“Businesses need to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses,” says Rick Kuharik, director of risk services at Westfield Insurance. “Once companies define what they do better than anyone else, they can determine which internal business units really make a difference for their customers and which internal units do not.”
Internal business units that do not differentiate a business can be outsourced. Taking advantage of vendors’ core competencies can offer powerful business enhancements. But to achieve the maximum benefit from this collaboration, businesses must not only choose an excellent vendor but also develop the vendor relationship.
Smart Business discussed with Kuharik the keys to excellent vendor relationships.
Why is it important to have strong vendor relationships?
Your vendors represent your company and in many cases have direct contact with your customers. Their behavior and attitude will impact your client relationships and consequently your bottom line. It’s important that your vendors are aligned with your methodology. But more importantly vendors need to believe in your philosophy of service excellence, operations excellence and customer focus excellence.
A weak, haphazard relationship with a vendor will translate into a weak relationship with your customers. Internal staff, project managers, and vendors must work as a united team to best serve customers.
What should companies look for in vendors?
You are looking for a vendor to fulfill an area that is not currently one of your business’ core competencies. This operation should be a core competency of your vendor, so they can perform the function faster, cheaper and better than you can internally. You should look for vendors with expertise in and passion for their business.
In the insurance industry, many vendors supply services to our policyholders. Some questions to consider as you evaluate vendors include:
- Does their staff consist of employees or independent contractors?
- What are the measurement standards?
- How will success be measured?
- Do they have the capacity to complete the current workload and expand to meet possible future increases?
- What is their training program or policy?
- What is their communication policy?
- How will service or billing discrepancies be handled?
How should businesses establish working relationships with vendors?
Get to know the vendor’s management team, especially if you expect a long-term relationship to develop. Frequent communication, especially in the form of a phone call, helps create a strong, lasting partnership.
Visiting vendors on their premises also gives you insight into their operations. Personal visits create a two-way benefit by giving you confidence in vendors’ commitment to your business and making their staff feel like they are a part of your team. This interaction motivates them to meet and exceed your expectations. On-site meetings also allow you to directly communicate your expectations and philosophy with the entire vendor team.
What should companies expect from their vendors?
A contract or service level agreement should fully explain expectations to avoid surprises or disappointments. The definitions of successful completion of tasks and measurements must be clearly spelled out to ensure all parties have a consistent understanding. Many vendors are surprised that clients are unhappy when they are meeting all of the industry-standard service level agreements. You can build trust by coming to agreement about performance measurements that serve the needs of your business.
What should companies do when they have problems with vendors?
The client-vendor relationship is built on mutual trust. Designate contact people for each party that can handle issues that arise. Regular, clear communication keeps problems from escalating. Also, make sure to pay bills in a timely fashion instead of using them as leverage in a dispute.
How can both parties create a mutually beneficial relationship?
Building a solid partnership requires trust and frequent communication. Some tips for achieving a harmonious relationship include:
- Get to know and understand the vendor.
- Consider the vendor part of the team.
- Communicate the majority of information over the phone.
- Make sure your needs and expectations are understood.
- Seek to understand and respond to their questions and concerns.
- Show appreciation for great service.
- Pay on time. If there are issues preventing payment, discuss them openly.
RICK KUHARIK is director of risk services for Westfield Insurance. Reach him can at (330) 887-0401 or firstname.lastname@example.org. In business for more than 157 years, Westfield Insurance provides commercial and personal insurance services to customers in 17 states. Represented by leading independent insurance agencies, the product Westfield offers is peace of mind, and its promise of protection is supported by a commitment to service excellence. For more information, visit www.westfieldinsurance.com.
Education: Xavier University, marketing degree
First job: Cutting grass for neighbors and working at local swim club
Whom do you admire most in business and why?
My father. He double-mortgaged his home and started a business from scratch and made it into a great success.
What is the most important business lesson you’ve learned?
Don’t assume anything, and make sure you surround yourself with really good people who understand the business
What has been your toughest business challenge?
Executing a major transition within our business model while being a small-cap publicly held company
Describe your leadership style.
Demanding but fair, honest, collaborative. I listen, am passionate and intense.
“The most effective loss-control services examine individual facilities and specific processes,” says David White, risk control manager at Westfield Insurance. “Recommendations for improvement from these findings can not only reduce business’ claims but also improve their bottom lines.”
Smart Business discussed with White the advantages of customized risk control services and the ways a comprehensive risk control action plan can improve business’ bottom lines.
What is risk control service?
Risk control is an added service provided by some insurance companies to clients. But many insurance carriers view it as a simple walk-through of the facility. After a brief inspection, risk control specialists will often offer generic recommendations, including ‘canned’ materials and training designed to explain a vague concept, such as safe machinery operation.
Although these basic programs have some merit, the most effective risk control services study clients on an individual basis. This means that the insurance company looks at the operations, but also delves into specific processes and individual departments. The examination includes close scrutiny of both accidents and near-misses. This type of focused analysis can narrow problems down to specific areas, such as lifting in the shipping and receiving department.
Once loss control specialists determine the areas that need improvement, they conduct more in-depth study and provide applicable recommendations for improvement.
Why is risk control service a valuable tool for companies?
The main focus of risk control is to remove the loss potential in operations. It’s in the best interest of companies and insurance carriers to have as few accidents as possible. However, operational enhancements suggested by risk control specialists can also increase overall profitability. Changes that enhance the efficiency of production, like a reduction in handling, widen the profit margin. When safety and loss control become an integral part of facility operations, the whole company profits from optimal procedures.
Risk control services that don’t take a canned approach can increase productivity and decrease costs. By truly correcting problems instead of just treating the symptoms, insurance company risk control specialists create a strong, mutually beneficial partnership with companies.
How can risk control services positively impact the overall work environment?
Risk control is about making processes as seamless and safe as possible. Facilities that actively practice loss control measures generally have better housekeeping, organization and workflow. This reduces frustration from cumbersome operations and usually results in the product being handled fewer times.
Taking information from loss analysis can lead to helpful reorganization in procedures within individual departments, with certain machines, and with specific jobs. Stepping back to view the overall operations can prevent problems from recurring.
How do risk control services benefit the bottom line in terms of labor cost?
Risk control decreases accidents, and accidents can be huge contributors to labor costs. An injury can lead to the direct cost of increased workers’ compensation. An incident also has the indirect costs of retraining or rehiring an employee for the position and can cause reduced employee morale.
Risk control does not only diminish negative circumstances, it also creates positive improvements. By refining processes and decreasing handling, risk control can minimize the number of people needed to perform a process and increase the productivity of the existing workers. This can mean lower labor expense and higher production capacity.
How does risk control service affect the bottom line in regard to equipment cost?
Including equipment maintenance and handling in a safety program can greatly reduce its expense. Regularly inspected, cleaned and repaired equipment lasts longer and continues to run efficiently for a greater stretch of time. Safely operating the equipment, including using the guards, reduces the risk of employee injury and the chance of machinery damage.
How does risk control service contain insurance costs?
Repeated bad loss history can increase premiums. Carriers look at behavior in the facility to see if there needs to be a change in processes or a shift in attitudes about the importance of safety. Loss control services can help companies repair flawed systems and reduce the risk of further accidents.
How can businesses ensure they receive the best risk control services?
When executives are comparing insurance carriers, they should ask about risk control services. Insurance carriers should be able to clearly communicate how their risk control services benefit the bottom line. Businesses should look for cost-effective programs that add value to their specific operations.
DAVE WHITE is manager of risk services at Westfield Insurance. Reach him at (330) 887-0354 or email@example.com.
1958 graduate, Hamilton Catholic High School
First and only job:
Picking up trash at Rumpke
Whom do you admire most in business and why?
The one and only person I admire and try to emulate is my father. He was always fair to people, always treated them as equals, and wasn’t afraid to take a well-thought-out chance.
What is the most important business lesson you’ve learned?
Be tenacious. Go after the golden goose, and never, ever give up.
What has been your toughest business challenge?
There have been many; I can’t pick one: The largest landfill slide in the U.S., 1996; the time we lost our insurance running 800 trucks at the time; the $60 million lawsuit that would have put us out of business, 1990; the $33 million sale of part of our business to ensure financing, 2000.
Describe your leadership style.
We believe in the open-door policy; listen to everyone, weigh the options and go with the consensus.
While working adults face some additional challenges when juggling school and work, taking the plunge to head back to college and paying for it as an adult has never been easier, according to Kathy Kelly, director of student administrative services at the College of Mount St. Joseph.
“Many adults don’t realize the myriad of financial aid options available to them when going back to school,” she says. “From employer tuition reimbursement programs, to financial aid just for adults going back to school, to payment deferment and other creative financing programs offered through the colleges themselves, adults have so many options.”
Smart Business spoke with Kelly about financial aid opportunities available to adults going back to college and the best ways for adults to research their options.
Where can adults find out about financial aid offered to part-time students?
The best place to start is the college or university they plan to attend. While telephone calls and personal visits are certainly acceptable, a lot of the legwork can be done online. Conducting the research online is an easy way to compare several programs and their financial aid process side-by-side. Also, if a college is working specifically with a bank or lending institution, there will usually be a link to that information right on the school’s Web site.
What are some options that adults have for financing their education?
Adults have a lot of the same options as traditional students, including grants, loans, federal and state money, and institutional dollars. In fact, many schools are actively recruiting adult and part-time students by offering scholarship money specifically for adult students.
Adult students should be sure to explore employer-sponsored tuition reimbursement programs as well as deferred payment plans offered through the college. Those programs allow students to spread out the costs of their education. Alternative loans offered through commercial lending institutions also mimic the terms and benefits of a government loan, including deferred or minimum payments.
How can adult students tell if the college is attuned to their needs, and what services should adults expect from a college’s financial aid office?
At a minimum, colleges should offer convenient services like extended hours and well-designed Web sites allowing students to register, pay their tuition, check their grades, and do more online. Another factor to consider is the availability to connect one-on-one with someone in the financial aid or admissions office, whether it’s in person, by phone or by e-mail.
The college should be responsive every step of the way, making the process easier for students. Of course, if an adult plans to continue working while going back to school, it’s also important to make sure the school offers a convenient class schedule, including weekend or evening classes.
How can employees best maximize their employer’s tuition-reimbursement program?
While benefits vary from company to company, a lot of companies do offer some type of tuition reimbursement. Employees should review the fine print of their company’s program and familiarize themselves with the various limits and cap. It’s also important to find out if there is any type of grade requirement for reimbursement.
Adults should also fully understand the payment schedule, as many employers reimburse the student after the course is completed so the student may need to cover the costs up front.
How can adults take advantage of financial aid options and special services to finance their education?
Many schools, including Mount St. Joseph, provide tuition deferment plans for a nominal fee, allowing students to pay a small percentage of their tuition and deferring the final payment until after the course has been completed. This allows students who are taking advantage of an employer tuition-reimbursement program to receive payment before paying their bill.
Adult students should be sure to explore whether the school they’re considering offers scholarships specifically for adults or those going back to school after an extended absence. Adults should also inquire whether the college offers a guaranteed tuition package that guarantees the price of obtaining the degree within a specific time period, protecting the student from tuition increases along the way.
KATHY KELLY is the director of student administrative services at the College of Mount St. Joseph. Reach her at (513) 244-4418 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pick your battles.
This is a very tumultuous business. Our key is we’re much better as a team than we are as individuals. It’s the same old football analogy: We’ve got offensive players, and we’ve got defensive players.
We’re small, so we have to consider what our advantages are. We have to be quicker and more maneuverable. We have to accumulate our people and resources to do something (collectively) instead of individually.
We’ve been able to sustain the old business, and we’re growing the business where we’ve seen pockets where we can compete, for instance, business-to-business especially small to medium-sized businesses where the big (telecommunications companies) and cable companies really don’t do an effective job. Those are places we can fit in. We look for niches where we can compete head-to-head, and as we find one of those niches, we exploit it.
It’s difficult, because we have to figure out which ones are sustainable, which ones aren’t. We have to figure out which ones can we do because we have the capacity, and if not, do we want to invest in those resources in the right capacity to handle the business.
Even early on, we were very focused on taking care of customers and agents, independent agents who were our sales arm. Not that we even set that out as a strategy, we just thought that this is the way to be as a human being, you take care of that person, whether it’s a customer, an agent or an employee.
We set it out not to be a business strategy, but just because it’s a human strategy. As we did that we would grow sometimes pretty rapidly, sometimes slowly - but every year there would be less and less competitors.
Their strategies were seemingly, ‘Make as much money as you can as fast as you can, grab it and get out.’ We started to have a long-term objective. The longer we’re in the businesses, the stronger our position gets, because there’s less and less (competition).
Don’t spend a fortune on every new gadget.
How do you succeed when you don’t have billions of dollars in the bank to try anything you can and not have to worry about whether you’re really successful or not? Every time we see a new technology that has merit, we try to assign somebody to follow it pretty closely to see if it will be brought to fruition or not.
We can’t invest in every technology we can’t be bleeding edge, but we want to stay abreast of everything so we can see how we can incorporate it in the company.
We’ve got to figure out what our strengths are, and our strength can’t be technology because we’re never going to win that game.
Lead as a servant.
We use a servant leadership style at PNG. I’m here to serve everybody I’ve appointed to be able to do their jobs, and they, in turn, are to serve the people under them to enable them to do their jobs.
The whole culture is communicated in our human resources department, with all of our statements showing how we view the company and what we value, and then we do training for the executives to make sure they understand that.
We do team-building exercises, as well. We make our executives be very visible with all the people, so the workers can see who they can go to for help. They aren’t isolated in the ivory tower.
From top to bottom it’s the team spirit of, ‘We’re going to accomplish this,’ and it’s much easier to buy in if there’s a top-down approach, (then) there’s a bottom-up desire to succeed.
Hire the best.
It doesn’t do us any good to have a lot of incompetent people who just want to do servant leadership. Once we recognize talent, then we separate it into, ‘Can this person work in team-building projects, or is this person averse to such kind of activity?’ We isolate them to find out if they want to participate.
We like seeing if they are happy people. Are they happy to come to work in general? Specifically, we give them an environment that fosters all that.
Take care of your employees.
Pay close attention to the first people you need, and that’s the employees. You have to make sure you have them on the right path to ensure success, and that you are fostering them, encouraging them and supporting them.
It’s true that people are the best asset you have. If you have really good people that are well-motivated, when times get tough, you’re going to succeed.
If you don’t have that when times get tough, you’re not. Your predictability of success is much greater if you have well-motivated, well-trained, talented people.
We treat people whether they are customers or employees the way we’d like to be treated ourselves. It’s the Golden Rule, and it is personified in everything we do. When business is tough, it’s got to be that desire to succeed for something bigger than the cause of a paycheck that keeps people moving in the right direction.
HOW TO REACH: PowerNet Global Communications, (800) 860-9495 or www.pngcom.com
In today’s world, the 18- to 23-year-old residential full-time college student does not completely reflect reality. As the U.S. economy becomes more information-driven, more adults ages 25 and up are finding that a college degree is becoming an increasingly necessary credential in the marketplace for upward mobility or career change.
The need to demonstrate a capacity for lifelong learning to employers is changing the picture of the undergraduate student on campuses across America.
Adult students fit into a category referred to as nontraditional among education professionals. The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) and the National Center for Education statistics (NCES ) have identified seven characteristics that typically define nontraditional adult students.
- They have delayed enrollment into postsecondary education
- They attend part-time
- They are financially independent of parents
- They work full-time while enrolled
- They have dependents other than a spouse
- They are single parents
- They lack a standard high school diploma
According to NCES, more than 60 percent of the students pursuing higher education degrees are nontraditional when held against these criteria. Statistics show that students 25 years and older make up about 43 percent of the enrollment at institutions of higher learning across the country.
If you fit this definition, what characteristics should you look for in an institution of higher learning?
CAEL collaborated with the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC) to conduct a study of six colleges and universities focused on serving the adult learner. They developed a set of principles of effectiveness for serving adult learners, which describe processes and approaches that should be adopted by colleges seeking to improve access to and the quality of education for adult students.
These principles include:
- Outreach. Overcoming barriers of time, place and tradition to create access.
- Life and career planning. Assistance with assessing and aligning student life and career goals before or at the onset of enrollment to help learners reach their goals.
- Financing. An available array of payment options that give a student flexibility.
- Assessment of learning outcomes. Knowledge, skills and competencies acquired from curriculum and life/work experience are assessed to assign academic credit.
- Teaching-learning processes. Faculty uses multiple methods of instruction to connect concepts to knowledge and skills.
- Student support systems. Comprehensive academic and student support services are available.
- Technology. Information technology is used to enhance instruction and convey timely information.
- Strategic partnerships. Partnerships with employers and other organizations are in place to develop and improve learning opportunities.
It is important for adult students to use these principles as they select a place to begin or continue their undergraduate education. As you consider your goals, schedule and learning style as well as the skills, knowledge and competencies that you want to acquire, take the time to investigate your options among institutions of higher learning.
Remember, it is never too late to start, and you are not alone. Between 1985 and 1996, there was a 65 percent increase in the number of students 35 and older who enrolled in college (Source: NCES).
For more information about these principles, visit www.cael.org, http://www.cael.org/publications_research_whitepapers.htm
Maggie Davis, M.Ed, is the director of the Career and Experiential Education Center at the College of Mount St. Joseph, where she oversees career development, cooperative education, service learning and credit for experiential learning programs. Reach Davis at (513) 244-4824 or Maggie_davis@mail.msj.edu.
“This is one of the most exciting times ever in this business,” says Price, founder and chairman of Empower MediaMarketing. “It is so much fun and it’s hard to keep up because there’s somebody doing something different every day to reach consumers.”
A veteran of the Leo Burnett agency in Chicago, Price built a media-buying firm that avoided the questionable practices that other, similar concerns had engaged in up to that time. An open book approach, Price says, provided his fledgling company with the credibility it needed to acquire clients and bolster its reputation for integrity.
In the mid-1980s, Price’s wife, a media manager at Procter & Gamble, got an offer to work as a media buyer at LensCrafters, at the time a start-up headed by former Procter & Gamble executives. Instead of accepting, the Prices saw an opportunity to build a company that would help LensCrafters and other advertisers buy more effectively in a media landscape that was becoming increasingly complex and fragmented.
With that, they launched their agency with LensCrafters as its first client. While his wife left the business in 1997 to pursue other interests, Price has continued to lead the 130-employee company.
Price spoke with Smart Business about how a strong and sophisticated first client put his agency on the road to success and why making the right media buy is more important now than ever.
What has occurred in the marketplace to change the way clients view media buying?
I worked at Leo Burnett for 10 or 12 years. The emphasis was always on the creative side.
What we did as account people working with the creative folks, we’d fall on our swords to get the right copy strategy and make sure that we had what we called the inherent drama of the brand. So much emphasis was put on that, and I remember so many times ending up with the great creative and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, now we’ve got to get a media plan.’
It was just the way the emphasis worked in the full-service agency, that creative was king. And now, look at it; it’s almost flipped, or has flipped, where now clients come in and say, ‘I can’t afford to spend $500,000 on a 30-second spot. Help me figure that out.’
Smart advertisers are coming to companies like this and saying, ‘Let’s put together the best, most cost-effective way to reach those customers and then go figure out who can write the copy to cost-effectively fit that plan.’ Now, the plans don’t always start out with network television like they did at Leo Burnett.
We’re doing guerrilla marketing and we’re looking under the rocks harder and getting the media to run closer to where the buying decision is. There are hundreds of ways out there to reach customers.
How did those changes provide opportunities for a company like Empower MediaMarketing to emerge?
In 1985, when you think about what the media landscape looked like in terms of numbers of TV stations available to the average person in their home or the number of magazines available, that was really a time when fragmentation of media vehicles was just starting. Cable was brand new, and a lot of people were sitting back saying, ‘What is this cable thing, is it going to do anything?’
People were saying it was going to be the death of free television; other people were saying it’ll never catch on. And so you were going, from an advertising standpoint, from an environment where you could have, up to that point, put an ad on NBC, ABC and CBS and reach 99 percent of all households across the country, to a time when there was going to be significant choice in the household.
And there needed to be somebody, a company or an individual, who could step forward and say, ‘It just got a lot harder to target your advertising.’ So that was the role we wanted to play, to say, ‘OK, marketer or advertiser, you need to think a little harder about how to target your consumer, and we’re the type of company to do that because we have people under our roof who think about nothing but media 24/7.’
We were a new arrival and media was a new animal. Once that floodgate opened, really beginning with cable TV, it never stopped.
How did you conclude that you could offer something better?
In 1985, there were not a lot of independent media companies out there. There were a few, and some of them, frankly, were suspect in the way they did business.
We felt there was a niche in the marketplace for a high-caliber, high-quality company that had an open-book policy, and we were fortunate enough to have the support of a major client. Well, they weren’t major at the time; LensCrafters was in only four or five markets at the time, but they grew, we grew, and we got to a certain point where we woke up one morning and said, ‘It’s not good to have all our eggs in one basket.’
So we tried to diversify as quickly as we could. There was a point where the business was growing but we still had 65 percent of our business coming from LensCrafters. We’ve now diversified to where it’s 10 percent or 12 percent with any one client.
How was your model received by the agency community?
They didn’t like it. I suppose most mid-tier agencies might have 10 to 15 people in their media departments and they have limited resources. They don’t want to make the commitment to invest in a lot of the research and all that, and we always felt that was a major advantage for us because we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on research.
We’ve got 120 people here. That’s probably larger than 99 percent of the media departments at most full-service agencies. The agencies, in many cases, are very protective of their own media departments, and there are a lot of media dollars there and they don’t want to give them up.
So agencies have never been a huge part of our business. I’d say historically, 95 percent of our revenue has come from direct relationships with clients.
Why were the practices of many media-buying companies suspect?
They did not reveal to the client I’ll use this as an example: Spot by spot costs. They might send an invoice that had 200 or 300 spots listed on it, and down at the bottom in the right-hand corner, there might be a number, say $1 million.
There was no real audit process, and so some of these companies had the ability to charge commissions and then mark up what the station invoices were. Playing the spread was a common strategy of those companies, most of which I don’t think are in business anymore. In fact, I don’t think any of them are.
How were you able to overcome the negative image those companies created?
By having an open-book policy, inviting the client to come in at any time to examine our books, and we provided them with every invoice from the stations. They knew exactly how much money we were making. It was just totally, 100 percent honest.
I think we had great credibility in that we had LensCrafters as a major client and they were ex-P&G executives. ... Then it was just a lot of pounding the pavement and knocking on doors. Having the pat on the back from LensCrafters, that meant a lot, that opened a lot of doors.
The LensCrafters people were superb. It was extremely important. It got us in at Sara Lee. We had United Dairy Farmers come in fairly early. So it meant a great deal and it still does.
What was the impact of having LensCrafters as a first client?
One of the things that was a blessing about having LensCrafters as a first client was they were very, very sophisticated marketers, so we were required to be state-of-the-art. Early on, we made a commitment to them and to ourselves that this company would have the latest and greatest.
And that translates not only into research but into people, and that’s something that we’ve been so blessed with, that we put a premium on having the right people, I mean smart people, really smart.
To this day, we’re still doing that, and it’s just incredible what we’re able to achieve for our clients because of that.
How to reach: Empower MediaMarketing, www.empowermm.com
Earlier this year, the foundation and its executive director, Andy Danner, were honored by Mount St. Joseph College as “Co-op Employer of the Year.”
“That tells me that we’re doing something right with these kids,” says Danner. “I’ve told them we’ve keep taking the students as long as they have them. It’s worked out really well for us.”
Smart Business talked with Danner about how to successfully integrate a cooperative education (co-op) program into a corporate setting.
Just for the record, define ‘co-op students.’
To our organization, they are local college or university students who need an internship or co-op to fulfill a course requirement. After spending a semester or longer with us, they earn class credit. Sometimes, though, they’re strictly volunteers, not earning class credit, working for experience or to build a resume.
None of the positions at our organization are paid, and there’s really no structure to when a co-op begins and ends. Naturally, a lot of them occur because of school semesters. We like them to stay a full year so they can see all of our events in action, to make it worth their while. The only thing we ask from them is a minimum of 15 hours of time per week. That boils down to two days a week that gets them involved in our day-to-day operations.
Why hire co-op students?
As a nonprofit, we only have so many funds to allocate toward staff. Therefore, we rely upon local college students to help us in areas that our staff can’t cover.
We reap the benefits of bringing in some talent that can enhance our events and day-to-day operations in every aspect. In return, they receive hands-on experience.
Anthony Munoz is a pretty recognizable name here in the area. With that comes some pretty significant connections with our partners and stakeholders, and we can put the co-ops in a position to appear and interact with those people.
We offer a lot of fringe benefits, so to speak, beginning with our relationship with the top companies in the area. We try to treat the co-ops and interns to lunch every once in a while, take them to a game or two. It doesn’t replace paying them, but it’s a small way to say thank you.
What are some typical assignments?
A lot of the jobs are administrative. For example, we just ran a football academy with 500 kids, and one of my co-ops made sure that 500 registrations were processed, followed up with the kids and their parents, made sure the equipment was ordered, food vendors were in line, t-shirts and prizes ordered. In short, everything from A to Z.
We’ve also brought on some graphic design students. To really put out professional and first-class ads and marketing pieces, it benefits us to have co-ops who specialize in that area.
What should employers look for in working with a college to hire co-op students?
Interviewing all of our interns and co-ops is an important part of the process. We want them to understand, as much as possible, what our organization is trying to accomplish. In turn, we want to meet them, to hear what their goals are, and to know what they’re looking to achieve.
We’ve had experiences with some kids who think it’s going to be all fun and games. Those experiences haven’t worked out. But kids who understand that there’s work to do here -- those are successful.
What is the employer’s responsibility in hiring co-ops?
Our corporate partners who see our program working and see the co-ops making contributions often ask for references. But I tell them that they have to devote some time to organizing the workload. You want these kids, but when they come in, you want to give them some responsibilities. You don’t want to waste their time. It’s definitely a commitment.
Our organization takes great pride in making sure these kids have a good experience and that they learn. We really want to prepare them for life after school.
Also, in almost every case, we have some sort of follow-up review that we have to develop and submit. Mount St. Joe’s has an actual form that we have to fill out and grade the student in certain areas. Other schools ask for a letter of recommendation. We also have one-on-one exit interviews that are important.
On a personal basis, what’s most rewarding?
Before I moved to Cincinnati, I was a head baseball coach at a small college in Illinois. One of the great things about coaching is that you get to teach kids something that you enjoy. Although I don’t do that now, the internship program is the closest thing to it. When they get excited about what they’re doing, I get excited. It’s one of the better parts of my job.
ANDY DANNER is executive director of the Anthony Munoz Foundation, named the 2006 Co-op Employer of the Year by the College of Mount St. Joseph. Reach Danner at (513) 772-4900. Reach the College of Mount St. Joseph Cooperative Education Program at (513) 244-4888 or (800) 654-9314.
He chose the latter and founded FORTE Industries, a private distribution operations improvement company. Today, the company is in fast-growth mode. It has twice been named to the Inc. 500 list as one of the 500 fastest-growing companies in the country and last year hit $18 million in revenue.
Smart Business spoke with Forte about the challenges of expansion and knowing when it is the right time to grow.
How did you know it was time to grow your company?
We’re pretty sophisticated on the financial side of our business. Even though we’re a small business, we think we’re run as good as or better than one of the large companies. We have a pretty sophisticated cash flow report and a pretty sophisticated sales pipeline report.
We merge the two and look at, ‘Where’s our financial situation today? What business do we have coming down the pipeline? What percent probability do we see all this business landing?’ Then we make a decision whether to invest on expansion or not.
What is the biggest challenge facing the CEO of a fast-growth company?
Finding good people. Some companies may say it’s financing or cash. We don’t have that problem. We haven’t borrowed money for working capital purposes since we’ve been in existence.
Because of the type of business we’re in and the terms and commercial provisions of contracts, cash hasn’t been a problem. Finding the excellent, outstanding people at the right time for the right positions has been one of our biggest challenges, probably our biggest.
How do you find those people?
We have an excellent HR department and staff, and we have very high recruiting standards. We try to hire smart people who are technically competent, are willing to take calculated risks and have good interpersonal skills and good common sense.
We do some in-house recruiting. We use the Internet for certain positions and professional recruiters for others.
How do you make sure the people you hire are the right fit for the job?
Our interview process is pretty rigorous and extensive. We don’t just interview someone once or twice. Even for any junior positions we have, someone would interview three or four times.
Not only do we look at the technical side but we also look to make sure there’s a good chemistry fit on the personal side. We have a very strong culture here, and we want to feel very confident that this person will fit our culture.
Years ago, when we didn’t have the hiring practices we do today, we made a lot of bad hires. Today, we have a lot of longevity and low turnover. It’s because of recruiting practices and again because of the culture of the organization. It’s a unique culture. When people fit, they like it and they stay.
What were some of the mistakes you made early on, and what did you learn from them?We probably were too trusting of the credentials that people were presenting us versus what they could actually deliver. Our interview process is quite rigorous both on the technical side and the interpersonal side. We try and really dig down and try to make sure that the people are very technically competent as well as exhibit good interpersonal skills.
Then we focus on compensation situations after we’ve determined the person would be a fit. Early on, we were only hiring people we could afford. Today, we hire people based on their qualifications as opposed to their compensation requirements.
You can focus more on the upper mobility within the organization - more pay for performance. The ability to be more creative and impactful in a small, growing organization can be appealing, as opposed to being just a number in a large organization.
HOW TO REACH: FORTE Industries, (513) 398-2800