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Interviewed by Dustin S. Klein If you take a tour of Life Fitness with Chris Clawson, you may find yourself answering questions that you wouldn’t expect to be asked on a tour of a company that makes exercise equipment. For instance, he’ll probably want to know if you have a favorite wine or if you’ve ever visited a winery. “I say, ‘How many of you think the wine tasted the same after you visited the winery?’” says Clawson, president at Life Fitness. “And they all shake their heads no because it tastes different. You get to meet the vintner, go…
Although some aspects of the Affordable Care Act remain uncertain, the act overall is driving the health care market to figure out ways to control costs and allow employers to continue to offer health plans, says Mark Haegele, director of sales and account management at HealthLink. As a result, managed care companies are increasingly utilizing three tools —reference-based pricing, Domestic Centers of Excellence and narrow networks. “Some of these concepts are still new, so an employer might tackle one thing at a time,” Haegele says. “Maybe you start with narrow networks, and then move into reference-based pricing or Domestic Centers…
Monday, 23 September 2013 03:19

Travel tips: How to spend smarter on overseas trips

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Today’s technology is making it easier for consumers to plan a trip overseas. With just a few mouse clicks, you can book the best flight deals, find accommodations, scope out the local attractions and even map out a detailed travel itinerary. But even with so many resources to consult for travel advice, consumers may overlook important financial considerations in the trip planning process, says Art Rice, the VP and Manager of International Operations and Product Development for FirstMerit Bank. For anyone planning a trip overseas, Rice offers the following financial tips: Do your homework Rice counsels first-time travelers to first…
Many employees are surprised when they learn how much employers are spending on them in addition to their salaries. Studies show that benefits can add 30 to 35 percent on top of the salary being paid. “A total compensation statement is a good way to illustrate this and make employees aware. Most employees will end up appreciating employers more if the information is communicated properly and in an effective manner,” says Dan Wilke, director of underwriting at Benefitdecisions, Inc. Smart Business spoke with Wilke about the value of providing employees with total compensation statements. What’s in a total compensation statement?…
Health care cost transparency is the ability of patients to learn how much a medical service or treatment costs, preferably before receiving the service or treatment. This is important because treatment and service costs vary widely from doctor to doctor and from facility to facility.“In all my travels, with all the different hospitals I visit — hundreds of them — only one had the general charges of fees and services, like cost per day in the hospital, posted up on the wall. It just doesn’t exist today,” says Mark Haegele, director, sales and account management, at HealthLink.“This system has made…
Trina Gordon looked at her company’s clients and could see that they wanted more. It wasn’t that Boyden World Corp. had done a bad job of meeting their needs. They just had more needs to be met.“What we began to notice out of this downturn was challenges in the macroeconomic environment continued to persist globally,” says Gordon, president and CEO at the professional services firm.“Clients, particularly global clients and emerging global clients all over the worldwide landscape were becoming more demanding about greater consistency and quality of service from their advisers,” she says. “What that meant was we needed to…
Sunday, 31 March 2013 22:45

How to expand your business into Asia

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Emerging markets in Asia present significant growth opportunities for businesses, but they also pose many challenges in terms of culture differences and government regulations.“One reason Hong Kong and Singapore have become popular as a first destination for companies expanding into Asia is because they have very good legal systems with good intellectual property protection,” says Mark Matuscak, President and CEO of Benefitdecisions, Inc. “Other key factors are a strong talent pool of local skilled labor, favorable tax rates and a central location that makes travel within the region easy. Companies may be targeting business in China but set up in…
An employee’s commute to and from work can be costly in terms of money spent on gas, insurance, and wear and tear on a vehicle, and the increased stress it brings. However, there are programs available that companies can support that will help alleviate employee stress, reduce absenteeism, save employees money and improve productivity.“One of the benefits of a commuter program is that it provides a less-stressful commute to and from work,” says Tim Dilsaver, Pace Suburban Bus’ community affairs representative for Lake County, Ill. “It leads to a better parking situation, with companies often providing preferential parking to commuters;…
Technology – WinnerIn 1996, Jack Blumenstein identified Gogo LLC as an investment opportunity for his private equity firm. His firm has since invested more than $200 million into Gogo, a leading provider of in-flight connectivity and a pioneer of wireless in-cabin entertainment solutions. Blumenstein, who served the company as chairman, president, CEO and director, played a pivotal role in Gogo’s development and growth.When he started with Gogo, the company was a pre-product start-up that was attempting to create an affordable phone system for private aircraft. Today, the company has succeeded where others have failed and has built up its portfolio…
There is a reason the saying “Location, Location, Location” has persisted in the real estate business.Take, for example, CIO Thom Davis, of Omega Environmental Technologies, and his wife Grace, founder and CEO. In 2009, they moved their Dallas-based company 10 miles down the road to where they were living in Irving, Texas. They found that relocating to the new ZIP code brought a number of advantages.“When you have your business in one city and live in another, it’s hard to be as involved as you’d like and still have your full work day,” says Davis. In addition to improving the…
Thomas B. Moran felt the weight of expectation when he arrived at Addison Search for his first day as the professional staffing firm’s new CEO. Some of the expectations were good, some were bad and others were mixed.Call it par for the course when there’s a new sheriff in town.“Any time a new CEO comes in, the automatic thought processes change,” says Moran, who took over as CEO at the 1,000-employee company in October. “Oh, he or she will change everything. In some cases, that’s true and sometimes you have to do that. But in reality, that’s more of a…
Monday, 26 March 2012 13:31

Doing business in China

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Historically known as a country for low-cost manufacturing and a restricted currency, China now provides a wealth of opportunities for foreign businesses, says Alfred Ho, Vice President and Global Financial Institutions Manager at FirstMerit Bank.However, any business that has ever ventured onto unfamiliar turf understands that turning opportunity into success comes with challenges. Overcoming barriers inherent in such a move requires foresight, planning and, notably, well-informed advisors who already know the terrain.Ho explains that FirstMerit has dedicated itself to helping clients grasp the ins and outs of doing business in China. With an eye to the future, FirstMerit has been…
Wednesday, 30 November 2011 19:01

How Richard A. Chaifetz helped ComPsych chart new growth path

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 Richard Chaifetz didn’t realize how many troubled people there actually are in the world when he first launched ComPsych Corp. But as the business took off, he got a clearer view of society’s ills.Instead of just focusing on treatment and counseling for things like drug and alcohol abuse, depression, and marriage problems, Chaifetz saw there was even more he could do to help people.“People’s problems don’t stop at those four or five issues,” says Chaifetz, the company’s chairman and CEO. “And in fact, if you have issues related to stress or depression or you’re using drugs or your kids are…
A couple years ago, a team at Volkswagen turned a flight of stairs in a Stockholm train station into a giant piano. The theory was that if you made stairs more fun, fewer people would choose the escalator. It turned out to be a good theory when 66 percent more people chose the stairs once they knew they’d be playing a tune on their way out of the subway. This got me thinking not only about how cool Volkswagen is, but about the effects fun can have on our customers and clients, not to mention our own employees. Fact is,…
When Robert M. Korzenski took over as president and CEO of Solo Cup Co., the $1.6 billion food service product maker had a bit of a problem.It had been two years since Solo had acquired SF Holdings and its well-known Sweetheart brand of cups, plates and other single-use food service products.“The outlook for that combination was a great opportunity and one that could change the way the market was being serviced by taking two brands and putting them together to ultimately serve a much broader and larger customer base,” Korzenski says.Unfortunately, the integration was not going as well as everyone…
Tuesday, 17 April 2012 12:00

Retirement gap analysis

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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…
Managing working capital can be vastly complex, but your bank’s treasury management professionals understand those complexities and can work to help you and your business implement effective solutions.Treasury management solutions may help manage corporate cash resources, reduce administrative burdens, speed collections, manage payments, facilitate cash flow, mitigate risks of fraud and make corporate capital work harder, says Jennifer Hall, treasury management specialist at Associated Bank.“Treasury management solutions run the gamut from picking the right deposit products, moving to electronic payments to investing idle balances,” says Hall. “And some of the most crucial tools are those that help protect businesses from…
Wednesday, 20 July 2011 09:43

Business continuation for the family

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(The information in this story is from a white paper written by Bill Hyde, Vice President and Client Advisor, FirstMerit Wealth Management Services)When “Tom” died suddenly at age sixty-three, it was a complete shock to his family. For most of his adult life, Tom had worked tirelessly as a successful architect. Unbeknownst to his wife and three grown children, he had allowed his life insurance to lapse a few years earlier and had not updated his will in more than a decade. Tom was always private about his finances and rarely shared the details of his financial life with anyone…
When the aviation industry suffered both an economic and public perception downturn, Dave Brittsan and his team flew into action.“In order to overcome the challenge, we attacked the marketplace with aggressive pricing and service models,” Brittsan says. “We connected with our customers by serving individual needs and increased our fleet inventory by 50 percent.”Brittsan was named one of 2010 Smart Leader honorees by Smart Business and U.S. Bank. We asked him how he overcomes challenges, innovates and gives back.Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it. On Nov.…
Thursday, 30 June 2011 20:01

WiFi in the air

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Thanks to the leadership of Michael Small, president and CEO, and Jack Blumenstein, co-president, there are more than 6,000 Gogo-equipped commercial and business aircraft in service today.A simple idea drawn on a restaurant’s paper napkin laid the groundwork for Gogo to launch a telephone system for airplanes ? leading to a revolutionary mobile broadband Internet network for use in the air. The cellular technology is now installed on roughly one out of every three aircraft in the domestic fleet of major U.S. airlines.Small’s mission when he joined the company was to revolutionize mobile Internet to air travel and to enhance…
Though the trading floor is bustling and intense when the markets are open, the scene in Chopper Trading’s break room is quite the opposite when they close. There, in the 3,000-square-foot spaciousness, you’ll find some of Chopper’s 150 employees lifting weights or winding down with some table tennis or poker. After working hours, they usually go out together, maybe taking advantage of the company’s season tickets to cheer on the Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs or Sox.The nature of the business can be stressful enough. CEO Raj Fernando wants to keep the surrounding atmosphere as pleasant as possible to counter that, so…
Saturday, 19 February 2011 23:06

Embracing diversity

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Suddenly immersed in Switzerland to head teams from 17 different countries, Kelly Grier was understandably overwhelmed. It was late 2000, after she moved her family overseas for a position with Ernst & Young LLP.Grier was responsible for Europe, Middle East and Africa engagement teams, and she was having trouble handling the group’s broad differences. Some advice from the chief financial officer of a client turned the challenging experience around and shifted her mindset going forward. He told her she wasn’t in the “United States of Europe.”“Every one of these countries is very unique. Every one of its people are very…
Friday, 30 April 2010 20:00

From vision to fruition

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When Charles Allen took the wheel of Crowe Horwath LLP in 2007, he didn’t need to change direction or make repairs. His company — still called Crowe Chizek and Co. LLC at the time — was a well-oiled machine, far from broken.In fact, it was one of the largest regional accounting and consulting firms in the country. But that didn’t mean the new CEO couldn’t rev the engine.“It wasn’t necessarily a business that needed to be fixed,” Allen says. “It was one that needed to be positioned to get to the next level.”That much was obvious, at least to a…
Monday, 26 October 2009 20:00

Chill out

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One day it might be coordinating the delivery of food products to trade shows at convention centers around the world. The next day it could be making sure a single truffle arrives looking perfect for an early morning TV show in New York, while a Fortune 50 customer rolls out a new product line at supermarkets across the country. No matter the size of the shipment or the distance it travels, when it comes to moving perishable commodities, timing is everything. “The cold chain needs to be precisely timed and maintained from the point of pickup to the point of…
Friday, 25 September 2009 20:00

The right solution

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Voice over Internet Protocol has been a popular choice for larger companies looking to streamline their voice and data communications in the past years, while midsized and smaller companies have been slower to adopt this technology. But the current recession has forced businesses of all sizes to keep costs down and maximize resources, pushing VoIP to the front line for businesses from small offices to major enterprises. “It is a future-proof technology. It seems everything is changing over to IP,” says Don Versen, Chief Technology Officer at CIMCO Communications. “VoIP is scalable as your company grows. It’s reliable and the…
Thursday, 25 June 2009 20:00

Beating the system

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Finalist Technology Mike Simmons co-founded T2 Systems Inc. and has led the company through 15 years of exponential growth, continuing to set the company’s corporate strategy and champion its execution. Simmons, who serves as chairman and CEO, has focused his business on the philosophy of providing high-level customer service and attributes the success of T2 to the fact that it strives to develop relationships with customers, providing unmatched after-sale support and service. The expectations and standards that he has set for meeting customer needs has driven most of his business decisions during the past two years. In order to effectively…
Thursday, 25 June 2009 20:00

Celebrating entrepreneurship

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Congratulations to all of the nominees, finalists and winners in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® Midwest Area 2009 awards! Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of our economy. As a leader in guiding these companies, we feel it’s important to honor them and recognize their impact, while encouraging others to follow in their footsteps. Just about everything begins with an entrepreneur, whether it’s an innovative new business model or establishing new industries and trends. Pick a company — any company — and you can trace its roots back to an entrepreneur.As we all know, these are tough times to…