Dwight Smith is not ashamed or embarrassed that his Christian views drive his behavior in his business, Sophisticated Systems Inc., a supplier of information and technology solutions.
“This business is part of my testimony,” the CEO says. “So the blessings that the Lord gives me, if I live according to His will, will come to me and through me to others. I really believe in it.
“I am a very committed person. What that means is I pray about the business plan. I pray over the business every day.”
When Smith puts his life and work in God’s hands, he knows God then uses him.
“I believe in servant leadership,” Smith says. “And I think that when things go poorly, the leader should be front and center. When things go really well, the leader should be invisible.”
A serious business situation taught him that lesson. Smith’s company was about 10 years old, doing well and business was good. Then the red ink appeared, and he had to do some soul searching to find a solution.
“We had a terrible year; we lost almost $700,000,” he says. “When you are losing money that fast, that means you are borrowing money to keep afloat. So just imagine after being in business 10 years, waking up and you are $2 million in debt. And you just had a $700,000 loss.
“I remember getting on my knees and praying, ‘Lord, I’ve messed up your business. I have messed up my business. Will you take it and fix it?’”
Then he waited. He didn’t tell the people in the company the business was losing money until later. Smith didn’t want to panic them and felt confident that with some divine help, he could get out of the situation. With patience and some careful management, things started to look brighter.
“A year or so went by, and we turned it around, and we were making money again,” Smith says.
At that point, he called for a company meeting and made a confession.
“I said to the people, ‘A year or so ago, we almost lost everything,’ and I was looking at the audience, and they were horrified,” Smith says. “So I said to them, ‘How many people in this room tonight would’ve wanted to know that your company was struggling, that we were in bad shape?’ Every single hand in the room went up — and I didn’t know what to say.”
Smith explained that his experience working for IBM had taught him to share information only on a need-to-know basis.
“I just didn’t think the people needed to know,” he says. “I said, ‘The other thing is, I consider this to be a family, a big old family. So I’m the parent and you’re the child, and I’m protecting the children from bad things. I apologize. If we ever go through this again, I will be more open.’”
The following year, the company paid off the $2.1 million in debt and had a $300,000 profit. It didn’t borrow again after that for seven years.
When he heard the support from the employees at the company meeting, it got the ball rolling for another positive change in Sophisticated Systems.
“I can’t believe how many people have believed in this business, who have supported me through thick and thin, who would’ve always been there,” he says. “It is said, ‘For whom much is given, much is required,’ and that is because so many people have given to me, and I’ve asked for absolutely nothing in return.”
Smith, grateful for the support (some employees even offered to take a pay cut to keep the doors open), decided the company should pursue an employee stock ownership plan.
“I think that was the best decision I ever made — sharing the ownership with people whom I care about and whom care about their business, our business,” he says. “Why would the people who work here, who create the wealth and the value — why shouldn’t they be owners? They behave like owners. We ought to do that.”
Employees now own 40 percent of the company, and Smith owns the rest.
Smith is committed to causes outside his company as well. He and his wife, Reneé, founded the Thanks Be to God Foundation to support entrepreneurship and children across the globe. Last year, Smith went to Africa to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds. He made it to the summit in 10 days.
“We were hoping to raise $15,000,” he says. “The community came forward, and we raised $60,000 for the climb. All the stuff that I do, I kind of feel like Forrest Gump, where Forrest just ends up in all places at all times. That just made life so enjoyable, so overwhelming. It was such a humbling experience.”
A few of the organizations that have received support through the foundation include Big Brothers/Big Sisters, The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Campus Crusade for Christ, The TBTG Scholarship fund and others. ?
How to reach: Sophisticated Systems Inc., (614) 418-4600 or www.ssicom.com
Chuck Kegler knows the three requirements for success in a service business like the back of his hand.
“You can say it 100 different ways, but there are three things you have to do simultaneously,” says Kegler, director with Kegler Brown Hill & Ritter LPA and a member of the firm since 1968.
“One, you have to provide outstanding service to your customers and clients. That is measured by what they think. Usually it is that you either have a product or service that is helpful to them. You are helping them be successful. If you don’t have that product and the people to provide it, you are not going to be successful.”
The second thing is you want to be able to supply that service in a way that provides professional satisfaction for yourself — and sometimes even personal satisfaction to people with whom you work.
“The third thing is you have to do it in a financially successful way,” Kegler says. “You have to charge enough so you can have the absolute best people provide the best service.”
If those three requirements aren’t in place and operating simultaneously — or just one of them is missing — you have a problem.
“If any one of those doesn’t work, you can’t charge a fee,” he says. “Then you won’t be able to hire good people, you won’t be able to have a good staff, you won’t be successful. It doesn’t mean that you have to charge high fees at all, but in that respect, you have to have enough sense of the whole business side of it.”
While, it may sound like you are writing a mission statement to just hang on the wall, those requirements, when put into practice, will help ensure the success of a project or company as a whole.
“It may sound silly,” Kegler says, “but you should make business decisions based on questions like these: Will this help us provide outstanding service to clients? Can we do it in a way that we will be economically successful or have a chance at least? Will we give our people professional satisfaction? Do you think they will be satisfied doing it, or will they be compromising what they are doing?”
It’s important that each decision feels right to those involved. If it doesn’t, then that’s probably a sign you should reconsider.
“Someone will say, ‘I want to do this’ and it doesn’t feel good,” he says. “If you are representing a certain kind of client who wants to do something a certain way — if it doesn’t feel good, then don’t do that.”
For example, if a client called you and said, “I want you to draft these four things exactly this way,” you might do it and they might be unhappy with the results. The reason is it didn’t satisfy his or her goals. But if you had been able to ask a few questions, it might have become something totally different.
“A client called and asked us to prepare a whole set of documents to raise money according to different concepts he had outlined,” Kegler says. “After about 15 minutes, I said, ‘You know, you can go this way, and it will cost you about $20,000 to $25,000, or you can do it 90 percent by yourself if you do it this other way. You just need to change what you are doing slightly. I think it will be more effective than some big complicated process.’”
Looking back, Kegler recalled how the advice of a college professor led him to his career as a lawyer. The professor, a Jesuit priest at Xavier University who was the head of the pre-med department, suspected Kegler really wasn’t pursuing the right field — medicine.
“He said I had difficulty understanding three dimensions,” Kegler says, remembering how astonished he was at the time of the comment, and the priest added, ‘Your fine motor skills are not very good. Surgery is not something you should be doing.’”
Still probing, the professor asked Kegler what he liked about his family doctor that got him interested in medicine.
The discussion revealed that he liked the office atmosphere and the advisory aspects of the business, so the priest advised him to do something that would help others.
Kegler took a year off from school because his basketball scholarship ran out. His family then moved to Columbus, and he transferred to Ohio State University and changed his major.
“I went into business and then law school,” he says. “My path was pretty clear then. I could see right away I enjoyed law a lot more than medicine. Pre-med is something I felt like maybe I should do or could do. I had enough skills to do it, but it was not something I loved.”
What he does love is the practice of law.
“I really like it,” Kegler says. “I love it. We are blessed to have wonderful clients, we are blessed to be in a great city, Columbus, Ohio.” ?
How to reach: Kegler Brown Hill & Ritter LPA, (614) 462-5400 or www.keglerbrown.com
W hen Jim Budros speaks to young people about what it might be like going into business for themselves, he talks about the ability to take risks.
Budros, chairman of the board of Budros, Ruhlin & Roe Inc., founded the company in 1979. It is now the largest independent wealth management firm in Central Ohio.
After working in Boston, he came to Columbus, where there was an opportunity with The Huntington National Bank. Budros expected to stay in the city for about two years.
“It was not a prospect that I thought was going to be permanent,” he says. “But the most important part is what kept me here, and that was the opportunity to be in the trust business at the bank. That was the most important part of the formation of my interest in the work that we do today.”
Budros says determination and willingness to obtain different experiences are the keys to being a successful entrepreneur.
“I think, first, you need to have the idea that someday a business could be of your own making, and then secondly, I think when young people start in the business, they should start by developing a broad and diversified base of experience,” he says. “Your first job shouldn’t necessarily be what you believe is going to be your ultimate goal, but it should be part of developing a database of experience.”
But it takes a certain risk; you have to be willing to accept the results of failure.
“Most people don’t start out on a path with a 45-degree angle upward,” Budros says.
“They cycle up and down, they learn from their mistakes, and they press forward.”
So, for example, when a student graduates from college, he or she may find a resume doesn’t open many doors.
“If you graduate from a prestigious school, you probably have an opportunity to reach out right off the bat,” he says. “Some 95 percent of the people who graduate from college don’t graduate from a prestigious school with a job offer.”
It’s not time to stop job-hunting but rather to take a different approach.
“So you use what connections you have to get the first job,” he says. “Get on somebody’s payroll to begin to prove yourself to your employer and show that you are worthy of a weekly paycheck. Then develop the most important skills right off the bat of integrity, honesty and showing up on time and doing a full measure of your responsible job and maybe then some.”
You will gradually determine your tolerance for taking risks.
“Risk is an interesting concept,” Budros says. “Risk is the environment in which you are paid for taking a chance on something that is less certain than what is known. If you require certainty in your life, then you are probably not going to be a risk taker.
“If the most important thing in graduating from college is looking forward to getting a pension from the state of Ohio, you can probably deduce that you are not likely to be a risk taker in your life.
“I am not suggesting that risk takers are foolhardy. They have this notion in their mind that they can be paid handsomely for the willingness to be uncertain. It’s more of a psychological or behavioral concept than an analytical one.”
Budros says early in young people’s careers or even as they are growing up, they can be seen as ones who are willing to take risks or not.
“You might look at 10 first-graders who are longing to ride a bicycle, and you will see that three or four of them are willing to fall down. Five or six of them are not willing to fall down,” he says.
“I am not suggesting that risk-taking is necessarily good; it is often, however, an ingredient for being successful in business.”
But risk aside, one of the first challenges after starting a business might be communicating with prospective customers about what your new business does.
“When we first started this business, we were practically unable to describe what we did to the public, but we knew that we were totally competent,” Budros says. “We had absolute conviction in our competence that we were doing it the right way. So we were willing to take the risk in building the business on that basis.
“We provided really good financial planning and investment advice, and we had developed good name recognition with folks in Columbus. We had developed these relationships based on trustworthiness.”
“We became thought of and known by our clients as their trusted adviser,” he says. “It was that alone that catapulted us to the place we are today and that is to say a pretty good-sized firm in an industry with relatively small firms.” ?
How to reach: Budros, Ruhlin & Roe Inc., (614) 481-6900 or www.b-r-r.com
Putting it succinctly, Junior Achievement’s mission is to help give students — who are inspired to be the young entrepreneurs of tomorrow — a taste of the business world. Since 1919, JA has been educating students about entrepreneurship with passion and integrity. It is the world’s largest organization devoted to that purpose.
One of the keys to JA’s success is the hands-on programs that help prepare young people to operate their own business. Many alumni of the program have cited their experience in JA as the foundation for their interest in being self-employed.
For instance, an inductee into a local chapter’s Hall of Fame recalled that when he was 13, he wanted to be an astronomer. Then, with five friends, he got into Junior Achievement and created a little company to market a useful product.
“We made money in the end,” he says. “After three or four months, we distributed $40 to each person of the company. Forty bucks doesn’t sound a lot today, but that was in 1955. At any rate, I decided, ‘Hey, I’d better go into business because I can’t make any money as an astronomer.’ That’s when I decided to go into business.”
Today, he owns a multimillion-dollar successful company.
JA Worldwide reaches more than 9 million students each year in 380,000 classrooms as well as after-school sites. There are 330,000 classroom volunteers globally who come from a wide range of backgrounds: retirees, businesspeople, college students and parents.
Local chapters each year honor distinguished business leaders who have acted as role models for students.
This year’s honorees for Junior Achievement of Central Ohio include Jim Budros, chairman of the board of Budros, Ruhlin & Roe Inc., the largest independent wealth management firm in central Ohio; Chuck Kegler, director with Kegler Brown Hill & Ritter LPA and a member of the firm since 1968; and Dwight Smith, founder and CEO of Sophisticated Systems Inc., a business technology partner in the Columbus region, and co-founder with his wife Reneé of the Thanks Be to God Foundation to support entrepreneurship and children worldwide.
They join the more than 80 business leaders inducted into the Junior Achievement of Central Ohio Hall of Fame in the past 25 years who give inspiration and purpose to young people to succeed in a global economy.
George McCloy remembers back in the mid-1960s when he sold his first life insurance policy as well as when he delivered his first death claim.
“The first policy I ever sold I actually had to deliver to the guy in a hospital,” he says. “He was no longer insurable, but he had prepaid it, so I was able to deliver it. Because of that, his family was able to stay in America ? they were from Italy.”
McCloy feels this was the first incident when belief in his product was a key point in his career. “People who really succeed in financial services are people who believe in what they do,” he says. “If you don’t know the benefits of life insurance, it would be hard to sell because it’s intangible,” says McCloy, president of the 50-employee McCloy Financial Services.
“My first actual paid death claim was a fraternity brother of mine who was killed in Vietnam. I went to his wedding in May, his funeral in September and delivered an insurance policy check to his wife.
“So it’s not hard when you have that kind of thing happen early in your career to believe in what you do.”
Once McCloy secured a deep belief in his product, he found a second key to success was diligence.
“I am blessed with ‘stick-to-itiveness,’” he says. “I’m not afraid to work; I never had what is known as ‘call reluctance.’ So, I set a task for myself and stick to it, trying to accomplish that in a year ? tell people I would do it ? you mix those all together, and you end up usually building a pretty nice clientele.”
Persistence is a personal key to his success, and he heartily endorses it for others, especially those starting out in an industry.
“I would give them the advice that it’s not what the industry might do for them but what they might do for the industry, meaning that a lot of kids maybe come out of college not having the same work ethic that I had when I graduated,” McCloy says. “If they would put their head down and work hard toward whatever their objective was or if they could pick out their niche and stick to it, they could be successful in the business.”
Another key to success is working well with people. An understanding of figures or stocks and bonds and insurance-type products is a good thing, but it’s not necessarily a dealmaker.
“You’ll do better financially for yourself if you are good at working with people because you can get anybody to work with figures,” McCloy says. “The ability to work with, understand and listen to people would be much more to their advantage than just working with figures.”
Most people are born with some people skills that can be later groomed and improved. But the opposite for those only comfortable with numbers is not necessarily true.
“It would be much easier to teach somebody who understands how to work with people how to understand numbers than it is to take somebody who understands numbers and try to get them to be fluent with people,” McCloy says.
“I know some very successful people who are not terribly extroverted,” he says. “You could be an introvert but understand how to get along with people. You don’t have to be the big ‘rah rah’ guy to go out and be an extrovert to make it.”
Finding your specialty, believing in your mission and sticking to it can result in big accomplishments in your career, even if you aren’t a cheerleader, so to speak.
“I know some actually humble people who picked a niche like the pension business or the group insurance business and have done quite well by getting something they understood. They stuck with it, learned it, asked questions, listened to people and did well but weren’t that extroverted.”
Community involvement is one of the steps in developing people skills.
“Give to your community in some way,” McCloy says. “You get to know people, then people tend to want to talk to you. That’s my motif.”
A final key to success, although not the least one, is motivation to imagine your success.
“If a young person can paint the story of success and you ask that person what the definition of success is in the next 12 months or five years from now, you’d have some idea of either how logical that person is in the thought process,” McCloy says.
If there is a reasonable goal that is obtainable, you can motivate people by activity.
“Focus on a certain market segment activity, and if you are willing to do it two or three times a day, as opposed to two or three times a week, then you will be successful,” he says.
“If I believe in something and I’m excited enough to go out and do it and I can demonstrate a certain level of success — you know, if you sell two truckloads of this, you get X dollars — it’s not hard to motivate somebody else to say, ‘Well, gee, maybe I can sell a truckload.’”
How to reach: McCloy Financial Services, (614) 457-6233 or www.mccloyfinancial.com
A letter from Greg Moran, chairman of Junior Achievement of Central Ohio:
On behalf of our community partners, Junior Achievement of Central Ohio is proud to host the 2011 Central Ohio Business Hall of Fame ceremony. The Hall of Fame has recognized more than 80 distinguished business leaders during the past 24 years.
This year’s inductees — Sue Doody, George McCloy and Robert White Sr. — are deserving additions to the Central Ohio Business Hall of Fame. Excellence, leadership and an entrepreneurial spirit will be well represented by the class of 2011.
The 2011 Hall of Fame inductees act as role models for students in our community. Junior Achievement celebrates their careers as we prepare young people to succeed in the global economy. Junior Achievement volunteers and staff teach financial literacy, work readiness skills and an entrepreneurial mindset to students throughout the central Ohio region.
I am excited about what the entrepreneurs of the past and present have done for Central Ohio. Working closely with business and economic development leadership, we look forward with anticipation to the contribution that Junior Achievement alumni will make in our community during the coming decades!
Today, we have an opportunity to celebrate these Hall of Fame inductees, standing on the foundation they’ve laid as we help young people take control of their future and fully live to their potential in our region. We are proud to be partners with our school systems, employers and community leadership in educating our future work force. We invite you to join us at www.jacols.org or search Junior Achievement of Central Ohio on Facebook.
Greg Moran is chairman of the board for Junior Achievement of Central Ohio and senior vice president and chief information officer, Infrastructure and Operations, for Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.