Joan Wall

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:56

Paula Inniss

Ask Paula Inniss to name her greatest accomplishment and she doesn’t even mention building Ohio Full Court Press into a $3.6 million commercial printing business in four years.

Instead, she first points out that “all three of my children are in college.”

Second, Inniss cites her Christian faith. “I feel the spiritual side of me really gives me the strength to do what I do,” she says.

The answers really aren’t surprising once you consider the breadth of Inniss’ personality.

Indeed, her business prowess has earned her numerous accolades, including the Blue Chip Foundation Business Award, the Excellence in Enterprise Rising Star Award and the Entrepreneurial Woman Small Business Startup Business Owner of the Year.

Inniss also focuses on the success of others, especially women and children. Her business, in fact, is a means toward that end.

“I always thought I’d open a home or shelter for pregnant teens or runaways, or a house for abused women, which is still my dream,” she says. “I’m going to do that before I leave this life.”

An active member of her church, Rhema Christian Center in Columbus, Inniss already ministers to women and teens. She’s also on the advisory board of Destiny Training Camp, which aims to assist youth through classes, athletics and a crisis center.

Doris Calloway Moore of Franklin County Children Services says Inniss’ enthusiasm, commitment, compassion and sincerity show in her work as a member of the Black Family Connections Advisory Board, which helps older foster children waiting to be adopted. Inniss organized a six-week course, Life Skills for the ’90s, to teach those children independent living skills such as relationship development, self esteem and how to interview for a job.

“Kids are really good at reading people,” Moore says. “They know that she’s sincere and she really cares about them, and they respond to her real well because of that.”

Inniss helps fellow business owners through Women in New Growth Stages, the Columbus Regional Minority Supplier Development Council and the newly formed Consortium 2000, an organization that helps minority business owners share resources and form strategic alliances to market their products and services.

While Inniss has come a long way toward helping her business peers, her own entrepreneurial spirit took wing before she even stepped foot in a kindergarten class.

“I must have been 4 years old when workers were outside pouring a new sidewalk,” Inniss recalls. “I used to sit at the window and watch them. I asked my mom, ‘Is it OK if we make some Spam sandwiches and Kool-Aid and sell it to them?’

“Anything you do as a kid to make money, I did it,” she adds.

Inniss raised a family of her own and embarked upon a 14-year career at Xerox Corp., where she eventually supervised a sales team that generated $5 million in revenue.

That was until a customer, Craig Taylor of Marketing Services by Vectra Inc. in Columbus, encouraged her to start her own business.

“She understood the technology and understood the marketplace, and I just thought she had all the ingredients to be successful,” says Taylor, who owns a portion of Ohio Full Court Press. Today, the company’s client list includes Bank One, The Longaberger Co., Coca-Cola Co. and state and city accounts. Inniss also plans to open a print shop in Nelsonville to attain her goal of providing employment for the people of Appalachia.

Inniss says using mentors such as Taylor and Stampp Corbin, president and CEO of Retro Box Inc. and Resource One Computer Systems, helped her overcome the challenges of starting and building her business.

To Taylor, however, Inniss’ success lies primarily within her solid beliefs.

“Her commitment to doing the right thing all the time,” he says, “is what separates her from everybody else.”

On a hot, summer Saturday, insurance agent Mark Larkin was enjoying his vacation on Lake Erie’s Catawba Island when his pager alerted him to a problem with a long-time client. Hours before her wedding, the customer realized her husband-to-be didn’t have insurance to drive their rental car.

“Literally, I was standing on a beach helping this young man get automobile insurance,” recalls Larkin, vice president of Insurance Agencies of Ohio.

The ability to help that client — on perhaps the biggest day of her life — was made possible by the company’s new telephone system, which includes an emergency paging service. Of course, in the insurance business, client calls often are more dramatic, Larkin points out. For example, the owner of a multifamily rental unit called when a building collapsed due to ground settling; the client wanted to know what the insurance ramifications would be if he took emergency workers’ advice and tore down the rest of the building.

Emergency paging is just one benefit of Insurance Agencies of Ohio’s phone system; more phone lines were added to accommodate growth, and enhanced voice mail capabilities facilitate communication.

In short, it’s a better way for Larkin and his associates to keep in touch with clients and vendors.


In 1994, Larkin set about the task of improving the 8-year-old phone system at Insurance Agencies of Ohio, an independent agency formed by the merger of four others.

“We realized our phone system wasn’t adequate to serve our clients. It didn’t allow for after-hours calls. It didn’t allow for a lot of conferencing-type systems available today,” he says.

He worked with Digital & Analog Design’s Dublin office to assess the company’s basic needs:

  • New phones and four additional lines, bringing the total to 10.

  • Tying the sales staff’s cellular phones to the central system, so calls coming into the office could be forwarded directly to an agent’s car phone.

  • Voice mail capabilities. “I think there’s probably a little reluctance on the part of all businesses to install voice mail because of the concern that they will lose the personal touch,” Larkin says. Insurance Agencies of Ohio addressed that concern by having a receptionist answer the phone, but giving the caller the option of leaving a message in voice mail if a representative is unavailable. If the caller prefers to leave a message with the receptionist, she records that information in the voice mail system. “If sales people are out and about, this gives them the opportunity to retrieve messages quicker,” he says, adding that messages can be forwarded within the office to try to solve a customer’s problem.

  • After-hours calling. When the office is closed and the phone system is turned over to the voice mail, a family member can still reach an employee by getting through to a specific extension.

To meet these needs, Insurance Agencies of Ohio purchased a Toshiba DK280 phone system with a building-block design that allows for future growth, says BeaAnn Bedford, systems programmer with Digital & Analog Design.

Larkin purchased the system and new phones for approximately $11,000, and the voice mail capabilities required another $10,000. Bedford says the price on the AVT voice mail system has come down; now the cost would range from $6,000 to $7,000.


Not only did this new system make life easier for employees at Insurance Agencies of Ohio, it gave the company a better way to keep in touch with clients and vendors.

“We expanded it because we felt that our competitors today have [toll-free] phone numbers and are staffed 24 hours a day, particularly for claims,” Larkin says. “It was our feeling that we needed a way to let our customers contact us in an emergency.”

To that end, the voice mail system features an emergency mailbox, which tells the caller a company representative will return the call within 30 minutes.

When someone leaves an emergency message, the system automatically dials a calling tree, beginning with the person whose turn it is to keep the emergency pager after hours. If there is no immediate response, the system starts a cycle, calling Ralph Guarasci, president of the agency, at home; Larkin at home; Larkin’s car phone; one of the company’s leading producers at home; that person’s car phone; and then Guarasci’s car phone. Within 12 minutes, the sequence will be complete; it repeats until someone calls the voice mail system to answer the emergency page and retrieve the message from the client.

The company has more than 3,500 clients, so the emergency system gets used an average of five times a weekend and just about every evening. Many of the calls are from weather-related claims or other emergencies. For example, a major construction client called when a sprinkler system activated, flooding a retail establishment.

“I think it gives the customer a lot of peace of mind to say ‘Clean the trees up, patch the roof, put tarps over it.’ Everyone worries that they’re going to spend money that they’re not going to get reimbursed,” Larkin says.

With the new phone system, Insurance Agencies of Ohio has a “back door” phone number to be used by vendors who can then enter an automated system to access a particular extension.

“They avoid going through our receptionist. That allows our lower lines to be handled for customers. That took a tremendous amount of work off our receptionist,” Larkin says.

When purchasing a new phone system, Bedford advises, business owners should take into consideration the reliability of the product, the dealership’s business history, features available and the flexibility of the equipment to grow.

Overall, Larkin notes, the phone improvements at Insurance Agencies of Ohio increase the company’s ability to be service driven.

“I’d say the whole system has given us much more rapid ability to respond to our customers’ needs, including those that are in an emergency situation,” Larkin says. “It basically makes us 24-hour guardians for them.”

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:55

A vehicle for savings

Denise Berryman-Lennon lives 60 miles from her job as human resources manager at the Ohio Department of Youth Services.

Yet every day, she drives just 20 miles to get to work.

Since 1986, Berryman-Lennon has saved time, money and wear on her car by carpooling downtown from her home in Yellow Springs. In 1990, that became easier as she found rides through the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission’s Commuter Assistance Program.

She’s used the program’s vanpools, but currently rides in a car with four other people traveling from the Springfield and Yellow Springs area. Two of them work at other state agencies, one works for a subsidiary of Borden, and one is a student at The Ohio State University.

Berryman-Lennon pays $50 a month toward the carpool; if she were driving on her own, gas and parking would cost her $280 a month. She also gets the benefit of added time, because she’s not driving; she’s lucky enough that one member of her carpool prefers to drive every day.

“I love to get an extra hour nap in before I arrive to work, and in the evening it’s a nice winding down time for me,” she says.

The Commuter Assistance Program has supplied carpool, vanpool and COTA information to employees of 250 businesses or agencies in an 11-county Central Ohio area, says Traci Kalra, the program’s manager.

Often, program representatives first distribute surveys to employees to determine their interest in the program; then, they’ll visit the employer to provide more information.

“We coordinate what we call transportation fairs or transportation expos, where we can have one-on-one contact with employees in an informal setting so we can explain our services,” Kalra says.

Other services, all free to employers and employees, include:

  • Guaranteed Ride Home, entitling those registered for the program to a 90 percent reimbursement of a taxi trip home if an emergency or schedule change causes the commuter to miss his or her carpool after work.

  • Information from a database of more than 7,000 people interested in ridesharing. “Say an employee is interested in carpooling. We’ll supply them with a list of other individuals who have compatible schedules and home and work locations,” Kalra says, noting that contact phone numbers are included for individuals within a 1.5-mile radius of the commuter’s home.

  • Assistance to employers moving into or within the Central Ohio area whose employees have changing commuter needs.

Bonnie Crockett, facilities manager at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and another rideshare program participant, says the Commuter Assistance Program has helped employees there find carpools since the agency moved downtown in December.

“When we moved from suburban areas to downtown, we knew parking would be an expense; access to your vehicle would be limited; and it would be a lot more stressful,” Crockett says. About 10 percent of the EPA’s 700 employees are registered to receive rideshare information.

Berryman-Lennon points out that rideshare participants have to accept that they will not have access to a vehicle during the day — unless, of course, they are the carpool driver; they might have to slightly adjust their work schedule; and they must be comfortable riding in a car with a group of people.

“There are some sacrifices that have to be made,” she says. “You have to decide what’s important — the extra half hour or 45 minutes of time or paying and doing it all on your own.” How to reach: Commuter Assistance Program, (800) 875-7665, or

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:53

No time to mourn

The day after her husband’s funeral, Rhonda Slotta held a meeting with the management team at the company he’d owned.

There was no question that she, a more than 3-year employee of the company, would take over as president, but John’s unexpected death of a heart attack July 4, 1997, had left the company’s employees worried about the future of the business.

Slotta’s quick action to devise a plan — and share it with everyone — turned out to be a key factor in the continued success of TDCI, a 7-year-old North Columbus management consulting firm.

“Immediately there was a certain amount of concern — a high level of concern,” says Slotta, who was then director of technology services at the company. “Without him, if none of us thought that we could step up to the plate and fill his shoes, then you’re faced with folding the company.”

Because John Slotta had been such a mentor to his wife and his other employees, they felt a dedication to him in return.

“I would say, at that time, everybody in the company felt a certain sense of responsibility to make his dreams live on,” Slotta says. “That was the drive for all of us, and for me personally — losing someone that you love, your husband, your lover, your mentor, your employer. He was everything to me.”

Slotta and TDCI’s top managers sat down to discuss who would fill what roles. That meant promotions for some and extra responsibilities for others. Then they shared the plan at a full company meeting, allowing employees to ask questions.

The timing had to be quick, not only for the peace of mind of the employees, but also for clients. Waiting in the wings was one of the company’s biggest potential deals: Just before John’s death, Andersen Consulting was considering TDCI to take over the support for a new business management software product.

Once the company’s employees had agreed they wanted to reorganize to continue the business, they addressed that initiative, convincing Andersen that the company was ready and capable of continuing without John.

Andersen was convinced. The firm signed a deal that allowed TDCI to continue its focus on working with manufacturing companies — and tripled the company’s customer base and annual revenues.

Another key factor in the adjustments, Slotta says, was keeping the initial changes flexible. Managers took on new responsibilities, but those plans were not carved in stone. Over six months, adjustments were made to more permanent positions.

“Since that time, the management team now in place works together as a team to define our business strategies,” Slotta says, explaining that weekly operational meetings keep everyone informed.

She’s also committed to developing relationships with the company lawyer, accountant and banker, who helped her during the transition.

Slotta admits she’s learned a lesson: She’s becoming more prepared than her husband, who died with no will and no succession plan. Those are still in the development stages; she started them about a year after her husband’s death.

“When you go through something like that, they say you’d better [make a will] immediately. People say ‘I don’t need to do it; that won’t happen to me.’ Well, even though it did happen to me, it was still something that continued to slip because I was trying to deal with everything else first,” Slotta says.

TDCI, formerly called The Development Center Inc., continues to grow, having split into two companies, TDCI Software LLC and TDCI Consulting LLC. Both companies are planning to move into shared space in the Polaris area next year.

Slotta also is recovering personally from the loss of her husband of nearly five years and, in fact, is now engaged.

Looking back, she’d advise other business owners to take a proactive approach by looking out for their company and their family with a succession plan that is communicated to all those involved.

“When you go through those experiences firsthand,” Slotta says, “it’s difficult to walk away without learning something from it.”

Joan Slattery Wall ( is a reporter for SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:53

Learning on company time

When Bill Streetman tells people he’s attending Franklin University full time and running his own start-up company, he gets a common reaction.

“Everybody I meet and know that’s involved in their own business asks me, ‘How can you afford the time to go to school?’” Streetman says. “I say, ‘I can’t afford not to.’ It’s just too good of a deal.”

The “deal,” he says, is the classes he’s taking to earn his bachelor of science degree — a double major in finance and marketing — give him information he needs to run the day-to-day operations of his home-computer networking business, In fact, he developed his business plan as part of a marketing class in April 1998, and he launched the Westerville-based company that fall.

“Literally, I go to class and come home with five pages of notes from the class and five pages of notes for the business,” he says.

A security plan

Streetman says his decision to return to school came at a time when he had already achieved a certain level of success: he was vice president at A & C Enercom, an Atlanta-based utility consulting firm.

“I didn’t go back to school like some people did because they want to come out with a promotion or a salary increase,” he explains. “I went because of a broad reason: I wanted more security.”

In the midst of his schooling, A & C Enercom was acquired by The Intellisource Group of Fairfield, Conn., and Streetman chose to pursue another goal: to build a business from scratch.

As he developed his business plan in class, he decided to make a go of the idea that with the growing use of computers in the home, residents would have an increased need for networking in much the same way businesses do.

“The class professor says, ‘Design a business plan for any company you want to.’ I said, ‘I like this notion; I think it’s viable.’ I personally wanted it done and couldn’t find a company to do it,” he says, explaining the way he, his wife and his three children needed a remedy for their battle over the use of the computers and printer in his home.

He chose marketing and finance as his double major based on what he calls the “pillars” of most businesses.

“If you can’t determine what your project’s going to be and how to get it to the marketplace, you can’t succeed; and if you can’t do it with a positive cash flow, you can’t succeed,” Streetman says.

This isn’t Streetman’s first shot at a degree. Fresh out of high school, he embarked on three years of an architectural engineering degree that he didn’t — and likely never will — finish, he says, noting that he went into engineering because his father was an engineer, a career for which Streetman says he has an aptitude but no desire.

“I have a love for interfacing with people and communicating with people and so on, but that’s not as natural — I have to work at that,” he says. “Ultimately, I decided it was probably better to follow what I liked, even if I wasn’t as good at it, than to do something I don’t like, even if I’m good at it. Follow your bliss and you can fill in the skill sets.”

Applied learning

Streetman has such a dedication to the importance of obtaining his degree and the benefit it serves his business that even while launching his company, he’s only missed two days of classes in nearly two years.

“Every day I use the basic financial principles,” he says of his classes. “What it gives me is every morning I can wake up and look and I see a number. I see a business metric: This is the cash that’s on hand and some other ratios they teach you in school, too.”

The ratios help him judge the condition of his business and determine whether he needs to make changes.

From information gleaned in his marketing classes, he’s conducted consumer research to see trends of how people accept his service.

He’s also finding out whether he’s on the right path in his business. For example, he created his own ads for the company, but after he took an advertising class, realized his message was garbled.

“You look at it and say, ‘That’s a nice pretty picture,’ and it looked OK, but I think everybody would have looked at it and assumed it was for someone else,” he says. He changed the ad, and calls picked up — the right kinds of calls, generating prospective customers rather than nonsense questions that gave him evidence he was previously confusing his audience.

The classes also enable him to provide more constructive input for two companies on whose boards he serves: an indoor air quality company in Texas and the interior design firm owned by one of his business partners, Frank White. White, in fact, once served as’s president while Streetman took a back seat as vice president of marketing in order to dedicate more time to his classes.

The complete assignment

Education continues to come to the forefront for Streetman, who calls his business plans a “wealth creation plan” to help him maintain his lifestyle and send his three children, ages 11, 13 and 15, to college.

“My overall objective is to create anywhere from two to five service-based companies where I would own either all or a percentage of them but they would be under an umbrella of a master contractor or holding company,” he says. His plan is for each to generate cash flow and grow to create equity so they could, for example, be sold or taken public.

Streetman expects to graduate this month and continue to benefit not only from the skills he’s learned but from the contacts he’s gained with professors who share real world business experiences.

“You can get so much more out of college than just taking classes,” he says.

Joan Slattery Wall ( is a reporter for SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:53

Customize your curriculum

Cardinal Health Inc.’s prescription for growing pains: Education.

Not only has the company expanded through acquiring and starting a number of separate businesses in recent years, but it’s all been done within a rapidly changing health care environment.

“Given that, and given many of our businesses partner for the greater benefit to the customer, we needed to help people within those businesses look at the world more broadly,” says Carole Tomko, Cardinal’s senior vice president of human resources.

The solution: The Cardinal Leadership Forum, an eight-day executive education program developed by the company and Boston University.

Hitting the books

Cardinal wanted its managers to learn about their internal business partners and to identify business issues those partners — and Cardinal customers — might face.

“We partnered with Boston University, which, frankly, was the only school willing to do customized executive education as opposed to an off-the-shelf program,” Tomko says.

Boston University accomplishes that by getting to know the business and its needs, says William J. Bigoness, associate dean for executive learning.

“My responsibility is to make sure my faculty gets a basic understanding of the company, the industry that they’re in,” he says. “You cannot walk into a customized program and not know a reasonable amount about that client: Where Cardinal has come from, what they’re doing today, how they have become successful.”

Boston University allowed Cardinal to participate in the design and development of the program, right down to choosing the professors.

“We were looking for professors that needed to be more entrepreneurial. We wanted them to be open to being challenged, to not be rigid in their processes, to be flexible,” Tomko says.

Cardinal then identified managers across business lines to travel to Boston to attend sessions together. Vice presidents and directors — 250 people in all — in areas such as sales, finance, operations, human resources, marketing and information technology in Cardinal’s subsidiary companies and corporate offices are attending the eight-day program in three sessions over several months.

Learning curve

At these education sessions, Cardinal executives are learning how to manage the process of change from a leadership standpoint. Change, Bigoness says, is in fact the impetus behind much executive education.

“I think the major driving force here is the rate of change in business industry today is at such an almost breathtaking pace: new knowledge, new technology, new markets, new opportunities,” he says, adding that the only way to stay on top is to stay at the forefront of knowledge.

Cardinal executives take classes that also include business principles, such as information technology.

“People need to understand the implications of technology — not in the sense of how to turn on a computer and do e-mail, but how can technology be used as a competitive edge,” Tomko says.

Other topics include marketing and communication with customers.

Mixed in are case studies, where the executives examine various companies to get a sense of how to deal with business issues.

Throughout the course, executives are asked to develop and design a project either to increase benefit to the customer or to reduce internal expenses or help the company operate more efficiently. Some of these ideas have been implemented at the company.

Lesson plans

Bigoness acknowledges that programs like the Cardinal Leadership Forum are best tailored for large businesses which can send groups of 25 or so managers. The cost is weighty, too: between $3,750 and $4,250 per person, including room, board, teaching and materials.

On a smaller scale, businesses could participate in what Bigoness calls a consortium program, in which four to five companies could bring in about six executives each. The price range would be the same per person but less per company since fewer people are attending.

Boston University also could send faculty to Columbus for a program at a local company, and the costs would be less.

Bigoness says business owners can check business schools at local universities, the American Management Association and trade associations to determine what other executive education programs exist for their particular needs.

Tomko suggests that any company considering executive education first determine its specific needs.

“Why are you feeling the need to put your folks through an education process? Is it really about education? In our case, people needed information, needed to learn about their sister companies, needed business principles to apply to a bigger organization,” she says. “A small hardware store can send people to all the training in the world, but that’s not going to keep the Lowe’s from coming into your backyard and destroying your market.”

Bigoness agrees that any executive education program should be tailored to and linked into the broader mission of the company.

“How is this educational experience promoting and moving us forward relative to where we want to be?” he says business owners should ask. “It takes work to design those kinds of programs. You just can’t take [education] as an inherent good. The day and age of that is, I think, past.” How to reach: Boston University School of Management, Executive Learning Programs,, or William J. Bigoness, (617) 353-6791

Joan Slattery Wall ( is a reporter for SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

Facing change

Learn a lesson from Terrell Davis.

The Denver Broncos running back serves as an example of how to handle change, says Patti Hathaway, who has helped companies such as Grange Insurance Cos., Bank One and Nationwide Insurance deal with organizational changes for the past 12 years.

Suffering a migraine headache early in the second quarter of Super Bowl XXXII, Davis left the field, only to return in the second half and earn Most Valuable Player honors.

“I don’t think he miraculously got healed over the second quarter,” says Hathaway, a Westerville author and professional speaker known as The Change Agent. “I think he went in there and put on a game face.”

Similarly, she says, business executives must concentrate their efforts when their companies are faced with tough changes.

“You need to focus and concentrate on the things you can control, and let go of the stuff you can’t control,” she says. “If you try to take action on things you can’t control, you’re going to be angry and frustrated. In the areas where you do have influence, you really need to be the best cheerleader and encourager for your people.”

Hathaway advises company leaders to:

  • Understand you will face resistance in the course of any changes.

    “One of the most important things an executive can do is listen to people whine about the change,” Hathaway says.

    When executives ask employees about their concerns, they often find workers are worried about things that aren’t even going to happen.

    Too many executives, she says, hold what she calls “lecture meetings,” announcing a change and asking if anyone has questions.

    “Of course nobody has any questions, because they are in shock,” she says.

    She suggests executives first send out a memo about the changes and leave space for questions at the bottom. Then hold a meeting to discuss specific questions.

    “The bottom line is, you want involvement,” she says. “Here are questions: What are your frustrations or problems with this direction or change? What alternative solutions do you have that would meet our goal?

    “What you do is you help them to whine purpose fully,” she continues. “You will also have a buy-in to what you implemented because they had input.”

  • Admit your game plan might not be perfectly clear.

    Often, she says, the game plan might not be set in stone. Even if it is, the economy or competition might come along and mess up everything. That’s not a problem, she says; just be honest about it.

    “Employees sit back and say, ‘I know they know what the game plan is; they’re just not telling me,’” Hathaway says. “If you don’t know, tell them, ‘We are totally at the mercy of X.’ People just want honesty, and the thing I find is a lot of leaders don’t want to be gut-level honest.”

    They do this, she says, because they don’t want to be out of control. In a fast-moving, competitive business, however, it’s impossible to have such concrete information.

  • Accept the fact that change can be difficult.

    “I tell executives employees will view them as a new pirate who has come aboard their ship,” she says of management that takes over any organization.

    She suggests managers find articles that explain change in their industry to help employees understand the changes.

    “I also think sometimes executives shy away from sending employees to workshops or conferences because they might say the grass is alot greener on the other side of the fence,” Hathaway says. “My thought is, a lot of times they find, ‘I don’t have it so bad.’ If the grass is greener, you want those people to jump ship early.”

    That way they won’t stick around to make the changes even more miserable. Besides, she says, those conferences might provide a different outlook for many long-term employees who simply have no outside perspective from which to view change.

  • Don’t try to convince employees that all of the change is for the better.

    “If you keep saying, ‘Change is good, change is good,’ employees will sit there saying, ‘Change is not good,’” she says, referring to fears they may have about losing their jobs or taking cuts in pay. “If you’re realistic about it, say, ‘Change is hard.’”

How to reach: Patti Hathaway,, 523-3633

Joan Slattery Wall ( is a reporter for SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

A working solution

Welfare hires are good, productive employees, according to 80 percent of the 7,000-plus small businesses nationwide participating in The Welfare to Work Partnership.

In fact, the percentage of small businesses reporting their satisfaction with this new work force has increased from 75 percent a year earlier — and retention rates have improved, as well. Sixty-two percent of small companies, defined as those with 250 or fewer employees, said in a January survey that their welfare hires stay as long as or longer than other entry-level workers — up from 47 percent who said so last year. Retention among larger companies has improved, too, from 50 to 73 percent.

Nearly three years into the program, however, The Welfare to Work Partnership, a national not-for-profit corporation formed by businesses to help move those on public assistance into jobs in the private sector, is finding its small business supporters need some help recruiting such workers.

While small businesses participating in the partnership express the same commitment to hiring from welfare rolls as large companies, they lag behind large corporations when it comes to actual hiring. Ninety percent of the large companies surveyed report hiring former welfare recipients in the last two years, while 70 percent of small businesses did.

The survey also shows:

  • While two-thirds of large businesses report having formed partnerships with outside agencies to help in hiring and retaining new welfare hires, less than half of small businesses have formed such partnerships. There is a strong correlation between businesses that have established partnerships and the likelihood of hiring someone off welfare.

  • A 1998 study showed only 19 percent of small businesses had accessed the Work Opportunity Tax Credit or the Welfare to Work tax credit, while nearly one-third of larger companies had done so.

To help, the partnership has developed a step-by-step program to take small businesses through each stage of welfare to work. Part of that program is a brochure, “Welfare to work: a smart solution for small business,” which offers examples of how businesses are involved in the program and lists phone numbers and Web sites for more information, such as how to access tax credits. To find out more, visit or call (888) 872-5621.

Joan Slattery Wall ( is a reporter for SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:50

Leading by example

If he’d followed his family’s initial expectations, a founder of one of Columbus’ largest law firms would never have been an attorney.

“It was always assumed by my family I was going to be a doctor,” says Benjamin L. Zox, president and CEO of Schottenstein, Zox & Dunn LPA, noting relatives thought he’d follow in the footsteps of an uncle who was a general surgeon.

“It was more a function of the times, growing up the ’50s,” Zox explains. “Every Jewish mother wanted her son to be a doctor first or a lawyer second and wanted her daughter to marry a doctor first or a lawyer second.

“When I got to be a sophomore in high school, maybe 15 years old, I decided I didn’t like the sciences,” Zox says, “and I also saw my uncle being called away from family gatherings for emergencies.”

Zox mustered up the nerve to tell his father one evening.

“His immediate response was, ‘That’s OK; so you’ll be a lawyer,’” Zox recalls. “That’s how I got started thinking about it. I’m more suited for that anyway.”

In fact, Zox says he’d choose the same career if he had to start over.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity to help those less fortunate, both in your law practice and in your spare time,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed the opportunities it’s given me to do those things.”

Zox takes as inspiration for his leadership abilities the example of Mel Schottenstein, another founder of his firm, who died in 1993.

“No. 1 he was a tireless worker,” Zox says of his mentor. “And he was totally dedicated — in this order — to his family, to his law firm and to his community. He was a very generous person both with his time and his resources.”

Generally reserved and deliberate in his conversation, Zox, 62, lights up at talk of Julie, his wife of 40 years, and their three children.

“Of course one of my favorite hobbies are my three beautiful granddaughters,” Zox says, quick to show off a photograph of them.

His law firm, founded in 1966, has grown to 100 lawyers with 1999 revenues expected to exceed $25 million. The firm’s clients include Bank One, The Huntington National Bank, the City of Dublin, Schottenstein Stores Corp. and Highlights for Children. He attributes the firm’s success to its ability to attract quality lawyers.

“Of course in a law firm the most important asset is the people, and I think we have as fine people as you could find in a law firm anywhere, both in terms of their ability as lawyers and their character as people,” he says. “I like to look at our firm as an extended family. I think it’s a very friendly place to work.”

Following in the community dedication of his mentor, Zox has served a long list of professional, religious and service organizations.

He particularly has enjoyed his presidency of the Columbus Bar Association and the privilege it gave him to be recognized by his peers as a spokesman for his career. In addition, he led the YMCA of Central Ohio “Restoring the Glory” campaign, raising $21 million to renovate the downtown facility.

Zox’s current community involvement includes his service as a trustee and vice chairman of the Leo Yassenoff Foundation; board member of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce and The Capital Club; chairman of the National Council of the College of Law at The Ohio State University; and endowment fund chairman of the Columbus Bar Foundation.

While Zox’s reserved and self-described conservative nature leads him to talk of his accomplishments without fanfare, his leadership abilities are not lost on others in the community.

“Ben Zox is a successful attorney, humanitarian, husband and father of three who dwells in the love of his God and family,” YMCA President and CEO John Bickley wrote in support of Zox’s nomination to the Central Ohio Business Hall of Fame. “Although he has never basked in his own success, he is the epitome of most people’s dreams.”

Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Sally Jackson says Zox sets “an outstanding example of community leadership and dedication to making Greater Columbus a better place to live, work and raise a family for people of all races, religions and creeds.”

She lauds his vision as chair of the chamber’s CEO Ambassadors, which he formed late last year with 15 other community leaders to present a positive image of the community to CEOs who are new in town.

“In the future, we want to focus on helping to attract new companies to Columbus on a CEO-to-CEO level and encourage companies already here to expand here rather than elsewhere,” Zox says.

Asked which business leaders he admires, Zox declined to give a local list, fearing to leave out anyone.

“Columbus is fortunate to have a large number of business leaders who are also unselfish community leaders,” he says.

What he will list without hesitation are the qualities he thinks make a successful leader: One must be unselfish, a consensus builder, a good listener, decisive and willing to take risks and positions that are not necessarily popular.

Unknowingly, he echoed the sentiments his nominators offered of his own personality:

“I think, No. 1, you have to be sensitive,” Zox says. “You have to be able to motivate people, and you have to lead not only by what you say but by what you do.”

Another of Zox’s nominators, Judge Cynthia Lazarus of the 10th District Court of Appeals, says Zox, by example, has helped change the character of his profession, his community of faith and his city.

“The rest of us are the beneficiaries of his skills, his dedication, his beliefs,” Lazarus says. “We, in this community, have been shaped by him in innumerable ways and form his legacy.”

Joan Slattery Wall ( is a reporter for SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:50

Doing IT with class

Overseeing a department with 2,600 employees and a budget of $250 million, Geno Natalucci-Persichetti keeps track of a lot of paperwork.

In December 1997, however, the director of the Ohio Department of Youth Services found a better way — and saved thousands of dollars in the process.

Natalucci-Persichetti called DeVry Institute of Technology and learned that student interns and seniors working on projects could help him with database needs in human resources, finance and planning.

“The quality of the students we’ve gotten out of there has been so outstanding that it has been hard to believe, and the projects they’ve done for us have been so good that they’re helping us move into a more efficient situation,” the director says.

Already the students have developed:

  • An automated telephone database for the department’s 220 central office employees.

  • A computerized organizational chart of all the department’s employees. The students are working to integrate the chart with payroll information to track personnel costs.

  • A labor relations database. “We have three major unions. About 70 percent of our line staff are unionized,” Natalucci-Persichetti says. “We have to track their union status, disciplinary actions and personnel movement tied to different union contracts.”

The students continue to work on other projects, including databases for workers’ compensation, occupational injury leave and disability.

“All these things are related to trying to reduce the paper,” Natalucci-Persichetti says.

The partnership has reduced costs, as well.

ODYS over the past year and a half has paid interns an hourly rate; senior project teams provide their work for free.

“We spent $47,000,” he says, “but using a business rate, we’ve probably saved at least $138,000 of what we would have spent. If you use the more conservative government rate, with state employees doing the same amount of work, we still saved $70,000.”

DeVry has formed partnerships like this for almost 15 years with businesses, government entities and nonprofit organizations such as American Whistle Co., German Village Society, Bron-Shoe Co. and St. Stephen’s Community House, says Michael J. Stamos, a professor and chair of accounting and business administration at DeVry.

Businesses or organizations interested in using DeVry students present their idea to the school, and professors or advisers review it to be sure it qualifies.

“Our students are meant to learn from the experience and the people there,” says Dr. Galen Graham, president of DeVry Columbus. “It’s intensive for the clients, too; they mentor the students and provide them with resources.”

ODYS did that with the help of David Billman, a retired finance director from the department who has returned to do special projects in Natalucci-Persichetti’s office. He spends 25 to 35 percent of his time mentoring the students and coordinating the projects.

“That’s part of the magic to make it work,” Natalucci-Persichetti says. “You’ve got to have somebody committed to working with the students.”

The director also likes the fact that his department was able to interview the project teams and choose the interns.

“The benefit is bright, young people who are eager and who want to motivate themselves to do their best, whether to impress the employer or get their resume ready,” he says. “They also bring in the latest ideas in IT that corporations might not have access to that quick.”

How to reach: DeVry Institute of Technology, Michael J. Stamos, chair, accounting and business administration, 253-7291, ext. 1386;

Joan Slattery Wall ( is a reporter for SBN.