If this all sounds a little indefinite, well, it is. Were doing a little experimenting and were asking you to help us out. At most, youll hear from us two or three times a month. But we vow not to bombard you with worthless junk e-mail or sell or otherwise share your address with pestering salespeople.
And we absolutely promise to take you off the list if we get annoying. So if youre feeling a little daring, simply send a short message to email@example.com and well put you on the list.
Thanks for your help.
At Superbolt, a Carnegie producer of mechanical stud and bolt tensioners, plant manager William Myers has often found it frustrating to find and keep entry-level machinists to maintain his 85-employee work force at full capacity.
Glenn Skena, manager, methods engineering at Hamill Manufacturing in Trafford, has had similar problems. So has Bob Kettering, manufacturing manager at DuraMetal Products Corp. in Irwin.
“The last five years it’s been particularly noticeable,” says Kettering.
Myers says he’s had trouble getting applicants to even turn out for interviews. And he’s offered jobs to people, only to have them quit a few months later.
That may come as a surprise, especially when jobs like these pay an average of $8 to $10 an hour to start, plus benefits in many cases and they’re available to individuals at a high school graduate level, in some cases earlier.
Manufacturing 2000, a training program that graduated its first class of machinists in 1998, has eased the situation for all three companies, bringing them better-trained and more motivated candidates than they’ve been able to draw in recent years from the vo-tech schools and the general work force.
That same model is being expanded to come to the aid of other manufacturing segments experiencing the same kinds of shortages.
A labor legacy
The region’s industrial past has left at least one significant legacy: high-wage jobs for the remaining workers in manufacturing, which still accounts for about 16 percent of private sector jobs in a 13-county area of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
According to figures provided by Manufacturing 2000, manufacturing in Allegheny County leads all categories in annual wages, with $2.8 billion wages paid. The annual salary for manufacturing segment employees is more than $40,000 annually, while the average salary for all other sectors is about $28,600.
Despite the relatively high wages paid for entry-level jobs in manufacturing, however, employers are finding it difficult to find qualified applicants. Companies point to several factors that have created a dearth of available and reliable labor. The educational system, parents and society in general are steering students toward the academic track, they say, encouraging college as a first choice.
“I don’t see a whole lot of push in the schools toward machining,” says Myers.
Moreover, the companies say, a lot of vo-tech schools have not kept up with technology, and students often perceive the machinist and tool-and-die trades as dirty work, not as a field dominated by modern CNC equipment that requires more sophisticated training to operate. And, say the business operators, vo-tech schools are too often a repository for poor academic achievers or students with disciplinary problems.
Skena points out that vocational schools, from which he used to get nearly all of his entry-level machinists, once provided a rich pool of potential employees. A local vocational school that Hamill Manufacturing works with, for instance, has a co-op program that allows students to work part-time while they go to school to prepare for a position as an entry-level machinist. This year, the school could recommend only one student out of a class of 20 to Skena for the program, a far cry from a decade ago.
“I would have had 10 kids 10 years ago,” says Skena.
As heavy industry in the region wound down, it displaced many low-skill workers. The new manufacturing economy, in contrast, requires employees who are better trained, with more exacting skills than were once required in heavy industry.
For the new skilled laborer, the emphasis is much more on skill than on labor. The pool of available workers, however, has shrunk.
New Century approach
The success of Manufacturing 2000 has led to the creation of New Century Careers, a nonprofit umbrella organization that will include the machinist training program and training to qualify individuals in welding and in electronics assembly.
“Manufacturing 2000 embodies the employment goals of businesses and public officials to attract skilled workers and keep them in the region,” says Paul Anselmo, executive director of the program.
The manufacturers see a different kind of candidate coming out of Manufacturing 2000.
“The group you are dealing with is post-high school,” says Skena.
Most are a bit more mature, many have tried college and found it wasn’t for them or need to get a full-time job that offers a stable future. The screening process culls those with the most aptitude and places them in the appropriate training program at no cost to the applicant.
The hiring companies pay the program $1,250 for each employee they hire permanently, a fee the manufacturers say is well worth it if they get an effective employee.
One strength of Manufacturing 2000, says Kettering, is that it creates a stronger, more direct link between training and employment. The process identifies, screens and trains applicants, then places and develops skill-based talent in partnership with academic and vocational institutions. DuraMetal Products has hired two of the program’s graduates and expects to hire a third.
But while the model has worked well for the machinist trade, what are its prospects for success in the other fields?
The employers appear to have high hopes.
“Given a little bit of time, I think they’re going to be pushing out some quality entry-level people,” says Myers.
And that’s from someone who’s been there.
How to reach: New Century Careers, (412) 258-6620
Ray Marano (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of SBN magazine.
It hit me on an afternoon two years ago while some of my musician friends and I were entertaining patients at the V.A. Hospital in Aspinwall.
During our performance, a man confined to his bed opened his eyes for the first time in months, his wife told us. It may have been a coincidence, but I really want to believe that we had something to do with it. The mans grateful wife was convinced that we did, and that alone made it a precious moment to her and to us.
I realized that there are a couple of things I would do even if I never got paid for them. One is strapping a guitar across my shoulder and playing for an appreciative audience until my fingers are sore. The other is sitting at a keyboard for several hours, enduring the sweat and toil it sometimes takes to write something that will motivate, inspire or otherwise jostle someone into action.
A corollary to that is one of the most significant broncos of wisdom that Ive been able to wrangle to date: In the long run, what you have isnt nearly as important as what you do.
Realizing that what I do really counts most has pointed me in the right direction at several points in my life. At a time when I was trying to decide how I truly wanted to make a living, I chose to pursue something that, at the time, seemed a bit impractical for a number of reasons. That led to a career in journalism.
Later, I had to choose between a path that likely would have been financially rewarding but less satisfying, and another that would keep me engaged for the long haul but wouldnt pay as much. I went with my gut, chose the latter, and was never sorry.
During a journalism career that spans a decade, Ive met a lot of entrepreneurs like the ones in this months cover story who are launching Laurel Networks. With that experience, Ive come to classify entrepreneurs in two rather broad categories. There are those who are focused almost entirely on the money. And some of them do succeed.
But there is another brand of business builder which seems to have a far less urgent passion for getting rich. Sure, they have the potential to become wealthy, even extravagantly so in some ventures, as the recent history of some notable technology companies verifies. None of those entrepreneurs makes any bones about the financial upside.
In truth, though, a lot of them, highly skilled professionals in big demand, could do quite well working for someone else and, in a lot of cases, already have. But I detect a sense of purpose and mission that has little to do with making a million dollars.
What most often comes through vividly is a burning desire to create something new, something that will have an impact on the world and let it know that they not only were here, but that they created something of value. And they send the clear message that once whatever they are doing ceases to be fun, theyre likely to jump into something else that gets their creative entrepreneurial juices flowing.
So when something gets to be all work and no play, maybe thats when its time to plunge into that other venture youve been dreaming about. Now, I think that song goes something like this: G, E minor, C ...
Ray Marano, (email@example.com)associate editor at SBN, may not be rich, but hes happy even if his fingers are raw.
Linda Stevenson has spent most of her career in banking. Even when she took time off to raise a family, she continued working part time in banking.
But her devotion to the profession doesnt just stem from her education or devotion to her employer, National City Bank. Shes in it for the entrepreneurs.
I really love what I do because Im just fascinated with the courage entrepreneurs have and the sacrifices they make to start their businesses, says Stevenson, who has been working for National City or its predecessor banks since 1982. I get to be a part of that process and help them. Its like I have a piece of ownership in them.
Stevenson, a lifelong Erie resident, is an assistant vice president of National City and focuses entirely on the small business sector, particularly with the banks SBA lending program. She has served with its small business program for the entire 10 years of its official existence, spending as much time servicing customers in Pittsburgh as she does in Northwestern Pennsylvania. In fact, she was part of the team, led by Thomas Golonski, president and CEO of National City Bank of Pennsylvania, that created the program.
We had the foresight to recognize that small businesses are critical to the region, she says.
Now, she says, she has had the privilege of beginning to see a new element emerge and prosper in Western Pennsylvania: women-owned businesses. To feed her passion for that sector, she recently helped set up a PowerLink advisory board chapter in the Erie area, which puts together business advisory boards, at no cost, for qualified women-owned businesses interested in growing aggressively.
Says Stevenson of entrepreneurship and her role as a banker in that world: Its really fun to be part of it.
Marsh, a leading insurance broker and risk advisory service, has developed Net Secure, a program of insurance and consulting for those involved in e-business. Marsh advises companies in e-business to take the following steps to identify and address potential risks:
- Know all of your e-business applications and examine the risks.
- Focus first on the risks that pose the greatest threat to profits or reputation.
- Gauge your vulnerability.
- Examine the financial impact and valuation issues associated with your e-business activities.
- Review your insurance to determine if it addresses your e-business risk.
- Examine contracts with vendors who provide critical functions for your Web business.
- Establish a team within you company to evaluate risks and develop strategies to deal with them.
- Establish e-business security measures. How to reach: Marsh, (412) 552-5077 or www.marshweb.com/e-business
Theyre not quite mergers, but they can put your business in a close working relationship with another company, especially when both are doing business with a third party.
They can be lucrative for both partners. Or they can sour quickly.
Call them alliances or strategic partnerships or strategic alliances or even strategic alliance partnerships, but theyre designed to be symbiotic, allowing two or more companies to work together so that both can benefit in ways they may not be able to alone.
Chud Fuellgraf sums up what he looks for in an alliance this way: Im looking for something where one and one equal three.
He should know. Fuellgraf, president of Fuellgraf Electric, a 130-employee, full-service electrical contractor based in Butler, thinks hes found that kind of bargain in a relationship with LLI Technologies and Construction Inc., a Pittsburgh consulting engineering and construction company.
Fuellgraf and LLI had worked on many of the same projects, so when it came time to form a strategic alliance partnership, both parties were able to see what the other would bring to the table. LLI had amassed expertise in designing telecommunications networks, which it is leveraging in its new alliance with Fuellgraf to complete advanced communications projects for which speed to market is critical. In effect, a its relationship in which the partners can land more work and do it better as a team than either could independently.
While their forms vary, alliances require a few defining characteristics. Most essential are trust and communication between the partners and the capabilities of both parties benefiting from the union.
Scott Craven, CEO of Off the Page, an e-business consulting and implementation firm, has alliances with five partners. What distinguishes alliances from other casual business relationships, he says, is cooperative marketing efforts, cost sharing and exchange of market intelligence and research things you might shy away from in a more casual relationship with a vendor or client.
And while your alliance partner might be in a business thats related to yours, says Craven, you dont want to find yourself competing for the same business. Instead, you want partners which can offer you something you dont already have, and which need what you have to offer.
Staying in touch
LLI and Fuellgraf decided that, although modern communications technology gives both the ability to stay in touch electronically, they needed a common location. So the alliance took office space for its employees next to LLIs headquarters on Penn Avenue.
In the relationship between the partners in the fledgling stage, its supercritical that people are able to communicate, says Michael Mason, president of LLI.
Both parties have a weekly coordination meeting, supplemented by distance communication via telephone and e-mail.
Even if you cant be in the same location, staying in touch is essential.
Ongoing communication is absolutely necessary, says John Macy, vice president of General Management Technologies, which is among Off the Pages partners.
Tell your employees and keep the information flowing. The idea of a strategic alliance and what it means may be harder to grasp than the idea of a merger or acquisition, so employees will have lots of questions. LLI and Fuellgraf held a series of meetings to let their workers know what the alliance meant for them.
In the FuellgrafLLI venture, LLI transferred a dozen employees to Fuellgraf and some LLI employees transferred became Fuellgraf personnel. Those kinds of changes can raise concerns, so they have to be carefully and fully explained.
And, as Fuellgraf points out, the relationship will raise questions on a day-to-day basis about procedural issues, so the partners must establish an ongoing process of explaining what needs to be done in a given circumstance in which the other partner might be involved. Whereas one vendor had been used in the past, for instance, the alliance might make it practical to use another to reduce costs or eliminate overlap.
Doing your homework
Alliances can break down quickly if the partners arent compatible, so due diligence is recommended. Youd better have sound business reasons to join forces, and the two cultures have to be compatible.
When Off the Page was looking for a consulting firm to partner with, it investigated several before settling on General Management Technologies. Craven says a deciding factor for Off the Page was that General Management Technologies process for evaluating potential alliances was nearly identical to its own, indicating that the companies shared common business philosophies.
However, striking a relationship with a partner that does something related to what you do but doesnt interfere with your business can be tricky. Craven says technology companies sometimes strike alliances with other technology firms simply because it seems like a good idea, only to find that the relationship doesnt make sense. A good strategy allows you to collectively offer something to your clients that has value but doesnt require a huge investment or the building of an organization from scratch.
General Management Technologies, for instance, can help a client form a strategy, then bring along Off the Page to handle the clients e-business needs. Off the Page can tap General Management Technologies strategic consulting talent to make sure the e-business solution is compatible with the clients overall goals.
We believe that having end-to-end capability is important in the e-business strategy arena, says Macy. Its a cost-effective way to ramp up a technology and bring those skills to our clients.
Last but not least, owners of all kinds of firms agree that a concrete, everything-in-writing commitment to work together is an absolute necessity. LLI and Fuellgraf put teeth in their alliance by agreeing on a joint business plan and engaging in a long-range planning process. In the case of General Management Technologies and Off The Page, the partners say the level of business activity that each generates for the other is the indicator of whether each is committed.
Says General Management Technologies Macy: One of the ways I look for commitment in these kinds of relationships is, Are we getting leads and prospects and vice versa?
How to reach: LLI/Fuellgraf, (412) 338-0700; General Management Technologies, (412) 279-3501; Off the Page, (412) 654-3335
Ray Marano (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of SBN magazine.
I went to see Boiler Room and was troubled by comments from my colleagues about salespeople after the movie. One woman said she would discourage her kids from pursuing a career in sales. As a salesperson, I was hoping you might have some ammunition that I could use to defend our trade.
There is no more important role in the business world today than that of salespeople. Salespeople are more important than doctors, scientists, engineers, CEOs and lawyers. A scientist or a doctor may discover the cure for cancer, but nobody is saved until the cure is sold to the patients who need it and the physicians who treat them.
Personal computers have revolutionized the way we do business, but they sat in a research center until Steve Jobs and his contemporaries took the technology developed by engineers at Xerox and sold it to the American public. While Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers crafted our nations Constitution, the real work was done by Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton and others who sold it to the colonies and obtained their ratification.
Unfortunately, sales often is a dirty word in our culture that conjures up images of con artists in plaid jackets. Although nothing could be further from the truth, this is how we are portrayed in movies, plays and songs. This winter, while fighting the flu, I went to the video store to load up on videos. I chose movies about salespeople: Death of a Salesman; Glengarry, Glen Ross; Tin Men; and Cadillac Man. After Glengarry, Glen Ross, I had to turn off the VCR. No wonder people think of salespeople the way they do.
Sure, there have been and will continue to be a few bad apples that stain the image of the professional salesperson, but name a profession that doesnt have its share of miscreants.
To set the record straight and to support the countless salespeople who daily help turn the wheels of commerce, I am setting forth the Salespersons Bill of Rights. You have the right:
1. to your dreams, desires and expectations;
2. to like yourself as you are;
3. to change that which you dont like;
4. to fail;
5. to decide how you use your time and energy;
6. to ask questions;
7. to disqualify prospects before they disqualify you;
8. to ask for a decision;
9. to get a decision, as long as one option is no;
10. to be successful once you have paid the price.
Along with these rights come responsibilities. It is your responsibility to our profession to hold yourself to the highest standards. I measure this by whether the salesperson who follows you had an easier time with the prospect because of you. Here are your responsibilities to your brethren in sales. You are responsible for:
1. avoiding excuses;
2. not wasting a prospects time;
3. being polite;
4. how prospects feel when they are around you;
5. telling prospects what to expect from you;
6. making your questions meaningful;
7. helping prospects discover for themselves how you can help them without beating them up with features and benefits;
8. guiding the prospect to make a decision;
9. accepting no from a prospect;
10. keeping your mindset and skills at the highest level possible through a commitment to ongoing learning and training.
I hope that, armed with these rights and responsibilities, we can overcome the negative stereotypes and elevate the concept of being a salesperson to the level that an entrepreneur holds in todays public eye. After all, isnt that what an entrepreneur really is?
Find me an entrepreneur who isnt a salesperson and I will show you a business owner who failed.
Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm specializing in sales development and training. Reach him at (724) 933-9110 or by e-mail at LTLewis@totaldevelopment.com.
A deadline is fast approaching; the pressure is mounting and the walls seem to be closing in. Maybe its a good time to take a vacation.
Thats months away! you scoff to yourself.
Not so. You may not realize it, but you have an opportunity to regroup and refresh right at your fingertips.
In an instant, you can be in the mountains, or at the shore, or at your favorite golf course. You can close your eyes for a few minutes and clear away the mental clutter. Then you can face the day, and any problems you may have, with a clear head and a fresh new approach.
Garbage! you say. Ive got an important job here. I cant get swept up in the euphoria of some New-Age mumbo jumbo.
Hold on a second. When your mind is tied in knots when its cluttered with a lot of stuff, related to business or otherwise youre not at your peak efficiency. Too many random and unrelated thoughts have a tendency to slip into your decision-making process. You wont process information effectively and you wont make the best possible decisions, because you are short-circuiting one of your greatest resources: your intuition.
Intuition is the flow of insights, hunches, and premonitions that make up your internal guidance system. One writer refers to intuition as the urgings of the spirit.
Regardless of how you think of it, your intuition is a powerful resource. It acts as a filter to screen out trivia and give greater emphasis to the information that is of greater importance to you. Think about all of the times youve faced problems and your first thoughts turned out to be the best answer. In all probability, that was your intuition at work.
According to author Gary Zukav, intuition serves several purposes:
Intuition serves survival. It signals when danger is near. It tells you when you are facing abnormal risk and when youre about to make a mistake. It could have been your intuition that told you not to buy that stock. Your intuition and your spouse were both right.
Intuition serves creativity. It provides new ideas and insights. It provides the suggestion that an idea which has never been tried before might work.
Intuition provides inspiration. Its the sudden illumination that shines through the confusion the sudden answer to a perplexing question.
So, rather than chase your tail around a problem until the last possible moment and then make a slap-dash decision visit your desktop resort. Take a minute or two to refresh yourself. Take several deep breaths. Let some fresh air in.
Recall a particularly enjoyable experience. Savor it. Gain a new perspective about the problem, your life, your family and your job.
Ah, yes your job. OK, now is the time to go back and tackle that problem with a fresh mind and a new approach. Put your intuition to work. Let your mind do its job. Allow it to recognize and consider all the options and present to you the best possible solution. Chances are, that problem wont seem quite so insurmountable now.
And whatever you do, please dont tell your travel agent about all the money that I saved you. Lets keep the desktop resort as our little secret. William Armstrong, a management consultant for 31 years, is president of Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm Armstrong/Associates. Reach him at (412) 276-7396 or email@example.com.
William Goodlin will be the first to tell you taking your product or service overseas can prove difficult at best.
He should know. As the long-time president of Bricmont Enterprises, a local engineering firm that designs furnaces for the steel, glass and brick industries, he has taken 12 trips to China in the past two years, 10 days each trip. And he still doesn’t have any contracts there.
But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Goodlin knows that exporting takes patience, not to mention persistence and some level of fortitude. And the result? Since Bricmont, a Southpointe, Washington County-based firm that employs about 100 people, started targeting overseas projects in 1992, it has increased its annual revenue to more than $50 million. Today, 37 percent of its revenue comes from export sales.
So why aren’t more Pittsburgh-area companies doing it? Wayne DiBartola, a senior technical consultant working with the World Trade Center Pittsburgh, puts it simply: “Business in the U.S. is too good, so they’re reluctant to go international. But I would think twice about that because the future is in the global markets.”
For those willing to try, he offers this advice: “Persistence, persistence, persistence, persistence. And patience, patience, patience, patience.”
Both he and Goodlin, along with World Trade Center director Mame Bradley, are on a mission to increase export activity in the region. They recently took their message to a gathering of CEOs at a CEO Club program.
“We are way behind in terms of export employment,” Bradley told the audience, adding that only one job in 20 in the region is the result of export activity here, far behind the statistics of other metropolitan areas. “But for every billion dollars in exports, 15,000 jobs are created and supported. That’s one job for every $66,000.
“If we could catch up to the rest of the country, we could add 60,000 new jobs immediately,” she says. “The impact of $3 billion on local business is very direct and very powerful.”
The impact on a company’s bottom line isn’t so bad either, Goodlin says. Bricmont earns a profit margin of between 4 and 8 percent on domestic sales. But overseas, it can earn a margin in the neighborhood of 12 to 17 percent. That got Goodlin’s attention.
So where does a company begin? Goodlin offers a laundry list of advice, beginning with a willingness to work with the U.S. government.
“We avoided the government like the plague for 35 years,” he says, before finally realizing that it could help Bricmont immensely in breaking into new markets. Today, the company works actively with the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, the Export-Import Bank, the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. embassies and the U.S. Department of Commerce in both Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., among others.
Goodlin says he even relies on the government for cultural information, so that he’s aware of appropriate and inappropriate goodwill gestures and other behaviors before entering a market.
Time is the other significant barrier to entry, Goodlin stresses. As with his Chinese adventure, overseas relationships require a much longer-term view of things.
“When you get into the international market, they don’t know you from Adam,” he says.
That means you have to take the time to get to know the people and how they do business. Overseas, relationships come long before actual sales, in most cases.
Here’s the rest of Goodlin’s checklist for export success:
- Your senior executives must make a huge commitment to doing business overseas because they will be doing most of the relationship building.
- Expect to make a large number of trips to those overseas destinations. “They want to see you more and more,” Goodlin says.
- Be prepared to share three to four times the information you typically provide to prospective customers. “Customers desire education on your products,” he says.
- Expect your first sale or contract to take as long as three to four years to close, which may be how long it takes to develop a comfortable relationship with the customer.
- Expect some language barriers. But, Goodlin says, most prospective customers want to speak English in the meetings, even if their English is substandard. “They’ll use you as the English teacher,” he quips.
- Transportation within some countries can prove difficult, so leave lots of time to get to your business destination.
- You need a local agent within your target country, which you can locate through U.S. government officials.
Overall, Goodlin says, entering the export arena as a senior executive “does change the way your life is, and your husband or wife won’t see you much ... but they say absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Daniel Bates (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of SBN.