Ive always thought that we baby boomers get just a little too much attention, mainly by virtue of our sheer numbers. The Ford Mustang, Woodstock and bell bottoms became huge successes mostly because of us.
Later on, minivans, liposuction and mutual funds became rages because of the boomers. The makers and providers of just about every product or service have their sights trained on us, trying to figure out what were going to be wearing, eating, driving and watching.
Now, however, boomers are beginning to attract the kind of attention that I really like.
Because of important demographic shifts expected to emerge over the next few decades, employers are likely to be courting boomers for years to come. As a result, retirement for us probably will not be what it is has been for prior generations. Were promising to be in big demand in the work force of the future, and thats going to have an impact on how you, Mr. Entrepreneur, run your business in the next century.
When baby boomers begin to retire, it turns out, the baby bust generation that follows wont be big enough to fill all of the jobs that will be available. Employers arent going to have the luxury of a huge pool of youthful boomers to fill slots vacated by retirees. A few of us boomers about 13 percent, says the American Association of Retired Persons will retire and never even consider working again.
Some of us will have to work, and others will find it rewarding to continue on the job. In fact, says the AARP, more than half of us will work at least part time after we leave our full-time jobs. That means theres better than one chance in two that Ill be behind a desk instead of the wheel of a golf cart when I hit 65. The AARP also says its research indicates that nearly one in five boomers wants to start a business after leaving his or her job.
What will this mean for business owners? The following are some things to consider:
- Generation Xers, the segment of the population born between 1965 and 1977, are redefining the contract between worker and employer. They tend to be less loyal to a company and more likely to hop from one job to the next in search of opportunity.
- Even in the Pittsburgh MSA, where the population is expected to drop 5 percent between 1995 and 2020, older workers will comprise a larger proportion of the labor pool. Your recruitment and retention strategies will have to change to meet your needs.
- If your retiring boomer employee starts his or her own business, theres an even chance that its going to be in the same field that youre in. Offering an ownership stake in your company might be one way to satisfy that entrepreneurial urge while keeping a valuable worker in your camp.
- Employers will have to develop strategies to hold onto their most talented workers. Flex time and alternative work schedules, as well as telecommuting, will become more common.
- Current retirement plans often preclude a retiree from drawing benefits while remaining on a company payroll. The structure of your plan might determine who is permitted to stay on as an employee.
But look at the bright side: Youll save a lot of money on gold watches.
For more information on this topic, here are some Web sites that I found useful: www.watsonwyatt.com, www.shepard-assoc.com and www.aarp.org.
Ray Marano is associate editor of SBN, and, as the classic baby boomer, likely will keep working at it for years to come. Why? Because he doesnt golf.
Think your business plan is pretty good? Heres a way to find out, learn something and maybe win some serious money, as much as $50,000 if your plan passes muster.
But the moneys not all that EnterPrize, a business plan competition, offers area entrepreneurs. Organizers say participants will get the benefit of advice and coaching from successful business people, as well as valuable exposure to funding sources that may help them get their ventures off the ground or onto the fast-growth track.
The competition promises to generate viable business ideas, increase access to capital and grow the regions entrepreneurial leaders by identifying and encouraging investment in new businesses, says Sean McDonald, chairman of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, an EnterPrize sponsor.
EnterPrize was created through the partnership of local universities, businesses and development organizations. The goal is to invigorate Pittsburghs economy by bringing together ideas, capital, talent and business expertise to create growth companies. All told, $145,000 in prize money will go to entrepreneurs who assemble the best plans.
The competition, which runs from October until April, is spearheaded by Carnegie Mellon and Duquesne universities, the University of Pittsburgh, Innovation Works, McKesson HBOC Automated Healthcare, McKinsey & Co. and the Pittsburgh Technology Council. Participants plan to make the competition, which is similar to others sponsored by McKinsey & Co. in other cities, an annual event.
Events in other cities have been responsible for helping start-up ventures get off the ground and grab the attention of investors, even for companies that dont win money prizes.
Organizers of EnterPrize expect that as many as 20 companies will receive venture capital or angel funding as a result of the competition. The trend in in successive years in competitions sponsored by McKinsey in other cities is that the mix among participants tends to shift from students to professionals.
The competition is intended to spur the creation and development of growth companies, defined as companies that aspire to generate revenue in the tens of millions of dollars in a short time frame. Existing companies may also enter, provided they are incorporated within the 13 counties specified, have annual revenue of $1 million or less, employ fewer than 20 people and have raised less than $500,000 in capital.
While the competition is not limited to technology businesses, the sponsors expect that most growth companies will come out of the technology sector. A gas station, the sponsors explain, is not a growth company, but if you have an innovative plan to open alternative fuel supply stations across Southwestern Pennsylvania, you may be a good candidate.
EnterPrize is advertising to get the word out, and sending brochures to university alumni and trade organizations. Speakers are being dispatched to schools and entrepreneurial groups at local colleges and universities.
The competition will be staged in three phases and structured as a learning process, complete with seminars, workshops and networking events. The phases will guide participants through the business planning process by requiring them to complete a detailed outline of the plan in the first phase, a draft business plan in the second and a refined plan in the third phase.
Prizes will be awarded at each level, and all companies that decide to continue through the entire process may do so.
We have found that the competition process serves to educate participants and stimulate new business activity, regardless of who wins the contest, says Christopher Leech, a partner at McKinsey.
Ray Marano (email@example.com) is associate editor at SBN.
The notion is tempting. Retire by the time youre 40, share more of your time with your family and still keep your hands in the business world. Sounds like the Silicon Valley Dream.
Mark Juliano wants to live the dream, and hed like to see it become more common in Pittsburgh. The former Fore Systems executive and entrepreneur who led Islip Media, now MediaSite, to a successful raising of $7 million in capital earlier this year decided that hed had enough 16-hour days.
Now hes spending more time with his family, planning to go back to school in January and trying to figure out what the next stage of his life is going to look like.
Retiring at such a tender age may not seem like much of a chore, especially if you possess the financial wherewithal. But as Juliano tells it, mixed emotions surface when one contemplates such a move, not the least of which is fear: Fear of losing your skills, of what others might think, of the unknown, fear of whatever I do next, I wont be good at.
While Juliano may be getting off the corporate track, its clear that he plans to make the years to come as exciting and interesting as his career in high tech has been. He has retired as MediaSites president, although hes not completely withdrawing from the business. He plans to continue to spend some of his time as a board member and adviser to MediaSite.
And he wants to fashion himself as a booster for Pittsburgh business, promoting the region as a fertile valley of entrepreneurial activity and working with other local business people to burnish that image. Heres what he has to say:
Was there a defining moment when you realized that you needed to make this change?
Id say there really was not. But there definitely was one time when I started thinking about this, and that was the day Fore Systems went public, which was five years ago now. I consider that a defining day in the sense that I was never allowed to have this conversation with myself before that day. Financially, theres a good chance I wont have to work again, so what do I really want to do with the rest of my life, if you will?
I decided what I really wanted to do was continue to work. I actually went through the whole scenario of not working and doing what Im doing now and concluded, I guess, I hadnt quite finished what I set out to do from a career standpoint.
Over the last four or five years, Ive achieved what I set out to do on a career point. So I guess those two goals were taken care of, both the career goal and the financial goal, and thats when I pretty much decided it was time.
So you decided early on that you wanted to do this?
I wouldnt say I decided early on that I wanted to do this. What I decided early on was I wanted to seriously consider it. It was now an option that could be taken. Many people at the point of making some kind of financial windfall say, Youre crazy, I would never do anything but what Im doing now. I did not say that to myself. I said, Gee, theres this other possibility. Id like to go down that road.
When I left Fore Systems, one of the things I did, for example, was go to Europe for two months. That was my debriefing time. I didnt know if I wanted to get right back into it. I went through the motions, certainly, thinking about what if I stopped working. What would this mean in terms of my career, what would this mean in terms of what Id do with myself, and decided that it did not make sense.
Would you say you satisfied the career and entrepreneurial goals you set out to achieve?
What I would say is I exceeded my career goals. I never really had the goal of necessarily being the CEO of a small company, but it was obvious that I could do that after my last company (AVIDIA). MediaSite moved from the incubator/pure start-up phase to the growth phase. I feel successful in doing what I started out to do, which was to start a company. I didnt set out to finish a company.
What plan did you make for the transition from busy entrepreneur to retired executive?
Basically, I really see two phases of a plan. I have one right now, but to be honest, this whole deal is about not having a plan. I consider myself now in a transition phase. There is still work to be done at MediaSite. Im coming in half-time or so, maybe a little less as the weeks go on.
On the other side of the transition, which is starting up new things, I didnt have any plans and this kind of proves it: If Id had plans six months or a year ago, I would have just jumped into something new, but I didnt. So now Im really doing a lot more investigation. Ive talked to folks ranging from the heads of departments at the school of drama at CMU to a guy at Point Park College. Ill be attending school pretty much on a full-time basis.
Ive put out feelers for getting involved with a lot of things with my kids. I was just at a Cub Scouts meeting this weekend, something I probably never would have done in the past. People were talking about maybe starting a new den, and I said, Ill lead it. I would never have been able to say that before.
What kinds of economic development activities will you be involved in?
Ive been very involved with two groups. One is called Next Step (a group of CEOs of Pittsburgh-area companies). The other is the Hot Team group. There have been a lot of studies done, but one in particular was done by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance over the past year with a consulting firm from the Silicon Valley that looked at what it took for cities to become hot in the high-tech and entrepreneurial areas. They studied Pittsburgh, and now were at the implementation phase.
One of the things that they found is that the city is not taking advantage of its own base of high-tech entrepreneurs, any-tech entrepreneurs, for that matter, so they formed this group. We have a series of projects we have recommended. One project that I will be involved within a smaller group is something that doesnt have a name yet. We just call it The Entrepreneurs Club.
It will have a real name pretty soon. Perhaps the easiest way to describe it is an alternative to the Duquesne Club for the year 2000. Its different in the sense that we envision having cybercafes, hookups for your PC, no dress codes, that sort of thing.
Do you think you will be able to resist the entrepreneurial urge?
I just got off the phone with somebody about an hour ago. He asked me if I know of anybody who was interested in a very senior executive job at a regional telecom company thats being formed around here. He said the salary would be somewhere between $200,000 and $400,000, with a huge amount of options. Thats easily the kind of job that I could say yes, Id be interested and probably get, and Im just not interested. Everybody is enticing in the world. You read Time magazine and you find out about all of the dot-com companies, but youve got to look at them and say, Ive been there, done that, Im moving on.
Its definitely not easy. People value people based on their jobs. What you do is about the most common question someone asks you after Whats your name? Thats something at this point in my life Im ready to deal with. Perhaps five years ago at Fore when I thought about it I was not ready for the question. Now, Im confident in the answer.
What do you believe that you have to offer to the entrepreneurial community?
I think certainly one of the main things is Ive been involved in successful ventures, but Ive also lived in Silicon Valley and New York City and worked there. Those are the kinds of places that Pittsburgh aspires to be like or to (adopt some of their) a ttributes. Very few of us in Pittsburgh have actually done that and succeeded out there. I had a venture that I worked at before Fore that was quite successful. I think thats real key, having a link to other places.
One of the major problems in Pittsburgh is in marketing. Whether were good or not doesnt matter if nobody knows about us. The old perception is the real issue. I think my marketing skill is of value to the organizations Im working with. The third thing is, Im the kind of guy that gets stuff done. I dont need a lot of data to make a decision and move. Thats an attribute, I think, that comes with a lot of entrepreneurs. We may not always be right, but were certainly moving somewhere.
Are you surprised by the ventures that have been spun out of Fore Systems?
One is, it didnt surprise me at all to see the success of people who left Fore and started companies. What did surprise me, frankly, is how few companies spun out of Fore Systems. I expected by now at least a dozen companies to have formed from Fore, and there really have been three, maybe four, depending on how you define it.
Why do you think that has been the case?
I think some of the reason is a lot of the senior guys at Fore who did leave got pulled outside of Pittsburgh. Fore continued to do well, so a lot of them just stayed put and got promotions and made more money, so there were opportunities there. When I was [in Silicon Valley], a dozen spin-offs out of a successful company was nothing. Every company that was successful spun that many off.
So maybe, and this is the part Im really guessing, this area isnt exactly one that fosters entrepreneurship in the high-tech arena, at least that was it five years ago. Maybe today it is, and youre starting to see more of these smaller companies getting started from Fore and Transarc and from all of these other companies.
How to Reach: MediaSite at (412) 288-9910 or www.mediasite.net Ray Marano (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor at SBN.
Ray Marano (email@example.com) is associate editor at SBN.
While its unlikely well see a host of other young companies become billion-dollar successes anytime soon, more than a handful of local upstarts have, nonetheless, shown a serious potential to take off into the economic stratosphere. So whats the lesson for the regions aspiring entrepreneurs looking to bring the next blockbuster to market?
It will show that you dont have to leave Pittsburgh to become a billion-dollar company, says Ajmal Noorani, vice president of Mastech Corp. and manager of the founders new $50 million eVentures fund for Internet-oriented start-ups.
It may indeed be possible to create a billion-dollar company on your first stroll down Wall Street but only with the right kind of business idea, sharp management and adequate financing. FreeMarkets meteoric rise would have been much more difficult, if not impossible, without the help of early-stage venture capital to develop its service, provide critical management expertise and demonstrate its promise for big returns to the first buyers of its stock.
Providers of that kind of risky investment capital finally appear to be gaining some level of comfort in this region. The managers of several homegrown funds, as well as those from outside the region, are beginning to see an alluring shade of green in the hills and valleys of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Another reason for the interest in local deals is that venture funds are once again flush with capital and looking outside the traditional geographical hotbeds to find places to invest.
Theres so much competition and so much hype in the valley, says Sean Sebastian, managing partner with Birchmere Investments, a $20 million early-stage venture fund started by wealthy steel industry entrepreneur Richard Simmons. Birchmere partners today cant help but celebrate their success, thanks to their early investment in FreeMarkets. In fact, the fund still maintains holdings in a number of local start-ups, including CoManage, another company lining up for sizable entrepreneurial success.
Mastech created eVentures in 1999, and Lycos Ventures was launched in July in a partnership with Triangle Capital, headed by local entrepreneur and educator Don Jones. Redleaf Management, a $150 million Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm, opened an office in Pittsburgh last year, and the Western Pennsylvania Adventure Capital Fund, led by Pitt professor and investor Richard Patton, mounted a second round of fund-raising last September.
And a rejuvenated Innovation Works, a retooling of the former Ben Franklin Technology Center, got a $6.6 million grant from the state, earmarked for parceling out in $100,000 to $500,000 bits to promising upstarts.
For funds such as eVentures, the objective is a symbiotic relationship among entrepreneurs, investors and Mastech. Investments in new companies will provide not only a speculative opportunity for gain which stems directly from their success, but also creation of entities that could use the kinds of services that Mastech can offer, as well.
In effect, Mastech will find new customers for its products by spawning new ventures and foster the development of businesses that can feed off of its client base by offering services they can use.
Were the smart money because we can understand the technology, says Noorani.
Along the way, eVentures plans to provide the practiced guidance and mentoring that fledgling firms often need nearly as much as they need capital.
At the most fundamental level, Mastech is offering a select group of Carnegie Mellon University students, through the schools entrepreneur-in-residence program, the opportunity to get their ventures off the ground. University seniors get a monthly stipend, office space and administrative support. In exchange, Mastech gets a guaranteed stake in the new company and reserves the right to participate in up to 20 percent of any future funding.
Redleaf, too, sees the value of adding operations, marketing and legal support to the cash it pours into promising ventures. The fund is establishing offices in locations such as Pittsburgh, which offers a core of high-tech companies, local support for their development and a strong university community.
In addition to capital, Redleaf will offer a range of services, including operational support and a digital incubator systems integration capability to help seed-stage Internet firms mature into category winners, says C. Lloyd Mahaffey, director of Redleafs Pittsburgh operations.
Venture capital firms are spread thin, especially the top few, says Ashok Trivedi, Mastechs president and a co-founder with partner Sunil Wadhwani. What start-ups need is a committed investor who has a strategic interest in the success of the company, and who has the expertise and deployment capabilities to help them scale up quickly. How to reach: eVentures, www.mastech.com/eventures; Western Pennsylvania Adventure Capital Fund, www.wpacf.com; Redleaf Management, www.redleaf.com; Birchmere Investments, www.birchmere.net; Innovation Works, www.innovationworks.org
Ray Marano (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor at SBN.
One of the first things that students learn in a writing or journalism class is to avoid using clichés and jargon in their writing.
Unfortunately for us writers, we are bombarded with both on an almost daily basis by people who are determined, it seems, to help us fall from grace.
Covering business exposes us to lots of clichés and jargon, both spoken and in press releases, that grow ragged with overuse. It should come as no surprise that these are most often used when companies or their public relations agents are attempting to get our attention. Ironically, they usually end up shooting themselves in the foot. Whoops!
Here are the ones we hear most often:
- Were a unique company. Unique should be stricken from the English language. Despite the fact that they know it drives us nuts, or maybe because it does, public relations and marketing writers continue to use this word. A letter to us is almost certain to hit the trash can if you use it.
- We are doing a lot of interesting things. Interesting to whom? If you want to increase your chances of getting our attention, ask yourself the hard questions before we do. Who would want to hear this story? Why would anyone care about what youre doing?
- Weve been in business for (10, 20, 100) years. Quite frankly, the length of time a company has been in business is of only passing interest to most people, let alone us. We might be interested, though, in how you managed to stay in business. But dont mention the following as one of the reasons:
- We exceed our customers expectations. Thats good, but why is it that so many businesses disappoint me? I just want to go away feeling like I got my moneys worth. Besides, I havent met anyone who ever said, Our customer service isnt too good.
- Its a win-win. Weve been laughing up our sleeves for a couple of years at this one. I dont know too many people who would say, for publication at least, that they beat the pants off the other guy. And most of us find it hard to admit that we got a bad deal. Besides, weve seen too many win-wins degrade quickly into lose-lose.
- Its a win-win-win. In an attempt to outdo the win-winners, there are those who insist on finding a third party to win with.
Of course, not every catch phrase is dismissed so lightly by us. In fact, when an expression reaches wide familiarity, we can put it to work for us. I took advantage of Show me the money, coined by a character in the movie Jerry Maguire, when I came up with Show me the service, the headline for my column last month.
I used Only in Amarraca as the headline for my December 1999 column. In fact, in my never-ending quest to be clever, I often try turning the common expression on its head.
Ray Marano, associate editor of SBN, spends much of his time trying educate SBNs readers and exceeding their expectations. We could say its a real win-win. But we wont. Reach him at email@example.com.
The hush of Infoliant Corp.’s Station Square offices is in contrast to the hubbub over the Y2K issue that dominated the news during the waning weeks of 1999.
Yet, in its own quiet way, the company formed in 1997 to offer computer users updates on the Y2K status of their software may very well have helped corporate and government computer users avoid a chaotic, or at least troublesome, New Year’s Day.
With thousands of software products available and in use, it would have been nearly impossible for most companies to assemble the Y2K status information to judge their exposure. Infoliant’s founders realized that and came up with the Year 2000 Network Advisor, a service that helped its clients do just that.
“What we do is aggregate and standardize and package the information for companies that don’t have the resources to do it themselves,” says Kevin Weaver, Infoliant’s executive vice president and co-founder.
Weaver repeats the conventional wisdom that appears to be emerging about Y2K: The likelihood of major catastrophes was remote, at most, and software makers, government and private industry saw the potential for problems and acted decisively and spent considerable dollars to head them off. That made the first hours of 2000 uneventful, at least as far as the millennium bug was concerned.
While they are undetectable to most of us, some lingering effects of Y2K do exist; some software did prove noncompliant, which created problems. That will mean weeks or even months of vigilance and ongoing demand for reporting on the status of software fixes.
Weaver says some help desks got swamped, and Infoliant still received status changes during January, something he expects to continue at a brisk pace, at least until the end of February. It also could mean a flurry of litigation coming out of those failures, and that, Weaver believes, may offer opportunities for Infoliant.
In this month’s One on One, Weaver reveals why he wasn’t worried that the world might come to an end at midnight Dec. 31, 1999, and talks about Infoliant’s future in a post-Y2K world.
SBN: What’s in the future for Infoliant?
Weaver: We’re looking at a couple of different strategies. We have prepared something called the compliance archive. Part of our process is to collect information about the Y2K status and keep that record as it changes over time. So we can tell you that this product was originally deemed compliant on May 21, 1998, and that in August, they found an issue, and in September, they found a second issue.
We’ve got all of that kind of information documented. We put that together in anticipation of supporting the legal community if there were a large number of Y2K lawsuits, so we’re exploring some outlets for that information.
The market for that, the need for that, is later, after the lawsuits start to get filed. That’s something that is there and just needs a bit of polish if we need to turn it on. What we’re doing right now is the market research and some product development work.
Many of our customers took it upon themselves to contact us and tell us some ideas they’d like to see us do, and we heard a very common message. What they told us basically is that they absolutely love what we’re doing with Y2K with the Year 2000 Network Advisor, but from their perspective, the year 2000 was just a special kind of bug, and that they would love to see some sort of service expanded, not just to cover a Y2K topic, but the general problems that occur every day with computers.
We’re in the process now of formalizing that in terms of understanding how big the market is and how we price and package it and adapt what we have to cover a broader range of topics. That probably won’t be ready for the market for a few more months.
Are we out of the Y2K woods?
The media attention on midnight, Dec. 31, was unfounded. It was kind of a lightning rod point, but anybody who’s been involved with Y2K and the information technology business understands that really only a small number of the problems were going to occur at that time, and that the nature of the problems was not going to be catastrophic.
According to some of the studies by the Gartner Group and others, a lot of the problems started occurring before Dec. 31, and we knew that from feedback from our customers. They feel about 50 to 60 percent of the problems are yet to be reported, and we’re starting to see that even with the products that we track.
From the perspective of everyday life, I think, yes, there certainly still are incidents cropping up here and there where bills get sent out with the wrong date or what have you. What we undertook as a problem was what we call the broad Y2K problem.
It wasn’t so much that there was a big old application that ran a bank written in COBOL 30 years ago that was not Y2K compliant. We took on all the desktop PC-distributed systems, things that companies have thousands of spread out all over the place. [For our customers] it was a logistics issue of, ‘How do I get technicians and people and information out to all these places and pick up all these things?’
So what we were getting feedback on now are people finding pockets of small things, things they had missed, things that vendors didn’t test thoroughly but are not at points that are affecting overall company performance.
There’s been a lot of stuff written in the last week or so asking whether this was a big hoax, did we overspend, was this a waste of money. There’s no doubt in my mind that had we done nothing, we would have seen a lot more significant issues.
We never expected to see lights go off or telephone service interrupted for any significant amount of time or anything that was going to be nationally newsworthy. I wasn’t surprised to see that. I was surprised to see that there were a relatively small number of reports.
How important was the role played by Infoliant and other similar services in averting widespread problems or even disaster?
This is something I told our employees in our wrap-up meetings. We have several hundred global 1000 firms as customers. Granted, they have lots of other resources going into Y2K we didn’t get a fraction of that $600 billion [estimated worldwide expenditures for Y2K compliance efforts], but we did certainly have an impact on some of the major organizations.
Almost every bank, brokerage firm and investment firm were customers of ours. Many of the leading telecommunications companies around the world are customers of ours.
I want to give some credit to the computer manufacturers and the software manufacturers. I think they did a stellar job of getting information out and available. Without their cooperation, we couldn’t have done our service. It’s unfortunate that it [compliance status] changed frequently.
One of the things our service did was to detect when patch one didn’t really fix the problem, so patch two came out to fix it, or patch one introduced a problem that patch two had to fix.
What was all the hype about with regard to Y2K?
I think what had people concerned was that in the history of technology, there have been a couple of instances where small failures cascaded into bigger problems, problems with telephone systems, where one phone switch in the long distance system goes haywire and all of a sudden things start to go down.
On the Internet in the fall, there was a cut in a fiber optic line in Ohio that pretty much shut down East Coast-West Coast traffic for several days until that got repaired. There was the blackout in the 1960s on the East Coast, where a power generator facility went down and everything started to cascade after that.
We’re talking about billions of lines of code and million of systems and hundreds of thousands of human beings worldwide working on things. It seems difficult to believe that nothing bigger occurred, that somebody didn’t miss something that was important.
That was a little bit of a surprise to us. [Infoliant] is in an odd position; we certainly didn’t hope for a disaster, but at the same time, we’re surprised that things went as smoothly as they did.
Ray Marano (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor at SBN.
Georgiana Riley relishes being in the thick of things in her business.
I love to get out with the reps; I love to get in front of the customers, says Riley, owner and president of TIGG Corp., a Bridgeville-based environmental engineering firm.
Few could doubt the value of a hands-on executive who possesses the sales and marketing know-how that Riley does, and the bottom-line pressure that small businesses feel means that, yes, at times, she has had to step in to smooth over a problem or close a deal with a client.
But making the transition from company executive to business owner has meant that her view had to become more strategic than tactical. Riley says she realizes that to survive in the industry and put TIGG firmly in the black, shes going to have to resist the temptation at times to throw herself into the fray of the day-to-day.
Riley clearly likes to stay on the fast track. In addition to her responsibilities at TIGG, she serves as a township supervisor in Independence Township and helps her husband run their Foxfire Farm, where they raise purebred Angus cattle.
She spent most of her career selling for big companies in the chemical industry and, more recently, spent four years in sales at TIGG before becoming its president and, ultimately, its owner, last year.
She joined TIGG in 1993 as director of sales, and by 1996 was president, leading the company to a 25 percent increase in revenue. TIGG came off a record year in 1997, only to turn in a disappointing performance in 1998. Last year was better, says Riley, and she expects the company to return to profitability in 2000.
TIGG was founded in 1978 by Don Tigglebeck and his wife, Carole, as a manufacturers representative and chemical trader in plastics and intermediates. In 1980, TIGG recognized a growing market for pre-engineered, ready-to-use modular adsorbers, particularly in the emerging pollution control market.
Adsorption technology is used in a variety of applications. It can, for example, remove toxic chemicals from ground water, surface water or waste water, or toxic or odorous gasses from storage tank vents or paint spray booths. It also can be used to recover valuable solvents in manufacturing processes.
It involves the use of an adsorption medium, such as activated carbon. TIGG also provides other methods, such as ion exchange and oil/water separation systems.
More recently, the business has evolved into a more comprehensive solutions provider, offering engineering, consulting and turnkey solutions for its customers, in addition to off-the-shelf solutions.
Surviving in a big pond
In the early 1990s, Riley says, the market for TIGGs products grew increasingly competitive as industry consolidation took place, squeezing margins and hurting small suppliers like TIGG. Meanwhile, the federal Superfund Program, established in 1980, and more stringent environmental regulations are creating a need for remediation efforts, retrofits of older facilities and new installations of pollution control equipment, all expanding opportunities for firms in the environmental industry.
Although TIGG is a relatively small player, Riley says, she realized even before she acquired the company that there were opportunities to improve its performance. She is guiding the company by playing to its strengths and working in collaborative ways with other companies in the industry, as well as improving its information systems, restructuring its marketing effort and ramping up its manufacturing capabilities.
Retooling the plant
Riley saw that one of the strengths of TIGG is its 60,000-square-foot in-house manufacturing facility on a 10-acre site in Heber Springs, Ark., where the company fabricates tanks, ranging in capacity from 20 gallons to 1,600 gallons, and other equipment for treatment systems.
Last year, Riley hired a superintendent for the plant, to not only supervise operations, but to make recommendations for improvements to make the facility more productive. Following his suggestions, TIGG is investing in new welding and handling equipment, which Riley says will increase output without requiring additional labor and bring in house some of the work that was being subcontracted to outside vendors.
Finding the opportunities
TIGG used to rely solely on its in-house sales team to generate leads and identify projects. But Riley found that referrals from manufacturers representatives in other, complementary businesses were feeding business to TIGG.
She put together a network of manufacturers representatives to identify opportunities for TIGG through their day-to-day selling activities. The company now has 10 such representatives in a variety of related fields, ranging from chemical processing to remediation, concentrated in the eastern United States.
Now, TIGGs in-house sales team acts in a support role for the manufacturers reps. The arrangement has worked well, says Riley, and usually involves TIGG providing some component of the project or taking on management of the entire project.
That allows it to get in on projects it might otherwise not have been able to take on and share the risk with one or more partners. The company manages six to 10 such ventures a year, a number that Riley would like to see grow in the future.
Finding an adviser
Riley realized it was naïve to believe she could lead the company without any outside counseling, and found PowerLink, an organization that assembles groups of business experts to act as boards of directors for growing businesses.
This year, TIGG will have the benefit of a board of directors from PowerLink that will help Riley guide the company. A group of seasoned business executives, she hopes, will help her stay focused on the big picture.
Says Riley: The hardest thing for me to do is to step back.
How to reach: TIGG Corp., (412) 257-9580 or www.tigg.com
Ray Marano (email@example.com) is an associate editor at SBN.
I visited an office in the Strip District last month, an old warehouse that is being converted into office and loft space. The developers have opted to retain many of the structural and architectural features of the building, such as the exposed brick and wooden beams.
To me, its a Plan B approach to development that has become, in recent years, as familiar and natural to the region as rivers and bridges. Instead of a Plan A approach that we often equate with big-time development razing buildings and replacing them with entirely new structures developers in some cases are retaining the original character of old buildings and adapting them for modern uses.
Not that new development isnt desirable or necessary. There is a massive redevelopment project under way on the south bank of the Monongahela River in Homestead where a huge steel mill once stood. The influx of new blood, while it will undoubtedly displace some existing enterprises, seems to be having the effect of polishing up the old business district on and around East Eighth Avenue.
While it takes a considerable degree of creativity to turn a dank warehouse into an attractive and functional office, store or retail center, the result is worth it. Tearing down a building and putting up a new one in its place is essentially a technical exercise. Refurbishing a building is a more creative exercise, one that brings out the artist in everyone involved.
Not every old building deserves to be preserved, but it makes sense to do so when its possible. It retains a sense of familiarity and a link to the past while making use of existing commercial stock. Its environmentally responsible and, judging from its popularity, it must be cost-effective as well.
This is why I like the creative Plan B approach thats emerging for the Fifth and Forbes corridor. The citys main retail district as it exists is no showplace. Most of the buildings are unattractive, not because theyre old, but because theyre run down or they bear the bruises of renovations intended to conceal their age, not accentuate their original design features.
Fifth and Forbes could use a lot of fixing up to make it both more appealing and functional, but people are doing business there, despite considerable challenges. With a little help, they could do much better.
Art is really about rewriting the rules, bending and twisting the conventions and coming up with new answers and, at times, new questions. Keeping any medium vibrant and alive is a matter of doing two seemingly contradictory things: retaining reverence for tradition and the accomplishments of past artists, while at the same time being willing to bend and break the rules so that the form can progress.
In Pittsburgh, were becoming quite proficient at the art of Plan B. At times, we appear to be trying to do things that contradict one another. We want to be a global player while retaining our distinctive small-town character. We want to protect our environment without stifling development. We want to preserve the past even as we know we must plunge fearlessly into the future.
Yet our best efforts seem to be those that emerge out of our desire to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable.
Like an enduring melody or a great painting, an old building can be a pleasure to experience and preserve. When a thoughtful, sensitive and daring artist gives it a new treatment, we are able to hold onto the familiar while embracing the innovative.
If we keep our past in mind while not allowing ourselves to stay stuck in it, well be able to do both. When hes not prowling through old buildings some of them inhabited
Ray Marano (firstname.lastname@example.org) serves as SBNs associate editor.
At Superbolt, a Carnegie producer of mechanical stud and bolt tensioners, plant manager William Myers has often found it frustrating to find and keep entry-level machinists to maintain his 85-employee work force at full capacity.
Glenn Skena, manager, methods engineering at Hamill Manufacturing in Trafford, has had similar problems. So has Bob Kettering, manufacturing manager at DuraMetal Products Corp. in Irwin.
“The last five years it’s been particularly noticeable,” says Kettering.
Myers says he’s had trouble getting applicants to even turn out for interviews. And he’s offered jobs to people, only to have them quit a few months later.
That may come as a surprise, especially when jobs like these pay an average of $8 to $10 an hour to start, plus benefits in many cases and they’re available to individuals at a high school graduate level, in some cases earlier.
Manufacturing 2000, a training program that graduated its first class of machinists in 1998, has eased the situation for all three companies, bringing them better-trained and more motivated candidates than they’ve been able to draw in recent years from the vo-tech schools and the general work force.
That same model is being expanded to come to the aid of other manufacturing segments experiencing the same kinds of shortages.
A labor legacy
The region’s industrial past has left at least one significant legacy: high-wage jobs for the remaining workers in manufacturing, which still accounts for about 16 percent of private sector jobs in a 13-county area of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
According to figures provided by Manufacturing 2000, manufacturing in Allegheny County leads all categories in annual wages, with $2.8 billion wages paid. The annual salary for manufacturing segment employees is more than $40,000 annually, while the average salary for all other sectors is about $28,600.
Despite the relatively high wages paid for entry-level jobs in manufacturing, however, employers are finding it difficult to find qualified applicants. Companies point to several factors that have created a dearth of available and reliable labor. The educational system, parents and society in general are steering students toward the academic track, they say, encouraging college as a first choice.
“I don’t see a whole lot of push in the schools toward machining,” says Myers.
Moreover, the companies say, a lot of vo-tech schools have not kept up with technology, and students often perceive the machinist and tool-and-die trades as dirty work, not as a field dominated by modern CNC equipment that requires more sophisticated training to operate. And, say the business operators, vo-tech schools are too often a repository for poor academic achievers or students with disciplinary problems.
Skena points out that vocational schools, from which he used to get nearly all of his entry-level machinists, once provided a rich pool of potential employees. A local vocational school that Hamill Manufacturing works with, for instance, has a co-op program that allows students to work part-time while they go to school to prepare for a position as an entry-level machinist. This year, the school could recommend only one student out of a class of 20 to Skena for the program, a far cry from a decade ago.
“I would have had 10 kids 10 years ago,” says Skena.
As heavy industry in the region wound down, it displaced many low-skill workers. The new manufacturing economy, in contrast, requires employees who are better trained, with more exacting skills than were once required in heavy industry.
For the new skilled laborer, the emphasis is much more on skill than on labor. The pool of available workers, however, has shrunk.
New Century approach
The success of Manufacturing 2000 has led to the creation of New Century Careers, a nonprofit umbrella organization that will include the machinist training program and training to qualify individuals in welding and in electronics assembly.
“Manufacturing 2000 embodies the employment goals of businesses and public officials to attract skilled workers and keep them in the region,” says Paul Anselmo, executive director of the program.
The manufacturers see a different kind of candidate coming out of Manufacturing 2000.
“The group you are dealing with is post-high school,” says Skena.
Most are a bit more mature, many have tried college and found it wasn’t for them or need to get a full-time job that offers a stable future. The screening process culls those with the most aptitude and places them in the appropriate training program at no cost to the applicant.
The hiring companies pay the program $1,250 for each employee they hire permanently, a fee the manufacturers say is well worth it if they get an effective employee.
One strength of Manufacturing 2000, says Kettering, is that it creates a stronger, more direct link between training and employment. The process identifies, screens and trains applicants, then places and develops skill-based talent in partnership with academic and vocational institutions. DuraMetal Products has hired two of the program’s graduates and expects to hire a third.
But while the model has worked well for the machinist trade, what are its prospects for success in the other fields?
The employers appear to have high hopes.
“Given a little bit of time, I think they’re going to be pushing out some quality entry-level people,” says Myers.
And that’s from someone who’s been there.
How to reach: New Century Careers, (412) 258-6620
Ray Marano (email@example.com) is associate editor of SBN magazine.
It hit me on an afternoon two years ago while some of my musician friends and I were entertaining patients at the V.A. Hospital in Aspinwall.
During our performance, a man confined to his bed opened his eyes for the first time in months, his wife told us. It may have been a coincidence, but I really want to believe that we had something to do with it. The mans grateful wife was convinced that we did, and that alone made it a precious moment to her and to us.
I realized that there are a couple of things I would do even if I never got paid for them. One is strapping a guitar across my shoulder and playing for an appreciative audience until my fingers are sore. The other is sitting at a keyboard for several hours, enduring the sweat and toil it sometimes takes to write something that will motivate, inspire or otherwise jostle someone into action.
A corollary to that is one of the most significant broncos of wisdom that Ive been able to wrangle to date: In the long run, what you have isnt nearly as important as what you do.
Realizing that what I do really counts most has pointed me in the right direction at several points in my life. At a time when I was trying to decide how I truly wanted to make a living, I chose to pursue something that, at the time, seemed a bit impractical for a number of reasons. That led to a career in journalism.
Later, I had to choose between a path that likely would have been financially rewarding but less satisfying, and another that would keep me engaged for the long haul but wouldnt pay as much. I went with my gut, chose the latter, and was never sorry.
During a journalism career that spans a decade, Ive met a lot of entrepreneurs like the ones in this months cover story who are launching Laurel Networks. With that experience, Ive come to classify entrepreneurs in two rather broad categories. There are those who are focused almost entirely on the money. And some of them do succeed.
But there is another brand of business builder which seems to have a far less urgent passion for getting rich. Sure, they have the potential to become wealthy, even extravagantly so in some ventures, as the recent history of some notable technology companies verifies. None of those entrepreneurs makes any bones about the financial upside.
In truth, though, a lot of them, highly skilled professionals in big demand, could do quite well working for someone else and, in a lot of cases, already have. But I detect a sense of purpose and mission that has little to do with making a million dollars.
What most often comes through vividly is a burning desire to create something new, something that will have an impact on the world and let it know that they not only were here, but that they created something of value. And they send the clear message that once whatever they are doing ceases to be fun, theyre likely to jump into something else that gets their creative entrepreneurial juices flowing.
So when something gets to be all work and no play, maybe thats when its time to plunge into that other venture youve been dreaming about. Now, I think that song goes something like this: G, E minor, C ...
Ray Marano, (firstname.lastname@example.org)associate editor at SBN, may not be rich, but hes happy even if his fingers are raw.