy goals.
We have been students of Jim Collins' work from "Beyond Entrepreneurship" through "Good to Great." We have tried to bring in some of those disciplines to our approach. We've put some of those tools in place as we've become even more of a performance culture with the big hearts of the community.
How to reach: Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, (513) 579-3100 or www.gccc.com