Deborah Garofalo

Wednesday, 01 December 2004 06:39

Connecting with communities

For The Cleveland Clinic Health System Western Region's hospitals, community service runs deeper than financial support and simple volunteerism. Fred DeGrandis, CEO of Lutheran, Lakewood and Fairview hospitals, helps integrate philanthropy into the hospitals' mission and connect its staff in a personal way with its surrounding communities.

DeGrandis says creating relationships with the people you serve helps you better understand their issues, move the community forward and become a stronger organization.

More than 150 members of the hospital's management team are board members or actively share their talents with local nonprofit organizations. One leads a local development corporation designed to advance the business interest and residents' needs around Fairview Hospital; another is chairman of the board of Hospice of the Western Reserve. Many managers sit on regional chambers of commerce.

"It's clearly the best investment that an organization can make -- to allow the time of its staff to be shared with others," says DeGrandis. "It's part of our culture, and our service multiplies many fold when we do it in that manner."

To stress the importance of community service, DeGrandis incorporates the value of it into evaluations and reviews.

"We talk about the shared mission of our organization and that of others, and we clearly make it an expectation of the responsibility of a leader," says DeGrandis.

Just as important as connecting with communities is the reciprocal value created by better understanding your clients and steering your service accordingly. So the hospitals' staff doesn't wait for the people to come to them; they go to the people. That philosophy was instrumental in forming The Parish Nurse Program, which puts nurses into more than 50 congregations and parishes to conduct health screening and counseling. The nurses also help people connect with other resources within the hospital and the community.

"It brings the ministry of the hospital and the ministry of a congregation together," DeGrandis says,

The hospitals also work closely with the North Coast Health Ministry, which provides care to those who don't have access to it due to their finances.

The Western Region's hospitals partner with other service organizations to lead or work on service opportunities, such as Senior Circle Plus, The EMS Academy, The Stephen Ministry Program, Laura's Home, the YMCA, United Way and the American Red Cross.

Says DeGrandis, "What we're sharing is our staff --the heart and soul of our organization."

How to reach: Lakewood Hospital, (216) 521-4200 or; Fairview Hospital, (216) 476-7000 or; Lutheran Hospital, (216) 696-4300 or

Tuesday, 22 June 2004 13:18

Engineered expansion

Entrepreneurs are often judged by their ability to overcome obstacles and stay in the race for the long run. Maureen Cromling, president and CEO of Ross Environment Services since 1982, owns the patent in perseverance.

Cromling's parents, Bob and Ada Ross, founded Ross Environmental in 1949 and sold it to their children in 1983. Cromling's brother, Gary Ross, was the heir apparent, but he preferred engineering to management, and in 2001, Cromling and her husband, Bill Cromling II took sole ownership.

Ross Environmental is one of three Ross companies - Ross Incineration Services Inc., Ross Transportation Services Inc. and Ross Environment Services Inc. - employing a total of 200 people.

Cromling learned the business from the inside out, which helped when the federal government jolted the hazardous waste industry with The Resource Conservation Recovery Act. She was saddled with instituting compliance, which led to an $11 million capital improvement campaign and established Ross Environmental as a technology leader.

When Cromling was appointed president, few women held leadership roles in waste management companies. She wasn't intimidated. Nor was she shaken up when, in 1995, an explosion rocked Ross' incineration system. She led the rebuilding and re-established approval with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency; and six months later, Ross Environmental was back in business.

Cromling's next challenge came in 1996, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and, at the same time, had to deal with her mother's death.

"When you have that kind of event, it's life-changing," says Cromling. "I realized I could only do my best, and the people that were working for me could only do their best."

Cromling's illness helped her recognize her strengths and limitations, as well as her capabilities and those of her staff. Last year, the company invested in a $5 million business center and is now planning expansion. How to reach: Ross Environmental Services, (440) 366-2000 or

Monday, 30 June 2003 07:19

Building solutions

When Anand Julka founded Canton-based Smart Solutions Inc. in 1983 with four employees and a small loan, the odds were stacked against him.

He was an engineer, not a business owner. He was foreign-born and had only been in the United States for 11 years. And he was trying to break into an industry littered with failures.

But Julka, who was born and raised in India and emigrated to the United States in 1972 to attend graduate school, saw the vast potential of personal computers and believed he could translate his experience as an engineer at Eaton Corp. into a viable business opportunity.

The first thing he did was recognize his own weaknesses and seek advice from people with experience.

"I realized I couldn't do it alone," he says. "I just didn't have the background, and you can learn from your peers more than you can learn from anyone else."

So Julka helped form a networking group with entrepreneurs in noncompeting markets. They met several times a year to advise each other on the overwhelming issues facing business owners, and still meet today.

"We're all mentors to each other," he says. "We talk about all of the issues related to business."

Over the past 20 years, Smart Solutions has undergone numerous changes. The technology solutions provider has not only survived the dot-com crash but thrived as Julka has put Smart Solutions' focus on government and education clients.

The company is a two-time Weatherhead 100 winner and was recently named one of The Top 50 Diversity Owned Businesses in Ohio. Julka was also tapped by Gov. Bob Taft to be part of the Management Improvement Commission for the Ohio Lottery.

Julka says one key to Smart Solutions' success is its management structure. The company is not compartmentalized, so every employee handles multiple tasks. Compensation is also tied to profitability rather than to sales.

He maintains that this philosophy forces management to forecast trends, pitfalls and opportunities , so Smart Solutions is better able to manage cash flow and drive higher revenue. How to reach: Smart Solutions Inc., (330) 494-1243

Friday, 25 April 2003 12:33

Cracking corporate rules

Omer Yonel is the director and CEO of North Coast Energy Inc., a Twinsburg-based energy supplier. He has lectured worldwide about his management style, not just because North Coast has doubled in size since he joined it in 1993 or even because the firm was recognized in 2001 as the second fastest growing publicly-held company in Ohio and the 13th fastest growing in the United States.

Instead, his notoriety comes from his controversial business theories, which include cracking the corporate rules and taking a different view of success.

It's all based on growth, Yonel says.

"But growth is not the ultimate objective," he said in February at the Cleveland Engineering Society's Leadership Breakfast Series. "It is a means to something -- to keep stable employment."

Under Yonel, corporations are conglomerates of small profit centers, each responsible for its own success, and managed through individual boards of directors. It is a type of centralized control structure which Yonel explains as a supplier-based system that promotes greater efficiencies and, subsequently, greater profitability and corporate stability across the board.

Each profit center is empowered to buy and sell from external, as well as internal sources, which cuts through unnecessary paperwork and top-down bureaucracy, and creates tighter price controls. Each center is allowed to accumulate a profit that can be used for paying employees competitive salaries, developing financial incentives and financing continuing education initiatives.

"They decide themselves how to spend it to keep themselves competitive with external suppliers, not their bosses," says Yonel.

If a profit center fails to turn a profit and needs additional capital to operate, it can borrow money from the corporation and pay it back with interest. Each profit center pays rent for office space and passes financial statements, including profit and loss sheets, up the corporate food chain to Yonel every month.

Just as a CEO reports to a company's board of directors, so does every manager at every level of North Coast who has more than one employee reporting to him or her. Each board is made up of people from the profit center's level, plus representation from each of two levels up and down the company. Boards are responsible for making policy decisions for each individual group.

One outcome of this internal governance is improved communication. Says Yonel, "You can never make a decision that is in contradiction with the upper level boards because there's representation from those boards present." How to reach: North Coast Energy, (330) 487-6523

Monday, 31 March 2003 08:50

Don't drink the water

The health risks of international travel are often overlooked, and a lack of information may mean you bring home more than that next big sale.

With more people traveling overseas, experts say unprepared travelers are taking dangerous and unnecessary risks.

Because many companies in Greater Cleveland do business internationally, employees are traveling to facilities and customers worldwide.

Those traveling overseas can turn to the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals Health System and Metro Health Medical Center, which are all members of the International Society of Travel Medicine, an organization that links physicians around the world, providing information on localized diseases and corresponding immunizations.

The hospitals can provide information on international disease outbreaks, comparing your itinerary with these outbreaks and recommending precautions.

Even the flight home is not completely safe if it includes celebrating with a cocktail that contains ice made from water from in the city you just left.

Many viruses, including those that cause travelers' diarrhea and Hepatitis A, are carried in food and water.

Water is something we take for granted but water in other countries poses a health risk to many Americans.

"It≠s the general medical miracle of clean water," says Dr. Steven Mawhorter, a physician with the Department of Infectious Diseases at the Cleveland Clinic.

Another concern is malaria. It may sound like an exotic disease, but "malaria is alive and well, and will always be, quite frankly," says Mawhorter.

Malaria is prevalent in much of the world, especially in Thailand, which has some of the most drug-resistant strains known.

"If you≠re going to Thailand and only going to be in big cities, you're probably fine," says Mawhorter. "If you≠re going to Thailand on a business trip to the big cities but you≠re going to take that one interesting side trip ... you may need malaria treatment."

So when work or pleasure takes you outside American borders, it's wise to understand the health issues at your destination and take preventive measures. It's like updating your passport to a healthy future.

The Cleveland Clinic Foundation

Wednesday, 31 July 2002 11:10

Good news, bad news

Frank Ditomasso shares his company's financial information with his employees -- when it's good and even when it's bad.

Ditomasso, general manager of a division of Curtiss-Wright in Brecksville, is among the increasing number of business leaders who provide employees with information that was once was considered very private. In fact, the safety valve and pump manufacturer regularly schedules employee meetings to communicate the company's state of affairs.

According to the 2002 SBN/ERC Workplace Practices Survey, the number of organizations internally disclosing information on at least a quarterly basis grew from 54.9 percent in 2001 to 62 percent this year.

Michael Grone, human resource manager at Foresight Technology Group, an IBM hardware, software and service reseller in Brecksville, says sharing company information is key to successful teamwork.

"Everybody relies on everybody else to be successful in their job," says Grone.

Foresight shares sales and profit data, and gross margins and expenses, and teaches employees how to read a profit/loss statement.

"They can look at a P/L sheet and understand why we are making the decisions we're making," he says.

When expenses go up, Grone says everyone rallies to find ways to bring the numbers back in line. Some of the most innovative ideas come from within, from employees with experience and intimate knowledge of the process.

Ditomasso admits, however that an open management style can be a little uncomfortable. When business dips and cost-cutting measures are necessary, bad financial news can cause concern among employees and affect morale.

When there's a problem, "you get very pointed questions, especially from hourly employees," he says. "People are smart, and management is held accountable for its decisions."

But Grone says the hard questions are worth the trouble.

"We want people to feel like business owners," he says.

And with 18 percent of the company owned by employees, Grone says keeping employees informed is key.

"Everybody's got skin in the game -- we all benefit from the company doing well," he says. How to reach: Curtiss-Wright, (440) 838-7695; Foresight Technology Group, (440) 717-1300

Friday, 19 July 2002 07:07

The power of teamwork

Joining a small, established manufacturing company can be difficult. Employees often wear many hats, and everyone pitches in to keep the machines running and product flowing out the door.

But when being the new kid is coupled with being the owner, the combination can be harmful if organizational changes mean personal sacrifices for employees.

That's what happened in 1996 when Joseph Cerino bought Har Adhesives, a Twinsburg-based manufacturer of adhesive coatings. The company's three employees were used to the hands-off style of the previous owner, who maintained a small but dedicated customer base that had not grown in five years.

With 20 years of corporate manufacturing under his belt, Cerino was prepared for the challenge, but worried about his ability to develop trust with his employees. He needed the experienced workers more than they needed him, so he was concerned when, in order to expand the business, cost-cutting measures became necessary.

The first came three months after he purchased the company. Cerino found rental space that offered a 75 percent savings over what the company had been paying. But there was a problem -- the move would add an average of 35 minutes to the commutes of some employees who were already driving almost an hour.

Located in downtown Cleveland, the basement facility had less space and little daylight. There was a risk that the move would be counterproductive to growth and morale, and the decision could have lost Cerino his experienced staff.

"When you buy a company, the first thing you need to do is survive," Cerino says.

To keep his employees from running for the door, he approached them with his plan and asked for input. Concerns about the move included safety, expenses and rush hour traffic.

"I sat them down and told them, 'Everything I have is in the company right now, and I have to make it work,'" recalls Cerino.

Explaining the reasons behind the move and believing his employees wanted the same thing he did -- survival, then growth -- Cerino made a promise: As soon as the company could afford it, he would move the offices back closer to their homes.

In the meantime, he and his staff agreed on compromises regarding alternative work hours to avoid peak driving times, company-paid indoor parking for safety and pay premiums to cover the travel difference. Even with those changes, the savings added up to more than 50 percent of what rent costs had been.

"Employees can live with change, even difficult change, when they understand the 'why' behind it," Cerino says.

By last year, Har Adhesives had 11 full-time employees and had achieved 300 percent growth. As promised, Cerino moved the company to Bedford.

This year, he expects sales to double, in part because of a new distributorship program with H B Fuller Adhesives.

Cerino says communication is still an important part of his organization. He strives for a culture of sharing ideas and asking for employee input.

"When an opportunity comes up, employees raise very specific issues that need to be addressed to be successful," he says. "They think specifically, and I try to think strategically. Together, the goal is to fill our customer's needs."

Cerino is proud that he has not lost an employee.

"By maintaining our employee base, we've tapped into all that knowledge and we're taking advantage of years of experience," he says. How to reach: Joe Cerino, Har Adhesives & Coatings, (440) 786-7185

Deborah Garofalo ( is associate editor of SBN Magazine.

Friday, 19 July 2002 06:07

Managing the crisis

One moment on the front page of your daily newspaper can alter a reputation that took years to build.

Whether your business is the cause of a financial problem, safety issue or legal crisis, or suffering the effects of a crisis, facing the media can be a challenge.

In February, industry experts gathered at a luncheon conference sponsored by the Northern Ohio Turnaround Management Association to discuss steps business owners can take when their company is thrust into the spotlight.Be proactive

Donna Nowak, a certified turnaround professional and president of Conquest, says a troubled company does not function as an island and details cannot be withheld. Constituents from the financial arm, legal community and media all need information, so be proactive, think ahead and prepare to communicate to avoid surprises.

"You need to act swiftly," she says. "And, most important, communicate clearly and honestly."

Kathleen Obert says it is human nature to hunker down.

"Management typically has a natural defensive posture where they want to not talk about things that are less than great," she says.

Obert should know. As president and CEO of Edward Howard & Co., she's dealt with the issue on many occasions. She says it's imperative that everyone understand what's going on.

"This stuff is complicated and scary," she says, adding that not everyone knows what the ramifications of a bankruptcy Chapter 11 filing are. "If the media doesn't understand it, they're not going to get it right. That's going to cause you to spend more energy once again explaining what the facts are."

Ask for help

A crisis can monopolize an owner's or manager's time while the wheels of business continue to turn. With a plan in place and outside help, time-consuming issues can be handled without abandoning day-to-day operations.

"A crisis takes management's eye off the ball of the core business and diverts lots of resources and energy away," says Obert.

Make sure you have the right people in your corner by building strong relationships with key supporters. Obert recommends trying to build credibility long before a crisis occurs.

"It starts before the company gets in trouble," she says. "An organization that can work with its constituents to build important relationships that are solid before the crisis hits will be in a far better position to turn the company around going forward."

Understand the law

Lawrence Oscar, an attorney with Hahn Loeser Parks, says a company's lawyers may enter the situation after significant revenue losses have already occurred or when bankruptcy is imminent.

Attorneys are often requested to be spokespeople, but before assigning them the task, Oscar recommends legal advisers delve into the situation and probe because "every situation that I've been involved with, the story changes. Even if they're complete, things can change tomorrow."

Obert agrees that nothing should be held back.

"You need to know where all the skeletons are so that you can speak candidly under the gun," she says.

That means asking hard questions, such as why is quality an issue this year when it wasn't last year?

Although it is important to answer questions honestly, Oscar says that with help, managers can understand the legal landscape and learn where to draw the line.

"We don't want to offer things that are not necessary," he says.

A legal adviser can also recommend when a confidentiality agreement is necessary.

"Sometimes, there is a need to communicate confidential information," he says. "Whether it's to your bank lender or investors, sometimes your lender is also a lender to a competitor."

Control the message

Communication can be used to help turn a problem around. Obert suggests working with people who know how to communicate to help convey information in a way the owner can feel good about.

Just as important, different constituent groups need different pieces of information and a different approach.

The process can be as simple as town hall meetings in the company cafeteria to as complicated as conference calls across the globe. Within that framework, Nowak says, "What we're doing is talking about what's the public opinion of the customers, the vendors, the lenders, the creditors ... and how am I going to influence, direct and control that?"

Obert adds, "Communications need to minimize the impact of the crisis on the organization, restoring as much normalcy as you can and doing what you can to have a soft landing in the situation." How to reach: Donna Nowak, (216) 321-9181 or; Kathleen Obert, (216) 781-2400 or; Lawrence E. Oscar, (216) 621-0150 or; Northern Ohio Turnaround Management Association, (216) 696-3225 or

Deborah Garofalo ( is associate editor of SBN Magazine.

Friday, 19 July 2002 05:58

Root of the problem

Order fluctuations can send your business into overtime. Playing catch-up can lead to the loss of orders and customers.

Sales trends are often predictable, and careful analysis can help prepare a manufacturing plant for an upswing. But sometimes, a continuous, moderate order volume will cover up manufacturing problems, and until orders increase, the problems remain hidden. Then when sales peak, problems become evident not only to you, but to your customers, as well.

Uncovering problems within systems and processes is known as root cause analysis. It's a strategy Mark Welcer became familiar with at Avery Dennison's Specialty Tape Division in Painesville. Through this technique, he uncovered methods of improving and increasing manufacturing output for the manufacturer of pressure sensitive tapes.

When he joined Avery in 1997, the division was in a growth mode. Within a year, sales increases caused delivery delays. Orders were shipped on time and complete only 25 percent of the time.

"There were a lot of shortcomings in the system," recalls Welcer. "The customer service reps were making promises that we couldn't keep, not knowing that was the case."

The long stretch of increased demand -- which required production to run at maximum capacity --brought to light inefficiencies in processes from start to finish. As the backlog grew, it perpetuated delays in new orders. Soon, most of STD's customers were aware of the problem.

Establishing a service improvement team that met daily, Welcer gathered key players from every department to examine the root cause of late orders. Personnel from the beginning of the process, such as purchasing staff, to the end of the process, including machine operators, analyzed and examined the path of every late order asking one simple question: Why?

By digging deeper, what were once believed to be production delays due to demand fluctuations instead turned out to be systems and process problems. Included were errors in finished goods inventory levels, as well as vendor delays of raw material that caused scheduling changes which wasted valuable manufacturing time.

Within a year of probing into production processes, on time orders were consistently shipping in the mid-80 percent range and often peaked in the 90s.

Last year, Welcer left Avery Dennison to join the Pittsburgh division of Paragon Trade Brands, the third largest diaper manufacturer in the world. Within weeks of joining the company, he found himself in a familiar situation.

"It seems like this problem follows me everywhere," Welcer says with a laugh.

Customer demand increased to the point the plant was over capacity. It looked like the diaper manufacturer was going to lose at the game of on-time delivery for its top customers. As operations manager and new kid on the block, Welcer returned to methods he used at Avery to work through production issues.

Because the manufacturing lines were already running at maximum speed, Welcer turned his attention to manufacturing deficiencies that impacted productivity. Uncovering the need for equipment upgrades along with process improvements, Welcer and his service team increased capacity on some equipment by 25 percent.

"You don't necessarily have to go out and add people or add new equipment," he explains.

Waste factors on some equipment were cut in half, and a manufacturing line that was producing 16,000 diapers per hour jumped to 25,500.

"That's a lot of diapers," he says.

Bringing together departments that may not typically work together but definitely rely on each other throughout the manufacturing process opens communications and promotes problem solving, Welcer says. Capturing and recording data in that setting puts the issues out front for everyone to see.

In the Paragon service meeting, daily results were put on a board, along with the three biggest issues that prevented manufacturing from meeting its goal.

"What that basically says is, 'Here's the expectation ... Did we get it done or not?'" Welcer says. "It's going to stay there until we get it resolved. You need to make your expectations known and clear.

"People don't mind being accountable when they know you're going to support them in getting what they need and in getting results." Deborah Garofalo ( is associate editor at SBN Magazine.

Friday, 19 July 2002 05:03

Brain drain?

Information technology specialists, the brains behind the computers, remain in high demand in the tight labor market.

And despite layoffs at struggling Web design and technology integration firms, business owners continue to scramble to manage information systems as program updates hit the market almost daily.

The average IT position turns over every 18 months and, depending on what side of the desk you're on, frequent staff changes can be seen as a perk or a detriment.

Robert Agnew, director of Information Technology at Baldwin Wallace College, manages more than 2,000 computers, approximately 40 servers and all campus telecommunications systems. He says that to fill the gap, many companies bring in foreign workers to manage technology, putting it on par with outsourcing as an alternative to trying to tap into the limited local work force.

Recently, Agnew lost three staff members to private industry, a move which nearly doubled their salaries.

"The money looks good but it may not be the best thing for the employee," says Agnew.

It may not be the best thing for employers, either, as they're losing IT employees not long after they pluck them from universities and entry-level positions. And, while employers continue to stare at empty desks, they weigh the option of meeting the inflated IT pay scale and the effects of doing so on the bottom line.

Who's benefiting?

Don Shadrake, chief information officer at The FocIS Group LLC, sees IT turnover in a positive light. FocIS is an affiliate of the Reserves Network, a staffing group specializing in the information technology work force.

"Most of the real cutting-edge people in my field tend to do a lot more job jumping than probably any other field on the face of the planet," admits Shadrake.

But the advantage he sees is in the integration of fresh ideas. That, however, comes with a price. While moving from one company to another means employees are constantly learning new systems and technology, that knowledge is accompanied by inflated salary demands and a superficial level of loyalty.

Despite that, Agnew agrees that change can be good.

"Some movement is good when people move up to their level of competence," he says.

So the current trend may be good for employees and the technology industry. Higher demand equates to higher wages, which draws people into the field.

"The number of IT jobs being created far and away outstrips the number of IT folks entering the market," says Agnew.

But many businesses also feel the downside because, as in any discipline, employees are not fully productive during the learning curve.

"I'm not so sure new employees do a great deal of thinking outside the box," Agnew says.

Stopping the brain drain

Andy Balasz believes the answer lies in handling the turnover by managing the people involved. Balasz is vice president of Information Systems Services at Antares Management Solutions, a division of Medical Mutual. Antares offers information technology and business process solutions to a customer base of large health insurance companies.

"Turnover is good," Balasz says. "People have to try new things and get involved in new things to change the status quo."

At the same time, he acknowledges the cost of hiring, training and bringing in a new employee is substantial. That's why he instituted a strategy designed to combat losing his highly skilled consultants -- he varies assignments and customers, which keeps his staff challenged and learning.

The result is that Antares' turnover rate is less than 10 percent, an excellent statistic in an industry diagnosed with brain drain.

"A technologist can work on a different customer, a different technology, can kind of turn over from the job they're in into something else and get the advantages of new energy, new focus and new ideas," he says. "But not lose that loyalty to the company, that vision of where you're going and that knowledge of the infrastructure that you're afraid to lose."

The spectrum of applications is broad enough to keep the IT staff learning, and employee stability a selling point for obtaining clients, Balasz contends.

"It's given us the ability to turn people over in a business area but not turn them over in a company."

Temporary solution or wave of the future?

Ironically, businesses like Antares would not be necessary if outsourcing weren't the result of constant turnover and the desire to tap into updated methodology.

"If you talk to most of the bigger companies around Greater Cleveland, that's where a lot of the new ideas come from," says Shadrake.

But he also believes the decline of the in-house IT department is a result of "the glass house mentality," in which people always see processes done one way and believe they should stay that way. Therefore, change is never initiated.

Staffing opportunities at FocIS have increased exponentially over the last three months, and Shadrake credits the growth to two key approaches -- do more with fewer employees and invest in technology rather than people.

So turnover, once seen as a bold negative, can be a positive, especially with short-term projects. By outsourcing, companies can work smarter and reduce payroll and benefits, yet provide efficient programs -- in other words, make dollars and sense.

Northeast Ohio Software Association president James Cookinham says Ohio is not alone in its IT staffing problems. Even the educational realm is affected. Teachers are lured away by high salaries in private industry and are harder to come by. And large technology companies snatch up students before they can get their resumes in the mail.

Cookinham should know. He regularly meets with other IT organizations around the United States.

"It's a challenge for the whole country," he says.

The key is not to panic. Instead, the solution lies in how your company handles change. How to reach: Northeast Ohio Software Association, (216) 592-2257 or; The FocIS Group LLC, (440) 779-4800 or

Deborah Garofalo ( is associate editor at SBN Magazine.

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