Joan Wall

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:49

Who to know

On the surface, the sales call seemed like any other.

Chris McGovern, founder and president of CM Direct, was having his first meeting with high-level executives at Fifth Third Bank to convince them to use his direct marketing services.

When he entered the room, however, he was met with snickers and wide-eyed stares — and silence.

Who could blame the group? After all, McGovern did show up with green hair.

He made no excuses for his unusual ’do: It was St. Patrick’s Day. And in the end, he won the Fifth Third account.

“I was rather amused,” remembers Paul Novak, vice president of credit card product management for Fifth Third Bank Corp. “It didn’t faze me, but I just found it a little bit bold on his behalf.”

Now Novak counts as pluses CM Direct’s innovation and surprising approach as well as McGovern’s ability to finish a project with quick turnaround and knowledge of financial services.

“Rather than just an order taker, I really want to partner with somebody who will buy in to what we’re trying to do,” Novak says of McGovern.

Regarding the green hair shenanigan, McGovern shrugs: “It’s who I am. It’s part of my life,” he says, explaining he took up the tradition to follow in the footsteps of his late father, who had always celebrated the holiday that same way.

That’s not the only influence McGovern’s father had upon his life. In fact, McGovern, who was just 14 when his father died of a heart attack, even now gets tears in his eyes at memories of his dad.

“I can’t imagine giving my kids more than what he gave me,” McGovern says.

He remembers his father’s positive thinking — including his theory that sickness could be healed through that optimistic mindset.

Then there’s the matter of the yellow socks, tied to the story of his father’s business, R.A. McGovern Equipment Co.

“My father, when he started his company in 1951, happened to be wearing yellow socks. From that day forward, for a superstitious thing or whatever, he wore yellow socks,” McGovern says, explaining his father’s chosen footwear no matter what the outfit or occasion.

In a salute to his father, McGovern has his own representation of the yellow socks: a pocket handkerchief he wears as a suit accessory.

“It’s something now when I’m getting dressed my kids come and help me choose a pocket square and we’ll talk about my dad,” he says.

McGovern insists, however, his father never pushed him or his siblings to own their own businesses — even though all seven of them have done so.

McGovern, himself, partnered in a poultry processing company at age 19 and had a hand in a button manufacturing company at age 23 or 24.

Those experiences taught him lessons. For example, when he returned from a vacation, he found the button company’s locks changed, he says. He sued the investors. They filed a counterclaim. Eventually both parties dismissed their claims and paid their own court costs.

“I vowed that would never happen again. My next business would be something on my own,” McGovern says.

He fulfilled that vow Feb. 3, 1994, when, in the basement of his home, he started CM Direct. Since then, he’s grown the North Columbus business to a $3 million company with six employees and notable clients such as Lexis-Nexis, The Huntington National Bank and the American Motorcyclist Association.

“Within five years I will have my own building on the Northwest side of town,” he says, adding that he’d also like to use his business as an incubator to help other start-ups grow.

A finalist for the 1999 Blue Chip Enterprise Initiative Awards, sponsored by Mass Mutual and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the 1998 Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce Small Business Person of the Year Award, McGovern is president of the Mid-Ohio Direct Marketing Association and professional development and training director of the Southern Ohio Chapter of the Direct Marketing Association, a national organization. He’s also a member of two advertising agency professional organizations, Chief Executive Network and Second Wind Network.

An Upper Arlington native — “I live 3 miles from where I grew up,” he says — he and his wife, Cindy, are involved in organizing the Upper Arlington Fourth of July festivities, and he organizes class reunions for the high school.

McGovern also coaches the soccer teams of his son, 8, and daughter, 6. In 1998 he was the only father on the PTO for their school.

His greatest accomplishment? “Having a wonderful marriage — and getting a card from my wife that said I’d made her dreams come true. That’s still sitting on my desk,” he says of the 2-year-old greeting.

“I enjoy what I do for a living, which helps out a lot,” McGovern says. “But my hobby is being with my family and doing whatever they want to do.”

Joan Slattery Wall ( is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:49

Finding direction

Three years into the landscape architecture business he started in 1993, Gary Schmidt was frustrated.

Administrative work — which he hated — increased as he added employees. He grew disenchanted with his business. The Ohio State and Harvard grad even turned down work and considered selling his firm, Schmidt Land Design.

Then he stopped to take another look. What he discovered was a way to see the entire picture of his life and the way all aspects mesh together. By clarifying his life’s goals, he was able to make critical decisions about the direction of his business.

I’m not afraid to grow, in a nutshell,” he says of his business now. “I was really truly afraid of it before, unsure of my ability to do it and not sure why I should do it. I’ve gone from being afraid to, to I really want to.”

In fact, he’s since added three more employees at his $350,000 business, bringing his total staff to six. He’s also doubled his North Columbus office space.

Here’s how the mentoring and consulting services of Chip Weiant, principal and founder of COMPASS USA, not only changed Schmidt’s mind about his goals but helped him grow the business, complete with a master plan and an advisory board to keep him on track in every aspect of his life.

Following a dream?

Schmidt hadn’t minded his work as a sole proprietor in the landscape architecture business. After working at numerous large firms, he decided about six years ago, after the death of his father at age 72, to pursue his long-time goal of having his own business.

“I was struck by the idea that life is not really that long,” Schmidt says. “I was half his age. I thought, ‘What are you screwing around with? If you’re ever going to do it, you’d better do it soon, because life is slipping away.’”

But after about two years in business, he needed more help. He hired two employees, one part time and one full time, but then he had to deal with administrative work: payroll, taxes, compliance, reconciling the checking account. Those were tasks for which he not only had few skills, but also abhorred.

“I hate that stuff,” Schmidt says. “At first it was just an extension of my own personal finances. Once I got an employee, it went real quick to getting complex.”

He hated the tasks so much that he sank into an almost depression state, questioning the career move of owning his own business and vowing not to grow it anymore. He even turned down bread-and-butter type jobs to avoid having to hire any more employees. He was so frustrated, in fact, that he considered an escape route when a local engineering firm called him requesting a recommendation for a landscape architect.

“I was seriously thinking about selling my business out and absorbing myself into their company,” Schmidt says.

Friends and fellow business owners seemed to agree that might be a good idea. Only his wife went against the grain: “If you do this, you’re giving up on your dream,” he remembers her saying.

Soon came another affirmation from a fellow member of the Christian Businessmen’s Committee, who reminded him that, as a business owner, he had the ability to make an impact as a Christian in the business community. Finally, he placed a call to the group’s director, Chip Weiant, who in October 1996 had started his own consulting firm, COMPASS USA.

“I had no idea what I was getting into,” Schmidt says. “I’m not sure what I said to him, but basically the message was: ‘I’m confused.’”

A transformation in thought

Weiant’s first task was to make sure Schmidt was on the right track. To do that, he had Schmidt tell him about his goals not only in his business, but in his life — his family, his religion, his community — to give Weiant a clear picture of what he calls LifeWork.

“What we believe drives what we think, and what we think drives what we do,” Weiant says, explaining what he calls his thesis. “If we want to change what we do, we’ve got to change what we believe.”

Schmidt wrote what Weiant calls a “genesis statement,” or the journey of his life and what has shaped it so far. Through that, Schmidt realized he had, indeed, chosen the right career path.

“It’s kind of an introspective process,” Schmidt says of the task, through which he remembered his youth in Rocky River, where he and his brother used to visit a valley across the street from his home.

“I was always fascinated with nature,” Schmidt says. “We’d dig tunnels into the sides of the hill and look for crayfish. I realize now that was partly why I’m interested in landscape architecture, because it deals with natural things. I don’t think it was a pure accident that happened.”

Then Schmidt learned how to define his roles in family, work, religion and community and to integrate his life and his business, particularly with a focus on his Christianity.

“If you’re Christian, if you’re really claiming to be a follower of Christ, you shouldn’t have this dualistic life,” Schmidt says of the point of view Weiant helped him realize. “What you say at church on Sunday ought to dribble back into what you do for a living.”

Through that theory, Schmidt recognized what good he could do through his business. Specifically, he could use it to help his employees.

For example, he could offer an opportunity to an OSU landscape architecture student whom he had hired as an intern.

“I have the chance not only to give him something he loves to do and make money at, but help him make his LifeWork,” Schmidt says.

Tangible results

Schmidt’s work with Weiant not only reaffirmed his career choice but helped him improve both his business and his personal life.

A personal plan

First, Schmidt started using a Franklin Planner system, admitting that previously he simply was not organized. Now he can sit down every Sunday and let his wife, a teacher, know which nights during the week he’ll be working late.

He also began to set goals for each role in his life, including that of a father. For example, he decided he could visit his 6-year-old son at preschool, taking him out to lunch.

“I started thinking, ‘Why shouldn’t I do this? I’m going to eat lunch somewhere anyway,’” Schmidt says. “Sometimes I’d even eat with him there. It’d be me and the teacher and all these kids at the table with all these itty bitty chairs.”

A business plan

Weiant worked with Schmidt to compile a three-ring binder that includes a plan for his business, with details including a mission statement and personnel policies. He makes changes as the business progresses, but at least now he’s got, in black and white, plans he never had defined before.

An advisory board

This particular board, Weiant explains, is not so much formed to make a plan for the business but to provide wisdom and hold the CEO accountable in all aspects of life.

“Their job is to make sure the CEO stays on track with their master planning,” Weiant explains.

Weiant says most business owners are very pragmatic, a trait that could keep them from seeing their goals clearly and honestly.

“COMPASS is a very uncomfortable process for a lot of business owners,” Weiant says. “We’re basically saying one of the chief obstacles business owners must overcome is self-deception.”

That’s why, he says, Schmidt has found success in including his wife, Kathy, on his advisory board.

“She knows what’s going on with my life,” Schmidt says. “She keeps me honest on my goals and if I’ve achieved them.”

His other board members, friends who also have relate d business experience, do the same.

“The whole concept is it’s your life board. When we have a meeting, it’s not just talking about the business, it’s my whole life,” Schmidt says. “I was looking for people who would challenge me.”

A defined ethics statement

Weiant provides clients a template he calls “Uncommon Sense” — a list of 20 traits such as integrity, honesty, justice, accountability and honoring authority — that he says are often lost in today’s world.

Business owners then adapt those to fit their own standards. Schmidt includes them in his personnel manual as “governing values” to let new employees know his standards up front.

“If you really hate some of this stuff, you probably don’t want to work here,” he says, noting he doesn’t come right out and say that to employees, but he does stress to them the importance of the values.

Weiant says he’s able to empathize with his clients because he, himself, has business experience. In addition to founding the COMPASS business and concept, he was formerly CEO and vice chairman of Schmidt’s Hospitality Concepts, a local restaurant business unrelated to Gary Schmidt, and general manager of Island Resorts in Put-in-Bay.

Schmidt worked with Weiant about once a week for four months, paying a monthly fee of $1,500. The resulting improvements in Schmidt’s attitude and his business, however, far outweigh the costs.

Schmidt doubled the space he’s renting in a North High Street office building to accommodate his company’s growth. He’s added more employees, including an office manager to handle the administrative tasks he loathes. Now he’s embarking on a new decision process, considering whether he wants to further grow his company by adding more employees and clients or by finding a way to emphasize qualitative growth to provide additional opportunities for employees to advance, such as by diversifying his client base.

He continues to work with Weiant, sharing his experience and transformation with other business owners through a forum in COMPASS.

Schmidt says he believes God created each person for a purpose, and the trick, in his case, was finding out what that was and doing it.

“If you don’t use your talents,” Schmidt says, “not only are you going to get frustrated, you’re not going to get as much out of life.”

How to reach: Chip Weiant, COMPASS USA, 777-4721 or

Joan Slattery Wall ( is associate editor for SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:48

Who to watch

Harley E. Rouda Sr., founder of HER Inc., Realtors, calls his longtime family friend Patrick Grabill a “lousy fisherman.”

Grabill, president and CEO of King Thompson, Realtors, is quick to return the jab: “It’s pretty hard to have a contest in fishing,” he points out. “The fish like me better than him.”

Fish tales aside, the friendship between competitors is just one example of Grabill’s skill in the relationship business.

“Both of us have gone fishing together for years, and we have a ball, knowing full well the next day both of us will go out and beat each others’ heads together trying to win something in the marketplace,” Rouda says.

Relationships, in fact, have helped Grabill build King Thompson. After founding his own real estate company, Patrick M. Grabill & Co., Realtors, in 1976, and merging it with dozens of others over the years, he now heads a firm of nearly 600 sales associates who collectively expect to exceed $1.3 billion in home sales this year.

He remembers the meager beginnings, when he had to set his schedule around that of his part-time receptionist.

“We only had one desk, so I had to go out and sell real estate when she came in in the afternoon,” he remembers. “I was too cheap to buy another one.”

Since then, he says, he’s been lucky to partner with and bring in many more talented people. “Hire people smarter than you and it makes you look smarter than you really are,” he says.

At King Thompson, Grabill has a second shareholder, Mike Huntley, the company’s executive vice president.

“First and foremost, we’re friends, and we’ve got a great working relationship,” Grabill says. “He’s probably the only guy I ever worked with who can pick up where I drop something off and I can pick up where he dropped off.”

Grabill also has a partner, John Blust, in a development arm, King Thompson Capital Corp., which has secured some projects in historic Dublin, among others.

The real estate firm’s growth, Grabill says, has been more of a response to the marketplace than a desire of his own. Customers, he says, want to do business with bigger firms because they equate the large size with quality.

“You’ve got to build an organization — whether you’re selling shoes, houses or checking accounts — that responds to where the consumer’s at, not where you’d like to be,” he says. “But it’s still great to go to Roush Hardware and have yourself assaulted by four sales associates who are well-trained and knowledgeable.”

In fact, he adds, his own challenge is training associates to provide that level of service even though his firm is large.

“We sell one house at a time to one family at a time,” he says. “If you lose sight of that, you miss the whole point of what we do.”

Grabill’s emphasis on relationship building is reflected, too, in the local business leaders he admires.

Of developer Bob Weiler, chairman of Robert Weiler Co., Grabill says: “He’s just as committed to doing right as he is to doing well.” Grabill adds to his list “one of the smartest people I’ve ever seen,” Don Shackelford, chairman of Fifth Third Bank, Central Ohio. Then there’s John H. McConnell, who Grabill says built Worthington Industries by treating people well.

Grabill has served countless professional organizations, including the Columbus Board of Realtors, where he was president in 1992, and the Ohio Association of Realtors, where he’s held a trustee chair for 15 years. This year, he finishes serving five years as director of the National Association of Realtors and will continue on the organization’s strategic planning committee.

A Dublin native who, with Suzanne, his wife of 27 years, has a grown daughter and twin sons, Grabill also is committed to the community.

“As an individual, he is sensitive and caring, but at the same time, he’s obviously a very good businessman,” says Irvin Lippman, executive director of the Columbus Museum of Art, where Grabill is a board of trustees member. “I think it stands to reason, then, that you need all those qualities, whether you’re running a major real estate company or whether you’re running a museum ... But he also seems to be a wonderful consensus builder on the board.”

Grabill is in his sixth year as a board member of the Columbus Housing Partnership, which provides housing for low income working poor in Central Ohio, and he’s on the network advisory board for the partnership’s parent, The Enterprise Foundation.

In fact, Jim Rouse, who co-founded The Enterprise Foundation with his wife, Patty, has greatly influenced Grabill’s life. Rouse, who died in 1996, founded The Rouse Co., a publicly held real estate development and management firm in Columbia, Md.

“He retired and decided to devote the rest of his life to poor people in inferior housing,” Grabill says. “He could have bought a yacht and sailed around the country and done nothing. That was a life well spent.”

Rouda has similar kudos for Grabill.

“He’s a smart competitor, an honest competitor, an ethical competitor, and he treats everybody and thinks and acts and delivers like a professional,” Rouda says.

“He lives and breathes and will probably die with the golden rule. That’s the measure of success for any man or woman as far as I’m concerned.”

Joan Slattery Wall ( is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:48

It’s no accident

Less than two years ago, a worker injury at Cheryl&Co. meant a trip to a hospital emergency room.

The trip resulted in a long wait for the employee’s treatment and return to work. The treatment was high cost, and often Cheryl&Co. and the employee were not able to track the status of necessary follow-up care.

Now, the picture’s changed. Thanks to a new approach aimed at preventing injuries and more closely managing those that occur, the Westerville gourmet foods and gifts company has, in one year alone, reduced its accidents by more than half, says Tim Horn, vice president of Cheryl&Co.

“The nature of workers’ compensation, the way it is set up in Ohio, it behooves all business owners to take a good look at the way their exposure to workers’ compensation is being handled,” Horn says, noting that negative experiences stay with a company, wracking up bills in later years. “Even though your dollars look good now, by the time they look bad, it’s too late.”

Providing better care

One way Cheryl&Co. simplified its workers’ compensation process is by using WorkHealth, the occupational health services provided by OhioHealth, for injury treatment, case management and tracking of follow-up care.

Injured employees travel a short distance from the company — about the same as that to St. Ann’s Hospital, the closest emergency room — to the WorkHealth facility at Cleveland Avenue and I-270. Doctors there are trained in worker injuries, are familiar with the work at Cheryl&Co., and have a record of how the company wants such instances handled. That saves the company time and money over its previous emergency room procedure, Horn says.

“They don’t specialize in workers’ care,” Horn says of emergency rooms. “If they go to WorkHealth because they have a bumped finger, they can get it checked out, have an X-ray, find out it’s OK and be back to work in an hour, vs. a day, or at least half a day, at the emergency room. It’s a total bonus for everybody.”

Lisa Shannon, WorkHealth director, says the most common mistake she sees business owners make is letting occupational health go unmanaged. Employers who take control of those issues see cost savings and are viewed by employees in a more positive light.

“One of the No. 1 ways employers help injured workers get back to work is to show sincere care and compassion in them getting back to work,” she says. “It’s no different than the best player on OSU’s football team getting an injury and the team rallying and the coach rallying to get that injured player back.”

WorkHealth has 2,700 employer clients of all sizes. Popular services are injured care and disability management; on-site medical staff; and drug and alcohol testing.

Cheryl&Co. — which boasts a regular payroll of 300 workers, but can employ up to 700 during holiday seasons — is the most common size corporate client of WorkHealth, Shannon says.

“That’s often the case, because companies of Cheryl’s size are big enough to have needs but often not big enough to do it all by themselves,” she says.

Horn made sure the WorkHealth program would be a good fit for Cheryl&Co. before choosing its services for the company’s employees.

“We interviewed the doctors who were going to be taking care of them to see if they understood our problems and the issues we were going to be presenting them,” Horn says.

“They openly showed us their procedures,” he says.

The openness also worked in reverse.

“There were tours of the workplace so our medical workers would understand the nature of their jobs,” Shannon says. “All of that was important to us to understand what it is that Cheryl&Co. does.”

WorkHealth also provides Cheryl&Co. with post-accident drug testing, a procedure the company previously did not do.

“We endorse it because we don’t want anyone to be of danger to themselves here or to others,” Horn says. “It’s not inherently a dangerous place, so we don’t want people here making it so.”

There’s no standing fee; Cheryl&Co. pays for the services of WorkHealth whenever they’re used by one of its employees. WorkHealth also helps coordinate workers’ compensation claims through the company and provides billing from one location, rather than from many health care facilities where workers may have gone instead.

“They’re good about letting us know about the status of our employee and letting the associate know their status as well,” he says. “You just get treated more as an individual.”

Pushing prevention

While WorkHealth has contributed to the reduction in accidents at Cheryl&Co., a renewed safety focus, initiated two years ago, also played a significant role, Horn says.

He declines to give numbers regarding accidents, but says the company should continue to reap benefits in coming years as workers’ compensation costs decrease.

Changes included:

  • Developing a safety staff that proactively eliminates safety issues. For example, this staff is on the lookout for broken equipment or boxes stacked too high. “The production staff are not looking for that, but we have people who do,” Horn says.

    In addition, safety and security staff are trained in CPR and emergency response.

    “The last thing you want to do is lose an employee because you couldn’t take care of them,” Horn says.

  • Emphasizing to employees that “safety is everyone’s job” to make employees more aware of — and prepared to react to — potentially dangerous situations.

  • Contacting the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation to ask for assistance in ensuring safety at the company.

  • More training. Earlier this year, for example, employees had fire training, actually putting out fires in a drill outside the building. “That’s an experience they won’t forget,” Horn says. “Almost everybody in the company had their own fire extinguisher and did it one at a time with a safety instructor there.”

  • Fit-for-duty inspections. Checks of employees to be sure they’re not impaired by lack of sleep, for example, are conducted by safety and security staff to keep the procedure unbiased. “The manager who wants to get a lot of work done that night may let somebody slide,” Horn says.

  • A new, nonslip floor in the kitchen. The previous floor carried a high potential for accidents because of the number of workers moving around there and the fact that the floor was often wet due to constant cleaning, Horn says.

  • Greater enforcement of the use of safety glasses and safety shoes.

Business owners, Horn says, need to look at safety situations not only for the cost savings but for the protection of their workers.

“If you make it a safer place to work,” Horn says, “it’s a win-win situation, not only for the company, but for the employees.”

How to reach: WorkHealth,, 566-8459

Joan Slattery Wall ( is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:46

Lending assistance

Ohio’s lenders are getting ready to decide if there really is strength in numbers.

If they agree, they could set up an economic development lenders network to share ideas and resources — with the potential to provide more capital to businesses.

The idea was broached by Andrea Levere, vice president of the Corporation for Enterprise Development, at the Ohio Economic Development Financing Conference last fall. The Corporation for Enterprise Development, a private, nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., has been active in economic development for 20 years providing policy, consulting and research service.

“In my view, Ohio has always been a state that has been truly a leader in economic development,” Levere says regarding the likelihood of the state forming the lenders network. “There’s always been leadership at the municipal level, and there’s always been leadership at the state level.

“Ohio is a state, probably more than any other state in the country, that has invested in the capacity of the economic development professionals, which has resulted in the creation of an extraordinary number of organizations.”

Formation of an Ohio lenders network likely would be led by Mark Barbash, executive director of Columbus Countywide Development Corp., and Karen Mocker, senior adviser, community affairs, with the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland’s Cincinnati branch.

For business owners, Barbash says, the lenders network means two things.

“The first one is better use of resources by the people who lend them money in the economic development sector,” Barbash says. “More importantly, it probably means there will be more resources available and resources that are better targeted to the needs of the business.”

“One of the other things we hope to effect as a group is policy changes so we can use the money differently than we have,” Mocker says, explaining that many of the funds are run off of state and federal government loans. Discovering other ways to operate could open up more opportunities for entrepreneurs, she says.

Levere sees several benefits for lenders participating in a network:

  • Information sharing. Many economic development lenders, she says, do their work in an isolated way, and the network could provide an avenue to share best practices. For example, they might have joint training sessions.

  • Joint products and services. “Does it make sense for every single loan fund to have its own loan processing capacity?” Levere asks. “Might it not make sense for one organization to invest in the capacity and contract out those services?” The option, she points out, would mirror private sector businesses, with consolidation around core competencies.

  • Access to capital. This benefit, she says, is just beginning to develop nationwide. “Wouldn’t you prefer if there’s one statewide fund into which all the loan funds could go to access capital, assuming they met certain performance standards? It would reduce transaction costs of doing due diligence,” Levere says, adding that joint capital strategies could serve to bring in private capital.

The state with the most developed lenders network is Washington. Levere says that in the past three years of working with her organization, the lenders network in Washington has developed ongoing training programs for all members and developed policy work to bring in state funds focused on rural economic development. The group now is looking at joint products and services.

The first step in setting up a network here would be to gather lenders and state and federal representatives to talk about how it could be structured. Barbash expected such a meeting late last month or this month.

Barbash says a lenders network would help ensure everyone is meeting good economic development goals and doing good credit underwriting. In addition, it would offer an opportunity to better understand how federal and state laws impact small business financing and to make recommendations to leverage resources to create more financing opportunities.

“I also think the whole financial modernization bill passed by Congress may lead to larger financial institutions less connected to their communities,” Barbash says. “What that means is there is more of a role for economic development lenders, and we want to make sure we’re prepared to do that.”

Mocker says the network could investigate innovative ways to do small business and microlending, putting to use idle capital.

Four microenterprise development lenders currently exist throughout the state — in Columbus, Akron, Athens and Cincinnati — but there is a large gap in Cleveland, Barbash notes.

Levere thinks Ohio would have an “incredible advantage” to having a lenders network.

“Just because Ohio has lots of resources doesn’t mean they can’t use them better or more,” she says.

Anyone interested in the Ohio lenders network can contact Barbash at (614) 645-8066. For more information on the Corporation for Enterprise Development, visit its Web site at

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

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:45

Linda Hondros

Linda Hondros makes things happen.

That’s the analysis Paul Otte, president of Franklin University, gives of the president of Hondros College.

“I was always taught there are three different kinds of people in the world: people who can make it happen, people who can’t make it happen but can stop it from happening, and people who can do neither one — they’re nonplayers,” he says. “Linda’s in the first group. She is one of those people you can sit with and agree to something and know it will be accomplished.”

Hondros is also a committed mother, Otte says, something that became evident to him last year when Franklin University partnered to share space in a new Northeast Columbus building Hondros College owns with The Daimler Group. Other Franklin staff working on the project told Otte that in the course of the project, “no matter what, punch list be damned, if she had a family obligation, she did it.”

“Maybe 10, 15 years ago, and in some sectors of business today, we’d say that’s a limitation,” Otte says. “But that’s not the way we run our operation, and we respect that in others that do the same thing.”

Hondros says she and her husband enjoy traveling with their four children, ages 10 to 19, to scuba dive in locations such as Honduras or the Bahamas. They also often make trips to Colorado for fishing, hiking and backpacking.

“When you grow a business and own a business, you tend to live that, but on the other hand, the true purpose for all that is for family,” she says.

Otte calls Hondros a “dynamo” because of her involvement in the operational side of the $7 million North Columbus college, as well as in the community and government.

“Sometimes you think maybe there’s more than one Linda,” he says.

Hondros got her start in the real estate field — the cornerstone of Hondros College’s course offerings — when she decided to become a real estate agent shortly after an enjoyable experience buying her first home. In 1985, she became a partner in what was then the John G. Hondros Academy of Real Estate, eventually marrying its founder, John G. Hondros.

The school became a college in 1990. Otte met Hondros when administrators at the two schools began to ponder how they could partner.

“The Hondroses are always improving the quality of their program,” Otte says. “So much so that in the early days, we said, ‘There’s really no reason for us to maintain our real estate program. We’d rather have you functioning in the real estate area than us. You’ve got more depth than us.’”

Hondros College has since expanded both its focus and its physical structure, offering courses in areas such as securities, insurance, appraisal and home inspection, all in a new building which boasts a conference center, auditorium, deli, basketball hoop for team-building exercises and a branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library. The for-profit college has 35 full-time associates, about 150 adjunct faculty and seven locations throughout Ohio.

Recently appointed to the Governor’s Small Business Council, Hondros also serves on the legislative committee for the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Council and is a member of the Ohio Chamber’s Small Business Council.

“As changes started to occur in the industries we service, I realized doing a good job was not good enough,” Hondros says. “You needed to be politically in tune with the legislature to understand, appreciate, enhance, be a part of legislation affecting the industry you serve and your business.”

So much legislation affects small business, she says, that being a part of it is almost frightening. She stays aware of industry developments through her membership in the Ohio Association of Realtors and Columbus Board of Realtors. She’s also on the board of directors for the Consumer Credit Council in Columbus.

Last year, she was reappointed to the Ohio Racing Commission by Gov. Bob Taft.

When she was first appointed by Gov. George Voinovich, three of the five commission members were women.

“I’ll never forget walking into the first meeting and I could see industry people looking at us — at me — thinking, ‘How the heck did she get on this board?’” Hondros says.

The commission chair, C. Luther Heckman, however, says Hondros brings to the group a good sense of business.

“A lot of what the racing commission does is attempt to apply the statutes and regulate the business of racing,” he says. “I think her business background and her common sense is what she brings to the board.”

Hondros says she accepted these board appointments primarily to serve the state of Ohio, but also to “have a voice as a regular person in some of these tremendously important issues.

“I think more people should learn about it and be a part of it,” she adds. “The neat thing is, you have the opportunity to help form policies and laws. If you have the right heart and the right mind, that’s a good thing for the state of Ohio.”

Joan Slattery Wall ( is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:45

Power to the people

Twice a year since November 1998, Sam Grooms has been attending a meeting with more than 20 of his valued customers — but he hardly says a word.

It’s not because the president of Hy-Tek Material Handling Inc. is shy or preoccupied. It’s because the Customer Advisory Board is the creation of General Manager Jim Ripkey, and that means it’s not Grooms’ place to butt in — even if he is the president.

“He gives me two minutes to go up and do my thing,” Grooms says. “It’s his program. He runs it.”

The concept is typical for Grooms, who has fostered an environment encouraging Hy-Tek’s 165 employees to come up with their own ideas — and follow them through to completion.

He uses the philosophy not just for managers, like Ripkey, but for each and every employee: The company’s truck driver chose his own truck; the sales staff shopped for its own database.

The result: Hy-Tek has kept its turnover rate to 4.5 percent in the last two years, while others in the material handling trade report 10 to 12 percent, Grooms says. In addition, the company benefits from the ideas of employees who do their jobs better than the president can.

“The knowledge and strengths and abilities of people are endless,” Grooms says, “if you let them have the ability to use their talent.”

Encouraging results

Grooms was the first person Ripkey approached a little more than a year ago when he had the idea to create a board of customers to provide input to Hy-Tek.

“In our business, like most businesses, there are so many sources of information and people telling you what your customers want,” Ripkey says of trade magazines, consultants and the like.

His idea was to create a board of customers, including major clients and prospects, to get more direct input.

“We looked for a certain chemistry in people that would tell us like it is,” Ripkey says. “We didn’t want it to be a good ol’ boys network. We wanted them to challenge us.”

Six weeks after he had the idea, the first meeting was held.

Advisory board member Phil Trabulsi, director of project management at Exel Logistics in Westerville, has seen consultants work with companies, but says the Customer Advisory Board is more effective at providing the specific solutions Hy-Tek needs. The company has responded, Trabulsi says, to the board’s suggestions for creating a Web site, and for expanding system design and management capabilities.

He says he did not realize the Customer Advisory Board was one employee’s initiative, but he has observed Grooms’ interactive management style.

“I think he recognizes that the way he’s going to grow that company is through effective delegation,” Trabulsi says. “So when the company was smaller, he would wear more hats, and as the company has grown, he’s hired capable people.”

Grooms has even turned over some high-dollar purchasing decisions to the Hy-Tek employees who will be most directly affected by them.

Employees were asked to choose between two business operating software packages for the company’s financial center. Not only did they get the system they preferred, but they unwittingly saved the company money. Grooms withheld the price of the two systems from his employees because he wanted them to choose the program based on its merits rather than its cost. They selected the less expensive of two — one was $44,000 and the other, $146,000.

Turns out the more expensive one would have been antiquated for the company’s needs in a short period of time anyway, Grooms says.

By way of necessity

Grooms had to learn quickly that delegation would serve him well in running the company, which he and four other employees purchased in 1989 after the death of the founder, William Slife. The southeast Columbus company was formerly called Slife & Associates.

“When Slife was no longer there, what were people going to relate to?” Grooms asks, recalling the apprehension of employees, suppliers, vendors and customers.

At the time, Grooms was the youngest partner.

“I mortgaged everything I had at the time. And what a great deal it was now, looking back,” he says. “But I was a straight commission sales person going into a salary half that and more than doubling my expenses.”

Over the years, the management team changed; Grooms moved into the president’s position and now owns the company along with three partners, executive vice presidents Dave Price and Tony Murray, and Dave Tumbas, vice president and CFO.

“The success of this company is based on the fact we’ve had the best people in the marketplace,” Grooms says, noting the company’s revenues have grown to nearly $40 million from $11 million in the first year after he and the other employees purchased the company.

“We didn’t realize what we weren’t capable of doing, or how we could do it better, until we brought in somebody who was an expert,” Grooms says.

For example, the company didn’t do much marketing before hiring Claire Rigot as marketing analyst in March 1998. Since then, she’s produced a corporate brochure and video, launched public relations efforts and the company’s Web site, and conducted competitive and market research.

“We also centralized efforts just to make sure we were all telling our story as well as we could,” Rigot explains.

“With more demands today and so much that has to be done more quickly, you just have to let people do their thing,” Grooms says, adding that there’s no more cost to let others make decisions he might have otherwise made.

Here’s how he makes the system work:

Hand-pick your employees.

Grooms does this in two ways: through recruiting and by growing his own. His head of human resources is someone he met through networking at his church. The general manager at Hy-Tek’s new Cleveland office was hired through a contact on the Customer Advisory Board.

When networking and ads aren’t successful, Grooms has another trick up his sleeve. By working with local schools, he can train his own employees before they’re even hired. Through an Eastland Vocational School program, for which Hy-Tek provides equipment and employees as instructors, Grooms has hired about three new employees a year since the company became involved in March 1998.

Speak and interact freely with employees.

“Get out; be visible; be approachable,” Grooms advises.

He makes sure he’s not always stuck in his office, and he tries to keep his door open. If it’s closed, employees still know it’s OK to knock.

On a quarterly basis, Grooms holds a breakfast before work to update employees on the company’s status and to point out accomplishments. At least 70 percent of his employees attend, even though it’s optional. If he subtracts employees who live far away and others who are on the road on business, he estimates attendance at nearly 100 percent.

“That makes you feel good, too, that people give a darn about what’s going on,” he says. “And we give them the opportunity to ask questions.”

Grooms shares as much as he can without jeopardizing the company’s negotiations or its own employees. When the company was making plans to expand to Cleveland, he told employees he wanted Hy-Tek to gain a presence there either by acquisition or starting another office.

“So they’ve got enough information to know they’re with a growing, vibrant company, but I’m not, at the same time, divulging any confidentiality agreements by naming names,” he says.

Similarly, when employees ask about the company’s financials, he tells them in general terms whether they’re ahead or behind projections. If they ask about their own department, he’ll give them information about the invoicing or expenses.

“You don’t talk salaries ... but you can talk about what are the total expenses of a given department,” he says.

“We try to answer as many of the questions as we can in the format of the meeting itself so we’re answering the questions before they have to ask it,” Grooms says.

Offer encouragement. Grooms acknowledges his task is to make sure he knows a little bit about every person’s position in the company, but he has to “get out of the way and let them do it. I don’t think I’ll ever get accused of being a micro manager,” he says.

“My only other job is to make sure everybody’s not afraid to think big.”

He often gets skeptical reactions when he says his goal is to be a $100 million to $125 million company within the next five years. People may tell him that’s impossible, he says, considering the company’s revenues are a fraction of that now.

“Yet five years ago, we were about one-third of the size we are right now,” he says.

Grooms also makes sure employees know they can take responsibility for their decisions.

“Give people a part in the process, and they’re going to go out and take ownership,” he says. “They’re going to go out and make it happen on their own.”

Ripkey says he gets personal satisfaction in seeing that his own idea is working and paying off for the company.

“I guess the next challenge, then,” he says, “is to come up with the next idea.” Joan Slattery Wall ( is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:45

Let your voice be heard

Dee Aufuldish, executive director of the Wickliffe Area Chamber of Commerce in Lake County, thought she knew the concerns of business owners in her area: work force development, transportation and daycare, for example.

Through the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, however, she gained a tool to help validate her thoughts and begin assisting business owners to take action on those issues.

GROW, or GrassRoots Ohio Works, is a cooperative effort of the Ohio and local chambers to seek out business owners who have the desire, but not the time or resources, to make their voices heard on legislative and regulatory issues.

“Having worked in a local chamber before, I learned two things small business don’t have an excess of, and that’s time and money,” says B.J. Wiberg, director of the Ohio Small Business Council and local chamber relations for the Ohio Chamber.

In 1997, Wiberg created the GROW program as a way to analyze the needs of business owners throughout the state and to solicit their input on legislative and regulatory issues. Local chambers provide volunteers to interview business owners on company demographics and concerns regarding local and state issues. Wiberg then tabulates the data and returns it to the chambers.

He’s also able to use the information to measure input from businesses on state issues. Business owners rank their interest in a half dozen or so legislative areas, and the state chamber sends them information — and solicits input from them — on their top two concerns. That way, business owners don’t get inundated with information on issues about which they don’t want to hear.

“You can only yell, ‘The sky is falling,’ so many times,” Wiberg says. “After a while, they get numb to that. So it becomes a very targeted grassroots program.”

He’s used the responses to testify on state issues before the legislature.

“The whole point is how we use the network to gather valuable information not based on census stuff that’s 10 years old,” he says. “We take fresh data to the regulators or legislators to help them understand: If you do this, the likely impact on business owners is going to be this.”

Local chambers such as Aufuldish’s use the local information to decide what issues to address. Since work force development was the primary concern in her area, her chamber has met with school representatives to offer input on skill needs.

The chamber directed efforts on another key matter — knowledge of candidates, issues and officials — by questioning candidates about how they would address the top concerns on the GROW survey and by sponsoring a mixer at which candidates could talk with local business owners.

Other chambers in her area are sharing the information and working on ways to coordinate efforts, an added benefit Wiberg encourages.

“Whenever I can, I try to get chambers within House and Senate districts or within a county to do this together because it strengthens their bonds,” he says.

He just started the GROW program in Fairfield County, where four chambers are participating.

Kathy Lowrey, outgoing president of the board of the Pickerington Area Chamber of Commerce and marketing coordinator for Buckeye Sports & Orthopedic Specialists in Fairfield County, says she was fascinated to see the common concerns businesses share.

“My business is health care. One would not automatically believe a doctor’s office has a whole lot in common with a flower shop,” she says, but all businesses face similar issues, such as tax structure and hiring and retention. “So clearly there are a lot of commonalties. The GROW program will give [us] quantitative and qualitative data to help my local business community wrap its arms around and understand what’s happening to business in my neighborhood.”

The program’s timeliness — considering recent term limit issues — also appeals to Lowrey, who is on the board of the Ohio Small Business Council. Having a solid voice for business owners will become more important, she says, as turnover increases in the state legislature.

As of late last year, Wiberg had used the GROW program to partner with 22 local chambers around the state. Through their members and state chamber members, he’s able to access nearly 600 owners of small businesses — defined as those with 400 or fewer employees — to bring their views to legislators and regulators.

“It’s just like everything in life,” Lowrey says. “You don’t really understand how to make a difference or how to make an impact until you talk to somebody else and you understand they have the same experience. Once you organize and you cooperate, then you’re actually able to do something about it.”

To encourage implementation of a GROW partnership in your area, contact your local chamber. For more information about GROW, contact Wiberg at or (800) 622-1893.

At the ‘Crossroads’

A symbol of the past, present and future roles of commerce in Ohio, as depicted in a 16-foot sculpture constructed of materials processed by Ohio manufacturers, now stands in front of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce’s downtown Columbus headquarters.

Columbus designer/sculptor Stephen Canneto created the vision of the past by using Ohio limestone for the foundation and a bronze sail shape. The aluminum open-wire frame represents the rise of modern technology, like a computer-aided drawing. A stainless steel hemisphere at the top opens partly to reveal green glass that is lit at night, “like a seed breaking open, capturing the energy of light and the promise of our future,” Canneto says.

The sculpture, called “Crossroads of Commerce” and presented by AEP as a gift to the chamber, was no small undertaking.

Canneto says approximately 30 Ohio businesses took part in the project. From initial design drawings to the final unveiling before Ohio dignitaries in December, erecting the sculpture required obtaining permits and determining how to anchor it safely [eight feet under ground for the bronze side, three feet for the aluminum side, in case the engineers among us are wondering].

For more information or to see pictures of the sculpture, visit the chamber’s Web site at

Work force news

Looking for updates on the Governor’s Workforce Policy Board?

Visit this area of the Ohio Chamber’s Web site:

The board, led by a majority of business members, will provide policy guidance to the governor in developing a five-year strategic plan for work force development as mandated under the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. The act, which takes effect July 1, authorizes a new work force system to replace the Job Training Partnership Act and other provisions of federally funded job training programs.

To find out more about the board’s structure, members and upcoming meetings, click on “Ohio Chamber members on the board” from the above Web address.

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

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:43

Taking the leap

Two years ago, Melody K. Borchers was 14 years into a career with the Ohio Department of Development, where she’d worked her way up to associate director of the Small Business Development Center.

Then came an awakening: Wasn’t there something else she could be doing? Something she’d enjoy more?

A self-proclaimed golf nut, Borchers began to look for a way to follow her passion — and make money at it. After more than a year of research, she quit her job to start her own company, My Turf, a golf training and promotional company.

Leigh McGuigan’s turnaround wasn’t so rooted — or planned.

The lawyer and senior managing director for personal trust at Bank One Corp. lost her position at the company when it merged with First Chicago.

“I don’t suffer very well,” McGuigan says, noting that five months later, she began thinking about ways to make money from her mountaineering passion.

Intending it to be a hobby, she started to sell climbing equipment over the Internet to women like herself. Now, it’s a full-fledged business.

McGuigan and Borchers have found that following a dream or a passion brings its own trials, including a loss of a corporate atmosphere that ensures benefits, a regular paycheck and an office support system. However, they like the tradeoff.

McGuigan’s happy with the opportunity to do whatever suits her, foster a feminist agenda and do work related to something she loves. Borchers enjoys the simple life she and her husband gained by selling their home in Sunbury and moving to a much smaller one hidden in Hocking Hills. She donated her business clothes to the Center for New Directions, opting for attire more suited for the golf course.

“I like the fact I burned all my suits,” she jokes. “Little things like that can make a person very happy.”

Listen for the call

Golf. It’s always been a passion for Borchers. In fact, it may even be in her blood.

Over the years, just about everyone in Borchers’ family has worked at one of the Central Ohio Groezinger family golf courses — Blackhawk Golf Club, Minerva Lake Golf Course and Arrowhead Lakes. Her husband is the assistant superintendent at Blackhawk in southern Delaware County; her daughter, the first woman to graduate from The Ohio State University with a major in turf grass science, is a superintendent at a California golf course.

It should be no surprise, then, that she heard the greens calling when, in 1998, she started to question her career in economic development.

“I just began to have this feeling several years ago I was definitely ready for a change,” Borchers says.

It wasn’t the first time she’d taken a significant turn in her career path; before she joined the Department of Development, she was in business with her sister setting up charitable giving programs for companies. Before that, she worked for years in research laboratories at the Mayo Clinic and Battelle.

Once she decided to leave the Department of Development, the next question was obvious, considering her passion: “I started asking myself, ‘How can I make money with golf?’”

First, she gave herself the advice she gave entrepreneurs who sought help from SBDC: “Go through a worst-case scenario. If you can live with that, you can eliminate the fear” of starting a business.

“To me, I thought I could always get another job,” she says. “That was my worst-case scenario.”

Then, methodically, for more than a year before she resigned from her state job, she came up with a plan. She made sure she had financial stability, saving more than five months’ income and planning for the future, made easier now that she and her husband had moved to a smaller home and her daughters, one a senior in high school and one in college, were gaining independence.

She found a desktop publisher and a computer consultant and set up her home office; consulted with others in the National Association of Women Business Owners and an SBDC counselor; sought an attorney and incorporated; researched health insurance policies; attended training at a golf camp; and joined golf organizations such as Executive Women’s Golf and the United States Golf Association to build up her credentials.

Her company, Borchers & Associates inc., has two facets: the golf aspect of the d.b.a. My Turf and a consulting side in which she helps other small business owners. She expects to end up with $50,000 in sales from her first year in business.

All the planning paid off, she says, noting that she didn’t have many sleepless nights over deciding to make such a significant change.

“I’m more a task and timeline person,” Borchers says. “I wanted to be as sure as possible when I gave notice. By the time I did, I was hot to trot. I was excited by then.”

Leigh McGuigan’s turnabout, on the other hand, wasn’t so much her own choice.

After spending 10 years practicing law at Washington, D.C.’s largest law firm, McGuigan had been at Bank One for a decade when it merged with First Chicago in 1998. When it became clear she would be out of a job, she called some contacts and made stabs at other jobs. Then she calmed herself for another look at the future.

“Don’t just roll out of Bank One so you can have another high-profile banking job,” she told herself.

“I had fair severance benefits, so we weren’t going to go hungry,” she says of herself, her husband and two daughters. She sat back for a while to enjoy staying at home with her daughters.

Mountaineering had only been a part of her life for the previous five years, started on a whim after she had her children — and had gotten out of shape.

“When you have little infants, it’s hard to do a lot,” she says. “You just stay at home and change diapers and stuff, so I was ready for a jolt. I also was whining all the time about the lousy weather in Columbus and how I hated winter.”

Then she read an article in Outside magazine about ice climbing.

“For some crazy reason, I thought, ‘This is good. I need to go ice climbing,’” she remembers. “If I can climb ice in Canada, surely I can get over it about the weather in Columbus.”

With no climbing experience, she set out for the training. She loved it and returned to Columbus and joined other locals in rock climbing,eventually guiding mountaineering trips.

A few months after her separation from Bank One, she climbed a mountain in Argentina. When she returned in February 1999, she began kicking around an idea she thought would be more of a hobby: creating a Web site for women who are serious climbers, mountaineers, trekkers and backpackers to find equipment.

“I thought, ‘This is something that I love. Maybe I could develop this thing on a shoestring and just sort of see where it goes.’”

Soon, she realized her personality wasn’t wired for something as simple as a hobby — she’d have to take it all the way.

First, she needed a business partner with expertise in climbing.

“We are a case study on how not to find a business partner,” McGuigan admits, explaining that she started by calling people she knew to tell them of her search.

“I told them I was looking for someone with credibility as a climber, a sense of humor, easy to work with, who could write well, work fast, and who would invest in something I cannot assure will be a success,” she says.

Professional mountain guide Kathy Cosley’s name came up repeatedly.

“I didn’t even meet her until after we had the deal,” McGuigan says.

She also found an attorney and an accountant and partnered with Benchmark for the products. By spring, she had the Web site up and running. She expects the business to be profitable this year.

Aside from their drastic differences in planning for such a significant change, McGuigan and Borchers echo thoughts on what they like and don’t like about their new-found careers. Independence, they say, is a major plus.

“I feel much more like I’m in charge of my own destiny,” Borchers says. “I’ve always been a control freak.”

McGuigan enjoys the fact that she’s reaching out to women who want to buy “serious outdoor gear.”

“I have sort of a feminist agenda I’m working as well,” she says. “It’s a pleasure to do something in tune with my political beliefs.

“One of the great things about being on my own now is I only do what suits me,” she adds. “If I want to make more, if I want to lose it, it’s my decision. I don’t want to put banner advertising on my Web site because it doesn’t please me. It’s wonderful to be able to operate that way.”

Time for a change

Looking back, Brochers and McGuigan say the risk of uncertainty was worthwhile.

“Certainly more than the financial reward from the business at this point has been the reward of learning,” McGuigan says of the electronic form of commerce. “I figure no matter what I do in the future, this will be a great experience.”

Borchers also offers some advice:

Talk to people who are where you want to be.

“Like everything in life, there are two sides to the story. All those clichs are clichs for a reason,” Borchers says.

Be prepared.

Borchers advises making initial plans before making such a drastic change.

“It is less stressful if you feel like you’ve done the right steps to make the transition less traumatic to yourself and those around you,” she says.

Be a risk taker.

Just making the change, Borchers says, is empowering.

“It says a lot about a person’s fortitude and ability to follow through,” she says.

She says that someone taking this step should be prepared for the naysayers, although she found most of her family, friends and co-workers were very supportive of her.

Professionals today, and particularly women, Borchers says, aren’t as subject to the expectations of entering specific fields, such as teaching or nursing. It’s more acceptable for people to say they received a college education in one field but are pursuing another direction.

“Usually if you are a good and competent person in a particular field,” Borchers says, “you’ll transfer that to other things you’ll do in your life.”

McGuigan says although you must have risk tolerance, you must also be financially stable. She shudders at the sight of people who put their whole lives on the line — their mortgage, their children’s college funds — to start a business.

“I don’t have that kind of risk tolerance. So I was fortunate to start a business in a way that was responsible financially. I’m a risk taker, but I’m also very prudent in terms of my family,” she says.

It’s the same philosophy she uses in her climbing: It’s a passion she expects to continue as long as she can.

“I’m pretty careful because I have kids,” she says. “Even if my skill level would allow it, I’m not going to places that are very extreme and super dangerous, just because I’d like to come home.”

She also follows advice given to her by her uncle, who is 87.

“When I talk to my uncle about this business, he always says, ‘You go for it, kid, life is short. Before you know it, it’s over. Do what you love.’

“I think a huge number of people are miserable in their jobs. I was never miserable, but I think a lot of people are just flat miserable,” McGuigan says, rattling off excuses she hears from those who would like to change but don’t.

“They build these big boxes around themselves, and then when they lose the job, it’s a total freak out,” she says. “The only advice I would give is, what the heck, try it. If it doesn’t work, you can always go back and get a different job.”

Joan Slattery Wall ( is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

Women in Business Advocate of the Year

The value of promoting local business owners is not lost on Karen McVey, the Columbus district and state Small Business Administration’s Women in Business Advocate of the Year.

Every day, in fact, she works to help women find resources for life or career transitions through WINGS, Women in New Growth Stages, which she founded in 1995 with her husband, Michael McVey, as a project of their nonprofit organization, New Paths Unlimited.

In earlier years, when she was an account executive and special projects coordinator at Cheryl&Co., she often heard women speak of how they looked up to company founder Cheryl Krueger-Horn.

Before that, she was an independent sales representative and regional adviser, working with 150 other consultants for The Longaberger Co. There, she helped convince founder Dave Longaberger and others in his family to see the importance of occasionally signing the bottom of baskets to make them more valuable to sales representatives.

“People do see them as bigger than life, or someone who has changed their world,” McVey says of Longaberger and Krueger-Horn.

Now she’s found herself in an awkward position — admired in much the same way.

Uncomfortable bragging about herself, she couldn’t put together the award support materials after repeated prodding by her nominator, SBN Editor Nancy Byron. McVey’s husband and WINGS Administrative Director Barbara Greenfield wrote her nomination packet and solicited support letters.

“I was an introvert as a child,” McVey admits, almost apologetically.

The words might come as a surprise to those who know her unhesitant compassion for reaching out to help others.

“Karen has accepted the recent nomination to sit on our Community Advisor & Justice Board, showing her commitment and spirit for working with and for disadvantaged, incarcerated women. Those are rare qualities that make a huge difference to this population,” writes Patricia Andrews, warden of the Franklin County Pre-Release Center, in her letter of support for McVey. “The women leave here with a good chance of not returning when they draw strength and improved self-esteem from Karen’s monthly pre-release presentations.”

Irene Chelsey, president of Chelsey Paralegal Services Ltd., writes: “With Karen’s responsible mentoring, guidance and encouragement, I’ve developed a strategy to bring my company’s vision for the future into the next millennium.”

McVey hatched the idea for WINGS, originally intended to be a one-time conference, on a paper tablecloth during dinner at a Bravo Italian Kitchen restaurant with her husband.

Since then, the organization has grown to support initiatives of resources, networking and mentoring through not only the annual conference but a mentoring program; McVey’s talks on a radio program on WRFD-AM; a golf outing; Web site; Networking After Hours; membership; education; promotion; and scholarships. McVey also recently created a business, WINGS Inc., to provide training and business support for clients.

Her mantra is one of encouraging others to follow their instincts.

“It all has to do with staying focused and following your dream,” she says, referring back to Krueger-Horn’s and Longaberger’s success.

McVey is an inspiration to others simply through her philosophies, which likely started, at least in part, as the result of a book, James Allen’s “As a Man Thinketh,” passed down through generations of women in her family.

“It wasn’t until later that I understood the power of the mind,” McVey says.

She often quotes ideas from the book, such as, “When you plant a seed it will grow in your mind. Weed out the garden of negatives and only let the positives grow.”

She keeps a box full of copies of the book handy to pass out to the women she mentors.

The backbone of her inspiration, McVey says, is the opportunity she has to help people through her work. She looks at each on an individual basis, recounting stories of those who have returned to say “thank you.”

“When I die, I’m not going to be able to take the house and the belongings and the money, but it’s so nice to be able to change one life,” she says, quickly adding: “And I’m not the only person who does this.”

Joan Slattery Wall ( is associate editor of SBN Columbus.