National (1572)

Sunday, 26 July 2009 20:00

Banking Directory

Written by

Bank of America

450 B St., # 1600
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 515-7574
www.bankofamerica.com
Rick Bregman
San Diego market president
About
Bank of America, with its full range of banking services from investing to asset management, provides businesses with industry-leading support and top-of-the-line assistance. Serving approximately 55 million consumer and business relationships, Bank of America has more than 6,100 retail banking offices and more than 18,500 ATMs.
Founded 1904
Selected services
Online payroll, invoicing and tax services, merchant card processing, check cards, lending

Bank of the West

1280 4th Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 234-3511
www.bankofthewest.com
J. Michael Shepherd
President and CEO
About
Customers have been entrusting Bank of the West with their banking needs for more than 130 years. As one of the top 25 commercial banks in the U.S., Bank of the West provides its customers with high-performance, full-service regional financial services through its more than 700 commercial and retail offices and approximately 10,400 employees.
Founded 1874
Selected services
Cash management, commercial lending, small business administration credit, equipment financing, wealth management and trust

California Bank & Trust

11622 El Camino Real, Suite 200
San Diego, CA 92130
(858) 793-7400
www.calbanktrust.com
David Blackford
Chairman, president and CEO
About
For more than 50 years, California Bank & Trust has provided Californians and their businesses with prosperity through its banking services. California Bank & Trust combines the responsiveness of a local bank with the ample services provided by major financial institutions. The bank provides commercial, small business and personal banking solutions.
Founded 1998
Selected services
Cash management, international banking, commercial real estate financing, employee stock ownership plan financing, business credit card

City National Bank

4275 Executive Square, #101
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 642-4900
www.cnb.com
Russell Goldsmith
Chairman and CEO
About
City National Bank provides a full range of banking, trust and investment services in Southern California, the San Francisco Bay area, Nevada and New York City through its 63 offices. The Los Angeles-based bank offers customized and highly personal service to entrepreneurs, professionals, businesses and families.
Founded: 1954
Selected services
Business lending, cash management, checking and savings, investment services, online banking

Comerica Bank

350 10th Ave., #950
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 338-1541
www.comerica.com
David White
Regional president,
Southern California
About
Comerica Bank is strategically aligned into three major business segments: the business bank, the retail bank, and wealth and institutional management. With headquarters in Dallas, Comerica provides strong customer service and a vast range of products and services to better serve its clients, who are individuals and businesses of all sizes.
Founded 1849
Selected services
Business checking, business savings, online financial management, account cards, lending

First Bank

701 B St., #150
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 515-3100
www.firstbanks.com
Terrance M. McCarthy
President and CEO
About
First Banks Inc., which has $10.27 billion in assets, serves customers through more than 200 locations in California, Florida, Illinois, Missouri and Texas. First Bank provides personal, small business and commercial banking services, as well as home loans and brokerage. Among its business products are treasury management, checking and savings.
Founded 1910
Selected services
Treasury management, financing, international trade services, checking and savings, insurance

Guaranty Bank

815 Mission Ave.
Oceanside, CA 92054
(760) 722-1131
www.guarantybank.com
John Stuart III
Interim CEO
About
Guaranty Bank operates more than 150 banking centers in Texas and California and has approximately $15 billion in assets. The bank offers personal, small business and corporate banking services, which include accounts, lending and treasury management. Guaranty Financial Group Inc. is one of the 50 largest financial companies in the U.S.
Selected services
Corporate lending, accounts, treasury management, title and exchange banking, credit cards

Hanmi Bank

4637 Convoy St., #101
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 467-4800
www.hanmi.com
Jay S. Yoo
President and CEO
About
Hanmi Bank was established in 1982 to serve the Korean-American community, and since, it has grown to become the largest Korean-American bank in the U.S. Headquartered in Los Angeles, the bank has offices and ATMs throughout Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and San Diego counties as well as Northern California.
Founded 1982
Selected services
Checking, savings and money market, commercial loans, trade finance, cash management

IronStone Bank

8650 Genesee Ave., #228
San Diego, CA 92122
(858) 558-0088
www.ironstonebank.com
Frank B. Holding Jr.
Chairman and CEO
About
Since its founding in 1997, IronStone Bank has grown to offering services in 12 states. The bank provides personal and business banking services that include wealth management, leasing and cash management. IronStone is a subsidiary of First Citizens BancShares Inc., one of the 100 largest financial holding companies in the country.
Founded 1997
Selected services
Checking and savings, credit and financing, merchant services, cash management, online banking

Northern Trust Bank N.A.

4370 La Jolla Village Drive
San Diego, CA 92122
(858) 824-1200
www.northerntrust.com
Robert W. Bauchman
President, San Diego region
About
Northern Trust is a global leader in providing investment management, asset and fund administration, and fiduciary and banking solutions to corporations and individuals. The bank has more than $522 billion in assets under management. The company offers individual services throughout California and businesses services in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Founded 1889
Selected services
Asset management, asset servicing, banking and treasury management, insurance

Temecula Valley Bank N.A.

301 Magnolia Ave., #101
El Cajon, CA 92029
(619) 590-2265
www.temeculavalleybank.com
Frank Basirico
CEO
About
Temecula Valley Bank operates 11 banking offices in Riverside, San Diego and San Bernardino counties. The bank provides both personal and business banking services, including checking and savings accounts, loans and credit cards. The community bank’s holding company Temecula Valley Bancorp Inc. was founded in 2002.
Founded 1996
Selected services
Checking, savings, lending, cash management, credit cards

U.S. Bank N.A.

4180 La Jolla Village Drive, #125
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 597-2371
www.usbank.com
Richard K. Davis
Chairman, president and CEO
About
As the sixth-largest commercial bank in the nation, U.S. Bank provides a comprehensive line of banking, insurance, brokerage, investment, mortgage, trust and payment services to individuals, institutions and companies. U.S. Bank has 2,847 banking offices and 5,183 ATMs across the country. U.S. Bancorp has $264 billion in assets.
Selected services
Checking, savings, treasury management, international banking, payment solutions

Union Bank N.A.

530 B St., Suite 1200
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 230-4973
www.uboc.com
Masaaki Tanaka
President and CEO
About
Union Bank has utilized its vision of offering comprehensive financial solutions by serving businesses and individuals. The bank offers customized services for personal, small business and commercial banking as well as wealth management. Union Bank is the 25th largest bank in the U.S. with 335 branches.
Founded 1864
Selected services
Online services, business loans and financing, custody, retirement and corporate trust services, foreign exchange, real estate financing

Vineyard Bank N.A.

7676 Hazard Center Drive, Suite 200
San Diego, CA 92108
(619) 819-6910
www.vineyardbank.com
Glen C. Terry
President and CEO
About
Since its founding in 1981, Vineyard Bank has expanded to 16 full-service offices throughout Orange, Los Angeles, Marin, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. The bank provides personal, business and lending services. Among its business services are checking and savings accounts, loans, and cash management.
Founded 1981
Selected services
Checking, savings and CDs, cash management, loans, credit cards

Washington Mutual

/JPMorgan Chase

707 Broadway,
15th Floor, Suite C
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 615-0600
www.wamu.com
Jamie Dimon
Chairman, president and CEO, JPMorgan Chase
About
Now a part of JPMorgan Chase, Washington Mutual focuses on middle-market consumers, small businesses and commercial consumers. Washington Mutual meets these three clientele bases with the same approach: WaMu makes it easy for business to happen and it provides customers with great value.
Selected services
ACH fraud protection, foreign wires and drafts, letters of credit, merchant payments, payroll

Wells Fargo Bank N.A.

4365 Executive Drive, 17th Floor
San Diego, CA 92121
(858) 622-6910
www.wellsfargo.com
John G. Stumpf
President and CEO
About
With its product of service, its added-value of financial advice and its competitive advantage of its employees, Wells Fargo is one of the top commercial banks in San Diego. Wells Fargo, being the largest financial institution in the western U.S., serves its customers with loans in many industries including small businesses and agriculture.
Founded 1852
Selected services
Treasury management, financing, international banking, real estate, employee benefits
Sunday, 26 July 2009 20:00

Nontraditional settlement

Written by

Wage and hour laws are expansive and often difficult to follow. Once an employer realizes he or she is involved in a class action wage and hour case, it’s often too late to do anything, leading to large settlements and a stunned organization.

A recent ruling by a California appellate court, left unchanged by the California Supreme Court, gives employers a possible means for minimizing exposure to wage and hour class actions. The case, Chindarah v. Pick Up Stix, held that an employer may resolve an employee’s wage claim at a compromised amount, if there is a bona fide dispute as to whether the wage is due.

“While this decision is favorable for employers and upholds the most basic tenets of freedom of contract and the policy of encouraging voluntary settlements, employers should proceed with caution when attempting to enter into direct settlements with employees,” says Peter B. Maretz, a shareholder with Shea Stokes Roberts & Wagner, the firm of record for Pick Up Stix in that litigation.

Smart Business spoke to Maretz about this important tool to be considered in trying to resolve wage and hour class actions.

What were the particulars of the Chindarah case?

Chindarah v. Pick up Stix concerned California Labor Code section 206.5, which prohibits agreements purporting to release claims for wages concededly due. Pick Up Stix had been sued in a putative class action alleging it had improperly classified its general managers and assistant general managers as exempt from overtime pay. After efforts to resolve the litigation through normal facilitated mediation with opposing counsel failed, Pick Up Stix decided to make offers directly to the unnamed class members — its employees. Pick Up Stix provided each affected employee with copies of the lawsuit, letters from plaintiffs’ counsel describing the claims, as well as a proposed release agreement. The amount offered to each employee depended upon different factors, but the offers were less than what plaintiffs’ counsel alleged each class member was due in unpaid wages. Ultimately, the vast majority of the putative class of employees — current and former — accepted Pick Up Stix’s settlement offers and signed release agreements, thereby eliminating the potential for class certification.

By signing the release agreements, the putative class members agreed to release all claims for unpaid wages and agreed not to participate in any class action that may include any of the released claims. In addition, they each acknowledged they spent more than 50 percent of their workday performing managerial duties, a key factor in determining whether they were properly classified.

Following the settlement, eight of the putative class members who accepted Pick Up Stix’s settlement offer and signed release agreements joined the misclassification lawsuit against Pick Up Stix, alleging that the release agreements they signed were not enforceable under Section 206.5(a) of the Labor Code. Pick Up Stix successfully enforced the releases at the trial court level by showing a bona fide dispute existed as to whether wages were due to any putative class member.

In affirming the trial court, the Court of Appeals recognized the restaurant did not withhold wages concededly owed and that it had consistently maintained that plaintiffs’ exempt classification was appropriate, demonstrating a bona fide dispute. The court also agreed that California law should not prohibit the settlement of a claim when no wages are concededly due and where a bona fide dispute exists as to the claims alleged. In so holding, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ contention that the Labor Code precludes the settlement of all wage claims, disputed or not.

Finding support in the legislative history of section 206.5 and several federal court cases applying California law, the court affirmed the trial court ruling that the releases legally settled a bona fide dispute over whether the restaurant had properly classified the managers. Had the outcome been different, employers would have lost an important tool in negotiating settlements of disputed claims.

What can employers learn from this case and subsequent ruling?

When this case began, Pick Up Stix carefully researched and analyzed the steps required to reach the settlements with plaintiffs. It proceeded with great caution to make sure that employees were fully informed of the claims being asserted against the restaurant, understood the terms of the settlement, and knew that their acceptance of the settlement offer would preclude them from pursuing or participating in a lawsuit against the restaurant. Any attempt at settlement that lacked such a fair and honest approach might not warrant the same result.

To be sure, this approach will not work to settle every class action, and even where the approach is potentially effective, if not done right, it may not get the blessing of the court. If it is done right, however, it can be an incredibly effective tool to mitigate the financial burden of a wage and hour class action.

Peter B. Maretz is a shareholder with Shea Stokes Roberts & Wagner. He regularly advises businesses on all aspects of employment law. Reach him at pmaretz@sheastokes.com or (619) 237-0909.

Sunday, 26 July 2009 20:00

Circuitbreaker

Written by

When Peter Leparulo took over at Novatel Wireless Inc. in 2003, the wireless broadband access solutions provider was doing nothing right.

Novatel had just one customer, poorly managed distribution channels and dozens of new products in the research and development phase with no plan for implementing them. Financially, Novatel’s stock had traded for 11 cents — the lowest price in the company’s history.

“We had no cash whatsoever, our engineers were developing 42 new products, and nobody had any idea of what these products were going to do, nobody had accountability for whether these products were going to be successful,” says Leparulo, the company’s chairman and CEO. “It was basically throw it against the wall and see if it sticks.”

On top of that, the company was managed by what Leparulo described as a “very strange set of bewildering alliances” throughout the various levels of the company. The management system — or what passed for it — greatly decentralized authority in the company, creating roadblocks in the decision-making process.

“Responsibility was very dispersed,” he says. “Responsibility was decoupled from the resources needed to achieve any results.”

Leparulo needed to rebuild the business. But in order to rebuild it, he needed to eradicate a flawed culture that had grown deep roots within the company. To make it happen, it would take persistent communication around a new culture and vision for Novatel — and a willingness to part ways with anyone who chose to cling to the old culture.

Break down walls

Before Leparulo could turn around Novatel, he had to turn around its culture. That meant breaking down the old culture and the alliances that held it in place. Leparulo needed to reorganize the power structure of the company around the centralized authority of himself and his management team.

“We centralized decision-making down to an autocratic level and then that decision-making would radiate out as a web over the entire company,” he says.

To begin the process, Leparulo gave a series of speeches that reached everyone in the company. Through those speeches, he quickly set the ground rules of how he would lead the company in the future.

“I went around and told everyone that the company was not going to be led by committee,” he says. “I told everyone that we would go out with a clearly defined vision upfront, unleash that vision, communicate it to everybody and persuade people that was the right vision. Then we’d move to giving feedback and instilling more of a task-based culture, rather than a person-based culture.”

Leparulo says task-based cultures are driven by accomplishing goals, by putting the right people in the right places to get the job done. A person-based culture places individual agendas ahead of organizational goals.

Once employees at Novatel were given authority based on their ability to do their jobs instead of who they knew, the new culture began to take root.

“When we started giving authority based on someone’s expertise at solving a given problem, instead of having a culture where people were superior to the organization, that started to break down the barriers where people were not working cross-functionally,” Leparulo says. “And we very much focused the top management group on showing that to everyone in the company. Whatever we were asking of employees, we were asking of top management first. That greatly helped in breaking down the divides among people and ensured that people were allowed to make decisions based on their expertise.

“In the end, you need to tie results to the people who have the responsibility and authority to achieve those results. In our organization, those had been decoupled.”

Even though Leparulo made it very clear from the outset that the new culture was here to stay, focusing a company of hundreds in a new direction is a difficult task. Leparulo and his leadership team did meet some resistance, and in some cases, they needed to part ways with dissenters.

“We did need to use some sacrificial lambs, so to speak, to show that we meant business and we were not going to tolerate the old politics,” Leparulo says. “But we did give everyone a chance to get on board. For individuals who didn’t get on board right away, we set up a series of goals for them; then we’d communicate how those goals were going to be measured. We then would revisit them, and if someone wasn’t hitting their goals, either the goal was unachievable or we might be asking something of someone that they simply aren’t able to do. As the leader, your job is to either change the person or change the goal.”

Leparulo and his leadership team also set the pace for change by setting an example with their actions.

“When we were performing the turnaround, we also asked employees to take pay cuts, but we as a management team took pay cuts first. Management was first in the office each morning and last to leave the office each evening. On every level, we wanted every person in the company to see that there was commitment to this new culture all the way to the top level.”

The commitment can’t start in any other place. If employees don’t see the commitment from management to live the new culture, it will never take root.

“When you’re trying to change things in such a transformative way and do it very quickly, people generally look at the landscape around them, see how things are around the company, how people are interacting,” Leparulo says. “Then, they generally model what the top management is doing.

“When you have to move a company very quickly and do it from apex to base, management has to be the first to commit to the change, the first to give others in the company the confidence to believe in this new direction. It allows you to persuade individuals to want to be led in this direction, while still operating in an entrepreneurial environment.”

Stay in front

After initially laying the foundation for Novatel’s new culture, Leparulo needed to keep the culture in front of the company, making those principles something that each person lived each workday.

To keep the new culture relevant, Leparulo needed to shift roles, from an architect charged with helping to design and build a new culture to a groundskeeper charged with maintaining and improving what had already been constructed.

“It comes down to day-to-day communication and doing it companywide,” Leparulo says. “It comes down to defining milestones for success, measuring them and announcing whether you achieved them or not.

“I went around to all our offices, presented our strategy and let that bake into the company. I talked to all of our employees in terms of ‘Here are our companywide initiatives that we are doing.’ Then, I would leave it to the managers of each of our functional groups to define the tactical items that needed to be done to achieve the strategic objectives. Every quarter, we’d measure it all, and we were very public with the information.”

By keeping employees in the know, you are showing that you respect their ability to grasp the situation and understand how they fit into the company’s plans. If you keep your employees in the dark and assume that they don’t want to know the nuts and bolts of your company goals and vision, you can begin to kill morale throughout your company.

“We have a lot of smart people around here, so one thing we needed to do was maintain their intellectual respect of management,” Leparulo says. “That was the currency to get the employees to buy in to the direction in which we wanted to go. In order to do that, you need to show them what your vision is and the progress you’re making in getting there. If you keep them informed, you can get them to respect that you are moving the company in the right direction.”

Leparulo also earned the respect of his employees by building accountability into management’s communication. If there was a miscommunication of any kind, the burden fell on the communicator to straighten things out, not the person receiving the communication.

“If there is a miscommunication, you treat that as the fault of the communicator,” he says. “It’s my fault as the leader if I’m not communicating correctly. It’s not the fault of the person on the other end of the communication. That is part of communicating with actions. I follow a saying that says a leader communicates at all times and sometimes uses words. You need to communicate with your own behavior and your own commitment to what you are undertaking.”

Execute your plan

The new culture built by Leparulo and his management team has helped pull Novatel back from the brink. Novatel is now growing, and its culture is scaling along with it as the company continues to evolve to better serve its customers.

Novatel now employs about 300 people. The company’s revenue has grown from $28 million in 2003 to $321 million in 2008.

Leparulo’s experiences at Novatel have helped give him perspective when talking to other business leaders about performing turnarounds and implementing a new culture.

“When I talk to other CEOs, I asked what their biggest concern is,” Leparulo says. “Most of the time, they say it’s execution. I can’t underestimate the value of making sure the shared values within a company impact the million little decisions you have to make. No manager can be there shoulder to shoulder with every person in the company when those decisions are being made. But those million little decisions made on the lower levels impact how well you execute and do impact what your tangible results will be.”

At the end of the day, Leparulo says you need to remember four steps when it comes to implementing a new culture.

“First, create an environment where the individuals work toward a group effort,” he says. “Second, display top management’s commitment to the effort. Third, enable and empower people as much as you can. Fourth, terminate people or events that would prevent all of the above from happening.”

“I used to dismiss corporate statements and mission statements. I used to think those were sort of irrelevant. But fairly early in this process, I learned that to the people in an organization who have to go through the changes you are implementing, there are still these unspoken rules about change and how it gets done. Corporate culture shapes behavior when you can’t be there. As hands-on as you might want to be, you can’t be there for every decision made at the lowest level of the company.”

How to reach: Novatel Wireless Inc. (858) 812-3400 or www.nvtl.com

Sunday, 26 July 2009 20:00

Thinking globally

Written by

Now more than ever, companies need to find ways to grow or else the uncertain economy will swallow them whole. One great way to grow your business is to “go global.”

But, obviously, this is no small feat. You can’t just start shipping your products overseas and expect everything to fall into place. However, if you do your homework and follow a well-thought-out plan, you can take advantage of opportunities in global markets. Regardless of your company size or global experience, effective management of working capital throughout your global trade cycle is a critical success factor.

According to Gigi Moore, the senior vice president and national group manager of international trade finance for Comerica Bank, the global trade cycle — commonly referred to as ‘global supply chain’ or ‘physical and financial supply chains’ — represents the various stages of the buying and selling process among trading partners.

“Working capital requirements throughout the global trade cycle vary from company to company,” Moore says. “Some require solutions only for preshipment or post-shipment, while others require end-to-end solutions. It all depends on the nature of your business, your customers’ requirements and the financial resources available to your company.”

Smart Business spoke with Moore about the global trade cycle and what your company can do to expand globally.

When companies are considering global expansion, what should they know?

Through many years of experience, we understand that companies have four primary business goals: to optimize working capital, mitigate key risks, reduce costs and simplify their trade process.

The first step in accomplishing these goals is to create a global business plan and share the plan with your financial service provider. An experienced international trade finance specialist will help you to identify the global risks and select the payment options and financing solutions that make sense for your company

Even with the current slow business environment, it’s important to consider global expansion. Just selling domestically diminishes your reach, since 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States. Don’t let this economic downturn keep your business from growing.

With declining trade flows, do companies need to be more concerned about risk mitigation?

According to the World Bank, world trade flows declined this year for the first time since 1982, declining by 9 percent, which is the steepest plunge since World War II. Even in this environment, companies are still participating in global commerce.

It’s a natural progression that during uncertain economic times companies will see higher risks. Greater protection may be required depending upon which country you are conducting business with and the experience with your trading partners.

Right now, some companies are facing commercial risks, such as insolvency or unscrupulous buyers, and political risks, such as economic instability or government restrictions, not to mention currency, transportation and foreign bank risks. And when there is a downturn in the economy, you want to have protection. Frankly, risk mitigation and working capital strategies and solutions should always be at the top of your list, regardless of economic conditions.

How can companies optimize working capital?

Working with your financial service provider to structure solutions to get working capital at competitive rates is paramount. For example, there are various financing programs sponsored by the government, such as the Working Capital Guarantee Program offered by the Export-Import Bank of the United States. The Working Capital Guarantee Program provides loan guarantees to banks willing to lend to exporting companies. The loan guarantee is secured against foreign accounts receivable, raw materials, work-in-process and finished goods inventory destined for export.

Additionally, when looking to optimize working capital, most companies think of days sales outstanding (DSO), which measures the time it takes a company to collect accounts receivables from credit sales. DSO is one of the best measures to determine receivable efficiency — the lower the DSO, the more efficiently a company manages cash flow. For example, some companies require letters of credit from their global customers. The letters of credit can include certain terms and conditions that result in extended terms for your customers while allowing advance payment for you upon shipment. By working with an international trade finance specialist, you can find ways to lower your DSO, which will increase your working capital and make it easier to export.

How can companies reduce costs and simplify the trade process?

Evaluate the various activities in your global trade cycle to determine if there are more efficient ways to conduct business. You should look for ways to streamline activities through automation and also prepare a comparative analysis of your global service providers. However, recognize that lower cost doesn’t always lead to the greatest value.

Companies that have the greatest success with managing their global trade cycle effectively, again, consult with professionals that have the expertise to identify the right solutions to help them achieve the four primary global business goals: optimize working capital, mitigate key risks, reduce costs and simplify the trade process. Your financial service provider can help you make good global decisions, and when you make good decisions, your company can benefit from global commerce.

Gigi Moore is the senior vice president and national group manager of international trade finance for Comerica Bank. Reach her at (313) 222-7031 or gmoore@comerica.com.

Sunday, 26 July 2009 20:00

What stops you?

Written by

“Jim, I’m completely stuck,” said Kyle over the phone that morning. “Every time I try to move forward, something stops me, and I’m close to giving up.”

As both a coaching client and a good friend, I knew that Kyle had been going through a number of changes in the past year — changes that had taken a toll on his confidence and his health.

When we met in my office later that afternoon, Kyle began to tell me about the difficulties he was facing in his new job — one he had taken after being laid off from a company where he had worked for many years. As he listed the challenges that frustrated him, he compared each of them back to his old company, and never favorably.

Where is your focus?

Are you frustrated or even angry over changes in your job that are being forced on you? If so, it’s likely you are viewing them as Kyle did, by constantly comparing them to the past. Every time you do this, you take all the energy and capacity you possess and send it backward in time to a place where it cannot help you.

How long would you be willing to stare into the rearview mirror while driving your car? Hopefully, less than a second. And yet, whenever you’re looking back on a previous job, an old relationship or the balance that once showed in your bank account, you are driving your life with your eyes locked on what’s behind you, instead of where you’re headed.

The next time you start longing for the past, know that it probably wasn’t as perfect as you remember. Your memory will trick you by recalling only the best moments, leaving out the ups and downs of real life, making the comparison to your current circumstances fall short and leaving you depressed and immobile.

Instead, keep your focus on today, on where you are rather than where you’ve been, and you will regain the energy you’ve been losing to yesterday.

What’s right about your current situation?

When Kyle finished explaining his current challenges, I asked if he would then tell me everything that was right about his new job. He was startled by the question, but when he saw that I was serious, he began to think about the answer.

First, he listed the obvious — it was good to have a job in a difficult economy, good to have a paycheck each week and the things it provided his family. But as he continued, a change began to happen that was as clear in his answers as it was in the expression on his face. Kyle said that he liked his new manager and felt that he appreciated Kyle’s work. He had also been able to learn some new skills and looked forward to the increased opportunity they would one day bring. He continued on for several minutes, with each new answer leading to another.

When he finished, both Kyle and I knew that the list of all that was right about his new job exceeded those things that were not. Kyle’s circumstances had not changed. What had changed was the quality of the question he was asking.

Each time you find yourself focused on all that is wrong in a situation, begin to ask yourself what is right about it and watch your perspective shift. While the challenges may remain, the way you see them will be different, and that difference will enable you to move forward.

What do you really want?

At the end of our time together, I asked Kyle if he would go back to his old job if he were given the choice.

After a moment’s reflection, he smiled at me and said, “No. All things considered, I’d rather go forward from where I am today than go back to where I was.”

Sometimes in the wind of change you find your true direction and you realize all that’s stopping you from seeing it is you.

Keep your eyes forward and your perspective balanced. The only thing standing between you and the next great chapter of your life is the faith to believe it’s possible and the will to try.

Jim Huling is an executive consultant, a national keynote speaker and a professional coach. His leadership experience spans more than 30 years, including a decade as CEO of a company recognized four times as one of the “25 Best Companies to Work For in America.” Jim is also the author of “Choose Your Life! a powerful proven method for creating the life you want.” He can be reached at jim@jimhuling.com.

Thursday, 25 June 2009 20:00

Choosing the right broker

Written by

Relationships with insurance brokers are often developed through personal introductions and professional referrals. However, sometimes such relationships originate during a casual meeting at the golf course or fitness club. The broker appears to be trustworthy and congenial with a good general knowledge of insurance and the business world. But, after a while you find yourself having to repeat the same information about your business over and over. While the broker seemed knowledgeable in the beginning, you realize that this person actually has no in-depth knowledge about your industry and does not understand your business.

“If your insurance broker does not understand the inner workings of your business or industry, how can he or she truly protect your assets?” says Calvin L. Sistrunk, a principal at Garrett/Mosier/Griffith/Sistrunk Insurance Services. “Businesses need every competitive edge possible in this tough economy, and having the right broker who truly understands your business can make a difference.”

Smart Business spoke with Sistrunk about the savings you can see from using a broker specializing in your industry, how to find the right broker and how to maintain a good working relationship with your broker.

What benefits are derived by using the right broker?

If your broker specializes in providing insurance and risk management services to companies within your industry, he or she should have preferred relationships with key insurance carriers. Such knowledge can translate into being able to provide the broadest form of coverage at the most competitive price. If your company can demonstrate that it has secured superior insurance protection for its customers or clients, you are often selected over the competition when subject to a competitive bid or RFP process.

When you hire a broker to protect your company and its assets, you are also counting on this person to protect your customers. To secure this level of protection, a broker and his or her staff must have firsthand knowledge on how to issue industry-specific certificates of insurance, provide critical counsel on difficult claims and, ultimately, provide safety management pertinent to your business. Such knowledge can also translate into direct cost savings; it’s not uncommon to achieve 10 to 20 percent overall savings when you’re working with the right broker. Brokers with professional risk management services will also demonstrate the cost savings they secure on top of the competitive rates the market affords.

A broker who specializes in your industry can also be a source of key referrals. For example, a broker specializing in the construction industry can refer potential subcontractors to his or her general contracting clients. In addition, a knowledgeable broker may know other professional service providers, such as accountants, lawyers, etc., that may provide your company with proven expertise to save you time and money. As GMGS principal Griff Griffith says, ‘Many insurance failures of the dot-com era proved that proper insurance protection is more than just purchasing a piece of paper online; it’s about leveraging knowledge into power and power into successful risk management.’

How do you know if you are using the wrong broker?

Typically, a company that experiences one uncovered claim and the expensive litigation associated with it learns this valuable lesson. The question is, can your business really afford to learn this lesson?

If your present broker makes excuses or demonstrates unexplained delays for getting your questions answered, this may also be a sign that you need to find a different broker. A broker who is a knowledgeable risk manager is not expected to have all the answers, but he or she is expected to know where to get the right answers and in a timely manner.

How do you find the right broker?

? Obtain reliable broker references from other executives within your industry. A company that has a knowledgeable (tried and tested) broker will provide strong references.

? Interview prospective brokers face to face and determine their personal experience and working knowledge of your industry. It is critical to determine what insurance companies they represent, and if they are the top insurance carriers in your industry.

? Brokers should be able to provide you with the following information:

1) Professional resumes of all key personnel and support staff who will handle your service. Look for information that demonstrates expertise and knowledge in your industry, such as education and past work experience. If they do not understand your industry, they can make costly mistakes.

2) Marketing materials that detail key insurance carriers and specific coverages pertinent to your industry.

3) An extensive client list, including several references you can personally contact to determine a broker’s expertise in your field. Any letters of appreciation from current clients are also a strong indication of a company’s satisfaction with a knowledgeable broker.

? Develop relationships with brokers who attend your industry-specific association meetings and that show a genuine interest in your industry.

How do you maintain a good relationship with a knowledgeable broker?

Take the time to meet personally and regularly with your broker. The use of an established service calendar can also pay great dividends for your company. Because broker compensation is comparable within the insurance industry, it is paramount that your company builds a long-term relationship with a knowledgeable broker whose risk management services not only protect your company’s assets but also provide you with the value-added service to grow your company successfully.

Calvin L. Sistrunk is a principal at Garrett/Mosier/Griffith/Sistrunk Insurance Services. Reach him at calvins@garrett-mosier.com or (949) 559-3373.

Thursday, 25 June 2009 20:00

Bend without breaking

Written by

At the highest levels of the martial arts, there is a test given to those who apply to become a master. Following hours of intensive skill demonstration, both in solitary forms and in combat with multiple opponents, the student is asked to sit in complete stillness on the floor. A thin glass rod is then placed in his hands, and he is given the simple instruction: “Bend without breaking.”

Over the next several hours, the student must bend the glass rod, using a careful combination of pressure, heat from his hands and patience.

Are the circumstances of your life or your job forcing you to change, perhaps even to the point of breaking? If so, then the lessons of this simple but demanding test can help you master the challenges you face.

Apply constant gentle pressure.

Most students who hold the glass rod break it within the first few minutes. Because they are anxious to finish and see the end result, they unconsciously apply more and more pressure until the sound of the rod suddenly snapping in their hands signals their failure.

When the requirements of your job are changing, it’s easy to believe that you must master every new aspect immediately. Not only is this impossible, it can overwhelm you to the point that you lose your ability to perform even in areas where you were already strong. Focusing on too many changes at the same time will ultimately lead you to a break — in your results and in your confidence.

Instead, identify the few most important changes you must master and then build a plan for the daily or weekly improvements that will lead you to that level. Designate a specific objective for each week, such as practicing a new skill for a certain number of hours or reading background material, and then build your confidence by consistently accomplishing it.

Approaching a significant change through small adjustments will not only lead you to the outcome you want more quickly, it will make you stronger in the process.

Use the heat of your inner fire.

Pressure alone would not allow the glass rod to bend. The martial artist knows that it is the heat from his hands that also enables the result to be achieved.

Every time you allow your mind to dwell on thoughts about what has happened to you, whether or not it was fair or who was to blame, you are literally dousing the inner fire that is essential to your success. These thoughts, whether true or not, place you in the role of victim — a role from which you will never generate the heat needed to change.

Instead, use the power of your mind to reinforce the outcome you truly want: success in this new chapter of your life.

The most powerful way to shift your thinking is through gratitude. Each time you are tempted to focus on your difficulties, simply begin to list all the things for which you are grateful. While it may feel awkward at first, saying phrases such as, “I am grateful for my family. I’m grateful for my health. I’m grateful to have a job and the ability to support the people I care about,” will literally transform your thoughts and will give you the energy and optimism you need to change.

Be patient.

Real change takes time. You cannot force a plant to grow faster by commanding it to hurry. Most often, the pressure you are placing on yourself is actually greater than any that is being placed on you by others.

By making a plan for consistent progress and harnessing the power of your thoughts to keep your confidence strong, you will have the tools you need. All that remains is to give yourself time to make them work.

No matter how dire your challenges may seem today, they are just as likely to represent the beginning of a great new chapter in your life for tomorrow — one where the changes you are making are a needed prerequisite. By using the lessons of gentle pressure, inner fire and patience, you will be able to adapt and move into the future that is waiting for you.

Jim Huling is an executive consultant, a national keynote speaker and a professional coach. His leadership experience spans more than 30 years, including a decade as CEO of a company recognized four times as one of the “25 Best Companies to Work For in America.” Jim is also the author of “Choose Your Life! a powerful proven method for creating the life you want.” He can be reached at jim@jimhuling.com.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009 20:00

3 Questions

Written by

Thom Freismuth is president and founder of FAS-EBA Insurance Services Inc. and has more than 37 years of experience in benefits consulting with a focus in executive compensation programs. Freismuth’s work experience has earned him multiple awards and association with professional societies. He is a life member of the Million Dollar Round Table and is included at the Top of the Table forum for top-producing independent insurance executives.

Q. How does cutting your health benefits help save you money?

Cutting health benefits absolutely does save premium dollars, certainly the higher the deductible the lower the premium. But what this does is it shifts additional expenses and burden off to the employees to higher co-payments and deductibles. While the employer’s savings are real, they can be short term. Often the increased employee out-of-pocket expenses and deductibles can potentially discourage them to delay medical treatment. That ultimately results in an increase in health care costs down the line.

Q. How do you determine what benefits plan is best for your company?

We first determine the company’s objectives. Once we determine their culture and what kind of benefits they want to provide to their employees, which is often driven by their retention and recruiting needs, then we go to the marketplace with those specifics and order quotations based on those plans. If they want to recruit people to their firm and keep the people that they have, it’s certainly incumbent of them to provide a high level of benefits.

Q. How can you effectively communicate the plan details to employees?

We suggest that you have a formal communication plan that is linked to benefits, using various media. You should have open enrollment meetings where the employees have an opportunity to hear about the plan. We believe that, if the company has an intranet, that the basics of the plans should be on the intranet, and a link to the set of providers should be easily accessible for the employees. We also use brochures, e-mail programs and ghostwrite articles for their company newspaper.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009 20:00

Time to Twitter?

Written by

In today’s highly technological world, if your business doesn’t keep up with the times, you’ll be quickly left in the dust. And, in this day and age, a well-designed Web site is not enough. The rise of social networking sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or even YouTube, has forced businesses to adjust their approaches to branding and marketing.

Despite other companies’ successes and a seemingly nationwide push to embrace social networking, many businesses are not jumping on the bandwagon, simply because they feel that it cannot and will not benefit their organizations. But, if done right, social networking sites can be great ways to drive your business into the future. They can help you build your brand, gain recognition around the world, reach audiences never before possible and network with clients, colleagues and customers. At the same time, however, there are risks you need to be aware of.

“With the proliferation of social networking sites comes risks and drawbacks, not the least of which are security and confidentiality breaches and employee nonproductivity,” says Peter B. Maretz, a shareholder with Shea Stokes Roberts & Wagner. “But, one cannot ignore the business potential of such an efficient and comprehensive medium. Social networking is an inexpensive way of getting and keeping your name and business profile in front of your existing and potential clients. One can hardly argue with that.”

Smart Business spoke with Maretz about social networking and the risks and rewards that come with it.

What are the benefits of a company and/or its employees joining a social networking site?

We are only just learning the business value of social networking sites. In addition to ‘advertising’ yourself to clients, you are able to present a profile of your company to potential new employees, in an even more fluid and accessible way than a Web site. Now, you find information — good and bad — about job candidates that you never could before. Learning that a candidate is an avid photographer or triathlete might give you a better sense of how that person will fit into the culture of your firm. On the other hand, another candidate’s social networking site might indicate a maturity level you’ll be grateful you knew about before you invested in that person.

For the time being, a business presence on a social networking site is an indication of a more progressive company. It gives you an online brand, and it helps you attract more forward-thinking individuals. In fact, recent studies have shown that upward of 20 percent of young recruits would choose not to take a job with a firm or even leave a current employer if they were not allowed to access social networking sites at work.

Other reports indicate that limited access to social networking sites by employees while on the job, even if it is for strictly personal pursuits, acts as a mental refresher, resulting in more productivity overall.

Finally, when it’s necessary to share large electronic files, such as videos, with people at other offices, posting the video on YouTube is more efficient than trying to e-mail the large files.

What are the drawbacks?

Of course, the concept of limited access to the Internet is fine in theory, but that’s like asking someone to put away that open bag of potato chips. No one eats just one. The technical problems of the Internet also remain, and increased access to social networking sites raises the potential for viruses, spyware and hackers.

For reasons well beyond the scope of this article, people tend to have a heightened sense of empowerment on the Internet. With that comes the potential for abuse, including harassment. Likewise, employees with material on their personal sites that is considered inappropriate for the workplace may appear to be bringing material into the workplace by networking with co-workers, especially if it’s done on company time and using company equipment.

There are pitfalls in recruiting, as well. Say a candidate’s Facebook page indicates he or she is a member of a legally protected class of persons you wouldn’t have otherwise been aware of. Even if you reject that candidate for legitimate reasons, you may still face a wrongful failure to hire claim if it’s learned you accessed that candidate’s page.

How can a company protect itself once it joins a social networking site?

Make sure you have a strong electronic systems policy that clearly defines what your employees are allowed to do, and affirmatively address it with your people. Don’t be content to merely bury it in your handbook. Remind employees that you will be monitoring their Internet activities, and that while the occasional dalliance onto Twitter is OK, it must be limited.

Make sure your employees know the repercussions for inappropriate conduct, such as harassment and confidentiality breaches on social networking sites. And caution employees about mixing business and personal spaces. There are sites, such as www.ning.com, where you can create password-controlled spaces for exchange of information, videos, blogs and discussion groups among specific employee or client groups.

Peter B. Maretz is a shareholder with Shea Stokes Roberts & Wagner. He regularly advises businesses on all aspects of employment law. Reach him at pmaretz@sheastokes.com or (619) 237-0909.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009 20:00

Believe in yourself

Written by

“Jim, I’m completely lost,” said an angry young man, raising his hand to interrupt my presentation. “As a vice president, I had an identity I believed in, and over the last several years, I’ve done everything that identity required, even sacrificing my relationships and my health. Now that it’s gone, what am I supposed to do?”

I was speaking to a group of executives who were searching for their next opportunity, having been laid off from their previous companies. Every seat in the room was filled, and in their faces, I could see a mixture of hope and fear, as well as anger and desperation. 

“What advice do you have for someone who has nothing left to believe in?” asked the young man.

The murmur of agreement that echoed through the room following this question told me he was not alone. I prayed that the words I was about to speak would reignite his inner fire.

Believe that your life is bigger than your job.

Over the course of your career, it’s easy for your world to become very narrow. Thoughts about your job and the challenges you face start to consume you, no matter what you’re doing or whom you’re with. You slowly begin to value people and relationships based solely on how they can help you succeed, and you are unable to have a single conversation that isn’t punctuated by checking your BlackBerry for incoming messages.

And then, one day, the job is gone. Only then do you realize that you’ve lost the perspective and the sense of purpose that originally drove your success.

Stop now and remember the dreams you once held, the vision of what you wanted to do with your life and, more importantly, why you wanted to do it. Remember, also, the people and relationships that bring real meaning to all that you do. Open your journal or laptop and begin to write the story of your life as you will want it told at the end when all your days are finished.

Don’t allow your life to be defined by your job. Instead, rediscover your true vision and you will see that your job is only one important aspect of the life you were born to live.

Believe in the talents you have been given.

When you’ve been rejected from an interview or a position, your first reaction is to conclude that you were not good enough or that you somehow lacked the ability or the intelligence to succeed. But what if, instead, your talents were simply not matched to the requirements of the position?

Do you remember watching Michael Jordan play major league baseball? If you had only seen him on the baseball field, you would have judged him to be average at best, never imagining his amazing abilities at basketball. Likewise, you may have been struggling to succeed at a job where your greatest skills were not utilized or valued.

Begin to reassess your true talents by listing your greatest achievements and the core abilities that drove them. Use outside tools and coaches to identify other talents that may be dormant or undeveloped. Then build a profile of your ideal job — one that focuses on the things you do best — and watch your confidence begin to grow as you begin to align your career direction with your strengths.

Believe in the support of people who believe in you.

The strangest paradox in life is that when you need help the most, you are least likely to ask for it. Embarrassment, pride and shame are the real obstacles in your way, not the absence of your next job.

Reach out to the people in your life, ask for help, and then be willing to accept it knowing that one day, you will do the same for them. The power of your personal network to help find your next opportunity exceeds all other resources combined. In the process, you will strengthen your connection to the people who matter most.

Whatever the challenges you face, remember there is always a reason to believe in your purpose, your talents and, ultimately, in yourself.

As I said goodbye to the young man who had spoken, he smiled and said, “Thank you for reminding me of all I have to believe in.”

Jim Huling is an executive consultant, a national keynote speaker and a professional coach. His leadership experience spans more than 30 years, including a decade as CEO of a company recognized four times as one of the “25 Best Companies to Work For in America.” Jim is also the author of “Choose Your Life! a powerful proven method for creating the life you want.” He can be reached at jim@jimhuling.com.