Daniel Bates

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:38

A Class-A Gimbels

It's amazing what $50 million, the removal of 25,000 tons of debris and a little attention to historic detail can do for an old department store building in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh.

That's what it's taking to transform an 86-year-old building, which has far outlived its original intent as a sprawling, 14-floor urban shopping experience, into one of the region's most colorful -- and state-of-the-art -- Class-A office buildings. It's a model of what can be done downtown to bring old, architecturally significant buildings into the 21st century.

The Gimbels building, designed by architectural firm Starrett and Van Vleck of New York City (the same firm that designed Lord & Taylor at about the same time), was built at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Smithfield Street in 1914. The building was constructed with structural steel covered with hard-baked clay tile, with a façade of brick and custom-made terra cotta tile moldings and other details.

A building in decline

For years, Gimbels served the region as a major department store, along with Joseph Hornes Co. and Kaufmann's, before succumbing to economic times that were driven largely by suburban shopping malls. Gimbels closed in 1986 and remained vacant until 1992, when a New York-based real estate investor named Richard Penzer bought it and slowly began a transformation.

His efforts brought in anchor retailers Burlington Coat Factory and, later, Barnes and Noble Bookstores, along with a few others on the building's lower floors, bringing it up to roughly 30 percent occupancy.

But it wasn't until members of the Rudolph family, which used to own the Wendy's restaurant franchise in Pittsburgh, and members of the Perlow family (the late Ed Perlow helped start Interstate Hotels), created a partnership to purchase the building last year that its future began to take shape. The partnership bought the building for a reported $15.5 million.

Then, with help from tax increment financing approved by Allegheny County, the City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh School District, the owners embarked on what ultimately would become a $50 million transformation process.

No ordinary renovation

It wasn't just your typical old-building conversion into trendy, if not quaint, new office space. The owners envisioned a Class-A office building which, while showcasing the historic façade, would offer state-of-the-art accommodations for 21st century businesses. Such state-of-the-art amenities would begin with a hard-to-find floor plate of 45,000 square feet per floor -- more than an acre of space on each floor.

"Tenants around the country are looking for large, efficient floor plates," says Jeremy Kronman, a real estate consultant and leasing agent for Oxford Realty Services, which manages the building and its leasing efforts. "But to get a location in the city, you need to go to either an old building, such as a department store or warehouse, or build a new one. Here, we have the best of both worlds, with the combination of an historic outside and a high-tech inside -- and right in the heart of downtown.

"That's what makes this project so exciting."

The owners launched their transformation effort by renaming the building Gimbels Landmark. Then they enlisted the services of Pittsburgh-based architectural firm Burt Hill Kosar & Rittelmann, Architects, which set out to design a floor plan that would meet Class-A standards while also adhering to strict building and renovation standards set by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission and the U.S. National Park Service. Those agencies are involved because of special financing incentives which are tied to historic preservation of the building's façade.

That posed a number of challenges, according to Gary MacDowell, an executive from John Deklewa & Sons, Contractor, who served as construction manager for the project. For instance, the building's windows, made by Traco, could be made of aluminum, but they had to be designed to replicate the style of the original windows.

But when they were installed, a Park Service inspector decided the aluminum was too noticeable on the lower levels. So the owners had to resort to new windows made of wood for those floors.

Moreover, more than 500 pieces of glazed terra cotta tile representing 12 designs had to be matched and replaced. Even the type of solution used to clean the building was determined by the Park Service (Ivory dishwashing detergent), along with the level of water pressure in the pressure washers.

But, as MacDowell says, "In general, everybody has to realize that the Gimbels building will be the nicest office building in town. It's a rock-solid building that offers the best of both worlds."

High-tech insides

Inside, contractors have rebuilt the elevators, installing Otis Elevonics control equipment, which not only makes them faster but, as MacDowell says, automatically measures usage patterns and programs their positions throughout the day. Contractors also are installing a 12,000-volt electrical system that offers what MacDowell describes as triple redundancy aimed at protecting computers and other related equipment that prove sensitive to power surges and outages.

If one line shuts off, the additional lines will switch on in an instant, he says. Reaction time in switching lines on the current system is about an hour or so. Duquesne Light Co. is providing the fail-safe electrical system.

Then there's the heating and cooling system. MacDowell says it's the most flexible available, using an open-loop, closed-loop system that exchanges water that comes from cooling towers on the building's roof. The system will automatically adjust the temperature in any given area of the building, depending on worker preferences as well as variables such as where the sun is shining throughout the day.

The crowning feature

The signature feature in the building, though, is the seven-story atrium punched out of the center of the building and capped by a fancy glass-paneled dome That posed the most significant challenge of the project, since the building was already accommodating a few tenants on the bottom three floors.

All told, workers and bulldozers gathered up about 25,000 tons of concrete, brick, reinforcement rods and other debris, mostly after working hours, and funnel it all down a small chute on Strawberry Way, where tandem dump trucks lined up night after night.

"They hauled away thousands of truckloads," MacDowell says. "But the most difficult aspect was making sure there was safe construction."

In addition, the building features a top-floor outdoor garden courtyard, although MacDowell says it's not clear yet whether that courtyard will become a common for all tenants or accessible only to a tenant that occupies the top floor.

Space available

MacDowell expects the construction to be completed by the end of September. Meanwhile, Oxford Realty Services has been hard at work lining up tenants.

Kronman says the asking price is "in excess of $20" a square foot, which, he adds, is still about 10 percent lower in price than other Class-A offices in downtown Pittsburgh.

At the moment, United Healthcare occupies more than 60,000 square feet and the Port Authority of Allegheny County is moving its executive and other offices into more than 70,000 square feet. The Duquesne Club, which occupies an adjacent building on Sixth Avenue, has expanded its health club and other facilities into a larger space in the Gimbels building.

Kronman expects it to be at more than 65 percent occupancy when it is completed, with most tenants taking advantage of the large floor plate. However, the owners expect to offer smaller spaces as well -- as little as 2,000 square feet -- on some floors.

To market the building, Kronman says the owners and building managers have stuck with the 21st century theme, providing an extensive Web site (www.gimbelslandmark.com) instead of a hard-copy brochure. The site comes complete with artists' renderings, photos, news and information -- and an award-winning virtual tour of the building designed to collect information about the person doing the virtual walk-through.

"It's fun marketing a truly 21st century building, which this has become," Kronman says. "It's an exciting project. It's a world-class renovation, and there's nothing like this in Pittsburgh." How to reach: Oxford Realty Services, (412) 261-0200

Daniel Bates (dbates@sbnnet.com) is the editor of SBN magazine.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:37

The New Reality

If you want to start a company that will attract venture capital funding, make it a dot-com.

Sage advice if you found yourself in 1999 carrying the proverbial pick and shovel into the whirlwind gold rush that was the Internet. But that was then.

At the time, you could dazzle the world with little more than unabashed gumption and a great idea to sell books or vitamins or health advice or even virtual women's communities to the world while almost thumbing your nose at conventional business.

But they seemed to forget a seemingly minor detail called revenue. And profitability.

Wall Street didn't, though, and many of those high-flying companies, whose valuations once transcended reason, have been taking it on the chin ever since. The whole Internet space, as the techies call it, has ventured at least part way back to Earth.

Now, an e-future seems to be emerging that is built not on New Economy vs. Old Economy, but rather on a reasonable partnership between the two that embraces new business paradigms while acknowledging the strength of good, old-fashioned relationships and other traditional business fundamentals. The driver behind much of this New Reality? The venture capital community itself.

"There's no use trying to be the 23rd pet food site," says David Whitmore, managing partner of Highgate Ventures (formerly i-Gate Ventures), a venture capital fund that spun out of i-Gate Capital (formerly Mastech). "The business-to-consumer market is not the place to be."

Gold rush temptations

Whitmore, who runs the $75 million venture fund from Westport, Conn., admits he was tempted -- if ever so briefly -- by the mad gold rush last year as he watched company valuations temporarily skyrocket.

"I was very envious," he says, laughing only because he didn't yield to such temptation. "It seemed that, with the right management team and story, you could go public and make a lot of money on paper."

The key phrase, of course is "on paper," because many of those high-net-worth entrepreneurs eventually watched as stock prices -- and their net worth -- dropped from, say, $40 a share to little more than $1, in some cases, virtually overnight.

Sean Sabastian, managing principal of Birchmere Investments and general partner of its Birchmere Ventures II venture capital fund, puts the valuation adjustment into perspective: "Until they're at break-even, they're not really a company. They're just spending other people's money."

Thanks, but no ...

That hasn't stopped start-ups from trying to raise huge amounts of capital, however. But when they approach Sabastian, he has a thing or two to say.

"Thanks, but no thanks," he says. "We've walked away from more opportunities on valuation. We try to maintain a rationality, and we try to stay away from the froth."

His advice to such firms in this New Reality environment: "Get real, pretty bluntly."

Sabastian is in a pretty good position to say that. His firm's first venture fund, funded by steel company magnate Richard Simmons, chose an early winner in FreeMarkets Inc., even with the company's dramatic drop in stock price after losing General Motors as a customer.

Recently, Birchmere teamed up with the principals of local venture capital veteran CEO Venture Fund to create the Birchmere Ventures II, a $75 million fund that plans to invest upwards of $5 million per investment -- and not all in Internet companies.

A marketing investment?

At the recently established Pittsburgh operation of Silicon Valley-based Redleaf Group, Doug Goodall, senior director of the Pittsburgh investment team, offers a similar observation, particularly when it comes to the business-to-consumer market.

"What we discovered was that, from a technological innovation standpoint, not much was going on" in many of last year's much-hyped B-to-C market, says Goodall, who recently joined Redleaf after spending the previous 18 months overseeing the establishment of the state-funded InnovationWorks, which funds high-tech start-ups. "It had to do with the percentage of dollars needed to invest in technology vs. TV ads and marketing.

"We started seeing companies spend 10 cents of every dollar on technology and 90 cents of every dollar on marketing. It was a pure marketing play."

Goodall adds that many of the start-ups played a rather dangerous game of "trying to steal consumers from one channel to another." But, he stresses, "the next thing they needed to do was keep them.

"We call it the 'dot-wall' category because these were the technologists who ignored business fundamentals," Goodall says. "If there's a digital highway, there's also digital roadkill."

Internet infrastructures

So what do these Internet-oriented venture capitalists really want as the New Economy high-tech market goes back to bring the Old Economy into this hybrid New Reality?

"Core technologies," Goodall explains.

While there's no denying that Redleaf targets Internet-oriented companies, it's looking for early-stage technology applications in the business-to-business space that provide infrastructure support to a business -- support that doesn't necessarily discard traditional business practices but which enhance them or make them more efficient.

For example, Goodall says, Redleaf is interested in Auction engines targeting specific industries which enhance current supply-chain channels rather than replace them. Case in point is one of its recent investments, a company called FurndX in North Carolina.

It's a commerce exchange for the furniture industry that matches the supply side of the business to the raw component side, "making the existing channel more efficient. It's the second generation of e-commerce. It has to blend new technologies with other parts of the team, and it can't be that disruptive" to business relationships and other traditional fundamentals, Goodall says. "We like it the old-fashioned way."

In other words, "Our goal is speed to revenue, with profitability right behind. It used to be just speed to market."

Redleaf, which seems to approach the investment game differently than most venture firms, is seeking some of that infrastructure technology at the earliest of embryonic stages in some cases. In fact, Redleaf has just struck a partnership with the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business to serve almost as a technology transfer center whose aim is to quickly commercialize the most promising of technologies coming out of academia.

Asked about rumors that Redleaf may be working on a similar arrangement with Carnegie Mellon University, Goodall declines to comment.

So far, Goodall says, Redleaf has available an estimated $203 million for investment globally, although the firm plans to raise another $400 million in a second round in the near future. It typically will invest between $3 million and $5 million in start-up ventures.

And by the end of the year, the firm hopes to aggressively search for attractive deals via as many as 12 offices globally. It currently has nine offices from coast to coast.

Highly differentiated

Birchmere Ventures likewise is aiming its financial muscle at B-to-B technologies which are "highly differentiated" in their respective industries, Birchmere's Sabastian says.

"We want companies where the managers exhibit deep domain knowledge."

The firm also is looking for earlier stage companies with the potential to return at least 10 times the value of its initial investment. However, depending on the situation and risk factors, Sabastian says, Birchmere will consider those with the potential to earn the firm as little as two times to as much as 20 times its initial investment.

At Highgate Ventures, David Whitmore says the venture fund has always focused on Internet infrastructure development companies and services. He is most interested in start-ups "where the Internet is viewed as another channel, another business strategy."

He mentions wireless/mobile telecommunication investments, as well as companies developing Web-driven voice recognition systems in terms of infrastructure "plays," as he calls them. Whitmore is also interested in application service providers (ASPs) that develop open-source software platforms that allow businesses to use the Internet as simply another tool to do business more efficiently both internally and externally.

Quick to cash-flow positive

Whitmore expects his investments to break even on a cash flow basis within roughly 18 months of the investment.

"They need to become cash-flow positive relatively quickly," he says.

Since March of this year, the fund has invested roughly $14 million in six start-ups, with another 18 opportunities in the pipeline for capital. Meanwhile, Whitmore and his partners in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Portland, Ore., have reviewed at least 500 plans. The firm is moving forward with plans to raise $150 million for yet another venture fund to tap into the opportunities available.

Says Whitmore, "We really have a lot of opportunities." How to reach: Birchmere Ventures, (412) 803-8000; Redleaf Group, (412) 201-5600; Highgate Ventures, (203) 221-7747

Daniel Bates (dbates@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN.

John Rodella remembers vividly the day his father took him and his sister to an office products show at the former Civic Arena.

He was five then, and rather impressionable. He remembers what he describes as two giant televisions with small screens across the room from one another. On top of each stood a large commercial television camera that was wired to the opposite TV. In front were "big, black radial-dial" telephones.

He stood in front of one camera while his sister stood in front of the other. When they dialed each other on the phones, they could see each other on the TV screens as they talked. And laughed.

"And there was a sign that said these were going to be in every home in 10 years," Rodella says. "I thought it was really very cool."

That was in 1962. Nearly 40 years later, that lofty prognostication still hasn't transpired. But that hasn't stopped Rodella, with help from his brother, Joe, and another partner, from making it his crusading mission.

It's a mission which he says will finally position his company to capitalize on its years of effort as videoconferencing enters the Internet age.

Max Headroom

From that moment at the Civic Arena, videoconferencing remained little more than a dream, encumbered by technological shortcomings.

"What happened at that point was that there wasn't enough technology in the telephone lines to bring video over the telephone," says Rodella, a 40-something successful entrepreneur with a youthful enthusiasm and a small ponytail to solidify that image.

When the technology finally arrived for the masses around 1980, the earliest versions of videoconferencing equipment were, as Rodella suggests, "Max Headroomish," with delayed, strobe-like movements transmitted on the screen. Still, he followed the technology with a distant fascination -- even after he and three partners started a company that provided cost-recovery software systems for law firms and other professional services firms.

In 1992, Rodella wrote white papers that examined the progress of videoconferencing, and he was hooked. Shortly thereafter, his company, RoData Inc., became an early distributor of videoconferencing equipment from PictureTel.

"I liked it," he says. "I thought it was cool. I felt it was within the way RoData selected products to sell."

So he spent $87,000 on a complete demonstration package, and within a day, a company called to rent it. RoData reportedly generated $508,000 in revenue that year.

Reluctantly long term

Little did Rodella know, however, that he would have to adopt a long-term, missionary mentality approach to his new venture.

"It was just hard to sell the stuff," he admits. "It was expensive. A room could cost $100,000, and yet the quality was poor. The network was so darned expensive. So in 1992, I became the Johnny Appleseed of videoconferencing."

Unwavering ambition aside, Rodella admits he miscalculated the fortune he expected to earn in short order by selling lots of equipment. His flaw: "I thought people would buy two the first year, and then sales would explode after that. But that didn't happen."

As a result of the miscalculation, he had hired extra people to handle all of those sales.

"We stepped on our tails and overbuilt because we thought the industry was moving ahead," Rodella says. "But the industry didn't live up to what it was supposed to do, and it damned near killed us.

Higher speed, lower cost

Fortunately for Rodella, the technology went the way of most in this age, continuing to improve and drop in price. At the same time, telephone lines were becoming more advanced, allowing for faster and cheaper transmission of voice, video and data. That led to major price reductions in the equipment.

"People are paying $5,000 today and getting quality that they once paid $100,000 for," he says.

In 1997, when Rodella came to the conclusion that PictureTel hadn't been improving its technology fast enough, he forced the issue by adding other videoconferencing brands, including Polycom and Vtel, to his stable of products -- to the serious dismay of PictureTel. But he quickly eased concerns because, with the ability to virtually corner the market in videoconferencing equipment, RoData doubled the sales of its PictureTel equipment.

In 1999, RoData generated $7.5 million in revenue on the equipment. But the real growth, Rodella expects, will come soon as higher-quality videoconferencing equipment finally converges with high enough quality Internet signal transmission that will allow for professional-looking meetings in real time over the Internet.

As the Internet-driven market expands, Rodella says he expects to hit $10 million in sales this year, with the greatest reward coming in five years. That's when he expects the company to grow to $50 million in annual sales.

"As of April, we are the largest videoconferencing dealer in the domestic United States," Rodella claims.

And the Internet can only make that better, he believes.

"The videoconferencing industry will enjoy a heyday like never before." How to reach: RoData, (412) 316-8888, www.RoData.com

Daniel Bates (dbates@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN.

Tuesday, 30 October 2001 12:11

Saddle sore

Pockets just casually looked up at me as I swaggered over to him like a pro. I was a cowboy now, after all, complete with my new Australian Outback-style hat and the confidence of a Wild West range rover. And Pockets was just a big horse.

Only a week before, I'd attended a leadership development program put on by Shared Vision Alliance (see this month's cover feature) that used horses to demonstrate the most effective ways to approach and lead people. Using what I had learned, I walked toward Pockets in a roundabout way, not aiming my rather stocky frame right at his face.

I then called to him calmly as I petted him and scratched his back at the tip of his mane. I even scratched under his chin as I talked to him like a 3-year-old child. I could tell he liked me, so I placed my left foot in the stirrup and climbed into the saddle.

Taking the reins, I nudged him with my right heel, and we slowly clip-clopped out of the corral. So far so good, I reasoned, proud that I had remembered my recent horse training. And now I, the 21st century Horse Whisperer, was heading for the vast rolling hills of my cousin's farm in Ohio.

I had just ventured outside the corral when I decided it was time to lead Pockets in a joyful run for the hills. So I clicked my tongue, gave him a good nudge and aimed my head and body toward a far hillside. That's when my leadership ability, shall I say, faltered.

Pockets had other plans. While he obeyed my command to run, he wasn't interested in that distant hill. Setting his sights back on the corral, he lunged 180 degrees to the right, while I leaned about 90 degrees to the left. As he began to run, my saddle slipped, and I found myself riding horizontal to the ground, gripping the saddle horn for dear life. Not exactly a John Wayne movie, I figured, as I felt my body wrench and my panicked mind fill with humiliation.

For the next several days, I hobbled slowly around my office, nursing a pulled right calf muscle and other saddle sores. But it also gave me a chance to think about what I'd learned. Obviously, that single lesson in leadership wasn't enough to make me an expert. Only experience -- and many more hard knocks along the way -- would carry me boldly into the distant hills.

The same holds true for learning good leadership. I applaud those of you who take the time to step out of the trenches of your businesses to re-energize or develop your leadership abilities. And I would encourage you to attend seminars, retreats and even an Equine Business Experience or two. You'll learn a lot.

But make no mistake. You may come out of those courses swaggering like a newborn leader, and your confidence may make you appear like a strong, wise, visionary guide. But nothing will get you to where you're going without some good, old-fashioned practice and hard-knock experience.

One trip in the saddle won't suddenly make you Leader of the Year. Nor will one leadership course. It's a life-long challenge for which you should be prepared to invest your heart and soul, over and over and over again. And expect some saddle sores along the way.

I did manage to ride into the hills that day in spite of my early accident, and the view of my cousin's 200-plus acre farm was worth the effort. But perhaps my greatest gift was when I rode back into the corral at the end of my ride. As I dismounted and walked toward the gate, Pockets lifted his head and followed me.

For I was a leader, indeed. How to reach: Daniel Bates (dbates@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN Magazine.

Tuesday, 30 October 2001 10:58

Leadership lessons from the saddle

Consultants Amy Skolen and Susan Allen stand together in front of the marker board, Allen ready with a marker as Skolen is about to begin her leadership lesson.

''What is leadership and how do we apply it?'' she asks the small audience.

The attendees talk of command-and-control, position power, coercive power, the importance of trying to understand your employees and the overriding notion that good leaders find a way to inspire their employees past the visible horizon and toward some future goal. Allen, meanwhile, writes everything down.

At first glance, this program may sound rather routine and academic for anyone who has ever attended an executive seminar or workshop on leadership development. But it's not as if these attendees are sitting in a classroom, auditorium or hotel meeting room.

The marker board rests on an easel anchored in mud, surrounded by fencing. That outdoor leadership development classroom doubles as a corral, with a small pile of horse manure neatly to one side and large horses grazing nervously inside the fencing, no more than six yards away.

The academic session didn't last long that morning. Skolen ended the exercise by calling over one of the horses. And suddenly, her guests found themselves face to, well, shoulder to an animal that once led men into war and carried rough-and-tumble cowboys into the Old West.

And with that introduction, the real lessons in executive leadership began.

Experiential learning

Welcome to the Equine Business Experience, a package of experiential leadership development programs developed by business partners Skolen and Allen and introduced officially this past summer to local business executives and their teams.

Skolen, who for a number of years provided leadership development and strategic planning consulting for her business clients, grew up with horses and decided to combine her work with her love of horses. Horses, she says, serve as a profound teaching tool because of the instinctive ways they interact with other horses and people when it comes to relationship building, trust and leadership.

The concept is by no means new. Therapists have been using horses for years to help children who are physically or mentally challenged. And now, across the country, the concept is being adapted to teach business leaders how to be more sensitive to their employees and management teams while effectively guiding them toward their visionary goals.

''It's really about creating self-awareness and accountability,'' she says of the value of her program.

Allen, meanwhile, had been a marketing consultant and found that many of her clients needed to address more fundamental leadership and other big-picture strategic planning issues before effectively designing a marketing plan.

''I wanted some experiential learning to open people up for change,'' Allen says of her attraction to Skolen's equine ambitions.

Together, they tested their newly developed curriculum for about a year and a half on business leaders and other leadership development partners before launching their company, the Shared Vision Alliance -- ''Partners in Organizational Evolution.'' The pair will run most of their programs from a brand-new stable on newly acquired property off Route 79 South between Bridgeville and Southpointe. The property includes an indoor riding rink for winter equine programs, pasture land and at least 15 horses. The facility, which Skolen and Allen call the Horsense Learning Center, is scheduled to open this month.

The programs aren't cheap. The complete package for larger executive teams costs upwards of $7,500 and includes a diagnostic meeting with the team prior to the day-long event to determine its needs and desired goals; an intensive day-long program that includes leading, herding and riding horses and other creative exercises; a post-event meeting to evaluate the event and its effect on the team; and a videotape of the event for training use by the client.

Individuals looking to develop their own leadership abilities can sign up for eight equine-oriented, one-on-one coaching sessions for $3,500.

Horse sense

Why horses, you may be asking? Back at the ranch, Skolen hands a lead rope to a participant and asks him how he would approach the horse, fasten the lead to its bridle and guide it to a spot in the corral. It was leadership in its simplest form, he thought.

So he took the rope, held it in front of him with one hand, walked directly over to the grazing horse and looked him in the eye. With that, the horse lifted its head and ears warily and leaned away. As the participant attached the lead and pulled to get the horse to go, the horse just stood there. Nothing.

Now, Skolen asks him, how would you approach one of your managers or a co-worker with, say, a revolutionary new idea or constructive criticism? Would you stop and think about that person's personality, motivations or circumstances before approaching? Could you charge right up and spout off your idea without scaring that person away or threatening his or her personal space? And how might people react if you simply threw your idea at them and told them what to do?

People may not be quick to show how they really feel in such situations, but as Skolen points out, horses certainly are. Horses, she says, demonstrate a number of innate qualities that make them exceptional leadership development tools.

They are considered prey and herd animals, which means they instinctively stay alert together watching out for predators. The horse that is the most alert and which is the most resourceful when it comes to locating food and water becomes the Alpha, or leader, and the other horses naturally follow. It's not so much a matter of which horse is the toughest and meanest -- it's the one that is most alert.

Moreover, as prey animals, horses have eyes on the sides of their heads instead of the front, so they can't see directly in front of their faces. But they can see more than 270 degrees around them, which means they spend most of their time looking at the panoramic ''big picture,'' which helps them stay alert.

People, on the other hand, are considered predatory. Their eyes are in the center of the faces, which allows them to see directly in front of them. And most people tend to use their eyes to focus with intensity on other people, either to threaten them or send other nonverbal messages.

The man should have approached the horse calmly and in a more roundabout way, according to Skolen. And he never should have pointed his eyes -- or his torso -- directly at the horse's head. He then should have talked reassuringly to the animal and petted it before reaching for the bridle.

Once he established trust, he could have simply tugged lightly on the lead, making a clicking sound to signal the horse to go, and walked with the horse as he pointed his head and body directly toward his goal.

Sensitivity training

''What I got out of this is mostly is an appreciation of the sensitivity you have to have with those you're leading,'' says Alberta ''Pudge'' Lizza, manager of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services in Greensburg, who had never been around horses before. ''My leadership style tends to get very impatient with those who weren't motivated or who didn't show initiative.

''This was a real growth experience, because these horses graphically depicted our strengths. There is an integrity we got in the feedback from the horses. So I got a sincere appreciation for good leadership. I had taken it for granted, but it's an art.''

Lizza, 54, who manages 20 real estate agents in her office, sold her company, Metro Real Estate Services, to Howard Hanna three years ago. Part of the reason she came to Skolen and Allen, she says, is because her three-year management contract was about to expire, and she was looking for ways to step back and figure out what she might do following her departure from her one-time business.

''I'm really trying to identify my strengths and weaknesses and to identify my passions,'' Lizza says. ''I want to get involved in something I'm really passionate about.''

The Equine Business Experience, Skolen says, can help individuals as much as it can teach leadership and team-building.

''Horses allow for a more real-world experience, where the horse requires people to interact with something outside themselves,'' Skolen says in her marketing materials. ''Through working with horses, we help people develop self-awareness and self-responsibility.''

As Lizza says, '' If you're not growing, you're dying. And if you're not getting out and seeing something else or seeing things from a different perspective, you're not growing.'' How to reach: Shared Vision Alliance, (412) 257-6097, or www.sharedvisionalliance.com

Daniel Bates (dbates@sbnnet.com) is the editor of SBN Magazine.

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