Over the course of the past few years, companies have had to cut back in numerous areas to survive the downturn. In 2012, companies are beginning to bring back initiatives, programs and, most importantly, talent as ways to once again improve the workplace.

While the economy is no longer placing immense pressure on companies, there are still plenty of challenges facing businesses in Northeast Ohio such as hiring and retaining strong talent, supporting health care and benefits costs and re-implementing training and development programs according to this year’s ERC/Smart Business Workplace Practices Survey.

As companies are once again focusing on growth efforts, hiring and retaining employees was overwhelmingly the biggest challenge Northeast Ohio businesses reported in 2012.

“Companies are still somewhat cautious in the market being an election year as well as health care reform, but they are definitely hiring,” says SueAnn Naso, president of The Cleveland Society for Human Resource Management, and president of Staffing Solutions Enterprises.

While companies are looking to hire, the process for finding the right employees has slowed down over years past.

“One of the things that we’ve been seeing recently as we are emerging from this recovery situation is that the hiring process remains lengthy,” says Cyndi McCabe, advisory chair for the Northeast Ohio Human Resources Planning Society, and a job placement coordinator at Lorain County Community College. “Employers are definitely taking their time in making their decisions.”

With more companies joining the employee search pool, a slower hiring process could actually hurt rather than help a business.

“It can hurt employers because what happens is if you’re looking for a certain type of talent and the person is in demand you might lose,” McCabe says. “If it takes too long they’re going to get snapped up by somebody else and the candidate can lose their enthusiasm for that particular organization. Sometimes this is because the organizations themselves are a little bit leaner so it could depend on who’s available to help with the hiring process. They may also be thinking, ‘Let’s have one more interview here. Let’s have them talk to this person and have them talk to that person. Let’s be a little cautious here.’”

While the survey doesn’t mention the speed at which hiring decisions are made, it does report that 7.7 percent of organizations, up from 2011 numbers, are using part-time and temporary workers until they fill positions permanently.

“Some positions are staying open longer so they’re getting creative for how they are filling those needs sometimes using contractors or temporary employees while they take their time doing their permanent search,” Naso says. “We also see them getting more creative around how they are screening passive candidates and utilizing social media is becoming much more of an important tool. Things like LinkedIn and Facebook.”

Social media use for hiring candidates made a big leap this year up to 51.5 percent compared to only 38.1percent in 2011. The use of online tools overall is moving in an upward direction.

“You’re hearing more about social media and there is more reference to checking someone out on LinkedIn and other tools,” McCabe says. “To a limited extent I’m hearing about the use of online job fairs as a way to attract some talent.”

Companies more than ever are looking for ways to streamline hiring efforts and ways to better communicate with potential candidates.

“They’re spending quite a bit of resources updating their websites so that they are compatible with mobile technology,” Naso says. “They are also trying to automate their whole recruiting process and utilizing technology for that — applicant tracking systems, onboarding systems and anyway to communicate with candidates faster and better.”

Businesses are also looking to improve and bring back benefits that were cut in order to do a better job of retaining the top talent they are attracting.

“On the retention side, during the downturn many companies executed salary freezes and now they have lifted those salary freezes,” Naso says. “The majority of companies did provide pay increases this year.”

In fact, the hourly rate paid to employees rebounded from 2011 and is $11.02, the highest amount reported for which there is data. Also, among organizations anticipating pay increases, the average base pay for hourly and salaried workers rose from last year to 3 percent and 3.1 percent, respectively.

“Companies are having to go back and re-evaluate and often increase their hourly rates and base salaries to stay competitive because the available talent is shrinking because people are getting back to work, especially in skilled areas like CNC welding, engineering or scientific positions, we are seeing those base salaries and hourly rates increase this year to stay competitive,” Naso says. “Those companies that are lagging behind or aren’t making those changes as swiftly as others are seeing higher turnover, they’re losing talent to other opportunities and are finding they’re having to replace talent more often.”

Another crucial area workplaces are trying to improve is health care and benefits. For the first time since 2008, these costs ranked in the top three challenges among Northeast Ohio companies.

“You’re hearing a lot about wellness incentives and more wellness programs,” McCabe says. “There is a lot of conversation and implementation around that.”

These wellness programs, as with hiring practices, are creative ways for companies to keep costs down. The survey reports that the average increase in health insurance premiums is 10.1 percent.

“What we have seen is an increased number of companies that are trying to come up with creative solutions to contain their costs but still provide this benefit,” Naso says. “They know they need to provide this benefit so there’s an increasing number of companies who have gone to a smoke-free environment where they won’t even hire smokers and they do tobacco testing because the insurance companies will give them a discount on their premium. We also see companies creating a tier system with their benefit costs that they will pick up a higher percentage of the benefit costs for their employees who participate in their wellness programs and do a specific kind of screening instead of automatically paying the same amount for every employee.”

Another way employers are keeping these costs down is by offering flexible work arrangements, which rose to 53 percent, the highest level in 12 years.

“One of the things we see is the trend of people taking part-time work,” McCabe says. “Organizations are rethinking whether they make a position full-time and maybe divide up a function, so instead of one full-time person you have two part-time people as a work around for benefits.”

When the recession hit home in Northeast Ohio, a majority of companies had to do away with employee training and development programs. These initiatives have started to make a rebound in 2012.

“We’re starting to see companies invest more in employee training and development again and they’re reinstating or starting new employee recognition programs to reward and recognize top talent,” Naso says. “During the downturn that was one of the first things they slashed. They laid-off all of their training staff and probably within the last 12 months we have seen companies start to reinvest in training. The training they’re focusing on is a lot of soft-skill training, supervisory training, leadership training and succession planning.”

While training is coming back more so than previous years, the type of training and how it’s administered is much different. Over the course of nine years, the use of Web-based training is at its second-highest level at 66.7 percent.

“You’re hearing the trend more and more that the traditional classroom training is not the only way to learn anymore,” McCabe says. “You’re hearing more about all of the e-learning, online learning or even blended learning where you’re doing things online and then coming together for a specific opportunity to practice what you’ve learned.”

The economic downturn is now in Northeast Ohio’s rearview mirror, but the effects of those few years have left businesses to approach workplace practices much differently than before and it will be interesting to see what next year’s survey reveals about the direction companies continue moving in.

Published in Cleveland

Over the past couple years, Carmine Izzo has seen social media play an increasingly bigger role in how companies do business. One of the latest uses of social media is occurring inside human resource departments and how companies are researching candidates during the hiring and recruiting process.

Izzo, who is president of Amotec Inc., an executive search and staffing solutions firm, has seen firsthand a number of poor social media practices ruin job opportunities for qualified candidates. One that sticks out in his mind was a photo a girl posted on Facebook.

“There was a young lady that we placed at a large chemical company and she passed her pre-employment physical and was offered the job,” Izzo says. “Then they took a look at her Facebook page and there was a photo of her smoking marijuana on her Facebook page and they went back and withdrew her offer.”

Today, companies are embracing social media more and more and human resource professionals are researching potential job candidates on LinkedIn and Facebook to make sure that person is a good fit for their company.

“LinkedIn really jumped in and took a forefront from the professional side, and before any interview, you’re going to LinkedIn and you’re taking a look at people and seeing their social profiles,” Izzo says. “At the same time, Facebook has evolved to not just friends and families trying to keep in touch, but it’s a part of how we are recruiting and how hiring is being done.”

Smart Business spoke to Izzo about what companies and individuals should keep in mind when using social media to find a job or a potential employee.

Company perspective

If a company decides to use social media in the recruitment process, they’ve got to make sure that they’re doing it at the same point in the process every single time. If you don’t do that, there’s a chance that there’s some bias being brought into the interviewing and hiring process. We recommend that you talk to them and bring the candidates in first, interview them and then take a look on their social media site. Then there’s no bias in there and there’s nothing you can say one way or the other.

If you’re going to do it prior to (talking) then you’ve got to take a screen shot so people know what you looked at. You’ve got to assume that the majority of the candidates for these positions all have Facebook accounts, they all have LinkedIn accounts so it’s all on public domain. Each company should have their own social media policy in line to what the hiring practice should be.

Candidate perspective

Candidates have to make sure that the images that they are trying to portray are professional images. When I look at somebodies Facebook page or LinkedIn I’m looking at how they communicate in writing. We’re going to look at them and critique how they communicate with us. I’m going to look at, depending on what the position is, are they creative? What do they have on their page that says that they’re a good person? At the same time they shouldn’t have any pictures of themselves doing a beer bong, or pictures of themselves doing crazy stuff at a party.

If you’re embarrassed to let your mom, dad or grandparents see or read anything on your Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter account, then you shouldn’t have that on it. That’s a pretty good rule of thumb for filtering out information that will tarnish your professional reputation. It’s the same for what people put up on their Facebook wall and how they post communications and links and you have to watch the photos that could possibly portray you in a poor light. If you’re out there aggressively looking for a job, you’ve got to maintain a professional presence at all times and if you’re working in a professional environment your page should be professional.

Make your social media page presentable

If you’re on LinkedIn, you should have a professional headshot. You’re LinkedIn page should almost be your resume sitting there. It gives you a spot to communicate what your successes are in your career so far and you can put in there what you’re looking for or if you’re open for opportunities. It is an electronic resume that you have on file and it should stay 100 percent professional at all times.

Facebook, on the other hand, is more social. Your friends are going to be on it and you’re going to be communicating. I would still keep that and maintain it, not necessarily a professional looking page because it’s supposed to be for when you’re off work, but it still has to be professional enough that you’re not seeing derogatory comments and pictures.

What makes a good Facebook page? It’s how it’s laid out. What they have on there. They’re not mad that they saw that Carmine went to a concert or Carmine went to Cedar Point, but if they see Carmine passed out drunk at the Cleveland Browns game and there’s crazy things going on around him, that’s not the image I would want anyone from my company to see on Facebook.

When I have these talks with high school students we talk about the dos and don’ts of social media. The dos are: express yourself, talk to your friends, but you have to keep a grasp on what’s out there and who’s reading it.

The don’ts are: don’t put anything on there that you wouldn’t want your mom or dad to see and don’t communicate in vulgar language. Remember this is public, so keep your personal business to yourself. Don’t complain on Facebook. I understand it’s an area that you want to vent, but post more successes rather than negative things. Anything you put on there electronically is there for life. You can delete it, but it’s still out there somewhere.

What we’re seeing is social media becoming the norm now in how we do business. If you learn to police yourself in a professional manner you’ll never have any issues. It’s important to remember you’re a brand and you represent yourself on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Published in Cleveland

The results of the 2012 ERC/Smart Business Workplace Practices Survey demonstrate Northeast Ohio employers using innovative ways to attract and retain top performers.

While respondents indicate for the second year running that the economy is no longer their most pressing challenge, other challenges such as funding, health care costs, controlling costs and financial stability all featured prominently in the top-10 challenges faced by employers. Despite this focus on costs, hiring and employee retention continued to be most employers’ top concern.

So how can employers be so worried about costs and be looking to make new hires? These two topics are in fact closely intertwined. Making good hiring decisions at the outset and then developing that employee into a top performer can save an employer thousands of dollars over time. To ensure that the “right” employee is hired from the start, more employers are using job boards, online career centers, and social networking sites, thus expanding their network of potential candidates. The use of psychological assessments for selection is also quickly gaining popularity, up about 6 percent in 2012 to 57percent.

A surge in technology usage among manufacturers as it relates to workplace practices was also reported. In the survey, manufacturers accounted for virtually all of the increased use of social networking as a recruiting tool. Similarly, manufacturers increased their use of electronic communication with employees in areas including e-mail (97.8 percent), website/intranet (51.1 percent) and social media (8.9 percent).

Similar to last year, participants reported pay raise projections of about 3 percent. In addition, the average dollar amount of individual cash bonuses saw healthy increases over 2011, particularly in manufacturing up $4,492 on average. Even the minimum hourly rate paid to employees improved, up to $11.02 on average. In addition, the use of non-monetary rewards significantly increased, with the percentages of employers offering work-life benefits such as flexible scheduling and paid time off banks up by 8 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

Clearly employers are seeking more creative ways to retain their employees, particularly as the job market begins to recover and factors such as voluntary turnover become more of a concern. In fact, participants reported a voluntary turnover rate of 8.6 percent, up from 2.7 percent in 2011. To combat this increased risk of losing top talent many organizations are trying to improve their workplaces. Based on the exceptional practices of this year’s participants as well as our NorthCoast 99 winners, here are a few suggestions to help you retain your top performers:

Communication is key. Keeping all employees informed builds trust and helps employees better understand their impact. Face-to-face conversations with an employee can go a long way – particularly when trying to ensure that top performers understand just how much their exceptional job performance is appreciated.

Find creative ways to reward for performance. Look for meaningful ways other than pay raises to reward and recognize your top performers. Autonomy, flexible work arrangements, or other non-monetary incentives can serve as lower cost, but effective alternative rewards programs.

Manage benefits costs. If you haven’t yet, implement wellness programs and incentives. The overall health of your pool improves as employees make healthier lifestyle choices, which can help you manage your health care costs in the long run.

Make technology work for you. Use social networking to expand your pool of potential candidates and consider exploring web-based training which often is more cost effective and offers a nearly unlimited list of topics to fit the needs and interests of your employees.

Thanks to the organizations that participated in this year’s survey and to Smart Business Magazine for 13 years of survey collaboration. In addition, we would like to acknowledge the NorthCoast 99 winners over the past 14 years (www.northcoast99.com) for their continued perseverance to create and maintain great places to work.

Pat Perry is president of ERC (www.ercnet.org), Northeast Ohio’s largest organization dedicated to human resources and workplace programs, practices, training and consulting. Reach him at (440) 684-9700 or pperry@ercnet.org.

Published in Cleveland

The Smart Leaders Awards Luncheon is a recognition event honoring the brightest and most innovative corporate leaders in the local business community while bringing to light the strategies they used to attain their level of success.

The keynote speaker on July 19th will be Michael Dalby, the president and CEO of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce. As growth in technology, health care, finance and retail sectors continues region-wide, Dalby will discuss how the Chamber helps organizations forge ahead.

2012 Honorees:

Bill Balderaz, President, Fathom

Tom Feeney, President & CEO, Safelite AutoGlass

Chris Irion, CEO, e-Cycle

Janet Jackson, President & CEO, United Way of Central Ohio

Rich Johnson, President & CEO, ViaQuest, Inc.

C. Bronson Jones, VP & General Manager, Banner Metals Group

Brad Kitchen, President, Alterra Real Estate Advisors

Nancy Kramer, Founder, Resource Interactive

Bob Loversidge, Jr., President & CEO, Schooley Caldwell Associates

Farah Majidzadeh, CEO/Chairperson, Resource International, Inc.

Tim Owens, Partner, Chair, Employment & Labor Law Practice Group, Lane, Alton & Horst

Rusty Ranney, President & CEO, Live Technologies LLC

Michael L. Reed, President & CEO, Application Link

Bill Schottenstein, President, Arshot Investment Corporation

Chris Shirer, President, Madison & Fifth

Published in Columbus
Saturday, 30 June 2012 20:03

July Cleveland Deals

While the wheeling and dealing continues at Cleveland’s new casino, the pace of activity on the business transactions front is a bit more sluggish. According to S&P CapitalIQ, the number of disclosed domestic M&A deal closings in May fell 6 percent and 29 percent, compared to April 2012 and May 2011, respectively. In Northeast Ohio, S&P CapitalIQ reported 18 closed deals in May, down from 19 in April 2012 and down from 23 in May 2011.

Globally, stock markets dropped 5 to 7 percent in the month of May. But in terms of deal value, May saw the highest totals it’s seen since October 2007. The trailing 12-month purchase price per domestic transaction as of May 2012, excluding extraneously large deals (typically those greater than $5 billion in deal value), was $112 million, according to S&P Capital IQ and MelCap Partners. The average purchase price for the month of May, excluding large transactions, was $131 million.

One of the biggest deals of the month locally was Eaton Corp.’s intention to purchase Cooper Industries plc for $11.8 billion. Cooper is a leading supplier of electrical equipment. The deal is expected to close in the second half of 2012 and combined revenues will be over $21 billion.

Things Remembered Inc., owned by GB Merchant Partners LLC and Bruckmann, Rosser, Sherrill & Co. L.L.C., was sold for $295 million to Chicago-based private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners LLC. Things Remembered is headquartered in Highland Heights and employs more than 4,000 people.

The M&A markets are still poised for growth, despite the numbers showing a slight downtick from prior periods. There is still time left for a good showing in 2012 and plenty of seats open at the deal table.

ALBERT D. MELCHIORRE is the president of MelCap Partners LLC, a middle-market investment banking firm. He is also a director on the ACG Cleveland board. For more information on MelCap Partners, please visit www.melcap.co. For more information about the Association for Corporate Growth, please visit www.acg.org/cleveland.

Deal of the Month

The deal of the month is awarded to a company that truly embodies the classic American dream of building a business and selling it. Watteredge Inc. has been in business for more than 60 years and has experienced rapid growth over the course of the last decade. On May 31, the company was sold to Coleman Cable Inc. Watteredge designs, manufactures and sells secondary power connectors, including electric arc furnace cables, resistance welding cables, industrial high-performance copper bus bars and other high performance devices and accessories.

“This acquisition immediately expands our product platform and allows us to provide an entirely new line of highly engineered industrial products across a number of end markets,” says Coleman’s CEO G. Gary Yetman.

The American dream is alive and well.

Published in Cleveland

Paul Fox is a man who dreams big and has aspirations for his firm to achieve great things. The president and CEO of Skylight Financial Group, a 120-employee financial planning firm, plans to expand across Ohio and be a household name in the state within 20 years.

Fox takes a step-by-step approach to achieve those goals and has been driving steady growth for the last five years.

“I don’t look at challenges from the outside, I look at challenges from the inside,” Fox says. “I knew in the first five years I wanted to double the size of the organization in terms of people and revenue and we’ve done that. Starting off these next five years, we’re going to double it again.”

Smart Business spoke to Fox about how he sets his vision and accomplishes goals one step at a time.

What are the first things you need to do when developing a vision?

You have to start with something very vague that’s way far out. It has to be far enough out where you can’t create detail. You just create a picture that says, ‘This is what we want to look like way down the road.’ Since you have no idea how to get there today, you have to break it down into five-year increments. If you accomplish what you need to accomplish in each of those five year increments, you’ll get to where you need to be in 20 years. That’s very idealistic, but it’s something you have a passion for, you believe in it and you have commitment behind it.

How do you make a five-year plan work?

From the five year plan of attack it’s easy to break it down year by year. By the end of this year where do I want to be? In one year I want to be here toward the five year goal. In two years I should be here, three years here, four years here, and by the fifth year, you’ve hit the five-year objective.

Now you’re there in five years and you have to build another five-year plan and then within it, one-year increments, so that after 10 years, you’re halfway up the stairs to get to the long-term objective of the vision. You do that very systematically so you know that you’re working on the right things to get to where you need to get to.

What are common mistakes you see others make when creating a vision?

Most people in businesses today work on their next-year plan of attack in October, November or December. I’ve found that doesn’t really work, because by the time I had my plan ready to go for the following year, it was already the following year. By the time I implemented and got started on my plan for the following year, it was halfway through the year. Now what I do is from January through June, I write down ideas when things pop into my head. In June, I start planning out specifically what we’re going to do the following year and I do that June through August. In September, I start building out next year and by mid-October or early-November I start implementing the follow year’s initiatives so that by January everything is up and running.

What are the keys to making every step of a vision successful?

The leader of the firm has to have a very clear vision and an absolute passion about getting there no matter what. They have to be fully committed to it and take responsibility to get there and believe that outside influences don’t impact that. The second part is can the leader impart that same feeling and same awareness of the vision to the upper management team and build an upper management team that believes it. That has to be passed down through management to all the people in sales and throughout the organization. If everyone has that same feeling and same drive then you know you’ll get there.

You’re always going to make mistakes, but that’s OK because mistakes are good. Most people think mistakes are bad because it’s failure, but mistakes are a good thing because that means you’ve learned something and therefore you’re going to grow. Embrace the failure. Don’t keep failing the same way, have different levels of failure and you’ll continue to grow once you fix it.

HOW TO REACH: Skylight Financial Group, (216) 621-5680 or www.skylightfinancialgroup.com

Published in Cleveland

The World Class Customer Service awards honor companies for their superior customer service. The program serves to raise awareness of the importance of customer service in the business world, recognize organizations that demonstrate exceptional customer service and share best practices in customer service from those that do it best.

Learn more about the class of 2012:

Akron-Canton Airport

AkzoNobel Packaging Coatings, Inc.

Ambiance, the Store for Lovers

Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan, & Aronoff LLP

BlueBridge Networks

COIT Cleaning & Restoration Services

Collection Auto Group

Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE)

EmployeeScreenIQ

Event Source

Faber-Castell USA

Family Heritage Life Insurance Company

Findaway World

Firestone Country Club

Hyatt Legal Plans

Industrial Heat Sources

Invacare Corporation

Marriott Cleveland East

Moen Incorporated

Overload Fitness

PartsSource, Inc.

Post-Up Stand

Rock the House Entertainment

Seeley, Savidge, Ebert, & Gourash Co., LPA

Skoda Minotti

SS&G

The Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland

The Shamrock Companies Inc.

Today's Business Products

Visual Marking Systems, Inc.

Zinner & Co.

Additional reading:

Notes from our sponsors

John Spearry on "gnat tenacity"

John DiJulius: Getting to Benny

Surprise and delight: It’s no longer enough to simply deliver world-class customer service

The 2012 World Class Customer Service Awards are presented by Metro Lexus and sponsored by Smart Business, Blue Technologies, The Brewer-Garrett Company, Cleveland Clinic, SummaCare, John Robert's Spa, Colortone Staging & Rentals, and Executive Caterers at Landerhaven.

Published in Akron/Canton

An accountant can serve many types of roles for CEOs, from hands-off keeper of the books to proactive, fully engaged adviser. It’s up to executives to decide how heavily they want to rely on their accountants. But in general, the more interaction they have, the fewer financial surprises they’ll run into.

“I’ve been on both sides of the aisle,” says Marty Doerr, member-in-charge of the Tax Services Group of Brown Smith Wallace LLC, who earlier worked for a decade and a half as head of the tax department at May Department Stores. “I would just say, from a CEO perspective, it’s really helpful if he includes his CPA, whether it’s in-house or his adviser, as part of the team. Sometimes the CEO thinks of the taxperson as the guy who’s supposed to give him the answer after he’s given him the facts. But they need to be involved in helping create the facts.”

Sales of real estate and major asset purchases are two of the critical transaction types for which business executives should seek expert financial advice beforehand rather than afterward.

“You can’t have that input unless you’re at the table when they’re doing the transaction,” Doerr says. “That’s what I mean by being on the team. It can save a lot of hassles and probably taxes and maybe penalties, if you can weigh in before those transactions have already happened. It’s a matter of having somebody there who has their tax antenna up all the time.”

The unpredictability involving the upcoming election and how it will affect next year’s tax rates makes CEO-accountant interaction even more crucial this year.

“It’s so uncertain right now what’s going to happen with [tax] rates,” Doerr says. “Of course it’s an axiom that you don’t let the tax issue wag the dog, but most people think rates are going to go up next year. And any time we’re into that kind of a situation, particularly in an election year, it makes tax planning that much more difficult. So I would encourage management to keep the dialogue open.”

Marty Doerr, member-in-charge of the Tax Services Group of Brown Smith Wallace LLC, is responsible for overall client service and technical oversight of the tax practice, as well as training staff on best practices and new tax developments.

HOW TO REACH: Brown Smith Wallace LLC, www.bswllc.com or (314) 983-1200

Published in St. Louis

An accountant can serve many types of roles for CEOs, from hands-off keeper of the books to proactive, fully engaged adviser. It’s up to executives to decide how heavily they want to rely on their accountants. But in general, the more interaction they have, the fewer financial surprises they’ll run into.

“If you want to derive the most benefit, you have to work with your accountants year-round,” says Steve Christian, managing director at Kreischer Miller. “If you just want a scorekeeper who prepares a financial statement and a tax return and don’t want to include him in your team of advisers, you certainly don’t need to. But most progressively minded companies try to surround themselves with good advisers. And the way you become a good adviser is to intimately know the company you’re advising and spend as much time with them as you can, 365 days a year.”

Often, accountants can steer a company clear of pitfalls that might have adverse tax or financial consequences.

“Sometimes you enter into a transaction — you buy a company, you buy some equipment, you do something related to a transaction — and it will have some negative impact as to the financial statement or the tax returns,” Christian says. “Our value takes place by guiding you through the impact of transactions, as opposed to the value of preparing a return or preparing a financial statement. That’s why we really think you need to call us before you act rather than after you act.”

Advice on best practices in a client company’s market sector is another area in which accountants can provide value.

“CEOs know their companies intimately, but unless you belong to a peer group or something like that, you may not have many opportunities to see what best practices other companies are utilizing,” Christian says. “Meanwhile, your accounting firm may support 1,000 different clients out there. So while we may not have the answers to everything, we can tell our clients what we’re seeing is happening with other companies, and they can use that information take advantage of best practices.”

Steve Christian, managing director with Kreischer Miller, has a range of experience providing business advisory, audit, accounting and tax services to a variety of businesses, including privately held companies, partnerships, and SEC registrants.

HOW TO REACH: Kreischer Miller, www.kmco.com or (215) 441-4600

Published in Philadelphia

An accountant can serve many types of roles for CEOs, from hands-off keeper of the books to proactive, fully engaged adviser. It’s up to executives to decide how heavily they want to rely on their accountants. But in general, the more interaction they have, the fewer financial surprises they’ll run into.

“If you think about just the tax piece of it, the tax law changes so fast and it’s so politically charged that it’s a bit of a lightning rod for an awful lot of what’s going on,” says Mark LaPlace, director of tax services with GBQ Partners LLC. “The speed with which some of these law changes take place significantly impacts the way executives operate their businesses. So that makes having regular dialogue with your financial team paramount.”

With the upcoming election and with several federal tax provisions set to end this year, tax rates are going to change dramatically next year.

“The query then becomes what decisions that CEOs are contemplating making might have a very different tax result if the decision is made in 2012 versus 2013,” LaPlace says. “You want to try to avoid some of the rate changes that are already on the books that are going to take place next year. You could do this by accelerating income, accelerating stock options or — even though this is a bit of a counterintuitive position — you might want to defer certain tax deductions because next year’s going to be a higher-rate year.”

LaPlace says his firm has begun factoring regularly scheduled meetings into its proposal process when taking on new clients.

“We’re proposing that we meet at least quarterly and, ofttimes, more often than that, depending on the size of the company,” he says. “We’ve gotten very systematic in our shop in saying that’s part of our process of accepting a new client. We lay it out there up front. And we’ve been amazed at how this creates great dialogue, which then avoids some of the negative circumstances you can run into. We’re finding this to be a very effective technique.”

Mark LaPlace, director of tax services with GBQ Partners LLC, specializes in tax planning and consulting for middle market and entrepreneurial companies, and tax and financial planning for professional athletes and other high-net-worth individuals.

HOW TO REACH: GBQ Partners LLC, www.gbq.com or (614) 221-1120

Published in Columbus