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Houston (992)

Friday, 25 June 2010 20:00

Community involvement

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Retail & Wholesale

When hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the New Orleans community, David Blossman decided to help the best way he knew how — by making beer.

As president of Abita Brewing Co. LLC, he created Abita Fleur-de-lis Restoration Ale after seeing so many people lose their homes and places of business to the hurricanes. The restoration project meant that his employees could return to work and actively help their community heal. One dollar from each six-pack sold went to the restoration effort, and proceeds from the new brew raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. Inspired by the ale’s success, Blossman decided to use the company’s 20th birthday celebration as a way to help the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s Employee Relief Fund. That’s typical of Blossman’s efforts to involve his entire company in charity efforts by encouraging employees to volunteer time at fundraising events.

Blossman’s love of brewing started at an early age — he entered home-brewing contests as a child but was often too young to collect the prizes. Later, as an adult, after acting as an investor in the company, he took over in 1996. Abita’s home state of Louisiana is a vital part of its identity. And Blossman sees to it that as many ingredients as possible come from the state. For example, the Strawberry Harvest Lager uses strawberries from the state, and the Pecan Harvest Ale includes Louisiana’s own natural pecans.

Blossman also hosts local events to promote his brand, such as gourmet beer dinners and pub crawls. He also expanded the company’s marketing tactics into social media and recently produced a beer cookbook.

Blossman’s determination and his love of brewing kept the company moving forward after the storms, and he plans to expand production to all 50 states in the near future.

How to reach: Abita Brewing Co., (800) 737-2311 or www.abita.com

Friday, 25 June 2010 20:00

Cleaning up

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Power & Utilities

Stephen D. Johnston had everything going for him. After graduating from the University of Mississippi, he landed a job with Wachovia Securities Inc. and the young investment banker went to work making a name for himself.

Then, one day, a local entrepreneur offered Johnston a job at his start-up company. At the time, the new venture consisted of a three-page business plan, a three-bedroom house and five employees.

If he accepted the offer, Johnston would have to withdraw from his EMBA program and take a 60 percent pay cut, but he followed his intuition and joined SmartSynch in 2000.

Almost as soon as he came on board, he discovered that the company — which develops smart grid intelligence solutions for the utility industry — was nearly out of money. Johnston used his prior experience in banking to secure millions in capital and revamp the business plan. Prospects looked grim once again in 2001, when the company’s largest vendor, Motorola, decided to discontinue its product line that was vital to SmartSynch’s survival. To avoid a mess, Johnston arranged a deal to purchase the division from Motorola.

In 2004, the company faced significant turnover, including the loss of its founder/CEO. Confident in his commitment and vision for the company, the board of directors named Johnston CEO. After settling into his new position, Johnston persuaded AT&T to buy in to his company’s technology. Every other public carrier soon followed AT&T’s lead and bought into the smart grid, resulting in a 100 percent increase in revenue from 2008 to 2009.

The future looks promising for Johnston and his company. Recently, the company gained recognition as “One of the Most Intriguing Green Tech Innovators in America” by BusinessWeek and the total potential benefit of implementing smart grid technologies over the next 20 years is estimated to be $75 billion.

How to reach: SmartSynch, (888) 362-1780 or www.smartsynch.com

Friday, 25 June 2010 20:00

Herculean effort

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Offshore Marine

John T. Rynd became the CEO at Hercules Offshore Inc. in 2008, just months prior to the collapse of the global economy. Becoming a new CEO at a time when commodity prices plummeted and Gulf of Mexico drilling tumbled to unforeseen lows made the transition to CEO a difficult task but one that Rynd, who also serves as president, was ready to tackle.

Rynd helped the company remain the market leader in the Gulf of Mexico by maintaining a presence throughout the downturn and developing unique ways to generate business. For example, throughout the past year, Rynd has helped Hercules Offshore enter into a number of creative agreements to manage other companies’ assets. The agreements provide a means by which Hercules can continue to expand its asset base, leverage its geographic footprint and expand upon its reputation for operational excellence but do it without expending any capital.

Rynd has also overseen major advances in oil and gas drilling. The art of drilling offshore oil and gas wells has not changed significantly over the years, but Hercules has been working on developing advanced subsurface technology to allow the company to drill wells with submersible gear, representing a huge breakthrough in offshore drilling technology.

For the future, Rynd has indicated that the company plans to take the necessary risks to expand its market share and global footprint by acquiring other companies or company assets. However, since debt is not easy to acquire and is nearly cost prohibitive at this point, Hercules’ leaders will closely evaluate all acquisitions to ensure they are value-added and will significantly contribute to the vision of Rynd and his leadership team.

Rynd’s personal motto is, “Let’s control what we can control.” By focusing on things that the company can control, Rynd has reduced the company’s cost structure and improved it operationally.

How to reach: Hercules Offshore Inc., (713) 350-5100 or www.herculesoffshore.com

Friday, 25 June 2010 20:00

Stand by me

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Manufacturing & Distribution

Dozens of summers ago, when Mike Donovan was 11 years old, he asked his father for a relatively significant amount of money in order to make a purchase. The details about what Donovan longed for are lost, but the words and wisdom that his father shared with him are not.

If you want that money, his father said, you’ll have to earn it.

Donovan thought about how he might be able to earn enough money to get what he wanted. What in the world could he do? After all, he was only 11. And then, in the first of many eureka moments of his life, Donovan realized he had a mower and he could start a lawn service company. Soon, he had a customer, too. And before he knew it, he had more than enough money to make that purchase. And by the end of the summer, he was on his way to something far larger than he could have initially dreamed. Seven years later, just prior to beginning his first college classes, he sold his equipment and his clients for about $80,000.

Donovan has that same attitude as the principal of Heat Transfer Solutions Inc., an exclusive distributor of McQuay HVAC equipment parts in southeast and central Texas. Whatever he wants, and whatever his employees want, must be earned. First, he produced quality HVAC products, then he specialized the business by providing solutions to customers with special needs. Later, he focused on building long-term relationships with customers. And today, he focuses most on his employees. Because he values them and he wants them to stay around, he gives them certain powers and control. As a result, he has lost only four employees in seven years.

In addition, he is a big believer in giving back to the community and requires all commissioned staff to engage in at least one outside volunteer activity.

How to reach: Heat Transfer Solutions Inc., 832-328-1010 or www.htseng.com

Friday, 25 June 2010 20:00

Competitive edge

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Financial Services

Javier Loya’s competitive nature drove him to merge his first company, Choice Energy, with five other commodity brokerage firms in 2007. Today, there are 17 portfolio companies under the umbrella of OTC Global Holdings, a fast-growing commodities brokerage house that has capitalized on the fragmented over-the-counter energy markets through pooling of risk and leveraging technology.

Pooling the companies allows them to continue in their markets, leverage liquidity and share risk, providing a competitive advantage to the portfolio companies that can execute trading strategies they might not be able to as standalone entities.

Loya’s office speaks volumes about his competitive nature and strong work ethic, which he credits to watching his parents and older siblings growing up in El Paso. His old football helmet from his days at Columbia University sits by the desk of the president and CEO, and memorabilia from the Houston Texans — a team Loya invests in — decorates the walls. He thrives in aggressive environments, which makes him a natural in commodities.

Despite a competitive past, Loya recognizes that sometimes the best thing to do is to alleviate risks. Knowing when to take risks and when to stop keeps him at the top of his game. In 2009, the company began sending all trades to a centralized record system, allowing brokers to access transactions more quickly, thus reducing costs. And for Loya, investing in new technology systems adds efficiency and security to the company, freeing up office time, which gives brokers more time to spend developing their trade strategies. And should OTC Global Holding identify other appropriate partners, Loya’s competitive business model allows for future growth of the company. Loya also strives to do his best when it comes to the community. He is associated with Texans’ Hispanic Advisory Board, AIDS Foundation Houston, American Cancer Society, Oasis Haven for Women and Children, March of Dimes and others.

How to reach: OTC Global Holdings, (713) 358-5450 or www.otcgh.com

Jennifer Heard likes to keep her goals clearly in view. But that’s not an easy thing to do when you’re leading a multistate territory for Microsoft Corp., one of the most well-known companies in the world.

“Trying to scale leadership across 18 states and multiple geographies and multiple levels across the Microsoft business and connecting with that size of an organization can create its own challenges,” says Heard, vice president of the $58.4 billion computer technology company’s Central Region Partner Team.

“A great leader is someone that can connect people with a clear or crisp vision and strategy so people can align and feel accountable to that vision. You have to simplify that vision so no matter where you’re leaving the sound bite, it connects with people.”

The ability to make that connection comes down to your ability to collect feedback and incorporate it into your vision without creating confusion.

Smart Business spoke with Heard about how to keep in touch with your people to grow your business collaboratively.

Determine priorities. Start by understanding what your business is trying to drive for that year. If growth is the most important thing for the business that year, what are the five or 10 things that you need from your front line and from your leaders to execute against?

Let’s say you have a revenue target for a new product you’re getting ready to launch.

Maybe we need to make sure that we’ve trained our partners around the new message that drives demand for that new product. Maybe you want to reach 100 partners that year delivering that message. That could be one commitment.

Maybe you have a new competitor. This is a big one for Microsoft since we always have new competitors entering into the market. We might have a goal that says, ‘I want to make sure we recruit five new partners that are competitive partners. I want to make sure they are executing X amount of transactions this year. That would demonstrate success back to my business.’

We start to get more specific as to what we want them to do to drive growth back to that product we’re trying to launch in the market.

Keep it doable. Don’t set a target that is unrealistic for an individual to be successful. If you set it too broad and it doesn’t have achievable metrics around the ability of the individual, the employees will become frustrated that they can’t be successful. We always have to be thinking, ‘Can this be achievable by the individual?’

You certainly risk that people won’t agree with the commitments you’ve established for them. That’s why you need to have one-on-ones. It’s really important for managers that are managing those folks as well as leaders that are inspiring the folks to really understand why.

If they don’t understand why we’re asking them to do a commitment, it can certainly have a negative impact. If the employee really feels strongly about that commitment not being the right commitment for the business and makes a good case, it’s also important to listen.

There are times we will make a change, if we can, unless it’s a really important commitment for the business and it’s a metric that we have to deliver to (Wall Street). If we commit to (Wall Street), since we’re a publicly traded company, there is expectation against those revenue targets that we’re going to hit it. There are certain things employees need to understand that, as shareholders, we want to deliver on.

But there are some that may not be as specific that could be modified. We certainly want to empower our managers to make those decisions with those employees.

Keep in touch. The biggest risk a company can have is you disconnect yourself from the field or the front line and you try to build commitments in a silo. Have a committee or work stream that represents multiple roles and accountabilities as the metrics are being defined. It’s almost a validation that if someone on the front line is going to be landing this commitment, will it make sense in their world?

Have a group of individuals that are working through all the commitments that are being defined and then have checkpoints along the way as they are being defined and before they get landed.

Success will only come if your front line believes in what they are ultimately driving toward and if they feel that they are going to be successful.

Provide opportunities. As you’re developing leaders, you give them opportunities to step out of their day job and work on special assignments like this. It’s not the business group selecting their own people. They reach out to leaders like myself and say, ‘Can you nominate three or four people to be on this committee for the next five or six weeks to decide what commitments we want to land across the globe?’

Let’s say we’re trying to make a decision on one product group in a strategy and we want to make sure we understand what commitments we want to land. That product group can push out, let’s say, the draft version. You would push that out and say, ‘Here’s our draft version. We’d like you to make sure you have as many people as you can review this and add any commentary. Then we’re going to review everybody’s feedback.’

It enables employees to easily connect with a portal that has an opportunity to review, edit and comment and not lose that feedback as it goes back up to the decision-makers. That’s one way we make sure we’re not missing opportunities.

Track progress. Give folks connectivity to a portal where scorecards are tracked so at any time there is a portal for your team where they can see how you are trending. Everyone in the company, from our CEO to our sales reps on the front line all want to know how well we’re performing on things we’re measured against.

We all want to be successful. If you don’t have something to measure to ensure you’re being successful, I don’t think we would be driving the results we want to. We’d be going blind.

How to reach: Microsoft Corp., (800) 765-7768 or www.microsoft.com

Michael Ishee, vice president, ATW Management Inc.The term “outsourcing” has become synonymous with “downsizing” and “layoffs” and is now among the whispered anxieties discussed around the office watercooler. Many companies are cutting overhead costs and scrutinizing all departments like never before. Even IT departments are not immune as computers become cheaper, more personal and user-friendly, and less the iconic complicated work terminal.

Computer manufacturers have been producing faster, smarter and ever more reliable equipment; program writers have become quick to increase security and immunity to viruses resulting in fewer PC and data infrastructure issues. A lot has seemingly improved in the decade since the Y2K scare, and today, many managers are questioning the need for a fully staffed IT department.

Decision-makers have seemingly developed a false sense of security that vital proprietary data will always be safely kept just a few keystrokes away and can possibly be managed at much less cost. With millions of PCs, laptops, netbooks and smart phones online worldwide, private networks have never been more conveniently accessible — but with that accessibility comes vulnerability.

Smart Business spoke to Mike Ishee, vice president of ATW Management Inc., about how companies can have the best of both worlds: a scaled-down IT department and the support their systems need.

What are the risks an organization faces by not having qualified IT support?

Managing the vulnerability of the very backbone of any organization is not to be taken lightly. In the event of a catastrophic systems failure, even simple business functions tied to the system cease until the network is back up and running. Here, time really does equal money as seconds turn into minutes and cost becomes immeasurable when taken on a global scale, potentially devastating the individual company or organization.The seriousness of these issues and others has led many managers to become reluctant to outsource IT responsibilities, yet the issue of effectively reducing overall business costs remains.

What ‘outsourced’ service options are available?

Computer hardware manufacturers, operating systems writers, and even office-supply and big-box retail stores are attempting to address this need. Many are aggressively marketing cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all maintenance agreements from a basic ‘once you leave the store, you’re on your own’ to the ultimate ‘24-7 on-site maintenance and monitoring.’ Remote-access software programs also allow a technician to takeover a user’s screen to ascertain and possibly troubleshoot some issues without ever leaving his desk (or country.) Periodic software update checks, security vulnerability screenings and equipment lifecycle plans are among the more mundane but vital scheduled services offered on site by a technician with a can of compressed air and a quirky company car. Of course, cost varies greatly as does the quality of service.

What is the solution for a company looking to achieve cost savings as well as a highly functioning IT department?

A more flexible option is known as fractional IT support. Think of it as a hybrid between a standard-type maintenance agreement and a full-time employee — the needed expertise without the burdens of employment. In fractional IT support, an IT professional first interviews for the position, then is recruited based on how well his or her qualifications mesh with the organization’s priorities and needs. The organization then becomes part of the IT professional’s limited portfolio. This way he is familiar with the company’s needs, is aware of its individual protocols and culture, and is held ultimately responsible to that portfolio. He attends to the IT needs of his portfolio similar to the way other professionals conduct their services, right down to the availability of backup assistance provided by the fractional IT support provider.

In a larger organization, the IT professional may be needed to support the organization’s existing IT department. His responsibilities may vary from scheduled maintenance to troubleshooting data recovery, debugging viruses and being available for disaster preparedness and response.

Fractional IT support is truly customizable and flexible and can address the technological needs of any company or organization regardless of size. The end result for the company or organization is having its IT needs taken care of by a real IT professional without the full-time cost. Plus, the organization gets to see a familiar face on occasion at the water cooler.


Michael Ishee is the vice president of ATW Management Inc. Reach him at (866) 452-0563 or mishee@atwonline.com.

Sunday, 25 April 2010 20:00

3 Questions

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Glenn Godkin, Wells Fargo & Co.’s regional president for Greater Houston, is responsible for more than 3,000 team members and more than 200 community banking stores. Godkin, a 30-plus-year veteran of the company, also spearheads a number of volunteer activities. Last year, Wells Fargo provided more than $2 million in grants to more than 181 nonprofit organizations in the Houston area.


Q. Business owners need to have adequate capital to keep their business engine running on all cylinders. Do you have any tips about raising capital in today’s tight credit market?

When approving loans, lenders increasingly rely on credit history and clear demonstration that you have the ability to repay the loan. Be open and honest about past credit issues and take the necessary steps to resolve any blemishes on your personal and business credit history. One easy way to improve your credit score is to always pay your bills on time — and online bill payment services is a great solution.

Q. Let’s assume that a business has excellent credit history. What else can the business owner do to increase the chances of raising capital?

Identifying and correcting any cash flow problems will help you trim expenses, save for your next big project and improve your ability to secure financing from lenders. Talk with your banker about financial services that can help improve cash flow. A thorough analysis of your business’s cash flow will help you identify opportunities for cost savings and pinpoint areas to improve operational efficiencies.

Q. What tips do you have for business owners who don’t have a great credit history?

Ask your lender about the possibility of alternative financing through micro-lenders, the U.S. Small Business Administration, or state or municipal government agencies. You should also check with your local SBA office to see which lenders are SBA preferred lenders and which have qualified for SBA Express status — which allows the lender to offer SBA Express loans, which are often easier to obtain for small businesses.

If you aren’t able to raise the capital you need through a loan or alternative financing, consider partnering with another investor or establishing a joint venture to inject capital in your business.

Sunday, 25 April 2010 20:00

The Danner file

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Born: DeWitt, Ark.

Education: Masters of accounting degree from Rice University

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

My very first job was stacking bottles in a grocery store, back in the old days when you had to return your bottles. I was in charge of that room, keeping it clean and doing inventory of our returned bottles. What I learned from it was that I had a responsibility and they relied on me to do it and so I needed to show up and get my job done.

Whom do you admire most and why?

Probably that would be my father. Two things: He always did the right thing. Whatever he thought the right thing to do was, that was his guiding post. And secondly, he succeeded through lots and lots of hard work. So doing the right thing and working hard were his keys to success.

What’s your definition of success?

Improving the lives of the people that you touch.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Some of the best advice that I’ve ever got, from a business standpoint, is that it’s hard to talk to somebody who’s frowning.

Your workday is off to a bad start. How do you turn it around?

I shut down for 10 minutes and read the paper and restart.

If you weren’t in your current position, what might you be doing instead?

I would probably be a teacher.

Other positions: Also serves as president, CEO and director of Exterran GP LLC; the managing general partner of Exterran Partners LP; a director of Copano Energy LLC; and a director of Anchor Drilling Fluids Inc.

Tuesday, 06 April 2010 20:00

Bob Johnson values Merrill Lynch employees

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As a financial adviser, Bob Johnson learned that caring for clients could make the difference between keeping or losing them. Now, as managing director of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, he sees how the same thing works for employees.

“You have to treat your employees just like your clients. You can’t take them for granted,” says Johnson, who manages 179 employees and $14 billion in assets at Houston’s downtown complex. “There’s a lot of movement within our industry. It’s my goal to minimize that, and the way to do that is to be responsive to employees.”

Even the way you organize meetings can make employees feel valued. Telling them what to expect shows you respect their time.

“It’s all the little things that matter,” Johnson says. “When you tell them how long it’s going to be, who are going to be the speakers, what the topics are and when you’re going to be out, that shows them that you’re thinking about them and not yourself.”

To set the pace of those meetings, Johnson follows the advice of an old boss who told him to start each meeting with recognition.

“What separates average leaders from great leaders is promoting that and publishing it, shining the light on others,” he says. “So much recognition that people want has nothing to do with financial incentives.”

You also may want open communication in the meeting, but you actually have to initiate it, because some people will be intimidated.

“You have to take the lead,” Johnson says. “I think it’s my responsibility, not theirs.”

To get employees accustomed to opening up in meetings, Johnson gathers small groups of four to eight employees in his conference room. He invites a variety, from the highest-producing financial advisers to the newest employees, and makes sure some outspoken ones are in the mix. He introduces the issue and relies on willing ones to get the ball rolling.

“When you’re in a smaller group, that tends to foster people’s willingness to communicate. Once they see one or two people [talk] and that it was OK, then the others feel more comfortable,” Johnson says. “It doesn’t happen overnight, but after four to six months of consistently doing it, they see that you really do care about their opinions.

“You have to make it about other people. You’re in the wrong profession if you make it about yourself. It’s a job requirement, kind of like you need to have good eyesight to be a pilot. You need to be tall to be a center in the NBA. You need to care about other people more than yourself to be a competent leader.”

How to reach: Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, (713) 658-1200 or http://www.ml.com/

Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. is wholly owned by Bank of America Corp.

Barron’s named more financial advisers from Merrill Lynch to its 2010 list of 1,000 Top Advisors than any other firm — 317 to be exact. Merrill Lynch also had the most No. 1 advisers in each state. Six advisers from Bob Johnson’s complex made the list.