Dennis Seeds

They say that the best way to overcome your fears or phobias is to confront them. Not comfortable flying in an airplane? How about giving a public speech or walking across a high bridge?

Well, you’re not alone. Some surveys say about 20 percent of people 18 and over have anxiety problems that when you get right down to it, are irrational.

While some fear can be expected as a response to imminent danger, phobias are exaggerations of those reactions. They can be difficult to overcome, people avoid them like the plague — it’s the friend who always takes a train or bus to travel when an airplane would be much quicker.

 

Overcome through confrontation

What about if you could take a dry run on a small scale? It might help you as you weigh the risks of the entire process.

Sarah Clarke, manager of the Gateway Arch Bi-State Development Agency, which operates the tram to the top of the Arch, has some observations that can help shed light on the subject. After all, the Arch is a 630-foot monument, the top of which can only be reached via a five-seat tram that stops at an observation area crammed with visitors.

She says there is a car from the tram in the Arch’s lobby on the ground floor so visitors can and see what it is like and find out if they might feel claustrophobic.

“That allows people to get inside and try it out,” Clarke says. “Usually that helps, but some people at the last minute jump out before the doors are about to close. Most people who give it a try don’t feel that it’s too bad.”

So the smart visitor has a chance to test the personal space inside the tram — and decide if it’s time to confront his or her fear.

 

No dress rehearsal

While you don’t get a dress rehearsal with every business risk, there are some ways to prepare your company so it has a better chance for success.

One of the first steps to take is an analysis to see if the risk is a good fit for your company. For example, you wouldn’t want to expand your customer base without improving your production line first.

If you don’t get an outside opinion of your risk, you might be dooming your success. An unbiased look can analyze if the opportunity is a good one for business growth.

Mark Bamforth, CEO and president of Gallus BioPharmaceuticals LLC, can add his two cents here.

“You need to evaluate things and assess risks and potential, but you can’t wait until there’s no risk because if you do, the opportunity will have gone away.”

That is the definition of a calculated risk. With your opportunity, weigh the pros and cons of going forward — and of keeping the status quo. Don’t allow the fear of failure to quash your ambitions.

 

Dennis Seeds
Managing Editor

Smart Business St. Louis
Dennis is interested in the people and business making a difference in St. Louis.
dseeds@sbnonline.com

(440) 250-7037
www.sbnonline.com

 

By Dennis Seeds | dseeds@sbnonline.com
Interview by Gregory Jones | ceointerview@sbnonline.com

Mark Bamforth remembers arriving in the United States in 2000 from his native Scotland — and receiving some powerful advice from his new CEO.

“I was working for the biotech company Genzyme — and the day I arrived he told me that Genzyme was going to buy another company and the investment was one-fifth of Genzyme’s value at that time, so it was a pretty big deal.

“When I asked him why it was right to do this he said, ‘Well, we think we know enough to know that we should do this. But if we wait until we’re certain, then somebody else will have done it.’”

That advice gave Bamforth some insight he would never forget.

“It made me realize that you need to evaluate things and assess risks and potential, but you can’t wait until there’s no risk, because if you do, the opportunity will have gone one way or another.”

That major acquisition at Genzyme would be followed by a dozen more — a few in Asia, but most in the United States and Europe, covering different types of biologic manufacturing and medical devices.

When Bamforth and Genzyme tried to acquire a site in St. Louis from Centocor Biologics LLC, a Johnson & Johnson company, it didn’t work — twice. The incidents led him to take an introspective examination into where he was on the ladder of success.

“I was at a point in my career when I was looking for what was next — I wanted to run a company and have that experience,” he says.

The opportunity for Bamforth to set up his own business had arrived. He asked Johnson & Johnson to sell the Centocor site to him. Johnson & Johnson agreed, and Bamforth raised the money. Taking the Scottish word for brilliant and impressive, Bamforth founded Gallus BioPharmaceuticals LLC, becoming president and CEO.

“The rest, somewhat, is history,” he says, “Since that start, we’ve more than doubled the workforce to 350.”

Gallus is a pure-play contract manufacturer, meaning it only offers contract manufacturing and doesn’t have any of its own products; it doesn’t compete with its customers.

Here’s a look at how Bamforth evaluates business potential to drive growth and revenue of $50 million to $100 million a year.

 

It’s the fit and execution

Many new businesses are founded with having only one customer. If that customer does enough business to keep you afloat, you’re fortunate. But one day, you will probably realize that it’s not wise to depend on only one customer — and you must grow and diversify your organization.

“On day one, Johnson & Johnson accounted for all our business,” Bamforth says. “So part of our requirement really has been to grow the business in order to diversify our client base.”

Once you clearly identify your objective, you build your strategy. His vision was to make Gallus the most trusted provider of world-class contract manufacturing and development services for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry.

Bamforth decided it all boiled down to two steps that, if successful, would accomplish that vision.

“First of all, a good acquisition has to ‘fit’ with the company’s needs,” Bamforth says. “That’s having the right technology available, the right skill of manufacturing and the capacity available.

“So the right fit with those clients — all that is backed up by having in place the right quality systems. That’s a prerequisite.”

The next key is execution, and proving that with the acquisition in place you are able to deliver the goods as promised.

“Some of our clients are smaller biotechs, and the molecule we create really is their baby — it’s incredibly important for it to be able to help patients,” Bamforth says. “So it is a tremendous position of trust. Having the right fit, then executing on the programs, delivering materials on time with the right quality are essential for their program and fulfilling their mission to help patients.”

 

Do your due diligence

Besides partnerships and organic growth, the mother lode of growth opportunities is in acquisitions. It doesn’t hurt to be somewhat opportunistic. Should a company come on the market that would be worth your review, follow Bamforth’s advice: You can’t wait until there’s no risk, because if you do, the opportunity may be lost.

“I think it starts with that initial diligence phase of really trying to understand the business that’s in place. So, what is the revenue? What’s that based on? Who are the clients? How diversified is that client base? And how good a fit is it with what you’re trying to do?”

What makes a merger or acquisition a good fit is that it fills a gap in the company, creating an expansion in its products, workforce or abilities. Another measure is if it helps the company enter a new market, and thus creates a new revenue stream.

“We have a lot of capability for organic growth at Gallus, but we’ve also been actively looking at M&A opportunities over the last couple of years,” Bamforth says.

So when Gallus was reviewing possible acquisitions recently, it came across Laureate Biopharmaceutical Services Inc., which was in the same space as Gallus.

“They were a pure-play contract manufacturer and they had very strong development and clinical manufacturing, but they had very limited commercial manufacturing,” Bamforth says.

“Their real requirement was to find a way to be able to put in place commercial manufacturing so that the clients they’ve been working with, as their molecules mature, continue to be clients.”

The acquisition was a good one, since long-term sustainability would come from its long-term commercial relationships, not the clinical relationships that may only last a few years, Bamforth says.

“This is a very good match because combining Laureate with Gallus more than doubled our pipeline of client molecules that we’re working on,” he says, including process development and clinical drug substance manufacturing capacity. “So it increases the number of molecules that are likely to mature to be commercial and create that long-term sustainability.”

Bamforth says the Gallus team members realized early that they would want to keep the facility in place.

“This wasn’t a question of how to somehow strip them out of business; this was a question of keeping the current facility and organization in place to continue to drive business growth,” he says. “And sometimes an element overlooked is trying to understand the culture and the cultural fit of the organization.”

No two companies have the same cultures, and some can be very different.

“It can be hard to meld those cultures together,” Bamforth says. “Sometimes acquisitions are done and the company being acquired is treated as though it’s broken and the new company comes in and imposes a lot of things that can cause upset to those who have been in place and who felt that things were working well. Understanding the culture and how to meld the two organizations, I think, is really a critical area to effect.”

 

Staying on track

Now that your merger or acquisition is complete, it likely won’t be your last. You will have, hopefully, broadened your offerings to clients and will have a better chance of meeting client requirements.

Gallus continues to look for companies similar to Laureate, but also for opportunities to add additional platform technologies.

“We continue to look for the right kind of opportunities to add a new technology platform,” Bamforth says. “I think that to rely solely on organic growth is potentially risky.”

Gallus has looked at a number of opportunities over the last few years, either businesses that were being sold or facilities that have been sold by larger companies on a piecemeal basis. Bamforth says it’s valuable to examine the client base of your acquisition or merger target; you might find out something about your own industry.

“One of the things that we were somewhat surprised about was that with the Laureate client base, there wasn’t a high overlap between their clients and the ones that Gallus had, and I think that says something about the breadth of the biotech business,” he says.

“So we weren’t sacrificing something by making this combination. We were purely adding to Gallus. Really understanding those elements of the business is the fundamental starting point.

“And, of course, what’s critical is to understand the teams in place — their skills, their strengths, their culture and the technologies they use and the capacities that are in place,” Bamforth says. “Look at the operational side of the business and how complementary that is to what’s already in place.”

Another key thing is to reach out to clients, existing and prospective, to make sure they understand the acquisition, and that there’s going to be a continued focus and priority on supporting their work.

“So, in turn, the current clients won’t or don’t have concerns or worries, and if they do, address them,” Bamforth says. ●

 

How to reach: Gallus BioPharmaceuticals LLC,
(314) 426-5000 or www.gallusbiopharma.com

 

Takeaways

With a merger or acquisition, look for a good fit.
Investigate the target’s performance; look into all aspects.
Keep your foot on the pedal for 
future M&As.

 

The Bamforth File 

Name: Mark Bamforth
Title: President and CEO
Company: Gallus BioPharmaceuticals LLC

 

Born: Glasgow, Scotland. I lived in Scotland until I was 23.
Education: The University of Strathclyde, in Glasgow. I received a chemical engineering degree and a master’s in business administration from Henley Business School near London.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it? The first job that I had was as a food porter, which was in a large department store cafeteria where the job was to keep all the food shelves stocked with hot foods. I used to go home smelling of fries because that was one of the duties — to make the fries. I learned from that that I should definitely get a degree and try to do something different from food handling for the rest of my life. It’s great to have that opportunity to see different types of jobs, and it definitely has an influence on your understanding of the rules where different people end up playing in their careers.
One of the most influential jobs that I had was in my final summer as a student. I worked for a whiskey company. I was able to borrow a computer from the university. I was able to set up all these intricate calculations for design of equipment. I worked with a very experienced engineer who had about 25 years’ experience, and he had never used a computer, but he was a fantastic engineer. I discovered that at the age of 20 that I knew something that he didn’t know.
What is the best business advice you ever received? Besides what I mentioned earlier, the other piece of advice was, as I was setting up Gallus, that whatever you do, you should try to build off a base of experience that you have. The greatest opportunities are likely to be where you have the greatest depths of experience. Trying to do a career switch to an area that you have no knowledge of or kind of a constant knowledge of is almost an impossible thing to do well. So your greatest opportunities are where your greatest knowledge is.
If you could speak with anyone from the present or past, with whom would you want to speak with? I think it would be to have a meeting with Tony Blair, who was the prime minister in the U.K. for 10 years. He really drove change in an organization that was pretty stuck in the past and had an image that was quite negative, and he really focused on cultural change transformation of that organization, the political party. Then when he was in power for many years, I think he drove economic change that was very positive.
I used to not understand the U.S. system of only giving two terms to a president, but I actually think it’s a very smart system because I think in the U.K. as you look at the two most influential leaders over the last 30 years, the tail end of their leadership has actually been quite stressful and deteriorated. So there’s something to be said for limiting terms for those in power.

If longevity is a sign of success, Beech Brook stands alone in Greater Cleveland.

The Beech Ball, Beech Brook’s annual fundraiser to benefit its program, will be from 6 to 11 p.m. April 11 at the InterContinental Cleveland. For more information, call (216) 831-2255.

Founded in 1852 as the Cleveland Orphan Asylum, its mission is still much the same today: To heal and find safe and caring homes for emotionally disturbed and at-risk children, as well as providing education and support to at-risk families to break the cycle of abuse and neglect.

President and CEO Debra Rex admits she can’t say enough about Beech Brook and how it has built upon those roots to make a solid impact upon the community.

“It’s a wonderful organization; it changes lives,” she says. “In changing lives, it changes our community for
the better. In my career, all I ever
wanted to do was to help children and families. And I found a place to do that.

“What I also love about Beech Brook, is that we’ve become better and better at reaching out and making partnerships with the corporate community and the public systems — we can create such synergy and bring such forces to bear for the good.”

An active organization

Beech Brook, located on Lander Road in Pepper Pike since 1926, helps children and families advance their well-being and self-sufficiency in a number of ways.

“We served about 24,000 children and families last year in our various services with a budget of about $25 million,” Rex says. “This year, it will be about $27 million and with even more children.”

Beech Brook provides physical and behavioral health care, educational and related services.

“We are a very active, multi-service organization,” Rex says. “We have 45 discrete programs that are in various aspects of carrying out our mission.”

Rex says Beech Brook has a big impact on the community, not only from a child perspective and doing good work to make the community stronger, better and healthier as a result of the interventions, but also because it is a large business.

“We have $27 million in revenue and 450-plus employees in Northeast Ohio,” she says. “We do help fuel the economic engine. We purchase a lot of goods and services and are constantly looking for vendors who can really understand and meet our unique needs as a nonprofit and as a nonprofit human services provider, and who are willing to support us whatever way they can.

“Many of them support us philanthropically in addition to delivering the kind of products that we need.”

 

Growing partnerships

Rex is proud to note that the private community has given not only dollars, but has a lengthy history of involvement.

“We have many loyal companies that have been working with us for many, many years,” she says. “For more than 25 years, Ohio State Waterproofing employees, instead of doing a Christmas party for themselves, have donated the money and have come out to do a Christmas party for the kids in our residential treatment program. It’s just wonderful.”

Face-to-face involvement is very important when it comes to understanding the nature of the work Beech Brook does, she says.

“We look for opportunities for companies to actually interface with kids that we serve so they can get an experience of the mission,” Rex says.

“What we find is when the corporate community can really understand in a more hands-on way the nature of the work that we are doing and the benefit that we are making to the community, that both individually and as a corporation they are much more generous and wanting to invest in our mission.”

 

Getting to the very root

Rex says one of the advances in recent years has been the ability to spot potential problems at younger ages.

“We can now identify kids as young as 1 who are having or going to have very serious problems,” she says. “That’s a good thing because then we can work with the parents and really get things turned around quickly and easily. Like most things, prevention is a lot easier than treating something that has had a long time to develop.”

In order to treat the problem, Beech Brook takes the approach of outreach to day care centers.

“We work with day care teachers who are encountering kids with serious and persistent behavioral problems and who don’t have a clue on how to manage them. A lot of the affected kids are getting kicked out of day care centers because the staff can’t manage the behaviors if they have a tantrum or are having really serious problems,” she says. “We help them to be able to intervene so they can support not only the children who don’t have problems, but also the child that does.”

Staffers are also engaged with the family and work with the parents so they can help get the child’s behavior to be more normalized. Last year, Beech Brook served 102 children in its early childhood mental health treatment program for ages 0 to 3 years.

Older children are served in the Assertive Community Treatment program, which addresses them in a holistic way.

“We work on vocational things, we work on their drug and substance abuse issues if they have them, we work on their mental health issues, we look after their health,” Rex says. “So it is really a very integrated team-based model.

“The wonderful thing about that service is that it keeps these kids — who are at very high risk for homelessness, or court involvement or early death by virtue of their very serious mental health issues — we are able to keep them both stabilized and in community-based living and moving forward in their lives and out of psychiatric hospitals and prisons. So we feel really, really good about that program.” ●

How to reach: Beech Brook, (216) 831-2255 or www.beechbrook.org

 

 

 

 

 

Engineering innovation took the spotlight in several ways at Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems LLC in Elyria in February — and that included getting engineers of tomorrow on board.

In celebration of Engineers Week 2014, Bendix hosted its first Discover Engineering event at its Elyria headquarters on Presidents Day, introducing middle school and high school students to engineering. The company is committed to inspiring the next generation of engineers and helping students unleash their creativity and innovative spirit through engineering.

Discover Engineering was open to children and grandchildren of Bendix employees, allowing students to meet Bendix engineers and learn firsthand what engineering is, and encourage them to consider engineering as a college or career choice.

Students received an overview of engineering fields, observed demonstrations, had site tours and took part in activities. There were also programs to introduce girls to engineering.

 

Pinewood racers

One of the interesting events for students was the pinewood derby, in which students created a race car to go down a track, propelled by gravity. The lesson for students was how to make his or her car the speediest.

Students learned that the pinewood racers reach their highest degree of potential energy at a weight of 5 ounces. The challenge was to make the car heavier with materials — such as brass fittings and tape — without going over 5 ounces.

 

Honors to engineers

In addition, during Engineers Week, Bendix recognized its engineers for their contributions to the company’s development and manufacture of leading-edge active safety and braking system technologies.

Among those honored were the company’s 2013 patent recipients, 51 engineers who contributed — individually or in groups — to the 50 worldwide patents granted to Bendix last year.

“Bendix is built on engineering innovation,” says Richard Beyer, Bendix vice president of engineering and R&D. “Engineers stand tall behind every one of Bendix’s commercial vehicle technologies throughout our nearly 85-year history — including the long list of groundbreaking designs that represent technological firsts in the industry.”

Engineers Week serves as an opportunity to raise public awareness and highlight the role engineers have in creating sustainable solutions that make a difference in people’s lives, Beyer says.

“For the younger generation, we help them learn firsthand what engineering is and encourage them to consider engineering as a college or career choice.”

Engineers Week, a national program marked annually during the week of George Washington’s birthday, celebrates the contributions engineers make to society and serves as a catalyst for educational outreach. For directing the nation toward technical advancements, invention and education, Washington is considered by many to be the United States’ first engineer.

 

How to reach: Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems LLC, (800) 247-2725 or www.bendix.com

Laura Bennett told herself shortly after co-founding Embrace Pet Insurance that if she could share her knowledge with other women and people who were looking to start a business, she would.

“I couldn’t find any women who had raised venture capital funding,” she says. “There were a few men, but not many. And I knew that it was sort of different for women. You’re just looked at differently. So I couldn’t find any.”

Fortunately, she hooked up with JumpStart Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to Northeast Ohio entrepreneurs to start and grow their companies. That allowed Embrace Pet Insurance to get off the ground, but Bennett still felt the need to help women in business.

 

Network time

It was time for her to start her own network. A little more than a year ago, she founded the Burning River Coffee Community, best described as a loosely knit mentoring organization.

“It’s a gathering of women every month or so, mostly at breakfast time at either Panera Bread or in the Embrace offices,” she says. “It’s to help women move their businesses forward.”

And it’s not just a case of a small business that receives attention from the mentors. There is a range of entities, from high-growth-potential companies to those who struggle to raise money. Some don’t have to raise venture capital funding but at this point want to take their business to the next level, to sell across the U.S. or globally.

Bennett has been there and done that and wants to share how to get in deeper. She could have just taken the attitude of, “I’m here now, and I’m taking no prisoners!” But she didn’t, and took her message to the Burning River group.

 

Invigorating

“I say to them, you know, it is incredibly hard but if you share your struggles and your challenges with the group, you would be amazed how invigorating it is,” she says. “It’s energy from the group that you get. When you have a group of business people together, there is always some benefit that will come out of it.

“I encourage women to network, and to find other women in the same boat because it is very lonely being an entrepreneur,” she says. “I think women benefit more from finding other women in similar circumstances who they could relate to. It doesn’t matter if your business is related to the other woman’s business, but perhaps you are at the same stage, you have the same issues — a lot of people have the same issues; it’s just a different business.

“It’s that sort of strength, camaraderie and resilience that you need, because you need someone to keep encouraging you. That is what I recommend that women do, and I thought of this organization to help with that.”

We couldn’t have said it better. That’s great advice for anyone, and especially for women as we feature our annual “Perspectives — Women Who Excel” issue. ●

 

Dennis Seeds
Managing editor

Smart Business Cleveland
Dennis is interested in the people and businesses making a difference in Cleveland.
(440) 250-7037
dseeds@sbnonline.com
www.sbnonline.com

 

 

Laura Bennett took on an uphill battle and co-founded Embrace Pet Insurance

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Laura Bennett was trying to get her fledgling pet insurance business off the ground in 2005 when she had to confront the reality that the insurance industry was a male-dominated one.

Bennett and co-founder Alex Krooglik were searching for an insurance partner who would back Embrace Pet Insurance, her company, and left for London to seal a deal with Lloyd’s of London, the global specialist insurance king.

“Well, that was the problem — trying to find a partner that would work with two people who were not from around here,” she says. “I’m British and Canadian and Alex is Australian so we didn’t have loads of connections in the U.S.” 

Watch for traditions

Not only was the mere fact that she was a woman challenging, she was pregnant. And Lloyd’s wanted to do the deal over drinks, dinner and cigars.

“Only one of which I could do! I could eat, but I couldn’t drink, and I certainly couldn’t smoke cigars,” Bennett says. “So I actually took someone from JumpStart with me, Mark Smith, and he was my designated drinker and cigar smoker.

“Otherwise it would’ve been awkward for them with me not being able to do the wine part, and meanwhile they’re busy doing that. And it just worked out very well.

“So I think you take your angles, and you work out exactly how it goes, and you do your best.”

While an angel investor had provided cash for Bennett’s startup, if it was going to grow, it had to attract venture capital. At this point, Bennett got another wake up call —the world of funding was also male-dominated.

“That was a challenge,” she says. “If you are a woman running a business, especially if it offers a product that women buy, it can be dismissed as frivolous and not worthy.

“So I was lucky in that I am an actuary; I have a mathematics degree. I’ve got my professional credentials and reputation which precedes me, and that helped; no doubt about it.”

Don’t celebrate early

Fortunately, Embrace was able to secure venture capital funding — at the beginning of the recent recession. But even then the going was tough for an insurance in which only 1 to 3 percent of Americans enroll their pets.

“It took a few more years before I didn’t wake up in a cold sweat wondering how we were going to find the money to pay for things,” Bennett says. “Since then, we finally worked out what works — that’s one of your big lessons when you are an entrepreneur. Also, we finally got some real momentum and successes going.”

Bennett credits the company’s reputation for a large part of those successes.

“People feel like they have a really amazing relationship with us; that’s important because insurance is all about trust. You have to prove yourselves, and you can’t just say to people, ‘Trust us.’ You have to actually be trustworthy.

“We were able to make our product sound a little more technical, and we focused on the Internet aspect of it. In the end, what’s valuable about our business is our relationship with the customer.”

How to reach: Embrace Pet Insurance,  (800) 511-9172 or www.embracepetinsurance.com 

 

To help Easter Seals connect, Sheila Dunn puts the focus on mentors and business relationships  

Sheila Dunn has found that one of the major keys to successful leadership — for men or women — is having a mentor who you can work with. The president and CEO of Easter Seals of Northern Ohio, Dunn highly recommends finding someone you can shadow and learn from. 

“There are a lot of folks out there who would be very, very pleased and excited to take you under their wing and show you the ropes, and I was very lucky to have a couple of them,” she says. 

“A very good friend of mine owned his own company. We would often talk about the challenges of hiring folks and training them and what your expectations were for employees and things, and it didn’t make a difference what his company manufactured; for what we did, working with people directly, you still go through the exact same scenarios and the same challenges.” 

 

Nonprofits are businesses 

Dunn insists there is no difference between running a not-for-profit organization such as Easter Seals and operating a business in the private sector. 

“We’ve learned that being a nonprofit organization doesn’t mean you shouldn’t operate like a business, because that is really what you are doing,” she says. “You are a business; you just don’t pay out any dividends or shares or anything like that.

 “I think perhaps there is a mistaken idea by the private sector that folks in nonprofits don’t operate that way. In the long run, we still operate very much on a shoestring budget so it is important to operate like a business.” 

 

Creating a network 

For a leader of a nonprofit organization, it’s as important to build a network of business contacts as it is for business leaders to develop their not-for-profit network.

“The more people get involved in the community, whether it’s a civic group or whatever, it’s a plus,” she says. “I’ve been a Rotarian for 26 years, from the time they let women in, and within Rotary, you find folks who do similar things. Being in Rotary has helped me a lot because there are a lot of representatives of business. 

“The whole purpose of doing events is to bring people to the organization and to see if we can get a higher level of commitment from them to eventually become board members, donors and things like that.” 

Dunn’s experience with volunteering goes back to when she was a young girl. 

“My family was that way — we got involved,” she says. “Statistics show that the younger you are, and the more involved you are from a volunteer standpoint, you will probably do it your whole life. It’s a great lesson to learn for children. I think a lot of the rewards come back far more than what you put out. It’s knowing that you made a difference in someone’s life with whatever you did to help.”

How to reach: Easter Seals of Northern Ohio, (440) 324-6600 or noh.easterseals.com 

 

Finding her identity helped Kristen Morris’ career more than any mentor could 

It took Kristen Morris a good 10 years, she says, to realize she could be effective just by being herself. 

“That doesn’t sound that impressive, but it was a huge sort of epiphany for me to realize that the key to being a successful individual — male, female, multicultural or whatever — is to just be yourself, and be honest, outwardly and inwardly,” says Morris, the chief government and community relations officer for The Cleveland Clinic. 

“Obviously you work very, very hard all the time, and you are ethical and right. But style is a very important component in terms of advancing one’s career. That was probably the biggest thing I struggled with for a long time.” 

 

Blazing the trail 

Morris changed her career path during college after an internship in Washington, D.C., opened her eyes to the operation of government. 

“I grew up working in the ’80s and ’90s, and it was sort of the impressionable era for me at a time when I was mentored by women who really blazed the trail in business, especially in a very male-dominated world like Washington,” Morris says. 

A lot of them succeeded, so to speak, being tougher and more aggressive. 

“I struggled with trying to follow that model because I am not like that at all,” Morris says. “I am not an aggressive, outspoken manager or individual. I am the mother of six; I am very nurturing; and I really struggled with how to be effective but yet comfortable with myself. 

“How could I follow the advice of my mentors when at the same time I wasn’t ultimately going to be like them and how they operated?” 

Morris learned that while her objectives changed and were modified over time, as long as she was building her resume in the same direction, progress was being made. 

“I found that it will serve your career well,” she says. “The hard work and strategic experience-building is just critical.”

 

Finding your style 

But overarching that advice are two fundamentals for success: finding a style that you are comfortable with and developing that style of management. 

“I guarantee that you as an individual will be far more successful if you follow those two basic principles. It is something that you can’t necessarily be mentored into. It’s your own journey,” Morris says. 

Be aware, however, of the outside influences that could derail your progress. 

“I would be lying if I didn’t say, like everything in life, you doubt yourself on occasion,” she says. “‘Am I being too nice? Am I being too feminine? Am I being too decisive? Am I being too indecisive?’ Those are questions that I will have all the time, and I’m sure my peers and counterparts do as well. 

“But as you grow and develop, that becomes less and less of an occurrence and you do find that you will have more confidence. 

“You have to prove it, time and time again, repetitively,” Morris says. “That’s the stride that you hit. It really takes time. And I think that’s why people call it a career — it just builds and eventually you may have an amazing opportunity to represent the world’s most pre-eminent health care institution! It’s all earned.”

How to reach: The Cleveland Clinic Community Relations Office, (216) 444-7506 or my.clevelandclinic.org/about-cleveland-clinic/overview/community/default.aspx

 

Lindsay Sims launched Renter’s Boom to fill property managers’ needs to post  

As she stepped into the technology business, Lindsay Sims knew it was a male-dominated field. 

“It’s technology, so it’s a heavily male-dominated industry — I mean a very heavily male-dominated industry,” she says. “I was fortunate to know that going in, and the good thing is that I haven’t had any of my clients behave any differently toward me because I’m a woman.” 

Sims founded Renter’s Boom, a social media consulting firm for property managers, in 2011, after seeing the communication problems property managers were experiencing. 

“I am a problem solver, and I kept seeing the challenges that they were having,” she says. “I mean everything in me was screaming, ‘Help them fix this!’” 

 

Go with your gut

So putting aside the fact that the tech industry was male-dominated, she went with her gut feeling that she could find ways to leverage technology and social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to bring positive results for clients. 

Not only is the tech field dominated by men, Sims discovered that the majority of property management companies are owned by men too. There was, however, a saving grace — the majority of people who run the properties are women. 

“So they are used to it; they are totally used to women coming in and doing stuff,” she says. “That was not the problem.” 

The challenge for Sims, as it turns out, was her enthusiasm for social media. It was something most property managers were not excited about. They didn’t like change and wanted to stick with traditional tools. 

“This was an industry where people were still using the newspaper as the main form of communication,” she says. “So I understood that and realized, ‘Wait a second, Lindsay, you have to work with them.’” 

Sims stepped back, secured a few clients and did their social media for about two years. 

 

Switching gears 

“But there is only so far you can go,” she says. “There is not enough time in the day for you to have a whole lot of clients if you alone are doing services for them. 

“I realized it didn’t quite matter, even with all the automation I was offering; if they weren’t doing it for themselves, I was never going to actually make any money — I was just making revenue.” 

At this point, Renter’s Boom switched from being a service firm to a consulting firm. Sims built a platform that allows clients to log in and script out their campaign and social media activity in advance. 

“My goal is to get everybody to the point where they are social media experts … where they are doing it themselves; where they are learning all the latest techniques,” she says. 

In addition to her yen to solve problems, Sims gives credit for her success to her mantra: It is very important to not limit yourself. 

“Whenever I am thinking about a choice, I wait a second: ‘Am I choosing based on today, or am I choosing based on some future comfort?’ If it is fine now, let it be fine now, and when they get to that point where I will need to make a decision or change it, let’s change it. But I’m not going to limit myself based on what may or may not happen in the future.”

 How to reach: Renter’s Boom, (216) 245-1841 or www.rentersboom.com

 

 

When the winds of change come, you can’t hide your head in the sand. The business landscape is scattered with former companies that didn’t keep up with the times, favoring to keep running their operations as they always have — because it was working and there was no need to change.

Technology and e-commerce trends recently have been changing patterns and channels of distribution, which is affecting the size, make-up and location of distribution and manufacturing real estate.

These same advances in technology, combined with the generational shifts in the workforce are also having an impact on office and commercial real estate.

Smart Business spoke with Bob Brehmer, CCIM, SIOR, principal at NAI Daus, about how important it is to consider what your office of the future will need for the employees of the future.

What is the first approach a company should take to prepare for its facility of the future?

Our firm, for instance, is evaluating its future real estate needs. We are balancing what we know are our needs for our current workforce while trying to project our needs for the future, considering our anticipated younger, technology-savvy workforce.

One of the steps to take is to examine where people fit in the age spectrum. I happen to fit in the middle of the baby boomer generation. Take, for example, someone born between 1946 and 1964 who maintains a certain perspective on success and the manifestation of it as well as perhaps a reluctant embrace of technology. When it comes to the utilization of commercial real estate, this group views a large private office as a designation of status and achievement.

When combined with support functions, the old paradigm drove space utilization rates from 250 to 350 square feet per person. The space could be positioned in the central business district or suburbs, but was clearly dependent on car access.

That’s the former viewpoint, which fit the Boomers. What about for the up-and-coming workforce?

Contrast the boomer viewpoint with the emerging future workforce, the Millennials, or Generation Y, born after 1980. They have a completely different perspective. These employees prefer to work collaboratively and in teams both inside and out of the office. They prefer a less-structured, more casual work environment complemented by robust technology and principles of green design. This has driven space utilization to the range of 150 square feet per person.

The location today is more likely to be in the central business district or trendy area in close proximity to educational facilities, sports venues, restaurants and hospitality establishments.

Public transportation is a must as well as bike accommodations and pet-friendly environments.

In our case, we have determined that we need about 20 percent less space. The investment in additional furniture, equipment and technology, however, will likely offset the savings on rent, at least initially.

What should tenants, as well as property owners, do?

Contact an experienced commercial real estate broker. The broker will introduce you to a team of space planners, furniture vendors and contractors to help you program your space needs and to put a price on the project. Consider starting this process nine months to a year before your lease expiration.

Most owners of well-capitalized buildings have already begun the process of enhancing the infrastructure of their buildings from a technology standpoint and environmental perspective. Your broker can identify buildings and landlords who are prepared to embrace the future. 

Bob Brehmer, CCIM, SIOR, is a principal at NAI Daus. Reach him at (216) 455-0920 or rbrehmer@naidaus.com.

Insights Real Estate is brought to you by NAI Daus

While it wasn’t literally a light bulb going off above his head, the idea that came to Jason Farro formed when President Barack Obama announced his prescription for health care reform in 2009.

Farro could see that with the federal reform, health care plans that were offered by small businesses to their employees would be reduced and individuals would become more and more responsible for finding their own insurance.

That year, Farro launched Lighthouse Insurance Group LLC in Cleveland — the first of its kind in the insurance industry.

What first drove Farro, the company’s CEO, was his research into how the Internet could be utilized, and whether there could still be a one-on-one connection with users.

“Ninety percent of insurance shoppers will go to the Internet for health insurance information, but only 10 percent will buy insurance over the Internet,” he says.

Farro was determined to increase sales. His approach was to develop a proprietary CRM and dialing system that was more sophisticated than those on the market. The new software connects Web visitors — inputting his or her name and phone number — with one of Lighthouse Insurance’s screening department staffers over the phone. The result, the quickest one-on-one personal touches possible.

“Agents at our firm spend 20 percent more time consulting with consumers than at other agencies as a result of our proprietary dialing system,” Farro says. “Our system uses a set of dynamic algorithms with the capability to analyze and direct live transfer leads to our licensed agents by state and availability, resulting in a higher percentage of potential customer acquisitions.”

The dialer, which took eight years to develop, can handle up to 100,000 calls a day. Lighthouse processes roughly 30,000 a day, 6,000 of which go through a screening process to be narrowed down to 600, which are turned over to a full-time agent at Lighthouse Insurance’s Cleveland and Irvine, Calif., sites. Each agent is licensed to sell the major health care insurance brands and can also assist with the Affordable Care Act.

“That’s another feature that differentiates us from other insurance agencies — our agents are all W-2 employees, not independent contractors,” Farro says.

Anywhere from two to five follow-up calls are made between the insurance agents and the customer until he or she is satisfied with the outcome.

The relationship doesn’t stop there, Farro says. The retention department works with the client over time, reviewing client needs.

“Our company culture is all about the client,” he says. “We focus on creating a highly valuable customer experience and our culture supports this mission. The numbers back it up. Lighthouse garnered national recognition for submitting 31,000 applications in the first nine months of operation. We also have a high rate of employee retention.”

The company plans to add property and casualty insurance to its offerings in the near future. 

How to reach: Lighthouse Insurance Group LLC, (216) 393-1850 or www.Lighthousequotes.com

 

To learn more about Lighthouse Insurance Group LLC, like its Facebook page www.facebook.com/InsuranceQuotesFor1 and follow on Twitter @IQfor1.

"Building Stronger Communities"

The story of New Avenues to Independence Inc. is not only about how the organization addresses the needs of the developmentally disabled and the disadvantaged. It’s also about how New Avenues blends a business model with a not-for-profit mission.

When it was founded 62 years ago, the group consisted of parent volunteers who wanted to offer children with disabilities educational, vocational and recreational experiences.

One feature that makes New Avenues unique is its vocational services program, which partners with local businesses and accomplishes a dual mission.

 “The not-for-profit side of it is to employ people with disabilities who will make a decent wage; we fulfill our mission at the same time we are generating sustainable models that are also helping the environment and local businesses,” says Thomas Lewins, New Avenues’ executive director. 

 

A focus on recycling materials

More than 150 business partners use the services of Buckeye Industries, the business enterprise division of New Avenues. Buckeye Industries comprises four entities: a document destruction center, a Styrofoam recycling facility, a pre-incision medical waste processing site and a plastic recycling facility. People with disabilities staff each facility.

The Styrofoam recycling facility is the only one of its kind in Ohio, Lewins says. Another unique project has been pre-surgery medical waste processing.

“We have already engaged more than 20 of the Cleveland Clinic hospitals, and we have 18 of the University Hospitals,” Lewins says. “We process all the Styrofoam from their labs, and we process all the pre-incision medical waste from their operating rooms. We are the only one in the country now that is doing that.

“The doctors open the packages and only use what they need for the specific surgery. So anything that is not used, prior to incision, goes to us.”

 

It begins with a relationship

While the recycling and employment efforts are impressive, so is the process that spawned the enterprises. Lewins says it all starts with a relationship.

“With our business contacts that we have, once they supply us with cardboard or Styrofoam or whatever, we say, ‘OK; now tell us about a need you have that you can’t seem to find a way to solve. Let’s see if we can find a way to match what we can do with what your need is and save you some money so we can put people to work,’” he says.

For instance, a business contact from the waste management industry recently told New Avenues that a company had been collecting Redbox plastic video cases after they’ve been returned and discarded.

That got the wheels turning at New Avenues, and a new enterprise was born.

“We’ve already processed 1 million of those cases, cleaning them up, and then we crush them, bind them, sort them by color, and companies make other products out of them. We’ve done a million of them, and they have 19 million more for us to do.”

For Lewins and New Avenues, thinking out of the box is a routine that leads to success. “It’s a matter of trying to be creative in ways that traditionally not-for-profits don’t think about, in terms of the private/public sector collaboration as well as a business/community collaboration.” ●

How to reach: New Avenues to Independence, (216) 481-1907 or www.newavenues.net

 

 

When a breakdown happens in your production line, you’re ready to do whatever it takes to get things running again. What business leader hasn’t been there? And, if it hasn’t happened to your production line, maybe your computer system has crashed or some other essential aspect of your business. When these breakdowns happen, you’re ready to call anyone who can fix it.

Consider this story, told by former Browns coach Sam Rutigliano at a recent Men’s Fellowship Group in Westlake that wanted to hear his messages of inspiration — and connection.

 

A parable for the office

One day, a business owner’s production line breaks down. For an hour and a half he can’t get a hold of anyone to get the equipment repaired. And as we all know too well, time is money. While the business owner is frantically searching for help, a guy with a small hammer is sitting on a chair nearby claiming he can fix it. The owner says to himself, “This guy doesn’t have both oars in the water. What does he mean he can fix it? Forget it!”

Another hour goes by and the owner has now become so frustrated, he tells the man with the hammer, “Go ahead and fix it.” So the guy with the hammer gets up, takes aim, makes a sharp rap and everything is instantly in working order! The owner is ecstatic; he can’t believe the man fixed the machinery so quickly and asks how much he owes him. The guy says, “You owe me $1,000.” The owner can’t believe his ears, “A thousand dollars? It only took you five seconds!”

The man with the hammer replies, “That’s right. I’m going to charge you $1 for hitting the bolt, but $999 for hitting the right bolt.”

The lesson — making connections is important.

“Isn’t that what we are all trying to do every single day — connect?” Rutigliano says.

After all, the man with the hammer had the skill, but he and the owner had no connection.

 

People skills are a priority

It’s been said that the higher you go in business, the more your people skills are important and the less your technical skills matter. So as you climb the ladder, remember that it is more about relating to people than it is about clearing off your desk.

Soft skills shouldn’t get such short shrift. Some leaders may think it’s a weakness to show emotion toward the workforce. They simply need to realize the importance of regularly making a one-on-one connection that will build and help the organization achieve significant goals.

But who is that leader who will connect with you personally?

“For all of us, there is that one guy, that one person who sometime in your life is able to connect with you and get you on the right path,” Rutigliano says. For the former coach, who makes it known he has accepted Christ as his personal savior, focusing on one’s self will never reveal life’s purpose.

“It is in Christ that we find who we are, what we are and what we are living for,” he says. “The elemental purpose for our being on earth is to bring others to Christ. You make a living by what you earn, but you make a life by what you give to others.”

And giving to others means connecting to people — their values, the causes they support, their likes and dislikes, goals and desires, friends and families, their boundaries — on a human level. It’s as simple as that.

Dennis Seeds is managing editor of Smart Business Cleveland. If you have an interesting story to share about a person or business making a difference in Cleveland, please send an email to dseeds@sbnonline.com.

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