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Monday, 26 July 2010 20:00

Laying down the law

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When Fred Nance was a young associate at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey LLP, he saw the chairman of the firm actively working — but not solely on client cases.“I saw that the chairman of the firm was involved not only with the bar association but was involved with supporting the schools and development efforts, and I recognized that he wasn’t negotiating a deal,” Nance says. “When he wasn’t trying a lawsuit or he wasn’t attending a client meeting, he was out there trying to make the Cleveland community a better place. I started watching that and wondering what that was…
Keeping your employees safe and productive while they’re traveling requires a series of sound decisions, starting well before the trip even begins. Having a plan in place to deal with the unexpected and making employees aware of it takes some of the worry out of travel and can be a lifesaver should travel be interrupted, as it was for thousands in Europe recently as a result of a volcanic eruption in Iceland. “With a plan, employees know what to do, who to call and how to handle a particular situation,” says Kathleen France, director of international reservations and services at…
Many companies’ retained risk costs — claim costs paid by the firm — are the largest component of their total cost of risk, often representing two-thirds or more of the total costs. Unfortunately, they are also often some of the most difficult costs to measure and evaluate. “Most of the time, costs are benchmarked around the time of the insurance policy renewals, when premiums are known or are being quoted,” says Jennifer Bell, the managing director, president and COO of Aon Risk Services Northeastt, Inc. “Retained loss costs take several years to develop and safety initiatives often involve 18 to…
When companies receive a request for a SAS 70 audit, their first question is often, “What is this, and why am I being asked for it?” A SAS 70 audit (statement of auditing standards No. 70) is one function of auditing that assesses the internal controls of a service organization. When a service organization has access to important information, such as employee banking information, Social Security numbers, etc., it needs to be determined that the manner in which this information is stored and shared is safe and secure. “Imagine you are a big company and another company handles your payroll,”…
Todd Pugh isn’t one to put things off and procrastinate when a task needs to be completed. So when it comes to assessing the level of inefficiency and wasted effort at Todd’s Enviroscapes Inc., Pugh likes to do it when his people are at their busiest. “That’s kind of backward in your thinking that you don’t have the time to go out and observe when you’re busy,” says Pugh, the 125-employee landscaping company’s founder and CEO. “But you waste the most amount of money when you’re busiest.” In these difficult economic times where every dollar and cent counts, waste is…
One of the key components of the recession has been the banking industry’s reluctance to extend credit to businesses across the country and around the world. This, obviously, has put a strain on many organizations. Therefore, if businesses want to stay afloat in these tough economic times, they need to be able to collect the payments owed to them and, almost as important, collect them on time. “More companies are turning to credit insurance to protect themselves during the economic downturn,” says Brian Slife, vice president and account executive for Aon Risk Services Inc. “Credit insurance protects against the risk…
Change actually didn’t shock the system at ICI Paints. The company, probably best known for its Glidden paints, had been through several changes in recent years. First, Erik Bouts came in as the new CEO in late 2007. Shortly after that, AkzoNobel bought ICI and created a new entity, AkzoNobel Paints LLC. For most people in the company, the changes were just the most recent ones in a long line of changing leadership and direction. “If you go back 10, 20 years, I think there has been many changes here in leadership, in strategy, in direction, in what to do,…
Social networking has grown significantly in recent years and covers a broad range of online sites used by people of all ages, says Peter Berk, an attorney with McDonald Hopkins LLC. “From LinkedIn to Facebook to MySpace to FourSquare to Twitter to other online sites that let people connect with others in their business fields, networks or friend circles, social networking has exploded as a new world of communication,” says Berk. “With that ability comes benefits and risks.” Smart Business spoke with Berk about social networking and how to protect yourself — and your brand — while online. What legal…
Sunday, 25 April 2010 20:00

Making change

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When the word came out in late October 2008 that The PNC Financial Services Group Inc. would purchase National City Bank, the rumblings from devoted employees and disgruntled Clevelanders could be heard all the way to PNC’s headquarters in Pittsburgh. Investors believed the $5.2 billion purchase price was below National City’s market value. Employees questioned if they would have jobs after the merger was completed and their pride was dashed as they mourned the loss of one of the oldest local companies and one of the country’s largest banks. Despite the initial shock to the system, it didn’t change the…
Thursday, 08 April 2010 07:44

Now more than ever, public relations matters

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It doesn’t matter how great your products and/or services are, how experienced and qualified your people are, or how convenient and affordable your offerings are, if there’s a negative public perception about your company, you’re dead in the water.That is why public relations is so important, now more than ever. PR is not just another line item that can be cut to save some cash to the bottom line. The only thing certain in this country right now is uncertainty. Consumers are being very careful about where and with whom they do business. If a customer doesn’t know you —…
Friday, 26 March 2010 20:00

Automation domination

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This is a short story about a wonderful return on investment. Everyone loves a return on investment, especially if that investment costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.There is a small manufacturing company in Arkansas that installed and implemented an enterprise resource planning system last year. The industry in which the company works is not particularly important. Neither is its geographic location. But the fact that the company, call it Company A for the purposes of this story, decided to move forward and install an ERP system is particularly important. It will change the fortunes of Company A in rather short…
A terrorist attack, a high-profile kidnapping, political insurgency, an extortion threat. If you operate in emerging or unstable environments, these are just some of the problems you might be exposed to on a daily basis. These issues could affect your people, your assets and/or your contracts, and all of them have a significant impact on your business operations. “Some of the risk can be transferred, but insurance is only one part of the solution,” says Kevin Garvey, account executive at Aon Risk Services Inc. What’s more important, says Garvey, is how you respond to such a crisis. One wrong move…
Whether it is through acquisition or organic growth, more and more of today’s companies have the ability to offer numerous services and/or products to multiple target audiences across vastly different industries. However, according to Jonathan Ebenstein, the managing director of Skoda Minotti’s marketing service group, all too often companies are using a shotgun approach to marketing, when a rifle-based solution is needed. “In other words, you can’t use the same broad-based, one-size-fits-all marketing approach to go after a construction company as you would for a law firm,” says Ebenstein. “These are two different industries with vastly different needs, hot buttons…
Friday, 26 March 2010 20:00

The network builder

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MaryAnn D. Rivers’ business entered into a major IT overhaul, instead of trying to figure everything out herself, she placed a phone call to someone she had met in a previous job whose company had just been through a similar situation and spent an hour getting the skinny on what to expect and look for in the process. As president and CEO of Entertainment Publications LLC, a promotions and discounts provider, she was able to do this because she had kept in touch with him as part of her professional network, and if there’s anything you can do to up…
Tuesday, 23 February 2010 19:00

Strike up the brand

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During the course of the last year, executives at a large company in one Midwestern city scheduled an event to thank their present clients for remaining with them through the recession and to reach out to potential clients in an effort to prepare for growth. They rented a hall in a beautiful building for the morning, hired a speaker with a prominent name and attracted a crowd of about 2,500 people.Nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps, you have even scheduled a similar event.But as the event neared, the executives realized that they had a large problem. They had scheduled the…
Tuesday, 23 February 2010 19:00

Insurance as an investment

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Often, employers view their health benefit program simply as a cost, without considering the potential benefits that come with a quality program. “Many employers think of health plans as a necessary evil,” says Greg Mercer, vice president of sales, marketing and business development for Kaiser Permanente. However, it can be valuable to take a fresh look at the benefits as well as the costs. Instead of merely calculating what you’re spending, look at what you’re getting back. Good benefits help attract and keep high-performing workers. Employees consistently rate health insurance among the highest-valued job-based benefits. Turnover is costly, and competition…
Tuesday, 23 February 2010 19:00

Dig deep

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Joe Carrabba has always been in his element in a team environment. Growing up as a football player and wrestler, he always enjoyed the spirit of competition and the atmosphere surrounding a team. But he didn’t realize that those elements he appreciated as a youngster would affect his career as chairman, president and CEO of Cliffs Natural Resources Inc., a mining and natural resources company.“When I went into the mining business, you work in some pretty remote spots, and you deal with some very difficult environmental effects around you, and in a mine, you don’t call for assistance or help…
Tuesday, 26 January 2010 19:00

Preventing the exodus

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Week after uncomfortable week, Donald Trump leaned across the edge of his famous boardroom table, his hands locked together, his lips curled in a sneer, and stared some poor sucker right out the door. During eight seasons of his reality television show, “The Apprentice,” Trump has mastered the ability to pound out the two words that no employee, not even a contestant eager for fame and fortune, wants to hear. You’re fired. As has been the case so many times during the last couple of decades, Trump proved to be far ahead of the curve. He mastered the fine art…
Tuesday, 26 January 2010 19:00

Business gems

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Many people expected a dramatic increase in the number of businesses going bankrupt when the economy turned sour in late 2008. The general slowdown in the economy, which many thought would (and, in fact, did) cause loan defaults, coupled with a credit “crunch” that continues even today, was expected to lead to a wave of bankruptcies. The increase occurred, but was not nearly as large as expected. There have been more debt restructurings, out of court workouts and non-judicial sales of assets in order to avoid bankruptcy.The lower than expected number of bankruptcies can be attributed to several factors, including…
Tuesday, 26 January 2010 19:00

Connective tissue

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Business leaders use a number of adjectives to promote their communication cultures — open, honest and candid are among the favorites.But Arthur Hargate, the president and CEO of Ross Environmental Services Inc. — a hazardous waste management company that generated $35 million in 2008 revenue — would like to add another adjective: connected. And that, he says, is possibly the most important adjective of all. Before communication can be open and honest, you need to establish a real connection with your employees.“You have to meet people where they are, and people have individual preferences as to how they want to…
Saturday, 26 December 2009 19:00

The next big ring

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Shortly after the opening credits of the film “Tomorrow Never Dies,” James Bond received a cell phone from the Q Branch of the British Secret Service. The phone was able to transmit incoming and outgoing calls, of course, but it was also able to scan, analyze and transmit fingerprints, and pick locks with a stylized antenna. And it could also fire away as a stun gun. Not bad for 1997. A little less than 13 years later, there is nothing that lethal anywhere in the world of telecommunications. There are, however, plenty of developments, especially regarding Voice over Internet Protocol,…
Saturday, 26 December 2009 19:00

The game plan

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For many people, going back to school can be intimidating. Quite often, when a working professional starts college, it’s the first time in years he or she has set foot in a classroom. Like everything else in today’s fast-paced, highly technological world, higher education has changed significantly during the past several years. Getting back into life on campus and in the classroom can be a daunting task, which is why some institutions have developed support programs that are designed to smooth the transition for “non-traditional” students. At University of Phoenix, for instance, they go so far as to call them…
Saturday, 26 December 2009 19:00

Delivering on time

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Meeting customer demands is a constant thought rolling through Dan Oliver’s mind.The president and part-owner of Global Body & Equipment Co., a metal and plastic parts manufacturer, knows if his 45 employees have a customer communication breakdown it can be detrimental for the company and even his customers.“It may be my customer’s customer is the guy that’s really being demanding,” Oliver says. “But if my customer can’t meet his customer’s demand, then we both lose.”Good customer service involves solid communication, honesty and allowing employees to make decisions.Smart Business spoke with Oliver about how to maintain customer satisfaction.Q. What are the…
Monday, 07 December 2009 19:00

Paper pains

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Most organizations have different strategies for integrating document management processes into their operations. It may be a corporate strategy, an IT strategy or a specific document strategy. However, few organizations have a dedicated document strategy. As a result, most documents moving through an organization don’t effectively foster corporate objectives. “Most document management strategies include these basic elements: increasing revenue and customer satisfaction while decreasing costs,” says Matthew J. Brooke, solutions analyst at Toshiba Business Solutions. Smart Business spoke with Brooke about how to develop a strategy that attacks those three elements. What steps need to be taken for a company…
Wednesday, 25 November 2009 19:00

3 Questions

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Gregory J. Skoda is the chairman and co-founder of Skoda Minotti. He specializes in helping clients to grow and develop their businesses, and he also works with clients in developing and implementing strategic plans, providing creative business and personal tax planning, succession, estate planning, wealth accumulation strategies, and assisting with mergers, acquisitions and dispositions. Q. In a struggling economy, how can a business get the most from its relationship with an accountant? There are not enough people who are willing to take the time to sit down with their accountants at the beginning of a time period or at the…
Wednesday, 25 November 2009 19:00

Under lock and key

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There is more than paperwork and finding a replacement when an employee leaves your company. Employees access and utilize a lot of information while working for you; information that can be devastating if it falls into the hands of a competitor. Therefore, you need to take proactive steps to ensure that your information is kept confidential, even after the employee departs. “A thorough exit interview will help ensure that all your proprietary data and information is accounted for,” says James J. Boutrous II, a member at McDonald Hopkins LLC, and co-chair of the Trade Secret, Non-Compete and Unfair Competition Practice…
Wednesday, 25 November 2009 19:00

Climbing back

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One of the consequences of the financial meltdown is that business owners can expect a more hands-on approach from their bank. “The lenders are going back to how banking has been since the beginning of time,” says Kenneth M. Haffey, CPA, CVA, partner with Skoda Minotti. “They want to be more closely aligned, understand what their customers are doing even better, see how they are running their businesses and determine how they can help them at different times with their lending needs.” The days of a lending institution making a loan based strictly on if its calculated ratios predict that…