Tricia Smith knows her way around the courthouse.
That's where she spends most of her time, checking out prospective employees for a growing list of local clients, including ODW Logistics, Environment Control, Spherion and A-Plus Personnel.
In 1996, after brief stints in security positions for Lazarus and The Limited Inc., Smith launched Secure Check, a full-service, pre-employment screening firm.
"I knew there was a gap in the market, and I knew I could provide a different type of service than was generally available," she says.
While many companies subscribe to online database services that provide background information, such as arrest records, Smith says her company does hands-on research for every applicant.
"We go to the courts and do a thorough background check, going back about 10 years," she says. "A lot of the online database services don't provide the depth of information employers need to make a decision based on whether or not a person has been convicted."
In fact, educating companies as to what they're actually getting when they do a background check has been one of Smith's biggest challenges.
"If a company is using an online service, it needs to know the difference between an arrest record and a conviction record," she explains. "Just because a person has been arrested, it doesn't mean he has been convicted. You should never use an arrest record in a hiring decision. That's a federal law."
Smith also points out other important differences between her company and online services.
"I've tried to stay fairly small in order to give my clients really good personalized service," she says. "My clients can call me at any time to ask questions or ask for my help or opinion, and I can get all the information they need to make their hiring decisions."
Another feature that Smith says sets Secure Check apart from some of its larger competitors is pricing. Because a number of her clients are temporary staffing agencies or distribution centers -- businesses that interview and hire a large number of applicants on a regular basis -- she offers a volume discount on background investigations for those types of clients.
"It has created a niche. Because they have a lot of turnover, perhaps they couldn't have afforded to do background checks before. But they can justify the volume price I give them, and I can afford to do that because they're sending me hundreds of names each month," she notes.
In addition to checking criminal records, Smith says her company also looks at employment and credit history on some applicants.
"Especially if someone will be in a position of trust or will have access to assets, we will check credit history," she explains. "I have worked with several small businesses that have had incidents with trusted employees, and I feel strongly that some of those things can be prevented by doing a very thorough background check."
Smith says small businesses usually are more vulnerable in those types of situations.
"The small business owner tends to treat employees more like a family," she points out. "If you have an office with only 10 or 12 employees, they're usually given a lot of trust and a lot of access to assets -- company secrets and the company checkbook."
An emerging division of the company provides background information on individuals who will be providing child care or elder care in private homes. For those applicants, Smith checks not only criminal records and employment and credit history but also the person's driving record.
"You want to make sure they have a valid driver's license and a good driving history," she says. "And you want to make sure that everything is consistent in the person's background -- just paint an overall picture and look for red flags when things don't match up."
Smith says Secure Check has experienced 100 percent growth in each of the last five years. She has two local employees and works with 10 researchers in Ohio as well as a national network of background providers. At the beginning of this year, she opened a second office in Akron to service clients in the Akron/Cleveland market.
In her "spare time," Smith is establishing herself as an expert witness. In the last year, she has testified at two major trials on behalf of crime victims. In each case, the employer had failed to do a thorough background check before hiring an employee.
If they had, Smith says, they would have found a record of criminal convictions. Because they didn't, they found themselves in court. How to reach: Tricia Smith, president, Secure Check Inc., 444-7455 or www.securecheckinc.com
Editor's Note: This page is presented as a cooperative effort of National City Bank and SBN Magazine; however all material prepared for this page was independently reported and edited by SBN and was not subject to prior review or approval by National City Bank representatives.
- The department has raised to $25,000 the threshold at which financial institutions must freeze accounts of a person who dies, pending the presentation of a tax release form.
- Financial institutions are no longer required to await a county auditor's inventory of a safe deposit box upon the death of its owner before access can be gained to it.
- The department no longer requires a form for the first six-month extension for estate tax returns. This means estates will have a total of 15 months after the person's death to file the return before a written extension request is required.
Even by their own measure, Joe Sullivan and Gary Bruck had a slim shot at designing the multimillion-dollar renovation project for Columbus School for Girls.
After all, their Downtown firm, Sullivan Bruck Architects, had never done work on an education project. Top that off with their proposal to the school: Instead of a $6 million, modest rehabilitation and expansion of old buildings, Sullivan and Bruck suggested the school demolish most of its buildings and start over -- to the tune of $8 million, a 33 percent increase.
Against the odds, however, they did get the job, and several years later, another multimillion-dollar project at one of CSG's competitors: The Columbus Academy.
They did it by capitalizing on the two private schools' concerns about marketing themselves and projecting the best possible image in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
CSG's 1990 expansion and renovation needs weren't just to provide more space for students or upgrade aging facilities.
"I think what we began to do is look at our existing facility obviously with an eye toward creating a campus that would reflect the philosophy and values of our school in a way that our existing school did not," says Patricia Hayot, head of school for CSG. "In any marketing challenge, you articulate in a more refined way what you stand for."
The private school also faced a factor common to any business -- competition. Around the time of CSG's project, Columbus Academy, the local private school for boys, announced it would go co-ed.
Sullivan Bruck's opportunity to take on the project came through a recommendation from a CSG board member who was a Sullivan Bruck client.
"Hiring us was going out on a limb for the people who made that decision," admits Bruck, referring to the firm's lack of experience in that realm.
What made up for the shortfall was Sullivan Bruck's work on residential projects and classical detailing.
"What we were building was something much more beyond pencils and books and blackboards," Hayot says. "We were building a community and wanted someone who really had vision and a sense of creativity ... who could help us develop this."
Sullivan Bruck suggested the project focus on the school's old mansion. Even though it was the gateway for new and prospective students because it conveyed the image of the school, it wasn't even visible from the street. Sullivan and Bruck wanted to make the mansion the school's focus and create more of a campus with new buildings.
"We thought Columbus School for Girls was a lot closer to a school of higher education than it was a typical school campus," Sullivan says.
In the end, the project worked, especially from a marketing standpoint.
"We had thought that we might lose some enrollment when Academy went co-ed," Hayot says. "That wasn't sustained at all. Within a year and a half, we had exceeded our enrollment's highest level ever."
Although she points out that buildings don't define an organization, the renovation and expansion project has allowed CSG to better fit its image.
""We have a sense of community here, a great sense of light, a sense of style, a sense of rigor. There are spaces that invite you in, and that's what learning is about," she says.
Nearly 10 years later, when Columbus Academy needed to expand, Sullivan Bruck got the nod on that project, too.
"We also needed a building that made kind of a statement of welcome to the outside community," says Academy Headmaster John M. Mackenzie. "If you drove up to campus prior to this building being built, you would not know where the front door was."
Again, the door of opportunity was opened for Sullivan Bruck by an existing client and school board member.
Sullivan Bruck designed a new administration building that made a square of the existing three buildings on the campus and tied everything together with a Georgian architecture flair to help Columbus Academy make a statement of quality and character.
"We can't trace enrollment back to a building, but I can say the last couple of years this building has been in existence have been the two best admissions years in the history of the school," Mackenzie says, adding that attrition is low and contributions to the school are at an all-time high.
The experiences with the two schools encouraged Sullivan and Bruck to do marketing of their own to expand beyond their traditional work.
"We have started to pursue some public institutions and have been short-listed for a couple of projects," Sullivan says.
The hurdle, of course, is the firm's lack of experience in various areas.
"I don't view our firm as having limits," Bruck says. "The difficulty is convincing the outside." How to reach: Sullivan Bruck Architects, 464-9800 or www.sbarch.com; Gary Bruck, email@example.com; Joe Sullivan, firstname.lastname@example.org; Patricia Hayot, Columbus School for Girls, 252-0781; John M. Mackenzie, Columbus Academy, 475-2311
Joan Slattery Wall (email@example.com) is associate editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.
While some businesses will struggle to survive in a sluggish economy, many will do better than ever -- primarily because they have mastered proven, but seldom-used slowdown strategies.
So says Jerry Buchs, author of the recently published report, "Strategies for an Economic Slowdown: 16 Proven Ways to Sell More of Your Products and Services While the Experts Decide If We're in a Recession!"
"While a downturn may not last long, many businesses need to develop strategies that help them retain their current customers and keep them buying," says Buchs, an Ohio-based consultant who specializes in public relations and marketing strategies for businesses. "They also need to master marketing techniques that will win them new customers to replace any business they may lose during a slowdown."
Among the recession-proof business strategies Buchs outlines in his new report:
Commit to marketing consistently and aggressively all the time -- not just when you need the business. Planning an ongoing marketing campaign ensures a steady stream of new business leads. Marketing done today -- and every day -- begins a selling cycle that will result in new business when you need it six months down the road.
Give your existing customers superior service. In a slow economy, businesses should do everything they can to hold on to their existing customers or clients -- the bread and butter of their business.
"The best way to hold on to your customers is to please them," says Buchs, "and the best way to please them is through better customer service. Now is an ideal time to go the extra mile with extra service or courtesy. It can mean the difference between dazzling the customer vs. merely satisfying them."
Add value to your existing products or services. While prospects may seem reluctant to spend money in a soft economy, their real concern, says Buchs, is making sure they get the best value for their dollar. Keep existing customers and land new business by offering more value than the competition.
For instance, any business selling a commodity item could add value by offering faster delivery than the competition. Or a larger selection. Or more colors. Or easier payment terms. Or a better guarantee.
Motivate inactive customers. Contact past customers -- people you served at one time but who are not actively buying now -- to remind them of your existence. A properly scripted telephone call to past buyers should generate approximately one order for every 10 calls.
Motivate old leads. Most businesses give up on sales leads too early. Many of those dropped leads can be turned into profitable business with just a little extra sales effort, Buchs says. Repeated follow-up with better offers should convert 10 percent of prospects into buyers.
Repackage your products or services to accommodate smaller customers on reduced budgets. Businesses that sell products can offer compact models, economy sizes, no-frills versions, easy payment plans, extended credit, special discounts, incentives and smaller minimum orders to appeal to prospects with reduced spending power. Service providers can be more flexible by selling their services and time in smaller, less-costly increments.
Supplement your normal work. Fill gaps in your schedule with other types of related work. For example, a carpenter who normally handles large, lucrative home-remodeling jobs can take on lots of smaller jobs and handyman work to keep the money coming in if his home renovation work falls off.
Stay positive. The most important thing about a slow period is not to get depressed by it. If you are down, prospects can sense your desperation and fear, and it has a negative effect on your dealings with them. How to reach: Jerry Buchs, firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 985-2813
Who would you have chosen?Thanks for asking! I have a few.
First, Ken Cookson. In a walk, Ken is a law partner with Dinsmore & Shohl, an original member of the Downtown Commission, former president of the Discovery District Development Corp. -- I succeeded him -- and instrumental in the Broad Street Median Initiative.
He's president of the Friends of WOSU board and serves with me on the board of the Columbus Landmarks Foundation. The man is awesome -- making a real difference.
Then there is Denny Griffith, president of Columbus College of Art and Design, who is taking an internationally renown arts school to new heights. Outstanding artist in his own right. Active and engaged in making us a better community.
Don't forget Larry Black. He is the director of the Columbus Metropolitan Library System. The Hapler Index, which ranks public libraries nationally, listed ours the best in the United States! What a plug for our learning community. Take that, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago.
And his leadership has been quietly effective in getting voter affirmation of what a great system we have. Our library buildings are technologically advanced, great spaces for people and receive American Institute of Architects design awards. The branch libraries make him a player in numerous areas around town.
Call it good karma, optimism or whatever you like, but the positive attitude Jay Dascenzo surrounds himself with affords him the opportunity to take advantage of some amazing -- even uncanny -- opportunities.
Take, for example, the time in 1984, when he decided to stop being a human services lobbyist, wanting instead to be involved with then-Gov. Richard F. Celeste's administration. He got hired to help design a computer system to manage a grant program for the Ohio Department of Development.
"I didn't know how to turn a computer on," laughs the president of Dascenzo Perez Inc., an Arena District communications agency.
Even though a hiring freeze prohibited the department from bringing on a computer programmer to translate Dascenzo's ideas into bytes, he still managed to develop a simple system for the Community Development Block Grant program that became a model used by other states as well.
Another time, Dascenzo used an eavesdropping tactic to get in closer ranks with Celeste. The head of the governor's advance team was asking another person to work on a particular event -- but he needed someone who owned a tuxedo.
"I piped up and said, 'I have a tuxedo,'" Dascenzo says. Plus, he'd already done advance work -- for an opponent of Celeste in a previous election, ironically.
He got the job and ended up as Celeste's assistant for the chief of staff. In all, he spent six years working in state government, often coordinating Celeste's out-of-state events. At the time, he called working for the governor "the greatest experience of my life."
Dascenzo's ability to make good of a situation or get things going his way served him well later as he spent 11 months in France -- where he landed a job writing gossip about American celebrities for a magazine -- and when he returned to the United States to do free-lance work and eventually start his own company.
In 1996, he took in a partner, Miguel Perez, and has grown Dascenzo Perez Inc. to eight employees in Columbus and Cincinnati with annual billings of $1.6 million. Dascenzo serves as speechwriter for Tami Longaberger, president and CEO of The Longaberger Co., and his company has produced events, videos, stage shows, speeches, print communications and fashion shows for many of The Limited Inc.'s businesses or spin-offs, including Victoria's Secret Catalogue, Bath & Body Works and Lane Bryant. Other clients include such notables as Tupperware Corp., Wexner Heritage Village and the American Red Cross.
"Jay's got a very good sense of humor. He has a contagious enthusiasm about him," says Frankie Nowlin, Borden Foundation president and immediate past president of the Center for New Directions board. As a board member, Dascenzo helped the center revamp its annual fund-raising event.
"When you're around him and he talks about ideas, you kind of think to yourself, 'This is a great idea; I'd like to do that,'" Nowlin says. "He's just so positive about things."
His positive attitude is taking him to Alaska this summer, where he'll participate in a 500-mile bicycle ride -- the longest he's ever attempted -- from Fairbanks to Anchorage to raise money for AIDS vaccine research. He also serves on the national board of governors for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization.
Dascenzo's optimism just last year grew even brighter -- since he saw through a cloud he didn't even realize was hanging over his head.
After a friend pointed out that he always seemed to have a lot of anxiety, he began to wonder if he should do something about it.
"It was fear of everything but fear of nothing," Dascenzo says.
It marked his first experience visiting a therapist -- and he learned how to deal with his anxiety disorder.
"It's not rocket science. It's converting negative thoughts into realistic thoughts," he says, explaining how previously he would magnify a little mistake he made at an event where 95 percent of his work was "a home run."
"I had to work hard to shift that mindset," he says. "I tell a lot of people now, because I figure if I can get someone to think about doing something about it, that you don't have to live that way, great."
His anxious feelings had not been evident to everyone, perhaps because it hadn't affected his work.
Peggy Calestro, vice president of development at Columbus State Community College, relates the story of the new look, new name and new attention Dascenzo brought to the college's fund-raiser, Taste the Future.
"It was a nice event, but it wasn't an event people (were) compelled to come to -- and it has become that," Calestro says, noting Taste the Future now reaches its maximum registration of 1,000 attendees. "The money we have raised has just more than quadrupled.
"His optimism and his vision rubbed off on all of us," she says. "He rekindled the excitement that had been there when we started the event."
He kept that excitement going after the fact, too.
"The day after the event, he sent me flowers and thanked me," Calestro recalls. "I thought, 'Now wait a minute. This should have gone totally the other way, because I just sort of stood there and watched him do his magic.' It was such a generous thing to do -- it totally denied any responsibility he had for the success of the event.
"He doesn't focus the spotlight on himself, and he really could. ... Instead of self promoting, he reflects it right back onto the people who benefit from his good work."
How to reach: Jay Dascenzo, Dascenzo Perez Inc., 228-7738 or email@example.com
Joan Slattery Wall (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.
The Germain family isn't letting recession threats hold down business. It expects to open its second Lexus dealership in Columbus, Germain Lexus of Easton, by September.
Lexus is behind the family with some impressive statistics.
"We speculate by 2005 a 58 percent growth in affluent households in Columbus -- those with an income of $100,000 or more," says Jim Farley, Lexus Central Region area manager, who spoke at the April groundbreaking for the 34,500-square-foot facility. "Average income will grow 24 percent."
The Germains' 10-year-old Lexus of Columbus dealership is one of the Lexus stars, with a 14 percent share in Columbus -- almost 4 percent higher than anywhere else in the country.
"This project wouldn't happen if it wasn't for our faith in the organization the Germains built and all of the associates in their organization," Farley says.
To hear Steve Germain, president of Germain Motor Co., tell it, he's already won the first round of the challenge to open the dealership, which will be built by Renier Construction Corp. with architecture by Architectural Alliance.
"There were a lot of things that were not part of the 'Easton thing,' and a car dealership was right below a dirty bookstore," he joked at the groundbreaking. "Right then I said, 'We've got to get into Easton.'"
He's projecting $64 million in sales within the first year.
Germain also gave assurances to the $8.5 million project's financial supporters at Bank One: "If it makes you feel any better, I have never met a Lexus dealer yet that felt like they spent too much money." How to reach: Steve Germain, Germain Motor Co., 868-0300 or www.germaincars.com; Bill Heifner, Renier Construction Corp., 866-4580 or email@example.com; John Oney, Architectural Alliance, 469-7500
Who's in first?
Even though Schottenstein, Zox & Dunn is making headlines regarding its planned move to the Arena District, it won't be the first law firm to set up shop there. That honor will go to Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs, which is moving Sept. 1 from a 10,800-square-foot space in the Key building at 88 E. Broad St. to 18,500 square feet of new space in the 191 W. Nationwide Blvd. building at the corner of Nationwide and West Street.
"The Arena District provides the value of our law firm being downtown with the benefits of suburban amenities such as ease of access for our clients, parking on the premises and additional meeting space," says Donald B. Leach Jr., shareholder-in-charge of Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs' Columbus office. "These are the amenities needed to attract and retain clients as well as good lawyers and staff."
"They are a top-notch law firm with an outstanding reputation in the community," says Brian J. Ellis, president and COO of Nationwide Realty Investors, the entity developing the Arena District. "We feel this is a good match and that the law firm will be able to take advantage of the energy and excitement offered in the Arena District and still be in a prime downtown location."
Schottenstein, Zox & Dunn is scheduled to move into its Arena District home in 2003. How to reach: Donald B. Leach Jr., Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs, 227-4262 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The newly established Franklin University Leadership Press isn't interested in theory. It's going after real-life success stories as its publication focus instead.
"The press will set itself apart from other university presses by concentrating on books that have practical application as opposed to works of theory and pure scholarship," says Linda Steele, senior vice president for strategic relationships and initiatives at Franklin.
That's why Leadership Press Director Jeanette M. Rivard will be pursuing book projects from established, successful leaders who have made real and significant contributions to the community or the world of business.
For would-be authors, Rivard prefers to review a prospectus prior to inviting a completed manuscript, according to the Leadership Press Web page (www.franklin.edu/busrelations/leadershippress.html). In addition, the author's leadership experience and vita or resume will be reviewed closely. How to reach: Jeanette M. Rivard, Franklin University Leadership Press, 341-6404 or email@example.com
The management at Crane Performance Siding came to a big realization this spring: The VIPCO brand name the company has been using for more than 30 years to sell vinyl siding wasn't working anymore. It wasn't reflecting the attitude and marketing outlook of the company. That's why the VIPCO name has now gone the way of the brontosaurus.
"We've made significant changes in our product offerings and manufacturing capabilities, and the VIPCO brand no longer represents who we are as a company," says Mike Crane, president of Crane Performance Siding, which is also the new brand name under which the company's products are marketed.
Crane Performance Siding has also unveiled a new company logo in an effort to visually demonstrate a more upscale and bold product offering.
Studies show growth in women-owned businesses exceeds growth rates reported by American businesses overall. So why is it that we hear so little about the women running these fast-growth companies? The Columbus chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners wants to change that.
The group will hold its third annual awards ceremony recognizing outstanding female business owners from Central Ohio at an 11:30 a.m. luncheon July 12 at the Hilton Columbus at Easton, 3900 Chagrin Dr. For details about sponsoring or attending the ceremony, contact Tricia Smith at 444-7455 or Karen McVey at 888-4674. SBN Magazine is a sponsor of this event.
A 3-year-old Columbus firm has hired its first COO.
Mike Covert comes to Infinis Inc. from Columbus-based Alta Analytics, where he served as vice president of product development and chief technology officer. Covert will manage the day-to-day operations of Infinis, an information technology company.
"Infinis has begun an expansion on multiple fronts -- from introducing e-business intelligence and customer intelligence services to launching new operations in Cincinnati and Cleveland," says CEO Mario Desiderio. "We hired Mike Covert as our new COO to assist in creating the infrastructure required to make these expansions successful."
Three directors at Johnstown-based Bigmar Inc. have joined the generic drug company's executive team. Cynthia R. May, who serves as the managing member of Jericho LLC -- an entity that has invested in Bigmar -- has been appointed president. She has been associated with Bigmar since 1996 and previously served as a director and vice president.
Bernard Kramer, who has been a director of Bigmar since 1996, has been named its vice president and COO. Massimo Pedrani, who has been a director since 1999, has been named executive vice president of research and development. John Tramontana will continue as the company's chairman and CEO.
Roger Geiger, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business - Ohio and No. 5 on SBN Magazine's Power 100 list published earlier this year, has been appointed to the state's Sunset Review Commission. This commission reviews state boards, commissions, councils, committees and other entities to determine whether they should be abolished or continued.
Local attorney Gregory N. Finnerty was also appointed to the commission.
Construction is underway in Hilliard at the site of All Seasons Spas' forthcoming $2 million warehouse, showroom and retail facility. The 20,000-square-foot complex is being built by Ruscilli Construction Co. Inc. and is scheduled to be completed by September.
In other construction news, Apex/M&P Construction in Blacklick has been awarded a $2.6 million contract by the New Albany - Plain Local School District to perform the carpentry, doors, hardware, specialties, metal wall panels, louvers and cornices work for New Albany Middle School. Firestone Jaros Mullin Inc. in Powell provided architectural services for the project and Worthington-based Turner Construction Co. is the construction manager.
With the sweltering days of summer just around the corner, this could be an opportune time for the marketing team at Brookdale Living Communities to kick into high gear in promoting the company's latest development. The multimillion-dollar Trillium Place to be built near Dublin will feature the only indoor swimming pool in a retirement home in Central Ohio. Trillium, set to open next spring, marks Chicago-based Brookdale's official entry into the Central Ohio market.
Downtown development is a hot topic these days with the ongoing construction of the Arena District. And nine civic-minded business people have been named to executive posts on the Downtown Council to actively support and promote the benefits of a vibrant and vital downtown.
Robin Highfield, sales manager for the Crowne Plaza, has been named chair of the council, which is an affiliate of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce. Joining Highfield on the executive committee are Brent LaLonde, media relations manager for the Greater Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau; Patrice Gillespie, senior account executive with Paul Werth Associates; Paula Ryan, marketing manager with Mille/James Productions; Rick Studer, a partner with Clary Communications; Jen Walker, advertising coordinator with The Johnson Family Diamond Cellar; Pieter Wykoff, vice president of Columbus State Community College; Joan Terango, advertising manager with Grange Insurance; and Jack Russell, marketing coordinator with the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce.
Urban Environments Inc. won Landscape Enhancement Awards from the "Landscape Ohio!" program this spring for two of its landscape maintenance projects: the Tuttle Crossing freeway interchange and office building complex, and the Easton Oval office park. Duke-Weeks Realty Corp. is the owner and property manager of both award-winning properties.
Nominations are being accepted through June 15 for the Governor's Awards for Women's Excellence in Enterprise 2001. Awards will be given in the following categories: manufacturing/high technology, service, wholesale/retail, real estate/construction and Rising Star (in business less than five years).
Nominees must be Ohio based with an annual sales revenue greater than $1.5 million, except in the categories of service (minimum $1 million) and Rising Star (minimum $750,000). Nominee businesses must also be majority female-owned, well-established, growing and profitable for the most recent reporting period. For details, contact Linda Saikas at 466-4945.
Donna James, executive vice president and chief administrative officer of Nationwide, has been elected to the board of directors at Intimate Brands. She has also been appointed as a member of the board's audit committee.
The Central Ohio chapter of the Public Relations Society of America gave Best of Show honors to Edward Howard & Co. at this year's PRISM Awards. The company was honored for its work with the Community Shelter Board on nonprofit community relations.
June 29 is the deadline for nominating local companies for the 2001 Business Integrity Awards, presented by the Better Business Bureau of Central Ohio. These awards are designed to recognize firms whose business practices and related activities in the community exemplify the BBB's mission and principles. Nominees will be separated into four categories for judging, based on number of employees. For details, contact Kip Morse at 486-6531, ext. 120, or visit www.centralohiobbb.org.
Caroll Conklin, managing partner of the Sullivan Consulting division of Lord Sullivan & Yoder, will present The Branding Imperative in E-Business during a June 11 Business Development Forum hosted by the Industry & Technology Council of Central Ohio. The forum will be held at 4:30 p.m. at the Edison Welding Institute, 1250 Authur E. Adams Dr. For details, call 225-6907.
Neil Anderson, president of NBBJ, will discuss Design in the New Economy at the June 15 Technology Leaders Luncheon at Holiday Inn on the Lane, 328 W. Lane Ave. For details, call 225-6907.
Home Office Warehouse and National Office Warehouse will present a seminar June 2 on Researching Trademarks or Brand Names. For details, call 228-2233.
More than 18 chapters of Network Professionals Inc. meet weekly either for breakfast or lunch at various locations around Central Ohio. For details, call Frank Agin, regional director, at 523-8717, or visit www.npinet.com.
LeadNet, a business-to-business networking group, meets at noon Tuesdays at the Martini Italian Bistro,1319 Polaris Parkway. For details, call Racey Morris at 846-8723, ext. 216, or Tim Moore at (740) 548-6067.
The Columbus American Marketing Association hosts Java Talk from 8 to 9 a.m. the third Thursday of each month for at Barnes & Noble on Polaris Parkway. Marketing and technology professionals meet to discuss technology topics affecting marketers. For details, contact Anne Kemter at 543-6317.
Jewish Family Services' Career and Workforce Development Center holds its Tips, Tricks and Techniques Tea from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Thursdays at Jewish Family Services, 1151 College Ave., for professionals in career search with experience in a wide range of industries. The meetings are free and open to the public. For details, call 237-9675.
To err is human. How well we recover -- and learn -- from our mistakes, however, can mark the difference between success and failure.
SBN often asks business leaders to divulge how their biggest missteps impacted their companies. Our reason for doing so is simple: Often there's more to learn from a mistake than a success. And, for some reason, lessons learned the hard way tend to stick with us longer.
That's why, for the second year in a row, we're devoting our cover story to the topic of business blunders. Based on the feedback we got last year, you learned quite a bit from the stories local CEOs were willing to share with us last time around.
So read on and find out how some of the best and brightest leaders in corporate Columbus -- taken from our SBN Power 100 list published in February -- have learned from their mistakes.
If you own it, act like it
Business was going well in 1993 when J.F. "Jeff" Keeler, chairman and CEO of Fishel Co., decided an expansion was in order.
He acquired an Indiana company called Johnson Brothers, making it a division of Fishel but leaving it with its own operations and its own identity rather than changing its red and white trucks to Fishel's signature yellow and making its employees Fishel "teammates."
Keeler's mistake: his decision not to "Fishelize" the new acquisition. It took more than five years to recover.
Over the years, Keeler has built his family business into a proven success by strictly following the Fishel culture. For 10 years prior to the merger, "teammates" had been sharing in the company's profits -- one-third before taxes, in fact. By that year, Keeler was sharing more than $700,000 with employees, who received about four weeks pay as their cash profit sharing.
"Some of my friends say, 'Keeler, you're crazy to be sharing that much,' and my answer is, 'I'm not crazy. It makes the pie bigger and there are more teammates that care about the health and the profitability and the quality of the company,'" he says.
Johnson Brothers, however, which was a 100-employee carbon copy of Fishel's telecommunications and utility construction services, was doing well on its own. Keeler decided to leave it alone rather than change something and risk problems.
"What happened is you let it alone and it floundered. It was like a ship without a rudder," he says, noting that the owner stayed on with the company but didn't provide much direction after the acquisition.
"Their employees never really felt like they were Fishel teammates. And they didn't take leadership or direction very well," he says.
The acquisition lost money five years in a row, totaling several hundred thousand dollars.
"It took us about five years to do something about it, and basically that was to put a Fishel teammate in charge," he says.
"We painted the equipment yellow, put (the employees) in our benefit plans and our training programs. And we made it part of Fishel Co. instead of a division of it. We changed the name and called it Team Fishel instead of Johnson Brothers," he says.
The turnaround was almost immediate, once the employees' attitudes changed. Profits returned within about two years.
Keeler says he learned two lessons from the experience.
"When you buy it, you really own it, and you need to integrate it into your existing business," he says.
He'd immediately "Fishelize" any future acquisition.
That day hasn't come yet, though, mainly because of the second lesson he learned.
"We would buy a company that would not be in the exact same business that we're in, but that would be a specialty subcontractor with a set of skills we don't already have," Keeler says. "If we know how to do it, we'll start it ourselves.
"We've opened an office since then in the Washington, D.C., area, and in Orlando, Denver, Houston, and we're in the process of opening one in Tucson. We're doing that all with homegrown, Fishelized teammates, and it's a lot less expensive than buying into the marketplace."
Keeping with the Fishel culture and maintaining the profit sharing practice has not only been successful for the $265 million company, it has brought personal satisfaction to Keeler.
This spring, he had what he calls "the thrill of a lifetime" when, at a quarterly meeting with 650 teammates in Phoenix, he passed out $1.3 million worth of profit-sharing checks in one hour.
"That was a new record for me," Keeler says, "and it was a thrill to look out in the audience and see that many people that were part of the team and contributing to help make a profit." How to reach: Jeff Keeler, 274-8100
Hire people with the right passion
Samuel Gresham Jr. will never forget the time he entrusted an employee to plan a big event for the Columbus Urban League and the caterers showed up wearing toga-esque outfits.
"I told him to go ahead and plan it, just show me the agenda and I'll give you that freedom," says Gresham, president and CEO of the urban league, of the young, male employee who coordinated the event about eight years ago for the league's Center for Change and Leadership (now known as the Center for the Study of Urban Life).
"What he did is he hired the Hare Krishnas to prepare the food, and I had all these straight-laced people coming in in suits. I tend to deal with community people who are very conservative. And here we have these bald-headed people with white sheets wrapped around them serving the food. That was embarrassing. He said he had a caterer for the food. I didn't ask to see all the details.
"I trusted him to that extent. Obviously, his expectation and his understanding of what is acceptable in a business setting, and what isn't, was very different from mine."
Gresham eventually fired the employee -- but not just because of that incident. It was clear to him that this young man's true passion wasn't in event planning or public policy or even advocacy, which were the key elements of his job at the urban league, a $5.6 million organization.
"He had a master's degree," Gresham says. "He was great for writing papers and doing the analytical work, but he just had a quirky personality. He went off a little farther than other people would go. During staff meetings, he would quote Shakespeare. It would irritate people. We're in here talking about how we're losing money or struggling because we're not meeting goals and nobody wants to hear Shakespeare."
Gresham says this former employee is now pursuing a career in teaching literature.
"That's probably a more fitting position for him," he says.
Figuring out the true interests of job candidates has since become an essential element in Gresham's hiring process at the urban league.
"The biggest mistake I make with people is I don't find that passion," he says. "People come in because they want a job. What I try to find out is what their passion is: What do you really like to do? What gets you upset? What makes your juices flow? I try to make sure what they're applying for is really what they want to do."
That's why Gresham's screening process also includes multiple interviews.
"I won't hire a candidate unless I've met with them three times," he says. "Once in the morning, early, to see if they're going to be on time. Why? A 10 o'clock meeting is not hard. A 7 o'clock meeting is hard."
The second meeting is always over lunch, to see how they handle discussing business during a meal.
"If you set them down to do a deal and they eat like a pig and they chew with their mouth open and they don't know how to use the napkin, people say, 'Yuck,'" Gresham explains.
The third meeting involves making a presentation to Gresham on a topic he tells the candidate to research.
"A lot of people get upset because they don't think they should have to do that," he says.
But it shows Gresham the candidate's drive, research skills and analytical abilities -- along with his or her composure in making a presentation.
Besides, Gresham adds, job candidates can put on a happy, polite demeanor the first couple times you meet them, but by the third time, they've let down their guard.
"You see things in that person they can't hide anymore," he says.
Another screening tool he uses to help identify the true abilities and interests of potential hires is to ask them about the last book they read or movie they saw. That, he says, can offer some interesting insights.
Gresham uses some of the same techniques with the league's 65 employees to make sure their jobs continue to be well matched to their interests.
"I manage by walking around," he says. "That's when I pick up most of my information about what's going on with people. They don't have to tell you. You know just by being around them. If they're unhappy, they're not going to be productive."
For example, he once had an administrative assistant who outgrew the position.
"I moved her to senior vice president of development, and she's flourishing," he says. "You just have to figure out what their passion is." How to reach: Samuel Gresham Jr., 257-6300 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Find your true identity
Ask Sandy Harbrecht about her biggest business mistake and the conversation quickly turns to regrets: about not being bold enough or tough enough; about seeing her gender as a hurdle to overcome in the business world; about not publicizing her company's accomplishments aggressively.
But the more she talks through the challenges she's faced in the past 15 years as president of Paul Werth Associates, the more her regrets begin to center around one specific oversight, which -- if not pointed out to her by a couple astute clients -- might have left her company floundering in the midst of a serious identity crisis.
Harbrecht cannot pinpoint when the real problem began -- and that, in itself, reveals the potential gravity of the situation. She only knows that about eight or 10 years ago, she suddenly realized her firm had gone off in a direction that more closely resembled consulting than public relations -- and nobody seemed to know it.
"It was a natural evolution for us to move the company into a consulting and strategic organization," she says, noting that her firm even developed a specific research model to help clients more thoroughly explore what their real internal and external communication issues were and how to best address each of them. "But we really didn't talk about the model or let the marketplace know we had a particular point of view."
Because of that, corporations were still coming to Paul Werth for brochure and other typical mainstay PR services. That wasn't the kind of work Harbrecht wanted to do anymore.
"We're really much more of a business adviser," she says.
Still, she had trouble turning those jobs away. Her inability to do so fed the misconception that Paul Werth was still a traditional public relations firm.
Fortunately, her clients soon realized the change and began pointing it out to Harbrecht.
"Our clients would say, 'I didn't know you did that,' or 'You're more of a management consultant,' or -- How did he put it? -- 'Meeting with you once a month, I don't need a psychiatrist.' That's when it really became clear to me that we were different," she says.
"Because it came so naturally, I didn't realize it. It didn't feel like a value. It took a few clients to discover it for me."
Yet even after the realization struck her, "I still was reluctant to promote it," she says.
It's the old story of the cobbler's children who have no shoes. Harbrecht always put promoting her firm at the bottom of her list. Her clients took priority.
"Here we had something unique and, if our clients had something unique, we'd tell our clients to tell the world, but we weren't telling the world," she says. "It definitely was hurting us."
Although Harbrecht says, "It took some courage to say we're different," she also acknowledges that not addressing her firm's divergence from traditional PR work could've hurt her company even more.
That's why Harbrecht is focusing on talking more about her company's consulting, strategy and research work now.
"We are using case studies, which we really wouldn't have done before," she says. "It gave us a greater appreciation for how we are unique and how to articulate that. Now clients aren't just coming to us for a Band-Aid solution, but for a real in-depth look at how communication can help take them to new levels of performance and success.
"Discovering all this has really changed the business -- to the point that I'm not sure that we're a PR firm anymore," Harbrecht says. "I think we're much more of a management consultant."
A name change is even under consideration for the $4.84 million firm.
"We're working on that now," she says. "I think we're going to change the way we describe what we do. There's been a lot of angst over, 'What do we call ourselves?' But whatever we decide, it's going to be evolutionary. I'm not going to hold a press conference and say, 'This is our new name.' It will simply evolve into different language."
As part of her company's rebirth, Harbrecht is correcting another past mistake. She's learning it's OK -- even smart -- to turn away business.
"It would've saved a lot of sleepless nights if I'd learned earlier to say, 'We're not going to take on this client,' or 'We're not going to respond to this RFP.'
"It helps the whole organization to have a common sense of what we want to do and what we don't -- and to have the courage to go after what we want to do based on who we are." How to reach: Sandy Harbrecht, 224-8114 or email@example.com
About three years ago, Tim O'Dell learned one of his biggest business lessons: Ask questions before you make assumptions about your customers.
The president of Fifth Third Bank, Central Ohio, says the bank made a critical error when it merged with State Savings Bank.
The significance of the merger wasn't lost on Fifth Third's Columbus area management: The bank's assets went from $1.6 billion to $2.1 billion after State Savings came on board. What they failed to realize, O'Dell says, is how the merger would affect customers.
"The mistake we made was we didn't realize how important it was to the State Savings customers that they retain their existing account numbers for their State Savings accounts," he says, pointing out the bank's well-established, long-term customers had grown accustomed to their accounts after years of loyalty.
"We asked them to change. Instead, we should've changed to be more accommodating to them," he says.
He doesn't think the bank lost customers over the mistake, but it sure started the relationship off on the wrong foot.
"We created a bit of irritation, a bit of a rub there, that could've been handled better," he says. "And we heard about it."
O'Dell won't make the same mistake again, and Fifth Third Bancorp's brass in Cincinnati also learned from the experience. In Fifth Third's latest merger, this one with Old Kent -- which is adding about 1 million customers to the bank -- Fifth Third will be more flexible and allow customers to keep their account numbers.
Now, he's also doing a better job of listening.
"Before we would make any changes like that, we would sit down with a sampling of our customers and get their reaction," he says.
Every month, he personally reviews the several dozen customer survey cards received by the bank; the majority are responded to personally by the appropriate person. The cards are mailed to customers and are available at all banking centers. Retail, commercial, mortgage and general banking customers all have the opportunity to give input.
"It allows us to be able to applaud the great customer service and to address any glitches we may have in customer service," O'Dell says.
In addition, in early 2000, the bank initiated the Community Advisory Forum, in which about a dozen representatives of the community meet quarterly with O'Dell and all bank division heads to discuss how Fifth Third can better serve the community at large.
One change put into action as a result of a suggestion from the group: a church lending specialty at the bank that provides services such as treasury management and lending for expansion. Making the community and customers a part of the process, O'Dell says, creates better support for the bank.
"The biggest mistake is assuming that we have all the answers," O'Dell says. "If we just ask for input and do things in a collaborative effort, there's a lot of power in that." How to reach: Tim O'Dell, 223-3909 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Sometimes you just have to let go
When Sue Doody started Lindey's Restaurant 20 years ago, firing unsatisfactory employees was a task she avoided at all costs.
"I think it was like severing a relationship with a family member. You felt like they were part of the group, and you were reluctant to say, 'It's time for you to move on,'" she says.
She wanted, after all, to run the business like a family.
"I wasn't in the restaurant business before," she points out. "I was a homemaker and mother of four and bought this place because I love to cook and love great food and knew how restaurants didn't always have the best food.
"As I told all my managers: I want it run just like my house," she says of the roughly $5 million, 120-employee business. "If you have company coming into your house, you want to do everything possible to make their stay a fun, nice, enjoyable experience and cook the best food and everything else."
A few years into the business, she got an unexpected reaction when she fired a waitress who just wasn't putting forth her best effort.
"She was such a wreck when she was waiting on tables, and when I let her go she came to me and was relieved. She wanted to succeed but she wanted to succeed for me and not herself. I was letting her (let) go of that tension," Doody says. "It really wasn't her cup of tea."
Later, Doody fired a long-time member of her managerial staff who obviously wasn't happy enough in the job to perform well.
In both cases, Doody had waited weeks before making her move -- a decision she now realizes should've been made as soon as possible.
She discovered she needed to focus on hiring and keeping staff who would buy into the theory of how she wanted the business run and how she wanted the customers treated. Others would simply have to go. Doody couldn't risk the possibility that guests would be reluctant to come back because they had an experience with an employee who wasn't congenial.
Still, for a time, she had to adjust to the idea.
"It was hard because I build up a good relationship with my employees, I think, and try to be interested in their personal lives as well as their lives at work and their best development," she says. "It's hard because you're kind of torn, but you feel like you're doing the best thing for yourself as well as for them -- but change is tough."
Doody always had a general manager who took care of hiring at the restaurant, but now she's added even more levels of scrutiny.
"Now we screen candidates much more carefully," she says, adding that she typically does not hire people who are going into food service for the first time.
In addition, several people, rather than just one manager and Doody, now interview candidates, and there's an orientation period when Lindey's management can find out more about the employee and the employee can learn more about the business.
"It works from both sides," Doody says. "If they aren't going to be happy here, then it's not going to be good for us or them." How to reach: Sue Doody, 228-4343
Kathy Ransier dressed her teen-age son in a tuxedo, took him to his school prom and danced with him in his wheelchair.
It's one of many joyful stories her friend, Rebecca Love, remembers about Ransier's relationship with Charles, whose birth defect left him developmentally challenged at age 1.
"She said, 'I operate with a cup half full, waiting for Charlie to go to college ... '" Love recalls. "That tells a lot about Kathy and her strength and her hopefulness."
For her part, Ransier, managing partner of Ransier & Ransier LLP, remembers the life lessons she learned from Charles, who nearly two years ago died at age 17 -- far past the six-month life expectancy doctors gave him shortly after he was born.
"Charles was Charles. Not handicapped Charles, not retarded Charles, he was just Charles," she says matter-of-factly.
"Fortunately for him, and us, in his level of understanding he was a very happy person -- he wasn't stressed out by his limits," she says, noting that he showed the family joy and warmth.
"You had a bad day and Charles was there to remind you and to love you," she says.
Love, director of early childhood education for the Franklin County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, whose board Ransier chairs, says Ransier always celebrated Charles' life rather than seeing her care of him as a burden.
That attitude, Love says, contributes to the success Ransier has in the law firm owned by her and her husband, Fred.
"Her energy, her positive outlook, her open disposition -- she's a scholar, very scholarly, and intelligent and articulate. And I think all of those make people open their minds to her and receive her professionally and as a friend," says Love, who's known Ransier professionally and personally for nearly 30 years.
Ransier says relationships with clients, in fact, are among the "unanticipated real joys" of running the law firm. She wouldn't disclose specifics about the firm's financials but says she wouldn't deny that revenue exceeds $1 million.
"There are clients we have represented literally the entire time we've been in business," she says of the German Village area law firm founded in 1976. The firm has represented such notables as Honda, Wendy's, Moody/Nolan Ltd., Bank One, National City Bank and Lutheran Social Services.
Susan Weaver, executive director of the Community Housing Network Inc., says over the 10 years Ransier has served as general counsel for her organization, the two have developed a friendship.
"She's just a very upbeat and gregarious person," Weaver says. "She can be irreverent privately, which helps in really difficult matters to sort of look on the light side of things or to find the humor in the problem."
Weaver says she sees Ransier's attitude obvious in her family, which also includes sons Bradley, 23, and Ricky, 17.
While Ransier says she and her husband are focusing on a personal transition to spend more time with each other now that their sons have grown, she actually commits a large portion of her time to civic and community work.
In addition to active membership in the Columbus, Ohio State and American bar associations, she's on the boards of Capitol South Community Urban Redevelopment Corp., Columbus Municipal Airport Authority, The Ohio State University Friends of the Libraries, the Greater Columbus Arts Council and the Broad Brunson Place Condominiums Association. She's also a panel member of The Columbus Foundation Legal Advisory Committee and the OSU Feminist Law Caucus Community Mentoring Program.
In 1990, she won the Community Service Award from the Columbus Bar Association. Lawyers, she says, should be proud of their civic involvement.
"Of course easily every third joke is a lawyer joke, but the bar association is trying to get the word out of our service to the community and also service to our peers," she says.
Building her own practice has been an educational experience, she says. For example, after 25 years in business, she's learned to look beyond the resume when she's hiring new people to the firm, which in addition to her and Fred includes two other attorneys as well as a legal assistant, bookkeeper, secretary/receptionist and law clerk.
She knows now she'll generally have more success hiring attorneys and staff who went to law school later in life or are further along in their careers, because they tend to be more mature.
"It's fun to be a lawyer -- ego-gratifying that people rely on what you have to say," she says, "so it's nice in that respect. But after a couple of years we realized -- we've got to make money.
"Fred and I are first-generation business people, which is a challenge in and of itself," she says.
Still, Ransier's biggest challenge in life came with the death of her son, a loss she deals with through support from friends and family, whom she counts among those she most admires.
"I am so fortunate that I had tremendous parents and a wonderful childhood," she says, remembering her parents' adoration of her and her five sisters.
"According to (my father) I was the center of the world. It was late -- too late -- when I figured out I wasn't," she laughs. "It was a great way to start off life, feeling that way." How to reach: Kathy Ransier, Ransier & Ransier LLP, 443-7429 or www.ransierlaw.com
Joan Slattery Wall (email@example.com) is associate editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.
"Success without power is nothing," according to Susan Wilson Solovic. She should know.
Twelve years ago, as vice president, director of corporate marketing at ITT Commercial Finance, Solovic was pulling down a six-figure income and was one of the highest-ranking women in the corporation. Still, her salary fell about $20,000 short of her male predecessors' salaries, she says, and her name somehow never appeared on the invitation lists to the fancy company trips enjoyed by male colleagues.
She tried to ignore the unequal treatment, but found herself wondering why women, like herself, expect to work harder and still take a backseat to men in the corporate world. She vowed to start devoting her career to helping women in business obtain gender parity and personal power.
Solovic started a company called Susan-Says, and began serving as a business and marketing consultant, as well as a public speaker. She is a member of a national braintrust to shape the entrepreneurial mission for women business owners in the 21st century and facilitates programs for the Women Presidents' Organization. She's also the author of a new book, "The Girls' Guide to Power and Success," aimed at helping women break free of limiting stereotypes and self-defeating behaviors so they may excel in business going head-to-head with men.
Solovic will be visiting Columbus July 12 to give the keynote address at the National Association of Women Business Owners - Central Ohio chapter's annual awards ceremony at the Hilton Columbus at Easton, beginning at 11:30 a.m.
"Women continue to fight the same battles over and over again because we do not understand the concept of power and how to leverage it," she says. How to reach: Susan Solovic, firstname.lastname@example.org or (314) 361-2090