Abby Cymerman

Thursday, 29 September 2005 12:09

Data wranglers

Evolution is the best way to describe Dee Vaidya’s journey from owner of a 1993 start-up specializing in digital mapping and data conversion to president and CEO of an expanded international company that offers a variety of data and information visualization solutions. With its corporate headquarters in Wooster, TechniGraphics Inc. has divisions in Fort Collins, Colo., St. Louis and India. Vaidya has grown his company from 81 employees to 135 over the last five years, and has increased sales revenue from nearly $4 million in 2000 to nearly $11 million in 2004.

TechniGraphics provides services in data capture and conversion, data lifecycle management, electronic medical records, cemetery data entry and reconciliation, ISO-9001 certification services, engineering and rapid prototyping, and geographic information systems applications development. Using TechniGraphics’ information technology services, customers can reduce their record-automation time from a few years to just a few months.

The company develops and implements off-the-shelf software solutions that meet each customer’s particular industry needs. These applications interface with the customer’s existing data and management systems, perform business- and industry-specific functions and provide an easy-to-use solution.

Among these applications is PinPointer, which identifies and plots U.S. businesses on a digital map; Mobile PinPointer, which features an external global positioning system unit; PlotFinder, which tracks ownership and interment data for cemetery professionals; MyFDE, a feature database engine that allows concurrent editing of geospatial data; MxCase, which helps long-term care facilities increase revenue by showing daily changes to resident care; and MxVision, which provides resident and clinical information for long-term care facilities.

Vaidya has grown his company by becoming a prime contractor for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency under a $200 million Global Geospatial Intelligence contract for 2003 through 2012. The company also is working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on its Homeland Security Infrastructure Project and National Assets Database.

TechniGraphics’ other major clients include the U.S. Geologic Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, engineering and photogrammetry firm Merrick & Co., the Property Loss Research Bureau, Colonial Pipeline Co., Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum in Cincinnati, Lake View Cemetery Association in Cleveland and Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, the nation’s third-largest cemetery.

HOW TO REACH: TechniGraphics Inc., (330) 263-6222 or http://www.tgstech.com

Thursday, 01 September 2005 05:57

Innovators

David Keller, president and CEO, The Babcock & Wilcox Co.
Many companies would be hesitant to implement “great place to work” programs while in Chapter 11 reorganization, but David Keller, president and CEO of Barberton’s Babcock & Wilcox Co. (B&W), took this innovative step in 2000 in the midst of crisis.

B&W implemented a compressed workweek program, a cafeteria-style benefits program, benefits for part-time employees and improved vacation, profit-sharing and tuition reimbursement programs. It also enhanced its development programs, launched wellness programs and invested in workplace aesthetics.

Five years later, B&W benefits from turnover of less than 3 percent each year, compared to an industry average of 8 percent.

HOW TO REACH: The Babcock & Wilcox Co., (330) 753-4511 or http://www.babcock.com

Edward Douglas, president, Midnight Syndicate Soundtracks, a division of Entity Productions
If you’ve been to a haunted house recently, you’ve probably heard the dark orchestral movie-style instrumental music and sound effects created by Edward Douglas, president of Entity Productions and half of the band Midnight Syndicate (with fellow musician Gavin Goszka.)

Redefining the horror music genre, Chardon-based Midnight Syndicate has earned a worldwide following in the gothic music, Halloween, horror music, haunted attraction and gaming industries. With their music used in video games, as the first official soundtrack to the role-playing game “Dungeons & Dragons” and at every major U.S. theme park, Midnight Syndicate is working on a soundtrack for an upcoming horror film, along with another CD for release in early 2007.

HOW TO REACH: Midnight Syndicate Soundtracks, (440) 286-1494 or http://www.midnightsyndicate.com

Brendan Ring, owner, Nighttown
Nighttown may be 40 years old, but the Cleveland Heights restaurant and jazz club is just hitting its stride. Owner Brendan Ring bought the club in 2001 and has been working to maintain its regular customers while attracting a younger, hipper crowd and growing revenue more than 200 percent since taking ownership.

With extensive artwork on the walls, an eclectic menu and wine list, and constant server training, Nighttown is becoming a destination restaurant.

Ring created Stephen’s Green, Nighttown’s outdoor seating area for 130, which keeps summertime business booming and is heated for year-round entertaining. Nighttown is also putting Cleveland on the musical map, and was named to DownBeat magazine’s list of “100 Great Jazz Clubs.”

HOW TO REACH: Nighttown, (216) 795-0550 or www.nighttowncleveland.com

Ellis Yan, president and CEO, Technical Consumer Products Inc.
When major players in the lighting industry gave up on a twisted tube design for a light bulb, Ellis Yan, president and CEO of Aurora’s Technical Consumer Products Inc. (TCP), jumped in, encouraging a corporate culture of innovation to find a way to make the product work.

Through persistent research and painstaking development of the labor-intensive manufacturing process, TCP’s engineers overcame the hurdle, and within five years, the company was established as the dominant supplier in the energy-efficient lighting marketplace.

Known for its willingness to develop or customize products to meet customers’ needs, TCP’s catalog includes more than 1,200 items. It also has a national network of more than 40 reps, 1,200 electrical distributors and a strategic partnership with The Home Depot.

HOW TO REACH: Technical Consumer Products Inc., (800) 324-1496 or http://www.tcpi.com

J.J. DiGeronimo, founder, TechStudents.net LLC
TechStudents.net was founded by J.J. DiGeronimo in 2003 as a way to connect entrepreneurs, small businesses and nonprofits that have technology projects and limited budgets with tech-savvy college students who want real-world experience.

Today, her Cleveland-based company supports more than 2,100 hits a week. Technology students are registered from more than 200 colleges, universities and vocational schools nationwide. By harnessing these untapped resources, DeGeronimo helps bridge the gap between the technology work force of tomorrow and businesses in need of technology today.

Within the year, DiGeronimo expects to award the first TechStudents.net scholarship, interview more businesses and students, and host regional conferences that will bring together small businesses, tech students and technology suppliers.

HOW TO REACH: TechStudents.net LLC, (216) 570-5519 or http://www.techstudents.net

Wednesday, 31 August 2005 13:21

Emerging opportunities

When chairman Gary Taylor founded InfoCision Management Corp. in 1982, most people hadn’t heard of the term “telemarketing,” and most organizations had no idea how to use this technology to help them raise or make money.

Twenty-three years later, the Akron-based company is the third-largest privately held teleservices company in the world, employing more than 2,800 people. With 2005 sales projected at $140 million, InfoCision raises more money for nonprofits over the telephone than any other company and provides teleservices for Fortune 1000 companies.

“We’re just looking for all those new opportunities that are emerging out there, and ... as the world gets more complex and the means of communication (increase), there are more opportunities, and we’re looking and exploring all those avenues,” he says.

One of those avenues led Taylor back to his alma mater, The University of Akron. Last year, Taylor and his wife, Karen, partnered with the university’s College of Business Administration and donated $2.5 million to launch the Taylor Institute of Direct Marketing.

The Taylor Institute will occupy 30,000 square feet and house two small business incubators, lecture halls, classrooms and interactive environments including a call center and creative, database marketing, fulfillment and multimedia labs.

Back at headquarters, InfoCision employees developed and implemented a standard-setting quality assurance system, and each day more than 100 full-time information technology professionals create customized applications for clients.

“One of our big competitive advantages is our blended system where we can take an inbound call and blend that with an outbound call,” he says. “It’s a real high-tech solution that gives us a productivity advantage over our competitors.”

Successful CEOs foster an environment that gives employees the freedom to take chances. Taylor encourages his employees to submit ideas for the best ways to save the company time or money, with the opportunity to win money and the company’s Working Smarter Award.

“Encourage people to not be afraid to fail,” he says. “I never get concerned because somebody makes a mistake. It’s when they make the same mistake over and over that I begin to get concerned.”

HOW TO REACH: InfoCision Management Corp., (330) 668-1400 or www.infocision.com

Wednesday, 29 June 2005 06:54

When opportunity knocks ...

Displayed in the greeting area of the Oster Homes office in Lorain are four pewter keys inscribed with the words, "The Key of Courage," "The Key of Knowledge," "The Key of Wisdom" and "The Key of Success." When Oster Homes co-owner Evelyn Oster found them in a store in Florida, she thought, "This is destiny."

Evelyn and her husband, Tom -- Oster Homes' other co-owner -- believe these keys represent the journey that has taken their company from being the fifth-largest homebuilder in Lorain County in 1995 to becoming No. 1 in Lorain and the No. 1 local homebuilder in the nine-county Greater Cleveland area today.

Five years after starting the company, the Osters faced increased competition from national building companies in the local marketplace and decided to meet the national builders head on.

"We created this strategic movement of going from a custom builder to a production builder because the homebuyers' needs had changed such that they were looking for the greatest value in their home," Evelyn says. "But we also understood customers want to personalize their home, so we had to incorporate not only their needs, lifestyle opportunities and value but also allow them to personalize their home."

In the last two-and-a-half years, Oster Homes has increased its market share of housing starts from 3 percent to 14 percent, improved corporate revenue by 270 percent and grown sales volume by 308 percent.

"In our particular success story, we have opened the door of opportunity with the key of courage, the key of knowledge and the key of wisdom, which has provided us with the key of success," Evelyn says. "How's that for symbolism?"

HOW TO REACH:

Oster Homes, (440) 985-7440 or www.osterhomes.com

Tuesday, 28 June 2005 11:11

He's lovin' it

Ten years after gaining 100 percent ownership of the Solon-based Anderson-DuBose Co., Warren Anderson compares his position as president and CEO to that of a politician.

"It's one thing to buy a business. It's a completely different story to manage it and to keep it operating effectively," he says. "Maintaining health care costs or trying to control them, insurance issues, legal issues, tragedies -- it's like having bits of society."

The Anderson-DuBose Co. is one of the largest black-owned companies in the United States, supplying Happy Meal toys, paper and dairy products, produce, and frozen meat and fish to nearly 300 McDonald's restaurants in Northeast Ohio and parts of Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Anderson looks at his 100 employees -- the majority of them male, blue collar and their family's primary breadwinner -- as the key to his company's success, and he hires "good people, keeping them motivated, empowering them and setting clear strategies to achieve our business objectives."

Smart Business spoke with Anderson about running a business efficiently, how consumer demand affects his business and the joy of receiving the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Minority Male Entrepreneur of the Year award.

How do you keep your company running efficiently?

Good management practices and having accountability in being able to measure just about every aspect of our operation so that we know what's working, what's not. Someone said if you can't measure it, you can't judge your performance. So we have all kinds of benchmarks and measurement tools that allow the management team to know if they're operating efficiently.

My business is pretty simple. We're buying cases of product, bringing them in, storing them and then palletizing them and shipping them out to individual stores. So I look at the cases and the labor that it costs to move those cases to my customer.

I know what it should cost for me to get a case in this building and what it should cost to get it out, and I'm always looking for ways to challenge ourselves to make those numbers shrink.

For example, we have a field service manager, and ... our dairy provider also has a field service person going to the same restaurants. We got together and decided we could share a field service person, so now when my person's going to the McDonald's franchisees, she wears a distribution hat and, at the same time, she can wear a dairy hat -- and we're splitting the cost of that person.

That's one little snapshot of how you can get same amount of service but get it for at least 50 percent less, in my case. So it's a win for the customer and it's a win for both companies.

What was your biggest challenge with your partnership with the McDonald's distributor in South Africa, and why did you sell it?

It was supposed to be a bigger market than it turned out to be. McDonald's was estimating that they could potentially put up to 600 stores there. They got to about 100, and growth slowed significantly. I had built infrastructure to accommodate 600 stores, so it was overbuilt.

As a result, my expense structure was high for that market. I had management there but I had a considerable amount of general and administrative costs required to run it, (and) I found my pricing structure ultimately was not going to be beneficial for the operators there because of my added costs. So I ended up selling it to my management team there, primarily to help reduce cost.

It was a wonderful experience (but) I would think long and hard (about) a company my size doing something like that again, primarily because of the physical wear and tear in trying to manage a business overseas, the exposure to currency fluctuations and now with the added complexity of having to worry about terrorist actions around the globe.

How has consumer demand for healthier fast food affected your company's products?

The salad program that McDonald's launched recently is doing very well. Before, I think parents would take their children to McDonald's for Happy Meals, and then they might go somewhere else (to buy their own meal.)

With some of the healthier fare, parents now are still taking the kids to McDonald's, but instead of the adults buying their food elsewhere, they're increasingly buying their meals at McDonald's. They're very much responsive to consumer demands that fast food be healthier. Our refrigerated space is being challenged, so I'm looking at probably (adding 2,000 square feet to) our 5,000-square-foot cooler to accommodate a larger line of refrigerated products within the next 12 months.

What other initiatives are you working on?

I'm looking at engineered work standards. (We're bringing) in an industrial specialist who measures the work within our warehouse. They calculate how much time is needed to perform certain functions from an engineering standpoint.

We have a union in the warehouse. You have to sit down and agree that there is a standard that all the warehousemen are expected to achieve, and if not, then there are ramifications in terms of discipline. We're getting bids from different companies. A lot of it will be dependent upon whether it's something that can be negotiated within my current union contract or something that we have to explore in 2007 when my contract is up.

I just installed a new Oracle computer operating system. I'm looking at putting in some voice picking system. Right now we pick our products by labels. There are a couple of systems where the cases are bar coded, and the cases are recognized by a verbal computer system.

We're also possibly looking at moving after five years. There are two markets near me. One is where there are neighboring distributors. There's one in Rochester, one in Pittsburgh and one in Toledo, and it might make sense for me to consolidate with one of those neighboring distributors. Those studies are being done right now (to determine) if we can squeeze some efficiencies out by getting rid of duplication of overhead.

What does receiving the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Minority Male Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2002 represent to you?

That (award) would probably be the closest thing to winning an Academy Award because the Department of Commerce comes in, looks at your business practices, talks to employees and takes a holistic approach of evaluating your business. (It's) one of the highlights of running my business because it says that, compared to any number of other very good companies, we were recognized as the best in the country for minority-owned business, so it was a great honor.

I don't think I'm eligible to win again, but my goal would be to get another one.

HOW TO REACH:

The Anderson-DuBose Co., (440) 248-8800

Thursday, 23 June 2005 12:57

Pocket-watch

When asked about the biggest mistakes professional service firms make with hourly rates, author and VeraSage Institute founder Ron Baker replies, "Having them."

He says the billable hour is "not a good way for professionals to charge for intellectual capital."

Speaking at the Association for Accounting Administration Ohio Chapter Annual Meeting at Brott Mardis & Co., CPAs, Baker touted value pricing, a concept in which firms charge before the work is done, equal to the value delivered to the client.

"Value is like beauty; it's in the eye of the beholder. It's subjective, so a price is nothing but any business's attempt to put an objective price on a subjective value," Baker says.

Value, he says, is not based upon how long it takes the professional service firm to do the work.

"I could have an epiphany in the shower in one minute and save my client $1 million," he says. "Charging by the hour doesn't allow me to capture the value I created."

Baker says that without fixed professional service fees, clients can't budget for expenses.

"Everything we buy as a customer, we know the price up front before we buy, not after, and yet ... anybody that bills by the hour, they have to wait to do the billing until the job's done to collect all the hours. That's a really bad time to bill the client," he says. "It's like a grocery store billing you after you've taken the groceries home and eaten. It just doesn't make any sense."

Baker says the billable hour is not fair to the client because if one team member takes twice as long as another to do something, the client pays for that.

"The thing that makes value pricing completely fair, ethical and moral is the fact that you're giving the client the option before you begin the work to either accept or reject the price," he says. "It's customized to each client."

Billable hours have taught generations of lawyers and accountants that they sell time rather than value and to focus on efforts rather than on results. It also puts stress on employees who have to meet annual quotas.

"It destroys the quality of life," Baker says. "It kind of bifurcates your life into billable/nonbillable, and if I'm nonbillable, I'm always guilty about being nonbillable. It's just not an accurate reflection of the value that you're providing to the customer."

He says billable hours also put a ceiling on a firm's income.

"There are only so many hours any of us have in a week, in a year, in a life," he says. "Bill Gates wouldn't be a billionaire and Henry Block wouldn't have been a millionaire if they had that mentality.

"The firm wants to bill as many hours as they can, and the client wants to solve their case as effectively as possible. How can you have an ethical pricing system that misaligns the interests that much?"

A good way for firms to take on the challenging transition from billable hours to value pricing is to create a chief value officer (CVO) position. The CVO is responsible for pricing in the firm, as well as for the value created for the customer. This officer serves as the eyes, ears and mouth of the customer and discusses value before a job and after a job in post-mortem reviews.

"Removing the timesheet and putting in place metrics that focus on the results of these employees, rather than measuring efforts, makes for a healthier place to work and a better quality and balance of life," Baker says.

HOW TO REACH:

VeraSage Institute, (415) 927-7114 or www.verasage.com

Sunday, 22 May 2005 20:00

No department is an island

It may be the new management trend to form teams of employees from different department to work on big projects, but employees naturally work together across departments on their own, says Jim Cardwell, chairman and CEO of Cardwell Group, a Westlake-based software development and management consulting firm.

"Almost any project you can think of is cross-functional," he says. "Every department needs help from some other department to get almost any project of significance done."

But if CEOs are going to enhance that process and implement cross-functional teams, they must have five essential pieces in place before starting.

* Prioritization. When CEOs have too many projects that are top priority, they lose the ability to control their business.

"You're not aligning, coordinating or utilizing resources very well," Cardwell says. "And also, people are really stressed out because they think you're going to walk in and ask, 'What happened to Project 32?'

You need to have a clear strategy and a clear idea of what you're trying to do so that the project is either trying to build something or fix something to get you to that strategy."

* A good project plan. Cardwell says many project teams have a goal but waste time in meetings, trying to figure out the next step. "It's much more efficient to build the project plan before you actually do the project," he says. "It's pretty straightforward stuff."

Delineating the scope of the project is key.

"It draws boundaries around what you're going to do, and it defines the things outside the boundaries that you're not going to do," he says.

A good project plan establishes evaluation criteria up front. These are developed by the team leader and team members and approved by the sponsor -- who Cardwell calls the godfather of the team -- usually the CEO or a senior executive who doesn't work directly on the team but oversees it.

* Clear roles and authorities. Cardwell cites a study by Xerox on the makeup of a high-performance team. "Fifty percent of what made a high-performance team is what I'm calling a clear project plan, but about 20 percent of it was actually having clear roles and accountabilities," he says.

Having this information helps employees know what they are supposed to do with their project and understand who on their team has the authority to do it.

* Team processes. Cardwell suggests having team dialogues every two weeks to coordinate the work of the team. "They come in to talk about what's going on -- Should we continue this project, are we staying within the scope, are we hitting the evaluation criteria. ... What do we need to do to keep this project moving, and what have we learned?"

Two other kinds of dialogue also are required. An organizational dialogue allows team leaders to get a checkpoint once a month on the status of each project, and the team leader should meet individually with team members once a month to encourage communication about projects.

"It's these kind of touch points that reinforce and make the (project) more personal," he says.

* Leadership. "Leaders really need to make sure that there's an open data flow and clear communication around this project: Why we're doing it, what we're doing, what the progress is and why we appreciate this team, which is the second thing -- the recognition and reinforcement," Cardwell says. "The final thing that leaders do is they reward people who do good jobs on teams so they want to do it again."

HOW TO REACH:

Cardwell Group, (800) 395-1410 or www.connectionsonline.net

Monday, 23 May 2005 06:37

Swinging for the fences

Breaking out of a losing streak is tough to do whether you are in sports or in business.

A team manager in baseball has to get nine people on the field to work together to earn a win. OMNOVA's challenge is a little more daunting.

With a team of 1,900 employees to manage, Kevin McMullen, chairman, president and CEO of OMNOVA Solutions Inc., has had to deal with the company posting losses in eight of the last nine quarters, including a $10.9 million loss in the first quarter of 2005 -- $5.1 million more than the first quarter last year.

Despite the bad news, McMullen is confident his team will return to winning, but that will involve making more difficult decisions.

"What we have told folks ... is that we expected, starting in the second quarter, for profit really to improve from (the end of the first quarter) until the rest of the year," McMullen says. "Last year, our second quarter, we had a penny earnings per share, so we expect to improve on that as we go forward."

It's a small step forward, but transitioning from losing to winning is about staying focused on the positives, identifying the negatives and implementing solutions to improve the team.

McMullen's plan involves cutting costs, improving the efficiency of the manufacturing process and keeping the team members focused on the job at hand.

OMNOVA is attacking its problems head-on. When things aren't going well, business-as-usual no longer works. McMullen is restructuring the $746 million company, and OMNOVA, which manufactures performance chemicals, decorative and building products, expects to reduce costs by $13 million, partly by eliminating 125 jobs.

No one likes to fire people, but winning doesn't come easy. McMullen is making a lot of tough choices to shake up the way OMNOVA does business.

Future challenges

McMullen says there are a number of reasons OMNOVA struggled in the first quarter.

The first is the volatility of the oil-based raw materials market, the second is that OMNOVA's decorative products business is still trying to recover from weak hotel and commercial office markets following Sept. 11. The third is the seasonality of some of its products that are tied to the roofing industry.

"People don't do roofing in the middle of winter in more than two-thirds of the country because of the weather," he says.

A price increase was implemented to help compensate for the increase in raw materials.

"We are not passing along 100 percent of the cost that we are facing, but we are forced to pass on a good portion of it just because it's been such a rapid rise in raw material costs," he says.

Competing globally means you have to operate globally, and overseas production and raw materials sourcing will help the company increase its profits.

The company's performance chemicals business is setting up a wholly owned legal entity in China to support its growth. The decorative products business has joint ventures in Thailand and China.

"They give very cost-effective solutions for us to be able to break back into our existing distribution channels here in North America," McMullen says. "So we look to leverage that strategic asset we have with those joint ventures."

OMNOVA is also purchasing textiles in Asia and the Middle East for its coated fabrics and wall covering business. And there are opportunities to sell overseas, helping to mitigate the seasonality of some of the company's products. OMNOVA is finding opportunities to export its commercial roofing products into Korea and Eastern Europe.

Internally, there are also gains to be made.

McMullen and his team plan to invest in productivity tools, enabling them to get "the same amount of work done, the same amount of product out the door, the same amount of business but with fewer resources, less cost," says McMullen.

Employees have undergone Lean Six Sigma training to learn how to eliminate waste and deliver greater customer satisfaction. And the Profit Specialist program focuses on identifying the greatest value a company can bring to its customers.

"We're investing more now than we have probably since the beginning of the company in skill building and training and development," McMullen says. "If you're a manufacturer in the United States today, if you're not thinking about productivity, you're not going to be around long because it's absolutely vital given the global marketplace that we're in."

The company has also ditched its legacy IT systems that were getting too expensive to maintain and has implemented a new business system, starting in the performance chemicals business and eventually spreading companywide. OMNOVA's Web site is also being redesigned to make it simpler and faster for customers to navigate.

New product innovations are key to staying ahead of the competition. Innovation is being fostered through OMNOVA's stage gate approach. As employee teams reach milestones, the project is reviewed to ensure it is on target, that it has enough resources to succeed, that barriers can be overcome and to determine whether resources and employees should be redeployed onto another project.

Each OMNOVA business unit develops a three-year strategic plan based on trends, the company's strengths, the competitive landscape and getting "inside the mind of the customer on how our products are used," McMullen says. "This continual focus on innovation, product development and bringing more value to the marketplace ... is the cornerstone for us to grow, for us to improve profitability. ... If our products bring more value to (the customers), and if they're more successful, we'll grow."

One area of innovation that's important is environmental sensitivity. It's an area the company excels at as evidenced by its multiple environmental awards, and it is also an important driver of sales.

"At the end of the day, doing things the right way and doing it responsibly is critical for the sustainability of the company," says McMullen. "That's what we've viewed as being the minimum acceptable for us. Customers want to do business with companies that are sensitive to the environment in which they're operating, that understand the responsibilities as a corporate citizen, so that certainly helps us a great deal. I think we're well-regarded by the markets we serve because of that."

Environmental issues is an area where the company is always looking to gain a competitive advantage by continually asking questions.

"How can we improve on it?" says McMullen. "What can we do differently and challenge ourselves?"

People power

McMullen can set up the right conditions for OMNOVA to win, but ultimately, he knows it all comes down to his teammates implementing his vision for profitability.

A Louisville Slugger baseball bat sits on the windowsill in McMullen's office -- a trophy waiting to be won again -- for OMNOVA's Hit It Out of the Park Award. Implemented last year, the award honors the business team that provides the best customer service each quarter.

"It's a little internal competition, and it's a real positive thing to give recognition to teams that are doing the right thing, and we have a lot of fun with it," he says.

It may be a lighthearted contest but McMullen acknowledges the bigger role it plays in the scheme of things: 20 OMNOVA positions were eliminated in March as part of the company's financial restructuring, including eight jobs in the Akron area.

"We've unfortunately had to make some tough decisions to reduce our headcount in the company," he says. "Tough things to do but critical in order for us to get our costs aligned with the businesses we're in and the business realities that we've been facing."

It's one of the biggest challenges for a company going through tough changes: How do you keep motivating employees while others are let go?

"Be open and honest with people on the realities of the business climate that you're in," says McMullen. "Look for opportunities to overcommunicate those realities. The area where there's greatest concern is that people didn't understand the magn itude of the challenge we faced. We've done a pretty good job but that was reinforced by the fact that we tried to overcommunicate those realities."

For the remaining employees, McMullen says a CEO's responsibility is to have a process in place that provides them with candid feedback on their performance. Such a process keeps everyone focused on their jobs and on the overall mission of the company.

"(Tell them) what they do that they're doing very well and what they should work on from a development standpoint to get to the next level and be willing to continue to progress," he says. "There needs to be a process in place that recognizes individuals and teams that are doing outstanding work ... and also to provide financial rewards for people who are making those kinds of contributions."

Recognition is also important, using a variety of awards and monetary incentives. OMNOVA has a bonus plan, a Moment of Truth award for outstanding employees and a Chairman's Award that rewards a noteworthy employee with stock options and restricted stock.

McMullen hopes OMNOVA's losing streak is coming to a close. The strategy is being adjusted and the roster is smaller. If everyone can do their part across the company, winning and profitability are just around the corner.

When that happens, OMNOVA will be a homerun.

HOW TO REACH: OMNOVA Solutions Inc., (330) 869-4200 or www.omnova.com

Friday, 22 April 2005 09:27

A spoonful of sugar

Full-line independent pharmacy Davies Drugs Inc. has been a strong player in the Canton market for more than 40 years, despite the large chain drugstores popping up on every corner.

When Dave Fettman bought the store in 1963, his son, Steve, was 6 weeks old. Today, Steve is owner and president of the company, and his brothers, Michael and Matthew, serve as store manager and pharmacist, respectively.

Following the motto, "More than a friend, we're family," Davies Drugs offers free local prescription delivery Monday through Saturday, specializes in in-store compounding of medications, offers hard-to-find products and can order and receive pharmacy items the next day through its Columbus-based supplier.

"I think the chains shy away from (prescription compounding) because it's a little bit more time-consuming, and that's probably the biggest issue," Steve Fettman says.

In addition to providing in-home diabetic shoe fittings, Davies Drugs carries braces and support hosiery. The store was recently accepted by Aultcare, the largest hospital-based PPO in Northeast Ohio, to be a durable medical equipment supplier of diabetic, urological and ostomy supplies.

"When they first came in, they limited us to three categories, and I was thinking that this wouldn't be very much work at all but it was really overwhelming," Fettman says. "I never imagined that there were that many people out there who needed the diabetic supplies or anything else because up until that time, we were excluded from their network."

Now, Fettman hopes to receive Aultcare's blessing to add ambulatory aids, nebulizers and aerosol machines to its product line.

Innovative thinking inspired Fettman to open a medical facility behind the store last year, named in memory of his father, who died in 2002. The 10,000-square-foot David A. Fettman Professional Building houses the practices of Dr. Albert Domingo and Dr. Robert Hamilton. Foot traffic from those offices has increased Davies Drugs' prescription business, and Fettman hopes to add a third practice.

"We've been here for a long time, and we know most of the people who come in by their first name, and I think that that's important," he says. "Find out what your customers need and look at it from (their) standpoint. ... Then adjust your business to suit what they need."

HOW TO REACH:

Davies Drugs Inc., (330) 454-5151 or www.daviesdrugs.com

Tuesday, 22 March 2005 05:42

When companies collide

Mergers are not easy, but Jeffrey Neuman, president and director of Barnes Wendling CPAs in Cleveland, has become a pro at them over the last few years.

Barnes Wendling merged with Mitchell Zunich and Co. in 2001 to create a Sheffield Village office; merged with Jenkins Hakes & Associates in 2004, creating a Norwalk office; and most recently, merged with Sandusky-based Koby & Co. Inc. CPAs in January.

"Bringing quality people and quality clients across really helped jumpstart the growth of this firm," he says. "Accounting firms advise clients how to do these things but they often don't tend to take care of their own house. ... A lot of accounting firms have no plan."

Neuman says the most important aspect of managing mergers is for the firm's owner to research the compatibility of the cultures at the onset.

"Owners on both sides have to have similar service and long-term objectives. ... If the culture doesn't work, it's doomed to fail from Day One," he says. "You could just look around at how many very large accounting firms have gone out of existence in the last 10 years. Virtually half of the top 100 firms are gone. They've all merged or gone away.

"There probably wasn't proper planning for retirement, proper training of the new executive team and transition of running the organization."

Once you find a firm with a compatible culture that you're interested in merging with, Neuman suggests looking at the software systems used by both firms.

"There are all kinds of specialized software systems that accounting firms utilize," he says. "Some firms have made big investments in certain types of technology that may not be compatible with the firm that's coming in."

And keep in mind that bigger financial investments don't necessarily equal better software systems.

"The firm that's merging in may be a smaller unit, and some of the things they're doing may be better than what we're doing, so you've got to have an open mind," he says.

During his company's decision-making process, Neuman assigned a technical discipline team from Barnes Wendling's Taxation, Assurance Services and Information Technology Group to analyze those facets of the merging entity to identify best practices.

"None of our (merger) transactions took less than a year to accomplish," Neuman says. "From the first time we started having a discussion, we had the opportunity to meet each other in different situations and really get a good idea of what each side was about. I can't emphasize enough how important that is."

Neuman also says executives of merging firms have to set realistic timetables.

"Anybody who says, 'I'm going to transfer everything across, and we're going to get this all done in a month,' is crazy," he says. "Maybe if you're lucky enough to all be on similar operating systems, but that usually doesn't happen."

And he emphasizes an executive's responsibility to be sensitive to the needs of the employees of the incoming entity.

"If you haven't been the person who has had to move their office and come into a new organization, it's real easy to forget how difficult that is. Make sure you go out of your way to make people feel comfortable and wanted," Neuman says.

"Let them know, 'If you have a problem or if you have a question, here's a list of people that you see.' Take the mystery out of it." HOW TO REACH: Barnes Wendling, (216) 566-9000 or www.barneswendling.com

Consistency and comfort

It's easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of a merger but decision-makers should remember to pay attention to the concerns of their clients and their employees as well, says Jeffrey Neuman, president and director of Cleveland-based Barnes Wendling CPAs.

The company that is merging in may be losing its identity or its name in the transaction and may choose to inform its clients before the formal announcement. But once the merger is signed, Neuman says executives from both companies should meet with key clients in a timely manner to keep confidence levels high, as well as respond to any concerns.

"Let them know that the people servicing them aren't changing; they're just being supported by a larger group," he says. "Let them know, 'If you've dealt with Rob before, you're still dealing with Rob. He may have a different phone number but nothing is going to change ... from your perspective in our service model.'"

Based on his history of managing three Barnes Wendling mergers since 2001, Neuman says one of the biggest issues with employees is fear of the unknown.

"A lot of times in a merge situation, some people may be afraid that they're going to lose their job," he says. "So if there are going to be any positions eliminated or anything like that, come right out with it. Take the fear out of the equation."

After the merger occurs, breaking the ice among employees and creating a team spirit can be challenging. Neuman says the firm's executive team should organize a social function in which employees can meet each other in a casual environment. His four offices have played host to firmwide bowling parties in the winter and golf outings in the summer.