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Orange County (1091)

Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00

Choose your friends wisely

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When Fred H. Lerner was working to get Ritz Interactive Inc. off the ground in 1999, he was very careful about who he asked to invest in the new company.

“It’s not that difficult to get money,” Lerner says. “It’s difficult to get money and keep control so you can implement your business plan and your model. It is better to have a strategic investor who is interested in your success rather than a financial investor that is only interested in making money.”

Lerner chose wisely, and the e-commerce service provider has grown its revenue from $33.1 million in 2001 to $99.1 million in 2006 with 50 employees.

Smart Business spoke with the co-founder, president and CEO of Ritz about how his core values of persistence and determination have helped him grow his company.

Q: How do you keep attuned to your employees?

The best people to tell you what goes on in your business are your very own employees, if you bother to ask them. What a wonderful thing if you can communicate with them on a regular basis to your superiors.

I’m not very supportive of many meetings. I’m more of a oneon-one manager. A lot more can be accomplished in one-on-one communication rather than in a group discussion. People are more likely to communicate their true feelings, their real thoughts, one on one rather than in a group situation.

Q: How do you keep good employees?

Create an appropriate workplace. Very rarely do people leave just for money. People who feel they have a best friend at work very rarely leave their job.

Obviously, some of the factors of fair pay and fair treatment go along with it. But if you create an environment where people can develop relationships, it helps in terms of people being happy where they are.

One of my roles, I believe, is to try to mentor others. Talk to them, listen to them and see if they have an interest in growing. If they seem to be responsive, I continue to work with them.

We have an advantage today because of e-mail. Periodically, I’ll send out an e-mail blast to all our employees telling them, ‘My door is open most of the time. Feel free to drop in or send me an e-mail if you have some thoughts you’d like to communicate.’

Q: How do you create that environment?

Shut up and listen. If you’re talking, you can’t learn anything. The only way to learn something is by listening to others.

If you’re a parent or a spouse, being an active listener and engaging another individual comes with a commitment, and it comes with practice.

It’s the Socratic method. The best way of listening is to ask questions. When you ask a question, it typically elicits a response. If (you) ask the right question, you can engage virtually anyone.

Q: What other tips can help a CEO succeed?

There was a very famous quote by Calvin Coolidge. It’s called persistence and determination. What Calvin Coolidge said in a rather long quote is, ‘The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.’

When I was growing up in business, the thing that I observed from my mentors was a passion for the job and their ability to keep trying to accomplish their goals and objectives regardless of the obstacles.

After observing that, I came across the philosophies of others, which just reaffirmed in my mind that it’s persistence and determination and never, ever, ever giving up that are the cornerstones of success.

To me, it’s rather simple. If you love your work, then it’s no longer work.

Q: How can a leader get through tough times?

A leader cannot be tied to the past. I came across another definition and I don’t know who to attribute it to. It was a definition of a CEO as an agent of change.

Any CEO will tell you that the thing they do best is change. I have an expectation that tomorrow when I walk in, I’m going to see what things we can do better and different than we do today. I do that every day of my life.

I think it’s just called growing up. We all go through that. You’re different today than you were three years ago, and you’ll continue to grow and evolve. We all should grow and evolve.

Management is a little bit like a marriage. Half of all marriages fail. But everyone starts off a relationship in business or in their personal lives with an expectation of success. Through time, you see whether it will be successful or not.

HOW TO REACH: Ritz Interactive Inc., www.ritzinteractive.com

Wednesday, 25 April 2007 20:00

George Livermore

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When First American Real Estate Solutions merged with Sacramento-based CoreLogic Systems Inc. in February, it was just another day at the office for George Livermore. The newly formed company, First American CoreLogic LLC, is what Livermore — who serves as CEO — refers to as a “melting pot of cultures,” the product of the acquisition of more than 20 regional real estate information companies nationwide. The result is a culture and a management team that reflect the diverse backgrounds of its former companies and a spirit for entrepreneurialism — a word you might not expect to hear at a company of 1,200 employees that posted combined annual revenue of around $325 million in 2006. Smart Business spoke to Livermore about the importance of collaboration and the positive effects of making a mistake.

Make leadership a team effort. We have a strong management team here, and we have built our strategy in this business together.

It isn’t an autocracy where everybody is waiting for me to tell them what to do, by any means. I don’t care for an autocratic leadership style. Everybody becomes dependent on that one person, and it breeds weakness.

Participation is important, and it’s not just a meeting you go to. Part of the job of my management team is to weigh in and help create and continue to modify and nurture our strategy.

It’s not up to me by myself. Everybody has a piece of the action, and they’re constantly coming in and making recommendations. For me, that’s critical.

If you’re doing those things together as a team, it makes it really easy to communicate to the rest of the employee population, as well as to your clients, who you are and what you do and to be very consistent about that. You don’t have to be constantly worried about, ‘I wonder if the people in this location really get what we’re doing.’

You know they do, because your entire management team is on the same page, as opposed to you cooking it up in your office, coming out and telling everybody what you’re doing and then figuring out who doesn’t understand what you’ve told them.

Share information with employees. We’re a publicly traded company, and we typically don’t disclose our detailed revenues and profits outside of the building, but we tell our employees everything. They know it all.

If they leave the company and go to the competitor and tell them, so be it. We tell them about our product development initiatives, we tell them about our strategic deals, we tell them about acquisitions that are pending when we can. It’s so good to keep people on the same page. I would hate to work in a company where I didn’t know anything until I read in the newspaper and saw that we had acquired somebody.

We’re very open here, and we do a lot of communicating about our strategy, our plans and how the boat is floating financially. What happens is that it ultimately keeps people informed, but it also allows your managers, who are responsible for their functional areas and objectives, to have a consistent framework within which to make sure people know how their tasks and their goals and objectives roll up to the grand strategy.

Learn from your mistakes. You can’t punish honest mistakes. I hear stories of people getting fired for having a project not come in on time.

We’re diligent about the things we do. We’re not going to have poor performance continue, but when you have key people working hard on something and just because it doesn’t come in exactly as promised, that doesn’t mean those people are useless.

There are a lot of things we’ve done in the past where I didn’t know how it was going to come out. If it didn’t come out the way I wanted, it didn’t mean the people who were working on it were bad. Maybe it was a bad plan.

To some degree when mistakes are made, that’s learning. If you lose people or fire somebody after that’s gone on, you’ve just gotten rid of a lot of experience. Typically, the people who have been through the toughest assignments — and a lot of assignments that didn’t work out all that well — were way better the next time, and the next time they were better than that, and after 10 or 15 years, they’re some of the best people I have. Guess what? They don’t make mistakes anymore at all.

People need to be able to know that they can come and give you bad news. Otherwise, they’re going to hide it from you. If you’re punishing mistakes and you’re not being honest with people or you’re treating them inconsistently, the whole thing decays, and there is no way you can have a successful business at all, ever.

Make successful hiring a priority. When you start to get big and you have to fill positions and you’re growing, people tend to take hiring for granted. ‘I need a developer, I need this position, hurry up and get me some resumes.’

It’s easy for me to say because I don’t do much hiring myself, but I hate hearing that, because every single person you hire is absolute gold. They represent you, and they will make or break you over time. We’ve all seen examples where a string of bad hires can kill a company, regardless of where it is in the company. On the other hand, a string of good hires can turn a company from being an average company to being a phenomenal company.

I tell my managers that constantly, and we interview each other’s candidates and talk very critically about how an individual is going to fit in and what they are going to do to help us. What do they know that we don’t know? What can they teach us? What do they bring to the party?

That helps us be very careful about the chemistry and the fit as opposed to just trying to fill a position with a body.

HOW TO REACH: First American CoreLogic LLC, (800) 345-7334 or www.firstamres.com, www.corelogic.com

Wednesday, 25 April 2007 20:00

Treating burns

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The uniqueness of burn injuries and their requisite treatment regimen has created the need for burn specialization units that start patients down the road to recovery quickly and continue the treatment over what is often a lengthy recovery period.

Each year, more than 500,000 people in the U.S. are treated for burn trauma, according to the Web site of the American Burn Association (ABA). Work-related accidents, car crashes and home fires are frequent causes of burns that can result in cosmetic damage, loss of physical function and emotional scarring. More than 60 percent of burn patients are treated in one of the country’s 125 specialized burn treatment centers, according to the ABA.

“Burns are an equal-opportunity offender,” says Dr. Peter Grossman, co-director of the Grossman Burn Center at Western Medical Center Santa Ana. “In a split second, people’s lives are changed. Our goal at the burn center is to return patients to their pre-injury status as quickly as possible and to make certain that the treatment isn’t as bad as or worse than the initial injury itself.”

Smart Business spoke with Grossman about the unique nature of burns, and how Orange County executives benefit from the presence of a specialized burn center.

Why are burns a unique trauma?

First of all, they are a progressive injury. After the initial trauma occurs, the tissue damage can actually worsen over the next few days, so it’s important to take some initial treatment steps and then continue to evaluate the degree of the injury before deciding on a complete course of treatment. Also, the body typically wants to overheal a burn. This overhealing process creates excess scar tissue, so it’s important to begin treatment with a cosmetic outcome in mind and to control how much scar tissue is created in the process.

Second, whether we like it or not, appearance is important in our society and the physical scarring that can accompany a burn can be socially ostracizing for a patient. Burn victims often develop post-traumatic stress disorder and they need support in coping with the fact that they may have experienced a life-changing event.

Third, burn treatment may take years or even decades in order to completely restore function and to reconstruct the affected areas. It is helpful if the patient can stay with the same physician over the course of the entire treatment period.

What is unique about the specialized care in a burn center?

Burns often are treated by general surgeons who are focused on healing the wounds and restoring function. Subsequently, they release the patient to a plastic surgeon for cosmetic restoration. When plastic surgeons see a patient who has been through the functional restoration process independently, our hands often are tied because the damage caused by not incorporating cosmetic restoration with functional restoration has already been done.

When general surgeons remove skin to complete a graft, they often remove the healthy tissue at a deeper level than a plastic surgeon will. This can cause more pain and scarring at the removal site than is necessary and we don’t want to create a wound to heal a wound.

We bring in a psychologist from the onset and we engage multiple specialists as needed, using a team-based approach to the treatment. Our philosophy is to treat the whole patient. We believe that we achieve both better and faster results when the medical professionals approach patient treatment on a cohesive basis.

One of the greatest advances in burn care is not as much technological as it is philosophical. We now know that early removal of the burned skin and covering it with a graft or replacement tissue decreases bacteria and restores healthy blood flow to the area, which increases the positive outcomes. To achieve this, we use an operating room.

Is burn treatment a surgical procedure?

In burn centers, we take a very aggressive approach to treatment. It is more comfortable for the patient to have the burned skin removed under general anesthesia. Because we are a specialized burn center, we don’t have to compete for operating room time and we also find that using a surgical approach actually shortens hospital stays and assists with cost management.

How does having a burn center benefit local businesses and the community?

Because so many burns result from work-related injuries, business professionals can achieve peace of mind knowing that their injured employees will receive state-of-the-art care. Having a specialized local burn center reduces medical costs for employers and it is often a consideration for prospective employees when they think about relocation to the county. Burn centers used to have a reputation as dark and dreary places, now we help patients return as close as possible to their complete pre-injury status as quickly as we can.

DR. PETER GROSSMAN is co-director of the Grossman Burn Center at Western Medical Center Santa Ana. He is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. Reach him at (714) 956-2876. For more information, visit www.westernmedicalcenter.com/ HospitalServices/GrossmanBurnCenter.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007 20:00

Venture debt

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Venture debt is becoming an increasingly popular option for venture-capital-backed companies wishing to

stretch their equity investment dollars. Venture debt lenders, including some banks, provide a company with a loan and the borrower can then use the funds to build its business.

If used properly, it can be a boon for the company and shareholders alike. By leveraging capital provided by venture capitalists with venture debt provided by banks and other venture debt providers, a company can potentially enhance its valuation.

“Typically, venture debt is used for early-stage and emerging-growth companies that are backed by venture capitalists,” says Bonnie Kehe, senior vice president and regional managing director for Comerica Bank’s Technology & Life Sciences Division.

Smart Business spoke with Kehe about venture debt, how it is typically structured and why it has become so popular lately.

What is venture debt and how can a business use it?

Venture debt augments the equity raised by the venture capitalists and enhances potential return to the investors and management team by lowering the overall cost of capital. The funds can be used for equipment purchases or growth capital, enabling venture-backed companies to reserve equity dollars for a sales ramp, product development, clinical trials and so on. Quite often, venture debt can lengthen the time between equity rounds, thereby enhancing valuation.

Only several federally regulated commercial banks in the country provide this type of financing. There are also numerous non-regulated venture debt funds in the market today. In addition to providing venture debt facilities, commercial banks are able to provide working capital loans that can be used to finance asset growth. Typically, venture debt lenders do not provide working capital lines of credit.

How is venture debt typically structured?

It can vary, but venture debt facilities typically are structured as two- to five-year loans. There is normally a drawdown period ranging anywhere from 2 months to 18 months, in which a company can take the money down as it needs it while it pays interest only. At the expiration of the drawdown period, there is a monthly amortization of principal plus interest of between 24 months and 48 months. Pricing on these types of facilities depends upon several factors including the competitive environment and level of risk. The costs will typically include a percentage above prime, closing fees and a warrant kicker.

What do venture debt providers look for when deciding whether to lend to a company?

One of the most important underwriting criteria for a lender is the quality and makeup of the investors. Are they known to the venture debt provider?

If the venture debt lender knows the investors and is confident of investor support, this will often help dictate terms. Lenders must be confident that investors are not looking for third parties to shoulder the investment risk. We don’t want to fund a company that’s bumping along with nowhere to go; there needs to be a high potential for growth.

We look at how much cash the company currently has and how long it’s expected to last. How the debt will be repaid is another factor. Will it be through additional equity rounds or with future cash flow? The strength of a company’s management team, its ratio of debt to equity and where the money will be used are also important considerations.

What are the risks associated with this type of debt?

There are risks to the lender as well as the debtor. At the end of the day, it’s debt. Unlike equity, it must be paid back at some future point. If a company is burning more cash than it had originally projected, its ability to retire the debt becomes questionable.

The lender must be relatively confident that the borrower will be able to raise the necessary equity and/or generate sufficient cash flow to amortize the debt as structured.

How can these risks be minimized?

First and foremost, it is important to ensure that the company is adequately capitalized and that venture debt is being used for the right reasons. Also, it is important that the borrower is doing all the right things: the right management team is in place, the right investors are on board, and they are hitting their key milestones.

Why has venture debt become such a popular option with companies recently?

The availability of venture debt has skyrocketed in recent years due to the proliferation of venture debt funds/players in the market. This is due primarily to excess liquidity in the capital markets. Limited partners and investors with liquidity to invest have helped fuel the venture debt industry.

BONNIE KEHE is senior vice president and regional managing director for Comerica Bank’s Technology & Life Sciences Division. Reach her at bekehe@comerica.com or (714) 433-3266.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007 20:00

The Mogel file

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Place of birth: Born in Jackson, Mich., raised in Queens and Brooklyn, N.Y.

Education: SUNY Buffalo; bachelor’s degree in English

First Job: Serving ice cream at Carvel’s

Whom do admire most in business and why?

I’m an advocate of Ken Blanchard and Tom Peters in terms of their philosophies; Jack Welch for the way he managed a large organization and made it dynamic.

What has been your most important business lesson?

Never give up

What is your favorite business book?

“The One Minute Manager,” by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson

What has been your greatest business challenge?

There is no doubt that making this business far and away is the most challenging that I’ve ever taken on in my life.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I have a lot of smart people around me, who take pride in what they do. One of the things I pride myself on is surrounding myself with those types of people. I can gather the big picture and let those people do what they’re so proficient at.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007 20:00

SOA-I – what?

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Information technology (IT) has had to reposition itself on an ongoing basis. The evolution has gone from centralized mainframes to client/server, Windows and Web services to what is now known as “service-oriented architecture and infrastructure” (SOA-I). SOA-I is a paradigm change in that it’s a framework and mind-set that links required business needs to IT resources. Simply put, SOA-I is an approach to IT design where IT services are assembled from reusable technology components that are available on demand. To some, that may be enough information for a full understanding of SOA-I. To most, it is more computer jargon that begs for additional explanation.

“I like to use the comparison of a custom-service restaurant to a high-quality buffet to easily explain SOA-I,” says Omar Yakar, CEO of Agile360 Inc. “Imagine being hungry and going to a nice restaurant where there is no menu, and you order anything you like. The chef must prepare the meal, perhaps going out for ingredients that may not be easily available, which could take a long time. However, a high-quality buffet lets you choose just what you want from available items — and you get to eat right away. Which one do you think is more economical and satisfying?”

Smart Business talked with Yakar for further clarification as to what SOA-I is and what it can mean to a business.

How do you analogize SOA-I to a high-quality buffet?

Before SOA-I, you could go to your IT staffers and give them a problem to solve or tell them what you wanted to accomplish with technology. They would most likely design a solution that would do just what you wanted, but would be incremental to your other IT systems. This approach is like the fancy restaurant. You get what you want but it might take awhile until you can start eating, and it’s really expensive.

You choose one item to be your appetizer, one as your salad and an entrée. The waiter takes your order back to the chef so he can custom prepare your meal. If one of the ingredients in the menu description is not in the kitchen, the chef has to send for it and wait. If he doesn’t know how to prepare that item, he tries his best. Customization takes time and adds to the cost of the meal without ensuring quality.

SOA-I is like the high-quality buffet. The restaurateur individually prepares each of the items on the buffet and you just dish up what you want and sit down to eat it. If you don’t want lamb, you don’t pick it up or dish up anything containing it. If you want prime rib and a salad, you just add it.

With SOA-I, various technology components have been de-coupled. You pick what you want, plug it in and start using it as a service.

How does this help the company?

It costs the restaurateur more to custom prepare each meal and to have numerous ingredients on hand. It also takes more people to custom prepare each meal. If the kitchen runs out of a particular ingredient, the food preparers either have to send someone out to get it or disappoint you by not filling your order.

The same goes with the old paradigm of custom filling any IT needs.

With SOA-I, the buffet operator has already prepared different items ahead of time and placed them on the buffet table to satisfy a variety of diners. You decide what services you need such as remote Web access, processing power, storage, security or regulatory options, or any other services desired to fill an order. The information needed to fulfill the order may be supplied from various applications, all seamlessly working together without the cost of customization.

Service-oriented companies can show significant savings in maintenance, personnel, software and hardware costs while providing technology solutions that are agile and can rapidly change to fit their customers’ needs and potential emerging markets.

How do we automate so business analysts can order off the buffet themselves?

It starts with the SOA-I framework, or mindset, where the IT provider publishes individual technology components and the business analyst picks only what he or she needs to deliver a new application. We call this provisioning — connecting technology components to turn on a business service. At the buffet, the end user provisions the meal. In SOA-I, the end user provisions software as a service.

With clear goals, you can dramatically improve time to value, drive down costs and improve business agility.

OMAR YAKAR is CEO of Agile360 Inc. in Irvine. Reach him at (949) 253-4106 or omar.yakar@agile360.com.

Monday, 26 March 2007 20:00

Time to delegate

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Leaders who fail to delegate responsibilities as their business grows will find it hard to maintain momentum, says Bob Walters, president of Freight Management Inc.

Walters says he learned this valuable lesson more than 20 years ago when he landed two major customers and began to wonder how he was going to handle the extra workload.

“I quickly realized I needed good managers to watch this or I could never leave the office,” Walters says. “I could never go sell another client because I had to sit here and keep running these clients and managing the staff.”

So Walters brought in new managers and increased his staff from 12 in the early days to 68 employees in his Anaheim office today, with 110 employees across the nation. Revenue rose from $22.6 million in 2005 to $25.1 million in 2006.

Smart Business spoke with Walters about the importance of delegating responsibility to allow for continuing growth.

Q: How do you identify leaders in your company?

Leadership entails having em-pathy for others and to not be fearful of making decisions. If I or the managers of a department are gone and a decision has to be made, we encourage the people, even at the low level, to make a decision.

They don’t always have to be right, but those who are willing to do that and take that risk are generally the right kind of people for leadership roles. If they are not a risk-taker and they are not a decision-maker for even minor things, then there’s no way they can manage other people.

You can refine it and groom it, but they either have the spark of leadership or they don’t. As a leader, you’ve got to be able to motivate people and have the fire in your belly to succeed.

Q: What is an important skill all CEOs must learn?

You have to delegate to your managers under you. If I tried to manage all 68 people, I would fail. I deal with six managers. It’s nice to meet and get to see the staff down below but day to day, I work with the six managers that I supervise.

If you are a strong, aggressive person, you tend not to want to trust anybody around you. I still suffer from that but I delegate, and then find if I have good follow-up or reporting, I can tell very quickly if what I delegated is getting done without having to go out and do it.

It was a little hard at first, and even today, I still check in two or three times a day to see how everything is going. But I don’t worry beyond that, that things are not functioning and operating. I do read my e-mails once a day, which allows me to see if any customer is announcing a serious problem that is getting out of control.

Q: How does a CEO get a read on his employees?

I still walk throughout the building every day and visit periodically with every employee in the building at least once a month and inquire how they are doing. Sometimes you can learn a lot about the health of your business by talking to the troops rather than the managers.

Sometimes, if there is something not quite operating the right way, employees are reluctant to tell their immediate supervisor. Or the immediate supervisor is reluctant to tell me. It’s the same style we use in working with our clients. We can’t tell them what to do, but we do work as a team to help them see the right vision and have the tools to make the right decisions, and then we implement those decisions.

Q: How do you deal with stress?

Anybody who runs a business, we all tend to be a little intense and very focused on what we do. So it’s easy for us to get running down the street too fast and be too focused on one approach, when, in fact, there could be a fatal flaw in that approach.

Some managers and presidents get so demoralized when something fails, they begin to lose their way. They lose their faith in themselves and their trust in their judgment. That’s dangerous. That is the beginning of the end for running a business.

Talk it out with your few trusted souls that might be with you in the business or your wife or somebody you can talk to. Keep links open. Talk privately and intimately with others to bounce off your thoughts and your ideas.

You need to talk things out with other people and get yourself back off the ropes and your spirits back up.

HOW TO REACH: Freight Management Inc., (714) 632-1440 or www.freightmgmtinc.com

Wednesday, 28 February 2007 19:00

Building a network

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Akey position in your company needs to be filled. Is your first impulse to call a newspaper and place a classified ad? Post an opening on an online job board? If you’re looking for top quality talent, you may want to rethink your strategy, according to Christine Belliveau, account manager and staffing consultant for Principal Technical Services.

“The fact is, 80 percent of all positions are filled without ever being advertised,” says Belliveau. “The most talented individuals are well-known in the industry and therefore get calls all the time. They don’t need to answer ads, and chances are they will never see yours.”

Smart Business spoke with Belliveau about hiring strategies that can be used to locate the most qualified individuals, discern which ones are a good fit for your company and entice them to join your organization.

How do you find job candidates without running ads?

Network, network, network. If you’ve already done your homework, you’ve built an extensive network of people in your industry. You’ve been involved in organizations and societies whose members include leaders in your field. You’ve gone out of your way to make new contacts; collecting business cards at meetings and networking events.

Now that you’ve built your network, use it. Make a list of any contacts who might know someone with the qualifications you’re looking for. They could be business associates, recruiters, even current or past employees. Contact these individuals, ask about potential candidates and ask if any of their associates might be able to help locate candidates as well.

If you haven’t yet built such a network, get started today.

What are some strategies for building a network?

The goal is to meet as many people in your industry as possible. If you make an average of one new contact each day, you’re on the right track. Make an effort to attend events that will allow you to socialize with others in your field. Events may be sponsored by professional organizations, trade associations and business councils. The important thing to remember when attending these events is not to spend time talking with friends and co-workers. Time spent with them is time taken away from your primary purpose — making new contacts to build your network.

It may seem obvious, but each individual added to your network is a potential source of other new contacts, and so on, and so on.

Another resource to tap into would be your local university. Offering to mentor students or give guest lectures provides an opportunity to meet talented individuals entering your field in the future, as well as the professors who can be on the lookout for talent for you.

How can companies make sure they’re hiring the best candidate for a job?

That’s a very important question. Too often in today’s fast-paced business world, personnel decisions are made quickly with minimal information about the candidate. Managers tend to spend more time investigating the merits of new software than new employees.

In light of today’s labor shortage and the war for talent, now is the time to carefully consider each hiring decision. If a candidate has an impressive resume and interviews well, ask yourself whether he or she fits in with your company’s culture. Will this person get along well with your current employees? Is this the type of person who inspires those around him/her to perform at their best? These qualities can’t usually be assessed in an interview. The best way to tease out this information is to invite the candidate to a social function — dinner or a ball-game — with future co-workers. Yes, this involves added investment of both time and money, but it’s an investment that will pay off in the form of increased productivity and decreased turnover.

How can the most talented individuals be convinced to accept a job offer?

We’re talking about individuals who are in high demand. In fact, most of them are currently employed, which means you’re going to have to steal them away from another company (hence, the expression ‘war for talent’). Many of them are satisfied with their current situation, and you’ll have to actively recruit them and entice them to change jobs.

Obviously, compensation will be a huge factor, but candidates will also be interested in other benefits, both tangible and intangible, that you can offer. Health insurance, 401(k) and paid time off are traditional benefits. More progressive ideas include flexible schedules, job sharing and telecommuting.

CHRISTINE BELLIVEAU is an account manager and staffing consultant for Principal Technical Services. Reach her at (888) 787-3711, ext. 31 or cbelliveau@PTSstaffing.com.

Wednesday, 28 February 2007 19:00

Real estate relief

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Your offices in Huntington Beach have a leaky roof. Who is responsible? You need to lease a warehouse in Houston. What are your options? You need to finance a new plant in Georgia. How can you leverage your assets and company credit to save millions of dollars?

“A national commercial real estate portfolio can be a complex organism,” says RJ Jesenski, senior vice president at Cresa Partners Orange County. “Strategic planning and the effective administration and management of a real estate portfolio spread across the country or across the globe requires a high level of real estate expertise.”

Smart Business spoke with Jesenski about how outsourcing real estate services can make managing a national real estate portfolio a stress-free experience.

Why is it helpful to have an outsourced real estate acquisition and management service?

Using an outsourced real estate team allows companies to focus on their core competencies. Specialized real estate management service providers maximize the effectiveness and bottom line impact of a company’s national real estate holdings. These real estate advisers have a high level of expertise and have established systems for efficiently managing acquisitions, holdings and dispositions. Also, using an outside service for real estate needs allows businesses to have a team of senior professionals that can expand or contract to meet their varying level of real estate needs without an impact on overhead.

How can a centralized real estate service help develop a strategic plan?

Partnering with a centralized real estate service provider allows clients to formulate a strategic plan that effectively integrates changing business needs with the company’s real estate assets. By carefully evaluating a client’s business outlook, skilled real estate advisers can work to fit and tailor their client’s real estate needs. This can include formulating a plan for how to best increase square footage in certain target markets. It can also mean formulating a disposition strategy for down-sizing real estate holdings through subleases, buy-outs and the sale of excess buildings in other markets.

The highly competitive nature of today’s business marketplace often requires simultaneous execution of seemingly opposing plans such as the acquisition of space in growing markets and the disposition of space in contracting markets. An experienced single-source service provider with a global reach typically provides the most effective solution.

How can a real estate service provider assist with maintenance of existing properties?

Specialized real estate advisers have the technical expertise and information systems that include databases that can track hundreds of leases simultaneously, including the detailed summaries of the terms and conditions governing the landlord-tenant relationship in each lease.

These systems ensure that routine tasks are completed accurately, including paying rent, renewing leases, and reviewing landlord requests for additional operating expense payments. Not only does this reduce strain on companies’ administrative staff, but also saves them money by avoiding late fees, the payment of inaccurate or inappropriate charges and eliminating administration inefficiency.

When maintenance issues arise, centralized real estate service providers can provide all of a company’s facilities with a single source to call.

Depending on the size of the client, real estate advisers can also help negotiate and implement national-level contracts.

How can a team of real estate advisers facilitate the purchase of new property?

Each company has a unique set of real estate requirements based on its preferences and needs. A dedicated group of real estate professionals that thoroughly understands a company’s real estate picture and the industry’s facility needs can accurately represent its clients and effectively negotiate contracts. Over time, a real estate team has an intrinsic understanding of specific clients’ requirements and standards. This creates ever-increasing efficiency and profitability in real estate deals.

How can a centralized real estate service provider assist with financing?

A centralized real estate service provider will help a company create and follow a comprehensive real estate acquisition strategy that can save millions of dollars through creative financing and sophisticated real estate transactions.

At the simplest level, if a business plans to undertake multiple projects in different states simultaneously, skilled advisers can leverage a favorable transaction with a single national landlord for most, if not all, of those projects.

At a more complex level, disciplined real estate planning and implementation can help companies leverage their credit and real estate portfolio to acquire facilities using creative capital markets financing structures that literally save millions of dollars in facility costs.

RJ JESENSKI is a senior vice president with Cresa Partners Orange County and has more than 20 years of experience in commercial real estate. Reach him at rjesenski@cresapartners.com or (949) 706-6614.

Wednesday, 28 February 2007 19:00

Saving lives

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Technological advances have allowed procedures that were formerly conducted exclusively at teaching hospitals to be performed at local community hospitals, providing many benefits to patients, their families and employers.

The endovascular stent graft procedure, used primarily to treat abdominal aortic aneurysms and thoracic aortic aneurysms, is an example of a minimally invasive procedure that extends life and replaces the maximally invasive surgery that was formerly used to treat these fairly common occurrences.

Not only does “localization of the procedure” make it more readily available to those who need it, there’s reduced recovery time and a lower risk of side effects associated with the surgery. All of that translates to lower costs in the form of reduced hospital stays, shorter disability periods and lower medical bills, says Dr. John Eugene, chair of cardiac surgery at Western Medical Center Anaheim.

“Because a patient often needs this surgery later in life, many were too ill to undergo the procedure when it was conventional surgery,” says Eugene. “Now we are able to treat more patients and extend their lives.”

Smart Business spoke with Eugene about the endovascular stent procedure and how it benefits patients.

Who is at risk for an aneurysm?

An aneurysm is a sac formed by the dilation of the wall of an artery, a vein, or the heart. Aneurysms can occur in the aorta — either in the abdomen (abdominal aortic aneurysm or AAA) or in the thorax (thoracic aortic aneurysm).

Those at greatest risk are males older than 60 years, people with an immediate relative who has had AAA, people with high blood pressure and smokers.

What is an endovascular stent graph?

An endovascular stent graft is a tube composed of fabric supported by a metal mesh called a stent. It can be used for a variety of conditions involving the blood vessels, but most commonly to reinforce a weak spot in an artery called an aneurysm. Over time, blood pressure and other factors can cause this weak area to bulge like a balloon and eventually enlarge and rupture. The stent graft seals tightly with your artery above and below the aneurysm. The graft, which is stronger than the weakened artery, allows blood to pass through it without pushing on the bulge.

What does the procedure involve and why is it less invasive?

Aortic aneurysms are potentially serious health problems since a burst aorta results in massive internal bleeding that can be fatal unless treated rapidly by an experienced emergency medical team. Endovascular stent graft repair is designed to help prevent an aneurysm from bursting. The term ‘endovascular’ means ‘inside blood vessels.’ To perform endovascular procedures, vascular surgeons use special technologies and instruments.

These procedures require only a small incision or puncture in an artery or vein. Through these punctures, a vascular surgeon inserts long thin tubes, called catheters, which carry the devices through your blood vessels to the location of the aneurysm. Generally, endovascular treatments allow you to leave the hospital sooner and recover more quickly, with less pain and a lower risk of complications (including death) than traditional surgery, because the incisions are smaller.

Sometimes traditional surgery is required if the shape or the location of the aneurysm is not favorable for an endovascular treatment.

How should I select a surgeon?

It is important to select a cardiovascular surgeon who has a great deal of experience with the procedure. With greater experience, competency increases and complication rates decrease. All medical centers benchmark their outcomes, so be certain to ask about the center’s and the cardiovascular surgeon’s performance. Also, write down all of your questions, so you remember to ask them when you visit the surgeon for your consultation.

The cardiovascular surgeon should be willing to discuss every detail of the surgery with you. There are great sources of information available to help patients understand their options, the procedures and any risks.

How does having the availability of this procedure here in Orange County benefit the community?

Prior to this procedure becoming available locally, many patients had to travel to find hospitals that could accommodate them. The waiting lists were long. Also, the cardiovascular surgeons were located by the facilities, so travel was required for follow-up visits, and in the event of an emergency no local physician was available who was trained to provide treatment.

DR. JOHN EUGENE is chair of cardiac surgery at Western Medical Center Anaheim. For more information about cardiothoracic surgery at Western Medical Center Anaheim, phone (714) 502-2668, e-mail wmcahearts@ihhioc.com or visit the Web site www.westernmedanaheim.com.