Abby Cymerman

Friday, 24 November 2006 19:00

Doing well by doing good

BrownFlynn’s goal is to help organizations affect their communities in a positive way.

As principals and co-owners of the Highland Heights-based community relationship management firm, Margie Flynn and Barbara Brown work diligently to ensure their firm serves as a role model.

“It’s not just, ‘This is a do-gooder thing, and we have to write the check,’” Flynn says. “There are so many ways that companies can get involved in a meaningful way.”

Companies that want to become more socially responsible and create a formal action program can donate time and services and make in-kind donations. But, Flynn says, the organizations a company supports should align with its values and core competencies.

“Then the organization gains the expertise where there may be a need, and we, in turn, are able to apply our skills in ways that make the most strategic sense,” she says.

For BrownFlynn’s five-year anniversary, it created The BrownFlynn Book Club, donating countless pro bono hours and more than 7,000 books to Cleveland’s schoolchildren. In celebration of the firm’s 10th anniversary, it started the Circle of 10, a contest to raise awareness of outstanding local nonprofit organizations.

In addition, the company has provided more than $32,000 in financial support to area scholarship programs, pledge drives and sponsorships.

Being involved in the community is a brand differentiator. Flynn says consumers are making greater demands upon companies to be good corporate citizens in the products they make, and they will choose one product over another if it is aligned with something in the community.

Participating in community service projects is also a good tool for attracting and retaining employees. Flynn says today’s graduates are looking not only for a paycheck but an opportunity to make a difference in the world.

“If you look at business schools today, and you look at the next generation of leaders and supporters, this is being built into the curriculum of business schools — that’s how important this is,” she says. “What used to be just do-gooder work is now becoming a business imperative.”

HOW TO REACH: BrownFlynn, (440) 484-0100 or

Friday, 24 November 2006 19:00


When LTV Steel Corp. was forced to close in 2001, United Way helped many of the company’s employees through the tough times.

Today, many of those workers are employed at Mittal Steel USA, and they are passionate about giving back to the community that gave to them.

“We have a corporate social responsibility that sets the overarching goals for all of the plants, and then we follow suit,” says Terry Fedor, general manager of the Cleveland steel producer.

An annual participant in the Harvest for Hunger and United Way campaigns, Mittal Steel provided $10,000 to help Lake County flood victims and sent employees to Long Beach, Miss., to help rebuild the city, which was damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Last year, in addition to cash support, the company also donated $86,491 in labor, equipment and material to assist the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland.

“The children and the education are big to us because that’s where our work force is coming from in the future,” Fedor says. “If you want to be a sustainable company, you have to have a sustainable, reliable work force that’s well-educated.”

Mittal Steel also considers community service programs as team-building exercises. Work teams often approach management with ideas for helping local, nonprofit organizations because they know the executives will support their efforts.

“It has to be enjoyable for people,” Fedor says. “If you demand it, if you push too hard, it kind of turns people off. We have a lot of leaders within our plant that’ll take up a cause and go year-round. That’s hard work. ... We get overwhelming response. A lot of it is just asking the people and working right with them. They like to work together as a team.”

The company also has made more than $430,000 in charitable donations to a diverse range of organizations and has contributed significant resources, time and effort to numerous causes.

Fedor calls the people of Northeast Ohio a “tremendous untapped resource.”

“When they sense a need and a worthwhile cause, they’ll step up to the plate,” he says.

HOW TO REACH: Mittal Steel USA, (216) 429-6000 or

Friday, 24 November 2006 19:00

Caring for others

Therese Kovatch, president of Chesterland-based Home Instead Senior Care, made a commitment that her business would give back to the community by putting it in her company’s mission statement.

The company, which provides nonmedical home care for seniors, created the “Be a Santa to a Senior” program in 2004 to provide holiday gifts and companionship to lonely and indigent seniors in Lake and Geauga counties. This year, the volunteer program is expanding to Portage County.

“The program, because of its magnitude, requires yearlong planning and has become an ongoing community service program, with detail organization and support culminating in the final project phase,” Kovatch says.

Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, KeyBank and other local merchants serve as partners with Home Instead Senior Care by placing holiday trees in their stores with a request for donations. Then the company works with community nonprofits — the Lake County Office on Aging, the Geauga Department of Aging, Hospice of the Western Reserve, Schraff and King Co. LPA and Lake Hospital Systems — to identify needy seniors who could benefit from this program.

Paper ornaments are hung on the trees, indicating the first name of a senior and his or her needs, such as clothes, laundry soap, personal hygiene items, blankets and food gift certificates. Home Instead Senior Care volunteers collect, wrap and deliver the presents.

“The success of the program has been due to the overwhelming community support, purchasing the needed items and placing them under the tree,” Kovatch says. “This is a very important part of the program, as it presents the opportunity to increase community awareness of a much-overlooked group of our society during the holiday season.”

The “Be a Santa to a Senior” program collected 432 gifts for 186 seniors in 2004. Last year, the company delivered more than 1,300 presents to 498 seniors. The company also doubled its financial commitment to the program, from $10,000 in 2004 to $20,000 last year.

“We can only estimate the priceless time and dollars that the local community dedicated to this project,” Kovatch says.

HOW TO REACH: Home Instead Senior Care, (440) 729-5888

Saturday, 28 October 2006 20:00

Racing to win

Every executive has his or her own definition of success, but Bobby Rahal says success means accomplishing your goals.

“There are many goals in life that exist together,” he says. “The achievement of your dreams is what success is all about.”

Rahal speaks from experience when talking about achieving his dreams. As the co-owner of Hilliard-based Rahal Letterman Racing, he became the second man to win the Indianapolis 500 as both a driver (1986) and as an owner (2004). He also owns several car dealerships in Pennsylvania.

A proponent of empowerment rather than micromanagement, Rahal’s business philosophy extends far beyond the hood and the bumper.

“I never raced to simply participate; I race to win,” he says. “I don’t work well with people who don’t give 100 percent. If you’re going to do it, do it. Don’t sit there and play at it. Everybody says they want to win, but not many people are really willing to put forth the effort.”


Leading the way
Over the years, Rahal’s accomplishments on and off the track have given him the motivation to pursue new goals, and it’s a feeling that he wants to instill in his employees.

“Inspiration comes from example,” he says. “It comes from being able to communicate, to relate, to create the vision, to espouse the ideals, to verbalize and show what’s possible. You have to be able to verbalize where you’re going as a company and how you want to get there.”

Rahal accomplishes this by surrounding himself with a capable team.

“My greatest success was being able to identify people who feel the same way that I do, who — once entrusted with the responsibility and the accountability — are ready to not just accept it but take advantage of it all,” he says.

The most effective leaders have to communicate their message, create the energy to get the job done and draw employees in to their vision. Rahal says the end result is a work force that shares the executive’s enthusiasm for life and achievement.


Trusting employees and your gut
When Rahal began racing, he led a company of one, so it wasn’t difficult to stay organized. But as his company grew, both in revenue and number of employees, it became clear that he couldn’t do everything himself.

“I believe in giving people the trust and the wherewithal to do the jobs that they’re hired to do,” he says. “It comes perhaps a bit too natural for people like me to want to jump in and be involved, and yet, you also know that you can’t jump in and jump out. If you’re going to be there, you have to be there.”

Rahal says the biggest business lesson he’s learned is to trust his first reaction.

“Generally, what your gut tells you is right,” he says. “Instincts play a very strong role. It’s a global sense that applies to everything, not just in your business but in your life.”


Thinking philanthropically
Philanthropy helps create balance in a busy executive’s life, and Rahal finds time to work with organizations that support children. He serves on the board of Central Ohio Children’s Charities, an organization that raises funds for The Bobby Rahal Foundation to distribute to local charities. His foundation helped fund the bone marrow unit at Columbus Children’s Hospital.

“We always got involved with children’s charities because we thought that it would have the greatest impact on them, their lives and the community,” he says.

Rahal is often invited to serve on boards of directors for local organizations, but he says there’s an implied responsibility in participation that goes along with accepting that position.

“You have to expect to participate and not just be on the letterhead,” he says. “You’re always asked to be on charitable boards, and you want to say, ‘Yes, I’d love to be a part of it,’ but unless you really can participate and contribute, then to me, it’s more of a negative to be there in name only.”

Rahal says you should pick one organization that most excites and interests you and give it as much as you can, rather than spreading yourself thin.

“When people see the charitable activities that you undertake as a leader, as a business person, as a person in the community, then they say, ‘How can I get involved?’” he says. “I don’t know if it’s really my job to dictate to them where they should go or what they should do. Based on what I do, hopefully that gives them an example that they would want to follow.”


HOW TO REACH: Rahal Letterman Racing, (614) 529-7000 or

Tuesday, 19 September 2006 20:00

Blueprint for success

 When FH Martin Constructors was designing its Warren headquarters last year, President Andy Martin included in the plans a centralized lunchroom called The Collaboration Caf.

“It’s easy to get holed up in your office or job sites and not communicate with each other,” says Martin, the company’s third-generation leader. “Yet there are a lot of good ideas out there.”

The caf’s environment encourages Martin’s 51 employees to spend time together bonding and brainstorming about how to continue growing the firm, which had 2005 revenue of $71.5 million, up from $53.5 million in 2003.

Smart Business spoke with Martin about how he creates partnerships with and among employees to help his company succeed.

What techniques can other business owners use to grow their companies?
Hire talented people and give them some room to grow. Years ago, I felt that in order to do the job right, I had to do it myself.

You know what kind of expectations your customers have and what expectations you have about how you want to deliver your projects. It’s hard at first to let go of that, but I’ve found that as I have, our people have stepped up to the challenge.

I try to instill in them the basic values of what we’re about. They understand that we’re about serving our clients, delivering our projects and maintaining a high level of integrity. There are always a lot of details, but focusing on the core values of the company — the way we want to treat our clients — the rest of it falls in line.

Getting the right people first is the key to that, people who take that responsibility seriously and are willing to embrace it and solve their own problems. I’m still very involved with the business, but I don’t necessarily have to be at every job site and see every piece of paper.

How did you learn to trust your employees?
I learned out of necessity because of growth; they go hand-in-hand. Growth comes from doing good things for our clients but, at the same time, I can’t be at all places at all times.

Once I realized that (trusting others) was not only possible but really helped us thrive, I embraced that more as a philosophy of management.

What are the main qualities that business owners should look for in the people they hire?
We use a tagline: Integrity, experience and results. Integrity is first, so I look for people of high integrity, who are honest, stand by what they say and will follow up on things. In the long run, operating with high integrity will come back to us time and time again.

How can business owners make decisions regarding growth?
It’s a plan to grow, and you have to have the people in place first. It’s not, ‘Go get the work and then figure out how to do it.’ Get the people in place, make sure they’re properly trained and appropriate for the work that you’re doing, and then go get the work.

I’m a firm believer in doing what we say we’re going to do, and I can’t go out and sell work to a customer if I don’t feel comfortable that we can deliver on what we’re promising. It’s just not in my makeup to go tell somebody we can do it when I don’t have that confidence.

How did you create your growth strategy?
A step prior to that was deciding if we wanted to grow. It’s important to look at. There’s really nothing wrong with companies that say, ‘We’re going to do this very well and keep doing the same thing.’ We just decided it wasn’t the direction we wanted to go.

Once we decided we did want to grow, and although construction is a competitive and price-driven business, we also determined that the level of our client service and trust was still a big component.

It might be easy to say, ‘We’ll only deliver the minimum that the clients ask for because that’s all we can afford to do.’

By going above and beyond expectations, clients come back to us and give us positive referrals. There is a reason for stepping up, doing things the right way and delivering quality. At times, it costs us extra money to make things right, but it’s a long-term proposition. It’s not about how much money you can make on this one job.

How you grow is the next step. There are lots of charts, graphs and theories on that. Being the low-priced, low-cost solution is clearly one place to be, and there’s room for that.

We decided that our growth would come in being competitive from a cost standpoint but also delivering a good-quality, on-time, high level of service. We build buildings, but we also develop relationships.

HOW TO REACH: FH Martin Constructors, (586) 558-2100 or

Tuesday, 19 September 2006 20:00

John Kratz

 If you believe that your greatest assets walk out the door each night, then attracting the right people and providing the benefits to retain them should be part of your corporate mission. Information Control Corp. president and CEO John Kratz says implementing competitive hiring practices costs money, but the investment pays off. His 360-employee, Columbus-based IT consulting and staffing firm had 2005 revenue of $34 million in 2005, and Kratz expects 2006 revenue in excess of $40 million. Smart Business spoke with Kratz about the importance of hiring the right people and how to keep them once you’ve got them.

Adopt a hands-off style.
What I try to do is hire good people, give them the resources they need to do their jobs, and then allow them the freedom and the flexibility to go forward and do it. It’s based on results and meeting objectives.

I worked for a lot of companies in my career where I was reporting to a supervisor, and I felt like I appreciated it and performed much better when a manager allowed me to have some degree of creativity and flexibility in the way I got things done.

That’s opposed to a manager who was constantly asking questions and getting involved in details for which I felt I was responsible.

Don’t settle.
I try to hire people who have demonstrated the ability to function independently and make good decisions. That gives you the flexibility.

If you don’t allow that freedom, you’re limited by the capabilities of the leader. We have more of a leadership team, and so we’re a stronger organization because we have the benefit of those collective talents and energies.

Try to be patient during a job search because good people are never there when you need them. Try to identify people before you’re going to need them through networking — professional organizations, socially, through other business relationships.

File those people in the background somewhere, and when you need them, try to go find them. That’s ideal but you can’t always do that.

Once you begin a search, you have to establish the fact that you’re going to search till you find the right person, and don’t set artificial deadlines to fill positions. That’s typically when you make hiring mistakes, when you say, ‘I’m going to have this job filled by a certain date.’

You end up taking the best candidate but not necessarily the right candidate. We’re a very team-oriented organization, so if you put one bad player in there, that disrupts the continuity of the whole team.

Consider the track record of a potential employee.
I’m looking for people with a history of accomplishment, people who have demonstrated the ability to accomplish things and grow in their previous positions, whether it was academic, business or any other endeavor they’ve pursued.

If they’ve shown the ability to progress and achieve some degree of success on a consistent basis, that is probably the most important thing. Past performance is really the only real predictor you have of future success.

Then you look for other things like communication skills, character and integrity, and the ability to follow up. Those kinds of skills are reflected in their performance.

We don’t think direct experience is as important as the overall sort of qualities. We feel people can learn our business, but if they don’t have the inherent qualities to be successful then it doesn’t make any difference whether they know the business or not.

Surround yourself with good people.
Being a service company, attracting and retaining quality people is by far the most critical factor in success. We advocate a recruiting culture in our company.

We try to encourage everybody to look for good people. If they’re happy, they will find other people who could be valuable members of our team.

We empower everybody to be a recruiter for us, as well as everybody with whom we come in contact. We try to cast that net out as far as we possibly can to look for good people.

We pay competitive salaries and have bonus programs and referral bonus programs for people who help us develop business opportunities and recruit people. We have special-interest groups, networking luncheons, social events where we encourage people to participate and get involved with other people in the company so they feel attached to something.

Think of employee benefits as an investment.
You have to invest in your people and in your mission. If your mission is attracting and retaining good people, you have to be constantly aware that you’re competing for talent, and you have to offer comprehensive programs in order to attract and retain people. It does cost money, but if you take shortcuts, it’ll probably work against you in the long run.

As a company, we tend to be long-term thinkers. We try to make decisions and do things that will have a positive impact in the long-run, even though in the short-run it may be more costly to do it that way.

One of the advantages of being a privately owned company is you’re not that concerned about satisfying the short-term needs of stockholders. You can make good business decisions that are going to be best for your company over the long-run.

Public companies often fall into the trap of having to meet financial targets that might be as short as 90 days. It might be the right decision for that 90-day window, but over a two-, three- or four-year window, it may be a bad business decision.

Hire slowly and fire quickly.
It’s very difficult to terminate a mediocre or underperforming person. You tend to give second, third or fourth chances, and it becomes time-consuming and counterproductive to everybody in the organization, not just you, as well as having a negative impact on your business.

HOW TO REACH: Information Control Corp., (614) 523-3070 or

Tuesday, 19 September 2006 12:37

Legacy Award honoree

President, CEO and registered nurse Nancy Diller-Shively started Cambridge Home Health Care in 1994 with the belief that people who need assistance with their health care needs should have the dignity and freedom to stay in their own homes instead of entering a nursing home.

The company provides nursing, therapy, home health aide and homemaking services to more than 2,100 people weekly.

As part of Diller-Shively’s mission to give her patients the care they need, all patients are given her home telephone number for their peace of mind.

The company started with two locations and has grown to 24 in Ohio. During the last five years, the company has increased its employee numbers more than 62 percent, the equivalent of 467 jobs since 2001, and grew revenue 60 percent.

Community service is part of the corporate culture at Cambridge Home Health Care. The company funded and built a Habitat for Humanity home in 2001, and over each of the next four years, sponsored or co-sponsored the building of a Habitat home in the Akron area and volunteered to help build each one. Cambridge employees also built a Wizard of Oz-themed playhouse, “There’s no place like home,” in 2005 for a Habitat fundraiser.

The company has made more than $250,000 in contributions to area organizations, including the American Heart Association, Akron Civic Theater, Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens. Diller-Shively also serves on the boards of several area organizations.

She recognizes that to have knowledgeable staff members, she must invest in their education. For the last seven years, her company has provided two nursing scholarships each year to members of the community, as well as two scholarships annually to employees so that they might become nurses.

Cambridge Home Health Care received a Cascade Capital Business Growth Award in 1996, 1997, and each year from 2001 until this year.

HOW TO REACH: Cambridge Home Health Care, (330) 668-1922 or

For some CEOs, implementing change within their company is an arduous task.

But for Darius Szczekocki, CEO of American Aluminum Extrusions of Ohio LLC, change is a good thing. As a result, his start-up company is a much different organization than it was five years ago.

Building a successful company requires its leader to search for innovative ideas that will secure its future. In addition to adding 58,000 square feet onto his 250,000-square-foot Canton facility, Szczekocki recently expanded his company’s offerings with surface treatment and fabrication services. He also diversified by establishing American Fence Factory in 2005.

These changes have significantly increased the company’s labor force and added stability.

Although Szczekocki had opportunities to settle his company in other locations, he chose Canton as its corporate headquarters. American Aluminum Extrusions was established in September 2001 with 10 employees, and it reported $1 million in 2001 revenue. In spite of difficult periods following Sept. 11, the company grew to 69 employees and more than $30 million in annual revenue last year.

American Aluminum Extrusions specializes in custom and standard extrusion for the transportation, distribution, building, linear motion and electronic original equipment manufacturing markets. It also designs specialty equipment for large-volume or close-tolerance assemblies. It can also assemble its customers’ product on its manufacturing floor to simplify product flow.

The company’s employees continually strive to honor its mission statement: To provide cost-effective aluminum shapes, on time, complete within specifications.

American Aluminum Extrusions’ executive team is committed to investing back into the business every year, putting more than $1.8 million back into the company and its work force since 2001.

It also invests as heavily as it can in community businesses and local vendors. So far in 2006, the company has purchased more than $6.4 million in goods from at least 55 businesses in the Stark County area. American Aluminum Extrusions is also a member of the Stark County Safety Council and supports organizations including the Ohio Narcotics Officers Association, the American Lung Association, local softball teams and the Ohio Jaycees.

HOW TO REACH: American Aluminum Extrusions of Ohio LLC, (330) 458-0300 or

Tuesday, 19 September 2006 12:10

Technology Category: Sales growth winner

If a company is going to be great, its employees need the tools and equipment to get the job done.

Larry Lanham, owner, founder, president and CEO of Polymer Packaging Inc., invested time and money last year expanding his flexible packaging company’s operations. In addition to new production lines, high-speed equipment and the implementation of planning systems to enhance controls and processes, the company laid the groundwork for this year’s $20 million-plus expansion, which includes a new location and facility.

This has helped North Canton-based PPI grow annual sales 30 percent to nearly $40 million, and the company is on pace with its plan to reach $100 million in revenue by the end of fiscal year 2010.

Last year, PPI opened sales offices in St. Louis, Atlanta, Chicago, Duluth, Minn., and Phoenix and added 14 new team members. This brings PPI’s team from a one-man operation in 1986 to more than 80 people today.

PPI’s commitment to customer service and innovation was proven last year. Its largest customer, National Paper and Packaging, honored the company as Supplier of the Year, and the Flexible Packaging Association gave PPI a Silver Award for Technological Achievement for its large Quad-Seal pet food bags.

The company also was awarded its sixth patent for packaging innovations and has another pending. Lanham says his company plans to launch a line of biodegradable packaging that was developed through research conducted in 2005.

One of PPI’s primary raw materials is polyethylene resin, a derivative of oil and natural gas. During 2005, it saw a more than 40 percent price escalation of this material. As a result, it focused on providing source-reducing alternatives for all of its packaging customers. By evaluating materials and creatively using technology, PPI was able to turn difficult economic circumstances into business growth.

PPI employees support Pathway Caring for Children, United Way, Junior Achievement and the Multi-Development Services of Stark County. The company raised money for tsunami and hurricane relief, participated in the Leadership Stark County “Meet the CEO” program and recently contributed $25,000 toward the completion of the Jackson Township YMCA.

HOW TO REACH: Polymer Packaging Inc., (330) 649-6000 or

Sunday, 27 August 2006 20:00

The creative spark

 Fred Bidwell is one pleased executive. A year ago, the president and CEO of Akron-based Malone Advertising led his company’s successful acquisition by JWT, one of the largest advertising agencies in the world.

Preserving its individual corporate identity, Malone has 215 employees and 2005 revenue of between $19 million and $21 million. Bidwell projects “aggressive but prudent growth” this year with 10 percent to 15 percent growth.

Recognized locally as a fast-growing and respected employer, Malone recently made Advertising Age’s list of the top 100 U.S. agencies.

Smart Business spoke with Bidwell about how he makes development and innovation a priority at Malone Advertising.

How can a company maintain aggressive but prudent growth?
We make new business development part of our culture. It’s something we do every day; it’s not just something that we do when we have free time. It’s a major commitment by everyone in the agency. We work very hard at it.

The only thing that’s maybe more important than getting new business is making sure that current customers are happy and that you’re doing great work for them. We want to grow in a way that doesn’t hurt our current business and in a way that complements it. We try to make sure that our growth is reasonable, healthy and not out of control.

How can companies foster innovation among their employees, and how will that benefit them?
It has to come from the top. The top management has got to show interest in innovation and be willing to take risks. In any organization, if staff feels that the top management isn’t willing to take risks, then they’re not willing to innovate.

We’ve done a good job of demonstrating to our staff that we take risks, and we value people who take risks. We celebrate the things that really work well, and we also celebrate the things that didn’t work well because they still were a good effort.

You just learn from it and say, ‘Hey, at least we tried. We’ll move on to something else.’

You want to have a creative atmosphere and make sure there’s some energy in the design of the (office). (That) shows the staff that innovation is valued, and it encourages people to think differently and creatively.

Innovation helps you develop new products, and new products are the core of the new business effort. If you have new products, you are almost always able to charge a premium price and have higher margins. Innovation both increases your top-line revenue and your bottom-line profit.

How can CEOs channel office energy?
We’ve done a number of things other than just the contemporary look of the place. None of the offices have doors, including my own, and we think that encourages free interplay and communication. A lot of the offices that are enclosed still have full glass walls, so it feels like things are open while providing people with necessary privacy.

We also have a denser floor plan, and it’s not just to save money on square footage. We want people to interact and work together so we physically place people closer together.

When you walk around our offices, people are bustling around. It’s busy, active and even loud. It creates camaraderie and a sense of action and purpose that you don’t get with quiet, hushed tones and lots of closed doors.

How do you create a growth strategy?
It is not something you can bolt on as an afterthought. It needs to be a core part of your mission, and you need to let everyone know that.

You have to tell people. You’ve got to build it into their job descriptions, and you have to measure it. You can’t wish to grow; you actually have to take action.

The CEO should demonstrate by his own behavior that new business is important. You can’t delegate it; it’s something in which you personally have to be involved. You have to expect that similar amount of investment from most of your key employees, and then you’ve got to track it.

When we make important wins, we really celebrate it. We break out champagne, make a toast and have a party. This is really where it comes alive to the staff. When we get new business, very often staff members are promoted into new jobs so they see in a very real way how new business benefits them.

We are constantly talking about why we are working on new business. It’s about job security and it’s about bringing in new opportunity, new growth and new career paths for the staff.

Growth means something to them. It’s not just about bolstering the financial statement of the company; there are real tangible benefits to employees.

HOW TO REACH: Malone Advertising, (330) 376-6148 or