Every year, the Innovation in Business Conference is possible because of the dedication and support of its generous sponsors.
They choose to be a part of the event because of their commitment to innovation, not only within the general business community, but within their respective industries and, of course, their companies. Here, then, in their own words, are their reasons for their involvement and their views on the importance of innovation.
Joseph LaGuardia, vice president of Ohio sales for Anthem, encourages his employees to work innovatively, whether it be in service, sales, network marketing, management or distribution. In his mind, all aspects of a company can stand a little forward thinking.
"I believe in innovation," says LaGuardia. "And I believe in recognizing and encouraging businesses in our community."
That helps explain why the giant health insurance firm co-developed the Innovation in Business Conference with SBN magazine in 1999. In this, the conference's second year, Anthem has helped facilitate the drive for recognition of Northeast Ohio's premier innovators.
According to LaGuardia, innovation is also the Anthem philosophy.
In the health care industry, insurers and their partners face a consumer-driven industry more and more. Thus, he says, "We need to respond effectively to market conditions, government regulations and customer expectations."
Paul Schlather, managing partner of Arthur Andersen, says his firm became involved with the Innovation in Business Conference because he believes in innovation.
"We're in the infancy of what I like to call the technology revolution," says Schlather. "If we're going to be players, we have to be involved; and the earlier you get involved, the better off you're going to be in the long run. Technology drives the changes we see taking place today, so you have to be prepared."
To ensure that it remains competitive and innovative, Arthur Andersen employs what it terms the "Exceeds" model in dealing with customers to maximize customer satisfaction. The model has been used for years in the manufacturing sector, exemplified by customer surveys and questionnaires, but has largely been ignored in the service industry. Arthur Andersen strives to change that pattern.
"We never used to ask customers, 'How are we doing?' or 'What can we do better for you?'" says Schlather.
Now, he sees better communication between employees and clients and a better overall understanding on everybody's part.
Chief Operating Officer Carol Thomas says that Brouse McDowell has always fashioned itself to be an innovative law firm.
"Innovation is critical to a business' success," she says.
Thomas says she would rather a business be proactive in getting legal help than reactive. That, she says, shows people are being innovative and taking risks.
"People shouldn't wait," Thomas says. "They need to plan on a strategy now."
Innovation has been Brouse McDowell's hallmark, says Thomas, "because not only has it made everyone more effective, but it has reduced clients costs."
Clients save money in travel fees and phone call charges with Brouse McDowell's "E-room" service, a collaborative work environment that allows clients and lawyers to work together in real time on documents. Now, clients and lawyers can sit at their respective computers working together virtually.
Soon clients will be able to go a step further and log in securely at Brouse McDowell's Web site to view their billing status, see documents their lawyers have prepared for them and leave messages for lawyers.
"Innovation keeps the firm competitive and allows it to attract good employees," says Thomas. "It allows them to go home and be with their families because they can access their documents and information at all times."
Mary Rose Daugherty, area sales manager of Sarcom/Frontway, has seen a definite need for innovation in today's changing marketplace.
"Customers are demanding change to happen at a rapid speed," she says. "Consulting firms need to adapt to the demand for such rapid change."
To answer these demands, Sarcom/Frontway has created what Daugherty calls a "custom engagement model" to custom design the process of dealing with each individual client. Under the model, employees are empowered to solve customer problems and handle issues immediately that under other circumstances could have taken longer to address. Satisfying customers at the point of contact helps develop a more loyal client base, Daugherty says.
This is Sarcom/Frontway's second year of involvement with the Innovation for Business Conference, and Daugherty says the company got involved because "it's a good way to help support the Cleveland community."
Matt Wajda, ICG director of sales, says innovation is a must.
"As a provider of business communication, ICG recognizes the need to continually innovate in order to meet customer demand and remain a leader in a very competitive industry," he says.
According to Wajda, customers constantly develop new ideas for how they buy and sell products and services.
"Our customers are innovative, and therefore, we must be as well," he says.
In the telecommunications industry, the "two Cs" drive innovation: competition and customers. Says Wajda, "To maintain and grow its customer base, a company must stay in touch with not only its customers' needs but predict and address future needs as well."
This is ICG's second year of involvement in the conference.
According to Kevin Kolman, CEO of Product Imagineers, businesses are responsible for reinventing ideas to stay ahead in today's competitive market.
"Ideas are tomorrow's hot ticket items," says Kolman. "Innovation means trusting in oneself for others to follow."
As a creator of promotional marketing solutions, Product Imagineers puts emphasis on the customer's needs.
"Being able to focus on customers with new product campaigns to help get their name in the lights is critical," says Kolman. "We strive to create unique and innovative marketing programs that help focus on the positive."
Because competition and innovation go hand in hand, Kolman notes that being innovative is "like being tapped into the biggest universal search engine there is."
Product Imagineers is in its second year of involvement in the conference, and supplies the awards to conference honorees.
In the pharmaceutical industry, staying one step ahead of your competitors is not only the key to success, but the key to long-term survival. Pfizer, the giant pharmaceutical manufacturer, takes innovation as seriously as the next guy.
"Innovation is the key to improving health, and advances in research technologies and genomics," says Celeste Torello, manager of pharmaceutical communications for Pfizer.
Forward thinking aids Pfizer because it aids consumers -- those who benefit directly from medical advancements and who drive business and competition.
Innovation leads to "increasingly empowered consumers, new tools to help us work smarter," says Torello. "All signs point to a new era of opportunity in health and well-being."