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Monday, 30 September 2013 20:00

Ah!thentic Ambition

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Jack Butorac thought he had retired from the food industry in 2000, but a small Toledo, Ohio-based pizzeria was calling his name.

Monday, 30 September 2013 20:00

World Entrepreneur of the Year: Overcoming Challenges

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Monte Carlo has seen a lot of risk takers in its day, but not many have been like those who attended the recent EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year conference. These risk takers may use the term “gamble” every now and then, but they more often use their willingness to take a risk as a way to overcome the challenges of running a business.

The collection of the world’s most accomplished entrepreneurs at the conference were innovators, futurists, turnaround specialists and problem solvers.

From this highly qualified group of leaders comes some quality insights into rising above the challenges that could have blocked the success they envisioned for themselves and their companies. ●

 

“We have a phrase: ‘Market leaders need to meet market innovators.’ It’s a ‘two-fer’ because the innovators often need to have partnerships with the market leaders in order to really scale their companies. That could be as simple as a distribution agreement. It could be joint R&D. It could be capital. It could be a variety of things that form a partnership.

Likewise, if you think of firms like Procter & Gamble that have had edicts from the top that half of their innovation will come from outside the ivory tower, then those are the kinds of opportunities that we hope to be able to continue to bring.

Go and find those innovators … and likewise for the innovators, make sure your reach out and look for strategic partnerships that help your business grow.”

Bryan Pearce, Americas Director, Entrepreneur Of The Year and Venture Capital Advisory Group, EY

 

“Cost pressures are always high. What we need to make sure we do is continue to innovate our audit services and all our services to make sure we make maximum use of technology. We also need to make sure we take advantage of both time zone arbitrage and cost arbitrage where talent zones are present.”

Jim Turley, retired global chairman and CEO, EY

 

“The drive to always want to get better and do more is what keeps me going. It’s hard for me to turn it off and say, ‘That’s great.’ I’m always thinking about tomorrow. You can’t take things for granted in our business.”

Corey Shapoff, president and founder, SME Entertainment Group

 

“When you have a monopoly, it slows innovation. It reduces competition and is generally not good for the market. Once you have an open Internet with no government operating on top of it, then I’m very optimistic about humanity when it comes to producing things.”

Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web

 

“As a startup you go to the specialty stores first. That’s how you start and you grow and once you reach a certain level, then you go to the big retailers.

I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to go to the big retailers and be in the regular dairy isle. That was a crazy idea and nobody thought that would go, but at least we tried. When we tried, we convinced one retailer in New York. The result from that was we were able to expand to a couple of other retailers. After the second or third customer that we had success with for our yogurt, I knew it wasn’t going to be about selling, it was about making enough.”

Hamdi Ulukaya, founder, president and CEO, Chobani Inc., Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 United States, 2013 World Entrepreneur Of The Year

 

“In our country, our main challenges are new regulations and new financial reforms that we have to comply with. We are getting together for meetings inside the bank in different areas to study each one of the reforms.

Also at the Association of Banking Industry in Mexico, we have an association of the 44 authorized banks where we get together in different commissions to make sure that we can modify some of the new policies that are going to come out later this year.”

Lorenzo Barrera Segovia, founder and CEO, Banco BASE, Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Mexico

 

“One of the main challenges is how to train the talent we have in Latin America. Latin America has 600 million people and 1 million IT workers. The next step is to train more people and convince people to adopt technology as a career. If you provide the proper entrepreneurial environment to that, maybe the next Google or Facebook can come from Latin America.”

Martin Migoya, CEO, Globant, Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Argentina

 

“One of the biggest challenges the industry faces is trying to figure out what the impact of the natural gas/shale gas revolution is going to have on us. Suddenly there is cheap natural gas, which is going to be more challenging for renewable projects to compete with. Rather than looking at it as an either-or world, you have to look at how the two technologies can work together.”

Jim Davis, president, Chevron Energy Solutions

 

“Zonamerica is a different kind of company, a business and technology park. But in general, we have a financial sector, we have 60 banks, a wealth of private funds, we have call centers, cell services and headquarters for companies that want to develop business in the region. The problem is all these companies require very qualified personnel. Our core purpose is to attract the best human resources to produce or offer the product. So we created a database and we have, at this moment, more than 24,000 people registered. Then these companies, according to the needs they have, can see and select the personnel they want. And then we also have schools to teach skills to prepare people for these kinds of employment.”

Orlando Dovat, founder and CEO, Zonamerica, Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Uruguay

 

“Zonamerica is a different kind of company, a business and technology park. But in general, we have a financial sector, we have 60 banks, a wealth of private funds, we have call centers, cell services and headquarters for companies that want to develop business in the region. The problem is all these companies require very qualified personnel. Our core purpose is to attract the best human resources to produce or offer the product. So we created a database and we have, at this moment, more than 24,000 people registered. Then these companies, according to the needs they have, can see and select the personnel they want. And then we also have schools to teach skills to prepare people for these kinds of employment.”

Orlando Dovat, founder and CEO, Zonamerica, Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Uruguay

 

“Probably the most difficult cost control challenge is managing staff salary software. There is a specific reason for that within our company — we are going through a system conversion, so when we acquire practices, they each have their different practice management software. Some are fully computerized; some are not computerized at all. We at one point had 18 different systems within our company. We have converted all of our 107 locations onto one platform this year, so with training and obviously the unknowns that occur with changing people's worlds by changing their operational platform, that's our biggest challenge this year. Having said that, that will allow us to create a line of central efficiencies in the coming years.”

Dr. Alan Ulsifer, CEO, president and chair, FYidoctors, Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Canada

 

Monday, 30 September 2013 08:00

Understanding your ‘natural instincts’

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The animal kingdom has long been instrumental in teaching children about appropriate behavior.

A rabbit named Peter educated us on the importance of conflict resolution. For better or worse, Curious George was habitually inquisitive and, in separate incidents, three bears and three pigs taught us the importance of home security.

But despite a literary reputation as “big” and “bad,” according to Jack Hanna, “A wolf will feed the sick, the old and the young first.”

That’s a pretty impressive character trait for a creature so often maligned by the human race. Over the years, however, we’ve learned to expect Hanna to set the record straight on an important part of our world that most of us will never experience firsthand.

 

Following the footsteps of a legend

Inspired by wildlife pioneer Marlin Perkins, Hanna parlayed a fascination with animals and a position leading the Columbus Zoo into a television empire spanning 30 years. He’s had countless TV appearances on popular shows such as “Good Morning America” and “The Late Show with David Letterman.” In addition, he currently helms two television programs, “Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown” and “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild.”

Not surprisingly, Hanna’s high regard for the animal population is also reflected in his view of the public’s acceptance of the animal kingdom: “Most people who say they don’t like animals don’t like people much either.”

Phil Beuth, former president of “Good Morning America,” observes, “With Jack, what you see is what you get — he’s a genuine gentleman.”

Hanna has set a simple benchmark for appropriate professional behavior, “I operate by The Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Of course, humans are animals too — complete with instincts, genetic predispositions, unique skill sets and laws to keep us from acting like predatory animals. Yet, prey we do — leveraged buyouts, hostile takeovers, foreclosures, etc.

 

Comparing workforces of nature

When asked about lessons human worker bees can glean from the animal kingdom, Hanna enthusiastically says, “Just look at ants and termites. They each have specific jobs to do.” By performing specific tasks every day, these creatures work solely to serve the greater good — ostensibly without complaining.

Animals = 1 Humans = 0

Hanna also points to an innate respect in the wild that does not always translate into the land of the bipeds: “The animal world does not waste food and animals do not abuse their own children. For example, gorillas may fight but they still work together.”

Working through issues to achieve top performance is apparently part of the natural order of things. It’s about survival. As the concept of business survival has never been more prominent, shouldn’t cooperation receive equal billing?

Animals = 2 Humans = 0

Though Hanna also marvels at the mysteries behind the instinctual and highly effective way animals communicate, many in the office marvel at some people’s overwhelming lack of communication skills.

Animals = 3 Humans = 0

Specifically, according to Hanna, “The elephant is one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet.”

So yes, it seems that without the benefit of an iPhone, Twitter or Outlook, an elephant truly never forgets.

Time to hire me an elephant. The Laws of Nature win every time. ●

 

Speaker, writer and professional storyteller Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Fla. For more information, visit randallkennethjones.com.

Twitter: @randallkjones

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mindzoo

https://www.facebook.com/RediscoverCourtesy

LinkedIn: http://linkd.in/1cQ7A5J

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/randallkennethjones - http://bit.ly/17G550A

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A marketing epidemic, to put it mildly, has been impacting most businesses — and it’s time to think about keeping your message simple if you haven’t already done so.

The roots of this epidemic can be traced back to two events.

First, during the economic fall of 2008, as businesses looked for ways to preserve revenue streams, companies hunkered down and focused on sales to preserve existing customers. Many cutoff or significantly reduced marketing budgets, and others shifted to digital media as a “low-cost alternative.”

The second event was the rapid spread of social media and the skyrocketing use of smartphones and tablets, which provide instant access to relationships, information and communication.

The social media craze and businesses’ desire to market on the cheap led companies to flood the marketing channels with content. Sales sheets, photos, videos, web pages — companies were suddenly all things to all people because they could push content to digital channels for “free.”

The problem — our marketing channels are now very noisy. As consumers of information, we respond to this noise with limited attention spans. The result — companies have sent confusing messages to the marketplace and people aren’t listening.

This current epidemic of marketing noise distributed across all channels leads to a common marketing need for all businesses — simplification.

 

Keeping it simple

So how do you achieve message simplification? It all ties back to the business. Here are seven steps to help get you started:

1. Identify three to four key business objectives for the next two years. Do you want regional growth or growth in a new industry? Do you want to sell more to existing customers?

2. Prioritize your objectives by placing dollars or number of opportunities next to them. This will help you focus on the most important areas.

3. Brainstorm a list of marketing tactics that can help you achieve each objective. Can you generate more leads from trade shows, your website, your existing customer list? What tactics do you need to adopt?

4. Write a succinct summary, or “elevator pitch.” This should be one to three sentences on how you benefit the people you are targeting in your objectives.

5. Compare your elevator pitch to your marketing tactics and existing materials. Review your website, brochures, email newsletter, social media accounts, videos, trade show collateral, etc. Notice how many “extra” things you say in an effort to cover all your bases.

6. Rework your message. Focus on the audiences for your key objectives. Identify the benefits for these audiences. Your marketing message should speak directly to these audiences so they can understand your value and usefulness to them.

7. Prioritize your marketing tactics. It’s tempting to be trendy and market on social media or through video, just remember to consider which tactics will best reach your audiences. You don’t need to be in every marketing channel, just the ones where your customers and prospects will hear you.

 

Finally, once you’ve simplified your message, stick to it! It is important so that people understand the benefits and value that you deliver. While it might seem repetitive to you, your audience will appreciate the clarity and with time, will remember what your business does best. ●

 

Kristy Amy is director of marketing strategy for SBN Interactive. Reach her at mailto:kamy@sbninteractive.com or (440) 250-7011.

Life has a way of presenting us with difficult circumstances. Sometimes it’s in our personal lives, and sometimes it’s in our business.

If the circumstance is severe enough, it can create a crisis, which can often cause a feeling of hopelessness. When things outside your control come at you in droves, it becomes difficult to cope with them. Entire organizations can be overwhelmed and pulled down by external circumstances, which if not dealt with promptly and correctly, can destroy the company.

The CEO’s role is to right the ship and rally everyone around a solution — and it most likely won’t be easy. People are always looking for the easy way out, but that path is rarely an option. When facing a difficult situation, you have to play the ball where it lies, which means the resources you have in people, dollars or equipment are all you may have to work with.

But challenges also present opportunities. Faced with a crisis, you and your leadership team will be forced to look at your assets in new ways. You’ll be required to take a careful look at your customer base, your market and your processes. This kind of in-depth evaluation may uncover not only a possible solution to your problem, but it may open your eyes to markets or applications you never considered before.

Take Netflix for example. The company was the king of DVD-by-mail, and had already knocked off the once mighty Blockbuster. With the increase in streaming video content, however, customers began moving away from DVDs, threatening Netflix’s main revenue channel. It reacted by creating not only streaming content, but also by creating its own unique content. Customers can stream video from many outlets, but it’s tough to beat Netflix’s reputation and ease of use.

Often, the resources you need are already at hand; they just need to be used in new ways. Netflix already had the capabilities; it just needed to apply them differently.

You may find that after assessing what you have, you have started to create a new path that leads away from the crisis.

At the beginning of a difficult time, you may not be able to see a way out, which can lead to despair. By starting with an initial step and continuing, however, you’ll soon see the light. Start by calling your bank or suppliers to ask for better terms or whatever it is you need, and then build from there.

No matter what you do, though, don’t compromise your integrity. Always do the right thing in the wrong circumstances, because depending on how severe your crisis is, your reputation might be the only thing you have to negotiate with.

If you work hard, do the right thing and stay positive, a solution will likely present itself. It may not always be in a form that you anticipated — you may need to change your products or your market — but if you keep an open mind and work with what you have, everything will work itself out. ●

Most weeks I get on a plane and attempt to have an out-of-body experience to deal with all the hassles of flying as I travel from point A to point B. When flying, I have a few simple rules. One, I almost never eat the food. Two, I attempt to talk to no one other than obligatory hellos. Three, I never argue with or say a cross word to flight attendants.

One other very important practice I follow on land, sea and especially in the air is that I constantly scan my surroundings for potential troubles and new ideas.

On a recent flight, upon boarding, I quietly and obediently proceeded to my assigned seat.

As I began to sit down, a gentleman asked if I would mind trading seats with him so that he could sit next to his wife. Like most seasoned travelers I try to accommodate reasonable requests. In this case it seemed a no-brainer to agree to move.

 

Notice the details

As I started to settle in and fasten my seat belt I noted that my new seatmate was very hot. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. I mean she seemed to be flushed and radiating heat, ostensibly from a high fever. I’m thinking, this is not good, plus it proves the age-old adage that no good deed goes unpunished.

In the next minute I had an epiphany, which happens frequently as I believe that many problems come disguised as opportunities.

I rang the call button and, when approached, asked the cabin attendant to please bring me two cloth napkins. I stated that the purpose was to construct a makeshift face mask by tying the two pieces together to prevent possibly contracting some dreaded disease.

I feared that my intentions could be misinterpreted if I were to don a mask without an explanation; this could cause a well-meaning passenger to drag me to the floor thinking I had nefarious motives.

The stewardess smiled, nodding approvingly of my plan. She then summoned all her co-attendants to my seat and proceeded to whisper what I was attempting. Otherwise, she explained, they, too, could misunderstand my appearance and cause me bodily harm.

As founder and CEO of Max-Wellness, a health and wellness retail and marketing chain, I’m always looking for that next special something to share with my team. Therefore, while burying my now masked face in a newspaper so as not to frighten or offend the sick seatmate, I began dictating a memo to my merchandise product group proudly asserting that I just had another “aha!” moment, for which I am well-known, among my colleagues. For full disclosure, however, I am sometimes known for being a bit “out there” on occasion — but no one bats a thousand.

 

Turn an idea into a product

This particular predicament gave me the idea to develop a product kit that we could sell to weary travelers in our stores and in airports. I suggested a handful of complementary products, including a mask, a disinfectant spray and, if all else fails, relief remedies. I also noted that it probably would be prudent to include a cigarette pack-type “Black Box” warning stating that the mask is not what some suspicious flyers might think, but instead it’s for prevention of disease only. I even proposed we market these kits directly to the airlines to dispense as an emergency prophylactic for passengers exposed to airborne (pun intended) pathogens.

 

Fleeting thoughts have value

A key role for business leaders is teaching a management team to use fleeting thoughts as a springboard, to pair common problems with sometimes-simple solutions.

Just because it is a simple fix, though, doesn’t mean the idea couldn’t be a lucrative breakthrough.

When something sparks an idea it needs to be taken to the next level before being pooh-poohed. Most likely the vast majority of these inspirations won’t see the light of day, but that’s OK. Just think — what if one transient idea translates into the next Post-it Notes, Kleenex or bottled water?

The next time you sit by a masked man on a plane, it most likely won’t be the Lone Ranger. Instead, you might be witnessing the incubation of the next best thing since sliced bread. ●

 

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

The government has increased tax rates and implemented other changes for 2013. However, companies may be able to employ tax-saving options — deductions, depreciation provisions or deferrals — prior to Dec. 31.

If companies review before year-end, they are better able to maximize potential savings, and it may even spur thoughts for future tax planning, says Sean Muller, partner-in-charge, Houston Tax and Strategic Business Services at Weaver

Smart Business spoke with Muller about the opportunities to save on your 2013 taxes.

How can businesses utilize enhanced Section 179 deduction limits in 2013?

Enhanced Section 179 deduction limits were enacted for 2013, which allow companies to immediately deduct up to $500,000 of equipment purchases made, rather than depreciating over a number of years.

The deduction applies to 2013 equipment purchases of up to $2 million. The deduction is slowly phased out for taxpayers with $2.5 million or more in purchases. Section 179 deductions can be applied toward tangible property purchases, but real property doesn’t qualify. 

In 2014, the Section 179 limitation will decrease to $25,000. Companies that plan to make large capital expenditures in 2014 may wish to purchase in 2013 instead. The deduction can be used to reduce tax liability to zero, but it cannot put you in a net loss position.

How does bonus depreciation differ? 

Taxpayers in some states may be able to utilize a 50 percent bonus depreciation rate for qualified property placed in service during 2013. Unlike the Section 179 deduction, bonus depreciation is not limited to net income and does not limit the deduction amount.  

Bonus depreciation applies to new, original use U.S.-based property with a recovery period of 20 years or less.

The 50 percent bonus depreciation and Section 179 deduction can be used together.

What savings are available through like-kind exchanges?

Another tax-saving opportunity to consider is like-kind exchanges. IRS Code Section 1031 enables a taxpayer to defer capital gains tax if the property sale proceeds are reinvested in similar property within a relatively short time. The exchange may be a simultaneous swap of properties or a deferred exchange. With a deferred exchange, one property is disposed of and the proceeds are then used to buy one or more like-kind properties. 

Section 1031 exchanges exclude inventory, stocks, bonds and partnership interests. 

Who can take domestic production activity deductions (Section 199)?

In 2013, businesses with qualified domestic production activities may be able to receive a 9 percent tax deduction. Qualifying activities include the manufacture, production, growth or extraction of qualifying production property within the U.S., as well as real property construction, oil and gas drilling, and engineering and architectural services related to real property construction. 

Generally, a taxpayer is allowed a deduction equal to the lesser of: 

  • Qualified production activity income (QPAI), which is a modified calculation of income related to qualifying production activities.
  • Taxable income.
  • 50 percent of the form W-2 wages deducted in arriving at QPAI.

The level of complexity in calculating the appropriate deduction depends on the nature and structure of the business. 

What are other year-end tax strategies?

Companies also should consider potential residual tax-saving activities, such as:

  • Deferring income to 2014 if cash flow and current income permit.
  • Making additional charitable donations. 
  • Writing off and disposing of damaged or obsolete inventory to reduce carrying costs and garner tax deductions.
  • Writing off bad debt that cannot be collected. Companies should keep supporting material like phone logs, correspondence, collection agency contracts, etc., to prove a reasonable effort was made to collect.

Invest the time now to plan for your 2013 taxes and reap the benefits later. 

Sean Muller is partner-in-charge, Houston Tax and Strategic Business Services, at Weaver. Reach him at (832) 320-3293 or sean.muller@weaver.com.

Insights Accounting is brought to you by Weaver

 

 

 

 

 

Women continue to impact the business world in growing numbers — 30 percent of all businesses are owned by women, according to the 2012 annual report of the National Women’s Business Council. Those firms have 7.5 million employees and a combined payroll of $217.6 billion.

But even as they assume more leadership roles in business, women are still counted on to manage households.

 “Women face different circumstances than men in the world of business because of the demands placed on them in their personal lives,” says Camille Ussery, senior vice president and manager of Small Business Banking at ViewPoint Bank. “Women’s lives are typically spread thinner, and the pressure is greater because of it.”

Smart Business spoke with Ussery about the time-crunch challenge and how to make sure business opportunities don’t fall through the cracks.

What are some of the unique challenges women face when starting up and running a business?

Women are making decisions in the boardroom and then making decisions about what’s for dinner, child care and who will pick up their child from the track meet.

Granted, there have been many changes in the way men are helping out with household responsibilities. But often the bulk of these responsibilities still fall squarely on women’s shoulders.

As a result, many women feel they are barely able to keep their heads above water. While they tend to do a great job in multitasking, the result may be that business opportunities fall by the wayside. Then there is the added challenge of competing in a male-dominated business world.

What is the solution to the unique challenges that women business owners face?

Because women are making a huge economic impact in the marketplace, many outstanding organizations have formed to provide education and resources for women in business. These organizations — from the local chamber of commerce to the Office of Women’s Business Ownership at the U.S. Small Business Administration — offer special courses, workshops and programs just for women who are either starting their own business or already own a business.

How can women make sure that they are doing all they can to help their business succeed?

One thing that many successful business owners do — male or female — is to create and maintain business relationships. Consider organizations and clubs that can help develop business relationships. Because of the time factor, this is one business opportunity that is often overlooked.

However, it’s important for women to stay visible in their industry and in the community. Adding networking to the to-do list could be as simple as attending one chamber event per month.

Also, continually take advantage of educational opportunities that are available in the community. There are a host of seminars, workshops and courses that a woman can take to not only learn but also to fulfill the goal of networking. Many of these workshops are provided as a community service and are useful in developing marketing techniques, effective sales strategy and time management.

Many times business owners only consider a banking relationship as a source for working capital. However, business bankers who specialize in meeting the unique needs of a business can provide much more. With ever-changing technology, your business banker can provide resources and ideas to help manage the day-to-day transactional needs to maximize the flow of cash within a business. They work directly with business owners in many industries and can often provide financial solutions to meet diverse needs as well as networking opportunities for increased business.

How else can women improve the way they conduct business?

Businesses frequently have limited working capital. Women need to have all the right financial components of a business and to learn about cash flow and contingency plans — without money, the business will fail.

The best thing a woman can do is to educate herself, learn as much as she can about the elements of a successful business, and reach out to people in her industry and community for help and advice.

Camille Ussery is a senior vice president and manager of Small Business Banking at ViewPoint Bank. Reach her at (972) 801-5844 or camille.ussery@viewpointbank.com.

Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by ViewPoint Bank

 

By ruling that part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court also set in motion some changes regarding federal income taxes.

The June decision struck down Section 3, holding that same-sex individuals who are married under state law also must be treated as married for income and estate tax purposes.

“The court’s decision will have an impact on many tax laws in states that recognize same-sex marriage,” says Tom Tyler, a partner at Crowe Horwath LLP. “Though being treated as married for federal tax purposes might provide certain tax benefits, it might also result in increased tax liability.”

Smart Business spoke with Tyler about the tax implications of the DOMA ruling and what they mean for employers.

How many states have legalized same-sex marriage, and which ones recognize those marriages from other states?

In addition to the District of Columbia, 13 states allow same-sex marriage: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Thirty-five states, including Texas, have banned same-sex marriage, either through legislation or constitutional provisions. New Jersey and New Mexico have no laws either banning or allowing same-sex marriage. Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey and Oregon — allow civil unions or domestic partnership between same-sex couples, but not marriage.

What affect does the ruling have on federal income tax returns?

Joint returns can be filed for federal income taxes in states that recognize same-sex marriage. If not filing jointly, each spouse will need to file using married filing separately status. Affected taxpayers should review their 2013 filing status and adjust withholding and estimated payments as necessary, keeping in mind the marriage penalty for joint filers.

Generally, the statute of limitations for federal income taxes is three years, so the 2010, 2011 and 2012 tax years are open and returns can be amended. The IRS is expected to issue guidance regarding amending returns under the court’s decision. Taxpayers should wait for this guidance before amending returns.

How have strategies regarding estate and gift taxes changed?

The estate tax exclusion was increased earlier this year to $5.25 million, meaning an estate equal to that amount will not pay any estate taxes provided the decedent has the full $5.25 million exclusion remaining. In addition, the exclusion was made portable such that a deceased spouse’s unused exclusion amount carries over to the surviving spouse upon his or her death for use by the survivor. Therefore, a married couple could shelter up to $10.5 million by simply leaving everything to a surviving spouse. Same-sex couples can now take advantage of these rules as a result of the DOMA ruling. Before the ruling, they couldn’t.

For gift tax purposes, same-sex couples will be able to elect gift splitting, which treats gifts as made half by each spouse. Splitting gifts often allows each spouse to claim the full annual exclusion for gifts made to each recipient, currently $13,000 per person. This allows a spouse to gift up to $26,000 to a recipient without paying gift tax.

What should employers do in response to the DOMA ruling? How does it differ in relation to their state’s legal position on same-sex marriages?

Employers should review the decision with legal counsel to determine its impact. For example, employer-provided medical insurance is now available to same-sex couples on a tax-free basis. Prior to the court’s decision, these benefits were taxable to the nonemployee spouse. Employers might be able to claim a refund of payroll taxes paid on these benefits on a taxable basis, and individuals might be able to claim a refund of income taxes paid on these amounts.

As stated previously, Texas is one of the states that bans same-sex marriage. However, if a Texas business has employees in any of the 13 states or District of Columbia that recognizes same-sex marriage, it could be affected.

Tom Tyler is a partner at Crowe Horwath LLP. Reach him at (214) 777-5250 or tom.tyler@crowehorwath.com.

Insights Accounting is brought to you by Crowe Horwath LLP

 

In July, the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in Asadi v. G.E. Energy (USA) LLC that whistle-blowers aren’t entitled to protection under the Dodd-Frank Act’s anti-retaliation provision unless they report directly to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

This ruling — currently limited to Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi — may provide incentive to bypass the internal process for reporting suspected fraud or misconduct.

When going directly to the SEC, employees not only get monetary awards for information that leads to successful enforcement actions but also have the assurance of protection against retaliation, says Carolyn Bremer, senior manager in Forensic and Litigation Services at Weaver.

“Already, many companies are struggling to keep internal compliance programs strong, actively looking for ways to encourage employees to utilize their internal reporting processes,” she says.

Smart Business spoke with Bremer about how to instill trust in your internal compliance program in the Dodd-Frank era.

What has been the impact of Dodd-Frank on whistle-blower reporting to the SEC?

According to its annual report on the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Program for fiscal 2012, the SEC received 3,001 whistle-blower tips and awarded a second whistle-blower award this past June. There may be an uptick in tips because of the announcement of these recent monetary awards, the expected increase in future awards and the court ruling.

Why do employees hesitate to internally report fraud or suspected misconduct?

Employees often hesitate because of bad experiences either personally or from co-workers’ stories. Reasons for not reporting potential fraud or misconduct include the fear of not remaining anonymous, fear that no one will believe them, or fear of retaliation such as losing their job, not receiving a raise or being demoted. They also fear discrimination or isolation from co-workers, or sense that the tone at the top doesn’t support the policies.

What can be done to alleviate hesitation?

A company can instill trust in reporting internally by focusing on strengthening its hotline process and whistle-blower policy.

Your hotline must provide a way to report in confidence, while being monitored by an appropriate party. Avoid having tips go directly to human resources or management. Employees should see the monitor as more independent — such as in-house counsel, head of internal audit or a compliance officer — especially if they fear retaliation.

Ensure there are clearly defined timelines or checkpoints for follow up, which include communicating back to the whistle-blower that the tip is being handled discreetly and the issue is being addressed appropriately.
Have a documented whistle-blower policy that addresses retaliation protection. What is considered retaliation and the penalties for it should be clearly outlined. For example, ‘harassment or victimization for reporting concerns under this policy will not be tolerated’ is insufficient. A better statement is: ‘No employee who in good faith reports a violation of the code of conduct or potential fraud or misconduct shall suffer harassment, retaliation or adverse employment consequences. An employee who retaliates against someone who reported in good faith is subject to discipline up to and including termination of employment.’

By voluntarily extending the whistle-blower protections afforded under Dodd-Frank to all employees who report internally, companies introduce additional trust.

Why is it important that employees feel comfortable reporting matters internally?  

In bypassing internal compliance, employees deprive the company of the opportunity to investigate and remedy a wrongdoing before regulators get involved. Many tips don’t warrant the SEC’s attention but do warrant corrective action or communication within the company. However, management can’t address a problem they don’t know about.

Nevertheless, there are obvious instances that warrant direct reporting to the SEC, and it’s always advisable for employees to seek legal advice when deciding whether to report internally or externally.
Strengthening your hotline process and whistle-blower policy, and educating your employees, can be key to instilling trust in internal whistle-blower reporting.

Carolyn Bremer is senior manager of Forensic and Litigation Services at Weaver. Reach her at (972) 448-6951 or carolyn.bremer@weaver.com.

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