Nancy Byron

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:56

Phoenix Award

Lois Fisher is a picture of perseverance.

When a July 1987 flood swept through Marion, severely damaging the entire town, including the 164-room motel, banquet hall and restaurant Fisher had purchased just two years earlier, she could’ve thrown in the towel on business ownership. Instead, she called in family members from across the state to help her and her employees clean and repair enough of the Harding Motor Lodge to keep it operating while she sought funds to restore the rest.

By September, she’d secured a $452,600 disaster loan through the Small Business Administration. Good thing. Since the building had floated off its foundation during the flood, the entire structure needed to be replaced. In fact, roughly half of it was torn down during the restoration, leaving just 99 motel rooms. Suddenly, Fisher’s income potential had been significantly reduced.

Once again, Fisher showed her determination to succeed in business. She collectively acquired and built approximately 100,000 square feet of office space, which she could lease to supplement her motel business income. In addition, she added a 30,000-square-foot medical office — which sits on what once was the parking lot of the Harding Restaurant — to add to her growing real estate portfolio.

“Although the flood in 1987 was destructive to the entire community, Lois was able to continue her operation through innovative rehabilitation of her property and new construction at the same location,” wrote Marion County Commissioners Kirk Moreland, Kathy Lyons and John Watkins in a letter supporting Fisher’s SBA award nomination.

“She has encouraged business growth, not only from her own contributions, but also by encouraging others to invest and promote the Marion County area.”

Fisher is a founding member of at least four business groups in Marion County, including the Marion Women’s Business Council, Entrepreneurial Alliance Inc. and South Marion Business Association — and continues to serve on the boards of these three. She is also on the boards of Leadership Ohio, HealthFirst/HealthOhio Inc., Marion Bank and the Marion Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

“Mrs. Fisher is truly one of Marion’s outstanding entrepreneurs,” says Pamela Hall, president of the Marion Area Chamber of Commerce, in her letter nominating Fisher for the SBA award. “She is extremely active in the Marion business community and is highly respected for her business skills and investment success.”

In recognition of her exceptional business success and community leadership, Fisher was awarded the first ever ATHENA Foundation Award by the Women’s Business Council, an affiliate of the Marion chamber, in 1998.

“She has a ‘let’s get the job done’ attitude and is well respected for her opinions and business savvy,” Hall concludes.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:55

No place like home

I’m not one who often fumbles for words. I’m also not the type to break down in tears at work. One day, however, I found myself doing both. It was the day I told my boss I was going to become a mother.

Learning that you’re about to become a parent is a wondrous, emotional experience in and of itself. But worrying, even briefly, about how that news is going to be received by your employer — especially if you want to spend time at home with your new one while continuing to advance your career — can bring feelings of guilt and fear into the mix.

I’m lucky. SBN understands the importance of balancing work and family life. A couple years ago, our CEO established a flex time option that lets employees whose jobs can be done outside the traditional 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. office hours set different schedules for themselves — or telecommute a couple days each week — with management approval, of course. This simple benefit costs virtually nothing to offer and has helped SBN keep some of its best employees.

Think about it: Forcing a worker to choose between work and family is ludicrous. It breeds animosity. That’s anything but productive. Employers who are more flexible — who understand that productive work can, and actually does, take place beyond office walls and outside regular work hours — not only wind up with more satisfied employees, but ones who are better focused at work. These employees appreciate being treated as adults and they repay that respect with loyalty.

I know I’m working harder than ever to be sure my boss is satisfied with the amount of work I’m producing from my home office, the quality of that work and the timeliness with which I complete it. I appreciate the privilege I’ve been given to spend a few days each week at home with my baby daughter and I work some pretty long, strange hours to make sure neither she nor my job suffers due to this arrangement.

It appears to be working. In fact, I’ve been surprised to learn that distractions at home are fewer and farther in-between than those encountered daily at my office. I can sit down at the computer and write, uninterrupted, for three or four hours at a time while my daughter naps. In the office, it’s rare that I can get a full hour in at the keyboard before an unexpected phone call, fax or package delivery interrupts my train of thought.

Staying on task when household distractions do arise, however, requires serious dedication and some creative thinking. For instance, the phone rings 10 times a day when I’m home. Less than half are work-related calls. The rest are telemarketers or friends calling to check in on the baby. It took me a week to learn to route all co-worker and corporate calls through my cellular phone and to let our answering machine pick up the rest when I’m working.

Modern technology is a beautiful thing. It’s also making it possible for more employers to entertain the concept of flexible work arrangements. That’s not to say every job is as mobile as mine or capable of being done before or after typical office hours. But for those in your organization who are disciplined in what they do, whose skills are valued and who can get the bulk of their duties done with a computer, e-mail access and a cell phone, it’s certainly an option worth considering. Just ask my daughter.

Nancy Byron ( is the editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:52


George Jenkins, partner, Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease

Some years ago, Jenkins received a phone call out of the blue that could have changed his legal career entirely. On the line was none other than Larry Flynt, a fledgling entrepreneur at the time, who had heard about Jenkins’ stellar reputation as a corporate attorney.

“He asked me to come over and talk about representing him,” Jenkins recalls. “He was just starting out and I didn’t know much about him except he had this club on West Gay Street. He was just starting to work on the magazine [Hustler] and was looking for someone to help him structure the business activities of the bar and, ultimately, the magazine.”

Although Jenkins agreed to meet with Flynt and spent a couple weeks pondering his offer, “I thought about it, and, for a variety of reasons, some of which are obvious, I decided not to do it.”

Paula Inniss, president, Ohio Full Court Press

“I always wanted to be a veterinarian. My parents built a house when I was going into fourth grade. I went to the pond and brought home snakes, mice. I’d bury the dead animals and have a service with the neighborhood kids and read from the Bible.”

Todd Appelbaum, co-owner, Cup o’ Joe coffee and dessert houses

A Cleveland native, Appelbaum was a child when his father took him, dressed in a Browns hat and coat and waving a team pennant, on the rapid transit to watch his beloved team.

“It is something we used to do together as father and son,” Appelbaum says. “I have warm memories of that ... I’m a passionate Browns fan — through thick and thin.”

That explains Appelbaum’s fervor when Art Modell announced the exodus of the team in November 1995.

“I spent $300 faxing every NFL owner — twice,” he says, adding that he also called or sent letters to congressmen, senators and the governor to prevent what became the inevitable. He also collected 300 signatures on a petition at Cup o’ Joe.

“It was an immoral action. Art Modell was wrong. He said, ‘As long as I own the Browns, I will never leave Cleveland,’” Appelbaum says.

Now that the team is returning, Appelbaum says, they’re still his Browns. He’s making plans with seven friends to take a limo to watch the team’s first game this fall.

“We kept the colors, kept the history, kept the name. We’re still in the same division,” Appelbaum says. “It’s fine. I’m OK.”

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:50

Where the jobs aren’t going

Columbus East Siders are tired of hearing about the ongoing job glut. They’re also tired of watching their once-thriving, inner city neighborhood deteriorate around them. But instead of simply whining about these problems — as has become the American way — they’re setting out to change things.

Good for them. The solution they’ve proposed, in fact, could benefit employers throughout Central Ohio.

The concept is simple: Take some of those surplus jobs employers are having trouble filling in the suburbs and bring them to the East Side.

After all, according to Walter Cates, president of the Main Street Business Association, unemployment is much higher in the center city — between 10 and 15 percent by his estimates — than in many suburban locations. And bringing jobs to areas where potential workers are plentiful, rather than waiting for workers to travel to find these jobs on their own, seems like a reasonable way to battle worker shortages.

It also eliminates any potential transportation issues that might hold back otherwise qualified job-seekers. Did I mention the special tax breaks that are available to companies that provide employment opportunities in government-designated Empowerment Zones, one of which covers the entire East Side?

The Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce ought to be all over this idea, pledging support and even offering to help member businesses find appropriate central city locations for company operations. After all, work force development — linking qualified workers to existing jobs — is one of the chamber’s top priorities. Sadly, the chamber has been silent thus far on the East Siders’ proposal.

One or both of our mayoral candidates could also jump on this bandwagon, making better disbursement of jobs throughout the community a campaign issue. That certainly would liven up the race between Mike Coleman and Dorothy Teater — and give them another, perhaps more substantial, issue than the Northland-Polaris mall dispute to whip up voter support before next month’s election.

With so much of our city’s attention focused on downtown these days with the near-completion of the new COSI building and Nationwide Arena, it’s no wonder fringe areas have been forgotten. It’s time to look around and ask ourselves: What can we do to make the entire central city more inviting and more vibrant? Moving more jobs there seems like a logical first step.

Heaven knows we’ve got more than enough jobs in this city to go around. Perhaps it’s time we reconsidered where we’re putting them.

Nancy Byron ( is editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:50

Stuck at a crossroads

You’re running late for an appointment. Already your heart is pounding. Then you see it: The flashing red lights at the upcoming railroad crossing.

As you reluctantly ease your car to a stop, you realize this is more than a minor inconvenience. The train is actually stopped, blocking the entire intersection. No telling when traffic is going to start moving again.

That’s a scenario state lawmakers are aiming to avoid in the future by cracking down on railroad companies whose stopped trains tie up traffic for longer than a few minutes at a time.

With the merger of Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation and acquisition of Conrail, more train traffic is traversing Ohio, making blocked grade crossings a growing concern. lawmakers say. Enter House Bill 399, introduced by Rep. Gene Krebs (R-Camden) earlier this year.

This bill would increase penalties for railroad companies whose trains obstruct a public street, road or highway for longer than five consecutive minutes, unless the train is continuously moving. Current law requires railroad crossing obstructions to be removed for at least three minutes every five minutes to allow people and vehicles to cross the railroad tracks.

Railroad companies which fail to comply are fined no more than $1,000 under current law. Under House Bill 399, that penalty would be changed to a minimum of $500, plus an additional $100 for each minute that the violation exceeds 25 minutes. A maximum fine of $10,000 per violation is included in the bill.

In addition, any suspected violation would be reported to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the Ohio attorney general. If the PUCO finds probable cause that a violation occurred, the Attorney General’s Office would be required to prosecute.

Any resulting fines would have to be paid by the railroad company within 120 days. Failure to make payment in this timeframe would result in a separate offense, which carries an automatic fine of $10,000.

House Bill 399 has been assigned to the House Transportation & Public Safety Committee, of which Rep. Sam Bateman (R-Milford) is chair. How to reach: Rep. Sam Bateman, 466-8134 or

Nancy Byron ( is an editor and statehouse correspondent for SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:48

Sorry, we don’t have that

I recently received a letter from my 13-year-old nephew in New Jersey. He was asking for help with a class project.

What I got, in the course of helping him, was an unexpected lesson in customer service.

Everyone in his English class was writing to someone in a different state, requesting information about the climate, history and attractions, as well as a small, inexpensive item depicting something special about the state. Of course my husband and I were more than willing to share all we knew about the Buckeye State.

My husband quickly typed up some state trivia, while I accepted the task of shopping for a small Ohio trinket — a refrigerator magnet, a key chain, a postcard, a bumper sticker — anything that could fit in the envelope along with the letter. Turns out I got the harder part of that deal.

After striking out at three general merchandise stores, I headed for the mall. Certainly there would be some sort of tourist stuff there.

My first stop was Hallmark. Already a bit frustrated by searching in vain at other stores, I went directly to the clerk to query her. She briefly consulted with another clerk and then shook her head. Her store didn’t have anything like that.

She could’ve stopped there and let me walk out disappointed and uncertain of where else to look. Instead, she offered a surprising option. She suggested I try a competing card shop upstairs. She thought they had some Ohio postcards.

I thanked her and left the store smiling. On my way up the escalator, I thought about what she’d just done.

She’d put competition aside to help a customer. She took the chance that by helping me find what I wanted — whether it was in her store or not — I would consider my visit there worthwhile and return to her shop another day. It was a bit of a gamble on her part, to be sure, but it’s one that will pay off — at least in this case.

I won’t take my business to her competitor next time around simply because it had what I needed in this particular instance. I’ll give her store another try first. Her helpful attitude, knowledge and courtesy gave me a positive image not just of her, as a store clerk, but of her company, as a whole.

Whether she realized that or not, I don’t know. What I do know is the holidays are now upon us and her card store is about to get a lot of business from one grateful shopper. And that was just for helping me find a 50-cent postcard.

More of us need to remember the value — and the power — of genuinely helpful, go-out-of-your-way customer service. If practiced routinely, it can be a competitive advantage, in and of itself.

Sure, it’s harder to measure than the volume of merchandise you move off your shelves or the profit you make on each sale, but how you treat customers — even potential customers — can carry a much greater, longer-lasting return. And isn’t that what we’re all really looking for?

Nancy Byron ( is editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:43

Worth another look

Imagine a city where the mayor manages to save taxpayer dollars — hundreds of millions of them — and creates a boon for private business.

That city exists. It’s called Indianapolis. And as much as I hate making comparisons between Columbus and that Indy car mecca to our west, we do share many demographic similarities — and they’re lapping us for at least the ninth time now on government efficiency. Their secret? Privatization.

When Mayor Lashutka was in office here, he “studied” privatization of some city services and decided it just wasn’t right for Columbus. His reasoning: Citizen satisfaction might not be as high with private companies providing services such as trash collection, lawn care and building inspections.

He offered no concrete evidence to support his conclusion, and his argument didn’t hold much water, in my opinion. After all, private companies know they’re in competition for business, and if they don’t deliver adequate service as set forth in the terms of a city contract, they know someone else will be hired who can and will meet the city’s expectations. It’s that simple.

Mike Coleman seems like a logical man. He also seems like a mayor who’s willing to take initiative and try something different. Privatization could be that something — and it could make him a hero.

In the past eight years, the mayor of Indianapolis has put more than 70 city services up for bid. Coleman doesn’t have to be that aggressive. He could simply pick two or three city services that could stand to be improved anyway and give the private sector a shot at outperforming and underpricing city workers.

For those concerned with widespread unemployment of city workers, don’t fret. A private company accepting a contract to service an area as big as the City of Columbus would, in all likelihood, need additional workers to satisfy that contract. What more logical way to fulfill that need for extra employees than to hire many of the city workers whose jobs might be lost through privatization of that service. They’re already trained, after all, and they know the city’s expectations for service.

I’m not saying privatization is the way to go with every city service. I doubt very seriously a privately run police force would fly with citizens. But there are city functions that could be performed more efficiently and less expensively by specialized businesses. That’s why this concept is worth another look.

I’m hopeful Mayor Coleman will give it at least that — if not a trial run — in the months to come. I know our Central Ohio businesses would do him proud.

Nancy Byron ( is editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:39

Calling it splits

Business was booming in 1997 for Cunningham/Feinknopf Photography.

What started four years earlier as a couple of driven young men with cameras had grown into a full-fledged, professional studio operation attracting high-brow clients including The Limited, Structure, Cigar Aficionado, Huntington National Bank and Details. The business was on track to gross nearly a half-million dollars that year alone.

Then, that June, everything started to fall apart.

“I was in a really horrible car accident,” explains Scott Cunningham, who, with Brad Feinknopf, founded the Short North area business bearing their names. “I was laid up for a year ... I couldn’t walk.”

Suddenly, Feinknopf found himself alone at the helm. It was a position he wasn’t prepared for — or eager to assume. After all, the business partnership had been successful since its 1993 founding largely because he and Cunningham complemented each other so well.

“Somebody once said Scott and I were two people going in the same direction down parallel streets,” Feinknopf explains. “We’re pretty much the yin and yang. If Scott sees it as black, I pretty much see it as white. But that was our strength.”

Between Feinknopf’s specialty in architectural photography and corporate portraiture, and Cunningham’s expertise in lifestyle and fashion photography, they could cover almost any need in the market.

They shared a commitment to quality, honesty and service, Feinknopf says, and that held the partnership together through any rough times they’d encountered previously.

“Scott and I never had anything in writing; it was a handshake,” Feinknopf says. “There was undeniable trust. There was agreement on what we were trying to achieve. That’s what made the partnership work.”

“We did butt heads,” Cunningham admits, noting he was the egotistical one in the partnership who often got his way in disagreements simply because he was louder. “I was always kind of overbearing.”

Yet Cunningham’s outspoken personality had its upside, too, Feinknopf adds.

“There were people out there that would’ve taken advantage of me and my generosity and my even-keel personality if it weren’t for Scott,” he says. “But there were also times when Scott’s explosive nature created fires I had to go and take care of; where I had to go placate somebody.”

Clearly, then, these two had overcome obstacles in their partnership before.

“Every partnership goes through evolutions,” Feinknopf says.

This time, however, the business would not survive.

Victims of circumstance

Cunningham and Feinknopf had hardly started coping with the emotional trauma created by Cunningham’s accident when the business ramifications of losing Cunningham’s photography skills — even if temporarily — created a financial crisis at the studio.

“I went from sharing 50 percent of the burden to 100 percent of the burden,” Feinknopf says. “I was covering the overhead of a two-person studio — or at least a studio that expected the income of two people.”

For the first two or three months, payments for photos taken by Cunningham prior to his accident were still coming in, which helped cover the studio’s ongoing expenses. Feinknopf picked up as much extra work as he could handle, knowing full well that his business partner — who lay recuperating in a hospital bed set up in the studio’s business office — wouldn’t be able to help make ends meet for quite awhile. Still, it wasn’t enough.

“To keep the business afloat, we needed to be doing about 75 percent of what we were doing at the high point,” Feinknopf says, noting the business hit its financial peak the previous year when sales totaled $360,000, but had been poised to bring in an annual gross close to $500,000 before Cunningham’s accident.

“At 66 percent, I was maxed out — just from a time standpoint. I wasn’t just doing photography, but all the bookkeeping, too.”

Not only that, but Feinknopf’s personal situation put additional demands on his time.

He and his wife had an infant son at home.

The harsh reality

Feinknopf knew the studio couldn’t survive long-term under the circumstances. Still, he hesitated to tell Cunningham how grave the situation appeared.

“He was so immersed in his recovery at that time, both physically and emotionally,” Feinknopf says. “There were so many things he was dealing with on a very personal level. The day-in, day-out functioning of the business was not something I wanted to burden him with further.”

Problem was, the end was nowhere in sight. After being bed-ridden for more than half a year, Cunningham just “had to get out,” he says, so in early 1998, he moved to France to do his physical therapy.

“I had to spend [another] six to eight weeks convalescing, so I figured, if I had to do it somewhere, it may as well be there,” Cunningham quips.

That was just too much for Feinknopf. He had to clue in his business partner.

“The financial burden of carrying on a business of that magnitude on the income of one photographer — and one photographer who had a family — it just became too great,” Feinknopf says.

“The thought [of dissolving the partnership] never entered my mind before the accident,” he continues. “At the time of the accident, my thoughts centered around Scott’s well being. Our partnership was like a marriage. If your spouse takes ill, you don’t start thinking about a divorce.”

Yet the desperate financial outlook and high-pressure work situation were forcing Feinknopf’s hand.

“When he called me, it was the hardest phone call he ever made,” Cunningham says. “He had to separate the partnership. Brad’s responsibility to his family and his newborn son were the first priorities in his life — as they should be. And he knew I could take care of myself.”

The partnership was officially dissolved June 1, 1998.

Parting ways

Once the decision was made to split up, working out the details didn’t take long.

“Who wanted what and who got what was not as difficult as one might think,” Feinknopf says.

Cunningham did more work with 35mm film, while Feinknopf usually used a larger 4x5 format, so each took the equipment and supplies that corresponded with their respective preferences.

Feinknopf wanted the front studio space; Cunningham wanted to keep the business phone number. Feinknopf took a greater portion of the studio’s equipment; Cunningham assumed less of the business’s debt.

“It was an amicable split due to the circumstances, and that’s the way it was handled,” Feinknopf says.

The two even co-wrote the press release announcing their partnership split and the formation of their individual studios within the same building.

“It really went about as smoothly as it could,” Feinknopf says.

In fact, both now say parting ways may have been a blessing of sorts.

“I think everything worked out for the best,” says Cunningham, who recently moved the majority of his operations to a studio in New York, which was something he and Feinknopf had discussed on and off but never agreed upon doing.

“The split, though not desirable, has done some positive things for both of us,” Feinknopf says. “There’s equipment I’ve bought that helps me do better photography, but I wouldn’t have imposed on Scott to buy it under the partnership because it wouldn’t have assisted him.

Similarly, Feinknopf says, “I felt for a long time that where Scott needed to be was in New York. Would I have been holding him back? I was a safety net. Having the partnership dissolved took away that safety net and it forced Scott to think about what’s best for Scott. Scott now has great freedom to do what he wants, when he wants, how he wants.

“A partnership has benefits, but the freedom allows Scott to be more of who he wants to be at this time.”

Moving forward

Feinknopf says he would consider working with a business partner again — but, if he did, it would be on different terms.

“I don’t see myself getting into another arrangement where I was anything but the major shareholder,” he says. “I would not do a 50-50 partnership. For Scott and I, it was a perfect arrangement at the time. But at this point in time, I wouldn’t want to give up 50 percent.”

Another thing he would do differently: Be more open-minded.

“Scott was always the one more open to possibilities. I probably put more parameters on myself,” he says, noting it took some serious prodding by Cunningham to get him to “take the leap and hire our first full-time employee.” It turned out to be the best decision the twosome made, Feinknopf says, because it helped the business grow faster.

“Scott was always ready to jump and I was always pulling on the reins,” he says. “More open-mindedness on my part would’ve helped.”

Cunningham also says he might consider teaming up with another business partner at some point if the circumstances were right.

“I’d have to have the ability to make a serious amount of money quickly with a solid business plan,” he says.

In addition, Cunningham would sit down with any potential business partner and have long conversations upfront about how they’d distribute the income or cover the losses of the business. That’s something he and Feinknopf never did.

“Sometimes Brad was doing more work, sometimes I was doing more and [each of us] wanted to take more money,” he explains. “We never got around to devising a system for that ... how to calculate a bonus or something like that.

“We tried to do it. We talked to our accountants about it, but it was so hard.”

Fortunately, it never posed a serious problem.

“Brad’s probably in the top three most decent, honest human beings I’ve met in my life,” Cunningham says. “I could trust him completely — beyond a shadow of a doubt. I knew Brad would always be an honest person and would work toward the good of the business.

“Anyone else, I would get it in writing.”

Nancy Byron ( is editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:35

Editor's column:What's in it for you?

Every business and industry evolves. It has to, or it will die.

Some of us in the media realize our industry may soon wind up on the endangered list if something doesn't change -- and quickly.

The way most print and broadcast media report news isn't effective anymore. Even if a news outlet succeeds in keeping its readers or viewers informed about happenings in their neighborhood, nation or world, that's not enough. Audiences should also be told why something is happening and what can be learned from it or done about it.

Without those other elements, the news becomes a meaningless string of crime scenes and political events. What a disservice to our society.

Even I, a die-hard newshound, find myself paying less attention to traditional forms of "news" these days. I haven't watched a local network TV newscast from start to finish in at least three years. I just can't stomach the parade of sensational and empty stories -- "Up next: Sex in the firehouse" -- scattered between reports of tragedies from all corners of the country -- "Four young children perish in Chicago apartment blaze."

Why on earth do I need to see video of the still-smoldering building? The tearful reaction of neighbors and relatives certainly can be heart-rending, but it doesn't tell me what I can do to protect my family from a similar situation.

As media, we need to take a careful look at the stories we deem worthy of coverage and make them mean something to our audience. If a reporter is going to intrude on someone else's tragedy, it should be for more than shocking video footage.

It should offer a lesson. It should point out an injustice. It should tell me something I need to know to be a better citizen, business manager, parent or friend. Doing less than this relinquishes me, and every other member of the media's audience, to a spectator's role -- simply watching local, national and world events parade by, without feeling like we are truly affected by any of it.

A more constructive approach is sorely overdue.

As editor of SBN Columbus, I'm pledging to take our magazine that next step. Not only will we give you personal stories of business leaders who've found great success or learned valuable lessons the hard way, but we'll offer more ways for you to get in touch with these company owners so you can contact them directly for advice.

We'll also do more to steer you toward other valuable resources in our community that could help you and your business succeed. Our goal is to give you management ideas you can start implementing today -- and ones that will make you more successful in the long haul.

After all, if we can't directly impact your business, your time is better spent elsewhere. Nancy Byron ( is editor of SBN Columbus.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:34

The driving force

Ron Pizzuti is many things: an art lover, a car collector, a wine aficionado, a world traveler, a business owner, a family man.

But one thing he says he definitely is not: a golfer.

"Every year I set a goal that I'm going to become a golfer," he says. "And every year I put my clubs in the trunk, and at the end of the season, I take them out again. I've just never been willing to take the time to cultivate the game."

Perhaps that's because he simply doesn't have the time right now.

Along with overseeing the construction of the ritzy Miranova high-rise development along the downtown riverfront, serving on the boards of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Columbus Museum of Art and chairing the board of trustees at Kent State University, he also runs a roughly $200 million development business that employs more than 100 and keeps offices in four cities. Little wonder that the 60-year-old chairman of The Pizzuti Cos. has trouble finding time to hit a few golf balls. Not that he'd have any trouble digging up a suitable golfing partner if he did.

Pizzuti lists among those he admires Dimon McFerson, the recently retired chairman of Nationwide, who was ranked earlier this year by Golf Digest as one of the 100 best chief executive golfers in the country. Still, that's not the reason Pizzuti thinks so highly of McFerson, whom he's gotten to know in the last few years during Columbus' quest to attract major league sports teams.

"He's an inspiration," Pizzuti explains. "Dimon will leave a legacy. The Arena District will be part of it, but his greatest legacy has been to grow that business over on High Street."

Two other fellow executives involved in landing Columbus a National Hockey League franchise -- John F. Wolfe, publisher and chairman of The Dispatch Printing Co., and John H. McConnell, chairman emeritus of Worthington Industries Inc. -- also make Pizzuti's "most admired" list.

"John McConnell is the fairest, most decent person I know," Pizzuti says. "John Wolfe is a good citizen. I have a great deal of respect for him. He's as fair and ethical as anyone."

The first name that crosses Pizzuti's lips when asked about mentors, however, is his one-time business associate Les Wexner, chairman and CEO of The Limited and Intimate Brands Inc.

"He's certainly the most visionary person I've ever known," Pizzuti says. "He sets high standards for himself and for everyone around him."

Then there's Shelly Berman, founder of SBC Advertising and chairman of Xtreem Creative Inc. as well as Macaroons Inc., whom Pizzuti calls a master marketer; Augie Cenname of Merrill Lynch, whose recruiting and staff development techniques Pizzuti lauds; and Paul Pfieffer, who was Pizzuti's marketing professor at Kent State University and very supportive of Pizzuti throughout his careers in retailing and development.

"All these folks are great family people," Pizzuti says, noting that his wife, Ann, should actually top his list since "I don't make a move without her."

"They all have great ethics and none compromise their standards. They lead by example."

Some might say the same of Pizzuti, who lists his family as his greatest accomplishment: "No question. It's a one-word answer," he says.

Pizzuti's three grown children, in fact, appear to be following in their father's footsteps when it comes to community service.

"I believe strongly you have to give something back," says Pizzuti, who moved to Columbus from Kent in the early 1960s to start a retailing career with Lazarus. "I came here with $14 in my pocket years ago and this city's been very good to me."

Of his community involvement, Pizzuti says he's most passionate about the symphony.

"It was on the verge of bankruptcy a few years ago," he explains. "Seeing the orchestra flourish -- it's just wonderful."

Those kinds of successes drive Pizzuti, not just as a civic leader, but as a business owner, too.

"I just love seeing results," he says.

The Pizzuti Cos. certainly has seen its share of those. The business, which Pizzuti founded in 1976, recorded more than $250,000 in profits its first year. Today, the companies' portfolio includes more than 10 million square feet of development space nationwide valued at close to $1 billion. Profits have generally followed a "nice, steady progression," Pizzuti says, but he admits there have been "a few blips" along the way.

One of the scariest moments in Pizzuti's career came in the late '70s, "when interest rates were above 20 percent and we had buildings and projects in the pipeline that were financed with development loans tied to prime," he recalls. "The interest just killed us. And we didn't know when it would end. We weathered the storm, but it just wiped our profits out."

Pizzuti credits much of the success of his company to those around him -- be they contractors, architects, lenders or employees.

"No one builds a business like this alone," he says.

Perhaps that's why Pizzuti likes to say his company is "in the business of developing people and developing properties. It's not either/or, it's both.

"If you recognize someone's talent, you have to be willing to let them produce," he says. "You also have to set the example. Ask anyone here, 'Who is the first person in here each morning and the last person out each night?' They'll tell you it's me. I don't know if that's something I should be proud of, but I have a strong work ethic and some of that rubs off by osmosis.

"I would pit this staff against any in the country." How to reach: Ron Pizzuti, chairman, The Pizzuti Cos., 280-4000,

Nancy Byron ( is editor of SBN Columbus.