Downs to Rep. James Traficant. The convicted felon says he plans to run for re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives as an independent. Traficant should resign, sparing his constituents the embarrassment of his actions, and leave a modicum of respect in Congress for all the good he actually did for his region.
Ups to Flight Options CEO Ken Ricci. First, Ricci pioneered the concept of fractional jet ownership for pre-owned jets. Then he engineered a merger with Raytheon Travel Air. Now Ricci has developed a unique pricing structure that reflects the real cost of operating airplanes. Ricci's Flight Options is a true Cleveland success story that's rarely reported on.
Ups to OfficeMax. After more than two years of corporate and strategic restructuring, CEO Michael Feuer says he expects the office supply retailer to show a profit with its first quarter results. Coupled with the sale of more than 2 million (of about 15 million) shares of stock by Orient Star Holdings, which had been accumulating stock for what many believed a potential hostile takeover, it appears the company has finally turned the corner.
As business leaders, it's imperative to recognize the impact your company can have upon the neighborhood, the environment, the residents and even your industry.
This commitment stretches beyond writing checks, organizing volunteer days and other corporate philanthropic missions. It includes personal involvement, either self-generated or through activities such as COSE's Serve-A-Day on May 11, when business leaders and their families are invited to pitch in and help improve Cleveland's neighborhoods.
As the annual reports of regional nonprofit organizations reflect, many of you sit as trustees on nonprofit boards, lending your business expertise and acumen to the efforts of those groups. But the number of young executives taking leadership roles is small compared with the efforts of the traditional, more established guard.
It's time that changed.
A few months ago, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and find a way to increase my involvement in the community -- beyond my monthly columns, SBN's coverage of corporate philanthropy and our annual Pillar Awards.
I met with Alice Korngold and Shawn Nemeth at Business Volunteers Unlimited, an organization that matches executives from its member companies with nonprofit boards. After learning more about BVU, I began the process of placement on a nonprofit board of trustees.
My goal is twofold: To use my background and expertise to make an impact upon an organization whose mission I believe in, and to share my experience with SBN readers, whom I hope will decide to step up their personal involvement.
Beginning in June, I will chronicle my experiences in the pages of SBN. My diary will appear every few months in the features section of this magazine to provide you with a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it's like to get involved with a nonprofit organization. More important, I hope to offer concrete examples of how you, as business executives, can do more to help the Cleveland area community.
Online 401(k) plans are not only improving the quality and timing of the traditional 401(k), they are creating a new platform -- the paperless 401(k) program known as e401(k). As a result, many of the problems that have plagued plan sponsors and participants have been eliminated.
Are we saying goodbye to paper-based 401(k) systems? Not yet, but the paperless solution offers increased efficiency and accuracy, coupled with decreased cost. Traditional plans have been a labor- and paper-intensive benefit, making plan administration a laborious, inefficient and error-prone process.
Administrators have routinely had to make manual corrections on transactions to ensure they meet required compliance plan rules. Census information and payroll deductions required manual input, increasing the chance of mistakes. And, the plan sponsor typically had to wait until the end of the quarter to view activity or get updated compliance information or investment data.
The new e401(k) platforms are automating these processes. Automation should not only increase efficiency and accuracy, it should also lower the cost of administration, recordkeeping and investing, enabling even small employers to attain a cost-efficient retirement plan.
Using the Web, participants can view account balances, conduct daily transactions, reallocate investments, view current data and get updated education information.
Sponsors can view the performance of the plan and transactions, check on individual participant accounts, broadcast messages to its employee base, monitor compliance thresholds and link 401(k) deductions to payroll systems.
All documents and tests are stored and updated online. Not only are the plan sponsors' documents available online, so are participants' summary plan descriptions. Since education and enrollments are online, the cost savings of not printing and shipping enrollment kits are huge.
Among other benefits participants receive from e401(k) plans are online enrollment; information alerts via e-mail or onlne; account information; investment rebalancing; loans/withdrawals; educational tools; online advice; and online summary plan descriptions.
Among benefits to e401(k) plan sponsors are plan activity reports; investment performance benchmarks; online compliance processing; broadcast message capabilities; access to individual participant's accounts; e-mail or Web notification from the plan provider; and online storage of documents.
But paperless 401(k) plans don't come without challenges. First, not all participants have Internet access. Second, most e401(k) providers expect plan sponsors to design and fill out their own documentation online.
The Oswald Financial 401(k) Online was developed specifically to address these issues. It has all the advantages of a paperless system; however, a 401(k) specialist reviews and discusses plan design with the plan sponsors, then enters it online for the employer.
Onsite educational and enrollment meetings assist participants with their choices, enhancing the benefits of the paperless 401(k) plan. Sponsors have the option of having quarterly statements sent to participants' homes until they are ready to go paperless.
Plan sponsor documentation and correspondence is stored online and can be retrieved immediately. Employee data, including summary plan descriptions, loan requests, educational programs and investment information is updated daily. Sponsors have more than 300 mutual funds to choose from, all of which are just a click away from retrieving online Morningstar information.
The advent of Internet-based 401(k) plans will have a substantial impact on the number of companies with fewer than 100 employees which provide retirement benefits. It's expected the percentage of these employers who have a plan will double from 20 percent to 40 percent by 2004. David M. Kulchar is senior vice president of Oswald Financial Inc.
In spite of all your meetings, strategic planning efforts and company groupthink, are you sure your company has a clear business strategy? If not, it is squandering its resources on the wrong efforts and missing opportunities to grow.
But if your strategy is focused, efforts are much more likely to be successful. Here are 10 ways to tell if your company's strategy is off track.
10. Your brochure makes no sense, not even to you. After showing it to a potential client, you find yourself chattering away to explain it.
9. Your Web site is confusing and few people click past your home page or e-mail you. Clients give you a blank look when asked how they like your new site.
8. Your compensation plan doesn't reward your executives for achieving your company's strategy. Instead spending their bonuses on a trip to Hawaii, they're booking a weekend in Sandusky.
7. When a reporter interviews you, he or she leaves unclear about what your company does. When you read the story, you're not sure the reporter was even interviewing you or writing about your firm.
6. Your closest friends cannot give you good referrals. At a family get-together, your friend tells you about meeting three of your five hottest prospects. Not once does he connect their needs to your services.
5. Your spouse cannot explain what you do. When asked, about your business, he or she turns to you to explain it. When you encourage your spouse to do it alone, you constantly interrupt to correct mistakes.
4. Your customers don't know you're better than the competition. In response to you describing the new features your competitors don't offer, your customers don't react at all.
3. You don't give the same answer twice when asked what your company does. You sound like a politician moving from one special interest fund-raiser to the next: "Just tell me who I'm speaking to and I'll tell them what they want to hear."
2. When your employees are asked what your company does, no two give the same answer. Depending on their department, they answer in terms of what their group does. Often, it is framed in terms of how much better they would be if everyone else worked as hard.
1. The reasons your customers say they buy from you don't match the reasons your sales force says it sells the customers. People don't buy shovels, they buy holes. But worse yet, your customers are asking for building foundations and your sales reps are selling swimming pools.
While the war stories of companies implementing programs based on confused strategies are hilarious, the collateral damage to profits is not. Given that the No. 1 reason people change jobs is the stress of having no control, it's no wonder the underlying problem is a lack of a company strategy.
Simply put, set a straight course for your company's ship and everyone on board can row in the same direction. Andrew J. Birol (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of Birol Growth Consulting, which helps business owners grow their companies. He can be reached at (440) 349-1970 or through his Web site, www.birolgrowthconsulting.com.
Your wireless phone might be good for more than just talking to people.
For instance, Verizon's Mobile Messenger, allows customers to send or receive text messages from their handset up to 160 characters long.
There is no monthly fee, and it costs just a few cents per message to use, with bundles of 100 to 600 messages available for flat rates for heavy users.
"With the mobile messenger, there is no roaming no matter where you are in the country," says Carlos Beccar, marketing manager for wireless data products for Verizon. "The price is always the same."
A companion to the mobile messenger is the Web site www.vtext.com. From that site, anyone can send a message to a Verizon customer with Mobile Messenger. The person's mobile number is their messaging address. Users can also enter reminders on the site, and when it's time for an appointment, for example, the message reminder will be sent to the phone.
"We're getting great feedback from small companies," says Beccar. "The office can set up a distribution list and can send a message to service truck one or service truck two, for example. They can send one message to 10 sales people or service trucks and only have to compose the message once."
The office also knows when the message was received and verification, so no one can claim they never received the message. Companies are essentially using the phones as a sort of low cost dispatcher system.
"Sales managers have really found the benefits, because if they have to get a message to everyone, they can just use Mobile Messenger and not have to worry about interrupting someone in a sales presentation," says Beccar.Messenges are managed on the phone just like an e-mail account on your computer.
There are some basic "canned" responses available to save you time, and each handset now has predictive word typing to help speed up the process of typing out a message using the number pad on the handset. Ninety-seven percent of all messages are delivered within 30 seconds nationwide.
Denise Marie Fugo and her husband, Ralph DiOrio know this all to well. They owned and ran Sammy's in the Flats, a restaurant that was considered one of downtown's best in the '80s.
Fugo estimates that in the beginning, 60 percent of Sammy’s customers were local business people and of that local clientele, 88 percent were male business executives, including many of the city's movers and shakers.
"Dick Jacobs closed his deal on the Cleveland Indians there (at Sammy's)…it was a place you took your customers to do business," says Fugo.
But tax law changes in 1986 had a profound affect on the way business meals were looked at. According to Fugo, the fact that business-meal deductions decreased to allow only 50 percent sent Sammy's revenue plummeting.
Changes in business meal deductions were then followed by a recession that closed many Cleveland businesses. It became increasingly clear that for Sammy's to ride out the economic downturn Fugo was going to have to dive into some unfamiliar waters.
So in 1983, in response to the business environment and at the request of their customers, Fugo and DiOrio diversified the business and started doing event catering. Fugo says, "The best market research comes directly from your customers," says Fugo. "If you listen to your customers, they will tell you where the opportunities are."
The risk paid off so well that last year, Sammy's fine dining restaurant officially closed. Fugo admits it was like cutting off an arm. "I had vendors I had used for many years that dropped me cold. They didn't think we were going to survive the change."
Now two floors are dedicated banquet facilities, the number of staff fluctuates between 35 and 300 on a weekly-basis and Sammy's catering business is evenly split between the social market - weddings, anniversaries - and the corporate market - company events, customer entertaining.
Fugo says, "Our corporate mission was to bring life back to the city through world class food service, ambiance and management. We wrote the mission statement in 1980 and we still use it today."
How to reach: Sammy's, (800) 837-5899
When the Internet boom was going full force, we began investigating ways to use Internet technology to better serve our audience -- top decision-makers of local companies. As we were putting the finishing touches on our plan, the bubble burst.
Undaunted, we moved forward with our vision of building a Web site that not only met the needs of busy executives but did so profitably. The revised SBN Online (www.sbnonline.com), launched as a pilot site in our Cleveland market, has met both our goals.
Each subscriber to SBN Cleveland has been pre-registered for SBN Online. By using the user ID and password we supplied by mail, readers can activate their registration and get a personalized home page containing local business news and information relevant to them. Our database of thousands of articles, ideas and resources is filtered using a reader's profile, resulting in the display of news, events, presentations and other information that best matches the profile.
The response has been great. We are ahead of our projections for users and site activity, though SBN Online is only a few months old. We are so pleased with the success that we plan to expand the concept to other cities this summer.
As I look back on what it has taken to relaunch SBN Online, a number of important lessons stand out.
1. Stick to what (and who) you know. We spent a great deal of time and money researching our concept for SBN Online. What became clear is that while we may not be concentrating on the biggest market, we are concentrating on the best market. Middle-market companies account for only 10 percent of all businesses, but they boast nearly half of all corporate revenue and purchasing power.
2. Work within a budget. In the headiest days of the Internet boom, we were quoted incredible prices for products and services. While many of these offers would have met our needs, we continued to look for the right deals with the right partners.
3. Stay the course. Even as events conspired against us, we pressed forward. The bursting of the Internet bubble had everyone rethinking the role of the Internet for businesses. As the economy weakened, more doubts crept into people's minds. Then came the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Each one of these developments could have caused us to put the project on hold. Instead, we made adjustments and kept moving forward.
Having done these things, SBN Online was reborn even as the bursting of the Internet bubble caused other business Web sites to fold or take significant steps backward.
If you haven't registered for SBN Online, I encourage you to do so soon. If you receive SBN Magazine under your name, you were sent a user ID and password. If you've misplaced it, e-mail your name, business and address to email@example.com and we will reply, or call us at (216) 228-6397 and ask for SBN Online customer service.
And please let us know what you think. We already are at work on improvements and welcome your feedback.
Ron Shaw realized what a gift life is just moments after a Philadelphia trolley car sped by inches away from his head on an icy winter evening in l947. Shaw, who changed his name from Schurowitz when he entered show business several years later, was often a victim of anti-Semitic bullying by neighborhood kids.
That fateful afternoon, Shaw was on his way home from school when a group of boys surrounded, taunted and beat him until one of them tossed him into a icy street just as a trolley car approached. Shaw, who slipped and fell past the trolley car's tracks, has been inspired by the incident ever since.
"I don't know if God meant for me to live because there was work he wanted me to do or if it was just a fluke," Shaw writes in his book, "Pilot Your Life." "But somehow, for whatever reason, I survived."
This childhood tale is just one of the harrowing and entertaining anecdotes in Shaw's book, which chronicles his rise from an 11-year-old stand-up comedian to Bic Pen salesman to the leader of the Pilot Pen Corp. of America, the nation's third largest pen company with more than $200 million in annual sales.
The book's business lessons about selling yourself, creating opportunities, taking risks and marketing your product could've been pulled from any of hundreds of positive-thinking or motivational tomes, but Shaw's charm, sense of humor and great stories outweigh the occasional lack of original insight. And for so many of the business books out there, you can't ask for much more.
Shaw spoke with SBN Magazine during his book tour and was as candid and entertaining as he is in his book.
You've made a lot of transitions in your life, from comedian to pen salesmen to CEO, and then jumping to your competition. How did you know when to move?
When I was making that transition, I didn't have much choice. I needed a steady paycheck because I was just kind of floundering around and not sure what I wanted to do. I got married, and within one year, nine months and three days from our wedding day, our first son, Steve, was born. So I picked up the book "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill. It made me concentrate on what it was I was doing at that point and what I wanted to do. If I had to be out of show business, then damn it, I was going to become a success in whatever it was I was going to do. I lived in five different cities when I worked for Bic Pen. I started with them in Miami, then Atlanta, followed by Chicago, Detroit and Connecticut. It was not an easy transition. But it (sales) was coming so easily to me that when Bic would have weekly sales contests, every week I was at the top. Once that light went on and I recognized what it was, it made it even easier to concentrate and realize that I was born to be a salesman.
How do you sell yourself?
I think it's the way you dress, the way you come on, the way you walk into a room or make an exit. You walk onto the stage with an air of confidence, not cockiness. You've got to have a pleasant look about you and can't take an attitude of 'I'm better than you.' It's that instant reaction. People do judge books by their covers. As soon as you see somebody, you make an opinion based upon the impression.
What is your secret for growing Pilot?
In 1975, (when I joined the firm), there was hardly anyone that heard of Pilot. My job was to make it into a brand. When I told the president of Bic that I was going to work for Pilot, he said, 'Six months from now, you'll be looking for another job. You'll get it up to $10 million a year but it's not going beyond that.' As we're approaching $200 million this year, he's no longer with Bic. It was a matter of razzle-dazzle marketing. It was bringing things to the industry that had never been done before. I took advantage of my former life as a performer. I met with this young ad agency and said,'Let's do humor to get people's attention.' We would go out to our customers and say, 'Buy a gross of our pens and you'll get a Samsonite briefcase absolutely free.' We did travel contests. Those are some of the things that you can't really do today because the smaller wholesalers have been wiped out by big box retailers. All of a sudden we built a brand. I'm happy to brag that we are now the third biggest pen company in America. How to reach: "Pilot Your Life," by Ron Shaw, Prentice Hall Press, $22. Available at bookstores everywhere.
How to reach: Harding and Harding, (330) 666-0991