Pittsburgh (2550)

Thursday, 28 March 2002 11:18

Jon Delano

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Sept. 10, 2001, was Jon Delano's first day as KDKA-TV's money and politics editor. Easing into the job was not an option.

Delano was no novice; he's been a familiar face on the tube for some time as an analyst during election seasons. But this was his debut as a reporter, and the plan was to do some sample stories before rolling out reports for broadcast. His deep knowledge of government, public policy and politics, however, was too valuable not to be tapped during the days and weeks following Sept. 11.

"My whole career has been a series of unexpected developments," Delano says.

The turns for Delano have often been into the fast lane. He began his career as an associate with Reed Smith Shaw & McClay, now Reed Smith LLP. Doug Walgren, not long after he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1977 with help from Delano, invited him to breakfast at a Denny's restaurant, scratched out on a placemat a plan for organizing his office and asked Delano to help. Delano stayed in Washington for 14 years and served as Walgren's chief of staff until Rick Santorum beat Walgren in 1991.

In 1993, Delano himself waged an unsuccessful campaign to win a seat in Congress.

Delano's primary occupations these days are at KDKA and his duties as adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon's Heinz School, but he still finds time to write columns, offer his expertise as a political analyst in newspapers and on TV and radio, and take his turn getting his kids off to school.

With all the high-profile activities he's been involved in, Delano rates as one of his proudest accomplishments a long but successful battle with the Pentagon while working for Walgren. Because of a technicality, two Pittsburgh-area Vietnam veterans' names had been left off the Vietnam War Memorial. Delano ultimately convinced officials to include the names, and you get the impression that the effort was more love than labor.

Says Delano: "I love going up against bureaucrats who say it can't be done."

Thursday, 28 March 2002 11:13

Covering your assets

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Buying the assets of a company in bankruptcy offers the purchaser an opportunity to acquire valuable property at liquidation sale prices and to acquire title to the assets free and clear of liens. But buying a bankrupt company's assets is not as simple as making a purchase at a rummage sale.

The procedure for selling a bankrupt company's assets gives creditors and other interested parties a say in almost every major step the debtor takes, which can delay completion of the sale and add to the buyer's transaction costs.

Even when the debtor and buyer agree on the terms, there's no guarantee the buyer will end up with the asset. The bankruptcy court has to approve the sale agreement, creditors have an opportunity to object and other buyers may bid. To obtain court approval, the sale price must be sufficient to cover the liens on the asset and the debtor's costs to sell the property, and add something to the estate to pay other creditors.

Also, creditors and interested parties must receive notice of the terms of the sale, and the debtor must advertise the terms and hearing date. Because the goal is to obtain the highest price, once the sale is negotiated, the assets are put up for public sale.

The assets may be sold to another bidder, despite the fact that the initial buyer may have spent thousands of dollars to perform due diligence and negotiate the sale contract. The standard rules of the competitive bid procedure offer some protection to a buyer. These rules usually include stipulations that:

  • Competing bidders must exceed the contracted sale price by some minimum amount to qualify for consideration.

  • Bids after the first competing offer must exceed it by specific increments.

  • Offers must be in the same form as the initial bid to avoid comparing apples and oranges.

  • The buyer will win if it matches the highest bid rather than exceeding it.

  • Competing bidders have to put down a deposit or otherwise demonstrate their financial stability before they can qualify as a bidder.

Bankruptcy judges have a great deal of discretion in approving these bid and sale arrangements. A buyer and its attorney should be familiar with the track record of the judge assigned to the case and prepare motions accordingly.

Peter N. Pross is an attorney in the Bankruptcy and Creditors' Rights Department at Eckert Seamans Cherin and Mellott. Reach him at (412) 566-5934 or pnp@escm.com.

Thursday, 28 March 2002 11:05

The debatable drug

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The neighboring houses are still dark when Harold Dennison rises each morning.His 5:30 a.m. ritual includes a few cups of coffee, which he refers to as "the fog lifter" because it's a little stronger than the several million cups Americans reach for each day. Dennison, a process engineer, proudly boasts that he drinks 10 to 12 cups a day and admits he's addicted to caffeine.At any given company, on any given morning, it's standing-room-only by the coffeepot. And as the java brews, people slowly come to life. A whopping 110 million Americans reach for the legal, addictive stimulant -- more than three times the number that drink soft drinks and more than four times the number that quaff beer.But like anything that seems too good to be true, the pick-me-up carries a price. Physicians argue over whether consumption leads to addiction and, as alcohol does, carries health risks.The drug in coffee is caffeine, a crystalline alkaloid that affects the brain and artificially lessens fatigue. For the average drinker (two to four cups a day), the drink is relatively harmless. However, overconsumption causes insomnia and jitters, injection into human muscles causes paralysis, and a sudden accumulation in your body, say 10 grams or more, results in death. (The average cup of coffee contains between 66 and 280 milligrams of caffeine.)According to Kurt Donsbach, Ph.D., an expert in holistic health care and author of more than 50 books and booklets, one or more cups of coffee causes your stomach temperature to rise 10 to 15 degrees. Your heart beats faster as blood vessels around the heart widen and those around the brain narrow. Your metabolic rate increases as your kidneys manufacture and discharge up to 100 percent more urine.Many people write off coffee drinking as a harmless habit. But coffee meets two criteria for addiction -- it is tolerated by the body in increasingly higher doses and its absence creates withdrawal symptoms. That second characteristic, accompanied by a loss of control, can be judged by your temperament before that first morning cup.Simply ask yourself one question: Are you edgy before you get your java?

Kurt Donsbach, Ph.D., Web site

Thursday, 28 March 2002 11:00

A bigger nest egg

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Question: I am self-employed and the only employee of my business. While this affords me a lot of freedom and an above average income, I'm not able to invest as much for retirement as I'd like. I've been contributing the maximum to my SEP but would like to put away more on a tax-favored basis. Any suggestions?

Answer: You're in luck. The new tax law provides a jackpot for one-person businesses.

You probably already know the new law provides increased contribution limits to IRAs and 401(k)s for everyone and catch-up provisions for those over 50. But you may not know that businesses that employ only the owners and their spouses can stash even higher amounts into a 401(k).

In the past, a 401(k) has not been the retirement plan of choice for the self-employed because of higher set-up fees and more complicated IRS filing requirements. SEP and Simple IRAs were easier to establish and offered the same investment limitations, for the most part.

With the advent of the new rules, you'll begin to see special 401(k) programs designed for you. Pioneer Funds offers a "Uni-K" for a $100 annual fee and signature-ready IRS 5500 preparation for $250 per year, a small price for the additional investment it allows.

Under previous rules, there was a 15 percent-of-pay cap that an employee and employer (you are both) could contribute on as much as $170,000 of compensation. That increased to 25 percent of $200,000 in 2002 for an incorporated business, 20 percent for one that is not incorporated.

The bigger change is that in 2002, employee contributions won't be counted toward the 25 percent cap. That means you can make a large contribution as an employer and still contribute the maximum of $11,000 as the employee.

Over 50? You'll be able to contribute an extra $1,000 as an employee to your 401(k) or $500 to a Simple IRA. If you're not incorporated, your percentages will be slightly less. The combined employer and employee contribution cannot exceed $40,000 in 2002.

Ruth Forsyth is an investment advisor associate and registered representative with The Advisors Group. Reach her at (412) 922-4360 or at ruth.forsyth@acacia-pgh.com.

Thursday, 28 March 2002 10:53

Size matters

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A middle-aged couple enters the showroom at #1 Cochran in Monroeville and asks the receptionist if the dealership sells Nissans. No, the receptionist replies politely, but suggests there may be some Nissan products on the used vehicle lot and mentions some of the makes the dealer does represent.It's an easy mistake to make. #1 Cochran sells 11 brands of vehicles at two locations, and like at a few other megadealers in town, offers a dizzying roster of domestic and import brands. The couple takes a stroll through the cavernous indoor showroom, then leaves the building a short time later.The couple didn't know if the make of car that was top-of-mind with them could be found at the dealership, but there's a good chance that #1 Cochran's brand recognition was strong enough in their minds that they thought it at least worth the inquiry.That's the kind of brand awareness #1 Cochran has built over the past 15 years. Rob Cochran, the company's president and son of its late founder, thinks there remains a lot more mileage to be derived from the name."The way I look at it, in this region, we have an opportunity to leverage our name and our brand equity more," says Cochran.Cochran and his team are planning to maximize that opportunity by building new showroom facilities to house #1 Cochran's multiple brands just a stone's throw east of its current location, near the busy intersection of William Penn Highway and Mosside Boulevard in Monroeville. As serviceable as its current location -- a former Kaufmann's department store -- has been, Cochran sees the dealership of the future in a larger complex more customized to its needs and shaped to create an image customers will associate more readily with its name -- and that can be duplicated in other facilities.If plans go as Cochran expects -- and there's little reason to believe they won't, given Monroeville's hospitable disposition toward commercial development -- his company will be selling and servicing cars out of buildings on both sides of heavily traveled William Penn Highway by the middle of next year. The Kaufmann's location has been secured by Lowe's, which plans to build a 122,000-square-foot store on the parcel.Size brings complexity but also advantages. Cochran points out that his company has a human resources staff, an asset that makes training, development and recruitment more effective. The auto industry is laboring under a shortage of skilled technicians as more skill is required to diagnose and repair automobile systems. Automotive Retailing Today, an industry group comprising major automobile manufacturers and dealer organizations, estimates 35,000 new trained technicians and tens of thousands of additional sales, finance and other personnel will be needed to staff dealerships this decade alone.Cochran spends a lot of his time these days smoothing out the details in preparation for the new location. There are permit issues, compliance matters to satisfy manufacturers and, from time to time, other opportunities that spring up as the process moves ahead."The more that you do, the more opportunities are created. It's kind of an exponential thing," says Cochran. "That can be administratively burdensome; it's exciting, it just takes a lot of time."A built-to-suit facility will be a first for the company."It'll be our first opportunity to build from the ground up," says Cochran.Before moving to the former Kaufmann's store, the dealership had made its home in a former Kelly & Cohen appliance store in Monroeville since the late 1960s. In 1965, Cochran's father put up a Pontiac shingle in a North Braddock storefront when that brand was catching fire and mounting a serious challenge to its General Motors cousin, Chevrolet, for first place honors as the sales leader.Today, #1 Cochran employs 390 and posts annual sales of about $250 million.The auto retailing business has changed substantially since Cochran's father started selling Bonnevilles and GTOs. The rise in the number of imports has altered the market balance; Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Subaru all have manufacturing operations in the United States.Ownership patterns have changed; Ford owns Volvo, Jaguar and a chunk of Mazda. The Big Three are now the Big Two, with the third member of the mighty domestic triumvirate that once dominated the U.S. market, Chrysler, now in the hands of German giant DaimlerChrysler AG.Other changes in the industry are some of the reasons Cochran decided, against early predispositions to the contrary, to stay in a business he says he never much cared for when he was younger. Big dealers are swallowing up smaller ones, and in some cases, publicly held companies doing business in multiple markets own large numbers of dealerships and franchises."I didn't want to do this to save my life," Cochran says.His father, driven to succeed and consumed by the business of selling cars, wasn't around much when Rob was growing up."He was the greatest salesperson I've ever seen," says Cochran of his father. "He was always selling."Nonetheless, Cochran wasn't thrilled with the industry's image. And he liked mathematics, enough to major in applied mathematics and industrial management at Carnegie Mellon University in the 1980s. He found that he also liked the management and leadership classes he took there.Later, Cochran went to work at the dealership summers while he was in college and discovered he liked selling cars. Just about that time, his father was building a multibrand strategy for the dealership. He acquired a Cadillac franchise to complement the Pontiac and GMC truck lines and swung a deal to move into the Kaufmann's store after the department store operator moved into Monroeville Mall.Shortly after the move, the company's vice president, Cochran's father's right-hand man, retired and Cochran's father became ill.Things were happening quickly, and by this time, Cochran had changed his mind about the business."It all kind of just fell on me, and it was exciting, it was a growth experience that made me better, just to get my hands around everything at that point," says Cochran.And he realized the business was changing in fundamental ways."I understood the opportunities that existed in our business and the industry," says Cochran.Auto manufacturers were loosening their restrictions on multibrand dealers, allowing retailers to represent additional nameplates. In Cochran's case, the dealership now has Pontiac, Buick, Cadillac, GMC and Oldsmobile and Saturn franchises, all General Motors brands. As Japanese companies like Toyota, Honda and Nissan have moved into the mainstream, upstarts from Korea and elsewhere are trying to squeeze in and grab a share of the market.The newcomers give dealers an opportunity to buy into a brand early with little investment because manufacturers are eager to get their nameplates into the showrooms of dealers with brand equity of their own."It's really no different than what's happened in other retail industries," says Cochran, citing examples like appliance and electronics chains that sell a wide variety of brands under a single roof."In a lot of cases, our business is like portfolio management, getting brands when they're low and riding them high," says Cochran.He throws out Hyundai as an example. While the Korean automaker has been in the U.S. market since 1989, #1 Cochran picked up the line when a reshuffling of brand ownership in Monroeville four years ago left it orphaned. With a modest investment in space and inventory, #1 Cochran has leveraged its name to make the Hyundai franchise pay off."Now we've got a franchise that has a pretty significant value," says Cochran.That kind of strategy can apply to other brands as well."If we do a good job under the Cochran name selling Pontiacs, GMCs, then we can take what's been built up under the reputation, under the Cochran name and apply it to Hyundai and get an immediate advantage over most of the competition selling Hyundais," says Cochran.#1 Cochran has Korean maker Daewoo in its stable as well, a brand that's a bit speculative to hold onto. Daewoo hasn't done well in the United States and GM is currently in due diligence in anticipation of a purchase of Daewoo. GM's ultimate disposition of Daewoo will depend on its own global strategy, Cochran says.If it decides to put some money and muscle behind a U.S. marketing effort, it could turn out to be a bonus for U.S. dealers, and Cochran says it could be a bonus for his company. On the other hand, GM could decide to pull the brand out of the U.S. market and target it for developing nations' markets.On the other end of the spectrum, #1 Cochran has the only Infiniti dealership in the area, and it retains the blue chip Cadillac franchise. And the Saturn brand gives it a make that usually ends up being a plus sale for GM, sold to a customer who might have had an interest in a Honda or Nissan, for instance.The new car business remains "the engine that drives the business," Cochran says, but the trick to success in his industry, he maintains, is to not be overly dependent on new car sales.Besides the new car lines, there are other holdings in the portfolio that can be managed for profitability in changing economic conditions. Used car sales generally improve as the economy slows, as do parts and service, and used cars produce more profit for new car dealers as well.#1 Cochran maintains a busy service and parts department and a high volume body shop that does work on all makes of cars. The company has its own upholstery trim and repair shop, a function most other dealers farm out to vendors. It also installs burglar alarms, auto sound systems and remote starters."Not passionate about cars" A woman with three pre-teens circles the #1 Cochran showroom. She herds the kids back to the reception desk and asks about a model that caught her eye on the floor. The receptionist summons a salesperson and introduces him to the woman."I'm interested in the Envoy," the woman tells the salesman, adding that she's "just started looking." Not surprisingly, she's seems to be in the market for a vehicle in the popular sport-utility category. Lots of consumers, it seems, still have a love affair with the automobile, an affection and infatuation with one of the most magnetic symbols of status in our culture, a predilection that sustains the industry in which Cochran and so many others build a business and earn a living.Cochran, oddly enough, isn't taken with cars. More than cars, he's hooked on the car business.Says Cochran: "It's not the cars that excite me; I'm not really passionate about cars. I'm passionate about building our brand and building our relationships with people, being credible and being competent, trustworthy, and being a good community partner."And, perhaps, being No. 1.

Auto Retailing Today

Thursday, 28 March 2002 09:05

Forging ahead

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Like many of you, I experienced a wild ride through the Internet boom and bust. While my wallet may be a little thinner, our business couldn't be in better shape -- thanks, surprisingly, to the Internet bubble.

When the Internet boom was going full force, we began investigating ways to use Internet technology to better serve our audience -- top decision-makers of local companies. As we were putting the finishing touches on our plan, the bubble burst.

Undaunted, we moved forward with our vision of building a Web site that not only met the needs of busy executives but did so profitably. The revised SBN Online (www.sbnonline.com), launched as a pilot site in our Cleveland market, has met both our goals.

Each subscriber to SBN Cleveland has been pre-registered for SBN Online. By using the user ID and password we supplied by mail, readers can activate their registration and get a personalized home page containing local business news and information relevant to them. Our database of thousands of articles, ideas and resources is filtered using a reader's profile, resulting in the display of news, events, presentations and other information that best matches the profile.

The response has been great. We are ahead of our projections for users and site activity, though SBN Online is only a few months old. We are so pleased with the success that we plan to expand the concept to other cities this summer.

As I look back on what it has taken to relaunch SBN Online, a number of important lessons stand out.

1. Stick to what (and who) you know. We spent a great deal of time and money researching our concept for SBN Online. What became clear is that while we may not be concentrating on the biggest market, we are concentrating on the best market. Middle-market companies account for only 10 percent of all businesses, but they boast nearly half of all corporate revenue and purchasing power.

2. Work within a budget. In the headiest days of the Internet boom, we were quoted incredible prices for products and services. While many of these offers would have met our needs, we continued to look for the right deals with the right partners.

3. Stay the course. Even as events conspired against us, we pressed forward. The bursting of the Internet bubble had everyone rethinking the role of the Internet for businesses. As the economy weakened, more doubts crept into people's minds. Then came the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Each one of these developments could have caused us to put the project on hold. Instead, we made adjustments and kept moving forward.

Having done these things, SBN Online was reborn even as the bursting of the Internet bubble caused other business Web sites to fold or take significant steps backward.

If you haven't registered for SBN Online, I encourage you to do so soon. If you receive SBN Magazine under your name, you were sent a user ID and password. If you've misplaced it, e-mail your name, business and address to webmaster@sbnonline.com and we will reply, or call us at (216) 228-6397 and ask for SBN Online customer service.

And please let us know what you think. We already are at work on improvements and welcome your feedback.

Tuesday, 26 February 2002 13:16

Jack McGinley

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Jack McGinley's eyes shine as he explains why his love for being a trial lawyer endures.

"I can't describe what it feels like to sit and wait for a jury to read a verdict, kind of like watching that field goal going through the posts," McGinley says.

Little wonder that he uses a football analogy to describe it. Art Rooney, legendary founder of the Steelers, was his uncle, and McGinley's family still owns a share of the team.

McGinley's lived in Pittsburgh nearly all of his life, save four years as an undergraduate at St. Bonaventure University and a brief stint working at a Rooney family business near Philadelphia. He spent most of his law career at Grogan Graffam & McGinley, the firm he co-founded nearly 30 years ago.

In January, the 1961 Central Catholic grad accepted an offer to join Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott. It wasn't easy to leave his firm, he says.

"A lot of law firm splits are acrimonious," says McGinley. "Mine wasn't."

Rather, McGinley says, many of his old friends had left the firm. Fellow founding partner Steve Graffam had retired, and Frank Lucchino had gone to the bench. McGinley saw the opportunity to join Eckert Seamans, a national firm with more than 200 lawyers, as a way to expand his own practice and add the depth he needs to serve his clients, whose needs he says are growing increasingly complex.

McGinley is a casual golfer and fly fisherman, and confesses a passion for Irish poetry. The law, however, remains his first love.

"Deep down in my shoes, I remain the guy who likes to get up and say, 'May it please the court.'" How to reach: www.escm.com

Tuesday, 26 February 2002 13:11

An unusual package

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Tedd Wein mentions, with some pride, that a national company has contacted him to do business with his Mailboxes Etc. store.

The company, a Texas concern that handles reverse logistics for large mail order retailers, is interested in using Wein's Ross Township store as a drop-off point for customers who want to return merchandise to large catalog merchants. Wein says the company identified his store location as having sufficient customer traffic and visibility to serve as a receiving point.

Mailboxes Etc. offers a variety of services required for mailing and shipping, as well as related products and services.

Wein says his store is enjoying strong growth -- 2001 sales were up 7 percent over the previous year, and last year's December sales bested the December 2000 sales mark by 17 percent.

There's little wonder, then, that Wein is motivated and encouraged by the business and social trends that are making his industry successful and bode well for his prospects for growth.

But those weren't the incentives that drove Wein when he entered the business in 1987.

"I was motivated by fear," says Wein. "I just felt that I couldn't afford to fail."

Private businesses that offer the services that Mailboxes Etc. offers are no novelty today, but in 1987, Wein was entering a business that was in its early stages. His was just one of three in the Pittsburgh market at the time.

Mailboxes Etc. today has more than 4,500 locations, including 20 in Pittsburgh, and was ranked No. 2 on Entrepreneur magazine's Franchise 500 list in 2001. But when Wein launched his store, the company was No. 434 systemwide.

Perhaps most important to Wein, his father had provided personal guarantees for the loan taken to start the business.

Mailboxes Etc. was anything but a household name in 1987. Wein says customers often stopped in because they thought the store sold mailboxes. The company ultimately added a line of mailboxes to its inventory, but it was clear early on that the store's concept had yet to gain widespread recognition.

After several years of sluggish sales, even his wife doubted his prospects for making the business successful.

"My wife said to me, 'When are you going to stop playing store and get a real job?'" Wein says.

Still, he has managed to stay in business while others, including other Mailboxes Etc. and independent and franchise operators have closed their doors.

The invisible store

Wein started off in a less than desirable location and struggled for four years until he could negotiate with his landlord for a better spot in the center. He negotiated his first lease for a storeroom in the McKnight Siebert Shopping Center but soon found the location was anything but prime.

The view of the store was obscured by a service station sign, and it was difficult to see from the road. It was too small, and at the end of the strip, rather than at its busier entrance. He tried for six months to negotiate for a better spot in the same center, but the space he wanted went to another tenant.

But when a better space came available in the center four years after he opened his doors, Wein this time was able to move to the larger, more visible spot, closer to the heaviest foot and motor traffic.

Guerrilla marketing

Wein built awareness of his business every way he could think of. He walked up and down McKnight Road, talking with business owners and dropping off his business card and promotional flyers.

"I beat the streets a lot," Wein says.

He went to networking and local chamber of commerce events, and handed out coupons for the nearby McDonald's, while the fast food restaurant passed out Mailboxes Etc. coupons to its customers. He made certain that clerks at the U.S. Postal Service office on the next corner knew Mailboxes Etc. offered passport photos.

And while the West Penn AAA office across McKnight Road offered notary services for automobile-related work, it didn't provide them for other purposes. Wein asked the office to refer such work to him, while he referred his customers to the auto club office for notary services he couldn't provide.

But the grassroots marketing activity that might best demonstrate Wein's enthusiasm and commitment was the "Zippy" mailbox costume he donned on heavy traffic days to catch the attention of motorists as they drove past the McKnight Seibert Shopping Center.

To gain name recognition for Mailboxes Etc., Wein and several other owners formed an advertising cooperative to take advantage of a 50 percent match the franchiser offered for local advertising efforts.

Cash woes

Cash flow problems plagued Wein early on, as sales were weak but bills continued to roll in. He initially negotiated an arrangement with his lender that required interest-only payments on his loan.

When he found that cash was tight at the end of the year, he approached his banker to extend the interest-only payment for an additional year. At the end of the second year, with cash still scarce, Wein asked the banker once more to waive the principal for another year. The bank agreed.

Wein says consumers are getting used to alternatives to the traditional methods of sending packages and mail. Home-based businesses need specialized shipping services, and recent changes in air travel have prompted some travelers to consider other ways to ship goods.

"I've realized that people are shipping things that they can't travel with anymore," says Wein.

Recent drop-offs at his store include $35,000 worth of jewelry headed to a trade show and a cache of silver bullion. Online auction sites like eBay are also bringing traffic to his store, says Wein.

He's shipped fishing rods, antique dolls and even a hard top for a Mazda Miata.

Wein says luck has played a role in his success, too. The growth of home-based business, e-commerce and his decision to locate in the McKnight Road business corridor, he says, have all contributed to his success.

While his fear of failure motivated him to make his business successful, his lack of fear -- or his choice to ignore it in some instances -- may have been the difference between succeeding and failing. One of the most important lessons Wein says he's learned in business is to not be afraid to ask for something.

"When the worst that someone can say is, 'No,' you might as well ask the question." How to reach: Mailboxes Etc., www.mbe.com

Tuesday, 26 February 2002 13:08

Detecting a fix

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Corporate Investigations Inc., a 25-employee Greentree-based company that performs employment background checks for corporate clients nationally, had a problem.

In its investigations, CII collects information from numerous sources. Each client project creates a complex billing task, and clients often want access to the information CII collects as an investigation progresses.

Typically, several CII investigators collect data on an employee or applicant from multiple sources, and the data must be assembled into a single report. Initiating a particular element of a screening may be contingent on completion of another check, which can delay an investigation. In some cases, clients order services a la carte, which complicates the data collection and billing process.

CII thought it needed a technology solution to streamline its process. Improved technology was undoubtedly a critical component in solving the problem, but it took three tries to get it right.

The company had a DOS-based system that proved cumbersome, so it invited vendors to propose solutions. In one case, the company decided the vendor didn't understand its business and rejected its proposal. In another, the vendor had the project underway when CII chose to abandon it because it became clear the second vendor, too, lacked a true understanding of CII's business.

Enter Joseph Cherian, president and CEO of Turning Point Systems Inc., a South Side company. Cherian's company developed a system called CorpNet, an immediate interface between the client and CII that allows clients access during each phase of the screening process from the clients' offices.

It has simplified the billing process, allows clients to cut costs by doing some of the work themselves if they choose to do so, and produces reports that can help clients identify problems in their operations, such as turnover trends.

The solution, according to CII, has increased productivity by 50 percent.

Carmella Leonette, CII's director of operations, says Cherian's company not only understood the technology, but also had a clear appreciation for CII's business needs. Companies seeking a technology solution, it seems, need to do some careful investigation of their own.

"It is important to focus on companies with experience in business solutions and not merely technology vendors," says Leonette. "They must look for companies with a track record who can provide real examples of the solutions they have developed with tangible results." How to reach: Corporate Investigations Inc., www.ciilink.com; Turning Point Solutions Inc., www.turningpoint-sys.com