Monday, 28 February 2011 13:45

Community DNA

David Ginsburg, president and CEO of DowntownCincinnati Inc., knows he could be doing something more lucrative with his time than working at a nonprofit organization that aims to improve the community of Cincinnati, but he wouldn’t get as much satisfaction out of his efforts if he did. Ginsburg loves to devote his time to the many areas of the Cincinnati community. It’s that type of attitude and drive that make a person or a business a Pillar Award recipient.

The inaugural Cincinnati Medical Mutual Pillar Awards for Community Service were held on January 25. Smart Business honored businesses and organizations that go above and beyond in their community service efforts. The joy that giving back can create was evident as business leaders shared stories of how their companies make a difference in the region and the ways they make community service part of the fabric of their companies.

These business leaders know that community service is something you do because it’s the right thing to do, not because you feel obligated. Today, that is often easier said than done.

“One of the things that I’ve found very interesting is that people have less time,” Ginsburg says. “There was a time when people who were doing community service were just the CEOs and the top people. Now, you have fewer hometown CEOs and fewer people and they have lots and lots of demands on their time. You really have to make sure the time and the resources that people give you are treated with a tremendous amount of respect and value.”

It is that frame of mind that gets employees at Messer Construction Co. involved in the community. Employees at Messer are driven by the examples of their senior leadership.

“We have senior managers that are required to be on a nonprofit board or committee, so we start with the leadership,” says Tom Keckeis, president and CEO of Messer. “We have 180 senior executives and they all get involved in the community through boards and committees.”

Employees at Messer, an employee-owned company, make sure they give back to the community that has given so much back to them.

“We are an employee-owned company and so the employees get to decide what we do with the profits of the company, and we give back a considerable amount to the community because it’s what they want to do,” Keckeis says. “They own the company. We can do what we want to do with the dollars.”

Messer uses those dollars to give back in numerous ways. Whether it’s leading the efforts on boards or committees, helping teach classes, mentoring or coaching kids at Bond Hill, every Messer employee gets involved in community service.

“All you have to do is start it,” Keckeis says. “You will start to realize that you get more back than what you give. You end up building an organization that has a deep value system that’s tied to the community.

“You have to be a model for community service. You have to also recognize the people that are contributing their time. Recognize them in a newsletter and in their performance evaluation. Those are the types of things a CEO or a leader should be doing to make sure that people realize the value there.”

Much like Messer’s employees have figured out, community service is something that should be a part of a company’s culture. Getting employees involved and giving them the power to make decisions about where, why and how to give back helps imbed that drive into your company culture.

That is exactly what Stuart Aitken, CEO of dunnhumbyUSA, told his employees to do. Each year the employees of dunnhumby discuss what causes and charities they should donate time and money to. Every employee can make their own suggestions.

“The foundation of what we do is really different than many others,” Aitken says. “We allow our employees to decide which charities we contribute to, both in terms of time as well as in terms of money. Every year we select seven organizations we will support in both those ways throughout the year. It is very much employee-led and what matters most to the employees is what we will support as an organization.”

Aitken found that the stories people shared about various causes and charities became contagious, and employee involvement in the programs grew.

“We have people share stories, we have message boards all over the place talking about the things we do and it truly is contagious,” Aitken says. “It’s a viral thing. People feel very good about it and good about being a part of a company that encourages and drives it.

“Don’t drive it as a company, let the employees drive it and then support what it is they are looking to do. Let it be employee-led and facilitate it as an organization every which way you can.”

How to reach: Downtown Cincinnati Inc., (513) 421-4440 or

Messer Construction Co., (513)242-1541 or

dunnhumby USA, (513) 632-1020 or

Published in Cincinnati
Monday, 21 February 2011 16:16

Robert Scharar makes connections at FCA Corp

Don’t be surprised to find Robert W. Scharar sewing buttons on his jacket. A boy scout since 1958 and now a board member of the Sam Houston Council, he has skills to show for his merit badges.

Scharar also credits the scouts with business networking. As founder, president and CEO of FCA Corp., a wealth management, financial planning and investment advisory firm with more than $500 million in assets, he researches potential investments. His involvement in community organizations forms connections to inform decisions.

“It’s important for businesses to participate in volunteer activities,” says Scharar, who also created four international mutual funds with assets of more than $50 million. “That’s a good way to expand your business knowledge and do something good at the same time.”

Start conversations. Just a smile and a hello and an interest will often spark a discussion. Ask about what they’re doing or ask about their country. We all like to talk about ourselves, so give a person a chance to talk about their country or their family or their job or their interests, and the conversation will unfold. It’s not always just one conversation, but it’s the continued friendliness that evolves from that.

In my BlackBerry, I write down the names of the people I meet at the counter at the airport. I can’t remember all those names, but you have no idea how helpful [it is].

Stay open to info. We’re always looking for ideas to invest in: trends of growth, trends of success, positive things that would make an investment worthwhile. Sometimes, it’s just coming up with the idea of the industry to be looking at. It may not be that particular company’s even available for sale; it just may mean that you get an idea that you had not pursued before.

Oftentimes, it’s not so much because I’m looking at their company, but I’m looking for somebody that has some technical knowledge that can explain some product I’m not familiar with.

When you open yourself to deal with people beyond your normal circles, you get great information. You can often learn a lot about the community by being willing to talk to people. Cab drivers often form that nucleus for a lot of people because they’re the only contact they have, but there’s a lot of contacts you can make if you’re willing to just reach out and look for areas of common interest.

Don’t make assumptions of people’s worth. Oftentimes, we get too hung up on titles and because of that, we don’t necessarily give people a chance to show what they can do. If you’re able to step back and recognize that people have value, you’d be shocked at what you can find out.

Keep lines open. Seeking information about what’s going on in the world that might apply to your business is generally not invasive. You can do that without people thinking you’re selling them something — because you’re really not.

Now, out of that can come opportunities because people say, ‘What do you do?’ I don’t necessarily even at that stage give them (my) card. But if it might be helpful, I’ll sometimes say, ‘I do work in that area. If sometime in the future you want to talk about it, feel free to give me a call.’

Don’t put them under any pressure, but you don’t want to be in a situation where you can solve their need and you’re not giving them the ability to work with you. You just have to be careful how you do it. We all are taken aback when somebody comes in and you feel like, if they don’t have a sale closed at the end of (30 minutes), they’re going to go on to the next activity.

Volunteerism … can lead to opportunities. If you try to go volunteer specifically to get X, that’s not going to work. But put yourself in an environment where the volunteer activities involve other people — particularly different people, not everybody who thinks the same way you do — and you just never know.

Just put yourself out there. I don’t go around handing my business cards to everybody I meet, but just let people know you’re open to questions. You’re rewarded in many ways for doing that — not always immediately, never from a particular activity — but by being engaged, you’d just be amazed at the kinds of things that evolve.

How to reach: FCA Corp., (713) 781-2856 or

Published in Houston