Friday, 30 November 2012 19:22

Victoria Tifft: What’s your story?

Every business has a story. Most of us are familiar with the stories of how Starbucks and Facebook were created. These stories touch us emotionally and we connect with them. Understanding and conveying the story of your business should be part of your firm’s branding strategy. The story should reveal how and why the business was formed and some essential facts that make your business unique.

If your firm doesn’t have a story or has evolved and grown since the time of its inception, it might be time to think about writing the story or sharing how the firm has changed over time. Revisiting your story is a great way to reintroduce your firm to existing and potential customers.

About two years ago, my firm decided to put pen to paper and share our story with customers. To help with this, I enlisted the aid of a local consultant with a Ph.D. in theater/arts performance.

The consultant asked many questions, and he told us that we had a great story to tell; we just needed to think about how and why we created our firm. He advised us to think about the obstacles and challenges we endured and the lessons we learned as a result. Finally, he taught us how to weave the emotional experiences gained from both challenges and successes throughout our corporate story. Here is what we came up with.

The history of ClinicalRM

ClinicalRM embodies the vision set out by our founder and CEO Victoria Tifft in Togo, West Africa, two decades ago. Tifft served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa, as an infectious disease biologist.

While in Africa, she experienced the devastating conditions that Third World countries endure firsthand. In her work to improve health conditions in Togo, she contracted malaria three times and came back to the U.S. fully committed to the idea of spending her life working to provide treatments for devastating diseases.

As part of this commitment, she worked on-site at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Disease.

Working alongside many military and government researchers throughout the U.S. Army, Tifft gained a thorough understanding of the U.S. Army’s culture and research objectives. Opening a second operating center in Cleveland, Tifft tapped into the very rich medical, device and clinical research community in Northeast Ohio.

Just after 1999, she expanded the business into a full-service contract resource organization. Today, ClinicalRM operates nationwide and in Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia.

Ask questions of yourself

If you are a business owner, there are many benefits to sharing your story. But telling it requires you to look at your company from many angles. When putting our story on paper, our company was able to do this by asking ourselves several questions, including:

  • Where did the idea for starting the company come from?
  • Were there times when you thought the company wouldn’t make it — how did that feel and what did you do to overcome the obstacles?
  • Were there early successes?
  • What have we learned along the way?
  • Was there a consistent culture and philosophy that should be highlighted?
  • How is the firm different today in comparison to the beginning?
  • Were there moments when you knew the company would be successful?

Analyzing the company in this manner gave us a broader perspective and allowed us to see the firm as an entity with a story — a story that needed to be told. We diligently put our story on paper, and now, we use it as a starting point for discussion with new employees and customers.

Victoria Tifft is founder and CEO of Clinical Research Management, a full-service contract research organization that offers early to late-stage clinical research services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She can be reached at vtifft@clinicalrm.com.

Published in Akron/Canton

Dan Doyle Jr. wanted his father to be a partner in his new business venture. So naturally, he brought the proposal to the breakfast table. One morning, over egg whites, he thoughtfully laid out his plan, all the while preparing for the possibility of a tough sell. What he wasn’t prepared for though were Dan Doyle Sr.’s terms.

“In order to get him out of retirement, he made me commit a third of our profits to local not-for-profits,” says Doyle, co-founder, president and CEO of Tampa, Fla.-based Dex Imaging Inc. “He didn’t take a paycheck. That’s what he wanted.”

Doyle knew giving away a third of the company’s profits would be a tall order to fill. But he also felt confident that with his and his father’s expertise in the office imaging industry — Doyle Sr. sold a previous business for $3.5 billion — they could build Dex Imaging into a high-growth document imaging dealership.

So he accepted his father’s terms. In fact, he took it a step further, agreeing to distribute another third of top line profits back to the company’s noncommissioned employees.

After all, “It’s not easy to negotiate with your father,” Doyle says.

Since the duo co-founded Dex in 2002, they’ve successfully fulfilled their commitment to giving two-thirds of its profits to employees and local not-for-profits. And in the meantime, they’ve still managed to grow the business from $1 million to $100 million in revenue, spreading its footprint to 24 locations across five states and 560 employees.

Here’s how Doyle keeps Dex Imaging profitable while taking care of its employees and the community.

Make it more than money

Starting out, it was pretty easy for Dex Imaging to meet financial commitments to employees and not-for-profits, Doyle says. For one, the company had just 14 employees. But also, Doyle and his father had been involved in the Tampa community and done business there for some time. The area’s recent struggles motivated them to take on a bigger role with Dex.

“It was during a time when the banks were getting all rolled up and moving to Charlotte County in the Bay Area as well as other areas in Florida,” Doyle says. “So Tampa banks used to support all the not-for-profits, and that kind of diminished as the banks moved their headquarters.”

However, as they opened new offices in other cities, not everyone understood the giving back philosophy and its significance for the organization. Profit-sharing was an easy concept for people to grasp. But Doyle wanted the community involvement to be equally valued by employee and the company culture.

“In the beginning, people kind of questioned us,” Doyle says.

“What our management learned is it’s easy to sit there and say, ‘Yes,’ and find people and not-for-profits that are looking for money. But then we would quiz them on ‘OK, well why did we support this cause?’”

To connect people to the why, Doyle asks each branch of the company to choose which not-for-profit they want to support with the third of their profits. And recognizing that every branch operates somewhat differently, he also leaves how they decide up to them.

Some offices meet weekly to discuss organizations they’re interested in supporting, while others get together monthly or quarterly to talk about their plans and criteria.

“We don’t dictate how we should do it and how they should look at each not-for-profit,” Doyle says. “I just want to know that they’re involved with it, they understand it and that they’re willing to commit themselves to it.”

For Doyle, the main concern before committing the money is whether or not people have done their due diligence. So he likes to ask staff as each branch questions to make sure they’ve dug deeper. For example, “How many dollars end up back in the local community’s hands?” and “What support is the organization most in need of?”

“See if they can give you a little background besides just the title or the name,” Doyle says. “If they said Boys and Girls Club, do they say, ‘Oh, they help boys and girls,’ and kind of waffle on it? Or do they say, ‘They get into this particular cause and they’re finding matches, or we’re supporting the program that helps grandparents that are taking care of grandchildren because the parents are deadbeats?’”

As a leader, asking the tough questions helps employees understand their reasons for getting involved with a not-for-profit. By making them dig deeper, you encourage people to choose missions or causes that speak to them personally and will motivate them to make a bigger impact.

That’s certainly the case at Dex, where many employees give back their time to their chosen organizations beyond  the profit contribution, whether it’s serving on boards and committees, getting involved in events, or just reaching into their own pockets to support a cause, Doyle says.

“The only way to really get into it is to understand that particular organization,” he says.

“It wasn’t just that somebody sent them a letter and they agreed to it.”

It’s also a point of pride when employees see your company’s name linked to organizations they feel benefit their local communities.

“People come in with their son’s or daughter’s soccer league, asking can we sponsor that — all the way to their church or their school, to bigger events that are hosted by whatever city,” Doyle says. “And it’s pride. They see our company’s name associated with these things and people are proud of it.”

Give more to get more

Today, Dex has minimal employee turnover. But the company’s people philosophies don’t just help it retain employees. They’re also a way to attract new talent to the company.

“We know we’ve done a good job when people say, ‘Hey, are you hiring?’” Doyle says. “When we’re hiring people, we tell them the story and they’re hooked on it.”

But making big commitments to people can’t just be a story. You also have to follow through.

During the economic recession, many of Doyle’s employees wondered whether the company would stick with its commitment to distribute two-thirds of its profits to employees and their not-for-profit causes.

“In 2009, I was nervous because — especially in Florida — it wasn’t the best financial year for anybody,” Doyle says. “We’d made some commitments to some local not-for-profits. But it would have been great to have the money sitting in our bank as a reserve.”

Despite the challenges, Doyle says the decision to stick with the commitment was a no-brainer.

“I was brought up under the philosophy that the more you give, the more you get,” he says. “So it keeps your pencil sharp, but it motivates you and it pushes you.

“When we stretched ourselves when we gave a third back to employees — and actually we gave them a little more than a third because we didn’t want anybody hurt — it took everybody by surprise. And once they realized that we were sticking to that and making sure that they were receiving their checks, they realized that we were going to stick to the other third going to not-for-profits.

“It was just another one of those moments where they go to raise their head above some other companies that either went by the wayside or turned the other way.”

The key is view community giving as an investment rather than a donation, Doyle says.

“The theory behind it was if we can support our local community and make it stronger, businesses will thrive,” he says. “And if businesses thrive — our business is very dependent upon other businesses thriving — we will thrive.”

The same goes for employees. Investing a third of your profits back into your people obviously has a positive impact on employee morale. But it also gives Dex a competitive advantage. Much of the company’s business is service-related. So when its service technicians have a real vested interest in retaining customers, it creates a better experience for customers.

“Having control of their financial destiny also empowers employees to take on bigger roles in decision-making — something the company already encourages with its hands-off management style.

“So we try to push them to make a decision today,” Doyle says.

“If they think the customer is right, they should give them that credit. And don’t wait and tell the customer, ‘I’ve got to look into it. I’ll call you back.’ That’s the thing people hate the most. People hate being put off.”

To show people he walks the talk, Doyle also subscribes to the management philosophy of leading by example. He knows that employees want to be a part of companies that have leaders who look out for their best interests and the interests of their community.

Sometimes that requires stepping back, for example, when it helps to empower employees. When he sees one of his managers getting overly involved in their people’s decisions, he likes to remind them that micromanaging goes both ways.

“I always ask them if they’d like me to get more hands on,” he says. “If I feel like they might be micromanaging, I’ll say, ‘Do you want me looking at every decision you make every day? And they always say, ‘Well, no.’ And that works doesn’t it?”

Other times it’s about modeling the values he wants to instill in the organization. Doyle serves on numerous not-for-profits boards as well as committees to support causes that inspire him — showing his people that even the CEO can take time to give back.

“I’ve explained to our management that ‘Look, I’m willing to sacrifice my time and my family time to do this,’ and I expect the same from them,” he says. “But they also see what it gets back.”

Admit what you can do

A big concern with giving away a percentage of your company’s profits is what happens if you don’t have the money. What if I need to fund an acquisition, hire new staff or cut costs during a recession? Doyle knows these challenges all too well.

“I don’t think any of us would have predicted what happened at the end of 2008 and 2009,” Doyle says.

“The fear always is that you give away a third of your profits and that’s a third of your profits you could have had as a nest egg, just in case you do end up in a financial crisis.”

But instead of avoiding profit-sharing initiatives, Doyle simply advises businesses considering these kinds of people strategies to be realistic. Don’t overcommit.

“Obviously, the more people see your name out there supporting local causes, the more local causes come to you, which is good and bad,” he says. “You get to learn a lot about local charities that might be small that are underfunded and have a tremendous impact on our community. But it also comes to a point where you have to turn down certain not-for-profits, which is always tough.”

People involved with not-for-profits are typically pretty passionate. And obviously, you don’t want to destroy anybody’s dreams or hopes. But you also need to make sure you don’t promise more than what you can deliver.

“You have to keep in mind that there are things out of your control that might have a financial impact on your organization,” Doyle says. “We took a philosophy that we’re going to push ourselves by donating a third, and even if we give away that third, we can still survive any storm. Obviously, it’s been tested just going through 2009. So just keep that in mind. Don’t overextend yourself.”

One way the company stays accountable to its commitments is by being incredibly transparent about its financials. Three times a year, Doyle convenes all of Dex’s employees at a town-hall meeting, where he goes over the company’s financials.

By letting employees know exactly where the company stands, you show them that everyone is in it together. So the better you do as a company, the bigger impact the company can have for them and their community.

Every now and then Doyle may have a branch overcommit to a not-for-profit. But in these cases, the company has always been able to back up their donation from corporate.

How did Doyle know a third would be a doable percentage for Dex? Well, he didn’t.

“To be honest with you, that was a total crapshoot,” he says. “That was just a deal I cut with my dad.”

So how should you set your goals for community giving? Doyle suggests coming up with a figure that you can stick to as you grow. That way you’ll be able to see your company’s success pay off.

“When we started, we were very small,” Doyle says. “So the impact locally wasn’t big. Now, you look at it, and the last year, we gave away almost $4 million.”

How to reach: Dex Imaging Inc., (800) 886-2329 or www.deximaging.com

Takeaways:

  • Connect people to the organizations they’re helping.
  • View giving back as an investment.
  • Don’t overcommit.

 

The Doyle File

Dan Doyle Jr.

Co-founder, president and CEO

Dex Imaging Inc.

Born: Baltimore, Md., but has lived in Florida since he was five.

Education: Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

What would you do if you weren’t doing your current job?

I would probably work in the marine industry. I love boats.

What is one part of your daily routine that you wouldn’t change?

I meet my father for breakfast every morning.  This is where the two of us have time to talk about whatever is on our minds with no disruptions.

What do you to regroup on a tough day? 

I walk the seawall behind my house with my 6-year-old son. He loves the outdoors and all living creatures and loves to talk about them.

What do you do for fun? 

I hang out with my family. My wife and I both love having our kids around. We go out for dinner every year on our anniversary with all of them. It’s just fun to spend time with them and hear what they have to say.

Where would you like to go that you’ve never been? 

I would love to go to the Galapagos Islands.

Published in Florida

A strategic plan outlines the steps to achieve a desired future, and the process of creating that plan can provide an invaluable opportunity for the exchange of ideas and consensus among your management team and your staff. Defining your shared vision and then planning based on that desired outcome is the essence of strategic planning. With that in mind, allow me to share with you eight gaffes that should be avoided while outlining your strategic plan.

The time frame of the plan is too long.

First, strategic plans need to remain laser-focused on accomplishing strategic priorities in a timely manner. The plans also need to be frequently refreshed to keep them from becoming stale and to keep the organization energized on plan execution.

Long-term planning certainly has its place in a corporate world, but shorter operational plan horizons, going only 12 months out, allow organizations to utilize valuable current information and remain engaged in delivering the plan milestones.

Too many strategic goals.

We all fall victim to this mistake. Organizations often have a laundry list of goals. Dreaming up goals is never an issue. Instead, the issue is having the discipline to narrow down prioritized goals to a manageable and achievable level.

Five goals is a good number to consider as a maximum. When you factor in each goal that will lead to a sequence of programs, initiatives, activities and deliverables to be managed and implemented throughout the organization, it’s easy to see how a long list of goals can inhibit implementation success.

Goals are not tied to measurable outcomes.

Organizational goals should be constructed in terms of outcomes. They should be defined in such a way that they can be measured and managed throughout the layers of the organization to propel action and achievement from those involved.

Employees are unaware of the goals.

Believe it or not, this can be a huge problem in many organizations. When the corporate planning process fails to consider the individuals who will actually implement the plan, breakdowns happen and desired outcomes are rarely attained.

Key vendors and partners not considered.

By communicating organizational goals to key vendors and partners, much needed buy-in and assistance can be gained from these external parties to achieve desired outcomes. Think about it. Are they not critical to your long-term success?

Organizational culture is overlooked.

The corporate planning process must consider the organizational culture. Without this, it is impossible to fulfill the organization’s potential to dominate within their marketplace. Culture determines how the organization functions and how work will be completed.

Operational planning is overlooked.

An effective corporate planning process allows the organization to plan strategically at the enterprise level and then operationally at the business unit level with each part supporting the other.

Failing to reach all the way down through the organizational layers is a common problem with corporate planning processes. Strategic planning, to be effective, must address the entire business ecosystem — from top to bottom.

Customer value is overlooked.

At the end of the day, it is all about the customer. Customer-centric planning puts your No. 1 stakeholder — the end customer — at the forefront of the organization’s activities and goals.

By creating goals that reflect the type of value the organization can create for the customer, you’ll put a face to the name and more effectively connect members of the organization with the desired outcomes.

We have entered into a forever changed business climate. Put another way, the new normal is here and here to stay. Despite all the distractions we encounter every day, we must never lose sight of the fact that we must spend more time on the business rather than in the business, and it all starts with a strategic plan.

G. A. Taylor Fernley is president and CEO of Fernley & Fernley, an association management company providing professional management services to non-profit organizations since 1886. He can be reached at tfernley@fernley.com, or for more information, visit www.fernley.com.

Published in Philadelphia

Currently, more than half of employers in the U.S. are blocking workplace social media access. They give a number of reasons for blocking access to social media sites.

Most prevalent, those employers believe time spent on social networks is lost productivity that the company will never regain, so when you block social media, you know your employees are spending time doing their work.

But the reality is employees who were time wasters before social media are still going to have productivity issues. A recent survey by OfficeTeam showed that 22 percent of respondents working for companies that blocked social networking, shopping and entertainment sites admitted to frequently using their personal mobile devices as a workaround.

Any employee with a smartphone can access social media sites and the Internet, even if access is restricted via workplace computers. When access is blocked, employees are prone to take more work breaks or spend time finding a way to access restricted sites.

If you block social media access for your employees, it might be time to take a look at your company’s policy. Social media access might not be the problem. Here are some other things to consider.

Increased productivity

According to a study conducted by the University of Melbourne, employees with access to social networks were actually more productive than employees in companies that block access. The study went on to explain that employees who rewarded themselves by visiting their social media pages between the completion of work tasks accomplished 9 percent more than their blocked counterparts.

Increased productivity doesn’t stop in the physical workplace. Employers who embrace social platforms also enable workers to be able to work virtually from nearly any location. From home or on the go, networked employees are completing tasks.

Attracting and retaining workers

According to a survey of 870 employers and employees by recruitment company Hays, almost 20 percent of job applicants say they will turn down a job if they do not have reasonable access to social networking sites.

About half of those surveyed already accessed social media at work, with 13.3 percent accessing it daily and 36.4 percent checking occasionally.

As for employers surveyed, 44.3 percent believed that allowing employees access to social media at work will improve retention levels, and a third already gave their staff access to it.

Only 23.7 percent of employers allowed no access to social media sites.

So how should you define your social media policy? Here are some questions to ask.

  • How do you expect social media to be used during work hours? Define proper and improper use of work equipment.
  • Will you offer full or limited access?
  • What restrictions or parameters will be placed on workplace usage?
  • How will you monitor employee social network activity for any excessive use? Employees will need to understand that they have no right to privacy with regard to social media in the workplace, and as the employer, you have the right to monitor or retrieve data pertaining to their social media usage at work.
  • How will you deal with any employee misuse?
  • Are you going to encourage employees to leverage social media as a business tool or will you restrict its use as a business tool? If you have concerns about the sharing of the company’s confidential information, you will need to outline confidentiality guidelines.

Don’t issue a blanket policy banning all social media speech about the business; it could get you in trouble. Instead, craft a policy limiting use during work hours and banning false statements, circulation of proprietary information and profanity related to management or co-workers. Have your lawyer review all social media policies prior to introducing them to your employees.

Adrienne Lenhoff is president and CEO of Buzzphoria, Shazaaam PR and Promo Marketing Team. Reach her at alenhoff@shazaaam.com.

Published in Detroit

Andy Farbman doesn’t want to fix everyone’s problems.

The president and CEO of Farbman Group knows his business — and any business with designs on growing — can’t try to be all things to all potential customers. It’s a recipe for strained resources, exhausted employees and ultimate failure.

So Farbman has led his real estate management firm with an eye toward smart, selective growth that emphasizes areas in which his firm has traditionally excelled.

“No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, you’re always looking to go downwind or down river,” Farbman says. “You are not trying to fight the current. You are trying to find a path of smooth sailing or places where you can leverage your natural inertia and not have to fight what is going on around you.”

In particular, Farbman focused his company — which generated $200 million in revenue from property rentals in 2011 — on receivership work for banks and real estate in the health care field.

“Those are the areas where we really tried to shift a lot of our focus during the recession,” Farbman says. “We have always been very well skilled in and out of the court system in the state of Michigan, and we are now in 11 states as a receiver.

“The other niche in Michigan has come about through its aging population and really strong hospitals. We have developed our presence in the [health care] industry over the last four years, to the point that we are now working with five of the 10 largest hospitals, focusing on their real estate needs outside of the hospital campus — areas such as office buildings and ambulatory services.”

Planning ahead for effective growth requires you to have an accurate read on the markets you serve and an accurate view of the strengths and weaknesses within your business. It also requires you to motivate your workforce, rallying your people around a common mission and a common set of goals that will allow your company to achieve that mission.

Identify your strengths

Over the course of the past five years, a large number of commercial real estate firms have purchased apartment properties. Due to several factors, residential space made for an easier investment, and easier return on investment, than commercial space.

“The adequacy of capital was more significant, and it was an easier industry to be invested in,” Farbman says. “As a result, a lot of firms have gotten into the apartment business over the past few years.”

But Farbman declined to place a large amount of resources into purchasing and managing residential properties. Despite the lucrative potential in an industry still trying to crawl out of the real estate market crash of 2008 and ’09, Farbman felt it wasn’t the right fit for his company.

“What we have done, really over the last 12 or 13 years, is remove that skill set,” he says. “We did not believe we were the best in the world at managing those types of properties, so we didn’t focus our efforts there.”

If Farbman does not believe a particular business opportunity will play to the strengths of his business, he does not pursue it. Even if you see money practically growing on trees for other businesses in a given space, you won’t achieve the same outcome if you can’t commit the right resources to your own venture into the space.

Farbman says you should readily recognize the strengths of your business. You can always try to find new ways to leverage those strengths, but you should never abandon those areas of strength and abruptly turn in another direction.

“I think your strengths pop out,” Farbman says. “You can study trends and figure out trends and try to adapt the resources you have to follow those trends, but organizations — and particularly organizations that have been around for 35 years, like ours — have a natural skill set. It maybe isn’t as obvious as a left-handed pitcher, where a kid just naturally picks up a ball and starts to throw left handed, but it is still pretty obvious. It shows itself.”

Remaining true to your strengths means remaining disciplined about what business you accept. Apartment properties don’t represent the only area where Farbman’s firm has turned down business. Every week, and sometimes every day, Farbman and his executive team are confronted by tempting, yet difficult, decisions regarding whether to take on a new business opportunity.

“There isn’t a day that goes by where we don’t turn down business,” he says. “We want to do a great job for our clients, but we don’t believe we are one-size-fits-all. We have been asked to expand some of our businesses into other marketplaces, and that might be an area where we have reached out for a bit of help.

“A client might want us to be a street broker or a property manager in a city where we don’t have a lot of history. In those cases, if we take the business, we’ve had to find a partner who knows the market and the lay of the land better than we do.”

But in order to steer clear of areas that might not play to your strengths, you first have to know your organization’s strengths. That requires you to evaluate your organization and develop an extensive understanding of what resources you can employ and what skill sets and areas of expertise your people possess.

“You have to look within your organization and see the assets that you have,” Farbman says. “You have to evaluate what your assets are. In our organization, our two primary assets are capital and brainpower. Whenever you are dealing with a distressed asset or a troubled asset, you are trying to find a kind of special sauce for operating it, something that might lead to more revenue or decreased expenses. Once you figure out that special sauce and are trying to sell it, it’s something that becomes natural and obvious because it is already being implemented.”

Farbman’s philosophy centers on a desire to utilize the resources already in-house before looking outside the firm to add more firepower. It’s an approach aimed at creating efficiency and minimizing waste. Acquiring new resources — be it more people, more capital, more infrastructure or anything else — requires the use of resources in and of itself.

“We spend a lot more time figuring out ways to utilize the resources that we have instead of looking outside to bring in more resources,” Farbman says. “The biggest internal struggle today is probably that the profitability and longevity of organizations often aren’t aligned. I’d say every CEO has to focus on the long term in addition to the short term, and how to keep their P&Ls in order.”

Lead your people

Farbman’s focus on his firm’s areas of strength would never yield results if the approximately 200 employees at the Farbman Group weren’t aligned on a common set of goals aimed at leveraging those strengths. Farbman routinely engages his team and reinforces the goals and mission of the organization so that when they interact with customers or think of new ideas, it’s all with the end goal of enhancing the Farbman Group’s position in the marketplace as much as possible.

“I would definitely say that is part of our special sauce as a firm,” Farbman says. “We have an internal committee that meets once a month.

“It is a place for anyone in the organization to step up and propose new ideas for how we can either run the business better, because we might have a skill set that we might not be utilizing, or it might be as simple as the way we are recycling paper. There might be a better solution, no matter what the question is.”

Farbman and his executive team reward employees who create ideas that are ultimately implemented by the firm. It is a simple step that has been taken by many CEOs over the years but a necessary one if you are to reinforce your messages to your employees.

“It’s a monthly competition, and we give rewards to people who create opportunities for the organization or just make us a better place to work. In some cases, we might reward financially based on the savings that take place.

“But it’s important for us to take these ideas that start on the ground level and hold them up for the rest of the organization to see. When you manage 28 million square feet of property, you have all of these employees doing these different things day to day, and there are amazing things that are found at smaller properties, which you can end up implementing at bigger properties.”

Farbman says you can never underestimate the impact of giving employees a voice within your company. You can set goals and fashion a mission statement, but if you give your people the means to discover new and better ways to realize those goals and achieve the mission, they’ll develop a sense of ownership in what you’re trying to accomplish.

“It’s an approach that empowers your people,” Farbman says. “One of the ideas that came out of our committee forums was a flexible work schedule. We have a lot of single parents who work in our accounting division, and our accounting division isn’t necessarily an area where our people need to interface with a bunch of other employees. They don’t need to keep consistent hours. A 10-hour, four-day-a-week workweek is quite advantageous to some people.

“So there are intangibles that might not pop out the same way that a money-based reward or a promotion might, but it is more focused on lifestyle. In all cases, it helps keep people engaged in what you’re doing, and it can help reduce turnover in certain areas.”

If you engage your workforce in helping to construct the policies and procedures that will help you achieve your goals and mission, it also paves the way for effective delegation of responsibilities. Engaged employees are more willing and able to take on new responsibilities and own them.

“My executive team does a really good job of empowering people throughout the organization,” Farbman says. “We want to give our people every opportunity to make their own decisions. It’s something that really has to happen by example. You can’t Monday-morning quarterback your folks in the decisions they make. You might evaluate the decisions and why they made them, but you don’t cut off their knees. If they made a commitment, we live up to that commitment as well.”

Ultimately, if you are empowering people to take on new tasks and entrusting them with an increased level of responsibility, you want them to make decisions. It might be a right decision or a wrong decision, but regardless, making no decision is worse than making a wrong decision.

“You can’t be afraid to make mistakes, because if you don’t make decisions, you’ll stagnate as an organization,” Farbman says. “With my little kids, I play a game called ‘this or that.’ It’s a game where you are forced to make a decision and not push it off until tomorrow.

“I used to be an athlete, and most of the great leaders in my life have been some kind of coach. So I strongly subscribe to the idea that if you’re running the football, you better hit the hole as hard and as fast as you can. Even if you take the wrong route or hit the wrong hole, it still gives you the best chance to succeed. You have your moral compass and your gut to follow, and I believe that your gut, for the most part, leads you in the right direction.” <<

How to reach: Farbman Group, (248) 353-0500 or

www.farbman.com

 

The Farbman file

Born: Royal Oak, Mich.

Education: I have two degrees from the University of Michigan, in social science and economics. I’m halfway through my MBA at U of M, and probably will be for the rest of my life.

First job: I had a bagel and newspaper route when I was 12 years old and my brother was 15. We sold warm bagels with cream cheese and The New York Times door-to-door on Sunday mornings. Even though it was a starch-oriented business, it was very fruitful for us.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

If you buy it, you own it. Properties have many little intricacies that go into running them, whether it is utilities, cleaning or tenants that might be disgruntled. When you buy a property, you commit to managing all of that. It goes back to the fact that we turn down business every day. Because it’s not enough to just get a good deal. You have to be committed to everything that comes with it.

What traits or skills are essential for a leader?

You have to be confident in yourself. When you go to sleep at night, you have to be confident in the decisions you made during the day, because people have to know that you believe in the decisions you have made. But along with that, you can’t take yourself too seriously. Here, we have pingpong tables next to the offices, and there is always a football being thrown around somewhere in the building. So we try to remain playful and have a good time. It keeps the juices flowing.

What is your definition of success?

The ability to balance business and life. One of my biggest commitments I have made is that I will be home to tuck my kids into bed, and I can miss their bedtime for a maximum of 10 days a year.

Published in Detroit

The average American worker today stays at his or her job for less than four years, while millennials, also known as Generation Y’ers (those born between 1977 and 1997), are leaving in a fraction of that time. Ninety-one percent of millennials expect to stay in a job fewer than three years, and the average is eight to 12 months.

New data reveals that a lack of longevity with one company has no effect on length of stay at the next, so the old stereotype of “Once a job-hopper, always a job-hopper” is becoming less relevant to employers, possibly debunking workers’ fears of not being offered new work just because their lengthy resumes are littered with short-stint positions.

As an employer, you obviously want to keep turnover among workers low. Losing workers after a mere year means wasted time and resources invested on recruiting, training and development. Millennials with high expected potential to perform are especially precious to keep around, even more so than workers with proven achievements in key positions such as engineering.

So how do you prevent millennials and other workers from leaving your company quickly? Try the following:

  • Hire well initially. The economy has made every open position look tempting to a wide array of job seekers. Even if your company’s applicant tracking system successfully weeds out over- or underqualified candidates efficiently, some workers who aren’t the right fit inevitably make it through.

To keep high-potential millennials and other workers at your company, ensure you’re hiring the right people first. Use video interviews to broaden your search efforts geographically and to better establish an accurate feel for potential workers, all while saving time and money.

  • Embody values. A 2012 survey by Net Impact found that 58 percent of respondents said they’d be willing to take a 15 percent pay cut in order to work for a company that has values similar to their own.

To keep high-potential millennials at your company, do more than just hand employees a list of the company’s values on day one; actually embody the values day in and day out and reward employees who do the same.

  • Encourage communication. If today’s social marketing campaigns illustrate one thing, it’s that consumers enjoy engaging in open conversation.

Likewise, employees, especially millennials, appreciate the opportunity to share ideas and opinions openly in the workplace. To keep high-potential millennials at your company, encourage open two-way communication among all employees through various channels.

  • Integrate technology. Millennials are stereotypically the most tech- and digital-savvy generation in history. In fact, Gen Y’ers are prioritizing acquiring the latest smartphone or tablet above purchasing a car.

To keep Gen Y’ers at your company, demonstrate your company’s desire to be a technology leader by implementing the latest technology, beginning with video interviews in the hiring process.

  • Offer flexibility. More young workers in industries that don’t demand in-office face time prefer to do their work outside the office, according to a recent Detroit News article. And for Gen Y’ers in industries where face time is required, flexible hours can be more important than high salaries.

To keep your high-potential Gen Y’ers around, try to offer more workplace flexibility. If more schedule and telecommuting flexibility isn’t possible at your company, see the next tip.

  • Ask for input. Assuming that Gen Y’ers at your company want holiday gift baskets or other outdated employee perks that won’t inspire gratitude will have them running out the door before their first year is up. To keep Gen Y’ers at your company, ask what benefits they want to receive or take inspiration for employee benefits from other companies with cool perks.

  • Offer training. Information today is doubling every 18 months. By some estimations, that means workers need to recover a quarter of their college education every five years just to keep up with industry standards.

To retain Gen Y’ers value and keep them at your company, offer training opportunities for workers to learn new and refreshed information and knowledge. Your company can even offer education benefits for Gen Y’ers itching to return to the classroom.

Sherri Elliott-Yeary is the CEO of human resources consulting companies Optimance Workforce Strategies and Gen InsYght, as well as the author of “Ties to Tattoos: Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage.” She has more than 15 years of experience as a trusted adviser and human resources consultant to companies ranging from small start-ups to large international corporations. Contact her at sherri@generationalguru.com.

Published in Dallas

Leaders rely on people at all levels to provide essential contributions to company decisions. Yet real people have flaws. Information and decisions can get filtered, even in good faith ways, on their way through the company power structure to leaders. Understanding this human phenomenon can help leaders avoid its pitfalls.

Fear and survival

Scientists refer to survival as the organizing principle of the brain. When our brain perceives a threat to survival, it triggers a fear reaction. This reaction gave primitive humans a better chance of staying alive. Humans who lived on passed these traits to future generations.

Although the fear reaction is essential to our survival, in modern humans it can also be disruptive. That’s because our brain triggers a mostly unconscious reaction to its perception of threats. Under this condition, the brain loses its ability to correctly interpret subtle clues from the environment, reverts to familiar behaviors, loses some of its ability to perceive relationships and patterns, and tends to overreact in a phobic way.

The following are some examples.

? Fairness: Fairness matters to humans, so the brain perceives unfairness as a threat. It can be so powerful that some people are willing to fight or die for causes involving justice, fairness and equality. When this occurs in the workplace, employees may unknowingly reject new facts or select and use data in a self-serving way in order to “restore fairness.”

? Ambiguity: When our brain perceives uncertainty or confusion, the fear reaction is aroused. It’s like having your computer freeze. Until it’s resolved, it’s difficult to focus on other things. Uncertainty registers as something that must be corrected and people may see patterns in random data where none exist or underestimate their own shortcomings as the brain attempts to “feel comfortable again.”

? Control: The degree of perceived control determines if a fear reaction will be triggered. For example, not being able to exercise routine decisions without perceived overinvolvement of a supervisor can easily generate fear. Then we may unknowingly defend decisions made solely on snap judgments or subconsciously conform our thinking to that of the group. It can develop into a problem that impacts creativity and innovation.

? Trust: The quality of decisions depends on healthy relationships. In the brain, each time we interact, we unconsciously make a quick friend-or-foe distinction depending on the context. When the person is perceived as competition, survival circuits may be triggered. Spinning and/or withholding information from the next level of management are a few of the possible results.

? Social status: We are biologically predisposed to threats to our social status in the workplace as part of our survival programming. As a result, supervisors may have the nonconscious tendency to marginalize people who disagree with them. Similarly, people may avoid disrupting group beliefs if it serves to improve their social status.

Encourage self-assessment

As you can see, each day at work is filled with moments of perceived survival. When reactions occur, people are just not in touch with their thinking. It can unknowingly affect fact gathering, analysis, insights, judgments, decisions and performance. Personal strategies may be obscure and not apparent even to those who are using them.

Using this insight to improve results requires two things: No. 1, it requires employees to understand how human tendencies can impact their decisions, and No. 2, it requires management to set the tone by encouraging objective self-assessment of these nonconscious filters and candid communications throughout the organization.

Most important decisions rely on at least some subjective input by humans. To improve performance, leaders must take responsibility for creating an organization that is in touch with its thinking. Only then can we step out of the thousands of years of collective human conditioning and improve the quality of our decisions. <<

Larry J. Bloom spent 30-plus years helping grow a small family business to more than $700 million in revenue. He is a consultant, the author of “The Cure for Corporate Stupidity: Avoid the Mind-Bugs that Cause Smart People to Make Bad Decisions,” and the owner of a start-up media and software company that promotes better thinking. For more information, visit www.curecorporatestupidity.

Published in Atlanta

Charles Bunch has seen firsthand the resilience of the Pittsburgh region through both thick and thin. As its local businesses have started to rebound from the recession, so too must the region.

The founders of Pittsburgh Plate Glass, or PPG Industries Inc., as it’s known today, were attracted to the Pittsburgh region because of the coal supply needed as an energy source, the sand and mineral resources, and the river transportation system that were critical for the manufacturing and sales of those first plate glass products.

Today, the 129-year-old company, led by Bunch, who is chairman and CEO, is coming off a record year of nearly $15 billion in revenue and the company is still proud to call Pittsburgh its global headquarters.

However, much like how PPG transformed from strictly a plate glass manufacturer into a manufacturer of glass, coatings and specialty products, Pittsburgh itself has had to transform to continue thriving in an ever-changing business environment.

As part of the Vision Pittsburgh speaker series, Bunch spoke to local businesspeople about what PPG has and is doing to aid the region in the matter and what initiatives Pittsburgh needs to focus on to build up its economic development and attractiveness for new business.

“We have a strong presence in the Pittsburgh area as do many other companies,” Bunch says. “U.S. Steel, PNC, Heinz and Wesco are all Fortune 500 publicly traded companies still headquartered in Pittsburgh. If you include local companies like Mylan, CONSOL and Dick’s Sporting Goods, the Pittsburgh region rises to fifth place on the Fortune list for company headquarters.”

With that said, Pittsburgh still needs to work hard to attract and retain business investment and economic development.

“We need to foster small business, but I believe we also need to foster big business as well,” Bunch says. “Big business provides technology, innovation and supports many of these smaller businesses, leading to a healthier overall ecology for growth and now we’re creating that environment here in our region.”

With the help of the Allegheny Conference and local business leaders looking to keep Pittsburgh on top of its game, Bunch outlined key areas of focus for the region moving forward.

Companies must help the region

In order for a specific region to prosper, its companies and business environment must also be doing well. PPG Industries is a company that has stayed true to Pittsburgh and has helped the region grow as it has grown.

“Over the past several decades, PPG has evolved from a diversified manufacturer of glass, coatings and chemicals and is a more focused leader of paints, coatings and specialty products,” Bunch says.

“We still maintain some of those glass manufacturing roots here, but in the 1980s, through a technological invention developed in our Allison Park Research Center, PPG revolutionized the automotive paint industry with electro-deposition coatings for corrosion protection. Rust is no longer an issue, and that comes from PPG’s invention more than 25 years ago.”

PPG has brought its technologies and products to customers around the world and is now the global leader in automotive OEM and aftermarket coatings and in aerospace, industrial and marine applications for customers such as General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Boeing and Caterpillar.

“PPG has strategically chosen to focus on paints, coatings and specialty products due in large part to the global growth potential in those businesses and because we view coatings as our strongest suit where we could best apply our technology and innovation in a business in which we could become an industry leader,” he says.

“More recently, we have accelerated that transformation through organic growth and more than 30 acquisitions around the world to strengthen our global position over the last 15 years.”

Today, PPG is the largest global manufacturer of coatings to all of the industrial end-use markets and is the second-largest manufacturer of paints and coatings in the world. In addition to these coating successes, PPG’s R&D efforts in its chemicals group developed the first plastered photochromic optical lenses, which have grown into a $1 billion optical lens business under the brand name Transitions.

“At the same time that we’ve transformed our business portfolio, we’ve also expanded our geographic footprint,” he says. “In 2001, 74 percent of PPG sales were in the U.S. or Canada. Today, that’s less than 45 percent. Ten years ago our sales in the Asia-Pacific region accounted for 3 percent of our company.

“Now Asia-Pacific has grown to 17 percent of PPG sales. Today, 28 percent of PPG sales are coming from emerging regions such as Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. We have developed an improved geographic profile and have truly built PPG into a global enterprise.”

This global growth does not come at the expense of jobs in Pittsburgh or in the U.S. and the explosion of growth PPG has seen is great for the local region.

“Ten years ago, at the end of 2001, PPG posted revenues of $8 billion and net income of $387 million,” Bunch says. “In 2011, we delivered revenues of $15 billion and an all-time record of net income of $1.1 billion with earnings per share last year of $6.87, which was more than a third higher than our previous all-time record. We nearly doubled our sales and tripled our net income in 10 short years.”

As a result of that success, PPG is having a positive effect on Greater Pittsburgh and giving back to the community to help it flourish.

“In 2011, PPG spent some $100 million with vendors, suppliers and consultants in the Pittsburgh area,” Bunch says. “We employ some 2,500 people in the region and our foundation provides more than $5 million in funding for nonprofit organizations, much of it in the Pittsburgh region.

“Our success has enabled us to support key regional assets, and this past year, PPG renewed its commitment to the Pittsburgh Zoo and the PPG Aquarium for another 10 years.”

While much of the company’s recent growth has been overseas, its headquarters and almost all of its research and development activity is taking place in Western Pennsylvania. That commitment is what other businesses need to be willing to do to continue to build Pittsburgh’s economic development.

Identify the challenges

Pittsburgh is far from being down in the dumps, but there are certainly areas of the region that can improve to attract more business and opportunities available to aid in that mission.

“I believe that there are three significant challenges but also opportunities to attracting and retaining businesses in our region,” Bunch says.

“The first is energy. I believe this is a key challenge for most global manufacturers throughout the world, and more pointedly, here in the United States there is growing competition to access abundant, reliable, affordable and environmentally sustainable energy and feedstock sources.

“We’re on the cusp of an energy revolution here in the United States.”

New drilling technologies have enabled access to natural gas and oil reserves that are quickly turning the country into a globally competitive low-cost energy power. The Pittsburgh region has a lot of expertise in this industry.

“We are at ground zero in the shale gas story, but we have important technologies and roles to play in the development of sustainable energy sources like solar, wind and nuclear where our universities and our small and large technology companies are leading the way,” he says. “The expanding energy industry is creating jobs and supporting growth in other sectors from manufacturing to financial services.”

The second challenge for Pittsburgh is the need to continue to invest in the region’s transportation infrastructure and the availability of access to the region by air.

“We’ve clearly seen a reduction in air traffic and flights through the Pittsburgh International Airport,” he says. “As we become more global it’s important that we have an airport that can serve the needs of our employees and our customers.”

In many cities and regions, airports are the most important asset in community development. Pittsburgh has a modern but underutilized airport that is not living up to its potential. As a result, the Allegheny Conference along with the airport authority and the Allegheny county executive formed the Regional Air Service Partnership.

“This joint initiative demonstrates to the airline industry that the airport, the elected leadership and the business community are working together to improve air service,” Bunch says. “This initiative is paid off with such airline investments as United’s nonstop service to the West Coast and Delta’s nonstop service to Europe.”

The third clear obstacle to economic investment groups is Pennsylvania’s tax structure. The major state tax, corporate and income tax is uncompetitive. At 9.99 percent, it is the second highest in the country.

“This creates a very negative first impression for potential investors,” Bunch says. “In addition, Pennsylvania is the only major state that taxes the amount of net operating losses that a company can carry forward and offset against its tax liability.

“Pennsylvania’s corporate net income tax proportionate formula penalizes companies for expanding their physical presence and hiring employees in Pennsylvania because it does not utilize the single sales factor as utilized by many other states. The Pennsylvania state tax burden on business is a major in hindrance.”

Leverage strengths and opportunities

While there are several challenges that the Pittsburgh area needs to improve upon to make the region more attractive for businesses, the city, surrounding areas and local companies are making plans that address the weaknesses.

“Some people will tell you that Pittsburgh can’t compete with larger cities or Sun Belt states and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Bunch says. “I don’t believe this is true. I do, however, believe that in order for the Pittsburgh region to be more successful, we must work to leverage our strengths.”

The Pittsburgh region has some of the best educational institutions and hospital systems in the country, and as a result, research and development is more than $3 billion in the local economy.

“This is clearly a home for innovation here in the Pittsburgh region,” he says.

Bunch, who is chairing the Allegheny Conference this year, believes the organization dedicated to improving economic growth is in a unique position to build on these strengths for the betterment of the region.

“Beginning in March of last year, the conference convened 26 planning sessions across the region that involved more than 750 individuals, members of our regional investor’s council and partners,” he says. “We took stock of our progress to date and discussed an agenda for the three years to come.”

The conference developed a plan that includes three strategic priorities designed to take full advantage of what the region has to offer today.

“First, we wanted to enhance the opportunity for individuals and employees,” he says. “We will work to help connect diverse individuals to jobs and careers by identifying the skills needed and by increasing awareness of these opportunities among educators, students and workers.

“We will help employers by marketing the region globally and by building the capacity of existing businesses to succeed including the creation of a new venture capital fund to support the success of entrepreneurs and start-up companies.

“Second, we want to strengthen our communities by bringing together partners to take a fresh look at places in our region that have languished. We will seek to champion needed improvements to state laws and policies and work across political boundaries to streamline things to better integrate transit and transportation.

“Lastly, we want to energize tomorrow’s economy. We will work on improving our tax and regulatory climate, including creation of a site development fund to ensure that our region can provide competitive locations to accommodate business expansion and relocation.”

A focus on these strategic priorities will lay the groundwork for sustainable prosperity in the region.

“We’ve made a lot of progress on many of the fronts,” he says. “To succeed, partners across our region must come together to make it happen.” <<

How to reach: PPG Industries Inc., (412) 434-3131 or www.ppg.com

The Bunch File

Charles Bunch

Chairman and CEO

PPG Industries Inc.

Born: Philadelphia

Education: Received a degree in international affairs from Georgetown University and a master’s in business administration from the Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration.

Facts: After joining PPG in 1979, he held positions in finance and planning, marketing and general management in the United States and Europe during his first 12 years with the company. He was named general manager of architectural coatings in 1992, vice president of that unit in 1994, and vice president, fiberglass, in 1995. Bunch was elected senior vice president of strategic planning and corporate services in 1997, and executive vice president, coatings, in early 2000. He was named president, COO and board member in July 2002; CEO in March 2005; and to his current post in July 2005.

Bunch is a member of the board of directors of the H.J. Heinz Co. and the PNC Financial Services Group, as well as a member of the University of Pittsburgh’s board of trustees.

Published in Pittsburgh
Friday, 30 November 2012 19:00

Stephan Liozu: Welcome distractions

Organizations and their people always try to avoid uncertainty, unpredictability and ambiguity. To create an environment of safety, sense and rationality in terms of the choices they make and the goals they set, they impose routines, standard operating procedures, decision-making recipes and risk-avoiding agreements.

Scholars’ traditional views about organizational routines explain their existence with the need for “cognitive efficiency” and the reduction of complexity. This view suggests that routines arise because they are functional, they minimize costs, they increase managerial control and they create stability in the organization.

Therefore, routines are an important element of a firm’s social system and its decision-making process.

However, rules and routines can be seen as repetitive and inflexible, fixed and mindless, and as creating inertia in organizations. They mechanize decision-making and choices, they create a “business as usual” mindset, and they put the organization into “automatic mode.”

Thus, there is a consensus that routines are generally detrimental to innovation and change in organizations. Inertia and “business as usual” form strong barriers to change and tend to comfort employees in their views that “It was never done in the past”; “Why change if it works?”; “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,”; and, finally, “This is not the way things get done around here.”

Sound familiar? So how do you break this business-as-usual phenomenon and wake up your organization before it becomes too complacent or before the next crisis arrives?

I conjecture that it is the role of top leaders in organizations to create disruption and create proactive mini “revolutions” in order to bring about incremental change, increase the sense of urgency and encourage people to embrace change.

The great challenge is to do this when times are good and when the organization is successful.

In my career, I have embraced Sun Tzu’s saying in the “Art of War for Managers”: “When you are at peace, prepare for war.” In other words, when times are good, prepare for bad ones, and vice versa.

I often characterize myself as an agent of disruption by trying to break organizational routines, release mental locks and create a climate of change by encouraging breakthrough thinking.

Here are a few disruptive approaches I have used to create organizational change and to accelerate organizational transformation:

Constantly challenge your business model and reject complacency

Think outside the box, release your creative potential to constantly reinvent yourself even when you are successful and achieving your goals. Are you anticipating disruption five years from now? Are you tracking mega trends? Are you scanning other industries and companies for potential failures?

Create mini-revolutions

You can do this by breaking the organizational equilibrium and bringing about change when least expected. Take your organization’s pulse and avoid organizational fatigue by designing changes in teams in advance of issues and in tune with organizational needs.

Are you suffering from too many meetings, too many PowerPoint presentations, long decision-making discussions? Experiment with new meeting formats, PowerPoint-free zones, casual Tuesdays, fun Fridays, decision-making blitzes, rapid innovation processes, creative speed-thinking, etc.

Break the level of market predictability

By surprising competitors with breakthrough innovative products and surprise moves, the traditional cycles for price increases, product launches and customer events become a moving target that is hard to predict and that will bring excitement to markets at different times.

Make breakthrough thinking a core competency

Train your leaders on what breakthrough thinking means and how you can bring about soft and mindful disruption. Look to hire people in leadership who have great change-management skills but who can also lead change. Also, hire creative and nonconventional thinkers and embrace humor and fun at work.

Embrace skeptics and eliminate organizational bottlenecks

Make change successful, irreversible and anchored in the organization’s DNA. Remove any bottlenecks in breakthrough thinking and pockets of resistance to change. Listen to skeptics about the relevance of change and about where things need to change.

By creating these proactive changes during good times you prepare your organization for potential difficult times ahead — but most of all, you put yourself in a position to avoid the next crisis by removing complacency and business-as-usual. Give it a try. Become your organization’s “agent of disruption.”

Stephan Liozu (www.stephanliozu.com) is the founder of Value Innoruption Advisors. He specializes in disruptive approaches in strategy, innovation and value management. He is also a Ph.D. candidate in management at Case Western Reserve University and can be reached at sliozu@case.edu.

Published in Pittsburgh

Throughout Ohio, there are companies and organizations that are developing a wide range of innovative solutions to meet energy challenges. In turn, the state has many great assets that lend themselves to the energy industry and help create ways to improve energy resources or provide ideas on how to develop new ones.

As a way to bring together companies, researchers and supply chain manufacturers across Ohio to share ideas for developing innovative, advanced energy technologies and capitalize on common synergies for future business opportunities, NorTech held its Advanced Energy B2B 2012 Conference & Expo Oct. 30 and 31.

“The whole reason that we’re interested in holding this event is to promote the idea of building collaborations and partnerships among our cluster companies,” says Dave Karpinski, vice president of NorTech and director of NorTech Energy Enterprise. “That guides our programming, the design of our event and our target audience.”

The event last year was a mix of discussions on energy sectors and potential growth areas within Ohio such as solar, energy storage and fuel cells, smart grid, biomass, waste streams and energy efficiency, as well as trade show exhibit space.

One of the things new this year was a panel of some of the major projects going on in Ohio from a renewable, advanced energy standpoint.

“The purpose was to give the attendees a sense for the breadth of projects that are going on and where they’re being deployed in different parts of the state,” Karpinski says. “It was a good lesson about matching the technologies with the resources in our state to be able to generate renewable and advanced energy based on our renewable portfolio standard.”

What provided an even more exciting opportunity for economic development are all the products and solutions that can be generated, developed, manufactured here and not only used in Ohio but also exported around the country and around the world.

“If you think about energy and advanced energy, all of these systems are massive, large-scale, durable, good processes with lots of manufacturing, materials and components,” he says. “That’s what we are strong at in Ohio.

“We’re coupling our research and development strengths with our ability to make these things and produce these processes, systems, battery solutions, fuel cells, etc., to have an impact here.”

NorTech also tries to generate local demand for these products in the state so the companies developing these solutions have local customers to work with as they develop and perfect them.

“It’s much more productive if your developing, manufacturing and deploying systems are close by,” he says. “That will make you more competitive as you scale up and export around the world.”

This work surrounding collaboration and partnerships with energy companies is part of what NorTech calls road mapping.

“That process helps us identify where we think we have strengths in the region, what the companies are in these clusters and what the competitive picture looks like against other regions,” Karpinski says. “Then we work with these companies to come up with a game plan for cluster growth.”

One cluster NorTech is excited about surrounds two companies that convert waste plastics or waste polymers back into crude oil. The technology, as oil prices have increased over the years, has become more attractive and viable.

“They’re relatively small output … so there is a little bit of a challenge to get the attention from buyers of oil for really small sources like this,” he says.

NorTech is working with a couple of its companies in the cluster on federal advocacy efforts to open up this waste stream to qualify as renewable fuel for the country’s federal renewable fuel standard.

NorTech is also working with Quasar Energy Group, which produces a technology called anaerobic digesters that take biomass waste and, through a biological process, generate methane.

The methane can be compressed, cleaned and used as compressed natural gas for transportation applications as an alternative to gasoline or diesel fuel.

“One of the challenges that they had was getting equipment for these dispensing stations,” Karpinski says.

Because Quasar didn’t want to be experts in CNG dispensing systems but wanted somebody that could work with them that could develop that, NorTech partnered the company with South Shore Controls.

“We identified that need and have a project ongoing with Quasar and South Shore Controls and are working with our partner Magnet to help design the appropriate piece of equipment such that South Shore could be the manufacturer for Quasar,” he says.

Through these kinds of efforts and the information being shared during events such as the Advanced Energy B2B 2012 Conference & Expo, companies are getting help to achieve their growth targets.

“We hope it will stimulate some interest in working in some of these companies and provide chances for collaboration,” Karpinski says. ?

Published in Akron/Canton