Alex Johnson wasn’t searching for a new job. In fact, he was quite content serving as president of the Community College of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh. Johnson helped the institution raise $41 million for scholarships and programs, as well as build a few new facilities.
“I was happy in Pittsburgh and doing well,” Johnson says. “We had really established ourselves as a leader in student success. Our graduation rate was up. Our numbers were up. We were getting money from foundations. These were things that evolved in the time I served as president over the past five years.”
But while Johnson was happy in Pittsburgh, here in Cleveland, Cuyahoga Community College was going through a transition. Its long-time president, Jerry Sue Thornton, announced in January that she would be retiring June 30. Since that day in January, the arduous search for a replacement that could carry on the legacy that she was leaving behind was underway.
When Johnson learned of the news, he was conflicted about pursuing the opportunity.
“I was called by headhunters to determine my interest in the Tri-C job, and I said, ‘No, that’s not something that I want to do,’” Johnson says. “I was not looking for something new. But at the end of the day I had to come to the conclusion that it was about, for the lack of a better term, my destiny. That was the only way I could rationalize considering the opportunity.”
From that point on everything started working in his favor toward going after the Tri-C presidency. For example, his daughter-in-law, who lives in the Cleveland area, got pregnant again and wanted family closer than Pittsburgh. The other contributing factor was that Johnson knew Tri-C very well, as he had been president of Tri-C’s Metropolitan Campus from 1993 to 2003.
“That struck a chord,” Johnson says. “I had learned so much as a president here at Cuyahoga, and I knew this community well. Once I realized that it was a possibility that I could become the president, I pursued it, and I pursued it diligently and aggressively.”
When June 30 came around and Thornton left her post, it was Johnson who had the task of filling her shoes as the college’s fourth president in 50 years.
Here’s how Johnson plans to move the institution forward with continued innovation and community engagement following its golden anniversary.
Return to Tri-C
Despite the fact that Johnson had a good thing going as president of the Community College of Allegheny County, there was something about Tri-C that drew him back after 10 years.
“I’m delighted to be back, because it does have a wonderful history in terms of innovation,” Johnson says. “It has a better history, however, with respect to community engagement and from my vantage point, that’s what I value about the institution. Innovation is an ongoing endeavor, but community outreach and engagement is among the things that Tri-C does best.”
Johnson, having only been in his new role as president for a month at the end of July, had a number of initiatives to focus on and the institution’s 50th anniversary in September was fast approaching. His first few weeks were busy ones.
“My calendar is very full, but it’s full with the right stuff,” he says.
Johnson has been traveling to the various campuses and taking tours. He has been meeting with the campus presidents and the college leadership to talk about his vision for the future. He has also met with individuals outside the institution, such as members of Tri-C’s foundation board and public officials like Mayor Frank Jackson and Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, to get feedback on what they see as the institution’s role in the future.
“I have to become reacquainted with the city,” Johnson says. “I know a lot of what is going on because it was this way when I was here 10 years ago, but there is a lot that has changed and I need to get up to speed on that. The way you do that is to talk to individuals about how the city has progressed over the last 10 years.”
On top of having to get reacquainted with Tri-C and Cuyahoga County, it’s important that Johnson and the institution continue to strive for support, particularly during a time when a Tri-C education means so much.
“It is pivotal that people understand the value of this institution,” he says. “My responsibility is to continue to get support.”
The third piece is to continue to promote a collective vision for the institution.
“This is not just Alex Johnson; this is our board of trustees, people from inside the institution who represent the ranks from top to bottom and across the breadth of the institution,” he says. “We all realize that in order to advance the institution, we’re going to have to graduate more people, we’re going to have to have more opportunities for them to join the workforce, we’re going to have to enrich the image of the institution through our marketing and communications efforts, and the last piece is to ensure that we are stable financially.
“That’s not just from me, it’s from a whole host of individuals I’ve had the chance to chat with, most notably the board of trustees.”
Vision for the future
Among those goals seen as areas Tri-C has to keep pursuing is a continued and more concerted emphasis on workforce development, and the fact that Tri-C needs to ensure that it has trained individuals to take current and future job opportunities.
As a result, Johnson is positioning Tri-C to expand its programs and create more short-term training opportunities. This is to ensure they result in certificates that have labor market value, and that the institution reaches out to the community so individuals know these opportunities exist and that they take advantage of them.
“The workforce and economic development has been primary among the things that we have talked about,” Johnson says. “The second thing that they continue to emphasize is that we need to graduate more individuals from our institution in a timely manner. We have been working on establishing our graduation goal for 2020 in concert with the national initiative around completion.”
Johnson is also focusing on marketing communications where Tri-C has to continue to foster and enrich the institution’s image.
“We’ve got to continue to do that,” he says. “We have to be forceful about telling our stories because so many great things happen for us. We’re a League for Innovation School — there are only 19 in the country. We are No. 4 in the country in terms of the production of nursing graduates among 1,200 community colleges.
“We have been recognized in our workforce development area for some of our manufacturing initiatives. We are a Goldman Sachs institution. Our responsibility is to ensure that we can promote the development of small business throughout our region. We are doing an outstanding job, and we got a $5 million grant for five years.”
With a strong focus on initiatives surrounding workforce development, student success, marketing communications and community outreach, Johnson also wants to make certain that Tri-C manages its costs and expenditures.
“We want the education that we provide our students to remain affordable,” Johnson says. “It’s already affordable, but we have to work hard to ensure it continues to be. As I looked at where we are financially, I think we do a very, very good job of managing our resources.”
Since Johnson is still fairly new, a lot of his initiatives are a work in progress.
“I’m meeting with my cabinet and I’ve asked those individuals who are responsible for each of these areas to come up with a tactical plan,” Johnson says. “So we have a tactical plan for student success, we’ll have one for finances, workforce development, marketing communications, and community outreach and engagement.”
These areas are not new to the institution — these are things Tri-C works on all the time.
“What I’d like to see is some idea of where we are headed in those specific areas with a focus on excellence in each one of them,” Johnson says. “These areas are not the weakest points; those are areas of emphasis. There’s strength in each of those; however, it’s about continuous quality improvement.
“You want to continue to ensure that it remains at the forefront of your institution. That’s what makes Cuyahoga stand out above other institutions and community colleges.”
Big shoes to fill
Another thing that separates Tri-C from a lot of other institutions is the fact that Tri-C has had long-term leadership.
“I’m the fourth president in the entire history of the institution, and we recognize that the transformation of an institution and the change that’s necessary comes more deliberately when you have long-term leadership,” Johnson says.
Thornton, Nolen Ellison and Charles Chapman, the founding president of the institution, all served long tenures as president of the institution.
“I’m No. 4,” he says. “My hope is that I can stay around long enough to benefit from the legacy that they’ve already established to advance the institution in the right direction. It’s a scary place because it’s daunting. I’m following in the footsteps behind three legendary presidents that people across the universe know, most notably Thornton, who was a national model for leadership excellence in community colleges.”
Johnson says following in Thornton’s footsteps is an honor, and he recognizes that he has to be a star within his effort to move the institution forward.
“The only thing I can do is benefit from her legacy to ensure what Chapman, Ellison and what Thornton envisioned for this institution continues,” he says. “And that is to serve as a model of excellence in community college education. That’s what we’re all about. It’s about innovation and excellence.
“Part of that is emphasizing those five things I talked about in order to move the institution forward in that regard. That’s what we have become and that’s the course we must continue.”
The institution, with the help of its presidents, has built itself into a nationally recognized community college, celebrating its 50th anniversary on Sept. 23.
“I think it’s one of the most important dates at the institution this year,” Johnson says. “The important thing about this date is it represents a transformative period at the institution. We’re going to build on the legacy to heighten our success.
“That’s a commitment to the future of this institution and the change of a president represents that. My inauguration is Nov. 21 and the anniversary is Sept. 23. They couldn’t have occurred at a better time for us.” ●
- Get acquainted with important stakeholders.
- Outline areas of emphasis.
- Build upon your core or legacy
How to reach: Cuyahoga Community College, (800) 954-8742 or www.tri-c.edu
Leaders across all industries are constantly looking for the secret formula to motivate employees and increase productivity. While there are many paths to helping companies become more efficient and more productive, I believe that when it comes to getting the best out of employees,
it centers on one element: respect.
The vast body of current research suggests that the best leaders are those who create environments where employees want to perform at the highest level possible on their own. This cannot be accomplished through traditional command and control style management. The best results that I have seen (which are supported by neuroscientific research on how the brain reacts in positive situations) are achieved through one of the most basic human behaviors: the showing of respect.
Engagement is the goal
The real goal for leaders is employee engagement, a condition in which employees become emotionally invested in the success of their organizations. Employees who are highly engaged are significantly more willing to go the extra mile and give of discretionary time and effort on behalf of the company.
To have sustained engagement, there has to be an environment of respect because it is one of the emotional states that biologically primes us to do our best work.
Within the brain, respectful interactions trigger the release of serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine. In positive, respectful situations, these powerful neurotransmitters are released and create a feeling of satisfaction and a willingness to perform at our best while helping others at the same time.
Leaders who come across as domineering, threatening or intimidating have the opposite effect. Because their employees typically feel diminished or disrespected, a loss of productivity occurs. Disrespectful behaviors trigger the release of the chemicals cortisol and adrenaline into their brains that shut down the prefrontal cortex and literally inhibit their ability to give their best.
Disrespect can hurt
While employees are less likely to leave in a down economy, research shows that there is a future cost when a leader pushes people too hard and makes unreasonable demands on their personal time. Add disrespect to the equation and when the economy turns, these disrespected workers are more likely to leave for a better working environment.
Remember, the more talented an individual, the greater the risk that they’ll leave. And at a cost of 1.5 to 2.5 times a person’s compensation, turnover can represent a staggering direct hit to the organization’s bottom line.
In northeast Ohio, because Cleveland is not as geographically appealing to young people as Chicago, New York or San Francisco, we have a steeper hill to climb for attracting or keeping top talent. The last thing that leaders want to allow is perceptions of disrespect to aggravate an already challenging situation.
Getting people from dissimilar age, gender and ethnic backgrounds to work together can be a challenge. Research shows that people who are different from each other can work through prejudices and work collaboratively when intentionally managed in an environment of respect.
While reality shows like “The Apprentice” make for good TV drama, Donald Trump wannabes should be aware that it is the wrong way to get the best out of employees. In the real world, who could possibly do their best work with emotional breakdowns, frustration and backstabbing? The key to long-term success and productivity begins with respect. ●
Paul Meshanko is president and CEO of Legacy Business Cultures, a global provider of employee training, diversity and inclusion seminars, organizational surveys and executive coaching. He is the author of “The Respect Effect: Using the Science of Neuroleadership to Inspire a More Loyal and Productive Workplace,” and an internationally recognized speaker and business leader. Reach him at pmeshanko@LegacyCultures.com or (888) 892-0300.
Social Media: @Paulmeshanko
Given the current economic and environmental realities, how do we find the right balance between the long-standing, heavy reliance on coal and alternative energy sources?
Energy is a fundamental driver of economic development and a contributor to people’s quality of life across the globe. The energy sector, however, faces serious challenges in the 21st century. Renewables alone do not offer us a path to a sustainable energy future. Economic development and poverty eradication depend on secure, affordable energy supplies such as coal, oil, gas, solar, hydro, fuel cells, etc.
Over the years, fossil fuels, despite environmental concerns, have contributed significantly to energy security, accessibility and affordability. Furthermore, the right technology and innovation, including clean coal and the ability to safely capture and store carbon, can effectively address many of the environmental questions.
According to The World Bank, “Reliable energy is a key component of economic and social development ... lack of energy is among the key forces slowing down poverty reduction and growth of the rural sector.”
The world must find ways to meet the needs of a growing population, bring billions of people out of poverty, offer them a better standard of living and sustain the economic development of rich and poor countries alike. Meeting these challenges will lead to the growing demand for energy.
Consumption will increase
Even with energy conservation measures in developed countries, global energy consumption will continue to increase, driven by the economic growth and needs of developing countries. At the same time, society is demanding cleaner energy and less pollution. The desire for lower emissions has led to widespread questioning of the role of coal in particular.
On the other hand, it is inconceivable that we could move toward a coal-free energy economy any time soon. It would be cataclysmic to our economy, level of convenience and standard of living.
All forms of energy production and use have their impacts, both positive and negative. There is no risk-free way of producing and using energy.
Consider the facts
Based on recent data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), coal provided 30.3 percent of the world’s energy supply. Outside of non-traditional fossil fuels, coal was the fastest-growing form of energy globally.
The top coal-producing nations include China, the U.S., India, Australia, Indonesia and Russia. China consumes approximately 42 percent of the world’s coal, followed by the U.S. at 13 percent and India at 9 percent.
There are an estimated 115 to 130 years of global coal output remaining in known reserves. According to the IEA, world reserves of coal are enormous and, compared with oil and natural gas, widely disbursed.
Coal provides a lot of opportunity
In the U.S., the coal industry has a long record of creating jobs, and improving the economic well-being of a number of states and regions.
According to several estimates, there are potentially 1,199 new coal-fired power plants being proposed globally. There are 59 countries evaluating, proposing or under contract for new coal-fired power plants — China and India together account for 76 percent of the proposed new coal power in the world.
Much more research, development and implementation are needed. Coal is still important to the U.S. economy, but we need to figure out how to mitigate the emissions while continuing to utilize coal among other energy sources. ●
Matthew P. Figgie is chairman of Clark-Reliance, a global, multi-divisional manufacturing company with sales in over 80 countries, serving the power generation petroleum, refining and chemical processing industries. He is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation, a member of the University Hospitals Board of Directors, corporate co-chairman for the 2013 Five Star Sensation, and chairman of the National Kidney Walk.
Rick Solon is president and CEO of Clark-Reliance and has more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing and operating companies. He is also the chairman of the National Kidney Foundation Golf Outing.
Operating a social enterprise presents its own unique challenges. Yet, at Cornucopia Inc., a nonprofit that dares to make a profit while simultaneously helping those with disabilities find meaningful careers and sustainable futures, we’ve taken a big step this year to expand our mission by renovating a vacant McDonald’s.
Cornucopia operates Nature’s Bin, a natural and organic food store in Lakewood. Our mission is to help people with disabilities develop their skills, confidence and workplace potential. Nature’s Bin is considered a social enterprise, meaning its business is operated by a nonprofit to generate revenue. The revenue is then used to support the mission of our organization.
Challenging the status quo
The social enterprise concept was unheard of nearly four decades ago when we opened our first retail business.
We started with a small storefront selling fresh produce staffed by community volunteers and people with severe disabilities. Having people with disabilities working in our business was a bold step, and it challenged the status quo.
Within the walls of our store and in our six other community-based businesses people with a wide range of disabilities including developmental disabilities, autism, mental illness, and visual, speech and hearing issues, participate in vocational training. This training teaches them skills that will ultimately contribute to their success in today’s job market and enable them to enjoy a higher quality of life.
But the road to this success has required a lot of work. Since 1975, we have partnered with county and state agencies to provide vocational services to more than 3,000 individuals with disabilities. Building relationships with these agencies has been a vital part of sustaining our business.
Due to the success of Nature’s Bin, we’ve been able to give more focus on our strategic goals and find opportunities to expand our social enterprise efforts. Our executive team had been seeking an opportunity to enlarge our vocational training program with more food preparation training options. We also sought to increase Nature’s Bin’s retail food service operations, which includes a catering business.
With the help of community and corporate foundations and individual donors, we purchased and renovated a closed McDonald’s that was located only 300 feet from Nature’s Bin. The property now provides a state-of-the art commissary for Nature’s Bin and Nature’s Bin Catering.
The center’s main objective is to increase our ability to provide vocational assessment and job training for people with disabilities so they can learn food preparation skills and graduate with solid work experience and abilities.
Nature’s Bin has continued to be an anchor in the Lakewood area, and it’s what keeps Cornucopia up and running. Over the past decade, our market’s retail sales contributed to more than 70 percent of the total revenue raised by our organization. Annual sales over the past six years have more than doubled, reaching approximately $6.3 million in 2012.
Because of our nonprofit mission and the success of our retail operation, Cornucopia is often cited as a groundbreaking social enterprise. As such, we have provided consultation to other nonprofits seeking to develop their own version of a social enterprise. Nonprofit and philanthropic communities are embracing the social enterprise model as a way to move toward self-sufficiency. ●
Scott Duennes is executive director of Cornucopia Inc. He was an EY Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist in 2013. He can be reached at (216) 521-4600 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Customer Service Week, set for Oct. 7 to 11 this year, provides a good opportunity to recognize the efforts of those employees who regularly serve as the face of your company when dealing with the public.
“When my dad and I started this company in 1984, one of the things he said to me was, ‘These are the people who make the company run and profitable. If you don’t take care of these people, you’re not going to have a company,’” says Rick Voigt, president of Today’s Business Products.
“Our customer service staff and delivery drivers have more day-to-day interaction with the customers than salespeople or managers,” he says.
Smart Business spoke with Voigt about ways to show customer service employees that they are appreciated.
How can companies show appreciation for their customer service employees?
Some ideas include putting caramel apples on desks with a sign ‘you’re the core of our business’ and mints thanking employees for their ‘commit-mint.’ Little trinkets can help put smiles on their faces, and that translates into happier workers when they’re dealing with customers.
The customer service team is an extension of the sales team, so the salespeople also should take part through some activity that shows their appreciation.
You could have salespeople answer phones when the customer service team is treated to a lunch. That helps show appreciation because the sales staff gains a better understanding of what customer service employees do by actually doing the job during that time.
What are some ways customer service personnel go above and beyond to provide a superior experience for clients?
You never want to say ‘no’ to clients. We have actually gone out and picked up a product not available through regular distribution channels in order to accommodate a customer.
One time, a customer placing an order mentioned being in trouble because there was no coffee in the office. An employee pulled it off the shelf and delivered it within 15 minutes. That customer was thrilled that someone went out of his or her way to bring him or her the coffee.
Personality is the most important quality to have in customer service. A male receptionist could seem strange at first to some customers, but may be the most qualified person, with a very pleasant, outgoing personality. If he’s doing his job, your customers will appreciate how they are greeted, regardless of who it is.
How important is it to have customers be able to call a live person rather than reach a directory?
Callers do not like getting a phone tree. A human being should answer the phone during business hours. Even if it’s outside normal business hours, if someone is in the office, they need to answer the phone. They may not be able to assist the caller directly, but they should at least transfer the call to the correct person’s voice mail, which in turn takes one more thing off of the caller’s plate.
People need to be confident that when they hang up the phone that their order, question or concern will be handled properly. That means providing proper training and giving employees authority to make decisions that are in the best interests of the customer and the company. If they are unsure about something, they can talk to a manager or supervisor and get right back to the customer.
Customers who call should not get the experience that you get with many 800 numbers — you don’t know if you’ll be on the phone for 30 minutes or longer. People want human interaction, so that’s what they should be given when they call.
When you give employees the proper tools to do their job and show appreciation for them, they’ll be happier and you’ll have satisfied customers. ●
Save the date: Oct. 7 to 11 is Customer Service Week. Show your customer service employees how you appreciate them.
Insights Customer Service is brought to you by Today’s Business Products
With juries awarding multi-million dollar verdicts, primary liability insurance policies don’t always cover the entire cost. That’s when umbrella liability, also known as excess liability, can help.
“Experienced business professionals understand that the litigious nature of our society combined with monumental liability judgments can be financially devastating to their organization,” says Peter Bern, CEO of Leverity Insurance Group.
“You can find several examples of those types of verdicts, and many companies don’t have liability limits that cover the entire loss. It’s not unusual for individuals or companies to be sued for more than $1 million. To assist with the financial burden of a claim, many business owners purchase umbrella insurance in addition to their primary liability insurance policies,” he says.
Smart Business spoke with Bern about how umbrella insurance works and why companies and individuals might want to consider coverage.
Why not increase existing coverage rather than purchase umbrella liability?
Primary liability contracts typically have limits of $1 million per occurrence, and $2 million total for a policy year. Some policies are available with double those limits, but that’s usually as high as they will go. Most liability policies have an aggregate limit that, once exhausted, will not cover any other damages or legal expenses.
How do umbrella policies work?
They sit on top of primary liability policies and apply to claims where the aggregate limit of the underlying policy has been met, so there are not enough funds available in the policy to cover the entire claim. For instance, if your liability policy has a $1 million limit and a loss is incurred for $1.5 million, the primary liability policy will cover the first $1 million and the umbrella policy will cover the remaining $500,000.
Are there particular exposures in which companies and individuals should consider an umbrella policy?
For the most part, umbrellas cover large, severe events that can cause exponential damages. Without coverage, these events — as few and far between as they may seem — would be financially devastating to many companies.
The umbrella extends the limits of a company’s commercial liability, business auto, employer’s liability, professional liability, environmental liability and management liability policies, to name a few. If your product, service or operating environment is particularly hazardous, or the limits of your underlying policies won’t cover the worst of your possible losses, an umbrella policy is a must.
With respect to personal insurance, an umbrella policy will sit over your personal auto and home liability exposures. For example, if you have teenage children driving, what if someone gets hurt and you don’t have enough insurance? Chances are your limits are $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. If you get sued for $2 million and are found negligent, the insurance company will pay up to your $300,000 limit at the most. The balance is due from you. Do you have an extra $1.7 million lying around? Without an umbrella, your personal assets and future earnings are at risk and, in the worst-case scenario, can push you into personal bankruptcy. Can you afford this exposure?
Is there a way to figure out how much coverage you need?
There are a number of factors to consider, including how much risk tolerance you have, the severity of your exposure, the amount of assets you stand to lose and how much you are willing to pay in premiums. The umbrella market is often erratic and requires the guidance of a trusted insurance adviser to find competitive premiums that address your specific risk categories. ●
Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Leverity Insurance Group
Help has arrived for small and midsize businesses burdened by preparing financial reports according to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) released the Financial Reporting Framework for Small- and Medium-Sized Entities (FRF for SMEs) to provide some relief.
“This has been an ongoing concern of privately-held companies for a long time,” says Jim Suttie, CPA/ABV, a principal with Skoda Minotti. “There’s been talk about separating what they call ‘big GAAP’ and ‘little GAAP,’ but no one knows when that will happen. So the AICPA stepped up to supply a new framework that saves owner-managed companies from a lot of compliance requirements.”
Smart Business spoke with Suttie about the new framework and the benefits it provides for small and midsize businesses.
Are GAAP standards too cumbersome for small businesses?
They can be, depending on the situation. For a small to midsize business that is owner-managed, the cost and complexity of GAAP compliance can be quite a burden. What the FRF provides is an alternative, principles-based framework that can provide meaningful financial statements, while reducing unnecessary complexity and costs.
What makes GAAP reporting costly?
The cost comes from two places — gathering the information and complying with the standards.
Take the example of an operating company that leases a building from an entity that is set up for tax purposes or estate planning purposes. The building is under a separate entity, but with common ownership. Under GAAP, those would need to be consolidated, so it adds a layer of complexity.
Another example is if there is goodwill on the books. Under GAAP, goodwill must be assessed for impairment — the difference between book and implied fair value — on at least an annual basis. With the FRF for SMEs, goodwill is treated the same way as it is for tax purposes; you amortize it over the life of the goodwill, which is 15 years.
Is there a size requirement for businesses to use this new framework?
It’s not necessarily based on size; the AICPA intentionally did not set a quantitative limit. Typically, SMEs are owner-managed businesses. The preface of the FRF outlines characteristics of SMEs, including:
- For-profit businesses.
- No regulatory requirement to use GAAP.
- Users of the financial statement have direct access to the entity’s management.
- The entity does not operate in an industry involved in transactions that require highly specialized accounting guidance.
- The entity is owner-managed.
The FRF is not applicable to companies that are public or have plans to go public.
Are there potential problems in switching from GAAP to the FRF?
One challenge is that the framework is not authoritative — although it has been subjected to public comment and professional scrutiny. In the AICPA’s words, it has not been approved, disapproved, or otherwise acted upon by the AICPA or any authoritative body. There’s also the challenge of third-party users, like banks and sureties, which require GAAP financial statements in their documentation. Accounting firms and others are trying to inform them that this is a viable alternative that may provide more meaningful information. In some instances, the FRF can give clearer information about a company’s cash flow, liquidity and financial position than GAAP, which can sometimes muddy the waters with its complexity.
In the case of a variable interest entity in which a real estate company is consolidated with the operating company, the consolidated financial statements are given to the bank, which may separate the information on the real estate entity. So FRF can make the process more direct for third-party users.
But the biggest advantage of the new framework is with the company itself in the reduction in cost of compliance with GAAP. It just makes it easier to prepare financial statements. ●
Insights Accounting & Consulting is brought to you by Skoda Minotti
Businesses and individuals managing employee retirement plans need to understand their Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) obligations and the liabilities associated with plan mismanagement.
“Plan fiduciaries must act prudently. They must do things such as diversifying investments to minimize risk, and they must always act in accordance with plan documents, as long as those plan documents comply with ERISA,” says Kerri L. Keller, a partner at Brouse McDowell.
“There are certain actions that plan fiduciaries must never do. These include using plan assets for personal gain or for business purposes,” she says.
Smart Business spoke with Keller about the role of a plan fiduciary and how to comply with ERISA requirements.
Who is a plan fiduciary?
A plan fiduciary can be any business or individual who exercises discretion, control or authority with respect to plan management. It can also be any business or individual who manages plan assets or exercises discretion or control with respect to the disposition of plan assets. An ERISA fiduciary also can be those businesses or individuals who provide investment advice to a plan, or are responsible for plan administration.
Examples of plan fiduciaries are the named fiduciary or plan administrator, such as the employer or plan sponsor. But sometimes third-party service providers, investment managers and advisers, insurance brokers, and officers of the employer or plan sponsor can be deemed plan fiduciaries.
What are the responsibilities of a fiduciary?
Every plan fiduciary has a duty of loyalty, a duty of prudence, a duty to diversify and a duty to act in accordance with the plan documents. Plan fiduciaries should know that they could incur personal liability for breaching any of their ERISA-imposed responsibilities, obligations or duties.
This personal liability can require a plan fiduciary to pay back to the plan any losses that result from a breach of fiduciary duties, and to give back any profits that the fiduciary may have made from using plan assets. Fiduciaries must act solely in the interest of the plan participants, and for the exclusive purpose of providing plan benefits and defraying reasonable plan expenses.
Are all employer actions considered fiduciary actions?
No. Certain business actions are not considered fiduciary actions, such as the employer’s decision to establish a plan, what features to include, and the decision to amend or terminate a plan. In other words, when an employer acts on behalf of its business, it is generally not acting in its capacity as a plan fiduciary.
However, actions taken to implement these decisions can transform a business or individual into a plan fiduciary. Fiduciary actions generally include exercising discretionary functions over the management of a plan and its assets.
What are the obligations and liabilities associated with plan mismanagement?
For starters, ERISA fiduciaries can be liable — even personally — for breaching any of the responsibilities, obligations or duties imposed by ERISA. If a fiduciary breaches a duty to the plan, he or she may be required to personally pay back any losses to the plan and restore any profits made by the use of plan assets. A court also can order any other relief that it deems appropriate.
What would be an example of a breach?
A breach would occur if a business owner used plan assets to finance a purchase of equipment to open a new division. The business — and the owner in his or her personal capacity — would likely be required to pay the plan back and disgorge any profits that were made by the improper use of the plan’s assets. As previously stated, a plan fiduciary must act in the best interest of the plan and its participants — not in the best interest of the employer or owner.
The IRS, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Justice all have a role in ERISA oversight. These are the agencies that will generally perform compliance investigations and enforce penalties against the plan or plan fiduciaries. ●
Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Brouse McDowell
One of the toughest challenges facing managers is how to plan for profitable growth in an uncertain future.
Look back ten years at your customers and their needs, your employees, market structures, delivery systems, regulatory policies, social systems, the economy and technology, and it’s clear how much things have changed. It’s a safe bet that at least that much change can be expected in the next ten years, but what kind of change will occur?
Compounding the uncertainty is the necessity to keep managing current activities for efficiency and growth while planning for a future that may call for different activities altogether.
Smart Business spoke with Dr. Jaume Franquesa, visiting assistant professor of strategic management, and Dr. James Martin, associate dean and professor of marketing, both at the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University, about ways businesses can position themselves to take advantage of tomorrow’s opportunities.
How do you get started?
Success in the long run is all about marshaling the right capabilities and resources and using them to create sustainable competitive advantage for the future. Start by identifying and assessing your current capabilities. Generally, there are two categories of capabilities that allow you to do both the day-to-day activities and plan for an uncertain future.
The first category is operational capabilities, which are the things you currently do that give you a competitive advantage in your current markets. That is, the skills, competencies and resources that you use to try to satisfy your current customers’ needs better than competitors or at a lesser comparative cost, leading to higher profit.
The second category is dynamic capabilities, which are the capabilities that will help you to plan for the future. There are generally three types of dynamic capabilities.
The first is the ability to do environmental scanning and sensing. Being able to identify and track trends, and understand how they might be important to your business is a critical competency to develop.
The second dynamic capability is being able to turn the trends that you identified as important to your business into opportunities that can be pursued further. Innovative thinking is the cornerstone of this capability.
The third dynamic capability is being able to quickly re-configure your internal resource base in a way that creates a sustained competitive advantage for pursuing the opportunity. Understanding which resources are valuable, along with adaptive resilience and flexibility in your organization are key ingredients for this capability.
The stronger you are at each of the dynamic capabilities, the better your strategy and its implementation.
How can a manager foster adaptation and flexibility with regard to long term strategic direction?
As you think longer term, the uncertainties about investments in strategic direction can cause significant anxiety. This is really tough, but it is at the heart of building an organization for the future.
One useful approach to navigate this uncertainty is to apply ‘real options’ logic to investments for the future. Instead of making early choices under uncertainty and committing significant resources to a particular strategic direction, consider engaging in multiple directions that will keep several windows of opportunity open. In this way, you can delay commitment to any of them until more information is available and some of the uncertainty is resolved.
To do this, you must design the program of investment in each strategic initiative as a series of sequential experiments, with a continue/discontinue evaluation point at the end of each experiment. That is to say, at the end of the period you have the option of continuing to invest as planned, narrowing the scope of the project, or abandoning the project.
The goal is to create and manage a portfolio of alternative strategic options. You do this by investing in multiple stage-gated projects designed to seed the development of new capabilities or to explore potential new markets. The keys to the management of this portfolio of strategic options are:
- Project selection.
- Design of investment stages in a way that maximizes learning while minimizing the cost of each strategic option.
- Portfolio diversification.
The dynamic capabilities that you develop give you the foundation for creating this portfolio of
strategic options. ●
Dr. Jaume Franquesa is a visiting assistant professor of strategic management at the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University. Reach him at email@example.com.
Insights Executive Education is brought to you by John Carroll University
The use of cloud computing is surging in the business world. Against such a backdrop it only makes sense that companies would want to emulate this model with their phone services — that is, make themselves available no matter their location. While traditional phone services have been slow to respond to the requests, VoIP providers are jumping at the opportunity.
“Telecommunications is a 100-year-old technology,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. “Things have changed, and now it’s more important than ever for customers to get through to businesses quickly and effectively.”
Smart Business spoke with Desberg about how innovation is reshaping the telecommunications landscape and why it’s so important to always be available to customers.
How is innovation changing the telecommunications landscape?
Businesses are looking for different characteristics associated with their phone system that will help set themselves apart from their competitors. This goes beyond just having a business phone system designed to answer calls or put people in voice mail. In terms of innovation, these can be simple changes or complex changes — it depends on what the business is looking for.
How are companies integrating their telecommunication features into their business model?
Cloud computing is becoming very popular. People are pushing their data away from their facility so it is available anywhere. However, they haven’t done this with their phone system because of traditional phone service capabilities. This is starting to change. Now, instead of being subject to the capabilities of a phone system, businesses are dictating how they want to communicate with their customers.
Why is it so important to be readily accessible to customers?
Customers have short attention spans, and they want to be served quickly. They don’t have the time to leave a voice mail message and wait for someone to respond a half-day later or the next business day.
Much like the traditional way of finding a business in the Yellow Pages, if the first company didn’t answer, you’d simply call another one. A lot of consumers are doing that now because time is money. If they can’t immediately reach the person that they want to talk to, they will move on. You don’t want that to happen to your business.
How is VoIP helping incubated businesses that are not as moveable as they might think?
Business incubators are starting to crop up all over the place. Such entities support the development of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services. When the companies grow and need to move out of the incubator, they realize that they can’t easily take the phone number that they’ve been using to conduct their business transactions.
Now VoIP providers are working with incubators to provide VoIP services that can be moved quickly and easily with a business when it’s ready to graduate from an incubator and expand its footprint.
Why is reducing system duplication becoming such a big trend?
Reducing system duplication is particularly popular with businesses that have multiple locations. When such businesses start pushing data out to the cloud and they are remotely accessing the information, they realize that every facility they own doesn’t need a server or duplication of other resources like phone systems.
It makes sense for these businesses to have centralized communications. Everyone accessing the phone system can share centralized voice mail and four-digit dialing between locations. Not only does this make sense economically, but also from a unity standpoint in terms of a single telecommunications presence. ●
Alex Desberg is sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net