Nancy Byron

Sunday, 21 July 2002 20:00

The Hunted

Her grandfather built The Galbreath Co. into a Central Ohio institution. After his death, her father guided it through the next decade and a half before failing health forced his early departure as CEO. She, too, grew up in the business that bore her late father's and grandfather's name. That's why her heart ached at the thought of selling off the 75-year-old legacy they left in her care. Still, she knew this was a business decision. She couldn't let emotions get in the way.

"The hardest part was getting my heart and my head in the same place," says Lizanne Galbreath, former CEO of The Galbreath Co., who divided the family's commercial leasing and property management firm in 1997, selling all but the real estate assets to a Chicago-based competitor, LaSalle Partners. "Intellectually, I knew it was the right thing to do," she says. "My ultimate responsibility was to the shareholders, employees and clients. But emotionally, it was a difficult decision to make."

Ironically, Galbreath found solace in the very person whose business heritage she was preparing to sell.

"My grandfather started a mortgage company [years ago] and in the late '70s he sold it to Chemical Bank," she explains. "That gave me strength that a man I had so much respect for knew it was a business decision and you have to do what's right for shareholders, employees and clients."

For Galbreath-and a record number of other Central Ohio executives these days-that means selling to a larger, better capitalized competitor.


Those dangling carrots

The lure of consolidation is becoming increasingly powerful in Central Ohio. In 1997, more than $24.5 billion in merger and acquisition deals were struck in the Columbus area alone, according to Houlihan Lokey's Mergerstat, a Los Angeles firm that tracks publicly announced transactions of $1 million or more. That's upwards of $67.1 million in deals per day-or $2.8 million per hour. Big numbers, to be sure, but nothing compared to where we're headed now.

This spring's Banc One purchase of First Chicago NBD for $28.9 billion took Central Ohio roaring past 1997's merger and acquisition record, according to Mergerstat, netting a new high of nearly $29.6 billion-and that's just in the first four months of this year.

Power tends to motivate many of these deals. After all, combining forces often leads to a stronger capital position, better economies of scale and a wider geographic reach-all of which were goals in the Galbreath-LaSalle merger.

Other times, it's the allure of big money that prompts a sale. Michael Burton knows that. He sold his 12-year-old Rickenbacker-based transportation and logistics company, Michael Burton Enterprises, for a cool $11 million in cash plus $1 million in stock last fall.

"That's more money than I can spend in my lifetime and more money than my three children can spend in their lives," he says.

Sometimes, though, pure survival is behind the dealmaking. Cynthia Bowersock-Thiel has felt that pain. She reluctantly sold her two Far North Side companies, Health Care Plus and Preferred Care Plus, last year when Huntington National Bank called in the outstanding balance on a $500,000 loan she couldn't pay.

"I lost a lot of leverage because of the situation I was in," Bowersock-Thiel says with a hint of bitterness. "This relationship had to come together quickly." Had it not, her company very likely would've been headed for bankruptcy, she admits.

Making the decision to sell can certainly be unnerving. But the real pressure follows that decision. You're sharing confidential information with competitors. You're negotiating the fate of an entire workforce. You're trying to find a selling price that reflects the value of your company's reputation-not just its hard assets.

"Whenever you're doing a deal of this personal magnitude, where it affects so many people's lives, there's a lot of responsibility," Galbreath says.

Above all, you don't want to have any regrets.


Finding the right suitor

Burton remembers brushing off the first phone call from Jim Crane, chairman, president and CEO of Texas-based Eagle USA Airfreight Inc.

"I wasn't interested until the dollars started bouncing back and forth and I realized I could end up living a fantasy life," Burton recalls. "Potential buyers had come and called before, and sent letters, but I just ripped 'em up. This was my baby. It's like the little daughter you know is going to grow up and get married; no one is good enough."

Still, the money was speaking loudly. And Crane's sales pitch was making sense.

"For me to be a big-time, national player wasn't going to happen," Burton admits. "Besides, my version of the American Dream was not to work until I died. It was to build up something and then sell it and spend time with my children while they are young."

Striking a deal with Eagle USA would allow him to do that. Eagle was a big player with revenues almost 15 times greater than the $20 million Burton's company generated annually. Burton also liked Eagle's top management.

"Our philosophies are pretty much the same," Burton says. That gave him the confidence that Eagle wouldn't come in and make sweeping changes.

After just three meetings with Crane, the deal was done.

For Bowersock-Thiel, the right suitor had to be the one who could cut a deal most rapidly. That was particularly frustrating since she had turned away plenty of potential buyers in previous years when her negotiating power would've been stronger.

"I had people knocking on my door my first year into the business," she recalls. "But times were good and I was just getting started. I had absolutely no interest."

Last fall, selling her suddenly struggling companies, which together had grossed more than $2 million in 1996, became her sole interest. She had to get the bank off her back. Randy Mason, CEO of Marden Rehabilitation Associates Inc., jumped at the opportunity to bail her out.

"Ninety-nine percent of the reason this deal was consummated with Marden was because they could act quickly," Bowersock-Thiel says.

"As it turned out, the best deal that could've happened happened," she adds. "I talked to a lot of very large companies where we would've been one of 200 health care offices. I also talked to some non-profits that moved at a glacier's pace. I would've died in those kinds of environments. Marden is a small, entrepreneurial, pro-active company ... They're about three times our size in revenues and very profitable. They also have venture capital money available to them that I never had."

Galbreath also went out looking for the right deal-but she did it before times turned tough.

"This a service business in a very cyclical industry. We wanted to be well capitalized so when the downturn came, we could survive it," she says.

LaSalle was the most attractive prospect of the 15 to 20 Galbreath considered, primarily because it had properties in the Southwest and Northwest United States, where Galbreath did not, and because it seemed to have a complementary corporate environment.

"The fact that LaSalle was a Midwest-based company was important to me," Galbreath says. "The culture of a Midwest company is very different than a New York company. I think the cultures have to fit well together when you're looking at a merger. That's extremely important."


Coming to terms

Bowersock-Thiel may have been in a hurry to ink a deal, but she didn't want to act in haste. She wanted to know just what she was getting into with Marden.

"I talked to their customers," she says. "I talked to their employees. I researched the heck out of 'em. We had to find out as much about each other as quickly as possible."

What she found was encouraging.

"They told me [Mason] is a man of his word," she says. "Once he commits, you can take it to the bank. He can put policies and procedures in place to quickly turn a company around. I've found that to be very true."

Marden's strengths also seemed to complement those of Health Care Plus and Preferred Care Plus.

"We were the marketing and sales and business development they lacked," she says. "They were the back office we lacked-the payroll and billing which, quite honestly, was the stuff I don't like to do-and which is probably why we ended up where we were with the bank."

The match seemed good. Next came the sale price.

"What was hard was putting value on the name and the goodwill," Bowersock-Thiel says. "This is my life. This is my livelihood. This is jobs for 150 people. It became extremely emotional."

The combination cash-stock deal she ultimately agreed to was valued at less than $1 million, she says, declining to give a more precise figure. The sale price was largely based on what other independent, nurse-owned home health organizations had sold for in the past.

"Is that a good benchmark? Not always," she admits. "I got the deal I had to take because of the timing."

Galbreath sold her company for a 17 percent stake in LaSalle Partners, which puts the value of her deal at roughly $15.6 million, based on LaSalle's stock price when it went public three months following the buy-out.

"I did not take cash and go sit on the beach," Galbreath says of the deal. "We took stock back so I had to really believe in the company."

Burton preferred to take his retirement funds in cash. He entered negotiations with a specific dollar figure in mind and Crane quickly met his price. Then Burton pushed the envelope.

"As bad as it sounds, I reneged on the deal and he upped the ante on his own by about $1 million," Burton says, adding that the final $12 million sale price was a drop in the bucket to Eagle.

"Their stock was at 29 when the deal was announced and it went up to 38-1/4 the next day," Burton says. "They made all that back in one day."


Don't forget who got you there

Once Burton was satisfied with his impending fortune, his attention quickly turned to his workforce.

"Nobody could be let go and they had to be guaranteed a position for two years," Burton says. "That was mandatory." Eagle did him one better here, too.

"Every single person got a raise and better medical benefits," Burton says. "No one was removed at all. If there was duplication [of duties], there was a slight retraining."

That was a crucial issue for Bowersock-Thiel, too.

"There had to be a place for the key people here," she says. Two administrative positions were cut when the payroll and billing functions were moved to Marden's headquarters in Marietta, but the management team remained untouched.

Galbreath employees weren't as fortunate. Hundreds of workers between the two companies lost their jobs as a result of the LaSalle-Galbreath merger, including more than 60 in Galbreath's Columbus office. Most of the casualties came in the corporate support and brokerage staffs.

"The way a merger is financially successful is to eliminate duplication-especially in corporate types of jobs," says Galbreath who let a team of employees from both firms decide what positions would have to be dramatically altered or cut from the payroll in the first 60 days. "As difficult and emotional as it was from my perspective in terms of placing people, I think ultimately doing it with speed was the best way to do it."


Should I stay or should I go?

Bowersock-Thiel had no intentions of staying with Health Care Plus and Preferred Care Plus after she found a buyer. When negotiations got serious with Marden, however, it became clear the company's CEO wouldn't allow her departure. He knew home health care was a relationship business and without Bowersock-Thiel's presence, clients might be lost. She was in no position to argue.

"It really was a prerequisite that I stay," Bowersock-Thiel says. "It was very much like giving a child up for adoption. I gave birth to it, I raised it, and then, in its seventh year, I gave it up. It would've been easier to walk away than to watch them raise my child in front of me."

After all, Marden's business approach was a bit different from her own.

"Our culture is very creative and innovative," Bowersock-Thiel says. "They are very black and white.

"It was difficult at times to stand by and watch someone else discipline my child," she continues, noting that she preferred to focus more on feelings than numbers when she ran the company. "What allows it to be OK, is the new disciplining works. The company is doing very well financially. In the last three months, our revenue volume is up 30 percent ... I have a lot of mixed feelings about that; bittersweet feelings."

Burton thought he wanted to stay on after the sale to ease his company's transition into Eagle USA, so he agreed to a three-year phase out of his contract. That may have been a mistake.

"They needed a security blanket," he says. "Since the name is Michael Burton Enterprises, to not have Michael Burton was very scary to them. But every day seems like a week. It's not mine anymore. I want to go on with my life."

Burton is in the process of building a $1.3 million home in an exclusive Walt Disney World resort community. He recently offered to forfeit his salary for the remainder of his contract if Eagle would let him out of his three-year obligation. Eagle declined his offer, but may let him transfer to the central Florida office to finish out his commitment once his new home is complete.

Galbreath never questioned whether she would remain involved with her company after its merger into LaSalle.

"I've been in the real estate business for 18 years and I enjoy it," she says.

Her concern was what role she would play.

"It actually evolved," says Galbreath, who has already run through at least three different job titles since the buyout. "Where I was originally going to play a stronger role on the development side, that has changed so I'm working across the firm geographically and functionally. I spend a lot of time with existing and potential new clients as well as with employees within LaSalle talking about what other groups are doing and trying to cross market ... I had confidence I would figure out the right role going forward."


In retrospect

No business deal is without its flaws. Learning from them is what matters.

"This is not what any business school or class can get you prepared for," says Bowersock-Thiel. "There are a lot of things I should've done differently."

For one, she regrets not hiring an experienced accountant and a business broker to help her cut a deal.

"That's not anybody's fault but my own," she says. "We decided to represent ourselves. Business brokers, in my opinion, could've been the way for us to go. It became a chess game and I'm not a very good chess player. I needed to have a good chess player on my side."

Burton's big regret is his extended involvement in the transition process.

"I wish I would've fought harder to reduce my commitment to maybe 24 months," Burton says, noting that others should learn from his mistake.

"Remove yourself from the equation as quickly as possible," he suggests. "Be cognizant of the [ramifications] of sticking around. It's like getting a divorce, but you still have to live in the house with your ex-wife."

Galbreath, too, says selling her company was a learning experience-in more ways than she imagined.

"I've learned information and control of information, understanding your business, the importance of process ... negotiating skills, self confidence, not to take yourself too seriously and to surround yourself with very good support," she says. "You have to really understand why you're doing it-and know you have the courage of your convictions. In the heat of it, it's too easy to say, 'This is just too hard.'"

Though a financial crunch forced her hand, Cynthia Bowersock-Thiel, former owner of Health Care Plus and Preferred Care Plus, now says selling her businesses to Marden Rehabilitation Associates last fall was "the best thing that could've happened to us."

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:08

It's everybody's problem

I've often heard that playing golf with a business associate or potential employee can reveal plenty about that person's underlying character. This spring, when I lugged my clubs out of the basement for the season, I decided to test this concept on some family members and friends-unbeknownst to them.

I quickly noticed how often one of them tends to curse or sulk when his tee shot slices sharply into the rough. His anger intensifies as his errant shots continue. Perhaps he's more of a perfectionist than I realized. I can only imagine what he's like at work.

Another of my golfing pals will occasionally improve his ball's lie when he thinks no one is looking. He claims he's still learning the game and I should cut him a break. I wonder how many company pens I could find in his car.

As for me, I've caught myself paying more attention to other players' scores than keeping track of my own. Perhaps it's just my intensely competitive nature revealing itself, but it could also be a sign of an underlying mistrust of others. Guess that comes with being a journalist.

It's easy to ignore this childish behavior. Most of us do. After all, golf is only a game. But some of these actions-the cheating, the anger, the lack of civility-reflect a growing problem both on and off the golf course. What are we teaching the workforce of tomorrow to accept?

We don't have to be parents to influence the youth around us. All of us-as business owners, managers, community leaders, neighbors and friends-set an example each day in everything we do. If we drink to excess every Friday after work, lie about being sick just to get a day off, cheat on our taxes, gossip about co-workers, drive recklessly and curse like a maniac during the morning commute, how can we expect young, impressionable adolescents to act any differently? We model what we see. And kids are seeing a lot these days.

They see adults backstabbing each other to climb another rung higher on the corporate ladder. They see salespeople stretching the truth to land a new account. They see supervisors stealing ideas from employees and reaping the rewards.

Then they see us, sitting and shaking our head over the morning newspaper, as we read about another disgruntled worker-or worse yet, an ill-adjusted student-who went on a shooting rampage the day before. It's easy to blame their upbringing. Parents often contribute, sometimes unwittingly, to the problems of their children. But we should blame ourselves, too. We're the ones who collectively taught these people to accept the behavior that lead to this tragedy.

It's time for that to stop. We all need to shoulder a little more responsibility in raising the next generation of business leaders.

Nancy Byron, editor of Small Business News Columbus, can be reached by phone at 848-6397, by fax at 842-6093, or by e-mail at
sbnpubco@psinet.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:06

The source of my ambivalence

It takes a lot to impress a journalist-at least this one. I'm skeptical by nature. I roll my eyes at executives who boast about doubling company revenues every year, but won't produce concrete numbers to back up those assertions. I loathe talking with self-absorbed business leaders who throw their credentials around and name-drop in a fruitless effort to dazzle me. It doesn't work. In fact, I find it rather disgusting.

I relish the business owner who is confident enough to cough up the details. I admire the ones who are so secure in their achievements that they'll admit their own fallibility, who aren't ashamed to bare the scars they've suffered on their entrepreneurial journey. To me, those are the genuine signs of success.

This summer, I stumbled across one such character-a business owner whom I fully expected to be cocky and armed with elaborate stories about his company's flawless growth pattern. After all, he'd won plenty of awards and even attracted national media attention for it. His ego just had to be inflated. Nevertheless, his company's ever-growing revenue figures made him a perfect source for an article I was pursuing, so I swallowed hard and set up the interview.

When I arrived at his place of business nearly an hour late (thanks to a missed turn and my keen inability to allow enough time to get anywhere in this town in the late afternoon), I was sure he'd be in prime form-rude and indignant at best, calling off the interview at worst. I certainly would've understood; I was shamefully late. As I waited for him to appear, I prepared to grovel. I hated the thought of having to kiss this guy's butt.

I never had to. I was stunned.

Even though he was ready to wind down his workday, even though he had plans for the evening, even though I'd kept him waiting, Bob Juniper never made me work to win him over. In fact, he freely talked about Three-C's aggressive, but near-fateful, growth spurt. When I prodded him for more details about how he lost control and how far behind he fell financially, he held nothing back. We talked until well after closing time. I was in awe.

This guy is not the egotistical, in-your-face jerk his ads had led me to believe. He's personable, intelligent, confident-but not in any way arrogant about his success. Perhaps that's because he knows how close he once was to having it all slip away.

Bob has clearly learned from that experience, too. Three years ago he didn't have the slightest notion how to gauge the financial health of his company. Now he can rattle off the past eight years of Three-C's revenue and profit figures from memory.

He knows he's successful today because he acknowledged his errors and did something to correct them. He's not afraid to share his story either. Maybe his raw honesty will help others realize what ugliness can emerge when rapid growth gets away from you. Perhaps other business owners will be able to avoid the well-meaning, but dangerous, actions that led Bob's company into a sea of red ink.

Nobody told him what to expect when he pulled into the fast lane. I bet he wishes someone had. I sure wish someone had told me what to expect from Bob. I would've done this story months ago.

Nancy Byron, editor of SBN Columbus, welcomes your comments by fax at (614) 842-6093 or by e-mail at sbnpubco@psinet.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:01

Express-Med Inc.

Alan Rudy called 1998 a rebuilding year for Express-Med, yet his company’s revenues still grew by 40 percent. That’s why, when Rudy says 1999 will be a return to the fast-paced growth of Express-Med’s earlier years, we know he’s talking warp speed.

Rudy’s five-year-old mail-order medical supply company has seen triple-digit sales growth at least twice before—including a 515 percent leap between 1995 and 1996. Now, with a new president, CFO and other middle management in place to run operations while Rudy scouts out new business, the company appears positioned to start doubling its annual sales again.

“We spent a lot of time [last] year working on efficiencies rather than just growth,” Rudy says. Case in point: Express-Med had the same number of employees in October 1998 as it did in December 1997, yet sales have grown from $20 million to nearly $28 million in the same time frame.

That push for more efficient growth will become more aggressive in 1999 as Rudy seeks to become a bigger player in the industry.

A large part of that growth—possibly as much as $5 million this year—will come from sales of a new home hemoglobin test kit developed by Express-Med and approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration late last year. Rudy says Express-Med may license the kit to others for resale, a first for the company.

Growth through acquisition is not out of the question this year, either.

“There are a couple competitors of mine I’d like to talk to,” Rudy says, though he’s quick to point out he’ll have to “weigh the advantages of picking up a chunk of customers [through a buy-out] vs. getting them ourselves.”

Express-Med certainly looks poised for the dramatic growth Rudy envisions. This month, the company will move from its 24,000-square-foot headquarters in Hilliard into 80,000 square feet of a 103,000-square-foot facility being built for the company in New Albany. Express-Med has options on two more similarly sized properties in the area to accommodate future growth, Rudy says.

“A lot of the pieces are in place to get back on the growth path that we were on before,” he says.

Don’t be surprised to see Express-Med surpass $50 million in sales this year—and start putting out some feelers for an initial public offering in 2000 or 2001.


Express-Med Inc.
6530 W. Campus Oval, New Albany
Top officer: Alan Rudy

Year founded: 1994
Employees: 200
Estimated 1998 revenues: $28 million
Revenue growth, ’96 to ’97: 150%
Ownership: Private
Clients: 30,000 individuals requiring medical supplies to treat diabetes, respiratory conditions, incontinence and impotence

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:00

Meet the 1998 Innovators of the Year

  • Education: Mills received his bachelor of arts degree in communications from The Ohio State University in 1968; James earned a bachelor of arts degree in broadcasting from the University of Cincinnati in 1971.

  • First job: Mills was a newspaper carrier; James started a company in high school "to do psychedelic lighting for bands."

  • Why I chose this career: Mills says, "When I was very young, I made pretend television stations. I wrote plays in elementary school and put them on. I was on the school newspaper in high school. And once I got to college, I realized I really liked this kind of work. I was going to major in business but I found out I didn't like that as much as I thought I would." James's lighting company, Noremac Productions-Cameron spelled backwards-gave him his first taste of the business. After that came a stint at WLW radio and television in Cincinnati, where he worked with The Bob Braun Show and other live studio audience broadcasts. Then James headed to Manhattan. "I was an NBC page," he says. "The Tonight Show was still there and so were some of the big game shows like What's My Line? and To Tell the Truth. I gave [studio] tours, which is still my greatest strength at Mills/James."

  • Greatest achievement: "I think business success is great, but keeping friends and family balanced is more important," Mills says. "I'm very proud of what we've done here, but it's not what life is all about." "My greatest success is learning to read," says James. "I'm dyslexic. Dealing with that was very important to me."

  • Best business decision: "Going into business with each other," says Mills. "We're really opposite types and it provides a nice balance. It's a good sanity check on what you think you want to do." Although James concurs that going into business with Mills was one of his best decisions, so was "building this great staff," he says. "There are times when we have 20 to 40 shoots going on in a week ⊃ and when you're really busy, it's amazing. So many people have to carry the ball and not drop the ball. All the details have to be shared among the staff and the ball has to be passed several times without being dropped."

  • Worst business decision: "I don't think there is a worst," Mills says. "There are a lot of little things you wish you hadn't done, but nothing that's a major, major regret. I think we've been very fortunate in that regard." James, however, cites one decision that haunts him still: "Taking too long to realize something is not working; that it's not making money."

  • Biggest professional challenge: "Each level of growth makes you realize you have to re-examine the processes that got you here and will continue to let you grow," Mills says. "Our job is to be innovators and constantly reinvent our business," adds James. "Every day we ask ourselves, 'Are we putting magic in the message?' That's our promise to our clients."

  • Most important professional lesson: "It really is all about relationships," Mills says. "Making sure you understand the client's expectations and that you exceed those expectations if possible. It can be very difficult, but you cannot know your customers well enough." James agrees: "Always put your client's interests ahead of your own. Sometimes that means referring them to someone else or only doing part of the project. But it boils down to trust. If you lose that, you're not going to be successful."

  • Advice to aspiring leaders: "Know and understand the industry you are in; know and understand the competitors in your industry and the market you're in; know and understand who your customers are," Mills advises. Adds James, "Look around the world at who's doing what you want to do the very best and go there and get that experience. It may not always be possible, but I think too many times we limit our experiences."

  • Unfulfilled dream: "I'm really content with my life," Mills says. "There was a big part of me that thought about working in Hollywood and making a major motion picture, but I've become less enamored of that over time. Most of the things I really care about, beyond my family life, are right here." James's dream ties into his greatest achievement: learning to read. "We know about this tremendous failure of the educational system to teach people to read- and we know how to fix that. My personal goal is to do that. If we can put people on the moon, we can teach people to read."

    About their company
    3545 Fishinger Blvd., Hilliard
    Mills/James Productions
    Founded: 1984
    Employees: 144
    Annual revenues: $14.5 million
    Line of business: Media production services and studios

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:57

The cruel truth

If you’re an Internet junkie like I am, perhaps you’ve seen that saucy “Bill of No Rights” piece that’s been circulating as of late. It’s a no-holds-barred reality slap (supposedly penned by a Georgia state legislator) for those among us who feel entitled to something more than our own opinion.

It starts: “We, the sensible people of the United States, in an attempt to help everyone get along, restore some semblance of justice, avoid any more riots, keep our nation safe, promote positive behavior and secure the blessings of debt-free liberty to ourselves and our great-great-great-grandchildren, hereby try one more time to ordain and establish some common sense guidelines ...”

These include:

  • You do not have the right to a new car, big screen TV or any other form of wealth.

  • You do not have the right to never be offended.

  • You do not have the right to physically harm other people.

  • You do not have the right to a job.

Such truths certainly should be self-evident. Sadly, they don’t seem to be anymore. In fact, my favorite guideline is one that seems to be increasingly ignored or forgotten by the masses — and which businesses would do well to plaster in shocking pink letters across every product they sell. It reads: “You do not have the right to be free from harm. If you stick a screwdriver in your eye, learn to be more careful; do not expect the tool manufacturer to make you and all your relatives independently wealthy.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m all for product safety, mind you, but things are getting out of hand out there. Take, for instance, a 1998 Ohio Supreme Court case in which a father — understandably distraught after losing two children in a house fire that was accidentally started by a third child playing with a lighter — successfully sued not only the manufacturer of the lighter but the store that sold it. There’s no justice in that. There’s only displaced anguish and guilt there. The father was simply looking for someone else to blame.

His fingerpointing didn’t change what happened to him or his family. Rather, it may have made it harder for him to learn from this experience. Did he learn to warn his one surviving daughter of the dangers of playing with fire? Did he learn to keep cigarette lighters and other potentially dangerous items away from her? Did he learn to teach that child what to do in case of fire? Or did he simply learn that others can be made to pay for your mistakes if you hire a good attorney?

The companies this man sued assumed he was a responsible adult and treated him as such. They made and sold a product that is safe when used with common sense. What he did with that product after its purchase is beyond their control. Whether that lighter was left laying around the house or whether the child found it in some seemingly secure location, the manufacturer and the store that sold it had no say in the matter.

Accidents happen. Sometimes they’re horrible, horrible accidents. How we react to those accidents is what counts. Do we fingerpoint? Or do we act like responsible adults and either own up to the consequences of our actions or accept the hand of fate?

It’s neither our duty nor our right to frantically search for someone else to blame when things go wrong. It’s our duty to do the right thing. And that’s not asking someone else to pay for a misfortune that’s purely our own.

Nancy Byron (nbyron@sbnnet.com) is the editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:56

Women in Business Advocate of the Year

She was widowed with three teen-agers, no life insurance and a mountain of medical bills. Although Linda Horn managed to work through these seemingly dire circumstances to become president of a $6 million financial planning firm, she has not forgotten them. In fact, Horn, founder of Capital Concepts in Southwest Ohio, has made it her personal mission to help other women avoid winding up in such grave financial situations.

“Linda’s advocacy for women became her professional goal very early in her career, as she encountered many women whose financial circumstances were potentially disastrous,” says Gina Shatara, principal of Clancy Associates in Cincinnati. “[She] has always been there for women, as a positive force in their professional and/or personal lives, bringing a sense of strength, calm and serenity when, in many instances, there has been only turmoil ... Speaking from my own experience, I can tell you without hesitation that Linda is a rudder when one is adrift, rudderless, in turbulent seas.”

Much of Horn’s quest to assist other female business owners has been achieved through her work with Women Entrepreneurs Inc., a volunteer organization which pairs prospective and fledgling women business owners with established, successful ones. As a mentor, board member and two-time chairwoman, Horn has helped female entrepreneurs design business plans and guided them through the loan application process to get bank financing for their ventures.

“She was instrumental in obtaining financing for WEI, which was used to provide training programs for new entrepreneurs, scholarships for would-be entrepreneurs and mentoring programs for any entrepreneur who needed assistance in running her business,” says Barbara Ullman Gerla, a Cincinnati-based attorney who is also active in Women Entrepreneurs Inc. “She has assisted many women find the right advisers for their businesses without a thought of gain for herself or her own business.”

Horn is also a member of the Greater Cincinnati Women’s Network, the National Association of Women Business Owners, the National Association of Female Executives and the Ohio Association of Women in Accounting, among other groups. She even founded Cincinnati’s first all-women’s softball league.

“Linda is the rare kind of leader who can both envision a new dream and roll up her sleeves to make the dream real,” says Peg Moertl, vice president and CRA market manager for Bank One of Cincinnati. “[She] happily spends considerable time mentoring both start-up entrepreneurs and those grappling with the challenges of growth ... I consider Linda to be a truly outstanding advocate with a distinctive perspective and the ability to inspire others.”

Horn was one of 12 national honorees chosen by the Avon Corp. in 1992 as an Outstanding Woman of Enterprise. In addition, Women Entrepreneurs Inc. named her Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky’s Woman Entrepreneur of the Year in 1993 and she was selected among the Leading Women of Cincinnati in 1996 in the finance category.

“Her advice has enabled new businesses and those who have come to her to clean up their messes to get their financial and organizational operations in order ...” Gerla says. “Linda champions the success of others. She is always approachable and always willing to help advance the needs of other small business owners and help them reach their stars.”

Gary Bumgarner, vice president and general manager of Moore’s PBE Inc., a refinish distributor which supplies paint to Three-C

“[He’s] very innovative, very customer-driven, very intelligent and ... very shrewd. I don’t mean that in an underhanded way; he’s just very conscious of costs and what it takes to make it go in this industry.

“For a long time, I’d have said he’s an overachiever, but I think he’s got that more in line now. ... I think he’s perceived as an A-type personality with a strong belief in advertising. He puts a face with what he does. A lot of people in this industry have good ideas, but they sort of hoard ’em in. He puts ’em out in front of everybody.

“He doesn’t come at my company with directives. He comes to me with ideas and asks how it’s going to impact my business ... which is refreshing from a vendor’s standpoint.

“He’s a day-to-day man. He’s there from morning to night. You can catch him there in a suit; you can catch him there in blue jeans. He’s in the face of his customers and his employees. He’s not a silent-type owner. He’s very hands-on. ... I think he’d admit to you he’s tried a lot of things that haven’t been successful, but instead of lingering on them, he’s moved on. Some people are very slow to react to making a wrong decision. I think he acts on those things quickly.”


Roger Geiger, state executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business/Ohio

“As an outsider observing what he’s done, he truly has the reputation of being the David that’s fighting the Goliath. ... In terms of an organization that likes to see members become active, he clearly is one that can be used as a model. ... I don’t know anyone else who has taken a cause like he has and taken it to the airwaves and made it part of his marketing strategy. If other small- to medium-size companies or even corporate America started to do some of the things he’s doing, Wow! Talk about being able to create some really positive synergies out there.

“My perception is very positive. I doubt if I went to a group of insurance folks that they would speak highly of him, but a lot of folks, particularly in the small business community, can empathize. They get caught in the loop of selective contracting — a medical provider having the same problem with the health insurance industry, a small retailer having a gripe with Coke or Pepsi over exclusive contracting issues. My sense is there are a lot of different folks, not just collision repair people, who are probably saying, ‘Go for it, Bob!’

“I think business owners need to put their money where their mouths are and he’s certainly done that.”


Cris Gillespie, past president of the Kiwanis Club of Columbus, which named Juniper as honorary chairman for its 1998 charity duck races

“Bob worked with us very nicely. A lot of times when you get a ‘name’ person to be part of an event like that, you don’t get lot of access, but Bob was very helpful. We were raising money for a summer reading program for children and we asked Bob to lend his name and himself as a spokesperson for our event. ... He seemed to really get behind the project. ... I truly believe he had an interest in our cause. He was not just in there to get his name out, although I suppose that didn’t hurt. ... I’m just always glad to see someone with a business, who seems obviously in it to make a buck, give something back to the community.”


Cheryl L. Grossman, Mayor of Grove City, where Juniper resides

“I think he has taken some pretty big challenges and has been successful. ... I marvel at his accomplishments there and I can appreciate the time it takes. ... We’re very proud that he’s chosen Grove City as his home and I’m very happy for his success.”

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:56

Get leads while you sleep

Brad Couch suspected his employer might be missing out on business by not offering late-night and early-morning hours.

But instead of suggesting that the owners of Lewis & Michael Moving and Storage pay to staff the phone lines around the clock, Couch suggested they get the company online.

“The moving business is technophobic,” says Couch, spokesperson for the 95-year-old Columbus-based company. “But instead of running from it, we’re embracing it.”

The move appears to be paying off. In just two months, the company’s Web site, www.alliedmoving.com, recorded 1,065 visitors and 131 requests for quotes. That translates into 3.5 new leads per business day — and 42 percent of that traffic came to the site between 5 p.m. and 7 a.m., confirming Couch’s suspicion about off-hours business.

Couch says his company’s closing ratio for leads generated by the Web site is equal to its Yellow Pages ad. The cost of getting those leads, however, is much lower: $4 per lead for the Internet site vs. $75 per appointment for the Yellow Pages, he says. Now that’s one smart marketing move.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:56

Ready or not ...

At first, it sounds like good news: Ohio’s largest government agencies are set to be Year 2000 compliant by December. Whew! Problem is, the state’s fiscal year will roll over to “00” July 1.

According to information compiled by the state, at least six state agencies — including the departments of development, insurance and transportation — don’t expect all their Y2K fixes to be complete until August or later. Another five agencies are scheduled to have their Y2K computer updates completed in July.

The issue here is whether databases tracking information by fiscal years in those departments will be ready for the mid-year roll over.

Fred Dowdy, Y2K administrator for the State of Ohio’s Year 2000 Competency Center, says his organization, which does overall monitoring of the state’s Y2K projects, doesn’t maintain enough in-depth knowledge of each department’s day-to-day operating procedures to know what specific state documents or databases might be in jeopardy.

David Fuhrman, deputy director of information technology for the Ohio Department of Transportation, says he’s confident his agency is prepared.

“There are some systems that are subject to fiscal year 2000 concern and we think we have those covered,” he says. “The construction estimates system would fall into that category, the program development management system, current billing ... Those have already been converted and tested and they’re currently functioning.” In fact, dates beyond fiscal 2000 have already been entered into some of them, he adds.

Lito Ramirez of the Ohio Department of Insurance is a bit more vague regarding that agency’s readiness.

“We have identified several databases that are kept on a fiscal year basis and we are working with outside consultants to assure that those particular databases, as well as the department’s entire data system, are Y2K compliant,” Ramirez says. “Special focus” will be given during testing this spring to databases kept on a fiscal year, Ramirez adds, noting that “this is a top project” of the department’s IT division.

As for the Ohio Department of Development, David Saffle, the Y2K project director there, says business owners need not worry.

“We keep a lot of records by fiscal years, but a lot we don’t keep with a fiscal year date in them,” he says. In other words, dates are entered by calendar year, but when it’s time to run, say, the 1999 fiscal year report, the computer will be instructed to run all records dated July 1, 1998 to June 30, 1999. By doing this, the department actually buys itself an extra year since fiscal 2000 reports won’t be due until June 30, 2000.


Go ahead; speak out

Here’s your chance to tell state legislators what’s on your mind as a business owner in Ohio.

During Small Business Day at the Capitol, scheduled for May 18 at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in Columbus, business owners will get an opportunity to speak directly to lawmakers and their staffs — either through private, pre-scheduled meetings or at a legislative reception during the conference.

In addition, Gov. Bob Taft is scheduled to speak during the conference luncheon.

Other topics expected to be discussed during Small Business Day at the Capitol include electric deregulation, Year 2000 issues, influencing government and small business taxation.

For more information, contact B.J. Wiberg at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce at (614) 228-4201 or visit www.ohiochamber.com on the Web.


Trading places

Ohio business owners already doing — or wanting to do — business in Chile or Argentina now have state allies in those countries.

Ohio, in cooperation with the Council of Great Lakes Governors, has established international trade offices in Santiago, Chile, and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

As one of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s “Big Emerging Markets,” Argentina has seen a dramatic increase in imports coming from Ohio. In 1997, Ohio firms exported more than $165.8 million in goods to Argentina, according to the Ohio Department of Development. That was a 433 percent increase from 1991 levels, department figures show.

As for Chile, Ohio companies exported more than $149.9 million in goods to that South American country in 1997, a 141 percent increase from 1991 levels.

An annual $25,000 outlay from Ohio’s general fund is expected to cover Ohio’s share of the expenses to operate these two new trade offices. State governments in Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are expected to contribute similar sums.

For more information about these or other international trade offices supported by the State of Ohio, call (614) 466-5017 or visit the International Trade Division on the Internet at ohiotrade.tpusa.com/.