Detroit (1202)

Friday, 25 September 2009 20:00

3 Questions

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Andy Farbman is the president and CEO of NAI Farbman, where he evaluates strategic opportunities for first-party equities and third-party businesses. Farbman joined the company in 2000 and has since been responsible for purchasing and developing more than $350 million in real estate.

Q. What are the challenges and opportunities in commercial real estate today?

Commercial real estate is facing some of the similar challenges of the rest of the economy. There are less lenders providing financing on new and existing projects. Those with capital have been able to find unique opportunities. There are some distressed situations where the opportunities to buy are some of the best that we’ve seen in the last 20 years.

Q. Is now a better time to buy or lease office space?

Today’s opportunities exist in both leasing and buying, and the sum of the best deals are both on the leasing and the buy side. It depends on the overall goal of the business. It really goes down to what a tenant’s long-term plan is in a marketplace and what their capability is to actually get financing and buy something. Leasing still has a lot of advantages — it doesn’t put debt on the balance sheet and gives you a time certain that you could leave an asset.

Q. How can a business save money on real estate?

Most tenants that have five- or 10-year leases feel as though they’re in place and there is no reason to discuss things with their landlord. However, there are clearly opportunities that tenants need to make their landlord aware of: that they want to downsize or need a couple of months free or things they need to do in order to create more flexibility in their lease environment that can be win-wins for the tenant and the landlord. The most common phrase is ‘blend and extend,’ where the tenant’s rent comes down to market rates and they give the landlord a few more years on the lease.

Friday, 25 September 2009 20:00

Power of persuasion

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Whether it’s keeping a top salesperson in the fold, dealing with the expectations of customers or vendors, or working on a significant business transaction, executives negotiate every day.

Bringing people around to your way of thinking without alienating them is a good business practice and a vital skill to master, says Steven L. Kreuger, a partner with Secrest Wardle. He also emphasizes that successful negotiations are mutual affairs.

“If you feel you are going to ‘win’ a negotiation or bully or annoy the other party into accepting your position, you are not negotiating,” Kreuger says. “Talking someone into something they do not need or want is not negotiation. In a negotiation, each party hopes to reach a desired goal.”

Smart Business spoke with Kreuger about how you can improve your negotiation skills.

What are the keys to successful negotiation?

First, know your objective and stay focused on it. In a negotiation, the goal is usually not a flashing neon line you hope to cross. Instead, it’s more like an area you want to move into. You should establish bounds for that area, which should contain the various possible outcomes that achieve your goal.

Then, do your research. Have factual support for each possibility that would meet your goal. Analyze the pluses and minuses. During negotiations, spontaneously interjecting facts can move the momentum of the negotiation toward your goal. You don’t want to stop negotiations at a key moment to gather information you should already know.

In addition, you should research and gather information that the other party will use to establish and support his or her goal. It is also important to analyze the other party’s objectives. For an employee, an incremental pay raise may mean next to nothing, but a more secure position or more responsibility might be his goal.

Time management is also important. Before you begin negotiations, consider how time is going to affect each party. Regardless of how long the negotiations last, you have to understand and try to control the pace to keep moving toward your goal.

What else can you do to help you succeed?

Do your homework. Think about how you are going to communicate your position so that your goals become acceptable possibilities to the other party. Play the negotiation out in your head; play devil’s advocate. To avoid falling in love with your own thoughts, run through your planned approach with someone who will give you feedback.

Also, good communicators are good listeners. Despite what might appear to be outward calm, the other party is likely stewing and fretting over some aspect of the situation. If you are talking all the time, trying to unilaterally establish the boundaries or drill home your positions, you will likely miss opportunities to gather information as to a motivation of the other party betrayed by emotion, body language, expressions and the words they use.

Above all, don’t get angry. Communicating that you are passionate about your position does not require you to bang on the table. Stay calm. Stay focused. Clearly state your positions and the basis for your positions. If the other party gets angry, do your best to diffuse that situation. Also, don’t inject personality disputes into the negotiations. Keep it businesslike, pleasant and moving toward your goal.

Finally, if you are dealing directly with a representative or a negotiator for the other party, remember you’re not negotiating with the negotiator; you’re negotiating with the client. Assume the negotiator will do his or her job and report back to the client. You want the other party and the negotiator to come to the conclusion virtually simultaneously that they are going to accept one of your predetermined, acceptable goals.

How can executives develop their negotiation skills?

There are numerous episodes every day when we negotiate without any thought about the process. Use those situations to attempt to persuade someone with a fact-based, rational approach to reach a reasonable conclusion.

In social settings, discussions will inevitably flow toward politics, religion or which professional athlete is overrated — moot, argumentative discussion no one can ‘win.’ As an exercise, force yourself to participate in the discussion with manners.

Listen, and don’t interrupt. When your chance comes, point out that you didn’t interrupt and you would like to be heard, give credence to the other views expressed, pick a point of view and advance it with facts and a well-reasoned rationale.

Even though your friends might expect it, don’t use words like ‘ridiculous,’ ‘idiot’ or refer to someone in any demeaning or derogatory way. Try to persuade with a calm, well-reasoned approach supported by facts and rational thinking.

Your goal is to have someone think or even say, ‘I enjoy his or her input, and he or she makes a good point worth considering.’

In negotiations, it is always a mistake to confuse a pleasant demeanor, manners and calm with softness. By the same token, yelling, fist pounding and crude comparisons do nothing to convince another party of the correctness of your position.

How can becoming a better negotiator help a business leader succeed?

Successful negotiation techniques can hopefully achieve a singular, major breakthrough for your business, but developing a calm, mannered, informed and well-reasoned approach to settle differences of opinion will affect all aspects of your business and life. Over the long term, this approach will make your business more enjoyable, less stressful and, hopefully, more successful.

Steven L. Kreuger is a partner with Secrest Wardle. Reach him at (616) 285-0143 or skreuger@secrestwardle.com.

Friday, 25 September 2009 20:00

The Harris File

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Born: Chester, Cheshire, England

Education: Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, University of Wales

First job: Welder’s mate

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

I’ve had lots of various lessons that I’ve accrued, but the most important ones are probably to confront yourself with lots of different challenges, and fix people first. If your people are all right, the other issues will take care of themselves.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

The way I assess it is that success takes three things: brains, balls and balance. You need to have at least a couple of those traits. There are people of average intelligence who are still successful because they have the balls to make the edgy decisions and they have the ability to balance themselves in their roles.

What universal truths have you learned about leadership?

There is one truth that is continually reinforced to me: You are only as good as the team that supports you.

What is your definition of success?

To continue to grow and build relevance in an organization that is sustainable.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009 20:00

Finding alignment

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When Gary Marowske bought back FLAME Heating, Cooling & Electrical, it was not the same company he left two years earlier.

In 1998, a utility company bought the company, founded by Marowske’s father, Robert. The purchase was part of a roll-up of three HVAC contractors.

But the new owners didn’t prune the three cultures.

“They just let everybody do what they wanted to do,” says Marowske, who was let go along with his father. “[When] I bought the company back, we still had three different cultures.”

So he reclaimed control to get the 60 employees back on the same page with a clear set of core values, which included traits like integrity, professionalism, safety and compassion.

“One of the first things you have to do is get everybody on the same bus,” says Marowske, now president of the company, which reported 2008 revenue of $9.3 million.

Smart Business spoke with Marowske about bringing your employees together under a consistent culture.

Articulate your values. [Your company values] depend on what the leader’s values are, because the leader’s values end up being the corporate values. If the leader doesn’t believe in them, he’s not going to live them.

Every leader of an organization has some kind of vision, whether it’s written down or in their head, as to where they want it to go and what they want it to look like. When they walk in their office in the morning, how do they want the surroundings to be? How do they want their customers to be treated? You can work from there.

It just starts with attitude from the top, setting examples and communicating with people, ‘Here’s what it’s going to be.’ The people at the top have to believe in them. If they got all these things and the owner comes in, says, ‘We want to do it this way, but I don’t really need to because I’m the boss,’ that’ll never work. That top person has to set an example, and he’s got to be unwavering in doing the right thing.

Live what you preach. We have a whole-company meeting every other month where everybody comes in and we give them a state of union. When we handed these core values out, we changed the way we do things. We bought a flag and we do the Pledge of Allegiance. When we started doing that, it really changed the tone of the way we’ve done our meetings.

We had little business-card-sized things, one side’s got our core values and the other side’s got our vision and mission and they’re laminated. And we’ve got big posters in key areas of our business. And then whenever we have a gathering of four or more of our employees, somebody reads the vision and the mission statement.

The more you share with the employees, the more you post it around your office or you communicate it and have it on whatever you’re doing, the better off you are.

You communicate those and you just start living them. You just have to act in your beliefs.

We were debating whether we should require our technicians to have a certain tool. We sat there and we looked at our core values. Does this it make us professional? Yeah. It shows we have integrity in the way we’re going to check and do service in our customers homes so we’re not just guessing. It increased safety. It made us a leader in the industry. It could make us more responsive.

So we take a look at each of the core values and say, ‘How does it match up? Does it help us?’ And that’s how we made a decision.

Squelch rumors that contradict your values. It took a long time with department meetings before they went from just being a gripe session to being productive, and people realized that management wasn’t the enemy. [It takes] constant communication.

You have to say, ‘Now, here’s the truth. Here’s what we’re doing.’ And then you have to make sure to set the example and ensure because some are still skeptical: ‘Yeah, they say they’re going to do this. They’re not going to do it.’ You have to make sure that the pendulum swings way over so everybody understands what you’re doing and that it’s going to happen.

We’ve divided our whole company into four teams without any managers. Every Wednesday, a different team meets with one person in charge of training. They just have an open discussion. Sometimes maybe somebody heard something and rumors get started. It’s a great way to squelch any rumors and get right down to the truth.

Get rid of skeptics. There’s a part in the movie, Patton, where the troops are all backed up and aircraft are coming down striking them with bullets. Patton’s in the back of his jeep and he says, ‘What’s the problem here?’ He drives up to the front, and there’s a gypsy with a mule blocking the bridge. They’re trying to coax the mule out of the way and all of a sudden he just pulls his pistols out, shoots the mule, and they push it over the bridge. All of a sudden, everything’s moving.

Sometimes you get that one person that doesn’t want to change and it causes you more problems. You need to shoot the mule. It also sets an example, too. The people say, ‘This really is going to happen. They really are serious about it.’

After a while, other people come and tell you, ‘So-and-so’s really not pulling their weight.’ They’re fine in the meeting, and then you hear later they’re out in the parking lot griping about everybody.

We had to shoot a couple mules. They just didn’t want to go with the flow. Finally I just walked in one day and I said, ‘You’re not part of the team. It’s time we parted ways.’

The problem is, you’ll never know [if they’d eventually buy in]. You can’t second-guess your judgments all the time.

The sooner you do it, the better. Everybody else knows who they are, and every day you wait, they lose more respect for you for not doing it.

How to reach: FLAME Heating, Cooling & Electrical, (888) 234-2340 or www.flamefurnace.com

Wednesday, 26 August 2009 20:00

A higher degree of service

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Business leaders often get so caught up in running their businesses that they neglect their personal finances.

But there is help available for overextended executives in the form of private banking, a comprehensive approach to personal financial management that gives you a single point of contact for all of your financial needs. It also provides quick and easy access to a local banking expert who will use his or her knowledge of your personal situation to deliver a customized solution.

“CEOs and business owners tend to focus on the day-to-day operations of their businesses,” says Brad Watson, senior vice president of private client services at First Place Bank. “Often, their personal finances get put on the back burner. Private banking can help mind the shop while you focus on your business.”

Smart Business spoke with Watson about how to build a private banking relationship to ensure your future financial success.

How do you qualify for personal banking services?

Most banks tend to segment clients differently, but generally, you’ll need to have at least $250,000 to $500,000 in banking assets to qualify for a private banking program. However, many banks will also look at emerging and affluent entrepreneurs who aren’t quite there yet but who are clearly on the path to being there.

How can using a private banker help you manage your finances?

Private banking goes well beyond checking, savings and money market accounts. A private banker will also offer you a wide array of services such as traditional depository products, treasury management, merchant services and foreign exchange.

Private bankers are also there to help you understand your current and future cash flow needs, how long it will take you to get out of debt, and how willing and able you are to save for the future. A private banker will help you ensure that both your short-term and long-term financial needs are met.

How can a company benefit from private banking lending options?

It depends on the type of business you have, but if your company has large cash flows and/or a need for cash management, private banking lending options can be highly beneficial. Not only that, a company can benefit from a private banker’s ability to customize service needs. Private bankers have the ability to underwrite, structure and approve loan requests in house, providing quick decisions and customized loans for clients.

How do you find the right personal banker for your needs?

Everyone will have a different focus, so you have to go in having some idea of what your needs are. The private banker will help you fully determine those needs, but be prepared nonetheless.

Ask a potential private banker questions such as, ‘Do you work with other clients similar to me? What is the lending limit of the bank? Do you have experience working with other people in my industry? How can you ensure that you’ll deliver what you say you will?’

You’ll also want to ask how many clients the private banker has. You want a private banker with experience, but you don’t want one who has so many clients that you just become a number.

The hierarchy of the bank is important, as well, because it shows you where the bank’s focus is. Many banks lead with whatever their strength is, so if you see a bank with a lot of commercial clients, it may focus more on that than on the private, personal side of its clients. But if you have an established banker who you can trust, one who is focused on you and your personal needs, you’ll have a true partner who can help you achieve any and all of your personal goals.

How important is it to find a banker who takes a holistic point of view?

Looking at banking from a holistic point of view is vital. Now more than ever, there are a lot of pitfalls in the marketplace — pensions are being reduced, benefits are being slashed or eliminated, and people are living longer, which on the surface sounds good, but the longer you live, the more money you have to spend.

Therefore, you have to make sure you work with a banker who has a grasp on your entire situation and will make sure everything works in harmony.

Generally, we all have the same goals — we want to send our children to college, retire comfortably and truly enjoy our golden years. But, on the other hand, everyone’s situation is different, and everyone has different tolerances and attitudes toward the market.

If your banker is looking at one specific piece of your finances and making recommendations on the entire situation, he or she is being very shortsighted and is not fully looking out for your best interests.

Again, you have to find a banker that you trust. You’re going to have to share all of your personal information with your banker and, in many ways, your future is in his or her hands.

Brad Watson is the senior vice president of private client services at First Place Bank. Reach him at BWatson@fpfc.net.

Sunday, 26 July 2009 20:00

Balance of power

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You’ve probably met with your executive team and members of your staff to devise ways to weather this economic cycle on sound financial footing. But you may have forgotten to invite a key player to the table: your banker.

Whether you’re seeing red or thriving during this volatile time, it’s always helpful to ask for input from an outsider. Now is the time you should be thinking beyond just the products your bank offers and see your banker in the role that he or she aspires to be — your trusted adviser.

“I would tell you it’s the same role they should be playing in any economy, but it’s probably more critical in a challenged economy like the one we have right now,” says Elaine McMahon, senior vice president, department manager for small business banking in Southeast Michigan, Comerica Bank. “We have a much broader perspective on the marketplace than usually they do, particularly if we’re talking smaller companies, small businesses. We can provide them consultation relative to what’s going in the marketplace, we can provide them advice as it relates to their specific companies, and ultimately, we can help by providing solutions, the financial products and services that banks offer that can assist them.”

Many businesses don’t think to communicate with their bank on a regular basis, which means missing out on a valuable, free resource, according to industry experts. Think of your bank for ideas and solutions for efficiency, especially now when you’re probably looking for answers.

To take advantage of your bank’s true role as a consultant, you must start by forming and maintaining a strong relationship around trust and communication.

Introduce yourself and your business

The first step in using your banker as an adviser is allowing time for him or her to get to know you and your business. Even if you’ve been partners for decades, invite your banker to your office or place of operation for a meeting.

While it’s important for the bank to learn about your operations, over time, it’s necessary for you to return the favor. A good relationship banker will introduce you to managers and key decision-makers in the bank, but if the introductions aren’t offered, take the initiative and ask for a meeting. The more people you know at the bank, the more likely your company will become a household name, the more likely you’ll know who makes the decisions and how they’re made and the more likely a smooth transition will occur if your contact leaves or is promoted.

Once the initial contacts are made, work to maintain those relationships with open and candid communication. Ask your banker how often he or she wants to hear from you. Is it once a month or once a quarter?

If issues arise in the meantime, don’t be afraid or intimidated to call your banker. One thing all bankers will tell you is that they hate surprises — both good and bad. The more they understand your financials, strategic plan and any changes in the company’s overall operations, the better they’ll be able to provide products and solutions to keep you on the right track.

“I think communication is key, sharing information and communicating,” McMahon says about developing the relationship. “It’s human nature that people don’t like sharing bad news, but we encourage our clients to come to us regularly, whether the news is good or bad because it’s our goal to try to work together with them to help them be successful.”

Use your bank for regular counsel

Like your lawyer or accountant, use your banker as a true consultant. Whether you’re trying to stay afloat or even rapidly growing, your bank can help in navigating through this economic downturn and in planning for the future.

Once you’ve established a relationship and your banker understands your business and your industry, ask him or her to review your business plan. It’s one of the best ways to utilize your bank’s resources. And if you don’t have a plan, create one.

“The bank will sit down and analyze that information and engage the customer in conversation relative to trying to get a better understanding of where the company has been and where they are going,” McMahon says. “A good bank uses this communication to build a relationship with a company and to provide them counsel as to where they see the strengths and where they see the challenges of opportunity for the company to become more efficient or become stronger. And, oftentimes, providing them a financial product is part of that equation.”

Your banker has a true advantage of having a national, regional and industry-specific perspective on economics.

There are a number of questions about your plan that you should be able to bounce off of your banker. Are the assumptions of your business plan reasonable for the current economic environment? How does it compare with other companies in the same industry? How can the plan be improved? What type of contingency plan should be in place? And finally, what products and solutions can the bank offer to help meet your company’s needs?

Take advantage of products and services

At least once a year, you should sit down with your banker to review the products you’re using. Perhaps you’re paying fees for a product you rarely use or technology has advanced and greater efficiency can be had.

A relationship review with your bank can help you tackle ways to save money and save time.

One of the main priorities right now is maximizing cash flow. Among popular products today are rapid deposit solutions, a desktop scanner that allows you to automatically deposit checks into your account.

While you might be thinking short term, ask your banker about options that will help you now and in the future. Interest rates have dropped — perhaps you can capitalize on a new loan or refinance. Discuss with your bank how long you’ll need to borrow on a loan and how much money you’ll need to borrow to structure a plan and lock in fixed interest rates while they’re low.

But once again, banks try to go beyond just selling a product and act as an adviser.

“We’ve tried over the years to identify key areas where small business owners could need assistance and where we could provide value,” McMahon said. “We’ve developed this cache of seminars, most of which are free or for a really minimal amount to cover a breakfast or lunch.”

Some banks offer seminars, while others provide informational Web sites as additional resources to finding efficiency. If you have a responsible banker, he or she will be proactive and committed to seeing you achieve success.

“The banker has to ask questions, too,” McMahon says. “We can’t just expect our customers to be coming to us first. We’re the ones that understand the products and services, so we’re the ones that need to go out there and know how we can uncover the needs so we can try to meet them.”

Detroit

Special Report

Sunday, 26 July 2009 20:00

Design tools

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One of the biggest challenges business leaders face is finding a health plan that meets all of their needs.

But before you even begin researching the options, you need to determine your overall objective for the plan. Do you want it to encourage healthier lifestyles among employees? Do you want it to include higher-quality networks?

“Figuring out what you want to accomplish is the beginning of the process,” says Don Whitford, director of sales and client services at Priority Health. “You also need to understand the overall value of your health plan and how it can help as a recruiting and retention tool for employees.”

Smart Business spoke with Whitford about what to consider when building a health plan and how to make sure you are meeting your employees’ needs.

What factors should a business leader consider when building a health plan?

The first is wellness and looking at the connection that employees have with the plan. Is it embedded in the benefit design and then supplemented with wellness programs that focus on behaviors important to your company? Or are they standalone components? For example, if you have a high population of smokers, you may want to develop a health plan that will encourage your employees to quit smoking.

Cost is the next factor. When you think of cost, it’s centered on premium. That’s a major component, but you can adjust the premium through changes in benefits, co-pay and deductibles. It’s looking at how much you want to contribute and how much you want your employees to contribute.

You can either choose a simple benefit design, or a new spending account plan such as a Health Reimbursement Arrangement, Flexible Spending Accounts or Health Savings Accounts.

The third factor is network. Some carriers boast that they have every physician in their network. But that’s not a real network, because there are no qualifications and everyone is allowed to participate. You need to look for a network that has criteria for its physicians and hospitals, so it’s based on outcomes and quality medical care.

The last factor is service. Your employees may only interact with the carrier’s customer service team, so you want to look at the services provided. Hours are important, because you want a carrier with evening and weekend hours so your employees don’t have to call during the workday. But you need to make sure the carrier can guarantee a certain level of service.

Make sure the carrier can tell you its first-call resolution rate — employees only need to call once to get a problem solved. What does the carrier do with its calls? Does it record them in case there is a problem or concern?

How do you build a health plan that meets employee needs?

Survey your employees to see what types of benefits are most important to them. That will help design a plan tailored around those specific health needs.

You can also build in incentives to encourage wellness. If your carrier offers health risk assessments — online questionnaires analyzing behaviors and other factors contributing to health — you can provide some type of reward to employees who complete them. Or if the carrier offers disease management programs, you can give employees incentives for participating in those activities.

Oftentimes, employees don’t fully understand the total cost of health care. They only see what they’re paying, such as a portion of the premium, deductible or co-pay. You need to clearly communicate why you’re making these decisions.

The total health care cost needs to be shared. Tell employees what percentage you are paying, what percentage you want them to pay and what they can do to help control future costs.

What resources are available to help you build your plan?

You can work with an independent insurance agent or health benefits consultant and also use your carrier’s resources when designing a health plan. Carrier representatives can also work with you to understand your needs. Carrier Web sites also have a lot of information that can educate you and your employees about the plan.

What are the benefits of taking the time to put together the right health plan for your company?

Setting your objective will determine what is right for you. You want the plan to improve employee health, so they’re more aware of the behaviors they can control. Employees will then see the positive impact they can have on their well-being as well as the potential impact to reduce future health care costs.

It can also have a positive impact on your absenteeism rates, improve productivity, make employees greater contributors and improve morale.

How often should you revisit your plan design?

You need to review it annually. Frequently, you just renew the health plan, but things change, product designs change, so it’s important to look at it every year. Have your representative, consultant or agent present options to you.

Don’t accept the status quo of the plan you’ve had for years just because you think it’s the best. There are plenty of options as plans are becoming more cutting edge and are tied to achieving better outcomes for your work force.

Don Whitford is director of sales and client services for Priority Health. Reach him at don.whitford@priorityhealth.com or (248) 324-4711.

Thursday, 25 June 2009 20:00

A driven design

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Finalist
Manufacturing

Brad Baxter’s business was created from the drudgery of cleaning the litter box.

But before he ever thought of the Litter Robot or Automated Pet Care Products Inc., he already had a lifetime of entrepreneurship before him.

At age 9, Baxter collected and sold hickory nuts in his Wisconsin hometown. At 11, he was crafting wooden knife blocks to sell to restaurants on a consignment basis. And as a teenager, he operated a pumpkin patch.

Baxter started working at Ford Motor Co. after college with the dream of designing cars. But he soon ventured out, partnering with an Austrian business associate to develop automotive components for European clients.

Then he inherited two cats. And the accompanying cleaning duties led him to fulfill his dream of developing a popular product. Baxter incorporated Automated Pet Products in 1999 and began designing and assembling a self-cleaning litter box called the Litter Robot. He had trouble securing financing from banks but eventually found a supplier through his automotive network that invested in the tools, allowing him to update the way he made parts.

Sales finally took off and Baxter, president of the company, opened a warehouse and fulfillment facility near his supplier.

But customer service is his priority. He’s keen on responding to calls and e-mails rapidly. The product itself comes with a 90-day money-back guarantee and 18 months of full warranty.

Baxter also incorporates a green initiative into his strategy. He offers a recycled version of the Litter Robot; 83 percent of its parts are made of 100 percent recycled plastic. Customers can also return old Litter Robots to be recycled.

Baxter plans to completely redesign the Litter Robot, making it retail-friendly to tap into new distribution channels and to add technology that will allow pet owners to remotely monitor their pets at home.

How to reach: Automated Pet Care Products Inc., (248) 760-4163 or www.litter-robot.com

Thursday, 25 June 2009 20:00

Safe returns

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Winner
Information Technology

Matthias Horch came to America on the opportunity of a lifetime in 2000 and very nearly went home less than a year later with nothing.

Horch was asked to come to America to help build a U.S. subsidiary of Germany-based IT company TDS, but the dot-com bust at the turn of the century left him and his eventual Secure-24 Inc. partner, Volker Straub, without work and contemplating a return home.

Instead, with little more than an idea, they decided to found a new company that would help businesses secure information, comply with federal regulations, boost productivity, reduce costs and improve ROI. With a simple PowerPoint presentation, they set a goal to get three customers in three months. If they could do that, they thought that they could stay in America.

It didn’t take long for customers to see that Matthias had a vision for how evolving organizations and middle-market companies would need reliable, advanced managed hosting and disaster recovery services for their critical IT systems. Very quickly, attaining three customers seemed too easy of a goal, and Secure-24 began to grow organically. Today, the company has four U.S. data centers and has expanded its abilities to quickly address large, complex client business needs.

But while the company has grown, Horch has maintained the entrepreneurial spirit that originally sparked the company — and he wants to bring that out in his future leaders. He has a personal stake in developing the next generation of talent at Secure-24. The company has a three-year mentoring and training program designed to bring out the best in young talent, and as part of that, junior staff members are exposed to leading-edge technology.

The result is a second generation of employees who will secure many happy returns for Secure-24.

How to reach: Secure-24 Inc., (248) 784-1021 or www.secure-24.com

Thursday, 25 June 2009 20:00

Perfect balance

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Finalist
Distribution & Systems Management

When Keith Echols left his job at Microsoft in the 1990s to work for Web Runners Inc., he knew that with his entrepreneurial zeal, he could accomplish anything.

And his belief that his company could provide a better product at a lower price led to its first two customers, Visteon and Hewlett-Packard, helping it to build a strong foundation and brand recognition.

Today, Echols serves as executive vice president of the company, which now operates under the name w3r Consulting. The company — which started in Echols’ basement, moved to downtown Detroit and then relocated to Southfield — objectively views clients’ challenges and recommends a solution that meets both present and future needs. Echols and his team do this by using both infrastructure and integration services and support.

Throughout its history, w3r has transformed itself from a Web site design company to a core IT infrastructure services business. In an attempt to expand into the application sector, w3r Consulting acquired InfoServices Inc. in 1999. But it found that moved it away from its core competency of core IT infrastructure, and so Echols and his partner separated from the company in 2001.

Since then, the company has stayed true to the partners’ philosophy: “Do what you do well, nothing more and nothing less, and be the best at what you do.” Echols also is a firm believer that his employees are truly w3r’s greatest assets, and for that reason, he encourages them to practice work-life balance and offers activities for employees to reiterate this philosophy. The company rewards hard work with basketball and golf leagues, birthday cakes and anniversary gift cards.

Echols is also active in his community, serving as a chair in the Nardin Park Recovery Center drug replacement organization and getting involved in Life Directions, a youth mentoring program in Detroit.

How to reach: w3r Consulting, (248) 358-1002 or www.w3r.com