In the 40 years that Gary DeJidas has worked for GAI Consultants Inc., he hasn’t faced challenges quite like what he faced four years ago when the economic downturn dealt a hand of stagnancy, cutbacks or shutdowns. However, in those years, the GAI chairman, president and CEO hasn’t been as excited as he is today for what lies ahead for the $90 million engineering and environmental consulting firm.

“I’ve taken the position that yes, this is a downtime, but it is a great time to strategize and position for future growth,” DeJidas says. “We’ve grown to more than 800 employees now with 26 offices in 11 states. A lot of that growth has occurred in the last three to four years.”

The economic impact GAI experienced forced DeJidas and the business to buckle down and find ways to diversify offerings to rebound from hard times.

“The biggest parts of our business — our energy component, our transportation component, municipal services and real estate development — were greatly impacted by the economy,” DeJidas says. “As work either seemed to be delayed or actually shut down, we really had to adjust to the available work that was in the marketplace. It had a ripple effect through a number of our lines of business.”

Real estate development almost went to zero, municipalities were forced to cut their capital projects and states sidelined their department of transportation work. In the company’s Orlando office, nearly half of its 100 employees had to be let go due to the slowdown in work. DeJidas made adjustments and turned his focus on strategic acquisitions and growth initiatives.

“Because of the situation with the economy, most of us have had to right-size with the available amount of work that was out there,” he says. “We’ve managed to do a reasonably good job navigating through all of that.”

Here’s how DeJidas has adjusted to today’s business reality through acquisitions and smart growth at GAI Consultants.


When your company goes through a shock like GAI experienced because of the impact the economy had on its business four years ago, you can’t afford to hesitate when moving forward.

“No. 1, you have to make up your mind whether or not you’re going to be a risk-taker,” DeJidas says. “If you’re not a risk-taker, then you’re probably going to crawl in your shell and just hope it gets better. When I say a risk-taker, I mean a calculated risk.”

During the economic downturn, no one knew what to expect next. You could say the same about what’s in store for 2013. You just can’t be afraid to take chances.

“I don’t think any of us knows what the year is going to bring, but you have to stay optimistic that it’s going to be better than this year and not be afraid to take opportunities when they present themselves,” DeJidas says. “That separates a lot of CEOs in this world — those that are willing to take chances versus those that will be more conservative in what they do.”

He has taken the position that you have to jump at opportunities rather than sit and wait for an opportunity to gift-wrap itself.

“I’ve taken an optimistic view that we’re going to be successful, and when things start getting back to where they were in terms of economic vitality, we’ll be positioned to go a long way,” he says.

Strategically, GAI has been trying to grow its business in both new markets and new services. The company has expanded its markets in the Northeast, Southeast and Midwest, stretching as far as Wisconsin, which has been aided by new service areas.

“In the service areas, we’ve added things like airport-related services, nuclear support services, real-estate-related services and our objective is no matter what a client needs, they can find it here at GAI,” DeJidas says.

To make these additions successful in a time of economic downturn, GAI made the decision not to cut vital parts of the company.

“One of the things that a lot of companies do when things get tight is they cut things that will help them grow and develop,” he says. “Over these last three or four years, we have maintained all our training programs. If you want your staff to respond, you have to continue, even through tough times, to feed their career development objectives and look in those types of directions.”

Much like maintaining training initiatives in the company, DeJidas decided to turn his focus on areas that would benefit the business versus stressing over areas that weren’t adding value.

“The first thing to look at is what markets are responding right now,” he says. “If you have services that could be offered to that industry, you should strategically position yourself to do that. It’s really about finding areas that look like they are going to be strong financially in the coming years and trying to strategically move yourself in that direction.”

To achieve success in different areas that you haven’t been in before, you have to be nimble.

“You have to be able to say, ‘I’m heading in the right direction, or I’m heading in the wrong direction,’” DeJidas says. “You have to be able to see what’s working and what’s not working, whether it’s in a market area or a service area and make some adjustments.”

Make good on acquisitions

To take advantage of new opportunities in areas that GAI saw potential, DeJidas looked for acquisitions that could help give the company a foot in the door.

“It’s always better to go into a new market with an established reputation,” DeJidas says. “We’ve tried to go into markets and just position a person there and start from scratch. That’s a very hard way to go. That’s why the acquisition way, even if it’s a small firm with a good reputation that has been in that market for a period of time, is a much better way. That applies to services, too.”

If you attempt to break into a new market or service with no prior experience or history, you will have a long journey ahead of you to establish your business. DeJidas and GAI have used the economic downturn as an aid to make acquisitions that will benefit both parties.

“There are a number of really good firms that have had to struggle the same way everybody struggled, and some of these firms don’t have the types of resources that we have,” he says. “What that has resulted in is the number of firms looking for partners — someone to come in and acquire the firm and provide the resources for the firm to grow and develop.

“That’s where we’ve been very successful in identifying those opportunities with firms that I feel are very good firms but are casualties from the economic situation that we’ve been faced with for the last several years.”

GAI has been doing acquisitions for nearly seven years now. In 2012 alone, the company went through four acquisitions and saw revenue improve 15 percent over 2011.

“The biggest thing with acquisitions is finding a firm that has a similar culture even before you start talking about money or anything like that,” he says. “People in general have a very difficult time with change. So if you acquire somebody whose culture is dramatically different than yours, then they’re going to struggle and you’re going to struggle. You have to make sure culture is very similar.”

Sometimes it’s easy to ignore how cultures will match up because the opportunity at hand is so great. You have to strike a balance or success will be very difficult.

“I always lean toward the culture because if you’re acquiring good people and the firm has a good reputation, the odds are in your favor that you’ll be successful,” he says. “Is there a balance? Sure there’s a balance. A lot of times companies focus on the practice versus the business.

“What you really need is a blend of the two. You’re trying to obtain a balance between the quality in the services you provide and the ability to run it as a successful business.”

On top of finding a business that will improve your company and that is a cultural fit, you must also be able to identify strong leaders who can help your business grow.

“Make sure you have key individuals who are familiar with the business that you can really put trust and faith into once the acquisition occurs,” he says. “They are the ones that hold the key to the business and have all the client relationships.”

Ultimately, the key to a successful acquisition is doing your due diligence throughout the process.

“You have to go through an extensive due diligence examination,” DeJidas says. “Sometimes it’s hard to uncover all the rocks and see what’s under all those rocks.” ?

How to Reach: GAI Consultants Inc., (412) 476-2000 or


-          Don’t be afraid to take risks.

-          Find new areas to grow your products or services.

-          Make strategic acquisitions to grow your company.

The DeJidas File


Gary DeJidas

chairman, president and CEO

GAI Consultants Inc.


Born: Pittsburgh

Education: Went to Point Park University and graduated with a B.S. in engineering and also received an MBA

What was your first job and what did you learn from that experience?

I worked at a gas station years ago when gas was 25 cents a gallon and you would get your oil checked and you tire pressure checked and your windshield and back window all clean. The thing I learned from that was service. It was all about servicing the customer.

What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?

Never ask people to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. Lead by example.

What excites you about GAI’s future?

I think we are very well positioned to move forward dramatically. In 10 years that I’ve been CEO we’ve more than doubled our size. I’m excited to start thinking about the next 10 years.

If you weren’t a CEO, what is a job you have always wanted to do?

I’d like to be a professional golfer, but I’d probably starve. I would like to be a teacher and someday I may teach. I enjoy speaking in front of people and I enjoy teaching. With what I know, having the chance to share that with others would be very satisfying to me.

Published in Pittsburgh
Wednesday, 02 January 2013 15:38

2013 Pillar Awards - Cincinnati

Medical Mutual, along with our co-founding Pillar Award partner SBN, proudly presents the annual Pillar Awards.

In this issue, we honor 22 finalists representing a diverse group of companies and organizations of varying sizes. While they may be different in many ways, one thing that they all have in common is their commitment to strengthening the bond between the for-profit and nonprofit worlds.

This is an important conversation, and at this year’s event, we intend to explore it.

It occurred to us many years ago that few things are more meaningful and important than investing time and resources in supporting our community, and we felt the need to honor companies and their employees who have gone above and beyond the call. While support and direction come from management, companies are only as great as their employees.

For that reason, we are quite proud to present the Medical Mutual SHARE Award. This unique award was founded to recognize companies whose employees best exemplify the ideals of Medical Mutual’s own employee SHARE Committee. SHARE stands for serve, help, aid, reach and educate, and it is the heart and soul of Medical Mutual’s charitable giving effort.

The SHARE Committee, made up of Medical Mutual employee volunteers, helps coordinate more than two dozen community events involving nearly half of the company’s 2,500 employees.

On behalf of Medical Mutual and SBN, we hope you enjoy reading about these great companies and we offer congratulations to all of our Pillar Award recipients.

Rick Chiricosta

president and CEO

Medical Mutual


Published in Cincinnati
Friday, 30 November 2012 19:40

Roger Slade: Saving the holidays

Imagine that you are sitting at the holiday dinner table with your family — aunts, uncles, cousins and distant relatives from out of town. Someone at the table cavalierly brings up the November election. Next thing you know, World War III breaks out, as your family members debate the merits of the candidates and the future of the country over turkey and mashed potatoes.

Now, imagine that these same people are shareholders and employees in your family business. If these people cannot agree between the two politicians, how will they be able to agree about the joint management of their financial affairs? The answer is only with great difficulty. This is one reason why so many family businesses, and so many families, end up in costly litigation.

Here are some observations from someone who has litigated many intra-family disputes, about what might have been done to avoid a nasty and expensive lawsuit.

Sign a contract

It may seem elementary, but the fundamental concept of a contract is often ignored by people in business. Should you really sign a contract with your brother about the maintenance of a family business? After all, isn’t this the person that you grew up with, shared a room with … your best friend? Of course, you should.

The interesting thing about the negotiation of shareholders’ agreements among family members is how absolutely divergent the views are of different family members about how to run the business and make it profitable. These views often manifest themselves in the negotiation process.

Imagine, however, that there was no negotiation process, and instead, the business began without a written agreement. The likelihood is that chaos would ensue, profits would dissipate through disagreements and nothing of a material nature would be accomplished. Thus, this basic point — the execution of a contract — is a fundamental and necessary component to founding a family business.

Establish a hierarchy

Someone has to be the boss. Historically, it has been Dad. However, in “modern families,” other people can be asked to assume the mantle of leadership. Generally, it is wise to choose the person with the most business experience, the best education, and the most obvious leadership skills.

In any family, the appropriate candidate should be obvious. If the parties cannot agree on this, it is generally a bad sign. Leadership is essential to any business; and a family business is no different.

Treat it as a business

The family business is a real business. The family business should not be run like a family. The conversation between the leaders in the family business should not mimic the conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Rather, family businesses should conduct regular meetings, where notes are taken, minutes kept and tasks assigned. It is a good idea to retain an outside lawyer to help administer the affairs of the business.

You should also be able to judge the potential success of your family business by determining how easy it is to apportion tasks among family members after the Thanksgiving dinner is concluded — who will wash the dishes, the pots, clean the tables, fold the linens, and take out the garbage?

If the parties cannot agree, following dinner, how to clean up, how will they be able to run a business?

Establish an advisory board

Working with a family member during the day and then having Thanksgiving dinner with that family member the following weekend presents some challenges. Issues regarding the family business are more likely to arise at inappropriate times — during holidays, on weekends or after work hours.

If Dad or Mom is in charge of the business, this is even more likely to occur. One suggestion for taking Dad or Mom “out of the loop” would be to establish an advisory board. These are individuals you’ve retained for the purpose of dealing with sticky business issues that place Dad or Mom in an awkward position.

Let the “advisory board” take the heat for a difficult issue. That way, you can explain that the controversial decision — which may negatively impact a family member — was made by the advisory board and out of your hands.

Roger Slade is a partner in the law firm of  Boyd & Jenerette, P.A. and chairman of the firm’s Commercial Litigation Department. Reach him at

Published in Florida

Charles Bunch has seen firsthand the resilience of the Pittsburgh region through both thick and thin. As its local businesses have started to rebound from the recession, so too must the region.

The founders of Pittsburgh Plate Glass, or PPG Industries Inc., as it’s known today, were attracted to the Pittsburgh region because of the coal supply needed as an energy source, the sand and mineral resources, and the river transportation system that were critical for the manufacturing and sales of those first plate glass products.

Today, the 129-year-old company, led by Bunch, who is chairman and CEO, is coming off a record year of nearly $15 billion in revenue and the company is still proud to call Pittsburgh its global headquarters.

However, much like how PPG transformed from strictly a plate glass manufacturer into a manufacturer of glass, coatings and specialty products, Pittsburgh itself has had to transform to continue thriving in an ever-changing business environment.

As part of the Vision Pittsburgh speaker series, Bunch spoke to local businesspeople about what PPG has and is doing to aid the region in the matter and what initiatives Pittsburgh needs to focus on to build up its economic development and attractiveness for new business.

“We have a strong presence in the Pittsburgh area as do many other companies,” Bunch says. “U.S. Steel, PNC, Heinz and Wesco are all Fortune 500 publicly traded companies still headquartered in Pittsburgh. If you include local companies like Mylan, CONSOL and Dick’s Sporting Goods, the Pittsburgh region rises to fifth place on the Fortune list for company headquarters.”

With that said, Pittsburgh still needs to work hard to attract and retain business investment and economic development.

“We need to foster small business, but I believe we also need to foster big business as well,” Bunch says. “Big business provides technology, innovation and supports many of these smaller businesses, leading to a healthier overall ecology for growth and now we’re creating that environment here in our region.”

With the help of the Allegheny Conference and local business leaders looking to keep Pittsburgh on top of its game, Bunch outlined key areas of focus for the region moving forward.

Companies must help the region

In order for a specific region to prosper, its companies and business environment must also be doing well. PPG Industries is a company that has stayed true to Pittsburgh and has helped the region grow as it has grown.

“Over the past several decades, PPG has evolved from a diversified manufacturer of glass, coatings and chemicals and is a more focused leader of paints, coatings and specialty products,” Bunch says.

“We still maintain some of those glass manufacturing roots here, but in the 1980s, through a technological invention developed in our Allison Park Research Center, PPG revolutionized the automotive paint industry with electro-deposition coatings for corrosion protection. Rust is no longer an issue, and that comes from PPG’s invention more than 25 years ago.”

PPG has brought its technologies and products to customers around the world and is now the global leader in automotive OEM and aftermarket coatings and in aerospace, industrial and marine applications for customers such as General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Boeing and Caterpillar.

“PPG has strategically chosen to focus on paints, coatings and specialty products due in large part to the global growth potential in those businesses and because we view coatings as our strongest suit where we could best apply our technology and innovation in a business in which we could become an industry leader,” he says.

“More recently, we have accelerated that transformation through organic growth and more than 30 acquisitions around the world to strengthen our global position over the last 15 years.”

Today, PPG is the largest global manufacturer of coatings to all of the industrial end-use markets and is the second-largest manufacturer of paints and coatings in the world. In addition to these coating successes, PPG’s R&D efforts in its chemicals group developed the first plastered photochromic optical lenses, which have grown into a $1 billion optical lens business under the brand name Transitions.

“At the same time that we’ve transformed our business portfolio, we’ve also expanded our geographic footprint,” he says. “In 2001, 74 percent of PPG sales were in the U.S. or Canada. Today, that’s less than 45 percent. Ten years ago our sales in the Asia-Pacific region accounted for 3 percent of our company.

“Now Asia-Pacific has grown to 17 percent of PPG sales. Today, 28 percent of PPG sales are coming from emerging regions such as Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. We have developed an improved geographic profile and have truly built PPG into a global enterprise.”

This global growth does not come at the expense of jobs in Pittsburgh or in the U.S. and the explosion of growth PPG has seen is great for the local region.

“Ten years ago, at the end of 2001, PPG posted revenues of $8 billion and net income of $387 million,” Bunch says. “In 2011, we delivered revenues of $15 billion and an all-time record of net income of $1.1 billion with earnings per share last year of $6.87, which was more than a third higher than our previous all-time record. We nearly doubled our sales and tripled our net income in 10 short years.”

As a result of that success, PPG is having a positive effect on Greater Pittsburgh and giving back to the community to help it flourish.

“In 2011, PPG spent some $100 million with vendors, suppliers and consultants in the Pittsburgh area,” Bunch says. “We employ some 2,500 people in the region and our foundation provides more than $5 million in funding for nonprofit organizations, much of it in the Pittsburgh region.

“Our success has enabled us to support key regional assets, and this past year, PPG renewed its commitment to the Pittsburgh Zoo and the PPG Aquarium for another 10 years.”

While much of the company’s recent growth has been overseas, its headquarters and almost all of its research and development activity is taking place in Western Pennsylvania. That commitment is what other businesses need to be willing to do to continue to build Pittsburgh’s economic development.

Identify the challenges

Pittsburgh is far from being down in the dumps, but there are certainly areas of the region that can improve to attract more business and opportunities available to aid in that mission.

“I believe that there are three significant challenges but also opportunities to attracting and retaining businesses in our region,” Bunch says.

“The first is energy. I believe this is a key challenge for most global manufacturers throughout the world, and more pointedly, here in the United States there is growing competition to access abundant, reliable, affordable and environmentally sustainable energy and feedstock sources.

“We’re on the cusp of an energy revolution here in the United States.”

New drilling technologies have enabled access to natural gas and oil reserves that are quickly turning the country into a globally competitive low-cost energy power. The Pittsburgh region has a lot of expertise in this industry.

“We are at ground zero in the shale gas story, but we have important technologies and roles to play in the development of sustainable energy sources like solar, wind and nuclear where our universities and our small and large technology companies are leading the way,” he says. “The expanding energy industry is creating jobs and supporting growth in other sectors from manufacturing to financial services.”

The second challenge for Pittsburgh is the need to continue to invest in the region’s transportation infrastructure and the availability of access to the region by air.

“We’ve clearly seen a reduction in air traffic and flights through the Pittsburgh International Airport,” he says. “As we become more global it’s important that we have an airport that can serve the needs of our employees and our customers.”

In many cities and regions, airports are the most important asset in community development. Pittsburgh has a modern but underutilized airport that is not living up to its potential. As a result, the Allegheny Conference along with the airport authority and the Allegheny county executive formed the Regional Air Service Partnership.

“This joint initiative demonstrates to the airline industry that the airport, the elected leadership and the business community are working together to improve air service,” Bunch says. “This initiative is paid off with such airline investments as United’s nonstop service to the West Coast and Delta’s nonstop service to Europe.”

The third clear obstacle to economic investment groups is Pennsylvania’s tax structure. The major state tax, corporate and income tax is uncompetitive. At 9.99 percent, it is the second highest in the country.

“This creates a very negative first impression for potential investors,” Bunch says. “In addition, Pennsylvania is the only major state that taxes the amount of net operating losses that a company can carry forward and offset against its tax liability.

“Pennsylvania’s corporate net income tax proportionate formula penalizes companies for expanding their physical presence and hiring employees in Pennsylvania because it does not utilize the single sales factor as utilized by many other states. The Pennsylvania state tax burden on business is a major in hindrance.”

Leverage strengths and opportunities

While there are several challenges that the Pittsburgh area needs to improve upon to make the region more attractive for businesses, the city, surrounding areas and local companies are making plans that address the weaknesses.

“Some people will tell you that Pittsburgh can’t compete with larger cities or Sun Belt states and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Bunch says. “I don’t believe this is true. I do, however, believe that in order for the Pittsburgh region to be more successful, we must work to leverage our strengths.”

The Pittsburgh region has some of the best educational institutions and hospital systems in the country, and as a result, research and development is more than $3 billion in the local economy.

“This is clearly a home for innovation here in the Pittsburgh region,” he says.

Bunch, who is chairing the Allegheny Conference this year, believes the organization dedicated to improving economic growth is in a unique position to build on these strengths for the betterment of the region.

“Beginning in March of last year, the conference convened 26 planning sessions across the region that involved more than 750 individuals, members of our regional investor’s council and partners,” he says. “We took stock of our progress to date and discussed an agenda for the three years to come.”

The conference developed a plan that includes three strategic priorities designed to take full advantage of what the region has to offer today.

“First, we wanted to enhance the opportunity for individuals and employees,” he says. “We will work to help connect diverse individuals to jobs and careers by identifying the skills needed and by increasing awareness of these opportunities among educators, students and workers.

“We will help employers by marketing the region globally and by building the capacity of existing businesses to succeed including the creation of a new venture capital fund to support the success of entrepreneurs and start-up companies.

“Second, we want to strengthen our communities by bringing together partners to take a fresh look at places in our region that have languished. We will seek to champion needed improvements to state laws and policies and work across political boundaries to streamline things to better integrate transit and transportation.

“Lastly, we want to energize tomorrow’s economy. We will work on improving our tax and regulatory climate, including creation of a site development fund to ensure that our region can provide competitive locations to accommodate business expansion and relocation.”

A focus on these strategic priorities will lay the groundwork for sustainable prosperity in the region.

“We’ve made a lot of progress on many of the fronts,” he says. “To succeed, partners across our region must come together to make it happen.” <<

How to reach: PPG Industries Inc., (412) 434-3131 or

The Bunch File

Charles Bunch

Chairman and CEO

PPG Industries Inc.

Born: Philadelphia

Education: Received a degree in international affairs from Georgetown University and a master’s in business administration from the Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration.

Facts: After joining PPG in 1979, he held positions in finance and planning, marketing and general management in the United States and Europe during his first 12 years with the company. He was named general manager of architectural coatings in 1992, vice president of that unit in 1994, and vice president, fiberglass, in 1995. Bunch was elected senior vice president of strategic planning and corporate services in 1997, and executive vice president, coatings, in early 2000. He was named president, COO and board member in July 2002; CEO in March 2005; and to his current post in July 2005.

Bunch is a member of the board of directors of the H.J. Heinz Co. and the PNC Financial Services Group, as well as a member of the University of Pittsburgh’s board of trustees.

Published in Pittsburgh

It was late 2008 when Ross Bushman and his team had just finished a new strategy for the next five years of business at Cast-Fab Technologies Inc. Bushman, who is president and CEO, along with his team were excited about the new strategy that was put in place and what it could mean for the company.

However, just a few months later, 2009 began and the castings and fabrication industry was hit hard by the recession. Cast-Fab Technologies, a 280-employee, $50 million gray and ductile iron foundry that supplies castings, patterns, steel-welded fabrications and precision sheet metal components, lost nearly half its business virtually overnight.

“We went through some hellacious turmoil in our industry, to say the least, back in that 2009 time frame,” Bushman says. “It was a period of about five or six months where a lot of that drop occurred. It wasn’t that we just lost 30 or 40 percent of the business in one day. We didn’t lose any customers. What we lost was our customers weren’t buying anything and that was different.”

With its customers taking a break from business, Bushman and Cast-Fab had to look elsewhere to keep business going.

“We knew we had to stay strong, make some painful choices early on, and we didn’t procrastinate on them,” he says. “We knew there would be opportunities to pounce on.”

To take advantage of those potential opportunities, Bushman stuck to the company’s plan, reassured employees that things would be all right with hard work and new customers would be found through diversifying the business.

Here is how he carried Cast-Fab Technologies through the downturn.

Involve employees in your strategy

The recession caused panic in a number of businesses as individual industries began to see the effects of the economy. Bushman, however, wasn’t going to let panic set in at Cast-Fab — he communicated what the organization was going to do.

“Our people were going home every night and the news was not good,” Bushman says. “Everybody had a friend, a neighbor or a family member affected somehow by the economy.

“People need clarity and every day we were out there trying to talk about those things and we kept talking to them about reaffirming America’s manufacturing excellence. That was what we were after.”

To achieve manufacturing excellence Cast-Fab aimed to diversify the customer base, establish new customer relationships and continue to grow with current accounts. To put that plan in motion Bushman involved many people in the strategic planning process.

“You have to involve a lot of folks in the organization,” he says. “People are usually pretty surprised at how much different kind of numbers and things we are sharing even down to key shop-floor personnel. Team members need clarity. They need the ‘what’ and the ‘how.’”

Deciding who to include in the strategic planning process can be a difficult decision. A good strategy group involves people from different levels and experience.

“We certainly have the key managers involved, but we’re also looking out for those up-and-coming associates who are going to be the key folks five or 10 years from now and getting them to be part of the process,” Bushman says. “At the end of the day, these folks own the plan — the strategy map and the numbers on the scorecard and what specific metrics we are doing — they are intimately involved in developing those things with us.”

You want to pull in folks who are on a track to do some bigger and better things for your company down the road.

“That just helps with the breadth of opinion,” he says. “In the C-suite, we all can get blinders on at times and forget that information isn’t assimilated through the organization as much as it comes to you. That’s why your players need clarity — the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ — and you have to communicate those things.

“The toughest part that any organization has is getting an outside force’s perspective of what’s coming at you and trying to look at where things are going to be five or 10 years from now and what you need to be doing today to get there. That’s where some of those outside folks can help challenge you.”

People are usually surprised at how many folks Cast-Fab involves in its strategic planning process.

“We have around 280 folks today and we’ll take 25 or 30 people off-site to really be part of this process and really help map the future of the organization,” Bushman says. “They then own the plan and they believe in the words and the numbers that are on the page. It’s not just me or my brother sitting up there talking about those things and that’s really worked well.”

Get buy-in

Having all of those people in the room to help form a plan is extremely beneficial when it comes to gaining buy-in for a new direction.

“I talk to our folks and tell them, ‘This is your chance to write the script for the next four or five years for the organization,’” Bushman says. “It’s not just me standing up there going over the same old charts and numbers. We’ve really created some good alignment within the organization as far as goals. We’re getting people pulling in the same direction.”

To get your company on the same page and moving together, it takes patience and persistence. Bushman has identified the five dysfunctions of team training to get his employees in line.

“You have to be willing to get better and not just go through the motions,” he says. “Sometimes to get better you’ve got to have some conflict and some change. So we’ve used the five dysfunctions of a team training, which talks about dealing with issues in a professional way. Sometimes it’s not fun, but we’ve spent a lot of time getting the right people that fit together.”

When you’re trying to get buy-in for a new strategy or direction for the company, it is rare that you will please everyone, but it is critical that you get a majority on board with you.

“You have to keep working your strategy so it becomes ingrained in what you do,” Bushman says. “My dad told me years ago that if you got even 70 percent of your workforce on board, buying in to what you were doing, that’s probably world class. You’re probably not going to have everybody, you just have to keep getting some converts each day, each week, each year to what you’re trying to do and you’ll slowly move the needle.

“An 80 percent solution executed on time is better than a 100 percent solution executed late. It may not be perfect, but start the plan and start it working and work on the implementation phase. It’s about getting a little bit better each day as opposed to giant leaps.”

To move forward with a plan each day and each week, you have to put emphasis on the implementation of your strategy.

“Too often people go through a huge strategic planning process, they come out with a great plan, but they spent months and months doing it, and at that point, people are exhausted,” he says. “When the work needs to begin on the implementation side, it fizzles out a little bit.

“We really shortened the time on the strategic planning side and we really focused on the implementation. On the implementation side is really where plans are won or lost and strategies are won or lost.”

Move forward

Following Cast-Fab’s strategic planning process in 2008, the economy tanked and implementing a plan and sticking to it became more important than ever.

“One of the principles and beliefs that I use is that decisions in crisis demand calm leadership,” Bushman says. “We really knew that and really communicated as best we could with the organization.”

Bushman used that calm, yet determined demeanor to steer the company in a positive direction. With current customers putting business on hold, Cast-Fab looked to gain new business. It brought on new clients and diversified its offerings.

“We knew there would be some opportunities in the marketplace and there were,” he says. “We continued to use our strategy, and we continued to look at where we wanted to go and that’s how we made our decisions. We made some painful cuts at the time, there’s no doubt about it, but we were proactive with those. We didn’t wait too long.

“We really saw where things were heading pretty quickly and that allowed us to stay strong in many ways.”

The opportunities Bushman communicated to his employees came up in time. Cast-Fab made an acquisition and gained business from competitor demise.

“We had our most successful year that year of new customer generation,” he says. “We really needed to, because our current customers weren’t buying anything. I knew if we could get some more spokes into the fold once the current markets came back we’d be in pretty good shape.”

Throughout this period, Bushman made it a point to stay as positive as possible and celebrate any small wins the company made.

“You have to spend a lot of time talking about the positives, not just the negatives,” he says. “People think you have your plan and you come in and talk about the stuff that’s not going very well.

“We try to celebrate success, because how boring would that be to just come in and talk about the problems all the time. We try to spend three times the amount of time on the positives as we do on the opportunities for improvement.”

Some of those positives have come from the new product offerings that Cast-Fab has created over the years in order to diversify.

“Part of the strategy that has been working really well for us is we have developed a couple of product lines of our own to help us diversify,” Bushman says. “We have a line of bank equipment products that’s sold under the business and brand Security Systems Equipment. We do safes, vaults, safety deposit boxes, pneumatic tubing systems and anything that a credit union or financial institution may need that’s metal-based.

“We have another smaller division that does products for water and waste water treatment. That business is sold under the name Coldwall Wilcox Technologies. These are subsidiaries of Cast-Fab that are a smaller piece of what we do, but they do help us diversify.”

The key to diversifying to help grow your business is to not leave the core competency of your business behind.

“You can’t stray from your core competencies,” he says. “Ten years ago, we didn’t know anything about bank equipment, but we knew how to make fabricated product. An opportunity came up to make an acquisition there, and we did that.

“Eight years ago, we didn’t know much about the products in water and waste water treatment other than they used a lot of castings and fabrications, machining and assembly. We had to learn how to sell some of those products and establish ourselves in those markets, but at the end of the day, we know what we do here in this building pretty well, and we’ve never strayed far from that.”

By sticking to a strategy of following core values and diversifying the business, Bushman has led Cast-Fab into new realms of business. He plans to continue that growth.

“As a family business, we don’t want to be doing this just for one or two more years; we want to be doing this for 30 years and beyond and get it over at some point maybe to a third generation,” he says. “So we’re trying to do those things and make those decisions now for the long haul.” <<

How to reach: Cast-Fab Technologies Inc., (513) 758-1000 or


Utilize employees from different levels in your strategic planning.

Continue to work your plan as you gain buy-in.

Diversify by using core competencies.

The Bushman File

Ross Bushman

President and CEO

Cast-Fab Technologies Inc.

Born: Cincinnati

Education: Attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and received a productions and operations management degree. He also received an MBA from the University of Cincinnati.

What was your first job and what did you learn from that experience?

My very first job was at Carlisle Construction. It was a heavy equipment construction company that rented cranes, dump trucks, etc. I was the guy who swept the gas pumps, worked in the truck wash and steam-cleaned the engines so the maintenance group could work on them. It was a pretty good experience for a 14-year-old learning different stuff. I learned how different people dealt with conflict.

What is some of the best advice you have received?

My dad taught me years ago that pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered. We use that a lot here when we’re talking about relationships with OEMs that we’re trying to establish for the long term. So when we’re in negotiations or doing pricing we’re talking about getting a fair return for what we’re doing to be able to sustain and grow the business, but at the same time we’re not looking for just one sale or a home run. We want to be able to do this for the long haul with them.

Whom do you admire most in business?

My dad taught me most of what I know. He’s been my hero in life. I was also part of a mentoring group here in town several years back with a fairly famous local business guy, Bob Kohlhepp. He is the chairman of the board over at Cintas and has been a great mentor to me and taught me a lot as well.

What are you most proud of at Cast-Fab?

I would have to say it was some of the work we did for the military. We did things on both sides of our business, ranging from ductile iron bomb bodies to some of the fabrications for the MRAP vehicles. A lot of our stuff isn’t necessarily seen when it is in use somewhere. It’s part of a machine or inside the guts of a machine, but when you can point to something that our folks are doing to help out our troops overseas, that’s pretty special to us.

Published in Cincinnati

There are many pressures on organizations to make the most out of every customer interaction and maximize the return on investment on marketing and sales spend. However, businesses often don’t have the work force necessary to handle these functions as timely and effectively as they would like or the tools and processes in place to measure and track success. Companies that are able to track interaction, engagement, investments and customer patterns and behaviors often enlist the help of a customer relationship management (CRM) tool.

“A CRM tool helps businesses manage sales, marketing and customer service operations without significantly expanding their work force,” says Gina Rosen, a consultant at Columbus. “CRM, in the past, may have been nice to have — a luxury technology, but in today’s marketplace, it’s a must have to stay competitive.”

Smart Business spoke with Rosen about CRM, its applications and how it has helped businesses improve processes to better engage customers, target sales and gauge marketing effectiveness.

What are the typical features offered by a CRM system?

The features offered by CRM are very diverse. It’s primary applications are contact management; marketing automation; sales force automation; sales and lead management; reporting and analytics; call center and case management, particularly with respect to customer inquiries or complaints; workflow automation, or automating manual processes; and social media integrations. Businesses have the option for on-premise solutions where the software is hosted at the business on its servers, or they can utilize a Web-based or cloud option, which involves less initial financial investment. The software can also be customized to meet the particular needs of a business.

Is CRM cost prohibitive for businesses?

No it is not, however, had this question been asked six or seven years ago the answer would have been yes. Previously, enterprise-ready CRM software required significant funds to get the software and hardware in place. But with the advent of cloud-based solutions, even businesses run by a sole proprietor can afford CRM and leverage its applications to optimize processes. The cloud-based model allows business owners to pay through subscriptions that charge per user. The pay per user cloud-based model offers a low-cost opportunity to implement CRM, experience the value and see the return on investment (ROI).

What are the most compelling reasons an organization would implement CRM technology?

A recent survey of 200 top-performing small and medium-sized businesses showed that the number one reason businesses implement CRM software is to establish data-based metrics for sales and marketing. It also provides the ability to show ROI and quantitative key marketing metrics that mean a lot to businesses.

The second reason CRM is implemented is to proactively communicate with customers. Customers expect a lot these days, and one of those expectations is that businesses, whether small or large, interact with them. To stay in front of your customers and offer personal interaction is critical.

Within that same vein, the third reason companies take advantage of this software is for custom-targeted sales and marketing. With CRM you can customize that end user experience, which makes your sales force more effective. Customers can interact directly with your CRM custom solution through your existing website and experience a tailored visit based on previous interactions, or your sales force can utilize the standard feature when interacting with customers and have all of a customer’s history available in one spot.

What are the most important value drivers for CRM?

The top value for a business is the software’s ability to help manage marketing and sales campaigns. CRM can help businesses test marketing and distribution strategies and gauge customer reactions. This information can be applied to future marketing efforts.

Another important value driver is that the software serves as a customer data repository, allowing you to consolidate customer knowledge within the organization in CRM. This includes far more than just contact details, but also customer behaviors and attitudes and price sensitivity. This, combined with personal data, can allow businesses to build more effective and predictive sales models and marketing campaigns that result in higher sales.

Further, CRM systems can help demonstrate ROI. With CRM you can quantitatively show increases in sales, customer referrals and participation in promotions.

What is the most common challenge a business faces when implementing CRM?

Typically the challenge is user adoption — getting your sales force and front line users to embrace CRM. They often see populating the fields as double entry, an extra step, or another way for management to check in on them. But once the sales force sees that using the software results in more sales, they can easily overcome that hurdle.

What are the most common performance metrics?

The top one, hands down, is revenue growth. The faster you can show ROI the better.

Second is growth in a business’s customer base, which means adding new customers or converting leads into paying customers.

The third most common performance metric is aggregating customer data. Many companies have customer data spread out over disparate systems. CRM gives businesses a one-stop shop for their records.

Can you give us some examples of companies that have benefited from implementing CRM?

The Toledo Mud Hens baseball team, which works within the media and entertainment industry, had ticket sales go up 88 percent in one year and their internal operations couldn’t keep up with demand. Adopting CRM allowed them to automate and streamline inefficient processes, which translated into more ticket sales. A customer testimonial is available with more information.

Another example is the human resources consulting firm Findley Davies. Implementing CRM in their call center has given them the ability to manage daily responsibilities and track productivity. It has dramatically changed and improved day-to-day operations within their Benefits Administration department.

Gina Rosen is a consultant at Columbus. Contact her at (248) 850-2195 or

With more than 20 years in the market and 6,000 successful business implementations, Columbus is a preferred Microsoft Dynamics business partner for ambitious companies. Columbus’ key deliverables include flexible and future-safe ERP, CRM, BI and related business applications that deliver competitive advantage and immediate impact.


Published in Akron/Canton
Wednesday, 31 October 2012 20:01

Art Weinstein: Co-creating value

Customer focus no longer means just researching current and future needs in order to design expected or desired goods and services. Instead, a rising trend in business today is co-creating value with customers.

Value is created when a product and buyer come together within a particular use situation. Some examples include retailers getting the customer involved in the shopping experience to save time (Home Depot’s self-checkout) or costs (IKEA’s assembly and delivery by customers), smartphone personalization through app selection and Dell’s online built-to-order computers are others.

Another is utilizing management consultants who collaborate with clients to add value in research projects.

Co-creation of value can lower costs, increase benefits and improve the overall service experience for both the organization and the user. As the table below explains, co-creation of value has a dual emphasis on the customer and company as value creators and is an applicable business strategy in a wide variety of market contexts. Airlines, supermarkets, supply chains, theaters, theme parks and retailers have all embraced co-creation of service opportunities through self-serve initiatives such as check-in, checkout, price checks, information/purchase kiosks and other technology enhancements.

Value Creation and Marketing Opportunities

Marketing StrategyMarket EmphasisValue-Creation FocusCorporate Examples
Market drivenEstablished marketCustomerCoca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Toyota
Market drivingEmerging or imagined marketsCompanyGoogle, IKEA, Virgin Group
Co-creation of valueEstablished, emerging or imagined marketsCustomer and company (simultaneous)Amazon, Apple, LinkedIn

A great example of the new co-creation of value model is illustrated in the case of Crushpad, a Sonoma, Calif., winery. Crushpad is a state-of-the-art winery where customers choose their level of involvement for small lot wine-making — typically 25 to 100 cases — based on their interest in the production process.

The company allows customers to develop wine-making plans, engage in hands-on activities, such as sorting, de-stemming, crushing, fermenting, pressing into barrels, labeling and packaging bottles, and even distributing and marketing the products. Wine enthusiasts, restaurants and retailers have co-created value with Crushpad, and as a result, the business has launched more than 150 world-class brands.

The rock music industry has also experimented with co-creation of value. Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” album was sold directly to more than 2 million consumers who paid what they felt the music was worth. The symphonic band Renaissance also raised more than $92,000 from 860 loyal fans to record a new CD called “Grandine il Vento.”

Innovation and creative collaboration allow the smartest — not necessarily the biggest — companies to win in the marketplace.

Here are six questions to think about as your company ponders the idea of co-creation of value.

1. Do you strive to continually exceed customer expectations?

2. Does your view of value creation go beyond the firm (to include the customer)?

3. Do you actively seek to create an extended community of users?

4. Is personalizing the customer experience a major part of your marketing strategy?

5. Is your marketing team truly obsessed with researching and improving customer experiences?

6. Do you nurture and forge enduring business relationships with customers and collaborators?

Art Weinstein, Ph.D., is a professor of marketing at Nova Southeastern University and author of “Superior Customer Value: Strategies for Winning and Retaining Customers.” Visit his website or reach him at or (954) 262-5097.



Published in Florida

When Joe Peilert came on board at Veka Inc. in 2010, the company was 2½ years into a more than five-year building recession. The company had gone through its first layoffs in its 30-year history, and it seemed there was no end in sight to the shrinking construction market.

Veka Inc. is a 500-employee, $110 million manufacturer of PVC and vinyl extrusions for residential and commercial windows, doors, fences and decks. As the number of homes being built in the United States continued to decline, Veka saw some of its customers shut their doors and its competition struggle to stay in business.

“By the time this was all said and done, 75 percent of the market was gone,” says Peilert, Veka president and CEO. “You’re looking at the peak of 2 million homes being built a year, down to 405,000 homes in 2011. It was a massive breakdown of opportunity.”

Peilert and his leadership team had to act to ensure Veka wouldn’t be the next company closing its doors.

“When you’re in a situation like that, morale is a challenge with employees and customers alike,” Peilert says. “That wasn’t something that was exclusive to Veka. It was a very tough emotional state for people because they were used to growth and success.”

As Veka’s new CEO, Peilert needed to do his due diligence within the organization, which gave him an opportunity to evaluate the business and gain a strong understanding of its operations. However, he had the added pressure of an industry that kept slipping more and more.

Here’s how Peilert identified key areas of strength for Veka and created opportunities within a shrinking market.

Evaluate the business

Peilert has spent a majority of his career in the building materials industry. He was attracted to Veka because it was a quality leader in the industry, and as a family-owned business, it provided a unique working environment.

“It’s a family-owned group with a global presence, which is a great mix because you get a long-term commitment to growing the business and what that provides to me is what I like to call the luxury to make the right decisions,” Peilert says.

“A lot of times you find companies with a three- to five-year horizon, and if you go through a recession, you can bet you start cutting maintenance, you start cutting people development, expenses and things like that.

“With the type of view we have for growing a business bigger and stronger for the next owner generations, you continue to do those things through difficult times and that is very attractive.”

Peilert took advantage of that luxury to make the right decisions. He addressed the people at Veka to share his plan for moving the company beyond the building recession.

“We gathered around 60 managers and supervisors here, which gave me the opportunity to introduce myself and talk about mainly what I considered to be key ingredients for a successful organization,” he says.

“What it boils down to are mainly two things — No. 1 is people who care. They care about the company, the customers and the co-workers. The second element is a well-defined strategy and an execution plan that’s linked to it. If we have those two things going in the right direction, it doesn’t matter what the industry and what the economy does; we’ll do well.”

Once he had met with key people he spent the rest of his first week listening.

“You have to spend time with the employees and with the customers and allow them to talk about their ideas, their concerns and their perspectives because you’re a sponge during that time,” he says.

A big part of what Peilert soaked up was the condition of the company’s customers and competition.

“With the customers, there was quite a bit of consolidation going on in the market,” he says. “As you can imagine, there were a number of people going out of business, so for us it was important to understand if we were aligned with the right people, both from a culture business philosophy point of view, as well as their approach to the market and product positioning.

“We wanted to make sure we provide them the right products. Our design capabilities that we have in-house allowed us to help our customers to transition from a new-construction-focused business into a renovation-focused business. That’s where we spend a lot of time proposing new concepts that help them get into those markets faster and more successfully.”

Peilert also had to fully understand the company’s three stakeholder groups — ownership, customers and employees — which he relates to a three-legged stool.

“There is an inherent balance to the system and the fact is you can’t neglect one group over an extended period of time because you introduce imbalance, and ultimately, that three-legged stool collapses or you fall off the stool,” Peilert says.

“You’ve got to understand the needs of those three groups and make sure that you address them in a balanced way. Understanding that inherent balance and managing that is the key.

“Once you’re there, you can never undercommunicate. You’ve got to constantly be visible, approachable and building trust all the time.”

Rally your team

Building that trust was crucial as Veka employees watched the building market continue to contract and began questioning whether the market would ever get better.

“Ultimately, communication is key in bad times more so than in good times,” Peilert says. “You need to be honest with people and you cannot overpromise. That is really dangerous.

“If you overpromise, then you lose your credibility and then you lose the buy-in and the business culture of the company is also being damaged.”

Peilert spread a message to the employees of Veka that he wanted to see them show an ownership and can-do attitude.

“You always find the people on any given day who will talk about the Steelers and find the negative things,” he says. “That’s really dangerous if that is prevailing in an organization. Fortunately, we have a lot of people, based on their seniority, that had seen the good times and they understand that this is a phase that, at some point, will come to an end.”

Not all of the employees were able to view the market situation with that mindset, so Peilert had to make sure he was allowing employees to voice their concerns.

“You can give company updates where you stand in front of 100 people, but the more effective way, while it takes a lot more time and effort, is to have those one-on-one interactions,” he says. “You get some good quality discussions and people talk about their concerns. They listen and they are not afraid to ask questions. That in my opinion is the best way to reach people. You’ve got to walk the plant.”

That kind of attention to individual employees greatly helped Peilert in the buy-in process. To get his management team on board, Peilert took them for an off-site strategy meeting at Fallingwater, a groundbreaking mansion that Frank Lloyd Wright built over a waterfall in the Allegheny Mountains.

“We took a tour of the building, and it became very obvious that the man had a phenomenal vision and an exceptional amount of focus on detail,” he says. “We said, ‘That’s how we want to approach our business and that’s how we want to develop strategy.’

“The second day we started mapping out our game plan going forward. People got a sense for how we wanted to tackle the business and certainly were inspired by the building and the thought behind it. If the management team has a can-do attitude and shows that ownership attitude, at some point, everyone else in the company will follow that lead.”

To truly rally your employees behind a new direction aside from company meetings, one-on-one discussions and strategy sessions, you have to celebrate your small wins.

“You show people you are hitting the milestones and when you hit those milestones, you’ve got to talk about them,” Peilert says. “You start building the confidence and building the momentum.”

Make adjustments

To keep momentum going, Veka had to make several changes to account for what was happening in the industry. The company closed a location in Youngstown, Ohio, and converted its Canadian operation to a warehouse and logistics center to retain critical mass at key sites. It also made adjustments to personnel to help the company head in the right direction.

“Some of that was done, but there was quite a bit of work left to do in terms of looking at both cost and business development,” Peilert says. “At the end of the day, I made it clear to my management team that you can’t cut yourself to prosperity. With that being said, we said, ‘We can grow share and we can grow in bad times. We just have to have the right approach to the market and the right products.’”

Peilert started to break down the critical success factors in each area, one being cost management and the other being new business development.

“Once we had identified them in a fishbone diagram [which identifies many possible causes for an effect or problem], we started to break them down into further detail,” he says. “Once we had the detail, we started to put initiatives behind them. Once we had the initiatives, we attached them to a SMART execution plan.”

SMART is a big initiative for Peilert and the company. It’s an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, responsible and time-based.

“Once we started breaking this down into individual initiatives, people said, ‘That is achievable. That is realistic,’” he says. “Once we started to see traction on some of those projects and we had the additive nature of those initiatives, people started to gain confidence again.”

There wasn’t a magic trick or a rabbit that Peilert pulled out of his hat — it took rolling up his sleeves and clearly outlining performance expectations.

“I think that helped once people understood very specifically what they need to do to succeed in their job,” Peilert says. “In many cases, that’s not been properly defined. You typically see performance improving once you measure and once you set a target. So we spent quite a bit of time establishing metrics.”

The company focused on quality ratings, internal metrics and specific improvement targets aligned with the philosophy of SMART.

“We wanted to make sure that they were achievable, so we broke them down in quarters and showed a step-up improvement,” he says. “Those were key elements that people say, ‘I can do that over the next quarter. And if that’s possible, I can do it again the next quarter a little bit better.’”

Breaking objectives down into bite-size goals made a big difference. The key is being able to define your core business and put resources behind opportunities that will move the business forward.

“You start off by defining what your core is,” he says. “That’s always worthwhile revisiting and putting on a test vent. Once you’ve done that, you want to make sure you fund your biggest opportunities properly and put the right people behind it.

“It’s not always the biggest account that deserves the best person, but it will always be the biggest opportunity. Ultimately, you just have to spend time in the market and understand the leverage and the levers you have for success.”

Veka’s hard work paid off through a 56 percent reduction in quality claims, the signing of new business and a good growth return. So far, 2012 has been a good year.

“What we are seeing in 2012 is the beginning of a slow but steady recovery,” Peilert says. “People are starting to create households again and that’s how home construction benefits. It will not be a return to the 2 million unit residential homes, maybe we’ll never achieve that again, but it’s now a stabilized system that has experienced some slow and steady growth not based on government programs but based on recovering market strengths.

“For Veka, we are very excited about some of our partners that we have and our customers in the market that we’ve been able to work with on new designs for products that zero in on energy efficiency, sound insulation and impact resistance. Those are all big trends and big needs in applications that will help us grow faster than the market.” <<

How to reach: Veka Inc., (724) 452-1000 or


Evaluate and understand your business and stakeholders.

Develop a strategy and communicate expectations.

Implement your plan to head in the right direction.

The Peilert File

Joe Peilert

President and CEO

Veka Inc.

Born: Altena, Germany. I came to the U.S. in 1991.

Education: Has a Diplom Oekonom/MBA in business and economics from Ruhr-Universitat Bochum

What was your first job, and what did you take away from that experience?

I worked in my dad’s CPA office. I did classic, old-style accounting with a big journal where you had to write every entry in. That gave me a sense for the complexity of business, but also the need for accuracy and execution.

What advice would you give someone else stepping into a new CEO role?

For me personally, I’ve always strived for having the freedom to shape the direction of the business. There is a saying one of my mentors always said, which was, ‘It’s better to be the head of a mouse than the tail of a lion.’ It was always attractive to me to rather than work for a large organization to work in an organization where I can impact the structure and reach the people. I would recommend to a CEO to be the guardian of the company culture because that is a very precious asset.

Who is someone you admire in business or leadership?

I look up to George Washington. I have a painting of Washington crossing the Delaware in my office, and to me, that is the essence of leadership. If I look at my career, the founding CEO of Ardex, Herbert Goller, was a great mentor to me.

If you weren’t a president and CEO, what is something you have always wanted to do?

One day when I retire, I could see myself teaching.

Published in Pittsburgh

Michael Siegal isn’t someone who is satisfied by achieving one goal — no matter how lofty. When Olympic Steel Inc. passed $1 billion in sales (it reached $1.26 billion in 2011), the chairman and CEO of the national metals service center set his sights on growing the company into one capable of reaching $4 billion in sales. To achieve that growth, Siegal has implemented strategies focusing on an environment that fosters sustainability and growth, as well as one that attracts and maintains the right kind of people.

“The challenge of Olympic Steel always is we’ve never been where we’ve been before,” Siegal says. “To a certain degree, everybody expects you to continue to drive forward, but every time we drive forward, it’s into an area where we’ve never been. “Therefore, strategy and buy-in is very important. It’s a lot easier to go from $20 million to $50 million in sales, although it’s a doubling of your business, than it is to go from $1 billion to $4 billion, because you’re dealing with different implications and risks.”

Those implications and risks are why Siegal places the spotlight on Olympic’s environment and its employees in order to succeed. “It’s all about people,” Siegal says. “There’s no other challenge. Have you hired the right people? Do you have an environment that can foster growth and motivate and retain existing employees? You have to balance the expectation between employees who want a great career and customers who continually want lower pricing.”

Here’s how Michael Siegal is doubling Olympic Steel through strategy and fostering an environment that supports employees and company growth.

Put people first

To achieve the strategies that will get Olympic Steel moving toward $4 billion in sales, Siegal put his focus on his 1,750 employees. The work environment has to be one in which employees enjoy what they do and where they work.

“We do what we have to do to try to foster the environment where an employee can succeed,” Siegal says. “You set a certain level of value structure and you adhere to it. You want to be consistent, reliable and living up to the value system that you have in your organization.”

The key to creating a positive work environment is having an established value structure and being accountable toward those values.

“If you’re accountable and you hold your managers at the highest level to the consistent level of performing at those values, then ultimately you create an environment where people can at least respect the environment that they work in,” he says. “If you have the commitment of the ongoing education of the employee, the betterment of the employee, the safety of the employee and you have growth, there’s no reason for them to go someplace else other than the money.”

Olympic Steel operates in a commodity industry that is very volatile and unregulated. The same value structure that the company applies to its employees is crucial for customers as well.

“We try to create a value structure for our customers that imbeds us with them regardless of the volatility of the marketplace,” he says. “By adding that value to the commodity we find ourselves to be better positioned to have a level of competitiveness, as well as sustainability with the customer in spite of the volatility of what goes on in steel pricing.”

To overcome volatility in the market you have to look at the customer you serve and the industry you’re in. You have to look at long-term sustainability and growth for your company.

“There’s never standing still in the marketplace — there’s going forward or falling back,” Siegal says. “You control your own destiny to a certain degree by the decisions that you make. You have to understand all business takes risk. You have to define the aptitude for your risk company by company and individual by individual. Are you always swimming upstream, or sometimes are you going downstream? You really have to look at the environment that you’re in and then say, ‘How do I differentiate myself from the pack?’”

When looking to grow your organization, there are financial metrics that are acceptable. It’s the CEO who ultimately decides what levels they are willing to go to in order to create leverage for growth.

“Some people are never comfortable with that,” Siegal says. “Some people are so risky that they ignore the financial metrics and go beyond what is safe just to roll the dice. Within a certain structure of what your outlook is for the future, people expect those in my position to be conservatively aggressive.”

Achieving growth within your business is what ultimately helps to create an environment where employees are excited to come to work.

“You have to create growth because employees want personal growth in their career,” he says. “If you as the company are not growing, it’s going to be difficult to promote your young talent into areas where they see a future for themselves as opposed to having to leave to get ahead. So you have to create the environment of growth. You have to create the environment of promoting from within, not to say that you can’t hire from the outside, but do you really have the environment where people are excited to come to work because they see the company doing well and the opportunity for them to be of significance?”

Create a growth environment

Establishing an atmosphere where your employees are happy and supportive of the company and its direction comes back to core values and not being hypocritical about them.

“If I said I am supportive of employee’s educational growth, I can’t turn them down when they come and say, ‘I’d like to take these courses that will better myself in the job,’” Siegal says. “Even though the financial environment may be difficult, you still have to be committed to the employee. You have to be consistent. You can do it within a certain degree of discretion, but for those who have been identified as high-performers within your own organization, are you really investing in their future as much as they are investing in their job?”

The consistency of being able to listen, create the environment in which education is valued and execute on those structural elements to the betterment of the individuals in your company is crucial.

“You have to do what you say you’re going to do,” he says. “If you say it and don’t do it, it’s hypocritical, and people will see that and they’ll lose hope and that’s when they’ll answer all the head-hunter calls.”

Olympic makes sure it has ways for employees to express themselves by bringing up issues or submitting ideas. The company has luncheons for new employees and regular gatherings where they’re allowed to share ideas. Olympic encourages ideas and rewards ideas through its FE Award of Excellence program. The company gives employees opportunities to come up with ideas that will help streamline the business, increase safety, work smarter, save money and be collaborative.

“We recognize it with a certain degree of reward, documentation and financial remuneration,” he says. “Within the whole organization someone can be nominated, including self-nomination, for going over and beyond their every day job by devising better ideas. We do that both on the corporate level and a local level as well. Some things are not great for all of Olympic Steel, but it may be great for your individual unit.”

These kinds of initiatives are important because they demonstrate respect for the employees.

“The hardest thing in America today, it seems, is, ‘How do I earn and get respect?’” he says. “So within the construct of what we try to do is not disrespect anyone. Most people just want to be heard. You don’t have to agree, but you have to give them the opportunity to be listened to. “We have a very personal connection with our employees. People here understand that if they have something to say most of my management will listen.”

Olympic employees take full advantage of opportunities to submit an idea or bring up an issue. From little things such as, “How do I burn the material a little bit better, faster or quicker?” to keeping processes in-house that will save money, employees are willing to be vocal to support the company.

“If you foster the environment where your ideas are listened to and respected, more ideas come from that,” Siegal says. “It is creating the environment where people are not threatened, disrespected or embarrassed by the fact that they may have an idea which won’t be accepted. You can’t say, ‘That’s a terrible idea’ or humiliate them by saying, ‘That’s stupid.’ You have to be sensitive to the fact that when people come forward that you give them the appropriate time to listen to their ideas even if the idea isn’t a good idea, because you don’t know if you don’t listen.”

Strategize for growth

Putting people first and creating a solid environment within Olympic Steel has helped the company and Siegal in the effort to become a $4 billion business. Having that reinforcement helps the buy-in stage when implementing new growth strategies.

“As we make decisions in management, we have to have more buy-in today from a bigger group of people to execute on those strategies than we did when we were smaller,” Siegal says. “The challenge is how do you communicate effectively to a broader group of people who may not have the full picture at hand and then expect them to execute well. Communication becomes more of a challenge as you get bigger.”

When communicating a new strategy, it is important to inform employees of how that new strategy will impact them.

“You’re always trying to look at the other side of the equation when you’re executing a strategy,” he says. “It’s the person on the other side of the table saying, ‘What does this mean to me? Does that mean I’ve got to work harder? Does that mean I’m going to be traveling more? Does that mean I’m going to get more money or more work for the same amount of money?’ ‘What does this mean to me’ is always an indication of fear and resistance. So what we try to do is understand that we’re not going to get 2,000 people to buy in. We need 20 people to buy in and that cascades down to the rest.”

It is nearly impossible to get a unanimous decision surrounding a new strategy, but leadership is about somebody ultimately having the final say and the responsibility.

“You want people to understand why we’re going this direction and answering the question of what this means to you,” he says. “I can answer what it means to the organization, but if that doesn’t somehow correlate to how I think it benefits me, maybe I’ll say yes, but I don’t mean yes. So we are always very sensitive to creating strategies on the expectation that this will be better for everyone if we do it. To make sure that everybody is on board to those philosophies takes a much longer time of communication and education to the change of strategy.”

Gaining buy-in for a new direction is crucial. While you don’t need everyone on board, you want to have a large majority behind your new direction.

“You have to keep everything pretty rational,” he says. “We’re going to go from here if we do these things and here’s where we’re going to get to. If we get there, this is what it means and this is why it’s better. Now you may not believe we can go from here to there, but if we go from here to there, isn’t this truly better? By and large, it’s about the destination.”

Siegal compares strategy buy-in to getting on a bus. When you get on a bus, you’ve got to know where the bus is going to take you. You choose to get on the bus to go to the destination because you’ve got to get off the bus at a certain point. If you just get on a bus and you don’t know where it’s going to go, then you’re just riding around all day hoping that something happens.

“We’ve got to be very concise in terms of where the destination is,” he says. “If you tell people, ‘Here’s the destination. Forget the journey. Here’s our starting point and here’s the destination.’ There may be different tangential ways in which we can get to the ultimate destination, but if we all agree that this destination is a better spot, I don’t find that people say, ‘No, that destination is going to be worse than where we’re at or it’s going to be too risky.’ If you tell them the destination, they’ll get on the bus with you.”

When planning a strategy Olympic typically looks out five years. Siegal says there isn’t necessarily a time frame that’s too forward-looking, but there are things that are too risky in strategizing and having a goal is vital.

“You have to have targets and goals in business,” Siegal says. “There has to be a way in which you’re trying to create the future. The goal is important to articulate. There can be lots of tactics to get you to the goal, and tactics may differ by location, process and customer. The tactics aren’t universal, but the goal has got to be. If you don’t have that same goal, you’ll be driving around in a circle.”

Siegal’s goal to grow Olympic to $4 billion is part of his strategy to double the business and then double it again.

“Outside of natural growth, there is always this construct in the back of your mind that says, ‘Double and then double again,’” Siegal says. “So if you’re at $50 million, you want to get to $200 million. If you’re a $1 billion company, you could say, ‘Let’s go buy a $3 billion company.’ But you don’t have the skill set to run it. The question is how do you get from $1 [billion] to $2 and from $2 [billion] to $4.”

Almost every CEO who doubles the sales would want to keep that growth going and see how far it can be taken. You have to ride that momentum in order to double business again.

“It will take you a lot shorter time frame to get to the second billion in sales than it took you for the first billion in sales,” he says. “Once you’re there, you understand how to maintain that level of business. It’s not hard to see the doubling. It’s hard to see the doubling again.”

Within the construct of the leadership, you have to keep everybody realistic. It’s not sensible to have an objective of going from $1 billion to $4 billion without getting to $2 billion first.

“If you have the strategies to get to ($2 billion) and you actually execute on those strategies, it’s going to propel you way past ($2 billion), because it doesn’t stop,” Siegal says. “Those things that you will do strategically to double your business will continue to foster additional growth beyond that. I find that to be a useful way to create a certain degree of momentum for growth.”

Over the last three years since the recession, Olympic has deployed a significant amount of capital into the marketplace for growth. Now the company has to focus on the execution of the growth initiatives that it’s begun.

“We’ve deployed the biggest capital that we ever have in the last three years over any 10-year period, and we have to make sure that we make that stuff work,” Siegal says. “To a certain degree, it’s about succession management. Are we populating the next level of management capable of running the organization? Do we have the good strategy initiatives and the balance sheet and capital structure to do that? You have a lot of headwinds in terms of your plans, and what you have to do is make sure that your foundation is secure based upon the things that you’ve done.”

Ultimately, it’s really about performance.

“As people look at Olympic Steel over the next couple of years, I think you’ll see a company that has positioned itself for growth, and now we’ll be executing on the growth initiatives,” he says.

How to Reach: Olympic Steel Inc., (216) 292-3800 or


Make employees your No. 1 priority.

Create an environment that fosters growth.

Implement strategies to drive your business forward.

Published in Cleveland

James Wendle and EQM Technologies & Energy Inc. are largely reliant upon government spending to drive business. However, with the lack of funds and resources from the government recently, Wendle has had to resort to alternative ways to keep the company flush.

EQM is a $75 million, 240-employee sustainable solutions company that provides consulting and technology to business and government. Wendle became EQM’s president and COO in 2010 after the board brought him in to help grow the business.

“What I bring to the table is accountability and know-how in the construction and the engineering world and growing more on the engineering side and developing that part of the business to get us more diverse,” Wendle says.

That diversity is what Wendle expects will ease EQM’s reliance on government spending. His acquisition strategy is to find companies that will get EQM into different aspects of the environmental and engineering industries. Most recently, EQM, which at the time was Environmental Quality Management Inc., merged with Beacon Energy Holdings Inc. in 2011 to become EQM Technologies & Energy Inc.

“The Beacon merger was a reverse merger,” Wendle says. “Beacon Energy gives EQM an added benefit that wasn’t there before.”

EQM has five different divisions that give the company a wide range of capabilities. Now Wendle is searching for the next company that will bring added value to the business.

Here is how Wendle is diversifying EQM through mergers and acquisitions.

Look for opportunity

EQM was looking to broaden its business and get into an industry that it wasn’t in yet, but one that was similar to the work it did. The company came across Beacon Energy Corp., a biodiesel production business.

“The plant was sitting idle, and we had a strategy that we were going to restart the plant, which we did, and be in the biodiesel business, which we are, and the plant is running now,” Wendle says. “It helped diversify us.”

Wendle and EQM put together an acquisition strategy that focused on finding companies in the engineering business and environmental services business that would help the company grow.

“Growth is an expectation,” he says. “It’s not something that you just do by mistake. Growth of companies is what’s expected, and it’s expected by our board. Growing organically can be difficult, and I think a lot of companies are experiencing that.

“So with our equity partner, we have a company that is an expert at it. They’re on a constant search, and raising the capital to make the acquisitions is something that they do every day and they’re very good at.”

In today’s market, if you’re going to grow, you have to look at growing both through acquisition and organically. If you grow through acquisition, you have to understand the business you’re interested in.

“We set up a model of companies that are in a certain range of what their revenue is, what their margins are, how we can be more of a strategic acquisition and what synergies there are,” he says. “If we merged, how can both firms benefit from it? It is something that we need to know something about. We’re not going to buy a company we have very little knowledge about.”

The other part of acquiring a company is what leadership comes with it.

“That is just as important as the company itself, because we are constantly looking for leaders and leadership,” he says. “When you acquire a company, you also acquire the leadership and you have to look at how those leaders can help you grow in other areas.”

One of the most challenging aspects of the acquisition process is not losing sight of your current business.

“You have to align yourself with a private equity company that can assist you in your search, because it can be very distracting, not only for the buyer but for the seller,” Wendle says. “You have a business to run while you’re doing all this and you want to keep your eye on the ball.

“I’ve seen sellers particularly get so distracted through the process that they don’t watch their business. You have to stay focused and keep your eye on the ball. Don’t get all consumed in an acquisition potential.”

Wendle understands how difficult a merger process can be, so he makes sure he is as helpful to those involved as he can be.

“That’s the way I develop a relationship with the people, because it is a relationship,” he says. “If the process goes well, then the closure is going to go well. It can’t be adversarial. It needs to be very friendly and very professional. Instead of looking at it like you’re out there buying assets, you should look at it as you’re being an advocate of the seller’s and you’re helping them sell their business.”

Integrate the merger

Once a deal is made to move forward with the merger and you’ve gone through and agreed on terms and produced a letter of intent, then you need to go through due diligence.

“We’re really trying to understand more and more about the company and they’re trying to understand more and more about us,” Wendle says.

“The integration actually starts in the due diligence process. You want them to learn as much about you as you learn about them. You want them to learn about what your benefits program is. The key for owners selling is how are my employees that I hired going to be treated.”

EQM gets its HR department involved to look through the merging company’s benefits program and matches it up with theirs.

“Typically ours is going to be overall in a better position, so the new employees are going to benefit from it,” he says. “Then it’s integrating the financial packages or the business systems. How do we communicate financially? Rarely do the new companies coming in have the same types of systems that we have.

“From there, we really try not to make changes. Any changes we have to make we want them to go slowly. What’s working obviously has been working and the last thing you want to do is keep it from working. You want the leaders and the employees to keep on doing what they’re doing.”

In a merger process, there are two sides: a legal side and an emotional side. The due diligence process focuses primarily on the emotional side.

“The legal side is pretty cut and dry,” Wendle says. “The emotional side is more cultural. What kind of culture are they coming into and how comfortable do they feel with it? I start explaining that once I first meet a potential acquisition candidate.

“For someone who’s going to sell their business, it’s a very emotional process and they have to be very comfortable with it. You have to pay attention to how you get the cultures to integrate and whether they feel they still have autonomy.

“That’s the one thing about running your own business that’s good, but now they’re part of a much larger organization and they have more potential for growth.”

Making this transition successful relies on strong communication between the two companies, specifically among leadership.

“You cannot communicate enough,” he says. “We have town-hall meetings. We have staff meetings every week. Each business unit has staff meetings every week and you’re just trying to keep the lines of communication open. It really comes down to employee engagement and whether the employees feel that they have a say and whether they’re being listened to.”

While cultural alignment is a big part of making a merger successful, there still has to be a good fit in other aspects of the business.

“Cultural alignment isn’t necessarily more important, but it is as important,” he says. “There still has to be intrinsic value and what the company brings to the table as far as net income. There has to be value-added services that customers want to buy. What I find is if employees have the right attitude and they’re happy, then they have a pretty good customer base. They walk hand in hand.

“If the employees are not happy, customers are going to hear about it because there are close relationships between the employees and the clients. And vice versa, if our client’s employees aren’t happy, we hear about it.”

EQM’s strategy is to leave the incoming company alone to continue the work it was already doing. You have to make a judgment call whether or not to make any changes to a company you’ve acquired.

“There are two aspects of it,” Wendle says. “When we look at a company we look at the brand. Most the time the companies that we acquire have a good brand and we want them to keep that name and that brand and operate it as a subsidiary, unless it is parallel to one of our business units and our brand may be stronger than theirs.”

Develop a strategy

The key to being successful at acquisitions and mergers and with the growth of your business in general is to have a strategy with goals that you hope to achieve.

“I think the business changes so fast that you can have a five-year plan, but to really put tactics behind that strategy is very difficult to do because it changes so fast,” Wendle says. “It’s been my experience that if you look in two to three years, you’re going to have a better chance of meeting your goals and putting more realistic goals out there. We’re in a different climate now than we were in four or five years ago. We’ve all managed downturns and now we’re trying to grow.”

Wendle is looking to keep EQM doing more of the same it did with Beacon Energy Corp. He is focusing on the private side more so than the public side.

“My belief system is that private industry is not investing in itself right now so there is a pent-up demand for capital improvement and industries are hoarding cash,” he says. “And I don’t think it’s going to matter who the president is, companies will start spending money on capital and start investing in themselves again. The first companies that private owners spend money on are environmental and engineering companies. We are going to be positioned to be there when companies start spending on themselves again.”

One of the biggest aspects of laying out any kind of growth strategy is the need to constantly change to stay ahead of competition.

“Presidents and CEOs have to constantly be looking to reinvent themselves and reinvent their companies,” Wendle says. “I think that the business moves so fast in the world we are in that you cannot restrict yourself geographically and you really have to reinvent yourself every three years.”

Part of that reinvention is attracting entrepreneurial people to your business to keep ideas fresh.

“To really look at new services, one of the keys is hiring entrepreneurial leaders in your company and creating a culture and environment that allows people to think freely and say their mind and be able to put strategies together without being frowned upon,” he says. “You have to create that kind of culture of growth … and have the right kind of people to create that culture.” <<

How to Reach: EQM Technologies & Energy Inc.,

(800) 229-7495 or


-          Acquire companies that will allow you to grow.

-          Integrate the acquisition by developing a relationship.

-          Develop a growth strategy with two- and three-year goals.

The Wendle File

James Wendle

President and COO

EQM Technologies & Energy Inc.

Born: Alton, Ill.

Education: AAS degree in architectural engineering and a B.S. degree in construction management from Southern Illinois University.

What was your first job and what did you learn from that experience?

When I was 10, I swept hair in a barber shop and I also had a paper route. I was raised by parents who were born in the Depression. I was taught that if you worked hard everything would be fine. So I always had a job and I always had money. It’s about the work ethic. I knew I could get a job if I could prove I could work hard. People would want to hire me.

Who is somebody you look up to in leadership?

Abraham Lincoln. The man failed so many times. He had no way of becoming president of this country because of all his failures, but he did and he was the right president at the right time. Another man that had so much against him at the time was Winston Churchill.

What is the best advice that someone has given you?

I was taught by the CEO of the first professional job that I had to be friendly and be professional, but don’t be abused. Don’t let anyone treat you poorly. Stand up to it no matter what.

If you could do something dangerous one time without consequence, what would want to do?

I would ride my Harley through the Alps.

Published in Cincinnati