Sue Ostrowski

Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00 service

SS&G Financial Services Inc. puts a high value on customer service, and it shows — in 2006, more than 96 percent of clients responding to a performance survey said they were “extremely satisfied” with their overall experience with the firm.

SS&G’s commitment to customer service is reflected in its mission statement: “SS&G provides professional services of the highest quality and value that enable our clients to thrive. We promote a collaborative culture for our employees, are committed to the communities in which we operate and continue to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit that is the foundation for our organization.”

Following that philosophy, the firm — led by Gary Shamis and Mark Goldfarb — believes that the formula for a successful partnership is an investment in getting to know its clients, their business and their industry, and assessing their needs both for the near future and for the long term.

And that applies to all clients, not just the biggest ones. SS&G believes that every client is a VIP, and simply because one is bigger, more accomplished, has more revenue, is more profitable or uses more services than another firm does not change the level of customer service it provides.

Client service is the foundation of SS&G’s business philosophy, and it is imperative that all employees provide the best customer service possible to clients. To do so, SS&G follows the C.A.R.E. philosophy — its Customers Are Really Everything. So in addition to technology training, each office has programs that provide continuing education seminars on etiquette, workplace efficiency and being a better manager, all geared toward enhanced customer service.

And a yearly companywide retreat focuses specifically on how the firm can provide better superior client service, after which recharged employees go back to the office to practice what they’ve learned.

HOW TO REACH: SS&G Financial Services,

Monday, 28 November 2005 12:13

A positive impact

Lincoln Electric Holding Inc., through its foundation and its corporate giving program of the Lincoln Electric Co., has been a long-time supporter of organizations that work to improve the quality of life in the communities where its employees live and work.

Over the past decade, the company, headed by chairman, president and CEO John Stropki, has helped fund capital campaigns and programs for institutions such as The Great Lakes Science Center, the Cleveland Orchestra, Cleveland State University, Baldwin-Wallace College, Case Western Reserve University and John Carroll University. It has also supported Cuyahoga Community College and Lakeland Community College through their foundations.

The company, which designs, develops and manufactures arc welding and cutting products, contributed to the building of the Shafran Planetarium of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

In medical care and research, Lincoln Electric supports programs at the Cleveland Clinic, including the Cole Eye Institute, Urological Institute and the campaign for its new Heart Center. The foundation has also awarded grants to the University Hospitals Health System, Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital and Euclid, Hillcrest and Lake hospitals.

In addition, it was instrumental in helping fund Hope Lodge, a respite care facility for people undergoing cancer treatment. It has a long-time commitment to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Walk to Cure Diabetes Drive and is a supporter of Camp Ho Mita Koda, a summer camp program for kids with diabetes.

The foundation is active in supporting initiatives to improving area schools, including the support of the schools in Euclid and Mentor, where Lincoln Electric’s major operations are located. And it supports job creation and development through its support of CAMP and the New Life Community, which serves single-female-headed households by providing training and a four-month shelter and transitional program for women.

The foundation was founded in 1952 with $250,000. Over the past decade, it has awarded more than $1 million a year in grants and in-kind donations.

Lincoln Electric employees are also involved in the community, serving as volunteers to many local organizations.

“Overall, we believe that our company and foundation have made a positive and productive impact on the Greater Cleveland and Northeast Ohio community,” says Stropki. “We believe our contributions have and continue to make a difference.”

How to reach: The Lincoln Electric Co., or (216) 481-8100

Monday, 28 November 2005 12:05

Providing hope

From the moment Sky Bank entered the Cleveland market a few years ago, it has sought to make a discernible mark on the community.

With support for community engagement coming from the top and extending throughout the organization, Sky Bank has succeeded in making an impact in the communities where its employees live and work.

“Sky Bank’s success in the Greater Cleveland community hinges, in part, on our ability to actively contribute to the organizations and efforts that are helping to improve Northeast Ohio,” says Regional President Dick Hollington III. “Being a good neighbor will help us become the region’s premier community bank.”

Sky Bank focuses on financial education, small business development and growth, and neighborhood development to improve the quality of life in its communities. A 12-member committee reviews contribution requests and finds strategies to increase employee volunteerism.

In the area of financial education, Sky works with organizations and campaigns throughout Cuyahoga County that help individuals save, build wealth, purchase homes and plan for retirement. For example, its sponsorship of Cleveland’s Anti-Predatory Lending Week helped educate people on issues they face when buying a home. And its work with the Cleveland Realtist Association, an organization dedicated to helping minorities purchase a home, provides resources to help build communities through home ownership.

In the area of small business growth and development, Sky Bank is a member of the National Association of Women Business Owners Cleveland. Sky works with the group to encourage innovate business practices in the entrepreneurial sector.

Sky also helps promote neighborhood development through its involvement with social service agencies, which is a major part of its commitment to the community. This year, Sky is the principal sponsor of the Shoes and Clothes for Kids “Back to School” campaign. The program provides needy families with new clothing items and shoe gift cards. Sky also provides a matching grant to the Cleveland Foodbank’s annual Harvest for Hunger campaign.

In addition, it contributes to local chapters of United Way and the YMCA, and supports senior programs and issues through in-kind and financial contributions. Its relationship with Ashbury Senior Community Center has helped bring 300 surplus computers and other equipment into the center for staff and senior community members to use.

How to reach: Sky Bank,

Monday, 28 November 2005 11:57

In the game

Just as CBIZ helps businesses to succeed, it also strives to help communities to succeed by contributing to organizations that work to strengthen the foundations of a healthy community.

Company President and COO Jerry Grisko believes that the importance of the relationship between a business and its surrounding area cannot be overstated, that one cannot succeed without support from the other. The company’s philosophy is that when it serves the community, it serves its employees, its clients and its shareholders.

“As a part of the community, we feel it is important to nourish this symbiotic relationship if we are to succeed as a corporation,” Grisko says.

The business services provider takes great pride in its sponsorship for an Amateur Athletics Union traveling basketball team. The league was created to allow young adults to compete nationally and to gain exposure for college scholarships. CBIZ has sponsored a team for four years, and last spring, five players were awarded full scholarships to play basketball for Division One teams.

The company also participates in Cleveland Initiative for Education, in which businesses sponsor a school in the Cleveland district. The program includes school improvement projects, donations of in-kind materials, donations of items such as computers and tutoring of children.

In addition, CBIZ has donated thousands of dollars worth of office furniture to Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, participated in the creation of a library mural, donated incentives for attendance week and supplied volunteers for Career Day. This year, it sponsored the school’s end-of-the-year bash for students who excelled academically.

CBIZ employees are also involved with Business Volunteers Unlimited at the Community Builder Level. During the past year, employees were placed on the boards of two organizations, and the company has five employees working with BVU with the goal of serving on a nonprofit board.

The Salvation Army also benefits from CBIZ’s involvement. Last holiday season, employees held a food drive and many volunteered for a meal service. Employees collected items for the USO to distribute and volunteers treated children from the Berea Children’s Home to a Lake County Captains Game.

The company was also selected as a pacesetter for the 2005 United Way campaign and raises money both through pledges and creative fund-raisers in the office.

How to reach: CBIZ, (216) 447-9000 or

Thursday, 31 October 2002 09:55

HIPPA: Exceptions to the rule

While HIPAA ensures the privacy of health information, there are exceptions that allow that information to be released without the patient's consent.

* Workers' compensation claims. These are not subject to HIPAA regulations because of who is paying the claim, says Scott Sandrock, an attorney and chair of the Health Care Practice Group at Black McCuskey Souers and Arbaugh in Canton.

"Someone might ask, 'Isn't that my secret health information? The fact that I've got a bad back is kind of private.' The response is yes, but you've made it semi-public because you're asking the government to pay for it, asking your employer to pay for it. They ought to at least be able to examine that which you're claiming they ought to pay for."

* Suspected child abuse. If a pediatrician suspects child abuse, he or she is obligated by the state to report it, "whether or not that violates physician/patient confidentiality," Sandrock says.

Gunshot wounds. "If a person come to the emergency room and has been a shooting victim, by statute in Ohio, the hospital is required to report that, even though one could argues that is confidential information," Sandrock says.

Public health-related purposes. The disclosure of protected health information is allowed to the Food and Drug Administration for public health purposes related to the quality, safety or effectiveness of FDA-related products. This ensures the information will continue to be available to protect public health and safety.

Treatment purposes. Covered entities may share private health information with others for treatment purposes, and to covered health care providers for payment purposes. This was changed from the original version of the regulation because of concerns that the consent requirement would impede the delivery of care.

Monday, 30 September 2002 07:15

Talk to me

Your business is filing for bankruptcy, and the last thing you want to do is share your woes with the world. But the future of your company depends on communication, and if you don't supply the information, someone else will.

"If there's an information void, it gets filled by something, and if a company is not explaining, then somebody else is going to fill in that void," says Diana Lueptow, vice president of Edward Howard & Co., a full-service public relations firm. "It could be competitors. It could also be the rumor mill. Customers and suppliers are so crucial to making it through a bankruptcy that you just can't afford to let this rumor mill go."

Vendors, suppliers, employees and the media will all have questions, and it's important to answer them honestly and consistently.

"Remember, it's a crisis, so the last thing you want to do is leave anybody out," says Stephen Phillips, vice president at Edward Howard & Co. "... Your customers look to the media to see what's being said, your customers are looking to your employees. You need to be communicating the same thing to all these people."

A bankruptcy filing is public record, and with a company required to file regular reports with the court, there are no secrets.

"You're operating in a fishbowl, and that's why you want to explain your side of the story and deal with your stakeholders," says Lueptow.

Communicating with everyone affected by the company's situation can remove some of fear and anxiety people experience during a bankruptcy. Employees are wondering if they'll still have a job. Suppliers are wondering if they're going to get paid.

Sharing information can create the stability that is vital to making it through a bankruptcy.

"You really have to stabilize the environment, and part of that is getting information to employees right away about what's going on, dealing with customers and vendors, because they're going to affect how you come out of this," Lueptow says. "You need stability, need people to have confidence in upper management and fight battles every day to keep this company going forward."

A public relations campaign should begin the moment you file for bankruptcy, but a plan should be in place well before that.

"When you decide to pull the trigger and file, you really don't have a lot a lot of time to sit back and say, 'OK, who do we communicate with now? Who's going to visit our top five customers? Who's going to talk to our top suppliers?'" Phillips said.

"A plan helps keep (executives) focused on what they have to get done, and by when." How to reach: Edward Howard & Co., (216) 781-2400, (614) 224-4600 or

Friday, 27 September 2002 12:40

How can I help?

A company often denies it is in trouble until it's nearly too late -- and it's usually the bank that forces it to seek help.

"Usually the first sign that a company is in trouble is that they cannot service their debt," says Jean Robertson, partner at McDonald, Hopkins, Burke and Haber Co., LPA. "Something's got to give, and they never give up on payroll. ... So they stop paying other debts, and the first debt they stop paying is the bank. Most companies think, 'Well, the bank's got lots of money. But my vendors, well, they're a small business like me, and I need to pay them so they can pay their payroll."

So oftentimes it's the bank that sees the first warning signs and says, "Unless you get professional help, there's no way we can salvage this relationship," says Peter Tourtellot, chairman of the Turnaround Management Association and managing director of Anderson Bauman Tourtellot Vos & Co.

There are two types of turnaround practitioners: Consultants, who offer advice but play no operational role in the company, and intramanagement practitioners, who take the lead role at a company and not only give advice, but implement it, Robertson says.

Once a turnaround specialist is in place, the first step is to analyze the situation.

"You need to determine how sick the patient is," Tourtellot says. "If you have trouble, but that trouble isn't going to sink the ship, you certainly don't want to have overkill."

The next step is to take action.

"In almost every case, if you're bleeding, you must stop the bleeding or you will not make it to the second stage," Tourtellot says. "If you don't stop the bleeding, then that company is going to die."

A turnaround specialist will also talk to and try to gain the trust of employees.

"The employees have known for a long time the company is in trouble," Tourtellot says. "The problem is that management has been in denial. So when we come on the scene, the employees are, for the most part, relieved, even in those cases when they may lose their jobs, because now they know. It's awful to work in an atmosphere when you don't know what's going to happen tomorrow."

Listening is vital if there's to be any hope of turning a company around.

"You'll find that a lot of the answers are there," Tourtellot says. "The employees know what to do, they just haven't been listened to."

The specialist will try to build a team around those employees who want to see the business turned around and are willing to go the extra mile.

"Those people are almost always there. If you'll just listen and gain the employees' confidence, that can mean the difference between survival and death." Tourtellot says. "Sitting right there with those employees are those little nuggets that they're willing to give you if they feel that you will listen and give them the respect they deserve. Once you do that and get their confidence, there's nothing a turnaround guy can't do."

But not all employees will be willing to cooperate.

"You'll also find people you can't build around who don't want to accept change, who are still in the denial stage, who blame everyone but themselves, and those people usually need to find a new place to hang their hat," he says. How to reach: Peter Tourtellot, (336) 275-9110 or; McDonald, Hopkins, Burke & Haber Co., LPA, (216) 348-5400 or

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:55

Planning for the unthinkable

When Fran Doll was diagnosed with breast cancer 18 months ago, her company, Superior Staffing, didn’t miss a beat, thanks to her years of succession planning.

“You just never know,” Doll said. “I walked into the mammogram place thinking I was perfectly healthy and walked out knowing I had breast cancer. That was literally my last day at work.”

Doll stresses to other business owners the importance of succession planning to minimize disruptions should something happen to them. The founder of Superior Staffing, which just celebrated its 19th anniversary, made sure her employees knew the business inside and out.

That made it easier when two of her children, Sheri Witte and Tom Doll were forced to suddenly take over as CEO and president, respectively. Both had been with the company for years, trained in management by their mother, and are now part owners.

Doll says the transition came “way sooner than I expected,” but “everyone was so well organized and so well trained, we haven’t seen much of an interruption.” That was important for her children’s sake, as well as for the business.

“Think about the emotional condition they were in,” Doll says. “If the people under them hadn’t been able to do their jobs, it would have been extremely chaotic.”

Doll learned that every day is important when a car accident almost killed her at age 29. Knowing how quickly things could end encouraged her to plan for her business’s future. That paid off when she got sick, says office manager Lisa Craine.

“She is a very good trainer and they’re definitely their mother’s children,” Craine says. “She is such a great leader, and they’ve been able to step in and fill the job.”

Doll retains majority ownership and helps when needed, but tries to stay out of her children’s way.

“They are in charge and I try very, very hard to let go and let them do it and keep quiet,” Doll says. “They’re doing a wonderful job.”

Tom Doll says his mother’s planning proved vital.

“You have to ask, ‘If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, what is going to happen?’” he says. “If you’re not prepared and have everything you need for succession, you’re going to go under. She’d been working on this process for eight or 10 years.

“I’m thankful my mom was able to think ahead. It would have left us in a very difficult situation if she hadn’t. You always think nothing is going to happen to the business, nothing is going to happen to me, then you get in an accident.”

After nearly dying from her illness last fall, Doll is back on her feet. She is the grand marshall for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life at Copley High School June 11 and 12 and is speaking to the Akron Regional Development Board’s CEO Forum June 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hilton West.

“I’m trying to inform business owners of how crucial this really is,” Doll says. “I don’t care how young they are. You need to start planning because it can happen to anyone at any time. If you care about what happens to your company and your family when you’re gone,” you’ve got to plan.

“And it’s not a quick process. It’s a very long, detailed, emotional process.”

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:44

Back on the job

Most employers say they are satisfied with the managed care organizations (MCO) they work with through the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation’s Health Partnership Program.

But for those who aren’t, the chance to change providers is coming up in May. Employers can switch their MCO with one simple phone call to the bureau between May 1 and May 31.

HPP, Ohio’s managed care program for workers’ comp, was mandated by the legislature in 1993, but didn’t go into effect until March 1, 1997.

“It took quite a bit of time to build the system,” says Jim Samuel, director of corporate affairs. “Ohio is unique, because the system was built with everyone at the table,” including big business, small business, organized labor, government entities and medical providers. “It wasn’t like some other states, where one particular interest group controls the creation of the managed care program.”

Before the HPP system was put into place, all of the work related to a workers’ comp claim was handled by the BWC. The change was made to “bring in some private sector theories to the workers’ comp area,” Samuel says. “MCOs are private sector. If they don’t get any business, they’ll go out of business. If they don’t perform, they’ll go out of business. We wanted to bring that to the managed care system.”

Every Ohio employer, both public and private, is required to choose an MCO to handle the medical management portion of injured workers’ claims. When the program began in 1997, those 30 percent of employers which failed to choose an MCO were randomly assigned one by a BWC computer.

Employers can choose among 38 BWC-approved MCOs. Three years ago, that number was 57, but it has decreased, due to both poor performing MCOs booted out of the program and, more often, consolidations and mergers in the industry.

To help employers make a choice, the BWC make available as much information as it can by issuing a report card on each MCO through its Web site,

“We look at how many policies the MCO has, how many workers that covers, the number of claims handled, the size of the MCO — maybe someone prefers a smaller MCO, or one that just focuses on Summit County, as opposed to the entire state,” Samuel says. “We look at customer service ratings — how do other employers rate it, the rating from injured workers, and the first report of injury — how quickly they tell us about claims.”

The last time open enrollment was offered, in 1998, just 10,000 employers, involving 100,000 claims, switched MCOs. Samuel says that’s not many, considering there are about 225,000 employers in Ohio.

“Many businesses may not have had a claim for a long time,” Samuel says. “If they’re not dealing with the system a whole lot, they’re not so apt to make a change.”

Because of the relative lack of interest two years ago, the BWC decided to offer open enrollment only every other year.

“There’s not enough interest,” Samuel says. “Logistically, it’s a big thing to do,” with all the paperwork involved, and encouraging employers to stay with an MCO for at least two years gives them a chance to get to know how it operates before making a decision about changing.

However, “if a business is really having a hard time with an MCO and wants to switch, if the problem can’t be resolved, they can switch any time,” Samuel says.

Under the new system, a quicker reporting of claims has been a boon for everyone from the BWC to the injured worker to the employer, Samuel says. Before, it took more than 60 days, on average, for the BWC to hear about a claim.

“More than two months went by before we even knew an injury had occurred,” Samuel says.

Although the statute of limitations on filing claims remains two years, with HPP, the average reporting time has fallen to 13 days.

“That allows them to get treatment quicker and everything happens more quickly for them,” Samuel says.

Not only does the injured worker begin receiving payment of lost wages sooner, but the employer gets him or her back to work sooner, saving both money and time.

“An injury costs (an employer) more than just workers’ comp,” Samuel says. “It’s how the business deals with someone being out. You have to hire a temp, train someone, figure how much it costs to bring them up to speed. There are a lot of other costs involved.”

Getting the worker back on the job as quickly as possible is a priority for the BWC and has become a major feature of the state’s most recent contract with participating MCOs. An MCO is paid a flat fee by the state to handle claims, but also receives incentives based on first report of injury, customer service and getting people back to work, Samuel says.

“People say, ‘They’re just going to force that poor guy back to work even though he’s not ready,’ but if he goes back to work and reinjures the same thing within 90 days, it’s looked at as if they didn’t give them the right treatment,” Samuel says. “The goal is to get the right treatment as quickly as possible with proper healing and get them back to work.”

It seems to be working. Injured workers give the system a score of 4.02 out of five when rating the services they received; employers gave a rating of 4.25 when asked to rate overall service from their MCO.

The program is proving so successful that government entities from around the world are flocking to the state to find out how they might copy it.

“A lot of folks are coming to Ohio to see how it works,” Samuel says. That includes states such as California and Nevada, several Canadian provinces, and countries including Sweden, Germany, South Africa and Australia.

The HPP program is also helping the state recruit businesses to relocate here.

“The economic climate in Ohio is better because of this,” Samuel says. “Years ago, the one thing we really avoided (when talking to business owners thinking of relocating to Ohio) was workers’ comp. If it didn’t come up, we avoided it. It was the last thing you wanted to talk about it.

“Now, if they don’t ask, we bring it up and tell employers, ‘This is what it could do for you.’”

To check out the BWC’s report card of Ohio’s MCOs, see its Web site at To change your MCO, call the bureau at (800) 644-6292 between May 1 and May 31.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:37

Cutting costs

Business owners across the state should see a drop in their electric bills when electric deregulation legislation goes into effect Jan. 1.

Now, businesses, like everyone who purchases electricity, pay their electric supplier to do everything, from generating the power to installing lines to delivering the power. Under the new system, signed into law by Gov. Bob Taft last July, the companies which own the wires will remain in the delivery business, but consumers will have the opportunity to choose which company generates the electricity delivered through those wires to their homes and businesses.

The cost of transmitting and distributing electricity makes up about 30 percent of a customer's bill and that will remain the same under the deregulation plan.

The cost of generating the electricity makes up the remaining 70 percent of the bill, and it is that cost which will vary under the new plan, depending on a customer's choice of supplier. Under the bill passed by the legislature, the amount the consumer will pay for the electric generation portion of the bill will decrease at least 5 percent, guaranteed, and could fall as much as 20 percent, depending on where in the state the customer is located, according to Matt Motley, public information officer for the Ohio Public Utilities Commission.

In Ohio, about three-quarters of electricity is sold to industrial and consumer interests. Big businesses will probably be the biggest beneficiaries of the ability to choose a supplier, but the law is structured so that the biggest companies can't buy up all of the cheaper electricity, leaving residents and smaller businesses the only users of the higher cost electricity.

Business owners in Northern Ohio currently pay higher rates for their electricity than do those in the central and southern parts of the state, Motley says. Nuclear power is a prevalent source of electricity in that part of the state, and the high cost of building, maintaining and operating those facilities is reflected in power costs. Under deregulation, business owners in Northern Ohio can expect greater savings than those in the rest of the state.

Motley says PUCO plans to advertise heavily, beginning this fall, about the ability to choose an electric supplier, but "won't need to get the message out as strongly" in Northern Ohio, because those consumers who are now paying higher rates "are more likely to say, 'Let's pack it up and move to another supplier.'"

Customers who don't state a choice will remain with their current supplier. There is no deadline for making a choice, Motley says, but by Dec. 31, 2003, there must be a 20 percent switching rate in each customer class. That can be achieved by PUCO adjusting rates to make certain selections more attractive, he says.

For some businesses, even the minimum 5 percent guaranteed reduction in the generation portion of their bill will result in substantial savings. For those that use a large amount of electricity, the cost can be a very high percentage of their total operating costs, one reason the Ohio Grocers Association has been a huge proponent of electric deregulation for years.

"Grocery stores are high users of electric energy," says Tom Jackson, president and CEO of the 900-member association. "The refrigeration equipment runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Other businesses shut off the lights. We may dim them, but we still have an awfully lot of electricity going into our stores," especially those that are open 24 hours a day.

While that organization has been following the progress of electric deregulation closely, other businesses may not yet be aware of the choices that are coming. Motley says PUCO's extensive ad campaign will educate consumers about their options and their rights, and wants to make the process as easy as possible for consumers to understand.

"We want to inhibit as much customer confusion as possible," Motley says. "At the first hint of confusion, people are likely to give up and say, 'It doesn't bother me, so why do it now?'"

In Ohio's $11 billion electricity market, the competition among suppliers will most likely be fierce, says Motley. Under gas deregulation, which was begun as a pilot program in Ohio in 1997, "gas is gas is gas," says Motley, and consumers made their choice based solely on price. But with electric deregulation, "electricity is not necessarily electricity. Price will be a major factor, the overriding factor," but consumers will be able to take other things into consideration as well, such as environmental factors, Motley says.

And because consumers have already gone through deregulation in the gas industry, Motley says they should be prepared to go out and shop around for the company which best meets their needs.

For more information about electric deregulation and how it could affect your business, go to