Houston (992)

Deborah Byers loves the word engagement — as in employee engagement — and the new managing partner of the EY Houston office will be focusing on it now more than ever as she takes the wheel at one of the corporation’s largest offices.

 “What may happen in a big organization is that you have very strong connections within small pods — and that is great as long as those pods are all connected through somebody in a leadership role,” she says. “You have to bring all those smaller connections together so they have a common vision.

“You could end up with a lot of connectivity in smaller groups that are isolated and not talking to each other — and you are not going to be as effective. So to start in the right direction, the buy-in effort begins with having empathy to understand what the people in the office are concerned about,” Byers says.

“It’s about what makes them feel good about their jobs, or happy to come to work because a happy employee is going to be much more productive.”

While Byers has been with EY for 27 years, most recently as M&A managing partner for the Transaction Advisory Services Group for the Southwest Region, one of her initial steps has been to meet — or get reacquainted — with the movers and shakers of EY Houston.

One of the conclusions she has reached is that as a leader, it is your job to constantly refresh and remind everybody: “This is the vision; this is what we are all marching toward.”

“Then you relate it back to, if we achieve this vision, why it is good for you?” she says. “That is what people want to know: ‘How does this impact me personally at this level?’ One of the primary critiques of leadership is, ‘Oh, they are in their ivory tower. They don’t understand what is happening in the trenches,’ so you need to be able to connect the vision with how it will improve their day-to-day working lives in the trenches.

“Then you want to connect it back to what does it mean to build a better working world: ‘How does that impact me down here when I’ve got a deadline that I’ve got to meet in 24 hours, and there are not enough hours in the day to get it done?’” she says.

In an organization as large as EY Houston, with about 1,200 employees, parts are going to be moving fast but others may be falling back.

“Your job as a leader is to be connected enough to know when you need to go in and help them tweak things a little bit,” Byers says. “You’re not dictating, ‘Hey, go do this. You should be doing this.’ It’s, ‘Hey, you may be a little off track, so let’s do this, and let’s tweak this.’ And then it is not a matter of coming in and saying, ‘What are they doing wrong?’ It’s what are the barriers and finding ways to help them find a solution.

“And that is why it is so important to be connected,” she says. “While it is important to have these goals and visions and be connected with the broader leadership, you know EY is a huge organization in itself, but you have to connect that back and know what each team is doing, down to the engagement level.”

How to reach: EY Houston, (713) 750-1500 or www.ey.com

Twitter: @EYnews;
Facebook: http://on.fb.me/1fFdq9I

LinkedIn: linkd.in/130smf8



When Dana Sellers started Encore Health Resources with Ivo Nelson in 2009, they did it without office space. Four years later, they have an office, but no one actually works there on a daily basis. There’s no receptionist or office manager. There isn’t a single office for any of Encore’s employees, not even Sellers, the CEO. Rare activity can sometimes be seen on a Friday in the form of meetings, classes, orientation or interviews.

Despite its lack of office space, the health care consulting company of 400 employees had $90 million in revenue last year. Sounds a little far-fetched, doesn’t it?

Success like that, according to Sellers, is more likely to occur when you have a razor-sharp focus on strategy — called “smart skinny data” at Encore — and you have to embrace the concept of a virtual office in order for it to become the optimal way to operate.

For Sellers, once she determined the focus, the solution was right behind.

“The biggest problem that our clients need to solve is how to get value out of their data and our answer is a solution that lets them do that in a smart skinny way,” Sellers says. “Really, there is no reason these days, with technology, that you have to have an office. I don’t have any phone number besides my cell phone number. Why should we be held back by big, bulky offices that tie us down to one place?”

Not every business is a good fit for a virtual office, Sellers admits. Companies that deal with a niche, requiring talent from all over the nation, indeed, the globe, have a good shot.

“For our business, it was the only way we could do it,” Sellers says. “It just doesn’t make sense to move everyone into Houston and then have them fly somewhere every week anyway.

“We tell them, ‘Look, you can stay where you want, as long as you are willing to get up and get to an airport and be at your client’s site at a reasonable hour on Monday morning, and as long as you understand you’re not going to get home until really, really late Thursday night. You still work on Fridays — just by conference call.’

“In my business, to be virtual, you have to make a conscious effort to understand how you are going to engage people.

“And I’m really proud that we have been named to Modern Healthcare’s list of best places to work in health care every year that we have been eligible — and we are a virtual company!”

Here’s how Sellers drives Encore Health Resources to develop integral data management systems — virtually — to move the industry forward.


Focus, and then proceed

Sellers and Nelson had a vision when they started Encore and knew that if it were to include helping clients get value out of their data, they had to have replicable tools and assets, as well as ways of being able to help them with that problem. But they didn’t know what it was going to be, and they couldn’t invent it in a conference room — they didn’t have one.

Just as records are to be broken, challenges are to be surmounted. And Sellers was familiar with the health care IT business, having previously worked with Nelson in launching Healthlink, a health care IT consulting company.

Data was being collected and crunched but the outcomes and efficiencies were less than optimal. A breakthrough eventually came and an ingenious solution was reached involving only the most relevant information — smart skinny data.

With the focus now in hand, Encore proceeded to figure out the details.

Sellers had been given advice from Rod Canion, co-founder of Compaq Computer Corp., to hire great people for Encore. With that in mind, Sellers recruited passionate, self-directed people — 60 percent who were clinicians and 75 percent having worked in the health care industry in the past.

These were the types who could flourish in a virtual office setting.


Decide if virtual is for you

Once Sellers had the breakthrough, she could move on with her virtual company plans. She had seen how well Healthlink had worked with its two major locations, Charlotte and Houston. And another plus — the savings in overhead was returned to clients.

“We had merged two companies; we agreed that we weren’t going to relocate people so we had some over there, and some people in Houston,” Sellers says. “We figured out, ‘Hey, that works out pretty well. We didn’t have to have everybody in one office.’ So we began the process then, and over time, we became more and more virtual.

“When we started Encore, we went all the way. We said, ‘Why do we need an office? For training, for recruiting, to do interviews and we need an office to meet.’ But other than that, we only needed an office originally for our bank of servers. Well, at Encore, we don’t own a server. We run Outlook on the cloud; we have an email service. All our IT services are done in the cloud, and we have a virtual P.O. box.”

But there has to be a structure capable of keeping the invisible seams of the organization together. One such method Sellers uses is a company “lockdown.”

Encore consultants keep an eye out for procedures and discoveries that clients are seeing that would be good to share companywide.

“Lockdowns are very intensive; we bring them to Houston, and they will work on a specific topic for a week,” Sellers says. “For example, the concept of smart skinny data — how do we leverage that concept for an Epic software implementation [software for health care, including offerings such as MyChart].”

The lockdown group, which meets in a room for a week, includes people who understand the tools Encore has, who understand smart skinny data and who understand Epic implementation methodology.

“They will work morning to night; they will have a great time; they will laugh; they will work really hard; they will have fun,” Sellers says. “And when they get done, we will have an electronic document that is amazing, that tells a client, ‘Without slowing down an Epic implementation, here’s how you make sure you get the right data captured so that when you get done, you’re going to have all the quality data in the right format so that you can do all the reporting that you need, to make sure that you are capturing the right insurance reimbursement.’”


Be conscious that you are virtual

Without a doubt, within a sizeable company, virtual or not, there will be times when discussions have to be held with a large number of employees. Encore developed a learning portal on its website to offer several options to help deal with the situation.

“You don’t have to send out an email to all 400 people, but you can participate in a community and their wikis [websites that allow collaborative editing of content by their users],” Sellers says. “There are various ways of enhanced sharing of information that we have worked very hard to do well in a virtual environment.”

When Sellers realized there needed to be a process to keep employees up to date on new tools and methods, monthly “lunch and learns” were instituted. These are videoconferences with educational topics, which are recorded so they may be accessed on the Encore portal. For instance, a consultant on the road can stay up-to-date with training topics while relaxing in his or her hotel room.

It’s also important to involve the entire company in training exercises. Every 18 months or so, Sellers holds a retreat that includes team building and training exercises.

“That retreat is really important in a virtual world because it is where you come together and actually get to spend time with people,” she says.

The personal connection is also important to retain when there are grievances or problems. Sellers developed a virtual “open door” policy that may rival those of her non-virtual peers.

“We are very, very conscious that we are virtual, so we make sure we do a lot of things to keep people engaged,” she says.

“The policy is this: We will make certain that you are face-to-face, personally, with that person, whoever you reach out to, within two business days somewhere in the United States. We don’t guarantee where. You may have to fly to them, or maybe they will fly to you. We will figure it out. There won’t be any retribution; we don’t guarantee you’ll get the answer you want, but we will take your issue seriously and we will look into it, and we will follow up.”



  • Focus on your goal and figure out how to proceed.
  • Decide if a virtual office is for you.
  • Be aware that you are virtual, and it takes effort.


The Sellers File

Name: Dana Sellers

Title: CEO

Company: Encore Health Resources

Born: Austin, Texas 

Education: University of Texas at Austin. I studied chemical engineering. I wandered into health care accidentally and I’ve been here ever since.

What was your first job?

I did an internship at IBM manufacturing typewriters.

Who do you admire in business?

There are a lot of people I admire. I probably would say I admire Ivo Nelson, whom I have worked for much of my career. I am blessed to have worked with so many great people, but if I had to pick one I would probably say Ivo.

What is the best advice you ever received?

When we were starting up the company that later became Healthlink, Rod Canion, co-founder of Compaq Computer Corp., said ‘First of all, you need to always, always deliver great quality to your clients. Secondly, you need to hire great people. And third, you need to create a company where they can raise their hands and ask for help.’ So, I have always tried to live by those three pieces of advice.

The first piece Rod said about always delivering quality, we phrase that as 100 percent reference ability. We have a set of core values, and one of those core values we call 100 percent reference ability. Our goal is we know we will stub our toe, we know we will make mistakes, but our goal is that every client is reference-able at the end of the day. We will do whatever it takes to make them happy. We know it is a lot easier to make them happy if they stay happy from the beginning, or if consultants can raise their hand and said, ‘Hey, I think I need help,’ than if we wait until the end and find out that the client is not happy. So we want to create an environment where any consultant at any time can just raise his or her hand and ask for help and is not punished for that. We have a whole quality program that is built to support that kind of attitude.

What is your definition of business success?

There are lots of elements there. Obviously you have to meet the expectations of your shareholders. You’ve got to create a great place for the people who work for you and you have to meet the needs of your clients. I think that when I retire someday, I would like to look back and know that Encore made a difference in health care. To me, that would have been a real success. I think health care has huge challenges ahead of it right now. No one company is going to solve all those challenges, but to me, I would like to feel that Encore has been a huge success if when I retire, I can look back and say Encore played a role in helping make a difference.


How to reach: Encore Health Resources, (877) 787-1010 or www.encorehealthresources.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/EncoreHealthResources

LinkedIn: linkd.in/15gWEI0



Does your company struggle to reconcile its short-term needs with its long-term imperatives? Is there a silent and sometimes not-so-silent war between those who push a short-term driven agenda versus those who take a longer-term view?

In many companies, the tug-of-war between short-term and long-term causes confusion and distraction. The company finds itself in an endless loop of course corrections, stuck in a circular motion as opposed to moving forward. 

Short-term vs. long-term

Short-term challenges are often, but not always, driven by some crisis. Strong customer dissatisfaction, hot new sales opportunities, competitive threats, key employee turnovers and cash-flow crunches are just a few of the examples that can cause a company to focus on the endless array of “urgent” situations and neglect long-term needs.

To satisfy an irate customer, a company may go against its core business model and make decisions that might haunt it later. However, many within the company would justify it by arguing the company must do what is necessary to live to fight another day.

Long-term imperatives are often driven by the need to take the company to the next level. It is about improving and transforming the company so it is stronger and vibrant and can grow at a faster, more reliable rate.

Those imperatives typically involve a significant commitment of time and investment. They involve deliberate considerations and difficult decisions at multiple stages and dimensions. These initiatives require a lot of effort to sell internally, and the benefits are often obscured due to the long turnaround-time required to produce benefits and the high number of variables and risk factors.

Executives who tend to favor short-term solutions are often doers and operational in mind-set. They get satisfaction from getting it done. They feel compelled to do something quickly as opposed to holding themselves back to develop a more rigorous and long-lasting solution.

On the other hand, executives who favor long-term solutions are often big-picture thinkers, who like to consider all angles, develop comprehensive and holistic solutions. Developing the right solution to them is more important than doing something fast.

Executives with these different mind-sets are similar to the two men standing on either side of a precipice engaging in a tug-of-war. Neither can afford to let go. 

Two sides of the same coin

Your company cannot afford to sacrifice either the short- or long-term. The million dollar question then is how do you reconcile seemingly competing sets of imperatives?

You must ensure there is no competition between the short- and long-terms. They must be two sides of the same coin.

The issue of misaligned imperatives arises because companies fail to clearly develop and articulate their long-term initiatives. As a result, the organization pursues short-term imperatives that are contrary to long-term imperatives. The short-term projects become difficult to discontinue because of the expectations created for different stakeholders from customers to employees.

The long-term imperatives must provide the context, an umbrella if you will, for the shorter-term thrusts. Shorter-term initiatives and projects must form an intricate pattern within the tapestry of the longer-term quilt. Your company must develop the discipline to ensure that even in the case of a crisis, the response does not violate the firm’s core business DNA.

Do not fall in the precipice. Ensure your short-term and long-term imperatives are cohesive and congruent. ● 

Quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and WorldNews, Ravi Kathuria is a recognized thought leader. Featured on the BusinessMakers show, CBS Radio, TEDx and PBS Nightly Business Report, he is the author of the highly acclaimed book, “How Cohesive is Your Company?: A Leadership Parable.” Kathuria is the president of Cohegic Corp., a management consulting, executive and sales coaching firm, and president of the Houston Strategy Forum. Reach him at (281) 403-0250 or feedback@cohegic.com.


LinkedIn: http://bit.ly/SBN_Ravi

Website: www.cohegic.com



Monday, 30 September 2013 20:00

Ah!thentic Ambition

Written by

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

Monday, 30 September 2013 20:00

World Entrepreneur of the Year: Overcoming Challenges

Written by

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Jim Turley, retired global chairman and CEO, EY


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

Corey Shapoff, president and founder, SME Entertainment Group


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

Jim Davis, president, Chevron Energy Solutions


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

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


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

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


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

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


Monday, 30 September 2013 08:00

Understanding your ‘natural instincts’

Written by

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

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

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

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


Following the footsteps of a legend

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

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

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

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

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


Comparing workforces of nature

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

Animals = 1 Humans = 0

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

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

Animals = 2 Humans = 0

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

Animals = 3 Humans = 0

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

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

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


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

Twitter: @randallkjones

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


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

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

Google Plus: http://bit.ly/15BWZq0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Keeping it simple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Notice the details

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

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

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

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

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

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


Turn an idea into a product

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


Fleeting thoughts have value

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does bonus depreciation differ? 

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

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

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

What savings are available through like-kind exchanges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are other year-end tax strategies?

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

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

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

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

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