Jason Lloyd

Monday, 26 March 2007 20:00

These legs are made for walkin’

We do it every day, from the moment we wake up until bedtime. But walking is usually a forgotten way to get in shape or stay in shape.

“There are so many benefits to walking and it’s easy,” says Suzanne Hobson, director of community health for Akron General Medical Center. “It’s easy to get started and it’s one of the easiest things you can do to improve your health and stay active.”

AGMC is again partnering with the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition to promote walking this year along the towpaths and trails throughout Summit County. The featured event, Healthy Steps, runs all summer.

Smart Business spoke with Hobson about how walking can lead to a healthier lifestyle.

How is walking beneficial for your health?

It gives you more energy. It can help you relax or reduce stress. It can obviously tone your muscles and help control your appetite. It increases the number of calories your body uses and it can reduce your cardiovascular risk factors. It’s an easy way to get physically active and it's inexpensive. What do you need? A pair of walking shoes.

How much do you have to walk to see a difference?

We recommend 10,000 steps a day (approximately five miles), which is really what the surgeon general also recommends to reduce health risks associated with being overweight or obesity.

If you’re very active in your job and running all over the place, you can count those steps toward your 10,000 steps a day. Our program is set up like walking a marathon. We figured that 52,400 steps would qualify you for a marathon. There are different levels: gold averages 10,000 steps a day, silver is 7,500 steps a day and bronze is 5,000 steps a day. You don't have to be a marathon runner to do a marathon. We bring it down to people who enjoy walking as their activity of choice.

We suggest people talk to their health care provider about adding exercise through walking before starting a program. That’s why we make different levels so people don't get discouraged, because 10,000 steps a day is a lot.

How does walking help prevent heart disease?

One of the risk factors of heart disease is being overweight. That puts more stress on the heart. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women. Walking or other regular aerobic exercise, as well as a diet low in fat and other checkups are key to a heart-healthy lifestyle.

How can you add steps to everyday life?

Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to the mailbox instead of driving to it. Park a greater distance from the door and don't necessarily take the closest spot.

Walk around the parking lot, use a push mower instead of a riding mower, and grab a friend and go for a walk. Some companies have walking trails. Maybe during a lunch break, take a little walk, especially as the weather gets better.

Can a pedometer help?

What’s fun with the pedometer is it just gets you to start thinking about how many steps you take. After a while you probably won’t need the pedometer, but it’s something nice that can give you an idea of how many steps you do take in a given day. It can also help motivate you to take more steps if you realize you don’t quite have 10,000 or if you realize you can do a little more. And you’ll feel better, too, after you do it.

Different pedometers are available, but anything to get you starting to think about how many steps you take will be great. I’d recommend it to anybody.

How can an employer implement a walking program for employees?

It’s not easy. As busy as people are, it’s not easy to stay active by walking. It’s easier to jump in the car and go somewhere than it is to think ahead and say, ‘OK, if I park over here I can get another few steps in.’ Include some milestones for people to achieve, then throw their names in a hat for a drawing. People tend to get excited about the drawings and the prizes. Give prizes like gift certificates to sporting goods stores or a place to get tennis shoes. The key is just to get people out and walking.

SUZANNE HOBSON is the director of community health for Akron General Medical Center. To reach her, or for more information about Healthy Steps, phone (330) 434-5657.

Friday, 24 November 2006 19:00

Remote database administration

In today’s competitive business environment, the need for reliable, accessible, mission-critical data is paramount. Data helps organizations develop business plans, increase sales revenue, better serve customers, and measure performance.

Conversely, the consequences of data unavailability, data loss, data inaccuracy, and lack of data integrity are quite severe. In some cases, even temporary loss of data can cause an organization irreparable harm. For that reason, many companies are now considering remote database administration (remote DBA) service providers not only for supplemental database support but also for complete database administration outsourcing.

Smart Business spoke with Angie Gleim, business development manager for Perpetual Technologies, about how remote database administration can help businesses succeed.

What is remote DBA?

Remote database administration is a service provided by a third-party vendor, in which a client’s database environment is monitored and managed from a remote location. Although there are variations in the depth of services provided by remote DBA vendors, many make use of monitoring tools or proprietary scripts to ensure data availability and database health. Service levels include supplemental vacation coverage, after-hours support, or complete database outsourcing.

What benefits can be offered by remote DBA service providers?

The major advantages of remote DBA support are cost savings and increased quality of support.

When an organization chooses remote DBA support, the remote database support company takes on the task of recruiting and maintaining DBA staff, funding employee benefits, office space, equipment, employee training, and other related costs of having an employee. Small to mid-size businesses may also experience a cost savings by not staffing a full-time DBA for part-time DBA work.

In addition to cost savings, a remote DBA service provider is ideally staffed with DBAs who possess depth and diverse database knowledge. This team of experts can provide around-the-clock support to ensure that the coverage is continuous and not subject to interruptions due to sickness, vacation, or resignation.

What are the key criteria to look for in a remote DBA service provider?

When choosing a remote DBA service provider, obvious items such as price and service offerings are well known and heavily reviewed but are not the only criteria to consider. Five additional areas that play a key role in insuring the correct service provider for your environment are technical experience, security, communication, financial status, and references.

A good remote database service provider can attract and retain excellent, certified DBAs. Service providers can pay a premium for DBA talent, because a good DBA can support multiple clients. Permanent employee DBAs can only support one client, the employer. However, assuming this to be the case can prove to be a huge mistake. Do not hesitate to ask for and review rsums and qualifications of the remote DBA team. Schedule a technical interview to make certain you evaluate the credentials remote DBA team.

In addition to a qualified technical team, remote DBA service providers should be prepared to share and review their security policies with you as well as learn more about your security requirements. If a remote DBA company cannot guarantee secure connectivity and data protection, outsourcing remote DBA support should not be considered. Items to consider include secure connectivity, authentication, background checks and clearances, and site and physical security.

Another issue often overlooked when choosing a remote DBA service provider is communication. Learn as much as you can about the remote DBA’s communication plan. How will the service provider’s DBA team be notified of emergency after-hours issues? How often will status reports be delivered to your team? Will status reports be delivered on-site, via e-mail, Web meeting, or conference call? How can you schedule a project-based task with the remote DBA team? It is essential to select a provider who offers a forum to understand your needs as well as a plan to communicate its actions.

When choosing a remote DBA service provider, financial status should also be reviewed. Analyzing financial reports might help to forecast the company’s ability to attract and retain qualified staff. The ability to guarantee continuity and reliability of service should be of key importance to your selection.

Reviewing a remote DBA service provider’s client reference list and past performance is another important consideration. When asking for references, make sure you inquire about current clients whose needs are as similar to yours as possible. Set up a convenient allotted time to speak with these references, and have a structured question list prepared in advance.

ANGIE GLEIM is the business development manager for Perpetual Technologies. Reach her at agleim@perptech.com or (317) 824-0393.

Thursday, 31 August 2006 05:49

Move or stay put?

Sometimes, the best move a business can make is into a new market. While the idea of uprooting an existing business and moving to a new city may sound daunting, the financial opportunity it sometimes generates makes it difficult not to consider.

Select brokers know how to negotiate with cities on behalf of a company to obtain incentives like cash grants, employee training grants or even subsidized land.

"By leveraging knowledge of local, state and federal incentive programs, we can help create business and economic incentives and have cities compete for the client," says Kevin Hayes Jr., vice president of CRESA Partners, an international corporate real estate advisory firm. "When you're really looking at the scope of how incentives work, somebody needs to be capable of identifying the opportunities."

Smart Business spoke with Hayes about what companies need to know when considering a move to a new market.

How do you know it's the right time to consider changing markets?
The general rule of thumb that most people operate under is that 'our lease is expiring within a year; let's look at this process.' Or if they own their facility, they often don't consider making any form of transition until a problem has already appeared.

I would highly recommend that a company take the time to do long-term planning and to understand the marketplace as a whole. It's never too early to focus on strategic planning, which can be separated from traditional brokerage services. If the people you're already comfortable working with don't help you set the course, then bring in a firm that can, so your existing brokers can then execute that strategy.

Moving may involve an early lease renewal or disposing of leased or owned space for the sake of making a transition several years earlier than intended. It may involve short-term renewals because the market is going to take a dip.

A competent representative will take your business' goals and market conditions into consideration. The person should look at long or short lease terms based on what the market dictates. The way brokers are compensated is a market-standard fee that is based on a percentage of the total lease consideration, generally paid by the landlord.

If the broker's fee is based on that total lease consideration, the longer the lease, the more the broker is paid. A good professional needs to be willing to say, 'You need to do a shorter-term lease based on these market conditions,' and not act in his or her own best interests.

How can a business compare two competing markets?
Engage a competent professional who will go through the process entirely on your behalf. Compensation should be based on the savings he or she creates. If the person is not successful in creating savings on your behalf, then he or she should not be paid.

Outside of that, keep a tight control on the your employees and representatives to ensure that there is leverage on your behalf. There often is a public agenda and a private agenda. If a city competes hard enough, it can sway the private agenda to go there. If the leverage is not properly built by the competent professional, then the desired city will not compete very aggressively for your business.

These incentive packages must be administered in an ongoing manner. If your firm needs to file again the following year, the professional who originally negotiated it should handle this function on an ongoing basis to ensure you receive the full advantage.

How should a business decide when choosing between two markets?
The cost benefit of relocating to different places is a mathematical number that won't lie, but you should do a subjective analysis, too. A number of issues should be added in a separate analysis to make sure you're not just making a decision based on the lowest-cost alternative -- which may be a short-sighted strategy. If it affects your business in the long run, you may have been better off spending '1.5X' and being in a different city where you're going to derive more benefit or profit.

Look at the logistics of a company that has a supply chain, for example. Sure, you can move out to the high desert, but if you have trucks going up and down the hill, costs to move your goods now will be a lot higher because the trucks have to go up mountains. Looking at who your goods and services are being provided to is definitely part of it.

KEVIN HAYES JR. is vice president of CRESA Partners. Reach him at (949) 706-6600.

Sunday, 30 July 2006 11:01

Enterprise security

There is a new headline almost daily: “Hacker breaks into corporation, obtains financial information” or “Millions of identities at risk as employee computer is stolen” or “Critical flaw detected in common operating system.”

In this era of digital dependence, risk to a company’s infrastructure abounds from all sides, including from within. Enterprise security is a topic that simply cannot be ignored. Security infrastructures can be costly investments, but when compared to the alternative, they are sensible investments.

Security is a broad topic which receives nearly limitless research and development resources. Several professional organizations manage the amount of knowledge contained with the topic. One organization, the ISC(2), created The Common Body of Knowledge, which consists of 10 unique domains that cover various facets of enterprise security.

They are: access control systems and methodology; telecommunications and network security; security management practices; applications and systems development security; cryptography; security architecture and models; operations security; business continuity planning and disaster recovery planning; law, investigations and ethics; and physical security.

Controls on investment, in the form of a well-designed plan, must be put into place before spending and attempts to secure an enterprise ensue.

Return on investment can be difficult to calculate, but can be put into perspective with this question: What would be the impact on a business if the IT infrastructure (including trade secrets, financial data, etc.) were available to the public? The impact would be directly proportional to the return on investment. If the impact would be minimal, then return on investment would likely be low; if the impact would be high, then so would return on investment.

“When in doubt, a good security firm can perform a security assessment,” says Ron Plew, vice president and CIO of Perpetual Technologies. “That third party provides an objective set of eyes, and can often provide criticism and recommendations, and generate action that would be difficult or impossible for employees.”

Smart Business spoke with Plew about enterprise security.

How can a company tell if it is vulnerable?
Certain vulnerabilities are easy to discover -- an unlocked door, for example. Vulnerabilities are not always this obvious; in fact, some are difficult to find. There are freely available tools for checking servers, applications and hardware for vulnerabilities. These tools simplify the discovery process. Server logs should be periodically checked by a knowledgeable administrator. Logs can provide a good amount of information to the trained eye.

A good security firm can help a company create and implement ongoing operations security practices. Strong operations security practices will ensure that a company is pro-active as vulnerabilities appear.

How can a business improve its security systems?
Improvement requires an established baseline. You have to know where you stand in order to improve. This baseline is established through a security assessment. It is essential to critically analyze the entire security spectrum when determining this baseline. The process of performing the security assessment will expose vulnerabilities and weaknesses in security systems and policies. Details of implementation remain.

In the absence of a security assessment, do not underestimate the insider threat, which is the largest source of risk to any business. Most employees are intimately involved with private data in some form on a daily basis. A well-enforced security policy can help mitigate this risk.

How does one domain affect overall enterprise security?
Security domains operate in cooperation. The common analogy is a knight’s armor. In battle, when vulnerability is discovered, it is only a matter of time before the knight falls and the entire suit is useless. All domains applicable to a business’s enterprise security are equally important.

This brings up an important point. In certain security domains, countermeasures can be implemented that minimize the effect of vulnerabilities. Depending on the impact of penetration at various points in the security domain, countermeasures may prove economically feasible.

How much security is enough?
It is easy to spend thousands of dollars while trying to address security issues on the fly. Avoid doing this, as you may end up wasting time and money on insignificant or irrelevant items. Instead, perform a security assessment and a risk analysis, and create a deployment plan. The resulting documents will provide instruments that can measure success. Without the proper instruments, it will be difficult to determine how much security is enough.

When all of the items identified in the security assessment and risk analysis have been addressed, there may be enough security. A post-implementation audit will help verify this.

A word of caution: Do not become comfortable after implementation. As technology evolves, new security threats - which will continue to appear -- must be addressed. Security policy coupled with continuous monitoring and review will help assure a secure business.

RON PLEW is vice president and CIO of Perpetual Technologies. Reach him at (317) 824-0393 or rplew@perptech.com.

Friday, 28 July 2006 20:00

Managing with heart

 Shortly after his father, Bob, turned the family steel business over to Gene McNichols, he sat down with a calculator and banged out his first strategic plan.

“It wasn’t very sophisticated,” said McNichols, CEO of McNichols Co.’s 17 steel service centers across the country that will generate just under $150 million in revenue this year.

But the plan never included his father dying of cancer at age 59 — the same age McNichols is today. It forced him to sit down 25 years ago and reorganize the family business, and he has never forgotten what he learned.

“When you have something catastrophic happen, you take a lot of action steps to ensure if it happens in the future, you’ll be able to cope with it,” McNichols says.

Smart Business spoke with McNichols about how he’s developed an exit strategy and how to manage with heart and passion.

When you walk in, find the exit.
The most important thing we overlook in life is we take a job and we have no exit strategy. As a result, we get stuck in a job too long that you don’t want.

It happens in the business world, too. A lot of players in our field didn’t make a succession plan or make an exit strategy, so the only thing they can do is sell their organization. I started doing mine as an aftermath of my father leaving us at a young age. I started realizing that he didn’t plan that.

He didn’t want to be gone, and all of a sudden, he was. I realized that if this organization was going to be great, it wasn’t just about the family leadership. It was going to have to be a whole lot more.

Teach and get out of the way.
Early on, I made a goal that the organization had to be great and run great without me. That’s why I say it is successful in spite of me.

It was going to be important that everything didn’t run through me. It had to run very well without me. I think it still needs my leadership, it’s just nice not have to be involved in so many major decisions anymore.

It’s not about not working so much as it is about letting others do what you once did. Then the machine goes on.

Plan to react.
We do plenty of reacting. I won’t kid you about that.

Most executives who say they don’t are probably kidding you, but we do a lot of planning ahead of time to decide what the future is going to be about as much as possible. Today, the one wild card is the war on terror. That’s something you have an awful hard time plugging in to financial planning today.

That’s just the unknown that we didn’t have quite as much prior to 2001. We didn’t know about it, anyway.

Manage with heart.
You’ve got to understand your organization and execute your job and understand what that job is, understand your products and people and business partners and finances and all the rest of it, but in the end, you have to manage with your heart because it’s all about people. That’s never going to change.

That’s pretty hard to do if you’re coming in to downsize a company or worse. But you can still do it.

Learn and move on.
I’ve had a couple of disloyal people in my career. It’s very disheartening and disappointing and all the rest of those words that go with it. To overcome it, I had to stop feeling sorry for myself. Get over it, and learn from it and pray a lot.

I learned to look for better character, and I learned to follow my instincts early on. It doesn’t take you long usually to assess somebody and know if you’re going in the right direction.

Sometimes you ignore where you’re at and you keep on going. I’ve learned that’s a mistake.

Be aware. I don’t like the word beware. I would say be aware. It sounds different.

Be aware of your instincts.
Follow your instincts.

If you don’t feel good about a loyalty issue, you’re probably right. However, make decisions on the best facts you have.

Find your passion, and never let it go.
If an organization does not have passion, it will probably lose its edge. The airline industry is a good example of that.

You can see the lack of passion in the people that work for many of the companies now. Until they get that back, the model likely will never work.

These companies are bleeding and they’ve been bleeding. They haven’t been able to deliver good products for a long time.

Nobody is responsible for all the games and rates and gimmicks in the airline industry but the people in that industry. There are so many good people involved there, and it looks as if they’ve lost their focus and their passion.

Learn to type.
Today you need great technology skills. If you can’t type today, just something simple like that, if you can’t sit down and hammer out your e-mail very fast, you’re handicapped from the get-go.

That’s a small technology tool but a very important one. People that never took that seriously, never realized we’d be in this world. Without that skill, you’re in trouble.

Take successful steps.
You’re only as good as your last step. Success is about your own personal satisfaction with those things that are important to you.

Everybody is a leader in this organization. It’s just a matter of whether you’re leading today or not.

HOW TO REACH: McNichols Co., (813) 282-3828

Friday, 30 June 2006 10:53

Irv Tobocman

Irv Tobocman has built his business by providing products that people want at prices they’re willing to pay. It sounds simple enough, but it’s the reading, the research, the passion and the curiosity that make him so successful. Tobocman is president of Foreign Trade Marketing, a private international consumer product distribution company that generates more than $100 million in annual revenue. And as its leader, he never stops searching for new, affordable products people can use in everyday life. Tobocman spoke with Smart Business about how he communicates with business partners and employees, and what it takes to survive in an ever-changing market.

Know the score.
The bottom line is the bottom line. I could talk for two hours about this and that, but how do you define who won the basketball game the other night? You look at the score. It’s that simple.

If you want to know if you’re successful, you have to look at the bottom line and see if you accomplished what you set out to accomplish.

Speak their language.
I believe business completely rests on the communication capabilities of the people doing the business. Communication comes from unequivocally understanding who you are talking to and what their needs are.

Speaking to someone and not being sensitive to his requirements and realities is the same as speaking English to a Chinese person.

If we who are trying to communicate are not being sensitive to every single element, it just decreases the batting average of success. We see that in sports and see the scouts trying to learn everything they can about teams and players so that their team can relate in any form they want to against that team.

In our business, it’s understanding, ‘What are their needs? What is their price point? What is the objective of the company?’ If you don’t meet those needs, it’s impossible to do business. That is primarily the key to success. If you don’t know what they’re looking for, how can you give them what they want?

Do your homework.
The first thing you have to do is expose yourself to every publication, every newsletter and everything else about the business you’re in so you can then spot trends.

Expose yourself to as much as you possibly can, then when the opportunity comes along, you can recognize it and not be scared to invest in it if it’s worth doing.

But you really have to know your business and not be scared to step forward and explore. When a brand-new opportunity comes — even if in the beginning it looks like it’s all the way on top of the mountain — if it represents a breakthrough, you can do it.

Pick the right people.
More important than anything is picking the right people from the start. You can give the greatest advice and guidance in the world, but if they’re not listening or they’re incapable of listening, there’s no way reviewing or analyzing is going to mean anything with those people.

A lot of that has to do with picking the right people.

Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I’ll get back to you.’
Collect the information, sit on it, think about it and don’t be pushed to make a decision until you have all of the elements and it feels right.

You’ve got to be able to take all the right information to make certain you’re not making an error. Then you have to decide based on what investment is involved.

Sometimes you have to go by your gut feeling, but the gut feelings are usually the most expensive ones. You have to know what you’re doing.

You have to learn everything you can about what decision you’re about to make, and you cannot be hasty. The smartest thing I tell people is, ‘It’s important enough to give thought to it. I’ll get back to you.’

Don’t ever slow down.
It all depends on the objectives of the executive. If he wants to continually grow a company, he can never take his foot off the gas.

You have to look around like an owl at every opportunity and thought. You see some of the big executives for some of the big, name-brand companies traveling and going all over the world because they have to do that.

It’s a full-time job. You’re constantly thinking, looking, reading and wondering how this relates to what you’re doing.

Look at Wal-Mart and Target. They’re reinventing themselves every day because the next day, things are different than they were the day before.

You have to challenge and be aggressive.
Your success will be directly related to the passion you put into anything.

Be passionate and curious and know what business plan to focus on. Communicate both to your own personnel and whomever you’re doing business with, whether it’s government authorities or clients or people building a new building for you.

Make them understand what you want and understand what they want, so two people walk away from the table wanting the same thing.

Know how to correct mistakes.
There’s nothing wrong with excuses and reasons. But you better have an answer for the excuse, like why you came late or why they beat us to a deadline.

There better be a reason, and then you better know how that can be changed so it doesn’t happen again. Stockholders of a company or board of directors or whomever you report to, they’re interested in what the answer is to correct it, not why it happened in the first place.

HOW TO REACH: Foreign Trade Marketing, www.merchantsportal.com

Wednesday, 24 May 2006 20:00

A change in the bankruptcy preference law

 Companies can be forced to return payments they receive within 90 days of their customer’s bankruptcy, but recent amendments to the Bankruptcy Code will make it somewhat easier for them to retain those so-called “preferential” payments.

“A preference or preferential transfer is any transfer of property (including money) made by an entity to a creditor of that entity within 90 days prior to the entity’s filing for bankruptcy,” says Roger Stevenson, a commercial litigation attorney with Roetzel & Andress. “A bankruptcy trustee, or a Debtor in Possession, has the power to ‘avoid’ such a transfer and recover the property transferred. The property recovered (less the trustee’s fees and legal expenses) is then shared with all of the entity’s creditors.”

Smart Business spoke to Stevenson about preference avoidance actions and how companies can defend themselves.

You get paid within 90 days of your customer’s bankruptcy and you have to give the money back?
No. Some transfers are protected from avoidance by ‘affirmative defenses’ set forth in the Bankruptcy Code. ‘Affirmative’ means that the defendant will have the burden of proof. For example, a transferee might escape preference liability if he can establish that he delivered the goods and received the money at essentially the same time. This is called the contemporaneous exchange defense. And a transferee might escape or reduce preference liability to the extent he can establish that, after receiving a payment from the debtor-transferor, he gave new value (usually in the form of goods and services) to the debtor-transferor for which he did not receive payment. This is called the subsequent new value defense.

Are there other defenses?
Another is the ‘ordinary course of business’ defense. For many years, transferees who asserted this defense had the burden of proving: (1) that the subject transfer was made and received in the ordinary course of business of both the transferor and the transferee, and (2) that the transfer was made according to ordinary business terms.

The first prong would require testimony from company representatives about the way the two parties had historically conducted business with each other. The transferee would attempt to prove that the subject transfer was consistent with past practice between the two parties.

The second prong would require testimony from expert witnesses about the way other businesses in the same industry generally conduct business. The transferee would attempt to prove that the subject transfer was consistent with the way most businesses in that industry would have done things.

The defense did not work unless you could prove both prongs?
Let’s say a buyer paid a seller 120 days after he received the goods. If the buyer filed bankruptcy within 90 days after the payment was made, the bankruptcy trustee would likely file suit against the seller for the amount of the payment. The seller might be able to produce a long history showing that the buyer had always taken 120 days to pay an invoice. But the seller might be forced to admit that none of its other customers took that long to pay. And the seller might not be able to find an expert who would say that it was ordinary in the seller’s and the buyer’s industries for a customer to take 120 days to pay. The seller would have proven the first prong, but not the second, and his ordinary course of business defense would have failed.

It works the other way around, too. It wasn’t enough to prove that you did it the way everybody always did it if you had never done it that way before. Let’s say the payment was made within 90 days before bankruptcy and just 30 days after goods were shipped. The seller should be able to establish that the payment was made, according to ordinary business terms. But what if the seller had to admit that, over a long history of transactions with the buyer, this was the only payment that had been made in less than 120 days? The seller would have proven the second prong, but not the first, and his ordinary course of business defense would have failed.

How has the law been changed?
The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, most often noted for making it more difficult for an individual debtor to receive a discharge in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, also makes it easier for a company to establish an ordinary course of business defense in a preference avoidance action. The change was a simple one. The ‘and’ between the first and second prongs was changed to an ‘or.’ So in bankruptcy cases filed after Oct. 17, 2005, a preference defendant need only prove that the subject transfer was consistent with the past practice between it and the debtor, or that the subject transfer was consistent with general business practice.

ROGER STEVENSON is a commercial litigation attorney with Roetzel & Andress. Reach him at (330) 849-6619 or rstevenson@ralaw.com

Wednesday, 17 May 2006 05:43

Grilling up success

John Cooper has found the perfect way to ensure his employees care about his company: He offers them a piece of ownership.

Cooper is president of Bonefish Grill, a fresh fish restaurant chain owned by Outback Steakhouse Inc. In 15 years, he opened 13 Outback Steakhouses in Florida as a joint venture partner, and now he offers that same partnership opportunity to others at Bonefish Grill.

The first Bonefish Grill opened in 2000 in St. Petersburg, and six years later, the company has grown to more than 100 restaurants , using joint venture partners to open between 28 and 35 new restaurants a year.

This is his second fish-style restaurant under the Outback Steakhouse umbrella. Previously, he opened Zazarac, which featured southern Louisiana cuisine. He later added a second, but with more viable fine dining restaurants within the OSI family, both were forced to close. Now he’s back with another “polished casual” dining restaurant that is booming.

Smart Business spoke with Cooper about how he’s grown Bonefish Grill so quickly in a highly competitive marketplace.

How have you grown Bonefish grown so quickly?
We’ve been able to do it through a very decentralized approach through joint venture partners in various markets. Joint venture partners run a very entrepreneurial structure. They develop those markets. The joint venture partners handle the human resource side, handle the management team, do real estate work and oversee operations.

They work in a very decentralized fashion. They hire managers and markets they’re doing business in, which helps to establish a great sense of stability. They also have ownership as being a joint venture partner. The managing partners have ownership, as well. And the managing partners are the ones that run the day-to-day business of the restaurant.

They’re the general managers, only they have equity. So we’re able to get some of the best. Through all of that, hiring the best and hiring people from markets where they live and building close relationships with the joint venture partners, we’re able to form strong cultures with them as markets.

How do you attract the best managers to grow the company?
They sign an employment agreement and they live in the markets they’re doing business in, so they’re able to grow the business in a very entrepreneurial, community-oriented way.

We opened 35 restaurants this year. With 19 joint venture partners, each one opens one or two restaurants a year. That’s manageable. You hire great people to manage those markets.

They can hire people locally rather than a recruiter from Dallas hiring for a restaurant in South Florida, shipping them from New York to South Florida and transplanting their families. That’s the way we used to do it. Over time, the quality of life became an issue, so it helps to stabilize management teams, and the people generally are much happier.

How do you find quality partners?
When we talk about a strong culture, we talk about honesty, respect for people, putting people first, we talk about self responsibility and you look for people, particularly partners, with extensive previous experience and track records that display those qualities.

A lot of the those who we try to access are people we either know or know through other people or others refer to us. We don’t do a lot of recruiting through a lot of normal avenues. If I’m a joint venture partner, I’m going to go through the people that I know to try and network possible candidates. So we have a sense of what they’re about rather than just from a resume.

But they certainly have to come to us with past experience and a track record that gives us indicators of their record of success.

How do you maintain quality when the company is growing so quickly?
If I’m a joint venture partner in a market and I’ve developed, over the course of two years, four restaurants, and I open another two, I still am able to be in those restaurants to oversee the quality and operations. I’d be remiss not to say the training and development is important, as well as selecting great people.

The constant training with a lot of redundancy of the same basics of the business is very important. You hit on the same basics over and over again, and then you do it again. Getting great people, focusing on the training and development and having constant training over the same basics have really helped.

How do you compete in such a crowded marketplace?
There’s a lot of capital out there, and people are spending to build restaurants and they do a great job with the quality and service. That’s where it gets tougher.

What’s difficult for us is the fact there are a lot of people out there and a lot of companies that do it well. They’ve come on strong over the past 10 years. You can’t just take care of the basics anymore. You have to push toward going beyond the basics and expectations. They want convenience, quality and value associated with that and rolled up in a service package that goes beyond feeding your belly.

How to reach: Bonefish Grill, www.bonefishgrill.com

Monday, 25 April 2005 09:35

The Karmanos file

Born: Detroit, March 11, 1943

Education: High school degree, attended Wayne State University but did not graduate

First job: Working in parents' diner

Boards: Karmanos Cancer Institute, Worthington Industries

Resides: Birmingham, Mich.

What is the greatest business lesson you've learned?

Cash is king.

What is the greatest business challenge you've faced, and how did you overcome it?

Being able to go from being an entrepreneur to CEO of a public company. The way I handled it was by putting my head down and trying to understand the differences in the way the job has changed, to go from running a three-person company to running a 10,000-person company and doing an effective job each step of the way.

anybody would ask me what was the most difficult job, it's being able to evolve who you are, because each one of those jobs requires a different kind of technique.

Whom do you most admire in business and why?

There are so many of them. I guess I like Warren Buffett the best because he has a no-nonsense, down-to-earth attitude about the companies he invests in and doesn't put up with any of the crap you normally hear from anybody on the street.

As far as the industry basis, I think the current three guys running the automotive companies -- Bill Ford, (Rick) Wagoner and Dieter (Zetsche). I think they've had enormous hurdles that I think they're all overcoming. You will see a revitalized auto industry coming out of Detroit.

Sunday, 29 October 2006 11:55

Training tips

The new wave of competitive advantage relies on technology. Accomplishing business objectives depends on the efficiency and functionality of operating systems. While technology is becoming more and more automated, it still relies on people to perform. Encouraging employees to learn the necessary skills to keep your company competitive is a simple, yet effective, technique. To keep your technique smart, there should also be resource overlap in order to avoid a critical dependence on key personnel.

Trusting business intelligence with IT is like trusting money with the Accounting Department. Odds are you wouldn’t let an accountant without formal training handle your reports and checkbook. What if your accountant left: Would you let someone with no prior experience take over? Probably not.

One of the biggest mistakes that companies make is relying only on key individuals to manage the complexities of systems that run behind the scenes and support business processes. Would the loss or absence of one individual potentially devastate your company? Not only do companies experience knowledge loss, but the cost and time associated with hiring a new employee can be immense. Training is often expensive; however, it is unlikely that it will outweigh the opportunity costs of low performance and inexperienced employees.

Smart Business spoke with Chris Ruel, an instructor and consultant at Perpetual Technologies, about what businesses can do to reduce soaring costs of training.

How can companies utilize internal training methods to reduce the cost of training?
The first thing that comes to mind is documentation. I don’t simply mean the manuals that come with the systems. Documentation also means your respective technicians thoroughly document all procedures and practice disciplines and then distribute them to personnel within the department. Of course, this is always easier said than done.

Documentation should be a required component of each employee’s job description. Our clients insist that all services provided are documented and delivered on timely intervals. They use this data for budget justification; we use it for an opportunity to transfer internal knowledge. Too often, companies do not mandate this type of thorough documentation. As soon as one person goes on vacation and a nightly batch process fails for some error that is easily remedied, certain business processes can be put on hold for hours or days.

Rewarding employees who volunteer to provide or receive cross training with peers is another great method. For example, holding technical training seminars for employees and customers over lunch or after hours is a cost-effective training strategy. By providing the presenter a small token of appreciation for his or her time and providing lunch or dinner to the group, companies can cross train dozens of staff members using limited training dollars.

These methods help reduce problems associated with loss of key personnel and work force weariness. All the while, it promotes cross training and facilitates better communication.

How can management be certain that training dollars are going to benefit the company?
Attending vendor or skill-specific training can be one of the more costly methods of learning. Often, these classes include enrollment fees, travel and living expenses, and a loss of manpower for the duration of the course.

Although cost justification might be difficult, it is necessary to examine and quantify both the benefits and the results of out-of-date information. For example, learning about a new piece of software that will speed up the system allows for an additional X units of work to be done in a given time period. On the other hand, being outdated may restrict future business opportunities or partnerships that could be formed with more progressive companies.

There is also the issue of depth of talent within the organization. Referring back to the first topic, having employees cross-trained allows for a more solid organization.

Lastly, having vendor trained and certified employees will give the company a competitive edge.

Are there any in-between choices, as opposed to the internal or costly vendor supplied training?
Of course. Your company’s technologies may have local user groups and/or meetings. By becoming an active member, you can help influence speakers, topics and meeting formats.

Lastly is using the Internet for computer-based training. Electronic training provides you the same material that vendors would supply minus the instructor. Motivating your employees to buckle down and learn from readings and demonstrations is a cost-effective training approach. Plus, the employee will have the option of learning at his or her pace and time. Just don’t forget rewarding the employee; it’ll be worth it for your company.

CHRIS RUEL is an instructor and consultant for Perpetual Technologies. Reach him at chris.ruel@perptech.com or (317) 824-0393.

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