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In late February, Office Max and Office Depot agreed to merge, pending normal government and shareholder approvals — and while this merger had been anticipated by the financial community for many years, the reasons why this took place are all too common. The office supply world has changed dramatically over the past 16 years. In 1997, Office Depot attempted to merge with Staples, but the courts halted this due to the potential monopoly. Since then, the rise of stronger independent dealers working in the B2B marketplace, the rise of e-commerce sales (both independent dealers and others), and department stores expanding…
Business owners are still cutting corners to cut costs and stretching their staffs in an attempt to stretch their budgets, but a lackluster economy shouldn’t be the only thing affecting their business decisions. When companies try to manage “on the cheap,” the result can be anything but savings. The price of cutting corners in HR can lead to escalated risks, decreased productivity, increased turnover and ultimately higher costs. Risk of noncompliance To mitigate risk and minimize costs, HR compliance should be a constant consideration for business owners. Employment laws govern how companies hire, schedule, compensate and behave toward their employees.…
When it comes to attracting businesses, size alone should put Palm Beach County at a distinct advantage over its Florida peers. With 38 municipalities, the county trumps Broward, Pinellas and even Miami-Dade as the largest in Florida and third in population.The problem is, although geography plays a role, it is not nearly the most important factor for businesses choosing whether or not to invest in your county, says Kelly Smallridge, president and CEO, Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.“When you’re in economic development, one community can look like another community,” she says. “These CEOs are looking at 20 or…
Egos are a big factor in business. Egos can cost companies a lot of money. I learned this simple fact a long time ago, and to this day, it amazes me how much time, energy and resources are wasted by individuals unwilling to check their egos at the door and let their companies be successful. Believe me, I have an ego myself, and I have to remind myself that all the time. We all know the type — the guy or gal who always has to be right and whose questionable judgment in business stems either from a sense of…
When you’re a powerhouse player in your industry, the key to success is often the ability to step back and take stock of who you are, where you are and where you’re going. Sometimes, an existential approach is intuitive; it’s easier to self-reflect when you’re beginning a new venture or making a monumental change. But what about when you’re experiencing success? Taking stock when you’re on top is far from redundant; in fact, figuring out where your accomplishments have come from makes you more likely to duplicate them. Here are some suggestions for seizing the moment and sizing up your…
Can you imagine a world without Oreo cookies? Anyone who has taken one and dipped it into a glass of milk before popping it into his or her mouth to savor the flavor would shudder at the thought of such a scenario. But when Irene Rosenfeld returned to Kraft Foods in 2006, she found that the company was on verge of delisting the Oreo brand in China. “We took a U.S. product and jammed it down the throats of the Chinese consumer,” Rosenfeld says. “We were losing money, and it was a very unattractive proposition. We had a $60 million…
The financial meltdown that rocked the economy in late 2008 damaged U.S. businesses in myriad ways — but LeasePlan USA Inc. was one of the unfortunates that got hit from several angles at the same time.LeasePlan, which provides automobile fleet management services and manages about 385,000 vehicles for its clients across the United States, is basically in the business of financial services. It helps companies finance and service their vehicle fleets. When the meltdown happened, liquidity and credit dried up practically overnight, making things very tough for LeasePlan.“All of a sudden, these things became a huge issue for us,” says…
One thing that most bad bosses have in common is lack of awareness that they’re bad bosses. With so much at stake personally, nobody wants to believe they are the problem. Not only is that bad for decisions, it’s bad for careers and employee health as well. It’s no surprise — bad bosses are toxic. According to an independent study by Florida State University College of Business, employees stuck in “bad boss” relationships experienced more exhaustion, job tension, nervousness, depressed mood and mistrust. They also were less likely to take on additional tasks, such as working longer or on weekends,…
With the current interest rate environment and the influx of baby boomers continuing to move into retirement, more people will benefit from a personal retirement gap analysis than ever, says Gregg DiGeronimo, President, for FirstMerit Financial Services, Inc.Even those who don’t expect a gap between their income and their expenses in retirement can gain from such an analysis. “You will feel better knowing you have a plan in place and can see what options you have down the road,” DiGeronimo says. “We take into account considerations you might not have today, such as healthcare costs.A retirement gap analysis investigates an…
On Feb. 12, President Barack Obama signed the executive order, Improving Critical Infrastructure Cyber Security, which will set cybersecurity standards for certain private companies.However, remarks by Lisa J. Sotto, chair of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee, raised red flags. She said: “I would suggest that these standards will become the standards by which companies will be judged, so that if there is a cybersecurity event there may be negligence claims that follow if the standards are not complied with. Also, there could be shareholder suits, if a company suffers damage as the…
On Feb. 12, President Barack Obama signed the executive order, Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity, which will set cybersecurity standards for certain private companies.However, remarks by Lisa J. Sotto, chair of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee, raised red flags. She said: “I would suggest that these standards will become the standards by which companies will be judged, so that if there is a cybersecurity event there may be negligence claims that follow if the standards are not complied with. Also, there could be shareholder suits, if a company suffers damage as the result…
The IRS has a complicated set of guidelines for determining whether a worker should be treated as an employee or independent contractor for payroll tax purposes. It may be tempting for business owners to just classify people as independent contractors and save payroll taxes, but it’s not worth the risk, says Jim Forbes, CPA, a principal with Skoda Minotti.“The IRS is conducting more payroll tax audits of small businesses, but the risk is always there with any audit. No matter what triggers the audit, the IRS will ask for all of your W-2s and 1099s and will be suspicious if…
Business owners understand the need to go to dentists to get their teeth cleaned and to mechanics for car repairs, but yet they attempt to manage their employees internally instead of getting help.“Managing the business of employment requires a completely different discipline and skill set from what is needed for the core business activity,” says William F. Hutter, CEO of Sequent. “Just because you are in the business of making widgets doesn’t mean you understand what it takes to be an employer in today’s environment. Rules and regulations relative to being an employer have changed a lot during the past…
In 2014, new entities will be part of the health insurance world — health insurance marketplaces.Health insurance marketplaces are key components of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). They are designed to make buying health coverage simpler by providing easy-to-understand information that allows consumers to make apples-to-apples comparisons of a wide variety of products. Marketplaces are intended to make health coverage more affordable by promoting increased competition among health insurers under new market and product standards. In addition, certain consumers may be eligible for premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions that will further reduce health insurance costs. Qualifying…
Tuesday, 30 April 2013 21:24

How an annual audit helps companies be proactive

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Annual physicals can lead to early detection of serious health problems and set a course for better outcomes. Companies need to take the same mindset concerning HR and benefits compliance audits, says Meghann Guentensberger, Director of HR Services at Benefitdecisions, Inc.“Don’t wait until something ‘hurts’ to try to figure out how to respond,” she says. “It’s better to know ahead of time so you’re protected if there is a disgruntled employee who files a complaint.”Smart Business spoke with Guentensberger about HR and the benefits of compliance audits.What areas are covered by HR and benefits compliance?Compliance is two-pronged: There is the…
Most employers offer a defined benefit plan, where they select one or two health insurance options to offer their employees. This approach is being replaced by defined contribution plans.“Under a defined contribution plan, the employer is choosing a fixed dollar amount for employees and they use this money to purchase their benefits. Employees can select from multiple options, not just the traditional one or two plans, and personalize their selections based on their needs,” says Mary Spicher, sales executive with JRG Advisors, the management arm of ChamberChoice.Smart Business spoke with Spicher about utilizing defined contribution plans.Why the shift to define…
A fully insured business will shop around with different health insurance companies for the best value, including a good network. However, self-funded health plans — which are growing in popularity — contract with a rental network that administers benefits with the help of a third-party administrator.Smart network provider contracting will maintain lower costs and access to care for members. Many employers only look at the discounts for services in the contract, but there are other methods just as important when evaluating a network.“There are always some things out of your control, but you try to manage the network and build…
Middle market manufacturers often think workers’ compensation and disability are uncontrollable costs items. However, it’s more important than ever to change this way of thinking.“Workers’ compensation is a significant variable cost element for manufacturers,” says Joe Galusha, managing director and leader for casualty risk consulting at Aon Risk Solutions. “It’s an area where controlling workplace injuries and their associated costs can actually become a competitive advantage.”“We’re coaching our clients to take more responsibility over workers’ compensation and disability prevention, as well as claim management,” says Mike Stankard, managing director, Industrial Materials Practice, at Aon Risk Solutions. “If they do, there’s…
Health savings accounts (HSAs) are a savings vehicle increasingly being used to offset health care costs and improve awareness when utilizing health care simply because there is additional skin in the game. Further, HSAs provide potential savings and accumulation of assets that work well with long-term financial planning.“HSAs encourage us to be better consumers, plan ahead and consider the ramifications of health care, as it applies to your long-term financial plan,” says Michael Bartolini, President and CEO of First Commonwealth Insurance Agency.“It might be a very good opportunity to save more tax-deferred and tax-free money, depending on your situation,” says…
Cloud computing is a broad term that can include hosting a website and data management. Unfortunately, small businesses are picking up many misconceptions in the marketplace about what the cloud is and what it means to be in the cloud.“It’s not always the right solution for every business,” says Ryan Niddel, CEO of QuickLaunch Solutions. “It takes research and consultation from someone with knowledge to really understand how it can work for your business.”Smart Business spoke with Niddel about cloud computing and its applications for small businesses.What is the cloud?There are two main aspects to cloud computing. There’s the data…
When screwdrivers were created, they had an obvious use — to turn screws. But over time people started using them as chisels and pry bars, which led to injuries and the addition of warning labels that laid out the proper use of screwdrivers.What to include on warning labels is tricky. You not only have to warn about the inherent risks of the product from its intended use, but you have to consider the ways it could potentially be misused, says James C. Hyde, a partner at Ropers Majeski Kohn & Bentley PC.“Most small to midsize businesses think about the need…
In business, everyone loves numbers, charts and reliable data points to make decisions. However, when it comes to transforming a company’s most valuable asset, its workforce, many are at a loss for data that drives actionable insights. Small businesses that don’t have direct access to a vast pool of data can still stay on top of developments and save themselves a lot of time, says Liz Brashears, director of Human Capital Consulting at TriNet, Inc.“An entrepreneur doesn’t get into business to measure data about trends they see in their workforce,” says Brashears. “Businesses need to leverage additional resources to prepare…
Engaged employees know your company’s expectations and work hard to meet and exceed them. They use their talents to excel, drive innovation and move their companies forward.To learn more about transforming employee engagement levels in the workplace, Smart Business spoke with Barry Arbuckle, Ph.D., president and CEO of MemorialCare Health System, recognized as one of only 32 companies worldwide to receive the 2013 Gallup Great Workplace award.What do engaged employees do to improve the workplace?Imagine a candy wrapper lying on the floor of your business’s lobby. An engaged employee picks it up and puts it in the trash. They are…
Cloud computing may invoke images of an abstract technological force floating in the atmosphere, but the term itself is misleading. The term originated because on technical diagrams, a cloud was drawn around any mixture of resources that made a particular application work, says Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO of Net2EZ.“Cloud computing means so many different things to so many people, and there is a lot of confusion,” says Delawalla.Smart Business spoke with Delawalla about what cloud computing is and how to apply its advantages to your business.How does cloud computing work?You have to envision that the physical architecture itself is…
Wednesday, 01 May 2013 08:40

How to manage third-party risk

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Failure to assess and plan for risks associated with third parties can be costly. Of the more than 250 executives surveyed by CFO Research Services, 75 percent were harmed by action or inaction of a third party, resulting in financial loss, supply chain issues and data breaches.“Companies initially think about risks with high-cost providers. But they may have a $10,000 contract with a small marketing or advertising firm that fails to adequately protect their customer information. Their servers get hacked and experience a breach that in turn raises concerns with their customers and brings reputational and financial risk and penalties,”…
Businesses with 50 or more employees are weighing whether to continue offering health insurance in 2014, or not. Every situation is different, and companies are working to apply the required coverage provisions, or employer mandate, to determine its impact.“I haven’t seen many companies finalize that decision yet. I think people are still processing it,” says Richard Croghan, tax partner at Moss Adams LLP. “It will take a few years to work itself out.”However, he says it’d be surprising if many companies stopped offering health insurance, at least initially.“Companies don’t want to be an outlier,” he says.Smart Business spoke with Croghan…
In 2002, President George W. Bush signed the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) requiring insurance carriers and the federal government to establish a risk-sharing partnership for future losses. It was created as a result of 9/11 as a temporary measure to allow time for insurance carriers to develop their own solutions. Originally set to expire in 2005, the act has been extended twice, and will now expire in 2014.“The private markets alone cannot and will not provide the level of terrorism insurance our economy demands,” says Shelley White, assistant vice president at SeibertKeck. “The threat of terrorism has become a…