Nearly one-third of Fortune 500 companies are family-owned businesses (FOBs), and studies show their average lifespan is less than 25 years. More than 30 percent survive into the second generation, 12 percent are viable into the third and only 3 percent make it to the fourth generation and beyond.
With 100 years in business, Euclid Industrial Maintenance and Cleaning Contractors Inc. has made it into that 3 percent, and is in the process of being taken over by the fourth generation.
"I developed some health problems," says COO Martin Presser, a third-generation member of the firm. "I worked all my life to build something and didn't want to lose it."
Life-altering circumstances gave the Pressers the nudge to start the succession process, but many other FOBs keep putting off the inevitable.
According to an Arthur Andersen/Mass Mutual study, 25 percent of senior generation family business shareholders have not completed any estate planning other than writing a will. And 81 percent want the business to stay in the family but 20 percent are not confident of the next generation's commitment to the business.
"(Our) succession plan is very simple," says Mark Presser, president of Euclid Industrial Maintenance and Martin's son. "We keep working until we drop."
Both Mark's parents still work an average of 40 hours a week, but over the course of the next few years, all of their corporate shares will be reabsorbed into the company.
This was planned out about six years ago with a call to one of the family's financial advisers. But other FOBs have a more difficult time hashing out the details of succession.
"You have to be able to make the separation," says Martin Presser. "If you need to have your name on the business your whole life, if you have a big ego, it's not that easy. It's much more rewarding for me to see my son doing well."
The Andersen study showed that heredity does not guarantee future wealth: 52 percent of family-owned businesses surveyed plan to favor only active heirs in their estate plans.
"Our other son worked here for a little bit. He was fired by three supervisors, and now he's a social worker," says Martin Presser. "I have complete trust in (Mark), I know he is capable of running the business."
And how did the father know when the son was ready? He's been watching him work since he was in his mid-teens, including during a stint working with other crews cleaning windows from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.
That's the secret, according to the Pressers. Every generation has worked every part of the job and is willing to roll-up their sleeves and get dirty.
That wins the respect of both clients and employees.
And then, "You get to the point where the clients call for him and not you," says Martin.
The key is to keep things as open and amicable as possible.
"I have a friend who fired his own mother," says Mark. "In our business, we fight like crazy, and then go to lunch and talk about the grandkids." How to reach: Euclid Industrial Maintenance and Cleaning Contractors Inc., (216) 361-0288
Wharton Enterprising Families Initiative conducted a study examining a cross-section of mid-sized to large family enterprises in Puerto Rico that have been in business from nine years to 118 years, with nearly 10 percent of firms into their fourth generation of family ownership.
It came up with seven recommendations for running these businesses.
* Harmonize business, family and personal goals of diverse stakeholders. Leaders of family-owned businesses need to understand and address business, family and individual goals, and create systemwide goals.
* Move communication, planning and leadership from informal, intuitive processes to more formal and intentional processes. While 94 percent of families believe written guidelines are important, only 4 percent drafted them.
* Listen to the less powerful before asking for agreement. When a group member feels his or her views are fully heard, that person has a higher commitment to implementing decisions.
* Work to build high levels of trust. Family members with higher levels of trust report a greater sense of unity.
* Beware of the mid-life crisis. The study found that family members in successor generations who were over age 35 had lower trust levels than other family members.
* Align growth expectations with acceptable strategies for growth. Family enterprises need to align growth expectations of family members with their conservative risk profiles.
* Enlist the insights of outsiders. Outside advisers can provide valuable input in testing the assumptions of family members. Source: Wharton Enterprising Families Initiative
If TIME magazine naming former Enron, FBI and WorldCom employees as it "Person of the Year" weren't enough, Congress has made its feelings about corporate misdeeds clear with the recent passing of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
"Most states have some sort of whistle-blower protection, but you have to jump through a lot of hoops," says Leonard D. Young, of counsel at Ulmer & Berne and former general counsel of Ferro Corp. "But before Sarbanes-Oxley, there was no federal statute specifically related to public companies and fraud against shareholders."
The whistle-blower provision of Sarbanes-Oxley requires that public companies establish procedures for employees to disclose "the confidential, anonymous submission ... of concerns regarding questionable accounting or auditing matters."
In addition to sweeping reforms regarding employee protection, Sarbanes-Oxley outlines significant civil and criminal penalties regarding retaliation against whistle-blowing employees. The new whistle-blower provisions are consistent with other Sarbanes provisions that hold individual executives liable for their actions.
"What is interesting about Sarbanes-Oxley is it does something that other federal statutes, like that of sexual harassment, do -- it specifically permits a lawsuit or a private right of action against supervisors," says Young.
An employee has 90 days to file a complaint. However, if the Department of Labor does not resolve the matter within 180 days, the employee can sue in federal court.
In addition, once the suit goes to court, the burden of proof falls on the employer, who must prove by "clear and convincing evidence" that any action taken against the employee is irrespective of that employee's "protected" action.
The stakes are high for the employer, says Young.
"(Employees can sue for) reinstatement, back pay, interest and compensatory damages and the big one -- litigation costs." he says.
As with many issues that begin with public companies, closely held and private businesses should be careful when drafting new policy. Young suggests businesses take a good look at existing ethics policies and guidelines, then "train, train, train ... this is not something that you can put in the employee book and forget about."
Young adds that smaller companies are better off in state court than in federal court.
"If they are not a listed company and Sarbanes doesn't apply to them, then the company should stay with the state statute, which is a little more business friendly," he says. How to reach: Ulmer & Berne, www.ulmer.com
For example, one of the biggest mistakes new management makes is trying to effect change without first evaluating a situation properly.
Knowing where both the business and manufacturing processes stand is more important than you might think. In fact, process evaluation is analogous to the 'You are here' X you find on the mall directory -- you have to know where you are to get where you need to be.
Vince Slusarz was especially aware of this when, after he was promoted to vice president of manufacturing at Kinetico, he set his sites on improving the industrial division.
"We wanted to look at the entire business," says Slusarz. "We wanted to identify several main processes and subprocesses for each of those ... we looked at what we could affect and how we could measure the changes."
The industrial division is a build-to-order water treatment equipment manufacturer and any misstep is costly, so management decided that is where it could have the biggest impact. But before changes could be made, the entire process, from lead management to product delivery, had to be assessed.
"It was very revealing. The initial inclination was that it won't take that long ... but it took about two years. You think a process is simple, and then when it's written down, it takes up two pages," says Slusarz.
Slusarz admits that the early stages were difficult because they took so much effort and discussion.
"There is a fine line you can cross by being too detailed," says Slusarz. "It becomes a paralysis."
Slusarz and a cross section of about 50 employees identified issues that were impeding success.
"We had a management group, an overall steering committee, for each of the four major processes, and they identified the issues that needed to be handled and took them to the group," he says.
Ironically, as Kinetico got its house in order, the market for its industrial division began to slow significantly. But it is taking what it learned and applying the lessons to other parts of the business.
"We considered the effort a success," says Slusarz, even though the company's commercial market has bottomed out. "Where we have seen the benefits is that it allowed us to open our eyes as to how this can help us in other areas of the business." How to reach: Kinetico; 1-800-944-WATER (9283) or www.kinetico.com
Tannenbaum is senior vice president and chief economist for LaSalle Bank and the editor of The Viewpoint, its quarterly investment newsletter.
But he sees himself as more of an interpreter of the factors surrounding our economic environment, not someone who can predict the future.
He freely admits that economics is a social science, not an exact science, and wrote in his most recent newsletter that he dreads making predictions for the upcoming year.
What Tannenbaum does know is a lot about where the Midwest economy has been, and he has some good ideas on where it should and shouldn't go in the future.
SBN Magazine sat down with Tannenbaum and asked him what might affect Northeast Ohio, the Midwest and the country as we get into 2003.
Some people think the job of an economist is to predict the future, tell their clients what stocks are going to do well and tell them where to invest and where not to invest. If that's not true, what's your role?
We do a lot of commentary. We do a weekly and quarterly summary of what is happening out there for our clients.
We are not out there to win the prize for being the most accurate forecaster, but the philosophy we have is to try to connect the dots -- to make sense of a multitude of data from the various sources so they can anticipate what their business might be facing.
We try to stay away from dramatizing the data of the day. Economic statistics are revised and rebenchmarked frequently and there are trillions of dollars trading every day.
The truth is that economics is social science -- there are some laws that need to be obeyed.
When you learn economics, the first thing they say is, let's assume that people behave by certain rational rules. Then, all of a sudden, using that, they build curves and theories, and then you get into the real world and you realize that people don't behave rationally.
We have recorded past behavior and we try to predict what will happen going forward, but there is a certain margin of error. Also, the budget for collecting economic data is not what it should be.
We try to get our readers and clients to look at things over time. Let's look at a few months of observation and not just the most recent. Let's see if the data is corroborated and let's put things in context instead of overreacting.
We do try and take a broader perspective on things than what is reported by a wire service story.
Everyone is so aware of what happens every day with our economy, to the point where many have a constant stock ticker running on the bottom of their computer. How has that changed the way we look at the economy and economic news?
This is my third recession. One of the things that sticks with me is that what used to occur over a number of weeks or months in the markets can now happen in an afternoon. And the reason for that is that information travels much more rapidly and people can act on information much more rapidly.
The influence of technology is paramount in this, everything from the transmission of news to companies that are able to find out what they are selling in real time. When I started, we were just able to get overnight sales reports, and prior to that we were just starting to get monthly reports. Retailers can now adjust their products and order faster, and it has become necessary.
But if you get bad info, you can overreact in the wrong direction, and that is what gives us the greater degree of volatility.
Speaking of that, one of the lead stories over the holidays was how retail sales were going. A few years ago, a news organization would never have made that a lead. How does that affect what you do?
The deluge of stories last year that the retail sector was struggling clearly may have had an effect or even precluded a bad outcome for the season. Sometimes what we say can become a self-fulfilling prophecy in that we have the potential to shape people's moods and behaviors.
There are some historical assumptions about what a war does to the economy. With the new structure of our economy, which is less industrial-based, will a war have the same effect?
The dominant element right now is that war is a great tragedy and a great source of unease, and the threat of war leads both consumers and businesses to be more conservative. We are fearful of making commitments because in a month's time, the landscape could change. It's a kind of paralysis that results from people huddled around TV watching the conflict.
It is the No. 1 factor that is keeping business on the sidelines -- because companies that aren't building inventories and investing hurt manufacturing.
On the other hand, wars over history have been very stimulating for the economy, and that comes from the military. The spending the government does as a result can be very stimulating.
We have clients that make weapons and components for weapons, and they have been extremely busy, but it is never a pleasant situation and we should hope for peace. When we try to be clinical, (war) is a net negative for the economy but not for every sector of the economy.
What about the Midwest? We have always been heavy into manufacturing. Will it affect us more?
When the Berlin Wall came down, we realized what is called a peace dividend, and in the Midwest, we did have factory complexes that were supplying and benefited from the Cold War, so the peace dividend rolled some of those industries back.
And we have never totally recovered. However, as tough as it has been in the Midwest, the reality is that the two coasts were really hit the hardest, especially California.
The irony here in Cleveland is that we chastised ourselves for not being part of the new economy, but in the end, we weren't as hurt by the burst of the bubble.
That's exactly what happened. All around the Midwest, everyone wanted to be a tech incubator. And remember, that term was an apt way of describing the kids in pajamas that were running these companies.
For the most part, they were never terribly successful at building viable businesses, but we were happy about our failure to join them when we came out unscathed from the fall.
We have seen a lot of consolidation in manufacturing and industrial in the Midwest, which is what drove the economy. There are so many different voices about what is best for these communities. Want to add your own?
We've done a very credible job at reducing our reliance on the heaviest Rust Belt industries -- the legacy which is a result of history and geography.
Aside from the impact of recession and the prospect of war, the trends of manufacturing are also very challenging. As you alluded to, a lot of basic manufacturing is moving overseas with the embrace of free trade in the last 10 years, and the jobs involved may never return to the U.S.
And what that means for an area like ours is that first, we need to make sure that what manufacturing is still here stays here. And I think it will, but it has to move into higher value-added manufacturing. That means more sophisticated equipment with more sophisticated engineering and labor.
That is where our competitive edge is still present, and if we are able to sustain it, we will do well. The challenge is that the labor pool is still based in the old manufacturing, and a new, more skilled and educated labor pool is needed -- and that is hard to do.
It may take a generation and a big turnover in the labor force to get that into place.
What do you see happening to achieve these goals?
I see something in towns around the Midwest lately. They are trying to create a bridge for their economies, to tide them over, and there are usually two components.
Many cities think, 'Let's become a center for conventions.' This is very difficult because the scale in which you have to compete has now gotten so large.
I gave a presentation in Orlando, and they now have 3 million square feet of convention space. And a lot of these shows are held outside of the summer months, when the weather is a big factor.
You also have to ask, 'What sort of inducements are there to come into town?'
Yes, you get the hotels filled and cabs are used and restaurants, etc., but is it really a net plus for economic activities? And it's going to be tough sale.
The other point is that Cleveland is in competition with Chicago. They have to compete with Chicago and McCormick Place (in that city) is close to 3 million square feet and, of course, the city has its charms, as well.
What is also happening is that some communities are looking at casino gambling as a panacea. In fact, there is a finite pool of gambling dollars out there, and communities have to ask themselves if that is really the way they want to build their economy.
Gambling is a zero sum game. It is a redistribution rather than a wealth creation.
If you are patient and nurture service industries and sophisticated manufacturing, the payoff will be a lot better. Gambling is a quick fix.
It is terribly regressive. Poor people gamble more, and what that does is exacerbate income equality.
So our best bet is to take it slow and build a sturdy infrastructure?
Yes, but unfortunately, slow, organic and patient are not words that the politicians usually embrace.
We are going through some very challenging times in general and in the Midwest, but I don't know that we should be hopeless about it.
I'm optimistic that the problems should be resolved in Iraq and inventories will be revived and we will start feeling that there is a recovery.
I'm looking forward to that day. How to reach: LaSalle Bank, 866-904-7222 or www.lasallebank.com
What used to be a craft that required long apprenticeships and union membership is now the domain of techno-geeks and graphic designers.
"You have to love the technology," says Michelle Toivonen of Genie Repros Inc.
Print shops that haven't embraced the changes have become casualties of a sweeping consolidation of the industry. "Watching so many other printers fold, we knew we had to either get ahead or get out of the business," says Toivonen.
Besides the huge capital investment many printers have made in publishing, graphics and printing software, cutting-edge shops like Genie are putting their pre-press and archiving departments online.
Even with the advent of high-tech publishing software, a lot of time is lost during the proofing and correction process. In response, Genie Repros' management decided to take a leap many other local printers haven't, and put its operations online.
"The site itself is easy to use," says Toivonen. "Anyone with an Internet connection and a browser can use it."
Clients can proof jobs online, make corrections, make repeat orders and access a previous job's digital files.
This has been imperative for Genie Repros, says Toivonen, because most clients expect the turnaround on a four-color job to be a few days, not a few weeks.
"The proofing process is where we see the most time savings," says Toivonen. "A lot of time is saved in getting the files in ... Before, a job would come on disk, and if something was wrong or missing, we would have to start all over."
Toivonen estimates the new technology has cut production time by 31 percent and allowed the company to keep its staff relatively small while increasing output.
"Our records show a 20.7 percent increase in overall sales this year over last year," says Toivonen.
But she admits that one of the largest benefits of the new site is to prove that this business, which was once an Old World craft, isn't afraid of New World technology. How to reach: Genie Repros Inc., (216) 696-6677
At least that's the case at Applied Industrial Technologies, where philanthropic corporate culture is achieved through, among other things, executive example. There have been CEO scooter races and pies in the face -- all in the name of corporate giving. And what does all of this do for the reputation of the senior executives?
According to David Pugh, chairman and CEO of Applied, it creates a corporate culture that encourages a commitment to community.
Corporate executives and managers are the driving force behind many of Applied's fund-raising programs, but Pugh is quick to add that, "There is no one here that wouldn't be willing to sacrifice for the cause."
The causes are many, including Harvest for Hunger, which has recognized Applied twice with the Bag of Hope award, and partnerships with the Alfred Benesch Elementary School and Applewood Centers, among others.
Besides creating an atmosphere of giving and loyalty throughout the company, Pugh says Applied's programs are about bolstering the community around its headquarters; its Corporate Mission Statement even includes the phrase, "a commitment to community."
And that statement had enough behind it to bring Pugh to take the job as CEO in 1999.
"It is one of the reasons I came here," says Pugh. "It was a prime factor. I knew this company has a stated core value."
According to Pugh, that core value extends beyond those it helps outside the company; it also affects the internal atmosphere.
"It is a unifying factor," he says. "What it does, when our employees see their peers reaching outside to help someone, they feel they will get that same help inside the company. It allows them to take risks."
And for Pugh, the hard work and substantial contributions of his employees are a great source of pride.
"I guess some ... hard-liners question, 'Is this a wise use of shareholder money?' And some might say it is not the role of a CEO to have a social agenda," says Pugh. "But if you have a heart, you can't see someone in need and not be impacted." How to reach: Applied Industrial Technologies, (216) 426-4000
Of that $212 billion, approximately 4 percent -- $9 billion -- came from corporate contributions and corporate foundations, representing about 1.3 percent of corporate pretax profits.
Cleveland and Northeast Ohio have done their fair share, and perhaps a bit more, to contribute to that total, now and in the past. In fact, according to a study by the Urban Institute, the Northeastern part of the United States has one-fourth of the nation's nonprofits but holds one-third of assets and public support dollars.
Cleveland has an impressive history in the nonprofit world. Besides an historically generous group of individuals, it has one of the oldest and richest private philanthropic foundations in the Cleveland Foundation; a group of well-funded museums; one of the first United Way chapters; and one of the highest-funded Catholic diocese in the country.
In fact, in the early '90s, Ohio ranked fifth in the nation after California, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas in the number of nonprofit organizations. Ohio also ranked eighth in public support dollars, sixth in total expenses and sixth in total assets.
But some of the factors surrounding Cleveland's generous reputation are changing. As a region, we are losing corporate headquarters, a big source of philanthropic giving; the economy is lagging; stocks are down; and tax revenue is declining. As a result, some organizations are receiving less.
When economic indicators grow more slowly or fall, so does the rate of growth in giving. In 2001, taking into consideration the rate of inflation, giving decreased by 2.3 percent.
That decrease may be relative, however, since in the previous few years, many larger charities had experienced double-digit increases in donations. Other than in 1987, the total amount of giving has increased every year for the past 40 years. And while the rate of growth has varied from year to year, each year Americans have given more than in the previous year.
However, taking into consideration one-time donations and those collected as a result of the attacks Sept. 11, even big charities like The Salvation Army and The American Red Cross experienced only small gains or even declines in funding last year.
One problem is that with stock market declines, wealthy individuals no longer have the need to offset or gift stock to achieve a tax benefit. Another problem is that estimates by the National Conference of State Legislatures show the shortfall between available tax revenue and budgeted spending will be $58 billion in 2003 for all states, up from $37 billion in 2002.
That shortfall is even more significant because the number of public charities grew between 1989 and 1994 by 6.3 percent. So there is less money, more organizations and a greater emphasis on community giving.
According to a Roper survey, consumers are becoming more aware of corporate image and buying accordingly. Part of that image is tied into a company's relationship to the community that supports it. Consumers are showing new loyalty toward local companies, but they expect them to give something back.
"Consumers will pick one brand over another," says Barb Brown, principal and co-owner of BrownFlynn Communications. "The notion that this (corporate giving) is a soft issue and therefore the downturn would limit resources hasn't played out. In the wake of Enron, we see this is a topic that is not going to go away and has been rising to the top."
Corporate leaders and employees seem to be up to the task. According to a joint survey sponsored by SBN and BrownFlynn Communications, 100 percent of respondents believe that community relations is important to a company and that businesses have a responsibility to give back to the community.
But giving back takes many forms and can mean different things to different business. And with increasing limited resources, many companies are re-evaluating how, when and where they give.
"Companies in Cleveland want to be good corporate citizens," says Margie Flynn principal and co-owner of BrownFlynn Communications. "(However) the questions is, what do they want to be known for?"
Although 86 percent of respondents said they engage in corporate giving because of "a desire to give back to the community," 77 percent look at community relations as a way "to enhance their image" and 45 percent participate to "gain publicity."
With shrinking budgets and increasing need, businesses are looking at ways to maximize charitable contributions. Flynn and Brown refer to it as strategic philanthropy, or cause marketing; the idea is to take an organized approach to contributing.
"What is important is not to look just at what you give in money, but what board you sit on, what you sponsor, and make sure that the outreach is aligned with the business," says Flynn.
Fifty-eight percent of the survey's respondents said they receive up to 300 requests a year for charitable donations; 37 percent receive between 300 and 600 a year. Seventy percent said they give to between one and 100 organizations each year.
"It is vital to have a strategy for giving in order to eliminate requests and to say no to ones that are not aligned with the company," says Brown.
Fifty percent of respondents said the focus for community giving is "tied in to our mission." "By priority" and as a result of "employee involvement" were some of the other approaches.
When asked what areas businesses focus on, respondents cited education first, followed by community and economic development, human services and youth. That mirrors national averages -- roughly three-fourths of public support money goes to three types of nonprofits: 29 percent to human services, 26 percent to education and 21 percent to health issues.
Regardless of the issue, Cleveland has been quick to respond to the needs of the community. Brown and Flynn attribute that generosity in part to an overwhelming feeling of corporate responsibility in Northeast Ohio.
But with corporate responsibility comes a new focus on accountability, which affects not only corporate giving, but also the way nonprofits are approaching businesses for donations.
"There are less resources out there, forcing the nonprofits to think about who they approach and be more thoughtful," says Flynn.
And accountability is becoming more of an issue with corporate philanthropy and giving in general. More donors are expecting to see a return on investment in philanthropy, much like they do in business.
In this new atmosphere, there has been a change not only in the way nonprofits conduct programs but in the way foundations, businesses and individuals support them.
Take, for example, Cleveland Social Venture Partners (CSVP), which acts as venture capitalism for nonprofits, investing in them the same way venture capitalists invest in start-up companies.
"We have 19 partners to date," says Brad Neary, one of the founding members and soon to be former director of leadership development at TRW. "We come together first with our wallets -- and that is a requirement of $10,000 over two years ... and then we set out to find a nonprofit."
The group recently went through a rigorous process to choose an organization to work with and decided on Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU). From there began a commitment to closely work with the organization.
"We lend our expertise and time, we assist them in building. We do not support programs, we support capacity building," says Neary. "We're not taking over, but working in partnership with the board."
CSVP members come from all walks of corporate life and include lawyers, financial experts and professionals with other skills. They use their expertise to help the business side of YOU.
"The organization is not just looking to get money," Neary says. "They need time and talent, and it takes several hours a week to do this."
Neary says CSVP is different because the partners feel directly responsible for the nonprofits they help. It's about accountability on both sides, working together to create a better infrastructure.
It may not be for everyone, but entrepreneurial types who like building something from the ground up would have it no other way.
"I write a check pledge to the United Way, but I'm not always sure where that money is going," says Neary. "I'm supporting programming with United Way, but here I'm supporting internal capacity."
According to Neary, "it takes dedicated and passionate people to make it happen." And it seems that Cleveland has its share of those people.
In the end, everyone says the same thing about their giving experiences: "I get back as much as I put in, and sometimes more."
"We should be proud of the history of giving here in Cleveland," says Neary. "There is a lot of concern about the city and where it is going. There is a new generation of philanthropic people and organizations that are not going to let that history go."
Or as Flynn says, "It's a very giving community, and I'm proud to call it home." How to reach: BrownFlynn Communications, (440) 484-0100; Cleveland Social Venture Partners, (216) 231-2300.
There's really nothing good about a huge landfill of used tires. Besides being unattractive, pollutant-leeching brownfield sites, landfills have been accused of being the breeding grounds for West Nile virus-infected mosquitoes.
The majority of discarded tires in the United States become a fuel expedient, which means burning rubber with coal as an accelerant that pollutes the air. But recently, some innovative companies have found new and less toxic ways to use old tires.
GroundScape Technologies is one of those. The business uses discarded tires to create landscaping and safety substances. It was the innovative idea of the four original partners, including Eric Senders, the company's COO.
"From our perspective, there were a lot of positives," says Senders, "taking a problem and turning it into a good, safe product."
But it wasn't as easy as just coming up with a good idea for old tires.
"No one has been able to successfully and permanently color vulcanized rubber," he says. "Many big companies have tried and not been successful."
Enter Gerald Coffey, an ex-BP scientist whom Senders and his co-founders met at a tradeshow.
"He was really antsy to do something after BP had been bought out ... He has a Ph.D. from Purdue, 41 patents, he's in the Inventor's Hall of Fame," say Senders.
They invited Coffey to the office and were bowled over, says Senders.
"He comes to the office and starts drawing molecular chains on a whiteboard," he says.
A little over a year later, and with a much less high-tech lab than the one at BP, Coffey came up with a new rubber-based substance that was durable but forgiving and could be manufactured in a number of colors.
So far, the main focus of the company's new technology is on ground surfaces for school, municipal and home playgrounds.
"We are creating a landscape border that is lightweight and safe and that meets a heavy impact criteria," Senders says.
According to Senders, the last survey of the Consumer Product Safety Commission said that 92 percent of playgrounds are not safe. That gave gave the group the idea to go after that market.
"It was really a decision borne out of economics," says Senders. "The playground safety industry is much easier to penetrate because there is an immediate need for it."
The company has seen impressive growth even in the last two difficult years."While no business is recession-proof, I think that safety is always an issue," says Senders. "A big growth area in construction is the building of new schools." How to reach: GroundScape Technologies, (216) 749-7575 or www.groundscapetech.com
At first glance, what is most impressive about the National Association of Letter Carriers' (NALC) Stamp Out Hunger food drive is the sheer enormity of the amount of food collected in one day.
In less than 10 hours in 1999, the Cleveland NALC --in conjunction with the United States Postal Service -- collected a record 481,267 pounds of food for local food centers and shelters. That is the largest one-day food drive in Cleveland's history.
The 2000 campaign was also impressive, with 427,044 pounds collected in Cleveland and 64.2 million pounds collected nationwide.
But it isn't just the amount of food collected and distributed, or the fact that Cleveland ranks in the top 25 cities in the nation and has been first in Ohio for four years, that makes the group unique. It's the commitment. For the NALC to be able to collect more than 400,000 pounds of food in one day, it needs volunteers, and a lot of them.
The 2000 Stamp Out Hunger campaign brought together 2,023 letter carriers and 547 of their family members, and 73 members of the U.S.P.S. management, 613 clerks and 2,916 food pantry and shelter personnel, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, National Guard, senior groups, church groups, county employees and others to make up the 6,202 volunteers working that day.
The 2,023 letter carriers constitutes 100 percent participation on the part of local carriers.
Just in case you're not impressed yet, think of it this way: In one day, the "letter carriers double and triple their workloads," says letter carrier Richard Bilski, Food Drive coordinator.
The volunteers have been known to work 12- and 14-hour days to finish their route, pick up the food and deliver it to the recipients. The estimated dollar value, including labor, supplies, transportation and the food itself, is $1.6 million.
Not bad for one day of work, especially when you consider that this one-day food drive assists in keeping the doors open to 90 local food banks and shelters over the high traffic summer months. Organizations including Meals on Wheels, St. Augustine Services, Hunger Network, Harvest for Hunger and Catholic Charities receive canned and nonperishable items that feed some of the estimated 95,000 Greater Clevelanders who go hungry every year.
According to Bilski, "All time, labor, coordinating, pick-up, transportation and delivery of the collected food donations is volunteered by the NALC."
But, he is quick to note that none of this could happen if there weren't a huge amount of community cooperation.
"We have a lot of pride, a lot of community involvement, and we have good leadership," he says.
The NALC gets the word out well in advance of the food drive. About 95 million postcards are sent to area postal customers, informing them about how the drive works. This targeted approach has helped the program achieve a nationwide increase of more than 50 million pounds since the first food drive in 1991.
Bilski says the motivation to increase the collection every year comes in part from the letter carriers' commitment.
"The letter carriers are out there," he says. "They see the need. They see the homeless and it touches them and motivates them and all of that comes into play."
When the letter carriers are not preparing or executing the awesome task of collecting close to half a million pounds of food, Bilski and his co-workers busy themselves with raising funds and creating awareness for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). Throughout the year, they volunteer their time to deliver care packages to children attending MDA Summer Camp, recruit teams for the MDA annual golf outing and volunteer for the annual Labor Day Telethon. They also work with the United Way, conduct blood drives and work with local orphanages.
The commitment to helping others doesn't end after one day. It's a yearlong job for Bilski and his co-workers. And, he claims, he is never short of volunteers.
"I can get help at the drop of a hat," he says.
He says his co-workers feel fortunate to have what they do.
"We try to share what we have with the less fortunate," he says. How to reach: NALC, (216) 241-4035 or (216) 443-4130
Kim Palmer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor at SBN.
Just schedule a large number of medical staff with different tasks and team requirements, sometimes for continuous 24-hour shifts, with specific rotation rules. Include with that first and second on-call shifts and expertise groups, the normal vacation and off-requests -- all the while being sensitive to overscheduling and back-to-back shifts.
In truth, it sounds like a nightmare. And it's the type of nightmare doctors, nurses and office managers, who spend an estimated 40 hours a month with just initial scheduling, must deal with on a regular basis.
Enter Doctors On-Call Schedule (DOCS), a customized Web-enabled medical scheduling program that not only designs schedules for the needs and constraints of medical staffing, but considers work history and equalizes the number of shifts each staff member works. DOCS, claims its developer, has the ability to reduce scheduling costs by 80 percent, or $250,000 annually at a 1,000-bed hospital.
DOCS is the brain child of Don Scipione, president of Acme Express Inc., a Cleveland application software development company. Acme has developed accounting, truck routing and scheduling software that solves complex combination problems. Scipione got the idea to apply his logistical programming skills to medical scheduling after talking to his brother, an anesthesiologist in Tucson, Ariz.
"Medical staff scheduling is the most complex type, because of the various kinds of constraints," he says.
Although the initial programming for DOCS was accomplished in less than a year, Scipione went through three National Institutes of Health Small Business Innovation proposals and one government shutdown before he received funding to complete the first phase of the project. After a feasibility study at University Hospitals, DOCS can boast it is being used for scheduling in 40 practices and hospitals. Not bad when you consider Scipione has only been advertising it through a Web site.
So how does the software work? Easy, Scipione says.
"(The) accounting framework is combined with an optimization procedure that attempts to finds a schedule for which all of the accounts are simultaneously in balance. This is done by searching for a schedule which minimizes an objective function, defined as the sum over all individual accounts ... of the magnitudes of the individual account balances, divided by the number of accounts."
If the solution sounds as complicated as the problem, it's because mathematically, it is.
Scipione, originally an elementary particle physicist, developed this software incorporating a two-stage algorithm function using something called the Monte-Carlo shuffling process. It's the Monte-Carlo shuffling that makes DOCS more than just a scheduling database.
In layman's terms, the idea is this: DOCS first takes all of the pertinent information needed to schedule --the number of shifts, who is qualified to work the shifts, vacations and time off -- then calculates the original schedule. In the second round, the software accounts for the number of shifts each staff member has worked and reconfigures (shuffles) the schedule to distribute the shifts fairly -- hence the term Monte-Carlo shuffling.
The goal is to have the most equitable schedule possible with the fewest number of scheduling errors.
Another unique aspect of the DOCS software is the fact that it is Web enabled. First, this means no on-site set-up. DOCS works within a Microsoft platform, and all a user needs is a browser and Excel software. Clients dial up to the DOCS site and work off of an off-site server.
It also means no on-site upgrades. DOCS users aren't bogged down with disks and lengthy hard copy manuals, and they aren't at the mercy of their IT person to load the software. All revisions, upgrades and corrections are done at Acme.
That's one of the factors that drew Dr. Jane Findlater, program medical director at Region Three Hospital Corp. in Fredrickstown, New Brunswick, Canada, to Scipione's DOCS software.
Findlater explains, "The Web application is easier. When there is a problem, they can see what you are seeing and if you're stuck, they can help."
There is also a mobility factor. Because the application and data are accessible through the Internet, users can log on from anywhere and work on their schedules. Eventually, schedules will be able to be downloaded to handheld computers like the Palm Pilot.
Dr. Mark Nawrocki, director of obstetrics anesthesiology at University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center, logs onto the DOCS server at home because "all my work is done at home. My computer at work is not adequate."
Not only can Web-enabled software be updated and corrected faster and easier, but everything the user does can be tracked.
"Part of infrastructure of the Internet is that we can track use and build the software to the user's need," says Scipione.
This allows Scipione to thoroughly analyze the software and its functions while it remains in a virtual environment.
Perhaps the irony of the situation is that the problem is complex, the technology is complicated, but the results are all about simplification. Nawrocki explains, "The flexibility translates into a lifestyle. It's about controlling the job instead of vice versa."
With all the mathematics and technology DOCS uses, the end result is that the scheduler and the schedulees can free themselves from what used to be a completely inflexible work schedule.
"In the old days, you could only trade shifts with one or two people," Nawrocki says. "You felt like you were tied to the job."
And what about other applications? Scipione predicts his software can be used in a variety of other occupations with scheduling issues similar to the medical profession. Nawrocki agrees, though the first extra application he sees is one that has nothing to do with his job.
"I've been toying with the idea of using it (DOCS) for my son's hockey team, to help schedule the ice time," he says. How to reach: Acme Express Inc, (216) 391-7400 or www.acmex.com
Kim Palmer is associate editor at SBN.