Joan Wall

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:35

Jim Hopkins.

The clock is ticking for those of us not involved in continuing our education and training, says Jim Hopkins, president of J.F. Hopkins & Associates commercial printers.

"People that are not reading, taking advantage of opportunities to get additional education on what their trade is -- if we're not doing that, we're only kidding ourselves," Hopkins says. "The day of reckoning will come on quicker than we think."

Hopkins' mantra rings true especially as he, himself, faces a continuing challenge to be self-educated.

An Ernst & Young 2000 Master Entrepreneur of the Year, Hopkins regrets not pursuing higher education after high school.

"I grew up at a time when it wasn't thought it was necessary to have a college education," says Hopkins, 59. "I came from a blue collar family where higher education was neither pushed nor really understood."

Now, however, Hopkins does understand, and he's taking every opportunity he can to educate himself. In fact, the self-proclaimed avid reader book-taught himself right into the printing industry, a field he says he entered in a "mid-30s crisis."

During the 12 years he worked as a machine operator at Timken Roller Bearing, his relatively high wages kept him from finding a more satisfying entry-level position in another field.

His frustration, however, mounted.

"In my mid-30s I just became very disappointed at what the rest of my career was going to be," he says.

"I had a job that I didn't have to apply a lot of creativity, so I had a lot of free time to think and to make notes," he says of how he devised a plan to use his mechanical aptitude and drafting skills in printing.

After setting up in his garage a press, cutter and device to make printing plates, he called on potential customers on his way home from Timken. Staying true to his discipline in financial matters, he reinvested every penny he made.

By 1976, he decided he'd learned enough and could make a go at it, so he rented a storefront in German Village and launched Hop-To Printing, quitting his Timken job by the summer of the next year.

Not quite another year passed before he met a setback -- heavy snows caved in the roof of the building, forcing Hopkins to move.

"It was a fairly devastating period," he says.

As luck would have it, a couple of blocks up High Street he found another prime location -- right in front of the then-new courthouse.

"In so many cases in life, at least in immediate terms, things seem to be disastrous that actually turn out to be pretty good," he says, noting his company eventually grew so much he had to decide whether to open other Hop-To quick print shops or go after commercial printing work.

Choosing the latter, he changed the company's name to J.F. Hopkins & Associates and moved it to South Columbus, finding a niche market in small, full-color commercial jobs.

As well as boosting his business to more than 100 employees and nearly $13 million in revenue, Hopkins continues to push his own personal growth, taking a page from the histories of Ben Franklin and Thomas Edison. He admires both men because of their thirst for knowledge.

"[Franklin] said, of everything he was, he considered being a printer one of his highest accomplishments," Hopkins says. "We in the print industry say that, but he was really a writer, too. He learned printing in order to publish and get across his ideas."

Edison he particularly respects because his quest for knowledge continued up until the time he died.

"It was reported that he was helping the doctors and nurses do research on what caused his death," Hopkins says.

One way Hopkins quenches his own thirst for knowledge is by learning how to use a digital camera. He also calls himself a student of the Bible.

"I don't consider myself an expert, but I'm intrigued by the principles that are contained in a book that's 2,000 years old, but applicable today," he says.

Even people outside Hopkins & Associates call Hopkins a studious person.

"I think he's put a tremendous amount of effort into becoming a businessman by studying books written by successful businesspeople," says Jim Bannister of Bannister & Associates Inc., a Westerville-based association management company and one of Hopkins' first customers.

"The important thing is, I found from the very beginning both Jim and his wife, Arnie, to be extremely honest and reliable businesspeople," says Bannister. Hopkins shares ownership of Hopkins & Associates with his wife, as well as his two daughters, Ramona Hopkins and Michelle Waterhouse.

"I've learned a lot about integrity from him," Bannister continues. "Hopefully I had it to begin with, but he reinforces it. He helps to make me a better person."

Hopkins works to have the same effect on his employees by stressing continuing education for them. He encourages his managers, for example, to read one chapter each month of Stephen R. Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People." Each manager is even asked to report on a section.

"The great thing about developing your skills at work is you don't leave them here; you take them home," Hopkins says. "If employees learn to make better decisions at work, they can make better decisions in their personal lives and become better spouses, parents, neighbors.

"I think Covey and a lot of writers have said one of their hopes in helping society recover from some of its problems is trying to do it in the workplace," he says.

Hopkins also pushes his cause for education as a board member and education, recruitment and scholarship committee chair of the Printing Industry Association of Northern Kentucky and Ohio. He's also a member of the advisory councils for the graphic arts programs at Columbus Community College and Northeast Career Center.

Now, he's preparing for a December move to consolidate operations into more space at a new 75,000-square-foot facility off Stelzer Road. He also plans to change the company's name to Hopkins Printing at that time.

"We could stay here if we were committed to not growing," he says. "As I say in business, that's a decision for disaster if you say, 'I'm not going to push any more.'" Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:35

They're sold on it

Bryce Hooker didn't have to say much before he was greeted with an ovation at a recent HER Inc., Realtors, company meeting.

The company's CIO merely made mention of the purchase contracts put online for real estate agents when he was interrupted by applause.

"What that indicated was such a high degree of acceptance of that particular application," Hooker says of one feature of My HER, a personalized intranet site for the company's 800 real estate agents, corporate staff, franchisees and affiliated-company employees.

The internal network gives HER associates one point of reference, accessed from the company's Web site, for everything from checking e-mail and reading company announcements to working online. Virtually all HER forms -- more than 100, in fact -- are available in Web-based formats. My HER also includes an internal calendar of events, mortgage rates, links to real estate news, discussion groups, weather and sports information.

The system automatically creates personalized Web sites for agents, franchisees, managers and executives.

In fact, the company's CEO and general counsel, Harley E. Rouda Jr., uses My HER to maintain his own Web site -- something he's never done before.

"The Web site enables me to keep in touch with people still being recruited," says Rouda, who posts on his site testimonials from agents who have joined HER from other real estate companies. He also uses it to maintain contact with his sphere of influence: family, friends and business associates who refer business HER's way.

Agents also use My HER to send out direct mail, post their open houses to the company's Web site and order promotional material.

"We believe for marketing and technology to work in unison for our clients and associates, it must be seamless and painless," Rouda says. "Toward that end, everything that will happen, will happen automatically. The Web sites are up for everybody. All that's left is if they choose to modify it, they can. If they choose to do nothing, they have a fully functional, workable Web site."

Overall, Hooker says, HER's online features make the company's agents more efficient and allow them to spend more time with clients rather than on administrative details.

"The more we can automate and get them out with people," Hooker says, "the better off we'll all be, because we don't sell real estate by doing paperwork."

Key features of HER's intranet include:

Easy access. "If they can use a browser and click, they can use all our software," Hooker says.

Recently, an agent vacationing in Florida was contacted about a sale. Instead of having to write the contract, fax it to Columbus and have it faxed back with changes, the agent accessed My HER through the Internet, created the contract and asked an assistant in Columbus to make a few changes, print it out and deliver it to the client. Sales associates also can communicate directly with clients through My HER.

Personalization. Not only do associates get their own e-mail and address book, but their individual pages can include sale listings, prospects and more.

Feedback. A special electronic form lets associates tell Hooker about problems or additional features they'd like to see on My HER.

"For example, they wanted to save and retrieve contracts they've written," Hooker says. "But people have trouble building files, folders, remembering names."

Now, every contract goes into a list by date and pertinent information, such as the buyer and seller, so agents can easily find previous records.

Consistency and timeliness. "Every form that we have to facilitate the purchase and sale of real estate is up here," Hooker says. This allows HER to maintain consistency in the forms, and agents can set defaults for certain types of sales they may have more often.

The process also enables HER to speed up various processes. For example, its Home and Estates magazine now is produced electronically -- in one week instead of the usual six. The company hasn't missed a deadline since it put the electronic process in place.

The fine print

Hooker declines to say how much the intranet cost HER, but notes the expense could vary widely depending on what hardware and technology expertise was available; whether the intranet would be housed on a company server or by an ISP; and what features the business wanted.

For example, he says, duplicating HER's system exactly, starting from scratch, could cost $1 million; the investment might be just a fraction of that if the business already had some of the infrastructure available.

The payoff, Hooker says, is in enabling agents to be more effective.

"Believe it or not," Hooker says, "this is only the beginning."

How to reach: HER Inc., Realtors, www.herrealtors.com or 459-7400

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

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:35

A battle for the bench

The customarily sleepy Ohio Supreme Court race is wide-eyed this year.

Next month, Justice Alice Robie Resnick, who has served since 1988, will defend her seat against Terrence O'Donnell, a judge of the 8th District Court of Appeals. Justice Deborah Cook, whose term began in 1995, is challenged by Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Timothy S. Black.

Much of the battle is drawn along traditional lines: Businesses favor the Republican candidates O'Donnell and Cook; labor has endorsed Democrats Resnick and Black.

"The public is going to be more aware of the Supreme Court race," Brett Buerek, executive director of the Ohio House Republican Campaign Committee, told attendees of an Ohio Manufacturers' Association luncheon earlier this year. "One reason is the antibusiness environment that the court is creating."

William Burga, president of the Ohio AFL/CIO Federation of Labor, argues the current makeup of the court isn't antibusiness -- it's justice for working families.

"I think the court overall has been very fair, and they certainly are very careful to interpret the laws to make sure they're legally on solid ground," Burga says.

Pre-election rhetoric has centered around the so-called 4-3 split. An Ohio Chamber of Commerce analysis of the current court's voting record shows Justices Paul Pfeifer, Francis Sweeney, Andrew Douglas and Resnick, who often vote together on cases, earned overall scores near or below the court's 31 percent pro-business average.

"The 'gang of four,' as we like to refer to them, and Justice Resnick being one of those four, are simply creating law instead of interpreting law and creating a wealth of new liabilities and costs for not only business but ultimately every Ohioan being consumers in this state," says Ohio Chamber President Andrew E. Doehrel.

Burga says he could understand the 4-3 argument better if it were split down party lines; the four are two Democrats and two Republicans.

Both the pro-business and pro-labor sides frequently refer to the court's August 1999 decision to throw out state lawmakers' 1996 tort reform package.

Burga says his organization warned legislators the reforms wouldn't hold up in court "because you can't have the legislature setting limits on what a jury might award someone in the case of a tort. They tried to, and the court said it's unconstitutional."

Doehrel counters that the court overstepped its bounds in deciding the case before it went to a lower court.

"They literally created a new venue and said the court has a right to review any law passed by the legislature on a direct appeal," Doehrel says. "They have, in essence, set themselves up as a superlegislature -- but there's only seven of them."

The chamber, as well as other statewide business interests such as the National Federation of Independent Business, claim Resnick's voting record -- which has an 18 percent pro-business ranking in the chamber's survey -- doesn't show fairness and balance.

"It shows an unquestionable bias on her part to be hammering the employers in this state every chance she gets," Doehrel says.

The chamber favors Cook -- who has a 59-percent pro-business ranking -- saying she's been more fair and has opined that the court, indeed, has gone too far in some of its actions.

Burga says Resnick has an "impeccable record" on the court and has been "above reproach." The AFL/CIO also has endorsed Black, seeking to unseat Cook, whom Burga says "very seldom will rule in favor of a person over a corporation."

For themselves, the candidates are practically left to watch the battle from the sidelines; judicial canons -- essentially a code of conduct -- prohibit them from making statements that might even appear to commit them with respect to any cases or issue.

Whatever the end result, both sides, in their own way, bring up the crux of another issue: The public -- business included -- is largely uninformed about the Supreme Court's actions and ramifications.

"The corporate community needs to understand the laws are made for everyone, not just for them, and the Constitution is for everyone," Burga says.

Doehrel says much of the reaction he's heard about the race is astonishment on the part of business owners who aren't cognizant of court decisions -- even ones that would most affect them.

"People know about the education decision," he says, referring to the school funding issue, "but they don't see the other 10 cases that were released that day -- many of which would have impacted them. And quite frankly, businesses are not informed about he importance of the court."

How to reach: Ohio Chamber of Commerce, www.ohiochamber.com/political/court2000.html, 228-4201; Ohio AFL/CIO, www.ohaflcio.org, 224-8271. Visit the Ohio Republican Partyís site, www.ohiogop.org, for biographical information on Justice Deborah Cook and Judge Terrence OíDonnell. For links to Web sites of Democratic candidates Justice Alice Robie Resnick and Judge Timothy Black, go to www.ohiodems.org. The League of Women Voters of Ohio has information about the November election and candidates at www.smartvoter.org/2000/11/07/oh/state.

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

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:34

Mindy D. Hedges

Challenges don't stop Mindy D. Hedges in her tracks. The owner and president of Media Solutions Inc. has overcome her share of them -- from the very start of her career.

When Hedges graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1978, the recession left her few options to put her communications, theater and secondary education degrees to work.

Through a friend, she heard about an opening at Howard Swink Advertising, which has evolved into Fahlgren Inc.

"They needed a part-time research assistant -- which meant I was one step above cleaning toilets," Hedges says. "I took it because it was a job. A job was better than no job during the recession."

After five months, she was laid off. She found another job in advertising at a radio station and newspaper in Marion, but that wouldn't last long, either.

"It was a good salary right out of college," she says, "but I eventually figured out I was making 72 cents an hour" because of the schedule she sometimes worked: 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

She ended up, however, staying in the advertising field.

Her career took her through positions at such notable firms now known as Lord, Sullivan & Yoder, Ron Foth Advertising and HMS Partners, where she worked her way up to vice president of media services.

"I eventually realized that I had the nerve to do it on my own," Hedges says, echoing many entrepreneurs. "I was working all kinds of hours and decided if I was putting that much energy and effort into a firm, maybe it ought to be mine."

Her timing was off, though. She started the company more than 10 years ago, during another recession and at a time when her husband, Don, didn't have a job.

True to form, she struggled through, bringing Media Solutions to profitability within the first three years and growing the company to its current status of more than a dozen employees and $20 million in annual billings. Her client list boasts DSW Shoe Warehouse, Fiesta Hair Salons, Three-C Body Shops, Swan Cleaners and the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, among others. Her husband has joined her as vice president of operations at Media Solutions.

The company has outgrown several office spaces and is now housed in a former Victorian home built in Delaware in 1800. Its fireplaces and antique look suit her style, she says.

"One of my clients calls me and wants to have meetings here so we can have lemonade on the porch," Hedges says. "It's much better than in his conference room, which is actually in his warehouse."

She's even put her education degree to work, teaching courses at The Ohio State University and serving as a guest lecturer at Columbus State Community College, as well as at Franklin, Capital and Ohio universities.

Her career isn't the only place Hedges has overcome challenges. A diabetic for almost 40 years, Hedges concentrates her efforts on supporting the Central Ohio Diabetes Association, where she serves on the board of trustees and several committees.

"The disease actually is life-threatening if you don't take care of it, and it's real important to me that we get that message out there," Hedges says.

"She's not only worked on our committees and with our programs but also has been an advocate in the community to help commit funds to our programs," says Jeanne Grothaus, executive director of the Central Ohio Diabetes Association.

Hedges also advocates for Senate Bill 147, which mandates insurance coverage of diabetes supplies and education.

Hedges says she's made community service her focus, choosing to encourage her staff at Media Solutions to take on active roles in professional organizations.

She shares her marketing expertise as a board member and marketing chair for the Community Foundation of Delaware County, a board member of the Delaware Arts Castle and communications chair for the Delaware Balloon Festival, among others.

Jane Van Fossen, chair of the Community Foundation of Delaware County, says Hedges' successful business traits are "knowledge, enthusiasm, personality, competence."

"She's just a very warm person to be around, outgoing and relates easily to people," Van Fossen says. "Certainly her willingness to move forward and get things going and contribute has been marvelous."

Grothaus also seems amazed by Hedges' "tremendous" energy.

"She probably can be characterized in some way by her ability to multitask. She just is constantly working with a lot of different things," Grothaus says, adding that Hedges' enthusiasm and energy go beyond the work environment.

In fact, Hedges says her greatest challenge hasn't come from her diabetes or past career obstacles, but from being a working mother.

"Although I wasn't one of the first to break the glass ceiling, I wasn't far behind," she says. "It was emotionally troubling to be not spending as much time as I wanted to with my kids."

She boasts of her teen-age daughters, Blair and Sara, whose pictures fill her office, and remembers how doctors warned her not to even try to have children due to the risks diabetics face.

"My greatest accomplishment was having children -- and having them grow up to be wonderful young ladies," she says.

Grothaus says Hedges exhibits a commitment to see things through in all aspects of her life.

"She enjoys what she does. She enjoys her family, she enjoys her children, she enjoys her agency. She's enthusiastic about her professional life," Grothaus says.

Thom Havens, chairman of The Waterworks and a client of Media Solutions, credits Hedges for helping his company achieve its goals.

"Mindy's been critical to the success we've seen in the past year," he says. "Her response and turnaround time is superb, and she works within a budget. We couldn't afford a $500,000 campaign. We're not at that point yet. And that was fine to Mindy.

"I believe Mindy has an extraordinarily bright future in this town." How to reach: Mindy Hedges, Media Solutions Inc., (740) 363-1600

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

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:34

A record of service

Ray Mason Jr. and his wife, Margaret, kicked off their 50th wedding anniversary celebration with the national anthem.

That might seem unusual -- until you consider the 25 years the decorated major general gave in service to his country.

"He doesn't carry that rank of general lightly," says longtime friend and fellow Rotary member Tom C. Fitzpatrick, former owner of Elford Construction Co., remembering the couple's celebration eight years ago at the Columbus Club downtown.

"To begin the evening's program, the very first thing we did was stand up and sing 'The Star-Spangled Banner.' Now how many wedding anniversaries have you ever heard started like that?" Fitzpatrick asks. "But that's Ray Mason -- 101 percent American."

The founder of Columbus Truck and Equipment Co. Inc. retired as a major general after serving combat duty during World War II. He received the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with V for Valor and Presidential Unit Citation, among many other accolades. He then worked with the reserves and eventually shared his knowledge of trucks and transportation on various special assignments with the Pentagon.

"It was a privilege, really, to serve your country in any kind of a senior or responsible position," Mason says. "I was satisfied that I was helping the Army and helping our country be ready and be prepared to stand off enemies."

Mason -- "The General," as he's referred to commonly -- commands the respect of a giant even though he's greeted as a familiar friend or father figure by employees and others.

David S. Schoedinger, chairman of Schoedinger Funeral Services and Mason's nominator for the Junior Achievement Central Ohio Business Hall of Fame award, calls Mason "a real gentleman" who treated him as an equal when he joined Rotary in 1965, one year before Mason was elected president.

"He didn't look down on me as a youngster and I was, for quite a while, the youngest person in Rotary," Schoedinger says.

Fitzpatrick, who calls Mason a "very, very" quiet person, says determination makes him successful as a businessman.

"He has a very keen mind and a very analytical mind, and I'm sure that all derives from not only college but from his military experience," Fitzpatrick says. "It takes all those things to survive what he went through in World War II."

In fact, Mason says he might have made the military more of a career had he not had the desire to be a businessman, a profession for which he gained support from his father.

"He encouraged me to be in business for myself," Mason says of his mentor, Raymond E. Mason Sr., whom he calls "a pioneer trucker." His father drove a truck up Olentangy River Road, collecting cream and milk to bring back into the dairies, sometimes working 12, 16, 18 hours a day.

"I remember a restaurant owner telling me way down on South High Street about Dad stretching out on the counter to take a nap because he didn't have time to go home before the next day's work," Mason says.

His father, in fact, purchased Mason's first truck when he founded Columbus Truck and Equipment in 1949. At the time, Mason Jr. didn't know the country was going into a recession.

"If I had known how tough the business was going to be, I never would've done it," Mason says.

The hard times continued; another recession in the heavy-duty truck business came in the early 1980s, when interest rates soared to more than 20 percent and people weren't buying trucks.

"I never thought we would go out of business, but I know I thought on several occasions we were going to have to do something to keep it alive," he says, adding that employees took payroll cuts as one solution.

"After business got better, I gave it all back to them," says Mason, now chair of the nearly $24 million, 75-employee company.

One of his three sons, Ray Mason III, who now runs Columbus Truck and Equipment, says his father has a never-stand-still attitude. He noted that at age 80, the elder Mason is actually the one pushing the company to technological advances like an Internet presence.

"The superlatives of hard work and perseverance, honesty and integrity are a very important part of what he does in business and just about everything he does," Mason III says.

In addition to his own father, Mason Jr. includes two Junior Achievement Hall of Famers on his list of mentors: R.M. "Dick" Ross, the late president of Ross Laboratories, who Mason says was a very good businessman and an artist in his own right, and the late John B. Gerlach, who was president of Lancaster Colony Corp., for his understanding of finances and "fine streak of philanthropy."

Rob McCormick, chairman of The Frank Gates Cos. Inc., says Mason, himself, is a philanthropist.

"He's made donations of money to many, many causes which people never know about," McCormick says. "He's that kind of a person."

Fitzpatrick reiterates the thought, relaying a story from the early 1970s, when Mason was president of the local Boy Scout Council.

"They came up to the end of their fiscal year. They depend on United Way and other contributions, and for one reason or another they came up about two months short of having enough money to meet the payroll," says Fitzpatrick, a council vice president at the time. "Ray carried it for the rest of the year and didn't say one word to a soul. There probably aren't 10 people that know that. That's another indication of the kind of guy he is."

Through the Raymond E. Mason Foundation, named for his father, the family has either granted or committed $9 million to support education, the elderly and international affairs. Last year, Mason committed nearly $4 million to Ohio State's Fisher College of Business, where the Raymond E. Mason Hall, a business resource center, is named for him.

Mason serves as a trustee of the John J. and John B. Gerlach foundations and of the Mote Marine Lab Foundation, where he's also a trustee of the foundation of New College, an honors college in Florida, where he lives much of the year, and is an owner or partner in more than 15,000 acres at three ranches.

Mason, who is also a former race car driver, college polo star and instrument-rated pilot, lists gardening, woodworking, walking and horseback riding as his hobbies.

He says he'll likely never retire: "I don't think so. That wouldn't be much fun."

He's motivated by getting the job done, and getting it done properly and better than the competition, he says.

"I think most of us, anyway, want to be better tomorrow than we were today," he says. "We just want to make the world a little bit better than when we found it. That's probably my main ambition." How to reach: Ret. Maj. Gen. Ray Mason Jr., Columbus Truck and Equipment Co. Inc., 252-3111

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

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:33

Homework assignment

Sure, price matters.

But don't let the dollar signs blind you from seeing how disgruntled your employees could be if you choose the wrong health care plan.

"Employers are hearing about problems dealing with claims and claims processing," says John Kirsner, a Squire, Sanders & Dempsey LLP employment law associate. "Employees don't get through in customer service, or they get voice mail, not a person. And probably more significantly, especially from the employee point of view, is denials of medically needed health services."

Lack of coverage is one of the reasons why a client of Victoria Green, an employee benefits broker, recently went shopping for a new HMO.

"The plan did not cover gynecological visits -- in or out of the physician network. For a new hire, it's a rude awakening to go for a gynecologist visit and get a bill that says it's not covered," says Green, owner of Green Insurance Agency in Westerville. "You've got to keep on top of those things. Most of the carriers cover it, but if you have an older policy, chances are it may not."

Barry Shaffer, senior vice president of OhioHealth Group HMO Inc., says he would advise business owners looking for a health care plan to use a broker or consultant.

"They should not just shop based on price," he says, "but look at what's being offered, what's behind the plan, how easy it is to get access to physicians, those kinds of things."

Do your homework

Finding an HMO plan for your employees is not as simple as making a few phone calls, says Kirsner, who acts as both counsel and an advocate for insurance companies, health plans, managed care organizations, hospitals and other health care providers and governmental organizations. His suggestions:

Go to the Web sites of each of the health care plan providers you're considering to get a handle on the basics.

Use other Web sites that evaluate health plans. For example, the National Commission for Quality Assurance, www.ncqa.org, is a nonprofit organization that holds plans to accountability standards.

"Ask if the plan is NCQA accredited; if not, that ought to tell you something," Kirsner says.

Ask to see the provider's annual survey responses, which measure patient satisfaction.

Shaffer says his company's National Commission for Quality Assurance accreditation requires those surveys annually, and employers can ask for results for their own employees or for OhioHealth overall.

Question the provider. Ask about prices, but also find out about the benefit packages available, how the claim processing system works, how the provider denies services. "Sometimes they have to," Kirsner says. "Not everyone needs a heart transplant."

Green says employers need to find out about the differences between plans.

"There can be intricate parts of the policy a lot of people are not aware of, and it can make a huge difference as to how the policy works for your employees," she says.

Shaffer suggests additional questions: "What kind of rate increases can we expect in the future? What about medical trends? What kind of data will you give us to help us evaluate your program? Is it a local service? Do you have a restricted network, where we can only go to certain doctors or hospitals?"

For the sake of your employees, select a plan with options.

"In our case, we have about nine different plan choices in HMO, and we also have a point of service product, which allows them greater flexibility and freedom of choice," Shaffer says. "Depending on which they select, the price will be different, and they can mix and match a lot of them."

"Make sure you have enough physicians and enough hospitals to choose from that it doesn't look like you're providing an illusory benefit," Kirsner adds.

Be prepared to answer the provider's questions.

Providers will ask for your census, or the demographics of your employees, and the coverage and claims you've submitted in past years, as a basis for the rates you'll be charged, says Green.

You'll also need to give them your line of business, generally described by your SIC code, and the locations of all of your operations.

One of Green's most challenging clients has locations in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, Cambridge and Columbus.

"One of the problems I have every time I go out looking for their coverage at renewal is making sure the network that particular insurance carrier offers is good enough for each particular location," she says. "One might be good in Columbus but horrible in Toledo."

Ask for help. If you trust your insurance agent with your other policies and he or she has enough knowledge to help you on the health side, don't overlook the assistance, Kirsner says. Your company attorney also can offer guidance, as can chambers of commerce.

Beware of pitfalls

Kirsner says an increasing problem in the health care industry is plans facing financial difficulty.

"Ohio has gotten a bit of a reputation for health plan failures," he says.

Again, a little research can raise the red flags.

The Ohio Department of Insurance is one source of information, Kirsner says.

Rating services, such as Standard & Poor's or A.M. Best, also can indicate whether a plan might be in trouble. Although you might want to think twice about a plan with a low rating, Kirsner says, don't write it off altogether. It might have an extremely strong parent company.

"You have to ask the questions," he says. "Challenge the health plan: 'I'm asking all the health plans this -- Why is your rating where it is?' Leave it to them to explain, and decide if you buy that explanation."

Don't stop there

Once you've selected a plan, you can't sit on your laurels.

First, Kirsner says, sell it to your employees.

"It's important that if an employer is entering into this, they have meetings with the employees," he says. "And highlight the cost -- even if there's an employee match -- to show that it's a big investment" for the company.

When the plan is up and running, continually monitor it by listening to employees, keeping up on news related to the provider you've chosen and revisiting the Web sites of your research.

Many plans are quite standardized, but some allow room for negotiating benefits and costs, Kirsner says. The Ohio Department of Insurance has to approve every policy issued in the state.

"Your defense has to be due diligence," Kirsner says, "and looking at lots of different companies." How to reach: Victoria Green, Green Insurance Agency, 882-1876; John Kirsner, Squire, Sanders & Dempsey LLP, 365-2722 or www.ssd.com; Barry Shaffer, OhioHealth Group HMO Inc., 566-0260 or www.ohiohealthgroup.com

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

What you can do

  • Visit the Ohio Department of Insurance Web site, www.ins.state.oh.us, for details regarding all types of insurance. Visit the "Consumer Information" section for Shopper's Guides to health, auto, life and homeowner insurance; managed care and annuities; and long-term care and Medicare supplement insurance. The department's phone number is (800) 686-1526.

  • Check ratings of insurance companies' financial strength at Standard & Poor's, www.standardpoor.com/ratings/insurance/index.htm, or A.M. Best Co., www.ambest.com/guide/index.html. Weiss Ratings Inc., www.weissratings.com, also offers information but charges a fee.

  • Visit the National Commission for Quality Assurance, a nonprofit organization that holds plans to accountability standards, on the Web at www.ncqa.org.

Tuesday, 26 February 2002 12:58

A shortage of kudos

The recent economy downturn has employers looking for more creative ways than a monetary bonus to recognize employees, says Gene White, Columbus area branch manager for OfficeTeam, a staffing firm for administrative professionals.

When it comes to rewarding a job well-done, in fact, businesses give themselves only passing grades.

Just 64 percent of respondents in an executive survey last year said companies are effective in acknowledging top performers. More than one-third (35 percent) said current efforts to recognize staff are inadequate.

The survey was developed by OfficeTeam and conducted by an independent research firm. The poll includes responses from 150 executives with the nation's 1,000 largest companies.

Liz Hubler, OfficeTeam executive director, says not all forms of recognition are expensive or difficult to plan. She and White offer the following tips:

* Remember the power of "thank you." The next time employees do a great job, don't assume they know you appreciate it.

* Think creatively. If you are limited in your ability to offer salary increases or bonuses, consider rewards such as extra days off, recognition during a staff meeting or a mention in the company newsletter.

* Put it in writing. If someone in another department pitches in on a critical task, express your appreciation via e-mail and copy it to the employee's supervisor.

* Celebrate often. Don't limit your recognition to predictable dates or occasions, such as once a quarter or at the conclusion of major projects. Rewarding employees frequently builds a positive work environment. How to reach: Gene White, OfficeTeam, 848-8326 or gene.white@rhi.com

Tuesday, 30 October 2001 06:58

Suzanne Hilleary

In 1999, Suzanne Hilleary faced a dilemma.

An employee of Central Ohio Graphics Inc. for nearly 20 years, she had the chance to sell her 30 percent share in the company -- and not have to work another day of her life.

Her other choice: Buy the remaining 70 percent to become full owner.

In the end, she chose to buy out her partner, who would have been an absentee owner.

''If he would've bought me out, I felt very insecure about what would've happened to Central Ohio Graphics and the employees. So one of the major reasons I went the way I went was to keep their families together. They could get other jobs, but a lot of them have been here a long time,'' she says. ''I think of the employees more than I do of the company. It's their company, it's their livelihood, and their families depend on them.''

They also depend on Hilleary. Not only is she willing to jump in and lend a hand if any of the employees need help in the company's the printing, processing, binding, mailing or fulfillment tasks, but she lends assistance on a personal basis as well.

In late summer, she was offering her own financial help to five employees.

''I just ask them, 'How much can you pay me?' I've let $1,000 take two years (to be repaid) because they can't afford any more than that,'' she says.

She provides benefits such as profit-based quarterly and end-of-year bonuses to all employees; health care coverage; and a 401(k) program in which she matches 50 cents of every dollar employees put in before taxes.

Her open-door policy and attitude toward the employees of the West Fifth Avenue business is obvious to them.

''She's very close with almost all the employees,'' says the company's general manager, Randy Arledge. ''You know how some people get intimidated to talk to the owner? There's no problem with that whatsoever.''

Even people outside of her company take note of Hilleary's relationship with her employees.

''Even though she's the owner, she's right there with everybody else,'' says Jean Cobb, marketing representative for The Murphy Co., a Central Ohio Graphics supplier. ''She definitely is a team player with her company, and I think that's so important. It's not like, 'Oh my goodness, here comes the boss.'''

Anita Herington, president of the Printing Industry Association serving Northern Kentucky and Ohio, where Hilleary serves on the Central Advisory Council and the board of directors as well as the worker's compensation group rating trust, also praises Hilleary's relationship with her employees.

''Her employees kid with her. They respect her, but they know that she likes to have fun,'' she says.

Hilleary's business accomplishments also have reached the attention of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, where she was nominated in 2000 for Small Business Person of the Year, and the Ohio Department of Development's Small Business Development Center, which gave her the 2001 Governor's Award for Women's Excellence in Enterprise Rising Star. She also has received a certificate from the Elite Who's Who Among Outstanding Female Executives.

Hilleary knows her dedication to employees pays off in reduced employee turnover. Eleven of her 51 employees have been with the company for more than 10 years; the average number of years of service is 6.1. Arledge, who joined the company in 1974, is a good example, she says.

''He's probably the best in the city,'' she says of his general manager duties. ''I can count on him. If I'm out sick or on vacation, he will treat it as his own. He's very loyal to the company.

''Nobody is successful today by themselves. You're only as successful as the people you have around you. You just have to have a good management team.''

In addition to remaining loyal to the company, Central Ohio Graphics employees often reach out to take care of Hilleary in return for her efforts for them.

Two years ago, for example, they pulled off a surprise birthday party for her.

''I had presents everywhere -- a cake and all. They can do things out of the blue,'' Hilleary says with a tone of amazement much like that of a proud parent.

Perhaps Hilleary's dedication to her employees stems from her first career as a school teacher in Reynoldsburg, North Columbus, Louisiana and Illinois.

''It's funny, most of the people I have respect for are educators, and I've been out of it for so long,'' she says, remembering her admiration for a school teacher who set a good example for young people in her hometown of Woodsfield, and for one of her own teachers.

''He was one of the very few teachers I've encountered that did. I remember I wrote him a letter when I was in college because I just felt he made learning almost fun,'' Hilleary says. ''Fortunately I had him for almost every class I took.''

She has her quiet time at home enjoying movies and books, especially on historical and World War II subjects, and collecting Coke memorabilia, but she obviously prefers interacting with people, including her two grown sons, one of whom works in the company, and two grandsons.

''I don't think a lot of people realize how serious I am,'' she says. ''I say I have a personality flaw because I always want people to be happy, so I'm a bit of a clown. I always say that's why I was a good school teacher.'' How to reach: Suzanne Hilleary, Central Ohio Graphics Inc., 294-3200 or www.centralohiographics.com

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

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:50

Lower your taxes

In 2000, the state of Ohio had $20 million in tax credits available for businesses that provided training to their workers.

However, only about $233,000 was used. That's barely more than 1 percent of the tax breaks the state could have provided businesses.

"Since this has been implemented, we've not seen a major effort to use this incentive," says State Sen. Bill Harris, R-Ashland.

Daryl Hennessy, manager of the Office of Tax Incentives at the Ohio Department of Development, says just six companies applied for the credit in 2000.

Harris hopes that changes this year, now that the legislature has revised the Job Training Tax Credit to allow applications from more businesses for more training. The program only permitted applications from C corporations before.

Harris, who introduced legislation that led to creation of the tax credit in 1999, says it was originally written too narrowly, so he made moves to change it through additional legislation that passed late last year. Now the credit is available to any taxpayer who is an investor in a pass-through entity, such as a partnership, S corporation, limited liability company or sole proprietorship not taxed as a corporation.

"It opens it up to a much broader base where small business and small industry has the same opportunity as a C corporation," Harris says.

Dan Berry, vice president of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, which serves as the chamber of commerce for the area, praised the changes, especially the elimination of a requirement that training be limited to employees who had skill deficiencies in their positions. Now, the credit includes training programs that enable employees to perform additional job duties.

"There was a feeling that, in order to really make it work, we needed to make it for upscaling our work force to compete in the marketplace," Berry says.

Other changes, which took effect Jan. 1, have:

  • Increased the credit amount.

    Previously, the credit equaled 50 percent of the incremental increase in training costs above the company's three-year average training costs. Now, the amount of the credit will equal 100 percent of all training costs.

  • Relaxed credit limitations.

    The limit increased from $500 per employee trained to $1,000 per employee trained. The maximum annual credit allowed, however, remains at $100,000.

  • Expanded the kinds of businesses eligible for the credit.

    Previously the credit was limited to corporations in certain standardized industry categories. Now, eligible companies can come from any industry.

In addition, last month, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services expected to be able to accept applications electronically.

Sue Kelly, director of taxes for Moen Inc., a nearly $1 billion company with about 850 Ohio employees, knows how helpful the tax credit program can be. Moen received a $100,000 credit for its 2000 training to apply toward 2001 taxes and may apply for credit again this year.

"We are implementing what's called an enterprise resource planning system, an integrated system to basically run our business," she says. "It requires basically a retraining of all people in all functions."

Harris knows the costs involved in training employees. As a former chairman of the Ashland Area Chamber of Commerce, his sons now own and operate his companies: Bill Harris Chevrolet/GEO as well as insurance, finance and car wash businesses.

"What this does is motivate the employer to invest more of their own dollars into their employees, and makes them more competitive in the marketplace," says Harris.

"Every employer knows more training will make (employees) more attractive in the marketplace," he says, "but training employees gives you a better product and more product so you can be more competitive." How to reach: Sen. Bill Harris, (614) 466-8086 or SD19@mailr.sen.state.oh.us; Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, Linda O'Connor, business services representative, (614) 995-2047 or click on the tax credit information link at www.ohioworks.com

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

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:48

Managing the mandates

Lynn Olman, a 28-year State Farm agent, employs seven people at his insurance company in Maumee.

You might think, then, that he would join the ranks of other small business owners around the state who, fed up with increasing costs, are opposing any proposed health care mandates that increase costs and apply only to small group and individual policyholders.

Instead, Olman, a state representative, is leading the charge to pass House Bill 33, which would require coverage of mental illness and substance abuse or addiction in sickness and accident insurance policies and private and public employer self-insurance plans.

Known as "equal treatment" or "parity" because of its efforts to prohibit discrimination in coverage provided for mental illness, similar proposals have failed for years. Under the bill, coverage for mental illness and substance abuse or addiction would be provided in the same manner as coverage for physical illnesses.

"If we have a $250 deductible for a brain aneurysm, there would also be $250 for lithium imbalance that creates bipolar disease," Olman says.

Olman joined the cause in 1995 when the Alliance for the Mentally Ill brought to his attention the fact that many patients run out of insurance benefits in the middle of treatment for biologically based mental illnesses.

"It would be as if to say an open heart patient goes in for surgery, and they get the chest cavity opened up and perform the arterial transfer, and the doctor looks up and says, 'I'm sorry, we don't have enough money to close you up.' It would be ridiculous for that to occur, yet that is what occurs every day to the people who suffer from mental illness," he says, noting that 32 other states have mental health parity.

"For me, it's an issue of one, what's fair, and No. 2, it's economically sound public policy," he says, adding that people who suffer from mental health and addiction see their general physician twice as often as those without such problems and use hospital outpatient treatment three times as much.

The costs for those visits, he says, are higher than the results found in an actuarial study he commissioned last year, which determined parity changes would increase premiums by about 3 percent per employee per month. In the study, PricewaterhouseCoopers determined that the cost to employers, on average, would be a little more than $1.50 per member per month for a typical insurance policy to cover both mental health and addiction treatment services, once employers shopped their contract for lower prices and passed some of the cost on to employees.

"So in my case, with seven employees, we're talking about 10 bucks a month on my health care plan, roughly," he says.

However, it's the very cost of health care mandates that has other business owners up in arms against the legislation.

Jenny Baader, vice president of Baader Brown Manufacturing Co. in Springfield, asked for input from her 20 employees before she testified against the bill in March.

"Their comment was, 'If it will increase our premiums by even a dime, we aren't interested,'" she told legislators on the House Insurance Committee.

Roger Geiger, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business - Ohio, says he's seen estimates that this mandate could add anywhere from 5 to 10 percent to health insurance premiums.

"Arguably, it's probably one of the most costly mandate provisions we've seen in a long time," he says.

Such discrepancies are why he's waiting for the Legislative Service Commission's independent actuarial study for objective analysis of what Olman's proposal -- and six other proposed health insurance mandate provisions -- will do to premiums and benefits.

In addition to concerns about the costs, Geiger argues that the parity measure is unfair to small business owners. Companies large enough to self-insure fall under federal guidelines protecting them from mandates, and government programs are exempted.

"It is a terribly inequitable mandate on the backs of small businesses and generally the self-employed who purchase health insurance," Geiger says.

Olman counters that federal and state employees already have equal treatment for mental health and addiction.

Geiger's other arguments against the bill:

  • State legislatures across the country already have enacted more than 1,000 health care mandates; Ohio has 25.

    "The question becomes, 'Where do you draw the line in the sand?'" he says. "We know that for every 1 percent increase in health insurance premiums, 7,000 Ohioans will go into the uninsured rolls. The employer just can't afford it any more."

    However, in testimony for the bill, David Nelson of the National Mental Health Association told legislators opposition to the parity issue has waned across the country in recent years as more evidence surfaces that the costs for such coverage are not significant and that parity, in fact, often results in a decrease in other expenses, such as welfare, social costs and lost time on the job. A Connecticut company, for example, reduced its mental health coverage, only to see a 37 percent increase in medical care and sick leave costs, Nelson says.

  • Employers, he says, already understand providers' "pay me now, pay me later" arguments that suggest rejecting such coverage in health plans will cause more expensive problems later with employees who need help.

    "If they have demographics likely to have a certain type of health condition, they're going to want to make sure they have that kind of coverage -- I guarantee it," Geiger says. "They want to do the best and provide the most comprehensive plan they can possibly afford."

  • Geiger wants legislators to look at the real issue behind the problems prompting their proposals.

    If the issue, for example, is that people can't get such coverage, then make it mandatory for insurance companies to provide it but let employers pick what options they'd like to offer their employees.

    "If a construction company has four single guys (as employees), they'd rather have dental or vision coverage than mammography. When you do this one-size-fits-all approach, you don't account for the unique demographics of each individual company," he says.

    If, on the other hand, the issue is a societal problem, then don't make small business employers pay for the fix, Geiger says. Instead, add the coverage under the public health care system.

Olman hopes to move the bill out of the House of Representatives before adjournment in July.

How to reach: Roger Geiger, NFIB/Ohio, (614) 221-4107; Rep. Lynn Olman, (614) 466-1731. For more details about House Bill 33, visit the 124th General Assembly's Web site at www.legislature.state.oh.us.

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