Houston (992)

Friday, 25 June 2010 20:00

Reaching high

Written by
Winner
Technology

Aa s a young man in southeast Texas, near the Mexican border, Edelmiro “Ed” Muniz remembers picking cotton in the fields and watching shiny metal machines soar overhead. Back then, few people would have guessed that Muniz would become an aerospace engineer and start MEI Technologies Inc., which today ranks as a top global organization for space manufacturing.

He received a degree in engineering and served for 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, where as his last assignment before retirement, he served as commander of the First Manned Space Flight Control Squadron at the Johnson Space Center of NASA in Houston.

After retirement, he realized he wasn’t done with aerospace engineering and decided to start a company in 1992. As a new entrepreneur, he landed his first contract with the Air Force. But soon after taking on the Air Force contract, Muniz realized that his engineering background didn’t provide the know-how for running a business. So he sought assistance from the Small Business Administration’s Business Development Program, which taught him how to maintain a profitable model and also fostered MEI’s commitment to helping small businesses in the industry.

That experience helped Muniz realize the importance of creating solid relationships, which has helped him grow the company — an advanced technology company serving the civil, commercial and defense industries — to offices in eight states and more than 800 employees.

Muniz’s visionary nature can also be seen through his leadership to make aerospace engineering more commercial and less focused on the traditional channels of space flight at a time when government spending for the industry is declining.

How to reach: MEI Technologies Inc., (281) 283-6045 or www.meitechinc.com

Friday, 25 June 2010 20:00

High gear

Written by
Finalist
Retail & Wholesale

Mark Carr has continually set high standards of excellence for Christian Brothers Automotive Corp., and while at the helm of the organization for 28 years, he has led it to meet or exceed those standards every time.

When Carr opened Christian Brothers in 1982, he had limited exposure to automotive repair, yet customers embraced his simple concept of being served by the on-site owner of the business. Customers also appreciated and enjoyed the honest and professional atmosphere that Carr created, a factor that helped his company stand out from the competition.

Carr took the Christian Brothers concept and business model, and used it to launch a franchising platform in 1996. As he grew the company, he insisted that each new location be a new standalone, state-of-the-art facility. It was his instinct on customer trends that created the singular focus on high standards. His unwillingness to waver from the standards and practices that made Christian Brothers successful has yielded a 100 percent store success rate in 14 years of franchising. Today, Christian Brothers has more than 70 locations, with plans to be at 100 by the end of 2011 and 200 by 2016.

As a strong visionary and business leader, Carr provides an opportunity to create win-win situations between Christian Brothers and its franchisees. Within his innovative franchise model, the franchisee remits a royalty fee, as do franchisees of most companies. But the franchisee remits the royalty fee off of the net profit rather than the gross revenue, meaning that Christian Brothers is only being paid if the store unit is profitable. That creates an equitable relationship in which all parties benefit only if all parties are making money.

Today, Carr’s vision is to continue to build a national name for Christian Brothers, which he’ll do by continuing to recruit high-caliber franchisees and develop them into world-class entrepreneurs in their communities.

How to reach: Christian Brother Automotive Corp., (281) 870-8900 or www.cbac.com

Friday, 25 June 2010 20:00

Power in numbers

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Finalist
Power & Utilities

When Robert and Marcie Zlotnik founded StarTex Power in 2004, their initial goal was to raise $5 million in equity from outside investors.

Though the husband-wife duo had been successful in prior business ventures, reaching that goal for their retail energy provider was harder than they thought. Potential investors weren’t keen on their focus on customer satisfaction or on their ideas for a strong corporate culture as keys to future success.

Committed to their vision, Robert, president and CEO, and Marcie, chairman and chief operating officer, invested millions of their personal funds and more from angel investors. StarTex didn’t break even until 2006, but since then, its explosive growth has more than proved that the Zlotniks know what they’re doing. Most years, their customer base has increased by triple-digit percentages, and they’ve just celebrated their 150,000 customer. Over three years, they’ve seen revenue growth of 3,794 percent.

Some companies would struggle to maintain their core values in the face of such fast growth. But the Zlotniks built their mission statement in three prongs to meet and balance the needs of employees, customers and investors. Because their work force has tripled in size since 2006, the Zlotniks recognize that there are plenty of opportunities for their dedication to customer service to slip. But by giving employees pride and ownership in the company, they empower them to provide excellent service.

How to reach: StarTex Power, (866) 917-8271 or www.startexpower.com

Friday, 25 June 2010 20:00

Entrepreneurs: What makes them different?

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Some people say that Texas is a state of mind. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that Texas is a great place to start a business. Actually, the entire Gulf Coast area is ripe with growing businesses, even in the midst of one of the most challenging economies we have ever faced. It is simply the best place in the entire country to be an entrepreneur, and we at Ernst & Young are proud to celebrate the best entrepreneurs under the sun.

Perhaps it is due to the pioneer spirit in Texas or the cowboy heritage in the Southwest or it could be the legacy of the wildcatters in this region; whatever the reason, there is no shortage of men and women who will take a chance. Entrepreneurs are a little like gamblers. They will bet the ranch, lay it all on the line and keep on trying until they win. All of them have experienced failure, most more than once, but that never gets them down. The spirit of entrepreneurship keeps them going, and we are all better off as a result.

At Ernst & Young, we have been recognizing the achievements of these outstanding entrepreneurs for 24 years. This month, award ceremonies are being held in 26 regions around the U.S. All of the regional award winners will move on to the national awards to be presented at the Strategic Growth Forum in Palm Springs, Calif., in November. The forum is the country’s most prestigious gathering of high-growth, market-leading companies. With outstanding speakers and informative panels, it is part of Ernst & Young’s commitment to guiding growth companies through the many challenges and obstacles they face on the road to market leadership. But it doesn’t end there. One overall national Entrepreneur Of The Year will represent the United States at the World Entrepreneur Of The Year program to be held in Monte Carlo, Monaco, next spring. The entrepreneur will be judged alongside his or her counterparts from 50 other countries for what has become the “World’s Business Award.”

On behalf of everyone at Ernst & Young, we would like to congratulate each of the 2010 finalists and award recipients. Thanks to you, the spirit of entrepreneurship is alive and well in Texas and throughout the Gulf Coast area.

Doug Bogart is a partner at Ernst & Young and the director of the Houston and Gulf Coast Area Entrepreneur Of The Year program.

Friday, 25 June 2010 20:00

Confidence in action

Written by
Finalist
Manufacturing & Distribution

It took a lot of confidence for Dilip Bhargava to move thousands of miles from his home in India to the United States to further his education in 1973.

That confidence also served him well in 1992 when he took on the daunting task of directing a steel pipe mill that had spent the past eight years sitting inactive and had no employees. But Bhargava refused to let these setbacks keep him from completing his duty of making it operable, and his success proved that he is a knowledgeable businessman with the right attitude and outlook to be a leader in today’s competitive economy.

He founded SAW Pipes USA Inc., a Houston-based manufacturer of large diameter submerged arc welded long seam pipes, and served as its president and CEO. Then, in 2000, Bhargava tested his confidence once more by investing his own money to create a new steel trading company. He wanted to use his experience in steel to create a company that could supply the piping needs of the oil and gas industry and exceed the standards set by the American Petroleum Institute. The desire to supply customers with the best possible materials at competitive prices led Bhargava to start SDB Trade International LP on the principles of giving customers complete priority and continually devising new and more efficient methods to satisfy their product requirements.

Today, the president and CEO is pushing a plan for long-term vertical integration to better meet his clients’ needs. He takes pride in the trust his clients place in the company, and its progress relies heavily on customer feedback. Again, confidence play a key role in Bhargava’s success — but in this case, it’s other people’s confidence in Bhargava.

His other passion is for education. He routinely donates to Pratham, an arm of UNICEF, to educate children in his home country. And locally, Bhargava joins in the BAPS walk, which encourages youth to build stronger communities.

How to reach: SDB Trade International LP, (713) 475-0048 or www.sdbtrade.com

Friday, 25 June 2010 20:00

Never stopping

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Finalist
Financial Services

Throughout his career, Curtis Huff had focused on building businesses and cultivating new ideas within those organizations.

He started his career as a lawyer at Fulbright & Jaworski, where he focused on mergers and acquisitions and securities. While there, he was also active in bar activities, including serving as chairman of the Texas Business Law Section and the Texas Business Law Foundation. He was also active in drafting Texas corporate laws and regularly testified before the Texas Legislature on business matters.

After 15 years, Huff joined Weatherford International as executive vice president, where he worked as both general counsel and chief financial officer. In this role, he was responsible for acquisitions and financial matters and was instrumental in the company’s growth strategy during this volatile time period. Just three years later, in 2001, he was appointed CEO of Grant Prideco, where he was charged with restructuring the company’s business during a market downturn and positioning it for growth.

In 2002, Huff formed Freebird Partners to invest in new technologies and differentiated businesses in the oilfield. He funded the company with his own capital and was responsible for identifying and analyzing technologies and prospective acquisitions.

Then, in 2007, Huff joined Charles Cherington in creating Intervale Capital, a private equity fund focused on technology and buyout investments in the oilfield services industry. Intervale was named “Best new firm” in 2008 by Buyouts magazine. Over the past year and a half, the fund has faced challenges, but throughout the hardships, it has performed well. Huff seeks to build a culture of ethics, excellence and success, and endeavors to grow his companies through provisions of strategic advice on new and developing technologies, markets and growth opportunities. He believes that providing customers with solutions to their challenges allows smaller companies to effectively compete.

How to reach: Intervale Capital, (713) 961-0118 or www.intervalecapital.com

Leaders in Joe R. Davis’s position might feel growing pains.

The $5 million printing company he started in Houston in 1985 has sprouted into 70 locations across 27 states as well as into Toronto and Prague. In fiscal 2009, which ended in March, the company struck record revenue of $1.15 billion.

But Davis, chairman and CEO of Consolidated Graphics Inc. (NYSE: CGX), knows he can’t handle every aspect of a rapidly growing organization. In order to keep the company strong as it expands, he needs to develop future leaders.

“Developing these young people, [giving] them the opportunity, is the most rewarding — as well as sometimes the most challenging — thing we’ve had to face,” Davis says.

So he developed the Leadership Development Program to speed college grads through an accelerated path to management.

The company’s Web site touts, “The program succeeds because it is not a cookie-cutter structure. It’s an organic process that is very much tailored to the individual’s goals.”

And succeed it has.

Since its start in 1991, the award-winning program has added 278 graduates to the work force of 5,500 — and 87 of those came in January alone. And yes, we said award-winning: Consolidated Graphics scored multiple honors from the National Association of Colleges and Employers for best practices in educational programming in 2005 and information resources for students in 2007.

Davis has learned plenty about training and developing future leaders but just as much about finding those future leaders to develop.

“You can sit down and talk to them. You can make suggestions to them,” Davis says. “But in the end, it’s up to the individual to perform as you expect.”

Find people who fit

Identifying the right people starts with a background check.

“First of all, we have a great belief that past success is a predicator of future success,” says Davis, who begins his search by reviewing a student’s college career. “Somebody in college, at 22 years old, it’s very difficult to predict what they’re going to do. But we look at their prior track record.”

The first general indicator is grade point average; Davis looks for B or better. But that shouldn’t be the only thing you consider.

Look for outside involvements: social groups, extracurricular activities, jobs, etc.

“Something other than just going to school,” Davis says.

You don’t have to narrow your search to candidates with prior knowledge and experience, especially when you’re using young students as your pool.

“We don’t necessarily look for anybody with prior print experience,” he says. “We believe we can get someone who is bright, enthusiastic, energetic and we can teach them the printing business.”

Focus on work ethic and other ways they’ve already set themselves apart that match what you expect from employees.

“You have to judge and base it on prior history,” he says. “What has been their success through high school, college and gotten them to where they are now? Did they work hard in college? Did they have outside activities? Did they have a job? What did they do to distinguish themselves in their college career? I think that’s the best indicator of what they’re going to do once they join your company.”

Davis wants candidates who have shown they are eager, aggressive, hardworking achievers who yearn to succeed — not lazy students who want an 8-to-5 day and a paycheck. Separating the good candidates from the lazy ones can start with their responses to basic questions like why they want to join your company.

“If their answer is, ‘You have good pay and benefits and I need a job,’ that’s probably not going to be very interesting to us,” he says. “But if the answer is, ‘I see this as a great opportunity to have a long-term career, and I think I could be very successful. Here’s why I’ve been successful in the past, and I think I can be successful here,’ then we’d be interested in that person.”

Of course, you also have to be clear about what the job entails to make sure both sides are in sync.

“We tell them about the company, how we train them, our expectations of them,” Davis says. “So nothing is new when they come on board.”

Explain both what you expect of the candidates and what they can expect. Davis shares stories of 26-year-old company presidents who have zoomed through the program and risen to the top.

Students can also go online for in-depth descriptions and videos of the Leadership Development Program through first-person perspectives of current students and successful graduates. The “Day in the Life” section shares employees’ blogs to show an average day’s duties in several positions. One employee who has only been in the program for a month shares a day of inking press rollers and attending a production meeting to review every job in the plant. Another new employee, still in sales training, blogs about a morning presentation for combining CGX’s print and online capabilities, the daily hour of cold calls and happy hour with a top client.

“They know what our expectations are coming into the company, and hopefully they know what the opportunities are coming into the company,” Davis says.

Through that, he hopes to find employees who will make the best fit.

“Anybody we hire out of college we think has the potential to be a company president,” Davis says. “Or we don’t hire them.”

Provide opportunities

The Leadership Development Program at Consolidated Graphics has three phases to steer employees into management positions, offering development opportunities along the way.

The first stage, formally called the production rotation, is better known as getting dirty. Like the brand-new employee blogged on the Web site, the first step involves teaching employees the process that physically takes a job through the company.

The company’s philosophy is this: If you’re going to be a leader in the business, you have to know how it works down to the finest, grubbiest detail.

After six months, candidates shift to the next phase of business fundamentals by rotating through the back-office departments. They tackle longer-term, hands-on projects in accounting, purchasing and customer service for about another six months.

During these stages, don’t treat the new employees like interns that sit on the sidelines and observe. They should be diving into each specialty to ultimately decide where they want to end up.

On-the-job training provides students reference materials to help teach the technical aspects as well as the assistance of a more experienced associate who may serve as a mentor.

“My objective is I want them to be as successful as they possibly can be,” Davis says. “It’s my challenge to be sure that they have enough opportunities to maximize their potential in our company, and that’s my responsibility.”

While new employees are scouting the various aspects of your company, your job is to make sure they’re making an effort and to help them find their strengths by monitoring their performance.

Every six months, presidents of operating companies comple te written evaluations of the LDP associates at their location, and Davis personally reviews the assessments. While they’re always evaluated on soft skills like getting along with co-workers and communicating effectively, the early assessments focus on technical skills.

“You’re looking at: Are they developing their technical expertise?” Davis says. “They spent six months in customer service, for instance. Have they mastered all the things that you need to know about in customer service? If they’re in purchasing, have they mastered everything, including all the products we buy and the characteristics of those products?”

Their interests — as well as your assessment of their strongest skills — will lead them to the third stage of the program, which is leadership training in an area of their choosing. At Consolidated Graphics, that’s generally a choice between sales development and operations management, both of which eventually lead to the president’s seat.

“They have to decide what they want to do,” Davis says. “We can encourage them, but I think people have to encourage themselves. We give them a lot of opportunity, and they have to take advantage of the opportunity. We’re not in the baby-sitting business.”

By mostly leaving the choice to them, you’ll also identify the self-starters who will jump into a position and strive for success.

“You can look at your job in a narrow field or you can say, ‘I’m here to learn all I can about the printing business. I want to help in any area I can,’ and if somebody’s overloaded, you step in and help them out; maybe you learn something about their job when you’re doing it,” Davis says. “So I’m looking for people who are willing to extend themselves and understand our business.”

Develop leaders

Davis learned that in order for new leaders to develop in his company, he has to throw them the ball and trust them with it. So he tries to strike a balance between letting go and watching how they handle the responsibility.

“It’s necessary to be able to delegate to your people. You can’t be a micromanager,” he says. “But at the same time, I think you need to follow up to be sure that people are doing their job and have some method to measure how well they are doing that particular job.”

The fine line lies at how often you’re monitoring your people. The more closely you examine each step of their progress, the closer you inch toward micromanagement.

“If you’re just looking at results and not questioning the wisdom of every judgment they make, that’s not micromanaging,” Davis says. “You have to let people do enough things and make a few mistakes and hopefully they learn from those mistakes.”

Of course, the way you handle their mistakes can either foster or stint their growth. Davis, for example, prefers to discuss what caused the mistake and how the employee can improve next time. But again, it’s up to them to learn from it.

“I don’t get very upset when people make a mistake,” he says. “What I get upset about is if they make the same mistake twice or if there’s an area that I have told them to be careful about and that’s where the mistakes happen.”

On the other hand, when you see employees using opportunities to improve, it may be a sign they’re ready for more responsibility.

“Go back to the people that have been successful in the job that you’ve asked them to do,” Davis says. “You have an opportunity for more responsibility, then I think that’s the person you’re going to take the chance with — and it’s a chance anytime you promote anybody into a new position. You’re taking risks.

“The question you have to have, always, is, ‘Can he run a larger company?’ I look at him and I see he’s done a great job running a smaller company, and my judgment is that he has the ability to run a larger company.”

But, because you’re taking a chance when you make that call, how can you reduce the risk? What if the employee isn’t ready for the responsibility?

“Well, you have to look at his management style,” Davis says with a nod back to the delegation discussion. “He’s running a smaller company; has he delegated or has he done everything himself? If he’d been a one-man band, he’s probably not going to work well. He doesn’t have any experience or maybe the talents to run a larger operation.

“But if he’s been good at hiring the right people, delegating to those people and making sure that they’re doing a good job, then he probably could handle a larger operation.”

With 21 of the company’s 70 presidents coming through the Leadership Development Program, Davis jokes that he can always give aspiring presidents more responsibility.

“I tell them that I never have enough company presidents,” he says. “We can acquire a lot more companies today if we had enough people to run them.”

How to reach: Consolidated Graphics Inc., (713) 787-0977 or www.cgx.com

Visit the Leadership Development Program Web site: www.cgxoncampus.com

Sunday, 25 April 2010 20:00

BLADE Runner

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Vikram Mehta spun BLADE Network Technologies Inc. out of Nortel in 2006 because he saw the opportunity for a new kind of intelligent network backbone for data centers.

“There were customers who were depending on the success of this business, and the operation could not be successful where it was,” says Mehta, the company’s president and CEO. “This was about putting it in an environment where it could deliver on the commitment and promises that were being made to customers.”

Today, BLADE is booming. In less than three years, the company has grown to employ more than 200 people. Its networking switches support 9,500 enterprise data center clients in 26 industries, including 350 companies in the Fortune 500. And BLADE is on track to exceed $100 million in shipments for fiscal 2010.

Mehta was honored as a 2009 national finalist in the Emerging category and a Northern California regional Entrepreneur Of The Year Award winner. Smart Business spoke with his about ideas, relationships and how to motivate employees to discover that next great thing.

Q. What drives BLADE’s success?

We’re in a people business. It takes people to build technology. It takes people to come up with creative ideas that turn into products. ... So at the very heart of this high-tech business are people. That’s the biggest asset and most sustainable differentiator any company can have.

Q. You mentioned people coming up with creative ideas that turn into products. Do you have a system in place to foster that?

We have this concept called the Idea Pump. The Idea Pump is an electronic repository where anybody in the company can give suggestions that will improve just about anything that the company does. ...

I personally go in and review ideas that have been submitted in the Idea Pump. We then discuss it as an executive management team.

You’ll be surprised at the brilliance that comes out of this Idea Pump. I equate it to opening a radioactive tin — it’s glowing with brilliant ideas. In fact, at any given moment there are more ideas there than we have resources to follow through on.

When we take ideas out of there we go back and reward the individual or team of individuals who either came up with the idea or collaborate on making it reality.

Q. How do you encourage people to experiment with ideas?

The worst mistake that you can make is inaction. Moving fast, trying new things, even if they don’t work, will at least give you [an idea], as an organization, of what is not working. Then you can go off in another direction. But if you keep waiting, when you finally do take an action you won’t know if it will yield the results you want.

Going out there and trying new things is extremely important. Making sure you’re not making the same mistake over and over again is incredibly important, but I really encourage risk taking. No great things happen because you just walk along a safe path.

It’s all about taking risk. It’s all about learning from the outcome of those risks that you take. That’s what I do personally and try to practice with my employees, as well.

Q. How do you build strong relationships that translate into growth?

At the bottom of all of this is trust. If you give somebody a commitment, you will follow through on that. The approach that I’ve always tried to take on this ... is that if you’ve made a promise to somebody, if it’s the last thing you do before you die, you’ll fulfill that promise. As long as you bring that attitude, customers are going to trust you, employees are going to trust you, partners are going to trust you and suppliers are going to trust you. And in difficult times, they’re going to give you that one extra chance you need.

How to reach: BLADE Network Technologies Inc., www.bladenetwork.net

IPOs on the rise

While it may not feel like much in the economy has changed, a recent study by Ernst & Young LLP that analyzed business activity among Russell 2000 companies indicates that many companies are on a growth path.

“The current numbers suggest that all boats are rising with the Russell tide — or at least a significant number of them,” says Maria Pinelli, Americas Director, Strategic Growth Markets, Ernst & Young LLP. “If you are one of the smaller companies, it’s clearly time to get growing.”

One way to grow is to take your company public. According to E&Y’s survey, IPO activity grew significantly during the second half of 2009, with 32 IPO entrants added to the Russell 2000. That’s more than double the 13 IPO entrants during the first half of 2009.

If you’re thinking about IPOs, here are just a few of the questions you should ask yourself to see if your company is ready. You can find more questions as well as whitepapers on growth and entrepreneurship at www.ey.com/US/EN/home/library.

  • Have you developed a formal, comprehensive written plan and timeline?
  • Has your organization begun acting like a public company?
  • Are you actively addressing the four functional phases of the IPO preparation process: due diligence, drafting, SEC review and marketing?
  • Have you determined your company’s potential M&A valuation versus its public company valuation?
  • Is your team able to scale to meet the company’s growth projections?
  • Have you communicated realistic timeline expectations to key stakeholders?
  • Do you have a Plan B? Have you prepared a financing strategy to execute without an IPO?

Source: Ernst & Young, www.ey.com

Expenses are an expansive headache for most businesses. Whether it’s purchasing office supplies, business travel, client entertainment or vehicle maintenance — logging and keeping track of everything is often much more work than it should be.

That is why more and more businesses are turning to commercial card programs.

A commercial card program is a single card product that can be used for purchasing goods and services, effectively consolidating multiple payment streams into a single program to manage expenses. The program’s reporting system provides a detailed description of who made a purchase, and where and when it was made. Each card can be assigned various limits to manage the dollar amounts and types of expenses authorized for individual employees.

This allows for the centralization of data, making it easy to obtain information on strategic sourcing opportunities and policy compliance. More accurate data enables managers to improve their ability to negotiate better pricing from vendors and ensure their employees are following corporate policies.

“A commercial card program is a convenient and cost-effective way to streamline your organization’s purchasing process,” says Suzanne Colmenero, a senior business relationship manager at Wells Fargo Bank. “You can use a commercial card to purchase anything, from travel expenses to supplies, and even fleet expenses.”

Smart Business spoke with Colmenero about commercial card programs and how to determine if they’re right for your business.

Why is the commercial card becoming an increasingly popular way to manage expenses?

Because it can streamline your company’s purchasing process by automating expense management processes and controlling expenses. With more and more businesses accepting Visa and MasterCard, commercial cards are becoming the preferred way to conduct business. A commercial card program can offer both hard and soft dollar savings for organizations using them, improved cash management, greater control over spending and streamlined expense management.

Commercial card programs have several other benefits. Employees who carried multiple credit cards can now use a single card for business purposes. Employees no longer have to decide when to use which card, eliminating confusion and decreasing reliance on other forms of payment, which often are more expensive to process. Also, a commercial card program can result in increased savings by centralizing the administration and support of the program. One monthly invoice is processed for your organization’s expenditures, and you get better information faster with online reporting features.

What specific savings can a business expect to realize?

According to the 2007 RPMG study, the average cost to process a payment transaction using a traditional purchase order method is $88.55. Compare that to the average cost to process a payment transaction using a commercial card ($19.49). You’ll see these savings thanks to the elimination of check processing, postage and other costs associated with check writing. Not to mention the savings you’ll see from the time saved by streamlining approval processes, which can be used for more value-added activities. You can also extend the time you have to settle payments for your purchases; commercial cards can have up to a 30-day cycle and/or a grace period before payment is due.

Of course, costs vary from organization to organization, but the extent to which a company is willing to revamp its purchasing and accounting processes will determine the amount of savings realized.

Which companies are best suited for commercial card programs?

Almost any organization can reap the benefits of a commercial card program. I find that organizations that have several different employees making on-the-spot purchases or those with at least 25 vendors see the most benefit. Also, companies that have employees that travel and entertain can benefit.

When employees make business purchases with commercial cards, you eliminate cash advances, purchase orders and checks. Plus, cardholders experience a significant reduction in procurement cycle time.

What controls do commercial cards offer?

You can control the amount of each purchase, total expenditures and access to supplier categories for each cardholder. Transactions are approved or declined at the point of sale based on these pre-set controls. Commercial cards also are accompanied by reporting and reconciliation applications that provide company administrators and managers of employees the ability to review purchases made within 24 hours of settlement. There are standard reports available to facilitate informal and formal audits of these purchases to ensure policy compliance.

What are the benefits of online administration?

Having real-time administrator access to your commercial card program enables you to make changes to limits and cancel cards immediately. It also makes reconciliation easier by automatically loading all commercial card transaction activity for each cardholder, along with pre-approved cost center and general ledger mapping combinations. Cardholders can also add in out-of-pocket transactions to facilitate their expense management process. Online approval workflows also help in reducing the time it takes to process commercial card payments.

Managers can monitor spending patterns of employees with real-time Internet access to their card balances and transaction information. An administrator can go online to perform a wide range of tasks, including changing cardholder limits, closing card accounts, ordering replacement cards, downloading transaction data, running reports, auditing the program and disputing transactions.

Suzanne Colmenero is a senior business relationship manager at Wells Fargo Bank. Reach her at (713) 319-1551 or suzanne.colmenero@wellsfargo.com.

Friday, 26 March 2010 20:00

The Fazio file

Written by

Education: B.A. in speech communication;

The Ohio State University

What was your first job?

Working fast food in an amusement park when I was 14. But I was also a radio disc jockey when I was in high school and college.

What has been your most difficult leadership challenge?

Finding the best people who want to get better every day. Likewise, when these people realize that they can get better every day, they get really more excited about work.

What has been your greatest leadership lesson?

When you realize it’s not about me, it’s about us.

We’re not playing tennis here. This is not one-on-one here. This is a group effort. You lose sight of that when you think it is about you. You realize it is about us, and that realization means that some people are limited and you are limited, but two people are better than one.

What profession would you want to be in, if you couldn’t have your current job?

Making movies. I do some now. I make lifetime movies or videos, and put some music to them for either people that retire or my kids or stuff like that. I minored in movie production in college. I just enjoy that.

What theme song would you choose for your company?

‘We are the Champions,’ (by Queen.) I am an aggressive person. It doesn’t mean I’m undefeated, but I want to win.