SBN Staff

Thursday, 30 June 2011 20:37

Growth track

When C. Allen Bradley Jr. joined Amerisafe Inc. in 1994, he brought with him a strong legal background, an attention to detail and an understanding of the intricacies of insurance regulation and claims.

In other words, he was prepared for the challenge of managing the company’s contrarian business model, which involves taking on accounts that its competitors avoid. So when Amerisafe hit a period of crisis a few years later, it was Bradley who rose quickly through the management ranks to lead the company’s survival.

In 2001, Amerisafe became embroiled in a major lawsuit with reinsurers and its principal rating agency. The suit make-or-break for the company, and as CEO, Bradley oversaw Amerisafe’s re-entrenchment strategy, which included difficult and complex changes such as a reduction in the work force, withdrawal from unprofitable markets and a rewrite of the company’s book of business.

In addition, Bradley recognized that taking Amerisafe public was critical to keeping the company on track for long-term growth. So while leading his team through the process of re-entrenchment, he also had to keep the company at an A- Best rating to support a successful initial public offering. By executing the offering successfully, Amerisafe became a public company in 2005.

Bradley’s leadership in launching the company in a new direction positioned Amerisafe for increased capital and resources, improved technology and a reputable distribution network. Since restoring Amerisafe to profitability, he’s continued to look for opportunities to expand, emphasizing the application of technology to support its strategy of risk differentiation.

As a result, Amerisafe has achieved significant growth, becoming the leading monoline workers’ compensation carrier in the U.S. In 2009 and 2010, Amerisafe was ranked as one of the top 50 performing property and casualty insurance companies in the country by Ward’s Financial.

How to reach: Amerisafe Inc., (337) 463-9052 or

Thursday, 30 June 2011 20:01

Ready for action

Kirk Headley is always preparing for disaster. As president of American Pollution Control Corp. (Ampol), being ready when opportunity strikes has been the key to success for his environmental business venture.

When Headley was hired to launch Ampol as a part of American Oilfield Divers (AOD) in 1993, he was charged with hiring the initial employees and purchasing  equipment. Though Ampol was awarded its first contract soon after, the company was left adrift when AOD’s new president and CEO chose to sell it off.

Although it was a risk, Headley decided to take control of Ampol himself and oversee its day-to-day management. He believed that by returning all profits to invest in the company’s environmental capabilities, such as acquiring two 110-foot utility vessels, the company could differentiate itself from its competitors and excel. With the vessels, Ampol became the only privately held company with assets to compete offshore. During this time, its response to environmental disasters such as hurricanes Katrina and Rita set Ampol on course to generate increased revenue.

By preparing employees proactively for disaster scenarios, Headley ensures Ampol can respond quickly and effectively to unique crises. When other companies declined to respond to the anthrax attack in Washington, D.C., in 2001, Headley’s company was able to handle the dangerous job. In three years, the company completed the cleanup with zero accidents and injuries.

Because of its knowledgeable and skilled teams, Ampol was also ready when the BP oil spill occurred in 2010 and brought in revenue of more that $120 million for its services.

Headley continues to invest Ampol’s time and resources in developing new technology for its clients, including oil spill clean-up technologies and adding new green services and products.

How to reach: American Pollution Control Corp., (337) 365-7847 or

Thursday, 30 June 2011 20:38

Get with the program

Before he started his career in technology, Rick Pleczko taught himself computer programming at night.

In the years he spent working at technology companies in various jobs, he learned the skills that would be invaluable in launching his own systems management software company, BBS Technologies. Since founding the company in 2004, Pleczko has served as its chairman, president and CEO.

Pleczko first recognized the opportunity to launch BBS in 2003, when he saw the challenges that many IT organizations faced in acquiring and deploying systems management software, which was expensive and complex technology. These organizations were spending millions of dollars to install, configure and deploy software, but Pleczko believed he could create a new generation of software to make it easier and faster to solve the same customer issues.

With this vision, Pleczko left his well-paying job at a software company and founded BBS with a staff of five, one product and a few initial customers. He also personally funded the seed money to get the business off the ground. That meant that BBS not only face the challenge of building products that could be deployed and operating in minutes but could also manage thousands of servers, he also had to find a way to raise capital. Yet with the drive of a talented team, BBS has overcome these obstacles and developed leading technologies in its industry. Today, the company employs hundreds of people and has grown from offering one product to dozens for its 9,000 customers.

As a hands-on CEO, Pleczko, also used his versatile IT background to leverage BBS’s risk-taking approach by taking advantage of the economic downturn to invest in new product development. Pleczko’s strategy paid off in positioning the company for the upturn, and in 2010, BBS posted record revenue.

How to reach: BBS Technologies, (713) 862-5250 or

(Reuters) - Diversified U.S. manufacturer Honeywell International Inc. is to buy EMS Technologies Inc for about $506 million to boost its presence in the mobile and satellite communication market.

Honeywell offered $33 a share for EMS, a wireless communications products maker, representing a premium of 33 percent to EMS' last closing price.

In May, Reuters had reported that EMS has drawn initial interest from companies that include Comtech Telecommunications Corp and Honeywell.

Honeywell said the deal would reduce 2011 earnings by 3-4 cents a share, but would add to profit in the next fiscal year.

(Reuters) ? Perkins & Marie Callender's Inc, owner of the Perkins and Marie Callender's restaurant chains, filed for bankruptcy in a Delaware court on Monday, citing a slump in sales due to weak economic environment in its primary markets.

Perkins & Marie Callender's, which is owned by New York-based investment firm Castle Harlan Inc, said in its filing it witnessed a sharp decline in restaurant sales in the Midwest, Florida and Pennsylvania, where it primarily runs its restaurants.

High unemployment and foreclosure rates in Florida and California led to a decrease in discretionary income for many historically loyal customers, resulting in a decline in customer traffic, the Memphis, Tennessee-based company said.

The company listed total assets at $290 million and liabilities at $440.8 million in its Chapter 11 petition. Eleven of its affiliates were included in the bankruptcy filing.

Perkins, which was formerly known as The Restaurant Company, operates or franchises around 600 restaurants in the United States, Canada and Mexico, court papers show.

The company was formed after the Perkins Restaurant & Bakery chain was merged with Marie Callender's Restaurant and Bakery in 2006.

Kocon Masonry & Design specializes in the design and installation of professional, creative masonry solutions for residential and commercial properties in the Cleveland metropolitan area.

For more than 12 years, the artisans at Kocon Masonry & Design have been providing the following customized solutions:

  • Brick and stone veneers for custom homes
  • Outdoor kitchens
  • Outdoor fireplaces
  • Patios
  • Porches
  • Retaining walls and foundations
  • Stone, brick and paver pathways
  • Custom mailboxes
  • Archways
  • Chimneys

Kocon Masonry & Design also can provide professional masonry repair services.

"The work done by Kocon Design exceeded my expectations. It has increased the use and enjoyment of our yard, along with the value of our home," says satisfied customer Kelly Lupica.

Adding a professionally designed and installed outdoor fireplace, kitchen or patio not only adds to the aesthetics of your property, but more importantly, it adds to the value of your property! And, brick and stone is virtually maintenance free.

Also, masonry products are considered “green” and are recognized by government programs as a contributor to green building status, potentially qualifying the homeowner/property owner for certain incentive programs.

Please contact Kocon Masonry & Design today for a complimentary visit to review your masonry project and/or repair work at (216) 978-9641.

Jessica Lagatare, Operations Coordinator, and Christopher Bloomer, Territory Account Manager, of Aventis Systems discuss refurbished IT equipment and how it can save your business time and money, all while maintaining the same level of productivity that new equipment allows.

This video was filmed at the Aventis Systems warehouse in Marietta, Georgia.

For more information on Aventis Systems, visit or call 1-866-528-9313.

Jessica Lagatare is the Operations Coordinator for Aventis Systems, Inc. Reach her at

Christopher Bloomer is a Territory Account Manager for Aventis Systems, Inc. Reach him at

Tuesday, 31 May 2011 20:01

For the long term

It was a warm August day last year when the chilled water system at Cuyahoga Community College’s Metro Campus burst. The plant operations director called it catastrophic. A call was made at 7 a.m. to The Brewer-Garrett Co., who maintained the facilities with Tri-C. By 7:30 a.m., pipefitters and supervisors were on the job. A second crew was called to simultaneously drain a different part of the system. Both stayed on location until the repairs were finished.

Such response and commitment is an indication of how customer service is foremost at the company, which specializes in engineering, design, installation and service for educational, governmental, commercial and industrial clients.

CEO Louis Joseph and associates show pride in the number of multiple projects completed for many long-term customers. The clients value proven performance. Three public-sector clients have won the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Energy Efficiency, another example of Brewer-Garrett’s customer service competitive advantage.

Most new employees are hired through professional recruiters, who have been educated about the company culture. After the first interview, candidates are tested for intellectual aptitude and customer service orientation. The final interview is with the CEO. Once hired, the employee receives core orientation and training and “The Art of Service” training.

Since Brewer-Garrett often touches many different people in an organization, the company’s objective is to ensure that everyone is satisfied with the work done. The goal is to have customers want to work with the company, rather than having to work with the company just because they have a contract or their boss directed them to do so.

Feedback from Customer Assurance Review and Evaluation, or CARE, surveys is key to the organization as not only a measure of satisfaction and to address immediate needs but as a way to prepare for the needs and challenges clients will experience in the future.

How to reach: The Brewer-Garrett Co., (440) 243-3535 or

Business succession planning is all about getting your “ducks in a row.” There are numerous things to consider in continuity planning, and my objective is to explore several non-financial issues. So, my context is: before you go and expand either through organic or non-organic (merger or acquisition) growth, is your company’s foundation/model finalized and clearly communicable to others?

Does your business and personal financial plan address what is needed as the foundation within your current company structure to create a successful business growth and continuation plan? After all, the marketing plan and business plan must stand on its own after you leave the business.

Is your succession team assembled, and are the “heirs” apparent to your employees prior to your exit? Be clear as to what has to be communicated and clarified before you leave the company. Ideally, get input from all of your employees if it’s physically possible to do so. Change often triggers fear in most people, so how can you assist your employees in embracing and adapting to change? Consider having your Human Resources professional interview each employee and/or stakeholder to ascertain what things need to be done to improve your company efficiencies. How do they rate the customer/client relationship from their perspective? Are they being heard as employees, and are their questions being answered consistently by all parties? Expand on the process of communication with partners, key employees, and rank and file. The uncertainty of the marketplace makes employees more suspicious when change is not explicitly explained. They may be excited about your retirement, but they are very interested in their job security.

Create a definitive communication plan that identifies everyone’s role in the continuation of the business. Then develop your personal plan for getting back to manifesting your life’s purpose in non-business ways. As you exit the company, how does your business and personal financial plan perpetuate your life’s purpose? What efforts have you made to create the synergy with the next management team to blend both cultures into one compatible emerging culture? Your departing role is to “pass the baton” both professionally and culturally.

As you remind yourself of that third question…What dreams will be left unfulfilled? What do I wish I had finished or done? What did I miss?

What steps should be taken to make the transfer of your life’s work-purpose happen? How do you put more purpose into your retirement, rather than only filling retirement with things to do? Can we blend your continuation plan with the points we discussed in previous articles about philanthropy and making the world a better place?

You may consider continuing as a mentor to your company as part of the purchase agreement. Many people consider teaching their successors as a way to achieve significance, whether their purchase agreement requires their presence or not. If your mentoring to the business is not needed, how do you take that wealth of knowledge and experience and transfer it to others to help future generations?

Many business owners have made their businesses the focal point of their lives. Now as they exit, they begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. Rather than lament the fact that your business career is over, you have the opportunity now to explore substitutes for your business to fulfill your life’s purpose. You may be best served volunteering to an entrepreneur organization, to serve as either a committee person or serve on its board. Mentoring other aspiring entrepreneurs will keep you sharp/vibrant and involved during the “golden years” of retirement.

If you adhere to the Sanskrit principle of “seva,” selfless service to others, what activity will give you similar joy that your business did, while making a greater contribution to humanity and community?

When retirees are asked what they will do for the rest of their lives, they give several responses: play golf every day, travel, move close to their children and grandchildren, and the list goes on.

How can we harness your enormous talent without depriving you of experiencing those initial responses? As you look around your city and community, would volunteering on a project to revitalize the city, the community, or the educational system fit into your life’s purpose definition of the transition from success to significance? Without neglecting all of the great causes in the world, could you make an impact on children, who may be influenced by you to seek a career in entrepreneurship, to eventually be an employer to create more jobs and so on? Isn’t that one definition of “paying it forward?” Could that be one path on your journey toward significance?

Robert A. Valente, CFP®, AEP®, CEO and Managing Member of RAV Financial Services LLC, can be reached at

The employer-sponsored wellness programs of today are designed to offer companies the ability to impact the overall health of their employees and, in turn, improve moral, decrease absenteeism and presenteeism, lower medical costs, and lower disability and workers’ compensation claims.

“Unfortunately, most of these programs are not set up to measure effectiveness, or return on investment,” says JP Pressley, vice president at USI. “Innovative companies are beginning to incorporate their wellness programs into a robust population health management program to better manage health care cost increases.”

Smart Business spoke to Pressley about what population health management (PHM) means to employers and what they can do to get a better return on investment for their wellness efforts.

What is population health management?

A typical PHM program may identify several areas of focus, and work to implement two or three strategies annually. The goal of these programs is to:

? Keep healthy employees healthy

? Effectively manage the expenses of employees with chronic conditions, while providing exceptional care

? Motivate at-risk employees into the health population, as compared to letting them slip into the chronic category

Typically, these programs are broken into different strategies — retrospective, prospective and motivational.

Retrospective strategies are focused on treating conditions that currently exist. These include large claims interventions, disease management and prescription assessment. When health care providers, prescription vendors and insurance payers are connected effectively with these strategies, it can generate claims savings in excess of 10 percent.

Prospective strategies focus on keeping current healthy employees healthy and preventing any at-risk conditions from becoming chronic. Tools such as predictive modeling, health risk assessments, biometric data collection and metabolic syndrome identification allow a company to set a baseline. Since it is impossible to save money on conditions that did not occur, the year-over-year comparison validates the resources dedicated.

Motivational strategies allow a company to choose a carrot-or-stick methodology to encourage employees into a healthier lifestyle. Mandatory participation in wellness programs and evidence-based plan designs set an incentive for good behavior. Non-participating employees can actually be charged a higher premium rate on their employee benefits, and can fund a significant portion of a company’s wellness programs.

With an integrated PHM component, companies can pick from a menu of programs that are run similar to any other business endeavor that include implementation timelines, desired outcomes and an expected ROI.

What kind of cost increases do companies face if nothing is done?

Let’s assume there is a mythical 200-employee company named High Flyer, Inc. High Flyer has a production revenue of $50 million with a 10 percent profit margin in 2011. High Flyer also has an annual benefit spend of $1.6 million and an annual payroll of $15 million in 2011. Wall Street wants High Flyer to obtain a growth rate of 8 percent. Benefits will continue to increase at a rate of 15 percent annually, and the company will provide an annual pay increase of 4.5 percent. Left unchecked, this company will pay $1.6 million in 2016 and $3.2 million in 2021 for its employee benefits program. As a percentage of payroll, benefits will have grown from just over 10 percent in 2011 to just under 28 percent in 2021, and profits will have been eroded an additional 20 percent. This is an aggregate loss in revenue in excess of $21 million over 10 years from this company’s 2011 cost of providing benefits.

The unfortunate fact is that most companies will not be nearly as consistent as High Flyer over the next 10 years. At some point in time, High Flyer will decide it is not in business just to pay for employee benefits and will either cease providing benefits, or the cost of providing benefits may become too burdensome for the company to exist.

How can a PHM program help?

Benefit increases for a 200-employee company are driven primarily by that company’s experience or loss ratio. Unfortunately, many companies of this size do not participate in their experience, or are pooled with other companies by the insurance companies, and do not receive any material information about the loss ratio of their plan. As companies begin to break out of these pools and engage in participating funding insurance policies, managing their health care spend will become an ever-increasing priority.

It is estimated that at least one-third of the $1 trillion annual spend on chronic conditions is spent just to treat seven of the most common diseases (cancer, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, pulmonary conditions and mental illness). A well-designed PHM program will allow a company to control the amount that is spent to treat employees with chronic diseases.

How much control do businesses really have over rising health care costs?

As insurance premiums continue to rise, the pool of insured companies falls into two unique entities heading in opposite directions: 1) Companies that take an active roll in their employees’ well-being and positioning themselves with insurance companies who reward their better-than-average claims utilizations, and 2) companies who assume that there is nothing to be done about the increasing cost of medical care and take their pooled increases on blind faith. The proactive companies will drive average annual increases in the low single digits, while the others will be taking on higher than ever increases.

Bottom line: Talk with your benefit consultant about how implementing a PHM program could ensure that your company is heading toward fiscal responsibility in your employee benefits offering.

JP Pressley is vice president at USI in Walnut Creek. Reach him at (925) 472-6770 or