The word sends chills down your spine.
Several months ago, hackers attacked the servers at E-trade, the online company that allows individuals to buy and sell stocks from their personal computers. Apparently, no information was compromised and there was no damage other than a temporary suspension of service.
But the PR problem could have been huge. In an electronic age of instant communication, reports of blocked and delayed trades seemed to instantly circumnavigate the globe.
E-trade -- and companies like Yahoo, Amazon.com and eBay, which were also attacked -- spent time and money to reassure clients while the public relations department geared up for a massive spin session. It had to get the word out that the system was working properly and answer questions raised by news media around the country.
But first, it had to know what was being said about its operation. And for that, E-trade turned to VMS, a company that monitors and retrieves information about business from television and radio.
"We were able round up media coverage from across the country and e-mail video to them, give them hard copy videocassettes from all across the country, literally within hours," says Rodger Roeser, general manager for the Ohio office of VMS. "They were able to take a look at this and perform a content analysis to understand how they were being portrayed in the media, so when they did put together a satellite feed, they already knew what was being said. They understood how it was being portrayed.
"They could spin it accordingly and they could help the public understand that everything's going to be OK. And that's very, very important."
To do that, E-trade needed to see reports from the major networks, from MSNBC, CNBC and CNN and even see how the huge news radio stations were presenting the story. In emergency situations, VMS can provide access to the top 75 magazines and newspapers around the country.
"That we were able to provide a company in San Francisco with a videocassette from New York two hours after it aired, I think is just phenomenal," Roeser says.
Whether it's a problem that must be explained or simply a vehicle for better public relations, knowing what is said about your company and how it's being perceived is critical. For E-trade, the importance went right to the bottom line.
"It affects whether people are going to advertise on their Web site; it affects whether people are going to use them or put their trust and faith in them," Roeser says. "We're there to give our clients a boost and get coverage and provide CYA to them. We're their 'cover-your-ass.'"
The walls of VMS' offices are lined with VCRs and banks of videocassettes. The tapes contain hours of recorded programming from local stations. Each of the more than 65 VMS offices is responsible for its own airwaves and at least one of the national channels.
"Among the VMS collective, we have virtually every television and radio station, every cable, every syndicated broadcast in America," Roeser explains. "I am in charge of all of Ohio, so any client, any corporations, any entities inside Ohio, I would take care of. We record all of this data. It's sort of a collective matrix. The office in Ohio is responsible for capturing all this Ohio coverage and certain syndicated, cable and network programs."
Among his clients, Roeser counts local governments, professional sports teams and many public relations firms.
"The vast majority of PR firms, and hopefully PR executives, have been so well trained that they need to be getting proof of performance," he says. "They need to know what kind of coverage they're getting (for their clients) and where they're getting coverage."
A couch potato's dream come true
Recording the programs isn't the problem. A bank of televisions and VCRs handles that. But someone has to watch all those programs and listen for references to local entities -- businesses, area governments, sports teams.
Roeser hires college students, housewives -- anybody with a little bit of time on their hands -- to turn their attention to the tube. Viewers are trained on how to watch and record references to a company. So if Cleveland's Drew Carey talks about your company, you'll know.
There are no subscription fees or contracts. VMS' account representatives contact a company when it makes an on-air appearance.
"The client can then decide whether he needs to get a product," Roeser says.
Those products include transcripts, monitoring reports, broadcast schedules, audio and videocassettes and laser boards.
For Roeser, the significance of the service is clear.
"It's so intrinsically important to be able to provide the feedback that you receive from the public and the media to make your product better," he says. "We provide that feedback, so they can align their clients, align their companies, to make things in line with their image or to usurp their image and make it better so they can grow the company.
"If you don't know what's going on out there, you're really in a lot of trouble." How to reach: VMS, (216) 579-4103
Daniel G. Jacobs (email@example.com) is senior editor of SBN.
Teamwork is a popular buzzword, but just because you say you are a team does not necessarily make it so.
Developing a quality team takes hard work, development of team skills, time and patience. It is not something you can decide to have one day, then achieve overnight.
What is a team? The entire organization is part of the same team working toward meeting the requirements of your customers. Whether management, front line or behind the scenes employees, everyone's work contributes to the end result. There are also specific work unit teams (departmental) with specific goals and assignments.
Why do we need teams? Teams working together can and should be responsible for identifying problems not previously recognized; finding the root causes of problems; suggesting who should work on problems; solving manpower assignments and scheduling improvements; and providing communication throughout the organization.
To be effective, teams in the workplace must develop standards and skills, then implement ongoing training and coaching to ensure they are put into practice.
Company policies, procedures and rules
If policies are ineffective, employees lack comprehension and it is difficult to explain to customers the why of the policies. Policies are only good if everyone understands them and can explain and defend them.
Planning is deciding in advance what to do, how to do it, who will do it and when it will be done.
If your employees don't know why your business does what it does, where the business is going and how you will measure success, how can they communicate your business value to your customers?
Integration and value of different personalities
Teams are successful when team members complement each other. We need to respect each other's differences. There is nothing wrong with team members having different personalities because differences can be a strength.
Each brings unique and different perspectives to the team. If teams don't respect each other, they do not respect your customers' differences, and it will show.
Develop strong communication skills
Strong communication skills are made up of myriad other skills: focused listening, the ability to collaborate on projects, a vision to reach team consensus and effective problem solving skills.
Consider developing a continual feedback process. It will allow team members to learn, from each other and from the customer, what is going right and wrong and what needs to be changed.
Stress consistency in communications. Customers hear consistent messages and feedback, so walk the talk. If team members have different perceptions of what they are supposed to do, how it is to get done, who is to do it and what the deadlines are, there is a communication problem.
Trust -- Have trust in others and their commitments. If your employees don't trust each other, your customer will know it and will not trust your business.
Empowerment -- Give responsibility and the power to influence outcomes. If your staff doesn't have the empowerment to influence outcomes, customers feel like they are getting the runaround.
Decision-making skills -- Encourage creative thinking to find innovative solutions. You must meet your customer's needs through effective problem-solving by creative thinking and by finding innovative solutions, then deciding on the best solution.
Constant awareness of change and the need for it -- Whenever possible, involve the people who will be affected by the change.
Ability to deal with conflict -- The same skills needed to resolve internal conflicts are needed to deal with conflict with your customer. Unresolved internal conflicts between departmental teams all too often create the customer conflict.
To be really successful, teamwork must exist at all levels of the organization, including the very top. The advantages of teamwork on the lower levels of an organization also produce benefits on the top levels. Working as a team should be viewed as a management philosophy that greatly benefits everyone in the organization and your customers.
Most businesses do not do enough to ensure their workplace teams practice good team skills. What happens internally happens externally. Practice of good team skills internally will transfer to the relationship with external customers.
If your teams are ineffective, they produce ineffective service for customers. Ineffective teamwork adversely affects your service culture. Pam Schuck (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of STRIV=E Training, which specializes in motivating customer service for businesses. She can be reached at (440) 235-5498.
We may never see the end of the industrial gray/off-gray walls and carpet, the windows that won't open or the constant parking battle that plagues the majority of the working masses.
However, recent trends reveal a genuine attempt to make the office a more pleasant place to visit or spend the better part of the day. Business owners have even been known to equip workspaces with couches, coffee bars and basketball hoops or buy $1,000 ergonomic chairs.
The concept of creating an alternative work environment was firmly entrenched in the mind of Marc Orzen, president of Progressive Computing Corp., a computer consulting and training firm, when he realized his company needed to move from its office space in Mentor. After investigating the cost to rent office space in a traditional corporate building, he decided to look into the alternatives.
Orzen ran the numbers on a few options, then invested in a 6.8 acre Mentor/Willoughby estate that includes a 160-year-old, 7,000-square-foot, six bedroom main house, a 3,000-square-foot carriage house, converted stables, a pool, a baseball diamond and lots of wildlife.
It may sound eccentric and expensive, but Orzen insists it's no more so than renting space in a high traffic industrial park.
"Costwise, we are paying less than three units," he says. "What you would pay for this (type of) square footage is outrageous."
But Orzen wanted the move to be more substantial than just acquiring more space; he wanted a long-term investment.
Although most of the main house has maintained a traditional domestic atmosphere, with a grandfather clock in the foyer, it needed retrofitting. Telephone and cable rewiring was needed to set up phones and a state-of-the-art computer training center, but it only took a week for employees to get in and start working.
Orzen and his staff admit there is a hefty amount of upkeep on the seven-acre ranch, but he argues the cost is comparable with maintenance fees in a corporate building and the decision was contingent on its cost-effectiveness.
Such an unique layout provides myriad opportunities for Progressive. The company holds frequent training sessions in either the main house (the old living room) or the carriage house, which has a full kitchen and a pool table. Customers are encouraged to bring bathing suits and swim during breaks or after the session.
They can have lunch in the full kitchen, at the picnic table by the pool or by one of the fireplaces. Orzen sees the campus extras as a plus for client retention.
"Our focus is to make the experience one that is not to be forgotten," he says.
Progressive's campus lends itself to a number of uses, including hosting large user-group meetings.
"The atmosphere allows clients to feel at home," Orzen says. "And, they love to come back. They look forward to coming, and that helps increase relationships."
But it's not only about the clients. Employees also benefit from the nontraditional environment. On nice days, they've been known to work by the pool, which is fully equipped with electrical and telephone lines.
"At our old office, you would go for lunch outside and be sitting in a parking lot," Orzen says.
As to whether a nontraditional office provides too many distractions to be a productive work environment, Orzen says it's not a problem.
"When you are here at your desk, you're working."
The Progressive campus is more than just a weekday office. The grounds are available to employees and their families after work and on weekends.
"My twin boys had their graduation party here," says Karen Lorenzo, director of operations.
Christmas parties, softball practice and afternoons at the pool all add to the insurance Orzen has to carry as a business owner, but he considers it a trade-off.
"I would rather have a few things and take a chance," he says.
As nontraditional as the Progressive campus is, it's also incredibly practical for a growing company. The seven acres allows it to make long-term plans, and with the extra space, there's no need to relocate any time soon. In fact, as Orzen walks Progressive's campus, he points out a building where he plans on housing a daycare facility and a workout center.
Recent studies show that a better work environment contributes to lower employee turnover and absentee rates. Orzen believes this applies to Progressive.
"Over a fourth of our employees have been here for more than seven years," he says.
And, while that may not be better than the industry standard, Orzen is sure his employees "have better tans, are better swimmers and better volleyball players (than employees at other companies)." How to reach: Progressive Computing, (440) 954-9589
Kim Palmer (email@example.com) is associate editor at SBN.
Nancy Brown believes that community giving begins at the grassroots level.
"I always struggle between two things: My belief that you give because you want to give and to a cause you support, and a belief that corporations shouldn't tell their people who to support and how," she says.
That's not to say that Brown eschews corporate giving. In fact, it's just the opposite. Her business, Ladies and Gentlemen Hair Salon and Spa, embraces corporate and community giving as one of its primary business tenets. It's just that Brown and her husband, Ed, who co-owns the salon, believe philanthropy should originate from the employees.
"It (our philosophy) really comes from our employees' hearts rather than from me mandating that they support causes," Brown explains. "People do things for the right reasons. It's so much more powerful when it comes from the heart rather than simply being the right thing to do for a corporation trying to create a good name for itself."
In the past two decades, Mentor-based Ladies and Gentlemen has built a reputation for supporting the community, putting its name behind such causes as Project Hope, the United Way Day of Caring, Project Act, Hannah's House and a host of environmental issues. And, it's done it with the support of its staff members.
Says Brown, "I'm very concerned about the environment and victims of homelessness. It's our responsibility to help people who are put in situations that they can't control."
Ladies and Gentlemen's 110 employees come together at salon meetings to determine which causes to support, says Brown.
"We go around and ask who has a cause they'd like to support," she says. "Then we, as a company, determine to what degree we can support it."
This method of grassroots employee giving has led to annual gifts averaging $12,000, as well as widespread employee volunteerism that's difficult to put a price tag on. Over the past several years, staff members have participated in painting houses around Lake County; volunteered to help rebuild homeless shelters; created, printed and sold cookbooks to raise money for Project Hope; worked to raise money to build a children's wing for the Lake County Mental Health facility; and held five years worth of fund-raisers for Lake Catholic High School in Mentor to raise enough money to build and equip a science lab.
Brown's commitment to the environment has resulted in Ladies and Gentlemen receiving seven environmental and humanitarian awards from the Aveda Corp., and an Environmental Business of the Year Award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Nancy and Ed have even included the company's four-pronged philosophy regarding community service in the employee manual, laying out the manner in which it is committed to serving "each other, our customers, our community and our world."
The statement says the company aims to do so the following way:
- By providing and encouraging educational development for our staff in all areas of community service.
- By adhering to the principles of environmentalism in our workplace, and following through with this commitment into community awareness and service.
- By serving those in need, starting in our own area and reaching as far as we can to eliminate homelessness and promote rehabilitation for those less fortunate, primarily to children and victims of homelessness.
- By encouraging staff to register to vote and become involved in government issues, first on a local level, and further, on state and national levels, through facilitation of issues and voter registration.
And, says Brown, community giving is a year-round endeavor that does more than provide money to a cause.
"We want to raise public awareness that there are people in need." How to reach: Ladies and Gentlemen Salon and Day Spa, (440) 255-5572
Dustin Klein (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of SBN.
Running a business is difficult. The pressures on time and money can be extreme, and there is always the looming possibility of failure.
Add to this the needs of your children and elderly parents and you have a situation that is putting a strain on your sanity.
"People have to determine where their values are," says Shirley Duncan Garrett, a professional speaker and author on the issue of finding balance in your life. "Look at your checkbook and your calendar to see where you are putting your values. If you value family, then you need to create family time."
Garrett recommends picking one night a week, preferably Sunday to minimize conflicts, that will become a time for a ritual get-together. You can invite other adult friends and the children can invite a few friends as well, so you get to know their friends and they get to know yours.
"It can be something as simple as preparing and enjoying a meal together," says Garrett. "Don't make it too complicated, but don't just sit down and watch television, either. Play cards or board games. Don't make a big production out of the meal. People try to run their house like it's a business.
"It's not that big a deal. Just sit at a table and face each other and open up a time for some dialogue."
The family night chosen should become sacred. That means turning off cell phones and pagers and planning other activities around it.
Another issue that is becoming increasingly common is dealing with elderly parents.
"Most people have this belief that their parents aren't going to get old," says Garrett. "They think their responsibilities will be limited to talking to them on the phone on occasion and seeing them on holidays, then one day they will have a heart attack and you'll miss them. But as they age, they will have more and more needs."
It is important for you to become an advocate for your parents to make sure they are getting the best care. Ideally, you should talk to them while they are still well to find out what their wishes are
"Talk honestly about what you are capable of doing to help," says Garrett. "It's easy to make promises not to put them in a nursing home, but the level of care they need may require that. It's also important to understand their finances and insurance coverage."
A clear set of plans laid out in advance of any health concerns will help take care of problems, especially because this is a time when sibling rivalry or pecking order can come into play.
"To broach the topic, say, 'I am concerned about making sure that things are handled in a way that you want them to be handled,'" says Garrett. "Ask your parents if they have made arrangements in case they become ill, including living wills.
"The hardest thing about this is it is one area of our lives that we can't put off. You can't put off being with children, because you'll turn around and they'll be grown and gone. You can't say, 'Once I get my company to this level, I'm taking my parents on a vacation.' By the time you get there, they may be gone," she says.
"And if you can't find the time, maybe you need to look at why the business is controlling your life and carve our more time for yourself." How to reach: Shirley Garrett, www.shirleygarrett.com
Todd Shryock (email@example.com) is SBN's special reports editor.
In October, computer maker Hewlett-Packard announced it would set aside $1 billion in products and services next year to help bring technology to the poorest of the poor.
Odds are, you didn't hear about this story. Most major media sources glossed over the news to discuss other, more grim, business issues.
It seems as though bad news is the bulk of what's reported these days. I can't turn on the television without being bombarded with news about some company's major failings or, in the case of many dot-coms, an organization's demise.
As a former daily business-news reporter, I won't argue that those stories have their place -- where else would that information come from? But, as adept as they are at the negative, there's a noticeable void of coverage detailing the good deeds business owners and their employees do. And that's a serious problem.
For those who missed it, HP's program is designed to bring Internet access to rural areas in developing countries, including China, Africa and South America. It has located partners in village communities and will connect people with basic online services to help bring these groups into the World Wide Web and expand their economic opportunities.
Not all companies have HP's resources, but every business owner, manager or employee can make a difference by getting involved with local community causes. A desire to underscore their contributions is one reason SBN, along with Medical Mutual of Ohio, developed the Pillar Award for Community Service.
This month, 11 Northeast Ohio companies are being honored for their commitment to giving back to the communities that support them. This is no small feat. The leaders and employees have leveraged manpower, funds, expertise and intellectual capital to help make their communities a better place to live.
Take, for example, Cuyahoga Falls-based Main Street Gourmet. In 1992, Co-CEO Steven Marks partnered with Akron General Hospital's Women's Health and Cancer Center to found "Muffins for Mammograms." Every October, during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, baked goods are sold to raise money for mammograms for hundreds of women who otherwise would not be able to afford them.
Or witness the case of The MinuteMen Group, which is part of the governing body of the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland. MinuteMen helps provide more than 500 turkeys to area hunger centers to feed residents not only during the holiday season, but throughout the year. Employees and management at the Cleveland-based staffing and payroll company also donate time, money and effort to aid inner city residents make the transition from welfare to work.
This year's winners exemplify the art of community giving, and I invite you to read each of their stories. Perhaps you'll find an idea or two that you may be able to integrate into your own business. Or, their stories of corporate responsibility just may be the spark of inspiration you need to get your own program started.
Either way, we hope to honor your company next year as a pillar of the community. Dustin Klein (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of SBN.
In 1993, accountant Gary Isakov was a senior manager at Ernst & Young. He serviced gold mine companies, pension funds for multibillion dollar clients and directed board meetings.
Later that year, he received a job offer from a much smaller company, where he would start at almost the junior level and work primarily on smaller accounts for less money. Isakov jumped at the chance. Why? The job was in the United States. He was working in South Africa.
"I felt it made more sense to make a future for myself in the United States rather than South Africa," says Isakov, in the flinty accent of his homeland. "Things are very unstable there."
Today, Isakov is a partner and director of health care services for SS&G Financial Services Co. Since he was hired, SS&G has hired three other accountants from South Africa and tapped into a talented and experienced labor pool which wants to take advantage of the opportunities available at an American firm while escaping the high crime rate and volatile government in their own country.
The firm's unusual recruiting efforts have not gone unnoticed. Isakov returned to South Africa this past summer to interview accountants for several other firms in the United States.
Thanks to a strong economy, dot-com companies and a sharp drop in the number of accounting graduates, SS&G had been scrambling in recent years to find quality prospects.
"Accounting firms are battling to find experienced accountants," Isakov says. "You can find people out of college, but we were specifically looking for people with a minimum of three or five years in public accounting. Sometimes it's difficult even to find people."
Like other companies, SS&G placed ads in local newspapers and trade journals and attended job fairs, but it wasn't attracting the experienced accountants it was looking for. Isakov, whose arrival in 1993 preceded the labor crunch, knew that accountants in his home country go through three years of mandatory training called articles after they receive their accounting degrees.
It was just the experience the firm wanted. And, although tax laws and some accounting principles vary between the countries, three years accounting experience is still much better than none at all.
"The training is phenomenal," Isakov says. "The education level is very high --- it's very focused -- much more so than in America. In South Africa, which follows the British system, from your first year at university, you're doing accounting, economics, business, finance, marketing; it's very business-oriented, very business-driven, and the education level is very good. So the people you get out of school there are good caliber people."
SS&G placed an ad in the Sunday Times, the country's largest newspaper, asking interested candidates to e-mail resumes to SS&G in Cleveland. When the ad was placed, SS&G was recruiting just for itself.
However, word of the trip spread through The Leading Edge Alliance, a consortium of independent accounting firms which SS&G created, and other member firms wanted a piece of the action.Forget the myths
While companies may be eager to recruit overseas after local markets have dried up, they need to be prepared to invest plenty of time and energy in the long, bureaucratic process of obtaining work visas for employees.
"America's not what it used to be," Isakov says. "My American friends still think that you can jump on a boat, pass the Statue of Liberty, land on Ellis Island, a doctor checks you out and that's it. America has become a very difficult country to get into legally. There are a lot of papers, a lot of documents.
"Once you've done it, it's not a problem, but you do have to get professional help to do it."
Not only does it take several months for the paperwork to clear, the U.S. Department of Immigration and Naturalization is only issuing 107,500 work visas from Oct. 1, 2000 to Sept. 30, 2001. Isakov expects the visas, called H-1B visas, to be gone by March.
The visas entitle the employee to work for three years at the same company. It can be renewed for another three years or the employee can earn citizenship. Family and children can come to America with the employee, but if a spouse wants to work, he or she has to obtain a separate visa.
Despite these restrictions and complications, SS&G partner Mark Goldfarb says the effort is worth it.
"Knowing that there's this wonderful work force in South Africa that we've been able to hire, we've decided to go back to South Africa and make it a worthwhile effort," says Goldfarb. "Gary and the other accountants from there we've hired have really worked out well."
Know the terrain
SS&G's ad in the Sunday Times garnered 100 responses from accountants not only in South Africa, but also from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Nigeria. The resumes were paper screened by the firm's human resources staff before Isakov traveled 8,367 miles for 20 in-person interviews.
"Interestingly enough, it wasn't just white, Anglo-Saxon South Africans," says Isakov. "There were African South Africans, there were Indian South Africans. Actually, one of the people I really liked was from Zimbabwe. It was a real broad spectrum of personalities and backgrounds applying for the jobs."
Aside from the $1,200 plane ticket and rental car, Isakov kept costs down for SS&G by staying with friends and family and borrowing office space from a friend. He spent two to three hours talking with each applicant, and usually visited the home and shared a meal with the top candidates. While interested in the move, many candidates were worried about the relocation.
"They had questions and concerns about education, living and work and cost of living in the United States," Isakov says. "They truly are coming in blind. Their only perception of America is what they read in magazines, books or see on television, which obviously is not a true depiction of life."
Candidates also expressed concern about assimilating into America and losing touch with home. Luckily, Isakov had walked that path only seven years ago and could put their worries to rest with the story of one of his early days living in Cleveland.
There was an international rugby match in which South Africa was battling Australia in a heated rivalry. Due to the sport's lack of popularity in the States, no major network or local cable station was carrying the game. So Isakov grabbed a phone book and started calling downtown sports bars until he found one showing the game.
"I dressed up in my rugby jersey and my scarf and I went down not really knowing what to expect," Isakov says. "I bumped into about 40 or 50 South Africans. It was a wonderful way of saying, 'Hi, I'm here,' and they took me under their arm and we became friendly that way."
An offer they can't refuse
Because he was recruiting for numerous firms, Isakov couldn't make job offers to applicants. He did, however, pass on names with strong recommendations. His latest trip yielded about eight recruits, four of whom Isakov expects will accept job offers.
Although SS&G is behind this kind of aggressive recruiting effort, firms need to consider the time factor involved and if the time wouldn't be better spent on domestic recruiting. But, if you're not getting the kind of experience you need for your particular industry, maybe it's time to broaden your human resources horizons.
"This took a significant amount of my time and my HR person," Isakov says. "We probably spent at least 120 hours on this. It didn't help my chargeable hour goals, but obviously this is an investment in the future." How to reach: SS&G Financial Services Co., (330) 668-9696
Morgan Lewis Jr. (email@example.com) is a reporter at SBN.
It was a chilly morning in late 1997 when Jergens Inc. President Jack Schron Jr. pulled up to what is now the site of his company's headquarters at the former Collinwood railroad yard, just off East 152nd Street.
The first thing that caught his eye was the dead dog -- probably one of the many stray animals on the property -- but that was the least of it. There was an enormous pile of bald tires, discarded sinks and refrigerators, and a crumbling powerhouse with teetering smokestacks.
"Hey, this is great, isn't it?" Schron quipped to his colleagues, who looked sick at the thought of this neglected parcel of land as their new home.
But Schron was destined to move the growing clamp and machine tool accessory manufacturing headquarters to the railyard, which closed in 1981. The site was only about two miles from the garage where his father and grandfather co-founded Jergens in 1942.
It was one of the first locations Schron considered after the company ruled out expanding its existing building in Warrensville Heights.
"The hardest sell of my leadership was convincing our management team that this was where our new home was going to be," Schron says. "They said, 'You have to be kidding us.'"
Schron persevered and construction began in May 1998. By September 1999, the doors for the 110,000-square-foot facility were open. Due to the environmental mess, the project required government coordination on every level, with the city and the state each chipping in $1 million to help revitalize the area.
Here's what Schron learned from the process.
Find an expert
When he first considered relocation, Schron looked at the entire Greater Cleveland area. To help focus the search, he hired a real estate agent to work on a fee basis rather than on commission.
"There won't be an incentive for them to sell you something," Schron says. "There is an incentive for them to try and educate you."
Jergens' relocation to the Collinwood railyard wouldn't have been possible without support and cooperation from city, county and state governments. The company used municipal bonds from Cleveland's Port Authority to help fund the project and the environmental clean-up.
Despite the bureaucracy, cities and counties are eager to help business owners clean up and build on their blighted industrial areas.
"This was one of the most interactive organizational challenges that some of these governments had seen in a long time," Schron says. "But that's how the process works, and I think it will work a little faster in the future because of it."
It's worth the time
Pollution surprises, EPA studies and inspections, and government partnerships all increase the timeline on a brownfield project. If a company plans to take on a project like Jergens' Collinwood relocation, there shouldn't be any kind of hurry.
"There are some that tease us that we deserve the patience award," Schron says. "I think, ultimately, if we're going to spend the next 25 to 30 years here, what's a couple months if you get it done right, and environmentally, it's the correct thing to do." How to reach: Jergens Inc., (216) 486-5540
Morgan Lewis Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a reporter at SBN.
UNB Corp.'s chairman and CEO Roger Mann is at a loss for words. When it comes to pinpointing what organizations his financial services holding company and its 350 employees help the most, there are almost too many to name.
"I really say this with pride, I don't think there's anything that's a driver in this community that we're not involved in," Mann says. "We, as a corporation, just feel it's a civic responsibility and our people welcome that."
For Mann and his company, community giving, whether through financial contributions or volunteer hours, is as important to a business as sales and customer service.
"If you don't have a caring community, your businesses are not going to succeed, your churches are not going to flourish, nothing really happens," he says. "Without that sense of community, I really don't think the community has a chance to prosper or go forward."
This year, UNB Corp.'s employees have pledged more than $45,000 to dozens of local and national charitable organizations. More than $166,000 has been donated from the company's charitable trust, ranging from contributions to Walsh University, Stark County Out of Poverty and the United Way to the Cultural Center for the Arts and Alliance Community Hospital, as well as many others.
But it's not just about financial donations. UNB Corp.'s employees volunteer hundreds of hours a month to local educational, youth and humanitarian organizations in the Canton area. UNB employee Jeff Ferry, for instance, spends more than 50 hours a month volunteering for Meals on Wheels of Stark & Wayne counties, United Way and Ohio Foundation of Independent Colleges Junior Achievement and coaching in the North Canton Little League.
Barb Heinricher, who heads UNB Corp.'s training department, volunteers more than 20 hours a month for Junior Achievement, Mayor's Literacy Commission of Canton, Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Stark State College of Technology.
"I teach kids how to keep a check register, make out deposit slips and checks," Heinricher says. "They get a sense that, 'Hey, I can do this -- I can understand this,' and they're so excited."
These are just two examples of a spirit of volunteerism that has always been a part of UNB Corp., which includes United National Bank & Trust Co., United Banc Financial Services Inc. and United Insurance Agency Inc.
"This company goes back to pre-Civil War days," Mann says. "Wherever I have been through the years, I always felt it was very much a responsibility, a pleasant one, to try and serve your community, so I was really blessed when I arrived here."
UNB Corp. has had two of its CEOs volunteer to serve as campaign chairperson for the United Way, which prompted United Way of Central Stark County president Steve Miller to nominate the company for the 2000 Pillar Award for Community Service.
"We thought it was unique that the company would show that kind of commitment over the years," Miller says. "They walk the talk and they are expansive in their generosity. We've been partners as long as I can remember." How to reach: UNB Corp., (330) 438-1119
Morgan Lewis (email@example.com) is a reporter for SBN.
We all consider ourselves budget-savvy. We pay the bills and put the rest into savings and investments.
But every time we try to get ahead on our debt, other expenses interfere. Sometimes, the extra money is needed for medical bills or to replace a broken appliance, but too often, it simply slips away to things we don't need, like that bigger television or the new gizmo that promises to change our lives.
Gary Habeeb witnessed this spending trend and started a profitable biweekly mortgage payment service. He offered homeowners the benefit of paying off their mortgage sooner -- which saves on interest -- because they make one extra monthly payment every year.
In essence, consumers get ahead on debt without feeling the pinch. Habeeb knew the service could be applied to car payments, but wasn't sure how.
One night, after saying his prayers and drifting off to sleep, he leapt up with one thought in his mind: Halfpayments.com. He ran downstairs and flipped on his computer. Searching the Web and domain name registrars, he found nothing similar.
"We had done very well in the mortgage industry, but I was praying to the Lord for something to open up," he says. "Jesus answered my prayer. He's blessed us unbelievably. There's no other way to see it than as a blessing."
Even before divine intervention helped him solidify his plans, Habeeb had put in place the proper components for applying the half payments idea to nearly any industry. Here's how he did it.
Stake your claim
Habeeb, CEO of Halfpayments Inc. in Strongsville, patented his biweekly car payment service and trademarked the name Halfpayments. When he founded the system last year, it was one of the few dot-com companies that had true first-mover status, and it's continued to hold onto that position.
"We have no competition," he says. "I think (the trademark) really deters a lot of people from doing it. If you were going to do something similar, what would you call it? You really couldn't call it other than what it really is."
Habeeb's system is user-friendly. Car buyers are charged a one-time set up fee of $199.95 when they sign up for the service. There's no electronic transfer fee, which is common with biweekly mortgage payments, and Habeeb doesn't charge the car dealership for implementing his system, even though it guarantees customers will save money and likely return to that dealer when they are ready for a new vehicle.
Consumers like the system because they can pay off a typical five-year car loan five months early and save anywhere from $500 to $2,000 on interest.
"Could you do our system by making an extra payment a year? Sure you could," Habeeb says. "But who does that? Nobody. It's a service, no doubt about it."
Thanks to strong regional publicity and a team of 65 marketing representatives, word spread quickly about Halfpayments.com. Dealerships from all over the country signed up for the system. Then, investors called to offer money, and rival companies called with acquisition offers.
But Habeeb wasn't interested in a fast buck. He saw the long-term potential of his system. However, he is in negotiations with a major company in the automotive industry to form a partnership using the Halfpayments system.
Due to legal restrictions, he would not reveal the name of the company. He did say that the key to the company's future success will be not only with dealership partnerships, but with the larger national and international companies as well. That is why, when the system was unveiled last August, he launched nationwide instead of test marketing locally.
"We're trying to get into the market as quickly as possible on a large scale like many Internet companies, but at the same time, we're also building bricks-and-mortar type relationships," says Elias Hussney, president of Halfpayments. "I think that culturing and cultivating of long-lasting relationships is what's missing in a lot of business practices these days."
How to reach: Halfpayments Inc., (866) PAY-HALF or www.halfpayments.com
Morgan Lewis Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a reporter at SBN Magazine.