Daniel Bates

The cabin was no bigger than a two-car garage, with a concrete floor, rows of old metal army bunkbeds and a cast-iron wood stove.

Outside, the rain poured in the darkness. Inside, we were forcing a group of gangly, rambunctious Cub Scouts to co-habitate for a weekend with a cast of Boy Scouts who were bigger, stronger and whose voices had already changed.

This weekend represented a major milestone, a maturing transition, for the Cub Scouts, or at least it was supposed to. These boys were expected to bond with their older counterparts in final preparation for The Big Day, only weeks away, when they would “cross over” into Boy Scouts.

The Boy Scouts, meanwhile, were expected to serve as mentors, guides and motivators. They were the leaders in this experiment of maturity.

The young boys grabbed their sleeping bags and pillows and quickly claimed one corner of bunks, jabbing one another, joking and bouncing on the bed springs. The older boys took the rest of the bunks, glaring at the younger boys the whole time. And then the two seeming adversaries squared off.

What transpired over the rest of the February weekend is what I would reluctantly describe as a hard lesson in leadership and its perilous course. And it wasn’t pretty.

As I witnessed the birth of these so-called leaders, I thought about management guru and best-selling author William Byham’s contention that corporate America faces a tempestuous crisis in leadership. He calls it the Millennium Elephant, and he’s right.

Today’s leaders are aging and retiring without training the next generation adequately. Meanwhile, they’re breaking down the traditional corporate structure, forcing the younger generations to fend for themselves — then wondering why there’s no loyalty today.

Then again, do many of today’s so-called leaders even have the right stuff to pass on to their corporate heirs? I would contend that good — truly good — leadership remains scarce.

Where does it all begin? In cabins like the one at Camp Anawanna. That’s where the boys experimented with their own misguided styles — which I see making it into the ranks of adulthood and business.

Throughout that weekend, I identified at least six forms of leadership emerging. Sure, they’re just kids, but their styles may seem more familiar to you than you’d care to admit. Here’s what I saw:

The I’m-Bigger-Than-You-So-I’m-In-Charge style — This leadership by girth didn’t bode well for the lanky, wily dispositions of the Cub Scouts, who simply used speed and innocence to escape wrath.

The I’m-Older-Than-You approach — These scouts led by virtue of age. They figured their age gave them seniority, which gave them the God-given authority to rule over the young and weak. No skill or ability to motivate needed here.

The I-Can’t-Be-Bothered approach — These scouts were too busy “leading” to be bothered with mentoring or guiding the little guys, who did all the work. They wanted the perks without the responsibility. They just wanted the Cub Scouts out of their way.

The Shut-Your-Mouth-And-Do-As-I-Say style — This group led by intimidation and bodily pushing the Cub Scouts toward the dish pan or the cook stove or the wood pile. I call them bullies. The result? The young boys became angry and hostile. One wanted to go home. Another pushed back. That was my son.

The I’m-The-Most-Popular approach — He’s the one the younger kids follow and try to emulate because he’s cool and the girls think he’s cute. The trouble is, he creates a following of boys who simply try to appear cool and cute. Achieving rank becomes a popularity contest. No leadership there.

The Lead-By-Default form of leadership — I didn’t actually witness this, but it’s the one I saw most as a kid and continue to see today. It seems few people even want the responsibility of leadership. That means taking risks, sticking your neck out, spending the time looking out over the horizon, then making some tough decisions to get your organization there.

They’d rather play it safe and blindly follow someone else. That’s how I became president of my high school student council, president of the high school chorus program, a church board member and a scout leader. But that’s also why we wind up with leaders like the kids in that cabin.

Perhaps it’s time the truly good leaders — those visionaries willing to guide and nurture and mentor and motivate — step out and raise up a new generation of leaders.

Otherwise, you’ll wind up with a bunch of cold, angry Cub Scouts wanting to simply roll up their sleeping bags and, well, go home.

Daniel Bates (dbates@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN magazine.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

Money for nothin

All Adam wanted to do was earn a little money for his upcoming trip to Kennywood Park. But earn may be a strong word for what he really wanted.

“Dad, can I have five bucks?” he asked me recently.

“For nothing?” I retorted.

“Well, yeah,” he said.

That’s when I pointed out my jungle lawn and the fact that, at 11, he was old enough to begin tending it.

“How much would you give me for cutting it?” he asked, scratching his dyed-blond spiked hair. “You know, just the front yard and part of the back?”

“Six bucks,” I said.

“How about 10 bucks?”

I agreed to give The Great Negotiator $8. But he had to do the job.

Within 15 minutes, he came back to me with a “a question.”

“Dad, how about 10 bucks?” he said. “It’s hot, the grass is long, and it’s just too much work.”

“Eight bucks,” I said.

Within an hour, he had stopped at least three times to renegotiate and at least once more to quit before he talked his mother into paying $12.

Once he got the amount he had aimed for all along, I observed a rather strange occurrence. I went outside and noticed that his neighbor friend was pushing my mower around the yard while Adam sat in the grass nearby.

“What’s going on?” I asked my Tom Sawyerly son.

“He says he likes to cut grass, so I let him,” Adam said. “And I’m paying him two bucks.”

Indeed, money for nothing. It seems Adam would fit in well with this crazy New Economy, where nothing is what it seems and you can get money for, well, virtually nothing.

Seven years ago, high-tech start-up Fore Systems finally pieced together a venture capital deal worth $5 million after struggling for a number of years to develop technology while living off of government contracts. The founders worked hard, and pitched hard for the money before New York-based Patricoff & Co. saved the day. By that era’s standards, $5 million was a lot of money, and you had to present a pretty impressive case to land it.

Fortunately, it was enough to push Fore Systems into full manufacturing and sales mode, which then made a lot of people wealthy.

But today, if you want to start a company and you need capital, everyone offers the same advice: Start an Internet company. At least until the stock market recently took a dive, venture firms couldn’t get enough of them and seemed willing to contribute lots of capital for what seemed to be virtually nothing. Even now, earnings play second fiddle to long-term potential, although Wall Street is finally beginning to take notice.

This month’s cover subjects, the founders of Laurel Networks, put together an impressive high-tech team. But these people barely had their entrepreneurial idea in hand before they had four venture firms clamoring for ownership. So far, they’ve raised $12 million for the venture, and they plan to go back for more before finally commercializing a product in a year or so.

It’s almost like money for nothing.

Without a doubt, those high-tech entrepreneurs are working hard to live up to the $12 million worth of expectations, and I congratulate them for such a venture capital coup. I’m certain they will earn every bit of that capital as they press onward in their quest. But I think the venture capital community in general is setting an unhealthy precedent among aspiring entrepreneurs by offering so much for seemingly so little.

Such easy money is bound to spawn a generation of wealth seekers who hope to mine for gold with little more than stakes with which to post their claims. And then they can market their claims without ever having to dig. Sound familiar?

Hard work alone is still what it ultimately takes to build an American Dream that will help sustain this New Economy. I just hope this New Economy realizes it before it’s Adam’s turn to lead it.

And that means it had better hurry. He’s already posted a sign in the post office offering his lawn care services. And who would be doing the work, I asked him? His friends, of course.

Daniel Bates (dbates@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN magazine.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:34

Editor's column: Fire in the belly

The young entrepreneur fidgeted across the table from Jack Roseman, mumbling about why he hadn't yet started his business. Meanwhile, Jack, an old-time, high-tech entrepreneur who now spends most of his time sharing his wisdom with younger generations via Carnegie Mellon University, just sat there, listening intently.

The young man complained that he was trying to find the right partners. He groused about the competitive atmosphere. He griped about raising enough money. And he even grumbled about the merits of his ideas.

"What I need is someone to push me off that proverbial cliff," he told Jack.

All the while, Jack continued to sit there, nodding but saying nothing. He had heard the same story perhaps dozens of times from men and women just like the young entrepreneur. And they all expected the same thing from him.

They sought comfort, a bit of advice and, ultimately, a fatherly approval that it was OK not to act. Talk about it enough, they reasoned, and perhaps some day it would happen.

Jack knows better. Still, he listened to the young entrepreneur until he was finished with his litany of excuses. As the man waited for Jack to respond, Jack smiled, then hit the young man right between the eyes -- figuratively speaking, of course.

Instead of patting him on the back and telling him to hang in there and keep dreaming, Jack left the young man with what I would consider the wisdom of the ages. He was quiet and to the point.

"Maybe you just don't have a fire in the belly," he said.

A fire in the belly. His words cut deep, but they weren't meant as a harsh indictment against the young man. He merely spoke a simple truth which, to me, separates entrepreneurs from the rest of the world.

Really, it didn't matter how good the young entrepreneur's ideas may have been. It didn't matter whether he knew his industry and had the brains to grow his proposed company. It didn't even matter whether he could get the money.

None of that mattered without a fire in the belly. It's a simple phrase, but it takes on so much meaning when you apply it to entrepreneurial drive.

Fire in the belly will keep you up at night dreaming, yearning, for success. It's an unbridled passion that allows you to ignore your critics and remain painfully optimistic against all odds. It's a burning vision that enables you to see what others can't because you want it so badly that no obstacle is too large.

It's that invisible hand that shoves you happily off the highest entrepreneurial cliff in spite of the risks. It's a long-term commitment to do whatever it takes to turn your idea into a real company.

Unfortunately, ideas don't just happen. Someone has to guide them, nurture them, breathe fire into them. Talking about them feels good and may even impress some, but not Jack Roseman. His mission, I think, is to help separate those who have that fire from those who don't.

Apparently, that young entrepreneur didn't have such fire in the belly, at least not at that point. Jack simply called it like he saw it.

But while the truth may have stung, Jack's compassionate candor may have accomplished the one thing the young man couldn't seem to do on his own: He helped light the first match. Daniel Bates (dbates@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN Pittsburgh.

The adult Sunday School class waited restlessly one recent Sunday morning as I fumbled with my books, papers and notebook on my way to the podium.

I guess I was more nervous than usual because, as the teacher, I was about to launch a discussion on the one subject that usually makes all but the most ardent churchgoers slink down into their pews. I was about to talk about giving.

The lesson ultimately would examine many of the Biblical principles on this touchy subject. But not being the preachy type, I thought I'd begin with one simple question: How much should you give?

Several people mumbled to each other before one said, "As much as you can." Another added, "Ten percent, of course." Then, in the back corner, a tall, bald guy with glasses and a simple grin leaned in toward the table to speak.

This was Deacon Dave, a young guy who spends much of his free time quietly patching walls or painting or wiring or helping to lead a small team of Mr. Fix-its in church renovation projects. Most of the time, you won't even know he's been there, except for the work he and others like him complete during the off hours.

But at this brief moment, he decided it was time to be heard. As the others paused to listen, he half-jokingly offered this simple lesson in giving:

"You should give 'til it hurts," he blurted. "And then add another five bucks."

The rest of the class laughed a little, but only until they -- and I -- realized that, maybe, he had the right idea. And it's an idea that fits rather nicely, and perhaps even profoundly, in everything we do, even in business.

Most of us can say we give, at least a little. When the fireman with the boot knocks on our car windows, we give him a buck, if only to get that plastic helmet to hang from our rear-view mirrors to ward off other firemen. Many of us participate in corporate giving programs to United Way, if only to get that free day off from the company. If you give like that, it doesn't really hurt to give, does it?

Deacon Dave certainly doesn't believe giving should be painful in any of its forms. But to truly give -- to give back to the community and the people who have helped you prosper, how can you really do it without making some kind of sacrifice? And a sacrifice, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is the "forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim."

In other words, giving should cost you something of value, such as time or money, if it's to be meaningful to you and those you give to. It should hurt a little.

As we approach this traditional holiday season of giving, maybe it's time to think like Deacon Dave. Consider these simple principles of giving as you look toward the new year, with a sense of purpose that extends beyond profit alone.

Can you say selfless? Don't give to get. Weekly, I get press releases from companies humbly proclaiming a good deed or sizable donation to a local good cause. To you, my question is this: Did you do it because you felt strongly about the cause ... or for the publicity? To give for publicity's sake is to merely trade. It's not giving. Give without expectation. Give because you care.

Be a cheerful giver. The same passion that drives you in business should motivate you to give. If you've agreed to serve on a nonprofit board, sacrifice your heart and soul and not just your high-profile name. Work hard. Put in the hands-on hours. If you've agreed to mentor others, give that person your best in both time and guidance. If your heart's not in it, then you shouldn't be in it.

Do something. If you're too busy to help others or to contribute your time and expertise to local economic development efforts or the countless charities serving the region, you're simply too busy. Pittsburgh is blessed with dozens of giving opportunities, from the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and Pittsburgh Cares, to SCORE, Powerlink and dozens of other entrepreneurial assistance organizations trying to foster growth. And many of them are in dire need of selfless volunteers who can lead and provide vision.

As you approach the new year, make this your year of giving. And take Deacon Dave's simple advice. Give 'til it hurts. And then add another five bucks.

May God bless you during this holiday season and into the new year. Daniel Bates (dbates@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:33

Design Rules

Walking along the Boulevard of the Allies in Pittsburgh recently, I caught a glimpse of a small, street-level office lobby's bright greenish-yellow walls and orange ceiling with pink rafters, and it got my attention.

SBN was planning a special office issue, and we needed a "poster office."

Stepping into the office, which turned out to be the reception area of audio production firm Big Science, I noted the old pine floors with curved sections of treaded stainless steel around the edges. On one wall, a tall red 1950s Coca-Cola machine rose from the floor. But the aesthetic clincher, I thought, was the red vintage 1960s Vespa scooter suspended from the ceiling.

A quirky, eclectic creativity gushed from the walls, along with a neon sign, large purple flowers stenciled to the ceiling and a round mirror with an inflatable yellow frame shaped like the sun. I had found the creative masterpiece with which to frame our special issue. It had the look and feel of "cool," and that's what this issue was supposed to be about. At least initially.

Then I talked to the owners.

As we talked about their design decisions and philosophies, and their passion for the aesthetic as a key tenet of good business, I began to realize we had been missing the point about innovative office design. It's not just about color or designer furniture or wood-paneled walls, or even about off-beat collections of art, sculpture or history -- although all can play an important role.

It's not even just about plain or fancy, stuffy high-brow or metallic industrial chic, though each may reflect personality.

What I found, thanks in part to the edgy, almost beatnik, artistic perspectives of Big Science partners Jay Green and Scot Fleming, was that office design has much more to do with creativity, productivity and change than it does with cool. It's more about attitude than aesthetic.

It both reflects and embodies the heart and soul of a company and its leaders. It offers a delicate, intangible balance between function and form. It sets the tone and pace of a company. And it helps to brand.

For Green, president of this "sonic architecture" firm with five employees, and Fleming, vice president, the space they created evolved out of their desire for creativity in a workspace where they put in 12-plus hour days.

"We're here 12 to 16 hours a day, more days than not," Fleming says. "People should be as creatively inspired and comfortable as possible in their work space."

Adds Green: "Our sensation is wanting it to be just us. We're here a lot, and gray walls and cubes have little to do with us. This is what we find ourselves comfortable with."

The "this" to which he refers only begins with the colorful old stuff in the lobby area, surrounded by psychedelic colors. Follow the leopard print carpeted steps down into the heart of the business, and you'll find a dimly lit dining/kitchen area that looks like a cross between a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving and a tin-roofed bomb shelter.

On a large wall hangs a giant old Isaly's sign, fresh off a closed-down Isaly's store in the Meadville area, and beneath it sits an old wooden church pew. Throughout the common spaces are several gas-lit fireplaces.

"When the lights are right and we have a fire going, it's like Thanksgiving every day here," Fleming says.

"I love old things around me," Green says. "It provides sort of a dichotomy because of all of the new technology around us."

You'll find that technology in the form of hundreds of knobs and buttons on massive sound boards in the company's two enclosed sound studios, along with microphones, speakers and recording and editing equipment.

That strange but flowing mix of old and new, dark and light, whimsical and ghostly all comes down to who Green and Fleming think they are and what they want their customers to think about their creative energy. And they did it all themselves.

They pieced together the antiques collection. They custom-ordered the pounded steel-sculptured desks. They even rubbed dulling acid on the once-shiny corrugated tin ceilings they installed in the kitchen. To them, it's a much-needed exercise in creative expression, which they say inspires their real work every day.

"It was important to show and demonstrate our personality," Fleming says. "We immersed the whole process in an aura of our own attitude. A lot of what we do is dark, edgy and quirky. Part of the deliberation in this was to really scream out 'us.' Creating this place was a blast. It was intense."

Can you expect any less when you put your heart and soul into your space, as they did? But it wasn't haphazard or piecemeal. They thought long and hard about what they wanted, and that was to create a space that told potential customers -- from the moment they entered the colorfully contrasting space -- what they could expect from Big Science and its artistic audio work: A darker, edgier, eclectic creativity with a not-so-serious undertone.

"We do incredibly intense music and sound design," Fleming says, "so we wanted to provoke. We want them to know we don't try to be everything to everybody. To me, it's branding. It's all part of what we are, and now our clients expect it."

They knew they were taking a chance in wearing their personalities on the office's walls and ceilings and floors.

"It folds back into marketing," Green says. "But we have scared off a few clients by taking this approach. Still, it's a risk for us not to do it."

Such risks elude much of corporate Pittsburgh as many businesses simply try to blend into the environment or create a sterile atmosphere that proves more accommodating to the transient job-hopper than to the loyal, long-term employee. Unfortunately, such sterility also chases away creativity in a work force, which seems to demand such an environment.

You could say Big Science is an over-the-edge creative firm and can get away with "provoking" clients with their office design and edgy attitudes. But you're just a law firm or accounting practice or wire manufacturing company. Where can employee creativity possibly come in when you're practicing law or counting money or bending bucket handles?

"It's oppressive," Fleming says. "Anyone I've ever talked to who wants everything in cubicles and in neutral colors usually sets things up to keep people productive but not creative. We're at a time now where technology is driving the marketplace, and they're creative people. In this time of business development, you have to react to the employees' need for a creative environment."

Have you done that -- or better yet, do you continue to strive for such an environment? Our purpose in broaching the subject in such an expansive section is to get you to think about design as more than just taste or making sure the atmosphere isn't offensive to even the blandest of personalities.

See how pair Networks created a funky, fun workplace on a budget with the creative use of building materials. Explore the use of bright color-coding with Elliance as it builds a collaborative team environment.

Tying it altogether is our One On One interview with branding experts Robert Adam and Louis Filippo, who admonish you to take advantage of your space as a vital marketing/branding tool. I hope you'll take the time to read them all.

But more important, I hope these local business owners inspire you to reach beyond design for design's sake and prompt you to take a risk. Despite this section's title, there are no firm rules. That's what creativity and risk-taking are all about.

Business is all about taking risks. It's about standing out in a crowd. It's about making a bold statement about yourself and your business. And it's more than simply adopting business casual as the code of the day.

"We create an environment that allows people to feel comfortable, and a comfortable environment really equates to a creative environment," Green says.

But Fleming wants to make sure people understand that they're not just "rebelling against cubicles," as he puts it. They're in business to make money, just like the rest of us.

"It's not a clubhouse for guys who can't stand the corporate world," he says. But then he can't resist: "It's just the coolest space we think we could have in the world." Daniel Bates (dbates@sbnnet.com)is editor of SBN magazine.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:33

Branding by design

So you like the color red.

For most of us, that might serve as the jump-off point for a new office design that includes lots of, well, red. Pretty nice, you think, as you stroll through your newly decorated headquarters, proud of an interior which, despite the fact that it drained your corporate coffers, makes you and maybe even your employees feel good.

It's lovely, indeed. But what does it really say about your company and the experience your customers have with it? How does it help you do your job better? And what image or message are you trying to convey? In short, how does it communicate your brand?

Those are just some of the questions you would have gotten from Robert Adam and Louis Filippo, partners since 1979 in Adam Filippo & Associates. Adam, an industrial designer by training, has spent years helping design identities for corporate clients. Filippo, also an industrial designer by training, has spent much of his time in commercial interior design.

But over the past 21 years, the two have brought their strengths to bear in building a progressive design firm which they describe more holistically as a branding boutique. Among their more notable clients: Tuscarora Inc., Mellon Bank Corp., Dick Corp. and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.

For Adam and Filippo, designing an office space begins not with color or taste, but rather with a soul-searching identity quest that brings together internal and external customers, work space functionality and image. And that's only the beginning. Interior design becomes only part of the integrated process that ultimately creates an experience for the customers which creates satisfaction and loyalty.

You say you like red? Here's what Adam and Filippo have to say about design for design's sake vs. branding, and what you'd better be thinking about before your undertake your next corporate makeover.

SBN: How important is office design for businesses today?

Filippo: We think it not only affects people's work habits, attitudes and performance, but as everyone understands that, now that brand has entered it, it affects the relationships and attitudes you have with your customers. So it's not only what it does internally, but what it does to your customer base that visits it.

Traditionally, people were far more worried about how it affected their employees and their performance, and they were not seeing it as a retail opportunity to connect with their customers. That's where people understand brand -- to make your facility work as much to your advantage as an advertising/public relations/communication campaign that goes beyond satisfying the business's internal people needs.

What do you consider branding?

Filippo: Let me jump off with the typical things you do for a traditional facility and what you have to add to get beyond that. In doing traditional interiors, absolutely, you look at people flow and paper flow.

And you look at how the business functions on a daily basis. And you take a look at space allocations to perform each function within this business. Then you look at the interior design aspects.

You now know how people go through your facility; that's the people flow. You understand the paper flow, which is basically how it functions. You understand what this clerical person does. You understand what this research person does.

And the next step is to understand how much space they need to perform each function. Then you're developing a fabulous interior to help support that.

Adam: Brand is really the portable message you take with you about your product, your service, your building, whatever element you're talking about that allows you to sort out that element vis a vis your competition. You need to be able to take that message and pull it apart. We know we have the visual.

How do we get that message to be carried with you? Part of carrying that message with you and being able to sort it is the experience -- you have to be able to experience it. So it's really that triangle of information.

Filippo: Backing up then, if you're then going to go beyond, you cannot start where they start. You've got to back up and first understand the definition Bob talked about in differentiating yourself in the marketplace.

It's not just about, "Oh well, they're all red, yellow and orange, so we're going to be blue and orange just to look different." ... Now take an architect. All of a sudden he's sitting there and working next to a person with a master's degree in communication. He's working next to someone who has a degree in marketing and research ...

It's not about just making the thing look pretty. That's where Robert really emerged in our corporation here, defining what brand is. So now, before we get into the people flow, paper flow, space allocation and all of that, we add something that takes us beyond.

SBN: Which is?

Filippo: When you start off with first understanding Robert's definition, if I bring him to a meeting and he stands up and says this and they say, "'OK, what does that mean?" We just sometimes say, '"Let us tell you how we're going to answer that question, and we're going to first help you to find your different customer audiences. How many different ones do you have?"

So you're saying, here are all of your customer bases. Then, let's do research and understand what the values are that are important to different groups of customers. You now understand what makes all of those audiences tick.

Then, can you prioritize the difference between the clerical people, the research, the salespeople? What's their order of priority? We tell them to tell us their 10 most important things, knowing that you're probably not going to get to all 10. Now, we have defined the customer base, we understand the different values embedded within them. We have a priority list through a proprietary research model we have here to understand each of the needs.

No corporation has untold amounts of resources, so we get them to understand that they've got to focus their resources now and develop a brand and marketing strategy.

Whether you like it or not, you don't have to spend one dime, and you'll get an identity. But if you go through this, you get a chance to control what it is in the marketplace. That's the only difference: Do you want to control it or just find out one day what your identity happens to be?

Adam: Customers integrate your message whether you like it or not. That really is the essence of what we believe. If you have 5,000 in your office and you look at it and say, "I don't have to worry about them. I'm just going to be without any outsiders," well, you've got 5,000 messengers sending out something to your outside marketplace.

SBN: What if people who just say they want a nice-looking office? What do you tell them?

Adam: We tell them that may not be appropriate. We tell them there are reasons you don't do this.

Filippo: We do research and say to them that it's based on research. Traditional facilities are based on interior and architectural research. Brand-driven interiors are based on the integration of brand/marketing strategies.

Adam: The overall question is, what message are you sending? We say that all the time. What message are you sending? If somebody says, "I want to change my image so I'm going to change my office," that's actually not an impossibility.

We'd like to have a chronological flow of information. You do your diagnostics first. You end up doing your visual development. You end up creating your messages. You understand what those messages are. You apply them. Then you start to apply them to your graphics, to your interiors and to your sign systems and your PR. All of those things start to flow out.

But occasionally somebody says, "OK, I have to change my image, my building's being done today, and I have to start here." So we can start on that thing and we work backwards. We end up knowing that, if we do those fundamental things here, these are the messages that we're going to start sending out. These are the things that we think are relevant.

We're going to go work backwards and build our graphics parts to that, or we're going to build our signage to that, or we're going to start creating our PR to that, out of these different tentacles.

SBN: What do you think about design for design's sake?

Adam: We don't believe in design for design's sake.

SBN: Then why do most companies tend to separate out interior design, customer service, advertising and all of the other decisions?

Adam: They manage in silos. That's typical in business. Everyone wants to make sure all of the graphics look good and are coordinated. Then they'll have the facilities area and all of the facilities may end up being tied together. But they don't talk to one another.

Your communication department, your HR, all of those things are managed in silos. The difference is that, when you're a customer and you walk in, you end up looking at their Web site, you end up taking a look at their communication pieces, you walk into their lobby. You're taking a cross-cut right across all of those things, and they don't necessarily talk to one another.

They do, maybe, at a macro level, but a micro level, you have line people who are in charge of making things happen. They're in charge of getting that budget done, buying the right chair up front. They're looking at the chair more for its function than what kind of chair it should be. Maybe the function is ergonomic and not sitting. Maybe they need to stand more often so they need a higher chair.

Filippo: Ten years ago, how many times do you think that, when they're going to develop a facility, they have a personnel person sitting in the facility meeting, the person in charge of marketing, sales, the facility, the advertising person all sitting in the same meeting and saying, 'We're about to build a major building in Pittsburgh with a whole bunch of sub-buildings, and I want to integrate all of the most powerful messages we can give our people internally and externally. Do you think that ever happened? No.

SBN: Why do businesses continue to do things that way today?

Filippo: It's been embedded in our culture that this is the way we run businesses. This is the way we do facility programs. Today, is there a university that teaches facility/brand? Are they making architects and interior people take these things?

SBN: How does it help to understand all of that before you go into a design, as opposed to saying, simply, "I like red?"

Filippo: We're able to go back and say, wait a minute, here's the six research points. Here's your customer base -- we find out what they like, the kinds of services, environments and things they want to do, and we're basing all of those design decisions on strategy and research and design. How do you prove that red is better than blue?

Adam: I had a teacher one time who expressed that problems that looked very creative, that are really wonderfully done and look beautiful but don't solve the problem -- he called them magnificent failures because that's exactly what they were. They were magnificently done, but they didn't solve the problem. That's the basis of what we do. We solve the problem.

What is the interior supposed to do for you? What are the messages you are sending? What are the things your people have to do, you know, paper flow? How do things have to move within it? How do all of these things happen? Once we define all of these parameters, that's the problem we have to solve, and everything we do has to relate back to those.

SBN: What do you say to the person who says, "I want a decent design." Why should people care about their design?

Filippo: I'll tell you what we tell them. Look, we can develop a beautiful building for you. But isn't the most important thing in the corporation the profitability of the corporation? If profitability is what's most important, then why would you design a facility that just makes everybody happy? How does it enforce all of your marketing, brand, research and communication goals?

Adam: Simply, by being focused, it saves money. That's the issue. So why do people do it? It's actually more cost efficient.

Filippo: It goes back to understanding the customers, understanding the customer values, understanding the customer priorities, which may be different from yours, and to be able to focus them -- employees, too.

SBN: So why don't people get it?

Adam: Brand is an experience, and it takes time. It's a time-sensitive element. It's not short-term blast awareness and you're there. Because of that and because of our electronic age, hit-it-now mentality, a lot of people just don't have time to deal with it.

They don't think it's relevant. But they find out over time that it is. They need to coordinate their message.

SBN: So what is the interior, relative to that message?

Adam: It's just another vehicle for the message.

Filippo: It's just another tool.

How to reach: Adam Filippo & Associates, (412) 261-3720 or www.adamfilippo.com

Daniel Bates (dbates@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN magazine.

Tuesday, 30 October 2001 10:55

Now what?

I know a local CEO who built up a very successful company. His company was profitable, and it had earned a great reputation in his industry. But one day, he reached an entrepreneurial mid-life crisis.

''I'm not having fun anymore,'' he lamented.

His problem, he realized, was that he got so caught up in the details of the day-to-day business that he never took the time to step back to re-energize. Or stretch his mind. Or look out over the next horizon for himself or his company.

He had succeeded, or so he thought, but felt like he had failed. He made lots of money, but he hit the proverbial wall. That's when he stood up and asked, ''Now what?''

And he left the company.

While the time away didn't exactly help his company -- profits sagged without his leadership -- he came back refreshed and full of ideas, newfound purpose and the energy to turn his company around.

''I'm having a lot of fun again,'' he told me recently.

Certainly, this CEO isn't alone. It's our contention that most senior executives fall into the day-to-day trap and can't seem to get out. They don't bother planning. They don't take the time to regroup. They lead by the seats of their pants.

And then they wonder why their companies founder and why their employees don't care and even leave. ''Now what?'' they ask.

'''I don't have time'' becomes the excuse of choice, or ''My company is small, so stepping back is a luxury I can't afford.'' But is it a luxury?

''They may feel like they don't have the time,'' says Bernard Wetzel, Ph.D., a principal of Catalyst Consultants LLC in Pittsburgh, ''It's a very common scenario that people have -- they have more to do than they have the time to do it. But I say, what's the cost of not doing it, of not having a strategy, of not addressing underperformance, of not investing in themselves? Some day, those companies are going to get whacked.''

The staff of SBN Magazine set out to create a special section on off-site meetings and retreats. But we discovered that finding the right places to take managers or other employees is the least of their concerns at a time when many of our readers need coaxing to understand the importance of stepping up, stepping out and stepping away from the day-to-day rigors of running their companies.

90 percent of the big picture?
That's what this special section is all about. As Brien Palmer, a Murrysville-based partner with Interlink Business and president of the nonprofit Council On Realizing Excellence in Management says, ''Senior executives should be spending 90 percent of their time on leadership stuff and only 10 percent on the details. Here's the test of a good leader: He or she can go away for two weeks and not have any problems back at the company.''

Taking that a step further, Palmer contends that, of that 90 percent, 30 percent should be spent dealing with purpose, making sure everybody is heading toward the same, well-defined goal; 30 percent should be spent making sure the processes are in place to help fulfill the purpose efficiently; and the remaining time should be spent developing people, as in coaching, mentoring, advising them.

''If they're not spending 90 percent of their time with the big picture, then they're not doing their job,'' Palmer says.

Instead, they're doing what he calls ''executive supervision.''

Given today's workplace environment, more leaders need to move beyond such supervision and take time to focus on the big picture, which includes leading your employees.

''The whole dynamic of what's going on in the labor force is changing,'' says Rebecca Sohn, senior vice president and general manager of leadership and employee development consultants Lee Hecht Harrison.

She cites several factors driving the change:

  1. There will continue to be key issues surrounding key talent.

  2. Employees have access to more information than ever and often receive it the same time as the CEO.

  3. The free-agent mentality continues to grow.

''Their portability is based on how many skills they can build since there's no longer the concept of a lifetime employee,'' she says. ''The average time at employment is three years and eight months.''

Says Sohn: ''The wake-up call is that good talent is always in demand regardless of the economy. But the only way to keep them is by understanding their value systems. Companies that don't understand that will fail.''

That means spending more time with your employees -- but outside the realm of their day-to-day jobs --and not just regarding mechanical processes that would make their jobs more efficient. That's where the employees' value systems come in.

Without understanding where each employee is coming from and what motivates that person, she says, ''you won't have their buy-in, passion, vision -- all of the things that make people come alive. Companies that have it and understand it pull through even in a crisis.''

Factor in terrorism
Suddenly, according to Sohn and Michael McNeill, national director of coaching sales at Lee Hecht Harrison, employees across the country are stepping back to re-evaluate their own values systems -- what's important to them -- and they're looking closely at whether what they do in work and in life is significant enough. And that, they say, has changed the whole dynamic of the workplace -- which should drive some much-needed change in business and human resources strategies.

''People are troubled by that [Sept. 11] event and distracted from their goals,'' Sohn says. ''The economy was in a recession to begin with, then you add this crisis. Strategic planning has taken on entirely new dimensions. Companies can't progress now without dealing with the emotional side of business because their employees are now looking at time in a totally different way.

''Their question now is, 'What will tomorrow bring?'''

In this section
What will tomorrow bring? Or, as we have phrased it, ''Now what?'' We found no easy answers or corporate panaceas when it comes to exploring employee values systems, finding the right -- and sometimes daring -- vision for your company or even trying to re-energize to revive your entrepreneurial spirit. But we can tell you how others are doing it and where you can go for help in this quest for the future.

In this special section, we look at an employee-inclusive strategic planning process that works. We showcase a rather unusual experiential leadership development program that not only will put you out to pasture, so to speak, but will also teach you invaluable lessons about dealing with your employees more effectively.

We visit one entrepreneur's own ''Think-Time'' philosophy. We explore the growing realm of executive coaches and how they can help you. And we even take a short trip to a fantasy baseball camp, where one prominent business owner trades in his suits and business acumen for a baseball glove and bat.

All are good ideas, we think, although there are countless ways to step up, step out and step away from your day-to-day business life once in a while. So read on. When you're finished, we hope you'll raise the all-important question for yourself and your own company. That is, ''Now what?''

And then you'll do something about it.

Millennial capitalism, without the M&Ms

By Daniel Bates

Pittsburgh-based law firm Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott LLC, isn't waiting for the year 2000 to capitalize on the potentially chaotic effects it may have on technology.

The firm recently launched an entirely new practice group, made up of 20 litigators from all of its 11 offices, designed to specifically handle technology lawsuits. The new Technology Litigation Section is based in Pittsburgh.

The new practice offers, among other things, "Millennium Bug" services including computer hardware and software products and licenses, product defect claims, insurance coverage lawsuits, securities law and shareholder lawsuits, as well as cyberlaw issues arising from commercial activities on the Internet.

"Technology issues are already commonplace in the courtroom," says Mark Willard, who heads up the new practice. "More and more businesses will sue or be sued over evolving technology issues, and these companies need attorneys who are already familiar with the particular technology in issue and the applicable law."

Either way, Eckert Seamans wins in this new venture.

Sunday, 21 July 2002 20:00

In Brief

They're checking you out

If you don't think your customers are scoping out your credibility, think again.

The Better Business Bureau of Western Pennsylvania says it answered 223,651 calls last year requesting reliability reports on businesses, general information and assistance with complaints. In fact, requests for reliability reports were up 40 percent from the previous year, and complaints were up 19 percent.

The types of companies about which most callers inquired, starting with the most: Home-improvement contractors; modeling and talent agencies; invention marketing; vacation certificate offers; work-at-home offers; window sales and installation; roof and gutter contractors; waterproofing companies; new auto dealers; and heating-and-air conditioning contractors.

Many of those received the most complaints as well. They are as follows: Home-improvement contractors; vacation certificate offers; magazine subscription services; new auto dealers; computer sales and service; furniture stores; window sales and installation; roof and gutter contractors; department stores; and banks.

Lessons from an eight-year-old

Here's one 8-year-old from whom many companies could learn a lesson or two.

Brandon Whale, a second-grader from the North Hills, identified a problem, then he developed a product that solved the problem-something many entrepreneurs tend to get backwards in their R&D efforts. In Brandon's case, his petite mother, who wears a pacemaker, needed to wear a pacemaker transmitter bracelet, but given her size, most bracelets proved too large. Brandon had a solution: a bracelet with an adjustable band made with elastic and Velcro. Called the PaceMate, his bracelet also uses specially pre-packaged sponges soaked in oral electrolytes instead of water to improve the quality of the transmission over phone lines (the transmission tests the pacemaker's battery).

For his invention, Brandon won a scholarship to Camp Invention, a one-week summer program for kids that offers hands-on science and other creative activities. The camps are held in Beaver County, Fox Chapel, Monroeville, Moon Township, North Allegheny, Pine Richland, Steubenville/Weirton, Swissvale and Upper St. Clair.

Said Brandon in a detailed inventor's log he kept for the project: "I wanted to fix this for my mom because she fixes things for me."

For information about Camp Invention, call (412) 774-6001.

How to keep civility in employment lawsuits

The next time an ex-employee files an employment discrimination claim against your company, you won't necessarily have to take that case to court. At least, not if Justus Employment Law Mediation Group can help it.

The group, part of Justus Alternative Dispute Resolution Services in Pittsburgh, is designed to offer both parties of the dispute an efficient and cost-effective solution that takes little more than a day-in a non-adversarial environment, according to its principals.

The group is led by David Ward Murphy, a former Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas trial judge and renown mediator. Louis Kushner, an attorney and partner with law firm Rothman, Gordon, Foreman & Groudine, P.C., and James Brown, an attorney and director at law firm Cohen & Grigsby, P.C., also practice with the group.

"With mediation, clients are spared the frustration and distraction of drawn-out legal battles, while plaintiff and defense attorneys can handle more cases and demonstrate their commitment to helping clients manage legal costs and find creative resolutions to their disputes," says Murphy.

Adds Kushner: "In mediation, only one rule applies-civility. And there is only one goal-resolve the dispute without going to trial."

For information, contact Justus Employment Law Mediation Group at (888) 2MEDIATE or (412)281-9112.

Why the state likes Site Selection magazine

When economic development magazine Site Selection published its latest rankings of states and their economic development efforts, Samuel McCullough, the secretary of the state's Department of Community and Economic Development, was among the first to dig out his horn.

And for good reason, it seems.

Among the latest rankings:


  • For the first time, Pennsylvania ranks seventh in the long-term manufacturing category, for new manufacturing projects between 1995 and 1997. The top six, respectively, are: Ohio, Texas, California, Michigan, North Carolina and Illinois.


  • Pennsylvania also ranked 10th in the New Facilities/Expansions category from 1995-1997.

"Successful economic development demands long-term commitment because positive changes in business climates don't occur overnight," says McCullough. "The 'big-picture' view is why the latest issue of Site Selection magazine represents great news about Pennsylvania's economic status. Since taking office in 1995, the Ridge Administration has created a business climate that is showing consistent, continued growth."

OK, you can put away your horn now.

Which comes first, products or services?

Services, according to Coopers & Lybrand in its latest Trendsetter Barometer survey.

Of the 430 product and services companies' CEOs interviewed for the survey, Trendsetter companies grew at an average of 23.1 percent during 1997 (down from 26.7 percent the year before, thanks largely to a slowdown in product-oriented company growth.) Service firms grew an average of 29.8 percent-up 12 percent from 1996, while product firms grew only 17.4 percent-a 36 percent drop in average growth.

Of the Pennsylvania CEOs polled, 69 percent remain optimistic about the economy ahead, while less than 2 percent are pessimistic.

The Pennsylvania-based CEOs' three main concerns ahead are: 1) slower growth in international sales; 2) a possible weakening of market demand in the United States; and 3) a shortage of skilled, trained workers.

You can access Coopers & Lybrand's Trendsetter Barometer studies on its Website at www.us.coopers.com/eas/trendset.

They now have money for you

The Community Loan Fund of Southwestern Pennsylvania, a non-profit community development financial institution, now has a $500,000 boost in its effort to create a $3 million development finance loan tool for local businesses.

The Community Loan Fund was granted the loan, along with another $100,000 for technical support, from the Local Initiatives Support Corp.

Says Mark Peterson, executive director of the Community Loan Fund: "The majority of these funds will be used to support the retention and growth of enterprises and employees in distressed communities of a nine-county region."

He adds that 75 percent of the funding will be used in urban communities, with the remaining 25 percent being earmarked for rural communities. The Fund currently has $2.2 million in capital.

For funding information, contact the Community Loan Fund at (724) 935-3327.


Monday, 22 July 2002 10:10

From the editor

How to succeed after you're hit by a bus

By Daniel Bates

My car idled one afternoon with the rest of the traffic along the West End Circle when a school bus suddenly merged into my lane in front of me. Misjudging the space before me, the bus driver edged into my car, sideswiping my front right quarter-panel. Unfortunate, but no big deal. That is, until the bus driver pulled through the intersection and on toward the Parkway West without acknowledging my beeping horn.

I persistently followed the bus for 20 miles to its destination and, after waiting for the driver to unload her students, calmly approached the bus. When I told the driver what had happened, she balked at me and denied everything until we found a smudge of my car's paint on her tire. Then she said it must have been my fault.

Before we were through, the driver had concocted her own story, inventing a mysterious gray car, which had forced my car into her bus. The bus company's insurance carrier apologetically but firmly denied my claim.

As my obstinacy boiled to the surface, family and friends all told me I couldn't fight this, that I was taking on a challenge beyond my means and capability. They said-with no-doubt good intentions-that I would fail.

Maybe they were right, I mused. Perhaps I should have garnered enough good sense to quit before wasting any more time and energy. But I didn't.

Nor did Christine Toretti when faced with whether she should take over her father's drilling company after he committed suicide. As this month's cover story illustrates, Toretti's father didn't think she could ever run his company, and he even left informal instructions for his family to liquidate the business when he died.

Toretti's mother offered similar advice, as did others in a field wrought with serious economic problems. Toretti took over the company anyhow and, perhaps to the surprise of many, she turned around the foundering company.

Yes, she is stubborn, persistent, outgoing and eternally optimistic. Some might even describe her as foolhardy for defying reason and her family's urgings. I would bet, though, that the 300-plus employees working for her now aren't among them.

Restaurateur James Blandi Jr., the subject of this month's Start-Up feature, is just as stubborn. With his late father's blessing, he gutted his LeMont restaurant several years ago and redecorated it, rekindling its image as one of the region's premiere fine-dining restaurants. So when he wanted to springboard that success into an entirely new concept, his peers stepped in.

He says his friends and peers told him his Viaggio concept would never get off the ground. At first, he almost let those sentiments get the best of him. At one point, he says he was close to burying his dream. But with encouragement from his wife and a healthy sense of self-confidence, he launched it anyway. He now can boast both better-than-expected attendance and revenue over the last six months. His long-term success remains to be seen, but he has made it this far despite his critics.

As I see it, the only real failures personified are those who never actually act on their dreams-and those who, regardless of their intentions, try to stand in the way of dreamers who act. While I'm all in favor of those advisers who can give dreamers a healthy dose of ugly reality as they map out their plans, they should never tell people they're going to fail if they try. Give the advice-and then get out of the way.

For entrepreneurial stubbornness and persistence serve as powerful business-building-and survival-tools, if we use them.

I needed both on the journey that took me, first, to the Pittsburgh Police, who told me I couldn't file hit-and-run charges because I had made contact with the driver, and then through the confusing maze of insurance bureaucracies. Dozens of phone calls and documentation letters later, I was ready to quit.

Then a couple of months later I received an envelope from my State Farm Insurance representative. In it was, to the surprise of my detractors, a check for the full amount of the damage to my car. Alas, I won-another victory for the persistent.