Abby Cymerman

Thursday, 29 January 2004 19:00

Quest for information

When a business grows, its decision-makers often realize that processes that worked in the past suddenly are not capable of meeting present-day needs. Maryrose Sylvester, president and CEO of GE Quartz, realized this in 2002 when her company acquired another business.

She says her management team was frustrated at meetings, trying to make quick decisions using data that was contradictory or outdated.

"Something definitely had to change," Sylvester says.

Later that year, GE Quartz -- a manufacturer of quartz materials and products for the semi-conductor, fiber optic and lighting industries -- launched its Growth Cockpit initiative.

The company implemented an Internet-based solution to evaluate reporting performance on key business metrics. Using the system, Sylvester's team receives daily reports from GE Quartz's operating systems in real time regarding its commercial, manufacturing, financial and cross-functional business processes.

"It's been a tremendous improvement for us. We now have people coming into discussions all using the exact same real-time data set," Sylvester says. "... It's updated as of that minute. Then you can drill down into whatever your question is ... on an order or a shipment, and you can pull that up on the screen and get all of the details."

The Growth Cockpit has proven so effective that other businesses have visited the company to study the solution.

"I think people are surprised about how much we've gotten done for such a small business, how quickly we've gotten it done and how easy it is to use. People who aren't too wrapped up in their own internal designs have been able to more quickly move over to what we've done," Sylvester says.

When a manufacturing business implements new tools, it's essential that key member represent all the critical functions of the company.

"(It's important) to have very bright IT engineers because they'll want to set a list of priorities," she says. "Out of all the (brainstorming ideas) you hear, which ones will have the biggest impact to the business if you implement them the fastest?"

Over the past three years, GE Quartz created solutions using data that can be used as the business grows over the next 20 years. These solutions are applicable globally, and if GE Quartz makes an acquisition, the process can be easily integrated into the new business. HOW TO REACH: GE Quartz, (800) 438-2100 or

Wednesday, 17 December 2003 06:44

Brick by brick

The recent groundbreaking for the Cleveland Foodbank's new community food distribution center is the latest move in the creation of the 120,000-square-foot facility at East 152nd Street.

Anne Goodman, the Foodbank's executive director, says her organization knew it was time to expand when in 2002, it had to turn away 1.5 million pounds of food and spend $250,000 on off-site food storage and lease costs. The previous year, it spent $50,000 to repair the heat and electrical systems.

"We considered very carefully whether we could move into an existing building, and we searched high and low for an existing building we could renovate," Goodman says.

That question became moot when she realized renovating an existing building to accommodate refrigerated and frozen storage needs would be too costly.

The Foodbank's property committee worked with Cleveland's department of economic development to find a site close to a highway, accessible to donors distributing food via trucks and convenient to the Foodbank's member agencies.

"We have 4,500 volunteers a year, so it needs to be easy for them to access and in a safe area where they feel comfortable coming in the evening," Goodman says.

She says the property committee had its work cut out for it when planning the new center.

"We've spent a long time exploring our needs, what the future would look like and the capacity of our existing facilities," she says. "It was a very deliberate process, and I think that will lead to the best product in terms of the most efficient building we can have."

The property committee worked with Giant Eagle distribution experts to determine facility requirements using industry standards.

"The Giant Eagle people know food industry trends, and at the Foodbank, we simply mirror food industry trends," Goodman says. "If there's a lot of frozen food in the grocery store, there's a lot of frozen food at the Foodbank. So they were able to (help us determine) what appropriate resources need to be devoted to the amount and types of product that we distribute."

Vice chairman of Giant Eagle Anthony Rego is chair of the Foodbank's capital campaign, and Giant Eagle Northeast Ohio distribution director Larry Sevich advises the Foodbank on the interior and setup of the center.

The Foodbank is working to raise more than $9 million from the Cleveland area, in addition to money from the federal, state and county governments. It had raised $6.7 million at press time to build the facility. and expects to make up the difference through contributions.

"Since you're using dollars that are donated by the community, whether they're public or private dollars, there's a responsibility to using them well. It's not about building the Taj Mahal; it's about building what you need so you don't come back in a few years needing more resources to help fix or enlarge what you've done," Goodman says.

The Foodbank also hired a project manager, "because we're not experts on construction," says Goodman, who oversees the work of the architect and builders and acts as an adviser to the Foodbank.

"The dollars we've invested in (hiring a project manager) help provide assurance to the community that we're building the right building for them," Goodman says. "The steps we've taken will pay off in the end, and I just can't wait to move in, probably at the end of 2004." HOW TO REACH: Cleveland Foodbank, (216) 696-6007,

What can an architect do for you?

Whether you're expanding a current facility, adapting an existing structure or constructing a new building, each project represents an investment that will affect the productivity and efficiency of an organization for years to come.

Therefore, choosing the right architect is critical.

* Early involvement is key. A good architect should not only guide the design, but conduct site studies, help secure planning and zoning approvals and perform pre-design tasks. When architects are involved at the earliest planning stages, they have the opportunity to understand your business, develop creative solutions and propose ways to reduce costs, adding to the productivity, efficiency and effectiveness of your operations.

* Make your vision a reality. A construction professional should help define what you want to build, present options you may not have considered and help you get the most out of your investment. They don't just design four walls and a roof - they create total environments that are functional and exciting.

* Get the most for each construction dollar. Good upfront planning reduces building costs, decreases an office's energy needs and increases its resale value through good design.

Building is a long process that is often messy and disruptive, particularly if you're working in the space while it's under construction. It's a good idea to hire professionals who represent your needs and not those of the contractors. HOW TO REACH: American Institute of Architects, (800) 242-3837.

George Chandler II

Hattie Larlham Foundation

George Chandler II, director and executive chairman of Sky Bank Financial Group and Sky Insurance, has been board president of the Hattie Larlham Foundation for 17 years. The foundation's fund-raisers allow Hattie Larlham agencies to care for children and adults with severe and profound mental retardation and medically fragile conditions.

Admired for his business sense and generosity, Chandler is committed to advocacy, charity, volunteerism and service. He is described as the kind of man who spends five hours sealing invitations to a fund-raiser to make sure they go out on time and as the embodiment of excellence in board leadership.

Katherine C. Pender

Beech Brook

Therapist Katherine Pender, president of the Beech Brook board, has spent more than 40 years sharing her professional skills and supporting this organization. Last year, Beech Brook celebrated 150 years of providing effective, innovative services for children and families in Cleveland.

Following the death of their adopted son, she and her husband, Jim, established a foundation in his memory, which supports children's organizations. The couple sponsored a Beech Brook exhibit and video at the Western Reserve Historical Society, and Pender was co-chair for Beech Brook's Hearts of Hope Gala, which surpassed its goal of raising $150,000 for the agency's adoption program.

Fred Rzepka

Cleveland Metroparks

Fred Rzepka, president and CEO of TransCon Builders, has been Cleveland Metroparks' commissioner since January 1987, making him the second-longest serving commissioner in the parks' 86-year history. His business expertise and community passion have positioned Cleveland Metroparks as a distinguished U.S. park district, which received the National Gold Medal Award in 1995 and 2001 for excellence in park and recreation administration.

Under Rzepka's leadership, Cleveland Metroparks adopted a 1995 plan to expand and enhance services to Cuyahoga County and Hinckley Township. That same year, voters endorsed a $100 million, 10-year tax program for the Metroparks with 75 percent approval.

Gary S. Shamis, CPA, M.Ac.

North Coast Community Homes Inc.

SS&G managing partner Gary Shamis became involved with North Coast Community Homes 19 years ago as an outside accountant and auditor for the agency. His interest in NCCH stems, in part, from a brother with disabilities who died after years of care in an assisted living facility.

Shamis turned over his responsibilities to another firm in 1997 and joined the NCCH board. Under his trusteeship over the past six years, NCCH has doubled its number of trustees, developed new properties, initiated a volunteer program, expanded its community outreach and increased the number of contributors and size of their contributions.

Robert C. Smith

Greater Cleveland Growth Association

With his experience as chairman of the Council of Smaller Enterprises, Robert Smith brings a fresh perspective to his role as chairman of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association. The president of Spero-Smith Investment Advisers Inc. is also the first Growth Association chairman to come from small business, which shows his ability to connect businesses of every size in the region.

Smith has played an important role in bringing Team Northeast Ohio to life, and during his chairmanship, the Growth Association was named "Best Chamber in the Nation" and honored with the 2002 Award of Excellence from the National Association for Membership Development.

Jerry Sue Thornton, Ph.D.

Cuyahoga Community College Foundation

Not only is Dr. Jerry Sue Thornton president of Cuyahoga Community College -- the largest community college in Ohio -- she is also the director of the Cuyahoga Community College Foundation.

Through Thornton's strong leadership, the foundation has completed its first major gifts campaign, raising more than $20 million for program development and student scholarships.

Thornton has forged partnerships with numerous local and national organizations, including National City Corp., American Greetings, NASA, The Cleveland Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation to support projects such as the Center for Nursing and Health Careers, High Tech Academy and Visual Communications Center of Excellence.

Thursday, 20 November 2003 11:07

Social investment

For some young professionals, simply writing a check to a nonprofit and hoping for the best is not enough.

Instead, many of today's philanthropists value the opportunity to be involved and make sure their contributions add to the success of the organizations they support, says David Wittkowsky, executive director of Cleveland Social Venture Partners (SVP).

Cleveland SVP is set up as a venture fund created to help area nonprofits. The Cleveland chapter includes 35 individuals who contribute $10,000 each over two years. Pooled contributions are then "invested" in an organization, and the SVP partners offer their professional skills to that organization as well.

"This is about building a strong working relationship between our partners and staff members of the nonprofit we support," Wittkowsky says. "In fact, we look at the first six months as relationship-building. Only with that sort of basis can we do good work together."

Last year, SVP gave $50,000 to Youth Opportunities Unlimited (Y.O.U.) and assisted the organization with a human resources strategy.

With philanthropic resources declining and needs increasing, nonprofit organizations and those who give to them are searching for new ways to make the most of the resources that are available.

Smart Business spoke with Wittkowsky about why SVP's approach to community service is popular with a new type of philanthropist.

You refer to the partners at SVP as social investors. What does that mean?

Social investors are concerned with more than the financial return on their investment. They're interested in the social impact their investments are having and what additional returns are to be had beyond the financial.

Our partners aren't looking for a financial return. Their contributions are invested in nonprofits, but we don't expect any money back. We call it an investment but it's like a grant. What we get back are stronger nonprofits doing even better work in our community. We're interested in helping build more sustainable nonprofit organizations through our partnerships with them.

More than two-thirds of the partners contribute their time and expertise to the nonprofits Cleveland SVP supports, although it's not required. What does that says about the future of philanthropy in Cleveland?

There are lots of Cleveland professionals responding to us, and that's very encouraging. That's not to say there's not a place for more traditional contributions. There's the work of the United Way, the Cleveland Foundation and private foundations. They are all essential to support the broad array of Cuyahoga County nonprofits, but we bring a new element to that.

Ours is not an opportunity we go out and sell to people. It's something that other people buy. The difference is that we can't twist anybody's arm to join us. They have to recognize the value and respond to it personally; it has to mean something to them. If it works for them and if they're interested, we welcome them.

Has interest in your group increased since it was founded in 2001?

Last year, we doubled our partnership. We continue to build the partnership so we can develop a sustainable organization ourselves. We are currently supported by grants from the Cleveland Foundation, George Gund Foundation and Fred A. Lennon Charitable Trust. Those organizations made start-up grants to us because they recognize the value in what we're doing and want to see us make an impact in Cleveland. We're grateful and indebted to them.

Ultimately, we want to have an organization big enough to be self-sustaining. If we had 125 partners, we could take a portion of each partner's contribution for our very modest overhead expenses. But with only 25 partners, that's not yet possible but we're working toward it.

So it's a grassroots-type organization?

It's very hands-on and local. Our partners have a real interest in supporting our community and care about how our organization is attempting to do that. We don't get in and mess with the nonprofit's mission. We don't try to redirect their work with their public.

We respect their experience in those areas; we bring business skills we think can compliment what they are already doing. How to reach: Cleveland Social Venture Partners, (216) 231-2300 or

Thursday, 20 November 2003 11:05

The call of duty

BrownFlynn Communications

Barbara Brown and Margie Flynn, principals and co-owners of BrownFlynn Communications, believe in the necessity of community involvement and have built this concept into their employees' job performance appraisals. Among their largest projects is the BrownFlynn Book Club, conceived and developed with the Cleveland Initiative for Education.

BrownFlynn employees have contributed more than 1,500 hours of service to this project, organizing local businesses and securing contributions to donate new, curriculum-approved books to the district's most needy schools. Endorsed by Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the school district's CEO, the BrownFlynn Book Club continues to expand districtwide and advance the district's literacy efforts.

EMH Regional Healthcare System

EMH focuses on patient care, but its employees' dedication extends beyond the workplace. The nonprofit health care organization supports an employee-led Community Outreach Committee, which organizes community service activities.

One of EMH's most successful initiatives is the "Warm Hands Warm Hearts" project. EMH staff and 120 community volunteers -- including senior citizens and students from North Ridgeville High School and Troy Intermediate School -- knit hats and mittens for children who visit EMH's two emergency rooms during the fall and winter. Since the program began three years ago, they have knitted and donated 2,400 hats and mittens to children in need.

Home Team Marketing

Home Team Marketing's foundation is built on community service, and that's not just a marketing catchphrase. Launched in April 2001, this Cleveland Heights sports marketing firm has created partnerships with more than 250 Ohio high schools to work on their behalf to sell their stadium and arena signage, print space in game programs, ticket-back exposure and more.

By the end of the 2003-2004 school year, HTM will have delivered nearly $500,000 to Ohio high schools, with approximately $80,000 going to the Cleveland Municipal School District. The company also has established scholarships within the Cleveland, Akron, Cincinnati and Dayton public school systems.

Moen Inc.

As a company grows, so should its corporate giving. This philosophy has encouraged Moen Inc. to share its knowledge of plumbing fixtures and become involved with Habitat for Humanity and the Cleveland Housing Network.

Nationally, Moen donates housing products to City of Hope in Los Angeles and Store House of Chicago, where low-income families can purchase top-of-the-line products at reduced rates.

Moen also sponsors a Habitat for Humanity outing, in which the company pays its employees regular wages and offers them the opportunity to volunteer. It plans to sponsor and build at least one Habitat home annually.

Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co., L.P.A.

Giving back to the community is essential to Weltman, Weinberg & Reis' corporate culture, and this year, its employees raised a company record of $17,712 to support the March of Dimes' WalkAmerica 2003.

They raised funds with walk sponsor dollars, bake sales, money jugs, raffles and weekly "Blue jeans for babies days," when they made donations for the privilege of wearing casual clothes to work.

During National Credit Education Week in April, WWR attorneys spoke about personal finance issues at local schools and organizations. The firm also sponsored a scholarship contest in which high school students wrote essays on the importance of credit education.

Thursday, 20 November 2003 11:00

Leading by example

If you walk the halls of Skoda, Minotti & Co., you may run into Ricki Weiss. She's not an employee of the accounting firm, but she has an office there as executive director of Teachers' Aid Inc.

In addition to free office space, the firm provides computers, conference facilities and equipment and acts as an incubator for this nonprofit organization.

This kind of community commitment is part of Skoda, Minotti's core values. Its employees are also encouraged to take time during their workday to do community service, whether it's for their place of worship, with the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts or at their alma mater.

"Virtually every one of our folks gives back, in one way or another, to the community," says Kenneth Haffey, partner at the firm. "(Chairman and founder) Greg Skoda is involved in a number of groups. All partners are involved in at least a couple of organizations; it starts at the top."

Skoda, Minotti's partners have served as presenters with Business Volunteers Unlimited's (BVU) Non-Profit Board Training Program, and several of the firm's accountants have graduated from the training program to become board members of other organizations.

"We end up fulfilling a very important role on these boards by being the financial overseer to that organization," says Haffey. "Probably three-fourths of our folks are acting in that capacity on these different boards. That's OK, especially these days, when you read bad things in the paper about people not properly handling finances. We as CPAs see our role as to make sure the right things are happening."

But Skoda, Minotti's employees do more than crunch numbers. Sometimes they pick up a paintbrush and head down to the Boys and Girls Club to help with the BVU-sponsored Done-in-a-Day project. A crew of 42 volunteers, including firm partners, employees and their relatives, recently spent a day at the club cleaning the gymnasium, washing walls and painting the back wall of the stage.

"The gentleman who runs that facility was extremely appreciative and was surprised we had such a large number of volunteers," says Haffey. "We do community service projects individually, but we also feel very committed to doing things as a firm and making a big difference." HOW TO REACH: Skoda, Minotti & Co., (440) 449-6800,

Thursday, 23 October 2003 11:05


In a competitive market, growth is key to success. Many a local retail store has been crushed by large conglomerates, but for those that have survived, steady growth has kept them afloat.

"The only way to survive is by spreading your overhead over as many locations as possible," says Tom Luck, president of Lucky Shoes. "Hopefully, when you pick a location, it works and is profitable, so it gives you revenue to help offset the rising costs."

Luck understands how to target the right locations to grow his business. Since its inception, his company has grown to 14 stores, including three under the Lucky Shoes name and 11 concept stores.

Luck has even opened multiple stores in one area.

"All our stores have different names over the door, but they all have the same focus and direction," he says. "We use different names so we can open multiple stores in one complex, and we have at least two stores at every location. We want to give customers lots of choices."

He relies on strategic planning and forecasting to determine when and where to add a store.

"We do a cash flow analysis and try to forecast what's going to happen," he says. "It costs a lot of money to open a store. You have to be sure you're going to have the cash flow to afford to do it. You don't want to jeopardize your business by growing beyond your capabilities and cash flow position."

Often, growth is dictated by need.

"We know hospitalization rates are going to go up 15 percent every year," Luck says. "We can't raise our margins 15 percent, so we have to find some way to offset and continue to be profitable and grow."

Opportunities to add locations come and go, but Luck doesn't force the issue if it doesn't pan out. For example, he wanted to open two stores at Legacy Village for a presence on Cleveland's east side.

"We're not able to make a deal, so it looks like we're going to pass on it," he says. "We'll continue to look for locations on the east side of Cleveland to open stores, and when we find the right opportunity, we'll do it."

When scouting new locations, Luck looks at demographics to see if the ideal consumer exists in that location.

"The chamber of commerce usually has a lot of information, and if you're a chamber member, it's free," he says. "There are also companies that will do a demographic study for a fee. If it's a large project, the landlord will have already (done it.) Normally, if you're negotiating with them, they'll make that information available, because they want you to sign the lease."

But even the best-laid plans can be hurt by forces out of your control. Within a year of moving in to City Center Mall in Columbus, the traffic pattern changed; two malls opened and office buildings were built near them.

"We had hoped to have all the office traffic at City Center, and then the office workers left," Luck says. "So we didn't look far enough into the future, and it was a valuable lesson. You also have to look at the future and ask, 'What is the property going to be worth five years from now?' and 'Is this a place you want to be in five years?'"

And always have an exit strategy in case of a mistake.

"We were able to put a kick-out clause in the lease, a parachute that would allow us to get out of the lease. The lease isn't up till 2010, and we're closing this year," says Luck. How to Reach: Lucky Shoes, (330) 836-5577 or

Tuesday, 26 August 2003 12:40

Making a difference

"What I did this summer, by Dr. Carol Cartwright, president of Kent State University: 1. Traveled to Turkey ... "

Getting a chance to speak with Cartwright is like trying to get an audience with the Queen of England. As president of the second-largest university in Ohio, she's been in and out of board meetings and recently returned from Turkey on business.

Among her accomplishments during her 12 years at Kent, Cartwright is especially proud of the university's international projects with Turkey, including a massive water resources and human sustainability project and an historic agreement with Turkey's Bahcesehir Educational Institutions to improve its university and K-12 schools. It's this spirit of innovation, combined with the desire to help Kent students succeed, that fuels Cartwright's passion.

"I'm committed to making a difference, and Kent makes a difference in people's lives," she says. "It's the reason I'm here and the reason I stay. I'm the symbol of that, and that's what excites me. It happens in thousands of ways, in so many lives."

Cartwright arrived at Kent in 1991 from the University of California at Davis, where she was vice chancellor for academic affairs. She oversees an annual budget of more than $385 million, and Kent's eight campuses serve nearly 34,000 students from more than 90 countries.

Cartwright says one of her most important tasks is to guide the college as it equips today's students to become tomorrow's leaders.

"First, we have a commitment to the liberal education component at the baccalaureate level," she says. "Employers want graduates who are good writers, who are skilled at quantitative thinking and who are good problem solvers. Students might change jobs several times during their life. We want to provide the foundation so they will be prepared to shift gears throughout their career."

She believes in opening a real-world connection for students through internships, externships and links to faculty involved in research so they can see the practical application of their studies.

And if students can't come to the campus, the campus goes to them via the Internet.

"This shows the university's service commitment to students who have jobs and families," she says. " ... It shows the university's leadership in opening opportunities to students who might not otherwise be able to get a degree."

Cartwright says the duty of the university president is to provide the environment and support to help people be innovative and to find new ways of promoting higher education. To do that, she serves on the boards of directors of the National Association of State Universities and previously chaired the board of the American Association for Higher Education and served on the board of the American Council on Education.

"You have to encourage creativity, then try to align resources with the innovation of the staff," she says. "The fundamental role is to empower others in the organization."

Cartwright has facilitated a link between university and corporate partnerships, and the university is involved in thousands of partnerships and research programs.

Highlights include faculty members studying water quality across North America and educating volunteers about environmental monitoring with "The Great North American Secchi Dip-In" project; the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, which is working to revitalize neighborhoods with the Urban Design Center of Northeast Ohio and the School of Architecture and Environmental Design's graduate program in urban design; the formation of the Center for the Study and Treatment of Traumatic Stress at St. Thomas Hospital between Kent's psychology department and Summa Health System; new degree programs, such a joint doctoral program in biomedicine with the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, a four-year doctoral program in audiology offered with the University of Akron and an interdisciplinary undergraduate program in biotechnology; and the industrial partnership that 40 companies have formed with Kent's Liquid Crystal Institute and the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine to develop and patent a device that uses liquid crystals to identify disease-causing agents within cells in minutes instead of hours.

"I hope business leaders will look to universities as centers of innovation and be eager to sit down and look for mutual partnerships," Cartwright says. How to reach: Kent State University,

Monday, 30 June 2003 07:16

Giving your heart and sole

Tom Luck is on his way to a Baltimore conference of the National Shoe Retailers Association, where he serves on the Strategic Planning Committee.

Asked how he has kept his Fairlawn-based Lucky Shoes stores ahead of the competition, he says that is the very topic the retailers would be discussing at the conference.

"My feeling is, for an individual businessperson today to thrive and grow, you have to pay attention to the consumers' needs and wants and offer them value-added services," he says. "You have to ask yourself, 'Who is the consumer coming through my front door?'"

Lucky Shoes' reputation for customer service has helped the family-owned business grow since Luck's English immigrant grandfather opened the first store in 1919. The business was handed down to Luck's father, and Tom became owner of the Fairlawn store in 1973.

Three years later, he tripled the store's size to 17,000 square feet. The business has since grown to 14 locations in Akron, Canton, Cleveland and Columbus, including 10 concept stores -- in conjunction with the Rockport, Stride Rite and New Balance companies -- and an online retail store that offers shoes in sizes 4 to 17 and in widths AAA to 6E.

"Our mission statement and philosophy is the same as my grandfather's was in 1919," Luck says. "We have over 100 employees who have bought into our philosophy. I love it when I get letters from customers about the great service they received and about the employees who helped them. It's what I call the 'wow experience.'"

That experience goes far beyond measuring feet and choosing the perfect shoe. Luck introduced an orthopedic lab to his store in 1998, in which certified pedorthists work with orthopedic specialists and podiatrists to create custom orthotics for patients with hip, knee, back and diabetes-related problems.

Luck believes this is such a valuable service that he pays tuition and expenses for pedorthists-in-training and compensates them for their time while in training.

It's a responsibility Lucky Shoes welcomes, as one more way to empower and retain good employees --some of whom have been with the company for more than 25 years.

Luck recently moved his Canton location to a 9,000-square-foot Lucky Shoes store in Belden Commons. He is also negotiating a lease for a New Balance store to open in October on Cleveland's East Side.

When negotiations are done, he plans to take his employee training program to the next level.

"I already think we do a great job," he says. "But we have to keep thinking about what we can do to be better." How to reach: Lucky Shoes, (330) 836-9542 or

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