For many people, the first images of Earth sent from space in the late 1960s ushered in a global awareness that has only intensified with the advent of TV, the Internet and cell phones. Suddenly, the world has become smaller and there’s a greater feeling that “we’re all in this together.” The global economy and global awareness have left many businesses more conscious of the environment and the impact that individual actions can have on the rest of the world.
As a result, today’s employers are seeking employees who are more than just “task-masters” who are globally aware and willing to give back to society in some way, according to Sister Mary Bookser, the coordinator of service learning at the College of Mount St. Joseph, and Liz Seager, the college’s career development coordinator.
Smart Business spoke with Bookser and Seager about the ways that colleges are preparing students to work in the global economy and how employers benefit from this trend.
How can an employer benefit from hiring employees who are more globally aware?
Seager: In order to function globally, students need the skill sets that liberal arts colleges offer, and employers have started to value such an education. Employers can teach employees the ins and outs of their business, but employees who bring a global awareness and skills such as the adaptability to change, critical thinking, problem solving and recognition of the importance of diversity generally make for successful employees.
Sister Bookser: Obviously, multinational companies benefit from hiring employees who have an understanding and appreciation of different cultures and world views. These companies, in particular, need employees who are willing to travel, learn the culture, learn simple greetings in the local language, and possibly even live far away from home.
How are colleges preparing students to work in the global economy?
Sister Bookser: Many colleges have seen the need for students to get out of their own local way of thinking and get a more global perspective through culture-and service-immersion courses where students get experience with, and exposure to, other cultures. Some colleges provide opportunities for students to earn course credits while studying abroad for a semester.
Seager: Colleges often include cultural awareness and diversity as a part of their mission, so that filters down into the curriculum. Whether you’re taking a psychology, a basic career development or even a business class, each learning objective will include a global component.
What should an employer that is seeking a globally aware work force look for when interviewing and hiring?
Seager: I recommend that employers be on the lookout for a breadth and depth of experience, including co-ops or internships. Employers can also look for students who have had an opportunity to travel abroad or participate in an alternative spring break, during which they performed community service. These experiences demonstrate adaptability, flexibility and a willingness to try new things. When looking at volunteer experience, employers should look for those who were willing to push themselves out of their comfort zone by working with groups of people who are different from their peers.
Sister Bookser: It’s also important to look for prospective employees who have had some kind of service learning experience where they had an opportunity to participate in a community-based service that tied into their coursework. This shows an awareness of the importance of civic engagement and a desire to integrate life, their beliefs and values, and their learning.
How can employers best use their globally aware employees?
Sister Bookser: The desire to give back to the community has become an important part of many businesses, whether or not they consider themselves to be global companies, so hiring employees who share this interest helps them to further that part of their business mission. Many companies are recognizing that not only is it the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense to be a good corporate citizen.
Seager: Globally aware employees are looking for a lot of stimulation. Even companies with a purely local customer base should find out where their employees’ strengths are. And if they’re globally aware, don’t chain them to their desks. Give them service projects to coordinate. The globally aware employee is constantly looking for the next challenge and the next way to use his or her strengths. It’s important to keep those employees engaged and give them the opportunity to try new things and be challenged.
SISTER MARY BOOKSER is the coordinator of service learning at the College of Mount St. Joseph. Reach her at (513) 244-4634 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
LIZ SEAGER is the career development coordinator at the College of Mount St. Joseph. Reach her at (513) 244-4484 or email@example.com.
Like snowflakes, no two integrations are quite the same. Just ask Jill McGruder.
McGruder, president and CEO of IFS Financial Services Inc., a division of Western & Southern Financial Group, has shepherded her $3 billion company through two integrations, each with its own set of circumstances and challenges.
McGruder says that a stumble in folding either or both of the two companies into IFS Financial Services could have risked the parent companies’ reputation for service and rigorous financial management. “The biggest thing for us would have been the reputation risk,” McGruder says. “We’re a 118-year-old company that has very much a service culture with strong financial discipline.”
And with a stumble, any plans McGruder had to build IFS Financial Services with additional acquisitions might have gone unsatisfied, as the parent company might have opted to turn off the cash for more expansions in the wake of a poor integration effort.
McGruder had to integrate two types of businesses, each with its own unique challenges. And the integrations had to be done quickly and with minimal disruption to IFS and the acquired company.
Fixing an ailing company
In the first case, McGruder wanted a mutual fund business to expand IFS’ portfolio of investment products, but along with the mutual fund company acquired in 1999 came a services company. “We really bought the company because, strategically, it served us very well because the Western & Southern Financial Group is trying to grow its fee-based businesses and its investment management businesses, and we also have a great reputation for services,” McGruder says. “So we bought it for the money management business, but with it came this servicing company. “Would we have struck out and bought a servicing company on a stand-alone basis? Probably not, but this servicing company was so much a part of the mutual fund business, because it’s your back office operations, that it made sense to buy it, both to keep the funds operating efficiently and strategically, to get into more fee-based businesses, again, as part of our strategic plan. “We knew it had issues, to be quite honest. It needed investments in people and technology. There was no question about that, and they were at a crossroads strategically when they said, ‘How much more are we going to continue to invest in this business?’”
McGruder says the growth of the business had outrun its capability to serve clients, as billions of dollars poured into the markets during the technology boom of the late 1990s. And it was its own technology lag that was strangling the company’s ability to carry on. “They had a client that had a huge run-up in business assets, and they didn’t have an infrastructure that was capable of supporting a fund that went from a couple hundred-million-dollars in assets to $7 billion in assets, literally in no more than six months,” McGruder says.
You can’t know everything required to get a business on track, McGruder says, so it’s critical to have a team that has the resources to solve the problem. “The first thing is to get the best heads together at the table, the brightest minds, the most experienced people you can because you can’t do anything in a vacuum,” McGruder says. “I knew I didn’t know enough to fix the business, so I had to surround myself with people who did know what to do. That’s the key, putting that team together who did know what to do.”
The team was an entirely new one that understood the business, the technology and what it would take to turn things around. “It worked out very well because you had to let that team that I brought in, you had to let them do what they know how to,” McGruder says.
While she allowed the team to operate independently, McGruder kept close tabs on their progress throughout the process. “Because this is a very technical business, it wasn’t difficult to track what was going on, but again, regular meetings, regular updates reviewing each functional area, what progress was being made, from a staffing perspective, from establishing controls” all were critical, McGruder says.
In the case of an ailing company like this acquisition was, it is important to focus in the early stages first on the functional improvements rather than strictly on financial performance. “While there are a number of objectives behind the decision to integrate, including financial, the ramp-up itself is very process-driven, so the measures have more to do with monitoring timelines, effectuating knowledge transfer, process mapping, staffing and so forth,” McGruder says. “Once the integration is complete, attention turns to whether the financial objectives of the integration are, in fact, being achieved.”
She says she had to recognize that there were things she didn’t know, and in this case, technology was a key area where her knowledge was limited. Making decisions about which technology to invest in, for instance, was based on the scorecard measures that the company uses to guide the business. For McGruder, it was a matter of determining, with the help of the technology team’s recommendations, whether a particular technology solution met needs of the business. “When you bring me the business case, you tell me which of the scorecard measures this investment will drive and how it will drive it, how far it will drive it and, what it will take away from, because after all, there’s a trade-off,” McGruder says.
Changing a culture
In the other integration, an acquired annuities company located in another city operated independently for several years before it was integrated into IFS Financial Services. In this instance, McGruder faced cultural and organizational challenges. “We let it run independently for five or six years before we integrated it, and the issue was truly, how do you transform from one cultural mindset to another,” says McGruder of the company, which was acquired in 2000 but not integrated until 2005. “It was an organization that was very, very top-down driven. The CEO said, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do, here’s the plan,’ everyone rallied around it, and people didn’t ask a lot of questions about why are we doing it this way, is this the best way to do it. “When we integrated the business, we didn’t really run the business that way. We run the business here very quantitatively, on facts and financials. We use scorecards, but everybody participates in the development of their scorecard, the measures embodied in their scorecard. It’s much more participative. So trying to convert that group from a top-down model to a much more participative, quantitative model was a whole different kind of challenge.”
To facilitate the integration, McGruder enlisted an internal group at Western & Southern to help the integration team. “We have a group here that focuses on process re-engineering, looking for cost efficiencies, expense reduction, and that works across our entire Western & Southern Financial Group,” McGruder says. “We brought the proper people on, and they really drove the integration team.”
McGruder discovered that it wasn’t easy to change the company from a top-down model to one based on accountability. “The first step in changing the culture to one focused on measures and results was to make certain that those being asked to adapt to an accountability-based culture understood the benefits of the change to both the organization and to them as individual stakeholders,” McGruder says. “Honestly, it wasn’t easy for some people to see the benefits of the change through the pain of the change. So the best tactic I could use was to constantly showcase the results of other businesses and individuals who had successfully navigated the same kind of cultural transformation and were proudly producing phenomenal results.”
McGruder says that tactic seems to have worked, as the financial results, despite the integration, were improved over the prior year’s performance. Sales increased by $210 million, or 32 percent, and the bottom line has improved 39 percent compared to the prior year.
The second challenge was integrating the people into the larger organization, moving those who decided to relocate to Cincinnati and hiring new people to fill the jobs left vacant. “What we did was mapped every job, every function that was being performed in that company to our company here,” McGruder says. “As you might imagine, we had 310 people, and it wasn’t easy to do it in the time frame we had, but that’s how we did it, with job-mapping to get the other organization aligned with ours, to get it as close as we possibly could to get the integration started. We learned a lot about the business by doing that, and it made the integration a smoother process than it might have been.”
While the two integrations were different in terms of what each acquired company needed to make it successful, McGruder says they share some important characteristics. “Once the decision to integrate is announced, my experience indicates it is best to act quickly,” McGruder says. “One should be patient in assessing the decision to integrate or not, but once the decision is made and announced, it is important for the continuity of the business to act quickly, even if mistakes are made.”
And it’s necessary to solicit input from all parties and not make assumptions based on previous experiences. “Hear everyone out, to the extent humanly possible,” McGruder says. “Never presume that the way things have been done in the past by either the integrator or integratee is the right way. In all likelihood, the combined organizations will not operate the same way, either, operated on a stand-alone basis.”
McGruder says building effective leadership teams can be accomplished by the CEO putting the team together or by allowing the managers to choose their own teams. Either method can work; the difference is in deciding when the CEO needs to take direct control and when he or she needs to delegate it. “I have selected leaders for newly acquired organizations and let them build their own teams, but I have also helped managers build their teams,” McGruder says. “I think the role of the CEO is to know when to jump in and when to let go.”
And once the integration is complete, it’s critical that financial discipline is instilled across the organization.
Says McGruder: “You always expect the CFO to have a good handle on every line on that income statement, every revenue line, every expense line, how it drives your results. But you really have to get that embedded in the management team so that they think of that as their own business. “That’s the key to getting all these companies on the growth curve that they’re on.”
HOW TO REACH: Western & Southern Financial Group, www.westernsouthern.com
“I became a lawyer as a single parent with two small children,” says the partner in charge at Thompson Hine. “I interviewed with a number of firms after graduating. What attracted me to Thompson Hine was the positive culture and clear respect for and acceptance of women in the workplace.”
Smitson joined the law firm in 1993 and was named partner in charge in 2001. The Cincinnati branch of the firm has 140 employees and is the second-largest Thompson Hine location in the United States.
Smitson sees herself as someone who not only does the paperwork, but who also makes a difference to her clients.
“I see myself as a business partner,” she says. “We are not just drafting documents for clients. We add a depth of service by truly understanding the client’s problem at hand, along with their overall business goals.”
Smart Business spoke with Smitson about how she keeps herself and her staff fired up, and how she measures success.
How would you describe your leadership style?
No doubt about it the team approach works best. I focus on building consensus and generating a sense of ownership among attorneys, paralegals and administrative staff.
For example, two years ago I was in charge of a critical strategic planning endeavor. I could have done this several ways, including dictating the direction.
I chose to select 10 partners to work together for several weeks on developing a recommendation. They did so and then rolled it out to the other partners, solicited their input and fine-tuned the plan.
It was then introduced to the associates, who added their thoughts. This is how good leaders build a collegial culture.
Celebrating successes is essential also. We have weekly partner meetings in which we take the time to share good news. Being able to share positive information means that the leader must be plugged in to what is happening. This involves ongoing dialogue with staff and customers.
Sure, it takes effort. But this is a sure way to build momentum and remind people how much they are appreciated.
How do you identify business opportunities?
The party on the other side of the table can be a future client. Even though it can be a meeting under adversarial circumstances, they are watching. When the opposing party is seeking an excellent litigator, we want them to think of us.
Another aspect of seeking opportunities is taking a close look at the organization and deciding how we want to be positioned. What services do we want to offer? What training do we need to do? Or should we hire those who already have the expertise?
I also believe in active involvement in the community. This goes beyond business; it is simply the right thing to do. However, doing the right thing often opens up doors of opportunity. Leaders of every organization have a responsibility to be part of the life of the city.
How do you achieve balance?
I think that is somewhat of a myth. If you are at the top of your game, you cannot have balance at least not on a daily basis. It is more realistic to look at balance in bigger chunks of time, such as a week or month.
There are times you have to be fully dedicated to the job, and there is little time for anything else. Other times, your family needs your time and attention, and the job gets less attention.
Over the long run, if you can juggle your priorities and meet your responsibilities in a way that brings personal satisfaction, you have balance.
How do you define and measure success?
There are several aspects to success. They are equally important. If one is lacking, the others will suffer.
Are our clients satisfied with our services? We constantly seek feedback in this area. If you ask your customers, they will tell you how you are measuring up.
Are we attracting good people, and are they sticking around? Our attorneys have worked hard to get their degrees. They want challenging and complex work. We are successful from a personnel standpoint if we are providing that for them.
Are we exceeding our revenue projections and sticking to our budget? The bottom line is, the bottom line matters.
What key skills must a leader possess?
Good leaders take the job seriously, but recognize it is not life or death. There is room for humor and fun.
There are the obvious traits, such as honesty, sincerity and being willing to work hard. But the reality is, the organization is not about the leader. It is about the business and the many people who are part of it.
Leaders help set the vision and motivate their co-workers to accept the strategy and build a successful organization.
HOW TO REACH: Thompson Hine, (513) 352-6700) or www.thompsonhine.com
While just about everyone breathed a sigh of relief when clocks ticked over to 2000 without a ripple, for some companies in the IT hardware, it was the beginning of a real threat.
“Pre-Y2K, demand exceeded supply, but post-Y2K, supply exceeded demand, and you really have to go find the business,” says Pomeroy, president and CEO of Pomeroy IT Solutions Inc. “It’s not going to be announced, it’s not going to fall in your lap, and you need to understand the customer’s business and what their initiatives and their challenges are and what they’re trying to accomplish and take an unsolicited proposal to them.”
All the Y2K upgrades meant plenty of businesses already had the latest and greatest hardware and software, and the easy money for hardware sellers had pretty much evaporated.
Adding to the challenge was the fact that equipment manufacturers were under a lot of pressure to take their business directly to end-users rather than getting it to them through a business partner like Pomeroy. Hardware margins and prices were dropping dramatically, and companies weren’t necessarily buying all of the latest bells and whistles anymore all trends in the wrong direction for a company like Pomeroy that derived most of its revenue from hardware sales.
Competitors were going out of business or getting scooped up at bargain-basement prices. And by 2003, Pomeroy realized his company needed to make changes or risk its demise.
“We were going to have to change our business model,” Pomeroy says. “We were basically perceived as a regional company at that point.”
Remaining a regional company would limit its growth, and landing large, national customers wouldn’t be likely without a more complete suite of service offerings.
“We basically formed a strategic steering committee that was made up of management from the field, as well as senior management, and we started to meet regularly in late 2003 and 2004,” Pomeroy says. “The first thing we started with was analyzing our current business model, the pros and cons of that business model, and having discussions whether or not we were properly positioned for a change.”
The analysis revealed that to survive, the company would have to adopt a model that included services as well as hardware and software sales. And to land and serve large national customers, it would have to establish a national presence.
“The customer has perceived you in a certain light for a couple of decades, so to go in and change that perception, it’s not going to happen overnight,” says Pomeroy. “For us to really make the shift, we had to change some things within our legacy organization, and we had to go out and make the acquisition of a company that was a pure services organization.”
And while that conclusion was perfectly clear to Pomeroy, there was no immediate consensus within the company that it was the right path to take.
“When some of the people do not have a service delivery background most of their background was in hardware you can’t expect them just to say, ‘Wow, that’s a great idea, and let’s get after it,’” Pomeroy says. “You can’t just have one meeting with your staff and the people in the field and get their buy-in when you’ve been doing business the same way for a couple of decades. It’s something that happens over time.
“We started the discussions back in 2003, so they need constant reinforcement in terms of why we need to do this. They need to feel like it’s not being dictated to them, that they are a part of the solution and they have equity in it, that it’s a collaborative effort.”
He says the key to breaking the resistance was to start talking about the need for change early and to cover all of the implications of both changing and of continuing on the same business path.
“We started these discussions with a lot of key people going back into 2003 and really didn’t pull the trigger for about a year,” Pomeroy says. “So a lot of the discussion was around the current business model, what the new business model needed to look like, how we’re going to get there, the investment, the pros and cons of the of the old model and the new model, talking about challenges we felt like we were going to have in the execution.”
To complete the service portion, Pomeroy IT Solutions acquired Alternative Resources Corp. It offered Pomeroy an attractive client base, good relationships with some OEMs and a stable of help-desk customers.
“We think that acquisition really solidified us as a national player and filled in some white space in the Northeast as well as on the West Coast,” says Pomeroy. “Again, we were perceived as more of a Southeast and Midwest company. I think that went a long way in terms of changing that perception, because now we had a technical work force north of 2,000 people, and that’s a good-sized, mid-tier national firm.”
A challenging transition
While the purchase of Alternative Resources offered Pomeroy IT Solutions the opportunity to gain a more profitable national presence, it wasn’t without its challenges.
“They had three CEOs in as many years, so that creates a little bit of a dysfunctional environment, and I think because they were a troubled company, they had a heavy debt load, and so they needed to pursue some options,” Pomeroy says. “When you’re a bit of a distressed company, you’re going to react a lot differently internally and externally than when you’re not.”
Pomeroy spent a lot of time meeting with the management and employees of Alternative Resources, assuring them that the union of the two companies was going to be a benefit to both.
“I think we just tried to lay out as best we could what the combined strengths of the company would be and that each of the entities brought something to the table that would fill in the voids,” says Pomeroy. “We didn’t try to make it an adversarial thing: ‘You’re a distressed company, we’re a company that’s had a good track record.’ We tried to realize and show that we both bring something of value to the table.”
Pomeroy says building a leadership team that knows the business was critical, and that meant bringing in new talent. Putting that team together required some upheaval and making substantial changes high up in the organization. He says it can hurt the company if you wait too long to make those changes.
“In some cases, you have to go out and recruit people and we did that have a specific experience that maybe you don’t have in-house, and you can’t be afraid to make some changes,” says Pomeroy. “You may like people, but you can’t be afraid to say that while that person might have been good in this position in the past, going forward, it’s a different company. So you need to educate yourself on what you need and, in some cases, you need to find them and make some changes.”
Consistent with its plan to build Pomeroy into a national company that could deliver services as well as hardware to its clients, Pomeroy recruited individuals with the commensurate skills and experience for several key positions.
“We brought in an individual to head up service delivery who’s been working for companies that have delivered service on a national basis for a long time,” says Pomeroy. “We felt like, even with the acquisition, we didn’t have that expertise in-house at that time. We also felt like we needed to bring in a CIO that had a service background and has worked with national companies, and we brought that person on earlier this year.
“And we also made a change in CFO, someone who had a good background with companies that have gone through change, gone from a decentralized environment to more of a national centralized environment, so we had to make some significant changes to the team.”
Pomeroy says a CEO has to spend time in the field to make sure that the integration process is working effectively, not sit behind his or her desk and wait for reports to come in.
“That’s where you’re going to get the feedback from your employees and your customers in terms of what’s working well and why, and what’s not working well and why,” says Pomeroy. “No one’s going to bring it to you. You need to go to it. That’s how you inspect your expectations.”
He says the process requires the CEO’s constant attention. Pomeroy had a conference call with his team once a week for the first nine months after the acquisition to keep tabs on the progress of the integration and make sure it was headed in the right direction.
Says Pomeroy: “You can’t assume anything; you can’t take anything for granted and assume it’s getting done. You can’t just come in and tick things off and everybody’s going to go off and they completely understand. You’ve got to circle back on a regular basis.”
While the results of the changes weren’t directly reflected in the company’s net revenue of $715 million for fiscal 2005, Pomeroy says there is evidence that the changes are having an effect. The more profitable services side of the business accounted for a larger share of its net revenue in fiscal 2005 than in prior years 27 percent versus 19 percent in fiscal 2003, for example.
Pomeroy says the acquisition has created synergies that weren’t there when the two companies were operating independently, and some of the business the company has collared recently would have slipped through its hands before the acquisition.
“Some of the contracts we’ve been awarded over the last 18 months as a result of the combined companies, I don’t think either company would have won them on their own,” says Pomeroy.
And, he says, it’s important to recognize that any change a company makes, no matter how major, won’t be its last if it expects to survive.
Says Pomeroy: “Because you’re always changing and you’re growing with your customers, that’s not just a one-time-and-you’re-done kind of thing. I think you’re constantly looking in the mirror and saying, ‘How can I lead this company and guide the company and manage the business to respond to the changes in the industry?’ It’s always changing; the industry is grow or die.”
How to reach: Pomeroy IT Solutions Inc., www.pomeroy.com
“Nonprofits work to make the community a better place and need effective leaders who can help organizations fulfill their missions,” she says. “There is a real need for leadership skills in the nonprofit sector, and pursing a nonprofit leadership course of study can give someone looking to enter the not-for-profit sector a real leg up in their career.”
Smart Business spoke with Singleton about the nonprofit leadership course of study.
What is a nonprofit leadership course of study?
A nonprofit leadership program is designed to give people who aspire to be in management positions in an organization the skills to lead a nonprofit organization. Part of the education is to help students better understand what a nonprofit organization is, how it’s governed and how it functions.
Nonprofit leadership programs can be offered to people who have already completed an associate or bachelor’s degree in any subject. It is an enhancement to the degree they already have, and the courses can be geared toward helping students learn very specific skills they’ll need.
Why would one look at nonprofit leadership as a course of study?
In a recent report of the nonprofit sector, we found that the number of people working in this particular area has more than doubled in the last 25 years; roughly 9.5 percent of the total work force. By 2010, the nonprofit work force is projected to reach 15 million, with most of the growth in the health and human services sector. There are simply more jobs available in the nonprofit sector today than ever before.
As a result of this growth, a number of schools across the country are offering nonprofit leadership courses to prepare students to work more effectively in the nonprofit sector.
What are the requirements to enroll in the nonprofit leadership program?
To obtain a certificate in nonprofit leadership at the Mount, a student must already have completed an associate or bachelor’s degree in any field and be accepted through the admissions process.
Students take such courses as accounting, basic organizational management, human resources management, leadership, marketing, news writing, public relations, and general nonprofit management and fund-raising. They need to take a total of 24 hours to complete the certificate.
What will a person gain from enrolling in a nonprofit leadership program?
Basic skills development especially for someone who doesn’t have previous work experience in the nonprofit arena. While such programs often will not prepare someone to walk into a CEO-level position, it can provide a basic understanding of nonprofit management and the skills necessary to begin a career in a nonprofit organization especially for someone who aspires to a leadership or management position.
Among the skills most needed from their employees in a survey of nonprofits: dealing with financial management, raising money, understanding how nonprofits are governed, and working with volunteers and boards.
What are the career opportunities in the nonprofit sector?
In addition to the job growth in the nonprofit sector, there are a variety of jobs ranging from human resources and public relations to financial management, fund-raising and development, and leadership.
The types of organizations also vary widely from higher education to trade organizations to animal rights and environmental organizations. There are more opportunities in this job sector than ever before, and having a certificate in nonprofit leadership can really help students not only get a foot in the door, but accelerates their careers as well.
JUDY SINGLETON is assistant professor of sociology and social work at the College of Mount St. Joseph. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (513) 244-3269.
To say that it’s just another day at the office for the chairman, president and CEO of Rumpke Consolidated Cos. Inc. would be an understatement, but Rumpke has learned to take such setbacks in stride, and he’s learned to counter them through an effective public communications program that involves just about everyone in the company.
Rumpke Consolidated Cos. has faced some challenging communications circumstances, such as dealing with the largest landfill slide in United States history at the 565-acre facility in 1996. The landfill opened up and caught fire, an event that attracted widespread media attention and the concern of the community.
In response, the company set up a safe area at the site for reporters and photographers to report on the event, kept a constant flow of information going to the media and offered hotel rooms to area residents, even though there was no immediate threat to public health.
Rumpke says staying ahead of the story and making sure the company got its side out softened the negative effect that the event could have had on its brand. With much of Rumpke’s business focused on waste management an industry that often draws negative images from consumers it’s important for the company to maintain a positive image to maximize its growth potential, especially when that growth can be limited by government officials who may be leery of having waste operations in their area.
Some companies circle the wagons when they’re under siege or try to keep what they’re up to under cover. But Rumpke chooses to overcome the obstacles with information disseminated in an open, careful and methodical way, through a consistent and well-thought-out communications apparatus that’s in motion every day.
“As far as the public relations, we’re working on that daily,” Rumpke says. “We try to put out the message that we are compliant as can be. We follow all rules, go above and beyond.
“We try to make everyone understand that we want to be a good neighbor. We’re always working on the surrounding area, working on clearing the area, upgrading the area.”
Rumpke molds the $316 million company’s image by making sure that it has a clear and effective communications strategy in place, and it keeps its doors open to the public and to the news media. Its Colerain Township landfill, for example, is almost as much a tourist attraction as it is a refuse disposal.
“Education is key,” Rumpke says. “This is like a big, unknown place out here. We take tours. We ran 10,000 people though here last year on different kinds of tours.”
Rumpke Consolidated Cos. does a lot of the conventional things that companies do to keep their public image polished. It sent employees to the Southeast to assist in the cleanup efforts of last year’s hurricanes and sponsors Little League teams and school and church activities in all of its service regions. It initiated a program to get area businesses to partner with local schools to provide volunteer and financial assistance, and it recently contributed $163,000 to Northwest High School to help construct a state-of-the-art weight room.
But its public relations efforts go well beyond those initiatives. It structures its communications to involve its employees and engage the media with proactive efforts to secure media coverage, and it aims to get its message out early to the public and to local government officials.
“We have one general plan, but it includes a lot of subplans, and each one has its own mission, strategies and tactics, evaluation and budget associated with it, and each subplan is ... connected to a goal of the company,” says Rumpke. “For instance, if we’re doing an expansion in one area, there’s going to be a public relations plan that coincides with that expansion process. Another thing that we’re trying to develop this year is a new corporate branding, so that has its own plan that we’re developing and moving through public education, community relations, advertising efforts.
“All of it kind of builds together and secures one overall message, but there are several subplans to get to that final mission or goal.”
Stay ahead of the story
Staying ahead of a story and not letting incomplete information spark rumors or speculation also helps Rumpke maintain a positive brand image.
For instance, when fuel prices spiked, the company absorbed the additional costs until it decided it could no longer sustain the added expense and had to pass it on to its customers.
“We could have added the charge and tried to keep the media in the dark, but we didn’t,” says Rumpke.
Instead, the company issued a press release explaining why customers were going to see a small increase in their fees that they might not otherwise have noticed anyway. The release spurred positive news coverage that highlighted the effects that rising fuel costs were having on Rumpke Consolidated Cos. and other fuel users in the commercial sector.
The approach has paid off in positive media coverage when the company has responded to events that could have been perceived only as negative. When two of its refuse truck drivers were involved in separate accidents within a week of each other, with one killed and another seriously injured, the company initiated a campaign called “Slow Down To Get Around” to alert motorists to drive carefully as they approach and pass service vehicles on the road.
The campaign attracted positive media coverage and was eventually adopted by a national organization and promoted to operators of commercial vehicles across the country.
When the state raised tipping fees, the charges assessed for depositing trash in landfills, Rumpke alerted the media and consumers to the increased costs. Again, the media covered the story, and the company got an opportunity to talk not only about the tipping fees but also about the construction of sanitary landfills and how they are built to minimize the impact on the environment.
“Our strategy is to respond as quickly as we can or to be proactive, to build positive relationships with the reporters and the writers that we’re working with,” says Rumpke. “One of the ways we do that is as soon as we know something’s going to happen, our goal is to contact our media and let them know here’s what’s going to happen, here’s what we’re going to do. We give them the facts to make their jobs easier. They don’t have to dig for them.
“If they call us about a story that they’re working on that we might not be aware of, we try to get back to them as quickly as possible and help them research and find the information they need and get their questions answered.”
Teach employees media savviness
At Rumpke, the communications program starts with its 2,000 employees. From the very start, employees are trained to communicate with the public. They are kept informed as events develop and are able to pass it along, when appropriate and required, to customers.
“They learn about the Rumpke pride, they learn about the background of the company, so as they move forward with their daily tasks, they have the foundation to do their job, and there’s constant training and updates as we move through expansion processes that involve the public or as we change things ... to keep our frontline employees, and each and every employee, informed,” Rumpke says. “Before the public is told anything, the employees receive communication first so that they know what is going on and they can share it accurately and factually.”
Key people get additional training.
“We work with the safety department to be part of the crisis communications plan,” says Rumpke. “All of the safety supervisors and lead safety people have gone through a media relations training course that repeats every 18 months to two years to refresh them. During that media relations course, we deal with a positive media relations issue and a crisis situation, and we help them learn how to develop key messages and how to talk to the media in sound bites and answer questions appropriately during a crisis.”
During the seminars, basic media relations skills are reviewed, and candidates learn how to meet reporter deadlines, participate in mock interviews and anticipate questions. Rumpke says putting employees out front to respond to questions from the news media adds credibility and ensures that the information that is disseminated is accurate and helps to establish the company and its employees as expert industry sources.
“We try to let our experts discuss issues and participate in interviews because they work with the subject at hand on a daily basis,” Rumpke says. “The communications department is very involved in that process, but I think it adds to the credibility and the accuracy of the information, and our goal is to be open and honest with the public and our customers.”
Give locals control
Rumpke has operations in three states, where the company operates nine landfills, six recycling centers and a host of other businesses, so he encourages his employees in those areas to stay in close contact with their respective communities and customers.
“You have to be part of the neighborhood, wherever you are,” says Rumpke. “You can’t stand on the outside looking in; you need to live in the area that you’re talking about. We try to put in our people’s minds out there to be part of the community, to know people out there.
“We’ve watched it a thousand times. The people who are close to the community know it, they can get this stuff done, while we, coming from Cincinnati, can’t. We show up at the zoning meetings and so forth as the owners or part of the Rumpke organization, but they usually lead the charge.”
While common perceptions of landfills and the trash handling industry in the minds of the public might pose a formidable obstacle to Rumpke Consolidated Cos.’ plans to expand its operations in Ohio or elsewhere, Rumpke knows that getting the message out about the reality of modern trash removal and landfill operations is key to turning the tide of public opinion. And the most effective method may be in changing a few minds at a time, something that a strong public relations effort and tactics such as tours of its facilities seem to accomplish, not immediately, but over the long haul.
Says Rumpke: “Once they’ve seen it and how it’s operated, how professional it is and how neat it is for a landfill, they come away shaking their heads and very impressed. And we’ve usually got a new ally.”
How to reach: Rumpke Consolidated Cos. Inc., www.rumpke.com
Sadik Al-Abdulla, security solutions specialist for Berbee Information Networks Corporation in Madison, Wisc., says that in order to see the real problem, security professionals must examine the whole picture and not simply isolated data points in a vast network.
Smart Business spoke with Al-Abdulla about security threats and what companies need to do to keep their networks safe.
How much more important has it become to protect one’s network now than several years ago?
Much more so. More assets reside as information on the network, and in many cases the network itself has become a mission-critical asset that must be protected.
As an example, most accounting systems 10 years ago required manual entry of data, and were entirely self-contained. Today, modern systems interface directly with point-of-sale systems, invoicing, accounts payable/receivable, and even the IRS. This level of integration has delivered tremendous agility to many businesses, but in doing so has also dramatically increased the attack surface of the solution and put business-critical data at risk.
How do you define true network security?
True network security relies on achieving three things: confidentiality, integrity and availability.
Confidentiality requires that information and assets be protected from unauthorized disclosure.
Integrity requires that information and assets be protected from unauthorized, unanticipated or unintentional modification. This includes, but is not limited to, authenticity, nonrepudiation and accountability.
Availability requires that a technology resource, be it system or data, be available on a timely basis to meet mission requirements or avoid losses. Availability should also require that resources be used only for their intended purpose.
How can a system reduce ‘false positives’ to free up more resources?
Mostly by looking at the environment as a whole and applying the same intelligence to the problem that a human being would.
The term ‘false positive’ is intriguing. If a system reports an event, from the perspective of that system it is obviously true. The falseness comes into play when that individual data point is examined in a larger context. For example: If an intrusion detection system reports that Host A attacked Host B, from the context of that system it is a real problem. In the larger context of the environment as a whole, the event might be false for any number of reasons: a firewall between Hosts A and B might have dropped the attack, Host B might not be vulnerable, etc.
A security information management system can reduce false positives by parsing each of those individual data points into a larger context. Each piece of information can be correlated across every device that reported on the event. Each correlated session can be mapped to the topography of the network. Intelligence can be applied across sessions such that, rather than simply looking for attacks, the system can also look for matching responses. Each potential incident can be filtered if the victim isn’t vulnerable.
At the end of the day, what we’re talking about here is holism.
How can a company simplify audit compliance?
Most regulatory audits require companies to provide accounting information for certain security data points for instance, who has logged onto systems with administrative access. The Information Technology (IT) department typically has to track this information across every system in the environment, and the major challenge posed by the audit request is finding the right information ... and finding it in every system.
Companies that have implemented a form of security information management are able to dramatically simplify this equation. First off, the information management system centralizes all of the relevant information. More importantly, the intelligence in the information management system is interpreting each data point as it comes into the system. This interpretation comes down to parsing the data, understanding it, and building it into a database with relationships to every other relevant data point. Using the above example, when an administrative logon event reaches the information management system it’s filed into the database as an administrative logon event. This means that at audit time, a simple database query in a single place would be able to retrieve every administrative logon to every type of system for any time period the auditor is interested in.
SADIK AL-ABDULLA is a security solutions specialist for Berbee Information Networks in Madison, Wisc. Reach him at (608) 288-3000.
Milford High School; attended the University of Cincinnati.
A Petroleum Transfer Engineer: I started pumping gas at 11.
Whom do you admire most in business and why?
My father, his work and business ethics, along with his ability to read his gut, have always been an inspiration.
What is the most important business lesson you’ve learned?
Make your decision with the best information available, take, action and move forward. Don’t ever think or say, “If only I had ... ”
What has been your toughest business challenge?
It is ongoing. Being in the petroleum business, everyone automatically puts us in the same basket as the majors, i.e. BP and Exxon. We’re not, we’re the guys in the middle that get the petroleum to the consumer.
There is also the frustration that gasoline in the U.S. is still one of the best deals on the planet. You will pay more per gallon for bottled water, and (water) falls free from the sky.
Describe your leadership style:
Provide people with the responsibility, the knowledge and, most importantly, the authority to do their job. Let them know it’s perfectly OK to make mistakes as long as they learn from them and that there is no question too dumb to ask.
Despite the increasing popularity of electronic payments, nearly 60 percent of all business-to-business payments today are made via a paper check. Here are some ways to ensure your checks are secure.
- Use checks that are imbedded with watermarks and microprinting. These features deter fraud by making reproductions more difficult.
- Use checks made of heat-sensitive ink and paper, which are more difficult to reproduce using basic photocopying equipment.
- Use electronic bank account statements if available. Paper bank account statements put you at greater risk by making sensitive information accessible through the mail.
- Keep track of your checks. It may seem obvious, but one of the best ways to protect your business from fraud is to keep track of where your physical checks are at all times. Don’t leave checks sitting out for others to steal.
- Add a positive pay or payee positive pay service to your business accounts two add-on services available through most banks. For a nominal charge, any checks processed through your corporate checking accounts will be carefully scrutinized.
A positive pay service starts with you sending a list to your bank of all checks issued. The bank matches the check number, dollar amount and account numbers of all inbound checks against your list.
Any checks that do not match your list are flagged for review. With most positive pay services, you can go online to review images of your checks that are flagged as exception items. You reduce disbursement risk by easily reviewing suspect items and alerting the bank whether to pay or to return.
With payee positive pay, when providing your bank the check number and dollar amount of checks issued, you also include the payee. Again, you may review exception items online and alert the bank to pay or to return the check.
Technology is helping businesses secure their payables and receivables when electronic payment formats are being used.
- Automated clearinghouse payments (ACH). It is cost effective for suppliers and customers to pay via ACH. However, you must provide your bank account information before an electronic payment can be initiated.
While necessary, it puts your accounts at risk. With a Universal Payment Identification Code (UPIC), you can receive electronic payments without disclosing confidential bank information.
Your UPIC number serves as a universal remittance number and masks your real account numbers. UPIC technology also limits account activity to credit payments and blocks all debits. If you should move your accounts, the UPIC number remains the same.
- Credit card payments. To protect credit card payments, both Visa and MasterCard have implemented universal precautions for businesses that accept credit card payments.
The standards require companies to follow certain procedures when handling cardholder data and include a number of criteria, such as quarterly network scans and audits by qualified independent security assessors to ensure merchants and service providers protect cardholder data.
- Purchasing cards. New technology is now available to enhance controls on purchases made by employees with purchasing cards. This technology enables your organization to instantly manage the available credit on individual purchasing cards.
Technology advances also let you to limit purchasing activity through an array of card-spending controls, including monthly and per-transaction limits, as well as merchant spend categories that only permit use of the card with certain merchants. Some card programs provide online access to manage these parameters directly from your desktop computer.
This was prepared for general information purposes only and is not intended as specific advice or recommendations. Any reliance upon this information is solely and exclusively at your own risk.
Benjamin Willingham is sales manager for corporate banking in Ohio at PNC Bank, National Association, member of The PNC Financial Services Group Inc. Reach him at (512) 651-7558.
Actually, it’s more than a few converts he’s shown more than 10,000 contractors the light.
Conway runs one of the nation’s fastest-growing businesses; last year, iSqFt ranked 50th on Inc. magazine’s annual Inc. 500 list.
“Right now, my top challenge is to keep the organization and its structure in sync with the pace of growth,” he says.
And growing it is. Over the past four years, Conway has driven sales growth of 496 percent and expects this year to close in on $15 million in revenue. Since last November, he’s hired 75 new employees, bringing his staff total to 185.
“We’re doing it by continually looking at the old adage that structure follows strategy,” he says. “We’re trying to continue to modify and organize our people and our company in a way that supports sustained growth.”
Smart Business spoke with Conway about the techniques he’s used to spur such rapid growth.
How have you built converts among general contractors?
The adaptation of technology in the construction industry is inherently slow. It’s a high-risk, low-return business, so inertia is kind of built in.
Changing a process is not something that is readily done, but we have created online and in-person training seminars that expose the technology and the value [it] delivers to prospects.
How do iSqFt’s products benefit them?
There are two primary products. Both create efficiencies and save clients money. One is a subscription service that enables trade contractors to go online, look at documents for commercial construction projects and search, sort and evaluate those projects to determine which ones they want to bid on.
The second enables general contractors who are frustrated with the costs and risks associated with free construction to better manage communication, their database and directory of subcontractors, and better manage their documents.
How have partnerships with industry associations helped your efforts?
Construction is like politics in that it is local. To have the credibility of a well-established trade association in a local market gives us a platform to educate, communicate and develop a market.
We’ve made several, including with the Associated General Contractors of America. Those are very important relationships, and we spend a lot of time and energy cultivating them. If we put our energy and our resources behind strengthening our partners’ position in a local or regional market, then ultimately, we both end up stronger.
How difficult has it been to attract and retain employees during this growth spurt?
Retaining has not been a challenge. Attracting the right folks at the right time, we’ve had some challenges with that. But we’ve worked hard, at least in our local market, to make people aware of our company and what we are doing.
Have you found any drawbacks to the growth?
Bringing new people in and communicating to make sure everyone is on the same page is a challenge. Communication is critically important. We’ve got a whole range of things that are both internal and external.
I’ve actually traveled more in the first six or seven months of this year than I have in the previous two years combined. That’s all about communication. It’s all about getting in front of our partners, customers and prospects and letting them know what we’re all about.
How much of your job becomes, instead of managing the organization, selling the value of it?
The No. 1 salesperson in the organization is typically the CEO. Whether I am selling the culture of the company to new employees or I’m selling an application to a prospective contractor, it’s always selling.
From my perspective, selling is a principal component of what a CEO in a fast-growing company does every day.
Does that allow you time to set the vision for growth?
In almost every selling situation, the vision for the company gets explained. You have an opportunity to share your view of the future with prospective customers, prospective employees, current customers, current employees and partners.
And because it evolves, sometimes you have to get back out in front of them for a second or third time.
What challenges have your recent acquisitions posed?
During the nine to 12 months leading up to the acquisitions, the amount of work that was required to gain the confidence and trust of the companies we were acquiring so that we ultimately got a transactions completed was tough. It takes a lot of energy before a deal gets done to get the deal done.
Some of the acquisitions didn’t include a tremendous amount of employees to integrate, but there were technology integration challenges customer conversion issues, for example. If I was using this product and then upgrade or modify the product, I have to get retrained.
Do you envision future growth will be organic or through additional acquisitions?
Both. The acquisitions we typically make expand our geographical coverage and/or the scope of our service offerings, so there’s kind of an organic component post-acquisition. The future looks extremely bright.
We’re continuing to expand geographically and expand our product offering. This industry’s adoption of technology is still in the very early stages. There is a tremendous opportunity for us to continue to grow our business by offering innovative services and being at the forefront of leading this industry.
How to reach: iSqFt, (513) 645-8004, www.isqft.com