Joan Wall

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:46

Taking business into account

Michael Neal, president of MAPSYS Inc., has been using Commerce National Bank for more than four years, yet he’s only stepped foot in its North Columbus office once.

That’s not because he uses the drive-through; the bank doesn’t have one. And it’s not because he banks at another branch — Commerce doesn’t have any of those, either. In fact, the bank’s office, in a building at 100 E. Wilson Bridge Road, has no sign outside.

How, then, has Commerce become a bank with $200 million in assets in little more than eight years? And how does Neal, who is fairly typical of most of the bank’s clients, conduct the almost daily transactions he needs to keep his computer services consulting business running?

It’s all about specialized customer service and a narrowly defined niche. Commerce only accepts privately owned, business-to-business companies and owners as customers.

Admittedly, Neal was leery about using the bank for his $15 million business because the bank was so small — with only about 400 customers.

It took Commerce president and founder Tom McAuliffe repeated calls to Neal for more than a year to convince him to become a customer. One of those calls came on a day when Neal was frustrated with his own bank, so he decided to switch. Now, not only does he conduct all of his company’s banking with Commerce, but Neal has personal loans there, too.

“There’s only two commodities in this world: money and time,” Neal says. “They’re helping me make a little bit of money, and they’re saving me time.”

Take, for example, the bank’s courier service, which Neal uses at least three times a week.

“In a small business, having someone go to the bank every day is just one more thing to do,” says McAuliffe.

The bank spends about $100,000 a year using its own couriers to pick up deposits from its customers, about half of whom use this service. The expense is worthwhile, McAuliffe says, considering the alternative: The bank would have to spend $1 million to build a new branch in another location.

Some of the bank’s other offerings:

Personalized attention. Every day, Joe Smith, owner of H&S Forest Products Inc., a nearly $35 million wooden pallet wholesaler in North Columbus, receives from Commerce a fax of his account’s canceled checks and an itemized statement.

“The main thing in business anymore is communication,” Smith says.

In addition, Smith says, the bank offers services — such as direct deposit for customer payments — to allow him to better run his business.

“This way, rather than the checks coming to us and [us] stamping them and processing them and it takes a day or two, it just goes directly to the bank,” he says.

Business information. Approximately 100 customers have requested a daily fax of business-related news. Commerce National Bank pays 25 cents a day for each customer to have this service. In addition, McAuliffe includes a bimonthly newsletter in each customer’s statement with information about the bank and business. McAuliffe also hosts educational events for clients on topics such as how to develop an advisory board.

Technology. Commerce provides customer account statements on compact disc with images of canceled checks, as well as software that allows customers to use their PCs to retrieve balances, review account activity and initiate transfers between accounts.

From Neal’s perspective, Commerce National Bank’s customer service gives him advantages he’s been unable to find at bigger banks.

“I believe I have a personal contact where I can call somebody and they know who I am and they can take action without me telling my story over and over again,” Neal says. “The second thing they do, which I really like, is they try to be aggressive in making transactions get completed with minimum time on my part. The third area is they try to give creative ideas that might save me money or help me do something more efficiently without me asking them.

“The truth of the matter is, [McAuliffe] does everything anybody else can do,” Neal says, referring to services all banks offer. “He just comes out and tells you how to use it.”

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:45

One less headache

When executives at HMS Partners Advertising wanted to construct offices in a new building downtown, they hired an architect, a construction manager and a policeman.

Well, not really a man of the law, but rather, an owner’s representative — someone with architecture and construction experience who could act as an advocate for HMS.

Alan Moser, executive vice president of HMS Partners, says Ron Kyser, president of R.C. Kyser & Associates Inc., policed the budget and scheduling for the $850,000 project.

“He was an objective point of view,” Moser says of Kyser, who has more than 25 years experience in construction management. “There is a tendency for individuals building a home, just like a business building, to think you’re being ripped off on every turn. You need someone to tell you, ‘This one’s fair, and this one’s not.’”

Any construction project, Kyser explains, involves a triangle of people: the building owner, the architect or engineer and the contractor.

“In that triad, the contractor and architect/engineer are very familiar with construction,” Kyser says. “The fellow that doesn’t know anything about construction for the most part is the owner, and the owner is the one who pays the bills.”

His role, he says, is to provide the owner with equal footing during negotiations, bidding and construction.

Moser points out that someone at HMS could have coordinated the project but might have created adversarial situations where none existed. That person also would have had to do a great deal of homework to understand the entire process first.

The HMS project was particularly difficult, Kyser says, because the company’s old lease was expiring, but the new building wasn’t quite ready for renovations. The six- or seven-month job to convert the new HMS space on Civic Center Drive ended up being compressed into five months.

“Initially, Ron was HMS as far as our direct dealings,” says Gary Rutledge, director of business development at Bovis Construction Corp., the project’s construction manager.

Use of an owner’s representative, Rutledge says, provides a comfort level the client may need depending on his or her sophistication and availability of in-house staff. Kyser says his fees vary, because he charges based on the time he’s involved in the project. However, some estimating manuals advise an owner’s representative fee should not exceed 1 to 2 percent of the construction cost — or less for projects larger than $10 million, he adds.

Rutledge stresses that any successful construction project will involve parties communicating their needs and desires in a direct fashion as soon as issues come up.

“It’s better for everyone if it becomes a team development and open communication of, ‘I don’t understand that; can you please take the time to walk me through in better detail what it is this is all about?’” Rutledge says. “On the other side, people who do this day in and day out use terminology and quickly go through things. They forget not everybody is at their level of understanding.”

“It’s a combination of the contractor, construction manager and designer working in harmony to the benefit of the client to reach their objectives and manage their budget in the timeframe they need to,” says Ed Hoffert, director of interior design at URS Greiner Woodward Clyde, the HMS project architect. “If the owner can put together that kind of a harmonious team, everybody’s the winner.”

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:44

Staying on top

A year after taking office as director of the Ohio Department of Development, C. Lee Johnson is watching the state in what he calls “the longest boom since the one right after the second World War.”

He attributes the state’s strong economy to its manufacturing industry, which employs 18 percent of Ohio’s work force and accounts for about 20 percent of the state’s gross economy, as well as to its technology segment, which he says is stronger than most people believe.

Obviously, Johnson’s not worried about the state today. He is concerned, however, about tomorrow.

“Having come from 40 years in business, I feel getting to the top is really not the issue,” Johnson says. “It’s how do you stay on top, and that’s where we are.”

The biggest challenge the state faces, he says, is work force development. Studies show Ohio’s population will remain relatively flat over the next decade, he says, and the 65-and-older age group will grow the fastest.

The real issue of work force development is not so much the number of jobs, he says; it is the quality of jobs available.

“Are we going to have jobs to not only help the citizens of the state improve their standard of living but also their quality of life?” he asks, adding the state must work to improve education and skill levels to allow job seekers to fill quality positions.

Another challenge: creating an environment conducive to the fastest growing business sectors in the state — service level jobs and small businesses.

Several initiatives, Johnson says, already have begun to address these issues.

Emphasizing the Ohio Industrial Training Program.

The state needs to work on the interface between educational systems and businesses that need skilled workers, Johnson says.

“Education needs to know what kinds of skills are being demanded” by businesses, he says.

The Ohio Industrial Training Program assists manufacturing and manufacturing-related industries by providing grants of up to 50 percent of training costs to companies. Training is generally provided by state vocational schools, technical colleges or universities.

In 1999, the program assisted 192 companies with more than $14 million in grants expected to create more than 7,800 jobs and retain 16,177 by offsetting the cost of training 35,247 employees. In 1998, the program awarded $9.9 million in grants to 148 businesses.

Improving conditions for small businesses.

Moves have been made to reduce the amount of paperwork and red tape for small business, Johnson says, and Gov. Bob Taft has made moves toward addressing small business issues by creating the Small Business Advisory Council. In addition, efforts must be made to have more seed capital funds available, Johnson notes.

“A few seed capital firms are beginning to develop in several regions around the state, but we don’t have near enough and we don’t market it well so small businesses know where to go,” he says.

Broadening the focus of work force development efforts.

The state, he says, tends to concentrate efforts in areas normally considered heavily populated because that’s where there are more businesses and a requirement for skills.

“Due to the fact there is not an increase in population and the older population is growing, every single citizen of this state is going to be important in keeping the economy of this state growing as fast as the economy of the United States is going to grow,” Johnson says.

That means the state needs to increase the skill and education levels of people in Appalachian and urban areas of the state, Johnson says. It can help do that by sending more development department employees to those areas.

“This will not only help the economy, but help a sector of society in this state who has needed it for a long time,” he says.

Johnson also heads the newly created Urban Revitalization Task Force, which is developing an agenda for rebuilding Ohio’s urban areas.

Taft echoed those concerns in his State of the State address in January, pledging to create an Office of Urban Development; call on Congress and the Appalachian Regional Commission to target more resources to distressed counties; and double current state funding for economic development in Appalachia.

To determine general needs around the state, Johnson has made a point of keeping in touch with development directors in its various regions. During his first six months in office, Johnson visited each of the state’s 12 economic development regions.

Columbus, for example, has a very strong economy and it’s one of the few areas in the state where both the city and the county have a AAA bond rating, which affords borrowers lower interest rates on debt and increases investor confidence.

“Columbus has built a foundation for their economy that is like a rocket ready to take off,” Johnson says, citing new development downtown and in the Easton area.

The Cleveland and Akron areas, he says, have a strong bond because of their work together on cooperation between universities and businesses.

“They have, I think, because of the number of universities — Case Western, Kent, the University of Akron — and locations like Cleveland Clinic, an opportunity for technological advancement probably better than any other in the state that I’ve seen,” he says.

In the southern region of Ohio, Cincinnati has made “lemonade out of lemons” by working with competing regions such as Kentucky and Indiana.

“Today there are no natural boundaries from my point of view in the economy,” Johnson says. “Their effort is clearly to help their businesses become more competitive.

“They’re thinking, not just about particular businesses themselves, but suppliers, supplier groups, and determining what it is they need.”

How to reach: Ohio Department of Development, (800) 848-1300, or www.odod.state.oh.us — choose “Resource Ohio” or “Fact Book” for business incentive and assistance programs.

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is an associate editor and statehouse correspondent for SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:44

Dazzle ’em!

Karan Froom is convinced now, but she couldn’t say the same when she first joined CoreComm as manager of customer operations training last April.

“I’m one of those big skeptics,” Froom admits. “When I came here and they said, ‘We dazzle our customers,’ I said, ‘Yeah, right.’”

Before long, however, Froom began seeing examples of the company’s customer service mantra at its offices in Worthington.

“One customer bought pizza two days in a row for our call center based on the representative he worked with,” Froom says. “That’s truly a dazzled customer.”

In another instance, a representative went above the call of duty when a customer called on a Saturday to report her voice mail was not working.

“Her husband was terminally ill and she didn’t want to leave the house because she was afraid to miss messages,” Froom says of the customer, who knew getting repairs on a Saturday might prove difficult. “This rep went out and bought an answering machine for the customer and dropped it off.”

Froom continues to see such examples since the company developed a training program she implements to make sure all employees understand the concept.

“As we figured out, in order to make it in the competitive world of local access and telecommunications, we really had to hang our hat on customer service — not ordinary customer service, but extraordinary customer service,” says Patty Flynt, CoreComm’s president.

Specifically, the company wanted employees to be able to “dazzle” customers.

“We realized what was missing from our training was the actual definition of ‘dazzle,’” Flynt says. “We realized we knew what it meant to dazzle a customer — or the management-type person did: When you hang up the phone, the customer is grinning.”

The problem: Did employees really understand what that meant?

Froom, along with two business analysts in the company and a trainer in CoreComm’s Chicago office, brainstormed the concept for the company’s training, which would focus on the four Cs of selecting a diamond: color, cut, clarity and carat.

Color is the flair and theatrics — the style — customer service representatives use when interacting with customers. Cut is how thoroughly and quickly the representative moves through the call. Clarity symbolizes the content of the call, or the knowledge and information shared. Carat denotes the results, or how the customer feels as a result of the call.

Training classes, then, emphasize those points and tell employees, for instance, how to interact with different types of people or how to handle various situations by using examples from employees’ experiences.

After seeing the success of the program, Flynt expanded it from customer operations throughout the entire company. Quality management principles have been added, and this year CoreComm implemented a program to reward employees for utilizing the training concepts and applying them to internal and external customer issues.

To make its internal training program work, CoreComm:

Chooses the right trainer.

“It’s important to get someone who actually has an education background or who has experience doing training,” Flynt says. “The temptation is to get someone who knows your subject matter best. Just because they have the knowledge doesn’t mean they have the ability to teach what they know.”

Before she started with CoreComm, Froom had 10 years experience in training at companies such as Cardinal Health and CompuServe.

Offers a well-rounded education.

CoreComm supplements inside training with outside expertise, Flynt says.

“We send people to various seminars that are targeted, maybe, toward the Internet or conflict in the workplace,” she says, adding that the company also brings experts in to provide training sometimes.

Recognizes employees’ learning styles.

“Some learn interactively, some via lecture, some by demonstrating — seeing is believing,” Flynt says.

Froom provides variation in her classes. She’ll allow group and individual participation, use an overhead projector to illustrate points and have employees work in pairs.

Monitors progress.

“We actually send a trainer in our sales organization out on sales calls to see how the associates perform,” Flynt says. “He gets introduced as another sales executive. He’ll listen. Then at lunch or in the car on the way back, he’ll give feedback.”

For customer service representatives answering telephone inquiries, employees have a four-week training class that’s a combination of in-classroom training and the opportunity to sit next to an experienced representative to hear the call and response. Then supervisors tape conversations of the new employees and sit down with them privately to coach them through what they’ve done right and what needs improvement.

Is responsive.

CoreComm adds topics to classes as employees bring up issues they do not understand. Responsiveness can also be as simple as altering the class: In the first “dazzle” classes, employees requested handouts, so sessions from that point on included information employees could take back to their desks for review.

Is patient.

As CoreComm grows, Flynt says, it continually faces the challenge of finding a balance between getting employees in the door and productive as quickly as possible vs. giving them enough time to be properly trained so they feel comfortable in their positions.

“We, from our experience, realize you cannot sit someone down for six weeks, do extensive training, then send them out to do a call. They forget what they learned in week one. You try to get them to a point where they can do the first level of the job, then layer the next thing on,” she says.

“I’m a believer that every person wants to come to work and do a good job,” Flynt says. “If they fail, maybe it’s because we haven’t given them the tools.”

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:43

Too many square pegs?

So, the interview went well. Your long-time employee seems willing and capable of the management promotion she’s seeking. She has, after all, been a model employee the past few years.

But will she really perform well — and be happy — in the departmental transfer?

As human resources manager at the Columbus Marriott Northwest at Tuttle Crossing, Deborah Carpenter has asked that question plenty of times.

She also knows the benefits of promoting from within the 185 employees at the hotel.

“It’s easier for us to take a person trained to our philosophies and our culture and move them to a different position than it is for us to take someone from outside that we don’t know anything about and make them a manager,” Carpenter says.

To take some of the guesswork out of deciding whether an employee promotion will be successful, Carpenter uses a tool called “The Prevue Assessment,” which she purchased through Raia & Associates Inc., a local human resources and management consulting company.

The tool, a product of Profiles International Inc., uses a series of questions to measure an employee’s skills and abilities, motivation and interest, and personality characteristics.

“One of the things I always tell companies when I go out and talk to them is, general abilities are why companies hire people. Motivation and personalities are why people quit,” says Kimberly Norton-Raia, president of Raia & Associates. “We know you can do the job; we need to know if you’re going to like to do the job. We hire for competency and we fire for fit.”

While the tool can be used for new hires, Carpenter finds it most beneficial for internal uses, including:

Promotions from within.

“If you have a current employee who wants to move into management or you have a manager who wants to move into another area, it’s a great tool to see if that’s a good fit,” Carpenter says. “In any hotel, different skills, knowledge and personality are needed for each area.”

She explains that individuals prefer to work with data, things or people — an aspect measured by the Prevue tool.

“If a person ranks low on the people end, we don’t want them as a guest service supervisor. They may enjoy it, but they’re never going to move forward like you want them to,” Carpenter says. “If someone is in accounting but they like working with people, we’re not utilizing them as well as we might.”

Norton-Raia explains that the assessment allows companies to see how existing employees match up with benchmarks of the ideal candidate. The benchmarks are set up using, for example, an outgoing successful employee or a range of top achievers in a company.

Benchmarks also can be tailored. If your long-time, excellent-working administrative assistant is moving to another city, his or her characteristics would be a benchmark. If you prefer the person to be more outgoing, you could add that as a benchmark. The assessment also develops questions for future interviews with the candidate based on his or her strengths and weaknesses.

Finally, the assessment gives a percentile rate of the fit for the employee to the position.

“We recommend 70 percent and above is a good match,” Norton-Raia says. “Unless there’s a perfect person, no one’s going to fit any job exactly. What we’re looking for is round pegs in round holes. Then what we like to do is show you how to tweak that person and make them a perfect fit.”

Career development.

Just because a good employee doesn’t fit the position exactly doesn’t mean he or she should not be promoted. The assessments show Carpenter areas where an employee needs improvement, and she can respond by sending the person to training, for example, or having them work more closely with their supervisor on particular details.

This way, Carpenter can work with employees to achieve their desired promotions.

She also can learn why a certain employee might not be happy in a given job.

Once she had a guest supervisor who wasn’t satisfied with the position.

“She did an OK job, but she never went to that next level. We looked at her Prevue, and she preferred to work with numbers and her motivation to work with people was pretty low. That’s where we kept butting heads,” Carpenter says.

Unfortunately, the hotel at the time didn’t have a position to better suit the employee’s needs. She found another job outside the hotel and is more satisfied, and Carpenter was able to replace her with another employee who is much happier in the position.

Team building and management.

Carpenter has used the results of the assessments to help managers to better work with their employees, and managers can better understand how to communicate with each other.

“The chef, banquet supervisor and sales person work together. If they can understand how the other person works a little bit better, then it makes them understand how to get something from each other,” she says.

Norton-Raia and her husband, company CEO Michael Raia, took the assessment and learned more about how to deal with each other in their marriage and in the business. Michael Raia, for example, doesn’t care for working with numbers and details, so Norton-Raia takes care of talking to the accountant about the balance sheets.

“You understand how a person thinks. You understand what motivates them. You understand what buttons to push to make that person be productive,” she says, adding that her company uses the Prevue assessment and other Profiles tools for its own staff of an administrative assistant and two sales associates.

Costs for the Prevue tool, Norton-Raia says, vary depending on the quantity ordered. If purchased one at a time, they run roughly $150. Companies can have Raia & Associates analyze the assessments or purchase software to do it themselves after training.

Business owners need to compare individuals, their skills, their assessments and their job performance to openings up the corporate ladder to ensure a good fit for internal promotions, Norton-Raia says.

“If not, it’s unfair to the company, and, more importantly, it’s unfair to the employee to put them in a job they’re not going to be successful in or happy in,” Norton-Raia says. “The employee will fail and the company will fail.” Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

How to reach: Raia & Associates Inc., www.profilescentralohio.com, 785-6882

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:43

Lead with your heart

If your inner voice is encouraging you to make a change, you might be holding back because of one thing — fear, says Barbara Braham, who has been a personal and business coach for more than a decade.

Making a major life change, she says, takes courage.

In her work with more than 20 people in a position of change, she’s found that the fear of uncertainty — If I make a change, will it work out? — holds many people back.

“The further we get along in our life, the more we have to lose from a financial security lifestyle position,” she says. “We hear, ‘You’ve just spent 20 years developing a career, establishing yourself in a career, getting to a point where you’re making a nice income, and you want to quote-unquote throw that all away?’”

“They say, ‘You have it all. You’ve got a great job, great title, great position, you work for a nice company, you have these financial resources, you have these perks. So it’s a little boring. You’ve only got 22 years left,’” Braham says.

Those are the outside voices, she points out. What you really ought to listen to is your own inner voice. Making a change could offer gains in the arena of personal fulfillment, personal satisfaction and really making a contribution.

“How many of us are sitting out there with a little voice and we still stay where we are? We’re retiring on the job. As soon as we get that little thought that I’ve done what I can do here, we’re no longer having new years of experience. We’re repeating the experience we’ve already had,” Braham says.

Individuals who don’t know what their passions are, Braham says, likely aren’t giving themselves the opportunity to stop and listen to the question of whether they’re happy or where they’d like to go next. Some, she says, aren’t even comfortable living with such questions.

“We always want to answer the question. Some questions are not helpful when they’re answered; they’re most helpful when they’re lived in,” Braham says. “But we get this misperception that to not have the answer is to not be bright, not be clear, not be mature. I hear people laugh and say, ‘I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.’ That’s a great question to be asking, because as we move through our life, we keep growing up.”

She offers these suggestions:

  • Allow yourself some space to incubate what’s waiting to be expressed.

    “We are in a world that wants you to know everything immediately, that tells you to operate your life based on next, next, next with no pauses in between,” she says. “When we’re ready to create the next chapter in our lives, we need to put space around it.”

    You might not be able to take a leave of absence from work to rediscover yourself, but there are easier ways to stop and listen to the inner voice, she says.

    “Take a few minutes every day to be quiet and see what shows up to you,” she says, suggesting the drive to work or 10 minutes at the end of the day for reflection. Writing in a journal also might provide some insight.

    Sometimes, that space comes whether you want it or not, as in the case of Leigh McGuigan’s layoff from her banking job.

    For many people, Braham says, transitions in life are uncomfortable, and they wish they didn’t need to make a change.

    “As painful as downsizing and merger is,” Braham says, “it’s really one of those blessings in disguise, because it really does give them a forced opportunity to go in a different direction and to go in a direction that could possibly be more authentic for them now.”

  • Explore.

    Taking time for reflection will allow you to learn more about yourself, Braham says.

    “Reflection is keeping close enough to yourself to know if what you’re doing you still enjoy, if in what you’re doing you’re still making a contribution,” she says.

    She suggests asking yourself some questions: Have I changed, or more important, How have I changed? Is the life that I’m living allowing me to express who I am now?

    “We’re not the same at 40 that we were at 20, and we’re not the same at 50 that we were at 30,” she says. “If we don’t allow ourselves moments of stopping and looking at our life to say, “How does this feel?’ we probably find ourselves with physical stress on our system or feeling unhappy.”

  • Connect.

    Assess what values are guiding you through life.

    “If my highest value is security, I’m probably not going to listen to that inner voice when it says something different,” Braham says. “I don’t want to denigrate that. If that’s the person’s highest value, then what that person should do is honor that value.”

    Look for ways to keep growing and learning within that secure place, she says.

    Braham says the first question many people ask when they’re listening to their inner voice is, “How do I make money?”

    “That’s the wrong question,” she says. “The first question is, ‘What am I interested in, what gives me juice, what makes me feel excited about getting up in the morning?’

    “What I’m actually saying is the first step is to start with your heart, and the second step is to bring in your head,” says Braham, who has written a book, “Finding Your Purpose,” to explain the things that hold people back from making major changes. She’s also written “Be Your Own Coach,” which gives people tools to guide themselves through the process of considering life changes.

    To find out more about yourself, she says, consider these questions: How have I grown? In what ways have I outgrown what I’m doing? What would I like to move toward? Where’s my growing edge? What needs expression now? Who have I become?

    Understand, Braham says, that just because your inner voice is telling you to make a change, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change your entire career or life.

    Pay attention to little hunches.

    Say, for example, you’ve always wondered what it’s like to kayak. Try it.

    “Maybe you take the kayak trip and you know that’s a place you have a passion for and you’re going to really get serious about kayaking,” she says. “It might not become a job, but it might be that now you vacation at places where you can kayak instead of in a big city where you can go to the theater and a show and eat out at great restaurants.

    “You can honor this inner movement in lots of ways without having to change your work,” Braham says. “But when it speaks to you, I encourage people to be open to exploring that. Be open to investigating it. Be open to learning: What is this new something telling me about myself, about who I’m becoming?”

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

How to reach: Barbara Braham, www.bbraham.com, 291-0155

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:43

Baby steps

Treva L. Weaver thought she had her plans all in line when she became pregnant for the first time in 1998.

The vice president and ATM product manager at Bank One scheduled 12 weeks off and lined up child care.

Then, her twins were born three months early. Six weeks after their birth, she brought them home — on oxygen and heart monitors.

“The fortunate thing was I did not have a lot of stress because of my job; they said whatever you need to work out, work out,” Weaver says.

Home life, on the other hand, wasn’t so easy; she was up around the clock with the babies.

Through a recommendation from a co-worker of her husband, Weaver sought the assistance of a local year-old business, Elite Newborn Care Ltd., and its president, Janet Brand.

With 36 years of experience as a nurse in areas including neonatal, oncology and emergency room, Brand provided overnight care and some daytime sitting for the Weavers’ twins.

“She was the only person I felt comfortable leaving the house and leaving the babies. When you have two babies who really fought for their lives when they were born,” Weaver says, “you don’t just leave them with anybody.”

Brand says her typical clients are not in such dire medical straits. They often are women who have been to college and have grown up thinking they would be in control of their lives, career, marriage and home —then they decided to have their first baby, and they sought help.

“I really wanted to teach first-time moms in this category so I could bond them to their babies,” Brand says.

Brand acts as a referral agency and has selected and trained about 15 nurses or individuals with extensive experience in caring for babies. They provide services from 24-hour, in-home infant care to newborn instruction and breast-feeding support.

Brand, who specializes in adopted babies and infants with colic, makes it a point to visit her clients personally to choose a nurse who will be a good fit for the family.

She charges a $250 application fee to begin finding a nurse and $1,000 when the contract is signed. Clients pay the nurse an hourly fee ranging from $15 to $25, depending on their needs and the experience and qualifications of the nurse.

“What it really allowed me to do is just get some rest,” says Weaver, who is working from home until she finds day care for her children. “She was wonderful in that she goes above and beyond what you would expect from someone taking care of your baby.”

For example, the nurses might make coffee for the family in the morning, write thank-you letters for the new moms or have the baby cleaned and dressed when the parents get up in the morning.

Weaver, whose twins are doing well now, says Brand’s services are not for those on a tight budget but are well worth the money.

“It’s hard to justify spending that kind of money, especially if you’re in a situation where many people are going to be where they’re taking time off without, probably, a significant paycheck,” she says. “But plan ahead, create a big budget for Janet, take advantage of the services she offers, get some sleep. It will do a lot for your disposition, and that will do a lot for the baby, especially for first-time moms.”

How to reach: Elite Newborn Child Care Ltd., (740) 964-9969

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

Small Business Exporter of the Year

In 1998, export sales was unfamiliar territory for Medical Resources.

Just one year made all the difference.

Now, the North Columbus company not only garners half of its sales from exporting but also has established an office in Saudi Arabia.

“We will be operating in the entire Middle East marketplace very soon,” says Randy Reichenbach, the company’s general manager and winner of the SBA’s district and state Small Business Exporter of the Year awards.

Reichenbach credits the medical equipment company’s success in the exporting arena to two things.

First, Medical Resources had the ability to fulfill a need for its international customers, who likely found the company through its Web site.

“I guess we were in the right place at the right time for developing countries looking to improve health care systems and looking to model it after the United States,” Reichenbach says.

In fact, once the Web site went up, the company received many calls from potential international customers. That presented a problem, considering its employees had no experience doing business overseas.

“We just sort of passed on it,” Reichenbach says.

The more the requests flowed in, however, the more imperative it became that someone become knowledgeable on the topic.

That led to the second key to Medical Resources’ success in exporting, he says.

Reichenbach sought help from the Columbus Export Assistance Center, Columbus Chamber of Commerce, the state’s Department of Development, the Ohio Export Assistance Network and the International Division of The Huntington National Bank.

“They made it possible that we could understand what customers needed in ways of financing and developing products in ways we could succeed,” he says.

Reichenbach recognized the potential for medical equipment in the Middle East and opened an office in Jeddah under a joint venture arrangement. He also has done business in India, Turkey, Africa and South America.

Reichenbach declined to discuss sales figures but says he expects the 50 percent of business the company now receives from exporting to increase.

Here’s what he’s learned:

Language barriers are a challenge.

“You have to be able to communicate and make sure that you’re understood properly, that the customer truly understands what you’re telling them,” he says.

Luckily, he adds, English seems to be a universal language in his health care industry.

Know the rules and regulations.

The business laws, customs rules and taxes are different for every country, Reichenbach says.

Develop trust between your business and overseas clients.

“Probably the only way that comes about is going over there and meeting with the customer and getting them to know you, and then inviting them over here to meet us also,” he says, adding that his company won’t get involved in a project unless the client visits Medical Resources.

Educate the customer.

Clients spend weeks with his company being trained on use and repair of the equipment they are buying.

“They have to know how to handle it, otherwise they’re going to be a very unhappy customer,” he says.

He suggests that entrepreneurs wanting to do business abroad be proactive in seeking education and get in touch with government bodies for help.

“You have to have the product that works, too,” he adds. “You can’t just be selling any product. It has to be in demand in that particular country.”

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:40

Ouch! Learning the hard way

Mistakes: Everyone makes them. In the business world, how well you recover — and learn — from them is often the difference between survival and failure.

SBN asked several of the area’s top entrepreneurs to share their worst business blunders with us in hopes that others could learn from their mistakes. Many not only agreed to participate in this project, but were refreshingly open about the missteps and scuffed knees they experienced on the road to success.

We hope this collection of stories will help others avoid similar situations — and offer some comfort in knowing that even the best entrepreneurs make mistakes, too.

No time to be lax

Charles Penzone, founder and president of Charles Penzone Inc., made a mistake in the late ’80s that nearly cost him his then-20-year-old salon business. He became too comfortable with the success of his company and took his eye off the ball.

“I had quit paying attention and just thought things were hunky dory,” Penzone explains. “I was acting more as an absentee owner than I should’ve been.”

Penzone was largely preoccupied at the time with college-level humanities courses he’d elected to take, figuring he was safe to focus on such novelties while his thriving business ran itself. In reality, he’d left a still-small staff with far too much to handle as his multimillion-dollar company continued to grow.

“I had an accountant, an in-house person, who nearly cost me my business,” Penzone says. “I had a person responsible for certain things within the company who was overwhelmed and wasn’t able to do the job that needed to be done. There was a person in charge that shouldn’t have been. It was my fault in that I wasn’t paying attention.”

In fact, Penzone was so oblivious to the problems brewing at his business that he might not have discovered them until it was too late if it weren’t for a consultant he hired in 1989 to network together records and other data from the company’s multiple locations.

“The consultant brought it to my attention that something was awry here,” Penzone recalls. “It was an absolute shock to me — because I wasn’t paying attention. I was studying Greek tragedy and Shakespeare at the time instead of pouring over balance sheets and tax reports.

“Honest to goodness, it was the most terror-ridden time of my life. When it all came to a head, I had five or six companies at the time and I didn’t know if any of them were even viable.”

Penzone quickly summoned the cavalry.

“I called my lawyer, my accountant and my banker and said, ‘I think I have a problem here.’ It took lots of work on the part of a very talented law firm and accounting firm to put us back on track.”

It also took a personal toll on Penzone.

“It did so much damage to me physically and psychologically,” he says. “It was the most grueling nine months of my life. As a result of that, I realized how absolutely precious my business is to me and how meaningful a relationship I have with it.”

Having survived the near-demise of his company, Penzone considers himself much wiser — and quite a bit more humble — for the experience.

“What I learned from it was don’t get caught up in ‘hubris,’” he says. “In every Greek tragedy, hubris is when the king thinks he’s above the gods; when he becomes so full, so sure and so confident of himself that he quits paying attention.

“I don’t think I’ll ever make a mistake again because I’m not paying attention. I’m certainly going to continue to make mistakes. I seem to be able to do that on a regular basis because we’re constantly changing, constantly trying new things. But it won’t be because I’m not paying attention.”

Penzone’s 31-year-old company also has more checks and balances in place today to prevent similar problems.

“The first 20 years, I was just operating in a very casual way,” he says. “We were just doing stupid things. That [crisis] made our company a more disciplined company. It taught me to hire professional people — really top-notch professional people. Hire people smarter than you — and take care of your business.

“Don’t ever become complacent with your success,” he concludes. “Stay on top of it like it’s the first week in business.”

Keeping the cookie from crumbling

Five years into her business, Cheryl Krueger-Horn was making great strides.

So the founder of Cheryl’s Cookies, as the company was then known, decided to seek a national presence beyond the stores she had in Ohio and New Jersey. Her first stop: New York City.

She opened a store in Hearld Square in the mid-’80s, investing a quarter-million dollars in equipment and improvements to the prime space that would get her exposure alongside other great national retailers such as Ann Taylor and Gap Inc.

It wasn’t long before she learned a difficult lesson — a lesson that would change the entire direction of her company.

The center was closed down by the federal government, Krueger-Horn says, amid word that Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos, accused of diverting to their own benefit money earmarked for the Philippines, were allegedly involved in the building. She never did learn the whole story — but there was nothing she could do about the shutdown.

They sequestered all the assets,” Krueger-Horn remembers. “We were relatively small, and in those days we only had retail. We didn’t have Internet or catalog. To take a quarter-million dollars loss in one year’s time was a big blow for us.”

She’d had no signs there was a problem with the building; in fact, she’s not even sure the leasing agents knew whether the Marcoses were part of the project.

“We thought it was a good solid project,” she says. “We didn’t know until the federal government intervened what a tangled web it was.”

Her attention turned to cutting expenses to make up for the loss to her company, which had sales of about $5 million at the time.

In addition, she put more emphasis on sales — and set off to do things differently in the future.

Now she conducts more due diligence when looking for space, a process she also uses when choosing vendors.

“We usually run credit checks on the companies,” she says. “Information is so much more readily available today through the Internet and all. And a lot of those companies that own these buildings are now public. If we don’t like what we see, we just walk away from the project.”

She’s not had a similar problem since.

More than just showing the importance of due diligence, however, the mistake gave Krueger-Horn the impetus to start thinking about her business in a different way. She started wondering if she could reposition her company in the gift business. After all, she’d heard customers ask, ‘Don’t you have a tin to put these in?’

With the help of a project conducted by students of Ohio State University marketing professor Roger Blackwell, she researched the idea and opened her first gift prototype store at the corner of Broad and High streets in 1986.

She’s also branched into the catalog arena and selling her products on the Web. The catalog business has been her fastest growing segment since she opened it 10 years ago. She’s seeing similar success on the Internet, expecting sales of $3 million there this year with the less capital-intensive operation.

Her entire company, since renamed Cheryl&Co. to reflect her offerings of a variety of gourmet baked goods and gifts, has grown in volume to $34 million.

Looking back, Krueger-Horn sees the closing of the Hearld Center store as a blessing of sorts.

“I was glad we learned our lesson young in life, because it forced us to be more creative and have more discipline throughout the company,” she says. “It made us a better company because of that.”

Promises, promises

Cameron Mitchell, president of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, knows a lot about raising capital. After all, he’s secured private financing for all seven restaurant concepts he’s debuted in Central Ohio. That’s no small feat, considering restaurants, in general, are usually considered extremely risky — if not foolhardy — investments.

Still, Mitchell’s seemingly golden touch has not come without some fretful moments.

“One of the lessons I learned early on was when raising limited partnership funds, don’t count a check or an investment until you have it in your hand,” he says. “I’ve had lots of investors say, ‘I want to invest,’ or, ‘Count me in.’ Then I don’t hear from them again.”

That’s particularly troublesome in Mitchell’s case because of the way he structures his financial deals.

“When you’re in a limited partnership, you need to raise XYZ to spend the money, so if I’m doing a $400,000 offering and raise $350,000 in checks, I can’t cash those. I have to have all of it in hand.

“It’s put me in some tight positions,” he adds, noting that counting his chickens before they hatch has, in some cases, caused him to overextend himself for three or four weeks until the remaining funding can be secured.

“The last 10 percent is the hardest to raise,” he says. “It always works that way. I don’t know why, but it always does.”

For that reason, Mitchell now knows he must be patient as well as persistent in his fund-raising efforts.

“It just takes longer than you think — always. I just keep pushing and pushing until it’s sold. I can’t stop soliciting for investors until we’ve raised all the funds that we need.

“I have 125 limited partners,” he continues. “I’ve done a lot of offerings over the years. And it’s easy to say you want to invest. It’s much harder to write the check. A commitment is one thing; a check is another.”

Chasing dead ends

Curtis J. Moody, president and CEO of Moody/Nolan Ltd. Inc., was confident as he branched into business on his own in 1982.

Perhaps a bit too confident.

“As an architect I had worked with many other firms and basically felt I knew the business well enough that all I had to do was start the company, go out and get some clients, and that’s all I needed to do,” he says.

That’s exactly what he did do — without a business plan of any sort.

“What happened as a result is any and all projects that come along you believe you need to take because you want to be busy and you want to hire people,” Moody says. “You see an opportunity, and you go after it and try to win it. In my case, I didn’t assess whether I had all the qualifications necessary to compete.”

That meant he lost many of the contracts he pursued — a mistake that could have been costly for a young

entrepreneur who didn’t have the resources to hold him over between jobs.

“I would say at least one-third of my time in the beginning start-up years was just seeking dead-end kind of opportunities,” Moody says.

He still came out on the plus side — about $300,000 in revenue the first year. However, after a few losses, he had to sit back and reassess his business.

He saw that many of the projects he should never have pursued in the first place. Instead, he should have determined, based on the work he’d already done, what experience he had to offer so he was a more valid competitor. He had been too concerned with getting lots of business and thought he shouldn’t pigeonhole himself into a certain type of project.

After about three years in business, he discovered another reason he should have had a business plan: Lenders were demanding one when he went to borrow money. That forced him to devise a generalized plan, which he refines yearly.

“We now have a year-end retreat at which we establish company goals, and we establish goals not only for our headquarters here in Columbus but for the branch offices,” Moody says.

He has set marketing goals to determine the strategy of the company, and includes goals for internal improvement and overall financial fitness.

Another benefit: “It adds to your confidence, and I can’t overstate that in an architectural firm,” he says.

“We have a unique challenge and that is, being an African-American owned business, before us there was already an attitude about what the capabilities are of historical African-American firms. We had to build a level of confidence to overcome an attitude that existed in the marketplace.

“If we would come in and act like we hope we could do this project, that wouldn’t fare well. We had to totally convince ourselves we are the best for the job,” he says.

Moody/Nolan — which now has revenue of $14 million and 135 employees — carved out its niche by focusing on educational facilities, as well as sports, recreation and wellness projects.

“That came along after we started finding we were doing so many of those that we should have a group that specialized in those,” Moody says. “There’s nothing wrong with someone saying, ‘They’re a noted sports and recreation designer.’ In the beginning, we didn’t want to be known as experts in certain areas.

“Those things weren’t part of our original business plan and should have been.”

Standing your ground (even if it hurts)

Harley E. Rouda Sr., chairman of HER Inc., Realtors, knows you don’t have to make a mistake to learn an important lesson about doing business.

Still riled about it 40 years later, Rouda tells of his dealings with a certain Columbus suburb and a decision he made just five years after he’d founded his company.

He planned to purchase property in this suburb, which he declines to name, as a way to enhance the company’s assets and financial position for the future.

For four months, he worked with the local planning commission and gained unanimous approval to purchase a vacant piece of land on which he’d hoped to build 40 apartments that he’d later sell off as condominiums. He expected to make more than a half-million dollars on the resale alone, not counting what he would have earned on the rentals during the 15 to 20 years he’d intended to hold them.

The only task remaining was to get the nod from city council, a step he thought would be easy considering the reaction of the planning commission. The night before the council meeting, however, he got a call from the city’s mayor.

“He said, ‘Harley, if you don’t give Mr. A your insurance business and you don’t give Mr. B the air conditioning and furnace work and Mr. C all your promotion and PR and marketing, those three are going to vote against you at the council meeting,’” Rouda says.

The three demanding the work also had promised they’d pull in the one remaining vote they’d need to make him lose the property.

Rouda thought about it all night. He consulted with his wife and business confidant, Marlese, who was just as upset as he was. She agreed with his final decision: “She said, ‘You’ll never live with yourself if you do this,’” Rouda remembers.

He called the mayor back the next day and told him he wouldn’t guarantee the men the work; he’d consider them if they submitted fair bids. That night he lost the issue, as forewarned, with four votes against him.

“I just didn’t want to do business that way, so I lost everything, and to this day that land still sits vacant. It has never helped the community,” Rouda says.

Instead, he bought another piece of land in Northwest Columbus and sold the nearly 100 lots there.

“But we would’ve done both,” he points out.

He thought later about reporting the situation to somebody, but he knew everyone involved would deny it. If it happened today, he says, he’d call all three of the council members, which he didn’t do then, and tell them personally: If they wanted the business and met the bids fairly, he’d give it to them.

“I was 31 years old,” Rouda says. “I just thought, ‘This isn’t the way the world is run. I’ve been fair; everybody’s been fair all my life.’ I was so incensed to see somebody try to pull something like that — they had the public trust.”

Still head of the company that’s grown to 100 employees, 475 real estate agents, $1.5 billion in real estate sales and $40 million in gross revenues, Rouda says he did learn from the loss.

“I’m glad I didn’t sacrifice or give up the morals and the ethics I had in business — and I wouldn’t give them up — even though there was money involved,” he says. “I still sleep every night. I still close my eyes and six, seven hours later I’ve had a wonderful night’s sleep. I never have to worry that I did something wrong.”

Getting ahead of himself

In hindsight, Jack Ruscilli wishes he’d done things differently.

The chairman, president and CEO of Ruscilli Construction Co. knows his company misses out on opportunities now because he failed to keep one foot firmly planted in the past as his company raced toward the top of the Central Ohio construction industry.

“We’ve found ourselves abandoning profitable markets,” Ruscilli says, noting his company has evolved from being primarily a concrete contractor when his father and grandfather founded the business in 1945, to being one of the first to construct pre-engineered buildings, then to being a pioneer of the design-build construction concept, and now, to being a very large regional construction management firm.

“During each of these periods, Ruscilli Construction achieved a level of dominance and profitability,” he says. “As we went through each of these cycles, however, each level required a slightly different skill set, a slightly different approach. As our company grew and moved to the next level, often we’d lose focus on several of the profitable markets that many times we pioneered.”

That left a void which other competing construction companies quickly filled, he says. Now, Ruscilli Construction often isn’t thought about when it comes to smaller projects.

“They think of us for the COSIs, the big schools, the big manufacturing plants,” Ruscilli laments. “The client loses the perception that you can do other things.”

That makes it difficult for Ruscilli to land some of the more profitable, smaller jobs in Central Ohio.

“As the firm grows and moves into new markets, they look more exciting to you,” Ruscilli admits. “But large volumes don’t necessarily result in higher profits for your company.”

“In looking back,” he continues, “I should’ve kept people specifically focused on some of the areas we pioneered so we didn’t lose our place in the market. Instead, we’ve tended to totally focus on the next new opportunity we saw. And as we’ve done larger and larger projects, our profit percentage definitely erodes.

“The bigger the project, the less the margins are. When you look back on the big picture, you could do half the volume and make twice the money and have twice the fun.”

Ruscilli is starting to learn from his mistake. He recently hired a salesman whose sole job is to solicit work on pre-engineered projects, such as warehouse and distribution centers. Another salesman has been assigned to looking only for larger construction management projects.

“I’m also starting to put specific people — VPs and senior project managers — in charge of different markets and different opportunities,” he says. “They’re going to make sure we maintain our interest in those areas. I’m making them separate profit centers.

“We’ve always tried to stay ahead of the curve and look for the next wave and we’ll continue to do that. You need growth; growth breeds opportunity for associates. It makes them want to stay with your company. It creates lots of excitement.

“But, in the same breath, if you’ve got something good, don’t lose sight of that. In other words, don’t forget where you came from.”

Nancy Byron (nbyron@sbnnet.com) is editor and Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:40

Get in the game

Like employees at many companies, those at Pro-Terra Environmental Contracting Co. for years knew a simple fact: If the 11-year-old company did well each year, they could expect a bonus at Christmas.

Company President Joe Lorenz says the policy was something very nice Pro-Terra did for its employees, but it was never tied to anything throughout the year.

About two years ago, that changed when the Southeast Columbus company’s management team devised a new system. Pro-Terra would implement a profit-sharing plan and an incentive program. All employees would know what drives the company to success, as well as what their share of the results would be.

Inspired by Jack Stack and his book, “The Great Game of Business,” Lorenz calls the incentive program the Pro-Terra Value Game.

He’s seeing the winnings. In an industry in which turnover averages in the 55 to 60 percent range, Pro-Terra has averaged 20 percent in the last three years.

Because he keeps employees longer, he’s able to grow his own management and promote from within. Of his eight foremen, all but one started as laborers with the company and moved up.

In addition, he’s got real-life examples of employees working toward the company’s values.

“This is the way we keep reminding ourselves: This is what we’re all about,” Lorenz says.

Make the rules

The first step, Lorenz says, was to create an incentive for all employees to cut waste, reduce inefficiency, stop equipment abuse, reduce accidents, be as productive as possible, satisfy clients and conduct safe work. By sharing the earnings of the company, he could reinforce the idea that all employees are partners.

All 54 full- and part-time employees are eligible for profit sharing, which is based on a formula using the company’s gross margin performance for the entire fiscal year. Twice a year, they receive half of the projected year-end results.

“If we hit our numbers, they should be able to move at about 5 percent of their base pay,” he says regarding the bonus. He’s also added a longevity bonus, which kicks in after the first full year of service.

The timing of the payouts, he says, he learned along the way: In his industry, companies generally don’t make money until the second half of the year due to cash flow. So employees at Pro-Terra, which has revenues in the $7 million to $9 million range, receive their payouts in October and January.

“We’re feeling a lot more comfortable with the numbers because it’s just too early to tell in July,” he says, referring to the original payout schedule of July, October and January.

The goal, he says, was to make the program easy to execute but significant enough to be worthwhile to the employees.

Another step, Lorenz says, was to determine what, exactly, were the values at Pro-Terra in order to provide some direction for employees to understand and work toward the company’s goals.

Company leadership pulled together and brainstormed 65 values, narrowing the field to eight. A short time later, Lorenz decided he needed an acronym to tie the values together.

PIE SLICE has become the name for the list: professionalism, integrity, enjoyment, safety, leadership, innovation, create value, and energy.

Even in the hiring process, Lorenz discusses the PIE SLICE concept, asking job candidates to explain how they’ve exhibited those values in previous situations.

“Very early on they’re talking about these things,” Lorenz says.

Bonuses are also directly tied to the company’s performance. For example, if the receivables are collected late, the date of the bonus payouts will be delayed. If the safety performance rating falls, the bonus payment will be reduced — an important factor considering the company’s task of providing environmental cleanup and solutions for underground and above-ground storage tanks and landfills and projects of industrial, commercial and engineering firms.

Share the winnings

Lorenz knew he had to communicate the new program to employees, a task he accomplishes through an open book management style of letting them know how the company makes money, the gross margin and the costs of projects and overhead, for example.

Every two months, he sends a newsletter to employees, and he holds all-hands meetings on a quarterly basis on Friday afternoons.

Following the “Great Game of Business” theme, Lorenz includes a competition at the quarterly meetings. He randomly selects six employees to be judges for the game, in which other employees give 10 to 15 examples of situations where their co-workers exhibited the PIE SLICE values.

A recent example: Brian Boyd, a project manager, was nominated by foreman Randy Anschutz, a 10-year employee, for his professionalism, energy and creation of value on a $1 million contract that a new team of employees had to finish for a previous crew which left when a company division was sold.

“It was a big challenge for us to finish out that job, and they did a good job accepting it,” Lorenz says.

Winners and their nominators receive gift certificates for dinner at Damon’s.

“It’s really not the money, it’s just the recognition in front of their peers,” Lorenz says of the game, noting the process gets them more interested than other companies’ traditional recognition banquets, which employees find excuses to miss.

He estimates that 5 percent of the company’s overhead costs go toward employee incentive programs.

Lorenz finds employees use the Pro-Terra Value Game, which they call PVG, to encourage each other.

“It’s an easy way for them to kid about cost savings,” he says. “They say, ‘Hey, you’re getting into my PVG by tearing into that transmission.’

“It’s an incentive to work together. We win together; we lose together.”

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.