Thursday, 25 November 2010 19:00

Time for a change

In the year 1532, Niccolo Machiavelli penned, “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

More than 450 years later, our organization has found that this is still true.

Clinical Research Management Inc. has spent the last five years undergoing an organizational culture change and the experience has tested every facet of our organization.

As a company, we’ve gone where most people don’t want to go and plummeted into multiple depths of despair as we realized the chasm that existed between where we were and where we wanted to be.

When we understood the enormous amount of heartache, discipline, effort and energy that would be involved in turning the culture around, we came close to giving up. The entire mission seemed like a daunting task, but hope, determination and optimism have a funny way of turning daunting tasks into challenging opportunities.

So with optimism and intense determination, we moved forward with our mission to change our culture. Here’s how we did it:

Reality check

You can’t travel to a destination if you don’t know your current location. Understanding our current location was critical and we had to take a good look at ourselves. To do this, we solicited input and collected data from every level of our organization. We candidly asked our employees and customers about our culture. We also engaged outside consultants to speak with staff and customers about our culture. This information took approximately one year to collect and understand.

Create the future vision

During the same time frame, we took our management staff off-site for a few days and concentrated on where we wanted our culture to be in five years. We envisioned that a media article had been released about our company five years in the future. Our job was to fill in the contents of that article. We created a positive, exciting media article that we could all be proud of and translated the essence of the media article into a vision for our desired culture.

How big is the chasm?

We began to examine the gaps between our current and our desired culture. We recognized that there were great strengths within our current culture that we could leverage. These strengths became the solid foundation that we used to bridge the chasm as we built a five-year plan to move us from one culture to another.

Execute the plan

We understood that executing our plan would be a critical phase of our culture change process. We sought assistance from every level of the organization and developed several tactics to help drive toward the new vision. We integrated aspects of the new culture throughout every facet of the company’s activities.

Clinical Research Management is now entering the third year of our five-year plan and we’ll admit that changing our organizational culture is clearly the most prolonged and difficult business endeavor we’ve ever tackled.

It has also been an incredibly rewarding experience, and we would do it again because we believe that culture drives our company.

From a personal standpoint, continuing to build a sustainable, positive, nimble, innovative and fiscally sound culture will always be my top priority as CEO.

Machiavelli’s statements from 1532 ring true today. Changing your culture will be hard but not impossible. You’ve got to believe in your vision and keep an intense focus on where you want your culture to be.

It won’t happen in a day or even a month — but it will happen, and you’ll be positively transformed along the way.

Victoria Tifft is founder and CEO of Clinical Research Management, a full-service contract research organization that offers early to late-stage clinical research services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She can be reached at

Published in National
Thursday, 25 November 2010 19:00

Common business sense

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last three years, you know that the term “app” is shorthand for software application, made famous by the technology geniuses at Apple. It came into vogue with the iPhone and now with the iPad. Following Apple’s remarkable success, just about every other manufacturer has figured out how to put microchips in a cheap plastic case and call it a personal digital system or PDA, which does all kinds of incredible stuff.

Innovation spawns accelerated innovation, and today, there are more than 30,000 apps from how to find romance in all the wrong places to creating a voodoo doll with a photo of your least favorite person imposed on a deformed body, all for the purpose of poking it with pins with one click when circumstances dictate. These know-all, do-all digital marvels can be downloaded to miniature handheld devices that only a few years ago were a mere glimmer in a few computer geeks’ eyes. Even more astounding is that there are more than 100 new applications being created every day. Based on these numbers, it’s only logical to wonder what’s next. Will there come a time when at the flick of a finger we will know the answers before we even know the questions?

At least to date, however, I have not found an app for common sense. It would be great to click on an icon to avoid stupid mistakes that can lose a customer, really get you in hot water with a boss, bank or investor, or result in hurling unintentional epithets.

Even with all of these new electronic tools we have at our fingertips today, management must still train employees not to rely solely on pseudo- or quasi-artificial intelligence to make the right decision but instead use their noggins. There are dozens of very effective and simple rules to ensure that your people think before they act. Most of them were taught to us by our parents, third-grade teachers and, for advanced learners, a few mentors that we have all met along our career paths.

Here are five common-sense rules that have saved many careers, a transaction or improved business. You’ve heard them all before but they bear repeating. I suggest at the risk of insulting everyone on your team, you pass this column on to them and make me the bad guy for insulting their tech-savvy intelligence by stating what should be obvious.

1. Always, count to 10 before hitting the send key and firing off an incendiary e-mail. Unlike many relationships, jobs and even wealth, e-mail is really forever and can come back to haunt you.

2. Ask yourself before finalizing a deal, “Are you doing it so you can say you won or because it really will provide benefit to the business?” Too many deals get down to proving who’s the better deal-maker or salesperson, rather than who’s the more effective businessperson.

3. As Abraham Lincoln said, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” All too frequently people talk themselves out of a transaction because they provide, as the kids say today, “TMI,” or too much information. Translation, when you have made your point, zip it.

4. If it’s too good to be true, it’s almost a guarantee that it will prove to be too good to be true. Just ask any of the clients of convicted conman extraordinaire Bernie Madoff, many of whom are now probably holding second jobs flipping burgers to make ends meet.

5. Although it’s nice to give the other guy the benefit of the doubt, trust, but always verify, too. Just count how many times in every U.S. president’s term an appointment is suddenly withdrawn when Congress starts digging into a candidate’s background.

Unquestionably, we’re all becoming more efficient and effective because of technology. However, at least for now, there isn’t an app for common sense and clear thinking. Nevertheless, the good news is that there are many apps to help you find at least 10 excuses for any bonehead mistake that caused irreparable damage, in at least as many languages.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, will be published by John Wiley & Sons in early 2011. Reach him with comments at

Published in National
Tuesday, 26 October 2010 20:00

Creating teamwork

For most, teamwork is merely a business buzzword, a sports term turned corporate jargon. It conjures up images of ropes courses and trust falls, off-sites and team T-shirts. The concept of teamwork is well-known in business, yet the application rarely yields the promised results. Why? Because it’s usually missing something — the true essence of teamwork, which is the spirit that makes the members of the team want to succeed together.

Winning teams have a well-developed sense of camaraderie and respect — the result of each individual feeling a deep commitment to the team’s mission and to his or her teammates. The more people value and honor their relationships with one another and their shared commitment to productivity, the better they perform. Effective teamwork takes the best from a company — a well-crafted business strategy complete with clear objectives — coupled with the best from a family — strong, trusting relationships.

The CEO of a giant company in a commodity-based industry, was constantly revising his operating strategy, shaving pennies in an effort to boost margins. After exhausting all of the traditional cost-cutting strategies, the CEO turned his focus to the internal company culture, which was competitive versus collaborative among functional divisions. Recognizing that productivity could be improved with increased collaboration, he began “requiring” teamwork.

Not surprisingly, this didn’t work.

The CEO called us for assistance. He needed help developing the strategic behaviors in his team to stimulate commitment and connectedness among his employees. We started our work with a deep dive into the root cause of the disconnection. True teamwork depends on commitment and connectedness among the members, and that depends on trust. And trust depends on a sense of shared equity within the organization. The CEO’s organization was chock-full of disparities in power and knowledge. There was nothing that connected his employees except the signature on their paycheck. These discrepancies inhibited any real collaboration, and worse, they fostered a competitive, cutthroat work environment where everyone felt he or she had to watch his or her back.

The first step was to reduce the discrepancies in power and knowledge by openly sharing the company’s mission and high-level strategy with the employees. This transparency not only informed employees, but it also eased the feeling that they were just pawns in someone else’s grand plan. In addition to sharing the overall objectives, the CEO and the executives did something radical. They asked for input.

[Register for a webinar with Donna Rae Smith about mastering organizational change.]

Initially this openness was met with resistance and skepticism. The executives weren’t deterred. They continued, modeling this openness in every conversation. It was contagious. A renewed energy and enthusiasm that this company hadn’t felt in decades emerged.

The CEO’s company was able to transform its environment into one that is supportive and encouraging, where the diverse strengths and abilities of each individual are recognized and incorporated into a shared vision for the future. The employees struck a balance between valuing productivity and relationships — the best of a company combined with the best of a family.

All of us have experienced trusting relationships whether with our family members or friends. Ask each member of your group to identify the habits and behaviors that strengthens his or her relationship with his or her most trustworthy friends or family members. How can that habit be applied to the team? Perhaps you can create an environment where members feel comfortable surfacing issues that in the past were avoided. Ask everyone on the team to commit to the new behaviors, like allowing members to talk about hot topics without criticism. Apply this new behavior as you work to get things done as a team.

Donna Rae Smith is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a behavioral strategy company that teaches leaders to be masters of change. For more than two decades, Smith and the Bright Side team have been recognized as innovators in organizational and leadership development and the key partner to more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, please visit or contact Smith at Donna Rae Smith also contributes a weekly blog to Smart Business, The Bright Side of Change.

Published in National

Important business lessons can be learned from observing how others in unrelated professions make decisions under stress. I have co-piloted planes and helicopters in the second seat next to experienced aviators, trained to race sports cars and ride motorcycles, scrubbed in to watch surgeries, and even did a stint in an emergency room just to get an up-close look at how the highly skilled function under pressure. Recently, I added a police patrol ride-along to my repertoire in order to see what else it takes to have the right stuff.

The police are trained to make decisions with limited information. When a car is dispatched to unknown trouble, the officer often has limited information about what may be encountered. It could be a man with a gun or merely a barking dog.

In business, every day, executives must make decisions that can be life-altering. These include hiring and firing as well as dealing with serious issues that could affect a business’s well-being.

During my ride-along, I asked numerous questions. Topping the list of good advice from my new temporary partner was his response to my question of, “How do you get control in a difficult situation?”

My mentor for the evening stated, “When you lose respect, you lose your authority, and bad things can happen.”

He went on to explain that, when he arrives on the scene, the first thing he must do is gain respect from everyone involved. Respect, he added, is achieved by first giving respect and not by muscling your way in and pushing people around.

Respect also comes from looking the part. That’s why officers wear uniforms, have badges, and carry scary-looking guns and handcuffs. That is also why I’m not a huge fan of everyday “business casual.” When one is attempting to wield power, if nothing else, he or she must look the part, either sitting in a squad car or at business meeting.

Most civilians think that when a police officer’s radio crackles “211 in progress” (code for armed robbery), the officer hits the siren and lights, does a U-turn with tires smoking and speeds off to save the day. I learned on my ride-along that “fast is not really always fast.” Instead, speed is about “being smooth,” and first thinking through the proper way to proceed.

In business, how many times do executives react to a situation with lightning speed but without first weighing all of the possible ramifications? The streets are littered with the resumes of executives who acted before they assessed.

Once on the scene, an officer has to size up the situation and set priorities. If the bad guy has a gun to someone’s head, the cop doesn’t walk around asking a female witness, “Just the facts ma’am.” The same applies with a corporate problem. When it occurs, the manager must triage the issue to mitigate the damage. It is equally critical in crime scene investigations and in finding a business solution to assess the situation and to do what is most important first before determining who is at fault.

Police officers depend on concise communications and teamwork when lives hang in the balance. Most times in business, lives are not at stake, but the need to ask for assistance is no different from a cop shouting over the radio “Officer needs help.” Not every patrol person is a SWAT expert, but every officer is trained to know when to seek help. Too many managers wait too long to recognize that they lack the specific skill set to fix a portion of the problem. In both professions, those involved need to know when to call for reinforcements.

As I concluded my ride-along, I asked my new cop buddy his opinion of what it will take to reduce crime. His one word response: “Consequences.” The perpetrators must know that if they do the crime, they’ll do the time. This is no different from setting guidelines for employees, contractors and suppliers. A leader must make clear what is expected and what the consequences are if someone doesn’t deliver.

I learned a lot on this ride-along, including that preparation and thinking before reacting go a long way in keeping the peace on the “mean streets,” as well as in the corporate boardroom.

Finally, in case you’re wondering … no, we didn’t stop for doughnuts.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, will be published by John Wiley & Sons in early 2011. Reach him with comments at

Published in National

Marvin Montgomery, the Sales Doctor In sales, the power of a positive attitude is everything. The success you have in sales and life starts with what is going on between your ears.

What are you thinking on the way to the sales call? What is your thought process as you’re putting the proposal together? What’s going through your head as you’re sitting in front of the buyer to deliver the proposal?

If it’s all negative, then you’re already defeated. But if it’s positive, you’re more than halfway to the close. In other words, if you think you can, you will.

Doubt is a killer. If there is the least bit of doubt in your mind, you’re already putting yourself at a disadvantage. The power of positive thought works, and successful people use it all the time in their personal and professional lives.

Do you want to be successful? Then know that you can be. Remember that it’s not what happens to you, it’s what happens in you that matters. I am asked all the time how I stay so positive and how others can maintain a similar positive attitude. The answer is simple, but it takes a concentrated effort. Attitude is a choice. Expect the best and that’s usually what you get.

Here are a few tips to help you stay positive:

Laugh more. Laughter is the best medicine.

Stay fit. Being physically active will help give you positive energy.

Unload the negative. Rid yourself of the negative baggage around you.

Forget about the past. Don’t repeat negative past experiences in your head — keep your head up and look toward the future.

Appreciate what you have. If you’re always wanting something else, you won’t be happy with what you have.

Retrain your mind. List positive self-affirmations and read them back to yourself each day.

Visualize. Picture yourself as successful and positive and you will become that.

Marvin Montgomery is an author, speaker and sales training consultant at ERC, where he has assisted hundreds of organizations in improving their productivity. You can ask the Sales Doctor a question at

Published in Akron/Canton
Saturday, 25 September 2010 20:00

Attitude is everything

If you surf the evening news or the cable news networks, one thing is certain: All news is bad news. If you create your perspective from television, you probably think the world is going to end tomorrow. This attitude of despair has crept into the workplace. The constant bombardment of negative messages, combined with a challenging economy, has not only the employees in a panic but some CEOs, as well.

While there may not be a “good news” channel on TV, you need to create the equivalent in your organization. You will be the anchor and will explain how there are no problems, just opportunities.

The CEO sets the tone for the office, and an attitude that’s focused on the glass being half-full is contagious. You have to put forth the energy to constantly be positive, because it’s too easy for people to focus on the negatives. A positive attitude can rally those around you, and conversely, a negative attitude can be destructive. Words have power — they can boost someone up or cut someone down. You have to create the vision that pushes people toward the positive and keeps them from fixating on the negative and constantly reinforce this message every opportunity you get.

Where they may see only bleak outcomes, you must see challenges that can be conquered. Not only must you identify the challenges, you also need to share the positive energy it will take to overcome them.

Walt Disney always saw the glass as half full. When he opened Disneyland in 1955, it was the world’s first theme park. It was a huge risk investing in something that had never been done before. A decade later, people thought he was even crazier when he bought up a bunch of swamp land outside of Orlando, Fla., to build Disney World. Where some people saw worthless land and risky business ventures, Disney saw places where families could go and have a good time.

Facing challenges with a positive attitude doesn’t mean you become overly optimistic. It just means you focus on the positive and build outward from that. One person can look at a business and see it as doomed to fail. Another person looking at the same business can see a great opportunity. It all depends on your attitude.

Within an organization, it’s important to have everyone working together. The saying about a little bad yeast spoiling the dough rings true when it comes to the people who work for you. The naysayers will spend their time complaining about their jobs and the bleak future of the company rather than working to do something about it. They become a cancer that spreads through the organization, crippling it. You have to take whatever steps necessary to rid yourself of these types of people; otherwise you’ll never make progress. Sometimes bringing in people with fresh perspectives is all it takes to get a department or an entire organization looking at things in new ways.

If you find yourself starting to fall victim to negative thinking, then you need to get a little perspective. Even with your troubles, you have it much better than most people in the world. It’s a privilege to be in a position of leadership, and you’ll always have a chance at another venture, even if your current one fails. Great leaders can go from boom to bust and then back again. You may have problems, but this is a country of second chances.

No matter what happens, you have to remind yourself to be positive and work toward solutions. If you see the glass as half full, those around you will start to do the same.

Published in National
Thursday, 26 August 2010 20:00

Funding fathers

In 1957, retired Gen. Georges Doriot invested $70,000 in a start-up named Digital Equipment Corp. Well, that $70,000 turned into $355 million. And when others found out about that, they started investing, too, and the venture capital industry was formed.

But while thousands of entrepreneurs have raised billions of venture capital dollars since then, the vast majority of entrepreneurs have failed to raise venture capital.

There are two key reasons for this. First, most entrepreneurs don’t qualify for venture capital since they can’t scale fast enough, nor do they have the potential for a large enough exit. And second, there are too few venture capitalists versus the masses of entrepreneurs who need money.

Fortunately for entrepreneurs, a new type of funding recently emerged called “crowdfunding.” Crowdfunding turns the tables, because there are now more potential investors than entrepreneurs.

Crowdfunding is when a group of people collectively fund a cause. That cause could range from paying for medical bills or a wedding to filming a movie or starting or growing a business.

To an extent, crowdfunding has been around forever and is the basis for most nonprofit fundraisers.

But due to the recent advent of two Internet platforms, business crowdfunding, or using crowdfunding to fund a for-profit business venture, has started to take off.

The two Internet platforms are and Each allows entrepreneurs to raise crowdfunding for their for-profit ventures (nonprofit ventures can also use them).

In brief, these platforms allow entrepreneurs to post their funding requests. They also handle all the funding transactions. The process works as follows: Entrepreneurs start by creating a video and/or text about what their venture is all about. Then, they establish the amount of money they need to raise and over what time period. Next, they set rewards for the donors. For example, for a donation of $25, donors may get a company T-shirt. Or donors giving $100 or more may get a $50 gift certificate to use once the business is open. All of this information is posted on the entrepreneur’s page on the crowdfunding platform.

The final step is for the entrepreneur to tell the world about his or her crowdfunding request in order to get people to donate. This is where it gets interesting. Crowdfunding is taking off because spreading the word about yourself or your venture is so much easier today than it ever was before.

For example, by using tools like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and e-mail, infused with entrepreneurial creativity (e.g., creating intriguing/viral videos about your business) entrepreneurs can quickly gain awareness and support from hundreds, thousands and even tens or hundreds of thousands of people.

For example, in early 2010, four New York University students started a social networking company called Diaspora. The students posted their crowdfunding request in April 2010 on and raised $200,642 from 6,479 people, most of whom they’ve never met.

Diaspora, with its $200,642 crowdfunding round, has raised the bar for crowdfunding. Formerly, most companies raised between $5,000 and $25,000 from this method. But the average amount raised should continue to increase as entrepreneurs hone their ability to tell the masses about their ventures.

Both and are reward-based crowdfunding platforms, which means that donors receive rewards for giving, even if the value of the reward is less than the amount of their donation.

Debt-based crowdfunding platforms, also known as social lending, are also available via websites such as and On these sites, entrepreneurs can request business loans from individuals rather than banks.

And, finally, there is equity-based crowdfunding, whereby funders give money in return for equity. This type of crowdfunding has not yet taken off due to the complexities of equity transactions. However, several entrepreneurs are working on solutions to this problem, and I expect that soon such a platform will exist.

The Internet, e-mail and social networking sites have allowed most of us to build larger networks of friends and colleagues and to interact with them more easily and frequently. Crowdfunding allows us to leverage these tools and connections into funding for new and growing business ventures. It is a unique form of funding that is appropriate for most entrepreneurs and is relatively quick and easy to raise. As such, most entrepreneurs should start tapping this new funding source immediately.

David Lavinsky is president and co-founder of Growthink ( Since 1999, Growthink has helped thousands of entrepreneurs and business owners develop business plans and raise numerous forms of financing, from bank loans to venture capital and private equity transactions. Lavinsky can be reached at

Published in National
Thursday, 26 August 2010 20:00

Make it memorable

Last fall, I was hunting for flights on the usual discount sites when I found the perfect one on British Airways and got very excited. I had never flown them before nor had I remembered any of their commercials. And then I realized the calculated events that caused my positive reaction.

Several months prior, I had seen an e-mail about a Face-to-Face essay contest where you could win a free British Airways flight to anywhere in the world. Although I did not participate in the contest or flight, I had several friends who were among the hundreds of business leaders that had an amazing experience and subsequently shared it with friends and colleagues.

Faced with a business environment at the end of 2008 that was less than friendly to overseas business travel, Anne Tedesco, the North American vice president of marketing for British Airways, was charged by Simon Talling-Smith, the company’s executive vice president of the Americas, with finding a way to make flying overseas for face-to-face contact important and, of course, make British Airways the first airline of choice. Their approach was an excellent example of using creativity, intensity and revelation.

Creativity — Talling-Smith, Tedesco and their team figured out the best way to convince the business world was to show business leaders firsthand what face-to-face contact was all about. The team decided they would reach out to business and entrepreneur organizations across America and invite them to fly for free anywhere they wanted. An essay contest was established and broadcast to the business community. A content rich website was established at to handle the applications. Winners could go to any British Airways serviced city on a fully paid round-trip ticket. Very quickly, 900 entrepreneurs were selected from more than 3,000 applicants.

Intensity — The British Airways buzz began within the organizations. The only thing entrepreneurs love more than “free” is competition, so bragging rights for the flight winners did not go unused. To make sure the program would have the desired effect, the marketing team promoted it as “Networking in the Sky” and created an atmosphere in the lounge, on the plane and at the Sofitel in London that encouraged socializing with a learning component. Experts and dignitaries in business and politics were lined up to make sure participants received value at every turn. Gourmet food and champagne flowed freely. Not a minute of the experience was left to chance.

Revelation — Participants in the British Airways program talk about it being a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Relationships were made on the planes that were unexpected and more fruitful than even British Airways executives had planned. The company had succeeded in making itself top of mind not only for the selected entrepreneurs but also for those connected and impacted by their stories. The successful program resulted in increased business and a newly established social media business community for British Airways.

The Face-to-Face program was such a success it’s being repeated; this time with video pitches as part of the application. Always looking to improve their program and create more impact, British Airways has made it more exclusive with only 250 winners and they enlisted a number of consultants, including yours truly, to advise participants how to get the most from their pitch technique and be memorable to the connections they’ll make if selected. Here are some thoughts I will provoke with participants in those sessions.

1. Have you considered every aspect of your presentation, including content, look and feel, clothing, etc.?

2. What are you pitching that is important for the listening party rather than what is interesting to you?

3. How will you connect in an intensely empathetic manner?

4. What is the “aha” takeaway from your pitch or presentation that your competitors won’t or can’t create?

5. What is the last image and thought you will leave at the end of the pitch or presentation?

Whether you are creating a branding impression like British Airways, pitching for a contest opportunity or presenting at a face-to-face meeting, the opportunity is limited to make a lasting impression.

KEVIN DAUM is the principal of TAE International and the best-selling author of the Amazon #1 Best-sellers “ROAR! Get Heard in the Sales and Marketing Jungle” and “Green$ense For the Home: Rating the Real Payoff on 50 Green Home Projects” both on bookstore shelves this month. He is a speaker and marketing consultant. Reach him at Check out Kevin’s Quest for the Jewish Super Bowl Ring at

Published in National

The opening scene of many Western movies features a scruffy-faced, toothless gold miner who turns to a sidekick and proclaims, as he mystically gazes yonder to majestic mountains, “There is gold in them there hills.” This is the sidekick’s cue to grunt, thus acknowledging that this utterance is, indeed, fact. In turn, the miner’s nonverbal shrug suggests, “But where?” Change the setting and this scene could be two businesspeople staring out of an office window, but standing in for the toothless miner is the eager entrepreneur or CEO, and the man of few words is, no doubt, the accountant.

Reality is it takes money to make money, no matter if a business is just starting out, trying to keep running or growing, the entity needs to find the gold in the hills to move forward. The conundrum is where in the hill is it?

Every month, I receive many comments from both faithful and new readers alike. The No. 1 question I’m asked is, “Show me the money,” or, more aptly stated, “Where does one find money?” Anyone running an enterprise can relate to that queasy feeling when the company is bumping up against its credit line, can’t get credit at all or is desperately searching for new investors.

After the market meltdown of 2008, we’re operating in uncharted waters. Although banks claim they are lending, that’s only partially true. For the most part, they are willing to lend money to businesses provided they don’t need it, but banks are reluctant to do so for a company whose lifeblood is working capital.

This new lender’s modus operandi requires borrowers to employ creativity, perseverance and a healthy dose of chutzpah. Make no mistake, there is money to be had, it just may no longer be available from the traditional sources.

For a newer business without a boatload of hard assets to secure a loan, the task is a bit more challenging. What I have advised readers to think about when they are trying to raise money is to ask themselves one important question, which can be expressed as a type of algebraic expression: “My success will = success for ____?” Fill in this blank and the operator will have taken the first step in finding new money. It could be from key suppliers or vendors with which a company creates a new channel of distribution. It might be another business that would be complemented by the establishment of a new business. Rudimentary examples would be a parking lot operator who is located next door to a new restaurant, or a gym that could lease space to a sporting goods store within its walls.

If you’re trying to find gold from suppliers, you will have to think of it from their perspective. The win portion of the question could be that the company in search of capital gives warrants or option to the benefactor/lender that entitles it to buy equity into the company either at a prescribed price or under other advantageous terms at a specific point in time.

A midsize or larger company might use similar creativity by refinancing a package of company assets, which have been paid down or owned outright. In addition to paying interest, the borrower might include a “kicker” or something extra that would be provided when the loan matures. In this time of survival of the fittest, there is always the possibility of a merger when going it alone is no longer practical.

Most lenders/investors will need to know: What is the borrower’s skin in the game? This means how much of the owner’s own money has been contributed to fund the business or has the CEO pledged his or her first-born or other less valuable assets? Also required is a thoughtful plan that demonstrates how one is going to get from Point A to Point B, travailing any landmines along the way.

To go for the gold takes unique thinking, logic and tenacity. Another tip: Just because you’re told no the first time doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be turned down the second time if you provide additional information, a twist to the plan and improved incentives. 

Don’t just gaze off into those majestic hills, merely fantasizing about finding the mother lode. Instead, gather up your pick and shovel and start prospecting for your future.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988. Starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind wellness chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at

Published in National
Monday, 26 July 2010 11:50

At the crossroad

Miami, long a gateway to Latin America, is hoping to parlay that access into a cozier business relationship with the Far East. In particular, business leaders here have China in their sights.
That was the predominant buzz at this June’s annual Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce goals conference, where the prospects were laid out for more trade and investment with China, Taiwan and Japan. But while there are hopeful signs that the local economy is rebounding and infrastructure projects are underway to help Miami compete for Asian business and investment, most here agree that there is a long way to go before a new “silk road” is created.

“The opportunity for Miami will mostly be to play the role of an aggregator for Latin American businesses that want to do business in China,” says Ray Ruga, principal at the marketing firm CVOX Group LLC, which focuses on helping Latin American and Miami-based companies promote their businesses in China. “That role isn’t assured yet because Miami’s relationship with China is still new.”

To put this in perspective: Trade between China and Miami-Dade County is estimated to have been $3.9 billion in 2009, according to research by WorldCity — comparable to the level of trade the region did with the Dominican Republic, a country whose economy is roughly 100 times smaller but is only 900 miles away from Miami.
But China trade will get a boost once dredging is completed that will allow larger ships, carrying roughly five times the cargo of current vessels, to dock at the Port of Miami. That move — and construction of new gates now underway at the Panama Canal — will make it more cost-effective for Chinese businesses to use Miami as a distribution hub for goods and materials.

“China has been here for years, kicking the tires,” says Frank R. Nero, president and CEO of the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade’s economic development organization.

But, only recently, there have been concrete moves to invest in the area including the June signing of an agreement to open a logistics center in the city of Opa-locka, which will serve as a “linkage to Chinese manufacturers in Latin America.” Nero added that the center is expected to house 50 companies and create 3,000 jobs, and that an estimated 500 Chinese nationals will relocate to Miami because of the facility.

The influx of Chinese immigrants into the Miami area is of particular interest to those in the real estate industry, which was hard hit during the recession.

“They’re here and they’re buying, but nobody knows how to connect with them,” said a frustrated Teresa King Kinney, CEO of the Realtor Association of Greater Miami and the Beaches, during one of the chamber’s planning sessions.

According to Kinney and others at the session, language barriers and an overall unfamiliarity with the landscape of Chinese business interests are making it difficult for Miami business to leverage the growing interest that China and other Asian countries have in investing and doing business here.

“What Miami lacks is leadership, particularly among elected officials,” says CVOX’s Ruga, adding that local governments need to step up or risk losing the opportunity to other cities competing for Chinese investment. “Latin America feels so comfortable doing business with South Florida that this could be a one-stop shop for Chinese businesses.”


William Plasencia is a longtime business journalist and president of WPA Works, a communications and media consulting company based in Miami. Reach him at

Published in Florida