Cleveland (5895)

“Mezzanine financing is a creative option that can help companies transition or expand their businesses,” says Kevin Vonderau, Executive Vice President and Chief Lending Officer at Westfield Bank. “It’s a good choice for companies with positive cash flow that lack the collateral to cover their expansion.”

Suppose a business with $18 million in sales, $2 million in bank debt earning $550,000 in pre-tax income is owned by two equal partners. One partner decides to leave the business and offers to sell 50 percent to the remaining partner. The business is worth $3.5 million plus assumption of bank debt. To establish sole ownership of the business, the exiting owner is owed $1.75 million, and she wants a cash payment.

The remaining partner is unwilling to sell 50 percent equity stake to investors or private equity funds. The company’s qualifying collateral only supports the $2 million in secured bank debt. Where can she borrow $1.75 million and what will that do to her income and cash flow?

Bank regulators discourage unsecured lending. Numerous national banks operate mezzanine finance funds through non-bank affiliates. Often they seek mezzanine opportunities greater than $4 million and, in addition to interest rates ranging between 10 to 14 percent, they require warrants, which are rights to a percentage of ownership, allowing them to participate pro-rata in any increase in the business valuation. The $1.75 million borrowing need may be too small.

Smart Business spoke with Vonderau about mezzanine financing.

Why is mezzanine financing appealing?  

Mezzanine financing is a hybrid of debt and equity financing that can provide an opportunity to buy or expand a company when the necessary capital is not available. It allows a company to remain independent from equity investors or previous owners, which requires some management control if financing is provided. Also, it is advantageous because it can be treated like equity on a company’s balance sheet and may make it easier to obtain standard bank financing. Banks that cater to a smaller, niche market may offer mezzanine finance opportunities between $1 million to $3.5 million and total requests up to $10 million in Northeast Ohio.

How is mezzanine financing structured?

Mezzanine financing is subordinated debt and is considered higher risk lending, which mandates higher interest rates. Interest-only payments are made monthly, principal does not amortize and the debt matures typically in 4 to 5 years. Because rates are higher, borrowers are motivated to refinance into traditional bank debt as soon as possible.

Since mezzanine debt is unsecured, a pledge of company stock is required. Loan covenants are set that mirror bank covenants but with more liberal levers. The mezzanine debt doesn’t want to trip senior debt loan covenants. Typical covenants are set around cash flow coverage and cash flow leverage, which is measured by funded debt to EBITDA. Inter-creditor agreements help govern loan covenants and debtor’s rights.

How is mezzanine financing secured?

The first meeting between the business owner and the banker is fact-finding. Goals are identified as are any issues that need to be resolved to reach those goals. It can then be determined if the company needs a mezzanine partner. Companies should collaborate with their accountants, attorneys, financial planners, etc., to ensure mezzanine financing is right for them.  

How should business owners prepare?

Companies are typically evaluated by the five Cs of credit — character, capacity, capital, collateral and conditions. Mezzanine financing focuses on capacity or cash flow available to repay debt. The banker will want to understand the company’s current and projected three to five year business plan. The banker will want to know about the management team and see historical numbers to understand the company’s financial health. The more the banker knows about the company, its management team and goals, the easier it will be to help it realize its financial needs. Anytime a business has a meeting with a lender, having these facts readily available will make the process go more smoothly.

Kevin Vonderau is Executive Vice President and Chief Lending Officer at Westfield Bank. Reach him at (330) 722-8644 or

Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by Westfield Bank

When switching to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems, a business will need to incorporate new equipment and technology. Though it may seem daunting, the transition and subsequent result leads to more manageable communications, a shallow learning curve and support during the process.

“One of the biggest differences between using a traditional phone system and going to a VoIP platform is the huge reduction in equipment that is needed, and you’d be getting better features and advantages out of it,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at “When you’re moving from a traditional world to a VoIP world, there is a reduction in the equipment management and the space required to have the brains of a Private Branch Exchange unit living in your office.”

Smart Business spoke with Desberg to find out what a company can expect when switching to VoIP in regards to space concerns, hardware, and learning and maintaining the new technology.

What are the equipment requirements when incorporating VoIP?

It actually reduces the need for premise based equipment and the resources to keep that equipment up and running. Integrating VoIP systems removes an old phone system, and takes old phones off desks and replaces them with a phone designed for VoIP. It normally uses your existing Internet connection unless that needs to be upgraded to handle the additional bandwidth from the voice communications.

How are employees trained on the new systems?

When the new technology is being presented, part of the process of moving to VoIP is what your business environment can assimilate. There’s a large amount of education upfront in terms of system capability. For instance, end user education is conducted where, when it’s time to put a phone on somebody’s desk, the vendor trains the employee on how to use the phone — there is somebody whose sole responsibility is to go out and train a customer. The employees learn how the phone on their desk works and how that works in conjunction with how calls are coming in.

Is the installation done by the vendor or by the company?

It can be either. If it’s done by the vendor, it’s done as part of that training so when the vendor is out doing the installation, training also is being conducted.

How much maintenance is required?

Software updates, upgrades to the system and maintenance done on the system are all part of the service. The only thing that needs to be maintained in terms of hardware or software is the phone on the desk. If a company owns its own hardware, the equipment will be supported until it stops working and then the customer may need to replace it. Software upgrades are automatic, typically involving a phone reboot in the middle of the night during non-office hours.

What happens in the case of power outages?

One of the functions of VoIP is that it actually has some built-in disaster recovery. So even if a phone loses power, breaks or Internet connection at the office is lost, the system itself is aware of that outage and reroutes calls. For example, if a company’s phones go down from a power outage, the system can automatically send calls to alternate lines such as cell phones.  

How much bandwidth does a company need for VoIP?

It boils down to how much bandwidth a company has prior to installing VoIP. If a company is already pushing its usage to the peak and there are issues with its Internet service, adding a VoIP Internet-based phone system will not help the scenario. The solution is to either upgrade bandwidth or separate voice and data into two connections. But the company can grow the system as needed.

Alex Desberg is sales and marketing director at Reach him at

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by

Monday, 31 March 2014 05:09

How courts are deciding issues about ownership

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Ohio’s shale gas region has slated capital projects valued at more than $12 billion, with the industry expected to add 66,000 jobs and $5 billion annually to the state economy starting this year, according to economists at Cleveland State University.

More than 3 million acres have been leased for drilling, with gas and oil companies pouring nearly $7.5 billion in bank accounts for the right to drill. The oil and gas industry, and the legal issues surrounding it, are going to have a profound economic impact on Ohio.

That activity has led to disputes about ownership of oil, gas, and mineral interests.

“There’s a developing area of law regarding the Dormant Mineral Act of 1989, which was amended in 2006,” says Christopher F. Swing, a partner at Brouse McDowell, with more than 22 years of experience in real estate law and litigation, focusing on title, land, mineral interests, and oil and gas disputes.

Smart Business spoke with Swing about the Dormant Mineral Act and how courts are addressing it in cases involving ownership.

What is the Dormant Mineral Act, and how was it changed in 2006?

Ohio’s Dormant Mineral Act operates to ‘abandon’ sub-surface mineral rights, in favor of the surface owner, in instances where the surface and sub-surface rights previously were severed. Under the 1989 version of the statute, as originally enacted, owners of oil, gas and mineral interests must take some action to enforce or preserve those rights within a 20-year period, or the interests may be deemed abandoned. Under the 1989 version, therefore, abandonment may occur based upon nonuse alone. The 2006 amendment, on the other hand, requires notice to potential mineral rights owners, and a mechanism for recording notices and affidavits, so that a potential mineral interests’ owner first is made aware of any intent to declare those interests abandoned.

Two predominant issues have emerged, creating uncertainty in the statute’s interpretation and application: first, which version of the statute applies in a given set of circumstances? And second, is the 20-year window ‘static’ or ‘rolling’? For example, there is case law that says you need not apply the 2006 version of the statute (provide notice, among other things) if the mineral interests already may be deemed abandoned, based upon nonuse alone, under the 1989 version.

How have courts applied the legislation?

Although cases have interpreted and applied the legislation differently, the case that appears to most thoroughly explain the proper public policy and legislative rationale, in both interpreting and applying both versions of the statute, is a case decided last fall in Carroll County, Dahlgren v. Brown Farm Properties. In Dahlgren, the Honorable Judge Richard M. Markus ruled that, under the 1989 version of the statute, an actual abandonment claim, based upon nonuse alone, must be made prior to the effective date of the 2006 amendment for the mineral rights to be declared abandoned under a static 20-year look-back period contained in the 1989 legislation. Markus applied the 2006 version of the statute, because there was no actual claimed abandonment prior to the 2006 enactment, notwithstanding the undisputed nonuse of the mineral rights in the preceding 20 years.

Markus also found that, unlike the 1989 version, the 2006 amendment contemplates a rolling 20-year savings window, calculated from the date the mineral rights owner receives notice of intent to declare those rights abandoned. Interestingly, he adopted the nonuse feature in the original act, and the notice and recording features in the amendment, suggesting their combination would pass federal constitutional due process scrutiny.

While the case is on appeal, what makes the opinion potentially attractive, ultimately, to the Ohio Supreme Court is that the judge accounted for the need to have an effective means of clearing land title (so as to encourage the development of these natural resources), employing an interpretation and application of the statute that addresses three key issues: nonuse, recording and constitutionality.

Christopher F. Swing, Esq., is a partner at Brouse McDowell. Reach him at (330) 535-5711 or

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Brouse McDowell

PANELISTS: Laura Bennett, Sheila Dunn, Kristen Morris and Lindsay Sims

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is proud to sponsor the Perspectives 2014 Women Who Excel Conference, and over the past several years, the pace of change has certainly increased, especially in health care. In my 30 years in the industry, I’ve never experienced so much change in such a short period of time.

Women business leaders are facing important and increasingly complex decisions about the health care coverage they offer to their associates. Not only is health care coverage one of the biggest expenses in many companies’ budgets, it can have a meaningful impact on the health, well-being and productivity of all its employees.

Creating a culture of health — in our organizations, our communities and our country — is critical to keeping up and pulling ahead as the pace continues to quicken.

At Anthem, we believe collaboration is the foundation of a culture of health. That’s why we work closely with our clients to develop and deliver personalized solutions that help their employees get healthy and stay healthy, and we work closely with health care providers to ensure broad access to quality, affordable care.

We also partner with community organizations to help improve health and well-being — including Radio Disney for the Anthem Get Active, Get Fit School Challenge, the March of Dimes for the Centering Pregnancy prenatal care program and the Boys and Girls Clubs’ Triple Play wellness program.

One of the reasons I have chosen to spend most of my career with Anthem is its commitment to improving health in our community. Alongside other women leaders in our organization — including Erin Hoeflinger, president of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Ohio — I’m energized by helping leaders like you achieve success by keeping both your employees and your business healthy. ●


Denise Tomechko is regional vice president of account management for Anthem National Accounts. Reach her at (800) 928-2902. To learn more about Anthem, visit www.anthem.comor like its Facebook page



Diane Ayres has no fear in overcoming obstacles as she leads Porchlight Rental Services 

Diane Ayres has learned to take adversity and turn it into success, having risen through the ranks to prominence in the relocation industry.

She joined Corporate Lodgings as its first employee in the late 1980s as director of sales. Ayres showed her business acumen by growing Corporate Lodgings from one location to nine.

After serving as regional vice president and then director of national sales, she opted to found PorchLight Rental Services rather than be transferred out of Ohio. PorchLight would be the first national rental assistance company in the U.S.

But being the first was challenging. While renters had been used to free services from rental service companies, PorchLight was a pay-for-service model. With Ayres’s hard work and commitment to deliver excellent service, she won over customers and they were willing to pay.

Then, after giving a competitor a run for their money, PorchLight was acquired by a national real estate investment trust. Another change was made in the business model, but after three years, Ayres led it to profitability. It was later sold off and had a record-breaking 2013.


USI Insurance’s Kate Bang motivates sales to award-winning high figures 

In the male-dominated health insurance industry, Kate Bang rises to the top by not trying to be “one of the boys,” but by using her skills to identify and implement ways she and her team can redefine and exceed client expectations.

In 2013, she led the USI Cleveland office to achieve a 35 percent increase over the last two years in top-line revenue. In addition, it was the only office to achieve USI’s Five Diamond status in 2013, which highlights excellence in new business development, client retention and profitability.

As one of only three women who are office presidents in the 34-office USI national Employee Benefits practice, Bang is dedicated to excellence for her clients and employees, which helps ensure success of not only the office, but also her team members.

“Kate inspires me every day, and I feel so fortunate to have been given this opportunity to learn and grow with her,” says Mike Sicard, USI chairman, president and CEO. “She is one of the most influential, yet absolutely selfless, people that I have ever met: driven, compassionate, eloquent and kind. There is an aura of motivation around her at all times — personally and professionally — which is nothing short of contagious.”


Jennifer Bell rises to top leadership at Aon Risk Solutions, empowering her female colleagues

In the historically male-dominated industry of risk management and insurance, Jennifer Bell is the only woman to be a regional managing director in Aon Risk Solutions’ U.S. operations. Today, she oversees management of the Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburgh, Cleveland/Akron, Columbus and Cincinnati offices, which have more than 400 employees.

Bell has more than 25 years of experience in the risk management consulting business and in designing insurance programs around her client’s unique needs. Upon joining Aon in 1991, she focused on global heavy manufacturing risk and association programs, which would prove instrumental in building the Northeast Ohio region.

Bell also is a true leader in Aon’s ongoing diversity and inclusion initiatives, wanting to open doors for qualified people. As a result of her initiatives, which have been replicated throughout the industry by competitors and insurance markets, Aon’s Northeast Ohio Executive Committee is now comprised of 40 percent women.

In addition, Bell is highly active in the community, serving on many boards, including the Sisters of Charity Foundation, the American Heart Association, In Council with Women and the United Way of Greater Cleveland. 


Mimi Dane set ambitious goals at Flying Horse Farms and then met each one

Mimi Dane made a decision not everyone would have made when she chose to leave a successful 21-year litigation career at Squire Sanders in 2012.

She left to become the CEO at Flying Horse Farms, a camp for children with serious medical conditions. The camp, located on 200 acres in Mt. Gilead, serves hundreds of children and families each year.

Within days of taking on her new role, Dane led the charge to make Flying Horse Farms a full member of the SeriousFun Children’s Network, an international family of camps founded by the late actor and Ohio native, Paul Newman.

The process to get accreditation includes implementing and documenting more than 200 points of criteria focused on program and safety standards. Dane also set out to hire strong people in key positions such as CFO, medical director, nursing director, vice president of advancement, camper recruiter and database manager.

The hires have made it possible for the camp to expand its programs and provide better service to its children and their families. The hard work paid off when Flying Horse Farms became a member of the SeriousFun Children’s Network, the only camp of its kind in the Midwest. 


Buffy Filippell excels as the headhunter for TeamWork Consulting

You might say sports have been an important part of Buffy Filippell’s life. Make that the sports industry. Her career is a shining example to women with similar aspirations.

Graduating with a degree in physical education from Indiana University in 1976, she started working for Wilson Sporting Goods in the tennis products promotion department.

After a promotion that took her to work in London, the International Management Group wooed her to Cleveland in 1978 to be its first female executive/agent.

She racked up a number of successes, including discovering and representing the then No. 3 ranked tennis player Andrea Jaeger.

After six years, she joined Korn/Ferry International to do executive recruiting. Two years later, she left to launch her own executive search firm, TeamWork Consulting, focusing solely on sports.

Through her initiatives as an entrepreneur, her persistence and grit, she has built her firm into one of the nation’s leading executive recruiting firms serving professional sports.

TeamWork Consulting has filled hundreds of positions, including senior executives of professional teams.

A digital version of her firm, TeamWork Online, was founded in 1999. Today, 780 sports organizations use TeamWork Online exclusively for their recruiting needs. 


Patricia Gajda recognizes her mentors as aiding her climb at Brouse McDowell

Patricia Gajda has developed her corporate transactions and general counseling law practice at Brouse McDowell for more than 15 years. Along the way, she overcame the challenge of being one of the few women in the corporate practice area, and attended networking events where only a handful of women were present.

She also has taken on a leadership role at the firm, chairing the Associate and Paralegal Review Committee for 10 years before stepping down in 2003. She has chaired the Corporate Practice Group since 2005, spearheading practice and marketing initiatives.

Gajda credits her success to working with great mentors who helped her develop. She now works to mentor associates and help female associates with advice and work opportunities.

Brouse McDowell believes in giving back to the community, which Gajda does by serving on several charitable boards. She serves on the Corporate Leadership Committee of the “Go Red for Women” campaign of the American Heart Association. She also serves as vice president and trustee for the Ohio Women’s Bar Foundation.

Gajda graduated from Case Western Reserve University Law School in 1990, and has a bachelor’s degree in economics from John Carroll University. 


Skoda Minotti’s Dani Gisondo espouses a balance between work and life 

Dani Gisondo joined Skoda Minotti in 1998 as a senior staff accountant and now leads the firm’s Employee Benefit Plan group. A mother of three girls, she has embraced the challenge of balancing professional responsibilities and family time.

Two years ago, she and colleague Christa Lenko founded the Skoda Minotti Women’s Initiative, a program designed to help women learn how to build networks, earn continuing education credits and achieve career growth.

Gisondo supervises 18 professional staff, serves as a performance adviser to six and a career coach to three.

She suggests that women think outside the box concerning flexible work arrangements and overcoming obstacles when juggling work and family.

Gisondo approached management in 2001 with a nontraditional work schedule that would benefit the firm while allowing her to be involved in her children’s activities. That led the firm to extend the idea to other employees, and placed an emphasis on work/life balance.

A graduate of The Ohio State University, Gisondo has a bachelor’s degree in business administration, specializing in accounting. She serves as treasurer of the St. Francis of Assisi Athletic Booster Club, and is a member of the John Carroll University Accounting Advisory Board and Beaumont School Finance Committee. 


Constant upward progress defines career of Park Place Technologies’ Patricia Kilroy 

Patricia Kilroy started in the accounting department at Custom Products, eventually getting promoted to an operations manager position. She then became a sales support representative with Pioneer-Standard Electronics, which would become Agilysys Inc. During her 16-year tenure, Kilroy rose through the ranks from an inside sales manager to the director of several business units.

In these roles, Kilroy led and directed managers and employees in several departments, and was part of a project team that led the closure of a major sales and customer service facility — transitioning 75 customers and $189 million to another facility.

In 2007, Arrow Electronics acquired the distribution business from Agilysys Inc. During the transition, Kilroy organized and lead a formal employee engagement team to build morale across multiple facilities and business units.

When Arrow closed one of the sales and customer service facilities, Kilroy completed the transition by moving the workload of 400 customers for her business unit, developing and deploying a home office program that would retain high-potential employees.

In 2013, Kilroy joined Park Place Technologies as the vice president of channel development. Kilroy’s leadership has drastically improved all indirect sales channels and sales operations within the company. 


Pam Kozelka has been central to the growth of Content Marketing Institute 

Pam Kozelka’s career has taken a few distinct turns. After college, she supervised the Batterers’ Intervention Unit for Cuyahoga County, then left the workforce to raise her children. When she returned, she switched from social work to media, becoming Content Marketing Institute’s vice president of operations in 2008 and its second employee.

Since then, CMI has made the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing private companies in both 2012 and 2013. The company also made the Weatherhead Upstart list of Northeast Ohio companies for its sales growth, landing the No. 1 spot in 2012 and the No. 2 spot in 2013.

Kozelka’s core responsibilities revolve around CMI’s bellwether event, Content Marketing World, which brought more than 1,700 marketers from 46 countries to Cleveland in 2013.

In addition, she has been central to the success of CMI’s annual Golf for Autism charity event, raising more than $100,000 in seven years for speech therapy assistance for children with autism.

Kozelka’s success has earned her the position of COO. According to founder Joe Pulizzi, the reason CMI has been, arguably, the most successful startup in Cleveland during the past three years is her leadership and vision. 


Kelly Loebick-Frascella rises to meet her own challenges at Main Street Gourmet 

Kelly Loebick-Frascella did not set out to be a role model for other women when she began working for Main Street Gourmet in 1997. She took a job on the production line and was simply trying to work her way through college before pursuing a more long-term career.

She quickly gained the respect, admiration and trust of her co-workers, and got an idea. She wanted to establish a HR department for the company, which was still in its infant stages.

She convinced Main Street Gourmet’s co-owners that the company had taken a number of steps improving its overall sales, market share and manufacturing processes. The HR department was another step and Loebick-Frascella was confident it was an important one for the co-owners to take.

So without a blueprint, she set out to develop such things as an employee handbook, a formal and annual performance appraisal process, a structured compensation program and a comprehensive benefits package.

There was also a standardized hiring system, employee recognition programs and leadership development.

Each of these initiatives has played a part in Main Street Gourmet’s success. It also has demonstrated what one person can do to make a difference. 


SueAnn Naso pioneers creative solutions at Staffing Solutions Enterprise

As 22-year-veteran employee of Staffing Solutions Enterprises, SueAnn Naso has championed work/life balance amongst employees, implementing a flexible and effective strategy for the all-woman workplace she now leads.

In 1995, three years into her career with Staffing Solutions, Naso was finding it difficult to balance full-time work with full-time parenting. Instead of resigning to find part-time work, she presented a part-time work model to her employer. That creativity and flexibility paid off for both parties as Naso worked her way up to president.

Naso also played a key role in fostering women’s professional development in the HR industry and Northeast Ohio business community. She co-founded the Executive HR Women’s Network, a networking group that was created as a venue for leading HR women to come together.

The group now boasts more than 100 active members and host’s events with award-winning panelists and hot topics, such as employee engagement and work/life balance issues. Members meet each other, network, have fun, and discuss HR and women’s leadership challenges.

Naso currently serves as a board member of ERC Advisory Council and Engage! Cleveland. She served as the president of the Cleveland chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management from 2011 to 2013.


Rahika Reddy achieved the American dream as an entrepreneur with Ariel Ventures

Radhika Reddy came to the U.S. in 1989 with $20 and a one-year International Rotary scholarship — by 1995 she had founded her own company, Ariel Ventures LLC.

It took working 80 to 90 hours a week to launch and expand her business. During that time, she also earned a second master’s degree in accounting and taxation. Her business has since grown into a successful and respected 100 percent woman-owned professional services firm.

Her work as an entrepreneur in international business, real estate and economic development finance fueled another dream to create an international center in Cleveland, bringing together international businesses, arts and culture, foods and events.

She rehabilitated a vacant, dilapidated historic building into the Ariel International Center — overlooking Lake Erie and the Cleveland skyline — a one-stop center for international business development and cultural events.

Reddy wanted to give back to Cleveland and help other entrepreneurs with ideas that lack access to capital, so she created the Ariel Economic Development Fund and since 2011 has provided equity investments or loans to small startup businesses.

She has also organized and participated in programs, seminars and inbound and outbound trade missions. 


Rita N. Singh sparks global change through S&A Consulting Group and Elite Women Around the World 

Rita N. Singh, a native of India, arrived in Cleveland in 1979 with little money, no friends and no business experience. After completing her CPA in 1989, she started S&A Consulting Group in partnership with her husband Nipendra in the basement of their home, later expanding to a commercial space servicing Fortune 500 companies around the world.

As an executive coach and leadership strategist, her focus has been to help women develop skills in entrepreneurship and leadership in the various levels of their career, which are offered as part of an ongoing curriculum, individual coaching sessions, workshops, seminars, lecture series, forums and conferences.

Singh also had a vision to empower women. In 2005, she used her personal savings to create the nonprofit Elite Women Around The World®, which is a worldwide platform to enhance the economic position of women globally. Through the nonprofit’s conferences and forums, Singh has been instrumental in bringing thought-provoking women and leaders to Cleveland.

In her free time, Singh works part time at Ursuline College, teaching in the master’s in business administration program. She was instrumental in the development of its Center of Excellence in Ethical and Entrepreneurial Leadership. 


Kristin Tull has the tools at PRADCO to help people maximize their potential 

Michelle Gaertner was struggling. She started a women’s leadership initiative at her firm, but found few female executives she could turn to for guidance and support.

Through a mutual contact, Gaertner reached out to Kristin Tull. That’s when things began to turn around.

“Kristin provided a sounding board and shared her expertise as well as her personal experience,” says Gaertner, vice president and director of sales at Oswald Cos. “Working with her, I was able to define the objectives of a burgeoning women’s initiative as well as understand my role and develop my personal leadership style.”

Tull is the president of PRADCO, which works with people to improve their hiring and maximize their management potential.

Tull’s colleague, Lawrence J. Borodkin, also is a fan.

“To Kristin, there is nothing like teaching others and seeing them master their areas of responsibility,” Borodkin says. “The exponential gain that the company has experienced through her coaching and developing PRADCO staff has been extremely rewarding to her and to the employees she has mentored.”

The best part is that Tull is even more passionate about what the future holds.

“Kristin does not consider herself to be a finished product,” Borodkin says. 


Rebecca White burned the midnight oil to advance at Western Reserve Partners 

Rebecca White was the first in her extended family to receive a college degree, and it put a lot of pressure on her to prove it was the right career path. That didn’t mean her challenges were over.

After paying her own way through graduate school, she entered the world of investment banking, where she had an arduous time in the traditionally male-dominated industry. White spent many nights in the office well past midnight.

When an opportunity came to leave the relatively safe confines of KeyBanc Capital Markets to join Western Reserve Partners LLC shortly after its founding in 2004, she took it. Working for a small startup firm allowed White to develop quickly as a professional.

She rose to the challenge and is the perfect example of an employee climbing through the ranks of an organization. White is currently a director in the firm’s industrial practice and is responsible for managing transactions from sourcing to closing. Being one of the few senior-level female investment bankers in Northeast Ohio and recognizing the opportunities associated with that role, she also launched and manages Western Reserve’s women-owned business initiatives.  




Law firm developing women in leadership roles  

Brouse McDowell is a leader in supporting and developing women within its organization. Of the firm’s 75 attorneys, 31 are female — 19 of which are partners. That ranks Brouse second among Northeast Ohio law firms in the number of female partners. 

Additionally, half of Brouse McDowell’s associates are women. 

The firm is dedicated to women’s initiatives, professional advancement and career development, and provides a family-friendly workplace. 

A new initiative is the Women in Law Program, in which leaders facilitate a women-centric event each quarter. Events include internal conferences on business development and networking, and external functions designed to cultivate relationships with peers in the business community. 

Brouse McDowell’s female employees are invested in their communities, volunteering, advocating and participating in more than 150 professional, civic and nonprofit organizations where they work and live.  


Internal programs at Oswald Cos. help women climb the corporate ladder  

Oswald Cos. recognizes the unique challenges women face as they work to advance their professional careers and has launched a number of initiatives to help. 

In 2013, the company introduced its Oswald Women’s Leadership Council to support and promote the advancement of women leaders in the organization, setting clear objectives, timelines and metrics to achieve these goals. 

Female leaders from the organization now have the opportunity to advance their skills in the areas of communication, collaboration and professional connections. 

Member benefits include company-sponsored leadership training, joint events with other Greater Cleveland professional women’s groups and monthly meeting touch points.

The company aims to make the council available across all units, supporting programs such as cross-mentorship, networking events, speaker series’ and professional development.

Already, the council has received attention and commendation from major insurance industry trade organizations. 

Oswald’s Women of Oswald Helping Out Others gives every female employee the opportunity to contribute to initiatives throughout the year, including charitable events, volunteer work and networking. 

The company is also seeking to aid working parents by offering technology to permit mobile access when working from home, flextime and flex-schedules, family-based events and outings, and an overall awareness and support of family needs. 


Monica Daniely Green works for more than money at so Curly so Kinky so Straight  

Monica Daniely Green, CEO of so Curly so Kinky so Straight, is dedicated to fostering women’s initiatives and providing career development for women.

A licensed managerial cosmetologist and instructor with more than 25 years experience in the beauty salon industry, Green has channeled her tenure as a C-level executive in the corporate, nonprofit, medical construction and communications industries into a company dedicated to more than just hair. 

Green champions what she calls the natural hair movement, which aims to increase the sense of beauty, pride and self-esteem of African-American women. In addition to hair and beauty services, Green’s salon also offers services such as workshops and events, including the annual Happy to be Nappy picnic at Forest Hills Park. 

Green also has secured more than $1.5 million in funding for nonprofit pursuits such as scholarships. 

To further her mission of giving back, Green is launching the Flawless Beauty Academy, which will offer courses in the styling and care of natural hair — the only course in the state to do so. Students can obtain Ohio State Board of Cosmetology licensing as a natural hair stylist through the course. 


SueAnn Naso and Staffing Solutions Enterprises advocates women’s professional development

As a certified women’s business enterprise, Staff Solutions Enterprises and its President SueAnn Naso foster women’s professional development and work/life balance by tailoring solutions according to employees’ needs. 

Work-flex has been part of the company’s internal strategy for more than 18 years. This initiative has weathered various economic conditions and proven highly effective at maintaining top talent. Staffing Solutions fosters creativity and innovation by offering many work/life solutions, such as telecommuting, phased retirement, part-time and adjustable hours. 

The company also offers a strong mentorship program for younger employees, encouraging staff to attend networking and partner events, training support for career development, volunteering in the community and additional professional seminars. 

The past two years, under Naso’s leadership, Staffing Solutions received the prestigious Alfred P. Sloan Award, a research-based initiative to highlight how effective and flexible workplaces can yield positive business results and help employees succeed at work and home. 

According to the award’s benchmarking report, 79 percent of employees strongly agreed they have the flexibility needed at work to manage personal/family responsibilities, and 93 percent strongly agreed that supervisors or managers are supportive when the employee is having a work problem.




Emma Day puts a British fashion foot forward at Carnaby Street Style

At age 24, Emma Day followed her dream and opened her own company, Carnaby Street Style, based on a business plan she developed for an entrepreneurship course in college.

In May 2012, she approached project developers with the plan, which combined her passion for British fashion, retail experience and desire to start her own business. She justified the plan, secured funding and designed the store layout.

Carnaby Street Style opened in December 2012, named after the London street famous for fashion boutiques. In its first year, it was awarded Akron Life and Leisure Best of the City awards for Best New Business (first), Best Shoe Splurge (second), Most Customer Friendly Boutique (third) and Best Local Entrepreneur (second). The store also was named Best Women’s Boutique on the Akron Canton Hotlist.

About 250 people attended a runway fashion show at the store in September 2013. This year, Day was chosen as a judge for Kent State University’s Rock the Runway Fashion Show.

She serves as a mentor to her employees and provides opportunities for them to explore their talents and collaborate on projects.

Day is a 2010 graduate of Bowling Green State University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. 


Nichelle McCall built BOLD Guidance to take the stress out of applying to college

Nichelle McCall is always thinking about what she can do to help people. BOLD Guidance, the company she leads as founder and CEO, is the latest symbol of that effort. BOLD provides a mobile app that makes the college application process less stressful.

The platform she developed has won a number of awards and McCall is securing significant funding that would help her continue to grow the business.

McCall had a number of experiences that paved the way to her success.

At the Cleveland Foundation’s Civic Innovation Lab, she counseled more than 300 social entrepreneurs on how to strengthen and grow their companies.

She was a liaison to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on a $20 million college completion project and served as an adviser to several social enterprises. McCall founded Community Strategies Consulting LLC in 2010 to focus on developing college access programs for schools and nonprofits.

Community Strategies Consulting was selected as a finalist in the inaugural cohort for Bad Girl Ventures, an educational and micro-finance organization dedicated to supporting women entrepreneurs in business. Within its first year, the company was selected to organize Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s Higher Education Compact Symposium highlighting college access best practices. 



Subtle adjustments to the claim adjudication process have led to managed care organizations (MCOs) being asked to start collecting expanded data on new injuries.

“An employer’s MCO plays a key role in initiating claims,” says Lance Watkins, AVP, Client Services, CompManagement Health Systems. All injury reports are routed through MCOs to ensure that the required data is in place before a claim is reviewed by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) for allowance.

Smart Business spoke with Watkins to better understand how MCOs will operate under the new process.

What is changing in the data collection process for MCOs?

Previously, standard incident reports included only the basics: the employee’s name, address, birth date, employer information and injury description. Additional details, such as the injured employee’s marital status and normal work hours, would eventually be pursued, perhaps by BWC after the allowance was determined.

MCOs are now being asked to gather more data before the claim is submitted to BWC. While this may often require a phone call to the employer, having more claim details in BWC’s hands before they make an allowance decision is a good thing.

What new information is required?

Among the new information MCOs are asked to collect is the employer’s certification or rejection of the claim. This question may be posed before a thorough investigation has been conducted. It may be appropriate to withhold this decision until better information is available. The claim can still be submitted to BWC for adjudication. However, there may be cases where the incident and injury are not in dispute, and an early certification may accelerate treatment for the injured employee.

How are additional allowances being treated?

Another area where BWC is asking MCOs to play a larger role is in the consideration of additional medical conditions on a claim.

Usually, when a treating physician seeks to expand the allowances and treat new conditions, it is an indication that the claim may be growing in complexity and cost. When the request for new conditions is submitted through the MCO with a treatment request, the MCO is to provide a recommendation on the existence of the condition. It is an awkward position to be in because the question of causality — whether or not the accident caused the condition — is what BWC will ultimately use to determine if the condition should be allowed on the claim.

One of the roles of the MCO is to reconcile the treatments to the medical conditions and move the claim toward resolution. MCOs study medical documentation daily and typically have faster access to sound diagnostics reflecting the condition of the injured employee.

What do these changes seek to accomplish?

Ultimately, the goal is to help injured employees return to the workplace as quickly and safely as possible. The most powerful cost driver in workers’ compensation claims is lost time, and the speed and clarity of information is a vital part of the return-to-work process.

BWC leans heavily on MCOs to resolve claims from the medical side and evaluates each MCO on their effectiveness in helping injured employees get back to work. BWC provides quarterly evaluation data on MCOs, called Measurement of Disability Scores (MoD), which reflect the MCO’s return-to-work performance compared to established benchmarks. With the MCOs and their client employers having a vested interest in the return-to-work scores, it is appropriate that MCOs be empowered to help accelerate the process and establish the informational framework for resolving claims.

Lance Watkins, AVP Client Services, CompManagement Health Systems, can be reached at (614) 376-5524 or

Insights Workers’ Compensation is brought to you by CompManagement Health Systems

Being promoted to a management position does not make you a leader or guarantee success in your position. Managers and CEOs frequently fail and are replaced. To be successful, one must learn how to harness the power of teamwork — to create a people force that will not be denied.

Imagine the following story: A young Confederate officer was squarely facing Union positions about 1,000 yards across a field. Both sides were well-entrenched. The young officer was told to take his unit out of its fortified position and make a charge at dawn.

At dawn, he leaped out of his position and yelled, “Charge, follow me!” He ran forward 100 yards then turned and looked back. None of his unit had moved. At that moment, this young officer learned the difference between leadership and management responsibility.

Teamwork is the most important achievement a leader needs to develop. I first learned the power of teamwork in the Marine Corps — that no one is more important than anyone else on the team. I have applied this in my business career.

It takes time to learn how to build and motivate a team. Each person has different ambitions, personal problems, illnesses and abilities. If you can deal effectively with all the problems and challenges, your team will come to admire and respect you and want to achieve the same objectives.

Here are some principles on leadership and teamwork that I learned from the Marine Corps: 

  • Set an example. The Marine Corps teaches you never to ask your people to do more than you are willing to do yourself. In business, if you are unwilling to take a red-eye flight to California or to confront the tough problems, how can you expect your people to do so?
  • Develop loyalty downward. Care about your people first. Some people have trouble with that one, but what it really means is, “Do I care more about Mal Mixon, or do I care more about my team?” I always feel that I want my people to be well-paid and to reach self-realization. If they do, I am automatically wealthy and successful.
  • Make integrity a priority. Never make a promise that you do not intend to honor or keep. My people can trust me. They know that I tell them the truth. I never lie to them.
  • Keep your tenacity and resolution strong. Cultivate an unfaltering determination to achieve your plans and goals. Some things are never going to happen exactly the way you think they will. If you think you can or think you cannot, you are probably right.
  • Become a professional expert. A snow job never works. Become a great marketer, a great engineer, a great operating person or whatever. A leader recognizes his or her weaknesses and does not always act like the smartest person in the room.
  • Emphasize courage. Face difficult problems and circumstances squarely and lead where others may be apprehensive or unsure. Have the mentality of, “I like to deal with problems. I like to fix things, because I know when I fix it, the company is going to be a lot better.”

Mal Mixon
Invacare Corporation
A complete story of Mal’s rise from rags to riches is told in his book “An American Journey,” published by Smart Business Books. It can be found at and on

When the winds of change come, you can’t hide your head in the sand. The business landscape is scattered with former companies that didn’t keep up with the times, favoring to keep running their operations as they always have — because it was working and there was no need to change.

Technology and e-commerce trends recently have been changing patterns and channels of distribution, which is affecting the size, make-up and location of distribution and manufacturing real estate.

These same advances in technology, combined with the generational shifts in the workforce are also having an impact on office and commercial real estate.

Smart Business spoke with Bob Brehmer, CCIM, SIOR, principal at NAI Daus, about how important it is to consider what your office of the future will need for the employees of the future.

What is the first approach a company should take to prepare for its facility of the future?

Our firm, for instance, is evaluating its future real estate needs. We are balancing what we know are our needs for our current workforce while trying to project our needs for the future, considering our anticipated younger, technology-savvy workforce.

One of the steps to take is to examine where people fit in the age spectrum. I happen to fit in the middle of the baby boomer generation. Take, for example, someone born between 1946 and 1964 who maintains a certain perspective on success and the manifestation of it as well as perhaps a reluctant embrace of technology. When it comes to the utilization of commercial real estate, this group views a large private office as a designation of status and achievement.

When combined with support functions, the old paradigm drove space utilization rates from 250 to 350 square feet per person. The space could be positioned in the central business district or suburbs, but was clearly dependent on car access.

That’s the former viewpoint, which fit the Boomers. What about for the up-and-coming workforce?

Contrast the boomer viewpoint with the emerging future workforce, the Millennials, or Generation Y, born after 1980. They have a completely different perspective. These employees prefer to work collaboratively and in teams both inside and out of the office. They prefer a less-structured, more casual work environment complemented by robust technology and principles of green design. This has driven space utilization to the range of 150 square feet per person.

The location today is more likely to be in the central business district or trendy area in close proximity to educational facilities, sports venues, restaurants and hospitality establishments.

Public transportation is a must as well as bike accommodations and pet-friendly environments.

In our case, we have determined that we need about 20 percent less space. The investment in additional furniture, equipment and technology, however, will likely offset the savings on rent, at least initially.

What should tenants, as well as property owners, do?

Contact an experienced commercial real estate broker. The broker will introduce you to a team of space planners, furniture vendors and contractors to help you program your space needs and to put a price on the project. Consider starting this process nine months to a year before your lease expiration.

Most owners of well-capitalized buildings have already begun the process of enhancing the infrastructure of their buildings from a technology standpoint and environmental perspective. Your broker can identify buildings and landlords who are prepared to embrace the future. 

Bob Brehmer, CCIM, SIOR, is a principal at NAI Daus. Reach him at (216) 455-0920 or

Insights Real Estate is brought to you by NAI Daus

Managed services are increasing in popularity, as more companies outsource their computer network management.

“A structured managed services program provides the benefit of reducing your IT costs and risks of hardware failure while standardizing IT management through streamlined efficiency, often all at lower costs than the company could manage by doing it in-house,” says Eric Risheill, subject matter expert for the Managed Services Division at Blue Technologies Smart Solutions.

Managed services programs are imperative for those who don’t have in-house IT talent or the capacity to manage their networks. Risheill adds many small and midsize businesses have not replaced downsized IT staff, so managed service providers (MSP) can fill that gap easily and cost effectively.

Smart Business spoke with Risheill about how to utilize a MSP in your company.

How can business owners decide which service(s) to outsource?

Some companies instinctively know what they need to keep, but many don’t; they simply may have a hunch things could be running better.

The MSP will ask pointed, direct questions designed to ascertain what services are of value. Expert MSPs take the core services and modularize them to put them into packages in an effort to match a client’s needs. Then, customize it further to get the perfect fit.

Some only seek monitoring, with the MSP only calling if there’s a problem. However, most employers who are going down this path will say, ‘It would be nice to know if there’s a problem, but we don’t have the skills to deal with it.’ Therefore, the MSP should not only identify the problem but also fix it, even though that company may have the capacity to do so. This should include a backup mechanism.

How should companies deal with pushback from their internal IT staff?

An IT person’s first thought might be, ‘Hey, that’s my job, and if someone comes in to help me I’m not doing my job right.’ There is a degree of that, but MSPs are not out to create a reduction in head count. They come to help and are hopefully viewed as a resource to count on.

From an IT perspective, networking computer management is not that exciting. It’s one of those necessary evils, and very frequently the smaller, internal team doesn’t have the capacity to deal with computer management — doing the patching, the anti-virus and updates. In fact, for a lot of smaller companies, there may not be a dedicated IT resource at all. Sometimes the president, CFO or controller manages all the technology in addition to his or her full-time job.

What are some best practices when moving into managed services?

Roll up your sleeves and ask direct questions to those providing IT support, related to the costs to maintain workstations, software revisions, server status or network status.

Generally, business owners will know if there are frequent outages or problems with the network or viruses, but they really need to get answers from their IT staff and get it with proof. For example, reports that show the system is fully patched or one that shows the anti-virus is up to date.

Secondly, determine the cost of maintaining your equipment. Don’t forget to factor in labor costs, including salary and benefits, technology costs, contract costs, etc. Then, compare these costs against what a MSP will charge you.

Finally, execute a document with your MSP called a service level agreement. This agreement spells out, in full detail, exactly how things are going to go. It’s the responsibility of both parties to negotiate and fully understand the terms before they get started. Then you know the full extent of the services and how they will be delivered, because the last thing you want is a surprise when you need somebody.

Eric Risheill is a subject matter expert for the Managed Services Division at Blue Technologies Smart Solutions. Reach him at (216) 271-4800 or

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies Smart Solutions

Fear. We all know what it feels like: The rising sensation that you might not be strong enough for what you’re about to face. Unlike in nature, where animals can quickly size up their likelihood of survival, our ability to recognize a threat and weigh our chances isn’t always so refined. In the business world, leaders often flee when what they really need to do is move forward.

Ego is also at play. Leaders often choose to stick with the plan, even when it isn’t working, rather than make changes and risk the consequences.

This isn’t a new phenomenon and yet the cost of fear is constantly rising. We live in a world where the pace of change is ever accelerating and the future is difficult to predict. As leaders, we’re often forced to make decisions without all the information we want or need — and yet timely action is a must.

What’s required is agility and confidence — the ability to look change in the face, decide how to act and move boldly in that direction. Leaders who wallow in fear get stuck in place. They suffer from “analysis paralysis” — waiting so long to make decisions that it’s too late to act. In order to be effective, leaders must push past the paralysis and be willing to take risks and face change head-on.

Here are a few ways to begin the process of breaking through the fear of change:

Admit you don’t know everything

The CEO of Manco, Jack Kahl, used to have a famous Socrates quote on his door: “I know one thing, that I know nothing.” Jack set the tone for the organization by continually driving home the message that everyone, beginning with him, was to be constantly learning, experimenting and improving. 


Start mild before wild

Risk-averse businesses don’t have to go from zero to 60 overnight. They can begin by identifying mild strategies for increasing their risk exposure and move on as they become more comfortable.

The key is this: Whatever change you make, it has to be observably different. You must define in advance the impact you’re seeking to achieve so that you can measure whether you reached it. If you’re the only one who can see or feel the change, it isn’t significant enough. In order to accelerate results, your action must be observable to other people.


Question your motives

Even when teams or companies are in trouble, processes that are no longer doing any good are held on to. This happens because leaders want to prove that they’re right, rather than experiment with something new. If you find yourself continuing to push stale processes, ask yourself why.


Try on different lenses

No two people see the world in exactly the same way. As comfortable as we get seeing things our own way, the fact is we need to seek out the perspectives of others. Great innovations and change initiatives have begun precisely that way — when the circle of ideas was expanded to include people who might not otherwise have been consulted.


The ability to respond effectively in the face of change is a learned habit. And like any habit, it requires consistent practice over time to take root. Take the first step by experimenting with these strategies. Over time, your agility and confidence in the face of fear will undoubtedly grow.


Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger and columnist for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc.®, a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the worlds most influential companies. For more information, visit or contact Smith at


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We all know what traditional chief operating officers do and what characteristics typically make them tick. There is another type of COO that every company needs — whether they admit it or not — who shares the same initials as the former, but who has diametric responsibilities.

This person is a chief opportunity officer, although the title sometimes varies because the word opportunity conveys the wrong message to the less pragmatic.

The characteristics of this rare bird were probably honed when he or she was a small child. Most parents didn’t talk much about this offspring’s special traits outside the home.


High-energy personalities

We have all seen these kids in action. They have too much energy, are in perpetual motion and feel compelled to touch everything in sight.

They also ask questions and make statements that can shock or antagonize even the most understanding adult.

When they go off to school, they’re the ones who neglect to raise their hands when answering questions, but instead blurt out their responses. And most of the time they’re right, which tends to further aggravate teachers.

At their first job, they continue to be in constant motion, questioning everyone, everything and sometimes ignoring the chain of command. At the same time, however, they seem to discover previously unthought-of alternatives to thorny issues.

If they’re lucky, a more senior manager spots the hidden talents of this potential COO and begins instilling a little, much needed, discipline and tutoring on the realities of being politically correct to get things done.

In short order, this heretofore rogue player begins to climb the organizational ladder, scoring a series of meaningful and unique accomplishments. This garners heightened recognition and a reputation as someone who can think outside the box and isn’t afraid to take well-calculated risks.


Making waves comes easy

Many of these iconoclasts’ ideas seem at first blush to be prosaic — the idea so obvious and simple it leaves everyone in the organization scratching their heads asking, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Other times, what initially seems to be an off-the-wall concept suddenly takes shape and emerges as a breakthrough.

We all know the names of innovators who have excelled and possessed the characteristics  described. Some are famous business rock stars, such as the legendary Steve Jobs of Apple or Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Others are unknown hidden gems within the ranks of America’s most admired, successful companies.

Many times companies don’t parade them in public, due to the commotion they invariably cause — the same reasons their parents exposed them sparingly to outsiders.

This type of innovator devotes his or her energy to looking for low-hanging fruit, or that special something that can transform a business from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

Their techniques are non-conventional and they frequently ruffle feathers. Usually for them to succeed, they must work in an organization that recognizes the fact that not everyone has to be cut from the same cloth.

Every once in a while, these one-time outcasts emerge as the leader of the enterprise with the letter “E” replacing the middle “O” in their earlier title. After that occurs, the newly minted CEO will deny to the death that he was ever the kid whose parents were reluctant to take anywhere.


Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Reach him with comments at