Dallas (874)

Friday, 26 October 2007 20:00

Stan Levenson

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A potential client asked Stan Levenson to make his company look so good that it would have a waiting list of people who wanted to work at it. But when Levenson talked to current and former employees, he found the business ran like a sweatshop. The potential client told Levenson that it was only his job to make the man look good, but instead of simply following through on the man’s demands, Levenson told that potential client to clean up the company internally before Levenson could promote it externally. Levenson is CEO of Levenson & Brinker Public Relations, one of three marketing services companies comprising The Levenson Group of Cos., which he co-founded with his wife, Barbara, and it is his dedication to doing things the right way that has helped the couple grow the group to $100 million in billings last year. Smart Business spoke with Levenson about following your instincts and the importance of a positive attitude.

Trust your instincts when hiring. Your instincts are important. When you meet someone, you either are turned off and they don’t have to get into their philosophy — it’s an emotionalism that you feel good about somebody — or you keep them at a distance because you’re not sure of where they’re coming from.

It’s important to listen and hear their attitudes and reflect certain character, personality — not unlike a shrink who does a diagnosis before giving a remedy or a doctor conducting an examination before prescribing a medication.

Focus on benefits, not attributes. When a new employee interviews, rather than telling him how fortunate he’ll be to join us because we’re this, this and this, I’d much rather share with him what some of our folks have accomplished for themselves professionally and personally by being in our family.

The same with products that our clients might have. No longer do we focus on the attributes of the product as it relates to the ingredients. We talk about the benefits that those products and services will instill in the users and consumers.

You see that so often in cosmetics and soap — you don’t care about the ingredients in a bar of soap, but you hear how good it will make you feel and the lovely lifestyle you will have and how confidence-building it will be, so we like to focus on benefits.

Hire prepared people. I love to hear someone with a real positive attitude, enthusiastic and also one that does their homework.

To give you an example, for individuals looking for their first entry-level position, if one comes in and says, ‘I want this job so bad. I’ve heard of you all, and I’m wanting to liberate myself from my folks, have my own apartment, have my own car,’ I understand where they’re coming from because we all relate to that, but that person is one scenario.

Another person comes in and says, ‘Mr. Levenson, you’re the kind of company where I think I can really contribute to your success. I read where you worked on this account and how you did this and how come you didn’t do this when their competitor is doing this? I think I can attract new business and strengthen your services.’

Again, benefits selling. I look for that attitude, enthusiasm and preparation. It’s easy to get enthusiastic and just throw out ideas, but today, you have to be very well-informed.

If someone hasn’t done their homework about who we are and who we serve, then it’s incomplete. Every company has its criteria. Some do testing, and that’s all important, but overall attitude and enthusiasm and a caring attitude is so important.

See other points of view. There is more than one way to view a situation. The more informed you are, the sharper your focus becomes. We all wear different lenses in our glasses, and one person may perceive a situation to be one thing and another person another thing.

It’s not so much trusting your folks, but it’s having the confidence in them that they command. They may make a decision that you don’t agree with, but if you can understand their rationale for making it, you can respect it unless that rationale is flawed.

Create balance. When you’re consumed in your work, you can be more productive and successful with balance than just keep grinding, so you need to call time out and on a daily basis have some interest in being with family and not getting into your work.

It really too depends on your work and the type of work you do. We do a lot of retail work for clients, like Zale Corp., so if we’re out on a weekend going to a movie at the mall, and if we see a jewelry store, we’ll always check it out, even if it’s a weekend and leisure.

Your passion for work can be healthy, but certainly, wherever possible, it should be managed.

Understand your clients. It’s important to understand the needs and interests of your clients and what they want to accomplish.

We do a lot of role playing. We anticipate needs and interests of our clients. We dramatize and demonstrate leadership, so if they say, ‘Here’s what we want you to do,’ we want to go way beyond faithfully executing their requests. We want to say, ‘What about this, or let’s think about this.’

Say thanks. The interest in nurturing your folks and being a coach as well as a cheerleader is something we believe in.

Recognition and incentives are an important element to a successful culture. I also think encouragement and extending appreciation for good work — we always appreciate someone saying, ‘Nice job,’ or sending a note and saying, ‘We’re really proud of you for what you’ve accomplished.’

We like to do that, and it gives us great pride to applaud the success of our people because it’s the company’s success, but it’s also a stimulant for their own growth and fulfillment.

HOW TO REACH: The Levenson Group of Cos., (214) 932-6000 or www.levensonandhill.com

Friday, 26 October 2007 20:00

What’s on your screen?

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Electronic communications and computers are supposed to make everyone’s job easier. However, there is great tension in the workplace between firms that want to protect themselves by limiting employee use of the Internet and e-mail and workers’ expectation of privacy.

Smart Business asked Audrey E. Mross of the Dallas law firm of Munck Butrus Carter, P.C. where the lines should be drawn.

What aspects of employee computer usage are most troubling to employers?

The most common worry is ‘cyberslackers’ whose workplace productivity has an inverse relationship to the amount of time they spend visiting Web sites and sending e-mails. Go to www.bored.com for an eye-opening list of ways to waste time on a computer, including virtual Bubble Wrap to pop. Less frequent but more serious offenses include transfer of trade secrets, violation of copyrights, trading in child porn and other illegal activities.

Can a firm prohibit all personal use of its computers?

In most cases, no. Selective enforcement of a ‘no nonbusiness use’ policy will set the company up for an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge under the National Labor Relations Act when the employer attempts to stop protected activity. For most companies, it’s not realistic to prohibit all personal use of e-mail.

What kinds of limits do make sense?

A good policy should expressly incorporate the company’s equal employment opportunity and harassment policies to make clear that images, voice and text that are intimidating, offensive, profane or hostile based upon gender, race, color, national origin, religion, disability, age or any other protected status are off limits. The employer’s systems should not be used to conduct a personal business enterprise, to spam others, to threaten violence or to express views that could be seen as the view of the company.

The systems should be used in ways that are consistent with security measures, which may include prohibiting employees’ access to their personal ISPs (e.g., Yahoo, AOL) from employer-provided systems, where such access would thwart firewalls and similar protective measures. Excessive personal use that monopolizes bandwidth or affects employee productivity is another act that could result in corrective action, up to and including discharge from employment.

Can the company be held responsible for its employees’ bad acts?

Yes. The doctrine of respondeat superior (‘let the master answer’) is frequently used to hold employers responsible for the mis-deeds of employees while in the course and scope of their employment. Negligence theories are used in cases where the misconduct took place outside of the employees’ normal duties.

For example, where an employer had knowledge that a worker was receiving and sending nude and seminude images of his 10-year-old stepdaughter on his work-place computer in order to gain access to child porn sites, the court found negligence and stated that the company had a duty to further investigate and take prompt and effective action to stop the employee by terminating his employment, reporting him to law enforcement or both (Doe v. XYC Corp.). The court remanded on the issue of whether the child could prove harm from the transmitted photos, but the employer withdrew its petition and the parties settled.

Is there any privacy protection for employees using a company system?

This is an area where unrealistic expectations collide. Employers often think there is no privacy, since the equipment used is theirs. Employees often think that there is privacy, especially where they have a secret password to access the system.

A few years ago, the Texas Supreme Court found an employee did have a reasonable expectation of privacy where the employer provided lockers for storing personal items but allowed the employees to bring their own locks (and not provide the combination or a spare key to the employer). The analogy to company-provided computers and employee-provided passwords is not much of a stretch. Employers must advise employees, in writing, that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in use of the employers’ systems and employers should have written consent. This is normally accomplished by having an electronic communications policy in the employee handbook and securing a signed acknowledgment from each employee. As additional proof of consent (which is an absolute defense to a claim of invasion of privacy), some employers add a ‘no privacy’ reminder to the log-on screen on computers so the consent refreshes on a daily basis. Employers should also ask for and keep records of employee passwords to undercut privacy arguments and for practical reasons, such as accessing needed information when the employee is absent or has quit.

AUDREY E. MROSS is a shareholder at Munck Butrus Carter, P.C. leading the labor and employment group. She combines prior experience as a human resources professional with the current practice of law to provide preventive measures and practical solutions to employers. She authors a monthly e-newsletter, Legal Briefs for HR, which is available on request at amross@munckbutrus.com.

Friday, 26 October 2007 20:00

The subprime meltdown

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Several financial institutions and bankers are saying that the current subprime meltdown may last two to three years and create job losses in the neighborhood of 20,000.

This situation begs for good real estate brokers who specialize in tenant representation. Such brokers can advise their clients about funding tenant improvement dollars, providing quality management and security services, handling build-to-suit deals, and coping with ownership changes.

“Another factor before agreeing to a new lease is identifying what other tenants occupy space in the building,” says Jim Vanderslice, Senior Vice President of Grubb & Ellis Company’s Office Services Group in Dallas. “A-level tenants are those whose occupancy is one person per 250 square feet, while B-level tenants have a density of one per 100 to 125 square feet. Over-occupancy by B-level tenants can cause numerous system malfunctions — like waiting five minutes for an elevator or facing a parking lot that’s full to capacity every day.”

Smart Business talked to Vanderslice about real estate considerations, before and after the subprime meltdown.

Why hire a real estate broker?

A prospective tenant should not hire just any real estate broker, but one who is experienced and who specializes in representing tenants. Finding space is easy, but it ultimately pays to have someone who understands the nuances of the problems that can occur and who can offer advice on how to protect yourself as much as possible.

Also, hire someone the owner will take seriously; in other words, someone who knows what they are talking about.

How long before the current lease ends should a tenant begin seeking a new location?

Because of current economic conditions, a lot of space will be coming back on the market in the next 12 to 24 months, so there will be a tremendous amount of sub-lease space and opportunities. All the jockeying for tenants will create more leverage for them to negotiate price.

If your needs are for an occupancy of 20,000 square feet or smaller, you should start 12 months in advance. If your space needs are larger, then start 18 to 24 months in advance.

How should finding a suitable location be pursued?

If you hire a broker, be sure he or she analyzes the possibly problematic issues so you don’t opt for the cheapest rent or the most convenient building location.

Once a location is determined, then identify the owner(s) and manager(s) of the buildings being considered. You need a current profile of owners and the long-term objectives for ownership, if any. You have to determine what other tenants in the marketplace are competing for space and the quality of the buildings as they sit. You have to assume prospective buildings must be in play because of all the trades in the last year.

Also, be aware that ownership fully investigates credit information on a tenant, and that there’s a lot of default language in the lease aimed at the tenant. Each ownership profile stands on its own, but an experienced broker will still want to create a lease that protects the tenant as much as possible — without having to go to court.

What economic pressures are being placed on owners/landlords?

A lot of credit issues and easy capital have influenced the commercial real estate market lately. They have placed economic pressures on owners, but there’s still an 18-month to 36-month window to work through a lot of them.

A landlord can cut a lot of expenses and still maintain minimum services required under the lease. But usually, there’s some fall-off of services when there’s pressure to cut expenses as much as possible.

Also, you should beware of situations where the rent goes to an alternate payee or when building ownership changes. As buildings trade hands, there’s an Estoppel Certificate that forces the tenant to acknowledge terms of the lease. When presented this document, the tenant should get a broker to look at the lease and be sure the terms line up with the Estoppel Certificate. If there are any issues or problems with the lease, the time to put them in front of the owner is before you sign the Estoppel Certificate. It gives you — the tenant — some leverage.

When the market was strong, no one really paid attention to the owner or manager, but that has changed. The good, established landlords or owners will still be in demand. But with a lesser landlord/owner, the tenant sometimes has no recourse except a lawsuit — and that’s something an experienced broker can help you avoid.

JIM VANDERSLICE is Senior Vice President of Grubb & Ellis Company’s Office Services Group in Dallas. Reach him at (972) 450-3335 or jim.vanderslice@grubb-ellis.com.

Friday, 26 October 2007 20:00

The Son file

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Born: Chamois, Mo.

Education: Bachelor’s of business administration degree in accounting, Southern Methodist University

What publications do you read on a regular basis?

Many, many industry-specific publications. In addition to those, I read The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, BusinessWeek and a variety of other things.

What was your first job, and what did it teach you?

I started delivering newspapers in my neighborhood when I was 10 years old. I caddied from ages 12 to 16. I had a variety of other jobs after that. I worked my way through college as a truck driver. I am a very proficient 18-wheeler, certified truck driver. I would tell you that I was the only kid at SMU that was a truck driver. Hard work and setting a goal and achieving that goal, whatever it might be, whether it’s getting the papers delivered or backing that truck into a freight dock or starting a securities firm, all are the same in that you have to have a spirit that says you aren’t going to be beaten, and you will be successful, and you will do whatever it takes to achieve that goal.

What are your future career goals?

To assist this company in continuing its growth pattern and making sure we become the best execution and clearing company in the world.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007 20:00

Jerry Crawford

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When the 2002 Olympic committee approached Jani-King International Inc. and asked it to bid on the cleaning job for the games, President Jerry Crawford knew that it was a job meant for his firm. The cleaning franchise company — with 700 corporate employees and tens of thousands who work for his franchisees — won the bid for the Salt Lake City games and produced outstanding results. Crawford has hired passionate people who take pride in their work, and the Olympic committee was so impressed with the results that it sent him a letter saying it had never had any company clean as well as Jani-King. Smart Business spoke with Crawford about how he hires and why hiring someone with a little bit of an ego can be a good thing.

Take your time hiring. There’s good people out there; we just have to not be lax in finding them.

We have to do our due diligence and take the steps internally to recruit and train better people. Some people get busy, so they’re just anxious to get someone hired and fill the void, but we can’t do that. We have to make sure we find the right person that we feel the best about, that will take on this position and be accountable for it.

Don’t get in a hurry. Be aggressive and find the right person for the position. I think we take the easy way out sometimes and just hire someone that maybe isn’t the right person for that position. Then you have to go through it again and again.

Hire good attitudes. That’s really key, and they’re able to be responsible, accountable and make a commitment to your program, your concept.

Some people will do some research about your company before they ever come to the interview, and that’s an indicator that they at least took some time to study about your company. Secondly, I like to hear from somebody sitting across from me that they believe they’re the best person for the job, and if you don’t hire them, you’re going to miss out hiring the best person for the job.

Generally, we don’t mind a little bit of ego or cockiness as long as it fits in to our team atmosphere and is constructive rather than destructive. It’s a leader who can generate more from those around them and can help others grow. We’re looking for people that have coaching and leadership abilities.

We have to check their references and get background checks and all those things, but you’re looking for someone who can walk the talk and has a proven track record and [can] be accountable.

Set expectations upfront. Before they’re employed, we have a pre-employment checklist that tells them what we expect on a day-to-day basis, what the important priorities are, and we can go back in when it’s not happening and say, ‘Remember when you came here and interviewed, and we said, “These are the most important things for you to do,” and the numbers aren’t there. What have you been doing with your time all day?’

Monitor performance. When you get someone and put them in position, you can tell quickly if they lead by example or if they’re all talk and no walk. It’s just a lack of performance.

You’ll hear someone say, ‘I’ve done this, and I’ve done that,’ and they talk a big track record, but when we put them in — our business isn’t rocket science. We know our numbers. We know how many proposals should be delivered by a regional director or salesperson every month.

If you see that’s just not happening, why? It’s because someone has said, ‘I will get out and do these things,’ but then they’re not doing it.

Let nonperformers go. Keeping nonperformers on board can hurt a company. The hardest thing in the world is to take someone, you’ve met their family and you employed them, and they’re just not getting it done, and you leave them in place, and other people, they see that management is keeping someone who doesn’t perform.

It creates this lackadaisical attitude in your office. It spreads. If you let one person sit and read a magazine, why can’t they all sit and read a magazine?

Review goals regularly. If you don’t have goals, shame on us. If you do have goals, and you’re not serious every day about knowing where you are at, and you’re not passionate about meeting or exceeding the goals, shame on us as business owners and leaders.

Look at the industry you’re in, and know your competition and what they do. Then you have to perform and recruit better people to meet or exceed your goals, and you don’t look at them monthly or annually — you look at them every day.

There’s an old saying that, ‘Inch by inch, it’s a cinch. Yard by yard, it’s hard.’ There’s a lot of truth to that. You have to look at your goals every day to see if you’re on pace to meet or exceed your goals.

Communicate. It’s the key in any company. The more you can communicate with your people and make your people a part of any innovative or new updates, the better they can accept it and want to be a part of it.

If you help plan something, you understand it and want it to be a lot more successful than if somebody says, ‘Here it is, just do it.’

You have to be honest and passionate. You earn the integrity and respect in the system — you can’t demand it.

Celebrate people’s success. It’s very important in recognizing and congratulating people as they meet and exceed goals. Everybody sees, and likes to see, people becoming part of success. That’s how [Founder] Jim Cavanaugh built this company.

He congratulated them, both financially and by putting them up in front of other people, speaking positively and congratulating them openly in front of their peers as to their accomplishments. Surround yourself by great people who perform well, and then congratulate them in front of others. Hopefully, everybody wants to have that feeling. We say, ‘If you haven’t tasted the honey yet, you ought to ’cause it sure is sweet.’

HOW TO REACH: Jani-King International Inc., (972) 991-0900, (800) JANIKING or www.janiking.com

Tuesday, 25 September 2007 20:00

Solutions for the logistics industry

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One of the most vital decisions that a corporate officer must make, as it relates to the company’s supply chain, is location: stay, move to a more convenient or efficient location, add or reduce warehouses, or add or reduce plants. These decisions can financially make or break a company.

“You will leave money on the table if you don’t follow a repeatable process that’s known to produce excellent results,” says Tim Feemster, Senior Vice President, Director of Global Logistics for Grubb & Ellis Company, representing their offices globally. “For instance, you might go to a city’s economic development commission too early, when you don’t have enough facts. That does not yield the optimal solution.”

Smart Business talked with Feemster about how to formulate a results-oriented, repeatable process of selecting warehouse locations for your supply chain.

How long does the whole process of finding an appropriate and economical location take?

The process usually starts with the operations team recognizing a need for network change. They are either making an acquisition that entails expanding to multiple facilities, they have decided to combine the network, or they are making changes to their terms of sale that will alter the network. Or the company might just outgrow its buildings.

Typically, finding the right location will take eight to 10 weeks if you’re doing a true network analysis and running a model. If you’ve determined what specific market you want to be in, then, obviously, it’s a shortened period. The concept is very scalable, it’s a world-class process, and if you don’t do it in the right sequence, it can cost you money.

How are the CEO and/or directors involved?

Changes in corporate business strategy typically force a change, so the CEO and directors would be involved at some point. They would delegate implementation of business strategy changes to their supply-chain logistics groups, asking for an analysis and subsequent recommendation. During this process, the CEO and directors receive updates and, eventually, a solution.

Explain the five steps to determining a new location.

The first is contextualizing or outlining a strategy. It starts by articulating basic requirements. What’s your ship-to-deliver cycle? What’s your order-to-delivery requirement from a customer service perspective?

You develop preliminary cost profiles to determine the relative importance of factors such as labor quality, operating costs, quality of life and operating environment. A professional adviser can help you sort through what might be some oddball requirements, considering everyone’s individual agendas. He won’t make light of them, won’t discount them but will bring them into the analysis and get them all on the table.

In the beginning, you calculate with your team what’s strategically important. You’re not actually measuring the factors, just identifying them. Then you have to determine the relative importance of such factors, so you actually weight them.

During the initial screening, you figure out which locations may have your requirements. You run a model and do the math, keeping in mind that 50 percent of the cost of doing business is transportation from the distribution center to the clients and over 15 percent is labor.

Eventually, you rate each of the communities on a scale of 1 to 10 in each of your key requirements. You determine what sites may make some sense, trying your best to put more than one location into play. This process forces a somewhat quantitative analysis rather than basing factors on emotion or opinion.

With the location assessment, you’re putting all the information you’ve obtained into a visual perspective with a qualitative cost matrix. For instance, you rate quality or availability of labor 1 to 10 for each location. When you total up your scores, you narrow your list from 10 or 15 to a short-list of two to four sites.

Field visits are next, in order to obtain more data. You can talk about competitors to make the economic development commissioners recognize there’s a horse race. You’re doing a little poker playing at this point. You may have the final site virtually determined, but you don’t want to let those people know. When this step is completed, you know a lot more about the sites, not just your intuitive understanding of them.

Finally, comes negotiation and selection. The real estate group has one agenda and the operating group has a different agenda, and sometimes, they’re not on the same page. That’s why the final decision has to be as unbiased and logical as possible and why you should rely on an experienced real estate adviser. But, in the end, it’s the client’s decision.

TIM FEEMSTER is Senior Vice President, Director Global Logistics for Grubb & Ellis Company. Reach him at (972) 450-3225 or tim.feemster@grubb-ellis.com.

Sunday, 26 August 2007 20:00

Luis Spinola

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Luis Spinola hates credit cards, and he hates how people rack up debt using them, but he gets more frustrated when he sees people dip into their company’s money to settle their personal financial crises. When leaders do that, they rob their companies of resources to reinvest with, says Spinola, founder, president and CEO of Azteca-Omega Group. By following his own advice, he’s grown his construction company into a nearly $170 million business and survived all the ups and downs throughout almost two decades in the industry. Smart Business spoke with Spinola about developing criteria and how it helps him make important decisions.

Embrace change. You need to listen and be open to change. If not, you’ll stop growing, and you’ll have problems because the economy, market and technology changes every day. Be open to adjustment in your processes and your guidelines.

Years ago, I was invited to a seminar. The theme was ‘Open to Change.’ This person talked about the Swiss watchmakers. They had dominated all the watch industries in the world. At one of their conventions they have every year, they had an engineer come and talk to them about the Pulsar system.

They thought he was crazy. ‘Why are we going to change? We dominate the market. We don’t need to change.’ The Japanese got hold of this engineer, and that’s how the Pulsar watch business went to Japan, and that’s how (the Swiss) lost their leadership in the watch industry. They ignored a potential idea for change or improvement.

Take smart chances. Sometimes there are good temptations and there are good business opportunities that get away from what you do, and you fall in that trap, but it’s a learning experience. You say, ‘I shouldn’t have done that,’ but you learn that over the years.

But if you’re too rigid, then that limits your growth. Some of the biggest investors, some of the most successful entrepreneurs,they have taken chances, and they have been very successful, but it all depends on how you do it.

You have to be smart, but also, you have to be lucky.

Use criteria to make decisions. The first thing you learn is the theory — the knowledge — and that’s what you learn when you go to school. The second that you learn is the practice and practical knowledge. The third thing that is very hard to apply is criteria. That’s what helps you make decisions.

Some people don’t get to that point. They never develop the criteria. They have the knowledge, but they don’t have the practice, or they have the practice, but they don’t have the theory part. Criteria is a combination of both, but not everybody gets to the point where they have the proper criteria to make decisions.

Be careful that you’re not putting people in the wrong position where they can’t make the proper decisions — they can’t do their best. We all have our limitations, and we need to know where to put ourselves where everybody gives their best.

Hire open people. Make sure they have a positive attitude and they’re open to learning — they don’t have that attitude that they know everything. There’s no such thing as knowing everything. Even with the years I have of experience with this business, I know you learn something every day. People who act like they know everything, they are not the kind of people you want around your company.

Foster communication. Be involved with your operation. We need to be able to talk to our people so they don’t feel there are barriers to come talk to us if they have a problem, issue or an idea on how to improve. Don’t make them feel like there is a separation or distance between you and them or between the managers and the people.

Make them feel that they are important to your process and your system — that they are being taken into consideration and not just being criticized or blackmailed because they come talk to you. I don’t want them to be reprimanded if they bring up issues.

Be very honest and always do what you say you’re going to do. Be open with your people. Always tell them the truth, good or bad, so they also tell you the truth, good or bad.

Empower employees. Give people responsibility, and you have to give them a good list of their responsibilities so they know what they need to do. Give them the authority to make decisions, but you have to be careful in knowing and realizing how much power to give them.

There are some people that need time to be able to get to that point. You have to sense people, and that’s why it’s important that you talk to them.

Have a good reporting system. You have to have meetings with people and know and ask how people are doing because as you grow, you can’t talk to everybody, but you can talk to your division managers. They are the ones that are going to tell you how people are doing, and you need to ask.

Remember, it’s important that they feel they are important to the system. That makes them do better when they feel they’re work is being recognized.

Understand how personal issues affect professional work. Ask [employees] about their families. Sometimes they have family problems, and that affects their production and the way they do business.

If they’re under a lot of pressure at home for whatever reason, don’t make them have to make an important decision because they’re probably going to make a mistake. That’s when you have to help them.

Coach people. Recognize when they do something good. When they make mistakes, instead of pointing fingers and trying to blame people, help solve the issues and work as a team to resolve the issues. They all have my mobile phone [number], and if there’s an issue, they can call me anytime, day or night, and I’ll help them, but we also need to sit down afterward and see why we had this issue and how we can avoid having the same problem.

That’s how they will learn to respect you and work more as a team. We all have problems, but it’s how you resolve problems that makes you different. When you use a positive attitude toward obstacles and problems, that helps resolve the issues more smoothly.

HOW TO REACH: Azteca-Omega Group, (214) 905-0612 or www.azteca-omega.com

Sunday, 26 August 2007 20:00

What’s on your screen?

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Electronic communications and computers are supposed to make everyone’s job easier. However, there is great tension in the workplace between firms that want to protect themselves by limiting employee use of the Internet and e-mail and workers’ expectation of privacy.

Smart Business asked Audrey E. Mross, of the Dallas law firm of Munck Butrus, P.C., where the lines should be drawn.

What aspects of employee computer usage are most troubling to employers?

The most common worry is ‘cyberslackers’ whose workplace productivity has an inverse relationship to the amount of time they spend visiting Web sites and sending e-mails. Go to www.bored.com for an eye-opening list of ways to waste time on a computer, including virtual Bubble Wrap to pop. Less frequent but more serious offenses include transfer of trade secrets, violation of copyrights, trading in child porn and other illegal activities.

Can a firm prohibit all personal use of its computers?

In most cases, no. Selective enforcement of a ‘no nonbusiness use’ policy will set the company up for an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge under the National Labor Relations Act when the employer attempts to stop protected activity. For most companies, it’s not realistic to prohibit all personal use of e-mail.

What kinds of limits do make sense?

A good policy should expressly incorporate the company’s equal employment opportunity and harassment policies to make clear that images, voice and text, which are intimidating, offensive, profane or hostile based upon gender, race, color, national origin, religion, disability, age or any other protected status are off limits. The employer’s systems should not be used to conduct a personal business enterprise, to spam others, to threaten violence or to express views that could be seen as the view of the company.

The systems should be used in ways that are consistent with security measures, which may include prohibiting employees’ access to their personal ISPs (e.g., Yahoo, AOL) from employer-provided systems, where such access would thwart firewalls and similar protective measures. Excessive personal use that monopolizes bandwidth or affects employee productivity is another act that could result in corrective action, up to and including discharge from employment.

Can the company be held responsible for its employees’ bad acts?

Yes. The doctrine of respondeat superior (‘let the master answer’) is frequently used to hold employers responsible for the mis-deeds of employees while in the course and scope of their employment. Negligence theories are used in cases where the misconduct took place outside of the employees’ normal duties.

For example, where an employer had knowledge that a worker was receiving and sending nude and seminude images of his 10-year-old stepdaughter on his work-place computer in order to gain access to child porn sites, the court found negligence and stated that the company had a duty to further investigate and take prompt and effective action to stop the employee by terminating his employment, reporting him to law enforcement or both (Doe v. XYC Corp.). The court remanded on the issue of whether the child could prove harm from the transmitted photos, but the employer withdrew its petition and the parties settled.

Is there any privacy protection for employees using a company system?

This is an area where unrealistic expectations collide. Employers often think there is no privacy, since the equipment used is theirs. Employees often think that there is privacy, especially where they have a secret password to access the system.

A few years ago, the Texas Supreme Court found an employee did have a reasonable expectation of privacy where the employer provided lockers for storing personal items but allowed the employees to bring their own locks (and not provide the combination or a spare key to the employer). The analogy to company-provided computers and employee-provided passwords is not much of a stretch. Employers must advise employees, in writing, that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in use of the employer’s systems and employers should have written consent. This is normally accomplished by having an electronic communications policy in the employee handbook and securing a signed acknowledgment from each employee. As additional proof of consent (which is an absolute defense to a claim of invasion of privacy), some employers add a ‘no privacy’ reminder to the log-on screen on computers so the consent refreshes on a daily basis. Employers should also ask and keep records of employee passwords to under-cut privacy arguments and for practical reasons, such as accessing needed information when the employee is absent or has quit.

AUDREY E. MROSS is a shareholder at Munck Butrus, P.C. leading the labor and employment group. She combines prior experience as a human resources professional with the current practice of law to provide preventive measures and practical solutions to employers. She authors a monthly e-newsletter, Legal Briefs for HR, which is available on request at amross@munckbutrus.com.

Sunday, 26 August 2007 20:00

Legal requirements

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The most valuable asset to an attorney is time. If his or her law office is not adequate, either in space or efficiencies, billable hours are wasted.

That is when a knowledgeable and experienced real estate broker should enter the picture, according to Bo Estes, Senior Vice President, Office Services Group for Grubb & Ellis Company.

“If the location is obviously lacking and the senior partner does not hire outside brokerage services, he’s basically utilizing his own time to do something that a real estate professional specializing in tenant representation could do for him more effectively,” says Estes. “A tenant rep broker brings a wealth of knowledge to the table that can only enhance the whole lease process and add value to the decision that the firm finally makes.”

Smart Business talked to Estes about the factors that must be considered when locating or relocating a law firm.

What are the most common reasons why law firms seek your assistance?

Most of the time, it deals with a lease that is either expiring or nearing expiration or there is a need for expansion. In the case of an expansion, the law firm might be looking into growing an existing office or entering into a new market. In either case, they will need timely and accurate information in order to make good decisions. There are also times when the client wants to take advantage of an opportunistic market; for instance, when a current lease rate may be higher than what the market currently demands.

Do these occasions include both renegotiation of a lease and seeking a new lease?

Yes. In the Dallas market, it has been very common to approach an existing landlord and renegotiate a lease to cut costs. Landlords are eager to renegotiate because they want to add more value and stability to their building by securing tenants for a longer term.

What are some factors to consider when evaluating office space?

Over the past five years, a lot of law firms have taken a hard look at their space requirements — including layout, building infrastructure and how the building is configured for technology. They typically decide that they need to right-size their space, or make it more functional and more efficient.

Because of changes in technology, law firms are also looking at fiber optic speeds, electrical requirements and accommodations that will allow for sufficient computer backup. To protect client information, the building must provide the necessary infrastructure for firms to install adequate technology backup for their servers.

What are some pitfalls that legal firms might fall into when looking for office space?

It is a big commitment when signing a 10-to 15-year lease. One of the most frequent pitfalls for a law firm is not leasing enough space for additional growth or not having options on future space negotiated into the lease. Another trap might be just the opposite: leasing too much space and not having the options to either reduce space or terminate the lease if, for some future reason, the firm shrinks.

What do real estate professionals have to know about clients to effectively serve them?

A broker has to have a clear understanding of the client without prying into any proprietary information. He or she will require a thorough understanding of the philosophy and goals of the partners and future plans. The questions a broker might ask include: What types of law do you practice? Which practices are in a growth mode, which are stagnant, which are dissipating? What locations — what parts of town — are priorities? Do you need to be near your client base? Do you want to be close to mass transit? What kind of image do you want to portray? Have you established a budget for your office space? Are you willing to write a check for improvements above and beyond what the landlord is going to offer in a tenant allowance?

What qualifications should a law firm look for in a real estate broker?

Experience counts and local market knowledge, as well as a familiarity with landlords and lenders, is critical. He or she must know what is going on in the Dallas area from the standpoint of where space is available, what kind of deals are being made, what kind of deals law firms in particular are securing, the various costs associated with being in certain buildings, as well as being aware of certain efficiencies.

Any law firm that is considering moving or opening a new location should take advantage of some of the outstanding real estate expertise in the brokerage community.

BO ESTES, Senior Vice President, Office Services Group, for Grubb & Ellis Company in Dallas. He solely represents tenants. Reach him at (972) 450-3326 or bo.estes@grubb-ellis.com.

Sunday, 26 August 2007 20:00

The Warren file

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Education: Bachelor of science degree, civil engineering, University of Texas at Arlington, 1978

What was your first job, and what did it teach you?

I worked in the oil field as a kid, as a welder’s helper. I was 13. It taught me the fundamentals of the pipeline industry. My father worked in the field and that was one of the blessings I had growing up in the oil field. He always saw to it that we had summer employment. It taught me a little bit about the pipeline business, the actual construction of pipelines, which is the business I’m in today. ... I look back at my childhood, and I would challenge you to find anyone who had a better childhood than mine as far as upbringing goes.

What’s the biggest business challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?

The energy business has cycles, and I’m confident it will remain this way forever. There is the cycle that occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and it was an enormous challenge. The industry got away from the fundamentals. The pipeline business should be very fundamental, it should be just volume and margin. It really should be simple. We moved into this whole whiz-kid chapter in which the fundamentals left the industry, and it was more paper transactions. The oil patch was being run by Stanford-and Harvard-MBA types, and it was not a time I enjoyed.

What is your personal work philosophy?

There are two ways to lead, and that’s by intimidation, which is the most commonly used form of leadership, which is, ‘You do this or you get fired,’ or, ‘You do this or you won’t get a raise.’ It clearly works. It’s the most commonly used. The other style is leading by example. Every day, I try to lead by example. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

What is the best business book you’ve read, and why did you like it?

I recently started a book called ‘Twilight in the Desert’ [by Matthew R. Simmons]. It’s about the decline of oil reserves in the Middle East and the impact it will have on the nation. It could be this cycle we’re seeing in the energy business is real, and I’m beginning to think it might be. I’ve not seen this trending of healthy commodity prices sustained in my career.