Don't doubt that Robert Fortney eats, sleeps and dreams business.
He says it's a fact to which his wife, Ruth, and daughters Katie, Jessie, Megan and Chelsea could easily attest. But lately, the entrepreneurial bug has bitten Fortney again, this time in the form of a new venture called Upfront Commissions. The start-up, in which he is a 50 percent owner, is based upon a simple, but wildly logical business idea.
The idea is to provide real estate agents with their money today from a sale today, keeping a cut for the company while it waits for the deal to close in order to collect. The longer the amount of time until the deal closes, the more money Upfront Commissions stands to collect. For example, Fortney says a 60-day close would cost a real estate professional who wanted to use the service roughly 8 percent.
"We started this business in August, and since November, we have been at basically break even, which is great for a new start-up," he explains. "Over six months, more than $1 million worth of commissions have been generated. Once you get somebody inside the system, there's a lot of repeat business."
Upfront Commissions is currently attracting customers through good old-fashioned marketing, but Fortney says a full-blown Web presence is in development. In the meantime, you can get more information about the service at www.upfrontcommissions.com.
Hearing Fortney talk about his new business venture, one begins to think that sometimes he's having so much fun, he can't believe it himself. The truth is, sometimes, he can't.
"Oh, legitimately, I don't have a job," he says. "I'm doing what I was born to do, and I love every aspect of whatever I do, even though at times it may be stressful, and even though at times I don't know what I'm going to do until I do it.
"I got a lot of people who get a little bit upset with me because they're working at a job and I'm living out a dream."
Five years ago, Sam McBride was a different man.
He was a self-professed "falling-down drunk" whose company was in serious debt trouble. The IRS was after him for failing to pay employee withholding taxes. He was so depressed his doctor put him on Prozac, which he took in triple doses -- sometimes with booze.
"I had all these problems I didn't think I could ever fix or get rid of," explains the 57-year-old president of Corporate Cutting Dies Inc., clearly still haunted by the recollection of what almost came to pass. "I started drinking to ease the tension."
It was the worst decision he ever made.
Too much to handle
McBride says his troubles largely began in 1995 when he ran into cash flow problems after building a spacious, new facility for his then-thriving, nearly $900,000 business. He couldn't find a buyer for his old building so he was saddled with double mortgage payments.
"We were paying $6,400 a month on the new building and $1,800 a month on the old one," McBride says.
Then his company lost its largest customer -- a situation that cut between $250,000 and $400,000 a year off the top of Corporate Cutting Dies' balance sheet. Talk about a financial crunch. And the sense of helplessness that came with it was paralyzing for McBride.
"I used to sit in my office, stare at the walls, stare at the clock and when it was 5 o'clock, I'd open the office door, go out and go home," he says.
Although it was around that time that McBride hit rock bottom, others say the first signs of trouble surfaced long before then.
Tina Bevan, who was the company's corporate secretary for 10 years beginning in 1990, says she saw a marked change in McBride following the 1993 buyout of his business partner.
"He was withdrawn; he just wasn't into it anymore," she says. "He just was somewhere else and that's when he started doing his drinking."
It wasn't an intentional decision to seek solace in a bottle, McBride stresses.
"I went to a bar to have a couple drinks one day, then I went back the next," he says. "Before I knew it, I was a falling-down drunk."
Everybody in the company knew about McBride's drinking, Bevan says, "but they just left him alone. They probably felt intervening would be worthless."
Customers, however, were largely unaware of McBride's personal crisis since, during his drinking phase, he had very little contact with clients.
"And if he did," Bevan says, "it was by phone and prior to lunch."
As McBride's drinking progressed, his lunch hours grew longer.
"I would be gone all day, every day, from 11 or 11:30 [a.m.] until 4 or 5 o'clock," McBride says. "If I did get back to work, I was in no condition to do anything."
"It was his business, but it wasn't cool what he was doing," Bevan says. "He was very hard to deal with; he would ramble on and on and do things he normally wouldn't do."
Things like telling Bevan to stop paying the payroll taxes.
"We'd lost all this money and we had all this additional cost," McBride explains. "So I told Tina not to pay our withholding tax."
As the months passed, Corporate Cutting Dies began receiving letters from the Internal Revenue Service, but McBride chose to ignore them.
"I got all these notices and I didn't open them," he says. "My briefcase used to be filled with nothing but bills I hadn't paid for two or three months."
Bevan knew the unpaid bills spelled trouble, but like the rest of Corporate Cutting Dies' employees, she wanted to keep her nose out of McBride's troubles.
"I just figured it wasn't my problem," she says.
It quickly became her problem in early 1996 when McBride finally looked inside one of those IRS envelopes.
"I don't think I realized how much I owed them," he says. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing. We owed 20-some-thousand dollars at that point. I went out to Tina and started yelling at her. We got in a big fight and I ended up firing her."
After a few days, McBride saw the injustice in what he'd done.
"I realized all she was doing was what I'd told her to do," he says.
He called to apologize and asked her to come back to work. Surprisingly, she agreed.
"I knew it wasn't him," Bevan explains. "I knew it was the alcohol, and he was going to go get help."
A deepening hole
Indeed, McBride's drinking days were drawing to a close -- but not before they caused more damage to himself and others.
McBride went to his doctor to discuss his deepening depression.
"I didn't tell the doctor I was drinking, so he thought I had a chemical imbalance," McBride says. "He put me on Prozac and I started abusing that ... I used to take a three-month supply of Prozac in one month, with booze and everything."
"It's a deadly combination," Bevan adds. "He did some really stupid things and he's lucky to be alive."
On the business front, McBride's lack of leadership -- or even interest in the company, for that matter -- was taking a toll on Corporate Cutting Dies and its employees. Financial losses hit $22,000 by the end of 1995 and were mounting almost daily. Some key people, like Bevan and former company vice president Doug Ackerman, were quick to step in to keep the company running as well as possible during McBride's self-termed "drunken phase," yet resentment and frustration began to grow within the ranks.
"Some top, key people left here," Bevan says, noting she and Doug toughed it out because they didn't want to see the company fail.
"Doug basically kept everything together," says Reg Martin, a consultant who was also instrumental in saving McBride's floundering company. "Doug did a fabulous job maintaining [customer] relationships.
"I have to pay tribute to the people in this business," McBride says. "They kept it going when I was trashin' it. They didn't give up."
Neither did McBride's wife, Sylvia.
Apparently she realized something was amiss with her husband at work and went to Bevan for some answers.
"His wife started calling me at home," Bevan says. "She was playing 20 Questions. So I told her the truth. She said, 'Thank you,' and hung up. After his wife knew what was going on, the crap hit the fan."
Sylvia McBride took her husband to his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in January 1996 "because I was drunk in church," he says flatly. "I don't remember much about the meeting except I got this big book. For the next 13 days I didn't drink. Then I went to a bar for a beer and I ended up being in there from 11 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. -- and I was with one of my customers. That's when I realized I could not quit. I was an alcoholic."
On Jan. 26, 1996, McBride took himself to another AA meeting. He hasn't touched alcohol since. Still, his troubles were far from over.A second chance
McBride just couldn't get his mind back into the business at Corporate Cutting Dies. It was obvious to his staff and it created some animosity
"Doug couldn't stand me when I started to sober up," McBride says. "He'd had to run the business. I think he resented me [trying to step back in.]"
In the spring of 1996, McBride started a second business: SOL Enterprises -- initials that stand for "Servants of the Lord," he says -- which got him excited about being an entrepreneur again. The company used a specialized software application to produce personalized children's books. McBride sunk $14,000 into the start-up and leased equipment for $4,000 a month.
In addition, he and one of his employees decided to produce a TV commercial to help jump-start the business and wound up investing $11,000 in that project. It was a fateful mistake.
"We only sold about 10 books," McBride says. "By September of 1996, we were so far in debt we had to shut that business down. Then I had lawsuits."
As if dealing with the failure of one business wasn't enough, McBride soon learned the financial situation at Corporate Cutting Dies had reached a critical state, as well.
"The banker was ready to foreclose on us," McBride says.
The company's 1996 losses were pushing $86,000. In addition, the IRS was growing impatient with McBride's unpaid tax bills.
"I thought I drank because I couldn't handle the pressure I had," McBride says, "but when all this happened, I'd stopped drinking."
Instead, he found solace in talking to his priest, Father Rod DiPietro at St. Elizabeth Church, and attending AA meetings during his lunch hour.
"All I really have to do is go today without drinking," McBride says. "I don't complicate it like I used to."
After all, his life was complicated enough.
Finding a way out
Although McBride was getting help with his personal struggles, he didn't know where to turn for help with his business problems. Fortunately, his accountant did. He asked fellow Rotarian and highly regarded turnaround artist Reg Martin to pay McBride a visit.
Almost from the moment Martin passed through the doorway at Corporate Cutting Dies three years ago, he knew he could save McBride's company.
"It was no question," says Martin, who has orchestrated financial comebacks for many once-troubled companies, including Blocks Bagels Inc. and Cardinal Industries -- the predecessor to Cardinal Realty Services, which became Lexford Residential Trust before being acquired by Equity Residential Properties in Chicago. "It was not a situation where we had to turn the entire business around. They had a niche in the market; they had a couple nice-size customers. [The company] just needed a little fine tuning."
His top priority: taking care of McBride's lingering problems with the IRS.
When the IRS sent an agent to Corporate Cutting Dies, "she sat in my office with my accountant for three hours and didn't talk a whole lot," McBride recalls. "Then she really told the truth: That I didn't know what I was doing."
Although the agent explained the IRS could shut down McBride's company and force a sale to pay back the overdue taxes, she agreed to give McBride a little more time to come up with the$31,000 he now owed.
"They did get into our corporate bank account and chose to relieve us of $10,000 without telling us -- and it was the day before payday," McBride says. "Reg called the IRS and got them to put the $10,000 back if I signed a paper saying that if I didn't pay them back in 30 days, they were coming after me personally. I signed it."
That was the day the 'For Sale' sign went up on McBride's beautiful, new building. Corporate Cutting Dies had to find more affordable digs.
"The IRS got all their money at the closing of the sale on the SouthPark building," McBride says.
The bank was another matter. McBride traded in his car, put his house on the line and pulled out all his retirement money to help pay down the lingering $700,000 bank debt and stabilize his company's cash flow.
"My wife and I had saved up enough to live very comfortably. But here I was, 54 years old and with no retirement," McBride says.
"I even had $100 a week coming out of my own paycheck to pay off the debt," McBride says.
That little move was the brainchild of Norm Rothermel, a former debt recovery manager for Borden whom Martin brought in to help cut costs internally at Corporate Cutting Dies.
"Norm had my wages garnisheed. He was the burr in my saddle sometimes, but I needed a business consultant that wouldn't take any crap from me."
Rothermel also negotiated a couple deals to get McBride out of sticky situations with a leased van and some leased computer equipment, saving the company "at least $15,000," McBride says. He also assisted the company in getting a new loan package.
By the end of 1997, the company's debt had been cut considerably and Corporate Cutting Dies was showing a profit again.
"They were not that far away from break-even," Martin says. "Sam is no different than a dozen other people. He's gone through what a lot of small businesses do. He's had some personal difficulties but he's brought it back. He's been resilient."
Not in the clear yet
McBride's company recorded another profitable year in 1998, but backslid in 1999 when a particularly poor December -- coupled with hastily paid holiday bonuses, he says -- more than wiped out all the gains of the preceding 11 months. Corporate Cutting Dies ended the year about $22,000 in the hole.
This year, McBride has focused on cutting costs again and expects the company to show an 8 to 10 percent profit on sales of $756,000.
One cost-cutting measure came as a somewhat unpleasant surprise to McBride. Ackerman, whom McBride had intended to promote to president of the company this year, tendered his resignation in July. Still, McBride has found a way to put a positive spin even on that bit of bad news.
"Doug's working for one of my customers now ... so he's buying dies from me," McBride says. "We also have a lower overhead now because that cut payroll, too."
On the personal side, McBride still goes to AA meetings during his lunch hour and has joined another group called Business Owners Debtors Anonymous.
"They use the same 12-step program as AA, but the goal is not to take on any more unsecured debt," he says.
Corporate Cutting Dies still owes its bank close to $140,000 on six notes, which he'd like to consolidate into one to reduce the monthly payments. His goal is to be debt-free in two years.
"I don't put the blame of what happened to me on anybody," McBride says, as an overstuffed bookcase revealing titles such as "Live to Win," "Self Esteem" and "Searching for God in America" looms behind him. "It was just a build-up of things. Everything was just circumstances."
Bevan, who left the company in August for personal reasons, says McBride seems to have emerged from his crisis with only a few lingering scars.
"He still isn't as involved as he was when I first started here," she says. "He's still isolated. He needs to get back in the groove -- especially now that Doug's [gone]. But other than that, he's the same ol' Sam."
"Sam is very knowledgeable, but his focus sometimes tends to wander," agrees Martin. Nevertheless, Corporate Cutting Dies should continue to fare well.
"They need to go out and expand their sales," Martin says. "They should be running two shifts. But the firm will continue to stabilize. It'll continue to grow. I can't say anything negative about it."
"I think I've actually gone through more stuff in the last five years than I did in the first 13 in business," McBride says. "I was so close to losing my business and losing my family. I couldn't pay the debt ...
"I try not to let my ego, my pride get the best of me today. I think I learned a lesson in humility."
"I know he's learned," Bevan says. "He almost lost it all." Nancy Byron (email@example.com) is editor of SBN Columbus.
By the time Peter Miragliotta discovered the true depths of his company's financial troubles, Tenable Protective Services was nearly a quarter of a million dollars in debt to the IRS.
To make matters worse, Miragliotta's business partner of six years was the one who had slowly and silently drained the company's coffers since he merged his firm with Tenable in 1988.
But Miragliotta's attempts to oust his less than scrupulous business associate only intensified the battle and fed rumors that the security company was on the verge of collapse.
"I started trying to get rid of him in many different ways," explains Miragliotta, who declines to identify his former partner by name. "But, the more and more I did, the more he tried to get rid of me in many different ways. He went to some of the other associates and said, 'It's time to buy Pete out, Pete's losing his mind, we need to get rid of him.'"
In December 1993, Miragliotta fired off a five-page letter to his partner, outlining a variety of options he could exercise in disassociating himself from Tenable. It wasn't until the following April that he was finally able to wrestle away control of the business in exchange for clearing his partner of any debts he had incurred during his six years handling the company's finances.
Still, the deal didn't go off without a hitch. Miragliotta says his partner stole much of the firm's computer hardware, trashed company records and put off the signing of the settlement agreement for a week to snag an extra $7,000 of Tenable's cash that he needed to cover payroll for his employees.
Nevertheless, Miragliotta was happy to wash the 6-year-old failed merger from his hands. The only problem left, and probably the biggest, was that the IRS wanted its money immediately.
"Although I didn't sign anything or touch any of the financials, the way they looked at it is, you're still in business," says Miragliotta, who adds that the company was having a hard enough time being profitable, let alone to be facing such a huge debt. "They held us responsible for a quarter million in back taxes and we had to go to court and beg for time."
Although many had advised him to simply declare bankruptcy, fold the tent and go home, Miragliotta -- a retired Cleveland police officer -- wanted to stand and fight. Today, six years after standing at the crossroads, Tenable boasts $10 million in annual revenue and handles security for the Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Indians, Blossom Music Center and a variety of other entertainment spots around the city.
Here's how he guided his firm through the rough times and turned around a company that was on a collision course with disaster.
Even if he had let his company declare bankruptcy to avert the crushing back taxes owed to the IRS, Miragliotta would not have escaped the messy situation unscathed.
If he jettisoned Tenable Protective Services, he would still be personally responsible for $92,000 in back taxes to the IRS, a prospect he found even riskier and more frightening than trying to keep his company afloat with a $250,000 debt.
"They just wanted to shut us down and put a lien against me, which would have left me nowhere," he explains. "I wasn't a policeman anymore. All I had was a pension. I would have been broke. I had nothing, so we had to go to tax court to fight for time."
When the courts granted Miragliotta a small reprieve, he pulled on board a new financial officer who quickly mapped out a business plan for repayment of the quarter million dollar debt. Since annual revenue was somewhere around $800,000, a deal was reached in which Tenable would pay back at least $70,000 in back taxes to the IRS each year.
The company's new financial officer reconstructed the business around that plan.
"He put together a financial plan and I guess you could say it was from the bottom up," explains Miragliotta. "We had to make that much in profit and then work backwards. So we came into the office every day, got as much administrative work done as we could and then went out and worked jobs, so we were covering billable hours and staying on our business plan and working with the banks."
Taking control of the business was a brutal fight for Miragliotta, but it turned out all his business partner really wanted was to clear his name financially.
Specifically, he was worried about the $150,000 line of credit that had gone without payment and had ballooned to $158,000. Knowing it would be a solid way to oust his partner, Miragliotta went to the bank to try to work out some sort of payback arrangement.
"This banker knew what a snake and worm he was and she understood our plight and our dilemma," says Miragliotta.
However, the best deal he could assemble was one that required Tenable to immediately pay down $30,000 on the credit line. It forced Miragliotta and his management team to get creative.
"We all went out and borrowed money from our in-laws, we put up our paychecks, we hawked guns, we sold coins," he says. "We did everything we could."
It was a grassroots way to raise the necessary cash, but it is a form of sacrifice that was not uncommon during Tenable's turnaround. To ensure the company would have the $70,000 in profit to pay back the IRS during that first crucial year, managers' salaries were based upon only what each member of the team needed to pay bills and simply survive.
"We figured out everything that we needed to live and nothing more," explains Miragliotta, who says salaries were figured out during routine manager meetings. "As a matter of fact, if we caught any of the handful of managers at the time living over their means, they had to answer to the rest of us, because we were all in the same boat and that's how we had to look at it."
The shake-up inside Tenable's walls was fertile ground for the rumor mill. Competitors had written the company off and were not shy about telling those looking for security services about the strife within the company.
Public records of court proceedings made the difficult times public knowledge. It was a development that forced Miragliotta to make moves to protect the relationships he had forged with his customer base by tackling the issue head on without flinching.
"My competitors said I was out of business, I was dead," he says. "I went to every client we had, top to bottom, and put my cards on the table. I said, 'You're going to hear things, but if you give me the opportunity, I will continue to deliver you superior service and always will.'"
The hard-nosed attitude worked. Longstanding accounts like Cleveland's IX Center and The Flats' Nautica Entertainment complex continued without a hitch and are still among the accounts Tenable's staff of 3,000 serves today. A year later, the City of Cleveland saw the opening of a new major league ballpark, and despite the internal strife, Tenable landed the contract to provide security and nonsecurity event personnel for the facility.
In fact, Miragliotta gauges his long-term success today by the number of big-name accounts that stuck with the company through the hard times.
On average, an entertainment venue swaps security companies about every three or four years of service. Luckily, those industry statistics haven't affected Tenable.
"I take great pride in accounts like the IX Center, having been with them for 11 years," he says. "That's unprecedented. I've had Nautica Entertainment 12 years and I've been involved in about 17 Grand Prix races, and I've done it by going out to every single client and talking to them."
Even when the darkness started to give for Tenable, it was no time to get loose with money.
As revenue rolled in, the company's CFO demanded each capital purchase be carefully weighed. If the management team decided to lease another vehicle, for example, it was mandatory that the number of billable hours be increased accordingly.
Although it may seem like an unusual way to equip a business, Miragliotta says it was the way the company operated between 1994 and 1997. It was a decision that he says was probably one of the biggest drivers of the company's growth.
"Any time we wanted anything, we considered it a perk, even if it was absolutely essential," he says. "If you wanted a new computer, we figured out what it would cost and we computed through an amount of security hours for an account. So, if you want a computer, I need an account that's around 50 hours a week."
Eventually, the ghost of hard financial times melted away. Today, the company operates several divisions and Tenable's event staff has grown from a mere 50 in 1994 to an impressive count of more than 3,000 today.
Looking back, Miragliotta says he believes it is his background as a police officer and his seven years in the Marine Corps that fed his fighting spirit during even the hardest times. Put quite simply, he decided he wasn't going to lose.
"I just can't quit," he says. "Nothing makes you feel any better than winning. I love to win and hate to lose.
"I despise losing. I don't even like to say the word." How to reach: Tenable Protective Services, (216) 361-0002
Jim Vickers (firstname.lastname@example.org)is an associate editor at SBN.
Donald A. Borror couldn't resist the request a few years ago from his granddaughter: Would he play his ukulele at her school music festival in the spring?
That evening, he took one of four seats at The Wellington School reserved for him and other musically talented relatives of the students.
A bit later, another gentleman joined him, setting down his Gibson banjo.
"The case itself must've cost $500," Borror says. "Here I've got this cardboard thing with a $40 ukulele."
Then came the other two parents: A flutist and her husband -- dressed in a tux, no less -- who played violin; both were part of the local symphony. Borror felt quite out of place, yet still he reaped the respect of the others.
"All three of them treated me as a musician. In the afternoon, with the kids, I was fine playing 'Itsy-Bitsy Spider.' [But] that was a night and a half, I tell you," says the Dominion Homes founder and chairman emeritus, shaking his head.
The story is typical of Borror, who, despite having developed a $278 million home building company, simply doesn't see any awe in his accomplishments.
"There isn't anything about my background that's sensational," he says, sitting back in a large, comfortable-looking chair behind the nearly clear desk positioned at the far end of his sparse office. "It's pretty ordinary, I think."
Borror was in law school when he built his first house. He remembers the exact address: 326 Pasadena Ave. in New Rome.
"I was caulking underneath the back door and a guy walked around and said, 'You sure are doing a lot of detail; most people don't do that,'" Borror remembers. As it turned out, the man bought the house.
Although he earned his juris doctorate in 1954, Borror didn't pursue a career in law.
"I was a lousy student," he says. "I could care less about it."
Instead, he discovered he could find more money, more profit and more success in the construction business.
"I got a lot of satisfaction out of watching people's houses go up. You know we didn't always build 1,700 houses," he says, remembering times when he knew the facets of every house, the desires of all the families, which room would be the children's.
Borror isn't inclined to take a lot of credit for what Dominion Homes has become. He'd rather laud his sons, Doug, the chairman and CEO, and David, executive vice president, along with employees such as Jon Donnell, president and COO, and Steve George, executive vice president of construction and operations.
Others, however, don't hesitate to praise the elder Borror's accomplishments.
Donnell, who nominated Borror for Junior Achievement's Central Ohio Business Hall of Fame, says Borror, along with his son, Doug, were visionaries in the '80s when they decided to focus the company on the home building element, ridding it of other interests such as coal mines and engine rebuilding.
"You hear the gentleman came from a very modest background and, because of his tremendous will and integrity and the way he conducts business, was able to become a tremendous business success," Donnell says.
Still, even he recognizes the humbleness of his boss, who, at age 71, still goes into the office every day.
"He's very unassuming," Donnell says. "If you were to meet him, you'd feel completely at ease with him."
Donnell gets personal inspiration from Borror's dedication to his wife, Joanne, two sons and daughter, Donna Myers.
"As a parent, one of the things we try to do is make sure we instill some of the same values and principles that we have, and Don obviously has done that because his children have been successful in their own right," Donnell says. "I have talked to him and tried to learn from that."
Franklin County Commissioner Dewey Stokes pointed out that Borror was instrumental in bringing the Columbus Clippers here and remains the team's board chairman. Stokes calls Borror a good family man, as well as a supporter of the Franklinton area, where Borror's father owned a business.
"I think he's down to earth and he's a businessman with a lot of common sense," says Stokes. "He never puts on a facade, another face. If you know Don Borror, you know him, and what you hear from him -- and see -- is very straightforward."
Doug Borror says his father taught him about life, honesty, business and the art of the deal; he and other employees always know where his father stands.
The younger Borror remembers one of his first days of work with his father: "He said, 'We're going to work together real good, but I want you to know if I have to tell you to do something twice, it doubles my workload.' He followed up by saying, 'I don't ever want you to come back and tell me why you couldn't accomplish something.' It was a level of expectation, but it was realistic."
John Rosenberger, executive director of the Capitol South Community Urban Redevelopment Corp., where the elder Borror is a trustee, also values Borror's no-nonsense, straightforward approach.
"I think he's brought me along in significant measure," Rosenberger says. "He's just a good, sound adviser. If he thinks it's silly, he'll tell you it's silly. If he thinks it makes sense, he'll tell you it makes sense."
"He's smart, very practical, very effective, and he just sort of cuts through the crap," Rosenberger continues. "He's right with people, and I think that probably pays big dividends."
Expectedly, Borror downplays his service to Capitol South, although he had a hand in bringing City Center here.
"It was a blighted area downtown. It's not a blighted area anymore," Borror says. "A lot of people in the city deserve credit for that."
Borror's even humble about his hobbies: "My golf game's a joke, but I play," he says.
That point is argued by golf chum Bishop James A. Griffin, who's become a friend of Borror during his 17 years as head of the Catholic Diocese of Columbus.
Griffin says Borror, who occasionally serves as a real estate consultant for the diocese, is successful as a businessperson because he's sincere and sensitive to people.
"He picks things up -- people's attitudes and fears and concerns," Griffin says.
He, too, sees the humble side of Borror.
"I know from personal experience with Mr. Borror that many, many times he's reached out to people in need of one sort or another, often financial need," Griffin says, "and he's assisted them in a very quiet, inconspicuous way that no one knows about except himself."
On the personal side, Griffin says, Borror leads a very modest and simple lifestyle.
"He enjoys the simple things of life like being with his wife, his children and especially his grandchildren. He delights in his grandchildren and their achievements," he says.
The bishop also calls Borror a "very, very loyal friend.
"Anyone who is a friend of Don who calls him up and asks him to help him can be assured if he can help them, he will." How to reach: Donald A. Borror, Dominion Homes, 761-6000
Joan Slattery Wall (email@example.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.
Looking back, it probably wasn't that difficult to figure out where Stu Fishman would wind up.
He was the kid on the corner hawking cool, refreshing glasses of lemonade on sweaty summer afternoons. He was the guy who bought, sold and bartered comic books. While other kids enjoyed the thrilling adventures within those flimsy, ink-stained pages, Fishman saw dollar signs.
And, he was the enterprising student who earned spending money -- and quite a bit more -- by selling bugs.
"I used to sell insects for a living," Fishman recalls. "In junior high, all the girls had to make collections. I was the supplier. I made a lot of money. In fact, I made so much that my mother made me return some for gouging."
It may be difficult to determine whether mothers or legislators are harder on emerging entrepreneurs, but one thing is quite clear: Stu Fishman was destined to run a business. He practically bristles at the notion of joining a corporate culture, preferring instead the unpredictability of building his own operation from the ground up.
It didn't take long for the adult Fishman to venture into his first entrepreneurial enterprise.
"I was working for some guys in a ring company, Ringco, selling costume jewelry," he says. "I did real well, so I said, 'Gee, if I can do it for them, I should probably be able to do it for myself.'"
He started selling all types of costume jewelry except rings ("I didn't want to rip them [Ringco] off," he says) and sold it to drug stores, department stores and card shops. Clearly, he was in his element.
With each business he has founded, the 46-year-old Chagrin Falls resident has tucked away bits of wisdom and applied them to later ventures. The lessons came hard and fast. In his first 18 months in business, he sold $200,000 worth of jewelry. But, as he painfully learned, creating revenue streams was only part of the battle.
"I ended up tanking the company because I couldn't collect," he says. "I bought all these goods, sold all these goods and couldn't collect. Nobody would pay me."
At the same time, his personal life was dealt a blow. A gas line under his home ruptured and an explosion destroyed the house. With his business falling apart and his home blown apart, he recalls the situation with a bit of understatement.
"Totaled the house; totaled the business," he says. "Not an auspicious start."
Losing the jewelry business is the one blemish on Fishman's entrepreneurial record and it set his plans back a few years. He knocked around a bit before ending up at AT&T, where he spent five years before the itch returned.
Simply put, "I wasn't a good fit for corporate America."
Since the failure of the jewelry distribution business, Fishman has started three other businesses. Two have been unqualified successes. The jury is still out on the third, but early returns look promising.
In his most recent venture, OneWorld2U.com, Fishman and his partner, R.K. Khosla, sell furniture over the Internet. They combine the bricks-and-mortar world with the online one through the use of Temporary Internet Mobile Showrooms, traveling exhibitions of furniture that open at shopping malls around the country for a few weeks at a time. (See "Clicks and temporary bricks" SBN July 2000.)
But there's something else about Fishman that separates him from the pack. He doesn't fit any traditional entrepreneurial mold.
Some entrepreneurs suffer from a dearth of viable ideas or from undercapitalization. Others don't have the ability to turn concept into reality. They struggle. They beg. They pray. And, with a little luck, the business starts bringing in a profit and the owner eases comfortably into the new role of successful owner.
It's at that moment, however, when life is supposed to get a bit easier, that Fishman begins to squirm. For him, start-ups are a thrill ride, a jazz improvisation. And he is the artist, the one who sees the finished masterpiece where the rest of us see only a blank canvas.
"It's almost a love-hate relationship," he says, describing his view of start-ups. "You have a huge fear of failure. Your gut grinds at night. You wake at 2 o'clock in the morning and you can't fall back asleep. It just makes you absolutely wacky, but it's like riding a roller coaster.
"Coming down the slope is so damn thrilling and so energizing that you put up with the gut-wrenchingness for the chance at success."
"There's never a good time," Fishman says about starting a new venture. "There is never a time that you aren't scared to death."
That's because time, unlike money or good ideas, is the most precious of commodities. Explains Fishman, "You never have enough time to do everything that you want to do. You always have to prioritize your tasks because you're never going to get to your 'B' tasks. Forget about them."
Uncomfortable in the traditional office environment, Fishman left AT&T when a friend pulled him into a new consulting company, Software Support Group.
"I came on with those guys a couple of months after they started," he says. "I did the marketing side of the start-up."
Within a few years, he owned half the company. But, he just wasn't happy.
"I had gone through a period where I was a couple hundred pounds and was a two-and-a-half-pack-a-day smoker," Fishman recalls. "I wasn't enjoying what I was doing. I recognized that this was not how I wanted to spend the rest of my life, so I started running and gave up smoking."
Fishman also sold his stake in the consulting firm and decided to take a year off so his family could take vacations. It was on one such vacation that opportunity presented itself.
"We were supposed to take off a whole year, but we took off the whole summer. We had reservations at 11 national parks. We spent nine weeks on the road," he says.
In late July or early August 1994, Fishman and family stumbled across a small store filled with wind-up toys. It was loud and flashy, with dozens of toys and gadgets spinning, flying, crawling, chattering and clacking across the floor. As he watched, the old entrepreneurial desires returned with a vengeance.
So Fishman and his wife began discussing a new venture -- All Wound Up.
"We got back here in September," he says. "I said I'd like to do it. On Sept. 24, I was incorporated. We had the first store open by Nov. 1."
The mental make-up
Navigating a start-up through the often rough early waters takes a lot more than simply finding financial backers and putting a good idea into action.
"It's like testing yourself," Fishman says. "It's sort of like the ultimate test if you aren't six-foot-four and can't play basketball. For short, uncoordinated guys, it's the absolute best test."
It's a test he has passed with flying colors. Two years ago, shortly after he sold All Wound Up to Borders Books & Music, Fishman was named a Northeast Ohio Entrepreneur Of The Year by Ernst & Young LLP. Not surprisingly, his award came in the emerging entrepreneur category.
Kathryne W. Dindo, one of the EOY judges that year, says Fishman's skills were the right blend of mental make-up and perseverance.
"He understood what it took to get it to the next level," she says. "And that was unique. He was an entrepreneur that knew when the business had the opportunity, but he didn't have the resources. He's a true entrepreneur because even now, he begins to think about, 'What's my next step in life, my next business?'"
As part of his sales agreement with Borders, Fishman was supposed to continue overseeing the operations for two years. But he didn't last that long. Working for Borders, even if it was running All Wound Up, was still working for someone else. And for Fishman, that just wouldn't do.
"You're out there a little bit on a limb every time you do it," he says. "And I think what drives you is your fear of failure more than anything. The idea of losing is not a palatable thing."
Fishman recalls the jewelry business fiasco with a mixture of anger and disappointment. So why, then, does he risk it happening again?
"Because I do love the thrill. I love the chase," he says. "Some days, you're so excited with the results you can't believe it. Other days, you're so worried about something you might have done wrong. Did you order enough of this? Are you hitting the right price on that? Did you forget to order this? Will the goods come in on time to do the shows?
"Will you be able to get all the pictures done? There are so many things you have to consider. You worry because you want it to be a success and your name's on it."
Even with two successes under his belt, Fishman isn't one to rest on his laurels.
"That's yesterday's news," he says. "You're only as good as what you're doing right now."
No matter how much Fishman likes to play master of the house, he's not nave enough to think he can deliver a successful business on his own. One of the most impressive aspects of his operations is the collection of investors he has assembled.
The list reads like a who's who in Cleveland business circles. Among the investors are John Shields, Don Gustavson and Boake Sells, the former CEO of Revco Drug Stores and COO of Dayton Hudson (now Target).
Sells is known for his colloquial approach to giving advice. Fishman, by his own admission, has been the recipient of much of it.
"Sometimes, he'll come to you and say, 'Are you ignorant or are you stupid? Because if you're ignorant, I can teach you. If you're stupid, there's just no help for you.'"
There may have been moments where Fishman was ignorant, but he was never stupid.
"It makes a lot of sense," he says. "A guy like (Sells) will teach you how to do things and make you a lot better. He'll stretch you. But if you don't listen to his advice, he won't waste his time giving it to you. He's not going to put his money where he's not putting his experience and knowledge to work."
This is a classic problem for fledgling business owners. They think they know more than they do, and, they don't want to tap into the experience and knowledge of the people who have been through the wars before them. Fishman, says Sells, doesn't fall into that category.
"He's scrupulously honest," Sells says of his protege. "He's the kind of person who is always searching for new and better ways to do his business. He is very eager to tap the brains of other people. He doesn't have the 'not-invented-here' syndrome at all."
And, as good as the ideas are, it is Fishman for whom investors are putting their cold, hard cash on the line. One of his first investors in All Wound Up was a neighbor, David Weiss, president of Lucerne Asset Management.
"It wasn't the business," Weiss says. "Really, retail is not the best way to make money. But the thing about Stu is that he's probably more concerned about his investors' money than his own. That's what keeps him working hard.
"He works unbelievably long hours to make sure everything works."
Weiss points to Fishman's days at All Wound Up.
"At the time of the toy store, if you went by his house at 10 o'clock at night, he'd be taking phone calls from all the stores with their daily sales. Part of what makes Stu successful is not only the idea, it's really more the effort he puts in."
And, while Fishman certainly welcomed investors' money, for Weiss, buying in wasn't that easy.
"I used to live a couple doors down from him, so I knew him," Weiss says. "During the toy store phase, he was looking for money. He didn't want to take my money because I was a neighbor. I kind of pushed him to take money, so he did."
Weiss initially invested $100,000 and put another $50,000 in the next round.
"I think I grossed back a little under $600,000," he says. "I believe the first investment was in there about three years. The second 50 was in there for about two years."
Money is clearly important, but Fishman recognizes there is a larger picture at work.
"For R.K. and myself, it's like having the other half of our brain there," he says. "We know what they've taught us, but we don't know what they haven't taught us yet. We've got a whole new series of questions to learn. And it's really a treat."
It's not just the money people that help Fishman. Like most entrepreneurs, he is quick to credit his staff and partner for corporate success. He once described the staff at All Wound Up this way: "We have a great staff here. That makes it a lot easier. We've got a bunch of 12-cylinder engines. I try and hire everybody smarter than me."
That includes Khosla, who worked with Fishman on All Wound Up.
"We have a kick-butt core," Fishman says. "We're very fortunate that all of them were available to be picked back up by us. We have R.K., who I absolutely love to death, and myself. It's like having a brother you get to work with."
Fishman and Khosla brought back as many of the former All Wound Up workers as they could for the new venture.
"It's all the same old gang, which is sort of nice," Fishman says. "It's difficult to say how important it is when you know people that work well together and always do good work. You can go out and find other people who have those skills, but it's not family."
They feel the same way about him.
"What I like about Stu is he has energy to burn and he does what he says he's going to do," says Bill Skerl, who retired from All Wound Up but agreed to come back to help make OneWorld a viable enterprise. "When he first started with the business, I teased him. I said, 'There's no way in hell you're going to open up all those stores.' As I went along with him in the program, he met every objective.
"He really puts the time in and the effort. I respect him because he's good with all his people and he does a lot for everybody."
The two met while Fishman was at AT&T and sold Skerl, who worked in the operations department at Picker International, a new phone system. Over the years, they became friends. Eventually, Fishman convinced Skerl to join All Wound Up as a regional manager.
"I don't think a whole lot of people could do what he does," says Skerl, who thought he had retired last March. "I know I couldn't. I just don't have the energy level that you need. He works harder than anybody else. As hard as we work, we know that he's doing even more than that."
Success never comes easy. Entrepreneurs pay the price several ways -- failures, broken marriages, bankruptcies and other tragedies. Fishman has avoided the worst of the worst, only facing one failed business and little more.
Still, he's learned numerous valuable lessons along the way, such as to keep ideas in the pipeline and learn to recognize the wheat from the chaff.
Before Fishman and Khosla settled on OneWorld2U.com, they kept a list of more than 30 business ideas. And, when this project is complete, you can be sure the two will glance at the list again. Where it will take them, however, even Fishman doesn't know. But, he does recognize something his mentor, Boake Sells, told him.
"You have to honestly evaluate what you're doing," he says. "If you're doing something stupid, you can't blow smoke up your own ass. That's from Boake Sells -- never blow smoke up your own ass. It's the truth. If you're doing something that doesn't make sense, stop doing it."
Fishman says it's taken him a long time to recognize that.
"Sometimes, I'll see somebody's business plan and it's a dumb idea," he says. "People should be able to do that for themselves. You just have to take a good, hard look at what you're doing and determine what your strengths and weaknesses are. And make sure you've got a kick-butt team around you to make up for your weaknesses."
The second lesson he learned was to move quickly. When you finally make the decision to start a business, speed is of the essence.
"It doesn't make any sense to take it slowly," Fishman says. "It doesn't give you any advantages. You have to seize your opportunity when it's there because it's not going to be there tomorrow."
A third lesson is that business decisions must fit in with the core competencies of the strategic plan. The people who invested their time and money in Fishman recognized that he understands that.
"There are some ideas that are adjuncts to this business," he says. "We use something that John Shields taught us to test it. He says, 'Do the test. Is it tactical or strategic? If it's tactical and it's going to divert you at all from your strategic mission, don't do it -- even if it makes you money. Always stay on your strategic tact.'"
When Fishman founded All Wound Up, he stuck to that philosophy and it made all the difference.
"We had an idea at All Wound Up that we went to the board with," Fishman recalls. "That's really where we got this thinking from. John asked, 'Is it tactical or strategic?' We said, 'We'll make a lot of money.' He said, 'But is it tactical or strategic?'"
The idea, as it turns out, was tactical. The board rejected the idea and remained focused on its core competencies.
"I use that as my litmus test," Fishman says. "If it's opportunistic and tactical, it takes more resources than it's worth. Stick to the business plan, stick to the strategic issues. You've only got so much horsepower. You can't do everything. You can't spread yourself that thin."
A recent buying trip in Indonesia for OneWorld2U re-enforced that sentiment. In a 12-week period, Fishman spent only three weekends at home. That's a lot of time away from one's family. And, at this stage of his career, he realizes it's something he can no longer do.
"I do love it, start-ups, but this will probably be my very last one," Fishman says. "But I've said that before. And the only reason I say that now is because I'm 46 years old and it takes a lot out of you."
That doesn't mean he will eschew start-ups from this point forward. Instead, he's looking to his investors for inspiration.
"That's what I'd like to do next," he says. "I'd like to do what those guys do -- serve on boards and make people better. You don't necessarily have to be an angel investor to do that kind of work."
And, he recognizes that despite the constant entrepreneurial itch, you don't necessarily have to be able to paint a new business every few years to do that, either. How to reach: OneWorld2U (440) 247-7400 or www.OneWorld2U.com
Daniel G. Jacobs (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor of SBN .
Mike Crane already had his hands full this year.
He was adjusting to his new role as president of Crane Plastics Siding, one of six independent businesses formed in the reorganization of Crane Plastics Co. in September 1999.
Heading the new business unit was almost like starting from scratch. He had to select a new management team; create the infrastructure of the independent company, such as its human resources and accounting functions; and patch morale among employees, who had withstood an anxious summer waiting for the changes.
On top of that, the siding company was working to open a new $20 million, high technology manufacturing facility.
Then there were the additional duties Crane faced as executive vice president of Crane Plastics Holding Co., the umbrella for the six independent businesses.
It was enough to overflow any top executive's plate, but Crane would face yet another challenge: Prices of the siding company's raw material, resin, doubled last fall -- during the same period when the business put its reorganization plan into action.
Still, the maelstrom may actually have set the new, independent company off on the right foot.
"It provided additional focus to our group," Crane says. "It would be hard to find a silver lining in that thing, but maybe that's it."
Coincidentally, his cousin, Tanny Crane, president of the holding company, describes the situation in the same way.
"I'm a silver lining person. It always makes you better," she says of the challenges that faced the siding company. "Mike's team is unparalleled in what they've been able to accomplish."
The Crane family is watching carefully now that a full year has passed since the reorganization, which decentralized the company's management structure of more than half a century. The goal: to focus more on the marketplaces and customers of each individual business unit.
"We have a vision that we could become a global enterprise," Tanny says.
But the company had become, she says, too complex to handle such an ambition. Crane Plastics' business had doubled almost every five years since its inception, growing to more than 800 employees and $150 million in revenue.
"It's almost like our siding promotion, 'Think Big,'" Mike says. "We want to grow with big ideas and big new initiatives, but in order to do that we had to get small."
Branching out and stepping back
Tanny Crane remembers well the first time the family-owned company made moves to fly outside its own nest.
It was in the late 1980s, when the company developed its first five-year plan with goals to grow the siding business, continue the core business and develop more of its own proprietary products.
"We started to view outside these four walls," Tanny says. "Dad, he'd say, 'If I can't stand on top of this building and see it, we shouldn't be involved in it.'"
Her father, Bob, who has since passed away, and Mike's father, Jim, had taken over leadership of the company from the previous generation.
By 1992, Crane Plastics acquired its first company, Compression Polymers Co. of Moosic, Pa. Within five years, four more companies were acquired, forming The Crane Group and showing the company a glimpse of its own past. The companies in that group thrive on sharing best practices while enjoying the entrepreneurial spirit of their individual management teams.
"Our managers would go to these companies, and they'd see the benefit of being small, wearing different hats, being flexible, being nimble," Tanny says. "What we saw is what our company used to be."
Crane Plastics had grown so huge that it was getting in the way of itself.
Top executives were trying to manage different products, different materials with different life cycles and different markets and customers. Employees were working in many different areas at the same time.
"One day they'd be concentrating on a key issue in siding, and the next day they'd be pulled off to TimberTech, and the next they'd be working on issues at the manufacturing company," Mike says.
Tanny, herself, felt torn.
"I'd go from one priority meeting to the next," she says.
Perhaps more significantly, frustration was growing among employees who, as Crane Plastics grew larger with more departments, found it increasingly difficult to get things done because they ran into more walls.
The alarms rang loudly when, in early 1999, Mike and Tanny hosted focus groups of employees, who told the Cranes they didn't feel they had an impact on the company's profits anymore. It was a significant message, considering the company had fostered a cash profit-sharing plan in 1969 that had since been supported by employees -- and successful as a work incentive.
"My father used to say it was the glue that held the company together," Tanny remembers.
"We felt the effect of profit sharing had been diluted," Mike says. "If you're working on a floor as part of a $150 million company, you're wondering whether your impact is going to have a direct effect on profit sharing."
The summer of anxiety
Convinced that the 50-year-old management structure was no longer serving Crane Plastics well, the five family members in the company, along with the human resources vice president and the CFO, formed a steering team to determine how dividing the company into separate units might follow the model used by the individual companies acquired as part of The Crane Group.
"They were benchmarking off each other but focusing on the marketplace," Tanny says of the companies in The Crane Group.
In June 1999, Crane management announced to employees the decision to reorganize into separate companies.
"It was a summer of anxiety," Tanny says. "They all knew we were going to be six companies. They didn't know where they were going to go."
"We thought it would be better to bring people into the process than announce the reorganization and the new positions all at once," Mike says.
Meanwhile, an early retirement plan was announced to allow the company to reduce redundancy and to give employees an opportunity to leave if they were uncomfortable with the changes. Of the approximately 60 employees who accepted, many took advantage of the "phased" option to gradually reduce their workload or work part time. These alternatives, Tanny says, gave Crane Plastics advantages because the values and skills of those employees stayed with the company.
To firm up the reorganization plan, the steering team worked with Arthur Andersen's Change Enablement practice out of Chicago from April through December 1999.
Crane Plastics Holding Co. became not just an organizational umbrella for the independent operating units -- Crane Plastics Siding, Crane Plastics Manufacturing, TimberTech Ltd., Crane Products, CPC Tooling Technologies and Crane Blending Center -- but also a resource. It has a small, lean, technical group of experts in areas such as engineering, IT and legal, and its 21 employees also focus on strategic planning and future developments in materials, technology, process engineering and leadership development.
"These people will always be looking forward," Tanny says, "looking at best practices, going to trade shows for things to bring back and share. They basically rent themselves out [to the six business units]."
Each individual company needed its own leader -- preferably, but not necessarily, promoted from within. The requirements: Each must have a demonstrated record of success, be a proven leader, focus on the bottom line and show an entrepreneurial spirit.
"We gave them the title of president, which we'd never done," Tanny says. "There had only been three presidents [in the company], and all had the last name Crane."
Because the siding company was the largest of the six, the steering team felt strongly it should be led by a Crane, so Mike was chosen. The other five presidents were promoted from within the company and ranged in longevity of service from three to 25 years. The steering team also gave each new president two or three core management team members.
"We did lay out to them what we thought their company could do, and they had to agree to it," Tanny says.
From that point on, however, each team was on its own to determine a company mission, figure out a game plan and choose employees.
"We had rounds and rounds of meetings so we didn't lose sight of the caring part of the equation," Tanny says.
To reduce employee anxiety, the steering team let workers know the status of the plan each week. When it was finalized, the company announced all the changes in a celebratory way, complete with matching T-shirts for each team to develop camaraderie.
"It was a great way to let go of the stress of the summer," Tanny says.
On their own, but not alone
Not all the stress disappeared immediately, however. Tanny and Mike both knew the reorganization would require some cautious steps with customers and employees.
After all, while the company's executives were concentrating on the logistics involved in the reorganization, they still had to keep the business running.
"We all had to make sure to keep an eye on the ball and that we were still shipping product out to our customers," Mike says.
Mike Flanagan, whose California company, Advantage Building Products Inc., sells Crane's VIPCO siding, says he was notified of the reorganization at the beginning of the year and had no concerns.
"I liked the fact that I was dealing with a small group of people," he says, noting that throughout the transition, that situation did not change.
In fact, he thinks his relationship with Crane Plastics Siding has improved since the reorganization.
"Overall, they are a much more responsive unit, at least the one unit of their six divisions that I deal with, than any other large manufacturer that I do business with," says Flanagan. "Their management staff does listen, and they will get back to you in a timely fashion."
In addition to customers, employees remain a high priority for Tanny and Mike.
"We had concerns about the basic culture," Mike says. "We wanted people to still feel they were part of this family-owned company."
Tanny made the issue part of her focus.
Even though she's no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of the six new businesses, she wants to make sure the Crane family values continue to transcend through all of them. To that end, each business carries on the tradition of sharing financials with employees, and the holding company puts out a newsletter to give them a view of the company as a whole. They've coined the phrase "The Crane Family of Companies" to reiterate the continued values.
Crane family members make sure they're visible at each of the six companies, too. Jim Crane, to whom Tanny reports, keeps what she calls a "helicopter view," looking at the entire picture.
"I'm a coach," Tanny says of her new role as president of the holding company. "My role has changed dramatically. I used to have functional departments report to me -- now I have six presidents."
Tanny has shared with all leaders in the company the book "Leading Change" by John P. Kotter and emphasizes two of its points: Continually celebrate success; and never think you're there -- meaning always work to improve.
The presidents of the companies hold monthly meetings to keep in touch.
"They've started having them on their own," Tanny points out. "They don't even invite me, which is good. They're starting to communicate on their own."
As part of the reorganization plan, the steering team decided the six companies would not share services, such as one accounting department or one human resources department.
"We had been so centralized we needed to go to the other end of the pendulum. I believe we may pivot back," she says, pointing out that already three of the businesses are sharing IT services.
Even now, evidence of improvement due to the reorganization can be found in the individual companies.
- At the siding company, Mike has seen teamwork and communication improve.
"I think we are more in touch with our customers and their needs from a customer service standpoint, and their interests and desires with regard to the type of products we're making," he says.
- TimberTech has introduced three new products and grown from fewer than 40 to more than 130 employees. It also opened a new plant in Wilmington.
- Crane Manufacturing has made many changes within its own business, creating three separate subcompanies to continue the notion of staying small. It also built a new plant in Circleville, where Tanny visited with employees, some of whom have been working with Crane for 25 or 30 years.
"I said to Jim, 'This is our vision. They feel the impact every day when they walk out of this building that they are contributing to the success of this business,'" she says.
Tanny says she sees positive results simply from talking to employees. A line employee now has a better opportunity to be a team leader, and each individual business is smaller and better organized so employees can do their work more efficiently.
She says she was particularly pleased to speak with one employee who will celebrate her 25th anniversary with the company next March.
"She said, 'Crane has given me everything in my life, and I still want to give back. What you're doing is creating a future for us,'" Tanny says.
Tanny estimates it will be at least another year before the financial results from the reorganization are measurable, and she's cautious giving her evaluation of the changes so far.
"I still wouldn't deem it a success," she says.
She plans to survey the attitudes of employees, whom she calls the "pulse of an organization," to get a read on how things are going. In addition, the presidents and the holding company will meet to evaluate progress. Among the considerations, Mike says, are how the Blending Center and CPC Tooling provide services to the other four companies, and whether speculations made during the planning stages came to fruition.
"I'm confident that it will be successful," Tanny says. "But I'm not calling it yet." How to reach: Tanny Crane, Crane Plastics Holding Co., 443-4891 or www.crane-plastics.com
Joan Slattery Wall (email@example.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.
Patrick Hergenroeder doesn't understand what all the buzz is about. Although he knows he is a Pillar Award honoree for his work with youth sports groups, he still contends that he's done nothing special.
Bill Dieterle disagrees.
A close friend, Dieterle nominated Hergenroeder for the award without telling him. It was Dieterle who brought to the judges' attention all the things the orthopaedic surgeon and owner of Chagrin Falls-based Hergenroeder Orthopaedic Clinic has done for the community.
Conceding his efforts are noteworthy, Hergenroeder still says he's disappointed -- he sees so much that can be done to make the world a better place, but he's only one person who can do only so much. It's that attitude that underscores the doctor's commitment to making a difference.
For instance, does someone who calls himself "nobody special" donate 500 footballs every year to underfunded athletic organizations? Hergenroeder gives 10 to 15 new footballs to between 33 and 50 high schools and organizations each year.
And does someone who argues that he is "just one person" donate autographed footballs and baseballs to area high school athletic booster clubs so they can raffle the items off to raise money for their organizations? The autographed pieces he donates have sold for $500 to $900 apiece, becoming key tools for school funding.
Hergenroeder says he doesn't have the time or the money to do all that he wishes he could, yet he finds enough time to offer free CPR training. After he read an article that said many heart attack deaths could be prevented with the use of CPR, he decided to teach it to schoolteachers, store managers, office receptionists, librarians and anyone else who comes in contact with the public every day.
Some would say that Hergenroeder has more than done his share. Yet he says he'd like to do much more.
"Your record here on Earth has to stand for itself," he says. "When you die and go into the box, nothing else goes with you."
Hergenroeder says the world is definitely a better place today than it was a hundred years ago. We continue to conquer disease; we have electricity. But, he says, it's imperative that people not take modern conveniences for granted if that trend is to continue.
"We have to excel," Hergenroeder says. "If we don't go forward, we go backward. We have to put in more than we take out and make the world better for the people who will be here after us."
Hergenroeder continues to put in more than he takes out. Each June, he lines up 14 retired Cleveland Browns players to aid area high school and college coaches with a youth football camp that trains 100 to 150 inner-city students. The former pros talk with students about drugs, drinking, smoking and the importance of staying in school.
So does Hergenroeder make a difference? It's a safe bet that the world probably seems a little better to those kids after the camps than it did before. How to reach: Hergenroeder Orthopaedic Clinic, (440) 247-2644
Courie Weston (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a reporter at SBN.
Medical Mutual of Ohio
As one of Ohio's largest health care insurance providers, Medical Mutual of Ohio devotes its community service efforts toward health-related and educational issues.
Last year, the company was a major sponsor of the MS Walk for the Multiple Sclerosis Society and the American Heart Association Heart Walk.
The co-founder and title sponsor of the Pillar Award for Community Service, Medical Mutual contributed 92 volunteers to the Meals On Wheels program and provided Christmas gifts for 210 underprivileged children.
"We're a long-time Cleveland company," says Jared Chaney, Medical Mutual's vice president of corporate communications. "The health and well-being of a community is what our business is all about."
Under the leadership of its S.H.A.R.E. volunteer committee, which stands for Share, Help, Aid, Reach and Educate, the company encourages its 2,500 employees to get involved in causes they support. In upper management, 27 executives serve on 48 nonprofit and charitable boards.
The impact of community service hit Xerox Connect employees last year when they treated 65 children from one of Cleveland's YMCA centers to a Cleveland Cavaliers game and dinner at Gund Arena.
"When it was all done, we had a couple of the employees here with tears in their eyes because the kids had such a good time," says Dave Fazekas, Xerox Connect Great Lakes Region vice president. "They were hugging them when they were leaving. A good number of these kids had never been to a Cavs game before."
Xerox Connect, an information technology consulting, outsourcing and systems integration subsidiary of Xerox, also provided technical expertise to set up computer kiosks free of charge at the Great Lakes Nature Center in Bay Village. Projects like these are not only the right thing to do, but good for the company, Fazekas says.
"It makes the employees feel good to see good things happening, and we can make a mark within the community," he says.
Xerox Connect is in its second year of sponsorship for the Pillar Award.
Mars Employment contributed its job hunting and placement expertise to help residents at the Women in Transitional Housing center in Cleveland. By teaching the women resume writing, interview skills and personal presentation, Mars Employment helped give them a second chance at life.
"We should give back because I think we're so fortunate," says Marilyn R. Sims, president of Mars Employment. "We've been very lucky, but I don't know that it's all luck; a lot of times you have to do it yourself."
Other than providing job-hunting skills, Mars gives employees time off to help clean and paint rooms in the women's shelter in between tenants. Sims also sits on the board of directors.
"I didn't want to be the kind of a person who sits on the board of directors and not know what really happens," she says.
Mars Employment is involved in annual events to raise money for Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and the Ronald McDonald House. This is its first year of involvement with the Pillar Award program.
The environment you work in is important to all businesses, big and small. COSE knows this. Its been helping Cleveland-area small business owners with health insurance and purchasing programs since 1972.
"I think that we are out there every day with lots of players trying to make this place a better place to live, and a better place to work," says Steve Millard, executive director of COSE. "It's important to recognize the efforts of businesses of all sizes. But when you look at some of the smaller businesses whose efforts sometimes go unnoticed, it's good to be able to highlight some of the interesting things they're doing."
COSE, a nonprofit organization, is designed to be a resource. Not only does it provide resources for its members, nonmember companies also receive COSE's help, so the organization can try to improve the places they work and live.
Outside the company, employees provide tutoring for local elementary schools and speak for Junior Achievement. COSE also encourages them to get involved in local boards and helps them schedule time for community service efforts.
This is COSE's first year of involvement with the Pillar Award.
Renaissance Worldwide, an information technology and business consulting firm, formed The Renaissance Community Project in October 1996 and has contributed to the efforts of more than 150 charities, including The American Cancer Society, The Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, Make-a-Wish Foundation, American Ireland Fund, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and others.
Though many are national charities, the company encourages participation in local causes such as homeless shelters, schools, community arts programs and food pantries.
"Part of our culture has always been an awareness of our community and a dedication to contribute to its well-being," says Melissa Blatnik, Ohio branch recruiting manager for Renaissance Worldwide. "We encourage the participation of our employees, families, consultants, business associates and friends in making a difference in our world."
This is Renaissance Worldwide's first year of involvement with the Pillar Award.
Nancy Brown believes that community giving begins at the grassroots level.
"I always struggle between two things: My belief that you give because you want to give and to a cause you support, and a belief that corporations shouldn't tell their people who to support and how," she says.
That's not to say that Brown eschews corporate giving. In fact, it's just the opposite. Her business, Ladies and Gentlemen Hair Salon and Spa, embraces corporate and community giving as one of its primary business tenets. It's just that Brown and her husband, Ed, who co-owns the salon, believe philanthropy should originate from the employees.
"It (our philosophy) really comes from our employees' hearts rather than from me mandating that they support causes," Brown explains. "People do things for the right reasons. It's so much more powerful when it comes from the heart rather than simply being the right thing to do for a corporation trying to create a good name for itself."
In the past two decades, Mentor-based Ladies and Gentlemen has built a reputation for supporting the community, putting its name behind such causes as Project Hope, the United Way Day of Caring, Project Act, Hannah's House and a host of environmental issues. And, it's done it with the support of its staff members.
Says Brown, "I'm very concerned about the environment and victims of homelessness. It's our responsibility to help people who are put in situations that they can't control."
Ladies and Gentlemen's 110 employees come together at salon meetings to determine which causes to support, says Brown.
"We go around and ask who has a cause they'd like to support," she says. "Then we, as a company, determine to what degree we can support it."
This method of grassroots employee giving has led to annual gifts averaging $12,000, as well as widespread employee volunteerism that's difficult to put a price tag on. Over the past several years, staff members have participated in painting houses around Lake County; volunteered to help rebuild homeless shelters; created, printed and sold cookbooks to raise money for Project Hope; worked to raise money to build a children's wing for the Lake County Mental Health facility; and held five years worth of fund-raisers for Lake Catholic High School in Mentor to raise enough money to build and equip a science lab.
Brown's commitment to the environment has resulted in Ladies and Gentlemen receiving seven environmental and humanitarian awards from the Aveda Corp., and an Environmental Business of the Year Award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Nancy and Ed have even included the company's four-pronged philosophy regarding community service in the employee manual, laying out the manner in which it is committed to serving "each other, our customers, our community and our world."
The statement says the company aims to do so the following way:
- By providing and encouraging educational development for our staff in all areas of community service.
- By adhering to the principles of environmentalism in our workplace, and following through with this commitment into community awareness and service.
- By serving those in need, starting in our own area and reaching as far as we can to eliminate homelessness and promote rehabilitation for those less fortunate, primarily to children and victims of homelessness.
- By encouraging staff to register to vote and become involved in government issues, first on a local level, and further, on state and national levels, through facilitation of issues and voter registration.
And, says Brown, community giving is a year-round endeavor that does more than provide money to a cause.
"We want to raise public awareness that there are people in need." How to reach: Ladies and Gentlemen Salon and Day Spa, (440) 255-5572
Dustin Klein (email@example.com) is editor of SBN.
UNB Corp.'s chairman and CEO Roger Mann is at a loss for words. When it comes to pinpointing what organizations his financial services holding company and its 350 employees help the most, there are almost too many to name.
"I really say this with pride, I don't think there's anything that's a driver in this community that we're not involved in," Mann says. "We, as a corporation, just feel it's a civic responsibility and our people welcome that."
For Mann and his company, community giving, whether through financial contributions or volunteer hours, is as important to a business as sales and customer service.
"If you don't have a caring community, your businesses are not going to succeed, your churches are not going to flourish, nothing really happens," he says. "Without that sense of community, I really don't think the community has a chance to prosper or go forward."
This year, UNB Corp.'s employees have pledged more than $45,000 to dozens of local and national charitable organizations. More than $166,000 has been donated from the company's charitable trust, ranging from contributions to Walsh University, Stark County Out of Poverty and the United Way to the Cultural Center for the Arts and Alliance Community Hospital, as well as many others.
But it's not just about financial donations. UNB Corp.'s employees volunteer hundreds of hours a month to local educational, youth and humanitarian organizations in the Canton area. UNB employee Jeff Ferry, for instance, spends more than 50 hours a month volunteering for Meals on Wheels of Stark & Wayne counties, United Way and Ohio Foundation of Independent Colleges Junior Achievement and coaching in the North Canton Little League.
Barb Heinricher, who heads UNB Corp.'s training department, volunteers more than 20 hours a month for Junior Achievement, Mayor's Literacy Commission of Canton, Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Stark State College of Technology.
"I teach kids how to keep a check register, make out deposit slips and checks," Heinricher says. "They get a sense that, 'Hey, I can do this -- I can understand this,' and they're so excited."
These are just two examples of a spirit of volunteerism that has always been a part of UNB Corp., which includes United National Bank & Trust Co., United Banc Financial Services Inc. and United Insurance Agency Inc.
"This company goes back to pre-Civil War days," Mann says. "Wherever I have been through the years, I always felt it was very much a responsibility, a pleasant one, to try and serve your community, so I was really blessed when I arrived here."
UNB Corp. has had two of its CEOs volunteer to serve as campaign chairperson for the United Way, which prompted United Way of Central Stark County president Steve Miller to nominate the company for the 2000 Pillar Award for Community Service.
"We thought it was unique that the company would show that kind of commitment over the years," Miller says. "They walk the talk and they are expansive in their generosity. We've been partners as long as I can remember." How to reach: UNB Corp., (330) 438-1119
Morgan Lewis (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a reporter for SBN.