Joan Wall

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:35

Venturing out

Four years ago, EmergiTech Inc. was looking for a boost.

The then-12-year-old Reynoldsburg-based software provider for the public safety and emergency services industry shipped its first 9-1-1 and computer-aided dispatch system in 1987. But by 1996, company officials were looking to expand.

"We needed some additional capital to fund the development of a Windows product so we could further exploit the market," says Mark Collins, EmergiTech's president and COO.

Venture capital investment proved to be the solution when EmergiTech drew the interest of Desco Capital Partners.

With new funding in place, EmergiTech added sales and development staff, transitioned its product and more than tripled its geographical reach from four to 14 states.

As for sales, Collins says, they're nearing $10 million, up 65 percent from last year alone. Income has increased nearly 600 percent in the same period.

Fitting the bill

Roger Bailey, a general partner with Desco Capital Partners and CFO of its operating company, Desco Corp., says his firm owns between 10 and 90 percent of 12 different software, medical products and Internet infrastructure companies.

"EmergiTech was one of our smaller investments, actually, a half million dollars. That's probably the lowest. They go up to the $7 [million] or $8 million range," he says.

The firm has a venture capital fund of about $75 million and could bring in another $25 million easily, Bailey says.

Ideally, Desco likes to build infrastructure, like the sales and development employees at EmergiTech.

"With EmergiTech, it was an established company with a very loyal customer base," he says. "In fact, one thing that impressed us the most is when we asked for customers, they said, 'Just pick one.'

"Most of our investment went into development of a Windows NT product, which gave them a competitive advantage in the marketplace," Bailey says.

Desco also looks for a product that can be sold commercially and is already on the market, at least in trial form.

Another requirement: A solid management team.

"I would take an A management team with a C product before I would take an A product with a C management team," he says.

At EmergiTech, Desco holds an ownership percentage, which both Bailey and Collins decline to disclose, and a seat on the company's board.

"In that particular case, we have a very strong management team, so we really don't spend much time with them," Bailey says. "We're there to advise, we're there to provide extra capital if they need it; however, they're doing extremely well right now."

Collins says having an investor on the board "brings some additional financial expertise. They also are out traveling in the market and are oftentimes able to spot some new trends and some synergistic relationships that may be of benefit to us."

Due diligence

Collins says business executives should invest their time wisely in finding venture capital funding.

"The key is to make sure everybody understands what the needs are of the others in the group," he says. "It's not right for everybody, but if you go into the relationship with a clear set of expectations, it can be a win-win."

Bailey offers the following advice to businesses seeking venture capital funding:

  • Be careful when you predict your company's growth.

    "I think the most annoying things we get are these wildly inflated forecasts of future performance," Bailey says, referring to a recent business-to-business dot-com proposal he received. "This year they're going to make $50,000, and revenue next year, they tell me, will be $11 million. It seems to me if it was that easy to develop an $11 million company, everyone would be doing it."

    Bailey says the rule Desco uses is that only 3 percent of the software companies in the United States ever sell more than $10 million.

  • Do your homework.

    "Most entrepreneurs who come to us with an idea have very little idea of the competitive nature of the business," Bailey says, adding that very often, Desco will find 15 to 20 competitors for a product.

  • Be realistic.

    Because of the competition, it takes a tremendous amount of money to distinguish your company in the marketplace, Bailey says.

"Most entrepreneurs don't understand how much money that is," he says. "For a retail product today, you'd probably need $10 million to $20 million to promote it, and a lot of the dot-coms are the same way."

How to reach: Desco Capital Partners, or 888-8855; EmergiTech Inc., or 866-6712

Joan Slattery Wall ( is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:33

Mike Campbell

Most executives return from vacation to a Monday morning desk piled high with papers and a voice mail box full of messages.

Mike Campbell was greeted by three of his top employees, who told him they were leaving to form their own company.

The 1998 incident gave Campbell the chance to do what he does best: Build and rebuild.

"In the short term, it was a bit of a problem, but actually, when those things happen to small businesses, it's really a blessing in disguise," he says. "You have to look at it as an opportunity, not a tragedy, to your business."

Within six months, he had reconstructed his Campbell Builders Inc. staff by moving some employees around, promoting others and bringing in new people who are still with him.

"Because of that, we're better off today than we were," he says. "I've seen people just get devastated by it, and you can only feel like that for about 24 hours. Then you've got to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and put your thinking cap on and start making things happen. The real fun of it all is in the struggle."

Those who know him say Campbell's success comes in his ability to focus on a distinct plan for all his goals.

Take, for example, his involvement with the Central Ohio National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Campbell became board president of the association in January 1998 -- shortly before the exodus of his employees.

"When you have a board of 13 or 15 people, you need some leaders on there to really help direct and to focus the direction. He is very good at that," says Executive Director Shari Bates. "He requested a survey and we made 220 personal phone calls to discuss what people wanted. From that, we got our vision consensus of what the membership was looking for: consumer awareness and networking. Everything we did that entire year focused around those things.

"He even helped us brainstorm a new tag line for our association, 'providing professional solutions,' which is really what our association is about."

His efforts won him the 1998 Local Chapter President's Award from the national association.

Chuck Rieser, senior partner with CRB Consulting Ltd., calls Campbell's focus the reason for his success in business.

"He set goals early in life, I think, and he always has been driven to attain those goals," says Rieser, who has known Campbell since the two were students at Bishop Hartley High School.

"He's a perfectionist, and I guess that's probably the main thing -- down to painting our dorm room in college so it would look nicer," Rieser says. "Most of us wouldn't have taken the time to do stuff like that."

Campbell has a simple focus for his $1.8 million business: "To make a profit, period," he says.

He's done that by finding a niche for his 20-year-old company: restoration of property damaged by fire, smoke, water, wind and vandalism.

"The rebuilding of the house is a major part of the program," he says, "but what you're really trying to do is help those people with a major tragedy in their lives."

His work repairing damage to a guest house on the property of Alexis Jacobs, president and owner of Columbus Fair Auto Auction, led her to hire him to build a freestanding garage as well.

"When you find someone who's very good and they're honest and they do what they say they're going to do, it's very important," she says of Campbell, who won the Better Business Bureau's 1999 Business Integrity Award.

Campbell's work also has resulted in his company receiving the Big 50 Award for outstanding business practices and work quality from Remodeling magazine and a place among the top 500 remodelers in the United States as listed in Qualified Remodeler.

Campbell's 15-employee, Canal Winchester business also renovates old buildings. Problematic jobs are his specialty.

"I'm always interested in solving building problems," he says. "I pride myself in being able to identify and find out problems where no one else can. It's like working on a car -- you start taking it apart to where it's good and start from there."

He ought to know. He spends some of his free time working on his 1964 GTO, a 2000 "millennium yellow" Corvette and a 1954 street rod Chevrolet pickup truck.

"It's a love affair," he says. "They're just big boy toys."

He sees himself in a transition in his life now that his two sons are off to college.

"For the last zillion years we've been involved in school stuff," he says.

"It's like that 'You turned 50; what are you going to do with the rest of your life?' thing -- it's very true," he says.

He and his wife, Victoria, like to travel, especially west of the Mississippi River, and he's looking into yet another building idea: Partnering with Habitat for Humanity to provide learning experiences for students.

He'd also like to explore another avenue -- becoming a chef.

"I'd like to work in a really good kitchen just to see if I could survive," says Campbell, who particularly enjoys grilling or smoking meals and taking whatever fresh ingredients he can find to make a creative recipe.

Meanwhile, he'll continue to focus on his business with a goal of allowing him more time to work on his hobbies and community contributions.

"What I'm trying to do here is to work myself out of a job," he says matter-of-factly. "I'm setting up people in place, systems in place, so things happen automatically. I'm developing the infrastructure for things to happen.

"That's the only real barometer I have, other than financial, of how I've done as far as building a machine." How to reach: Campbell Builders Inc., 833-1943 or

Joan Slattery Wall ( is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Friday, 19 July 2002 06:25

Banking on a change

Low-interest loans could become more accessible to small- and medium-sized businesses under two bills being considered by Ohio's legislature.

Sen. Jeffry Armbruster, R-North Ridgeville, and Rep. Nancy P. Hollister, R-Marietta, both have introduced legislation to create a Capital Access Loan Program for businesses with annual sales of less than $10 million.

Both bills would provide loans through financial institutions for maximum amounts of $250,000 for working capital or $500,000 for fixed assets. Businesses may apply for the maximum amounts of both.

The programs aim to get working capital to businesses that normally wouldn't be able to get loans through other means -- for example, a start-up business that might be turned down because it doesn't yet have assets -- by providing financial backing to institutions making the loans.

To encourage participation by financial institutions, the bills require banks to create interest-gaining reserve accounts from which they would be reimbursed if the business defaults on the loan. The reserve account is created by deposits into the account from the bank, the borrower and the Ohio Department of Development.

The risk of the loan, then, is spread over the portfolio of all Capital Access Loans. By holding and pooling its risk, the bank can make profitable loans that might otherwise be considered too risky.

Armbruster's bill would require a deposit of 1.5 to 3 percent of the loan from both the bank and the borrower and 10 percent from the Department of Development; Hollister's proposal suggests the bank and borrower deposit total 3 to 7 percent of the loan, with a matching amount from the state.

Hollister's legislation, H.B. 6, specifically targets businesses in high distress, high unemployment areas of the state.

"Our bill will incorporate the tax increment financing areas and will change the rules for those in high distressed and high unemployment areas," she says.

She says she intends to forward her proposal to business organizations such as the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business/Ohio for feedback. Her bill has been assigned to the Economic Development and Small Business Committee in the House.

Armbruster's proposal, S.B. 10, would affect for-profit and nonprofit organizations that are creating new jobs or retaining existing jobs.

The plan, Armbruster says, will give businesses access to money that they might not have been able to get through a normal lending process.

"In this case, it gives us a shot in the arm to help these businesses continue to grow and prosper where they might not be able to get a loan through the conventional means," he says.

Armbruster has been working with the Ohio Department of Development to hammer out details of his bill, which is under study in the Senate's Economic Development, Technology and Aerospace Committee.

The program, he says, puts public and private money together to help businesses.

"There are 21 other states that are doing it, and it's been active for 14 years," he says. "It's about time that the state of Ohio steps up to the plate to help its small businesses to prosper and grow."

For more details on the bills and to track their status, visit the legislature's Web site, How to reach: Sen. Jeffry J. Armbruster, (614) 644-7613; Rep. Nancy P. Hollister, (614) 644-8728

Joan Slattery Wall ( is an associate editor and statehouse correspondent for SBN Magazine.

Thursday, 29 November 2001 06:48

A new class

What would you do if you learned that more than 20 percent of your annual expenses were not giving you a return on investment?

The State of Ohio is calling upon business leaders to help out with exactly that situation. A national study several years ago determined that despite the money invested in primary, secondary and other education in the state -- $6.6 billion in fiscal year 2000 -- Ohio's schools weren't measuring up.

By the end of this month, the state's Board of Education is expected to have adopted new content standards for mathematics and English language arts as ordered in the Senate Bill 1 education reform provisions.

To ensure those standards get enacted and the results are measured, Ohio Business Roundtable partnered with Battelle to form Battelle for Kids with the goal of making Ohio's public schools the most improved in the nation by 2006.

"I would say there's no issue of greater importance, greater relevance, for the future of our economy and competitiveness as well as the social vitality of our state than the quality of our education system," says Richard Stoff, president of Ohio Business Roundtable, an independent, nonpartisan organization of CEOs from major Ohio companies including American Electric Power, Nationwide, Cardinal Health, BFGoodrich, Hoover, KeyCorp and Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue. "I would like to think education is to business as fertilizer is to farming. It's the feeder, and it's absolutely essential that we have quality in education in our state."

Senate Bill 1, Stoff explains, makes law out of recommendations of the Governor's Commission for Student Success, which proposed a system to clarify expectations for students, measure progress, provide resources and interventions for students and establish a shared responsibility for student success.

"What Battelle for Kids intends to do is ensure that the necessary things get implemented to give assurance that kids will, in fact, get the education they need," says Doug Olesen, retiring president and CEO of Battelle.

Jim Mahoney, Battelle for Kids executive director, says the organization will make sure the public, parents and teachers are well aware of the new standards; develop a Web-based system to measure the progress of education improvement; and ensure that educators and school administrators receive the professional development they need to help the state's education system improve.

"I go back to a phrase I heard many years ago," Mahoney says, "that educating everyone takes everyone, and that's what I truly believe."

So why should business play a role?

"When you start thinking about your labor force in the future," Mahoney points out, "you want people who know something and can do something."

Already, Stoff says, Battelle for Kids and other business organizations hosted the Education Reform Institute, a two-day session aimed at making sure businesses understand the standards-based reform initiatives.

"It's our judgment that if the business community is to be an effective advocate for higher standards and systemic reform and the like, then it's incumbent on us to understand the education agenda and what reform is and what it's not," he says.

Training will continue for the approximately 200 business leaders who attended, and the institute likely will be repeated.

On a more grassroots level, Stoff suggests business executives help the effort by offering the expertise they have from running their own companies -- management and leadership.

"In that regard, one of the greatest investments business leaders can make in any school is to work with the school leader. We know from our own life experiences, whether we're working in public policy and education or whether it's just as a byproduct of our having gone to public schools, we know the difference a good principal makes in any school," Stoff says. "I'd suggest that if business people focus anywhere, it is to help their school principals be more effective school leaders."

Mahoney points out that business leaders also must stay aware of what's going on in the area of education reform and what progress is being made toward improvement.

"Employers have a right to ask," Mahoney says, "'if you get a high school diploma, what's it mean that you know?'"

How to reach: Jim Mahoney, Battelle for Kids, (614) 469-5966; Richard Stoff, Ohio Business Roundtable, (614) 469-1044

Thursday, 29 November 2001 06:23

Ready to lose

"If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it."

Steve Wolever considers Tom Hanks' quote from "A League of Their Own" his favorite line from a movie.

The chairman of Signature Inc. puts it to use when describing a 1999 turning point in his $10 million Dublin company.

At that time, Wolever's decisions were, indeed, anything but easy. He and his management team deliberately planned to go a year without a profit -- in fact, they expected losses. They were right.

They invested 10 percent of the sales and service training company's $6 million revenue to refocus it in a conscious effort to grow it rather than remain stagnate.

"We took a salary, but there were no dividends --zero," says Wolever. "You probably had half the money you did the year before."

The investment went into three new divisions and an office in Germany.

The payoff: In the two years that followed, a 66 percent growth in revenue.

"You have to have faith that what you're doing is the right thing and it will work out," Wolever says, "and it did."

A winning proposition

Wolever and his management team spent five months coming up with the four-pronged plan to invest in the company.

At the time, they had just two divisions: Transient Edge, which trains hotel staff to turn inquiries into reservations, and Global, which uses the same concept in other industries such as heavy equipment dealers and rental properties.

Wolever considered throwing all of the investment to the Global division, but he saw opportunities in the hotel and call center industries. He also knew the magic in his revenue came not from simply the initial training but from the ongoing reinforcement programs, continuing evaluation and education of his clients' employees, so he needed to broaden his client base.

"In 1999, we were fairly narrow in our focus," he says. "We thought, 'We have to broaden our offerings.'

"Prior to 1999 we made the decision that we wanted to be a growth company. At the 1998 revenue level, we could've said, 'Let's just see how much money we can make operating at this level.'"

Instead, he and his team wanted 30 percent growth per year to get the company to a goal of $20 million in revenue within five years.

The plan:

* Start a division that operates call centers, primarily in casinos.

* Add a division called Service Edge, which provides service training for hotel housekeeping and maintenance staff.

* Develop Catering Edge, a sales program for staff at hotels who sell space and services for conventions and meetings.

* Open an office in Germany.

"We knew if we did all four of those in a year, we probably would not make any money that year. We thought it was a wise investment for us to do that," Wolever says, noting that each of the four divisions has brought in about $1 million in revenue.

The four also have good prospects.

He expects the underlying premise of the company, training employees to create value with people making inquiries about a business, to continue.

"We believe there are service levels in the country -- and we're not saying anything anybody else doesn't say -- that are pretty bad," he says.

Signature does not sign exclusive contracts with its clients, enabling it to continue prospecting. In the heavy equipment industry, for example, Signature is doing business with seven of the top 10 companies in the United States, Wolever says.

"Last year we had 58 percent growth. We think this year we'll probably hit the 30 percent again," he says.

Signature this year added yet another division, Service Edge for Education, to help colleges and universities.

Looking back

Now, Wolever can see his risks have paid off, but at the time, his emotions ranged widely.

"I was excited," he says of the overall scheme. "If you consider yourself an entrepreneur, it's -- certainly it's about making money -- but it's also about making something grow.

"At several points in the company's history, and even today, we really could shave an awful lot of overhead we have and make two to three times what we're making today into our own pockets," he points out. "But what this is about is making the business grow."

Still, there were times when he questioned himself.

"All of a sudden there's a real sense of responsibility for 200-and-some employees," he says. "That's the scariest part."

There were a couple of times, Wolever says, when he had to get his personal checkbook out and, for example, cover payroll for three to five days. At any one time, he might have had as much as $100,000 of his own money into the company.

"We don't buy a lot of product, so we can't go to the vendor and say, 'Can we have another 15 days?' We're highly payroll driven," he says.

"At times there's a few sleepless nights there when you think, 'Am I doing the right thing?' It's the employees that you worry about," Wolever says. "You think if anything would happen to you, you'd go out and do it again, but you don't want anything to happen to the people that work for you."

Wolever expected that fear to permeate through to his employees. In response, he shared the plan with them.

"We were right upfront with them that we were losing money," Wolever says. "We thought, we owe it to them because they need to know, but we also owe it to them because we thought everybody thought we made tons and tons of money."

"As human nature is," he says, "everybody pulled together."

Not one employee left after the announcement of the plan and of the fact that the company would lose money.

"By doing that proactively, that's how you start out: 'We're telling you this because we don't want you to be concerned. We have a plan and this is how you fit into that,'" Wolever says.

When the $400,000 losses came in, they were twice as much as the executive team had anticipated before it initiated the plan. However, the loss was made up in less than one year thanks to one big sale.

Fitting employees into the plan meant setting goals for them and having them monitor their progress. Signature keeps monthly status checks through a system it calls "scoreboarding."

Each department has bulletin boards or whiteboards listing goals and status reports. For example, human resources tries to keep turnover below 10 percent; Service Edge keeps track of its minutes per call and calls per hour; payroll records its number of errors; and accounts payable lists the number of vendor invoices processed daily.

Every month, the scoreboards are posted on Signature's intranet, along with their relation to profits for that point in the year and the company's revenue.

Continued risk

As his business grows, Wolever knows he'll repeatedly face similar situations.

For example, this year was the first that his company invested in any marketing efforts. He's biting the bullet, knowing he may have to wait two years to see a return.

"You're constantly making that decision," Wolever says. "If I spend this knowing I'm not going to get anything this year, two to three years down the road, I'll get five times that."

Such risks, he points out, require constant monitoring of opportunities that come the company's way.

"That's pretty much my full-time job," he says, "to take a look at what's on the horizon."

Thursday, 29 November 2001 06:13

Tom Mueller

Tom Mueller's journey through life came to a screeching halt in late 1992.

Paralyzed from a nerve disorder called Guillain-Barr Syndrome, the ultra-distance runner underwent rehabilitation to relearn how to walk and even to swallow.

"That's something that has redetermined my course," says Mueller, president of Sport Management Inc. in Westerville. "There are major things that happen through your life that make some of the business issues seem not so relevant. It affected the way I think about things."

In January 1993, he told doctors he wanted to participate in Wisconsin's 50-mile Ice Age Trail race that he'd run each May several years prior.

"They said, 'Well, you'll probably be in a walker by then,'" he remembers. "But I worked hard enough and I finished that race that day."

"He's a man who has faced adversity and has really been able to experience a pressing through to the other side," says Bill Christensen, executive pastor and men's ministry pastor at Mueller's church, Vineyard Church of Columbus. "The fact that somebody like him who had that disease can run like he does right now is phenomenal."

Mueller rolls with the punches the same way in his career.

Fresh out of college at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, he wanted his journalism career to serve him well in music or motorcycling -- two things he enjoyed the most.

"I sent out three resumes -- to Ted Nugent, Van Halen and Cycle News," he says, noting that he wanted to be a roadie, taking pictures and writing about rock bands.

He was hired by the weekly magazine Cycle News, where he wrote about and photographed events to learn the race business. Other jobs hooked him up in promotions for the Wrangler brand, R.J. Reynolds, Dale Earnhardt, Willie Nelson, Mercury Marine and the American Motorcyclist Association until he started Sport Management in 1996.

Now, he and the two full-time and two part-time employees at his $1 million company service business clients including Morton Salt, DeWalt Tools, Best Buy and Progressive Insurance.

Currently, he's tying the "Driven" movie soundtrack to the Indy 500, marketing singer Jo Dee Messina in races and working on promotions for the Billiard Congress of America. He remains, however, cautious about growing his firm.

"I've never had any business loans," he says. "We've built as we went."

That includes changing the company to meet the marketplace.

"This whole sports sponsorship business is turning completely 180 right now," he says. "Everybody thinks there's still this sponsorship model out there where you call a company and go pick up a check."

"Everybody in the world wants a sponsor, but it's not always the best model for us," he explains. "We are a corporate consulting company, and we help companies who choose to sell products or services through athletes, events or teams. The model for us is to work on the corporate side."

This year, his business took yet another turn when corporate clients started calling him to say they had purchased too many or not enough tickets to sporting events as part of their sponsorships. He responded and moved into ticket brokering and hospitality on the corporate side.

Mueller firmly believes in building on experiences in life to help his company and to grow personally. His passion for sports, for example, is a vital part of his business success.

"I know sports because I do it," he says. "People want to be in the sports business, but do they understand the quarterback who's been hit eight times and gets back up, or the sports car driver who sits in that 140-degree car?

"It's the passion you have to relay to the consumer."

He started running in 1983 and has developed his skills so adeptly that he regularly participates in trail runs as well as ultra-distance runs -- 100-mile races, in fact.

"There are so many complexities and complications, and you rely on so much to get through this world. That there is just you and the road," he says of running, "it's just a great journey."

Mueller's life journey also includes civic work for other businesses, his church and the community.

He's active in the Greater Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau and has worked with the Dublin Convention and Visitors Bureau to teach public relations agencies aspects of his sports business. He's also set up a business forum at his church to share with fellow executives ways to manage their businesses in a Christian way.

In addition, he is part of his church's hospital visitation team and volunteers to counsel patients or help visitors in emergency rooms at The Ohio State University Medical Center.

What his Guillain-Barr experience did, he says, is keep him from feeling intimidated when talking to patients who suffer paralysis, because he's been there himself.

"Otherwise, what do you say?" he points out.

He believes his greatest accomplishment is his ability to encourage others -- a trait not lost on those around him.

"You know how in life how meaningful it is to have a friend or a relationship that you know when the chips are really down and everything falls around your head, there's someone you can rely upon? That's the kind of guy Tom is," says Christensen.

"I return every phone call. It may not be about business. It may be somebody who just needs encouragement," Mueller says, explaining how he often gets calls from students seeking his advice.

"If I ever get too busy for that, something's broken." How to reach: Tom Mueller, Sport Management Inc., (614) 899-9476 or

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:50

The long farewell

Paula Spence says her husband, Pete, has his own way of describing her September 1998 retirement from HMS Partners.

"My husband says I cut back from 80 hours a week to 60, but he tends to exaggerate," Spence laughs.

The former partner with the popular Downtown ad agency gives 30 hours as her own estimate of the weekly time she's spent in the past two years with her own marketing and management consulting practice, DWIC, which stands for Doing What I Choose.

Pete's version of the story, however, explains why he insisted on being in the room when his wife proclaimed two months ago that she would wind down her consulting business and not take any paying clients beyond the end of 2000.

"He says he has to see it before he believes it," she says, fending off his efforts to add more to his two cents.

It was, in fact, Pete's retirement in 1991 that started Paula thinking about her own.

"At that time I was traveling a lot with the company, putting in really long hours at the office, involved in the community and carrying a heavy schedule," she says.

In 1994, she told company chairman David Milenthal she needed to develop an exit plan. By January 1995, she'd put it in motion.

"Basically, it was for gradually reducing the amount of time that I was spending with the company and a gradual turnover of my responsibilities to other people in management," she says. "So it was a pretty orderly transition."

Orderly, perhaps, but not easy -- or short. Even when Spence was no longer committed to spending any specific amount of time on HMS business, she continued taking calls from clients -- at home.

Letting go

By the time Spence officially left the agency, HMS Partners was nearing $200 million in capitalized billings and 300 employees. It was a monstrosity of a local business compared to the 15-person shop that added her name to Hameroff and Milenthal when she joined it in 1980.

"When you build a business from literally a small company to a substantial company, it's not only building the financial side of it but you build the culture of it," Spence says. "To just walk away from it cold turkey, I think, would be like giving your child away."

Therefore, a slow transition was paramount.

"Frankly, I think emotionally and mentally, that was a good way for me to do it," she says.

"I'd love for Paula to have stayed part of this organization forever," Milenthal says, "but at the time she wanted to go we sort of mutually designed the terms upon which she would exit. It was done in a very quiet, I think, and long period of time rather than something abrupt that would have caused difficulties for her to adapt to a new lifestyle and us to adapt to her departure."

Spence broke the news of her pending retirement to the HMS staff in early 1995.

"I explained to the employees at an all-staff meeting exactly how this was going to happen and what I was going to be doing," she says. "I think that was good because there were no rumors, there was no speculation."

The first year, Spence was obligated to spend 60 percent of her time on company business; the second year, 40 percent. Bit by bit, she turned over her COO responsibilities to other management -- especially Milenthal's brother, Rick, now the company's CEO -- and concentrated more on business development.

By January 1997, she was no longer committed to spending any specific amount of time on the business.

Letting go, however, was easier said than done.

"You're talking about a person who, during the late '80s to '90s, was the most prominent woman in Columbus," Milenthal says.

People who had been accustomed to receiving advice, mentoring and intervention from Spence had trouble getting along without her.

"When you have a long-standing relationship with a whole community like that, you can't just leave them in the lurch," Milenthal says. "It was less about her and her ability to let go and more about people's ability to let go of her."

He added that when such a person is leaving a company, the company must respect his or her needs.

"The people involved should be sensitive enough to give the retiring person all the flexibility and time it takes to move on to the next aspect of their life without feeling any taste of it being abrupt or of them feeling sort of lost," he says. "I think we did that effectively."

It also behooves the company to ensure a smooth transition, Milenthal says.

"I think that people judge you and the integrity of your company to some degree by the way you handle transitions like this," he says, "and it can have wide-reaching effects if you don't bend over backward to be as sensitive to the transition as you should be."

Once Spence finally relinquished all her official duties -- the company still has financial obligations to her -- she tried to keep quiet.

"I never wanted to be in a position of second-guessing the current decision-makers," she says. Still, she admits, "No matter how good other people are, they never do it exactly how you would do it. I had spent about 30 years in business convincing myself that my way was the best way. You just have to say, 'OK, so it's not my way, but it's just fine the way it is.'"

She bit her tongue, for example, when the weekly employee newsletter she established underwent a name and focus change after she left.

"I spent a lot of years choosing my words carefully, so that experience came in handy," she says.

Completely stepping out, she adds, makes life easier for the employees who remain.

"I'm sure that there were people concerned about my feelings, and if I had been there it would've been harder for them," she says, "so it was just easier all the way around."

She still holds a position of vice chair with the company, but says that's more of an honorary title than a functioning job.

Even so, Milenthal's view indicates that Spence's ties to the company are not completely cut.

"I believe we should recognize the fact that Paula truly was an equal partner in building the platform of the company's reputation and, as a result, the leaders of the organization beyond me, I think, have the mental attitude that she's a partner still today in regard to the influence she can have on the decisions we make and work we do," he says. "We take her counsel very seriously, so she should still feel part of the family."

Finding a new path

After retiring, Spence's next task was to get ready to fill her life with other challenges.

"You just don't walk out of your office, out of your company, one day and walk to nothing the next day," she says. "I think you've got to have a plan and you've got to have commitments."

Consulting opened a new door for Spence.

She didn't have to solicit business; people came knocking.

She had the freedom to choose those clients whose industries or businesses interested her and whose requests challenged her.

Even though after just two years she's phasing out the consulting business, Spence has no intention of leaving her position of leadership in the community, where her efforts have earned accolades such as the Volunteer Fund Raiser of the Year from the National Association of Fund Raising Executives; Goodwill's Extraordinary People Award; and the City of Columbus' highest tribute, The Christopher Columbus Award.

She's agreed to another five-year term on the Columbus and Ohio trustee boards of COSI, where she chaired the Building Development Corp. and led the effort to relocate the center. She also still serves on the Columbus/Franklin County News Bureau.

Recently completing 11 years of service on the Children's Hospital board, Spence is continuing her health care interest as chair of the Franklin County Access to Health Care initiative of the Columbus Medical and Osteopathic Heritage foundations.

By stepping aside from her consulting business, Spence will have more time for leisure. She and her husband enjoy traveling, for example, and already have trips this year planned for the Panama Canal and Egypt -- depending on whether unrest eases there.

She keeps promising herself that this will be the year she goes back to golf.

Overall, she's focusing on doing even more of what she chooses.

"If I want to just sit down and read for pleasure," she says, "I want to be able to do that without feeling guilty about it." Joan Slattery Wall ( is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:50

SBN's Power 100

CEOs come and go. Leaders endure.

That's a lesson Central Ohio has learned in the past couple years as a handful of revered executives -- Paula Spence, John H. McConnell, Dimon McFerson and David Lauer, to name a few -- have stepped down, but not out of the business community. Their influence remains strong.

And they continue to hold a spot among those who make things happen in corporate Columbus.

Joining them on SBN's Power 100 list this year are a select group of executives who fit into at least one of the following categories: they personally affect government policies, legislation or regulation changes that impact business; they have or know how to get money invested in local businesses; they control or know how to get media coverage; they actively advise, mentor or serve on the boards of area businesses; they are outspoken in their industry and/or the local business community.

Many of the names you'd expect, such as Les Wexner, John Wolfe, Frank Wobst and the Schottensteins, are on this list, but they're not all ranked in the top 10 -- or even the top 50, for that matter. We've also found for you numerous lesser-known but surprisingly influential executives like Curt Loveland, Karen McVey, Kyle Katz, John Rosenberger and Olin Jones.

These are people you should know. They are the executives whose actions and opinions are heeded most in this city. They're committed. They're connected. They are the real leaders of Central Ohio's business community.

1. Les Wexner

chairman and CEO

The Limited Inc. and Intimate Brands Inc.

2. John F. Wolfe

chairman, publisher and CEO

The Dispatch Printing Co.

3. Alex Shumate

managing partner, Columbus office

Squire, Sanders & Dempsey LLP

Shumate's high rank within the inner circle of corporate Columbus is becoming increasingly clear. Not only is he chairman of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, but he's a trustee of the Capitol South Community Urban Redevelopment Corp. and a director of The Limited Inc.

In addition, Shumate monitors legislative proposals on behalf of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and regularly represents developers and real estate clients before local as well as county zoning and tax abatement agencies.

4. Ron Pizzuti

chairman and CEO

The Pizzuti Cos.

5. Roger Geiger

state director

National Federation of Independent Business -- Ohio

6. Sally Jackson

president and CEO

Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce

7. Bea Wolper


Chester, Willcox & Saxbe LLP

8. Mark Barbash


Columbus Department of Trade and Development

At the rate this city is growing, Barbash can't help but have an impact on the business community. Consider just two of his departments: The Downtown Development Office, which is working with businesses toward improvements, and the Business Development Office, which assists business expansion and central city revitalization in areas including I-670, North and South Linden, the airport and the south and west sides of the city.

Enforcement of Columbus' building and zoning codes also falls under his jurisdiction. Outside the office, he is a founding board member of the Columbus Urban Growth Corp. and a board member of the Ohio Foundation for Entrepreneurial Education.

9. Bob Taft


State of Ohio

10. Richard Sensenbrenner


Columbus City Council Development Committee

Columbus City Council Appropriations Committee

11. Mike Coleman


City of Columbus

12. George Jenkins


Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP

Jenkins is firmly entrenched in the city's private investment community, serving as an adviser and financier for numerous promising companies in Central Ohio. Last year, he helped round up $3 million in financing for Ultryx Corp., including funds from John Wolfe's investment company, The Ohio Partners -- marking Wolfe's first investment in a Central Ohio business.

Jenkins also worked with former Scotts Co. chairman Tadd Seitz in the Ultryx deal, as well as former Ultimate Software Group managing partner Tariq Farwana. Jenkins, Seitz and Farwana also invested together in EC Next, a local e-publishing company lead by former Trade Point USA director Randy Smith. Clearly, when Jenkins sees potential in a firm, other business leaders pay attention.

13. Tadd Seitz


Bridlespur Partners

14. Rich Langdale


NCT Ventures

Langdale was relatively unknown in the business community until a couple years ago, despite the fact that he'd already built his first company, Digital Storage Inc., into one of the largest distributors of computer storage products in the world. What caught the corporate community's eye in 1999 was Langdale's ability to raise $75 million in venture capital for his start-up online fulfillment business,

Equally impressive was the group of Silicon Valley investors that funded his venture; former Netscape president Jim Barksdale was among them. Clearly, Langdale has the right connections.

Today he is founder and CEO of NCT Ventures, an investment and operating company which includes in its portfolio such familiar names as Retail Planning Associates and

15. Jack Kessler


The New Albany Co.

16. Curt Loveland


Porter, Wright, Morris & Arthur LLP

17. Karen McVey


Women in New Growth Stages

18. Friedl Bohm



19. & 20. Jan Allen & Curt Steiner

president & CEO, respectively

HMS Success

21. & 22. Paul Tipps & Neil Clark


State Street Consultants

Super-lobbyists Tipps and Clark come from opposite ends of the political spectrum, but that's exactly what makes them such great business partners. Together, Tipps, a former chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, and Clark, a former chief operating officer of the Ohio Senate Republican Caucus, have virtually cornered the market on high-powered political persuasion.

No wonder their firm, State Street Consultants, has represented high-profile clients including The Limited, Bank One, AT&T and Riverside and Grant hospitals in various capacities. Not only do these guys have access to the state's top politicians, but they can deftly weave their way through the most complex bureaucratic maze, helping their clients win state contracts as well as legislative fights.

23. Linda Hondros


Hondros College

In the past couple of years, Hondros has taken the lead in small business development in Central Ohio. She's become very active in the Greater Columbus and Ohio chambers initiatives along that line. And she's even bent Bob Taft's ear as a member of the Governor's Small Business Advisory Council and co-chair of its work force development committee.

24. Kurt Tunnell

administrative partner

Bricker & Eckler LLP

25. Roger Blackwell


Blackwell Associates Inc.

26. Don M. Casto III


Don M. Casto Organization

27. Sandy Dickinson

executive director

Ohio Foundation for Entrepreneurial Education

28. Curt Moody

president and CEO

Moody/Nolan Ltd.

29. Jeff Keeler

chairman and CEO

The Fishel Co.

30. Bob Walter

chairman and CEO

Cardinal Health Inc.

31. Dimon McFerson

retired chairman


32. Nancy Kramer

founder, president and CEO

Resource Marketing Inc.

33. Brad Beasecker


Helston Capital Group

If you want to talk investments, this is the guy to know.

Beasecker is not only the co-founder and president of Helston Capital Group, a private investment banking firm, he's also the chief executive of, a growing Web site dedicated to hooking up private investors with promising entrepreneurs. In addition, he's vice president of, a company whose niche is providing research on small- and mid-cap stocks that can be good investments, yet are typically overlooked by Wall Street analysts.

As if that's not enough involvement in the financial arena, Beasecker recently ended his stint as chairman of the Columbus Investment Interest Group (since renamed the Columbus Venture Network), but remains active in the chamber-affiliated organization of private investors.

34. Brit Kirwan


The Ohio State University

35. Frank Wobst

chairman and CEO

Huntington Bancshares Inc.

36. Mike Mizesko


Look for Mizesko to make his mark in the state's investment and entrepreneur communities as his Web site passes the launch stage. In less than one year, the site he founded has grown to 100,000 hits per month.

Mizesko's assembled a high-powered advisory group, including former CompuServe CEO Bob Massey, who is now chairman of CallTech Communications Inc., and Rich Langdale, founder of and NCT Ventures. Mizesko also is active in Columbus Venture Network, the former Columbus Investment Interest Group of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, and is part of the planning group for Innovest, an annual venture capital conference that's been making waves in Ohio.

37. Terry Foegler


Campus Partners for Community Urban Redevelopment Inc.

38. James Conrad

administrator and CEO

Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation

39. Pete Klisares


MIGG Capital

As we predicted last year, Klisares has remained active -- and influential -- in the business community even though he's not in the limelight as much since he left executive posts at Karrington Health (now Sunrise Assisted Living) and Worthington Industries. He continues to serve on the boards of Huntington Bancshares, Dominion Homes, Sunrise and MPW as well as two out-of-state companies. In addition, he's been a consultant and private investor in a few other firms, including one being started by former Karrington CEO Richard Slager.

40. Lewis Smoot Sr.


Smoot Corp.

41. Tanny Crane


Crane Plastics Holding Co.

42. Dwight Smith

president and CEO

Sophisticated Systems Inc.

43. Jack Ruscilli


Ruscilli Construction Co. Inc.

44. John Christie



45. Kyle Katz


The Katz Interests Inc. and New World Restaurants Inc.

46. Frank Kass


Continental Real Estate Cos.

47. Maury Cox


The Ohio Partners LLC

48. Cheryl Krueger-Horn

president and CEO


49. Dick Emens


Chester, Willcox & Saxbe LLP

50. Bill Lhota

executive vice president


51. Jeff Wilkins

chairman and CEO

Metatec Corp.

52. Herb Glimcher

chairman, president and CEO

Glimcher Realty Trust

53. Bob Weiler Sr.


The Robert Weiler Co.

54. John H. McConnell

chairman emeritus and founder

Worthington Industries

55. Benjamin Zox

president and CEO

Schottenstein, Zox & Dunn LPA

56. George Skestos


Homewood Corp.

Although he's officially retired from Homewood, Skestos is still highly sought after for the business knowledge he brings to the table. That's obvious from the boards upon which he serves. They include Huntington Bancshares, Central Benefits, Midland Financial, The Ohio State University, CAPA and the Columbus Museum of Art.

57. Don Shackelford


Fifth Third Bank, Central Ohio

58. David Lauer

retired president

Bank One, Columbus, NA

59. Pat Dugan


Squires, Sanders & Dempsey LLP

60. John Rosenberger

executive director

Capitol South Community Urban Redevelopment Corp.

Rosenberger's organization is involved in redevelopment activities in the city's central business district, bordered by I-670 on the north, I-71 on the east, I-70 on the south and the railroad behind COSI on the west. Under Capital South's auspices is the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District of Columbus, focusing on a 25-square-block area in the heart of downtown.

Capitol South also holds a membership in The Downtown South Association, working to rejuvenate the area connecting Downtown and German Village. In the game of business development in Columbus' center city, Rosenberger is a key player.

61. Sam Gresham Jr.

president and CEO

Columbus Urban League

62. Paula Spence

retired vice chair

HMS Partners

63. Sandy Harbrecht


Paul Werth Associates Inc.

64. Timothy O'Dell

president and CEO

Fifth Third Bank, Central Ohio

Late last year, 19-year Fifth Third veteran O'Dell was named president and CEO of the company's Central Ohio bank operations. As the banking landscape continues to change in Columbus, look for O'Dell to make an impression in the business realm and the community.

Already he serves on the development board of trustees of Columbus State Community College and is a trustee of the Columbus Council on World Affairs and Life Care Alliance.

65. Robert Schottenstein


M/I Schottenstein Homes Inc.

66. Larry Hilsheimer

managing partner, Columbus office

Deloitte & Touche LLP

67. David Milenthal


HMS Partners

68. Bill Wilkins

president and CEO


69. Gary Glaser


National City Bank

70. Bill Habig

executive director

Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission

71. Artie Isaac


Young Isaac Inc.

72. Bill Schottenstein


Arshot Investment Corp.

73. Blane Walter

chairman and CEO

Gerbig, Snell/Weisheimer & Associates

Fast growth at GSW means a widening sphere of influence for Walter, who in the past four years has led the company's expansion from 50 to more than 400 employees and to estimated capitalized billings of more than $500 million. Already he serves on the boards of directors for The Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital Foundation and the Columbus Foundation, and he's a member of the Young President's Organization. Walter's specific knowledge of business development, having grown GSW to top spots in his industry -- both statewide and internationally -- should be in high demand.

74. Jerry Jurgensen



Watch Jurgensen's moves as he steps into the traditionally high-profile slot as head of Nationwide. Don't expect him to step into retired CEO Dimon McFerson's shoes; he'll forge a path all his own. If his history in Chicago, where he was executive vice president of Bank One Corp., is any indication, he won't shy away from the local community.

In Columbus, he was appointed to the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce board of directors soon after he walked through the doors at Nationwide; watch for more participation in other areas.

75. Bob Maynard


Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease

76. Carol Sheehan

managing partner

Carlile, Patchen & Murphy LLP

77. Paula Inniss


Ohio Full Court Press

78. Cameron Mitchell


Cameron Mitchell Restaurants LLC

79. John P. McConnell

chairman and CEO

Worthington Industries

80. Sue Doody


Lindey's Grant Avenue Investments

81. J. Daniel Schmidt


Downtown South Association

As revitalization and development spreads from the Arena to the Brewery District, Schmidt will have his hands full improving and promoting the Downtown South area as a link between Downtown Columbus and German Village.

82. Peg Mativi

owner and CEO

Solutions Staffing

83. Jim Robbins

managing partner, Columbus office


84. & 85. Ken Mills & Cameron James

president and CEO, respectively

Mills/James Productions Inc.

86. Al Dietzel

vice president of public affairs

The Limited Inc.

87. Kelly Borth



88. Audrey Weil

general manager


89. & 90. Nick Bandy & Doug McIntyre


Zero Base Advertising Inc.

91. Tami Longaberger

president and CEO

The Longaberger Co.

92. Rosa Smith


Columbus Public Schools

Smith continues to increase her role in the business community in an effort to provide high quality graduates to fill the abundance of jobs in our city. Already a member of the chamber's Workforce Leadership Council, Smith teamed up with chamber executives this past year to refocus the Adopt-A-School program, which was renamed Partners in Education. Expect more initiatives of this nature from Smith in the coming year.

93. Paul Otte


Franklin University

94. Melinda Carter


Equal Business Opportunity Commission

City of Columbus

95. Hal Miksch


Main Street Connection LLC

96. Frank Henson

executive director

Industry & Technology Council of Central Ohio

97. Bob Bender

chairman, president and CEO

Lord, Sullivan & Yoder

98. Patrick Grabill


King Thompson, Realtors

99. Olin Jones


Capitol Square Ltd.

When Arshot Investments sold its interest in the Brewers Yard development to Capitol Square Ltd. at the close of last year, it left Jones in full control. Not only will Capitol Square, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Dispatch Printing Co., build the apartment units it had originally planned for the area, but it will now oversee the commercial and retail development of the 27-acre site adjacent to the Brewery District. This is already shaping up to be one high-profile project.

100. Bill Patterson


Reputation Management Associates

A sampling from Patterson's client list leaves no question about his connections in the business community: AEP, Bob Evans Restaurants, the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, Dominion Homes, Executive Jet, Nationwide Insurance, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Techneglas. Nancy Byron ( is editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus. Joan Slattery Wall ( is associate editor.

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:50

Lindagrace Hickey

Introductions often proved to be a problem for Lindagrace Hickey after she was named the first woman partner at Whalen & Co. CPAs in 1984.

Despite her promotion, clients proceeded to refer to her as the secretary of the male partners at the company.

"At the time I felt like I was out there climbing a hill by myself," she says, even though she's now the managing partner and one of three female owners of the North Columbus firm.

Perhaps it's her journey into that new territory that makes her empathize with the characters in some of her favorite books, which include nonfiction stories of the Old West.

"The way of life of the Plains Indian has a tremendous fascination for me -- how they eked out their living, what caused them to celebrate, how they lived their lives day to day with the perils against them," says Hickey, who predicts she'll likely retire in the Colorado area one day.

She also admires women who met their challenges in the 1800s on the wagon trails, stories she enjoys from "Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey" by Lillian Schlissel.

Hickey's own determination and self-confidence impressed Jedd Whalen, a retiring former partner in the accounting firm, who interviewed her when she responded to a 1979 advertisement for an opening in the five-person office.

"I don't think she really gave us much choice. She's just very convincing," he says, referring to why she was chosen for the job.

She also already had 10 years experience working part time at another firm.

"There wasn't much we had to think about."

Within five years, she was named the firm's first woman partner. In 1999, the firm she left, Mathless & Mathless CPAs Inc., called to see if she was interested in taking it over because its partners were retiring.

"They thought very highly of Linda in order to do that," Whalen says.

Most of the clients were merged into the Whalen practice, which now is approaching $3 million in revenue and has 35 employees serving 1,500 business and individual clients.

"She works awfully hard, and she is extremely devoted to her clients," Whalen adds. "Her clients always come first."

Hickey credits lessons from Elmer Whalen, the firm's founder who now lives in Florida, with her ability to put people first.

"These are not just clients; these are your friends who trust you a lot," she says, describing his teachings. "CPAs are known for their independent thinking -- they don't bring bias to the table. They look at all aspects. He helped me to see that very clearly, and how your clients would value that."

That education is evident to 15-year client Karen Ballou, secretary/treasurer of Bennett & Williams Inc., a Columbus environmental consulting and engineering firm.

"She's always been very upbeat, very outgoing, very personable," she says. "She's interested in me as a person as well as my business."

Ballou also uses Hickey's services for her personal finances and another business she co-owns, Geodyssey Inc.

"She does not come across as the typical, 'I have my head buried in numbers and that is all I really know,' because she has the people skills that complement (her accounting expertise)," Ballou says. "She's not what one would think of as a typical accountant."

"She is personally responsible for breaking that mold," says Jedd Whalen.

Hickey's wit sets her apart, say many who know her, and Whalen points out she isn't the average right-brained accountant.

Her creative side comes out in the needlework she does in quilts and afghans -- she also cross-stitched a good number of her Christmas cards last year -- and one of her favorite pastimes, photography.

"I always have my camera with me," she says. "I love to shoot sunsets wherever I am. I'm fascinated by the different views of sunsets across this country."

Among her favorite photo spots: Red Rocks Amphitheater near Denver, where she often travels to visit her two grown children; the Gulf of Mexico at the southern tip of Florida; and the coast of Oregon.

Her Kodak panoramic camera also goes with her to Browns' games, where she can get the whole Cleveland stadium in one shot.

"I think they built that camera for me," she says.

Whalen says Hickey's involvement in organizations and volunteer activities outside of work makes him think she has batteries that never run down.

"She's one of those high energy people that I admire; that I'm jealous of," he says "Linda is one of those people -- and I've told her this -- that's very analytical and very accountant-like, but at the same time, she's very creative and artistic."

Her business savvy leads her to enjoy working with chambers of commerce to network and market her skills, which make her sought-after for speaking engagements to civic organizations and other volunteer services. The Westerville Area Chamber asked her to serve as treasurer of its foundation to provide educational scholarships for Westerville students. She's also president of the Little Turtle Condo Association, where she lives.

A member of Women Presidents Organization, she's a founding member of the Columbus chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, where she has served as treasurer for five years.

"She's very direct, straightforward and has a great sense of humor. To me, she doesn't fit a lot of the large accounting/legal practice profiles," says Melody Borchers, who also was a founding member of the National Association of Women Business Owners and is coordinator for the Women Presidents Organization's Columbus chapter. Borchers also knows Hickey as a client of her My Turf golf training business.

Borchers adds that Hickey seems comfortable with anyone, from individual entrepreneurs to very sophisticated clients.

"She's very, very confident," Borchers says, "but she kind of wins people over with her sense of humor -- a very dry sense of humor -- and instant identification with them no matter what industry they're in." How to reach: Lindagrace Hickey, Whalen & Co., 891-6224 or

Joan Slattery Wall ( is associate editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:49

A good lead

In 1992, Brock Poling was looking for new perspectives.

He wanted more exposure to Columbus but really hadn't had time to learn about it. He also was toying with the idea of starting his own business and wanted to know how other entrepreneurs viewed their companies and the world.

What he found was inspiration through a program called Leadership Columbus.

Cleve Ricksecker, who now heads up the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District through the Capitol South Community Urban Redevelopment Corp., was one of the program's speakers who fanned Poling's entrepreneurial fire.

"Here's one person who is basically spearheading a major movement in our city," says Poling, now president of MC2. "That sort of stuck with me; that one person can make a huge difference if they stick with what they're passionate about and what they believe in."

Poling is among 1,600 people who have had extensive training about the local community and developing leadership skills through a 26-year-old program called Leadership Columbus.

The annual 10-month class meets for a two-day retreat, followed by one full day each month to examine the city's history, health and social services, diversity, economic development, education and other issues. Through lectures, panel discussions, tours, simulations, interactive experiences and small group community service projects, participants develop skills such as consensus building and communication, and work on a community project.

Recent class projects included developing a tutor recruitment plan for the Columbus Literacy Council and writing a civic resource guide for use by the Somalian community acclimating to American culture and life in Columbus.

Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter law partner Roger Sugarman, another participant who is now a Leadership Columbus board member, says he pushed for his firm to send one of its attorneys each of the last five or six years.

"We view it as an opportunity or reward or benefit for them and for our firm in terms of the skill building and program that they'll go through at Leadership Columbus," he says.

He's not alone in his view. Laurie S. Marsh, executive director of Leadership Columbus, says local companies and organizations such as AEP, United Way of Central Ohio and the city of Columbus regularly send executives and employees to the program, which works in cooperation with the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce.

Cathy Mayne Lyttle, vice president of corporate communications at Worthington Industries and past board chair of Leadership Columbus, says her experience with the program showed her the importance of not only serving on boards but volunteering in other ways, such as with your neighborhood association or your child's school.

"Those are unsung community roles that we should all take an active part in. I think I became aware much more of the power of that," she says.

"What we're about," Lyttle says of Leadership Columbus, "is bringing up through the ranks the next generation of leaders, and it's people you don't know and people thinking about making an impact on a community."

The application deadline for the next Leadership Columbus class, which costs $2,950, is March 15. Scholarships are available. How to reach: Brock Poling, MC2, 255-0910; Roger Sugarman, Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter, 462-5422; Cathy Mayne Lyttle, Worthington Industries, 438-3077; and Laurie S. Marsh, Leadership Columbus, 225-6948 or For more information, visit

Joan Slattery Wall ( is associate editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.