Deborah Garofalo

Friday, 19 July 2002 06:09

Recruiting made easy

Building a strong work force isn't easy. But if you make it part of your overall business plan, you'll have a better chance of success.

"Recruiting well means a higher likelihood of retention," says Daniel Serbin, vice president of human resources at Parker Hannifin Corp. in Cleveland. And as successful businesses understand, employee retention affects the bottom line and competitive strength.

To bring in the best of the best graduates, Parker invests in universities such as Purdue and Cleveland State. It provides corporate donations for labs, which enhances name recognition at the collegiate level and sparks students' interest in working for the company after graduation. But Parker takes it one step further.

It has developed a formal training program, and Serbin says presenting that to prospects enforces the notion that Parker is serious about the careers of college recruits.

Parker takes other steps to make college recruiting successful for students and for the company, such as conducting annual salary surveys. Packages offered to incoming recruits are comparable to those from other major corporations, so money is not a deterrent for top candidates. Also, bringing upper level management into recruiting sessions conveys that the company places value on the process.

Serbin offers several other ideas that business owners can implement:

  • Include hiring needs in the annual plan and stick to commitments made.

  • Maintain a file of current, accurate job descriptions and update it periodically.

  • Take steps to keep your company visible in your sphere of influence.

  • Give your company recruiters the authority to make offers quickly and negotiate signing bonuses. Be prepared to make same-day decisions.

  • Post openings on the Internet and link them to corporate Web pages.

  • Train your company's staff in mentoring and assign staff members to new hires.

  • Communicate that hiring the best people is the responsibility of everyone in the company.

  • Benchmark and monitor your company's competitiveness against the best companies in the area.

  • Offer referral incentives to employees.

     

By developing a close relationship with several schools, bonding with students and faculty and donating time and money, a company can improve its recruiting process and long-term retention. As Serbin says, being highly visible will help your company become the company of choice for people with the right fit. How to reach: Parker Hannifin Corp. (216) 896-3000

Deborah Garofalo (dgarofalo@sbnnet.com) is associate editor at SBN Magazine.

Thursday, 18 July 2002 13:14

Tying the right knot

No marriage is made in heaven, and that includes the union of consultants and corporations.

The typical annualized investment for contracted project work can be $200,000 to $400,000, says Marilou "Louie" Myrick, CEO of ProResource Inc. Founded in 1989 and headquartered in Cleveland, ProResource offers flexible management and project professionals on a short-term or long-term basis.

Myrick's market space is expanding as the number of former corporate employees hitting the consulting trail increases, as does the number of corporations looking for help in project management.

For consultants, the work offers a greater life and work balance, the challenge of problem-solving and an opportunity at a time when the door to middle management positions is frequently closed. For businesses, outsourcing offers controlled costs, reduced risk, a compacted learning curve and added velocity to responsiveness.

With so much potential, the contract-hiring field is wide open. But Myrick says business leaders often ask their management teams for referrals rather than invest in a needs analysis.

To avoid hiring errors, ensure an experienced project consultant and yield a better return on investment, Myrick's best practices include understanding competencies necessary to achieve project goals.

"These competencies form the basis of the talent selection model with each set of selection criteria defined and ranked," Myrick explains, adding it is important not to forget the culture fit.

Behavioral criteria -- the soft side of management -- is often overlooked, but just as important as technical capabilities and experience. Myrick suggests the following steps for the successful addition of a contract consultant:

Define the project. Cover everything from goals to needs analysis to competencies required.

Interview candidates. Rank consultants against the needs analysis to determine the fit.

Involve everyone. When you launch the project, begin with a project focus meeting to define the plan, time line, deliverables, frequency of communication and access to information.

Putting her money where her mouth is, last month Myrick began offering monthly workshops to ProResource's consulting associates to improve their skills in organization, negotiation, communication and project management. Myrick says helping consultants improve their skills ultimately provides greater value to clients and consulting associates. How to reach: ProResource Inc. (216) 579-1515 or www.proresource.com

Deborah Garofalo (dgarofalo@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Magazine.

Thursday, 18 July 2002 13:09

Recipe for growth

Dixie Ann Jerdon had faith in herself in 1988 when she risked her job and reputation on a hunch.

Jerdon saw an opportunity for improvement at Yours Truly Restaurants and offered her services as operations manager to help expand the then-four-restaurant chain. She was 26 years old but had the moxie to promise the four sibling owners cost savings equivalent to her salary for a chance to prove her theory was correct.

"Because of my youth and inexperience, I really had no idea what I could do," admits Jerdon.

Today, she is executive director of Shibley Management, which oversees six restaurants that employ 350 people and serve 1,000 meals daily.

But growing from one Beachwood location in 1981 to six scattered across the East Side wasn't an easy transition. In 1988, when there were four restaurants, the owners began to lose focus. Each managed one location in his or her own style, and because they were not aligned to the same mission, further expansion seemed disastrous.

By 1993, however, the owners forged ahead and opened their fifth location in Shaker Square.

"We saw (that) as we grew, we lost the consistency," says co-owner Larry Shibley, explaining why the siblings accepted Jerdon's challenge. She not only made good on her promise, Shibley says, "she saved the company her salary and more."

In 1997, SBN examined how a family that built its business through sweat and soul relinquished day-to-day management to an outsider, going so far as to give her a voting option on the board (SBN February 1997). So how have Jerdon's process improvements helped Yours Truly increase dining room seating volume and its bottom line?

By viewing the six restaurants as one entity rather than six separate islands.

When she joined Yours Truly as its Mayfield Village location manager, Jerdon wasn't planning on sticking around long.

"Honestly, I thought this was a little stopgap while I looked for another job," she says. "But I fell in love with this company. I thought the owners had all the right ideas."

Jerdon had good ideas herself. She believed the best growth path for the restaurant chain was to implement a series of process improvements instead of the typical aggressive marketing strategies many eateries employed. She also recognized that it was possible to strengthen the core of a business by eliminating typical problems that eat profits in the food industry.

From behind a large desk crowded with paperwork, Jerdon's file cabinets are within easy reach. So are boxes of silverware, napkins and other paper goods. With an easy manner, she smiles and pulls out a performance review she prepared when taking over as operations manager. As she pores over the numbers, she explains how she outlined specific areas where it was possible to squeeze out savings.

Beyond the hard numbers, Jerdon had the backing of the four owners, Larry, Art and Jeff Shibley and Darlene Shibley-Ziegenhagen.

Larry and Jeff Shibley agree the focused leadership position has contributed to the overall health of the business. It began in 1989, when Jerdon started implementing her strategy of looking at the four businesses as one and standardizing processes that Jeff Shibley says "provides a unified approach for employees."

One process was aimed at curbing theft. Theft can be a huge drain on profits in any retail establishment, but losses in the restaurant business can add up to 5 percent of profits. Jerdon created a standardized management training program that greatly influences losses by teaching managers what to look for and how to prevent theft.

She also believes in the importance of maintaining the small mom-and-pop atmosphere while creating continuity with shared, fundamental business policies. That included getting employees' hands out of the cookie jar -- in this case, the cash drawer. The restaurants previously lacked control of cash flow and trace-ability from its lax system and hand-written checks.

It was an uphill battle that took nearly a full year to implement, Jerdon says. But it paid off with tangible results -- the computerized system not only tracked revenue but led to significant cost savings. Food expenditures dropped from 34 percent of total sales to 27 percent because the kitchen was not able to prepare a meal without a computer-generated order.

The system also eliminated the freebies and giveaways that gobbled up profits.

Jerdon's efforts weren't aimed only at internal issues. She also targeted vendor relationships and Yours Truly's buying power.

She understood that a trusting relationship with vendor representatives equates to long-term pricing programs. And when your shopping list includes 30,000 pounds of chicken breasts over several months, the savings quickly add up.

On the way to meeting the cost saving goals, Jerdon and Larry Shibley talked about a spin-off company to act as a distributor for the chain's paper products purchases. From those talks, Shibley Management was created.

"It makes sense if I'm paying a distributor to bring it out here," Jerdon explains.

The manufacturer ships products to a centralized location, and Shibley Management distributes them to its various locations. In the process, the management company generates a profit.

Even though food prices have been on a steady increase, the company spends approximately the same amount on food as it did in 1988. Jerdon attributes this effective price freeze to bulk buying and national contracts, rebate programs and the restaurant chain's bid system.

The company has also enjoyed considerable savings from low employee turnover.

"In every store, there are original employees from that original store opening," says Larry Shibley, adding that the amount of money spent on recruiting is negligible.

To continue that trend, managers are trained in the legal side of managing people.

"Costly lawsuits out there are just rampant for a lot of companies that aren't as organized," Jerdon says.

Keeping managers on the floor with employees and customers is one of the biggest advantages a centralized position offers.

"If they (managers) run their shifts and their stores and develop their people, we're a better company for it," Jerdon says.

It's something that's perpetuated the original intent of the four owners.

"In creating the proper environment, you get the proper staff," Jeff Shibley explains. "We're creating an environment that makes restaurant employees seek us out. For our customers, it's comforting to see the same smiling face."

Shibley says if you treat employees right, the bottom line will take care of itself. Employee packages include a 401(k) plan, paid vacation, a scholarship fund and on-the-job fun.

"I think the future is incredibly bright," he says. And while success is always sweet, "there's a real special element to be able to work with your family and succeed." How to reach: Yours Truly Restaurants, (440) 247-8338 or www.ytr.com

Deborah Garofalo (dgarofalo@sbnnet.com) is an associate editor of SBN Magazine.

Friday, 28 June 2002 06:01

The big picture

Jeffrey Gale left a secure job in corporate America for the uncertainty of entrepreneurship because he believed he knew a better way to create financial plans, sell insurance and retain good employees.

Gale was a vice president at MassMutual Insurance Co., a worldwide insurance provider with more than $200 billion in total assets, and managed 30 sales offices. But in 1996, he resigned and founded Gale Financial Group, an independent general agent of MassMutual. Today, Gale Financial is the fifth largest insurance and financial planning agency in the area, serving 43,000 clients.

Gale Financial's growth came from ferreting out the weaknesses of financial planning and removing them. At first, it wasn't much different from other companies, competing with stockbrokers to sell stock and with the Internet and other agents to sell insurance.

But fierce competition forced Gale to develop a competitive advantage, assessing a client's total picture, including every aspect of his or her financial situation. He brought together attorneys, mortgage bankers, accountants, investment advisers and estate planners, offering all of their services to clients.

Under this premise, Gale founded a subsidiary, Skylight Financial Services, and rolled out his unique approach to financial planning, in which experts in areas from law to investments work with clients.

"All of these areas affect one another, so it's imperative that they be addressed simultaneously, not individually," Gale says.

In less than two years, Gale and his staff have conducted more than 1,700 client meetings; since 2000, Skylight Financial has helped Gale Financial double in size and increase revenue by more than 400 percent.

Sixty Greater Cleveland companies bring Gale Financial's programs in-house for employees, and the diversified service provider program has been distributed to more than 4,600 agents nationwide.

And MassMutual has purchased the planning model for its own agents to use. How to reach: Gale Financial Group, (216) 621-5680

Tuesday, 22 January 2002 05:42

Great expectations

Every morning, a caravan of cars roll into the parking lot behind the Great Lakes Companies. By design, all office staff and plant personnel must walk through the production department to reach their respective work areas. That minor detail helps create a feeling of management accessibility and promote an informal atmosphere with open communication.

"If someone has a question, they know what time I come in and they'll grab me on the way to the office," explains Tony Sanson, vice president of finance and human resources.

That is just one reason why Great Lakes was named "The Best Workplace in America" by the Printing Industries Association. Judges evaluated six key areas in human resources: organizational culture; training and development; financial security; personal/work–life balance; recognition and rewards; and health and well-being programs.

This is the second consecutive year Cleveland-based Great Lakes came out on top.

"We have always considered our employees our most important asset," says James Schultz, chairman, president and CEO of the family-owned printing company.

With many of the 117 employees celebrating 20 or more years with the company, that attitude is more than lip service. Keeping employees happy is a two-way street that offers back a measurable advantage in the print industry. When the Great Lakes needed to raise the bar on its technological expertise, its employees stepped up to the plate.

"When we went to computerize the pre-press department, I would say about 75 percent of our employees went to Cuyahoga Community College for additional courses and to get them up to the electronic age," Sanson says.

On a voluntary basis, employees attended classes after putting in a full day's work. The non-union staff willingly accepted the challenge because they wanted to keep the company strong, Sanson explains.

Employee ownership in success and failure continues to be nurtured by now the fourth generation of the Schultz family management. Many of the management principles established 70 years ago at the once small print shop are still relevant today.

So how does Great Lakes Companies' management raise the bar for the workplace? Here are six of the company's tips:

* Monthly operations meetings centered on human resource issues, sales levels, staffing issues and losses due to spoilage.

* A family-oriented culture with an unequivocal open door policy.

* Elimination of hierarchy between the white collar and blue-collar mentality by putting everyone on a first name basis.

* Dedication to training and development to give employees the upper hand in technology advancements.

* Higher than typical industry standards in vacation levels and paid time off.

* Investment in client training to promote a strong customer/supplier partnership.

Tuesday, 22 January 2002 05:31

More than a little tired

When the National Sleep Foundation conducted a survey of 1,100 adults nationwide in 200 about their sleeping habits and the consequences of sleep deprivation, the results were not surprising. Most people recognize that sleep is important in order to work and feel well, yet it is often sacrificed.

Lack of sleep can lead to serious workplace mistakes, which in turn cost employers billions of dollars each year. A whopping six million Americans logged onto the Internet in search of sleep advice in 1999, according to a Harris poll. And, with the stress of a weak economy and the continuing war against terrorism, that number is most likely only going to grow. So how big is the sleep problem and what are its effects on America's workplace?

Sleep habits
On average, adults sleep approximately seven hours each night during the work week. When it comes to workers, 40 percent of shift workers sleep less than six and a half hours per weeknight. In addition, the study found:

* Shift workers sleep approximately 30 minutes less than non-shift workers per night.

* Most adults compensate for lost sleep by sleeping 50 minutes more each weekend night.

* On average, adults sleep approximately 7 hours a night during the workweek.

* 40 percent of shift workers sleep less than 6.5 hours per weeknight.

* 33 percent of adults get fewer than 6.5 hours of sleep per night during the week.

* Only 33 percent of adults sleep 8 hours per night during the week.

* People 65 years and older sleep an average of 30 minutes longer per night during the week.

* 43 percent of people get too little sleep because of television and the Internet use and of that group, 55 percent of the 18-29 year-olds have the highest average.

Sleep's affect on work habits
Sleep deprivation's greatest effect is in the workplace. Among the findings the National Sleep Foundation's study revealed:

* 51 percent of respondents say they need seven hours of sleep to function at work, yet average less.

* 46 percent believe sleepiness interferes with work quality and safety.

* 43 percent say sleepiness interferes with daily activities at least two days each month.

* 24 percent have difficulty getting up two or more days a week.

* 19 percent attribute work errors to sleepiness

* 14 percent of all accounts of arriving late to work can be attributed to sleep deprivation.

* 6 percent of those experiencing sleepiness use mediation to stay awake.

* 8 percent of respondents say they fall asleep on the job at least once per month.

* 2 percent report having work related injuries due to sleepiness.

Attitudes and opinions
* Sleep ranks third out of four preventative health considerations – good nutrition, regular exercise, sufficient sleep and managing stress.

* 45 percent of people on average agree they would sleep less to get more work done.

*54 percent of 18-29 year-olds would sleep less to get more work done with shift workers having the largest percentage (56 percent).

* More than one out of 10 adults (13 percent) would give up sleep rather than time with friends or family, recreation or chores.

Sleep quality
* 62 percent of respondents experience sleep problems overall with shift workers suffering the most at 68 percent.

* 58 percent of those surveyed experience insomnia a few nights per week with women outranking men, 61 to 53 percent.

* 58 percent of people working more than 60 hours per week wake up unrefreshed versus 39 percent of those working 40 or less hours per week.

* 10 percent of respondents report symptoms of sleep apnea.

* 15 percent report restless legs syndrome (feelings of crawling or tingling in the legs).

Factors disrupting sleep
* Work problems - 8 percent report issues on the job disrupt sleep two or more days per week.

* Stress – 22 percent overall; women attributing sleep problems from stress 26 percent of the time versus men at 16 percent.

* Pain – 20 percent; of that number, 25 percent are women and 13 percent are men.

* Children – 17 percent; 21 percent of women report interrupted rest due to children while only 13 percent of men experience the problem.

* Partner's snoring – 15 percent overall; with 22 percent of women kept awake versus 7 percent of men.


* 80 percent of respondents never discussed any sleep problems with their physician.

* Although experiencing sleep disorders, few people are diagnosed by a physician. Of those surveyed, 5 percent were diagnosed for insomnia and 2 percent for sleep apnea.

* Only one-third to one-half of those diagnosed ever get treated.

* 53 percent of those reporting sleep problems say they will do nothing about it except take a sleeping pill (24 percent) or use alcohol (19 percent).

National Sleep Foundation

Wednesday, 02 January 2002 05:58

Safeguarding innovation

Astrophysicist Neil Lubart, Ph.D. thought it was time to retire after a long and successful career that included leading the development team that developed the first laptop computer at IBM. He resurfaced a few years later, touting a technology solution that caught the eye of a local entrepreneur.

Tim Wojciechowski, a business manager with high tech ideas and aspirations, says he was looking for an electronics investment opportunity when he heard about innovative research in liquid crystal displays. Together, they founded Cleveland-based Trivium Technologies Inc. in February 2000 to commercialize Lubart's innovation.

That, they say, was the easy part. Protecting the intellectual property was the challenge.

A flawed looking glass

LCD technology lit the path that took the computer out of the dark ages. The back lighting of an LCD screen brings the world to our fingertips through laptops and personal digital assistants. But don't try to read the screen outside or at an angle.

Wojciechowski, Trivium CEO and president, recognized the shortcomings as opportunities. He created the research and development company as a supporting infrastructure of protection. Wojciechowski believes Lubart's film has a definitive advantage with PDAs and laptop computers, but the potential extends far beyond flat panel displays.

Watches, automotive navigation screens and cockpit avionics are also a part of the growing outlet.

"We believe the technology has a much broader base beyond LCDs that would include solar panel technology for power generation, fuel cells, optical networking and passive connectors and wave guides," Wojciechowski says.

Trivium's product, the Trivium Diodic Lens, brings quality improvements to the industry by making LCD screens brighter. The lens improves contrast and clarity, increases viewing angles and reduces screen glare and eyestrain.

More important, it optimizes the LCD in all lighting conditions and reduces power consumption, thus extending battery life.

Harnessing ambient light is like putting the sun on the payroll. "So on a notebook where you may have four hours of battery life, you could triple it to, say, 12 hours," Wojciechowski says.

Even in the glaring summer sun, a laptop's computer screen would appear clear and readable. In bright, ambient light the Trivium film enables the computer to turn off the power-consuming backlight and be viewable in a reflective mode.

A piece of global pie

Any start-up venture is a risk, but potential growth within the LCD industry is so vast that even cutting a small piece of the pie could yield huge profits. According to Wojciechowski, the entire display industry stands at $30 billion. Experts project growth to $70 billion in about five years. Tom Lash, Trivium COO, says market commercialization of the Trivium Lens is about one year away.

The bigger risk, however, would be losing the competitive edge if proprietary technology were not safeguarded. According to Lash, the company's first steps included seeking legal guidance and searching the U.S. Patent Office to review relevant patents and claims already on file.

"You attempt to secure the idea; perhaps there's some very unique characteristic of the idea," he explains. "You want to secure the process for manufacturing, secure the materials that go into the product you're making and you've got to protect it not only within the U.S. but more importantly, world wide."

A team from Trivium, along with Ray Miller, the head of the Intellectual Property Group at Benesch Friedlander Coplan & Aronoff LLP, spent a week digging through relevant patents filed to better understand what other companies are doing.

"It was one more reassurance that we have a very unique proposition," Lash explains. "We're just building an additional wall around the technology."

Patent protection extends beyond the beginnings of a business and extends several years into the manufacturing process. Competitors will attempt to engineer around new innovations, and because LCDs are primarily manufactured outside the U.S., Lash says it is extremely important to understand which countries honor U.S. laws and which do not.

"The Far East has a reputation for not respecting the U.S. patent process and many times they (foreign businesses) will try and do product knock-offs," Lash says.

Improving an existing market

Powerhouses like Philips Electronics and Samsung lead the pack in research, sales and manufacturing of LCDs. Only a half a dozen other suppliers have broken into the business. A face-off with the high tech giants would surely mean a quick and painful end. But offering improvements in a mature market means putting the giants on your side.

Philips manufactures LCDs and controls 40 percent of the industry. According to Lash, executives at Philips believe Trivium's technology will offer a substantial performance improvement to its existing products.

"We offer them a piece film that's passive in nature, that works and fits right into their current manufacturing process in a non-disruptive manner," says Lash, adding that he expects Philips to be one of Trivium's biggest customers and a key strategic partner.

The market possibilities also caught the attention of Carol Latham, CEO and president of Thermagon Inc., a producer of thermally conductive polymers in electronic packaging. Latham joined Trivium's Board of Directors this year and Wojciechowski says he believes her business experience in the Far East will provide valuable guidance as Trivium looks to position itself there.

Birthing the idea

While the most important first steps in developing the technology were to "make sure that it remained Trivium's and try and bullet proof it," Wojciechowski says technological advancements cannot wait for the T's to be crossed and the I's to be dotted. While Wojciechowski concentrated on the red tape, personnel of the small five-person company continued to build applications around the technology.

"You're always worried that someone's going to beat you to the punch or find their way around you." admits Wojciechowski. "We view this as a technology platform, not a one-trick pony."

Development of a beta prototype occurred last year and was validated by optical scientists at the University of Texas. Negotiations are underway to find a manufacturer to create a polymer-based working prototype film. Once completed, the film will be imbedded into actual equipment for testing.

"It's an exciting opportunity and we really have our nose to the grind stone trying to develop this into a full platform technology," says Wojciechowski.

Seed capital became an issue several months after Trivium first turned on the lights. The NASDAQ began crashing at the heels of the dot-coms and Cleveland's financial environment became a deterrent to raising money.

"The venture capitalists here say they like to invest in Cleveland companies, but the fact is I don't think they still trust a lot of the ventures or a lot of the business plans they see here," says Wojciechowski. "They think, 'If it looks so good, why is it coming out of Cleveland?'"

Product development in Greater Cleveland was a strategy, not an accident. A homegrown Clevelander, Wojciechowski says, "We decided from a cost and resource standpoint, Cleveland would be an excellent place to start up the company."

Northeast Ohio is home to Kent State University's Liquid Crystal Institute, the original developers of LCD technology. Trivium did succeed through two rounds of financing despite the economy and attracted local angel investors. Wojciechowski says believes the company is in good financial health as it continues to shed light on the possibilities of what may be.

How to reach: Trivium Tehcnologies, (216) 574-6225 or www.trivium.com.

Wednesday, 02 January 2002 04:42

Tools of retention

The best and the brightest are always in demand. So when executive search firms come calling on your star performers, it will take more than a fair industry wage to keep them on board.

Management Recruiters International Inc., the world's largest search and recruitment organization and subsidiary of CDI Corp. (NYSE: CDI), a staffing and outsourcing leader, makes it their business to know what keeps employees on the job. The Cleveland-based company with 1,100 offices worldwide conducted a survey of more than 4,600 executives across the nation. The results indicate many company leaders use a bevy of retention tools to keep key employees satisfied.

* 82 percent offer performance based bonuses

* 70 percent use recognition programs

* 68 percent offer tuition reimbursement programs

* 41 percent use parking and fitness subsidies as a perk

* 16 percent offer day care assistance

"Today's economic climate requires employers to take a thoughtful approach to how they retain and get the most out of their key employees," says Allen Salikof, president and CEO of MRI.

In the early 1900s, Abraham Maslow theorized on the hierarchy of needs. He recognized that once a person's basic needs are met, the need is no longer a motivator. That truth remains evident today as money may be used to attract candidates, but it is not enough to keep them in place.

With the job market softening, companies are forced to make hard staffing decisions that often result in downsizing. At the same time, company leaders are challenged to keep their best staff members productive and focused.

Salikof says, "Employee retention can be improved if employers create a work environment that rewards performance, creativity and initiative and, most importantly, create opportunities for employees to advance and to be given more challenging responsibilities."

"With tightening workforces, top employees are being asked to pick up the slack for departed colleagues and, thus, are taking on even more work and responsibility," says Salikof.

Last year, MRI placed more than 45,000 people jobs and CDI placed 100,000 people into temporary assignments and had more than $1.7 billion in revenue. Where the placement firm's job ends, the H.R. manager's job begins.

How to reach: Management Recruiters International Inc., (216) 696-1122.

Management Recruiters International

Monday, 03 December 2001 09:05

Protecting your product

About one-third of employees steal from their employers, putting employee theft at the top of the list of crimes against businesses, according to a 1998 U.S. Department of Commerce study.

That means protection is important, especially for small- to mid-sized businesses. Whether you're dealing with missing equipment, consistently late employees, intruders or vandalism, security management systems is a growing industry. It offers integrated programming of security systems while controlling heating, lighting, air conditioning and surveillance.

Watching employees on the job serves two purposes, says Wayne Easton, vice president of sales at AmerAlarm in Cleveland.

"It's either something that you can use as Big Brother or something you can use to reward employees for doing good work," says Easton.

AmerAlarm owner Jerry Burger established the security firm because customers from his already profitable computerized telephone business complained of the high cost and complexity of security systems.

"The first premise of business is to find a void in the market and fill it," says Burger.

One of his products does just that. Vision System, a customized surveillance system, uses standard phone lines and television to access your plant or office from anywhere in the United States. It also allows for two-way audio and can record activity on a standard VCR.

Easton says Vision System gives peace of mind to off-site business owners or managers responsible for more than one location.

And today's systems help eliminate the human error factor. Cameras can be engaged automatically when door security is activated at the end of the day. Time-lapse motion activated cameras alleviate the need to examine hours of surveillance tapes.

Another type of technology tracks expensive property such as laptop computers when they disappear.

Marc Levine, AmerAlarm operations manager, says a stolen laptop is traceable anywhere in the United States the second it is plugged into a phone line. Software programs installed in the computer send a code and the phone number the laptop is using to a clearinghouse, which notifies the business and the police of the laptop's whereabouts.

Stationery equipment can be protected with cameras smaller than a loaf of bread which are fully contained, completely automatic and activated by motion.

Protection doesn't have to be expensive to offer a lot of value. A camera monitoring entrances and exits without illumination is worthless at night. But an inexpensive infrared illuminator lets monitoring equipment do its job.

"Security is only good if you utilize the advantages that are given to you," says Burger.

Technology to open doors jumped from keys to card readers to hands-off technology. Signal readers send a radio frequency, identifying the person at the door, the time and the date, without the person ever having to use a pass card.

Even with all the technology available, a large part of security still comes down to people.

"Caution and common sense are probably the most important thing about security ... It can be as simple as outside lighting and lit hallways," says Levine. "We don't think people should be a prisoner to their security system." How to reach: AmerAlarm, (216) 882-1808

Deborah Garofalo (dgarofalo@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Magazine.

Monday, 03 December 2001 08:56

A notch above

When you think of an organization capable of donating a quarter of a million dollars to charity, you don't usually think of a family-run cement flooring company. But Bedford-based Nature Stone has done just that, donating more than $250,000 to nonprofit organizations over the past 11 years.

Russell and Antonia Masetta have taken their company's contribution beyond the boundaries of community giving. And although the economy tipped toward recession last year, Nature Stone had mustered $60,000 in donations by the end of the year. Not bad for a company relying on home improvement expenditures.

The Good Neighbor Program began shortly after the company's founding in 1989 and designates 1 percent of each sale, or a minimum of $10, for donation to a customer-chosen charity.

"It's not just a contribution, it's a solid ongoing commitment to the community," says Russell Masetta. "Each and every Nature Stone customer participates in the process."

That generosity is the reason Nature Stone received the Pillar Award for Community Service.

Masetta learned the cement business from his father, Andrew, an Italian immigrant who poured and repaired cement for almost 50 years. The younger Masetta had an idea to repair concrete better and more attractively by allowing water to flow through it. He developed an epoxy to create designs and patterns while correcting unevenness and cracks.

The proposition required homeowners to invest in home beautification rather than just repairs -- a novel idea in the late '80s.

It took 12-hour days, seven days a week to get Nature Stone off the ground. Masetta says he was thankful for every job he got and wanted to share his good fortune, but wasn't sure how to do that. The stresses of his new business seemed to disappear when he initiated the Good Neighbor Program --"Like a little divine guidance," Masetta says.

And allowing the customer to choose the charity is as unique as it is generous.

"I wanted them to feel good about it, too," he says.

As the business grew from two to almost 50 employees, the more than 3,500 annual installations yielded coinciding checks to charities. This year, sales are expected to exceed $6 million.

Although the program has proven popular, the company's growth cannot be attributed to Masetta's generosity. Sales reps are not permitted to inform customers about the charitable giving or dangle it in front of them as an incentive to buy. Only when a potential customer becomes an actual customer with a signed contract is he or she asked where to send the donation.

The top five charities receiving contributions last year from Nature Stone were the Leprechaun Foundation, American Cancer Society, Salvation Army, Plain Dealer Charities and the American Heart Association.

J. Thomas Mullen of Catholic Charities says, "Nature Stone sets a wonderful standard for others to follow."

How to reach: Nature Stone, (440) 786-9100 or www.naturestonefloors.com

Deborah Garofalo (dgarofalo@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Magazine.