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Sunday, 26 October 2008 20:00

All in the family

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When Bob and Dan Wolfberg founded PLS Financial Services Inc. in 1997, they put aside their egos to share a title, responsibilities and power. But sibling rivalry isn’t easily outgrown.“Brotherhood rivalry definitely shows its face every once in awhile,” says younger brotherDan Wolfberg. “When we’re both working separately, that’s when we start going in different directions. So we talk about it. We’re able to refocus and get on the same page.”By spending Monday lunches and many nonworking hours together, the co-presidents have aligned their vision for the company. They’ve expanded their brotherly bond to make room for 3,000 employees, bringing …
Sunday, 26 October 2008 20:00

CEO succession

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CEO succession used to be a simple matter of grooming the next heir apparent to step into the shoes of a retiring CEO. However, this does not reflect the majority of the CEO succession scenarios today. CEO turnover — and the lack of a solid succession plan — has become a problem in corporate America today. According to a survey of the largest publicly traded companies, CEO turnover has increased 59 percent from 1995 to 2006, and during that same time period, there was a staggering 300 percent increase in the number of performance-related CEO departures. “We’re seeing an increased…
Sunday, 26 October 2008 20:00

Handing off

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It’s a cliché that runs deep in the sport:Football is a team game.But, really, it is. The truth of the matter is,there’s a lot more teamwork that goes intorunning the Chicago Bears Football ClubInc. than the cohesion shown by the players on Sundays.And that’s where Ted Phillips comes intoplay. Phillips, the president and CEO, is incharge of running the team’s business operations. From the time he was put into thatrole in 1999, he’s been focused on gettinghis roughly 130 employees to work as ateam.In his years with the Bears, Phillips hashelped the organization push through tobecome a financial success in…
Thursday, 25 September 2008 20:00

Borderline issues

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Local distributors are an excellent resource to help companies penetrate global markets. But the distribution of products in non-U.S. jurisdictions presents legal challenges that business owners need to consider when structuring distributor relationships. “Local laws will differ in each jurisdiction, although the European Union has adopted various directives intended to create a consistent body of distribution laws and regulations for the member countries,” said Mary Wasik, partner, Corporate Practice Group, Levenfeld Pearlstein, LLC in Chicago. “Obtaining competent and responsive local counsel is recommended to provide the necessary guidance.” Smart Business asked Wasik why non-competition restrictions may not be permissible overseas,…
Thursday, 25 September 2008 20:00

Issues in money laundering

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Do the names Second Life, Club Penguin and Zwinktopia mean anything to you? These “virtual worlds” may seem like harmless places on the Internet that provide simple entertainment, but in reality, they are increasingly serving as money laundering hubs for criminals all around the globe. “These are legitimate sites and legitimate business is conducted over these sites. However, if you do business with a launderer — who you thought was a legitimate customer — you’re involved even if you didn’t know it,” cautions Theresa Mack, CPA, CAMS (Certified Anti Money Laundering Specialist ) senior manager, investigations, for Cendrowski Corporate Advisors…
Tuesday, 26 August 2008 20:00

Certifying success

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If anyone knows what’s needed to develop an organization’s employees, it’s Krista McMasters. She started working for Clifton Gunderson LLP 30 years ago as an associate accountant, now serves as chief practice officer, and, in April, was named CEO, making her the first and only female CEO in the top 25 public accounting firms. She’s been mentored throughout her career, so it’s no coincidence that the mentoring continues in a transition program before she assumes full responsibility in June 2009. But she’s not impatient. Instead, she believes that building employees is critical to anyone’s success and she passes that along…
Tuesday, 26 August 2008 20:00

Ethics, front and center

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In the post-Sarbanes-Oxley world, ethics policies, by necessity, have taken a front seat in many companies. While many companies believe they have business ethics under control with documentation, what is happening to the culture of business ethics? “Businesses are often ruled by ‘thou shall nots,’” says Denise Schoenbachler, dean of the College of Business at Northern Illinois University. “This, of course, is critical, but it is also important to stress the ‘thou shalls.’” Smart Business learned more from Schoenbachler about the state of ethics in today’s businesses and what companies can do to create a truly ethical business environment. Businesses…
Tuesday, 26 August 2008 20:00

Changing the menu

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You probably don’t want to listen to anything that Selim A. Bassoul has to say. He wants to help you turn your company around, but the fact is most people won’t do what he’s recommending. Sure, sure, the guy has a great story to tell. And nobody sums up the plight of The Middleby Corp. in 1999 better than Bassoul. “We had very limited resources and capital, we were running out of cash, we were very highly reliant on three customers that generated more than 60 percent of the sales,” he says. “We lacked innovation, and the products we were…
Saturday, 26 July 2008 20:00

Unified communications

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Unified communications (UC) is one of the hottest discussions in the communications world today. It means different things to different people and is defined by different vendors to suit their offerings and target market. Many use it synonymously with unified messaging, which it’s not. It’s more expansive than that, says Margi Shaw, Chief Operations Officer of CIMCO Communications. The research organization Frost & Sullivan defines unified communications as follows: “Unified communications is the evolution of telephone, e-mail and instant messaging functionality into a single service or application. This is not an evolution of technology but an evolution in the way…
Saturday, 26 July 2008 20:00

The future of health care

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Everyone is talking about the future of health care, presumably because the present view is so unsettling.   In 2008, employers are projected to spend an average of $9,312 on health care costs per employee — 46 percent more than in 2003.     More than 25 percent of U.S. health care costs are related to physical inactivity and obesity.     U.S. companies lose approximately 2.8 million work days each year because of employee injuries and illnesses.     Uninsured Americans numbered 47 million last year, rising for the sixth straight year.     The United States spends more…
Saturday, 26 July 2008 20:00

The Roberts file

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Born: Born in Evanston, Ill.; grew up in Kenilworth, Ill. Whom do you admire most in business and why? My parents. They instilled in me the fundamental value of treating everyone with respect. They believed doing that would infuse leadership and vision and bring success in business. What was your very first job? Camp counselor at summer sports camp when I was in eighth grade; I also had subsequent jobs as an umpire in baseball and as my own snow shoveling service. What is the best business advice you’ve ever received? Everybody is just as smart as you are. If…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Full power

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In 2001, Michael Polsky founded Invenergy LLC, a leading clean energy company focused on the development, ownership, operation and management of large-scale electric generation assets in the North American and European markets. The company serves a wide range of utilities, load-serving entities, energy merchants and industrial customers. The company’s electric generation assets primarily include large-scale wind energy and clean natural gas fueled electric generating facilities. Polsky, who serves as president and CEO, started the company at a time when the independent power industry was in significant distress. Many power companies were going bankrupt — the most notable being Enron. Through…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Locked in

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T. Kendall Hunt served as CEO of VASCO Data Security International Inc. from inception through July 1996. At that time, given that 97 percent of VASCO’s business was in Europe, Hunt recommended the promotion of one of his Belgian executives to the CEO position, while Hunt remained as executive chairman. During the following years, the company’s results began to deteriorate and the board decided Hunt should return as CEO. In late 2002, Hunt assumed the CEO role, and since that point in time, the company has posted 20 consecutive quarters of positive results under his management. In fact, throughout the…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Hiring the best

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Bruce Leon founded Tandem Professional Employer Services in 1997 after seeing the difficulty small businesses had in securing competitive benefit programs to compete for talent with larger companies. Starting a professional employer organization (PEO) proved a difficult task. Aside from the typical business start-up costs and headaches, Leon needed significant funds to secure a payroll system. The only way he could entice insurers to underwrite Tandem’s cases was to make significant financial risks in the contracts. At the time, Tandem had no history or even current employee base to underwrite. Another obstacle Leon faced was the slow pace at which…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Adapt and survive

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Billie K. Dragoo was making a good living as a recruiter but wanted to have her own business and do things her way. She also had developed a passion for the medical staffing business, so she founded RepuCare in 1995. The company initially operated from her home and focused on providing licensed physical and occupational therapists on a temporary basis to hospitals and clinics in central Indiana. The premise was to provide quality health care staffing in an environment that generally focused more on costs, regulations and limited services. The business thrived until 1999, when a change in law flooded…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

The power within

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Mary Skipton committed her life savings to launch Energon. She believed the energy business represented a long-term growth opportunity regardless of what the short-term economic outlook might be. She chose natural gas because she anticipated the opportunities that deregulation of the natural gas industry in Illinois would create. It was also the environmental fuel of choice. In 1992, it was difficult to launch a capital-intensive business in a male-dominated industry controlled by large multinational companies. Even with her management and executive experience, it took considerable time and effort to establish independent credit relationships. There are always business challenges and obstacles…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Finding profits

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In 1997, Glen Tullman brought his experience in social behavior and leadership to bear in rebuilding Chicago-based Allscripts from a struggling provider of prepackaged medications that had run out of money into one of the nation’s largest and most successful health care information technology companies. In fact, the company is now publicly traded on the NASDAQ under the symbol: MDRX. Tullman’s insight, which formed the basis of rebuilding Allscripts, is that health care is essentially an information business. His vision was to leverage technology to provide physicians all the information they need at the point of care, allowing them to…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Sending a message

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When Patrick O’Rahilly purchased Aspen Marketing Services in 2002, he acquired a company with little cohesion and significant debt. In addition to the financial and credit risks that he assumed personally, O’Rahilly’s professional reputation was at stake while he worked with multiple banks to find a viable financial solution to the company’s woes. The events of Sept. 11 had created a challenging business climate, and he moved quickly to implement his plan and lead the company into more profitable times. Today, as a direct result of his actions, passion and foresight, all debt has been settled and all banks have…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Setting the standard

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Founder and CEO Michael Evans emptied his savings to fund AIT Laboratories because after 20 years in academia, he thought it was time to take his technical expertise to the next level. He had an intricate knowledge of toxicology to provide clients with accurate test results generated from cutting-edge instrumentation and handled by workers specially trained to manage the testing process. To ensure success, he focused his efforts on three distinct markets — forensics, clinical (which now includes pain management) and pharmaceutical — allowing for optimal growth in the areas where the company is most competent. This business model has…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Display of force

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Jill Hebert had worked for exhibit companies for several years but found that customer needs were not being met to the high standards that she expected. As a result, she founded Matrex Exhibits in 1987. Having developed an incredibly successful mix of product and service offerings to exceed customer expectations, Matrex was on its way to becoming the prominent industry player that it is today. The initial growth at the company came in spite of personal and financial obstacles. Hebert, a mother of two young children, created a delicate balance that allowed for success in both her personal and professional…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

New heights

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The growth of Butterball Farms has been no accident. Mark Peters, president, utilizes a business model that focused on depth of people and talent. When Peters took control of the company, he began to bring people of talent on board who understood the value of quality and initiative. He lets his team do what it does best. Peters surrounds himself with leaders who can achieve growth. His leadership team participates in two one-week strategic workshops each year focusing on two- to five-year planning. Peters has vision to see possibilities and courage to act when they arise. When a business that…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

The cold, hard facts

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Designing cold chain logistics solutions for chilled, fresh and frozen products undoubtedly requires a highly involved level of commitment and attention to personal detail. Unlike dry goods, temperature-sensitive commodities must be precisely timed — after all, the integrity and sustainability of the product depend on it. “The high level of service demanded by the perishable industry cannot be overstated,” said Michael Cohan, senior director of the perishable division for AIT Worldwide Logistics. “Since these products have a finite shelf life, an extreme sense of urgency is attached to shipping these unique and delicate commodities.” Smart Business sat down with Cohan…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Hedge fund side letters

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In the world of hedge funds, the rights, opportunities, fees and, most importantly, information available to one investor may look completely different than those available to another in the same fund. The documents that outline these special privileges are called hedge fund side letters, and not being aware of the ones associated with your investments could hurt you. “Hedge fund side letters are agreements that provide certain investors with more favorable terms than those offered in the fund’s standard offering documents,” says Rebecca Edwards, a corporate attorney in the corporate practice group with the Chicago law firm of Levenfeld Pearlstein…
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

The man with no title

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When Mark Schwartz hands you his business card, you’re not going to find his title of CEO on it. The same goes for his 100 employees at Product Development Technologies Inc. Those missing qualifiers aren’t the result of a printer mishap. Instead, they represent a deliberate departure from the title-chasing political undercurrents that plague much of corporate America. “We have a check-your-ego-at-the-door, flat hierarchy here,” Schwartz says. That philosophy has paid off in big results at the product development firm that Schwartz co-founded in 1995, as revenue has jumped from $8 million in 2004 to more than $13 million in…
Monday, 26 May 2008 20:00

Driving improvement

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An entrepreneur running a small company knows what to keep tabs on while running the business. As a company gets larger, it becomes more important that the department heads start reporting on these functions so upper management can have a glimpse at those metrics that keep a business successful. This is where having an executive dashboard in place can keep CEOs and their business on track. “It’s important not only to track history to see where the trends have been, but, more importantly, a dashboard should help you predict and/or positively alter the future,” says Bill Dvorak, Chief Financial Officer…
Monday, 26 May 2008 20:00

Think small

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According to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, there were 26.8 million businesses in the United States in 2006. Of this number, 99.9 percent were firms with fewer than 500 employees. While small businesses have demonstrated tremendous growth over the last 10 years, small-business owners are still challenged by one issue — health insurance. A recent National Federation of Independent Business membership survey shows that the cost and availability of health insurance are the top issues for small businesses. Research also shows that insurers of small health plans have higher administrative expenses than those that insure larger group…
Monday, 26 May 2008 20:00

The Case file

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Born: Missouri, but grew up in Salina, Kansas. Whom do you admire most in business and why? Joel Bleeke, a great mentor of mine. When I was young at the firm, he was a tremendous mentor and was, at the time, one of the foremost thinkers in financial services. He happened to pass away at too young of an age, so he got less reputation than he deserves, but in terms of impact on me, he was incredibly impactful. He was global, he was insightful, and he was also a great creator. He created ideas and perspectives and helped people…