When a business owner wants to relocate, the task can seem daunting. However, by exploring some key considerations, you can prioritize the move and find a location that works well for your present company and your future growth.

One such location — Irving, Texas — is in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Irving has more than 8,500 businesses that are already operating in the region, including the headquarters of five Fortune 500 companies.

“You need a value-driven proposition,” says Carter Holston, general manager of Real Estate NEC Corporation of America. “You have to have a good location. You have to have a great office space. You have to have access to your employees and pay the right amount of tax, both school and other. All that goes into the mix when you make the decision.”

Smart Business spoke with Holston about what employers need to consider for relocation and why the Greater Irving-Las Colinas area fits that bill.

If a business is thinking of relocating to a new city, what does it need to take into consideration and how does that relate to the Irving area? 

There are three components that any company needs to consider:

  • The work force.
  • How you access the work force, the accessibility to the region, and how you move about via the roadways and mass transit.
  • The business-friendly environment.

Irving is in the center of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, so access to an available work force is not a problem. The area is adjacent to a major airport — the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport — allowing you to get your people in and out of the city in an easy and efficient manner.

The Irving area also has accessibility from the standpoint of mass transit, which is a game changer in business today. The new work force is more mobile and prefers living, working and playing in the same area instead of driving long distances to and from work.

Then there’s the business-friendly environment, which is probably one of the most important factors. Companies need to be in cities that believe in business, that understand the revenue they derive from taxes and what it means to have their citizens employed.

What’s the current state of the commercial real estate market in the Irving area?

Commercial real estate for Irving is on the rise, generally, and Texas, itself, is a good market for companies and corporations to consider relocating to.

Irving has more than 30 million square feet of commercial office space and is the third-largest submarket in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Typically, there is about a 20 percent vacancy rate, but that has been as high as 25 percent, so Irving is a value-driven market.

With 30 million square feet, there are some large blocks of space that are available at affordable rates. Most companies seem to be taken aback at the leasing rates in Dallas compared to other regions.

Irving also has another game changer that just opened in July — a light rail system that runs through the central urban center. That mass transit will affect commercial real estate in a positive way in Irving.

What else makes the North Texas region so attractive?

Texas, in general, and the Dallas region, in particular, are ‘can do’ regions. There’s really no reason for Dallas to be on the map. There’s no geographic reason for Dallas to exist, no great river system. However, the people who settled here on the prairie a long time ago made it work, and that theme and attitude have carried through the years. Even when the oil business was not good, Dallas found a way to diversify and found other industries to attract, such as technology, oil and gas, banking and insurance. Just about every sector of the economy is represented in North Texas, and the Dallas area specifically.

This ‘can do’ attitude holds true for the area’s longevity and its future, which is based on finding a way to get things done.

How can an employer find things such as tax breaks and incentives when moving into a new area?

First, look at what is important to you. There are a variety of tools that each region and city has to offer. The tax breaks, in and of themselves, shouldn’t make the decision for you. The decision to relocate should be based on where you can get a fair deal — where the value deal is found.

That said, for new construction, there are many incentives available, varying greatly by city. You should have a good broker representing you who has access to incentives and knows what has been granted in the past. You should be represented well and compare with past incentives, but don’t let incentives be the only thing that makes up your mind.

The Greater Irving-Las Colinas area is certainly very affordable with available space and incentives, but it’s also a great product in a business-friendly area.

Carter Holston is general manager of Real Estate NEC Corporation of America, where he oversees all domestic commercial real estate functions and is responsible for more than 1 million square feet of leased and owned facilities. In addition, Holston serves as a consultant to the Irving Economic Development Partnership at the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce. Reach him at (214) 262-2190 or carter.holston@necam.com.

Visit the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce at www.irvingchamber.com.

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce

Published in Houston

On the heels of the Affordable Care Act and health care reform, business owners are going to deal with the shakeout of more costs or potential fines, exchanges and other uncertainties. All the while, the sleeping giant of the commercial Property & Casualty (P&C) industry is awakening with wide speculation of a potential hardening market in workers’ compensation and property casualty. Frankly, it seems to have arrived here in California and other states, as workers’ compensation renewals are causing sheer exasperation.

Gloria Lam of Risk Placement Services lets us know that the market is gyrating; low-price carriers have started high and the clients are demanding quote revisions up to three times for price reductions. It is our job as brokers to persist on behalf of clients by presenting high-deductible plans and other options. Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs) and captives may not be the best shelter, and the repercussions can be costly and can be felt for years to come. It feels as though CEOs are in the eye of the storm that is circling around them, taking bits and pieces, as CFOs are boarding up the windows trying to hold on to what they have.

Ken A. Crerar, president and CEO of the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers (CIAB), said the P&C market has officially achieved hard-market status. With price increases in the last two quarters and tightening in underwriting, the market has made a hard turn. He goes on to say, “It is hard to predict the length and severity, but the market has turned.”

Mark Lyons, CEO of Arch World Wide Insurance Group said, “Overcapitalization is hiding losses on business. We have had $12 billion in reserves released in the 2011 calendar year alone. … It has been three loss-ratio points of reserve releases over the past three to four years on average. … This sheltering losses on current-year business and masking how unprofitable current business is because of releases in this year for accidents which occurred prior.”  The soft-market pricing is catching up and the longer-tails in commercial lines are causing depleting cushions in reserves.  Acts of God and other disasters have an aftermath effect and there has been frequency internationally.

Market Scout says workers’ compensation and commercial property rates both rose 4 percent in April, which was the highest of the product lines. Richard Kerr, CEO of Market Scout, notices admitted and nonadmitted insurers are showing similar pricing models. This is against historical approaches to underwriting which, in the past, showed considerable differences. These similar pricing strategies could lead to more business for the nonadmitted insurers. The admitted insurers may begin to restrict their risk appetite and begin to decline tougher risks.

The last 10 quarters have generated negative cash reserves, which are beginning to impact companies. Business leaders are looking for leadership that will re-energize local economies and lower the cost of doing business. Brian Allen in National Underwriter goes on to state how these business leaders are demanding improvements in state's business climates. “These changes include reforms to workers’ comp laws that deal with how medical treatment and benefits are delivered to injured workers and the costs that are ultimately passed on to local businesses.”

California is beginning to see double-digit increases in workers’ compensation and some businesses are responding by closing their doors in the state. U.S. Legislators, State Department of Industrial Relations and Governors are demanding more than piecemeal reform and taking a hard look at the delivery of care, prescriptions and costs. The broker’s role is to go to the insured and make sure they know what is happening. The only safety net is to be prepared for the storm as it continues to pass through.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Montage Insurance Solutions.


Published in Los Angeles
Thursday, 04 October 2012 20:46

Masters of craftsmanship

Manufacturing, Employee Growth

One of the biggest challenges Christopher Karman faced when he bought Amish Mills in 2003 was that while the business created quality products, it was still a small player in a declining industry. The maker of Amish furniture had several choices, one being to go out and look for more outlets. But the idea of trying to grow in a dying market segment didn’t thrill Karman. Instead, the president of Amish Mills decided to broaden the company’s product selection, go after high-quality retailers and take the company national.

What started as just a small manufacturer of handcrafted curios has today been transformed into a nationwide system of sales representatives and a business that provides products including office furniture, kitchen cabinets and bedroom suites. Amish Mills went from 12 employees in 2003 to more than 100 in 2012. The company continues to churn out excellent quality products under both the Amish Mills and Daniels Amish Collection brand names and has teamed up with a strong customer base as well.

Amish Mills’ products are not only found in large, high-quality furniture stores such as Berkshire Hathaway’s Nebraska Furniture Mart — the largest furniture store in the world — but also at 700 independent retailers across the country. Naturally, with the company’s growth during the past five years, managing building space and expansion of the business have been growing issues.

Amish Mills now has a 120,000-square-foot building that gives the company space and flexibility needed to continue to grow in the future. This building allows Karman and his leadership team to focus less on expansion and more on growing the business. The building also opens up the potential for new customers.

In the past when customers were guided on tours, they were actually walking through converted barns. Now, with a new state-of-the-art facility, Amish Mills’ customers know that the company is an efficient operation capable of providing its product to anyone.

How to Reach: Amish Mills, (330) 359-0400 or www.amishmills.com

Published in Akron/Canton

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) enables organizations to go beyond traditional document management by providing an integrated enterprise platform for managing the complete life cycle of information, automating content-centric business processes and enabling records management.

“Companies are using ECM in a wide variety of ways to solve diverse business problems. New technology innovations are rapidly increasing the capabilities of ECM, making it an even more useful tool,” says Prashant Kothari, head of ECM practice for HTC Global Services.

Smart Business spoke with Kothari about ECM and how it can help organizations manage ever-growing content and information.

Why ECM is important?

An ECM platform can help organizations to gain better control of content and information. It also helps streamline business processes to increase productivity and efficiencies, thereby reducing costs. An ECM platform brings all the information together in a way that helps knowledge workers to make decisions faster.

What types of businesses can benefit from using ECM?

It can benefit nearly every business that deals with content in both forms – paper and electronic. Content could include documents, emails, faxes, multimedia, transaction records and other digital assets.

ECM is critical for any business that is dealing with challenges such as large volumes of content that need to be made more accessible and usable, inefficiencies in completing operational tasks that require content for decision making, or regulatory compliance mandates that require greater control over unstructured information within the organization.

How does business process management tie in, and what benefit does it offer to a business using ECM?

Business process management (BPM) enables automation of manual business processes. It provides a comprehensive set of workflow capabilities for the end-to-end automation. This helps automating task assignments, triggering tasks on a specific event or decision making using predefined rules.

It integrates content with business processes, thereby helping an organization to make timely decisions using the most accurate information available. Such capability can reduce cycle times and improve productivity across the entire organization and deliver significant return on investment.

What is the process of setting up an ECM system for a business?

The ECM platform provides software components that can be used in standalone mode or with other components as a unified platform.  At a high level, these components can be grouped by functionality for imaging, content and data capture, content management, process management (workflow), records management, electronic forms, collaboration and business rules management.

The process starts with the assessment of content management needs and process management needs (if any). Identify the type of content that needs to be managed and the format of the source content. How and who all will need access to the content once it is stored in a repository?

This assessment is then used to identify the ECM software components that will be used to implement the solution. Once the ECM components are identified, hardware and infrastructure requirements are defined.

The solution is then designed by defining configuration for content capture, management of various content types, users access, user roles and security, system integration, storage for repository, and reporting. The software is then configured and customized as per the design.

There are several ECM software products in the market to choose from, and these products can be procured and set up in-house, or hosted by external vendors. Some ECM vendors are now offering their software via cloud (or SaaS) model as well.

Typically, to setup an ECM environment, one has to set up ECM software components and database software on appropriate hardware (server/s). Configure storage devices such as Storage Area Network to set up content repository. Configure network administration and a security server such as Active Directory for setting up user authentication and defining access privileges. Configure content ingestion tools to import content from various source such as email, fax and online. Set up scanners and/or multifunction copier machines for scanning paper documents.

Implementation of advanced features could require configuring workflows, deadlines and content retention policies. Some products provide features to define search templates that can be configured for each business group to enable easy way to search, retrieve and view content.

What should a company expect to invest in an ECM system as far as time for installation, training employees to use the system and updating and maintaining it?

That varies depending on the size of the organization and its needs. Implementation of a basic system requires minimum time and training. Users can easily learn the system within a couple of days. However, if it’s a complex solution that incorporates business process management, then the implementation and training could take few weeks.

From a support perspective, these products are very stable and don’t require significant effort to maintain and support. However, periodically, one has to review database growth, and storage needs to handle the growth in content and transactions. Manage user accounts and also monitor logs for transactions occurring within the system and verifying users accessing the system.

What is the return on investment?

It increases as you move up from basic imaging and document management features to advanced workflow automation and legacy integration to electronic discovery and content analytics features. However, for a business that primarily relies on paper for all type of information could achieve significant ROI with just a basic system. This basic system could address challenges of managing paper, content sharing and delivery, disaster recovery, business continuity and regulatory compliance.

ROI is calculated on a case-by-case basis by considering factors such as the current cost of information capture, information management, storage, sharing, processing, and communications management. Typically the efficiency gained by implementing ECM goes from 20 percent and beyond.

Prashant Kothari is head of ECM practice for HTC Global Services. Reach him at (248) 530-2555 or prashant.kothari@htcinc.com.


Insights Technology is brought to you by HTC Global Services.

Published in Chicago

Against a backdrop of economic uncertainty that features a volatile stock market, rising taxes and a stagnant job market, 10 remarkable business leaders have managed to not only survive, but to expand and succeed. They are the recipients of Smart Business Pittsburgh’s 2012 Pacesetter Awards.

This year’s Pacesetters have set new benchmarks by which economic achievements in our region are measured: the first and foremost is the net revenue recorded for business; the recruitment of new clients while retaining the loyal ones; the development of new markets, new products, new or enhanced services; the retention of employees at all levels; and the development and implementation of strategic growth plans.

These remarkable men and women, representing emerging, midmarket and centurion business categories, are profiled in this issue of Smart Business and were recognized at the 26th annual St. Barnabas CEO Leadership Conference on Sept. 17 in the Kean Theatre on St. Barnabas’ North Hills campus.

The theme of the 2012 Conference was Show Me the Money… The Big Business of Sports. Sports is big business locally, nationally and globally. Here in Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania, we are blessed with three major pro teams, nationally recognized college athletic programs as well as outstanding pro athletes in individual sports.

The economic impact of sports on our area was discussed and assessed by an outstanding roster of speakers: Ralph E. Cindrich, NFL sports agent/consultant; Frank Coonelly, president, Pittsburgh Pirates; Bob Ford, PGA Club professional and head pro of Oakmont Country Club; Mark Hart, director of planning and development, Pittsburgh Steelers; Suzie McConnell-Serio, Olympian and head coach, women’s basketball, Duquesne University; Steve Pederson, athletic director, University of Pittsburgh; and Matt Shaner, CEO/owner, Pittsburgh Power.

It’s interesting to note that, according to business writers and historians, the sports industry has performed better during a declining economy than in “normal” economic times. Fans turn to sports-related pursuits to distract them from the stress of economic doubt, according to “The Business of Sports” by Scott Rosner and Kenneth Shropshire.

St. Barnabas is proud to once again partner with Smart Business Pittsburgh. And our congratulations to all the pacesetters introduced in the pages of this magazine. This is, and always will be, a great country because of men and women like you.

William V. Day is president and CEO of St. Barnabas Health System.

The 2012 Winners:

2012 Pacesetter centurion: Scott Barnyak, Christy Maruca, Chris Simchick, principal partners, SDLC Partners LP

2012 Pacesetter emerging: Dan Courser, president and CEO, Predictive Synergistic Systems

2012 Pacesetter midsize: N. Cabot Earle, chief administrative officer and general counsel, Microbac Laboratories Inc.

2012 Pacesetter centurion: Ralph Martin, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

2012 Pacesetter midsize: Patrick O’Brien, president and CEO, First Federal Savings Bank

2012 Pacesetter midsize: Fred Potthoff, co-owner, Kroff Inc.

2012 Pacesetter centurion: Kenneth Ramsey, president and CEO, Gateway Rehab

2012 Pacesetter emerging: Mike Robb, executive director, CCR, ANR, NDC

2012 Pacesetter emerging: Marc Sachs, president, NET Xperts LLC

2012 Pacesetters lifetime achievement: Wayne Zanardelli, founder, Professionals Services Group

Published in Pittsburgh

As a 26-year-old with long hair and sideburns that merged into a mustache, Bob Weltman asked his father if he could be put in charge of the collection department of his law firm. His father trusted his son’s work ethic and belief that he could run the department much better than it had been, so he said, “Yes.”

From that day on, Weltman has been leading people by example at Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co., a law firm with more than 1,200 employees and annual revenue of more than $100 million. He has always prided himself on working harder and longer than anyone else to stay on top.

“My leadership style is one by example,” Weltman says. “I never ask my employees to do anything that I could not do. I always got to work before my employees. I always worked as hard as my employees and I always worked longer than my employees. I was totally dedicated to my job.”

Ever since Weltman held a job bagging groceries as a youngster, he has maintained his work-hard-to-be-successful attitude throughout college and into his professional career.

“My background in working hard was something that I adopted a long time ago,” Weltman says. “If you’re going to accept the responsibility, do it with all your energy and give it all the time that’s necessary to succeed.”

Today, Weltman has lost the long hair and his sideburns, but the mustache and work ethic remain strong. Here is what Weltman has learned in his 50 years of business.

What have been some of your biggest challenges over your career?

The challenge of running a business — profitability. That is always a challenge. Even though we’re in the service business and we’re lawyers, making a profit at the end of the day is a challenge. When you attend any meeting in this law firm and you didn’t know what we were, you would think we manufactured widgets. The meetings we have are all business-driven with business ideas.

I don’t know how you can exist in today’s world in business without taking business courses. If you’re thinking of being a doctor or a lawyer, a businessman, an accountant or anything in the business world, you’ve got to take business classes.

No. 2 is the management of people. Everybody who works here has their own set of problems. You’re trying to merge together a whole bunch of different people with a whole bunch of different problems into one and to motivate them to give their job the best.

If you get too involved in an employee’s personal problems, it can drag you down and distract from what your primary focus is. So being able to merge together people from all different types of backgrounds into one is very, very important.

You have to try to create a team effort. A team is only as good as the weakest link. You’ve got to set the bar high. Saying it can’t be done is not acceptable. I’d rather you try something and fail than say it can’t be done. Don’t be afraid to fail. When you decide to make a decision, measure the chance of success versus the chance of failure.

Don’t do something that can be fatal to the organization. If there is a higher degree of success than there is failure, measure what happens if there is failure because if the failure is detrimental to the organization, then you don’t want to make the decision. You have to learn from those failures.

You take the failures that you have had and try to build them into something that is positive. You want to teach your employees to also take some degree of risk to what they’re doing.

Throughout 50 years, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen in business?

I was a very, very rough employer. I demanded perfection. Even though I knew perfection could not be obtained, I demanded it. I was very rough on the people who worked with me. Some stuck around, and others went other ways.

I remember that I ran into a friend of mine who worked for me at one time and had left. We were reminiscing about the old days, and he told me a story about something I did to him that interfered with his personal life. I knew he was going out one night, and I gave him a stack of files to work and have ready to review the next day.

I don’t remember if I did it intentionally, but he said he had to skip his social event to work on them. I went back to the office and told my son the story. My son said, ‘You know what I would have done? I would have quit.’

There has been a shift from the job meaning everything to you to balance in life. We went from people who worked because they had to work to put food on the table to a period of time where people started making more money and a balance of life became almost as important to being dedicated to the job.

Another change in the industry has been what the clients focus on. Originally, clients came to you because you could give them the best results. Giving good service to the client along with good results used to be the motivating factor.

After 9/11, the client’s focus became security. Now we have security badges, security entrances. In some of our offices, we have security cameras. The clients became very security conscious.

More recently, since the 2008 recession, compliance is bigger. Now they want to know the procedures you’re following to keep us out of trouble. Now the focus isn’t so much on performance; it is how well you’re treating the customer. The emphasis has gone from performance to security to compliance, and those organizations that will be in compliance will get a higher rating than those organizations that have better performance quantitatively.

How important has relationship building been to you?

I feel that when a client comes to me with a problem, they’re coming to me for help. I feel honored to represent a client and help them, and I want to give them something back in return.

I treat clients like friends. I try to establish a personal relationship with them and make a connection with them and a bond so that they can come to me for help, and I’ll drop whatever I’m doing to help them. Once they come to me for help, I want to work my hardest to make sure I achieve a result.

You have to make the connection and gain the confidence of that person. You’ve got to get the client or the person to believe that what you’re doing is in their best interest. You’ve got to put their welfare ahead of any other selfish or personal motivation that you may have. You have to give the client the impression that you’re working for them to achieve the best result and that making money is secondary.

I’ve said many times to a client when they come to me with a challenging collection problem and they say, ‘How much are you going to charge me?’ I say to them, ‘I don’t want what I’m going to charge you to stand in the way of me getting you the best result. Pay me what you think I’m worth when it’s done.’

You have to let them know that money and the profit motive is not the main motivation of why you’re doing it.

When clients come and present me with their problem, I tell them, ‘You’ve now given me this problem. You have to walk out of this room and dismiss it from your mind, because if two of us worry about the problem, there’s too much energy being wasted at solving the problem. Once you come to me with a problem, I want you to divorce yourself from that problem and allow me to handle it and try to get you a solution.’

Where did your hard work ethic come from?

There was a book called ‘Bounce,’ and it was the question as to whether greatness is genetic or something you have to work hard to achieve. The theme of that book was that hard work is what makes you good at what you do. I worked very, very hard at what I do, and I still work very hard.

My day starts at night when I take home boxes of files, which I work on until 10 at night. I get to work at 6:30 in the morning, so my day is 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. In order to be good at what you do, you have to put a lot of hours in. It’s not something that just comes your way. It’s something that you got to devote a lot of hard work and a lot of time to.

With all your great athletes, people say they were born with greatness, but from LeBron James to Jimmy Brown, they worked very hard at what they did. Mark Spitz didn’t just jump in a pool and win gold medals. He worked endless hours to achieve greatness. You have to stay focused.

I’m always focused on the job. I have blinders as to anything else that’s going on around me. It’s like a sporting event — when you’re on the basketball court, you have to be able to separate yourself from the rest of the world. Or it’s like a relief pitcher in baseball — when you give up a hit or give up a home run, you’ve got to go out on the mound and separate yourself from what happened in the past because you can’t let it be the driver for what happens in the future.

What have you done to keep up with the industry as it has grown? 

Reading, listening and attending lectures is very important. When I attend seminars, I don’t necessarily go there to learn what the message of the seminar is; I go there to learn what the problems are in the industry. I try to figure out solutions for those problems. As a result, that created different departments in our firm and different ways of handling things.

If you don’t do these things, you’re missing out. When I read a newspaper, I look at what’s in that article that can help further the organization. Is that a marketing opportunity? Is that an opportunity for business? I try to always transfer what I see and hear and read into how I can incorporate that at our firm to make the firm a better organization.

I’m big on sports, so I’ll look to sports to see how management decisions are made. I look at how players are treated and the education of players and how they learn what the game is all about. It’s all about the ‘Bounce’ theory — are you given the job at the time that’s necessary to be the best at what you can do?

What have been some keys to keeping the firm a leader in its industry?

I’ve been a visionary in running the firm. We were one of the first law firms in our field to have more than one office. We were the first law firm to have a probate collection department.

I like to be the first at what we’re doing, and the reason why is if you’re the first, there is no measure of competition. If everybody is talking about it, then it’s too late. That’s why, when you go to conferences, you listen to what the underlying message is and not what is being said.

I’m also the kind of person that when I come up with an idea, I want to implement it immediately and get started on it. All of us are very busy and none of us are sitting here waiting for the client to call us or walk in the door, but when you’re presented with something new, you have to be able to start working on that problem immediately without losing any concentration on what your daily task is. A lot of people are very slow at appropriating something new. When you think of something to do, you have to start it.

How to reach: Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co. LPA, (216) 685-1000 or www.weltman.com


- Give 100 percent to your current job.

- Build relationships with your clients.

- Be a leader and focus on solving problems.

The Weltman File

Bob Weltman

Senior partner

Weltman, Weinberg and Reis Co. LPA

Born: Cleveland, Ohio

Education: Received a BBA and a master’s in finance from the The Ohio State University and a JD from the Case Western Reserve University School of Law

What was your very first job and what did you take away from that experience?

I got a job working in a grocery store. I used to bag groceries and take them to people’s cars and then run back to beat the others in line. The average tip was a quarter. That was one of the first experiences where I realized how easy it was to be successful; you just had to work hard.

Who is someone you look up to?

My favorite baseball player is Lou Gehrig. He never missed a day of work.

What are a few of your favorite sports memories?

I went to Cal Ripken night when he set the record for most consecutive games. I was there for the Indians game when Kenny Lofton scored from second base on a passed ball. I attended the Ohio State championship game against Miami where it went into overtime at the Fiesta Bowl. I attended the World Series in 1995 and 1997 for the Indians.

What has been one of your proudest moments over your 50-year career?

It was going to my father and asking him if I could run the collection department and him having enough confidence in me to do it.

If you could invite three people to dinner, who would invite?

George Steinbrenner, Bill Gates and Thomas Edison. Innovative, creative people.

Published in Cleveland

Emma Dickison knows a good business model when she sees one. As a former executive of both Blockbuster and Sylvan Learning Center, Dickison is now leveraging her business expertise to focus on growing the franchise brand of Home Helpers.

While at Blockbuster during the company’s heyday, Dickison helped grow the brand from 150 stores to 8,800 worldwide in her 14 years there. She also helped fuel similar growth at Sylvan Learning Center.

So when Home Helpers Founder and CEO Gary Green recruited Dickison to join the provider of one-on-one companion care and in-home services in 2007, he knew she would be able to help develop a strategy to grow the Home Helpers franchise.

“Gary and I started talking about Home Helpers because of my experiences and where he wanted to take the company,” says Dickison, president of Home Helpers. “I really saw it as a great opportunity to take a company that had done well and make it even better and continue to drive and build it. I think of Blockbuster and how that growth happened and I thought I’m young enough to still do it again.”

Home Helpers has more than 600 locations and has more than doubled its revenue in the past five years for 2011 systemwide revenue of $79 million.

“Home Helpers was a great company and they had just celebrated their 10-year anniversary, but in franchising, the first few years in any concept is really a strong learning curve.”

Here’s how Dickison used her past experiences to develop strategies that would allow Home Helpers to reach new heights.

Change is good

In any business that has the objective to grow its operations, change has to be a necessity that is embraced by the company and everyone in it. Dickison had to find out where to take the business next that would help it in its growth.

“After 10 years, obviously we had a foundation underneath us,” Dickison says. “Home Helpers was started as completely nonmedical services, and it did what was known as companion care, which meant serving as a companion to a client who needed meals made for them or maybe to help getting to and from the doctor.

“About two years before I joined, the industry started to transition into what is called personal care. Personal care is where you’re physically working with a client whether that’s transferring them from a wheelchair to a bed or helping them bathe, it’s hands-on care.

“From that, a year ago, we transitioned to yet another phase out of a strategic decision to continue to be able to provide a broader continuum of care to the client so they aren’t dealing with multiple agencies. We now have our offices in a position where they can provide medical services as well.”

The company then supplemented that with its Direct Link brand, which is vital sign monitoring, medication management and personal emergency response systems to allow clients to remain at home for as long as safely possible.

“So from where I started with largely a companion care business, we’ve now transitioned over the last five years into an organization that allows families to utilize one agency to be able to keep mom, dad, an ill spouse or a sick child home longer than what would otherwise be possible,” she says.

No matter what industry your business is in, change is a difficult thing to grasp and implement.

“We are all creatures of habit, and to have a bold result, you have to make bold decisions,” Dickison says. “For us, that has been strategically to be able to say, ‘What additional services do we need to provide so that families can feel comfortable about their family member?’ Change on any system is a challenge.

“There is a book by Tom Feltenstein and it’s called, ‘Change is Good, You Go First.’  There is a quote in that book that I think is powerful that says, ‘If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance a lot less.’ The reality is you have to provide a product or service that the consumer wants or needs and is willing to pay for, and that’s kind of where we are.”

The services Home Helpers provides are needed, and the company has to continue to change as the industry does and as its consumers do to stay relevant.

“We’re a strong believer in testing and listening to our consumer and our franchise offices and then making the changes, and we’re changing first because we think we need to remain relevant,” she says.

Changes in your business can’t be made without a strong reason for making them.

“You have to have a great understanding of the industry you’re in and where it’s going and how you want to position yourself in it,” Dickison says. “Secondly, you have to take risks. The alternative to not doing something can be fatal.”

Dickison compares risk to a baseball player at bat — you never want to be called out not swinging the bat.

“Some things are going to be a great success, and there’s probably going to be a few things that are not, but you can’t be afraid to fail,” she says. “You have to be willing as a leader to take that risk and step up. Then you have to be accountable for whatever the results are. I take very seriously my role in that the decisions I make as a leader impact thousands of families, and I can’t take that lightly because I know they are depending on us to be that leader.

“I also have to think of the brand and lead us into the future and know that will require and has required us to take risks to figure it out, to make it happen and to move the system forward.”


The changes that Home Helpers makes are part of forming a strategy to move the company forward. These plans have to be carefully thought out and the right people have to be involved in the process.

“The end users, which are our offices, those who deliver every day a core mission to the communities that they serve, have to have a part in shaping strategy,” Dickison says. “We are very strong in seeking feedback from our franchise offices.

“We survey them twice a year formally. We get feedback after every training session and at our national conference. We get feedback on everything, and then we take that feedback and we review it very seriously to say, ‘What is the direction we need to go?’”

Having your stakeholders, which is your staff as well as your franchise offices, have a voice in shaping that strategy is key because then you can get buy in.

“You’re never going to please 100 percent of the people all of the time,” she says. “I have to make decisions as a leader as to what’s going to benefit my brand and the majority of my franchise offices. So having them be a part of that is critical, and we’ve done that in the five years that I’ve been here.

“Our positioning to move into medical services was as a direct result of focus groups and feedback we had done with our franchise offices who were concerned long term that based on where the industry is going, that if we did not make some changes in that direction, we were going to be at a competitive disadvantage.”

Franchise business models are unique in that franchisees don’t actually work for you but with you, which can make strategy implementation tough sometimes.

“The uniqueness of it is if you’re an organization that’s not franchise-owned, it’s easier to make that strategy and communication known and carry it through,” Dickison says. “It has to be a very collaborative effort and everyone has to buy in to the direction you’re going to. That’s why it’s not as simple as it is for some organizations where we decide the strategy, we tell you what it is and you deploy it.

“In franchising, there has to be a collaboration between the staff, the owners and management to work together to realize that strategy and deliver it.”

While everybody has the opportunity to have a voice, you’re going to make some decisions that are unpopular.

“It becomes a matter of showing the value — the features and benefits — of what you’re introducing or eliminating, in some cases, as you move the system forward,” she says. “It really comes back down to including stakeholders in the decision-making process, communicating, gaining buy-in and executing against it.”

Grow your franchise

In a franchise business model, it is crucial that franchise owners are aware of the business strategy and are involved enough that they want to contribute and generate ideas to help grow the company.

“We get those ideas every day, and I’m grateful,” Dickison says. “Our franchise owners give us feedback on ideas that they think could benefit the operating system daily via email, live conversation, surveys, national meetings and any communication style you can imagine. If they could send us smoke signals, they’re willing to share. That’s the great part for me.

“Every time I go out into the field, they are just so passionate about what our mission is and the work we are doing. They are eager to support our growth and our operating system.”

To get your company employees or franchisees involved in the business, you have to make sure you are communicating to them and that they understand what it takes to grow the business.

“It comes down to communication, communication, communication — aligning the strategy, communicating it and allowing them to be part of it,” she says. “I did, when I first got here, a series of town-hall meetings. I traveled all over the country and we talked about where we were and where we wanted to go. I made it clear from that moment that we wanted feedback.

“Not only did I communicate it, I demonstrated it in my actions. Many of the changes that we have seen today are as a result of very incredibly bright business owners who live and work in the trenches every day serving hundreds and hundreds of communities that have been willing to serve and provide feedback.

“Not only did I tell them it was important, I demonstrated it because I took action on the feedback that was given.”

With a strong strategy in place to deliver on what the industry and the company’s clients are asking for and a smart and devoted team of franchisees, Home Helpers is growing to that next level.

“We’re a brand of 15 years into growth,” Dickison says. “We are in 42 states today, which means we still have markets available for owners to come in and be able to build a strong business and serve the communities that they have.”

The keys to this growth have been a couple of points.

“No. 1, it’s selecting the right franchise owner,” she says. “Are they going to have the skill set, the expertise, the working capital to be able to realize their dreams of owning a small business that we can help them support? Selection of those that you are awarding territories is key.

“Then backing them up with a great operating system and a proven operating system that can help support their growth is critical. Then it’s having the right staff in place to ensure that.”

Since Dickison has been at Home Helpers, the staff has grown by about 40 percent and has done so because the company has grown and supported that expansion.

“It comes down to four things: having the right strategy, selecting the right owners to come into the system, giving them a terrific operating system that stays relevant to the industry, and then providing them great support,” she says.

With those four helping Dickison lead the company to that No. 1 spot in the industry, she is able to focus on the future.

“We want to continue to maximize our opportunities here domestically,” she says. “We are going to continue to explore those opportunities that allow us to stay on the cutting edge and remain as a strong competitor in our industry.”

How to reach: Home Helpers: (800) 216-4196 or www.homehelpers.cc  


-          Embrace change; understand where you want to be.

-          Form a strategy to get you were you want to be.

-          Communicate changes and strategies.

The Dickison File

Emma Dickison


Home Helpers

Born: Ashland, Ky.

Education: She received a bachelor of arts in history and has a minor in secondary education from the University of Florida.

What was your first job and what did you take away from that experience?

My dad, in the recession of 1972, bought a small, independently owned hotel in Florida. That was going to be my parents’ retirement. They took a huge risk, invested everything they had, borrowed more and bought this hotel. At the age of 10 I was a maid. I cleaned rooms, I helped paint, I helped clean the pool and scrubbed the lounge. I learned from that experience to have an incredible work ethic and know that nothing was going to be given to me without me working hard for it.

What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?

Business is truly about relationships and how you interact with people. It’s really the golden rule — treat people the way you want to be treated. That’s true of your staff, franchise owners and vendors.

Who is a leader you admire in business?

The best leader I ever worked with is a woman by the name of Eileen Terry. She was an executive with Blockbuster. She was the first woman at the time in that role, and I believe there hasn’t been another who has held the title of executive vice president. She was incredibly gifted. She had very high standards, but she was such a great mentor. Today she is at Panda Express.

What are you excited about within the health care industry?

I’m excited about the role Home Helpers will play. Everything I read says we’re all going to need some level of care and so for us to play a part of that, culturally it’s important. Not just from a business standpoint, but how are we culturally going to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves. The fact that we get to play such a significant role in that is exciting.

Published in Cincinnati

When David Rippy and his business partners Scott Winsett and Bill Jackson founded Bonfire Studios in 2008, they and their 30 employees focused on the emerging mobile and social gaming markets. Their initial games were created for the iPhone/iPad and Windows platforms, and the success of those games put the company on the map and got the attention of Zynga, the world’s largest social media game maker.

“If you’ve played FarmVille or CastleVille, for example, on Facebook, those are Zynga games,” says Rippy, Zynga Allen’s general manager. “Zynga also makes the popular Words with Friends and Draw Something games for phone. We immediately felt a connection with Zynga, and it acquired Bonfire in late 2010.

The company is now known as Zynga Allen, and since the acquisition, the the Allen, Texas, studio has grown to about 70 full-time employees and Zynga has grown to well over 3,000 employees spread all over the world.

Smart Business spoke with Rippey about the growth of the company and how the Allen location has helped it succeed.

How has Zynga positioned itself in the worldwide gaming market?

Zynga Inc. is the world’s leading provider of social game services, with more than 305 million monthly active users playing games that include FarmVille, Words With Friends, Matching With Friends, Scramble With Friends, The Ville, Bubble Safari, Ruby Blast, Draw Something, Zynga Slingo, CastleVille, CityVille, Hidden Chronicles, Zynga Poker, Zynga Bingo, Zynga Slots, Empires & Allies, The Pioneer Trail and Mafia Wars.

Zynga’s games are available on a number of global platforms, including Facebook, Zynga.com, Google+, Tencent, Apple iOS and Google Android. In addition, through Zynga.org, Zynga players have raised more than $10 million for world social causes. Zynga is headquartered in San Francisco and has offices throughout the U.S. and abroad in locations including Tokyo, Frankfurt, Dublin, Toronto and Bangalore.

How does Zynga’s business model operate?

Zynga’s business model is a big change from the traditional retail model that the industry has relied on for more than 30 years. In the traditional model, consumers had to drive to a store, spend up to $60 on a boxed game, install it and either play it at their desk or in front of the TV. Zynga’s games, on the other hand, are free to play and accessible whenever and however you wish to play them – on your PC, your phone or your tablet.

Most players enjoy Zynga games for free and the games have become an important part of their everyday lives, allowing them to connect with friends and family members all over the world. Zynga makes its money from players who pay for extra features or special items in its games.

Which Zynga operations are based in Allen?

Our Allen location is focused on creating new games for Zynga. CastleVille, our first game as Zynga, was launched in November of last year. It was a huge success and continues to be one of the top games on Facebook today.

As game developers, we have a team of really diverse talents. If you break down the studio, we’re made up of about equal parts software engineers, artists, and game designers. The designers come up with the ideas for the game, write the fiction and create the rules. The artists create the game worlds, the characters and the animations that bring it all to life. The engineers are the geniuses that make it all work on your phone or computer.

In addition to those disciplines, we have analysts who study how people play the games so that we can invest more time in what people enjoy the most. Finally, we have several producers who keep track of project scheduling and costs and basically keep the trains running on time.

How did the company settle on the Allen location, and what role did the Allen Econonic Development Corporation play in that decision?

Bonfire Studios was originally located just north of downtown Dallas. We began looking for new space at about the same time we were being acquired in 2010. We knew we wanted to be north of Interstate 635 because most of our employees are married with kids and live in the Allen, McKinney, Plano and Frisco parts of town.

We did an extensive search all over the Metroplex and considered many factors, including distance from our employees’ homes, quality of the schools and amenities that are attractive to our work force. In the end, Allen was really the ideal fit for Zynga, and our employees love working here.

We found a space that works perfectly for us, and it is located right by Watters Creek, one of the best mixed-use retail, restaurant and entertainment complexes in the Dallas area. Our out-of-town visitors also like our location because of its easy access to the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport via State Highway 121.

The Allen Economic Development Corporation was instrumental in our decision to move to Allen. From Day One, they made us feel like Allen was the right home for Zynga.  Their people were always available to answer questions, introduce us to local businesses and were a great partner in the transition. They continue to be a great partner today.

What would you say to other companies consider locating all or part of their operations in Allen?

I would absolutely recommend Allen, Texas, as a location for other businesses to consider. It offers just about everything a business could need, from high-speed Internet infrastructure to hotels, restaurants, great schools and easy access to the rest of the city.

David Rippy is general manager of Zynga Dallas. Reach him at drippy@zynga.com.. Reach the Allen Economic Development Corporation at www.allentx.com or call (972) 727-0250.

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by Allen Economic Development Corporation.

Published in Los Angeles
Saturday, 01 September 2012 10:38

Getting refocused for financial success

The road to financial success is paved with good intentions. We all know intellectually and appreciate how Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” We create goals and objectives, but habits and attitudes get in the way.

Think back when you were a child and you were about to go to your first day of school. How did you feel? You may have been filled with angst and fear as to what would actually transpire. So there may be fear of the unknown that comes with new experiences. How we kept our room, did our school work, kept track of records and information all set the stage for our adult financial planning habits. Even your annual April income tax pilgrimage of collecting your financial data reminds you of those acquired habits of dealing with financial matters. This tax preparation scenario may exacerbate your sense of frustration and angst by adding the dimension of fear of missing the deadline.

So what is all of this preliminary conversation leading to? What does this have to do with September? It appears that our lives are in sync with the school calendar. Summer has been a time to vacation away from responsibility, so September is charged with a get-back-to-work mentality. Rather than dread this, embrace this time of year. Incorporate a new habit of fiscal responsibility into your life now without applying pressure to your daily routine. Understand that there are obstacles that are physically, behaviorally and inherently in the way, but you can choose a financial partner/coach to make the journey an integrated life-planning experience.

Meet with a bona fide wealth manager. Who is that and what is the process? Wealth management is an investment advisory discipline that incorporates financial planning, investment-portfolio management and a number of aggregated financial services. High-net-worth individuals, small business owners and families who desire the assistance of a credentialed financial advisory specialist call upon wealth managers to coordinate estate planning, legal resources, tax professionals and investment management. Ideally, you are looking for an all-inclusive and objective wealth management company.

Financial planner, broker, wealth advisor … they all sound the same. How do you choose?

Look for an individual or firm that agrees to work in a fiduciary capacity. A fiduciary agrees not to put his interests before the duty to serve you. The fiduciary duty is the ultimate standard of care, and a fiduciary agrees to eliminate potential conflicts of interest in the relationship. This standard is in opposition to the suitability standard used generally in the brokerage and financial services industry. Suitability obligation by members of the broker/dealer community dictates the representative has to reasonably believe that any recommendations made to you are suitable to you in regard to your financial situation. The representative’s loyalty is to his or her firm, and that person is not obligated to disclose conflicts of interest.

Uncover how the professional is compensated. When it comes to compensation, there are basically two groups: fee-only and all others. Innovative firms have introduced an annual flat fee retainer working agreement in response to the age-old ambiguity that has prevailed in the financial industry relative to how advisors are paid. These new pioneering wealth management companies have eliminated from their vocabulary all of the jargon about percentage of assets under management (AUM) charges and commissions charged on implementation. The retainer is achieved by determining the client’s desired scope of services, complexity of personal and/or business situations, and other qualitative and quantitative data. Transparency and disclosure are at the root of their relationship with you.

Be prepared for that visit with your wealth manager. Begin to identify and accumulate two types of data — quantitative and qualitative. The quantitative data can be easier to retrieve, such as assets, liabilities, cash flow, employee benefit statements, estate documents, buy-sell agreements and the like. You may experience some angst if your personal filing system is not quite up to date.

The qualitative data resides in our intellect and our hearts. What is your personal purpose, passion and legacy goals? You as a client also bear a responsibility in the life planning process — particularly if you long for a future that looks very different from your current reality. Like all strategic goals, the more time you have to take risks and plan, the better your odds are of achieving long-term success.

The wealth management process is really a life-planning passage. Answers to these qualitative questions will help identify the drivers in your financial life-plan. Wealth management and life planning are much more than just dollars and cents. Typically, people expect dollars and cents to dominate conversations they have with a wealth advisor, but when it comes to life planning, topics of discussion extend to matters far more personal than money, addressing your deepest life dreams and goals — and how to make them a reality through sound financial planning.

The life-planning experience takes you to new dimensions of goal accomplishment. We have focused so much on goal-setting; the life-planning process focuses on goal accomplishment.

Robert A. Valente, CFP®, AEP®, is CEO and Managing Member of RAV Financial Services LLC. He can be reached at rave@ravfinancial.com.

Insights Wealth Management is brought to you by RAV Financial Services LLC.

Published in Cleveland
Thursday, 06 September 2012 11:21

Wellness Credits, What are they - Really?

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded $372 million to 44 various communities to help with the efforts of reducing obesity, smoking, increase physical activity and improve nutrition (HHS.gov, 3/19/10). It is uncertain if this American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has impacted the communities; and when the government grants were researched these amounts were earmarked for senior citizens. Today another award was released for 2012.

Employer groups are hearing from various sources the importance of wellness, says Danone Simpson, founder and CEO of Montage Insurance Solutions. Carriers are offering to assist with wellness efforts and many add as much as $44 in cost per year to the premiums. For larger employers Kaiser will send a bus to park outside workplaces testing employees for high cholesterol or strokes for a fee. “High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors leading to heart disease, heart attack and stroke. 2,200 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each day” (American Heart Association, www.heart.org).

Lifestyle changes are needed and yet Americans are sitting in front of computers all day urged to be more physically active. The balance is falling on the employers’ shoulders who know if they have more than 50 employees they are now required to pay for medical insurance or be fined $2,000 per employee per year. So the Human Resources Departments are asked to create wellness programs to keep premium costs down. Pooled groups will have to have a community effort in order to accomplish this goal unless they are planning to grow into a larger employer who has control over their premium costs.

Yet, the buzz on the street is wellness. Today, August 29, 2012, the Obama administration announced, “The Public Health Training Centers (PHTC) is to improve the Nation’s public health system by strengthening the technical, scientific, managerial, and leadership competence of the current future public health workforce” (http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/grants/publichealth/phtc.html). Approximately 36 U.S. Government Universities have been given a grant worth an average of $650,106 in financial assistance to promote public health training for the third year in a row.

So what does this mean for employers? We are not sure yet. “Employer wellness incentive programs take a variety of forms, ranging from employer-provided direct incentives, such as pedometers or discounted health club memberships (participation only programs) to group health plan incentives that link healthcare discounts to meeting certain health targets, such as cholesterol or blood pressure standards (standard-based programs). The codified support for employer wellness programs in the PPACA demonstrates Congress’s intent to encourage these programs and, thus, enhance and encourage public wellness. However, whether offered as part of a health plan program subject to HIPAA or the PPACA extension, or as a separate employer program or policy not subject to HIPAA or the PPACA, wellness programs are still generally bound by federal, state and local nondiscrimination and privacy laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”); Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (“GINA”); Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (“Title VII”); and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Employers contemplating penalty or reward wellness programs should consider that few, if any, cases have addressed the application of these nondiscrimination laws to the wellness program penalty and reward provisions” (Hall, 2012, gshllp.com).

The only reimbursements are from employers to employees who participate in the employer sponsored programs. Today the employer is allowed to reimburse the employee a portion of their premium dollars by up to 20% of the cost of employee-only coverage and in 2014 that amount goes up to 30%; however this costs the employer more, while many are struggling to pay their portion of the premiums.

So what can an employer do? Employers need to make sure their broker is providing some of these services to their employees in a compliant way on a volunteer basis. And make sure their program is compliant or it can be deemed discriminatory in a court of law, “Despite PPACA’s clear legislative support for wellness efforts, employers fashioning penalty and reward wellness programs must consider nondiscrimination and privacy implications of such provisions” (Hall, 2012, gshllp.com).

Unraveling the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”) is a full time job and the penalties and compliance landmines are plenty. Overtaxed HR departments need brokers who are working 24/7 to guard the employees and employer from tax burdens and who offer employee wellness incentives, since the government is not.

Danone Simpson is the founder and CEO at Montage Insurance Solutions. Reach her at (818) 676-0044 or danone@montageinsurance.com.

Insights Business Insurance brought to you by Montage Insurance Solutions.

Published in Los Angeles