There are many ways for fraud to be committed against your organization, but corporate checks are one of the more popular attack methods.
The problem is not a small one. Fraud against bank deposit accounts cost the industry $1.74 billion in losses in 2012, according to the American Bankers Association Deposit Account Fraud Survey. Of that amount, debit card fraud accounted for approximately 54 percent of losses, followed by check fraud at 37 percent.
To combat the problem, banks have added layers of fraud protection through services such as positive pay. By matching a list of checks issued by a business against the checks presented for payment, positive pay can spot discrepancies before fraud occurs.
“The positive pay service is essentially a fraud protection service,” says Korlin Scott, senior vice president and director of Commercial Product Management at FirstMerit Bank. “It’s a way for a business to monitor check disbursements and control items that might potentially be fraudulent.”
Smart Business spoke with Scott about how positive pay works and recent enhancements that provide additional security.
Why is positive pay a necessary business feature of corporate disbursement?
Phoenix-Hecht conducts an annual survey of corporate treasury managers at middle market and large corporations. The 2012 survey found 82.5 percent of midsize and 76 percent of large corporate respondents experienced attempted check fraud.
With the increasing sophistication of forgers and technology, corporations are turning to banks to detect and reduce fraud exposure. Large corporations are more likely to use positive pay, according to Phoenix-Hecht, with smaller corporations citing cost as the biggest reason for non-use. However, the relatively small fees pale in comparison to the potential costs incurred when a fraudulent incident occurs.
How exactly does positive pay combat corporate check fraud?
The service requires customers to provide the bank with a list of issued checks, which they can key in manually, upload as a spreadsheet or from an accounting system, or send automatically via direct connection. Then, as payees present checks, the bank matches details on each against the records.
There are extra levels of service in which checks are viewed systematically to match against things like the check microdata and the courtesy amount versus the legal amount. Other fields flag things like stale dated checks. By matching all components of information that are on a check against the issue record provided by the customer, the bank can provide the exception to the customer whenever there’s a discrepancy.
What are some recent improvements to positive pay services?
Standard positive pay services typically scan the check amount and serial number, but one enhancement adds another checkpoint: the payee name. If that name doesn’t match, exceptions are returned to customers daily for review and payment decision.
As the banking industry has moved to settle check payments by clearing check images, through processes like remote deposit capture, positive pay with payee name verification helps offset additional exposure to fraud due to loss of physical check stock security features.
In addition, checks are typically reviewed during a nightly posting process. Now, bank tellers scan checks as they’re passed across the counter, before the posting process begins. It gives tellers control at the point of presentation.
One of the biggest ways check fraud is committed is by fraudsters intercepting real checks and either washing the payee name off and adding their own name, or recreating the corporate check in their own name. Then, they’ll present those to the branch.
With its added layers of security, positive pay can proactively spot discrepancies before funds are paid out to help companies catch check fraud as well as prevent minor errors that throw accounts out of balance. The key, though, is being proactive.
People get excited about this when something actually happens to their account, but by then it’s too late. Positive pay is beneficial because it gives the ability to prevent potential losses by being proactive, instead of reactive.
Whether it’s actual fraud or error-related processing, you can mitigate potential losses that may be fairly notable. ●
Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by FirstMerit Bank
Benjamin Franklin once stated, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” If he were alive today, he might include on his list of certainties an annual increase in health care costs for employers and employees.
Smart Business spoke with Jonathan L. Stark, a partner at Brouse McDowell, regarding the increased attention employers are giving to instituting wellness programs to combat spiraling health care costs and the potential issues that may arise when employers structure such programs.
Can employees be required to participate in a wellness program?
Yes, employers can institute mandatory wellness plans, but such plans cannot discriminate against plan participants or beneficiaries based upon eligibility, benefits, or premiums because of a ‘health factor,’ or violate other laws.
Health factors include a participant’s physical and mental illness, claims experience, medical history and genetic information. Discounted insurance premiums or rebates of deductibles or co-payments if the participant abides by health promotion or disease prevention programs are allowed.
What significant changes have the final wellness regulations generated?
The final rules, effective Jan. 1, 2014, implement a change in the Affordable Care Act that increases the maximum award allowed under a wellness program from 20 percent of the total cost of health care coverage (employee and employer cost) to 30 percent. The maximum reward can be 50 percent for wellness programs that prevent or reduce tobacco use. Also, the definition of a ‘participatory’ program has changed slightly. Previously, a program, such as a walking program, was participatory, but now it falls within the category of an ‘activity-only’ program which must offer the five wellness program requirements. Now, participatory programs are more passive, such as attending health education seminars or receiving reimbursement for purchasing a gym membership.
Can a wellness program dictate that employees not use tobacco?
A wellness program can condition rewards on a participant’s non-use of tobacco. However, employers should be aware that some states have laws that protect employees engaging in lawful conduct during off-duty hours, including protections for tobacco use.
If a program offers rewards to participants for achieving a health outcome, what problems could arise?
Employers should be careful in requiring participants to achieve any specific health outcome (e.g., specific cholesterol level or body mass index) to avoid issues in which health factors may lead to discrimination based on health status, genetic information, medical conditions and disabilities. If a specific target is used to measure compliance in a wellness program, or if a certain activity is required, there should be a reasonable alternative standard for a participant who may find the standard difficult to meet due to a medical condition or if the participant’s doctor advises the participant that satisfying the standard is too risky. An option to waive the standard must also be offered.
All outcome-based and activity-only wellness programs must meet the following five requirements:
- Eligible individuals must have the opportunity once a year to earn health-contingent awards.
- Available awards must not exceed 30 percent of total health plan coverage costs, however, if there are tobacco cessation rewards, those rewards may increase the reward limit to 50 percent.
- Programs must be ‘reasonably designed’ to promote health or prevent disease.
- Plan information must describe how the reward is earned and offer reasonable alternative means to obtain the reward.
- Participants must have the opportunity to earn the reward. Activity-only programs must offer a waiver of the requirement or a reasonable alternative to the initial standard if an individual’s medical condition makes it unreasonably difficult or medically inadvisable to achieve the initial standard. And outcome-based programs must offer a waiver or reasonable alternative to every participant. ●
Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Brouse McDowell
The 2013 Class of Power Players in Cleveland
We would like to recognize The 2013 Class of Power Players in Cleveland. This yearlong luncheon series featured the most influential business leaders in the region sharing their perspective on why Cleveland is such a great place to live, work and visit.
senior vice president
Merchandise Mart Properties Inc.
Bennett joined Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. in 2012 after a 40 year career that included 30 years with McKinsey & Co., three years as senior executive vice president with KeyCorp, and a decade serving as a senior management consultant for major corporations and as a director and CEO for several early stage Internet businesses.
He serves as senior vice president at Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., a leading owner and operator of integrated showroom, office building and trade show facilities that was the founding partner for Cleveland’s Global Center for Health Innovation.
Bennett is also director and client developer at Within3, an Internet firm he helped launch in 2005, and managing director of the Bennett Group LLC, a senior management consulting firm.
Cleveland City Council
Cimperman is currently serving his seventh term on Cleveland City Council, representing Ward 3. One of the most diverse wards in Cleveland, Ward 3 includes the neighborhoods of St. Clair-Superior, Tremont, Ohio City, Duck Island, Old Brooklyn, Brooklyn Centre, the Flats and downtown. Cimperman is chair of the health and human services committee and is a member of the legislation, public parks, property, recreation, and community and economic development committees on council. Since being elected in 1997, he has focused his efforts on community revitalization. He also spearheaded Cleveland’s nationally recognized urban agriculture scene.
president and CEO
Our Lady of the Wayside
Davis grew up in Cleveland and attended Cleveland Public Schools. Professionally, he has held multiple positions working with children and adults with developmental disabilities including Medicaid consultant, youth counselor, behavior specialist, habilitation manager and director, and group home administrator. Davis was first introduced to Our Lady of the Wayside in 1991 as a consultant to assist the agency in obtaining Medicaid certification and took on the role of president and CEO in 1993. In 1991, the agency consisted of three homes and 87 residents. Today, the agency operates 52 homes throughout Northeast Ohio and provides support and service to nearly 500 consumers.
Adam Fishman has more than 27 years of experience in the commercial real estate industry. Prior to joining Fairmount Properties LLC, he served as market leader for Trammell Crow Co.’s Cleveland and Columbus operations. He then served as president and managing partner of Cleveland Real Estate Partners, an international corporate real estate consulting and advisory firm.
In 1999, Fishman negotiated the sale of Cleveland Real Estate Partners to Deloitte & Touche, and joined Deloitte & Touche as a partner in the management solutions and services group, providing national real estate consultative services.
Fishman joined Fairmount as co-principal just prior to the firm’s first anniversary and oversees the firm’s financial, operational, construction, entitlement and planning activities.
entrepreneur and owner
Market Garden Brewery & Distillery/Nano Brew/Bar Cento/Speakeasy/bier markt
McNulty has created 160 jobs and a great place for beer lovers of all kinds to congregate in Ohio City. It began with McNulty’s Bier Markt in 2005, Ohio’s only Belgian beer bar serving over 100 Belgian and American craft beers along with more than 30 rotating drafts. Bar Cento opened in 2007 and offers a creative European-inspired menu focused on regional and sustainable ingredients from local farms and purveyors. Then it was the prohibition-era themed Speakeasy in 2009, Market Garden Brewery & Distillery in 2011 and Nano Brew Cleveland in 2012. Located next to the West Side Market, it all meshes to create Cleveland’s first American Beer Garden.
president and CEO
Achievement Centers for Children
Nobili became president and CEO of the Achievement Centers for Children in 1994. She is responsible for planning and overseeing the administration of the fiscal and programmatic components of the organization’s three facilities.
The Achievement Centers for Children serves more than 3,900 children with disabilities and their families every year. Over the past 15 years, the agency has experienced unprecedented growth, more than quadrupling in size.
This growth has led to the organization building a new, larger, state-of-the-art facility in Highland Hills. It also moved to a larger renovated facility in Westlake, and made improvements to Camp Cheerful, located in Strongsville.
Achievement Centers for Children helps children and their families through therapy, education, family support, recreation and the River Rock Adult Day Program.
University Circle Inc.
Ronayne was named president of University Circle Inc. in 2005. University Circle Inc. is a nonprofit community service corporation responsible for the development, service and advocacy of University Circle as a world-class center of innovation in healthcare, education, arts and culture, and a premier urban district.
As University Circle Inc.'s seventh president, Ronayne developed a dynamic and aggressive agenda to leverage the institutional assets of University Circle’s anchor, “Eds, Meds and Arts” organizations, and transformed it into a vibrant mixed-use district.
Ronayne and his staff partner with more than 40 member institutions to oversee the growth and direction of Ohio’s fastest growing employment district, with UCI providing community planning, development, education, marketing, police and other shared services.
Before joining University Circle Inc., Ronayne served the City of Cleveland as the planning director, chief development officer and chief of staff.
executive for small business development
City of Cleveland
Schmotzer has been employed in the city’s department of economic development since 1998. He works with government agencies and local banks to provide financial assistance for commercial, retail, industrial and technology businesses to help them remain in or relocate to Cleveland. In his current role, Schmotzer focuses specifically on the growth and expansion of small businesses within the city. Prior to working for Cleveland, he worked for the City of Avon Lake in the planning department where he helped secure and administer an $820,000 grant for the design of a $1.1 million bicycle/pedestrian trail system throughout the city.
I recently visited with an entrepreneur whose journey over the past nine years included excitement, challenge, transformation and growth. Brand Castle founder Jimmy Zeilinger and I first crossed paths in 2005 when he and his wife, Andrea, were honored by Smart Business as one of that year’s “Rising Stars.”
At the time, Brand Castle was a scrappy startup with a few cooking products — some under the Crafty Cooking Kits name; others licensed under the Crayola name. The company was born from the Zeilingers’ passions of cooking and doing crafts with their children.
Today, Brand Castle looks much different. It employs a few dozen people (more than 50 in the busy season); does business internationally; holds expanded licensing agreements with well-known brands like Disney and Hello Kitty; engages in private label creations for top retail and grocery chains; and sells more than 500 active SKUs. For the Zeilingers, it has been an amazing journey that Jimmy says is still in the early stages.
All of us have our journeys, whether they are in life or in business. Each journey has its own purpose and length of time. Some take days; others weeks, months or even years. And what better time than a new year to pause and reflect on our journeys — those completed, those still in progress and even those that are just beginning.
Ken Lanci is another entrepreneur whose journey I watched this past year. Lanci has been on a journey of faith since 2007, the year he nearly died.
His journey involved re-evaluating his purpose in life. He re-devoted himself to his family and friends. He invested more of his personal time and money toward giving back to the community. He even ran for public office. And Lanci took the time to chronicle his journey in a book, “Working For The Greater Good of All … Really!!”
Next month, one of my personal and professional journeys reaches a milepost as my fourth book, “The Unexpected: How to Build Market Share and Earn Loyal Customers for Life,” is published by Smart Business Books.
Looking at lessons
What makes this journey so special is that the Smart Business brand will grace the book’s spine. Taking the time to reflect on this journey reminded me of a few important lessons:
1. Going to market is not a journey’s end. Unlike my first experience writing a book, I now recognize that publication is not the end. Instead, going to market — whether it’s a book or your company’s new product or service — is just the culmination of the first or second leg of a much longer journey. Too many of us forget that once the product or service hits the market, the real work actually begins.
2. You must embark on a journey for the right reasons. Many people fail to establish a concrete goal when they begin a journey. If you don’t have a plan in place, you’ll likely end up running in circles with little to show for your efforts.
3. Few things beat compelling storytelling. People love stories. They are what connect us. One of the greatest lessons we learned while researching “The Unexpected” was that strong storytelling can help enhance — or damage — an organization’s brand.
4. Entrepreneurship is the bread-and-butter of innovation. Speaking with more than 100 entrepreneurs during my journey reinforced a long-held belief that entrepreneurs are among the most innovative and energetic people on the planet. They are constantly on a journey. Never, ever, doubt an entrepreneur’s ability to achieve his or her goals.
I said it before and I’ll say it again: We all have our journeys. What is yours?
Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations for Smart Business. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7026.
Stephen and Pam Coleman finally realized their new company was going to be taken seriously one day in 2009, six months after they had unfairly lost a bid for a critical contract.
The Colemans had submitted a proposal for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers job they felt perfectly suited for. Their company, Northstar Contracting, met important criteria as a veteran-owned business and could demonstrate its competency to do the work.
But instead, the job was granted to another firm.
“We were the second bidder on the contract,” Pam says. “We protested the award, because the first bidder was not a legitimate veteran-owned company. It took about six months, but we were eventually awarded the project.”
Why was that moment so important?
“We fought to get a project we knew we were entitled to, and we got it after the Corps investigated and found we were right,” Pam says. “It was a time when we had just finished a big project, and we really needed the work.”
Since then, the trajectory for the Cleveland-based Northstar has been steadily upward. Founded in 2006 — which the Colemans describe as a leap of faith at the beginning of a recession — the company has continued to grow.
“I never doubted that Northstar would be successful,” says Stephen. “I just questioned how fast we would realize success.”
Doubling the growth
“If you look at our numbers the first year, they doubled the second year, and the third year we almost doubled,” says Pam, who serves as Northstar’s director of office management and human resources. “So it’s been steady growth, and it’s a lot of repeat customers.”
The company, which employs an average of 25 to 30 team members, may seem like an unlikely pairing with the Colemans’ previous careers. Stephen, the company’s president, spent more than 20 years in the U.S. Navy — including four years as a Navy SEAL and several years at the Pentagon, working for the Department of Defense Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. Pam spent 20 years in the Air Force, the last 10 of those in government contracting.
After his 2003 retirement Stephen spent three years working in Washington, D.C., for private industries. But with three children, the Colemans decided Washington was not the best place to raise a family. So after Pam’s retirement in 2006, they moved to Cleveland, her hometown.
The Colemans had long discussed starting a business after their retirement, and their firsthand knowledge of government contracts convinced them that money was available for the right company.
The result was Northstar, a general contractor with a specialty concrete team. Split about 50-50 between the two sides of the business, Northstar claims a place as one of the few American companies doing pre-cast engineered concrete work for structures such as sewer shafts.
“We have people from Europe, Japan and Canada coming to Northstar for this work,” Stephen says.
Using family as a resource
While contracting may not have been in the Coleman’s background, it certainly was in the family tree. And that’s one place they turned.
“My father and brother were in housing construction,” Pam says. “My brother (Phil Hathcock, who now manages Northstar’s concrete team) had worked for one of the few companies in the specialty concrete field. He joined us and brought a couple of employees with him.”
“We surrounded ourselves with people who knew general construction,” Stephen says. “We did lots of research.”
As aging underground infrastructures such as tunnels and sewers need to be replaced, companies like Northstar have a leg up on the competition. But the Colemans say they want to grow both sides of the business. Their most prominent contracts testify to a balanced portfolio of work.
For example, the company is currently a subcontractor on the Euclid Creek Tunnel in Cleveland, a project set for completion in 2014. The tunnel is part of the $3 billion plan by the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District to meet federal Clean Water Act requirements during the next 25 years.
Northstar is the general contractor for a new $18 million flagship building for the NASA Glenn Research Center. The new 97,000-square-foot structure is NASA Glenn’s first new building in 26 years and the first step in consolidating its campus.
But for visibility purposes, the crown jewel in Northstar’s collection may be its work for the 350,000-square-foot National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is set to open in 2015 in Washington, D.C.
Devoted exclusively to the documentation of African-American life, art, history and culture, the museum will prominently feature a bronze and glass-panel façade known as the Corona. Northstar is constructing and installing the Corona, which will hang from the top of the museum with no intermediate support. The project requires Northstar to produce more than 3,000 panels, Stephen says.
“It’s a huge project, it’s part of history and we’re very proud to be a part of it,” Pam says.
Despite the company’s success, Northstar has faced its share of challenges.
“The biggest challenge we faced was the banks,” Pam says. “We understood that in the beginning, when you’re trying to get a line of credit and don’t have any experience, the banks don’t want to lend. But after awhile you do have a little bit of history.
“They helped us,” she says of Northstar’s initial banking partner, “but every step of the way we felt they were not really working for us.”
Finding a banking partner
Finally, Northstar enlisted the help of Huntington National Bank, which three years ago made a public commitment to lend $4 billion to small businesses and create innovative ways to help small business owners succeed.
“They had a borrowing need that their current bank wasn’t able to fill,” recalls Jeffrey Standen, Huntington’s senior vice president and business banking market manager. “When we spent some time with them and began to understand their business, we were able to provide a solution with the help of our SBA team. In fact, we acquired all their business and personal banking.”
Pam says that relationship has made a difference.
“They are helping us grow the business,” she says, “and that’s a good thing.”
Other vital Northstar partners include the SBA office in Cleveland and SCORE, which provides free and confidential small business advice for entrepreneurs.
“Because we have so many certifications — we’re a minority business, we’re a veteran business, we’re a smaller business — we always try to take advantage of all the resources out there,” she explains. “We go to a lot of matchmaking events hosted by the City of Cleveland or the Veterans Administration or the Sewer District.”
Those two things, the Colemans say — leveraging relationships and available resources — are the keys for any new business starting out.
“Surround yourself with experienced people and establish a relationship with mentors,” Stephen advises.
Pam agrees, adding that relationships are everything.
“Talk to people, tell them what you’re doing. And when you’re building a relationship, don’t always try to see what’s in it for you. Ask how you can help each other.”
How to reach: Northstar Contracting, (440) 250-8606 or www.ohionorthstar.com
Swinging for the fences – Andrew Sherman is growing MesoCoat in multiple industries with a revolutionary productWritten by Gregory Jones
When a company develops an innovative product that is superior to its competition and has applications in multiple industries, chances are it’s on its way to success. That is certainly the case for MesoCoat Inc. and Andrew Sherman, president and CEO.
MesoCoat is a venture-backed nanotechnology materials science company fast becoming a world leader in metal protection and repair through its revolutionary long-life coating and high-speed cladding technologies.
Through partnerships with the Departments of Defense and Energy, and leading oil and gas companies, MesoCoat, a more than 60-employee manufacturer, is growing at a pace that earned the company the No. 15 ranking out of 100 manufacturers in the Inc. 500/5000 list for 2013.
“MesoCoat was formed in 2008 to bring innovation to the market and make metals last longer and combat wear and erosion in advanced metals,” Sherman says. “With our products, we try to address the entire value chain, cradle to grave.
“For the fabricator, it means reduced fabrication costs and higher margins. For the OEM or the user, it means a longer life and less downtime. For society as a whole it means less environmental pollution, less carbon dioxide and less waste byproducts.”
Here’s how Sherman is keeping MesoCoat on pace with its growth potential.
Keeping pace with growth
With rapid growth comes a lot of leadership challenges and Sherman has been focused on matters such as capital and people.
“How do you take these high-tech industrial things and make them of interest to the financial community?” Sherman says. “Also, going from a 20-person company to a 60-person company, there are a lot of communication issues and organizational development issues. You have to build in more and more communications in order to keep everyone moving in the same direction.”
For Sherman and his team at MesoCoat, the big challenge is constantly shifting investor or financing focus versus organizational growth and infrastructure, as well as an internal focus versus the industry or customer focus.
“Keeping all three of those balls in the air is the challenge,” he says. “You have to balance those and not get over involved in any one of those. It’s spending enough resources to get it done, but not so much that it’s distracting from the other two. If any one of those gets out of balance, you stop.”
Find new opportunities
MesoCoat’s growth has been evolutionary in nature. One thing has led to another, and Sherman has been focused on where the company can go next.
“We started with a materials development platform, which was more exploratory, and we discovered this 80-fold improvement in wear resistance,” he says. “Then we looked at how we could actually enter the market, where we could enter the market and create value and generate return, and that’s where MesoCoat came about as part of that demand creation and positioning in the marketplace.”
As MesoCoat has grown its role into additional services and become closer to the customer, there have been more opportunities.
“Originally, we were focused on aerospace and defense,” Sherman says. “When we got into that and looked at some of the drivers of what’s limiting the adoption of chrome alternatives and advanced coating technologies, it came down to productivity.”
This issue led MesoCoat to see a need in oil and gas, and with that growing segment of business and the success of Particulate Composite Powders (PComP), the company has been able to expand its markets and product lines.
“All our opportunities are based on being close to the customer and understanding what makes a difference in your customer’s or user’s life,” Sherman says. “With MesoCoat, a lot of our growth has been finding where in the value chain you’re creating the greatest value and focusing there. We’re technology guys, and we’re swinging for the fences.”
How to reach: MesoCoat Inc., (216) 453-0866 or www.mesocoat.com
Twitter - https://twitter.com/AbakanInc
Many people ask me how the new generation of leadership can honor the family legacy and tradition while still putting its own “stamp” on the company culture. This can be particularly difficult today when we have so many generations working in the same place. However, history and tradition form a strong foundation for the company culture and provide stability and help to build loyalty.
Below are some techniques that I often share with clients that have a desire to preserve and honor the best of the past while evolving the company culture to support the generations of the future.
Interview the elders
First, if you are in the new generation of leadership, you might consider interviewing members of your founding generation. Consider asking them about the values that were most important to them as they grew their business.
If your founding leaders are no longer alive or able, you could consider interviewing the oldest employees, or thinking back to some of your earliest memories of your parents, grandparents and others who worked in the company.
The next step is to answer those same questions yourself. In particular, how would you like to be similar to or different from the leaders of the past? Compare and contrast the values that you hold most dear, and the attributes of the people that you like to be surrounded with and consider as leaders.
Take the time to write it down. Think about ways to distinctly describe the traditional culture that was developed by your forebears. Once you’ve decided which aspects of that culture you wish to preserve and what you would like to change, rewrite a description of your company culture and values.
Hold an encounter
Several years ago I was working with a large family business. During our first family governance meeting, I divided the room in half, with parents and grandparents on one side of the room, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren on the other side. I gave each side a large piece of paper and asked them to write down the most appreciated values and characteristics that the other team brought to the company.
I asked the older generation to report first, and it was magical to watch the faces of the younger generation as they heard their parents and grandparents describe the value of their energy, fresh ideas, connectivity and sense of wonder.
The most touching moment, however, came as the children rolled out an exhaustive list of attributes they valued in their parents and grandparents. It was a wonderful way to develop a foundation for their family governance.
Expand the presence of the culture
Another important step in both honoring tradition and developing one’s own company culture is to utilize the cultural description of the company in policies, procedures, plans and professional development materials. Some questions to ask:
- How does your strategic plan reflect and support your company culture?
- What behaviors do you recognize, reinforce and reward in your organization? Do they support your company culture, or do they work to undermine that culture?
- Are you able to translate the language in your company culture and values into specific behaviors that you would like to see demonstrated by employees?
- What are five things that you as a leader do daily to support and nurture your company culture and the values you hold dearly?
Our country’s small businesses have a unique capacity to provide this legacy, honoring the best of the past and valuing new opportunities for the future.
Lisë Stewart founded Galliard Group in 2004 to serve the unique needs of family-owned and closely-held businesses. For more information, visit www.galliardinc.com.
I first visited Ohio City in the early ’80s with my parents and six siblings to shop at the West Side Market, and I remember my immigrant mother and first-generation father sharing their love of the old-world vibrancy of the market. I also remember how dilapidated the surrounding neighborhood was — but how it had a soul and energy that the insipid suburbs lacked.
Fast forward to the early ’90s. I was studying urban planning at Cleveland State University’s Urban Studies College, and I had a number of opportunities to study aboard. There was a trip to my family’s farm in Ireland and later a summer in Poland, along with more than a dozen backpacking trips to Europe, Asia, South America, the Middle East and all across North America. I’d become fascinated with cities and the way the best of them can make the lives of their citizens robust and happy.
These travels inspired new ideas to bring back home and have also made me love Cleveland all the more. It seems that the people who complain about Cleveland are the ones who don’t have a passport.
The rebirth begins
I opened my first restaurant on a whim during my junior year at CSU. After an eight-year run, CSU refused to renew the lease and I was on the hunt for a new location. After considering cities across the country and overseas, I realized how lucky we were to live in Cleveland at that moment in time. The opportunity present in this “post-industrial frontier” was astounding, and there was no better example than Ohio City. Wanting to control our real estate, my business partners and I were able to purchase the real estate for our first Ohio City venture — McNulty’s Bier Markt, Bar Cento and Speakeasy — for $400,000.
That’s less than my Manhattan friends were paying for a closet-sized condo. The year was 2003, and people all over thought we were crazy to invest in blighted Ohio City. They thought we were completely insane when we bought the building across the street that was condemned and vacant to open Market Garden Brewery.
Then something happened: We were joined by many other like-minded entrepreneurs who opened fantastic owner-operated businesses like Crop Bistro, Soho Kitchen, Bonbon Pastry, Joy Machines Bike Shop, Johnnyville Slugger Custom Baseball Bats, Vision Yoga and many more.
The skeptics went quiet when they saw that the rising tide actually was lifting all ships. The urban pioneering Conway brothers of Great Lakes Brewing Co. saw record sales at their 25-year-old brewpub. The 101-year-old West Side Market hasn’t been this busy in decades. And now our biggest challenge in Ohio City is finding parking for the thousands of cars that visit each week.
But something else happened too. All of a sudden, everyone wanted in on Ohio City. The rent on my one bedroom apartment above Third Federal Savings & Loan went up to $1,075 per month and a years-long waiting list formed for housing in the neighborhood.
As of this writing, there was only one available storefront north of Lorain Avenue and nearly 500 residential units are under construction or shovel-ready within a 10-minute bike ride. I just bought a scruffy piece of land a three-minute walk away and will build seven fee-simple townhomes where my mortgage will be less than my current rent. Naysayers will cry “gentrification,” progressive thinkers will see that progress and revitalization is happening at a pace and scale rarely seen.
Recognizing the need to diversify Ohio City’s retail so it’s not simply a restaurant/bar/brewpub district, we are actively promoting and collaborating with other forms of retail. And we’re putting our money where our mouths are by purchasing the Culinary Arts Building on West 24th Street and working to convert it to a 43,000-square-foot fermentation facility with a retail store open six days a week selling our house-made beer, whiskey, cheese, charcuterie, kombucha, vinegar, pickles and so on. We’ll also offer tours, classes, cooking demonstrations and culinary training programs on site.
Get back on your feet
So what does the future hold for Ohio City?
Now that the commercial corridor is vibrant and largely full, the big push is on housing. As the oldest residential neighborhood in Cleveland, we’ve got an amazing stock of beautiful historic homes. While most have been painstakingly restored, there are still historic restoration opportunities. New construction — both for sale and for rent — is where we can bring in the thousands of housing units that are in demand. I’m in the process of buying buildable land within a 15-minute bike ride of the West Side Market to meet the huge demand for housing close to the energy of West 25th Street.
There is much concern voiced about the high demand for parking in Ohio City. While it’s a great problem to have, it also performs double duty as a motivation to build out our neighborhood densely and vertically, with a strong bent toward public transport, protected bike lanes and walkable areas. When I move into the new townhomes in Duck Island (just next to the Velvet Tango Room), my walk to work will go from crossing the street to a whopping three minutes. And what was once a blighted piece of derelict land at the corner of Abbey Road and Columbus Avenue will soon be home to seven townhomes.
Sometimes people cringe when they hear words like density, walkability and bike lanes. Funny how they love these things in cities like Paris that were designed before the automobile became the exclusive focus of city planners. It’s ironic when the same people that are skeptical of bicycle commuting in the winter would think nothing of skiing at sub-zero temperatures and enjoying a beer après-skiing ankle deep in snow. Maybe it’s time we start living the lifestyle we so admire when we holiday overseas. Or more likely, it’s getting back to Cleveland’s roots.
Ohio City was once a dense, vibrant, walkable neighborhood with department stores, hardware shops, dentists, doctors, taverns and breweries galore. I hope it will be once again. We certainly are well on our way ... and the best is yet to come! ●
Sam McNulty is an entrepreneur and owner of Market Garden Brewery & Distillery, Nano Brew, Bar Cento, Speakeasy and McNulty’s Bier Markt in Ohio City. For more information, visit www.marketgardenbrewery.com.
The recent real estate crisis has left cities, towns and neighborhoods with real potential as well as real problems. Alan Jaffa and Safeguard Properties see both the potential and problems as growing business opportunities.
Founded in 1990 by Robert Klein, Safeguard Properties has grown from a regional preservation company with a few employees and a handful of contractors performing services in the Midwest to the largest mortgage field services company in the country today.
“I’m not going to dismiss the fact that the housing crisis had an increase in our volume,” says Jaffa, who became Safeguard’s CEO in May 2010. “Some have said, ‘Wow, Safeguard. You got into this business at the right time.’ We’ve been in this business 24 years and we’ve seen growth every year. We’ve seen growth over the last handful of years due to new clients, an acquisition and an increase in volume because default rates have gone up.”
Providing services in all 50 states, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, Safeguard employs 1,700 people and is supported by a nationwide vendor network trained and qualified to perform a full range of inspections, property preservation services, maintenance work, and repair and rehab services.
The more than $1 billion company sits atop its industry, and Jaffa is continuing to find ways to keep the company in the No. 1 spot.
“The timing of the shift of me becoming CEO was an interesting time in our industry,” Jaffa says. “Safeguard has always had phenomenal growth, but during the mortgage crisis our growth certainly spiked. A year ago we did an acquisition that gave us substantial growth as a company that continues what this business was really built on, staying true to the core of what it is that we do.”
Now Jaffa is building off that momentum and looking toward the future.
Find new opportunities
While Safeguard was anything but lacking growth, Jaffa knew there were chances to grow the company in new ways. In 2012, Bank of America offered Safeguard that chance.
“Bank of America, through its Countrywide Financial Corp. acquisition in 2008, acquired a field service company that conducted similar processes to what we do, but strictly for Bank of America,” Jaffa says. “BOA has been divesting itself of many of those acquired affiliates, and we purchased their field service company, Bank of America Field Services, in September 2012.”
Bank of America needed to ensure that it was partnering with the right buyer, since the deal would be a long-term relationship.
“BOA viewed us, as others do, as the industry leader,” he says. “When it came to protecting and preserving their assets, they wanted a partner, and hence sold their field service company to the industry leader.”
From a volume perspective, gaining Bank of America as a client has almost doubled the size of Safeguard.
“The acquisition created a buzz and energy in this company that was different than what our typical growth has created before,” Jaffa says. “Now that we’ve done this acquisition, and it has doubled our business, we can’t lose focus of Safeguard Properties and what it is that we do here.”
The Bank of America acquisition was the first that Safeguard has done. The company has built its growth through customer service, relationships and organic growth.
“Our growth has been through the reputation that we have built for ourselves and gaining additional clients,” he says. “That is how we have continued to see growth. Of course, we have expanded our services. Twenty-four years ago, the services may have been a lot smaller in scope of what we do today for our clients, but we are still very focused on the property and preserving and taking care of that property.”
Like anything else, the needs of Safeguard’s clients and of this country when it comes to housing have grown. The company continues to support those needs while determining what it needs to do next.
“It comes down to surrounding yourself with the right people, and people who are smarter than you are,” Jaffa says. “This company would not have had the growth that it has had without having the right people in place.”
Jaffa says another key is staying true to your core values. Despite how much Safeguard has grown, Jaffa isn’t straying from those values.
“We’ve become a large company,” he says. “Walking in here every morning and leaving at night, I never let it get to my head that we’ve become so large. I know I am the same person walking in here every morning, and I’m the same type of person walking out as I was 19 years ago. Sometimes you see too many executives who let that get to their head, and you can’t let that happen.”
Despite Safeguard’s ability to grow each year and work its way to the top of its industry, the company has still faced challenges. With so many of its employees out in the field, technology has been one of its biggest.
“Technology for us has been phenomenal,” Jaffa says. “However, every six months technology becomes outdated, and keeping up is a challenge. As a company we have been extremely aggressive in our budgeting and spending to be in front of technology, because it is a huge driver for us in order to continue on the path we are on.”
Technology can be your biggest friend or your biggest challenge. It’s all on how you attack it.
“We can’t get our job done unless the people in the field get the work done,” he says. “The days of paper are long gone. We are in an environment today where we expect responses from people at properties in the field. The mobile technology is tremendous in our space. Real-time data from the properties is what we’re working on, and some of that is in place today.”
Safeguard’s mobile technology enables the company to get quicker responses from the field, quicker responses to its clients and quicker reactions from investors, which ultimately protects and preserves a property.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Jaffa says. “The old days of you telling me a condition and it bouncing around to different people could have been a 14-day process. We’re in an environment where neighbors, cities and our clients want real-time resolution, and the only way you’re able to do that is if we’re able to communicate from the field.”
Staying on top
While Safeguard has done the things to make it No. 1, its position in the industry means others are biting at its heels trying to dethrone the company.
“Every industry has competition,” Jaffa says. “You stay No. 1 by staying true to what you set yourself out for. We didn’t become No. 1 because of our looks. We became No. 1 because of our creative thought process, being in front of issues before they became issues and giving our clients the level of service that they required.
“Competition is healthy. It keeps everyone on their toes. We’re in an environment where everybody wants options and we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and our competitors are going to keep doing what they’re doing. As long as we stay true to what we started this company out as we’ll be fine.”
One of the differentiators is how Safeguard has partnered with and built relationships with local communities where the company works.
“Our competition continues to try to follow that model, but it’s more reactive from their standpoint rather than proactive from our standpoint,” he says. “Some of the largest cities in this country know us and know they can pick up the phone when there is an issue at a property and that we’ll take care of it immediately.
“People think it’s just foreclosures, but we’re really protecting neighborhoods against vacant blight, against unsecured, unsafe properties around this country. If we weren’t around, the country would be in a lot worse shape than it is with the horrible housing crisis that we’ve had.”
According to Safeguard, tens of thousands of dollars in home value, up to 30 percent of the value of the home, can be negatively impacted by a vacant property on the street. When those properties have problems, it can negatively impact the tax valuations and become a bigger burden on the municipalities.
“When these homes are protected, it upholds the value because it doesn’t negatively impact the surrounding properties and cities aren’t sending someone to cut the grass or deal with the code enforcement violation,” Jaffa says. “It lessens the financial burden on municipalities’ budgets.”
As the housing crisis continues to fix itself, Jaffa and his team at Safeguard are once again looking for the next growth opportunity.
“One of the things that we are very aggressively contemplating is doing additional acquisitions,” he says. “Between our people, systems and our network there are a significant amount of opportunities for us to take advantage of and diversify.” ●
- Take advantage of opportunities outside of organic growth.
- Tackle challenges head on and always be looking at what’s next.
- Build your business by staying true to the values it was founded on.
The Jaffa File
Name: Alan Jaffa
Company: Safeguard Properties
Born: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Education: He took college courses but did not earn a degree.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it? I ran a freight elevator at a Wall Street building that my uncle managed. As a 16-year-old kid, I had the fortune to interact with a lot of business people. What struck me was that some of the most powerful people were also the most humble. They took the time to talk and show respect to everyone, regardless of their role or status. That’s always stuck with me.
What is the best business advice you have received? Surround yourself with the best people and trust them to do their jobs. Nobody knows everything, and the more you can rely on smart and talented people, the more successful you’ll be.
What do you see as the most important thing Safeguard does for a property? What happens to one property happens to the neighborhood and community in which it exists. When we protect the value and condition of one home, we protect the value and quality of the neighborhood.
If you weren’t a CEO, what is something you have always wanted to do? What I enjoy is talking to budding entrepreneurs who are looking for guidance to start or grow their companies. We have a lot of talented people in this community with good business ideas. It’s gratifying to offer some perspective, and I find I learn a lot too.
Learn more about Safeguard Properties:
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/pages/Safeguard-Properties/142091379162518
Twitter - https://twitter.com/safeguardprop
YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/user/SafeguardProperties1/videos?view=0&flow=grid
LinkedIn - http://www.linkedin.com/company/56505?trk=tyah
How to reach: Safeguard Properties, (800) 852-8306 or www.safeguardproperties.com
Capital markets often treat smaller companies like Randy Newman’s song “Short People” suggests: “They got no reason to live.” Access to capital is often the difference between success and failure in business, and that access can be particularly challenging, even for smaller companies.
Bank loans are not always possible or favorable, and they can come with onerous requirements. Short of a bake sale, many leaders are left wondering how to find the funds needed to drive innovation, build market share and overtake competitors. Increasingly, leaders of these businesses turn to private equity.
For years, PE was misunderstood as a realm of multibillion-dollar deals. That’s true of the banner headlines, but most PE transactions involve smaller companies. PE can work for both owners who wish to cash out of the business they’ve built, and those who seek a partner with whom they can expand their business.
Why choose PE?
PE delivers results. A good PEfirm provides a lot more than money, creating opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable. A PE firm makes companies bigger and better while providing opportunities for wealth creation for everyone involved. A great PE partner will offer the following:
- Focus on growth.
- Move smartly through the due diligence and acquisition process in ways that minimize disruption and uncertainty while providing liquidity quickly.
- Pay a full and fair price.
- Be flexible.
How PE works
PE firms generally invest majority stakes in companies, but minority deals are not uncommon.
Some PE firms focus on turnarounds, but most invest in successful companies, then help them move to the next level.
What does PE deliver?
Financial support is the clearest benefit, but global, experienced firms deliver major resources and talent that smaller firms cannot otherwise access.
Boots on the ground and deep expertise are powerful tools for supercharging growth.
Aligning interests for the best outcomes
Great PE investments always involve properly motivating every stakeholder for the success of the deal. That’s why Riverside is delighted when the original owner retains a stake in the company, allowing the owner to receive what we call the “second bite of the apple” when our stake in the investment is ultimately sold.
Anatomy of a great deal
When the owner of Wildlife International approached us with an offer to sell in 2010, we were excited about the possibilities for this wonderful environmental testing company. Wildlife was an outstanding company, but the leaders were great scientists and by their own admission not great businessmen.
Riverside identified growth and efficiency opportunities, and then worked with management to fully realize Wildlife’s potential. In two years, we expanded and professionalized sales processes, improved management, and paid for and guided the creation of new lab space and expanded product lines.
The result was a doubling of the backlog, sales funnel and earnings during our hold. When we sold the bigger and better company to an industry buyer at a logically much higher price it was a huge win for our investors, but also a tremendous result for the company and its sellers.
When interests align, beautiful things happen.
Stewart Kohl is the co-CEO of The Riverside Co., a global private equity firm based in Cleveland. In addition, Kohl is active in many civic organizations. He is an Oberlin College trustee; co-chair of the board of trustees of the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland; a trustee of the Cleveland Clinic, as well as a member of its Wellness Institute Leadership Board and co-chair of the Cleveland Clinic Capital Campaign. For more information, visit www.riversidecompany.com.