When Jeff Hadburg's eyesight deteriorated to the point where it became difficult to do his job, he easily could have found himself out of work.
Instead, Hadburg's employer, Highmark Inc., found out what could be done to accommodate his disability and keep him on the job in his position as a customer service representative, a job he had held for 14 years at the health insurance company.
But Highmark isn't simply being a benevolent employer; it is looking out for its own interests by enabling Hadburg and other employees with disabilities to continue to work. The tightest job market in three decades is encouraging companies to find innovative ways to attract employees and keep them.
"Quite frankly, it just made good business sense," says Elaine Gedman, director of corporate work force initiatives for Highmark, of the concerted effort it has made to keep employees like Hadburg on the job. "The unemployment rate is so low that finding good employees is a challenge for any organization."
In Hadburg's case, macular edema, a condition that makes it difficult to see small print and contrast on computer screens, threatened to prevent him from doing his job. In his position, Hadburg spends about 75 percent of his time at a computer screen. Through a process that involved consultation with his physician and an agency that helps individuals with vision impairments, Highmark fitted Hadburg's computer with ZoomText, a computer software package that magnifies text on-screen.
Had Highmark not been able to accommodate him, says Hadburg, "I probably would have gone on to some kind of permanent disability program." In that scenario, Highmark would have lost a valued, experienced employee and Hadburg would have lost a job that he enjoys.
Gedman says that achieving an accommodation is not always that simple. It sometimes takes patience and a coordination of efforts by the employer, the employee and other consultants. The effort is usually worth it, she says, because it often engenders a strong loyalty to the company.
For Highmark, compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, passed 10 years ago and implemented in 1992, means access to a wider pool of employees to fill positions. The company long ago eliminated physical barriers for disabled workers; its focus in more recent years has been to help employees overcome less obvious obstacles that may prevent them from performing at their peak.
As Gedman points out, compliance is much less expensive when compared to the costs of recruitment and retention, lost productivity and the loss of business that could result if Highmark can't maintain its staffing levels.
Companywide, says Gedman, Highmark has about 70 employees for whom some kind of accommodation has been implemented. That doesn't include those with disabilities that don't impede their ability to do their jobs, such as a wheelchair-bound person, for whom accessibility to buildings and facilities exists. Fifth Avenue Place and the adjoining Penn Avenue Place, where Highmark has its offices, are both accessible.
In some cases, says Gedman, agencies that advocate for individuals with certain kinds of disabilities will provide special equipment for them to do their jobs.
In others, they will work with employers to achieve a solution that works for both employer and employee. Most of the agencies, she says, are skilled at finding creative solutions that take into consideration the cost to the employer.
In one instance, an employee needed to have her legs elevated off the floor while she worked. The simple solution: a cardboard carton used to package computer paper put to use as a footrest. The cost: nothing.
Finally, Gedman emphasizes, providing accommodations isn't simply about complying with the law or about lowered expectations for employees who need some modification to their work environment to perform their jobs.
"It's not about lowering the bar," says Gedman. "It's about business, and it's about the bottom line." How to reach: Highmark Inc., www.highmark.com
Ray Marano (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of SBN magazine.
Hospitals, already turned upside down by the merger and restructuring craze that has hit health care during the last several years, are facing more difficult decisions.
According to a study by Deloitte & Touche, financial pressures are forcing hospital CEOs to cancel managed care contracts at a "surprising rate." Overall, nearly one-third of hospitals have cancelled an HMO contract; that number leaps to nearly 60 percent for hospitals with more than 500 beds. The most commonly cited reason for cancelling an HMO contract was poor financial results.
"Despite near-term financial pressures, hospitals are more optimistic about their long-term survival," says Ray Cisneros, the survey's architect and a national health care partner with the firm.
Even though the market environment is challenging and many hospitals are closing, optimism remains high. The survey found that 75 percent of hospital CEOs expect their organizations to still be operating in five years -- up from 57 percent a decade ago. This increased optimism has allowed executives to direct their attention to meeting the needs of consumers.
One of the growing demands of these consumers is alternative medicine.
"Hospitals have discovered that alternative medicine and health care therapies can provide new revenue," says Tom Hochhausler, national health care partner with Deloitte & Touche. "That's resulted in steady growth in the number of organizations offering complementary care, especially among larger urban facilities."
In fact, 25 percent of inner-city and 32 percent of larger hospitals offer alternative therapies more frequently than do their counterparts. The study also found that 24 percent of hospital CEOs use alternative therapies, such as natural and herbal medicines.
What is slow to change is the downsizing of overall acute care capacity, with nearly 40 percent of those surveyed reporting an excess supply of these services in their respective markets. A portion of this excess is being converted to outpatient use, with a growing percentage of CEOs reporting that outpatient care represents more than half of their revenue.
Despite these facts, 40 percent of suburban and other urban hospitals report plans to increase acute care offerings over the next two years.
"While nationally there appears to be an imbalance in supply and demand, some acute care facilities are simply not located where they are needed," says Cisneros. "As a result, we are seeing many hospitals shutting acute care wings while others are adding beds."
Cisneros cautions that hospitals need to keep an eye on the capacity problem and not compete on size without regard for demand. Todd Shryock (email@example.com) is SBN's special reports editor.
The headquarters of Web hosting provider pair Networks Inc. has the earmarks of cutting-edge industrial-look design, with plenty of exposed ductwork and electrical conduit, an angular metal sculpture clock and plasma video screens in the reception area.
Not unlike the offices of many companies in high-technology industries, pair Networks' 12,000-square-foot complex flouts the design of conventional office spaces. And, as with a lot of tech offices, it seems as if the owners must have spent a bundle to get the sleek utilitarian look that has become nearly de rigueur in New Economy companies.
"I wanted it to be a reference to our corporate identity," says Nancy Kumpfmiller, a principal in the company that she and her husband, Kevin Martin, a former research systems programmer at Carnegie Mellon University, founded in 1995 in a 600-square-foot office.
But the company's new offices, while sleek and modern, weren't the biggest expense for pair Networks' headquarters. The real money was packed into the on-site data center -- and for good reason.
The owners say their company hosts 100,000 Web sites but few visitors at its facility. With security and technological redundancies being the highest concerns for clients, the offices aren't used extensively for courting new business or schmoozing customers. For pair Networks, the design of its River Park Commons offices on the South Side in the former Gimbels warehouse revolves around the data center.
A close look at the design details reveals that pair Networks achieved its striking look without breaking the bank. In fact, the idea from the beginning was to achieve a comfortable, inspiring workspace for its 25 employees without spending a fortune. The company's corporate colors, blue and gold, cover large areas of the walls and architectural features.
Kumpfmiller nixed a proposal for linoleum floors and opted instead for retaining the existing concrete floors in most of the space. The rectangular panels that detail many of the walls are inexpensive medium-density fiberboard. Fluorescent light fixtures hang low over the workspaces, and flat, white walls provide soft reflected light.
Common areas are lighted using institutional fixtures bolted to metal tracks suspended from the ceiling on round steel-bar stock. And employees are encouraged to personalize their workspaces to suit their tastes and make themselves comfortable.
Perhaps most indicative of the blurring of the line between work and play that today's information age workers are so comfortable with is the electronic game machine that stands in the corner of the conference room. Even Kumpfmiller's original vision for pair Network's offices reflects a clearing of the barriers between work and personal time that younger workers in the tech industries are demanding.
Says Kumpfmiller: "I wanted it to be almost to the point of looking like a club you would see in the Strip District." How to reach: pair Networks, www.pair.com
Ray Marano (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of SBN magazine.
It is hard to believe that just a few years ago, the Pennsylvania National Bank building was in danger of falling to the wrecking ball. Today, the handsome structure anchors a prominent intersection in the city's resurgent Lawrenceville community.
But since its original owner folded during the Great Depression, the building has housed a succession of short-term tenants with little regard for preservation. In the 15 years before it underwent its lifesaving restoration, the building was vacant, serving mainly as "a retirement village for pigeons," says Luke Desmone, CEO of Desmone & Associates Architects, the architectural firm that now calls it home.
Despite the dilapidated condition of the building, Desmone & Associates teamed with the Lawrenceville Development Corp. in 1995 for a $600,000 project to resurrect the structure. Early next year, it will take over the entire building, as Lawrenceville Development moves into another building that is undergoing renewal.
The building presented a number of opportunities for Desmone. It offered a chance to move from its less-than-ideal quarters in Point Breeze. It could provide a showcase for the firm's restoration practice, which accounts for between 60 percent and 70 percent of its business. It had a large, open space to promote teamwork and creativity. Finally, its design and orientation, with 30-foot ceilings and tall windows, allow natural light to illuminate the 3,800-square-foot space.
The firm's employees had hands-on involvement in the project from the beginning. For instance, Jimmy DeCecco, a senior architect, designed and built the furniture.
Says Desmone: "We're looking for the challenging projects."
Ultimately, the Pennsylvania National Bank building is something of a bargain for the architectural firm.
Says Desmone: "No one could afford in today's market to recreate this building." How to reach: Desmone & Associates, www.desmone.com
Ray Marano (email@example.com) is associate editor of SBN magazine.
Sevrain shared that wisdom and more at a recent MIT Enterprise Forum.
Morewood Molecular, a Pittsburgh company that is commercializing a biological testing technology for the pharmaceutical industry, faces the same quandaries regarding disclosure that other technology companies confront, especially those with a technology that has yet to be commercialized. Giving away too much steak with the sizzle when trying to get financing, secure a strategic or equity partner, or acquire key expertise could put your business in someone else's hands.
For a lot of high-tech companies, especially those in an early stage of development, their principal assets reside in their intellectual property, and protecting that property is critical to the company's future. However, several key activities involved in launching and growing a technology company endanger the secrecy of that asset.
Asking investors to consider putting investing in your venture requires you to disclose at least some details of how your technology works. And hiring employees, especially key personnel, requires the same kinds of revelations.
Sevrain says acquiring patents early in the process, securing nondisclosure agreements and retaining secrecy about your technology will go a long way toward keeping your secrets secret.
Other key suggestions:
* File patents early. The filing date is critical to defending a patent claim.
* If patents haven't been filed, Sevrain won't discuss the technology with anyone without a nondisclosure agreement and will make no public disclosures until patents have been filed.
* Nondisclosure agreements shouldn't be limited to outsiders and employees. Board members, consultants and advisers should also sign them.
* Venture capitalists will almost never sign a nondisclosure agreement. Some may even be snooping for details about competitors of companies in their own portfolios.
* Finally, Sevrain suggests that you keep your vanity in check: "Don't brag about your company." How to reach: Morewood Molecular, www.morewoodmolecular.com
"Could we make it 3?" he asks in a blink, negotiating for a little extra time to squeeze in a workout and get ready for a trip to Phoenix for a conference with his fellow sports agents. As it turns out, I'm a bit squeezed for time that afternoon, so the later meeting works for me, too.
The subtleties in the exchange might be lost in the narrative, but I'll assure you that at least some of Cindrich's skills as a negotiator came through loud and clear during that brief conversation.
There are lots of negotiating styles, and I'm sure you've encountered most of them. Before I met Cindrich, I figured he'd be a snarling dog in negotiations, given the high-stakes jousts he must engage in with team owners and their representatives. I pictured lots of red-faced confrontations, slamming of papers on desks and no shortage of tough language. I'm convinced now that I was dead wrong.
Instead, I'll bet he starts with evaluating the situation as it exists, making sure both parties agree where they stand, checking to see if there's some willingness to bend on the other side. If he senses there is, he suggests a move that might bring them closer, all the while making sure he shows consideration for his counterpart's situation.
Although he's no doubt determined to get the best for his client and not leave anything on the table that doesn't belong there, he knows it's a failing strategy to leave his adversary feeling beaten and humiliated because he'll likely have to face him again some day.
So I learned something from that experience about negotiating. Considering what's in the other guy's interest is just as important as whatever your own wants or needs might be.
Figuring out what things look like from the other side of the table can help you get what you're vying for, whether it's another hour or an extra million bucks.
"You definitely want to optimize the value of your investment in other countries," says Joe Bernot, international tax partner with Deloitte & Touche. "Taxes paid in foreign countries may reduce your U.S. tax liability, depending on the situation. If foreign taxes you pay are not creditable, you may be subject to double taxation, which erodes the return on your investment."
And pay attention to potential benefits obtained through tax treaties the United States has made with other nations.
"There are 40 to 50 treaties that can help minimize the tax burden," says Bernot.
Bernot cites the example of an individual or company that makes a loan to a company in the United Kingdom.
"The general rule there is that the interest on the loan is subject to U.K. withholding tax," says Bernot. "The treaty between the U.S. and the United Kingdom reduces that tax to zero."
Companies must also pay attention to where the profit from their activities is earned,.
"Let's say you set up a wholly owned subsidiary in Canada," he says. "The product is manufactured in the U.S. and sent to Canada for distribution. The price you charge the Canadian subsidiary determines how the profit is split between the U.S. and Canada, and determines which country gets the tax revenue."
According to Bernot, where the profit is taxed is important because Canadian taxes are generally higher than U.S. taxes.
Confused? Global tax considerations can be intricate and confusing, which is why Bernot recommends companies consult with an international tax professional prior to setting up business outside the United States.
"If a company ends up with a bad tax structure, it can be costly to unwind and clear up," he says. "If the company does its homework up front, it should be in a good position going forward." How to reach: Deloitte &
Touche, (614) 221-1000
When was the last time you asked your employees if they trust you? People take their employees for granted, and that's a big mistake.
I see six ways to build better trust between you and your employees that will make you a better leader
1. Communicate. It's better to overcommunicate than not communicate at all. This can be done through daily, weekly or monthly e-mails, newsletters or managers' meetings.
2. Take a genuine interest in your employees' financial situation. If an employee is having financial problems and you are in a position to help, why not extend an interest-free loan that can be deducted out of future paychecks? It costs little, and the gesture will go a long way.
3. Take a genuine interest in your employees' personal situation. Flextime is a great way to allow employees to deal with childcare, eldercare or sickness in the family. Employees appreciate flexibility.
4. Give recognition when deserved. Surveys show employees crave recognition as much as or more than money. Show them you appreciate their efforts.
5. Show a clear direction for the company. People need to be able to see the future of the company, as well as their own future. It's important to share goals and objectives that pave the way to success.
6. Share key performance measures of how you run the company. Everyone should know what variables are used when making decisions. For instance, one variable could be return on investment and the timeframe in which you expect to get that return.
Leadership is not to be taken lightly. The more you care about your people's needs, the greater the chance that you will be the person leading them. Even when you think your employees are wrong, if you listen carefully, they're probably telling you something about your business that needs correcting.
In the current economic climate, you can't afford to ignore them.
Webcasting can either be interactive or just a TV-like broadcast if two-way communication isn't important.
"Webcasting will almost assuredly save you money on your communications budget," says Ray Harris, president and CEO of The Webcast Group, a Cleveland-based Webcasting firm. "It allows you to deliver a message to a geographically diverse audience."
Typical uses include new product launch, press conferences for a select group of editors, product announcements to distributors, sales staff presentations and internal announcements to employees.
"Another good use is for a presentation at a seminar, conference or roadshow," says Harris. "If you augment these events with a single live Webcast, you have something that hit a live audience, but also can be archived on your Web site and can work for you 24 hours a day."
One of the most common areas where you'll find Webcasting is at stockholder meetings for public corporations. These allow investors from across the globe to hear and see firsthand company officials present their results.
"Webcasting does not replace getting out and meeting people face-to-face and shaking their hands," says Harris. "It augments it. All communication efforts can be enhanced with an interactive Webcast."
The cost of a single Webcast is cheaper than a cross-country business trip. A typical one-hour live event costs between $2,000 and $5,000, depending on the size of the audience, but for an archived 15-minute on-demand message, the cost drops to as low as $500.
"You can make the Webcast a private viewing for your salespeople by issuing a password," says Harris.
When users click on the Webcast link, a customized pop-up player launches to play the messages. The player is designed to look like the rest of the site, but The Webcast Group hosts the actual message.
Polling questions can be inserted into the video to get instant feedback from customers, employees or suppliers so you can refine your message or services.
Says Harris: "Webcasting allows you to not only inform your audience, but also engage them and gather data simultaneously." How to reach: The Webcast Group, www.webcastgroup.com