Dustin S. Klein
Buffy Filippell has never been one to let barriers get in the way of success.
The founder and president of TeamWork Consulting Inc. took an idea that had never been tried and, against the judgment of the experts, developed it into one of the most recognized sports executive search firms in the industry.
Even though most sports fans have never heard of TeamWork Consulting, if you're a key player in the sports world, odds are you're familiar with the Shaker Heights-based firm. Over the past 14 years, Filippell's TeamWork has recruited nearly 300 executives within the sports and event marketing industries.
Her client list is a virtual who's who of sports leagues and includes the National Basketball Association, National Football League, National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, NASCAR, the PGA Tour (golf) and the ATP Tour (tennis). She's also done work for dozens of individual sports teams and sporting events.
The idea of a sports-based executive recruiting firm germinated in Filippell's days at Mark McCormick's IMG, where she represented former tennis stars Andrea Jaeger and Ken Rosewall, and in the years she spent as a traditional headhunter at Korn/Ferry International, one of the country's largest executive search firms.
In the mid-1980s, when she was recruiting senior-level executives for Korn/Ferry, she noticed the sports industry only used executive recruiters for searches at the CEO level. She recognized an opportunity to create a niche market by recruiting mid- to senior-level executives in the sports and event marketing industry. In 1987, when her bosses at Korn/Ferry weren't interested in the idea, Filippell left the firm to found TeamWork Consulting out of her basement.
With few resources at her disposal other than her background, her Rolodex and the seed of an idea, Filippell made her first mark on the industry by recruiting the new commissioner for the Big West Conference in the NCAA. He stayed with the Big West for 11 years.
Then, in 1988, Filippell landed her first high profile client -- the NBA expansion Minnesota Timberwolves franchise. The Timberwolves were just entering the basketball league and sought a senior vice president to help market the team's new arena. Filippell placed Tim Leiweke in the role and Leiweke responded by setting a record for the amount paid for the naming rights of the Target Center.
Today, Leiweke is president of the Anshutz Entertainment Group, owner of the Los Angeles Kings NHL franchise and the Staples Center, and has moved from candidate to client, using TeamWork to fill mid- to senior-level slots.
"To have clients come back for 10 and 12 years is unheard of in this business," explains Jennifer Proud Mearns, TeamWork executive vice president and Filippell's partner in the business. "But for Buffy, she really feels the business is about relationships. To her, those are the most important part."
Filippell says she builds those relationships by listening to others.
"You find you're able to meet their needs if you understand what exactly those needs are," she says.
That's a skill that's helped Filippell innovate at every level and earned her the distinction of being named Visionary in the 2001 Innovation in Business awards.
In late 1999, she was hired by the NFL expansion Houston Texans to staff the team's front office. To meet the Herculean task, she developed a software solution, which worked so well that she decided it could be used with other clients. In the spring of 2000, she launched TeamWork Online LLC.
The company licenses Internet-based software designed to help professional sports teams and leagues to recruit entry-level to mid-level executives through their Web sites. It was used to staff every front office job in the XFL, and is currently being used by teams in the NBA, WNBA, NHL and MLS.
How to reach: TeamWork Consulting, (216) 292-9266
It took Maurice less than 10 seconds to cut to the chase. He wanted an opportunity to prove his New York-based brokerage firm -- the name of which he repeated three times but which I still can't remember -- could make me money.
Despite my skepticism of any claim that seems too good to be true, I let Maurice finish his pitch. It was, after all, the fourth such phone call I'd received from him in less than a year. Each time, I'd explained that I was neither liquid for new investments nor interested in what he had to sell.
Like many of you, I receive numerous unsolicited phone calls at my office and at home from people trying to hawk everything from custom-designed dress clothing to executive headhunters wondering if I'm looking for a career change. But there was something unnerving about Maurice's calls that the others lacked.
During the previous calls -- which began last summer -- Maurice asked about the industries and sectors I watched, approximately how much money my wife and I had invested in the market, and most important, our plans for future investing. I refused to offer specifics regarding my financial situation, but Maurice seemed satisfied by the vague answers.
The problem was, Maurice simply hadn't done his homework. He hadn't properly qualified me as a good prospect. Maurice was under the impression, for whatever reason, that I had piles of money lying around waiting to be invested. Because of that, he figured it was just a matter of time before he had his sale.
So here he was again, this time asking if I was interested in wire transferring $10,000 for an investment and promising that he and his mystery firm could work magic with my money.
Before the call ended, I asked Maurice how he'd qualified me as a prospective client. He tried to avoid the question, but I am, after all, a journalist, and we're a persistent lot. Maurice finally admitted he'd found my name on a list of media executives from a mailing list his firm had purchased. I couldn't help but think about the movie "Boiler Room," in which young stockbrokers tried to hard sell prospects worthless stock.
My staff and I write regularly about the importance of developing a sound sales process for your company's products and services. That process includes identifying leads, qualifying them and pursuing them, sometimes for years, before you close a sale.
But what happens when the process for qualifying leads is inadequate, much as Maurice's was?
One crucial mistake in the sales process can lead to money wasted on what may appear to be a good prospect. In reality, the perseverance is nothing more than incompetence, and instead of spending money to attract a new customer, your company wastes valuable time and resources.
As for Maurice, after my grilling, I doubt he'll call again. I nearly asked for his address. With his poor prospecting skills, I figured he could probably use the advice we spell out in our magazine before he attempts his next sales pitch.
Dustin Klein is editor of SBN Magazine.
Downs to Dairy Mart. The convenience store company's on-again/off-again plans to close underperforming stores and its latest job cuts aimed at saving money appear to be desperate measures as the company awaits sale. It's a shame considering that as early as a year-and-a-half ago, Robert Stein seemed to have the company back on the path to profitability.
Ups to Fifth Third Bank. A $100,000 donation to CSU's Viking Venture Capital Fund helps students, alumni and faculty create new business opportunities and strengthen existing business ventures. With an ultimate goal of $1 million, the fund should be yet another feather in CSU's hat.
Downs to U.S. productivity, which dropped for the first time in six years. Labor costs jumped by a 5.2 percent annual clip at the same time, the fastest pace in more than three years. That adds up to further problems on the horizon. Hang onto your hats, folks.
Actually, I am quite adept at juggling multiple tasks and projects. My problem is that I take on so many projects that I'm busy all the time -- even on weekends.
Not long ago, I believed that maintaining a positive cash flow was the most difficult challenge any business owner faced. But many an entrepreneur has overcome money woes; only a few have conquered the enemy known as time.
Remember the myth surrounding the promulgation of technology? Advancements were supposed to make life more efficient and free up time. Instead, work conveniently expands to fill the time we allocate for it, which means those whose workdays do not end at 5 p.m. are working harder and longer than ever.
A few years ago, I interviewed Susan Aldrich, a corporate planning consultant who teaches busy executives how to better manage their time. She offered several smart ideas that anyone, including me, could apply to their life.
But that was then. Today, I've allowed my busy schedule to push into the background those time management skills I'd worked so hard to learn. So in early June, I decided to take back control of my life. After poring over my old notes, here is what I relearned.
Prioritize. Build a comprehensive "to do" list, then break the tasks into two categories: those that are crucial to your role within your business and those that you can delegate. You may be hesitant to give up some of your duties, but if you've surrounded yourself with talented employees, remember that you hired them for this reason.
Schedule. Too often, we try to fill our calendars with as many appointments as we can squeeze in. Don't forget to block out "in-office" time to knock out the jobs that need your attention. Otherwise, you'll be taking that work home with you just to catch up.
Clear off your desk. If you're not going to get to it within a few days, don't pile it on your desk. I once allowed a stack of notes, press releases and photographs to reach more than a foot-and-a-half in height before accidentally bumping it onto the floor in a jumbled heap. Needless to say, I've never made that mistake again.
Learn to say "no." I can't stress this one enough. My wife says I give a lot of myself, sometimes to a fault, and that I need to learn how to say no every once in a while. It's taken me a long time to accept that there's nothing wrong with saying that I do not have enough time to take on a new project.
Recognizing a time management problem is the first step to solving it, but now I'm faced with the difficult task of reimplementing these skills into my daily life. I can't help but notice a touch of irony in all this -- that my efforts will work isn't a given; only time will tell for sure. Dustin Klein is editor of SBN Magazine.
You've finally incorporated a 401(k) plan into your business. Now, the individual investment choices are in the hands of your employees.
Your job as plan trustee is essentially over, right?
Not so, says Robert Arnoff, owner of Broadview Heights-based employee benefits firm Arnoff & Associates Inc. In reality, much of the burden for qualified benefit plans falls upon the trustees, often in ways many aren't even aware of.
"A lot of employers don't know about the inherent risks concerning qualified plans such as 401(k)s," Arnoff says.
One risk is a fiduciary breach, which occurs when a trustee of the qualified plan commits an action that is not in compliance with ERISA regulations. Trustees are typically either the business owner or a senior-level decision-maker within a company, and they can be noncompliant without knowing it.
There are many types of breaches. These can include situations in which a trustee is not working solely in the interest of plan participants. One example is if the trustee is friendly with a broker and limits the type of funds employees can put their 401(k) money into for self-interest reasons. Another situation may arise when a trustee pilfers funds from the plan. No matter the type of breach, each carries stiff penalties.
"The main repercussion of a fiduciary breach is that the trustees can potentially be responsible for paying a huge settlement," Arnoff says.
In accordance with section 409 of the ERISA law, a fiduciary who breaches any of his or her duties for overseeing a qualified plan must restore to the plan any losses that occur because of the breach.
So what can you do to keep fiduciary breaches from occurring? Beyond keeping your hands out of the till, Arnoff offers three suggestions.
Assess the plan
First, determine the total assets in your 401(k) plan. Once you have amassed more than $1 million, your exposure is greater. ERISA guidelines fall under something called the "prudent man principle," meaning trustees are held to standards based on what a prudent person would do.
"The prudent trustee should have a fiduciary audit done after a plan has reached $1 million is assets, at least every three to four years, and perhaps even more frequently based on the type of plan that is in place," says Arnoff.
Undergo a fiduciary audit
A fiduciary audit will determine not only how your plan stacks up but whether it's in compliance with federal law. It is also a risk reduction measure for the trustees.
Arnoff suggests a first audit three years after introducing a plan into your business. After an audit, it is wise to have any and all substantial changes reviewed by an ERISA attorney.
Define your risks
"Defining who is at risk from a fiduciary standpoint is an important consideration," Arnoff says. "The business owner may not have the ultimate exposure if he or she is not a trustee of the company's plan."
There are additional measurements of exposure that are spelled out in a fact-finding session during a fiduciary audit.
The bottom line, Arnoff says, is that unless you run the plan through careful inspection, you could be flirting with disaster. It's better to know today whether your 401(k) plan is in compliance than to find out in a few years when it could cost you thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties.
How to reach: Arnoff and Associates Inc., (440) 717-1775
Dustin Klein (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of SBN Magazine.
Ups to this year's Innovation in Business honorees. The 12 Master Innovators, Visionaries and Rising Stars are proof that new ideas are brewing in Northeast Ohio.
Downs to the region's M&A activity. With the number of Ohio-based transactions through the first six months of the year down from 207 last year to 178 this year, it's another sign Cleveland business has not earned a solid place at the deal-making table.
Ups to COSE. Its VentureQuest2002 program will help Northeast Ohio entrepreneurs develop business plans and begin to bring smart ideas to market. With a lack of strong start-ups over the past decade, COSE has the right program to jump-start the process.
Downs to corporate America's philanthropic giving. As large companies cut overhead, they're giving less to charity and decreasing participation outings hosted by nonprofit organizations. They say the events require too much time, money and employee involvement. But whoever said giving back was supposed to be easy?
Ups to PolyOne. The polymer services giant is moving forward with its strategic plan to reduce costs and maximize operations after the merger between Geon and M.A. Hanna that created the company. Despite what will surely be negative reaction, PolyOne will close four plants and expand eight others. It's good to see a CEO being true to his word.