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Friday, 29 July 2005 11:10

More-flexible flex plans

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Cafeteria plans provide employees a pool of choices — a benefits buffet in a sense, with options that range from retirement pay contribution to vacation days to insurance plans. Regarding health insurance, cafeteria plans are also known as Section 125 plans or flexible spending accounts (FSAs). These allow employees to contribute to a tax-advantaged savings account and withdraw money as needed to fund a variety of medical expenses. Cafeteria plans are flexible and financially sensible, but regulations proposed in the 1980s hinged a restrictive use-it-or-lose-it clause to the plans. Participants were required to forfeit unused benefits and contributions at the…
Friday, 29 July 2005 10:47

Movers & Shakers

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H.J. Heinz Co. named Idamarie Laquatra, Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N., director of global nutrition. Laquatra is a long-time Heinz consultant in the area of nutrition. She replaces David Yeung, Ph.D., who retired April 30. She has experience in the clinical, academic and business fields and has extensive training in nutrition counseling. Laquatra has authored and co-authored articles in peer-reviewed journals and chapters in texts. Prior to earning her advanced degrees, she worked as a clinical dietitian in hospitals and nursing homes. Her food industry experience includes eight years at H.J. Heinz Co., first as a nutritionist for Heinz USA and then…
Thursday, 30 June 2005 07:27

Planting the seeds of success

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More than four decades ago, Carole Horowitz was preparing to get married when her husband-to-be suggested she look forward to the day when their children-to-be were on their own. "My husband and I have been married 45 years," says Horowitz, owner of Plantscape Inc., which offers interior and exterior landscaping, artificial plants and trees, corporate holiday decorations and more. "When we were engaged, he said, 'You may want to have a business when the children we're going to have are grown. You should be thinking about what you want to do.' She says that at that time, there weren't many…
Thursday, 30 June 2005 06:35

Miles ahead

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George Miles was attracted to WQED Pittsburgh because he thought the opportunity to revive the public broadcaster would be a great career capper. It could have been a career killer. Miles was enjoying a successful career in public broadcasting in New York when the chance to be president and CEO of the flagging Pittsburgh organization, WQED Multimedia, came along in 1994. He was eager to take on the challenge, so much so that he leaped before he looked. The company wasn't just in the hole, it was virtually broke -- $13.5 million in debt with a net worth of just…
Tuesday, 24 May 2005 09:30

The case for smoking cessation

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When smoking is the subject, the news is rarely good. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers smoking the leading cause of preventable death in the United States and the producer of one of the most substantial health-related economic costs to society. The CDC estimates that each year between 1995 and 1999, smoking caused 440,000 premature deaths in the United States and $157 billion in annual health-related economic losses. Despite the bad news, 22.5 percent of adults smoke. More alarming is a study that shows 26 percent of all high school seniors smoke. In Pittsburgh, the news is…
Tuesday, 24 May 2005 09:19

Real workers' compensation

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Over many years of talking to a lot of lawyers, I've concluded that a career in law can be satisfying and rewarding, both in terms of income and personal satisfaction. Because of that experience, I found a survey of lawyers by Robert Half Legal to be especially interesting. When surveyed about occupations they would consider if they were to leave their current jobs, attorneys cited mediator, law school professor or lecturer, and nonprofit or public interest legal services provider most often as desirable alternatives. The respondents were 200 attorneys from the largest law firms and corporations in the United States…
Monday, 25 April 2005 10:25

Follow the leadership

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Think about the pool of people from which you draw your employees. Now picture that pool cut in half and consider how much harder it would be to develop leaders out of the group that remains. In some businesses and professions, women have been less than equal participants at the leadership level, in effect shutting out at least half of the talent pool those segments. Fortunately, the business community has made tremendous strides in bringing women into the workplace, although not without the wrangling that often accompanies major change. Overall, women still earn less than men in comparable positions, but…
Monday, 25 April 2005 10:18

Security isn't a four-letter word

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Security is an interesting word. A person can have security in his or her job. Someone can have security in a marriage. Most would say they feel safe or secure in their home. Security can be in the form of an insured bank account, one that is backed by the FDIC. Security can also be protection against thieves, muggers or even terrorists. The word security is used extensively all over the world, especially in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001. We even have a daily security barometer for worldwide terrorist activities. Security is used so often and in so many…
Tuesday, 22 March 2005 19:00

Out of context

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The appellate court for patent appeals across the country is poised to make what many believe will be the most important decision on patent claims construction in a decade. Oral argument was heard in February in Phillips v. AWH Corp., a case which will decide what role dictionaries play in determining the meaning of words included in patent claims. Patent claims define what the patent covers or what the inventor may exclude others from doing. To infringe a patent, the infringer's product or activity must fall within the scope of a valid patent claim and not just within the description…
Tuesday, 22 March 2005 19:00

Riding the rails

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Marshall Reynolds, chairman of Portec Rail Products Inc., told the board in the fall of 2003 that he thought the time was right to take the company public. When Reynolds talks, people tend to listen, and not just because he's the company's chairman of the board. Reynolds, a colorful self-made millionaire and philanthropist from Huntington, W.Va., who bought a bank that had once turned him down for a loan, has taken multiple companies -- in industries as diverse as banking, printing and agriculture -- successfully down the IPO aisle. Portec Rail Products went public in January 2003, six years after…
Friday, 25 February 2005 08:58

Dos and don'ts

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Thorough investigations will buttress an employer's defense to keep an alleged harasser from successfully suing after being terminated for misconduct. Employers have a legal duty to promptly and effectively respond to employee complaints of alleged misconduct so as to avoid suits by the accuser. So what constitutes a proper investigation? There is no set protocol, and the unique facts underlying a complaint may require unique responses. There are, however, general guidelines that should be considered as part of any investigation. Employers must develop and disseminate policies that give employees the right to raise complaints. All employers should distribute a written…
Friday, 25 February 2005 08:50

Applying for a business loan?

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When applying for a business loan, most borrowers have to psych themselves up for an epic battle against the banks and their lenders. Winning the battle means getting the right loan from the right bank. It means having a lender who understands your business and what it's going to take to get you started and keep you going. It means having a bank and relationship officer who sees his or her role in your business as a partnership. Winning the battle means understanding how to apply for a small business loan. When you apply for a small business loan, you…
Friday, 25 February 2005 08:43

Udder excellence

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Turner Dairy Farms Inc.'s marketing once urged consumers to drink its milk slowly to taste the difference between it and the product of others. Consumers don't do much slowly these days, so they might easily miss that advertising message. Nonetheless, Turner Dairy has rested its reputation on the high quality of its product. When consumers know the quality tale, it's not difficult to convince them to buy, says Chuck Turner, president of the 74-year-old Penn Hills business founded by his grandfather. "The story part is easy," says Turner. "The hard part is distribution." Turner Dairy milk consistently places high in…
Thursday, 27 January 2005 12:35

Baker’s man

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Don Fusilli acknowledges that 2002 wasn’t such a great year for Michael Baker Corp. And, in many respects, 2003 wasn’t any better. But after a couple of troubled years, the president and CEO of Pittsburgh’s largest engineering company is beaming over Baker’s strong rebound in 2004. “This (past) year, I think, is more indicative of our sustainability,” says Fusilli. “’04 is one of our best financial years.” Despite some tough sledding over the prior two years, Fusilli appears to view both the ups and downs as simply part of doing business. And don’t expect to see him or Baker relax…
Wednesday, 26 January 2005 10:13

IP communications

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In keeping with last month's theme of creating customer value through improved business processes, it's only appropriate to discuss new ways to communicate, both internally and externally, through the implementation of an IP communications solution. So what are IP communications? Simply put, IP (Internet Protocol) communication solutions let you deliver converged data, voice and video applications to your entire work force, regardless of location, over a single IP network. Efficient communication is key to increasing customer satisfaction. By combining voice, video and data communications into one powerful environment, you can bring together your employees, customers and other associates for improved…
Wednesday, 26 January 2005 10:05

The paper chased

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Kathy Monteverde jokes that there are still a few "paperholics" in the offices of KFMR Katz Ferraro McMurtry, after the firm's conversion to a paperless office. "I would say the biggest hurdle for us was getting everybody to accept it and embrace it," says Monteverde, KFMR's manager of accounting software solutions, of the accounting firm's changeover. KFMR has made the transition from paper to electronic documents successfully enough to earn a practice innovation award from Practical Accountant magazine, but Monteverde's quip suggests how hard it can be to break old habits. KFMR eased the shift through careful planning, thorough training…
Wednesday, 22 December 2004 06:21

Rick Zomnir

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When Rick Zomnir played football for Penn Hills Senior High in the 1960s, his position was, not surprisingly, quarterback. As a quarterback leads a receiver with a pass, successful entrepreneurs realize that they need to aim not where the market is today, but where they expect the opportunity to be in the future. As a young lawyer and later as an entrepreneur, Zomnir and his partners gained a quick understanding of the energy industry and how regulatory change would offer opportunities well before utility deregulation came along. That understanding led to the formation in the mid-1990s of Strategic Energy Limited,…
Wednesday, 22 December 2004 06:16

Gerald McGinnis

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One of Gerald McGinnis' recommendations for success is to spend 10 times as much time listening and reading as talking. That approach has served him and his industry well. When it comes to Pittsburgh's medical products industry, McGinnis is one of its founding fathers and most successful entrepreneurs. He founded Respironics Inc. in 1976 with $13,000 in angel investment money to produce surgical masks and served as its CEO from 1977 to 1994. McGinnis currently is chairman of the board and advanced technology officer of the company, now a $760 million medical products producer based in Murrysville. McGinnis holds 20…
Wednesday, 22 December 2004 06:09

Harry Brown

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What do you call an operating telecommunications company? "Survivor" is one term that comes to mind. "Lucky" might be another. It's been a tough several years for the industry. Telecommunications companies of all kinds have taken their lumps, and a lot of them took the bridge after the speculation and overbuilding that took place in the 1990s. North Pittsburgh Systems Inc. has managed to survive the bust, even while testing the waters of newfangled ventures born out of the information revolution. For North Pittsburgh Systems, the difference between success and oblivion may partly be Harry Brown, the company's president. The…
Wednesday, 22 December 2004 05:59

Valuable lessons in management

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In the past year, the United States Supreme Court has decided a number of high-profile cases covering a wide breadth of employment issues. These cases provide a number of lessons for employers. As a result, employers should review their policies and practices and ensure that they are strategically in accord with these decisions. Pennsylvania State Police v. Suders In June 2004, the court examined whether the employer's affirmative defense in sexual harassment cases is available where the employee claims to have been constructively discharged -- for example, intolerable working conditions that, in effect, force the employee to resign. The court…
Wednesday, 22 December 2004 05:52

Succession success

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Family business. The notion is a contradiction in terms to those who strive to separate these two spheres. But the arrangement is a natural fit for families that work side by side each day, sharing successes and working through growing pains at home and in the office. No two families operate under the same house rules, and businesses are no different. Each family business has unique challenges and strengths that the owner must understand before developing strategies and solutions. Often, family business owners work through a unique set of challenges as they strive to balance home and office. Challenges such…
Friday, 19 November 2004 10:05

Smart selling

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At first blush, SmartAlecs might seem like a more fitting name for software developer SmartOps. After all, many of the company's actions seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom when it comes to selling software. "We haven't taken anyone's advice at face value," says Martin Barkman, vice president, sales and strategic services for the North Shore company. "We've challenged every decision we've made." SmartOps develops and markets optimization software used by businesses to improve the management of inventories. With one of its premier projects being a solution that has saved John Deere Co. $1 billion in inventory costs,…
Thursday, 18 November 2004 19:00

Design for profit

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With the enthusiasm and energy he must have displayed on his first day on the job at ANSYS in 1997, Jim Cashman darts off to retrieve a chart or an article to illustrate a point or explain something that the company's software has helped a customer accomplish. The company's president and CEO doesn't hold back when he talks about ANSYS, of which he's been president and CEO since 2000. "We're very, very bullish on the technology and what it can do," says Cashman. "On the other hand, we're very conservative when it comes to financial discipline. Just as we've mapped…
Friday, 19 November 2004 09:18

Bargain hunter

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Eric Close says he doesn't know how to start companies. That may be true, but he certainly has a knack for restarting them. And a passion for it. Enough so that he moved back to Pittsburgh in early 2003 from Connecticut -- where he and his wife had settled a couple of years before to be close to her family -- to breathe life back into RedZone Robotics Inc. as an investor and its president and CEO. As newly minted MBAs, Close and his former partner, Chris Farls, had acquired and turned around Proline Services, a failing McKees Rocks railcar…
Thursday, 21 October 2004 07:50

Not strictly business

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At age 36, Darrin Grove has already received a number of accolades for his business accomplishments, and he's understandably proud of his achievements. But the co-founder, president and CEO of TrueFit Solutions, a Cranberry-based company that provides manufacturing and CRM software, is just as passionate about his employees and his corporate commitment to community service. "I don't think you could be a leading company in Pittsburgh without reaching out beyond your own business and partnering with the people in the community to really help develop the city," Grove says. Grove and TrueFit employees offer both strategic and tactical assistance to…
Thursday, 21 October 2004 07:46

Board certified

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Don't tell Carl Johnson that corporate boards don't matter. Johnson, founder, chairman and CEO of II-VI Corp., may be among the first to admit that the company's board hasn't always made decisions that thrilled him and the other managers. But he's just as quick to point out that its choices usually turn out to be the right ones. "We feel that that board process of going four times a year to present your results, problems and your plans to an outside group that's not there every day, we feel that really strengthened us at every step along the way, including…
Thursday, 21 October 2004 07:43

Movers & Shakers

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Monroeville attorney John D. "Jack" Finnegan was appointed chairman of the board of directors of Forbes Regional Hospital after serving as a member of the board since 2002. Finnegan, who was appointed by the West Penn Allegheny Health System, succeeds David Nelson. Tom Senker, Forbes Regional's president and CEO, notes Finnegan's prominence in the community, leadership qualities and understanding of health care issues as key assets in his position. "Jack's ability to connect with communities in the eastern suburbs is undeniable and will serve the hospital well as we execute several strategic growth initiatives," Senker says. "In his time on…