If you make it past the steel and glass refrigerator stocked full of beer (pop and juice cost a dollar; the beer is free), the second thing you'll notice walking through Malone Advertising's downtown Akron offices is that every piece of furniture is on wheels. From desks to chairs to credenzas, there's not one fixture that's not mobile.
"That's so people can work in teams," explains Malone's President and CEO Fred Bidwell.
The newly renovated office space was designed so people can move their work areas freely throughout the office, depending on who they need to collaborate with that day. To further accommodate this, individual offices don't have doors.
"We were one of the first people to buy this style of furniture," says Bidwell, who took over Malone's helm in 1998.
The rolling furniture and stocked refrigerator are more than gimmicks. The office was clearly designed to spur creativity rather than to impress visitors, and it seems to have worked.
Malone Advertising has had a consistent 20 percent annual growth rate since 1997. Last year, it grew 25 percent, putting it within the top three or four (depending who you ask) ad agencies in Northeast Ohio.
In 2002, Bidwell expects to exceed his growth goal of 16 to 17 percent, and he'll probably do so after last month acquiring Haselow Marketing Communications, a Cleveland-based agency with $13.4 million in annual billings. Capitalized billings of the two agencies are around $60 million, and Malone now employs 88, including the 10 who came from Haselow.
"The acquisition virtually guarantees I'm going to hit (my goal) ... I ought to do a lot better. The smart business person does conservative projections and hopes that they're pleasantly surprised," says Bidwell.
Bidwell is banking on the firm's history, its specialized areas of expertise and the hard work of its people to maintain that growth record.
"People think advertising is sexy, fun, and it is, but a lot of it is putting your nose to the grindstone and doing the work. Just having the work ethic sometimes means a lot," he says.
A rich history
Malone Advertising was founded in 1943 by Norman Malone. Its first client was Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., which remains a client today.
"We think that might by one of the oldest agency-client relationships around, so we're real proud of that," Bidwell says.
Bidwell started working at Malone in 1981 in its creative department. At the time, the company was owned and led by Bain Malone, son of the founder. Bidwell moved up the company ladder to become creative director, and in 1998, assumed majority ownership from Malone, who still acts as an adviser to the company.
Focus on what you do best
One of the keys to the company's ongoing success is that it has focused on an area of marketing many other agencies are just now trying to gain expertise in. Malone has focused on specialized retail marketing since the early '90s, Bidwell says, making it one of the first to do so.
He describes retail marketing as "any form of advertising ... from signs at the Shell station to radio or TV ... that directs people to the retailer and motivates a purchase."
He says more and more agencies are trying to offer this expertise, but "with mixed results. Some are doing a good job and some are not.
"We try to get everything as close to the retailer as possible and as close to the time when somebody might want to buy as possible," he says. "For instance, the TV that we would produce for brands like Kimberly-Clark (a Malone client for 11 years) would always identify the retailer, and there would always would be a reason to go there, like a promotion or something -- an incentive to go there"
For Healthy Choice frozen foods, Malone created a billboard campaign and featured the products on boards located close to the retailers -- identified on the billboards -- that carried them.
"It's the kind of work that really helps to drive sales rather than just plain old brand enhancement," Bidwell says. "The Super Bowl ads you see are all about establishing a brand. What we'll do is come in and say, 'OK, if you're going to end up advertising, you have to make sure that you take care of it on a local basis, either with your local store or locally with your client stores."
Malone was founded nearly 60 years ago as a retail specialist, and point-of-sale marketing evolved out of that area. By not trying to be an expert at everything, the agency has built an impressive client base, including Goodyear, Kimberly-Clark, ConAgra Foods, Meineke and Sherwin-Williams. It works closely with agencies worldwide which have the expertise and provide marketing services to its clients in other areas.
"They (clients) come to us because they know what we do and they are looking specifically for those kinds of services," Bidwell says. "That's why we have such a cool portfolio of brands. If we just tried to be all things to all people, there's no reason why Kimberly-Clark or ConAgra would ever hire us. There are some pretty great agencies in Chicago."
Last month, Malone deviated from its heritage as a consumer retail marketing agency when it acquired Haselow Marketing Communications, a Cleveland-based agency with a strong history of business-to-business marketing. It set up a new division called Malone2, headed by Haselow owner John Haselow, which focuses on business-to-business clients.
Haselow sold his agency to Malone as part of a long-term retirement strategy. He made a two-year commitment to head Malone2, and, along with his expertise, brought a large portfolio of clients to the agency, including Hill PHOENIX, Tyler Elevator Products and Ashland Specialty Chemical.
Haselow plans to expand the Malone2 client base by targeting companies in industries he's worked in.
"One of the first questions you always get is, 'What experience have you had in my industry?'" Haselow says. "You pick your target, you pick it where you've got the experience, you pick it where there's allied situations. So we developed a list that says, 'OK, here's all of our experience, now we'll take a look at the various industries.
"Hill PHOENIX is on the cold side (of supermarket products -- it manufactures refrigerated display cases), so now we'll take a look at the hot side of the supermarket business."
The Haselow acquisition adds a third distinct area to Malone's practice. In 2000, it acquired Zeris Interactive, now its Web subsidiary. As a separate division, Zeris has built Web sites for companies including MTD, Bell Helicopter and Rolled Alloys.
When asked about future growth, Bidwell shies away from revealing acquisition plans.
"The best way to grow is organically," he says.
There might just be something in the beer. How to reach: Malone Advertising, (330) 564-0300
Somewhat to Bell's surprise, a dozen hands went up. One member of the crowd actually pulled the company's most successful product, a Lip Smacker, from her pocket and held it aloft in the air.
If you're unfamiliar with Lip Smackers or Bonne Bell odds are that you never have been a teenage girl. For the uninitiated, Bonne Bell and the three generations of Bells that have run the company since 1927 are in the business of beauty.
A key component of the company's 75 years of success has been well-timed product launches – 10-0-6 in the late 1930s and Lip Smackers in the early '70s. Another is the family's ability to latch onto, and continue to appeal to, the teen and pre-teen market.
When it debuted in 1973, Lip Smackers was the first flavored lip gloss to hit the market. For those of us who grew up then, it was more than lipstick. It was a social necessity. But the appeal of the big fat tube of grape-flavored lip-stuff is just one part of Bonne Bell's story. That's because being first to market doesn't ensure success.
So how has this 75 year-old family-owned firm remained an industry leader in the company of the corporate powerhouses in the cosmetic world?
Innovative ideas? Yes. Quality products and good timing? Absolutely. But what has really kept Bonne Bell a leader is its ability to stay cool and understand its target market – teenage girls.
The simple fact is, teenage girls like make-up. That's one of the few constants there are with Bonne Bell's audience. Tween and teens have always influenced some of their parents' purchases, but now they have markets of their own and they know exactly what they want.
"Today, both parents work, so grandparents tend to indulge," explains Jess Bell, who also points out that many teens work or have sizable allowances to augment their purchasing power.
So not only has the size of Bonne Bell's market grown, but so has the spending volume of its customer base. Teens and tweens represent 40 million consumers that spend an aggregate $155 billion each year. And, according to the market research firm Teen Research Unlimited, girls and boys between the ages of 13 and 19 last year anted up more than $9 billion for cosmetics, fragrances and other beauty products.
A "tween," in marketing terms, is someone between the ages of 8 and 12, explains Jeff Stein, managing director of McDonald Investments. There are a few other things to know about this group.
They are growing. Census estimates predict the number of children in the U.S. between the ages five and 14 to reach 40.4 million by 2003.
They make money. About $12 billion a year by most estimates.
And, they spend money. Stein puts that number around $90 billion a year. They are, he says, "a very fickle group."
"It's a tough demographic to predict," says Stein. "They don't know that we are in a recession. They don't care when interest rates go up or down. It's all about what is the latest and greatest."
Teens respond to market influences in a very different way than adults.
With adult markets, a company's options are infinitely greater. A single brand can appeal differently to the family man, with promises of security and stability, or the working woman, with efficiency and quality. But the youth market doesn't look at things that way. With them, it's all about the latest trend. And trends are nearly impossible to anticipate.
In the traditional manufacturing town of Cleveland, Bonne Bell is one of the oldest and most successful family-run businesses. But instead of large steel beams and machine parts, the Bells deal with big vats of sweet smelling pink wax and glitter powder.
The company was founded in 1927, after the senior Jesse G. Bell moved his family across the country. Today, Bonne Bell is run by Jess "Buddy" Bell, grandson of Jesse G. Bell, and son of the charismatic Jess Bell. Two other Bells are key members of the senior management team – Hillary Bell, Buddy's wife and director of brand development, and James Bell, Buddy's brother and the company's senior vice president. And, as it is with many family businesses, every member of the Bell family can recite the story of Jesse G. Bell and his trek to Cleveland to start the cosmetics company.
"My grandfather started by producing products on a hotplate in the back of an apothecary," says James Bell, senior vice president of international business development. Back then, cosmetics were sold door-to-door out in the field. Bell saw an opportunity. "He realized that women's cosmetics was recession-proof. He could go to any community, no matter what the economic level, and sell."
Bell then sought out a central location from which to sell his product.
"Whenever he heard of a salesman wining an award, the guy was from Cleveland," James recalls.
The senior Bell tells the same story.
"He had never been to Cleveland before," says Jess, picking up the tale from where his son left off. "What he did know is that Cleveland is within 500 miles of half of the population of the U.S. and that it must be a salesman's paradise."
The company, named after Jess Bell's sister, Bonne, began by offering a limited line of women's face powder and cleansing or vanishing cream. With that as its core product, Bonne Bell survived the Great Depression. But it wasn't until 1936 when the company's first signature product left its mark on the cosmetics industry. Until then, Bonne Bell was just another in a growing line of adult cosmetics firms. Formula RX1006, which was later shortened to 10-0-6, marked a turning point for the company.
"From that day the company had direction," explains Jess Bell.
As an astringent face cleanser, 10-0-6 was initially marketed as a woman's product. But it was more than that. Ten-oh-six was, in fact, a harbinger for the direction the company would eventually move.
There's a distinct odor that hangs in the air at the Bonne Bell production facilities in Westlake. You can smell it the moment you reach the parking lot. That smell attaches itself to your clothes and leaves with you. It's the smell of childhood, of giggling girls, and roller skating parties.
The company's production facility is housed in what can best be described as a Kentucky farm house. It's large, meticulously clean and well lit. In the middle of the facility are huge 700-gallon vats of pink thick goo that fill a half-million bottles, sticks and pots every day.
James Bell says the proprietary blended base of Lip Smackers is not what makes it one of the leading products in the cosmetic markets. "It's the flavor and the fragrance that gives it the real pop," he says, adding that the basic ingredients of Lip Smackers are not very complex. "We have a blend of five waxes. With the truth-in-labeling laws, anyone with a basic knowledge of chemistry can reproduce (it)."
In fact, for the first time in its corporate history, Bonne Bell executives applied for a patent, for Lip Sours, a tangy, citrus flavored lip product.
"It's innovative," explains Bell.
When asked if Lip Sours is the first sour lip product in the market, Bell is quick to say, "It's not the first, but it's the best." And, while that doesn't mean the product will definitely be another Lip Smackers, it does indicate one thing – in this highly competitive marketplace, the Bells have learned to move fast.
"One of our strengths is that we can react quickly and have a good knowledge of the consumer," James says. As proof, he points to the moisturizing and protecting ingredient in Lip Smackers, the improvement in raw materials and the meticulous testing and quality assurance at the Westlake production facility.
The more you learn about the company, the more you realize that although it's all part of the finished package, a Bonne Bell product is more than a sum of its parts.
Ironically, it was during the make-up minimalist '70s when Jess Bell brought to market the company's most successful product line, Lip Smackers. In 1973, when the first iteration of Lip Smackers was rolled out, it was the first flavored lip gloss to hit what was a suddenly expanding teenage and youth market.
By then, the company had long abandoned the adult cosmetic market to focus on girls in their late teens. It was in response to a landscape that changed dramatically after World War II. The Bells recognized the emergence of a distinct teen market, and with it, vehicles like the new Seventeen Magazine, where Bonne Bell could properly target its products.
"Nineteen fifty-seven brought the beginning of the baby boomers," says Jess. "We saw that a market was developing in the teenagers. We realized we were up against too much competition with the 35-and-older market."
Businesses like Arden and Revco held a veritable lock on the mature audience. Bell and his father understood that the competition was simply too steep to continue in their current market space.
"At the time, no one was promoting or marketing to the teenager, so we moved totally in that direction," Bell says.
It was an easy decision to make because the company had been struggling. It paid off, injecting Bonne Bell with new life.
The junior Bell, like his father, found that it only took one product to suddenly change the company's fortunes. "It was a bit happen chance," says Jess. "There was not a great deal of studies done or market group research completed."
Nevertheless, Lip Smackers had an immediate impact. Says Bell, "It was our most successful product."
Bonne Bell plays in a market space in the midst of massive expansion.
Research shows this group is growing at an exceedingly quick pace. "We figured if we get them young enough, we would have a good share of the older market," Bell says.
The "older market," teenagers, is a prized consumer group. According to the market research firm Geppetto Group, teenagers shop as often as 54 times a year, much more than their adult counterparts. Today's teenagers also receive larger allowances than ever before, and a sizable portion of that money is spent on cosmetics. This year, sales of teenage beauty products are expected to reach $10 billion.
In 1998, the youth market accounted for nearly 20 percent of the $28.4 billion spent in U.S. cosmetic and toiletry sales. That has been growing at a rate of close to 8 percent a year.
It hasn't taken very long for Bonne Bell's competitors to understand the vast potential of the youth market and adapt. Old-line cosmetics firms have expanded their product lines to include lip gloss. A host of start-ups such as Too Faced and Jane's Cosmetics joined the race to introduce the next cool thing. And, retailers like Wal-Mart have opened their own in-store teen beauty centers to tap into the market. Bonne Bell may be a brand to be reckoned with, but in the fickle mind of the teenager brand loyalty is not enough to stay ahead of the pack. In 2000, new product launches in the cosmetic industry accounted for 6 percent of total sales with lip gloss remaining the fastest-growing segment.
Since 1999, sales have increased by more than 40 percent. All of this reveals that Bonne Bell's competition has not only grown quite a lot, but there seems to be no end in sight.
On the surface, it sounds like it should be a no-brainer to jump into this market space. The only problem is that teenagers tend to be stingier with their money than adults. That's because they don't always know when they can expect more cash in their pockets. Teen incomes also tend to be more sporadic, with fluctuating allowances accounting for a large portion of what they view as income.
So capturing and hanging onto this consumer group is a true challenge that few companies have been able to master.
Doing it consistently is what separates Bonne Bell from the pack.
It should come as no surprise that Jess Bell Sr. is passionate about the company's seniors program, which provides jobs for several dozen retirees over the age of 55.
Apparently, there must be something about working in a perpetually youthful industry that keeps people perpetually young.
At 76, Bell looks like a man at least a dozen years his junior and still runs marathons. He compliments his son – and successor – on the new glitter body powder using words like "neat" and "really cool." But the senior Bell is quick to direct all questions about new product development, marketing and international expansion to the two people who are responsible for that growth – his son, "Buddy" Bell, and Buddy's wife, Hillary.
"You reach a point where you can't contribute as much if you're not reading teen magazines and watching the news enough to keep abreast of the changes," says Jess Bell on his retirement a few years ago, when he passed the company reins on to his two sons, Buddy and James.
Officially, Jess is still chairman and acts as consultant, but his main responsibility is oversight of a rather successful senior's work program that operates out of the Lakewood headquarters. While Jess focuses there, Buddy and James, along with Hillary, have undertaken extensive market research initiatives and acted accordingly. They've engaged in trend analysis and product expansion. Since 1995, Bonne Bell expanded its product line to better encompass the cosmetic market instead of primarily focusing on lipgloss. They've also moved from department stores to big box retailers.
International expansion, says Jess, marks the next new era for the company.
But product expansion since the new management team took over has been the key driver to the company's recent surge.
"It is a whole different brand and line of cosmetics," says Hillary. "It's Lip Smackers, its gloss, lip lites, lip rush."
Buddy says everything about the expanding product is important – the flavors, colors, packaging style. "We try to create point of difference," he says.
Presentation, the Bells maintain, is everything. So it should come as no surprise that visitors to the Bonne Bell headquarters in Lakewood, or the production facility in Westlake, find themselves leaving with a purple box filled with goodies. For the most part, journalists shy away from accepting gifts from the subjects of their articles, but there is something about a tissue-lined purple box of fruit-smelling, glitter laden girly-stuff that no red-blooded American woman can resist.
"That's what's cool," says a co-worker about my Flip Gloss, a slim, trim lip gloss I received during my first interview with the Bell family. "Everyone in my daughter's high school has one of those," she adds with a nod. And it is cool. The actual lip gloss moves in a fluid motion as a small lever on the side is pushed up and the top flips up.
"Through the years we have developed a following," says Jess, who smiles when he thinks about his customer base. "The economy today favors our audience."
Each Bell used the same word separately when talking about their product – loyalty. That loyalty is evident in today's consumers, who live and die by the color of their Lip Smackers, and by the mothers and grandmothers who have grown up with Bonne Bell's products.
"Business continues to be steady for cosmetics," says Stein. However, steady doesn't mean consistent. "With teens, the market shifts radically and is a challenge to predict."
For any line to sustain longevity, it has to maintain a certain perception.
"Brands mean a lot," Stein says. "And brands that are positioned to appeal to a lifestyle rather than an age group will have a broader appeal."
This is another piece of the Bell legacy.
Although the Bells focuses mainly on the teen and tween market, lately the product line has been expanded to include an older consumer.
"We try to not to look at chronological age," explains Hillary. "It is a mind set – a young at heart spirit. We have 20- and 30-year-old women who use it. It has a universal appeal."
And, while Bonne Bell's target market may be relatively specific, what affects those trends is much more widespread.
"The hot thing in the last five years is glimmer and shimmer," says Hillary. "It's part because of technology and part because of societal trends."
Hillary and her staff look at everything from the metallic paint in cars to what Britney Spears wears to the MTV awards.
"The trick," she says, "is how to pull those trends down to our specific market."
Spears may be a woman now, but Hillary points out that it wasn't that long ago when the pop superstar was a somewhat innocent make-up wearing teenager.
"Britney Spears changed when girls wear cosmetics," says Hillary.
Not just when, but also how much. It may be tempting not to take Spears seriously, but it is important to understand the influence music plays in the tween and teen psyches. Music spending is on the rise and ranks higher even than popular video games.
When you consider that these age groups are more affluent than ever, with the average tween receiving $10 each week and teens as much as $32 per week in personal spending money, the buying power of this group quickly adds up.
By the beginning of the 1990s, it was apparent that Bonne Bell's products needed a shift from department store sales to the world of mass retail. Jess Bell says department stores simply weren't promoting youth cosmetics effectively, and the company's sales during the '80s reflected that erosion.
"Chains like Wal-Mart and Target are very interested in the teen and preteen audience," says Jess. "We had to go after (them), but first we had to prove ourselves to them."
Getting space on the shelves wasn't so much the issue as getting the fickle chains to place and promote Bonne Bell's products as cosmetics of choice for the teen crowd.
"These chains were not in the business of promoting product," Jess says, adding that now the big box retailers are one of the company's most powerful sales outlets. Once again, part of Bell's decision to change strategy arose from necessity.
Because they're a privately held company, the Bells don't disclose exact sales and earnings numbers. But they do say the company's sales were more than $100 million last year. And, with the continued growth of the youth market, Buddy and his team have cast their gaze overseas.
The universal appeal of Bonne Bell's products, and the similarity of marketing to a global audience, makes the move easier to undertake today than it would have been a decade ago.
"Culturally, kids and teens are not that different," Buddy says. "The U.S. is such a strong influence. And now, we are more focused on consumer trends tastes and preferences."
How to reach: Bonne Bell Inc., (216) 221-6256 or www.bonnebell.com
The next time he came to the company's offices, he was stopped at the front desk and escorted from the premises by security.
Less than two weeks after the first incident, he returned a third time. Security guards stopped his car at the front gate and called police. Officers searched the car -- and found a gun.
The situation might have ended tragically had The Limited not internally stepped up awareness of family violence in 1998.
"There's a real-life case where she felt safe to come forward," The Limited vice president of public affairs Al Dietzel says of the victim's reaction after the company implemented programs suggested by the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence, founded and chaired by Abigail Wexner.
"One of every four women at some time in her life experiences either physical or emotional abuse," Wexner says, rattling off just one of countless statistics illustrating the prevalence of the problem.
Think your company's safe? Reluctant to touch such a sensitive issue? Worried you won't have the resources The Limited did to even address it? Take another look.
Outlining the problem
Before the formation of the Coalition in 1998, Dietzel was visiting the East Coast to see what community organizations the company could support there.
Moved by a video he saw at the House of Ruth, an organization providing assistance to homeless and abused people in Washington, D.C., Dietzel returned to Columbus to share the tape with Abigail Wexner.
"Both of us were in tears," he says of their reaction to the violence shown on the video. "She said, 'We need to do something about that. Let me think about it.'"
Wexner didn't think very long.
Just two weeks later, she had convened a group of community leaders from hospitals, law enforcement, social services and other agencies and asked them what they needed to help them overcome family violence in Columbus.
"They said, 'If the business community got behind this issue, it would take on a completely different stature,'" Wexner remembers.
Still, she knew the problem was much more complex.
"I was probably a little nave going into it in terms of how comprehensive the work was going to be in order to make some strides," she admits, looking back on the first three years of work. "However, I was not daunted by the time. I knew this was not something that would be an easy solution."
In what Dietzel calls strategic moves characteristic of Wexner, she formed a coalition of business and community volunteers divided into different task forces to deal with family violence in all areas of the system: Legal, health care, faith community, business community/public education and victim services.
"The goal is really to change the way we as a community think about domestic violence. Until everyone sees it as their problem, you won't see a change," Wexner says, pointing out that, for example, a neighbor needs to feel empowered to see a victim and get help. "The challenge is really to get that victim to come forward and get the help she really needs. The cycle is frightening. Once it begins in a house, it goes on for generations."
Into the workplace
Wexner also knew family violence doesn't just stay behind the private doors of a home. Statistics, she says, show that 75 percent of victims abused at home are also harassed at the workplace by the offender.
She outlined the problem to her husband, Les Wexner, chair and founder of The Limited, where 85 percent of the associates are women. Ninety-five percent of all domestic violence is male to female, studies show.
He agreed something should be done about the family violence issue, and the Coalition began working with executives at The Limited to set up policies regarding domestic violence in the workplace.
Dietzel stresses the simplicity of implementing measures at the company:
- The effort began with a meeting of Les Wexner and the CEOs of The Limited lines of business. He explained the company's policies and gave them manuals they could include in the Franklin Planners they all use.
- Arnold Kanarick, The Limited's executive vice president and chief human resources officer, then sent a letter to all employees. It outlined domestic violence statistics, included a brochure with more information and stressed the company's stance: "As a company, we are saying within our own buildings and stores, and to our communities: There's no excuse for abuse."
- In women's and men's restrooms at the company, The Limited placed cards with national and local domestic violence victim hotline numbers as well as a number at the company where victims could confidentially seek help. "We also put the cards in the bathrooms used by visitors," Dietzel says. "It sends a message to vendors and customers."
- Employees in security, management and human resources were trained to recognize signs of domestic violence and how to direct victims to social services in the community. "We've trained HR and security so if a supervisor comes in and says, 'I don't know what to do with Sally, she must have 30 (personal) calls a day,' in the old days we would warn her: If it doesn't stop, you'll need to leave the company,'" Dietzel says. "Now we know to ask: 'Sally, is there something going on where we can help you?'"
Results were swift.
In his first 30 years as director of security at The Limited Inc., Jerry Merritt remembered only one, maybe two, cases of domestic violence being reported from the 6,000-plus employees of the company.
In 1999, more than 80 employees confided in supervisors or security that they felt threatened or wanted to seek help; in 2000, the number topped 100.
Those numbers tell Dietzel the company has successfully communicated to employees that they'll get a sympathetic ear and help if they need it.
"It's more what we don't do than what we do," he says, acknowledging that some business owners may have a hands-off reaction to addressing such a sensitive issue within their own walls. "We don't give advice, we simply tell the victim where to go for help."
"We're not in the business of becoming a social worker, a counselor," Dietzel says. "It's simply providing places where they can go to get help.
"We found out the worst thing you can do is give direct help -- 'I think you should leave him.' We are not equipped, we are not trained, to give direct counseling, and it can work against you."
In more serious cases, the company is more aggressive in providing assistance.
"We do such things as give a woman a cell phone and tell her to use it: 'Call police; here's our security number,'" Dietzel says.
"Mainly what we did is change our attitude and let people know we're here to help," he says. "It's a culture, a climate where women feel comfortable to step forward."
The Limited's actions have brought benefits besides the obvious one of keeping the employees safe.
"The other thing I think you'll find is we've saved some good people from leaving," Dietzel says. "We've helped them go through a crisis. It also boosts morale for their co-workers."
The Limited's leadership on the issue has proven successful in attracting participation of other businesses. A forum held for the top employers in Columbus brought in representatives from 99 of the 100 companies invited to learn how to handle domestic violence in the workplace; subsequent forums have been directed at small business.
Shortly after representatives of Resource International Inc., a 150-employee engineering consultant company in Westerville, attended one of the forums, executives there gave employees a flier explaining the company's support of the Coalition and offering phone numbers employees could call for assistance.
Within a few short months, an employee told her supervisor about family violence in her home, and they went to Vice President Marcia Majidzadeh for help.
The family business loaned the employee money for legal fees, gave her an advance on paychecks so she could provide for the needs of her children and gave her additional time off to deal with her problems.
Unfortunately, Majidzadeh says, the woman went back to her partner, a decision frequently made by victims.
Still, Majidzadeh says, the incident shows company's involvement in the Coalition made employees feel comfortable in approaching management to seek help with family violence problems.
"There is definitely a feel in our organization, an open door policy, that if you need help, you can go to someone," she says.
She understands that business owners watch the bottom line, and says taking a stance against family violence could end up helping the company.
"If you help someone, really listen to them," she says. "you're going to help yourself because this person's going to come in more productive. But you're also going to help this person. No one in the workplace wants to lose a good employee."
Even the smallest of companies, which perhaps have no human resources or security departments, can address the issue of family violence, Dietzel suggests.
For example, he says, a company's receptionist and the CEO's secretary are often those most in contact with employees at a small business. Those two individuals could be trained to direct victims to sources of assistance. Employees could be notified that the company will not tolerate violence and informed that they can get assistance by contacting those two employees.
"That little thing would be a morale booster for that little company," he says, noting the action would have three effects.
It would elevate those two employees to a position of being empowered to help employees, enhance the CEO's image to one where the employees see he or she really cares about them, and put offenders in the company on notice that their actions against victims will not be tolerated.
"Caring for the safety of your people is simply the right thing to do, and having a zero-tolerance for violence in a business is not only the right thing to do, it's also good business," Dietzel says regarding advice he'd give to other business owners regarding the issue. "In terms of sending a message to employees that you care, I cannot think of a less extensive, more direct way to do that than to provide a note to them: If there's violence in your life and you'd like to talk to somebody, please call one of these three numbers. I think that will come back to you as people will feel differently about you as a CEO, and people will feel differently about your business."
Staying on task
Wexner brushes aside facts and figures that are evidence of lost productivity and work time due to family violence issues faced by employees.
"It's of interest, but the compelling thing to me is you're never going to get someone to do something on that fact alone," she says of attaching monetary values to the effects of domestic violence. "You've got to get people to see they have an obligation to employees to act as responsibly as they can."
To enhance the program in the Columbus area, the Coalition continues to raise awareness by training business employees and helping companies establish policies to deal with violence in the workplace, says Joel Dixon, an account executive hired by the Coalition to work directly with businesses to maintain their policies.
"Victims put themselves in a lot of danger when the perpetrator is aware that they are seeking help," says Karen Days, executive director of the Coalition. "We want to make sure we can help them in a way that doesn't revictimize them or put them in more danger."
Wexner is heartened to find that sponsors of the Coalition are offering more than dollar bills to the effort.
"People like Kroger and Bank One say, 'We'll help with the funding, but we'd really like to take you up on your offer to address the issue,'" she says.
Dixon has been working to implement family violence policies and awareness programs at Kroger, Children's Hospital, The Huntington National Bank, Nationwide, The Columbus Dispatch, the City of Columbus and Worthington Industries as well as The Limited Inc. All are among in-kind or monetary sponsors of the Coalition, but he's also been contacted by and begun working with other Columbus area companies to implement the program.
In three to five years, Wexner guesses, the Coalition may have a proven program to expand to other communities -- which already have requested information on its activities.
Gail Heller, executive director of CHOICES, a local agency that provides comprehensive services to victims and survivors of domestic violence, says that while statewide organizations such as the Ohio Coalition on Sexual Assault and the Ohio Domestic Violence Network have tried to address the entire issue, the Coalition Against Family Violence focuses on the Central Ohio and Franklin County area.
"Most of the larger cities across the country have some coordinating council or some body that focuses on the issue within the community. There have been different attempts over the years to try and pull something together," Heller says. "I think Abigail has had the best success of all the attempts. The Coalition is focusing on the full range of issues of violence that occur in the family environment, where organizations like ours deal more specifically with abuse that occurs between adults."
Wexner, she notes, is also tackling issues of child abuse and elder abuse.
"She probably does have the broadest view in this area," Heller says.
Having so many community representatives included in the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence, Heller says, will make it easier to meet goals.
"I think (the Coalition) has helped our community increase awareness of the issue and really make people understand and see that it really isn't a problem that is only existing behind somebody's closed door and shuttered windows," Heller says. "If it's happening behind closed doors, it really does extend into our schools and our workplaces and our churches and all those places.
"When people become more aware of a problem in a community, it's harder to ignore it. It's harder to hope somebody else will deal with it," Heller says. "It's more of the community's responsibility to deal with this issue now."
The long road ahead
Wexner is ready to commit her time and effort to what she knows the Coalition will need to make progress against family violence.
"I kind of think the work we've accomplished so far is not even the tip of the iceberg. In terms of really delving into the problem, it's going to take years," she says.
Already, however, the Coalition has, among other accomplishments, given information to more than 100,000 employees by educating more than 200 businesses about family violence and implemented a training and education program for businesses and other local employers. More than 2,000 human resources and security personnel representing 23 companies have received training.
Wexner says she took on the challenge of curtailing family violence knowing it would be tough.
"This is not the most glamorous issue," she says, noting the privacy matters and the sensitivity required. "If I didn't necessarily want to do it, I'm not sure anyone else would want to take this on."
More important, however, she felt a responsibility to respond.
"If you say women and children are being abused next door to you and there's something you can do about it," she says, "don't you have to?"
How to reach: Joel Dixon, Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence, Joel Dixon, (614) 722-5905 and Karen Days, (614) 722-5960; Marcia Majidzadeh, Resource International Inc., (614) 885-1959 or email@example.com; Gail Heller, CHOICES, (614) 258-6080 or www.choicesdvcols.org. Contact Al Dietzel, The Limited Inc., and Abigail Wexner through the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence at 722-5985.
That's why Richard Peck, editor of Nursing Homes, says the magazine chose the president and CEO of St. Barnabas Health System as a member of its editorial advisory board.
Anyone familiar with St. Barnabas might view Peck's comment as an understatement. Day, who has been with St. Barnabas for 34 years, heads an organization that provides a full range of inpatient and outpatient health care services, with care ranging from family medicine to post-hospital nursing care to carriage homes for seniors. It includes two skilled nursing centers, two assisted living residences, two retirement communities, an outpatient medical center and a charitable foundation.
The health system's business acumen was acknowledged in 1995 with the Arthur Andersen Enterprise Award for Best Business Practices.
Since 1987, Day and St. Barnabas have hosted an annual leadership conference attended by many of the region's prominent business government leaders.
We were asked that question several times this year after we put out a call for nominations for the 2002 Pacesetters. There aren't any hard and fast requirements other than a nominee live in one of the counties where we have significant circulation. Beyond that, a Pacesetter should demonstrate that he or she has made a contribution to the business community and economic development of the region that goes beyond the norm and, in some way, outside the ordinary.
Public service counts. So does job creation. And making tough decisions in trying times may mean more this year than it has in others.
We have witnessed in recent months the tremendous value of exemplary leadership in the most fundamental and critical of ways and circumstances. We've also seen how great leaders can bring out the best in their followers, and how the worst of leaders can lead theirs down a path of destruction.
Ironically, great leaders seem to have an uncanny ability to inspire the people around them to be leaders in their own right, and that may be the very essence of outstanding leadership.
We were duly impressed this year by the quality of the nominees and the packages of supporting information submitted on their behalf. There were several 20-page presentations that took lots of time, care and energy to put together. Several of those individuals were selected. Others weren't, but certainly will be considered in the future.
Beyond the nominations we receive, we spend a good deal of time reviewing the newsmakers covered on the pages of SBN, people we have met or heard about. We try to avoid simply choosing the usual suspects, although we won't ignore the well-known, especially if they have distinguished themselves recently. We send out an e-mail appeal for nominations, hoping to pick up someone we haven't identified before.
When you hear the call next year, consider nominating someone or submitting your own name as a Pacesetter. Tell us why you believe the nominee is Pacesetter material and give us supportive material to help us make our decision.
And if you've been nominated and have yet to be chosen, take heart. Try again next year. And keep on trying in the business arena. After all, perseverance is one of the earmarks of a Pacesetter.
"Before St. Jude's, the survival rate was 4 percent," says Lewis, president of Family Heritage Life Insurance. "Today, those rates are up to 80 percent survival."
Lewis' passionate devotion to St. Jude's, as well as a number of other cancer and cancer-related causes, is contagious. To date, his company's cumulative giving to St. Jude's is more than $500,000. But he does more than give money to a cause; he also promotes awareness and will hold next year's company meeting at the hospital to underscore the importance of St. Jude's work.
Family Heritage's commitment to St. Jude's is just one of the reasons Lewis and his firm were honored with a 2001 Pillar Award for Community Service. Family Heritage is also actively involved with Daffodil Days, a program in which Family Heritage employees deliver flowers to cancer patients at the Cleveland Clinic. And throughout the year, sales agents are encouraged to wear caps and pins in the field to promote awareness of National Cancer Survivor Day.
Lewis and his employees have an intimate knowledge of the problems associated with prolonged and critical illnesses. The company sells supplemental insurance, including cancer, intensive care and accident insurance. This brings him and his staff face to face with the devastating effects of cancer and other diseases every day.
Not long ago, Lewis founded the Lou Massey Memorial Fund after Massey, one of Lewis' workers, lost his battle with brain cancer. Each year for one week, Family Heritage drives donations to the nonprofit fund that was specifically created to help affiliates and family members who suffer from cancer and cancer-related illnesses.
Lewis and his senior management are the driving force behind the company's giving culture. In fact, Lewis even ties company success to giving. The 200 sales agents that work mostly out of the main office aren't let off the hook. The better sales are each month for Family Heritage salespeople, the higher the amount of the donation the company makes in each salesperson's name.
For example, at the end of the year, donations to Toys for Tots are tied to sales numbers. It's a program that continues to expand.
"We had 10 major outreach programs this year and we have 12 for next year," says Lewis.
And, Lewis says, talk is cheap. That's why he and other senior managers are involved in outreach projects such as Harvest for Hunger's month-long campaign. He divides his company into teams and builds incentives to encourage giving.
"Outreach is part of the culture," he says. "They know that it is expected, but people have responded to what we have promoted."
Another program involves teams of employees and their families, who donate time and financial resources to health-related causes. Called the "For a Healthy Life" team, they solicit donations from sales incentive programs to support National Donor Day, Easter Seals, the National Day of Prayer, the American Red Cross and Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
There's one more motivating factor behind Family Heritage's culture of wanting to give back -- every year, Lewis puts on a black tie event, at which he gives a recognition award to the employee who best exemplifies outreach work and philanthropy. It has, he says, become very competitive.
"The award is all about what you have done in outreach," Lewis says, "regardless of sales or other work."
How to reach: Family Heritage Life Insurance Company, (216) 520-2800
Kim Palmer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing editor of SBN Magazine.
The following organizations are accepting donations for the victims of Sept. 11.
Uniformed Firefighters' Association
UFA Widows' and Children's Fund
204 East 23rd St.
New York, NY 10010
Tax ID #13-3047544
American Families Assistance Fund
National Organization for Victim Assistance
1757 Park Road N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20010
United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York
World Trade Center Relief Fund
P.O. Box 5314
New York, NY 10150
Twin Towers Fund
c/o NYC PPL
The City of New York
P.O. Box 371
100 Church St., 20th Floor
NY, NY 10007
American Red Cross
American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund
P.O. Box 37243
Washington, D.C. 20013
U.S. Emergency Fund, Dept. NR
P.O. Box 2669
Portland, OR 97208
(800) 852-2100 or www.mercycorps.org
120 W. 14th St.
New York, NY 10011
Attention: Disaster Relief
The United Way of New York City
September 11th Fund
2 Park Ave.
New York, NY 10016
Catholic Charities USA
1731 King St., #200
Alexandria, VA 22314
Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund
New York Firefighters 9-11 Disaster Relief Fund
Save the Children
The New York State World Trade Center Relief Fund
P.O. Box 5028
Albany, N.Y. 12205
You would want to know exactly what's happening with the company, wouldn't you?
Steve Wolever's banker, Charlie Wharton, senior vice president of KeyBank NA, says that's exactly how a bank feels when it lends money to a business owner. In Signature's case, Wolever involved Wharton in his plans to make a big investment in his company from the very beginning.
"Being involved with the entire process from start to completion made it a whole lot easier, so that when we got financial information, it was expected," Wharton says.
To prepare for the loss, Wolever says, the company needed a good financial plan.
"We try to do forecasts really negative and really positive," he says. "We do 12-month forecasting every month for the next 12 months so you know what effect decisions you're making today are going to have. Without that, it's more of a gamble than a plan.
"If we made cuts in anticipation of the loss, our services suffer because we don't have a lot of pure administrative departments. One thing we didn't sacrifice was in the sales area -- that's our lifeblood."
For a period of time, Signature didn't bring on any new hires, but Wolever didn't have to lay off any employees, either.
"We had lot of people doing lot of multitasking, and as we grew we were able to separate out some of those tasks to separate jobs," Wolever says. "We're a people business -- 70 percent of our expense is just in labor. The unfortunate part is there's not a lot of belt tightening that you can do."
Signature was fortunate, he says, because KeyBank supported the plan and maintained the company's line of credit.
"That's how you fund that kind of thing," he says, noting the company was able to borrow based on its large accounts receivable fund, which today is more than $2 million.
In addition, the company doesn't carry a lot of debt. And because of its stability, the timing of the decision to lose money was good.
"A few years before that, we couldn't have done it. We had set a foundation to be able to ride out a single year like that," he says.
"They had been profitable prior," Wharton says, "and had built up a big, strong balance sheet and could stand a one-year loss."
Wharton agreed with Signature's game plan to expand into a certain type of market at least in part because of its past record.
"They already had experience. They had contacts," he says.
Signature executives also had talked to their clients and some potential clients about their idea, so they knew prospects were good.
"They had to gear up with space, people, computers and technology to do that, but they already had some expertise in that area and had some contracts with some major players that would start kicking in," Wharton says.
He suggests that business owners who want to invest in their companies but know there could be reduced profit or even a loss as a result should do enough planning to keep everyone from being surprised.
"One of the best things any business, and small business in particular, can do is work with their bank, their accountant and their attorney as a team and talk about what they're doing, what effects it's going to cause short term and why they think it's going to have a very positive long-term effect," Wharton says.
Along the way, Signature gave Key updates on the status of the new business, another move Wharton recommends so a bank doesn't end up having a knee-jerk reaction and pulling out of the deal when it sees losses it didn't expect.
"If we've got more money into the company in lines of credit or loans or whatever than the actual business owner does," Wharton says, "we've got a real right to be involved with the decision process on what's going to happen." How to reach: Steve Wolever, Signature, 766-5101, ext. 2801 or email@example.com; Charlie Wharton, KeyBank, 460-3433 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Not because his cummerbund is too tight, but because after 28 years in the formal-wear business, he's seen how a weak economy and a world at war can put the squeeze on his industry.
"Everything could be perfect, then you have a weakened economy and what happened on Sept. 11, and that has a triple effect on a business like this," says Poulas, president, CEO and owner of Ohio Tuxedo, a long-established enterprise made up of 23 stores in Ohio and providing jobs for, on average, about 100 people.
Poulas relives what happened in 1991 when America went to war in the Persian Gulf.
"Ohio is about the third-largest Reserves state in the nation, and when they called up our men and sent them overseas back then, a whole lot of weddings were cancelled," he recalls. "When they came back, instead of having the big wedding they'd planned, they went to the justice of the peace."
When weddings account for 72 percent of your sales, that's quite an impact, he says.
"Besides the war we're in now, there have been so many layoffs and downsizings, and people are ambivalent to get married when they're not employed," Poulas says.
The current state of the nation gives many CEOs, especially an entrepreneur in the formal-wear industry, cause for great concern. Ohio Tuxedo claims 60 percent of the market share in the Akron/Canton area, 35 percent of the Cleveland market and 40 percent in Columbus. (American Commodore has some influence in the Akron/Canton market; in the Cleveland market, there's Ohio Tuxedo, American Commodore and Tuxedo Junction. In Columbus, Ohio Tuxedo competes with three other big chains.)
Although economic and other factors have constricted the immediate purchasing plans of Poulas and his competitors, this entrepreneur has brainstormed new ways to keep his black-tie business in the black.
From the ground floor up
Poulas had just graduated from Ohio University when he joined Ohio Tuxedo as a sales clerk in January 1974. Back then, he never imagined he'd help build the business to an enterprise he'd one day own.
The company sprouted in 1954 as Ohio Cleaners, a dry-cleaner and furrier founded by Earl Broida of Akron. Spotting a rare market opportunity, Broida introduced tuxedo rentals a year later and changed the name to Ohio Tuxedo.
"It all came about when a friend of Earl's asked if he knew where he could rent tuxedos for his daughter's wedding," Poulas says. "Earl couldn't find any place that did, so he purchased some tuxedos from a manufacturer in New York, rented them to his friend, then decided to buy more tuxedos and market that as a sideline business."
By the late 1960s, the Broida family had expanded the company to two stores in Akron and one in Canton. Ohio Tuxedo crept into the Columbus market in 1973, and a year later, Poulas started part time there. A year-and-a-half later, he became store manager.
From the start, he had a passion for the business and a fondness for his employers, who capitalized on his ardor and work ethic, teaching him every aspect of the business. Making his way up in the company, Poulas rose from store manager to district manager, and was promoted to vice president in 1984.
At that time, he was 33, and Ohio Tuxedo had grown to eight stores.
Five years and four more stores later, the company moved its hub of operations from North Main Street in Akron to the current offices and plant off Pershing and West Market streets. That's when Poulas relocated his wife and two sons to Akron.
"Until then, I was commuting at least three days a week between Columbus and Akron," says Poulas, now single.
In 1990, Broida passed away, and his son, Mark, stepped in as major stockholder. Within a few years, the son decided to sell the business to Poulas.
"I second mortgaged, begged and borrowed from everyone I knew," Poulas says, revealing that, rather than taking out a business loan, his brother, a successful Sandusky architect, was his greatest financial backer in the five-year buyout plan.
When Poulas bought Ohio Tuxedo in June 1997, the company had 17 stores and sales of about $3 million. Today, it's a 23-store operation with $5.2 million in sales. There are three locations each in Akron and Canton, one each in Kent and Medina, five in Columbus and 10 in Greater Cleveland, Elyria, Mentor and Wooster. This summer, he made the final buyout payments to both his brother and Mark Broida -- one year ahead of schedule.
"The final payment was supposed to be next year, but our business has been going in such a nice direction that I was able to pay out the final installments this year," Poulas says.
And then, the economy happened.
Man with the plan
Considering Christmas is the No. 1 engagement season of the year, followed by Valentine's Day, the period between Dec. 26 and the end of February will in large part determine how much Poulas can expand his inventory for 2002.
"That will give us an indication of how many weddings we're booking on paper for next year, and whether we'll spend more money on different product," he says.
Despite the current economy, Poulas has found ways to stay competitive in an industry that's greatly impacted by numerous factors.
"In the formal-wear business, we operate at a high degree of fixed expenses, the largest of which is salaries, rent and costs of goods," Poulas says, "so there's not a lot you can do to control your costs."
One way manufacturers are doing that is by capitalizing on labor costs overseas. Poulas says that in his industry, even designers such as Perry Ellis and Ralph Lauren have gone that route.
"I can buy the same product for 40 percent less than what I used to buy it for in America," he says. "So about the only way we've been able to cut expenses is to look for offshore goods."
With few other options to control costs, he has found ways to generate greater revenue. One way is by expanding his market share.
For example, he decided to enter the career apparel business a few years ago. He negotiated a deal to provide the blazers, skirts, shirts and ties for front-desk employees of hotels including Cross Country Inns (all 24 of the hotels in Ohio), as well as the Holiday Inn at Rockside in Independence and the Radisson Inn at Montrose, among others.
Ohio Tuxedo also provides coats, trousers, shirts and hats for security personnel of The Cleveland Clinic's parking unit.
"Because of what's happening with our economy now, we're brainstorming with our district managers, trying to find ways to bring in new types of business," he says.
Poulas isn't just beating the paths on career apparel. He's approaching banquet facilities, restaurants and hotels to diversify into table linens.
"For us, this is horizontal integration," he says. "We already have the facility to do all this cleaning, so we're not incurring additional costs."
Poulas has also broadened his horizons by dry-cleaning marching band uniforms for area high schools.
"Dry-cleaning the band uniforms doesn't generate a lot of income, but it does create goodwill and brings us exposure to the high schools," Poulas says.
And where there are high schools, there are proms. Poulas says his sales (formal-wear rentals) pie chart is made up of weddings (72 percent), proms (25 percent) and other social events (3 percent).
The king's new clothes
Considering the cost to rent formal wear for just a few hours, quality and service are crucial.
"We emphasize to our employees that when a customer pays $80 to $110 to rent a tuxedo for a few hours, we have to make sure everything is impeccable and we must treat the customer like a king," he says. "That's especially important because we want our grooms' ushers to be our future customers."
Although Poulas provides constant training and offers incentives for quality production in the plant and excellent customer service in the stores, his greatest challenge is that times have changed.
"We can preach service until we're blue in the face, and not to discredit any of our employees, but it's a sign of the times that some workers don't have the same drive and work ethic we had when we were younger," he says. "So we try to find seasoned people to run our stores."
In addition to experienced managers who supervise the two to three employees at each store, Poulas looks to his three district managers and a regional manager who oversee the locations. At his manufacturing facility, he relies on his plant manager, who has 24 years tenure there, and the office manager, who's been with the company 14 years. Together, they supervise the 35 people who work at the plant and in the office. Still, the challenge to manage employees intensifies during busy season, when payroll swells to about 120.
In contrast, quality is something that's more easily controlled at Ohio Tuxedo.
"In tuxedo jargon, we use a term called 'turn analysis' -- how many times you can rent a tuxedo before you should take it out of inventory," Poulas says. "To keep our stock looking great, if a manufacturer suggests that a jacket can be worn and dry-cleaned 50 times before it's pulled from inventory, we take it out of circulation after 40 or 42 dry-cleanings."
Poulas owns his entire stock of about 15,000 tuxedo coats, 20,000 pairs of trousers, 25,000 to 30,000 shirts and thousands of accessories -- quite an inventory to maintain. In addition to purchasing only tuxedos of superior material, Ohio Tuxedo assures quality by way of its 22,000-square-foot warehouse, dry-cleaning and repair facility.
"We assemble all our tuxedos here and dry-clean everything on site so we can inspect our own garments for quality without relying on a third party, to make sure there are no spots or stains," he says. "If we get a piece back that has a tear or hole, we replace the whole front panel of the tuxedo."
Men in black
Poulas says his memberships and ties to trade and business associations have also been beneficial for business. For example, he's president-elect of the International Formal Wear Association, composed of hundreds of tuxedo companies and formal wear manufacturers, and president of the Stow-Munroe Falls Rotary. Those associations have cemented alliances with industry entrepreneurs such as Frank Simone Jr., owner of American Commodore.
"Even though we're competitors, if either of us has a problem or we need something for our customers, we'll call each other," Poulas says, emphasizing that the affinity is good for the industry itself. "If we've already booked a wedding and can't deliver on something, we don't want to compromise someone on the most important day of his life -- because that will give our industry a black eye. So we help each other out."
Poulas says that at some point, his older son will step into his shiny shoes and take over Ohio Tuxedo. Now 19 and a freshman studying business and marketing at The University of Akron, Gregory Poulas knows those shoes won't be easy to fill. (Perhaps 17-year-old son Stephen knows that, too, because he's aiming instead for a career in filmmaking.)
"It won't be easy for Gregory, because he knows that if he wants to take over this business, he has to raise the bar to a level I've not been able to reach," Poulas says. "I've told him he has to look at it like, 'What works today may not work tomorrow.' Because in this business, he can't come in with the same business plan I've laid out.
"You must be ever-changing to top your competition."
How to reach: Ohio Tuxedo, (800) 968-5199
''What is leadership and how do we apply it?'' she asks the small audience.
The attendees talk of command-and-control, position power, coercive power, the importance of trying to understand your employees and the overriding notion that good leaders find a way to inspire their employees past the visible horizon and toward some future goal. Allen, meanwhile, writes everything down.
At first glance, this program may sound rather routine and academic for anyone who has ever attended an executive seminar or workshop on leadership development. But it's not as if these attendees are sitting in a classroom, auditorium or hotel meeting room.
The marker board rests on an easel anchored in mud, surrounded by fencing. That outdoor leadership development classroom doubles as a corral, with a small pile of horse manure neatly to one side and large horses grazing nervously inside the fencing, no more than six yards away.
The academic session didn't last long that morning. Skolen ended the exercise by calling over one of the horses. And suddenly, her guests found themselves face to, well, shoulder to an animal that once led men into war and carried rough-and-tumble cowboys into the Old West.
And with that introduction, the real lessons in executive leadership began.
Welcome to the Equine Business Experience, a package of experiential leadership development programs developed by business partners Skolen and Allen and introduced officially this past summer to local business executives and their teams.
Skolen, who for a number of years provided leadership development and strategic planning consulting for her business clients, grew up with horses and decided to combine her work with her love of horses. Horses, she says, serve as a profound teaching tool because of the instinctive ways they interact with other horses and people when it comes to relationship building, trust and leadership.
The concept is by no means new. Therapists have been using horses for years to help children who are physically or mentally challenged. And now, across the country, the concept is being adapted to teach business leaders how to be more sensitive to their employees and management teams while effectively guiding them toward their visionary goals.
''It's really about creating self-awareness and accountability,'' she says of the value of her program.
Allen, meanwhile, had been a marketing consultant and found that many of her clients needed to address more fundamental leadership and other big-picture strategic planning issues before effectively designing a marketing plan.
''I wanted some experiential learning to open people up for change,'' Allen says of her attraction to Skolen's equine ambitions.
Together, they tested their newly developed curriculum for about a year and a half on business leaders and other leadership development partners before launching their company, the Shared Vision Alliance -- ''Partners in Organizational Evolution.'' The pair will run most of their programs from a brand-new stable on newly acquired property off Route 79 South between Bridgeville and Southpointe. The property includes an indoor riding rink for winter equine programs, pasture land and at least 15 horses. The facility, which Skolen and Allen call the Horsense Learning Center, is scheduled to open this month.
The programs aren't cheap. The complete package for larger executive teams costs upwards of $7,500 and includes a diagnostic meeting with the team prior to the day-long event to determine its needs and desired goals; an intensive day-long program that includes leading, herding and riding horses and other creative exercises; a post-event meeting to evaluate the event and its effect on the team; and a videotape of the event for training use by the client.
Individuals looking to develop their own leadership abilities can sign up for eight equine-oriented, one-on-one coaching sessions for $3,500.
Why horses, you may be asking? Back at the ranch, Skolen hands a lead rope to a participant and asks him how he would approach the horse, fasten the lead to its bridle and guide it to a spot in the corral. It was leadership in its simplest form, he thought.
So he took the rope, held it in front of him with one hand, walked directly over to the grazing horse and looked him in the eye. With that, the horse lifted its head and ears warily and leaned away. As the participant attached the lead and pulled to get the horse to go, the horse just stood there. Nothing.
Now, Skolen asks him, how would you approach one of your managers or a co-worker with, say, a revolutionary new idea or constructive criticism? Would you stop and think about that person's personality, motivations or circumstances before approaching? Could you charge right up and spout off your idea without scaring that person away or threatening his or her personal space? And how might people react if you simply threw your idea at them and told them what to do?
People may not be quick to show how they really feel in such situations, but as Skolen points out, horses certainly are. Horses, she says, demonstrate a number of innate qualities that make them exceptional leadership development tools.
They are considered prey and herd animals, which means they instinctively stay alert together watching out for predators. The horse that is the most alert and which is the most resourceful when it comes to locating food and water becomes the Alpha, or leader, and the other horses naturally follow. It's not so much a matter of which horse is the toughest and meanest -- it's the one that is most alert.
Moreover, as prey animals, horses have eyes on the sides of their heads instead of the front, so they can't see directly in front of their faces. But they can see more than 270 degrees around them, which means they spend most of their time looking at the panoramic ''big picture,'' which helps them stay alert.
People, on the other hand, are considered predatory. Their eyes are in the center of the faces, which allows them to see directly in front of them. And most people tend to use their eyes to focus with intensity on other people, either to threaten them or send other nonverbal messages.
The man should have approached the horse calmly and in a more roundabout way, according to Skolen. And he never should have pointed his eyes -- or his torso -- directly at the horse's head. He then should have talked reassuringly to the animal and petted it before reaching for the bridle.
Once he established trust, he could have simply tugged lightly on the lead, making a clicking sound to signal the horse to go, and walked with the horse as he pointed his head and body directly toward his goal.
''What I got out of this is mostly is an appreciation of the sensitivity you have to have with those you're leading,'' says Alberta ''Pudge'' Lizza, manager of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services in Greensburg, who had never been around horses before. ''My leadership style tends to get very impatient with those who weren't motivated or who didn't show initiative.
''This was a real growth experience, because these horses graphically depicted our strengths. There is an integrity we got in the feedback from the horses. So I got a sincere appreciation for good leadership. I had taken it for granted, but it's an art.''
Lizza, 54, who manages 20 real estate agents in her office, sold her company, Metro Real Estate Services, to Howard Hanna three years ago. Part of the reason she came to Skolen and Allen, she says, is because her three-year management contract was about to expire, and she was looking for ways to step back and figure out what she might do following her departure from her one-time business.
''I'm really trying to identify my strengths and weaknesses and to identify my passions,'' Lizza says. ''I want to get involved in something I'm really passionate about.''
The Equine Business Experience, Skolen says, can help individuals as much as it can teach leadership and team-building.
''Horses allow for a more real-world experience, where the horse requires people to interact with something outside themselves,'' Skolen says in her marketing materials. ''Through working with horses, we help people develop self-awareness and self-responsibility.''
As Lizza says, '' If you're not growing, you're dying. And if you're not getting out and seeing something else or seeing things from a different perspective, you're not growing.'' How to reach: Shared Vision Alliance, (412) 257-6097, or www.sharedvisionalliance.com
Daniel Bates (email@example.com) is the editor of SBN Magazine.