Joan Wall

Monday, 31 December 2001 07:11

Keeping the top brass

Looking for a tax-deductible way to retain and reward your highest company executives without high administrative costs and the red tape?

So was Emmet Apolinario, chairman and CEO of Caspian Software Inc., until he learned about Section 162 of the Internal Revenue Code which allows a business to create a bonus program for specific employees.

"We're a C corporation, and one of the things we lack as opposed to an S corporation is the flexibility to be able to control or mitigate tax liabilities," Apolinario says.

He wanted a way to shelter bonuses for executives and owners of the company.

Fredericia J. Poorman, CEO of Wealth Builders Inc., an affiliate of The Columbus Financial Group and an attorney whose background is in the tax arena, helped Apolinario set up the executive bonus plan for himself and his president and COO, Al Fahimi.

"Basically it's a deferred compensation program, the way the program works," says Apolinario, who's trying out the plan before offering it to other select executives of his 40-employee consulting and training firm.

Poorman explains the executive bonus plan with this example: A company could pay a $10,000 annual bonus for the premiums on approximately $1 million worth of life insurance to cover and be owned by the executive, who chooses his or her beneficiary. The business tax-deducts the bonus as an ordinary and necessary business expense. The executive pays only the income tax due on the bonus itself. The business owner can give this bonus to himself or herself as well.

Other advantages for the executive:

* The executive, Poorman explains, is entitled to the cash value of the policy, which grows tax-deferred. When the executive passes away, the benefit goes to his or her beneficiary tax free.

* The cash value of the benefit can provide executives with supplemental cash flow at retirement. They can take the money out in a tax-favored way, receive it in a lump sum, take a loan against the money or take payment options like annuities. As the plan builds equity, Apolinario says, he or she could borrow from it at very low interest yet still have the coverage of the insurance.

"It's really leveraging money to grow its own value," he says. "That's one thing I like about the plan is several years from now we can borrow it to be more aggressive with that fund and invest it."

* "Employees get concerned -- 'What will happen when you and Al get old and want to sell the company?'" Apolinario says. "We're not going to be here forever. The company will eventually evolve with the way it's going right now. The way I look at it is it's portable. It will be available for whoever buys Caspian or merges with Caspian."

The employer, Poorman says, is free to choose who will receive the bonuses.

"And the nice thing about the plan is the employer can vary the amount," she adds. "If one person does a fabulous job, you're going to give this person more than you do the other four. It's very subjective."

The employer also gains:

* Simplicity and minimal administration. "All that needs to be done is, a corporate resolution about the plan should be included in the corporate minutes," she says.

The only administration is paying out the premium. The arrangement does not have to be prequalified by the IRS, nor is it subject to annual reporting and disclosure rules, Poorman says.

* A recruiting tool. "You can recruit, reward, retain and retire key employees," Poorman says. "Basically what happens is the employer can show these selected people how much they're valued by the company." How to reach: Fredericia J. Poorman, CEO, Wealth Builders Inc., an affiliate of The Columbus Financial Group, 785-5100.

Joan Slattery Wall is senior editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.

Monday, 03 December 2001 09:02

Personalize it

After more than 25 years, DesignGroup needed a dramatic change.

The architectural design firm had been located in the suburbs in typical office space -- space that just didn't work for the creative side of the employees or for the firm's renewed focus on teamwork.

Moving the 80-employee, $9 million company first required a look inside.

The firm's strong suits, says CEO Robert Vennemeyer, include "sustainability," or using less nonrenewable energy, such as fossil fuels. Instead, DesignGroup teaches its clients how to make use of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind or hydroelectric power. In addition, Vennemeyer is a strong supporter of re-use of urban land -- existing sites that already have utilities and infrastructure built in.

"We can help the context and fabric of our downtown as an example for what others can do," Vennemeyer says of his decision to build a 62,000-square-foot, five-story building at 515 E. Main St., tearing down a former rental car operation to build in its place.

The building is a joint project of DesignGroup and JDS Cos., which occupies 3,000 square feet of the space. They've rented out most of the rest of the building to Children's Hospital Information Services, A-Plus Personnel Services Inc. and Kitrick and Lewis Co. LPA.

DesignGroup's design principal, Jack Hedge, designed the $7.2 million building, which was completed in October 2000 and immediately gained local and national attention for its energy efficiency.

"We redeveloped an area already developed instead of going out to an area where they'd have to develop new streets, utilities and things like that. And because we're in an area where things are closer together, we use less energy," Hedge says, pointing out that employees can walk to lunch Downtown and shopping at City Center instead of using their cars.

Beyond the efficiency aspect, however, Hedge wanted to use the two floors occupied by DesignGroup to create a space not just functional and cost-saving but also fitting for the company's culture of creativity and teamwork.

Here's how he did it.

Be practical

Hedge's expertise in energy-efficient design allowed DesignGroup to have a space that not only works for its culture but also for its budget.

Called "passive solar," the building's orientation makes the maximum use of the sun. It has a longer north/south faade than east/west, enabling its southern exposure to the sun to save energy in lighting and heating.

Sun screens on the south elevation block out undesirable summer heat gain and soak in winter sun for heat and light. The screens are placed so that in the summer, when the sun is higher, the hot rays are blocked, but in the winter, when the sun is lower, light comes straight in.

In addition, large windows on the north side maximize day lighting with minimal heat gain, and a third- and fourth-floor central atrium allows natural light to illuminate the central area of the building -- a space that's usually more like a dark dungeon in other office buildings.

Combined, the features add up to 10 to 15 percent savings in energy use.

Work together

Hedge needed to make sure the company's new space would facilitate its teamwork culture, because each client's work is handled by a group including project managers, designers, architects, specifications writers and other employees.

Instead of putting offices around the perimeter of the building and "worker bees," as he says, in the center, Hedge wanted everyone in the firm to feel equally important to the teams. The result: An open interior with "pods" where each team gathers to work.

Hedge created plenty of flexible spaces, such as conference rooms with tables that can be configured to lay out large drawings or used in part as podiums for meetings.

"Nobody has an office with a door on it, but if you want to have a private conversation, there are spaces for it," Hedge says.

Employees picked out their own office furniture, all of which is on wheels so it can be reconfigured.

"The whole point is you don't feel so bad moving to another team," he says.

Things used by everyone on the team, such as files or supplies, are grouped in the center of the team pods.

Designers often keep their work in progress on portable display boards.

"(An) advantage to that is you can see what the designers are working on right then," Hedge says. "It gives everybody else some awareness of what's going on."

In addition, the boards can easily be wheeled into conference rooms for meetings.

The lunchroom is in the center of one of the two floors used by DesignGroup rather than stuck out of the way in a corner. Every Monday at lunch, designers take the pieces they're working on to get input from others.

"A designer in a vacuum," Hedge points out, "is usually not a good designer."

Get creative

Designers, of course, need a space that inspires them to do their work, so Hedge had yet another goal to accomplish.

First, designers have options to personalize their office space. For example, interior design schemes enable them to change the paint on certain walls, rather than an entire room, whenever the desire arises.

In addition, an abundance of windows keeps employees aware of the world outside.

"Some people would think that's a distraction. Well, I don't think it is. I think it's a connection, a variety," Hedge says.

Another plus to the 10-foot high windows is they let in plenty of natural light.

"Even on a dismal day in here, at least you know it's a dismal day. On a sunny day, it's just glorious," he says. "What we're hoping the building will do is get people energized about being creative." How to reach: DesignGroup, 225-0515 or www.dgcolumbus.com; Jack Hedge;jhedge@dgcolumbus.com; Robert Vennemeyer, rvennemeyer@dgcolumbus.com

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is senior editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.

Tuesday, 30 October 2001 07:20

Will the smoke settle?

Ohio's Legislature Ohio's Legislature is winding down on debate of a bill to transfer final decisions on rules regarding tobacco sale or use out of the hands of health boards and into those of local elected government officials.

Prompted by news that some health boards in Ohio were moving toward implementing smoking bans, Sen. Lynn Wachtmann introduced Senate Bill 128 in June, and within a month successfully got approval by his side of the Statehouse. The bill passed the House's State Goverment Committee Oct. 24 and was scheduled for a floor vote Oct. 30. However, both sides were meeting with Gov. Taft, who promised to veto the bill in its latest form, to try to work out a compromise.

Without the bill, rules and orders regulating the sale or use of cigarettes and other tobacco products are instituted by boards of health, which consist of appointed members. Wachtmann wants local governments, such as city councils, to OK those rules before they're implemented. That way, he says, business owners will be better able to voice their opinions on the issues, and elected officials will have to answer to their constituents for their actions.

Opponents of the bill, however, include the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and American Heart Association, which say board of health members already are held accountable by the elected officials who appoint them.

The bill, they say, would make it virtually impossible for a county to have a regulation regarding smoking. For example, a countywide smoking regulation in Franklin County, which holds the state capital, would require five local boards of health to go to 42 elected bodies, including 12 cities, 13 villages and 17 townships for the adoption of a regulation before it could be enacted.

''We feel (the bill) takes away the ability of local boards of health to fulfill their obligation to protect the health of the community,'' says Jodi Govern, general counsel for the Ohio Department of Health.

''Of course our concern stems from our concern about environmental tobacco smoke, also called secondhand smoke.'' ''Secondhand smoke is the third leading cause of preventable death in Ohio. The first is smoking, itself, and the second, alcohol use.''

''Another major concern of ours is in restaurants and bars. It's forgotten, but those places are work sites. They have employees. We have strong concerns that that is an occupational health hazard,'' Govern adds, noting that lung cancer risks for restaurant workers are 1.5 times higher than for nonsmokers who live with a smoker and 4.4 times higher for bar workers than for people only exposed to secondhand smoke in the home.

She also argues that business owners already can state their case for or against such regulations at public hearings held before health boards adopt the rules.

Opponents say the bill will complicate matters because board of health rules will not necessarily go into effect uniformly throughout health districts that have many governmental jurisdictions within their boundaries.

''Consumers and restaurants would have a difficult time understanding where a ban is in effect and where it's not,'' Govern says. ''It might just be a matter of which side of the road you're on.''

Proponents, meanwhile, insist that smoking bans and tobacco sales restrictions limit not just individuals' rights but also the rights of businesses to run themselves as they see fit.

''If regulations are going to be passed upon the business people, they should be done by elected officials, not by appointed people once or twice removed from elected officials,'' argues Wachtmann, who represents 10 counties in rural Northwest Ohio and himself owns a business, Maumee Valley Bottlers Inc.

Organizations such as the Ohio Grocers Association, Ohio Council of Retail Merchants and Ohio Restaurant Association agree.

''We simply don't think nonelected officials should be making such drastic business decisions,'' says Josh Sanders, public affairs director for the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants and executive director of the Ohio Association of Convenience Stores.

Boards of health implement issues such as licensing systems and penalties, he points out.

''They don't have to answer to the business community when, in effect, some of these rules they pass could put smaller businesses out of a job,'' Sanders says.

Sanders says while the bill will allow business owners to get a fair hearing in the process before elected government bodies, the business community must take advantage of that situation.

''Business owners cannot say, if we get this passed, everything's fine and not do anything about it,'' Sanders says, especially considering that passage of the law means more government coming into their businesses. ''They're the ones that on the local level need to make sure their business is run the way they want it to be run.''

To keep track of S.B. 128, visit the Web site of the 124th Ohio General Assembly at www.legislature.state.oh.us, type in the bill number and select the Senate option. How to reach: Sen. Lynn Wachtmann, (614) 466-8150; Josh Sanders, Ohio Council of Retail Merchants, (614) 221-7833; Jodi Govern, Ohio Department of Health, (614) 644-8562

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is a senior editor and statehouse correspondent for SBN Magazine.

Tuesday, 30 October 2001 07:01

Frozen in time

''Go home and be with your families.''

First, Dwight Smith, our neighbor and president and CEO of Sophisticated Systems, made it just a suggestion to his employees Sept. 11.

Tom Longstreth, our sales representative, and I joined those employees, gathered in silence in front of the TV in their conference room.

What at first was an option a short time later turned into an order: Dwight closed his business for the day.

Like a kindergarten teacher making sure students boarded the bus safely home, he was among the last to leave, pausing only to visit our office to advise us to do the same. Countless other Central Ohio business owners were of the same mind.

I wrote and rewrote this column in my head so many times and debated whether I should print it at all. Our October edition was already on its way to the printer when the national tragedy occurred. Now, two months after the terrorists attacked, what more could possibly be said? Yet I couldn't let it go unmentioned on these pages, as if it never even happened.

What we'd rather erase from our minds brought memories and acts of compassion we should never forget. For every scene of horror, there was a picture of endurance, help, hope:

* The elementary school student who flashed me the peace sign -- and a broad smile -- as I drove to SBN Sept. 17.

* Churches, normally full only for the Christmas and Easter holidays, which swelled with standing room only.

* Business owners, struggling to make ends meet in the already tremulous economy, who matched donations of their employees or brought blood drives on site so employees could donate.

* Big business, which reached into its deep pockets. The Limited Inc. and Intimate Brands Inc. Foundation contributed $1 million to the fund established by the United Way and the New York Community Trust and gave employees the opportunity to donate as well. (Donate through The Huntington National Bank with account number 04896310285.) Nationwide gave the same amount to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund (800-HELP NOW or www.redcross.org/donate).

* The unique responses of small business. Shadowbox Cabaret changed its scheduled show to one of all comedy and light music. Don ''The Idea Guy'' Snyder designed a Statue of Liberty graphic for print on clothing and other items for sale through his Delaware employer, J2 Creations (www.j2creations.com) in a project dubbed ''ChariTees.'' A portion of the profits will go to the American Red Cross.

It's past time to move on, some will tell me -- let's pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off.

But we are, every one of us, changed -- for the better, I'd argue -- because of one day's events.

The goodness that came out of humanity as a result of the horror must be constantly repeated. May a part of us always remain frozen in time, Sept. 11, 2001. Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is senior editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:50

Michael Reed

When Michael Reed's children wanted to know why traffic signals didn't get covered with snow during a winter storm, he had a simple answer: Snow Ants.

Snow Ants, as Reed's story goes, live in the stoplights.

"They're nice people, but they have issues like everybody else," says Reed, president and CEO of Application Link Inc. "I told my kids the reason why no snow is there is because the Snow Ants broom them out to keep the motorists safe."

Reed's youthful imagination hasn't left him, even though his children are now grown.

Take, for example, the Beanie Baby lion on the credenza in his office.

"It reminds me of the kid in me," he says.

So do the yo-yo and Frisbee that often circulate throughout Application Link's Downtown offices and the purple toy Prowler, which Reed zooms along his desk when he's stressed.

The toys -- and a Cleveland Browns dog -- create the only character gracing Reed's office. He's been there nearly three years, but the sole thing hanging on the walls is a souvenir banner from Puerto Rico given to him by an employee -- and put there by the employee herself. He doesn't even have a desktop computer; file folders cover his desk.

For Reed, it's the simple things that make the day -- and the company.

Ten years after Application Link's founding in 1979, Reed bought out his partner. He's grown the 16-employee business to $20 million in sales -- with 32 straight quarters of profitability, he says -- through simple philosophies.

The first thing he did when he became full owner was to make the technology software and hardware company self-sufficient, which meant having its own products and brand, as well as creating a development division.

"I wanted to develop products we could develop in six months or less," he says, adding that reasoning came from his own use of software products. "I always had a problem with Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel. They're great products. But I always felt dumb because I always felt like I was only using 8 percent of the product."

Then he found out his customers had the same feelings.

"Before we put one pen to paper, I said, 'We have to make our products simple -- create products our customers could put their entire hands around,'" he says. "Everything we have is simple. Like Legos, you snap on pieces."

For example, one of his base products, LinkTRACK, used to track and manage business activities, is personalized for the legal field with add-ons such as a legal dictionary.

John S. Ensign, president of Ruscilli Construction Co. Inc. and a client who has known Reed for more than 10 years, says Reed's entrepreneurial instincts help him anticipate what the customer is looking for and put together new products in response.

"He's an up-and-comer, I think," Ensign says.

"Any time there's ever been a problem situation here, he'll get personally involved in the solution and do what it takes to make sure everything's resolved to our satisfaction."

Reed recently adopted for his business the Global Sullivan Principles to promote corporate social responsibility. Among the principles created by the Rev. Leon Sullivan, an African-American civil rights activist and Baptist clergyman: "We will promote fair competition including respect for intellectual and other property rights, and not offer, pay or accept bribes," and "We will respect our employees' voluntary freedom of association."

In Reed's efforts to stand out in his industry and retain employees, he seeks out what he calls "cool projects."

"There's no loyalty in our industry," he says. "People are jumping around. There's always somebody willing to bid higher, and the way to retain employees is to have cool projects."

His most recent cool project has been developing software to change the way government services are delivered. The aim: for the government to treat its clients as customers, not as numbers or problems.

Reed's three- to five-year goal for his company continues along the vein of keeping it as simple as possible: "To create a billion-dollar company with less than 100 employees. I think it's possible to do."

Perhaps Reed's simplicity enables him to interact with the children at the Eldon W. Ward YMCA, where he serves as president of the consulting board and leads grass-roots efforts to help the branch raise $2.2 million toward a renovation project.

"I think he's an excellent role model for our young kids," says Kim Jordan, the Y's executive director. "We don't hesitate to point out that he owns his own business. I think he has a genuine concern for young people and where they're going."

Reed, who lost his own father to cancer two years ago, has spent seven years on the Y's consulting board, an organization he says meets his desire to help children and senior citizens.

"I think the wisest person in the world is the oldest person in the world, because they've seen so much. In our society, we think the wisest person in the world is the richest person," he says. "And our children are our eternal hope. Any child we leave behind could be the child that's going to cure cancer, and people need to understand that."

In his spare time, Reed is an avid chess player.

"I've been playing chess ever since I was big enough to move the pieces. I even have a chess computer game on my hand-held (computer) I use when I'm trying to de-stress myself," he says.

What he likes about the game is that it requires the player to plan and execute a strategy.

"You have the opportunity to win or lose and, in doing that, it kind of mirrors life's struggles," he says. "You make your move, and somebody is always countering that move. You've got to understand that every move's important.

"There is no trivial move in life." How to reach: Michael Reed, Application Link Inc., 469-1981, ext. 26, or www.applicationlink.com

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

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:50

Get a chair and fill the seat

C.J. Petitti knew he'd have to do something to address the job glut.

The president of CallTech Communications Inc. was looking to add 400 employees to his staff of 600, and every little bit would help.

His answer: As he expanded the West Columbus business in 1998, he invested $120,000 to provide better facilities for employees with disabilities. Changes included wider aisles, designated parking spaces and singular restrooms that were handicapped-accessible.

The payoff: He has access to a new group of job candidates for his growing call center business.

About a year ago, Petitti found a resource for workers through the Governor's Initiative on Jobs for People with Disabilities -- a grant program in which the state purchases fixed assets for a company, such as equipment or machinery, in return for the company's promise to hire eligible, pre-screened, qualified workers with disabilities.

"In our line of work, we found people with disabilities were some of our better employees," Petitti says. "They showed up for work. Their customer skill set is very good. We really feel strongly about the skill set the handicapped people bring, and the attrition rate is a lot less. They tend to stay employed with you."

So far, he's hired eight full-time employees through the Governor's Initiative, and he's gone beyond that program to hire another half-dozen in various other positions.

"The purpose of (the initiative) is to help grow jobs for people with disabilities in their local communities," says Janet Kohn, employer services coordinator for the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission, which administers the program.

"What we're looking for is well-paying jobs with benefits," she says, adding that the positions must be full time and provide the employee with access to health coverage.

"We're very selective about the companies we work with because it has to be the right match. They have to have the kinds of jobs that we have people in our systems trained and ready for," she says.

CallTech was a good candidate for the program because employees could be wheelchair users or have visual disabilities and still work at the call center. Only people with speech disabilities would not be able to perform the job duties, Petitti says.

CallTech, Kohn points out, also was willing and able to accommodate employees through the use of adaptive equipment. For example, one software package audibly reads computer screen copy through a headpiece to employees with visual disabilities so they can respond to the caller's needs.

"Computers have really opened the doors to people who are blind or visually impaired to help them work at a competitive level," she says, adding that employees provided through the commission are trained to use such software.

The commission works with employers to determine how many jobs the companies will have and how many the commission thinks it can fill over a period of time. Currently there are 34 agreements in the state with 359 job slots. The commission also provides disability awareness training to employers -- not only those in the Governor's Initiative but whenever employers request the service.

Normally with the Governor's Initiative, negotiations start with the program's offer of $5,000 worth of tangible assets to the company for each job slot. The negotiated price may be higher if the company is offering higher-paying jobs with better benefits.

"We purchase job slots over a period of time and, as positions come open, we refer applicants," Kohn says.

Employers decide whether the applicant meets their requirements.

"Our consumers have to meet their requirements, and they competitively interview like anybody else," she says.

"We work with the person until they're stabilized on the job and then follow them for 90 days," Kohn says. "The goal is they have to be independent by the time we close the case, which is 90 days after they're stabilized on the job. If everything's going well, we back out, but if there are problems, they can come back to us."

CallTech's contract is for eight slots over three years.

In return, the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission purchased 265 Herman Miller Inc. chairs for the call center.

Technically, the chairs belong to the commission until the end of the three-year contract, at which time they're turned over to CallTech.

"That was just an added benefit," Petitti says, noting that the company has since grown to 1,500 employees in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. "We were looking for the bodies." How to reach: C.J. Petitti, CallTech Communications Inc., 621-5512 or cj@calltech.com; Janet Kohn, Rehabilitation Services Commission, 466-9364

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


What you can do

Visit the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission Web site, www.state.oh.us/rsc/ESU/index.html, for more details on the Governor's Initiative on Jobs for People with Disabilities and other services provided to employers.

Check out SOAR, a Searchable Online Accommodation Resource, designed to allow users to explore accommodation options for persons with disabilities in the work setting. The service, launched last year by the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities' Job Accommodation Network, can be found at www.jan.wvu.edu/soar.

The site contains information and accommodation examples for disabilities including arthritis; cancer; lupus; multiple sclerosis; wheelchair use; learning, hearing and vision impairments; heart conditions; and cumulative trauma disorders. Consultants can be reached by phone at (800) 526-7234.

The President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities provides businesses with numerous fact sheets with topics including worksite accommodations, recruiting and hiring practices, customers with disabilities and facts vs. myths. Visit the Web site at www.pcepd.gov and click on the "business focus" link, call (202) 376-6200 or e-mail info@pcepd.gov.

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:49

Class project

Even by their own measure, Joe Sullivan and Gary Bruck had a slim shot at designing the multimillion-dollar renovation project for Columbus School for Girls.

After all, their Downtown firm, Sullivan Bruck Architects, had never done work on an education project. Top that off with their proposal to the school: Instead of a $6 million, modest rehabilitation and expansion of old buildings, Sullivan and Bruck suggested the school demolish most of its buildings and start over -- to the tune of $8 million, a 33 percent increase.

Against the odds, however, they did get the job, and several years later, another multimillion-dollar project at one of CSG's competitors: The Columbus Academy.

They did it by capitalizing on the two private schools' concerns about marketing themselves and projecting the best possible image in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

CSG's 1990 expansion and renovation needs weren't just to provide more space for students or upgrade aging facilities.

"I think what we began to do is look at our existing facility obviously with an eye toward creating a campus that would reflect the philosophy and values of our school in a way that our existing school did not," says Patricia Hayot, head of school for CSG. "In any marketing challenge, you articulate in a more refined way what you stand for."

The private school also faced a factor common to any business -- competition. Around the time of CSG's project, Columbus Academy, the local private school for boys, announced it would go co-ed.

Sullivan Bruck's opportunity to take on the project came through a recommendation from a CSG board member who was a Sullivan Bruck client.

"Hiring us was going out on a limb for the people who made that decision," admits Bruck, referring to the firm's lack of experience in that realm.

What made up for the shortfall was Sullivan Bruck's work on residential projects and classical detailing.

"What we were building was something much more beyond pencils and books and blackboards," Hayot says. "We were building a community and wanted someone who really had vision and a sense of creativity ... who could help us develop this."

Sullivan Bruck suggested the project focus on the school's old mansion. Even though it was the gateway for new and prospective students because it conveyed the image of the school, it wasn't even visible from the street. Sullivan and Bruck wanted to make the mansion the school's focus and create more of a campus with new buildings.

"We thought Columbus School for Girls was a lot closer to a school of higher education than it was a typical school campus," Sullivan says.

In the end, the project worked, especially from a marketing standpoint.

"We had thought that we might lose some enrollment when Academy went co-ed," Hayot says. "That wasn't sustained at all. Within a year and a half, we had exceeded our enrollment's highest level ever."

Although she points out that buildings don't define an organization, the renovation and expansion project has allowed CSG to better fit its image.

""We have a sense of community here, a great sense of light, a sense of style, a sense of rigor. There are spaces that invite you in, and that's what learning is about," she says.

Nearly 10 years later, when Columbus Academy needed to expand, Sullivan Bruck got the nod on that project, too.

"We also needed a building that made kind of a statement of welcome to the outside community," says Academy Headmaster John M. Mackenzie. "If you drove up to campus prior to this building being built, you would not know where the front door was."

Again, the door of opportunity was opened for Sullivan Bruck by an existing client and school board member.

Sullivan Bruck designed a new administration building that made a square of the existing three buildings on the campus and tied everything together with a Georgian architecture flair to help Columbus Academy make a statement of quality and character.

"We can't trace enrollment back to a building, but I can say the last couple of years this building has been in existence have been the two best admissions years in the history of the school," Mackenzie says, adding that attrition is low and contributions to the school are at an all-time high.

The experiences with the two schools encouraged Sullivan and Bruck to do marketing of their own to expand beyond their traditional work.

"We have started to pursue some public institutions and have been short-listed for a couple of projects," Sullivan says.

The hurdle, of course, is the firm's lack of experience in various areas.

"I don't view our firm as having limits," Bruck says. "The difficulty is convincing the outside." How to reach: Sullivan Bruck Architects, 464-9800 or www.sbarch.com; Gary Bruck, garyb@sbarch.com; Joe Sullivan, joes@sbarch.com; Patricia Hayot, Columbus School for Girls, 252-0781; John M. Mackenzie, Columbus Academy, 475-2311

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

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:48

Jay Dascenzo

Call it good karma, optimism or whatever you like, but the positive attitude Jay Dascenzo surrounds himself with affords him the opportunity to take advantage of some amazing -- even uncanny -- opportunities.

Take, for example, the time in 1984, when he decided to stop being a human services lobbyist, wanting instead to be involved with then-Gov. Richard F. Celeste's administration. He got hired to help design a computer system to manage a grant program for the Ohio Department of Development.

"I didn't know how to turn a computer on," laughs the president of Dascenzo Perez Inc., an Arena District communications agency.

Even though a hiring freeze prohibited the department from bringing on a computer programmer to translate Dascenzo's ideas into bytes, he still managed to develop a simple system for the Community Development Block Grant program that became a model used by other states as well.

Another time, Dascenzo used an eavesdropping tactic to get in closer ranks with Celeste. The head of the governor's advance team was asking another person to work on a particular event -- but he needed someone who owned a tuxedo.

"I piped up and said, 'I have a tuxedo,'" Dascenzo says. Plus, he'd already done advance work -- for an opponent of Celeste in a previous election, ironically.

He got the job and ended up as Celeste's assistant for the chief of staff. In all, he spent six years working in state government, often coordinating Celeste's out-of-state events. At the time, he called working for the governor "the greatest experience of my life."

Dascenzo's ability to make good of a situation or get things going his way served him well later as he spent 11 months in France -- where he landed a job writing gossip about American celebrities for a magazine -- and when he returned to the United States to do free-lance work and eventually start his own company.

In 1996, he took in a partner, Miguel Perez, and has grown Dascenzo Perez Inc. to eight employees in Columbus and Cincinnati with annual billings of $1.6 million. Dascenzo serves as speechwriter for Tami Longaberger, president and CEO of The Longaberger Co., and his company has produced events, videos, stage shows, speeches, print communications and fashion shows for many of The Limited Inc.'s businesses or spin-offs, including Victoria's Secret Catalogue, Bath & Body Works and Lane Bryant. Other clients include such notables as Tupperware Corp., Wexner Heritage Village and the American Red Cross.

"Jay's got a very good sense of humor. He has a contagious enthusiasm about him," says Frankie Nowlin, Borden Foundation president and immediate past president of the Center for New Directions board. As a board member, Dascenzo helped the center revamp its annual fund-raising event.

"When you're around him and he talks about ideas, you kind of think to yourself, 'This is a great idea; I'd like to do that,'" Nowlin says. "He's just so positive about things."

His positive attitude is taking him to Alaska this summer, where he'll participate in a 500-mile bicycle ride -- the longest he's ever attempted -- from Fairbanks to Anchorage to raise money for AIDS vaccine research. He also serves on the national board of governors for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization.

Dascenzo's optimism just last year grew even brighter -- since he saw through a cloud he didn't even realize was hanging over his head.

After a friend pointed out that he always seemed to have a lot of anxiety, he began to wonder if he should do something about it.

"It was fear of everything but fear of nothing," Dascenzo says.

It marked his first experience visiting a therapist -- and he learned how to deal with his anxiety disorder.

"It's not rocket science. It's converting negative thoughts into realistic thoughts," he says, explaining how previously he would magnify a little mistake he made at an event where 95 percent of his work was "a home run."

"I had to work hard to shift that mindset," he says. "I tell a lot of people now, because I figure if I can get someone to think about doing something about it, that you don't have to live that way, great."

His anxious feelings had not been evident to everyone, perhaps because it hadn't affected his work.

Peggy Calestro, vice president of development at Columbus State Community College, relates the story of the new look, new name and new attention Dascenzo brought to the college's fund-raiser, Taste the Future.

"It was a nice event, but it wasn't an event people (were) compelled to come to -- and it has become that," Calestro says, noting Taste the Future now reaches its maximum registration of 1,000 attendees. "The money we have raised has just more than quadrupled.

"His optimism and his vision rubbed off on all of us," she says. "He rekindled the excitement that had been there when we started the event."

He kept that excitement going after the fact, too.

"The day after the event, he sent me flowers and thanked me," Calestro recalls. "I thought, 'Now wait a minute. This should have gone totally the other way, because I just sort of stood there and watched him do his magic.' It was such a generous thing to do -- it totally denied any responsibility he had for the success of the event.

"He doesn't focus the spotlight on himself, and he really could. ... Instead of self promoting, he reflects it right back onto the people who benefit from his good work."

How to reach: Jay Dascenzo, Dascenzo Perez Inc., 228-7738 or jay@dascenzoperez.com

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

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:48

My biggest mistake

To err is human. How well we recover -- and learn -- from our mistakes, however, can mark the difference between success and failure.

SBN often asks business leaders to divulge how their biggest missteps impacted their companies. Our reason for doing so is simple: Often there's more to learn from a mistake than a success. And, for some reason, lessons learned the hard way tend to stick with us longer.

That's why, for the second year in a row, we're devoting our cover story to the topic of business blunders. Based on the feedback we got last year, you learned quite a bit from the stories local CEOs were willing to share with us last time around.

So read on and find out how some of the best and brightest leaders in corporate Columbus -- taken from our SBN Power 100 list published in February -- have learned from their mistakes.

If you own it, act like it

Business was going well in 1993 when J.F. "Jeff" Keeler, chairman and CEO of Fishel Co., decided an expansion was in order.

He acquired an Indiana company called Johnson Brothers, making it a division of Fishel but leaving it with its own operations and its own identity rather than changing its red and white trucks to Fishel's signature yellow and making its employees Fishel "teammates."

Keeler's mistake: his decision not to "Fishelize" the new acquisition. It took more than five years to recover.

Over the years, Keeler has built his family business into a proven success by strictly following the Fishel culture. For 10 years prior to the merger, "teammates" had been sharing in the company's profits -- one-third before taxes, in fact. By that year, Keeler was sharing more than $700,000 with employees, who received about four weeks pay as their cash profit sharing.

"Some of my friends say, 'Keeler, you're crazy to be sharing that much,' and my answer is, 'I'm not crazy. It makes the pie bigger and there are more teammates that care about the health and the profitability and the quality of the company,'" he says.

Johnson Brothers, however, which was a 100-employee carbon copy of Fishel's telecommunications and utility construction services, was doing well on its own. Keeler decided to leave it alone rather than change something and risk problems.

"What happened is you let it alone and it floundered. It was like a ship without a rudder," he says, noting that the owner stayed on with the company but didn't provide much direction after the acquisition.

"Their employees never really felt like they were Fishel teammates. And they didn't take leadership or direction very well," he says.

The acquisition lost money five years in a row, totaling several hundred thousand dollars.

"It took us about five years to do something about it, and basically that was to put a Fishel teammate in charge," he says.

"We painted the equipment yellow, put (the employees) in our benefit plans and our training programs. And we made it part of Fishel Co. instead of a division of it. We changed the name and called it Team Fishel instead of Johnson Brothers," he says.

The turnaround was almost immediate, once the employees' attitudes changed. Profits returned within about two years.

Keeler says he learned two lessons from the experience.

"When you buy it, you really own it, and you need to integrate it into your existing business," he says.

He'd immediately "Fishelize" any future acquisition.

That day hasn't come yet, though, mainly because of the second lesson he learned.

"We would buy a company that would not be in the exact same business that we're in, but that would be a specialty subcontractor with a set of skills we don't already have," Keeler says. "If we know how to do it, we'll start it ourselves.

"We've opened an office since then in the Washington, D.C., area, and in Orlando, Denver, Houston, and we're in the process of opening one in Tucson. We're doing that all with homegrown, Fishelized teammates, and it's a lot less expensive than buying into the marketplace."

Keeping with the Fishel culture and maintaining the profit sharing practice has not only been successful for the $265 million company, it has brought personal satisfaction to Keeler.

This spring, he had what he calls "the thrill of a lifetime" when, at a quarterly meeting with 650 teammates in Phoenix, he passed out $1.3 million worth of profit-sharing checks in one hour.

"That was a new record for me," Keeler says, "and it was a thrill to look out in the audience and see that many people that were part of the team and contributing to help make a profit." How to reach: Jeff Keeler, 274-8100

Hire people with the right passion

Samuel Gresham Jr. will never forget the time he entrusted an employee to plan a big event for the Columbus Urban League and the caterers showed up wearing toga-esque outfits.

"I told him to go ahead and plan it, just show me the agenda and I'll give you that freedom," says Gresham, president and CEO of the urban league, of the young, male employee who coordinated the event about eight years ago for the league's Center for Change and Leadership (now known as the Center for the Study of Urban Life).

"What he did is he hired the Hare Krishnas to prepare the food, and I had all these straight-laced people coming in in suits. I tend to deal with community people who are very conservative. And here we have these bald-headed people with white sheets wrapped around them serving the food. That was embarrassing. He said he had a caterer for the food. I didn't ask to see all the details.

"I trusted him to that extent. Obviously, his expectation and his understanding of what is acceptable in a business setting, and what isn't, was very different from mine."

Gresham eventually fired the employee -- but not just because of that incident. It was clear to him that this young man's true passion wasn't in event planning or public policy or even advocacy, which were the key elements of his job at the urban league, a $5.6 million organization.

"He had a master's degree," Gresham says. "He was great for writing papers and doing the analytical work, but he just had a quirky personality. He went off a little farther than other people would go. During staff meetings, he would quote Shakespeare. It would irritate people. We're in here talking about how we're losing money or struggling because we're not meeting goals and nobody wants to hear Shakespeare."

Gresham says this former employee is now pursuing a career in teaching literature.

"That's probably a more fitting position for him," he says.

Figuring out the true interests of job candidates has since become an essential element in Gresham's hiring process at the urban league.

"The biggest mistake I make with people is I don't find that passion," he says. "People come in because they want a job. What I try to find out is what their passion is: What do you really like to do? What gets you upset? What makes your juices flow? I try to make sure what they're applying for is really what they want to do."

That's why Gresham's screening process also includes multiple interviews.

"I won't hire a candidate unless I've met with them three times," he says. "Once in the morning, early, to see if they're going to be on time. Why? A 10 o'clock meeting is not hard. A 7 o'clock meeting is hard."

The second meeting is always over lunch, to see how they handle discussing business during a meal.

"If you set them down to do a deal and they eat like a pig and they chew with their mouth open and they don't know how to use the napkin, people say, 'Yuck,'" Gresham explains.

The third meeting involves making a presentation to Gresham on a topic he tells the candidate to research.

"A lot of people get upset because they don't think they should have to do that," he says.

But it shows Gresham the candidate's drive, research skills and analytical abilities -- along with his or her composure in making a presentation.

Besides, Gresham adds, job candidates can put on a happy, polite demeanor the first couple times you meet them, but by the third time, they've let down their guard.

"You see things in that person they can't hide anymore," he says.

Another screening tool he uses to help identify the true abilities and interests of potential hires is to ask them about the last book they read or movie they saw. That, he says, can offer some interesting insights.

Gresham uses some of the same techniques with the league's 65 employees to make sure their jobs continue to be well matched to their interests.

"I manage by walking around," he says. "That's when I pick up most of my information about what's going on with people. They don't have to tell you. You know just by being around them. If they're unhappy, they're not going to be productive."

For example, he once had an administrative assistant who outgrew the position.

"I moved her to senior vice president of development, and she's flourishing," he says. "You just have to figure out what their passion is." How to reach: Samuel Gresham Jr., 257-6300 or sgresham@cul.org

Find your true identity

Ask Sandy Harbrecht about her biggest business mistake and the conversation quickly turns to regrets: about not being bold enough or tough enough; about seeing her gender as a hurdle to overcome in the business world; about not publicizing her company's accomplishments aggressively.

But the more she talks through the challenges she's faced in the past 15 years as president of Paul Werth Associates, the more her regrets begin to center around one specific oversight, which -- if not pointed out to her by a couple astute clients -- might have left her company floundering in the midst of a serious identity crisis.

Harbrecht cannot pinpoint when the real problem began -- and that, in itself, reveals the potential gravity of the situation. She only knows that about eight or 10 years ago, she suddenly realized her firm had gone off in a direction that more closely resembled consulting than public relations -- and nobody seemed to know it.

"It was a natural evolution for us to move the company into a consulting and strategic organization," she says, noting that her firm even developed a specific research model to help clients more thoroughly explore what their real internal and external communication issues were and how to best address each of them. "But we really didn't talk about the model or let the marketplace know we had a particular point of view."

Because of that, corporations were still coming to Paul Werth for brochure and other typical mainstay PR services. That wasn't the kind of work Harbrecht wanted to do anymore.

"We're really much more of a business adviser," she says.

Still, she had trouble turning those jobs away. Her inability to do so fed the misconception that Paul Werth was still a traditional public relations firm.

Fortunately, her clients soon realized the change and began pointing it out to Harbrecht.

"Our clients would say, 'I didn't know you did that,' or 'You're more of a management consultant,' or -- How did he put it? -- 'Meeting with you once a month, I don't need a psychiatrist.' That's when it really became clear to me that we were different," she says.

"Because it came so naturally, I didn't realize it. It didn't feel like a value. It took a few clients to discover it for me."

Yet even after the realization struck her, "I still was reluctant to promote it," she says.

It's the old story of the cobbler's children who have no shoes. Harbrecht always put promoting her firm at the bottom of her list. Her clients took priority.

"Here we had something unique and, if our clients had something unique, we'd tell our clients to tell the world, but we weren't telling the world," she says. "It definitely was hurting us."

Although Harbrecht says, "It took some courage to say we're different," she also acknowledges that not addressing her firm's divergence from traditional PR work could've hurt her company even more.

That's why Harbrecht is focusing on talking more about her company's consulting, strategy and research work now.

"We are using case studies, which we really wouldn't have done before," she says. "It gave us a greater appreciation for how we are unique and how to articulate that. Now clients aren't just coming to us for a Band-Aid solution, but for a real in-depth look at how communication can help take them to new levels of performance and success.

"Discovering all this has really changed the business -- to the point that I'm not sure that we're a PR firm anymore," Harbrecht says. "I think we're much more of a management consultant."

A name change is even under consideration for the $4.84 million firm.

"We're working on that now," she says. "I think we're going to change the way we describe what we do. There's been a lot of angst over, 'What do we call ourselves?' But whatever we decide, it's going to be evolutionary. I'm not going to hold a press conference and say, 'This is our new name.' It will simply evolve into different language."

As part of her company's rebirth, Harbrecht is correcting another past mistake. She's learning it's OK -- even smart -- to turn away business.

"It would've saved a lot of sleepless nights if I'd learned earlier to say, 'We're not going to take on this client,' or 'We're not going to respond to this RFP.'

"It helps the whole organization to have a common sense of what we want to do and what we don't -- and to have the courage to go after what we want to do based on who we are." How to reach: Sandy Harbrecht, 224-8114 or sharbrec@paulwerth.com

Listen up

About three years ago, Tim O'Dell learned one of his biggest business lessons: Ask questions before you make assumptions about your customers.

The president of Fifth Third Bank, Central Ohio, says the bank made a critical error when it merged with State Savings Bank.

The significance of the merger wasn't lost on Fifth Third's Columbus area management: The bank's assets went from $1.6 billion to $2.1 billion after State Savings came on board. What they failed to realize, O'Dell says, is how the merger would affect customers.

"The mistake we made was we didn't realize how important it was to the State Savings customers that they retain their existing account numbers for their State Savings accounts," he says, pointing out the bank's well-established, long-term customers had grown accustomed to their accounts after years of loyalty.

"We asked them to change. Instead, we should've changed to be more accommodating to them," he says.

He doesn't think the bank lost customers over the mistake, but it sure started the relationship off on the wrong foot.

"We created a bit of irritation, a bit of a rub there, that could've been handled better," he says. "And we heard about it."

O'Dell won't make the same mistake again, and Fifth Third Bancorp's brass in Cincinnati also learned from the experience. In Fifth Third's latest merger, this one with Old Kent -- which is adding about 1 million customers to the bank -- Fifth Third will be more flexible and allow customers to keep their account numbers.

Now, he's also doing a better job of listening.

"Before we would make any changes like that, we would sit down with a sampling of our customers and get their reaction," he says.

Every month, he personally reviews the several dozen customer survey cards received by the bank; the majority are responded to personally by the appropriate person. The cards are mailed to customers and are available at all banking centers. Retail, commercial, mortgage and general banking customers all have the opportunity to give input.

"It allows us to be able to applaud the great customer service and to address any glitches we may have in customer service," O'Dell says.

In addition, in early 2000, the bank initiated the Community Advisory Forum, in which about a dozen representatives of the community meet quarterly with O'Dell and all bank division heads to discuss how Fifth Third can better serve the community at large.

One change put into action as a result of a suggestion from the group: a church lending specialty at the bank that provides services such as treasury management and lending for expansion. Making the community and customers a part of the process, O'Dell says, creates better support for the bank.

"The biggest mistake is assuming that we have all the answers," O'Dell says. "If we just ask for input and do things in a collaborative effort, there's a lot of power in that." How to reach: Tim O'Dell, 223-3909 or timothy.o'dell@53.com

Sometimes you just have to let go

When Sue Doody started Lindey's Restaurant 20 years ago, firing unsatisfactory employees was a task she avoided at all costs.

"I think it was like severing a relationship with a family member. You felt like they were part of the group, and you were reluctant to say, 'It's time for you to move on,'" she says.

She wanted, after all, to run the business like a family.

"I wasn't in the restaurant business before," she points out. "I was a homemaker and mother of four and bought this place because I love to cook and love great food and knew how restaurants didn't always have the best food.

"As I told all my managers: I want it run just like my house," she says of the roughly $5 million, 120-employee business. "If you have company coming into your house, you want to do everything possible to make their stay a fun, nice, enjoyable experience and cook the best food and everything else."

A few years into the business, she got an unexpected reaction when she fired a waitress who just wasn't putting forth her best effort.

"She was such a wreck when she was waiting on tables, and when I let her go she came to me and was relieved. She wanted to succeed but she wanted to succeed for me and not herself. I was letting her (let) go of that tension," Doody says. "It really wasn't her cup of tea."

Later, Doody fired a long-time member of her managerial staff who obviously wasn't happy enough in the job to perform well.

In both cases, Doody had waited weeks before making her move -- a decision she now realizes should've been made as soon as possible.

She discovered she needed to focus on hiring and keeping staff who would buy into the theory of how she wanted the business run and how she wanted the customers treated. Others would simply have to go. Doody couldn't risk the possibility that guests would be reluctant to come back because they had an experience with an employee who wasn't congenial.

Still, for a time, she had to adjust to the idea.

"It was hard because I build up a good relationship with my employees, I think, and try to be interested in their personal lives as well as their lives at work and their best development," she says. "It's hard because you're kind of torn, but you feel like you're doing the best thing for yourself as well as for them -- but change is tough."

Doody always had a general manager who took care of hiring at the restaurant, but now she's added even more levels of scrutiny.

"Now we screen candidates much more carefully," she says, adding that she typically does not hire people who are going into food service for the first time.

In addition, several people, rather than just one manager and Doody, now interview candidates, and there's an orientation period when Lindey's management can find out more about the employee and the employee can learn more about the business.

"It works from both sides," Doody says. "If they aren't going to be happy here, then it's not going to be good for us or them." How to reach: Sue Doody, 228-4343

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

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:48

Kathy Ransier

Kathy Ransier dressed her teen-age son in a tuxedo, took him to his school prom and danced with him in his wheelchair.

It's one of many joyful stories her friend, Rebecca Love, remembers about Ransier's relationship with Charles, whose birth defect left him developmentally challenged at age 1.

"She said, 'I operate with a cup half full, waiting for Charlie to go to college ... '" Love recalls. "That tells a lot about Kathy and her strength and her hopefulness."

For her part, Ransier, managing partner of Ransier & Ransier LLP, remembers the life lessons she learned from Charles, who nearly two years ago died at age 17 -- far past the six-month life expectancy doctors gave him shortly after he was born.

"Charles was Charles. Not handicapped Charles, not retarded Charles, he was just Charles," she says matter-of-factly.

"Fortunately for him, and us, in his level of understanding he was a very happy person -- he wasn't stressed out by his limits," she says, noting that he showed the family joy and warmth.

"You had a bad day and Charles was there to remind you and to love you," she says.

Love, director of early childhood education for the Franklin County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, whose board Ransier chairs, says Ransier always celebrated Charles' life rather than seeing her care of him as a burden.

That attitude, Love says, contributes to the success Ransier has in the law firm owned by her and her husband, Fred.

"Her energy, her positive outlook, her open disposition -- she's a scholar, very scholarly, and intelligent and articulate. And I think all of those make people open their minds to her and receive her professionally and as a friend," says Love, who's known Ransier professionally and personally for nearly 30 years.

Ransier says relationships with clients, in fact, are among the "unanticipated real joys" of running the law firm. She wouldn't disclose specifics about the firm's financials but says she wouldn't deny that revenue exceeds $1 million.

"There are clients we have represented literally the entire time we've been in business," she says of the German Village area law firm founded in 1976. The firm has represented such notables as Honda, Wendy's, Moody/Nolan Ltd., Bank One, National City Bank and Lutheran Social Services.

Susan Weaver, executive director of the Community Housing Network Inc., says over the 10 years Ransier has served as general counsel for her organization, the two have developed a friendship.

"She's just a very upbeat and gregarious person," Weaver says. "She can be irreverent privately, which helps in really difficult matters to sort of look on the light side of things or to find the humor in the problem."

Weaver says she sees Ransier's attitude obvious in her family, which also includes sons Bradley, 23, and Ricky, 17.

While Ransier says she and her husband are focusing on a personal transition to spend more time with each other now that their sons have grown, she actually commits a large portion of her time to civic and community work.

In addition to active membership in the Columbus, Ohio State and American bar associations, she's on the boards of Capitol South Community Urban Redevelopment Corp., Columbus Municipal Airport Authority, The Ohio State University Friends of the Libraries, the Greater Columbus Arts Council and the Broad Brunson Place Condominiums Association. She's also a panel member of The Columbus Foundation Legal Advisory Committee and the OSU Feminist Law Caucus Community Mentoring Program.

In 1990, she won the Community Service Award from the Columbus Bar Association. Lawyers, she says, should be proud of their civic involvement.

"Of course easily every third joke is a lawyer joke, but the bar association is trying to get the word out of our service to the community and also service to our peers," she says.

Building her own practice has been an educational experience, she says. For example, after 25 years in business, she's learned to look beyond the resume when she's hiring new people to the firm, which in addition to her and Fred includes two other attorneys as well as a legal assistant, bookkeeper, secretary/receptionist and law clerk.

She knows now she'll generally have more success hiring attorneys and staff who went to law school later in life or are further along in their careers, because they tend to be more mature.

"It's fun to be a lawyer -- ego-gratifying that people rely on what you have to say," she says, "so it's nice in that respect. But after a couple of years we realized -- we've got to make money.

"Fred and I are first-generation business people, which is a challenge in and of itself," she says.

Still, Ransier's biggest challenge in life came with the death of her son, a loss she deals with through support from friends and family, whom she counts among those she most admires.

"I am so fortunate that I had tremendous parents and a wonderful childhood," she says, remembering her parents' adoration of her and her five sisters.

"According to (my father) I was the center of the world. It was late -- too late -- when I figured out I wasn't," she laughs. "It was a great way to start off life, feeling that way." How to reach: Kathy Ransier, Ransier & Ransier LLP, 443-7429 or www.ransierlaw.com

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