After a long career as an educator and educational administrator, Utay decided to establish an educational center to address the specific needs of individuals. As executive director of Total Learning Centers, Wexford, that's just what she does.
Founded in 1999, Total Learning Centers offers a broad spectrum of services for school-aged children, adults and couples seeking professional help in adding to their skills or overcoming skill deficits. The services can be described as evaluation, tutoring, counseling and training.
Says Utay: "There are well-established models out there, national organizations that offer similar services. But there's a difference. They operate, in my opinion, on client retention, holding on to clients to generate more fees. Our philosophy is to focus very specifically on each individual and meet their needs in the most direct manner possible."
Utay admits her "get-them-in-and-out" philosophy may not be the best money-making technique, but she considers it both an ethical and effective long-term business strategy.
"If we do a good job for our clients and are affordable, our reputation will spread by word of mouth," she says. "In the big picture, that's where I'd like to see our business coming from -- clients, their families, their peers and educational counselors."
Return of the native
A Pittsburgh-area native who graduated from Mount Lebanon High School, Utay completed a bachelor's degree in elementary education at the University of Pittsburgh and earned master's and doctorate degrees at East Texas State University, where her studies emphasized special education and learning disabilities.
It was during a study abroad program that she met her husband, Joe Utay, a Ph.D. psychologist from Dallas. The couple settled in Dallas, where they pursued their careers in different but related specialties, and later lived and worked in Kentucky.
In 1999, the family, now including a daughter, Andrea, returned to the Pittsburgh area to establish a learning center. Joe Utay is director of evaluation and counseling services for the organization.
"When you study the demographics, you can see that Wexford is a natural location for us," says Utay. "Of course, there are other communities in and around the Pittsburgh area that are just as viable. So one of our future objectives may be to open a second center, possibly in the eastern suburbs."
All-star team approach
Initially, Total Learning Centers was Carol and Joe Utay. Today there are 10 full-time employees and three dozen part-time associates, necessitated by the wide variety of services offered.
Utay located her business in 5,000 square fee in the Pine Tree Shoppes, a shopping mall on Perry Highway.
"It's a really ideal location for us," Utay said. "Pine Tree Shoppes is located at a natural crossroads of the community. It's easy to find and there's ample parking. Just as important are the plenty of other facilities nearby. Many of our clients are young people who are driven here by parents or other adults. And not every adult wants to sit in the lobby and read a book while the client is working with us."
Culminating a life's work
For a woman who'd spent her career in large, public educational institutions and organizations, the shift to the ownership and management of a small, specialized private company has been an education.
"There is no single, dramatic moment in our development that stands out in my memory," she says. "The challenge for me has been to acquire skills and a comfort level for some basic and not so basic business, organizational and ownership activities.
"Sure, I was district technology coordinator for Jessamine County Schools (Nicholasville, Ky.) and administered a $1.2 million budget. But that didn't prepare me to negotiate with suppliers when we bought equipment and supplies for the center."
Total Learning Centers is not just another career move. Utay considers it the culmination of everything she's done.
"This is it," she says. "This is what I want to be doing for the rest of my career. I expect there will be major business decisions along the way, like whether or not we establish one or two more locations. But as for the work itself, this is what I want to be doing."
Her principal challenge will be to balance the demands of entrepreneurship against her talents and instincts for evaluating, counseling and educating.
"There's a natural concern about becoming too much the business person and less the educator," she says. "So I continue to think of myself as an educator and to value my interaction with individual clients, helping them develop their special and unique skills and helping them to achieve their dreams." How to reach: Carol Utay, (724)940-1090.
The story of Carol Harris Staffing LLC is a delightful tale of entrepreneurial success because it exemplifies almost everything small business people have been taught, imagined and dreamed about.
It's a story of working hard, persevering, paying attention, learning and growing -- then knowing just when to take the leap from employee to entrepreneur.
Harris, president and CEO of Carol Harris Staffing, previously was a single mother living in Boston with her two young children, working in real estate to maintain a home life for her family.
A graduate of Penn Hills High School and the University of Pittsburgh, she decided to return home to be near her family, friends and familiar places and to build a career.
That's when she connected with Kelly Services, where she worked part time as a receptionist. There, she studied the industry, learning the staffing business from an industry leader. Within eight years, she had committed to a full-time career and progressed through the ranks of Kelly, rising to branch manager, then regional sales manager.
After eight years, in 1987, she ventured out on her own, forming Carol Harris Temporaries Inc. in Monroeville.
"It was one of those situations where the employer wanted to make a change, and I did, too," Harris says. "So I had the opportunity to basically form my own company from the organization where I had been an employee."
After sitting out a noncompete arrangement, she started her business in the Jonnet Building, where her headquarters is still situated today.
Since then,. she has opened two additional offices, in New Kensington and Youngwood, near New Stanton. The company has grown from its first office of 400 square feet to three offices totaling 6,700 square feet.
Although Harris has more than 20 full-time staff members, the true measure in the staffing business is how many workers get placed with client businesses each year. For 2000, Carol Harris Staffing issued more than 3,000 W-2 forms.
Those workers represent clerical, industrial and technical specialists, from word processing experts to chemists. Most work a 40-hour week, although some are part-timers.
Harris says the staffing industry is built on a mutuality of needs.
"You have to recognize that there are a surprising number of people who only want to work temporarily," she says. "There might be very obvious reasons for this, or the worker may have unusual circumstances.
"Some workers view temporary employment as a type of paid job search. Being placed temporarily with a company gives them a chance to see how they fit in there, what possibilities exist within the company, and whether they might want to work there permanently."
The benefit to the client business is simplicity. The firm pays a fee and gets a qualified worker, avoiding the costly overhead associated with recruiting, hiring, training and maintaining an employee.
Businesses like Carol Harris Staffing match workers to available work, making money from fees paid by client businesses. Only a portion of that money goes to the worker as wages.
According to Harris, "What differentiates the success, growth and reputation of one staffing company from another is the ethical behavior and the fairness it brings to both the worker and client sides of the equation. We've based our success on the ability to attract and locate only the best workers. That's how we can best serve our clients, and that's why we have long-standing relationships with a very impressive roster of clients."
The agency's highest priority is the recruitment of employees.
"We are constantly developing innovative ideas to interest employees in our company," she says. "As part of that effort, we work with technical colleges, trade schools, business schools and high schools, and our staff visits off-site locations to interview prospective employees."
Awards and rewards
In 2000, Carol Harris was named Entrepreneur Of The Year in the Service category by Ernst and Young. She was recently named one of the "50 Best Women in Business in Pennsylvania," an award presented by the governor's office, and her firm has been named one of the "100 Fastest Growing Companies in Western Pennsylvania" two years in a row.
Harris is a member of the board of Habitat For Humanity and was featured on the "Oprah Winfrey" show for donating $60,000 to build a Habitat home in the Pittsburgh area. She also sponsored a bike ride for the Allegheny Valley Habitat affiliate that raised more than $30,000 to rehabilitate a home in New Kensington. How to reach: Carol Harris, (412) 856-3666 or www.chstaffing.com
William McCloskey is a free-lance writer based in Pittsburgh.
Three years ago, the couple shelled out $295,000 to purchase a business at 1401 Fulton Road N.W. That address is familiar to most Canton residents because it's a Stark County landmark: Taggart's Ice Cream. The Schotts since have invested $30,000 in restorations, for nostalgia's sake.
The brick and stucco building, located in a residential area a mile from the Pro-Football Hall of Fame, was constructed in 1900 by Dr. Plat Taggart, a dentist, on a plot of farmland belonging to his friend, Henry Timken. Back then, Canton had no zoning laws, but Taggart designed the structure to resemble a duplex, to blend with homes in the area.
He initially leased the space to a radio and bicycle repair shop on one side and Stewart's Ice Cream on the other. In 1926, his son, Joe Taggart, took over both sides of the duplex and opened his own business, offering homemade soups, sandwiches and ice cream treats.
Since Taggart sold out in 1958, ownership has changed hands several times (the Schotts are the fourth owners). The business continued to operate under the name Taggart's Ice Cream, but some owners altered the look of his legacy and others let it slide -- causing anxiety and ire among its faithful customers.
Hearing this, Taggart, now living in Orlando, Fla., vowed never to set foot inside the store again.
Then, the Schotts stepped forward and made it their mission to maintain the landmark restaurant and ice cream parlor as a sign of the times ... gone by. And who better to do that than a couple that had lived in the neighborhood for three decades?
''We'd been patrons here for years, and when we took it over, the community sat up and took notice because we live two blocks from the store. I think they were happy to see somebody local take it over who would care for it and bring it back,'' says Patti Schott, formerly a nurse for 32 years.
''We wanted to make Taggart's what it once was, and when the neighborhood saw we were trying to make it a showplace, they rallied around us,'' says Ernie Schott.
The couple started by cleaning up debris around the premises, repainting the exterior and interior, installing new brick sidewalks, refinishing the original white pine booths and reupholstering the cushioned seats.
When word about the revitalization reached Taggart, he contacted the couple to congratulate them. He's also shared his memories to assist the owners in their quest to recapture the past.
''We've been able to duplicate some of the detail by studying photographs of the original store and seeking guidance from Joe Taggart,'' says Ernie Schott, a retired manufacturing plant manager.
For example, the Schotts installed storefront awnings much like the originals, and planted flowering pear trees to resemble the great elms that once graced the storefront.
''You can't plant elms anymore because the roots eventually tear up the street,'' he explains.
The owners also focus on cleanliness -- from dust-free windows to daily trash pickups -- and their hiring policies delight the community.
''We employ only high school and college students, preferably kids from the neighborhood who are involved in athletics,'' says Patti Schott.
The payroll carries four full-time employees and 41 part-time, from dishwashers to servers, most of whom work only a couple of days a week because they are encouraged to stay involved in sports and excel in school.
''We've found that students in sports are better employees because they're team players. We also look for good grades, good attendance and good recommendations from their teachers,'' Ernie Schott says.
Two of the owners' daughters are on the part-time schedule, and son-in-law Doug Mullaly co-manages with Greg Cook, a 14-year Taggart's veteran. The owners work there two or three days a week, but check in daily.
They also employ commendable marketing methods.
''We believe in giving back to our community so we donate about $300 a month to schools, churches and different organizations,'' Ernie Schott says. ''And instead of advertising in newspapers all the time, we support schools by advertising in their athletic event programs, as well as Malone College.''
The schools, in turn, look to the Schotts for their midday bread and butter.
''We have three schools within a half-mile, and teachers can call to tell us what time they'll be here and what they want to eat. We'll hold them a booth and have their food on the table when they get here, because they only have a 45-minute break,'' he says, adding that the restaurant also draws from downtown.
''We get lots of attorneys, judges, police and fire departments. If they come in for lunch and have on a uniform, we treat them like an employee by letting them pay only half price, because we feel they're a great asset to the community.
The owners say their restaurant's popularity is due in large part to the menu.
''When we bought the store, we also bought Joe Taggart's original recipes of homemade ice cream treats, soups and sandwiches, and we still make them all today, right on our premises,'' Ernie Schott says. ''The Olive Nut Sandwich still seems to be everyone's favorite.''
Today, every booth is filled, all the time (seating capacity is 72 and the store stays open year-round, seven days a week, excluding major holidays). Annual revenue tops $500,000.
''We believe that if we keep the place clean and serve the right quantities and qualities of food, people will keep coming back,'' Ernie Schott says.
Even Joe Taggart, now 94, promises that one day soon he'll sit in one of those booths to see for himself how close the new owners come to bringing back the past. How to reach: Taggart's Ice Cream, (330) 452-6844
Buffy Filippell didn't know what to expect when she hopped a plane to Houston to meet with Bob McNair, owner of the newly established NFL franchise, the Houston Texans, and Steve Patterson of NFL Holdings, the organization that helps new franchises through the transition from idea to the playing field.
The pair originally hired Filippell to help find a general manager, but it wasn't long before she discovered they were also desperate for help in filling other front office jobs.
''They had no staff and lots of people who wanted jobs,'' she says. ''The team was small. There were two secretaries and then Patterson and McNair. There were hundreds of resumes and no way to go through them all. It was overwhelming.''
So Filippell, who'd spent more than 10 years in the executive recruitment field, found herself in a unique bind -- she knew technology would solve the problem, but that approach would drastically alter the personal process she says is at the core of executive recruiting.
''This is a company based on more than simply finding someone a job,'' she says about TeamWork. ''It's about helping someone find a place where they can have their own success.''
Undeterred, Filippell enlisted two Houston-based software engineers to help develop proprietary software that facilitates and streamlines the recruiting process. More important, it maintains the personal touch.
Once launched for the Texans, the software-driven Web site caught on quickly -- more than 75 people each day began submitting resumes for consideration. That's when Filippell knew she was on to something big. In February 2000, she spun off the software product into a separate business, TeamWork Online, which licenses the software to sports organizations.
In the world of recruiting, hanging on to that personal touch is imperative to success. Filippell says the process is comprised of transitions. She considers each successful placement a part of her extended and ever-growing family.
So how did she take a traditional, people-oriented business and integrate technology successfully without losing that personal touch?
It wasn't easy, she admits. But its success is at the very core of what sets TeamWork Consulting apart from its competitors. Here's how Filippell and her staff have put together a system that's attracting such big name clients as the National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball.
Filippell founded TeamWork Consulting Inc., an executive search firm for the sports and event management industry, in September 1987, shortly after her father passed away.
''It's ironic that often, after a tragedy, someone starts a business,'' she says, referring to incidents that spurred creation of organizations such as M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving).
Filippell predicts the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania will spur another wave of new business ventures once the dust clears and people begin to rebuild, heal and move forward.
An experienced recruiter who worked at Mark McCormack's International Management Group (IMG) and worldwide executive recruiting firm Korn/Ferry International, the bulk of Filippell's background focused on searches for senior executives in banking, manufacturing and insurance. But she had a special interest in sports executive recruiting, and while at Korn/Ferry, conducted searches for such high-profile clients as the Women's Tennis Association, LPGA and the U.S. Cycling Federation.
After her father's death, Filippell wanted to focus on sports executive recruiting, but Korn/Ferry wasn't interested in devoting an entire practice to it. So she opted to go it alone, founding TeamWork Consulting out of her Shaker Heights home. One of the company's first placements was Tim Leiweke, president of the Los Angeles Kings and the Staples Center.
In 1988, Leiweke was placed by Filippell to run the expansion NBA franchise Minnesota Timberwolves. He has been a client ever since.
Over the past 14 years, TeamWorks' client list has included NASCAR, the PGA Tour, three NFL teams, six NHL teams, six NBA teams, six MLB teams, CART, Major League Soccer, the Olympic Governing Bodies and the now-defunct XFL.
As her client list expanded, Filippell realized she couldn't go it alone. In 1999, she brought in Jennifer Proud Mearns as a partner. Mearns began her career as a public relations assistant at Madison Square Garden, and over the next several years worked as a media liaison for the Men's International Tennis Tour (now the ATP Tour), as an agent for Ohlmeyer Communications (now International Sports and Entertainment Strategies) and at Cyrk Inc., where she developed and managed merchandising programs including MasterCard International's World Cup soccer and NASCAR's 50th anniversary.
One thing that made Mearns a good fit was that her philosophy was in line with Filippell's.
''You learn by listening to people,'' Mearns says. ''It's simply a philosophy that says we help our clients through the transition of a job change by being with them every step of the way.''
So when the Houston Texans came calling later that year, Mearns and Filippell knew they would have their hands full integrating technology without straying from their core beliefs.
''When we first looked at the option of putting together an online business, we recognized it wasn't as human as the traditional business had been,'' Filippell says. ''But we also knew it served needs to have information quickly available.''
With that in mind, Filippell and Mearns set out to combine the efficiencies of the Internet with the personal touch they didn't want to lose. They designed a product that streamlined the recruiting process and empowered sports organizations to manage it themselves.
''Our challenge was how to make this process as personal as possible while still teaching the sports business executives how to recruit,'' Mearns says. ''It's more than just a technological tool for the sports industry.''
TeamWork's software allows professional sport teams and leagues to recruit entry-level to mid-level executives through their Web sites. By clicking an icon on the site, for example at the NBA's www.nba.com, a prospect can review available positions and apply online. TeamWork Online's software then screens the resumes, organizes them and allows the team's management to communicate with prospects they want to interview.
''When you go to either our URL address or the individual teams' addresses, you can get a job board,'' Filippell says. ''But, you're not at a job board and it doesn't feel like a traditional job board. It's truly a part of the organization's Web site information.''
Among the clients using the software are the NBA, WNBA, WWF, NHL and MLS, as well as the Staples Center and the Houston Texans.
''We're teaching the sports industry how to recruit,'' Filippell says. ''We license out our technology tools and process to the teams. With the boom in sports business, it's making the job of working through a pile of resumes that much easier for our clients.''
Mearns says one of the key elements of the software is its ability to create better lines of communication between the teams and applicants.
''We've built in automatic e-mail notification alerts so that when you post a new job, anyone who checked off skills in the areas you've outlined gets an e-mail,'' she says. ''That eliminates the need to look over every application each time a team posts a new job opening.''
While at first glance, such software could potentially remove the need for TeamWork from the marketplace it serves, Filippell says it's just the opposite. A closer inspection of the model reveals that the software actually increases TeamWork's business opportunities.
By helpi ng clients do some of the heavy lifting themselves, it maximizes the potential for TeamWork to concentrate on upper level sports executive recruiting while the software handles middle management and lower echelon positions. Filippell says it strengthens existing business relationships and has opened opportunities to forge new ones.
TeamWork hosts the job board sections of its clients' Web sites on its server. The company generates revenue by licensing the software out to its clients and collecting royalty fees. This is in addition to any straightforward recruiting fees TeamWork picks up if it does the actual recruitment work.
''We're simply using technology to be more efficient for our clients,'' Filippell says. ''And now, by licensing the software out to teams to use themselves, the recruiting becomes a team service function.''
For Filippell, the innovation of TeamWork online is the second significant impact she's had on the recruiting industry. It's an impact she understands, though with a touch of humbleness.
''It's interesting,'' she says, reflecting on her still evolving career. ''I'm pleased to think I helped change how people were recruited into the sports industry. Then, 15 years later, I was part of a group that developed another tool to make the process even better.
''You have to understand our business, the business of transitions, to truly understand how to make it work,'' Filippell says. ''And then, when you look at the acceptance by the teams and other sports organizations, you recognize they do understand it.
''It's become another transition, but this time combining people with a technological process. And it still requires that personal touch.'' How to reach: TeamWork Consulting, (216) 767-1790, www.teamworkconsulting.com
Dustin Klein (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of SBN Magazine.
When Michael Reed's children wanted to know why traffic signals didn't get covered with snow during a winter storm, he had a simple answer: Snow Ants.
Snow Ants, as Reed's story goes, live in the stoplights.
"They're nice people, but they have issues like everybody else," says Reed, president and CEO of Application Link Inc. "I told my kids the reason why no snow is there is because the Snow Ants broom them out to keep the motorists safe."
Reed's youthful imagination hasn't left him, even though his children are now grown.
Take, for example, the Beanie Baby lion on the credenza in his office.
"It reminds me of the kid in me," he says.
So do the yo-yo and Frisbee that often circulate throughout Application Link's Downtown offices and the purple toy Prowler, which Reed zooms along his desk when he's stressed.
The toys -- and a Cleveland Browns dog -- create the only character gracing Reed's office. He's been there nearly three years, but the sole thing hanging on the walls is a souvenir banner from Puerto Rico given to him by an employee -- and put there by the employee herself. He doesn't even have a desktop computer; file folders cover his desk.
For Reed, it's the simple things that make the day -- and the company.
Ten years after Application Link's founding in 1979, Reed bought out his partner. He's grown the 16-employee business to $20 million in sales -- with 32 straight quarters of profitability, he says -- through simple philosophies.
The first thing he did when he became full owner was to make the technology software and hardware company self-sufficient, which meant having its own products and brand, as well as creating a development division.
"I wanted to develop products we could develop in six months or less," he says, adding that reasoning came from his own use of software products. "I always had a problem with Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel. They're great products. But I always felt dumb because I always felt like I was only using 8 percent of the product."
Then he found out his customers had the same feelings.
"Before we put one pen to paper, I said, 'We have to make our products simple -- create products our customers could put their entire hands around,'" he says. "Everything we have is simple. Like Legos, you snap on pieces."
For example, one of his base products, LinkTRACK, used to track and manage business activities, is personalized for the legal field with add-ons such as a legal dictionary.
John S. Ensign, president of Ruscilli Construction Co. Inc. and a client who has known Reed for more than 10 years, says Reed's entrepreneurial instincts help him anticipate what the customer is looking for and put together new products in response.
"He's an up-and-comer, I think," Ensign says.
"Any time there's ever been a problem situation here, he'll get personally involved in the solution and do what it takes to make sure everything's resolved to our satisfaction."
Reed recently adopted for his business the Global Sullivan Principles to promote corporate social responsibility. Among the principles created by the Rev. Leon Sullivan, an African-American civil rights activist and Baptist clergyman: "We will promote fair competition including respect for intellectual and other property rights, and not offer, pay or accept bribes," and "We will respect our employees' voluntary freedom of association."
In Reed's efforts to stand out in his industry and retain employees, he seeks out what he calls "cool projects."
"There's no loyalty in our industry," he says. "People are jumping around. There's always somebody willing to bid higher, and the way to retain employees is to have cool projects."
His most recent cool project has been developing software to change the way government services are delivered. The aim: for the government to treat its clients as customers, not as numbers or problems.
Reed's three- to five-year goal for his company continues along the vein of keeping it as simple as possible: "To create a billion-dollar company with less than 100 employees. I think it's possible to do."
Perhaps Reed's simplicity enables him to interact with the children at the Eldon W. Ward YMCA, where he serves as president of the consulting board and leads grass-roots efforts to help the branch raise $2.2 million toward a renovation project.
"I think he's an excellent role model for our young kids," says Kim Jordan, the Y's executive director. "We don't hesitate to point out that he owns his own business. I think he has a genuine concern for young people and where they're going."
Reed, who lost his own father to cancer two years ago, has spent seven years on the Y's consulting board, an organization he says meets his desire to help children and senior citizens.
"I think the wisest person in the world is the oldest person in the world, because they've seen so much. In our society, we think the wisest person in the world is the richest person," he says. "And our children are our eternal hope. Any child we leave behind could be the child that's going to cure cancer, and people need to understand that."
In his spare time, Reed is an avid chess player.
"I've been playing chess ever since I was big enough to move the pieces. I even have a chess computer game on my hand-held (computer) I use when I'm trying to de-stress myself," he says.
What he likes about the game is that it requires the player to plan and execute a strategy.
"You have the opportunity to win or lose and, in doing that, it kind of mirrors life's struggles," he says. "You make your move, and somebody is always countering that move. You've got to understand that every move's important.
"There is no trivial move in life." How to reach: Michael Reed, Application Link Inc., 469-1981, ext. 26, or www.applicationlink.com
Joan Slattery Wall (email@example.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.
Call it good karma, optimism or whatever you like, but the positive attitude Jay Dascenzo surrounds himself with affords him the opportunity to take advantage of some amazing -- even uncanny -- opportunities.
Take, for example, the time in 1984, when he decided to stop being a human services lobbyist, wanting instead to be involved with then-Gov. Richard F. Celeste's administration. He got hired to help design a computer system to manage a grant program for the Ohio Department of Development.
"I didn't know how to turn a computer on," laughs the president of Dascenzo Perez Inc., an Arena District communications agency.
Even though a hiring freeze prohibited the department from bringing on a computer programmer to translate Dascenzo's ideas into bytes, he still managed to develop a simple system for the Community Development Block Grant program that became a model used by other states as well.
Another time, Dascenzo used an eavesdropping tactic to get in closer ranks with Celeste. The head of the governor's advance team was asking another person to work on a particular event -- but he needed someone who owned a tuxedo.
"I piped up and said, 'I have a tuxedo,'" Dascenzo says. Plus, he'd already done advance work -- for an opponent of Celeste in a previous election, ironically.
He got the job and ended up as Celeste's assistant for the chief of staff. In all, he spent six years working in state government, often coordinating Celeste's out-of-state events. At the time, he called working for the governor "the greatest experience of my life."
Dascenzo's ability to make good of a situation or get things going his way served him well later as he spent 11 months in France -- where he landed a job writing gossip about American celebrities for a magazine -- and when he returned to the United States to do free-lance work and eventually start his own company.
In 1996, he took in a partner, Miguel Perez, and has grown Dascenzo Perez Inc. to eight employees in Columbus and Cincinnati with annual billings of $1.6 million. Dascenzo serves as speechwriter for Tami Longaberger, president and CEO of The Longaberger Co., and his company has produced events, videos, stage shows, speeches, print communications and fashion shows for many of The Limited Inc.'s businesses or spin-offs, including Victoria's Secret Catalogue, Bath & Body Works and Lane Bryant. Other clients include such notables as Tupperware Corp., Wexner Heritage Village and the American Red Cross.
"Jay's got a very good sense of humor. He has a contagious enthusiasm about him," says Frankie Nowlin, Borden Foundation president and immediate past president of the Center for New Directions board. As a board member, Dascenzo helped the center revamp its annual fund-raising event.
"When you're around him and he talks about ideas, you kind of think to yourself, 'This is a great idea; I'd like to do that,'" Nowlin says. "He's just so positive about things."
His positive attitude is taking him to Alaska this summer, where he'll participate in a 500-mile bicycle ride -- the longest he's ever attempted -- from Fairbanks to Anchorage to raise money for AIDS vaccine research. He also serves on the national board of governors for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization.
Dascenzo's optimism just last year grew even brighter -- since he saw through a cloud he didn't even realize was hanging over his head.
After a friend pointed out that he always seemed to have a lot of anxiety, he began to wonder if he should do something about it.
"It was fear of everything but fear of nothing," Dascenzo says.
It marked his first experience visiting a therapist -- and he learned how to deal with his anxiety disorder.
"It's not rocket science. It's converting negative thoughts into realistic thoughts," he says, explaining how previously he would magnify a little mistake he made at an event where 95 percent of his work was "a home run."
"I had to work hard to shift that mindset," he says. "I tell a lot of people now, because I figure if I can get someone to think about doing something about it, that you don't have to live that way, great."
His anxious feelings had not been evident to everyone, perhaps because it hadn't affected his work.
Peggy Calestro, vice president of development at Columbus State Community College, relates the story of the new look, new name and new attention Dascenzo brought to the college's fund-raiser, Taste the Future.
"It was a nice event, but it wasn't an event people (were) compelled to come to -- and it has become that," Calestro says, noting Taste the Future now reaches its maximum registration of 1,000 attendees. "The money we have raised has just more than quadrupled.
"His optimism and his vision rubbed off on all of us," she says. "He rekindled the excitement that had been there when we started the event."
He kept that excitement going after the fact, too.
"The day after the event, he sent me flowers and thanked me," Calestro recalls. "I thought, 'Now wait a minute. This should have gone totally the other way, because I just sort of stood there and watched him do his magic.' It was such a generous thing to do -- it totally denied any responsibility he had for the success of the event.
"He doesn't focus the spotlight on himself, and he really could. ... Instead of self promoting, he reflects it right back onto the people who benefit from his good work."
How to reach: Jay Dascenzo, Dascenzo Perez Inc., 228-7738 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Joan Slattery Wall (email@example.com) is associate editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.
Kathy Ransier dressed her teen-age son in a tuxedo, took him to his school prom and danced with him in his wheelchair.
It's one of many joyful stories her friend, Rebecca Love, remembers about Ransier's relationship with Charles, whose birth defect left him developmentally challenged at age 1.
"She said, 'I operate with a cup half full, waiting for Charlie to go to college ... '" Love recalls. "That tells a lot about Kathy and her strength and her hopefulness."
For her part, Ransier, managing partner of Ransier & Ransier LLP, remembers the life lessons she learned from Charles, who nearly two years ago died at age 17 -- far past the six-month life expectancy doctors gave him shortly after he was born.
"Charles was Charles. Not handicapped Charles, not retarded Charles, he was just Charles," she says matter-of-factly.
"Fortunately for him, and us, in his level of understanding he was a very happy person -- he wasn't stressed out by his limits," she says, noting that he showed the family joy and warmth.
"You had a bad day and Charles was there to remind you and to love you," she says.
Love, director of early childhood education for the Franklin County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, whose board Ransier chairs, says Ransier always celebrated Charles' life rather than seeing her care of him as a burden.
That attitude, Love says, contributes to the success Ransier has in the law firm owned by her and her husband, Fred.
"Her energy, her positive outlook, her open disposition -- she's a scholar, very scholarly, and intelligent and articulate. And I think all of those make people open their minds to her and receive her professionally and as a friend," says Love, who's known Ransier professionally and personally for nearly 30 years.
Ransier says relationships with clients, in fact, are among the "unanticipated real joys" of running the law firm. She wouldn't disclose specifics about the firm's financials but says she wouldn't deny that revenue exceeds $1 million.
"There are clients we have represented literally the entire time we've been in business," she says of the German Village area law firm founded in 1976. The firm has represented such notables as Honda, Wendy's, Moody/Nolan Ltd., Bank One, National City Bank and Lutheran Social Services.
Susan Weaver, executive director of the Community Housing Network Inc., says over the 10 years Ransier has served as general counsel for her organization, the two have developed a friendship.
"She's just a very upbeat and gregarious person," Weaver says. "She can be irreverent privately, which helps in really difficult matters to sort of look on the light side of things or to find the humor in the problem."
Weaver says she sees Ransier's attitude obvious in her family, which also includes sons Bradley, 23, and Ricky, 17.
While Ransier says she and her husband are focusing on a personal transition to spend more time with each other now that their sons have grown, she actually commits a large portion of her time to civic and community work.
In addition to active membership in the Columbus, Ohio State and American bar associations, she's on the boards of Capitol South Community Urban Redevelopment Corp., Columbus Municipal Airport Authority, The Ohio State University Friends of the Libraries, the Greater Columbus Arts Council and the Broad Brunson Place Condominiums Association. She's also a panel member of The Columbus Foundation Legal Advisory Committee and the OSU Feminist Law Caucus Community Mentoring Program.
In 1990, she won the Community Service Award from the Columbus Bar Association. Lawyers, she says, should be proud of their civic involvement.
"Of course easily every third joke is a lawyer joke, but the bar association is trying to get the word out of our service to the community and also service to our peers," she says.
Building her own practice has been an educational experience, she says. For example, after 25 years in business, she's learned to look beyond the resume when she's hiring new people to the firm, which in addition to her and Fred includes two other attorneys as well as a legal assistant, bookkeeper, secretary/receptionist and law clerk.
She knows now she'll generally have more success hiring attorneys and staff who went to law school later in life or are further along in their careers, because they tend to be more mature.
"It's fun to be a lawyer -- ego-gratifying that people rely on what you have to say," she says, "so it's nice in that respect. But after a couple of years we realized -- we've got to make money.
"Fred and I are first-generation business people, which is a challenge in and of itself," she says.
Still, Ransier's biggest challenge in life came with the death of her son, a loss she deals with through support from friends and family, whom she counts among those she most admires.
"I am so fortunate that I had tremendous parents and a wonderful childhood," she says, remembering her parents' adoration of her and her five sisters.
"According to (my father) I was the center of the world. It was late -- too late -- when I figured out I wasn't," she laughs. "It was a great way to start off life, feeling that way." How to reach: Kathy Ransier, Ransier & Ransier LLP, 443-7429 or www.ransierlaw.com
Joan Slattery Wall (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.
Bob Vennemeyer, president and CEO of DesignGroup Inc., learned an important philosophy from one of the firm's founders, Harold Rettstatt: "You can do good work and still be a good person."
Those who know Vennemeyer might say he's taken Rettstatt's words to heart.
"One of the things that's kind of interesting is, it's never about Bob. It's never him telling you about what he's doing. You have to ask him, 'Bob, how's it going? How's business? Tell me about your new projects.' Maybe that's being a good salesman, but you never feel like Bob is selling you," says J. Daniel Schmidt of JDS Cos., who is a co-owner of DesignGroup's new building at 515 E. Main St. "He's always about problem solving or making a situation better for you."
Larry Black says Vennemeyer is always willing to listen to his clients and is trustworthy.
"Bob doesn't play games. When he tells you something, you know that's really how he thinks and feels about it," says Black, director of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, who chose DesignGroup as the architect for the Main Library expansion, which was finished in 1991, and the construction of several branches.
"One of the things he says often is that you may save a few dollars here, but you will have forgotten those dollars pretty quickly if it doesn't work out," Black says. "Those are words that have saved the library a lot of money."
The Main Library restoration was, in fact, one of Vennemeyer's most rewarding personally. From his office, he can see the top of the library building, which DesignGroup's work transformed by removing all additions to the original 36,000-square-foot building, constructed in 1907 with funding from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, and adding 214,000 new square feet of space.
Other projects completed by the DesignGroup, a $9 million, 75-employee firm, include the Ohio Stadium renovation, Thomas Worthington High School, State Teachers Retirement System and Grant Medical Center.
While Vennemeyer says the company has had nearly steady growth, he acknowledges that last year, when it moved from Olentangy River Road to its Discovery District location, was one of the more difficult ones.
"Our radar was down a little bit," he says of the firm's delayed reaction to the economic slowdown. "The move was really a smokescreen."
He had to lay off seven employees -- a first for the firm.
"It was a tough experience," says Vennemeyer. "I don't want it to ever happen again."
He learned that any changes in the company's financial information must be made known to management immediately, and he hired a financial consultant, David Bittner, president of Growth Management Solutions Inc., to prioritize, clarify and simplify the company's reporting system.
Vennemeyer says he gets through such challenges in business and life with the help of his faith and participation in Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Vicki, are members of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Powell and have three grown children, Cara, Adam and Andrew.
He says in the mid-'70s, a friend's question, "Is Jesus Christ your personal savior?" opened his eyes to the potential of his faith.
The friend explained: "Why wouldn't Christ want to help you through life in this world? Why would he just wait until the next life?"
Vennemeyer gets tears in his eyes as he describes how he prays with Rettstatt at the start of every week for help with the business and how he calls upon the Lord when he's in a situation where he might not know all the right answers.
"You've got faith in knowing there is an answer --- I just don't know it yet," he says.
Vennemeyer says his faith gives him peace in stressful situations, and people who know him, such as Black, call him "grounded" with a philosophy largely rooted in his religion.
John Schwarck, executive director of Friendship Village of Dublin, sees Vennemeyer as "well-balanced" and "people-oriented."
He's witnessed those traits as Vennemeyer serves as chair-elect on Friendship Village of Dublin's board.
Especially evident, he says, is Vennemeyer's ability to look at different facets of a situation and explain them clearly -- a necessity on a board on which members with different backgrounds create diversity.
"Bob has a way of bringing that together. He can talk to you and explain things to you and give you the ability to understand things quite readily," Schwarck says.
Vennemeyer uses the same skills on the advocacy committee of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce's Small Business Council as well as the Governor's Small Business Advisory Council and TEC, a peer group of business executives.
"When you finish a conversation with Bob, no matter what it's about, you always feel like you're a little bit better for it," says Schmidt, who shares Vennemeyer's dedication to making the Downtown area strong. "I've learned a tremendous amount about architecture and construction from him. He's a teacher and a facilitator." How to reach: Bob Vennemeyer, DesignGroup Inc., 255-0515, ext. 219; email@example.com or www.dgcolumbus.com
Joan Slattery Wall (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.
eBay Inc. was founded in September 1995 in the living room of software developer Pierre Omidyar.
Now based out of offices in San Jose, Calif., eBay boasts 30 million users who transacted more than $5 billion in annualized gross merchandise sales last year and employs 2,000 people in 15 countries. But what really sets it apart from other dot-coms is that it has been consistently profitable since Day One.
Arguably the largest, oldest and most successful auction site on the Web, eBay has changed the way goods are bought and sold for both online and offline companies.
Gary Bengier, eBay's senior vice president of strategic planning and development, spoke last month at Kent State University's commencement. A 1977 Kent State graduate, Bengier joined the company as CFO in 1997 and spent his first three years there building the financial team and processes, and leading the funding efforts for its IPO.
Today he is responsible for planning and leading the company's longer-term strategy.
What is eBay's mission?
To create a marketplace where people can trade practically anything on Earth. The mission has remained remarkably the same. We had a really strong vision from the beginning of what the company would be, and that's been very stable.
How is revenue generated?
Our users can list items for sale, and when a user lists an item, we charge a small fee for listing, and then if they're successful and sell the item, we charge a small success fee -- a percentage. It starts at 5 percent for the first $25, and it declines, based on the price, to 1.24 percent. It's a transaction-based model, and that's where we get almost all of our revenues. It's really a bargain by comparison with other ways of buying and selling.
How do you think the eBay business model has changed commerce?
I think it's changed commerce for the average person. Our philosophy is based upon having a level playing field, so that everybody can compete equally, so that the average individual person can compete on an equal basis with Kmart.
How do you maintain or monitor the quality and authenticity of the products that are sold on the site?
Let me first explain how a trade works. If you see something that you're interested in, you have to register before you can bid, so that the people who have registered to be a user have an economic interest in buying or selling. Let's say you bid and you win the item. Typically what happens is, during the time that the auction is going on, the seller and the potential buyers exchange e-mails.
There's a conversation that very frequently happens around the item. One of the things you as a buyer would do is check (the seller's) feedback. The feedback is essentially an online reputation, and that's created every time someone has a transaction.
From the very beginning, we were measuring that there were fewer than 30 irregularities per 1 million items listed, and that's dropped down into the 20s. We've just spent a lot of effort to make the site safer.
Some of the stories you hear about are because we work so closely with state and local law enforcement on all kinds of levels. It's actually a silly thing to try to do something (illegal) online because, in many cases ,it's violating federal postal laws, and we're talking about felonies. Someone pointed out that if you look at our percentages, you have a greater chance of having a problem at a shopping mall than you do on eBay.
Do you have people on your staff randomly checking the quality of the items that are sold?
No. It's a community of users that came together. This gets back to how we started. We started from the founders' belief system, which sounds very idealistic, that most people are basically good and that you have to give people the benefit of the doubt.
It seemed like we got a large number of good people at the beginning and then we continually impressed upon the community of users what was the right behavior at eBay. I think good people brought good people to the site, so we had a community culture of being very polite and looking for the best in people.
How is the whole auction format going to change in the future? Is it going to become more or less predominant?
I think it's going to become much more a common part of the way people think about buying and selling things. If you think about this historically, 150 years ago in America, you went down to your local town square, you shook hands with the cobbler, and you made an individual agreement with the cobbler about the quality of shoes and the price.
There were no fixed prices in the United States until 1870 when Mr. Ward of Montgomery Ward published the first fixed price list. That was when we had mass manufacturers in New York and Chicago and other industrial cities creating mass manufactured goods.
With that there was a need to figure out how to distribute those goods, and we had a disappearance of the small local store where we knew the person individually. It was replaced by the Sears Roebucks and the large mass market retailers, where you depended upon their reputations for things.
What we had then was interestingly a very small part in all of human history -- less than 150 years -- where we've had fixed prices as the only way we've fundamentally bought and sold things. For the prior 4,000 years of human history, it's been much more flexible.
Do you think eBay is in the forefront of changing consumers' dependence upon fixed pricing?
I think it's a revolutionary change about how people think about buying and selling things. You can think of buying things at a more flexible price as a different mechanism, and you think about buying things that might be used more than you might have before, because now there's a medium to make that possible.
Who is eBay's biggest competitor?
We think we're in a pretty strong position competitively. We're less and less challenged, particularly in the United States. You always have to watch for competitors. 'You have to stay paranoid,' as Andy Grove (co-founder and chairman) of Intel liked to say. We think that our community is just safer, and has a much broader selection of merchandise and it's just easier to use. It keeps growing bigger.
How will eBay continue to evolve?
We are continuing to look at that vision, which we think is really changing the world. Think about how we build that marketplace to be better, safer, faster and easier to use in many dimensions. One is, we're moving further into fixed pricing.
On that dimension, we did two things recently. One, we acquired a company called Half.com, which offers person-to-person fixed prices. It started out with CDs, books, movies, videos, games, and we've just recently expanded that into computers and a whole list of new categories. It allows you to buy and sell at a fixed price very quickly. That's our initiative on moving into fixed price.
We also launched, in the fourth quarter, a new feature called Buy It Now. Buy It Now allows people to, rather than wait for an item to finish an auction where they might lose, immediately buy the item and be sure that they were winning it and be sure of the timing. That's been extremely successful. One-fourth of the listings on our site now use the Buy It Now feature.
The economy has not been too kind lately to dot-coms. How has that affected eBay?
It's been positive, because we have such a powerful business model. eBay has made money since the very beginning, consistently. The weakness among others has meant that it's been easier to recruit good talent.
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur who was considering starting a dot-com division or a dot-com company?
I'd say first make sure that you have a solid business model, and that starts with a real need of the consumer that you are meeting. That's the heart of any solid business, whether it's an online or offline business: Customer needs.
Is there any one message that you hoped to get across to the graduating students at Kent State, who are about to enter the business world?
Take risks. How to reach: eBay Inc., ebay.com
Connie Swenson (email@example.com) is editor of SBN Magazine in Akron and SBN Magazine in Stark.
Martin, founder of The Martin Agency and a 35-year veteran of the advertising world, has authored the definitive guide to advertising and marketing. He has worked with and beside some of the most well-known creative minds, and made quite a mark himself with his previous book, ''Romancing the Brand.''
Martin founded the Martin Agency with partner George Woltz in the early 1980s ''in a sleek penthouse with one client, no furniture and a single dream.'' Over the next 10 years, the agency became one of the largest advertising firms in the Southeast and created the ''Virginia is for Lovers'' campaign.
He's worked with dozens of Fortune 500 companies and several nonprofits, including Keep America Beautiful. In ''Be the Brand,'' Martin employs an anecdotal approach to what could be a dry subject and, although he spends more than 200 pages mapping out brand building theories and strategies, he peppers the lessons with stories of some of the most famous advertising and marketing campaigns to date.
What makes his approach different is that he boils the art of advertising down to one question: ''What's the simplest way to express what your company stands for?''
As the book's name suggests, Martin stresses the importance of recognizing a business's core values and its competitive edge. That, he says, must then be translated into brand recognition.
Taking a cue from the simplistic yet effective approaches of Volvo, Volkswagen, Perdue, Nike, McDonald's and the like, Martin says business owners must discover the core competency of their company by asking both employees and customers.
''Walk down the hall asking employees to give one defining word that represents the company,'' he says. ''You will be fascinated about what you hear or don't hear.''
Martin reiterates that a company needs a single focal point to build a rock-solid brand.
''Every brand has a unique claim to fame,'' he says. ''The secret to a long, happy brand life is to find out what that one thing is and, having found it, never let it go.''
He stresses the role of leadership in creating and maintaining brand identity and says owners must focus internally as well as utilize an outside advertising campaign.
''In order to have a strong brand, the people in the organization have to feel a part of it,'' he says.
Brand as expectation
''What the brand is, is expectation,'' says Martin.
Even the most creative advertising campaign can't make up for a subquality product or service. Just because you say it doesn't make it true. Eventually, the consumer will realize that.
''If you are going to have expectation of performance, you need actual performance in order to have a brand that really works,'' he says.
Martin drives home the point that quality is one of the foremost issues on the minds of consumers, even above price.
''It always comes back to quality,'' he says. ''In one study, consumers rated what was important to them about a product on a scale from one to 10 ... And price was only about a six or seven.''
Brand as business plan
''Great companies have a particular value,'' Martin says.
That's why he stresses the brand and the business must go hand in hand. One strengthens the other and in the end, that drives the value of the company as a whole.
''Your quest for a robust brand starts with a hard look inside your company,'' he says.
Core values drive the brand, which in turn reminds the company of its core values.
''A clear sense of identity guides much more than marketing and advertising tactics,'' he says. ''It guides the way you do business holistically in a competitive world.''
Keep it simple
Martin says there is a trend to simplicity. He refers to it as the real age of time when people live complicated lives. The key is to find a brand hallmark, stick with it and make sure everyone else does, too.
''Information is plentiful,'' he says. ''Memories are short.''
Martin points to studies in which test markets regularly misidentify advertisers shortly after seeing costly prime time television spots. Going back to the ''one thing'' philosophy, he warns against being too esoteric. When pondering, use the KISS rule, Martin says --''KISS -- as in keep it simple stupid.''
Good product, bad marketing
''Most of the advertisers today have to be very selective and pick their target market. It would cost you $15 million to advertise to everyone in America once,'' Martin says.
He stresses the importance in print and media advertising of targeting your market, repeating your advertising and making it simple and creative.
Martin offers two examples: The market resurgence of Apple Computer and Volkswagen (VW).
It's no coincidence, he says, that sales rose after Steve Jobs returned to Apple. Jobs reignited the same core values that drove sales in the 1980s. Then, he combined that with a marketing strategy that spoke to a targeted audience.
VW had a similar problem. Even though the quality of the product stayed consistent, the message it put out to consumers didn't relate to the soul of the brand. It wasn't until VW found its target audience that sales began to rise.
Like any branding book worth its salt, Martin discusses the basics of marketing -- using emotion in advertising and how to speak to your audience.
''Through the years, many brands have become famous by tapping into true human emotion to show the end result of product use in human terms,'' he says.
He also says it's important to use color and emotion in sales techniques.
But what really makes this book stand out from others on the shelves are the real-life examples and stories that only someone with Martin's background can recount. He doesn't offer any quick solutions.
Instead, he lays the blueprints for integrating and fostering both a brand building strategy and the business as a whole. And that's something many consultants fail to provide.
How to reach: ''Be the Brand,'' (800) 295-4066