Wednesday, 30 November 2011 19:56

Community cheer

As Ohio’s oldest employee-owned risk management and insurance brokerage firm, Oswald Cos. has a rich history of commitment to the community. While this commitment is one of the company’s four core values, Chairman and CEO Marc S. Byrnes says a commitment is all that he asks for from employees. Which community they choose to honor is entirely up to them.

Whether it’s through service, charity, philanthropy volunteerism or advocacy, Oswald’s employees live their commitment by investing their time, money or fundraising for the causes that they are most passionate about. And for many of them, that involves a lot more than just writing checks and taking payroll deductions.

In 2011, female leaders at Oswald banded together to take charge of their community efforts by forming a group dedicated to supporting and serving female-related charities. The group, known as WooHoo — Women of Oswald Helping Out Others — attracted 80 women in just the first meeting, and today, it is working toward its goal of steering eight major charitable drives annually, as well as leading small fundraisers and volunteer efforts. The group has already helped Dress for Success, Providence House, The City Mission and Cogswell Hall. WooHoo has also organized a number of teams for community events such as March of Dimes, The 2011 Cleveland Heart Walk, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 5K Run/Walk and others.

Nearly 40 percent of Oswald’s employees serve as trustees or advisers of 70 nonprofit organizations, committing personal time or money to causes they care about.

For the past seven years, the company has also chosen a local charity as the beneficiary of its “Day of Caring,” which involves employees investing a day of labor to work onsite and help out, whether it’s painting, cleaning or volunteering in some capacity. Previous recipients include the Boys and Girls Clubs, Neighborhood Family Service Center and Camp Cheerful.

HOW TO REACH: Oswald Cos., or (216) 367-8787

Published in Cleveland
Wednesday, 30 November 2011 19:49

Accepting the challenge

After banding together to build a new home for “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” employees of Marous Brothers Construction were instilled with a great sense of community pride. They’d spent 18,000 man hours completing a house for a family in need. But even as the project came to an end, the spirit of volunteerism was still growing.

Under the leadership of President Chip Marous, employees continue to embrace a vision for improving the lives of others and making the world a more beautiful place. This vision is defined by the company’s ARK Effect — or Acts of Random Kindness — venture, which challenges employees to be good stewards of the community through outreach initiatives and volunteerism.

The company hosts a Red Cross Blood Drive at its corporate office twice a year, has employees volunteer as judges at local student competitions and, through an affiliation with Rebuilding Together Lake County, brings together volunteers to provide home-repair assistance to low-income individuals and families on National Rebuilding Day.

Employees at Marous are always setting the bar higher for ARK by partnering with organizations that have a mission to improve the world at large. The latest example is “Tools for School,” a drive to collect back-to-school supplies for 3,000 students of the Willoughby-Eastlake School District, from which numerous employees, and the Marous brothers themselves, are alumnae.

To assist with the effort, brothers Chip, Scott and Ken Marous set an example by purchasing 30 book bags for the supply drive.

Also, employees took their participation in the annual Feed Lake County food drive to the next level this year by partnering with United Way to lead the program. Through canvassing, gathering corporate support, weighing and delivering food, and taking on other key responsibilities, Marous employees brought in more than 5,800 pounds of food in four weeks, 11 times the initial goal.

HOW TO REACH: Marous Brothers Construction, or (440) 951-3904

Published in Cleveland
Thursday, 27 October 2011 16:46

Building a database of philanthropy

For Doug Kridler, president and CEO of The Columbus Foundation, philanthropy is about moving communities forward and building bonds between the inhabitants. To encourage philanthropy, Kridler says citizens must be given convenient access to information on local nonprofit organizations, including what they stand for and exactly how to donate. To this end, The Columbus Foundation has created an online database of such information.

The foundation has enabled more than 1,800 individuals, families and businesses to create unique funds to support community causes they care about. Donors have granted more than $1.2 billion since its founding in 1943, making The Columbus Foundation the ninth largest community foundation in the nation.

Because of Kridler’s leadership in inspiring investment in central Ohio, Smart Business, U.S. Bank and Blue Technologies named him to the 2011 class of Columbus Smart Leader honorees. Kridler told us how The Columbus Foundation uses its information database to make philanthropy easier and more accessible.

Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

There is a need for donors to have access to the best information possible to make sure that what they are given is informed and effective. We created an online information and giving platform that enables foundation donors and the general public to access information about our local nonprofits’ finances, stewardship, mission and programs online, anytime.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

Innovative leaders are those that recognize that great ideas can come from anywhere in an organization. I try to nurture an atmosphere of support and respect for innovative thought throughout our organization.

In terms of innovation in our services to our donors and to our community, Power Philanthropy, our online database of community information, is cutting edge in our field. It helps donors get online, 24/7 access to information to help ensure that their giving is as informed and effective as possible.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

Philanthropy invests in the best ideas to help people move their lives and their community forward.  Last year, we and our donors invested over $80 million. We also work hard to celebrate points of community accomplishment.  The Gallup Organization recently released a three-year, 26-city study that concluded that ‘Emotional connection does drive economic growth in communities. Surprisingly, social offerings, openness and beauty are far more important than people’s perceptions of the economy, jobs or basic services in creating a lasting emotional bond between people and their community.’ We are about building that bond, the community pride that inspires optimism and continued investment in community progress.

How to reach: The Columbus Foundation, (614) 251-4000 or

See all of the 2011 Columbus Smart Leaders on the next page.

Together with U.S. Bank and Blue Technologies, Smart Business named the following honorees to the 2011 class of Columbus Smart Leaders:

*Indicates Women Presidents’ Organization Breakthrough Business Leader

Published in Columbus
Friday, 30 September 2011 20:06

Virginia Albanese: full comprehension

While great strategy, leadership, accountability and execution drive a company toward success, I have found other factors that contribute to a winning company. These include a variety of work, an overall understanding of the business from a number of different angles and experiences in the community.

Let me start by explaining my personal point of view when it comes to variety of work and overall understanding of the business. I started with Roberts Express, now FedEx Custom Critical, almost 25 years ago. As I rose through the ranks, I moved through many different positions. This gave me a holistic view of how our business works, the challenges that different roles in the organization face and the many job tasks that must work together for a successful business outcome.

I started my journey in operations and then moved to the safety and recruiting area. When I was working in operations, there was chatter about the recruiting team’s lack of traction on getting more contractors through the door to service our customers. Once I moved to the safety and recruiting team, it became clear what a tough job the recruiting team faced when it came to attracting contractors. On top of that, I was able to see the weaknesses in the operations team’s ability to engage the contractors and keep them on board. Without my move from one department to another, it would have been far more difficult for me to see the big picture and understand the accountabilities that both of these departments faced.

Our company takes time to contemplate succession planning, determining how we can use job transfers between departments to prepare our high achievers for their next potential roles. We look at the team members’ current skills and experiences and compare them to what they will need in the future. As positions become available or a project presents itself, we look first to the up-and-comers to see if it might be a good fit to fill in a team member’s experiential gaps. Walking a mile in a peer’s shoes is an excellent way to build understanding, promote new ideas and above all, prepare the next level for leadership opportunities.

In addition to movement within the organization, we believe getting our team members involved in the community is a key part of their development. Having our key employees working in charitable ways helps build a sense of pride in our company while also exposing team members to the ways others may run an organization or project. The networking aspect of community work is also a wonderful way for team members to benchmark with peers, discover the common challenges and hot buttons that exist across different for-profit and not-for-profit organizations and share solutions for handling very similar business dilemmas.

As an example, one of our team members on the board of a local organization quickly found himself involved in its annual fundraiser. This experience allowed him to stretch his leadership abilities and make contacts throughout the community. He was also able to learn about the power of networking to refine ideas, generate funds and bring a project across the finish line.

While moving people around internally can cause some disruption and encouraging team members to work in the community can create pressures on your work force, I truly believe that the payback for each far outweighs any perceived or real inconvenience. Team members will be more prepared for future positions and above all, they will feel valued by their company. These team members will develop ideas that will change processes, attitudes and the way in which we do business.

Virginia Albanese is president and CEO of FedEx Custom Critical, North America’s largest critical-shipment carrier. The company provides 24/7 service throughout the United States, Canada and internationally, delivering hundreds of thousands of critical shipments each year. She is also the chairwoman of the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce and serves on a number of other boards to benefit the Northeast Ohio community, including Akron Children’s Hospital and The Boys and Girls Club of the Western Reserve.

Published in Akron/Canton
Tuesday, 23 August 2011 13:16

Turner Construction gives back to Cleveland

Kevin Fox will always remember the August 10 game at Progressive Field, but the part about the Indians tromping the Tigers 10-3 probably won’t be what sticks out. He’ll remember walking the ball out to the mound, or watching his 6-year-old brother Brian throw the first pitch, or meeting former team manager Mike Hargrove during the game.

Kevin, 10, suffers from a number of lifelong medical disorders, including epilepsy and autism. Despite these challenges, he inspires everyone around him by facing each day with enthusiasm. Because of this spirit, he was honored with a Courage Award at the 21st annual HeartThrob Ball, an event that benefits young patients at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital.

But the baseball game wasn’t part of the award package – that was an added bonus Kevin received, courtesy of Turner Construction. The Cleveland office of the general contracting company, in its second year of sponsoring the ball, purchased an auction item that included loge tickets to the Indians game – which went right to Kevin and his family.

“As one of my colleagues was bidding on the auction item, Kevin walked up to him and gave him a high-five,” says Mark Dent, vice president and general manager of Turner Construction’s Cleveland office. “He didn’t need to say a thing; it was evident that he appreciated all the support. It was the least we could do for his courage and bravery.”

Dent counts community service as one of Turner’s responsibilities to Cleveland. Programs that support children, like the HeartThrob Ball, are especially close to the corporation’s heart.

“Turner is very committed to the communities in which we live and work,” he says. “Children are our future, and we make a special effort to get involved with programs that help them. These include the Cleveland Clinic event, as well as programs that teach kids about construction and guide them toward careers in the industry.”

Turner’s Cleveland office also volunteers with groups such as the Hattie Larlham Center for Children with Disabilities, Boy Scouts of America, Achievement Centers for Children and Youth Opportunities Unlimited. In fact, Dent’s team is currently building a new nature path at the Hattie Larlham group home in Solon – on a purely volunteer basis.

Beyond the corporate support of programs like these, many Turner executives serve as role models of charity in their personal lives, as well. Dent even gets involved in charitable events through his involvement in professional organizations – such as the Construction Employers Association, the Associated General Contractors of America and the Cleveland Engineering Society.

“I think you engage people by being a role model,” he says. “On a personal note, I get a lot of satisfaction from these types of activities, and when people see your spirit, it’s contagious.”

Dent tries to keep spreading that spirit around the company by reminding employees that they’re all in this together, and that they have a commitment to the communities that support Turner.

“Turner has a responsibility to contribute to the greater good of our communities,” Dent says. “We do that by giving back, in the form of our volunteer programs to youth and others, by promoting opportunities for (Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises) and helping to sponsor events.”

And – because they’re all in this together, remember – the business may even end up benefitting from Turner’s efforts to help others.

“Sometimes, our activities do end up benefiting the business, although that was not the original intent,” Dent says. “For example, by promoting opportunities for M/WBEs, we are growing firms in the community. Many of the firms that have gone through our Construction Management Training Course have become subcontractors and have assisted us in building many of the major buildings in our community.”

While gifts of time and money are powerful, corporate giving can make perhaps the biggest difference when gifts align with the business. When you look at a company like Turner, which builds the structures that build cities, it’s easy to see how business benefits the community.

Turner’s current projects in Cleveland include: The Cleveland Medical Mart & Convention Center, Cleveland Clinic Fairview Hospital Emergency Room & ICU, Allen Theatre, Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory of Music, Beachwood High School and Westlake City Schools.

“These projects are making our community more vibrant,” Dent says. “The owners of these projects are providing thousands of jobs to the people in Northern Ohio. That’s a major contribution to our economy.”

The Medical Mart project – which is right on schedule, with underground activities coming to a close and the first wave of steel structure popping up – will start serving the community long before the building welcomes its first health care conference. In September, Turner will use the site to showcase construction careers for seventh and eighth grade students through the Career Awareness for Middle Schools Outreach Program – one of the many ways the company keeps giving back to local youth.

For weekly updates on the Medical Mart’s construction progress, check

For more information on Turner Construction in Cleveland, visit

Published in Cleveland

Two elements of leadership — trust and service — unfortunately, aren’t always obvious to us analytical types whose focus is primarily metrics and results.

Cbeyond has a unique culture, one that we diligently protect and one that creates an environment in which we are proud to work. There is a return on investment for creating an environment where employees are expected to contribute and, at the same time, have the tools and encouragement to succeed.

A leader isn’t the guy with all the answers. Rather, a leader is the catalyst for influencing others to overcome obstacles, find solutions, and seize and create opportunities. Leadership begins with trust, and leaders are most successful when they combine trust with a challenge to look outward.

Trust dangerously, protect vigorously

Here is a fact: People will not remain motivated, growing and achieving at high levels of performance if they are insecure about their place on your team. As leaders, we can create exponential levels of creativity when we build an environment where employees and teams are encouraged to share ideas and where courage and risk-taking are complemented with both reward and safety.

Encourage vulnerability. Ideas that are proposed today may not work today. However, experimentation will develop a culture of creativity and lead to better ideas in the future. When employees can count on your support, it creates an environment where there is honest and proactive conversation about what’s working and what’s not. People become comfortable with risk, which, in turn, encourages them to move into uncharted territory, expect problems along the way and find ways around obstacles. It becomes natural to learn from mistakes.

Dance with the one who brought you. Continually looking for the “100 percent” employee is a futile and exhausting exercise. Experience has taught me that bringing in the next “great guy” often exposes me to a different set of weaknesses. A better approach is to know your people — what motivates them and makes them tick. You’ll find great success and earn tremendous loyalty and trust when you leverage employee strengths by putting them in the right role rather than painfully focusing on their weaknesses.

See what you don’t like and stamp it out. As the leader, you are responsible for a healthy team. As a role model, you owe your team consistency between your walk and talk. And you owe them an environment that is free of politics, backbiting and ill will. You need to be fair, consistent and diligent about how you treat, respect and encourage each other. What you value will get done.

Promote community involvementOne of our key missions as we grew Cbeyond was to build a company of which we were proud and that would enthusiastically give back to the communities where we lived and worked. We’ve built a grassroots outreach program that has delivered more than 50,000 hours of passion-led service in our 14 markets in the last 10 years.

It’s good for our people, and it’s good for business.

Create capacity. As our world expands, so does our capacity. Engaging beyond the workplace connects us to amazing people and increases our networks and energy levels. Our Cbeyond University goes as far as to promote strategic volunteering; encouraging our employees to use their volunteer efforts to build skills, gain proven leadership experience and build resumes.

Drive citizenship. Community outreach helps our teams become citizens, not taxpayers. You know, those people who actively engage in their environment and drive the change they want to see. We find that attitude, when practiced in the community, also is reflected in our workplace.

Encourage “passion-led.” Drive community service by inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to engage their communities in imaginative ways that are near and dear to their hearts. We call that “passion-led.” Employees may choose to focus volunteer efforts on coaching, school or church rather than board involvement. We also use volunteer events to drive team-building and have fun.

You are creating a culture — whether deliberate or not. Your employees have to feel safe, appreciated and encouraged if you expect them to make your customers feel that way, as well.

Jim Geiger is the founder, chairman, president and CEO of Cbeyond, a company that provides IT and communications services to small businesses throughout the United States and also provided the world’s first 100 percent VoIP local phone network.

Published in Atlanta
Monday, 28 February 2011 15:20

Servant leader

The president’s message from Laurie Cunnington on her company’s website couldn’t be more direct: “At Ward Williston, we strive to conduct business while always adhering to our core business values. We believe our people are our best assets. We believe in treating our employees and customers with dignity and respect. We believe our customers deserve honest treatment and the best service possible. And finally, we believe that every day we must work to keep Ward Williston a company we can all be proud of.”

For Cunnington and her husband, Thomas, who serves as Ward Williston Oil Co.’s CEO, this means focusing on giving back to the community, supporting employees and operating an oil company that supports domestic oil exploration and production.

Smart Business caught up with Cunnington — whose Michigan-based company explores oil fields in North Dakota — at Ernst & Young’s Strategic Growth Forum, where she was participating on a panel about corporate and social philanthropy.

Why is corporate philanthropy and giving back so important for entrepreneurs and business leaders?

I have a little problem with the phrase ‘giving back’ because I really believe that it’s not about giving back. Rather, a person should be giving all their lives and be part of their character and heart’s desire. When you see someone less fortunate and you have a loaf of bread, you should break that loaf in half and give it to them. It’s not about giving back because it’s not just multi-billionaires. It should really be about that loaf of bread. I should be able to divide it and give it to somebody else.

I’ve seen suffering, and it’s changed me. I’ve seen children in Africa that two or three hours after leaving them will know more suffering than I’ll ever see in my life. This is what motivates me to work hard so that I can do something to help others.

You’re often asked to speak about corporate philanthropy. When you do, what are some of the key points you try to get across?

This is something I feel passionate about. My husband and I do work domestically. If a hospital or local charity needs something, we help. Think about this: Half the world is living on less than $2 a day. I think about whether I could do that. If I could keep everything I have — my fancy cars, my nice house, my nice clothes, but I had only $2 a day, how long could I last and use my brain? I wouldn’t last very long. Yet, I wake up in the morning and more than half the world is living on less than $2 a day. That’s what makes me work hard. I hope others are able to pick up on that message when I talk about philanthropy.

So how can others think about aligning their work with causes they believe in?

Last summer, we all turned on our TVs and saw 11 men die in the twinkling of an eye. Then we watched the Gulf being polluted. We saw people out of work because of the oil spill, so here we were in a remote area in North Dakota and saw all these people suffering in the Gulf. Our people encouraged us to do something about it, and we encouraged them to take the lead. So they put together a fundraiser called Golf for the Gulf. Our tagline was ‘It’s our ocean. It’s our industry. It’s our time to do something.’

Together, we raised a little over $100,000 for the fishermen and oilmen out of work. It was interesting to see how much our people got behind it, but our vendors and customers did, as well. Our vendors had never thought of doing something like this before.

Do you think there’s something to the belief that people want to work for companies that care?

I think it’s a nice thing when you do care for others. I honestly don’t know if that’s why people work for us, but I believe in taking care of our people and that they’ll take care of you. Today in America, people want to get working again. That’s the major thing. They would love to work for a great company but they just want to get working. It’s this way across the country. Ironically, in North Dakota there are more jobs than people, but in Michigan, where we’re based, there are no jobs. People just want to get working, and if they can have a good job and a good boss, that’s wonderful. But they want to feed their families.

When you purchased Ward Williston it was on the brink of ruin, correct?

Yes. I’ve been with them for 20 years. I had done some independent drilling before that, and then an opportunity came to buy this company, which was on its last legs. There were four or five people working for it then. My husband and I took over the company, and today there are about 180 people working for us. We’ve made the Inc. 500 for three years in a row, and we’re very strong now. We drill for oil and service oil fields.

So what’s the toughest challenge you’re facing now?

I work in Michigan, and Michigan has been hit so hard. One of our most prevalent field operations is in North Dakota, and there it’s a boom market. So I have a paradigm shift every day. I’m working with our people in North Dakota and the reality hits me that those workers have a management team that’s located in a depressed market. You have to be on your toes to balance that.

But I have no complaints because the oil industry is very good. We’re doing well, and I believe that for Americans, we have to capture the idea that we, domestic drillers, can fuel America. Right now, there’s a barrel of oil found in the Middle East. That barrel gets on a ship and is brought over. With that barrel, people have fought over it, people have died over it, and we do business with our enemies. But here, domestic drillers, the people who work for me, get up in the morning, put on their work clothes, say goodbye to their families and go produce a barrel of oil. So with that barrel, our domestic drillers can handle the needs of America. That’s why I love what I do. It allows me to run the business and pursue my passions.

How to reach: Ward Williston Oil Co.,

Published in Detroit
Monday, 28 February 2011 13:45

Community DNA

David Ginsburg, president and CEO of DowntownCincinnati Inc., knows he could be doing something more lucrative with his time than working at a nonprofit organization that aims to improve the community of Cincinnati, but he wouldn’t get as much satisfaction out of his efforts if he did. Ginsburg loves to devote his time to the many areas of the Cincinnati community. It’s that type of attitude and drive that make a person or a business a Pillar Award recipient.

The inaugural Cincinnati Medical Mutual Pillar Awards for Community Service were held on January 25. Smart Business honored businesses and organizations that go above and beyond in their community service efforts. The joy that giving back can create was evident as business leaders shared stories of how their companies make a difference in the region and the ways they make community service part of the fabric of their companies.

These business leaders know that community service is something you do because it’s the right thing to do, not because you feel obligated. Today, that is often easier said than done.

“One of the things that I’ve found very interesting is that people have less time,” Ginsburg says. “There was a time when people who were doing community service were just the CEOs and the top people. Now, you have fewer hometown CEOs and fewer people and they have lots and lots of demands on their time. You really have to make sure the time and the resources that people give you are treated with a tremendous amount of respect and value.”

It is that frame of mind that gets employees at Messer Construction Co. involved in the community. Employees at Messer are driven by the examples of their senior leadership.

“We have senior managers that are required to be on a nonprofit board or committee, so we start with the leadership,” says Tom Keckeis, president and CEO of Messer. “We have 180 senior executives and they all get involved in the community through boards and committees.”

Employees at Messer, an employee-owned company, make sure they give back to the community that has given so much back to them.

“We are an employee-owned company and so the employees get to decide what we do with the profits of the company, and we give back a considerable amount to the community because it’s what they want to do,” Keckeis says. “They own the company. We can do what we want to do with the dollars.”

Messer uses those dollars to give back in numerous ways. Whether it’s leading the efforts on boards or committees, helping teach classes, mentoring or coaching kids at Bond Hill, every Messer employee gets involved in community service.

“All you have to do is start it,” Keckeis says. “You will start to realize that you get more back than what you give. You end up building an organization that has a deep value system that’s tied to the community.

“You have to be a model for community service. You have to also recognize the people that are contributing their time. Recognize them in a newsletter and in their performance evaluation. Those are the types of things a CEO or a leader should be doing to make sure that people realize the value there.”

Much like Messer’s employees have figured out, community service is something that should be a part of a company’s culture. Getting employees involved and giving them the power to make decisions about where, why and how to give back helps imbed that drive into your company culture.

That is exactly what Stuart Aitken, CEO of dunnhumbyUSA, told his employees to do. Each year the employees of dunnhumby discuss what causes and charities they should donate time and money to. Every employee can make their own suggestions.

“The foundation of what we do is really different than many others,” Aitken says. “We allow our employees to decide which charities we contribute to, both in terms of time as well as in terms of money. Every year we select seven organizations we will support in both those ways throughout the year. It is very much employee-led and what matters most to the employees is what we will support as an organization.”

Aitken found that the stories people shared about various causes and charities became contagious, and employee involvement in the programs grew.

“We have people share stories, we have message boards all over the place talking about the things we do and it truly is contagious,” Aitken says. “It’s a viral thing. People feel very good about it and good about being a part of a company that encourages and drives it.

“Don’t drive it as a company, let the employees drive it and then support what it is they are looking to do. Let it be employee-led and facilitate it as an organization every which way you can.”

How to reach: Downtown Cincinnati Inc., (513) 421-4440 or

Messer Construction Co., (513)242-1541 or

dunnhumby USA, (513) 632-1020 or

Published in Cincinnati
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