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Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Visionary goals

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Under Pat Ryan’s vision, Aon Corp. has become the world’s leading insurance and reinsurance brokerage and human capital consultant, all while maintaining the founder’s commitment to service, integrity and values. Ryan built Aon through a combination of organic growth and the integration of more than 425 acquisitions. Each organization he targeted to join Aon had its own story, but each one also shared a dedication to client service and a culture built on values. The acquisitions saw other companies as bureaucratic and centrist, while they viewed Aon under Ryan’s leadership as entrepreneurial and client-focused. They saw it as a place…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Designing change

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In an industry that is slow to respond to new technology, Craig Datema, president and CEO of Triangle Associates, has kept his company on the forefront of change. Triangle is currently researching building information modeling, a technology that allows a virtual information model to be handed from design team to contractors and subcontractors and then to the owner. The result is anticipated to greatly reduce the information loss that occurs when a new team takes ownership of the project as well as in delivering extensive information to owners of complex structures far beyond that which they are currently accustomed to…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Ticket to ride

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TicketsNow was literally a college dorm room idea that Mike Domek turned into reality when he left school and scraped up $100 — the minimum needed to open a business checking account — to start the company in 1992. Domek spent seven years operating offline, during which time he earned enough money through operations to build and launch a Web site. The idea for the business came from Domek’s personal passion for live entertainment. He saw that the event ticket was the gateway to those unforgettable experiences. In 1992, he saw a huge marketplace but no industry. The market was…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Unique security

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David Gupta founded SD•I (System Development•Integration LLC) in 1996 after seeing a market need for technology-based tools to support owners and managers of spatially oriented physical assets. In building such a unique organization, Gupta needed to find and mold the right management team to support the business model. When the firm required cash during tight times in 2001, he put himself at personal risk by guaranteeing a revolving line of credit to fund the day-to-day operations and project start-up costs. After Sept. 11, SD•I evolved to deliver technology-based support of mission critical systems and infrastructure that were directly impacted by…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Promoting growth

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Steven Zuccarini left the security of a large, established company in order to pursue the raw potential he saw at InnerWorkings Inc. He saw a solid foundation, a world of opportunity and employees ready to actively participate in the company’s success. Zuccarini believed in the business model — managed print and promotional solutions to clients in the United States. But he also saw the opportunity the company had to sell its enterprise solution to Fortune 500 clients. The obstacle would be in convincing the organization of that potential. In turn, Zuccarini fostered a culture at InnerWorkings that enabled employees the…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Making it easy

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Shawn Riegsecker, founder of Centro, had worked in the newspaper business for many years in both an offline and online capacity. He understood how difficult it was for advertisers and agencies to buy advertising on thousands of local Web sites across the country. He envisioned a Web-based marketplace that contained 100 percent of all local Web sites and an easy media-planning system to buy local online ads. The newspaper industry, let alone the inclusion of TV and radio Web sites, is one of the largest, most successful and most fragmented industries in America. It is also the oldest media industry…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Game on

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Centaur is a privately held, Indiana-based business focused on bringing the entertainment and economic development benefits of gaming and horse racing to key communities across North America. The company owns and manages Hoosier Park Racing & Casino in Anderson, Ind., and Fortune Valley Hotel & Casino in Central City, Colo. The company is also seeking final approval to develop Valley View Downs in western Pennsylvania. All these accomplishments started with just a dream. The genesis of Roderick Ratcliff’s venture came while he was working for the Chicago Board of Trade. During his commute on the train, he noticed an off-track…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Resupplying growth

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As Richard L. Keyser will tell you implementing change is not easy to master — particularly when the company is already successful. The chairman and CEO of W.W. Grainger Inc. says it’s much more difficult to get the attention of the organization when things are going well. Founded in 1927 and publicly traded since 1967, the Lake Forest-based distributor of facility maintenance products hit the $1 billion sales mark in 1984, $5 billion in 2004 and posted record revenue of $5.9 billion in 2006, while expanding operations throughout North America and recently into China. Keyser, who was elected CEO in…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Banking on opportunity

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Joe Gaffigan and Chris Randall started MFC Capital Funding in February 2005 with just three employees in one small, temporary office and no revenue. The idea for the business came while the two were waiting in the ornate lobby of a recently opened niche private equity firm. Gaffigan and Randall decided to raise money to start a new finance company focused on providing senior debt to lower-middle-market private equity sponsored portfolio companies. Larger competitors existed and thrived, including GE and Merrill Lynch, but experts said the lower middle market was not a proven market. It was widely thought the companies…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Hitting the road

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FreedomRoads was created in May of 2003 with the knowledge that the RV industry was fragmented. Marcus Lemonis, the company’s chairman, saw that there was a tremendous opportunity to consolidate the top dealers in the top 100 markets. Other key factors included the future rights to acquire Camping World and the overwhelming statistic that 400,000 Americans turn 50 every month. The difficulty in launching this concept was finding, growing and keeping great people. Lemonis knows that the ability to buy the business is not as challenging as keeping the original owners engaged and finding new blood to continue on the…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Feeding on success

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In 1999, Cary Chessick helped raise money to launch Restaurant.com. The original business plan was designed around Sysco Corp. and promoting its restaurants online. A subscription-based model was introduced that included restaurants paying an annual fee in exchange for a priority listing and Web site in the Restaurant.com directory. Six months after the launch, management was forced to revamp the model, as restaurants were not willing to pay for the sites. To stop the company from free-falling into bankruptcy, Chessick left his legal career behind. With six months of cash reserves available, he successfully cut expenses to prolong the life…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

A good exit interview

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If you don’t take the opportunity to do an exit interview when an employee gives his or her two-week notice, you’re missing a golden opportunity from which you — and your company — could benefit. “Never underestimate what you can learn from departing employees,” says Rob Wilson, president of Employco Group. “You can use the exit interview to find out exactly why an employee is leaving and at the same time improve the structure of your organization.” Smart Business spoke with Wilson about the importance of exit interviews and how to take advantage of the information garnered from outgoing employees.…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Holistic assessment

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An operational review is a powerful tool that offers insights into the way your organization really works on a current basis. More importantly, it shows you how well it is prepared to meet future challenges. “The holistic approach — looking at the function of the system as a whole as a way of determining its impact on the efficiency of the parts — provides the basis for a blueprint to raise your organization’s performance to the next level,” says Harry Cendrowski, CPA/ABV, CFE, CVA, CFD, CFFA, the managing member of Cendrowski Corporate Advisors LLC. “Operational reviews give you a comprehensive…
Monday, 26 May 2008 20:00

Keeping in compliance

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Ask anyone in the transportation and logistics industry and they will agree that, unless airtight security procedures are strictly maintained and enforced throughout the supply chain, freight systems are vulnerable to potential disruption by criminal and/or terrorist groups. “This is not a revolutionary concept — transportation and logistics companies have always focused on supply chain security and loss prevention initiatives,” says Sandy Gregory, director of corporate operations for AIT Worldwide Logistics, Inc. “However, adapting to these mandates and keeping in compliance with the various government regulations intended to assist in securing the supply chain is not always easy.” Smart Business…
Monday, 26 May 2008 20:00

Trading secrets

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Trade secrets are those “proprietary and confidential” processes, formulas or technical details that give businesses a competitive edge. Most successful companies invest significant amounts of time and money in creating these market differentiators. “When you’re buying or selling a business, it’s critical to find out whether legally protected trade secrets actually exist,” says Gary Blackman, a partner with the Chicago law firm of Levenfeld Pearlstein LLC. “Otherwise, a seller is at risk of representing it owns something it doesn’t and a buyer is at risk of paying for something that doesn’t exist.” Smart Business learned more from Blackman about how…
Monday, 26 May 2008 20:00

The core of success

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When Jason Beans asked a trusted friend to manage the front-line staff at Rising Medical Solutions Inc., he had no idea that her highly organized approach would stifle his company’s growth. Instead of giving employees room to perform, she suffocated the medical financial solutions organization with regulations that created fear and anxiety. “She was going to put cameras in to watch and make sure that everyone was working,” Beans says. It was then that the founder, president and CEO realized that he had to let her go and develop a set of core values that would guide his work force…
Friday, 25 April 2008 20:00

The culture game

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Growing up, Charlie Besser wanted to be a professional golfer, but it became apparent to him pretty early on that professional competition wasn’t in the cards for him. Despite the death of that dream, he still had a huge interest in sports, and that passion directed his career. Over time, he developed a love for media and event marketing, as well, so in 1985, he married his loves by founding Intersport Inc., a company that specializes in sports television programming, fan and corporate hospitality, and digital media and event marketing. As he’s grown his company to more than $100 million…
Friday, 25 April 2008 20:00

Business loans

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Your business is growing, and it’s time for a loan. How does a bank assess the strength of your company? How does it decide if it can lend you money either through a line of credit or through a term loan? These are just some of the questions business owners commonly ask when pursuing a loan, says Joe Miltimore, SVP, commercial division manager of MB Financial Bank in Chicago. Smart Business spoke with Miltimore about what a bank’s perspective is when determining whether to loan money to a company and how a company might better position itself once it applies…
Wednesday, 26 March 2008 20:00

Is an HRO right for you?

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As we enter the current recession, more and more firms are being faced with the unfortunate prospect of having to downsize. Not generally viewed as contributing directly to a company’s bottom line, the HR department is often one of the first areas to experience the hatchet. If this happens, who will perform the company’s vital HR functions? One option is to outsource these tasks. “Human Resources Outsourcing (HRO) enables small to midsize businesses to continue offering the same services to their employees,” says Rob Wilson, President of Employco Group. “Additionally, outsourcing has the added benefit of futher reducing a company’s…
Wednesday, 26 March 2008 20:00

Recruit pursuit

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Tom Gimbel was never good enough. At least that’s what a past employer would have you believe. “I’ve worked for a company (where) I sold over 50 percent of total sales,” he says. “No matter what I sold, I was always told, ‘Why aren’t you doing this? Why aren’t you doing more?’” Instead of letting such negativity dampen his spirits, Gimbel turned his enthusiasm and business acumen toward his own enterprise, The LaSalle Network. Founded in 1998, the staffing and recruiting firm boasts 2007 revenue of $16.5 million and an 80-person staff of happy employees. “I remember what it was…
Sunday, 24 February 2008 19:00

Moving on

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When Cindy Melk realized that she simply didn’t have enough time to do what it would take to move H2O Plus to the next level, she made a big decision. Instead of overextending herself and continuing to try to do everything on her own, she did what few entrepreneurs would ever fathom doing and began the search to replace herself with a new CEO who could grow her sea-derived skin care business. She reasoned that doing so would allow her to take over as creative director and focus on the side of the business that she excelled in and enjoyed…
Sunday, 24 February 2008 19:00

Better investments

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Like most every other business today, investing is as competitive as ever. Many companies are vying for your investment business and bombarding the market with new products. But do these products really offer anything new? “It’s like hot sauce,” says Richard Block, CFA and vice president, wealth management, for MB Financial Bank in Chicago. “They all come in colorful wrappers and have catchy names, but really they’re just pepper juice, water and coloring.” Smart Business spoke with Block about today’s various types of investments and some basic rules of investing. Are new financial products really all that different from the…
Tuesday, 29 January 2008 19:00

Family values

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Running a business based on family values means surrounding your organization with dedicated, enthusiastic and talented people who strive toward mutual goals. It means interacting and engaging with employees in such a way that it’s not about simply knowing their names; it’s about sustaining an “open-door policy” that extends far beyond the workplace. It’s about sitting down and trying to help them cope with their drinking problems or divorces. It’s about attending their weddings or visiting them in the hospital when they aren’t well. More than anything else, it’s about being fortunate enough to ask yourself at the end of…
Tuesday, 29 January 2008 19:00

Carbon matters

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Global warming threatens to alter the stability required for civilization. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, many natural systems are already being harmed by climate change. “Even under conservative scenarios, IPCC predicts that climate change will negatively impact agriculture, forestry, ecosystems, water resources, human health and industry,” says James Brusslan, head of the Environmental Services Group at Levenfeld Pearlstein, LLC. “In North America, cities will suffer major heat waves with potential adverse health impacts and coastal communities will be threatened.” Smart Business asked Brusslan how companies can combat…
Tuesday, 29 January 2008 19:00

The Anderson file

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Birthplace: Chicago What was your very first job? Stock boy, A&P stores Whom do you admire most in business and why? Jack Welch, former chairman of GE, I’ve always been intrigued with his leadership style, I like the way he built things, loved his philosophy on how you evaluate people. What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received? No matter what your dream is, whatever it is you want to do, never give up on it. What I have found is people who have always lived to regret it. If you could be one superhero, which one…
Wednesday, 26 December 2007 19:00

Integrating health benefits programs

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As medical and pharmacy costs continue to rise, there is an increasing focus on how to get more value out of employee health benefits. Sophisticated employers and their advisers are looking beyond line-item costs and concentrating on improved employee health, absence, disability and presenteeism outcomes. By integrating data, systems and medical management across the spectrum of benefit products, including medical, dental, disability, behavioral and pharmacy, a health benefits carrier can see the individual member as a whole. “Integration allows us to use clinical information to identify people who are most at risk for certain health conditions and take action to…
Wednesday, 26 December 2007 19:00

Treasury management

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Companies want things easier these days. Everybody is under a time crunch, and time, as they say, is money. That includes commercial banking clients, who more often are looking for a bank that can be a one-stop shop for all of their treasury management needs. Those banks that succeed in treasury management are those who can combine technological innovation and expertise with highly personalized service, says Shawn Griffin, senior vice president of MB Financial Bank in Chicago. Banks that give their commercial clients the tools and attention they need and resolve their problems quickly are the ones who will stand…