Joan Wall

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:07

Mergers: A client’s view

When news of the 1995 acquisition of Columbus-based McElroy-Minister Co. by Indianapolis-based Acordia Inc. reached Franklin International, one of McElroy’s longtime clients, the usual questions arose: Would service be interrupted? What changes might result?

John Markham, senior vice president of human resources at Franklin, a South Side adhesive-products manufacturer, says the company’s first call was to Tom Hadley, senior vice president at McElroy.

“Tom reassured us that they would take care of issues, and it would basically be business as usual,” Markham says.

The long-lasting business relationship between the two executives was important in easing Markham’s worries.

“It’s especially important in a relationship business—and I think all customer relationships come down to personal relationships—that you just respect the customer as a person and communicate with them,” Hadley says. “They’d expect that from you, and you’d expect that if they were merging.”

Hadley has been on the other side as well. He’s fielded calls from clients when insurance companies merge.

“We are, in effect, buying insurance for all of our clients. Insurance companies are going through all kinds of mergers, so we deal with this very frequently—for example, United HealthCare Corp. [and] Humana Inc. But I can go back and name about 20 other deals,” he says.

When the Acordia/McElroy-Minister merger was final, Hadley sent a copy of the news announcement and a letter to his clients explaining the situation.

“It was surprisingly quiet,” he says. “The biggest question from all of our clients [was], ‘Who’s going to handle my account and is it still going to be you?’ When I said, ‘Yes,’ that was all they needed to hear.”

On Franklin’s end, the merger brought few hassles but many questions from the 475 employees covered under McElroy’s insurance plan, Markham says.

“Basically the same thing Tom did with us is what we did with our employees,” Markham says. “Through internal communication, we tried to reassure them they probably would not see any difference in the services they’re provided.”

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:06

Cooking up business

When a customer calls Bexley's Monk to request a menu, staff members ask whether the caller has Internet access.

That's because owner Steve Gifford is one of a growing number of restaurateurs reaching customers through cyberspace.

For less than $100 a month, Gifford links his Web site to MenuColumbus, where visitors can access menus, hours and maps of nearly 60 area restaurants, and to Savvy Diner, where customers can make a reservation. Hits to Gifford's site-www.bexleymonk.com-have grown from 500 a month nearly two years ago to about 2,500.

"We don't really do any advertising, so it was a really economical avenue for us to become involved in something that everybody's talking about right now," Gifford says.

Eric Shinn, co-owner of MenuColumbus, says his site - www.menucolumbus.com - gets more than 10,000 hits per month, many targeted for The FiftyFive Restaurant Group Ltd. He requires restaurants to post menus and prices either through a hot link or directly on the MenuColumbus site.

"For out-of-town people, it's really a nice service I would think," says Sandra Losco, assistant manager of The Refectory, whose site is maintained by MenuColumbus. "I would love to have it linked with travel agents and things like that. That's all in good time, I imagine."

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:05

Bidding for a bargain

If online auctions aren't your bag, maybe you ought to try the real thing.

Auctions have been a part of Matt Gallapoo's life since the day he was born; he's following in the career footsteps of his father, Dave, as an auctioneer in the family business, American Family Auctioneers, which operates in Wooster and Columbus.

Not only that, but Matt Gallapoo also has furnished his house almost completely through auction purchases, and he's bought more than half the equipment for his own business, American Family Concessions, at auctions.

For example, he purchased a 6-foot stainless-steel refrigerator, which he says can cost $1,200 new, at auction for $350. Last year, he bought a new cotton-candy machine for $2,200, but shortly afterward he went to an auction and bought three for $1,000 total.

Business owners should go into an auction with a bit of preparation, he says.

"If the small businessman is going to an auction and doesn't know how the auction works, he should either take somebody with him [who knows] or go to an auction ahead of time and see how it works," he says.

Gallapoo also suggests:

  • Doing research. He goes to restaurant-equipment stores to find out new and used prices so he knows what he's willing to pay at an auction.

  • Going to the auction early to see if there's anything of interest. An auctioneer may estimate what time a particular item will be for sale.

  • Never starting the bid. "If an auctioneer is selling, let's say, a box of books and he realizes that box of books might bring $10, he comes out asking for $15 or $20," he says. "If he comes out asking $20 right off the bat and you say, 'Yea,' how do you know you couldn't have gotten it for a dollar?"

  • Always expecting to pay the day of the sale.

  • Buyer beware. There's no return policy or guarantee at an auction.

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:04

Taking initiative

How did you identify the need for this initiative at your firm?

We focused on retention and advancement of women when we started seeing statistics coming out of colleges that accounting students were over 50 percent females. But they were entering the accounting field and not staying. Even the accounting students that were choosing public accounting exceeded 50 percent females, so you can see, from a recruiting standpoint and then a retention and advancement perspective, how addressing the women's needs became very important as they became a larger part of our firm.

What programs are now part of the Women's Initiative in Columbus?

We have telecommuting that falls into the flexible work arrangements-which also include part time, flextime, all different kinds of structures. We have people that work 40 hours in busy seasons and less in the summers. We've had people take an 80 percent workload and then dedicate themselves to a particular initiative [outside work] that's important to them.

You might have the concept that it's women that want to go part-time to take care of their children. It's much more broad than that.

Other programs [include] reviews to make certain that there's fairness built into the assignments that women participate in ... so that they are not relegated to low-profile, non-complex types of clients and [thus] not given the chance to advance.

Saturday Play Days, an on-site day care during busy season, is very popular, and we have an annual women's conference on a regional basis.

We also run networking events-some of them are co-ed, some of them are female only-generally with other local banks and law firms that we believe share similar interests and professional challenges that we have here in an accounting firm. The purpose is to interact with other businesspeople and provide opportunities for people to network with a bottom-line goal of business development. That was identified through human-resource surveys where women were not on a level playing ground with men. I think men have just been [networking] for decades and women don't, and so we facilitated activities to somewhat level that playing field.

How have the programs met your goals?

My No. 1 goal was really the education and support. One measurement [of that success] would be the number of individuals participating in the flexible work arrangements. It is increasingly popular [currently about 10 percent of the local firm's employees participate], and that is clearly a measurement that the education and support is being felt by the people that need to actually utilize the program. The other [aspect] I can actually measure is the attendance at the Women's Initiative conference [where 38 of the 42 women eligible-senior accountants, managers, senior managers and partners-attended].

What impact have these programs had on women at your office?

What we have seen is the incoming groups of recruits have actually gone over 50 percent women. We have found this is a phenomenal recruiting tool and retention tool. [In 1993, there were 22 women at the levels of senior accountant and above in the Columbus office; this year, there are 40.]

Retention statistics clearly are evidence that the program's working. [Turnover overall has dropped an average of 1 percent in each of the last three years.]

One woman left the firm for a number of reasons-one was she started a family-[but] she felt the need to be academically stimulated and ⊃ she came back because of the flexible work arrangements that we have.

How did you convince the firm's members to accept and use the programs?

Once you look at turnover statistics, women's promotion percentages, and how many female partners were in our office, it spoke to the fact that women were leaving public accounting. When you get behind the numbers, it's a little easier to convince. It was an educational process that we're still in the process of. By no means have we completed the buy-in and the education that goes behind the initiative. It's improved every single year.

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:04

Branching out

On the surface, Richard DiPaolo Sr., president of RDP Foodservice, appears to have nothing in common with Pauline Chambers Yost, CEO of Tech International. He runs a local food-distribution company; she deals in tire repair internationally. Yet the two share a common bond. Having lived through the Depression, both are cautious in their business moves. They pay cash for everything. They aim for slow growth. They deliberate over each decision.

Still, they must strive to understand the wishes of their children and grandchildren, who share in their companies' management.

"The younger generation has a little different perspective," says 80-year-old DiPaolo Sr. "I've never borrowed a dime in this business. Everything I've done, I've paid for it."

Yost, at age 81, is in a similar situation.

"I've been there from the concept of the business, and I know what was successful and the mistakes we made, and I don't want them repeated," she says. "It's hard sometimes to get that across to your family members.

"I decided that I wanted my concept to be carried on through many more generations," she continues. "I have fourth-generation people working for me today. I would like to have that continue and have my great-grandchildren say, 'Isn't this wonderful? We have our eighth and our 10th generations working for us.'"

It may sound like a lofty goal, but already Yost and DiPaolo Sr.'s success contradict the norm.

Research shows that while one in three family businesses succeed from the first to the second generation, only one in 10 pass from the second to the third, says Thomas Davidow, a nationally recognized family-business expert and co-founder of Genus Resources Inc. in Needham, Mass.

"The biggest secret, if you will, is meaningful communication-and communication to me means two-way: talking and listening," adds J. Richard Emens, a partner with Chester, Willcox & Saxbe LLP, who, along with Davidow, declined to specifically comment on Tech or RDP.

"The fact that they are in the third generation shows that the people in the first generation were doing a lot of things right and they do know some things," Emens says. "There may be some very good reasons [why] they don't want to move as fast."


Closing the gap

Bridging the chasm caused by each generation's differing goals takes effort. Yost says one of the hardest gaps to close is the conservativeness that grew from her Depression-era upbringing.

"I know what can happen. I have seen it and I have lived it," she says. "When you come out of a private girls school and go to work for a dollar a day, it's quite a jolt."

Yost says she's comfortable with Tech's 10 percent annual growth rate, but she keeps a tight hold on the reins.

"We could have grown a lot faster if I had been willing to take a plunge," she says. "But that was not within my range of thinking. We have grown slow and steady, and I'm happy that we've chosen this route."

DiPaolo Sr. knows from experience how relationships between generations must work. When he worked in his parents' grocery store, for example, he was the one who pushed his father to expand the business.

"He was getting older and didn't want all of the headaches, [like] hiring more people," DiPaolo Sr. remembers.

Now DiPaolo Sr. has come full circle: His sons and grandsons are working to convince him that RDP needs larger facilities.

Although DiPaolo Sr. concedes that the company needs to grow, the three generations have not agreed on how to do it. DiPaolo Sr. is not comfortable with debt.

"I'm not one to go out and get into something we don't have to," he says. "The kids say, 'Why do you have to use your money when we could go to the bank and borrow?'"

Generational issues in any family business often boil down to what really amounts to business issues, says Davidow.

"Forget whether they're family members. They're two generations competing for capital: one to generate security for themselves after all these years, which is a legitimate position," he says. "But not only that, the next generation says, 'You've had your run at it ⊃ you have your sense of achievement and that's what's in front of me now. I want the capital to build the business for my opportunity to actualize myself.' These are not the words they use, but these are the issues that drive people."

The members need to realize, he says, that without communication or an outside facilitator, a business issue-lack of capital-can disintegrate into a family struggle between parent and child with typical issues of power, control and trust.


Moving forward

The family elders at Tech and RDP are adamant about their ways. That sometimes taxes the patience of the new generation.

"Whenever you have a family business and whenever you have family generations that hang on beyond retirement age, it makes it awfully difficult for the next generation to excel," says Michael Chambers, Yost's grandson and the company's executive vice president. "Family businesses are unique in some very positive ways, but there is also some negative luggage that goes with it."

He says he's eager to deal in the next millennium, planning 15 years down the road, while his grandmother's focus remains on reinforcing what history means to the company.

That's not all bad, he insists.

"We have a wonderful relationship where we're very open and honest, which is key to the relationship, especially with the generation gap being so strong," he says. "We are allowed to branch out and make decisions with the input of how things were 30 years ago so we wouldn't repeat the same mistakes."

To deal with the friction, he's learned to be conservative himself-to explain to his grandmother what the company needs and to forgo what may be luxuries-so Yost approves a majority of his requests.

Plus, knowing that she will be strict in her review of company decisions forces the younger generations to make sure they have an iron-clad presentation before they approach Yost with requests.

"It's a safeguard for our strategic plan to make sure Tech International does not go out and jump recklessly," Chambers says.

Yost's daughter, Cheryl Poulton, who is secretary on the company's board, sees herself aligned more with her nephew, Michael Chambers; his brother, Gary; and her own daughter, Nicole Layne, in reference to the generation gap between them and Yost.

Her mother is "definitely the matriarch of the family and the business," she says, but there are no apparent power struggles.

"I think we're extremely functional for the jobs that we have ahead of us. Naturally there's more pressure than on most families. But we don't fight and argue and not speak. If we have issues, then we just have to work through them," Poulton says. "We are learning, and I think that we are making great strides in separating business issues and family issues. That doesn't mean we all agree, but there's no three ganging up on one. We all respect each other's abilities."

Edward Hertenstein, an attorney with Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter and board member of the new Family Business Solutions program at The Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business, suggests that any family business include on its board not only family members but also outsiders with experience in the business community.

"Sometimes you lose that feeling of objectivity when there is no one from the outside who is testing your decisions," Hertenstein says. "It's tough to be objective looking in the mirror."

That's why Yost and her management team consult with Davidow.

"He meets with us once a month, so he helps us close the generation gap," Yost says.

In the DiPaolo family, Paul says he and his brother, son and nephews simply have to be understanding of his father's experiences.

"He's come up the hard way, in a different era," Paul DiPaolo says. "Today is much faster-paced than what it was in his time. Sometimes you have to make decisions a little faster than he would like to make."

But still, it's his company and his decision.

"It's veto power, yes," Paul DiPaolo says of the procedure by which the three vice presidents discuss company business and then take their decision to Richard Sr. for his approval. "But he doesn't completely say, 'No, that's it.' He works with us."

For example, the elder DiPaolo eventually gave in on the 1983 decision to move the company from Reynolds Avenue to Indianola Avenue. But he took his time.

"He knows that we need new physical warehouse space, but he wants to weigh all the options. It took probably three to four months to make up his mind," Paul DiPaolo says. "We try to plan things a year or so in advance because it takes us a while to get it accomplished."

Emens, a founding director of Franklin University's Family Business Center, says older generations must remember that the younger members eventually will assume more responsibility to run the business.

"If the older generations really want to have the business continue ⊃ they will encourage and bring along the younger generation so that even though they have the veto power, they almost never use it," Emens says.

"If they're open to hearing the ideas of the younger generation," he continues, "they can then utilize the talents-and particularly the energy-of the third generation to grow the business."

Mark Mizer, RDP's vice president of sales and marketing and the first of the third generation to join the company, knows he's dependent on his uncles and grandfather to increase his role.

"With my uncles' support, they give me the opportunity to thrive and excel," Mizer says.

The senior generations are learning from the new, too.

DiPaolo Sr. remembers 20 years ago, when his son Dick wanted to buy a computer. The elder DiPaolo asked his son why such a great expense-$7,000 at the time-was necessary.

"I thought that was a lot of money. But today it's a good thing we got started with it," DiPaolo Sr. admits. "I realized that the younger generation, you have to listen to them sometimes-or a lot of the time."

Often that means compromising.

"The younger kids sometimes say, 'Let's go buy a semi.' Well a semi's $100,000," he says. "I'll say, 'Can't we find something maybe a couple of years old and get by with half of that, maybe $50,000?'"


An outside view

Stacie Rodriguez watches the DiPaolo family dynamics at work firsthand. As RDP's controller, she sits in on family meetings to talk about the financials and future of the business. Although all decisions go before the company president-"Richie Sr.," as the employees call him-she notices that family members work together rather than allowing one person to always have final say.

"Sometimes it's amazing," she says of the way the family works together. "When they're here, this is their business. This is their livelihood. They work hard to get it going."

Bud Fuller, RDP's director of sales, says in the 20 years he's worked with the family, he's seen DiPaolo Sr. command respect and also accept the new thinking of his sons and grandsons. Fuller feels his input is accepted as well.

"I think that's a testimony to the DiPaolo family. Even though they've been in business for an extensive number of years, they are keen enough to know somebody like myself might be their eyes and ears to what's going on in the marketplace," he says.

Davidow says one thing any family business has to offer nonfamily employees is the culture and values that exist within the family.

"If you have a family that is working together, then by definition, you have a culture where relationships are important," he says. "Consequently, relationships are not just important between and among family members; relationships are important everywhere-employees, customers, suppliers."

At Tech, many of the employees' parents and grandparents have also worked at the company. As such, each generation has grown to trust the family members who run Tech, Chambers says, and to understand their challenges.

"They have the luxury of turning Tech off," he says of nonfamily employees. "They know that's not a luxury with me, and there's a mutual respect about that. But on the other hand it's almost like a brotherhood as we work together. We all wear many ball caps here, and therefore we all respect each other."

That carries a lot of weight with employees like Gary Armstrong, who left a senior vice president position to join Tech after 15 years at Lord, Sullivan & Yoder.

"It's a very close-knit family that has a great deal of respect for one another and a great deal of confidence in each family member's ability to run this company," he says.

Sometimes there's too much confidence, Chambers says, pointing out that many employees hesitate to make decisions on their own, seeking the input of family members at every turn. He's found that a challenge to his own time, which is often spent responding to requests rather than managing his own tasks.

"It's very difficult balancing all the aspects of this company because it's family-owned," Chambers says. "But it's also so rewarding because it's family-owned."

Next month: Making plans to continue the legacy of ownership and management.

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:03

Net gain

Through the use of technology, pension customers of Nationwide Financial Services reach no farther than their keyboards to control their retirement benefits.

That's because two years ago, Nationwide established a Customer Virtual Service Center on its Web site that enables its Best of America Group Pension Series customers to go online to look up account balances, move money among investment options or change investment elections.

"We were fortunate enough to have people who had the foresight to say this is where we want to be, and we want to be a leader in this area," says Scott A. Stewart, director of pension services for Nationwide Financial Services.

Customers are responding. In less than a year's time, the number of online accounts-currently about 30,000-doubled, while the total base of customers increased 20 percent. Between August 1997 and July 1998, the number of monthly online transactions made by those customers nearly quadrupled.

That figure continues to grow, as each month 1,000 to 2,000 of the approximately 350,000 participants in the group pension series open online accounts.

In addition to pension customers of Nationwide's Best of America Group Pension Series, members of the Public Employees Benefit Services Corp., a subsidiary of Nationwide that administers deferred compensation and post-employment health plans, can use the Web site to access their accounts. The service will be offered to individual annuities customers and variable life insurance customers as well.

The advantages, Stewart says, are two-fold.

Customers benefit by having more control over their accounts.

"They can go in and look at their account balance, make an intelligent decision of how they want their money invested and go ahead and do it," he says.

Nationwide benefits, too, because each online transaction is one less that an employee must take the time to enter.


Testing the waters

Research to add a service center to the Web site was minimal-informal surveys of customers and a test with current customers to check their acceptance. The main impetus, Stewart says, was to take advantage of what was, in 1996, the anticipated potential of the Internet as a business tool.

Retirement customers, Stewart points out, run the gamut demographically, so some assumptions had to be made that the Internet capability would be used across the board.

"Software firms, engineering firms already saw this coming. From them you'd hear, 'Yeah, great,'" Stewart says. "You just make the jump to say this is going to go mainstream."

Previously, customers had the option to make changes in pension accounts by using an automated telephone system; by talking to their employer's human resources department; or by setting up an appointment with their local preferred pension administrator.

Now customers can make their own changes to their accounts 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the World Wide Web.

"Obviously the Web, because of its graphic capabilities, has a lot more opportunity for a lot of robust functionality," Stewart says.

Maureen Durr, who handles benefits for Houston-based Belsco Services Inc., says using Nationwide's online service center was a natural for the engineering, sales and assembly firm whose 22 employees use computers in their day-to-day work.

"Another reason [we elected to have the Internet access] is the ability to go in and change your funds as you care to, which is sometimes a lot easier than trying to contact the 'right' person," Durr says.

To access accounts on the secure Web site, www.bestofamerica.com/html/sc.shtml, customers must enter their own identification number and password.

"When they're sending financial information or looking at their financial information, there's no danger of it getting to the wrong party or into the wrong hands," Stewart says.

Nationwide offers Internet access as an optional, free item, so if employers with 401(k) plans aren't comfortable with it, they don't automatically get it.

"Having said that," Stewart adds, "very few customers have made an issue of 'I have concerns about this; I don't want my employees to have access to it.'"

Durr says employees at Belsco also can see, for example, what portions of their funds were generated from payroll deferrals vs. the company's contribution.

Because Nationwide already processed its business electronically, the main task in setting up the Internet capability was to create software that would let existing processing systems interface with a Web-based, front-end system and offer a secure environment for transacting business.

The software programs were written by Nationwide employees, but the costs are difficult to break out, Stewart says, because Nationwide built several Internet interfaces simultaneously for different business units.

One initial unknown, Stewart says, was response to a phone number Nationwide posted on the Web site in anticipation of customers needing more than virtual help.

"We knew there were going to be situations where unsophisticated participants might not be able to navigate through the Web site," Stewart says. "We had to set up some sort of a support system to help them out."

In the last quarter of 1997, Nationwide Financial Services received 2,276 phone calls with questions related to the Web site. In the second quarter of 1998, that number was more than double-4,793-as the number of online accounts increased at the same rate. Roughly 1.5 to two full-time equivalent positions were added to handle those calls.

At the same time, use of the Web site also has increased. In August 1997, nearly 13,000 transactions were made online; that rose to more than 50,000 by July 1998.

As the use of the Internet site increases, Nationwide looks for ways to enhance it.

Among the plans:

  • Adding investment performance, which will give the user historical information about the funds.

  • Posting units and unit values, to show the users how many shares or units they have and the values of those units.

  • Including the capability to reallocate account balances by percentages rather than dollar amounts.

"I think that a financial services company's image in relation to technology is key," Stewart says. "I believe that having the Web capabilities and the ability to transact business the way we do on the Web is really a key component of creating that image. It gives our customers tools they need to do business with us on their terms."

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:02

The heart of the matter

Years earlier, John Perkins would have dismissed the pressure between his shoulder blades as a muscle ache. But in April 1996, the president and chief operating officer of OhioHealth Group knew better-and told his wife to call 911.

Three days later at Riverside Methodist Hospital, he was recovering from the balloon angioplasty that had opened a partially blocked artery in his heart. He considers himself lucky: By catching the symptoms early, he received treatment before the blockage damaged his heart.

Perkins, who left OhioHealth Group this November to do consulting work with health care providers, credits his awareness and quick response to one thing-the cardiac risk reduction class he had taken four months earlier through his company's personal wellness program, started as a benefit to its HMO.

Like all HealthPledge HMO members who opt to participate in the wellness program, Perkins had filled out a personal wellness profile, which gave him an on-paper view of his health, including his exercise level, eating habits, stress and medical care.

His profile was forwarded to the wellness program staff for analysis. Shortly thereafter, Perkins received a call from nurse Linda Schilling, the wellness clinical administrator, who explained his four risk factors for heart disease: he had a history of it in his family, he was overweight, he had a high cholesterol level and his lifestyle was too sedentary.

"In other words," Perkins translates, "I was heading for a heart attack."

Schilling directed him to the coronary disease risk reduction program at Riverside. Like all participants in the wellness program, Perkins paid a $10 co-pay for the 10-week program, which educated him about a high-fiber, low-fat diet; taught him how to reduce stress in his work life; and showed him how to identify the symptoms of coronary artery disease. This last bit tipped him off months later that his sudden back pain was more than a pulled muscle.

Perkins isn't the only success story in OhioHealth Group's wellness program.

Barry Shaffer, vice president of sales and marketing, also filled out the assessment. He knew his 30-year smoking habit would be his downfall.

Hypnosis, nicotine patches and gum, acupuncture and "cold turkey" methods had never resulted in successful efforts to quit. The wellness program, however, gave him the push he needed to decide that he really wanted to stop smoking.

"I think the profile just scared the hell out of me," says Shaffer, who credits an eight-week smoking cessation program at Riverside with helping him kick the habit. He also learned about stress reduction and healthier eating-two other areas where his profile showed he was at risk.


A trial run

In addition to the specific success stories of its own employees, OhioHealth Group is beginning to see results of the wellness program at client companies such as Worthington Schools, which piloted the program for OhioHealth Group in 1993.

The impetus was a 1985 study at a Michigan manufacturing company, where researchers documented a correlation between helping employees stay healthier and decreasing health care costs.

Wellness program organizers at OhioHealth Group sought advice from physicians, fitness center managers and other wellness professionals, such as those at the Elizabeth Blackwell Center, then partnered with organizations both within the OhioHealth system, such as Riverside, and others, including Metro V Athletic Club, to offer wellness courses.

The next step was to get employee participation.

"I think the initial fear of members is what the health plan is going to do with this information," Schilling says. "They were concerned about whether it would affect their insurability. We had to assure them the information would not go to their employer; that it would be maintained here."

Each profile is assessed by the wellness group, then summaries are returned to employees. Along the way, employees set personal wellness goals, says Martha Hippler, wellness manager. The goals may not be as specific as losing 20 pounds by the 20th of December, but they all involve changing behavior, such as eating five fruits a day or drinking eight glasses of water daily.

"We just want people to take small, realistic steps so they have some success," Hippler says.

High-risk cases are referred to nurse Debbie Dreier, wellness care manager, who calls the employees for one-on-one consultation.

At the time of the Worthington Schools pilot program, Schilling says, OhioHealth Group sought a partner to determine what would happen if participants identified their health risks and changed their lifestyles. Would people be more satisfied with their health plans? Could people really learn to take charge of their health through the program? If they did, would health care claims dollars decrease?

"We have a strong belief in Worthington Schools that employees need to take charge of their own health," says Bruce E. Mousa, Worthington Schools director of business services. "One of the ways we can model that is by having our people who sponsor our insurance plans also be involved in wellness programs."

Already, OhioHealth Group has found that 80 to 98 percent of Worthington Schools participants are satisfied with the program; 85 to 90 percent believe they are learning to take charge of their health; and 50 percent believe their health has improved as a result of the program.

The numbers show it has. Of the Worthington Schools participants, 2 percent have improved their blood pressure; 14 percent have changed their weight to recommended levels; and 15 percent have moved into the "good to excellent" wellness score range.

"I don't think there's any reason to think we won't see the same results in our HMO population," Schilling says.


Living up to the promise

Perkins made the wellness program part of the new HealthPledge HMO that OhioHealth Group began offering to all its clients in January 1996.

"The HMO's purpose is to hold down costs by emphasizing preventive care, but a lot of companies operating as an HMO really have become insurance agencies, giving lip service to wellness and preventive care," Perkins says.

Participation is growing. In 1997, the rate was 13 percent of all the HMO members. By the fall of 1998, that had increased to 20 percent.

OhioHealth Group, Hippler points out, uses e-mail, fliers, table tents and freebies such as massages to encourage participation of its employees. The rate there is 70 percent.

Among client companies, OhioHealth Group is learning as it goes along. Previously, for example, employers received a 10 percent discounted rate on the HMO for employees who participated in the wellness program. Now, however, OhioHealth Group will directly encourage employees to participate by offering personal incentives such as gift certificates to sporting goods stores or health products such as in-line skates. The employer will receive a 5 percent discount off rates for those employees who join the program.

At Worthington Schools, where participation is 41 percent among HMO members and 55 percent among PPO members, a draw of the wellness program is the ability to make changes in the program at the request of the employees. Low-impact aerobics, nutrition classes and flu shots were added after surveys indicated employee interest.

"Over the six years we've done it, the program has evolved and is dynamic in the way it's presented," Mousa says.

Phyllis Diehl Butler, senior benefits adviser with Battelle Memorial Institute, says OhioHealth Group's wellness program made the HealthPledge HMO an attractive choice for her organization, which offers six different health plans to its Columbus area employees. Battelle also has taken advantage of the program's flexibility.

"We have the wellness nurse here at Battelle twice a month with literature, so anyone in that HMO can walk up to her and ask any questions, for example, about diabetic information, insulin medication, stress or anything about which th ey have a concern," Butler says.

Shaffer calls OhioHealth Group's wellness program unique because it requires participants to make an effort to improve their health - and gives them encouragement to do so.

"Improved quality health care in the community, in the long run, is what we're after," he says.

Lowering health care costs, however, doesn't hurt, either.

"If we identify one high-risk case that saves us $100,000 in hospital bills," Shaffer says, "we've certainly paid for the program many times over."

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:02

On the home front

Central Ohio boasts numerous organizations that assist companies with international business issues. Here's a sampling:


Central Ohio International Trade Assistance Center
Central Ohio Small Business Development Center
Phone: 225-6949

Columbus District Export Assistance Center
U.S. Department of Commerce
Phone: 225-6060
Web site: www.ita.doc.gov

International Trade Division
Ohio Department of Development
Phone: 466-5017
Web site: www.ohiotrade.tpusa.com

Office of International Business
City of Columbus, Department of Trade and Development
Phone: 645-7067
Web site: td.ci.columbus.oh.us/oib.htm

For a more complete listing, call the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce Department of Trade and Transportation at 225-6907 and request a brochure called, "International Business Network: Nonprofit Associations and Service Providers of Central Ohio."

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:02

Caught in the cross fire

Bob Hanby, an employee of an East Columbus water cooler manufacturer now known as OASIS Corp., thought he was on another routine sales call in Kuwait when he checked into a Sheraton hotel there July 31, 1990.

At about 5 a.m., however, he heard gunfire. About an hour and a half later, he received a call to his room: There was an emergency-he should report to the lobby.

When he got there, Iraqis, who had invaded Kuwait that morning, were waiting. They grouped all the hotel guests together outside and took control of the building.

About two hours later, when he was permitted to return to his room for a few days until he was transported to Baghdad, Iraq, he managed to leave a message on an answering machine at home to tell his family what little news he had: Iraqis had invaded; he did not know what would happen next; he would call them again if he got a chance.

It was the last word his family and fellow employees at OASIS would hear from him for more than two months. Hanby, a regional sales manager for his company, was one of many people taken hostage for use as human shields during the Middle East conflict.

"It was such a feeling of helplessness," says OASIS President Pete Benua, who at the time was the company's executive vice president. "We did all we could, but you're so far away."

OASIS management immediately began helping Hanby's wife, Lisa, find out more about her husband by contacting U.S. Rep. John R. Kasich's office and the State Department in Washington, D.C.

The company also guaranteed Hanby's salary and benefits while he was held captive and provided attorneys to help Lisa finish the purchase of a new home, which had been started before Hanby arrived in Kuwait.

"Essentially we tried to make it so he wouldn't have any worries here so he could focus on whatever he had to do to become a free man again," Benua says.

The company management also provided a pager for Hanby's wife in case they got any word from him.

Shortly before Thanksgiving-after President Bush complained about the treatment of the hostages, Hanby noticed-he was permitted to make monitored phone calls home approximately once a week. His wife was able to send messages to him over Voice of America radio.

Hanby's hostage-takers ferried him to different military targets until his release Dec. 7, 1990.

Tom Benua, then OASIS president and now company chairman, flew on the company's aircraft to Washington, D.C., to bring Hanby and two other hostages back to Columbus following their release.

When the war ended, OASIS resumed exporting its water cooler products to the Middle East, which is still part of its international sales area. Benua says the company never considered pulling its products permanently out of the area, which makes up less than 5 percent of its business, and "never had any doubt in our heart that we would get Bob back safe and sound."

Hanby and Benua say company employees who travel internationally now attempt to stay safe by heeding travel agent and State Department advisories.

"The sales people know their territories," says Benua, noting that about 25 percent of OASIS business is conducted abroad. "They're not just going to amble into some dangerous area unknowingly. They're going to know what they're doing."

He advises any company doing business abroad to keep in contact with someone in those countries who is aware of the circumstances there.

"You can learn so much more so quickly if you have someone there who is able to help you get around and who is able to teach you about the culture, the economic climate and the business climate," Benua says.

Hanby credits OASIS with helping him and his family through the ordeal and is grateful for the armed forces, without whom, he surmises, he might never have returned safely.

"The [hostages] themselves, when they come back, could have just been totally destroyed by the whole thing," Hanby says. "A lot of that is being worried about support from the company and how is your family being taken care of. This company, they were there all the way."

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:01

Zura Sports Inc.

Surf’s up for a local start-up; in 1999 we’ll find out if it can ride the wave.

Paul Reeder founded Zura Sports Inc. in Westerville in 1994 and spent his first years convincing customers his line of swimming products was not only new, but better.

His sell job got easier last year when he contracted with 10 established independent sales representatives, each of who works with three to four more representatives. Their industry contacts opened doors previously closed to Reeder. Case in point: Late last year, Reeder received a request from Leslie Pools of Chatsworth, Calif., for $100,000 worth of Zura’s products—his biggest single order to date.

Reeder is also negotiating deals with other big names, such as Galyan’s Trading Co. and The Sports Authority. Add those to deals he cut last year with Brookstone and Champs Sports stores, and “we’re looking at the first quarter of ’99 literally doubling the revenue we did this year,” he says.

His new challenge is inventory. Big vendors call for big orders, and if they come, he needs to be ready to fill them. On the other hand, he can’t afford to be stuck with items that don’t sell.

Reeder is also taking a look at his product line. In 1997, he secured a $250,000 SBA loan, which he used to introduce four of the five products Zura has premiered since then. He plans to add at least three more this year, and is negotiating to bring under the Zura name a bike product he worked on as a consultant. Diversifying, however, is dependent upon the success of the swimming lines.

If Reeder’s efforts pay off, look for his start-up to make a dramatic turn toward profitability after taking the first four years to reach the break-even point. He merely needs to keep from being swept out in the tide.


Zura Sports Inc.
975 Eastwind Dr., Suite 150, Westerville
Top officer: Paul Reeder, president
Year founded: 1994
Employees: 6
Estimated 1998 revenues: $250,000
Revenue growth, ’96 to ’97: 79%
Ownership: Private
Major clients: Herrington catalog, Brookstone, Champs Sports, Leslie Pools