cle_akr_ftr_LeadingEdge_LogoThe Entrepreneurs EDGE 2013 Leading EDGE Awards Program, now in its seventh year, highlights companies generating great economic value for the Northeast Ohio region. These companies embody a sense of purpose that extends well beyond their shareholders to all of their key stakeholders, including the community in which they reside and each employee they have.

Why midsized companies?

Midsized companies are the backbone of our regional economy. They have the greatest potential to grow and create more value for Northeast Ohio:

?  Value through spinoff business and meaningful job creation.

?  Value through spending with local vendors.

?  Value through civic engagement and philanthropy.

?  Value because they are dedicated to the region.

For instance, GE Capital and The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business came together to establish a research partnership focused on the middle market. The National Center for the Middle Market’s research efforts revealed, “The middle market represents more than a third of American jobs and more than $9 trillion in annual revenue. Further, many of its companies, through their longevity, act as community pillars, providing stable employment and acting as responsible corporate citizens.”

As a strategic resource serving this distinct segment of businesses, The Entrepreneurs EDGE, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, sees that collectively this elite group of companies is poised to impact future growth and change in Northeast Ohio. It is the group’s mission to foster and support these businesses as the region moves past a time of uncertainty, and it does so with many great partners at their side.

A glimpse into Leading EDGE honorees

The Leading EDGE Awards targets companies driving the most value in the regional economy. Criteria for consideration include earnings and compensation, spending with local vendors, philanthropy, job creation and percentage of sales outside the region. From 2009 to 2011, an average of 69 percent of sales at the 101 companies was from outside Northeast Ohio, driving valuable sales dollars back into the region.

Further, these companies, representing both manufacturing and service industries, work for a variety of innovative and cutting-edge industries.

Perhaps best of all, they weathered the economic downturn well and not only kept people working but created new jobs. In 2011, they experienced a growth of 22 percent in full-time equivalent employees. That is nearly 1,200 new jobs with manufacturing companies and more than 800 new jobs with service companies.

Recognizing civic distinction

As part of each year’s program, EDGE recognizes one Leading EDGE honoree that has demonstrated civic distinction in their community.

Among the deserving recipients of this award are BrandMuscle, Fairmount Minerals, Human Arc, Main Street Gourmet, Marous Brothers and PartsSource. These organizations build civic engagement and philanthropy into their company culture and corporate value structure, making it a part of their DNA.

In the case of our 2012 recipient, Human Arc, it is a part of the business model as the company serves a segment of the population that otherwise may be forgotten. EDGE is proud to hold up these companies as great examples of companies serving the community in which they reside.

The 2013 Leading EDGE Awards

Our seventh annual Leading EDGE Awards event will showcase one of our university partners, Lorain County Community College, and multiyear honoree Dealer Tire. Honorees and special guests will gather on Thurs., May 23, at the Spitzer Conference Center at LCCC to celebrate.

Scott Mueller, CEO of Dealer Tire, will share how a shift in the business model and a culture driven around success drove the company to the next level. It will be the kickoff to a yearlong series of events that will bring this elite group of midsized company leaders together. ?

About EDGE

EDGE is a strategic resource serving the middle market in Northeast Ohio that develops leaders and builds companies by improving the performance of their management teams. Through engaging leaders of seven different functional areas (CEO, finance, HR, innovation, IT, marketing and operations), EDGE facilitates shared learning, innovation and growth. EDGE even engages the next generation of leaders through student programs that expose top student talent to great local companies.

2013 Leading EDGE Awards Presented by

Glenmede

MAGNET and Smart Business

Case Western Reserve University

Cleveland State University

Kent State University

Lorain County Community College

The University of Akron

 

Published in Akron/Canton
Tuesday, 30 April 2013 20:00

Emotions are contagious

Long work hours, heightened competition, demands for efficiency, and new laws and regulations are all challenges faced by executive leaders today. It often feels like we’re running up the down escalator — constantly in motion, exerting excessive energy with our adrenaline pumping just to get through a normal day.

After awhile, the demands take their toll. In addition to serious potential health consequences — including heart disease, the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. — stress has behavioral side effects, making us anxious or depressed.

The result of that chronic stress can severely compromise our ability to lead. It affects not only each of us personally but also the teams we lead and the organizations we run. When we acknowledge the power we have over our people and businesses, this subject takes on real urgency.

Check your emotions

Emotions are contagious, so as leaders we need to be vigilant about the emotions we’re passing on to those around us. Are you carrying fear and stress to those around you?

Imagine different scenarios: a boss who responds to stress and fear by acting aggressively toward employees and becoming overcontrolling, a leader who appears calm but buries his head in the sand, or a leader who remains calm and responsive.

The first two will create fearful, stressed out or frustrated employees whose performance is stunted or paralyzed, while the latter creates an atmosphere of trust and confidence, where people are encouraged to act. Where would you rather work?

We can start by paying attention to the emotions we’re passing on to others and honestly assessing whether we’re contributing to their productivity or inhibiting it. If it’s the latter, we have to find ways to defuse our stress — through exercise, relaxation or levity — and avoid taking it out on those around us.

Be honest

The ability to speak openly and honestly is a critical leadership behavior. If a team member isn’t performing up to par, avoiding a conversation only increases ineffectiveness and raises anxiety.

When we find the courage to have honest conversations, we create a climate of transparency and openness — necessary elements of healthy and productive workplaces.

At the same time, we relieve stress and anxiety by being proactive and confronting tough situations head on.

Stay connected

Being connected through devices means we’re always available.

But are we? Being available to everyone all the time can leave us unavailable at any one time. It’s hard to focus on the conversation you’re in when you’re constantly ready to respond to the outside world.

We can enhance our leadership by demonstrating that we’re present and connected in the moment, in face-to-face conversations. Those human interactions make us better leaders and reduce stress.

Be open to learning

A hallmark of effective leadership is openness to learning. Alvin Toffler, author of “Future Shock,” said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

As leaders, we’re besieged by information, and the contexts in which we work are changing daily. That’s why it’s more important than ever to be not only willing to learn but eager to learn as well.

Emotions are like an on-off switch to learning. If you’re resistant and fearful, you’re in “off” mode, and it will be nearly impossible to learn. If you face new situations as opportunities for growth with an attitude of willingness and curiosity, you get turned “on.”

Our leadership ability is directly correlated to our openness to learning. Once you’re “on,” learning isn’t a source of stress and anxiety but is a source of energy and creativity. ?

Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger and columnist for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at donnarae@bright-side.com.

Published in Cleveland

While many companies would be like a ship without its captain after the loss of its illustrious founder, Jess Jackson, the Jackson Family Enterprises had a very capable successor in Rick Tigner — one who would continue the family-owned winery group’s reputation and make mom and dad’s favorite chardonnay into the favorite of their millenial children too.

In April 2011, Jess Jackson died of cancer at the age of 81. He was an individual whose vision, perseverance and work ethic helped transform the wine industry.

He started the Kendall-Jackson wine business with the 1974 purchase of an 80-acre pear and walnut orchard in Lakeport, Calif., that he converted to a vineyard. Nearly 40 years later, Jackson Family Wines is among the world’s most successful family-owned winery groups, composed of more than 35 individual wineries.

Jackson Family Enterprises is the company that oversees Jackson Family Wines, its global sales organizations and the Kendall-Jackson brand. Tigner was named president of Jackson Family Enterprises a year before Jackson passed away. A 24-year veteran of the alcohol beverage industry, Tigner has held positions at Miller Brewing Co., Gallo, Louis M. Martini and nearly 20 years with Jackson Family Wines.

“When I first became in charge of Jackson Family Wines three years ago, one of my goals was to actually get one team, one dream,” Tigner says. “If I can get all 1,200 employees going in the same direction at the same time, how powerful would that be?”

The company, its 1,200 employees and its more than 30 brands of wine, was solely in Tigner’s hands, and it was now up to him to keep the operation flourishing.

“Our company mission is to be the best wine company in the world,” Tigner says.

Here’s how Rick Tigner is taking Jess Jackson’s legacy and moving Jackson Family Enterprises forward.

Connect with consumers

In any industry, it is extremely easy to be hands-off with consumers. In the wine industry, many vineyards deal with distributors or trade partners and aren’t very tight with the consumer. Tigner says that isn’t the case at Jackson Family Wines.

“Innovation comes in different forms and fashions,” he says. “In the wine business, what you get is a lot of what I call the ‘sea of sameness.’ You look at a wine magazine ad and you see a bottle and vineyard, but it can be anybody’s bottle and anybody’s vineyard. The question is how do you connect with a consumer in different ways?”

Last January, Tigner was featured on the TV show “Undercover Boss.” He saw this as a new way for a wine company, especially a family wine company, to go on television and tell people about who the business is as a family, as a company and how it produces its products. The blogosphere gave generally rave review about Tigner’s TV appearance.

“The one thing that we’re always very, very focused on is quality,” he says. “We want to make sure that consumers know that whether it’s the Kendall-Jackson brand or the La Crema brand, quality is one of the foundations of our organization.”

To tell its consumers about its products, Jackson Family Wines is putting more focus on social media. The company recently hired a digital marketing team to make sure it has a presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

“A lot of companies have pretty pictures,” Tigner says. “What we actually want is engaging content … versus the standard picture of a bottle in a Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast magazine.”

Being involved in social media is becoming increasingly important, but it isn’t enough to just have a Facebook page; you have to engage with your fans and potential customers.

“If you look at Facebook, a lot of brands have Facebook, but the question is do you listen to the people who are on your Facebook page?” he says. “Do you react to how they talk about you on Facebook? We listen, and we learn from that activity. These are our friends and family who actually went online and signed up on our Facebook page, because they’re looking for interaction.”

Tigner says this interaction can’t be boring or constantly the same old thing. You have to be looking for ways to keep your audience involved and engaged.

“The key for us in regard to capturing our consumer is actually listening to them,” he says. “We create content that they want to see on video or in photos. We’ve done a lot of recipes. A lot of people want to talk about food and wine pairings. We have spent hours and hours and hours putting together a recipe program for our website.”

Jackson Family Wines has a lot of pages on its website and on its social media because even if a consumer doesn’t go to them all, those pages are there and available to them. The same thing goes for YouTube.

“If you go to YouTube and capture that consumer and they see a training video or a wine education video or a food-and-wine program, the next time they go look at your YouTube, you better have new content,” he says. “It has to be ongoing engagement, intriguing and informative. If you don’t have that, then you’ll lose your consumer. Those are things we’ve done to continually engage the consumer.”

What this kind of engagement helps Jackson Family Wines do more than anything is reach a more diverse audience. Many of the company’s consumers are baby boomers and social media is helping the brand reach the younger generations.

“We want to keep the baby boomers like myself who’ve been drinking our brands for a long time,” Tigner says. “But we want to capture the millennials. Who is that 25- to 35-year-old out there who has disposable income to buy premium wine? We have to give them the messaging and the content.

“We’re going out and making it new and fresh for them so it’s not just their mom and dad’s favorite chardonnay, but it becomes their favorite chardonnay and then their favorite cabernet or pinot noir.”

Educate about your product

The wine industry can be very complex due to the sheer number of wine styles, brands and varietals that make each bottle different. For Jackson Family Wines, it is crucial that its staff and its business partners are knowledgeable about the company’s products.

“In our company, we have 1,200 employees,” Tigner says. “In our sales team, there are about 400. I would argue we have the best sales team in the world and the best fine wine team.”

Tigner makes this argument because the company has four master sommeliers on staff and nine more in training out of a total of 180 in the U.S., who help to educate the sales team.

“They educate our sales teams, our distributors and our internal staff,” Tigner says. “We want to make sure everyone who works for our company, whether in IT, marketing or finance, has knowledge about wine and a passion about wine.”

Transferring that knowledge outside of the company is the hard part. Jackson Family Wines has to work with its distributors, trade partners and, more recently, directly with consumers to educate them on the products.

“In this business, 20 years ago, manufacturers or wineries like us spent all our time selling our wine to distributors and educating our distributors who then sold to retail stores who then sold to consumers,” he says. “About 15 years ago, that was still important, but the next piece was actually us communicating with our trade partners.

“In the last five years, all that is still important, but now we’re talking directly to our consumer, whether it’s online, in our tasting rooms or our wine club program.”

One of the biggest things related to education that Tigner has to keep aligned is the messaging Jackson Family Wines spreads both internally and externally.

“We broke down our strategic initiatives into three simple buckets,” he says. “You want to keep it simple so everyone knows what the plan is. Our strategy is lands, brands and people. So that when people want to know what are we working on, you can break it down to land, brands and people, and then we have the initiatives below that.”

To aid in keeping this message aligned and helping to push the company forward, Tigner has implemented management meetings.

“In the last three years since I’ve been put in charge, I’ve had more senior management team meetings,” he says. “We really didn’t have those before.

“Every quarter, we bring in the top 50 managers of the company plus outside guests and visitors and we talk about lands, brands and people. We talk about the strategic initiatives. I want to make sure everything we put in place at the beginning of the process is still being worked on.”

While his management meetings are a new tradition, there are some things that Tigner wants to maintain, like the company’s culture.

“When I first took over being the president, we had a great training program, recruiting program and succession program,” he says. “I want to make sure we have that exact same culture. Culture doesn’t show up on a P&L, but culture is very, very important to the company.”

The culture is something Tigner wants to be identical whether it’s the IT, finance, marketing or production departments.

“I want to make sure all our employees are treated similar and fair throughout the entire organization,” he says. “I take it upon myself on a regular basis to check in with middle management, lower management, field workers and sales workers because I want to make sure everyone has the right communication and we’re all on the same page.

“I spend most of my time making sure the messaging of the organization runs wide and deep.”

Just like a generous pour of chardonnay. ?

How to reach: Jackson Family Wines, (707) 544-4000 or www.kj.com

Takeaways

Connect with your consumers using new channels of communication.

Keep your content engaging and new.

Educate internally and externally about your product or service.

Published in Northern California
Tuesday, 30 April 2013 20:00

Who wants a dream that's near-fetched?

Steve Jobs was credited with inspiring Apple’s trademark advertising campaign challenging each of us to “think differently.” But how does one go about thinking differently? Since founding the Alliance of Chief Executives in 1996, I have passionately studied and experimented with how CEOs can generate breakthrough ideas — which are the most visible examples of thinking differently.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Marty Neumeier who in 2003 launched a think tank called Neutron to merge design thinking with business management. He’s written three best-sellers, but his newest book, “MetaSkills: Five Talents for the Robotic Age” suggests that we are entering a new age in which the “left-brain” skills of the industrial age, while still very important, will be surpassed by the “right brain” skills of creativity, sensing and learning.

As computing advances have made information immediately and almost totally accessible, Neumeier believes that we must develop the ability to cultivate five “metaskills” if we are to reshape the world.

Feeling

The ability to draw on human emotion for intuition, aesthetics and empathy is a talent that’s becoming more and more vital. It’s the ability to connect deeply with people through vicarious imagination or “putting yourself in another person’s shoes.”

Seeing

Integrative thinkers don’t break a problem into separate pieces and work on them one by one. Instead, they see the entire architecture of the problem — how the various parts fit together and how one decision affects another. By resolving the tensions that launched the problem, they can craft a holistic solution, which often requires them to reject the urge for certainty and grapple with the messiness of the paradox.

Dreaming

The No. 1 hazard for innovators is getting stuck in the tar pits of knowledge. Knowledge has a powerful influence over creativity. When we’re stumped or in a hurry to solve a problem, our brains often default to off-the-shelf solutions based upon what everyone knows. The proper approach to invention is not logic but wonderment. Creative thinking begins with phrases such as “I wonder,” “I wish” and “What if?”

Making

Creativity is a messy process, and we arrive at better decisions by making not-so-good decisions and then constantly improving upon them. The best designers believe in failing fast. Their drawings, models and prototypes are not designed to be perfect solutions.

Learning

If you’re seeking new information or fresh insights, you need to look beyond your clique, since a clique is a closed system that acts more like a mirror than a window. The antidote to the clique is to open the window and connect with groups outside your own. Put yourself in the way of meeting like-spirited people, not just like-minded people.

So how do normal people like us think differently? Steve Jobs was smart — but not exceptionally smart. However, he learned the trick of divergent thinking. Biographer Walter Isaacson said Steve’s “imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected and at times magical. He had the ability to make connections that other people couldn’t see, simply because they couldn’t let go of what they already knew.”

We need to stop seeking only current best practices and challenge our assumptions about our current limits and ask questions about what might be. Howard Schultz once said, “Who wants a dream that’s near-fetched?”

In order to solve the global problems facing us, we must think differently than we have done in the past. No single individual is as smart as all of us, so we must learn from others with different knowledge and skills. By seeing our problems from new perspectives, dreaming big ideas and fast prototyping new solutions, we can make a dent in changing our world.

Paul Witkay is the founder and CEO of the Alliance of Chief Executives. Based in Northern California, the Alliance of Chief Executives is the most strategically valuable and innovative organization for CEOs in the world. Reach him at paulwitkay@allianceofceos.com.

Published in Columnist

Twenty years ago, Bert Jacobs and his younger brother, John, were looking for ways they could avoid getting typical jobs. Jacobs and his brother never agreed with the standard path for someone coming out of college. In fact, at that time, Jacobs was delivering pizzas and teaching people how to ski to earn a living. The brothers were looking for a unique path to live life how they wanted to live it.

“We wondered if we could create something that fit us better,” Bert Jacobs says.

That fit was The Life is good Co., an apparel and accessories company that spreads the power of optimism in its products and through its nonprofit organization, The Life is Good Playmakers.

Fast-forward to today and Life is good has 260 employees and saw 2012 revenue north of $100 million. Not bad for two brothers who wanted to maintain the fun in their lives.

Jacobs serves as CEO, or chief executive optimist, while his brother John serves as chief creative optimist. The two started their company 19 years ago aided by a drawing of a smiling character named Jake, who has become more than just a logo on the T-shirts but a symbol of optimism and the driving force behind the company and its inspiring message.

“Jake is our hero here at Life is good, and we like to say that Jake has superpowers,” Jacobs says. “Those superpowers guide our decisions.”

Simplicity, gratitude and humor are just a few of the 10 superpowers in total that help shape how the company does business. In recent years, the Jacobs brothers have had to do some self-evaluation as leaders and plan more strategically to understand where to go next with their company and its message.

“We’re 19 years in business and we’re really less about being a clothing company and more about the clothing being a vehicle for an important message,” Jacobs says.

Here’s how Jacobs has overcome the growing pains of leading a small private company into a larger corporation.

Find your direction

Since early in Life is good’s existence, the company’s inspirational message has been both a strength and a challenge for Bert and John Jacobs.

“Our message is so clean and simple that it applies to a tremendous array of different things,” Jacobs says. “So we have a lot of choices, which is a great place to be for a business, but it can also keep you up at night thinking about what we should do and shouldn’t do.”

Jacobs remembers one instance when the company was just above $1 million and he got a call from a large liquor company wanting to purchase more than $6 million worth of T-shirts from Life is good.

“We could have had 600 percent growth, and it was really, really tempting, but it really didn’t have anything to do with the reason why we liked the brand, started the brand or the vision of the brand,” he says.

“There has always been that pressure, and when you’re given an opportunity to go and hit the gas, it’s real tempting to do it.”

That call was the late ’90s, but in recent years, Jacobs says it’s too dissimilar.

“There are always people bringing ideas and opportunities, and I think we have to look and say, ‘How do those opportunities line up with our mission? How do they line up with our vision and with what we’re trying to do with our lives?’” he says.

Knowing what move to make next is one of the biggest challenges in any business. The way to attack that challenge and consider it an asset is to know who you are and act like it.

“That’s how we define branding internally at Life is good,” he says. “The mission of our company is simple — to spread the power of optimism. If we’re going to make a business decision that drives revenue, that’s great. But if it drives revenue and it doesn’t spread the power of optimism, it’s not so great.”

These business decisions come back to the company’s inspirational leader — Jake and his superpowers.

“These superpowers have to start showing up in the deals we do,” Jacobs says. “A big driver of these decisions is knowing our brand. We had good gut instincts back in the early days. Today, we can really line it up against criteria, and it’s pretty easy to take a look and see whether it’s a fit or not.”

Decisions regarding company direction take a great deal of focus. You must consider all that is at stake and who will be impacted by the decisions.

“You need to get away from the details of the business and ask what you want to do with your life,” Jacobs says. “If someone is trying to make a decision about their business and they’re not looking at how that’s going to serve their life, then they’re not going to make the right decision, in my opinion.”

Once you answer that, you have to look at who the stakeholders are of the business and what they want to do.

“You have to start with the highest priorities and who owns that organization and what are they trying to do and where do they want it to be,” he says. “A big part of that is including your customer base in those stakeholders, because a business can’t continue, it can’t thrive, and it can’t grow or do new things without your customers. Then make a decision based on that.”

Regardless of what decision you ultimately make, you have to ensure that you go through a process to understand why you’re making that decision.

“There have been times with this business that we didn’t go through that process, and those are the times that it stings you,” Jacobs says. “We’re lucky that none of those times we did things that sank the ship and we can still live our dream. But if you don’t watch those things, you can lose your dream.”

Enable autonomy

Just as understanding the company’s direction in recent years has been a challenge, so too has having to let go of some of the leadership responsibility both Jacobs and his brother have had in the past.

“Like many small businesses — the people who started the business play a very critical role,” Bert Jacobs says. “You can sort of kid yourself at some point that nobody can do something better than you can.”

The Jacobs brothers began reading about the struggles that companies go through and the mistakes that leaders make. One thing they saw over and over was that leaders have a tendency to place blame on others for issues in the company, but they’re afraid to have a self-evaluation.

“That was a big step for us,” Bert Jacobs says. “What we did was we created a task force at Life is good and we asked them to critique my brother and I and our other four partners. It was sobering. They were really honest and really candid. There were many areas where we weren’t doing a great job.

“The task force and the criticisms forced us to put some structure in place to reorganize the whole company and align on all our major strategies.”

Going through that evaluation opened doors and enabled autonomy to Life is good and its top management and general managers of its different business units.

“When we clearly paint the vision of where we want to go and we get out of the way, they’re not as good as us, they’re better,” Jacobs says. “That decision has been a real revelation and a breakthrough that a lot of small business owners sometimes never make or make too late.”

For Jacobs, realizing that taking an extra day skiing up in Maine isn’t a bad thing every once in a while has helped him and the business grow.

“The business might be better off without me on a given day,” he says. “Maybe by being around we can get in the way of things. Instead, if we put people in place and we trust the job that they can do, then unexpected things can happen.

“I can point to spots through the years where we probably could have grown stronger, faster and smarter if we did a little less. When something is your baby, you hold it white-knuckled sometimes, and I think we have gotten over that and we’re enabling more things to start happening.” ?

How to reach: The Life is good Co., (617) 266-4160 or www.lifeisgood.com

Published in National
Tuesday, 30 April 2013 20:00

Movers & Shakers

Great Lakes Science Center, one of the nation’s leading science and technology centers and home to Northeast Ohio’s NASA Glenn Visitor Center, has named Dr. Kirsten Ellenbogen as president, starting May 6.

Ellenbogen brings more than 20 years of experience as an informal educator, learning researcher and senior leader to her new role as the third president for the science center. Her energetic leadership during the last two decades has advanced informal science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education through four centers with a national or international scope and a combined funding of more than $30 million.

 

Glenmede, a privately held and independent investment and wealth management firm, announced that Andrew W. Kirkpatrick joined the firm as vice president of wealth advisory in the firm’s Cleveland office. Kirkpatricks’s areas of focus include specialized fiduciary matters and client service with an emphasis on multigenerational trust administration and estate planning.

Ulmer & Berne LLP is pleased to announce the addition of Laura McBride as a partner in the firm’s litigation department. Based in the firm’s Cleveland office, McBride will be the co-chair of the firm’s Energy, Natural Resources and Utilities Practice Group.

Her experience includes public utilities and public law litigation, federal and state contracts and regulatory matters, and business litigation of all types. She also has significant experience in health care and life sciences matters.

 

Howard Hanna has recently announced that Howard Hanna IV, president of Howard Hanna Ohio & Michigan, was named to the Leading Real Estate Companies of the World (LeadingRE) board of directors. LeadingRE is a network of 550 top independent, local and regional brand-name international brokerage firms in residential real estate. The board of directors reads like a who’s who of real estate, with some of the best minds in the business guiding the organization.

 

Collection Auto Group is pleased to announce that, for the seventh consecutive year, Mercedes-Benz of North Olmsted has been recognized as one of the country’s top Mercedes-Benz dealerships.

Since 2006, the local dealership has received the prestigious Best of the Best Dealer Recognition Award every year from Mercedes-Benz USA. The local dealership is one of only a handful in the U.S. to receive the honor for seven years in a row.

 

Welty Building Company Ltd. has announced the appointment of Donald Lydon as group president of Welty Facilities Services. In this role, Lydon will be responsible for overseeing the facilities management to extend the life of facilities and equipment, reduce operating costs and improve energy efficiency for Welty customers.

Lydon comes to Welty after 20 years with Zaremba Management Co. where he was vice president, commercial properties, and was responsible for land acquisition, development and construction for the company’s offices and industrial building portfolio. l

Published in Cleveland

 

In January 2002, Theodore Zampetis took over as president and CEO of a struggling Shiloh Industries Inc. The leading manufacturer of advanced metal product solutions for high-volume applications in the North American automotive, heavy truck, trailer and consumer markets was $290 million in debt and the banks would not finance the company any further.

Zampetis had only a few weeks to either file a 10K with the SEC or file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Rather than roll over and give in, he began to execute a strategy, and he had to do it quickly.

“I got together with my president and my plant head and said, ‘Here’s what I am going to do. Here’s how I’m going to reduce cost and start creating cash flow tomorrow,’” Zampetis says.

Most people had all but kissed Shiloh Industries goodbye but not Zampetis. He knew he could turn the company around.

“We held a teleconference with the banks and all 12 entities were in on the call, and we explained the plan,” Zampetis says. “‘Here’s what is happening, here’s why it’s happening, and here’s what I’m going to do in the next 15 days, 30 days, three months, six months,’ and on and on.”

With time being of the essence, everybody started signing on quickly. Zampetis went around to each customer and plant to tell customers and employees what has happened, why it has happened and what the company’s plan was.

“I told them, ‘You will look back in six months and be proud of what you accomplished,’” Zampetis says.

Here is how Zampetis nursed Shiloh Industries from the edge of bankruptcy and brought it back to life.

Stop the bleeding

Once Zampetis made everyone aware of the dire situation the company was in, he began to focus on stabilizing the business.

“It was execution in three areas: No. 1, I’ve got to stabilize the company because the company was sick, demoralized and it was dying,” Zampetis says. “Once we stabilized the company, the next thing was figuring out what was the root cause of the problem.”

Zampetis had to understand where the company made money, where it lost money and why it was making or losing money.

“Once we started characterizing the process at each plant internally and focusing internally, it became clear to me what the priorities were in the bigger picture of the company and what I had to do,” he says. “Yes, there were a thousand problems, but I didn’t care about the thousand problems. I only cared about the top 10 problems and how I could attack them quickly one by one.”

At the same time, there were external pressures. For instance, one of Shiloh’s main customers had good news for the company. It still had a multimillion-dollar program with Shiloh that it wanted to continue with the organization. The only problem was that Shiloh had no cash to fund the program.

“I said … ‘We are going to the customer and let me talk,’” Zampetis says. “The next day, we were at the customer talking to the highest level in purchasing, and I told him that, in my 31 years in the business, I never thought I would go to the customer and politely, but with tears in my eyes, tell him that he’d better take the contract he awarded to us and give it to someone else, because we simply have no cash.

“‘Under your terms and conditions, we cannot do it. However, if you help us, we can probably do it and do it better than anybody else in the world.’”

With the banks unwilling to budge because the company was $290 million in debt, Zampetis and the executive director of purchasing at the customer company negotiated back and forth until they agreed to help Shiloh Industries fund the program for them.

“I knew one thing; even though this would be a battle going forward, there was only one way to go, and that was up,” he says. “From that point on, Shiloh Industries started climbing and generating cash flow and applying that cash flow back into the company to protect our critical skills and technologies.”

Shiloh’s critical technologies were devastated. The company needed to understand how to bring them up to be best in class and, at the same time, not to let any program down or make any customer dissatisfied.

“We started generating cash flow and applying it intelligently and above all, started deleveraging the company,” he says.

Remain laser-focused

Once the company began to slowly recover, Zampetis had to make sure to communicate throughout the organization so people stayed focused and kept moving forward strategically.

“If we are going to reinforce a culture of transformation, we have to communicate and we have to communicate not only our problems but give our employees, from top to bottom, an idea of what is the source of the problem,” he says. “You have to have a disciplined mind to characterize the process quickly and identify and measure the impact and analyze.”

Moving forward, Zampetis made sure that any decision he made was strategic.

“When the company is in deep trouble, you’ve got to make decisions strategically about all the wonderful ideas that got you into the problem to begin with,” he says. “The old management team did not learn their lesson.”

Shiloh had three objectives: No. 1, to stabilize the company and start generating cash flow, No. 2, to apply that cash flow to deleverage the company and rebuild the company internally, and No. 3, to develop its people to be disciplined so such past situations never happen again.

But just as the company was regaining its footing, the recession of 2009 hit. Chrysler and GM, which make up 60 percent of Shiloh’s business, filed for bankruptcy.

“Everybody thought we were done,” Zampetis says.

Be forward-thinking

As signs that the economy might be in trouble began to spread, Zampetis and Shiloh Industries were taking precautionary measures.

“If you look at our records and look at what happened in November 2008, I took my salary down to almost nothing because I knew there was going to be a disaster,” Zampetis says.

Shiloh’s sales went down 53 percent, its variable manufacturing cost went down 49 percent and its fixed cost, including Zampetis’ salary, went down 39 percent. However, the company made sure to protect its critical skills during the recession.

“I showed our leadership that in a moment of crisis I wasn’t thinking about lining my pocket,” he says. “I told them, ‘We are suffering and sacrificing right now, but at the end of the day, you will look back and be so proud.’”

During 2009 when all of this was happening, Shiloh Industries ended up generating $18 million extra free cash flow and reduced debt.

“In 2010, we were expecting the industry to start picking up because some of our competitors went bankrupt in 2009, and we picked up a lot of their business,” he says. “Our sales revenue from 2009 to 2010 went up 69.7 percent.”

The company’s productivity nearly doubled, its technology became extremely efficient, quality was exceptional and the employees were pumped up about the company’s progress.

“The year 2011 was a wonderful one, and 2012 was a very good year,” Zampetis says. “We now are a clean-balance-sheet company. We have advanced technologies that are the best in the world.”

Today, Shiloh Industries is a $600 million company with 1,400 employees. With the company back to pre-crisis levels, Zampetis decided to retire as president and CEO in December 2012. However, he left the incoming leadership with a very stable company.

“It will be a two-point approach,” he says. “One is to maintain all the good disciplines and don’t water them down because that would be a big mistake. But then the company’s mission looking forward is growth.” ?

How to reach: Shiloh Industries Inc., (330) 558-2600 or www.shiloh.com     

Published in Cleveland

In a market hungry for deal flow, high-quality companies are in demand and valuation multiples are rising. Private equity firms continue to be active bidders at the table with the middle market being fertile ground for buying activity.

GF Data, which reports on private equity transaction activity in the lower middle market (deal values between $10 and $250 million), recently cited valuation statistics from 2012 that point to a market premium paid for quality, size and desirable industry, which, when combined, the sum of the parts can achieve a multiple of EBITDA in excess of eight times for a well-performing business, according to Private Equity Professional Digest.

PitchBook, another reporting firm focused exclusively on the private equity market, cited that more than a third of deals in 2012 had an EBITDA multiple of seven and a half times or greater, lending further support to healthy valuations in the marketplace.

With nearly $100 billion (private equity funds of $100 to $1 billion according to PitchBook) in uninvested equity capital, motivated sellers with companies that possess strong management, have shown solid performance and are in attractive industries can feel confident that the private equity radar is up for those businesses. With ample debt financing today, sponsors are open to a myriad of strategic options — from a dividend recapitalization to a partial or outright sale — for quality companies.

Local private equity firms were active in March. Linsalata Capital Partners completed its first acquisition of 2013 with Signature Systems Group, a New York-based manufacturer of specialty ground surfaces and coverings selling to more than 3,000 domestic and international customers. Signature’s founder and CEO reinvested alongside LinCap in the transaction. Financial sponsor Dubin Clark & Co. exited its investment in the sale. The sponsor completed two add-on acquisitions after purchasing the company in 2007.

Resilience Capital Partners acquired a majority interest in Memphis-based Aerospace Products International, a global aviation parts and equipment distribution and supply chain management firm. Its parent company, First Aviation Services, retained a minority equity interest in the company. The Cleveland sponsor completed five deals in 2012, including CR Brands, a manufacturer of branded and private label laundry and household cleaning products based in West Chester, Ohio, acquired from Juggernaut Capital Partners. ?

Andrew Petryk is managing director and principal of Brown Gibbons Lang & Co. LLC, an investment bank serving the middle market. Contact him at (216) 920-6613 or apetryk@bglco.com.

Published in Cleveland

Bernie Moreno has always had a great love for cars. They had to be in his life. So as a 25-year-old, he went to work as a general manager of Herb Chambers’ Saturn dealership in Boston. During the course of 12 years there, he became Chambers’ vice president.

Moreno’s success caught the attention of Mercedes-Benz who asked Moreno if he would move to Cleveland to run a Mercedes-Benz dealership. Moreno agreed.

“I came in to Cleveland to see what this dealership was all about before I bought it,” Moreno says. “I pulled up here with my wife, I saw a salesperson, and I told him I was thinking about either a Lexus or a Mercedes — and I’m moving to Cleveland.

“The salesperson said, ‘I don’t understand why you’d want to move to Cleveland. This is the worst place on Earth to live. The people suck, the weather sucks, the economy sucks. I was born here and I’ve been trying to leave here since I came out of the womb.’ This is what the guy said to me.

“So I said, ‘People don’t buy Mercedes here?’ He said, ‘This is a blue-collar town. If we sell 10 to 15 cars a month, that’s a great month. If we sell 20, we’re dancing on the tables.’”

Moreno could have been discouraged, but he wasn’t. The dealership had been selling 200 cars a year before Moreno took over. He came in and set the goal high for the new dealership team.

“We came in, and I said to myself, ‘We can’t live selling five cars a month,’” Moreno says. “In our first sales meeting, May 13, 2005, I said, ‘We’re going to sell 100 cars a month.’

“We knew we had to do that because if we didn’t sell 100 cars a month, I couldn’t pay me, let alone my staff. I had to succeed because if I didn’t I would be in big trouble because I just committed my entire life to this endeavor.”

Here is how Moreno, president of Collection Auto Group, took one Mercedes-Benz dealership and built it into the Collection Auto Group that we know in Cleveland today.

Manage growth

When Moreno was working in Boston prior to 2005, he was helping run what was the sixth-largest privately owned dealership group in America with $1.5 billion in annual sales. In early 2005, he took over a dealership that sold only 200 cars a year.

“The difference is this one is mine and that one I just worked for,” Moreno says.

At that time, Moreno’s focus was to establish the dealership in the Cleveland area and create the right culture within the company.

“What helped in that tremendously was the fact that 12 guys moved from Boston to Cleveland with me,” he says. “That was a huge help, because when you’re establishing a culture, you need a critical mass of people who feel the same way that you do philosophically.”

Moreno says his desire to create further opportunities for the business fueled the dealership group’s growth the most. This, in turn, created opportunities for his staff.

“You can’t have all these guys in one store and challenge them and keep them growing,” he says. “All of them now have their own dealership that they run or a larger position within the company, which is great.”

In 2005, the dealership sold 24 cars between Jan. 1 and May 11. From May 12 to May 31 that year, it sold 80 cars. From that point on, Moreno and his team have been hitting their goal of 100 cars a month and then some.

“Our focus right now is really managing our growth,” he says. “We started with one dealership. We took over a small 200-car-a-year Lexus building. We finished the building in September 2008 right after Lehman Brothers collapsed. We used the opportunity to grow, and that growth was somewhat tame versus what we are doing today.”

Recently, Moreno has been expanding his business almost exponentially. Within the past year alone, the company has opened a Volkswagen dealership, a second Infiniti dealership, a new Nissan dealership, is building a new Mercedes-Benz dealership in Cincinnati and has been renovating several properties.

Moreno has plenty of projects to keep him busy. He has to buy the land for the new dealerships, build the dealerships, meet the individual car company’s requirements and hire people to run the dealerships. On top of all of that, Moreno still has to look after the other dealerships he has in operation.

Today, Moreno runs a collection of 24 dealerships, which led to the name, Collection Auto Group. The company is a more than 400-employee, $350 million car dealership group that sells Acura, Aston Martin, Buick, Fisker, GMC, Infiniti, Lotus, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Porsche, smart, Spyker, Vpg, Volkswagen and Maserati brands.

“It was never the intention to move to Cleveland to have a small little dealership,” Moreno says. “That wasn’t what I wanted to do. I didn’t necessarily think I was going to have 24 dealerships in seven or eight years, but I knew it wasn’t going to be a small dealership.”

Moreno may have been worried about car sales when the dealership first started, but in 2012 alone, Collection Auto Group sold 6,500 cars companywide.

“It’s is a big change,” he says. “Managing growth is like blowing up a balloon — you want to make sure you manage it properly, because otherwise you’re going to do it too fast.”

There are several factors that have helped Moreno and Collection Auto Group in its growth trajectory, but above all else, it comes back to the fact that Moreno loves cars.

“No. 1, you have to do what you love because if you’re not doing what you love, then you’re never going to be as successful as you can be,” he says. “For me, cars have always been a passion since I was a little kid.”

Another thing Moreno says has aided in his success is that he didn’t chase money. In fact, Moreno was making more money in Boston before he moved to Cleveland, but he wanted the opportunity to be his own boss.

“The biggest mistake people make is they follow money,” he says. “They’ll take a job because it pays more or they do this business because they’ll be rich. Money follows; money doesn’t lead.”

While people may make a certain move because it means more money, people will also find excuses for reasons that they can’t do something due to a lack of capital.

“If you have a great idea and you have passion, money will find you,” Moreno says. “When I bought Mercedes-Benz North Olmsted in 2005, I bought it with every dollar I had ever saved in my life. I joke that if I could have put a mortgage on my socks, I would have. It was never a scenario where I worried about getting the money to put this together.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘How badly do you want something? How badly do you believe that it can succeed? And how much do you believe in yourself?’ If the answer to all of that is at the top level, money will find you.”

Lastly, Moreno’s success has been made possible by the team he has put together at Collection Auto Group.

“You have to give people reason to follow you and be with you,” he says. “Why would somebody leave a job if not for the opportunity for personal growth, career advancement and learning? That’s the promise you have to deliver.”

Define your business

Once Moreno and his team started to get settled in Cleveland, the focus had to shift to creating a strong culture and one that would define how the business operated.

“You have to define your business,” Moreno says. “What business are you really in? A lot of my peers would say, ‘We’re in the car business. Look around, it’s a bunch of cars that we sell and service.’

“If you define that you’re in the car business, it’s an extraordinarily narrow definition. If you ask any employee in our company, whether it’s a receptionist, a car wash kid, a technician or a salesperson, they would say, ‘We’re in the customer service business.’”

Collection Auto Group sells cars, but it’s in the customer service business, and as a result, everybody understands that nothing is more important.

“When a customer walks through that door you should treat them like (they’re) the reason I’m here today, not like an inconvenience,” Moreno says. “My door is always open. If I’m willing to do that, what does it mean to everybody else in our organization?”

Moreno’s attention to clients goes far beyond making sure he gives them his time when they need it. He wants to change the car-buying experience.

“Some people hate buying cars,” he says. “But people love to buy iPhones. What’s the difference? The difference is that car dealers have made it painful for customers to buy cars. Car dealers have made the buying process completely unenjoyable, and it should be the complete opposite.”

Before Apple, people hated buying computers too. Now, people often just go to the Apple store to hang out because they made it fun and interesting.

“In the car business, it should be the same way, and the biggest thing that gets in people’s way is this fear when you walk through the front door that you’re going to be taken advantage of,” Moreno says. “Knowing that, we try to create a culture that says, ‘Let’s get rid of that anxiety.’”

Collection Auto Group tries to be extraordinarily transparent to make the negotiation process quick and easy. That transparency helps attract customers.

“If a customer walks in and they are looking at a Mercedes-Benz C300 and the sticker price is $42,500 … and their trade-in is worth $20,000, you have to ask yourself how much effort you are willing to put into this thing,” he says.

“How much are you willing to battle and let me wear you down? How much time do you want to spend wearing me down and are you willing to invest two or three hours to make that happen? Let’s say you do. At the end of three hours of going back and forth, how much do you really enjoy your car now? You hate it.”

Moreno utilizes the fact that customers these days are well-informed about car prices and what their trade-ins are worth; transparency and honesty with the customer saves time and effort.

“You know that I’m going to sell you the car for the price that’s going to be more than fair,” he says. “That creates a customer for life because they know that we will take better care of them than anybody else.”

Today, Collection Auto Group is well-established in the Cleveland market and sells all the car brands that it wants without any brand competing against another in the portfolio.

“Now that we’ve built this thing, we can take it for a drive and really expand exponentially with the brands we have right now,” Moreno says. ?

How to reach: Collection Auto Group, (440) 716-2700 or www.collectionautogroup.com

Takeaways

Do what you love and believe that you can make it successful.

Create a culture that separates you from competition.

Treat customers with respect and honesty and success will come.

The Moreno File

Bernie Moreno

President

Collection Auto Group

Born: Colómbia, South America, but he grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Education: Went to University of Michigan and received his undergraduate degree in business.

Goal: To be the chairman of the board of GM

What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

At 12-years-old, I delivered newspapers at 2 a.m. in Fort Lauderdale. My mom also owned three real estate offices so after delivering newspapers I went to work for her and ran the bookkeeping at 14 or 15 years old. That taught me that family businesses are a challenge, and it wasn’t something I was interested in.

What got you into cars?

When I went to Michigan I worked for Automobile magazine.

What was your first car?

A Honda CRX. I saw it on the cover of Car & Driver.

What was your favorite car you have owned?

I had an ’89 Ford Mustang GT. That was the coolest car.

If you had to choose a car to own off one of your lots, what would you choose?

Cars are like your children — you’re not supposed to have a favorite. But for me, Mercedes are the cars that I’m most passionate about. If I had to buy one car, it would be a S63 Mercedes.

Published in Cleveland
Tuesday, 30 April 2013 20:00

An extension of your team

Every company, irrespective of size, at some point needs a variety of service professionals. The amount and experience these professionals possess can substantially add value to your business and mitigate risk.

Technical matters of law, financial audit, tax, industrial marketing and public relations are usually best handled by outside experts. Attorneys, auditors, tax experts, public relations and industrial marketing professionals have specialized knowledge and skills that you couldn’t and shouldn’t hope to duplicate.

Clark-Reliance’s business philosophy has always been that we make service professionals an extension of our team. We frequently invite them to sporting events, company dinners and other internal events. Knowing our service professionals on a personal basis and allowing them access to know our staff makes it a better and more effective partnership.

Our senior management works closely with these providers so that they can answer questions efficiently and quickly whether it’s a simple or complex business issue.

It is also good practice to formally meet with service providers on a frequent basis, even if the meeting is only an update. This practice will allow your providers to gain a better understanding of your business and provides a discussion forum that is different than just dealing with them on an as-needed basis or for “crisis interventions.”

Legal services

Whether you have in-house counsel or not, outside legal service providers are an imperative partner to help you grow and protect your business. Partnering with a reasonably sized firm allows you access to worldwide contacts, practices and procedures.

Almost everyone has four distinct reasons to use an attorney or specialized law firm, even if you do employ general counsel:

Acquisition — When your company is engaged in an acquisition, you need a highly specialized legal team to provide expertise in areas such as due diligence, negotiation, asset acquisition, purchase agreements, taxation and employment transactions.

Intellectual property — The need to safeguard your new product ideas can be ensured by a highly specialized attorney who can protect and defend your intellectual property, patents, trademarks and copyrights, both domestically and worldwide.

Product liability — The misuse and misapplication of products that have been sent into the stream of commerce may result in litigation or unjustified claims that need to be addressed by competent legal counsel.

Labor and employee issues —The multitude of employment law issues, regulation and compliance requirements and employer/employee legal issues demands a working relationship with a labor/employment legal professional.

Financial services

The changes in the United States Federal Tax Code and the continuing compliance with tax laws for federal, state and local taxation demand comprehensive and technical knowledge. Most companies also need to have audited financial data for borrowing purposes or to meet public company regulations. This highly specialized and technical knowledge can only be accessed through a tax and financial adviser.

There are four areas where a financial/tax service professional can assist any business.

Taxes — Whether you are an S-corporation, C-corporation or LLC, you need to have a tax adviser analyze the tax implications of business decisions to ensure that you are properly taking advantage of the complex tax code.

Grants and tax credits — The research tax credit remains a valuable source of support to businesses that conduct qualified research and development.

Acquisition process — During the acquisition process, it is imperative to include your financial advisers in terms of due diligence and specific issues like goodwill, inventory valuation and working capital adjustments.

Audit — Private or public, it is a good idea to have your financial data analyzed and scrubbed by experts in areas of revenue recognition, inventory valuation and off-balance-sheet transactions.

Utilizing service professionals provides a road map to avoid the pitfalls that can present significant obstacles to your business success. ?

Matthew P. Figgie is chairman of Clark-Reliance, a global, multi-divisional manufacturing company with sales in more than 80 countries, serving the power generation petroleum, refining and chemical processing industries. He is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation, a member of the University Hospitals Board of Directors, corporate cochairman for the 2013 Five Star Sensation and chairman of the National Kidney Walk.

Rick Solon is president and CEO of Clark-Reliance and has more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing and operating companies. He is also the chairman of the National Kidney Foundation Golf Outing.

Published in Columnist