Dustin S. Klein

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:08

Hiring right the first time

Seven years ago, Elizabeth Juliano had seven people on staff at her Cleveland-based firm, Litigation Management, and she was desperate to add more. But she was having trouble making new hires stick.

It's not to say that people were quitting right and left; but as founder and president of the business-which works with corporations defending against medical-related lawsuits-Juliano noticed that many of her new employees either had the skills to do the job but weren't interested in the work, or were interested but didn't have the skills.

The work involved sifting through mountains of documents, identifying important issues and writing summary reports for corporate attorneys to use in court. She knew the right people were out there; she just didn't know how to spot them in a crowd.

Says Juliano, "I would hire people with long-term medical experience, but they couldn't write. They would interview well, but I wouldn't realize they couldn't do the job until after I'd hire them. Then, it was hard to let somebody go because they weren't cutting it."

It's a common problem among employers in all fields. Resumes will tell you what an applicant has done-but not how well he or she did it. And the traditional interview process is usually a one- or two-shot deal that's only as good as the people asking the questions.

Yet, with the high cost of recruiting and training-and with today's job market so in favor of the applicants-companies can ill afford a hiring process that doesn't bring in the right people.

That's why Juliano turned to a corporate psychologist for help. She was familiar with pre-employment testing as a method of narrowing the applicant field, but she didn't know how it could be used to help her hiring process.

Determine qualifications

Juliano got help from Donald Walizer, president of Solon-based Corporate Psychological Services. Walizer, who specializes in pre-employment assessments, ran a battery of tests on Litigation Management's effective employees, including Juliano.

"We had to find the difference between what makes people successful in that line of work and what doesn't," Walizer says. "You have to separate the ability to do the job with the suitability to do the job. Just because you can handle the tasks doesn't mean you should be doing them. Turnover is more related to people not liking their job than not being good at it."

The testing covered abstract thinking skills, vocabulary, personal characteristics and mathematics skills. Walizer wanted to determine the best combination of abilities and interests for new hires.

He found that people who were successful at Litigation Management scored high in vocabulary and had exceptional abstract-thinking skills. Says Walizer, "They were able to take new knowledge they'd read and successfully apply it to existing knowledge."

Math skills on the other hand, turned out to be unimportant for Litigation Management's needs.

Walizer also determined that Juliano's staff was composed of a distinct personality type. "They tended to be thinkers, not talkers," he says. "She needed somebody with an investigative nature that liked to dig in and find out the reasons why. It takes a lot of cognitive horsepower to do that type of work."

Developing procedures

Armed with a profile of the successful candidate, Walizer devised a pre-employment test for Litigation Management. The idea was to run every applicant through it to screen out those who had little chance of success at the company.

For the first few hires, applicants were sent directly to Walizer for the assessment test and a biographical interview. The entire process lasted around two hours per applicant.

People who made it past that stage were then invited for an interview with Juliano.

"It's very hard to fool the test because of the way it's constructed," Walizer says. "It's easy to fake the interview part, but once they take the test you can get what you're looking for and determine if they're the right type of people for the job."

After working out the kinks in the first few sessions, Litigation Management began administering the process internally, with Walizer's role limited to interpreting the test results. Now, Juliano says, she uses the tests for temporary hires as well as to fill permanent full-time positions.

Reading the results

Seven years later, Juliano reports that the company has almost no turnover. Her staff of 50 has handled major cases for clients such as Dow-Corning and Merck & Co. Inc. The firm has outgrown its 4,000-square-foot office downtown and is planning to move into 22,000 square feet in Mayfield Heights. Juliano says the company also projects the need for 30 new hires in the next few years.

Walizer believes that's because Juliano has been able to match the right people with the right job. "When you have people who are not only good at what they do, but like it, productivity soars," he says. "And when the bottom line improves like that, the psychological well-being of the owner skyrockets as well because they're not having to deal with those personnel problems and can focus on the business itself."

Juliano agrees. "While recruiting takes longer because we're rejecting more candidates, we have people who are qualified skill-wise, personality-wise and who are organizationally suited for the company," she says. "I can't tell you when the last time was that we let somebody go for a failure to do their job."

How to reach: Litigation Management (216) 248-9920

Corporate Psychological Services (440) 778-5424

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:06

From the ground up

When Carol Latham started Thermagon Inc., she suffered from what she calls “the five no’s”—no facility, no customers, no products, no employees and no money. What she did have was an idea for a thermally conductive material that dissipated heat from computer equipment. In eight years, she built that idea into a $5 million company with more than 40 employees. In June, Latham was named an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year in Northeast Ohio. Small Business News asked about the challenges of building a company from scratch.

What’s the first step needed to transform an idea into a business?

Product development. I didn’t have any products to take to customers, so I bought enough simple equipment to demonstrate the properties of the materials I was trying to produce.

What did you do once you had some sample materials?

Without any travel or marketing budget, or even any local customers, we had to find other ways to get them in the right people’s hands. So we started working with technical journals. Every month we’d send a little blurb about our products. We finally got a few published.

Did those journals spark much interest?

They’re the best medium. When an engineer gets a technical journal, he thumbs through it for what’s new. The new product releases are probably the most well-read section in the journal. Those blurbs led to the first leads.

How did you follow up on those leads?

We still didn’t have any money, but we needed to get those materials into the hands of as many electronic engineers as possible. Rather than send people information, we sent them the materials to test for themselves. You can’t really sell someone a product they’ve never tested. They have to use it in their applications and then say they need it.

So the best way to build a customer base is to let them try out the materials before they buy them?

Yes. You show them it isn’t just an idea. That it’s a product with hard numbers associated with how well it performs. You let them put your product in their product, under their conditions. Then they can test it and verify its performance. But that led us to another problem. Our material was so much better that it wasn’t a direct replacement for anything already out there. So most of our original business was in new design. But new design has a long time-line associated with it.

That goes back to the money issue. While you waited for the market to develop, how did you maximize what little revenues were trickling in?

I didn’t take a salary for the first two-and-a-half years. Then, in 1992, when sales were around $70,000, I started taking a little money out. Everything coming in was going back into the product development.

1992. Was that when the market began to materialize?

Well, we had made our first few sales. We knew who our customers were going to be. But it was a challenge—getting people to accept new ideas. We hired some manufacturer’s reps in Silicon Valley. In that cultural environment, they’re open to something new and better, and they are willing to try and design a new product in. But you go to other areas and other business cultures, particularly the East Coast, and you find an entirely different reception to what you have to offer... and a lot of resistance and questioning. The real issue then becomes credibility.

So how did you build credibility?

You have to try to create an image. Once you can afford to run an ad, it gives you the image of being bigger. But without any money, you have to find other ways, such as word of mouth. Someone from one company has to talk to someone else at another company and tell them they use your products and should try it.

Is name recognition that important in order to move forward?

Yes. That’s where Intel gave us a boost. If your name comes from a design guy at a major company as a way to solve a problem, it goes a long way. What that does is give you credibility.

When was that?

In 1995. Intel got a hold of our material and tested it. They actually came to us and said, We can take your materials and put it in our notebooks. They told us to get an agent in Taiwan and recommended us to all the computer manufacturer’s in Southeast Asia. They said, if you want this Pentium to work and there’s no space for fans, Thermagon’s the way to get the heat out.

Was that Thermagon’s first big break?

Yes. But even in 1996, I wasn’t known in the Cleveland business community at all. We were known in Southeast Asia before anyone had heard of us in Cleveland. In 1996, I walked into the Hewlett-Packard offices in Singapore, sat down in the lobby and pulled out one of my brochures in anticipation of a meeting. An engineer spotted the name Thermagon on the brochure, came racing over and took me into a conference room. Name recognition.

Once you built a customer base, how have you been able to keep them?

We continually develop new products. Then you have to get them in front of a customer that can use it. It’s an ongoing process. You have to constantly address what’s going on in your industry and adapt to it.

How quickly can Thermagon adapt?

Quickly. We’ll solicit feedback from our customers and find out what they want. I travel a lot. I go to the key shows and visit the customers. They tell us what they need. Then, we’ll look at a product and determine how to improve it. We can typically make changes in about a month.

What about larger customers? Do you find that you can become dependent on a few large clients?

No. Actually, that’s something I’m sensitive to. We try to stay as diversified as possible. We’ve never had to turn away business because it was too big of a chunk of us, but a manufacturer has to make a decision about how much of their business they’re willing to devote to one customer. We put limits on it. For instance, in the automotive industry, I told them up front that I didn’t want their business to be more than 10 percent of what we do.

Why is that?

A lot of what we do is with new products. If those products don’t fly the way manufacturer’s project them to, it can have a devastating effect on everyone.

What steps do you take to ensure that doesn’t happen?

We find as many different uses in different industries for the product as we can. We’re involved in telecommunications, computing, automotive and medical-test equipment. There’s a power supply in just about every computerized device that’s made.

What other issues may affect growth?

We have to stay competitive. If you price yourself out of the market, manufacturers will find a way to design you out. They may not find another material to use, but they may come up with something that’s mechanical or another trick. You just have to figure out what the market will bear and stay with it.

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:05

Learning the basics

Want to improve your manufacturing processes without bringing in high-priced consultants to tell you how to change everything? WINOC-the Work in Northeast Ohio Council-offers four hands-on programs designed to help manufacturers modify their processes. All it takes is three daylong sessions.

The programs include direct participation in the manufacturing process-in the areas of quick setup, error-proofing techniques, total productive equipment and visual factory methods.

Sessions are divided into three parts: The first explains the tools and techniques needed for each process; the second involves visiting a host site for hands-on learning; the third is a forum for discussion and review on how that direct participation can be applied to each individual manufacturer's home shop.

For more information on WINOC's programs, call (216) 520-0770.

If your office is on a network, there's nothing worse than a crash. Employees end up sitting around the office unable to access their work. Productivity shutters to a halt and valuable information is lost-sometimes forever.

Think you're safe? Think again.

According to Mo Osman, executive vice president of Cleveland-based Mega Solutions Inc., most businesses don't even know they might be facilitating their own disaster. Here are a few things you can do to help prevent a crisis.

Hardware incompatibility

As your network grows, there's a tendency to give it continuous face lifts. That means new parts-often from different manufacturers-and often several pieces at a time. But if there's a problem, how do you know what's caused it? Osman suggests installing new hardware in phases, so that if the system crashes, the problem is more easily traced and corrected.

Software installation without testing

Installing new software packages often leads to problems. Waiting until the software is up and running on the network isn't the place to work out the bugs, says Osman. Destroying the network this way can be easily avoided. Try installing the software on an isolated workstation and testing its functionality first, he suggests.

No virus protection software

"It used to be that your office stopped where the walls stopped," says Osman. "But now there's this gray area because of modems and Internet connectivity. That type of interaction with the network introduces viruses."

Businesses that do research on the Net or whose employees have remote access to the network should install virus-protection software to ensure nothing harmful is introduced into the network.

Shoddy electrical wiring

Have you ever seen some of the rooms where IS directors store the network computers? Those tangled wires, cords and underpowered sockets are crashes waiting to happen, says Osman. Avoid this problem by enclosing the cords, tying up the wires and plugging them into adequately powered sockets.

No separate power supply

"If your lifeblood is hooked into a power supply on the same line as the rest of your office, if any weather issues occur, the system will be blown out of the water," warns Osman. Try an uninterruptible power supply instead. That will ensure if the lights go out, the network won't follow.

Unfiltered access to the network

As your office pushes outward into cyberspace, a gate of unaccountability opens. Do you know who is accessing your network from the outside? How much information can they get their cyberhands on? Osman says if you can't answer those questions, then you need a firewall or other protection to keep your files private.

How to reach: Mega Solutions Inc (216) 781-1551.

Software is the lifeblood of your computers. Without it, computers are just boxes of electronic parts. But what do you really know about those 1's and 0's powering your business?

Did you know your company doesn't own the software you purchase, but just licenses it for use? Do you know the difference between single-user and multiuser licenses? Improper use of software by a company's employees can lead to hefty fines-even if no harm was intended.

With software, it's what you don't know that can hurt your business.

Here are some of the most common software-related mistakes companies make:

Ignorance of copyright laws

"Most people think of software piracy as pirated copies sold at flea markets or on the Internet," says Jung Pyun, communications manager of the Business Software Alliance based in Washington, D.C. "In reality, the most pervasive form of piracy is the relatively pedestrian practice of copying software in the workplace."

Failure to regularly check software needs

Software manufacturers are continuously updating their products. Install the new versions on every computer that runs the programs-licensed of course. If you don't, employees running version 3.0 will not be able to open files written in version 4.0. To avoid this, Pyun suggests scheduling times each year to audit each computer.

Poor documentation of purchases

If you don't know what you have-or how many computers it's supposed to be installed on-it's impossible to be in compliance with your software licenses. Appoint a software manager, says Pyun, and have the person coordinate needs and purchases. Then, after installing software, in line with the licenses, document what was bought and who's using it.

Failure to register software with manufacturers

All software purchases should be registered with the manufacturer, says Pyun. Nearly all manufacturers have technical-assistance hotlines. If employees need help, the software must be registered-or your employees are on their own.

Failure to prevent installation of unchecked software

Does your company have a policy against downloading software from the Internet? What about receiving files attached to e-mail?

Companies that don't take the proper precautions or don't have written rules against letting employees introduce software on their own may be inviting disaster-in the form of computer viruses.

Pyun says while there's no panacea to solving all your software problems. If you're careful to document every program your company runs, that effort will go a long way toward saving you headaches later.

How to reach: Business Software Alliance (202) 530-5136

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:04

Checking it twice

The Chardon Rubber Company developed a checklist aimed at reducing downtime on its machines.

One list is external-tasks to be completed and materials to be brought to the machine before it can be shut down. The other list is internal-procedures that must be done to restart the machine.

While the machine operator executes the tasks on the internal list, a helper completes a second list of internal jobs. When both finish, the machine is turned on and the next production batch begins.

External checklist

  • Process sheet envelope

  • Material

  • Die and screen

  • Labels and staple gun

  • Skids and packaging

  • 10-to-1 drawing

  • 10-to-1 comparator works

  • Template and tools

  • Opening die and air die

Internal checklist-operator

  • Set zones

  • Die placement

  • Feed stock

  • Heat die

  • Sizing conveyor speed

    Internal checklist-helper

    • Change/review cutter

    • Change length on cutter

    • Set puller speed

    • Put in opening die and air die

    • Weight scale

    • 12-inch cut fixture
Monday, 22 July 2002 10:04

Are you flirting with disaster?

So you sleep well at night knowing the computer files are backed up several times a day? If there's a crash, you simply reload the most current versions back onto the network, and it's business as usual.

But what if there's a major disaster-a flood or tornado-that wipes out not just your power, but the office itself, including the backup tapes and Zip disks? What then?

Insurance may replace the computers, desks and filing cabinets, but it can't re-create your client lists and business files. That information would be gone forever.

There is, however, another way to back up information-off-site.

Remote backup adds one more level of protection to your invaluable business information, says Graeme Patey, owner of Back-Up Data Inc.

"It's similar to conventional backups, except that you transfer the information over the phone lines into a backup server where it's stored in a safe, off-site location," says Patey. "Then, when you want to retrieve it, you can call the off-site storage server and retrieve the information 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

How to reach: Back-Up Data Inc. (440) 895-8050

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:03

Recipe for growth

When a local dairy distributor started imposing service charges on customers placing small orders in early 1997, the phones at Mitch Kroll's Weisberg Meats began ringing. They wanted to know if the Solon meat distributor could provide the dairy products they needed.

Kroll, who bought Weisberg in 1996, turned those queries into an opportunity. He shed the company's 40-year-old image as solely a meat distributor, without losing his focus on serving his base clientele or having to inject large sums of money into the business.

With a few quick phone calls, Kroll lined up a supplier. Within a week, Weisberg Meats was in the dairy business. A week after that, Kroll was delivering dairy products, along with regular meat orders, to nearly one-third of his customers.

That opportunistic expansion allowed Kroll to begin a systematic change at Weisberg-one reflecting the company he believed it could become when he left a high profile job at Matrix Essentials to run his own company.

Today, Kroll has expanded his customer base, from 150 to 350 accounts; increased his workforce, from eight to 20 employees; and boosted revenues to nearly $10 million a year. He's also changed the name from Weisberg to The Food Co., to reflect its new focus. But Kroll's plans for growth didn't develop overnight. Like a package of beef which thaws slowly before it becomes dinner, Kroll changed Weisberg gradually-one step at a time.

When Kroll bought Weisberg, he wanted to take a small, established company with a solid customer base to the next level, much in the way he'd watched Matrix grow. He'd spent nine years with the hair care products company-from 1987 to 1996-and worked his way up to become director of operations.

When he joined Matrix, it was a $30 million company with 300 employees. When he left, Matrix had more than 1,000 employees and revenue in excess of $200 million.

"I was tremendously caught up with the entrepreneurial fervor of Arnie and Cidell Miller (who owned Matrix)," says Kroll. "I saw how they took a small company and expanded it."

In 1994, Bristol-Myers bought Matrix from the Millers. Kroll realized he didn't want to work for a large corporation and under "the necessary controls they put in place," so he began looking for a company he could call his own. Two years later he found it. An old family friend, Dave Weisberg, was interested in selling the meat company that his family had founded in 1956.

Immediately after buying it, Kroll thought about ways to enhance the company's image, even though he knew nothing about the food business. Says Kroll, "That was OK. I didn't know anything about the hair care business before I worked at Matrix. The key was that it was an entrepreneurial company marketing to other entrepreneurial companies-restaurants. So I looked at it from that standpoint and said, 'How can I market to these people?'"

His goal was to take current customers who bought meat and offer them different product lines.

"I knew it was a competitive business," he says. "There's nothing really more competitive than the restaurant business."

But he also needed a way to do that without pulling away too many financial and personnel resources from the core business. He decided to move slowly and convince his employees that the moves could work before implementing them.

When the dairy situation arose, Kroll was able to show his employees that the customers would accept Weisberg as more than a meat company.

"That was our first real critical point," he says. "When the market accepted that, we could change. When our customers said, 'Yeah, we'll give you a shot.' It also gave the entire company confidence that we could do this, so we looked to expand into other products."

Less than a month later, in February 1997, Weisberg rolled out fresh produce. In the first week, 20 of the company's 200 customers added produce to their orders. A few weeks later, that number more than tripled. Today, more than 60 percent of The Food Co.'s 350 customers order produce.

"The employees were so excited that they were ready to sell everything our customers needed," says Kroll. "It was like a rocket ship, ready to take off. But I wanted to do it right, and that meant to keep doing it one step at a time and do justice to each line."

But there was still another caveat-Kroll didn't want to tie up money in inventory while he expanded Weisberg's product line. So he sought out suppliers willing to make more frequent deliveries without charging him a higher price. In return, he made a commitment to use their services for the long haul. "They gave us a chance," he says. "That strategy allowed us to devote resources to our infrastructure-adding employees and equipment."

So Kroll sat on meat, dairy and produce for a few months and focused his efforts on marketing those products to his current customers and drumming up new business. He also brought three of his former Matrix co-workers into the fold to help acclimate the Weisberg staff in how to handle major expansion.

Then, in May 1997, Kroll added dry goods-such as canned vegetables and hot sauces-to Weisberg's fare. A month after that, he added frozen foods. Finally, in late summer, Kroll put the last product lines in place-paper goods and chemical products.

"That made us a full-service distributor," he says.

But the changes-while improving the company's bottom line-created a new problem. Neither its name, Weisberg Meats, nor its image-still largely as a meat distributor-reflected the new focus.

So Kroll drew on his Matrix experience, and in early 1998 embarked on a marketing campaign to change the company's name. He also hired designers to create flashy advertising materials which promoted the company's new, expanded line of products and services. Says Kroll, "I had seen the impact of style and image on a company that could provide good products. Restaurants seem to be very creative and image conscious, so we decided to try to relate to them the best we could."

Then in September, Kroll put the final pieces in place. He renamed Weisberg as The Food Co., complete with a '90s-style logo and tagline: "Weisberg meets its future..."

"We wanted to recognize who we are, with a new image," he says. "We're a different company than we were two years ago. But we also wanted to reflect where we've come from and let our customers know that we are still proud of our past."

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:03

Carrot or a stick?

Even in this slowed-down economy, it's no secret that people are working longer hours than ever before. Overtime, especially in manufacturing facilities, is the norm, not the exception. Solon-based Kennametal Inc. is no different.

But what distinguishes Kennametal from other companies, says human resources manager Ed Boeing, is that Kennametal doesn't make overtime mandatory for its workers, and there is no pressure to work more than 40 hours a week and no penalties for those who don't.

Instead, the company holds meetings year-round to keep everyone informed about the business and its needs. "We've had a nice increase in business, and we're trying to meet our customers demands in a timely way," says Boeing.

To meet those demands, Kennametal runs three shifts a day, Monday through Friday, and sprinkles in the occasional Saturday and Sunday shifts, whenever possible.

Each week, supervisors ask employees if they plan to work overtime so they can gauge whether they'll be running machines over the weekends or extending the eight-hour shifts to 10 hours. "We encourage people to help out when they can," says Boeing. "And the employees have responded nicely."

Which leads back to the old question-which works better, the carrot or the stick? For Kennametal, it's the carrot.

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:02

At his best with his back to the mat

At 36 years old, Clevelander Matt Ghaffari, the reigning Olympic silver medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling, can look back on a spectacular wrestling career. There's been just one insurmountable snag: reigning gold medalist Alexander Karelin.

Their matches tend to be the close and hard-fought battles of titans. But like Sisyphus of Greek mythology-condemned to roll a boulder up a mountain only to watch it roll back down as he neared the summit-Ghaffari has never defeated his rival. The Russian has held off Ghaffari 20 times, most recently pinning him at the World Championships in late August. Ghaffari is already talking about their next meeting.

With that in mind, it's easy to imagine Ghaffari's first rejection by a business prospect early this year didn't slow him down very much. To him, such disappointments are the basis for the next goal, whether it's in wrestling or his fledgling career in financial planning.

"I don't consider anything a failure or a loss," says Ghaffari. "There's nothing bad about losing. If you don't make mistakes, you can't fix them. When I make a mistake in wrestling ... I either took an opponent too lightly or didn't hit a move hard enough.

"In business ... (it) means that after a hard week you have nothing to show to the boss. But with every client I could have closed and didn't, I learned some valuable lesson that will help me close the next one. That's priceless."

Call him the master of positive mental attitude. But if that's all Ghaffari brings to the world of business, he figures he's already ahead of most competitors.

In fact, he's bringing other disciplines that translate easily from the gym to his role as an associate at Cleveland-based Brennan Financial Group, and a registered representative of New England Financial.

What can you learn from a guy who's been in business for only the better part of a year?

Eighteen years competing against the world's best wrestlers ought to be good for something; Ghaffari is certain his athletic career has prepared him to compete in the pin-or-be-pinned world of business.

Rejection isn't defeat

Financial planning isn't a career for the weak-of-spirit; it's a competitive business of hard handshaking, relationship development and continuous product training. Most prospects already own the products Ghaffari sells (life insurance, annuities and mutual funds), and they're contacted by Ghaffari's competitors every day.

As the wrestler aptly describes it: "I am in the rejection business."

But every day, Ghaffari reinforces in his own mind that each 'no' brings him a step closer to the next 'yes.'

He repeats a simple mantra that has characterized his wrestling career: "Never give up."

Born in Iran, Ghaffari moved to the United States in 1977. As a seven-time U.S. national wrestling champion, he developed his resolute attitude while struggling at the highest international levels of an ancient and primal game.

"That's the lesson in the sport," he says. "With the Russian (Karelin), I lost to him 20 times. But I can live with that. In my business life, never give up means staying after clients and telling myself that I'm going to make this big company my client. I might have to work on it for two years and move slow, but I'm going to do it."

Perhaps more important is the lesson he learned from the media attention he received after his silver medal performance at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta: The winner isn't always the guy everyone wants to meet.

"Sometimes it's the guy who never gives up and comes back again, only to try harder."

Big successes are the sum of a series of small ones

At 6'4'' and 300 pounds, Ghaffari is an imposing figure in a suit and tie. But his warmth and sincerity must make him seem like a gentle giant to prospects.

Right now, he's trying not to think about the big deal that might move him up the corporate ladder; he's concentrating on the fundamentals-building a career one sale at a time.

"It doesn't matter how big or small a client is; once you close a deal and get a check, even if it's a dollar, it feels good," he says. "Small sales build confidence."

This is a lesson he has already learned. At his first Olympic trials in 1980, Ghaffari didn't make the U.S. team. Same with his second and third tries. In his fourth attempt, in 1992, he finally earned a spot on the team. But he didn't win a medal.

The Atlanta Olympics was his fifth try. He won the silver after losing 1-0 in a marathon, extra-rounds match against Karelin.

"The sixth one's going to be a charm," he predicts. "Building confidence with each step gives you the courage to go out there and stick your neck out to get chopped off. Every day you test yourself ... and it's always a new test."

Everyone needs a coach

Ghaffari draws parallels between his wrestling coach, Anatoly Petrosyan, and his boss/mentor, Dan Brennan-owner of Brennan Financial Group. "Get a coach who wants to teach you," says Ghaffari. "Then listen to whatever he says."

And, according to both mentors, Ghaffari isn't just talking.

"So far, in the past seven years, Matt's my best student," boasts Petrosyan. "Anything I say to him, he does."

Brennan adds that Ghaffari's wrestling background seems to have helped him identify and tune in to the people who are best able to help him.

"He's very coachable," says Brennan. "If we say to him, 'this is what you need to learn, this is what you need to do,' he doesn't question it. He has confidence that we're coaching him properly, and then he works to develop and strengthen that skill."

Like that annoying kid on the high-school football team who enjoyed wind sprints, Ghaffari says he looks forward to Wednesday training classes at Brennan Financial. "That's where we go over mistakes we make," he says, "and learn how to improve on them for the next time."

Never treat anyone as a lightweight

Not long ago, Ghaffari met with a woman who had just been through a difficult divorce. She had no money and made it clear that she thought the process of developing a financial plan was a waste of time.

"She said, I'm not a doctor. Can poorer people have financial planners too?"

Ghaffari spent time to help design an appropriate plan. It's the kind of thing young financial planners do. So perhaps Ghaffari is just being young and idealistic when he says: "It's great to help people with millions of dollars, but you also have to help people accumulate wealth over 20 years. Just because they're not rich doesn't mean they shouldn't have the same opportunities."

But the lessons he's learned on the mat may, in fact, have instilled the discipline to take even the small challenges seriously.

"If I can beat a guy really easily there's no challenge to it," explains Ghaffari. "But if you beat the guy you're not supposed to beat, that's a great victory. I hadn't wrestled in two years, since Atlanta. But I stepped onto a mat August 31 (at the World Champion-ship), and beat the guy who took second last year. Everybody thought he would beat me. They figured that I wasn't ready. But I found I'm still the best challenger."

If you can't improve on the last performance, at least improve the effort

Even when Ghaffari closes a deal, his training as a wrestler doesn't allow him to sit back and enjoy it for very long.

He and his partner, Jonathan DeMell, set weekly goals and push each other to meet them.

"We can't go home for the week unless we do it. It's real easy to say we tried our best and go home on Friday at 5 p.m., but there are always ways to improve."

His goal this year is to greatly surpass the level of revenue needed to make his company's Hall of Fame-a major feat for a first-year associate.

"If I fall short, I'll be the best this company has," says Ghaffari."

Brennan says Ghaffari is "a better than average" representative. "Matt has a passion," he says. "I think people recognize that and see that he's there for the right reasons when he talks to them."

It's the same work ethic that impresses Petrosyan, who considers Ghaffari the most disciplined student he's ever coached.

"Actually, he's not very talented (as a wrestler)," Petrosyan says. "But, he has a very strong heart and is a very hard worker. That's why he's so successful. It's because of his discipline."

"I'm very hard on myself," Ghaffari explains. "It comes from wanting to be better than the best. If I win the Olympics I want to dominate my opponent and pin him. Winning ... is not good enough anymore. I want everything. That's what drives me. Twelve-hour work days are normal because I want my business to be successful."

How to reach: Matt Ghaffari and Brennan Financial Group, (216) 621-6000