After labor, energy consumption is the most expensive budget line item in the production and manufacturing process.
Sixty percent of the energy used in the United States is derived from fossil fuel -- a nonrenewable resource -- meaning there will always be a premium placed upon it. As the nation's attention remains focused on the energy crisis on the West Coast, a series of rate hikes in Ohio's utility market have left many business owners at the mercy of what is quickly turning into a nasty storm.
With the onslaught of deregulation in Ohio and across the nation, market factors that affect the supply side of the utility industry are coming into clearer focus. Transition costs -- used to recoup investments in such as things as nuclear power plants -- and other unforeseen supply issues have created an unstable market, but all is not lost, according to Craig Kasper of K & H Energy Services.
Your best bet is not to play the market in search of today's lowest available prices for your business, Kasper says. Instead, develop a long-range strategic plan to significantly reduce energy consumption.
The remainder of Ohio's deregulation plan went into effect earlier this year, removing restrictions from the supply side of the industry. Unlike California's plan, Ohio's targets the retail and wholesale markets with the intent that a competitive market will lead to lower consumer prices.
Good intentions notwithstanding, cold winters, fuel shortages and increased summer spending have pushed energy prices up to some of the highest rates ever seen. In response, many manufacturers and other high energy users are beginning to worry.
What it all means
As a result of deregulation, utility costs are now unbundled. Instead of a single charge per kilowatt hour, energy bills reflect different charges for generation, transmission, distribution and transition. Previously, all of those were combined into one rate on the bill.
Transition costs are the most controversial. They constitute the stranded assets left to the public utilities companies by such projects as construction of power plants -- many of which are outdated and shut down. But under an agreement reached by the Ohio Legislature and the utilities, the act of recouping those costs has been spread out over several years to reflect only moderate rate hikes for consumers, the largest group of which is high energy using manufacturers.
Because the utilities spent in excess of several billion dollars on those investments, experts predict a five- to seven-year period before all the stranded costs are recouped. After that, consumers are expected to see real supply costs for the first time.
In layman's terms, that means the high cost of running a manufacturing plant -- which has increased drastically in recent years -- is likely to remain that way for quite a while. For owners of other types of businesses, if you're using a lot of energy, for now expect prices to stay high.
Supply vs. demand
It's been said that with adversity comes enlightenment. In light of a changing market and increased costs, business owners, especially small- and mid-sized manufacturers, need to re-evaluate their energy usage and its relation to overall product cost.
Ironically, as with many complex business issues, it's the smaller companies that have to expend otherwise nonexistent in-house resources to develop solutions that larger competitors can develop much quicker.
Kasper says that despite this, it's time to accept the inevitable and begin to approach the problem with an eye toward the future.
Business owners must ask themselves, "What can I do to improve my energy use so I can save money?"
"It is more of an awareness issue because the price of electricity is going up and the question is, what can I do (as a business owner) to hedge against it," Kasper explains.
In the game of supply and demand, he estimates that customers without high usage contracts will find themselves at the mercy of the market and save only 5 to 7 percent while the market is adjusting to transition costs.
But on the demand side of the equation, if you look at how your company uses energy and devise a plan to maximize its use, the savings can be between 10 and 20 percent.
Develop an energy strategy
Kasper suggests evaluating bills from the last 12 months to establish an average energy cost.
"That tells you how your energy costs are being derived," he says. "Are you paying any penalties, and what are your major cost drivers?"
From there, pinpoint where your business is using the most energy and why. At that point, it's a matter of devising a proactive plan to bring down those costs.
One of the first things that must be determined is your company's load profile. The load profile determines the tariff or rate a business pays for its utilities and is determined in part by peak demand. Higher demand often translates into a higher charge per kilowatt hour.
"If you have a high demand, where you might be paying demand charges, that is the highest amount of energy you are using in a given month," explains Kasper.
That means that in some cases, a business can actually use a low rate of electricity overall in a given month, but if there are peaks at a higher rate, even once a month, the higher rate is charged for the entire month's energy usage. Kasper says high demand rates have been know to constitute anywhere from 50 to 100 percent of a bill.
For manufacturers, that peak may come from short periods of time when high energy sucking equipment is running.
"Look for ways to eliminate that demand," Kasper suggests. "Rather than let it peak, have a generator pick up that load. Or, instead of turning on all of that equipment, stagger it."
Staggering equipment use is an effective way to keep consumption lower. While overall energy use remains the same, there are no high usage charges tacked on the bill.
Get the most out of your usage
One of the simplest ways to achieve higher energy efficiency is to replace old equipment, lighting and HVAC systems with new energy saving counterparts. While that may mean you'll incur some upfront costs, in the long run, it's an investment you'll get a strong return on.
Shifting high demand times from on-peak to off-peak hours is another means of saving. It varies from business to business, but on-peak hours usually fall between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Because of higher demand during those hours, the utility charges users a higher rate. The idea is to create penalties for using large amounts of energy during high demand times and incentives to use energy during lower demand hours. Kasper suggest running equipment at night or adding a third shift to offset costs.
If prices remain as high as they have been -- or spike upward due to a colder-than-average winter -- alternative methods of energy will become the norm rather than the exception. Kasper predicts that co-generation will become a larger part of energy management.
Co-generation is the process of using local gas wells, landfill gas, waste product incineration or waste heat to augment or even replace traditional energy sources. Experts say it can improve energy efficiency by up to 70 percent.
In the end, the issue is about more than simply the rising price of energy and how it affects your business. It's about how your business uses or, in some cases, misuses, energy, and the effect it has on your company's bottom line.
Kasper, who has spent 38 years in the utility industry, suggests looking at energy costs not just as a means to save money in this highly volatile market, but as a way to improve profitability.
"Look at your (energy) cost (in relation) to your cost of product," he says. "That cost is where you might want to look to lower the cost of the product out the door. That is where the savings is going to affect the bottom line."
And while no one can predict what the future of utility deregulation will bring, unlike California's poorly thought out policy, Ohio's is one that other states can follow. If both sides follow through on what's expected of them, competition will increase, prices will eventually fall and business owners will change the way they look at their energy costs.
"Make a strategic commitment to develop a plan." Kasper says. "From a competition standpoint, if you aren't doing it, your competitors will be." How to reach: K & H Energy Services, 440-519-2570
Kim Palmer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing editor of SBN Magazine.
PUCO -- Public Utilities Commission
FERC -- Federal Energy Regulation Commission
LDC -- Local distribution company
Supply/Generation -- Source of the utility, unregulated portion of utility
Transmission -- Process by which utility is transported from source to the LDC. Transmission is regulated by the FERC.
Distribution -- The final stop before utilities reach the consumer. Distribution is regulated by PUCO.
Unbundling -- The separation of generation, transmission and distribution charges
Tariff -- The rate of the utility
Stranded assets -- Unrecovered costs of utility development
Transition costs -- Monthly charge as a result of stranded assets, assessed in utility bill
On-peak/Off-peak -- Respective terms for high and low energy usage periods
Market development period -- The five- to seven-year period when transition cost will be assessed
Co-generation -- Creation of energy from alternative sources, ie. waste heat and on-site natural gas wells
In recent years, the Cleveland-based media giant has strategically focused on establishing footholds in the emerging new media marketplace and targeting fast growth industries for new niche publications.
Penton has vaulted to the top of a $12 billion industry, backed by its 51 publications, numerous trade shows and a wide array of Internet and broadband products. The company's aggressive pursuit to develop multiple revenue streams has been spearheaded by Tom Kemp, who assumed Penton's top spot in 1996.
Kemp combined Penton's conservative fiduciary approach with a forward-thinking strategy to move the publishing titan into a new age. SBN Magazine sat down with him to discuss Penton's focus and his view of what the future holds for traditional print publishers in an increasingly digital world.
Penton has made quite a few changes. In what direction is the company heading?
We're shifting from being just a print magazine publishing company to becoming a fully integrated B2B media company. We serve our vertical industry communities through three core channels -- in print with our magazine, in person through tradeshows and conferences and increasingly through online information.
We want to be content rich but distribution neutral, connecting buyers and sellers through priority content. We are not as concerned about the channels of distribution; we are more interested that we provide consumers with content in any format that they want. They read newspapers and magazines, attend conferences, go to trade shows for their industries and use the Internet for information or up-to-date news.
For suppliers, we want to provide an integrated marketing approach. Sure, they want to advertise in magazines, but they also exhibit at trade shows, sponsor conferences and want to reach their customers through online services.
How do you facilitate an integrated market approach?
What is important is that Penton has a leading media product in all three channels serving these vertical communities. We have a strong magazine and a strong magazine brand. We either develop or buy trade shows and conferences in these markets and develop an online presence through Internet activity.
In addition to serving the traditional markets -- over the years, Penton has served manufacturing and design engineering -- part of our strategic plan was to diversify the markets and particularly those markets that have strong growth.
The most important strategic move we made was buying a company called Mecklermedia in 1998. We are now the leading B2B media company, serving the world's fastest growing technology -- the Internet.
Traditional print publications rely heavily on advertising revenue. Will the Internet create similar revenue streams? If not, how will it be profitable?
Part of the challenge is to figure that out. We have a lot of Internet initiatives. Initially, the Web sites consisted of an electronic version of our print magazines. That doesn't take advantage of the capabilities of the Web, so in the second generation, we've developed products that are more in tune with the Web itself.
A good example is PlanetEE, a site for the electronic engineering OEM market. It has vast resources of editorial content, market information and databases. It also combines and aggregates information from about 10 different magazines and is a vertical portal for electronic engineers with more information than they can get from any one magazine.
The challenge is that we are developing products and putting them out there. But these are new media models and new revenue models.
Everyone is trying to figure out the Web and how to utilize it for e-commerce, information resources and to generate revenue. Disney is shutting down its go.com portal. A lot of traditional media companies were aggressive in developing Internet media products, but now are retrenching or downsizing because they feel less threatened by Internet-only or dot.com competitors.
The slowing economy has put pressure on the underlying core business, particularly in regards to advertising. They haven't seen the return on that investment relative to revenue and profit growth.
A year ago, people were excusing Internet losses. That game is over. The financial community is judging Internet investments just like any other investments. You have to show returns and good traction in terms of revenue growth or else you're in trouble.
What will the year 2001 bring for Penton in terms of revenue?
We have Internet media products in all of the market sectors we serve. These are Web businesses that are generating revenue. About 33 percent of our 2000 revenue (came from) the Internet and broadband sector, but those are through traditional media products like our trade shows, conferences and magazines serving that industry.
It is the best of both worlds: Proven media products that are highly profitable but are in a fast growing, dynamic industry.
For the year 2001, we expect about 52 percent of revenue will come from publishing properties and print publishing, 44 percent will come from trade shows and conferences, and 4 percent from the Internet.
We also diversified our revenue streams. Three years ago, 90 percent of our revenue was from publishing. We have aggressively diversified that so as we move on, 44 percent will be coming from our trade show portfolio this year.
In fact, our trade shows have a higher margin; that 44 (percent of revenue stream) translates into 65 percent of profit that will be generated from our trade shows.
How does that compare to five years ago?
Five years ago, Penton was basically a nonentity in the trade show business. As recently as 1998, 12 percent of our revenue came from trade shows. In 1997, five percent of our revenue came from trade shows. In 1999, it was up to 30 percent. Last year, it was 39 percent, and now it's 44 percent.
We have been growing at about 24 percent per year in revenue growth. So not only has the percentage increased very dramatically, but it's also a fast-growing base of our operations.
You've had many acquisitions in the last few years. Will that trend continue?
We did 15 acquisitions in the two-and-a-half years since we became a public company. Those acquisitions have furthered our strategic plan to diversify the markets we serve and to capture those markets.
Our acquisitions tend to fall in two categories -- the smaller one or what we call "bolt on acquisitions" that strengthen and support our current market position, and the larger strategic acquisitions that give us a leadership position in new market sectors. We will continue to execute acquisitions that make strategic and financial sense to our shareholders.
We spent about $300 million last year on acquisitions, but we still have a good leverage position and strong cash flow. We have a strong balance sheet, so we can continue to execute acquisitions. However, we never want to overleverage the company or put it at risk.
How is Penton hedging the new media part of the company against the recent market downturn?
One of the things we did, which at the time was not very popular but in retrospect has proven to be very wise, is that we never carved out our Internet businesses from the rest of the company.
A lot of companies were packaging and launching new businesses with outside financial investors and would spin off with the prospect of doing an IPO when Internet valuations were so astronomical. We always felt that we wanted an integrated media approach. It was very important not to separate the Internet businesses from our offline businesses.
We had a lot of offers from financial people and from Internet media companies to package our assets into a separate business and all make lots of money. But we didn't think that was the right thing to do for the long-term strategy for our company. What we will do is do it in a prudent way, a way in which the underlying core business can afford to invest in the Internet but achieve profit goals.
If you look at our financial reports for this year, we have told the market we will have about $400 million in revenue, up from $300 million for the year before, which is a 33 percent increase. We also told the market that we expected to go from $67 million in cash flow to between $90 million and $93 million. That is about a 30 percent cash flow operation profit increase.
All the while, we'll be allocating about $7 million worth of investments for our Internet media products.
Will the Internet ever replace print media?
People aren't going to stop reading magazines or newspapers because of the Internet. If we look at history, no new medium has ever supplanted an older medium. Everyone thought that radio was going away when television came along.
Everyone thought that the theater would go away when movies came along. Each of these mediums has unique characteristics and we have a unique experience with them.
The Web is excellent for searchable information or up-to-the-minute news and information. It is not very compatible for reading long, detailed information. I don't think that people are going to stop reading the newspaper on the bus or on the train and just utilize the Web.
Clearly, it will have an effect in terms of the marketing dollar being spent on what print does best, but not try to duplicate what the Internet does better.
What role will advertising play?
Advertising is going to continue to grow on the Web, although so far the Web has not proven to be a very good medium for static advertising like banners and buttons. The key will be an interactive experience.
It will be where they can get much more in-depth information than just reading an ad on a screen. Print is a richer advertising medium, but it doesn't have the interactive or purchasing capabilities of the Internet.
Because it is going to be a competitive channel for marketing dollars, there will be more pressure on pricing levels in the traditional media. We are interested in maximizing the marketing dollar for our supplier customers. We are less concerned about where they spend those dollars and more concerned that they spend them with Penton. That's why we have trade shows.
When they (customers) are ready to market on the Web, we will be there to catch their dollars and also carry their print advertising. That's why it is important to have an integrated media channel. You become much more of a strategic partner and supplier to your customer than simply offering pages of advertising in a magazine.
We can sell them an integrated media campaign that combines both forms of media.
What is the future of Industry Week, taking into consideration the slowdown in the manufacturing industry?
Industry Week, in one form or another, has been around for over 100 years. It had a very good year in 2000 and is off to a good start in 2001. Industry Week has a unique position because it focuses on the senior executive management in manufacturing companies and focuses specifically on manufacturing as opposed to broader base management magazines like Fortune or Forbes or Business Week.
It continues to be quite healthy and profitable and provides a unique kind of information. The readers love the magazine.
We are pretty bullish. We don't see the growth in the print properties that we see in the Internet properties or in person, but they tend to be very stable and a consistent source of revenue.
How is the recent economic slowdown affecting Penton?
Every day, you read about companies like Chrysler and Amazon.com laying off people. It's a concerning backdrop, and I think that the common perception is that the economy is not in good shape right now. But the question is, how long will it take to recover, and will it get worse before it gets better?
Most companies are subject to macroeconomic issues that they don't have any control over. Our jobs as managers is to make sure that we manage our companies in a superior manner irrespective of the environment in which we find ourselves.
The true measurement of management is not how you manage in the good times. It is pretty easy to manage when things are going well. It is how you manage your company and steer your business through the more difficult, more treacherous times of lower economic growth or even recession. That's the real test.
What do you see Penton doing in the next year or two?
We had remarkably fast growth last year. I wouldn't expect to see the same levels next year. We have already told the market that we expect a revenue increase to reach over a half a billion dollars for the year 2001, and our operating cash flow to exceed $100 million this year.
But clearly, the economy has slowed down faster than anyone expected. The Fed is reacting, but it takes several months for the economy to catch up. How to reach: Penton Media Inc., www.pentonmedia.com
Kim Palmer (email@example.com) is managing editor of SBN Magazine.
One of its keys to success has been recognizing the need by regulatory agencies worldwide for pre-clinical tests that could predict whether noncardiac drugs might cause sudden cardiac death.
Chairman and CEO Brown developed a testing method that was a strong predictor of this side effect and has been in great demand by the pharmaceutical industry, which has seen several drugs with sales of greater than $1 billion pulled because of the danger of cardiac arrest.
"We deliver good lab practice products of the highest quality with fast turnaround time," says Brown. "We can do this because we have the most outstanding group of research scientists dedicated to these ion channel-based assays anywhere in the world."
This range of expertise sets ChanTest apart from its few competitors.
"We serve a small niche market with an essential product and we have assembled the most firepower in the world to deliver the product," says Brown.
Despite its current proficiency, Brown knows the company has to keep getting better and faster to stay on top.
"The biggest challenge will be technological -- development of assays that are faster and cheaper than ours," says Brown. "We meet this challenge by being beta site tester for the instrument companies that are trying to develop these new technologies. Because we have the largest experience in our market, we are attractive collaborators for these companies."
Brown also has other goals to keep the company moving forward.
"During (the next 18 months) we will bring a fast, cheap high throughput safety testing screen online," says Brown. "This screen will complement our present products and give us a large competitive advantage. We will accelerate our drug program this year. Over the next two years we will develop a more general platform of ion channel target discovery that will be based on and utilize our present expertise in ion channels." How to reach: ChanTest Inc., (216) 332-1665
"We were in Washington on 9-11," Heestand says.
He and his co-founders Ann Katigbak and Jeremy Samide could see smoke rising from the Pentagon. Witnessing the tragedy sparked a high-tech response.
"Sending reports out about staying off bridges is the government's way of dealing with it, but what we want to do is more specific," says Heestand. "We've spent a lot of time thinking about cyber security and the ability of people like Osama bin Laden to hide data.
ETG wants to lend its expertise to assist in securing our domestic cyber space.
"We've been feeling very red, white and blue lately," says Heestand.
The idea is to use students to monitor cyber space and warn companies when new computer viruses and other threats are developed and sent out. That would require getting a technical fingerprint or the "cyber DNA" of each company to create a database.
Heestand wants to use students from a local college and Cleveland as a test site.
"Wouldn't it be great to do something like this and be first in the country?" he says.
In a world in which the United States is relying more and more on foreign computer programming, hardware and telecommunications, Heestand wants to focus his staff on creating a domestic high-tech infrastructure and wants a good part of that happen in Cleveland.
Implementing the idea may take a huge amount of work, but Heestand says cyber security is as important as any other security.
"Getting hit by a (computer) worm is more likely than getting hit by a tornado," he says. How to reach: e-Merging Technologies, (216) 433-9668 or www.etg1.com
Twenty-one years later, the Shibleys own and operate a chain of six restaurants across Northeast Ohio, in Beachwood, Chagrin Falls, Hudson, Mayfield Village, Shaker Heights and Mentor. A seventh will open in Medina in September.
Growth is never an easy part of business, but it's especially challenging when it includes expansion to numerous locations.
At one time, each sibling ran his or her own restaurant, but when the number of restaurants exceeded the number of Shibleys, the company's overall management structure required a change.
"Developing the infrastructure of the company -- the different systems and supervisory people -- has been difficult," says Larry Shibley. "Going from a couple of guys operating a couple of restaurants to a functioning chain where things happen automatically and you have sophisticated, high level training which shows everything documented ... that's been the challenge."
The group redefined the partners' roles. Today, Darlene deals with all of the store managers and interviews and hires them. Larry oversees much of the administrative and financial duties from the Chagrin Falls headquarters, manages the facilities and is the lead in the selection of new sites.
Arthur spends the bulk of his time at the Hudson store and handles tasks such as in-store training and public relations. Jeffrey splits his time between the Mayfield Village location and Mentor. He develops targeted training for employees and oversees the Web site and newsletter.
To fill out the management team, the Shibleys promoted one of their restaurant managers, Dixie Jerdon, to streamline the corporate structure. Jerdon computerized the restaurants, then took every aspect of the business and documented it in detail, Larry says.
"She created a form that would walk a manager through the tasks of each day," he says, adding she did what was necessary for the group to expand beyond four restaurants. "(She) played an extremely significant role in providing the management tools for Yours Truly to grow into a seven-restaurant chain." How to reach: Yours Truly Restaurants, (440) 247-8338
In March, Zonnevylle was awarded both the "Ohio Business Person of the Year" and the "Republican of the Year" awards by the National Republican Congressional Committee. The awards are given in recognition of business leadership and entrepreneurship. About 50 Ohioans received the "Business Person of the Year" award this year.
Her accomplishments as a business owner over the last few years are undeniably noteworthy: She took over a financially challenged business after her husband's unexpected death, and in seven years, increased sales 50 percent to 70 percent, she estimates.
In 1995, she was faced not only with the sudden loss of her husband, but with the decision of what to do with his ceiling installation business, DeGeorge Ceilings Co. She had worked for the company as a bookkeeper, but otherwise knew little about it.
"I was given a choice by the bank, my accountant and my attorney. It was either sell or try and run it, and I decided to try to run it," she says. "Even some of my children advised me not to do it."
For Zonnevylle, there was little choice.
"I didn't feel I could let it go that easily," she says. "To me, that was not an option. I couldn't see my dad's dream, or my husband's or my dream going down the drain like that."
After many days that started at 6:30 a.m. and didn't end until 2 or 3 the next morning, Zonnevylle learned the business, got a bank loan and turned a fledgling company into a profitable employer.
"I put everything I had into it," she says. "I was very energized and I didn't let anything tear me down. I just hung in there and thought, 'If I can get by death, I guess I can handle anything. Nobody died today, there's nothing that can be any worse than that.'"
Zonnevylle's just not sure, exactly, what she did for the Republican Party during that stressful time to deserve such prestigious honors.
"A year-and-a-half ago, I got a telephone call from (Congressman) Tom Delay's office," she says. "I thought it was a joke."
Delay asked her to sit on the Small Business Advisory Council, which meant a commitment of a few days a year traveling to Washington, D.C., to sit in on congressional meetings. She agreed, but shortly afterward was stricken with an injury that kept her from traveling. She says her involvement on the council amounted to telephone and e-mail correspondence, in which she was asked to share her opinions on issues affecting business owners.
She says that during that time, she adamantly supported the Bush campaign, but primarily voiced her support to family and friends. She may have been able to do more for her party at another time in her life, but her No. 1 priority then was, and still is, her business.
"I didn't feel I had done anything other than work myself to death here trying to keep my business going," she says of the recognition.
In any case, somehow, some way, her accomplishments as a business owner and her understated commitment to the Republican Party were noticed.
The GOP won't tell her who submitted her name for the recognition -- just that it was submitted by more than one person.
Now vice president for Central Bank, a division of First Commonwealth Bank, he began his career there as a collection manager and earned rapid promotions. For the past 11 years, he has been a commercial lender.
In 1994, he became Central Bank's small business manager; the next year, he was appointed SBA lender. He then earned designation as a certified lender under the SBA CLP Program, and was named Lead SBA Lender for the First Commonwealth Financial Corp. He also has earned the designation of Preferred Lender under the SBA PLP Program.
In 1997, he received the Financial Services Advocate Award by the St. Francis College Small Business Development Center, and was given the first SBA Champion Award.
Nagle attended Juniata College and Pennsylvania State University. He began his career in finance with Capital Finance, then spent four years with General Motors Acceptance Corp. and five years with Mellon Bank.
He is a member of the Western Pennsylvania Association of SBA Guaranteed Lenders and the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, and chairperson of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Small Business Advocates. He is chairperson of the CARE Program for Central Bank and on the board of the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission.
Additionally, he is president of the Southern Alleghenies Commission Development Corporation and a member of the Altoona Incubator Advisory Council.
Druzak says Druzak Medical Inc. has a family-type atmosphere, and proudly recalls an employee who introduced the $18 million annual revenue company to a potential customer as "Team Druzak."
"That's why we're successful." he says, "The nomination could also be attributed to our ability to overcome numerous obstacles."
Druzak has overcome several obstacles since Druzak Medical opened for business in 1990, including a three-and-half-year development process for the company's fast and efficient Treetop Shopper, a Web-based, split-screen ordering system for physicians and nursing homes.
"I ended up starting and scrapping at least two other versions of the project before I finally came up with a design that worked. (It took) at least six different computer programmers. After the fifth programmer left for Chicago, I decided to build our own MIS department (and hire) our own programmer," he says.
Personal loss has challenged Druzak as well. In 1992, one of his two partners, Janet Charland, the company's business and accounting manager,lost her fight with cancer. Then Druzak's son, Benjamin Jared, died at age 6 in 1995 from bacterial meningitis. Far from giving up, he continued growing his successful business and adopted three children from Poland in 1996.
"I consider ourselves an organic-style company. We also have the philosophy of developing long-term business relationships based upon trust and a mutual respect for one another," says Druzak.
As the first paid director of the African-American Chamber of Commerce, Williams says, "My greatest challenge was in starting the chamber as a professional organization."
She developed an implementation proposal based on the strategic plan she was presented and engaged as many of her business associates, partners and friends as possible.
"I created systems to monitor my performance and kept my focus on building the organization based upon its mission that I believe in," she says.
That mission is to promote access and opportunity for African-American business owners and professionals. Williams is proud that the organization has more than 325 members, 28 corporate sponsors and formal programs and benefits for members.
"My business philosophy is to stay focused on your goals and objectives. Think big and be creative in your approach, thanking those who help you along the way. Not everyone may agree with you, but hopefully they will respect what you do and appreciate the end results," Williams says.
As the recipient of the 2000 Susan B. Anthony Woman of Vision Award from the Executive Women's Council and the 2002 Greater Pittsburgh YWCA's Woman in Business and Industry Award, Williams remains true to her fundamental belief in people.
"I understand the value of building relationships first, then selling the product. People tend to do business with people they know," she says.
In 1995, Wilson founded EZ-Net, a high-speed, wireless Internet provider, running it out of a room filled with 28.8k modems. It soon became one of the area's largest local Internet providers.
As phone companies began monopolizing high-speed Internet access with cable technology, Wilson explored other, faster options. In early 1998, he and his partners started experimenting with high-frequency radio waves and erected a temporary tower in downtown Canton to operate an unlicensed broadband data system for a handful of business customers.
Four years later, with the proper licenses and funding in hand, Wilson's new company, SkyLAN, is attracting customers such as the city of Akron, the city of Canton, Suarez Corp. and several prominent law firms.
The company has purchased 15-year leases on broadband frequencies the FTC granted to PBS 45/49 and the Akron, Copley/Fairlawn and Revere public school systems. He says he was able to purchase the leases by simply "being at the right place at the right time."
While companies such as Sprint and WorldCom control the larger markets, it's the smaller entrepreneurial ventures like SykLAN that are gaining control of markets the size of Akron and Canton. SkyLAN can transmit within a 35-mile radius of the PBS 45/49 antenna in Copley Township, which gives it the ability to reach customers from Cleveland to Dover. But offering the service in Cleveland is not part of the plan right now.
"We don't intend to pursue Cleveland as a market initially, because we think that the green space down here has more opportunity for this implementation," he says.
"If you're in a highly concentrated urban area, your choices are plentiful. Go to Dover and ask them how many choices they have. And besides, we're centered here. We're an Akron/Canton company." How to reach: SkyLAN, (330) 455-4000