Gregory Jones

Wednesday, 31 October 2012 20:00

Movers and Shakers: November 2012

Medical Mutual has announced that Ray Mueller has been named executive vice president and CFO. Mueller will be responsible for the company’s finance, treasury, facilities and administration and human resources departments.

Prior to this position, in January 2010, he was appointed the company’s vice president of finance and corporate controller. Mueller was promoted again in January 2012 to senior vice president of finance and corporate controller. Mueller originally joined Medical Mutual in 1986 as a senior financial analyst in the Western Division based in Toledo.


Medical Mutual has also announced that Carol Bushnell has been appointed to vice president, underwriting and chief underwriter. Bushnell will be responsible for core underwriting functions. She will also be in charge of product management.

She joined Medical Mutual in 1987, as supervisor of quality assurance in the internal performance department. After working in large group underwriting, she became manager of underwriting policy in 2003, a position she held for three years until becoming director of underwriting administration. Bushnell was promoted to senior director of large group underwriting, her most recent position, in 2010.


Bruner-Cox LLP recently announced the following promotions:

Jeffrey S. Buckshaw has been promoted to assurance services senior manager. Buckshaw joined Bruner-Cox LLP in 2001. He has more than 10 years of experience providing accounting, auditing and corporate and individual tax services to clients in the manufacturing, real estate and not-for-profit industries.

Matthew L. Douglas has been promoted to tax senior associate. Douglas joined Bruner-Cox LLP in 2011. He has experience in corporate and individual taxation. Douglas provides services to clients in the manufacturing, wholesale-distribution, construction and real estate industries.

Laura A. King has been promoted to tax senior manager. King joined Bruner-Cox LLP in 2003. She has more than 13 years of consulting and taxation experience. King handles personal and corporate taxation with an extensive expertise serving middle-market corporations in the manufacturing and wholesale-distribution industries. King also specializes in expatriate tax matters, assisting

international clients with tax planning and compliance.

Michele M. Monter has been promoted to assurance services director. Monter joined Bruner-Cox LLP in 1989. She has more than 20 years of public accounting experience, providing services for construction and manufacturing clients.


Alliance Solutions Group, a full-service staffing and recruitment agency, has recently expanded its Akron presence by opening a new staffing “hub” facility at 3250 West Market Street, Suite 103, in Akron. This office will offer the company’s full complement of staffing and recruitment services from all nine of its business units.

The Akron office is the third new or expanded office that Alliance Solutions Group has opened in the past year, with earlier expansions taking place in Elyria and Upper Sandusky. Alliance Solutions Group remains on a fast-growth track with 32 percent growth last year — a figure that is three times the national average for staffing companies.


Bober Markey Fedorovich, a regional audit, accounting and business advisory firm with offices in Akron and Cleveland, recently promoted six of its associates to new positions within the firm.

Chad Basquin has been promoted to manager, accounting and auditing department. Jeanine Black has been promoted to supervisor, marketing and public relations. Jessica Tepus has been promoted to supervisor, tax department. Shawn Carlson has been promoted to supervisor, accounting and auditing department. Mindy Marsden has been promoted to supervisor, valuation and transaction services. And Kristopher Brown has been promoted to senior accountant, accounting and auditing department.


Spectrum Surgical Instruments Corp. has announced the appointment of Jim Hoffman to vice president of endoscopy and field operations. Hoffman’s long history of 20 years in the industry

started with the implementation of on-location surgical instrument repair services. He managed sales efforts throughout the Western United States and was directly responsible for repair service quality standards. His experience with group purchasing organizations, educational programs and direct sales was instrumental in growing the business to a national level. <<

Please send your executive-level promotions to

Lee Thomas looks out his 13th floor window of the Huntington Building on Euclid Ave. and East Ninth St. and imagines the view he will have when Ernst & Young’s Cleveland office relocates to its new building along the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway.

Thomas, who is a native Clevelander and a 36-year Ernst & Young veteran, became the Cleveland office managing partner this past January. Ernst & Young, a global, 152,000-employee accounting firm, is the only company he has ever worked for and the legacy the firm has built here in Northeast Ohio is something significant.

As the new managing partner, Thomas plans to keep that legacy going, and the firm’s new office location, which will bear the Ernst & Young name, is a symbol of continuing that legacy here in Cleveland.

“We have a very strong legacy here in Northeast Ohio because back when there was the Big 8, Ernst was the only Big 8 firm headquartered in Cleveland,” Thomas says. “Protecting that legacy and making sure that we continue to provide the right kind of services to the franchise that we have and keeping the brand are the important things that we need to do.”

While Thomas and the firm are excited for a new building in downtown, it’s the firm’s 1,100 employees in Cleveland who will drive that legacy forward among its clients.

Attract and retain talent

In the services industry in which Ernst & Young operates, it’s all about people. The firm’s employees develop many sought-after skills, so Thomas remains focused on recruiting and keeping great talent.

“Attracting and retaining people and helping them get through a changing environment to develop a nice, strong career that they want to be at is the challenge,” he says. “We look for people who have very good social skills, can problem solve and work with teams. It’s a demanding profession so you have to understand how to balance your time, too.”

Thomas is always on the lookout for those talented individuals who could possibly have his job one day.

“No matter who the employer is, we are all looking for certain talents who are going to be part of the succession plan of that business,” he says. “Not everyone needs to be that, but they’re looking for that kind of talent because you don’t find it every day.

“When you do get it, it makes a huge impact on your organization. You grow those people and give them the opportunities and watch them develop because they have the attitude and the skill set to take it to the next level.”

Finding the most talented people for your business is a tough task, but once you have them and they keep getting better at what they do, retaining them in your company is even more difficult.

“Those skills translate very well outside the public accounting arena, and that’s part of the problem we have with retention,” Thomas says. “We lose people because they’re really good, and it’s a great training ground. We want this to be more than just a great training ground though. We want to keep them here, too.”

Ernst & Young prides itself on a good educational program, flexible work schedules and a positive work environment.

“We’re in a rapidly changing environment and making sure we have our people at the top of their game where their specialty is … [and] help continue to build that skill set is important,” he says. “The educational element is very positive in retention.

“We also offer things like flexible work arrangements. We have a lot of people who want to have families, and one of the biggest struggles that the profession has is that it’s very demanding and you never know when the next call is going to be from a client where you have to go do something that’s not in your schedule.”

The firm allows people to have flexible work arrangements where they can work a 70 percent schedule for a couple of years. With today’s technology, it has become much easier for people to also work remotely.

“Flexibility is pretty big today,” he says. “We’re everywhere, and we have to be mobile because our business is conducted where our clients are. So giving your people the flexibility to do what they can do effectively and serve their customer, whether it be internal or external, is really important.”

Another aspect Thomas focuses on to retain his employees is making sure they are challenged and receive new opportunities.

“When we lose people, sometimes it’s because they didn’t get the challenges they wanted,” he says. “That’s the big thing is giving people great challenges and letting them have their chance to succeed. That builds a lot of loyalty within the organization if it’s a challenge that they liked and they achieved and they were successful at.”

Be client-centric

As important as your employees are to your business, without clients a company wouldn’t be able to support a workforce. Thomas makes sure the Cleveland office is always client-focused.

“The real key is having a good listening ear to what our clients’ needs are and what do we have that could help them achieve those needs,” he says. “You have to corral it around the things you can do.

“We can’t do everything, and we have to be one of the first ones to say, ‘We can’t help you there,’ but it would be nice if we could know somebody that can help them there. You have to satisfy your client and they have to know you care what their issues are and want to help them solve them.”

The way Ernst & Young does that is with good people. The firm works with its employees on listening, hearing and understanding what the clients’ issues are.

“If you don’t have those listening ears and don’t understand what you do as a business, that becomes another challenge,” Thomas says. “We do so many things; do our people totally understand all the different things we can do? That’s why we continue to educate our people on that and have our different service lines work with each other and meet with each other and understand them better.”

A critical part of understanding your clients is developing a close relationship so you each have knowledge of one another’s business.

“If you go to a client, you can’t just pop ideas onto them without first understanding what their issues or concerns are,” he says. “It doesn’t work. We have a bunch of products we can go and sell, but that’s not the way you develop a relationship and develop trust and confidence. You understand what their needs are and then you say, ‘How can we help them?’

“It’s making sure our people build relationships and build connections so that those people and our clients feel open with us to talk about what their problems and issues are.”

Thomas doesn’t expect his employees to have a solution for every problem or issue that arises, but he expects that they know how to go about finding the answer.

“They need to understand, ‘Ah, here’s the issue. Where can I go to in the firm with that issue and say how can we help?’” he says.

It has been this relationship mentality within the firm that has helped Ernst & Young grow in Northeast Ohio and become the dominant practice in the area.

“I know our people are proud of that,” Thomas says. “Every day, I get ready for the day at Ernst & Young and on my mind is making sure that our people are challenged and satisfied and that we have clients that are happy with what we do. It’s kind of a simple approach, but if we do that, we’re going to have a very successful firm.

“I always want to make sure that we’re maintaining the legacy that we have here. When I started in 1976 at the firm, I walked right into these offices, and it was Ernst & Ernst world headquarters, and I remember that and would hate to let that down.” <<

How to reach: Ernst & Young LLP, (216) 861-5000 or

Michael Siegal isn’t someone who is satisfied by achieving one goal — no matter how lofty. When Olympic Steel Inc. passed $1 billion in sales (it reached $1.26 billion in 2011), the chairman and CEO of the national metals service center set his sights on growing the company into one capable of reaching $4 billion in sales. To achieve that growth, Siegal has implemented strategies focusing on an environment that fosters sustainability and growth, as well as one that attracts and maintains the right kind of people.

“The challenge of Olympic Steel always is we’ve never been where we’ve been before,” Siegal says. “To a certain degree, everybody expects you to continue to drive forward, but every time we drive forward, it’s into an area where we’ve never been. “Therefore, strategy and buy-in is very important. It’s a lot easier to go from $20 million to $50 million in sales, although it’s a doubling of your business, than it is to go from $1 billion to $4 billion, because you’re dealing with different implications and risks.”

Those implications and risks are why Siegal places the spotlight on Olympic’s environment and its employees in order to succeed. “It’s all about people,” Siegal says. “There’s no other challenge. Have you hired the right people? Do you have an environment that can foster growth and motivate and retain existing employees? You have to balance the expectation between employees who want a great career and customers who continually want lower pricing.”

Here’s how Michael Siegal is doubling Olympic Steel through strategy and fostering an environment that supports employees and company growth.

Put people first

To achieve the strategies that will get Olympic Steel moving toward $4 billion in sales, Siegal put his focus on his 1,750 employees. The work environment has to be one in which employees enjoy what they do and where they work.

“We do what we have to do to try to foster the environment where an employee can succeed,” Siegal says. “You set a certain level of value structure and you adhere to it. You want to be consistent, reliable and living up to the value system that you have in your organization.”

The key to creating a positive work environment is having an established value structure and being accountable toward those values.

“If you’re accountable and you hold your managers at the highest level to the consistent level of performing at those values, then ultimately you create an environment where people can at least respect the environment that they work in,” he says. “If you have the commitment of the ongoing education of the employee, the betterment of the employee, the safety of the employee and you have growth, there’s no reason for them to go someplace else other than the money.”

Olympic Steel operates in a commodity industry that is very volatile and unregulated. The same value structure that the company applies to its employees is crucial for customers as well.

“We try to create a value structure for our customers that imbeds us with them regardless of the volatility of the marketplace,” he says. “By adding that value to the commodity we find ourselves to be better positioned to have a level of competitiveness, as well as sustainability with the customer in spite of the volatility of what goes on in steel pricing.”

To overcome volatility in the market you have to look at the customer you serve and the industry you’re in. You have to look at long-term sustainability and growth for your company.

“There’s never standing still in the marketplace — there’s going forward or falling back,” Siegal says. “You control your own destiny to a certain degree by the decisions that you make. You have to understand all business takes risk. You have to define the aptitude for your risk company by company and individual by individual. Are you always swimming upstream, or sometimes are you going downstream? You really have to look at the environment that you’re in and then say, ‘How do I differentiate myself from the pack?’”

When looking to grow your organization, there are financial metrics that are acceptable. It’s the CEO who ultimately decides what levels they are willing to go to in order to create leverage for growth.

“Some people are never comfortable with that,” Siegal says. “Some people are so risky that they ignore the financial metrics and go beyond what is safe just to roll the dice. Within a certain structure of what your outlook is for the future, people expect those in my position to be conservatively aggressive.”

Achieving growth within your business is what ultimately helps to create an environment where employees are excited to come to work.

“You have to create growth because employees want personal growth in their career,” he says. “If you as the company are not growing, it’s going to be difficult to promote your young talent into areas where they see a future for themselves as opposed to having to leave to get ahead. So you have to create the environment of growth. You have to create the environment of promoting from within, not to say that you can’t hire from the outside, but do you really have the environment where people are excited to come to work because they see the company doing well and the opportunity for them to be of significance?”

Create a growth environment

Establishing an atmosphere where your employees are happy and supportive of the company and its direction comes back to core values and not being hypocritical about them.

“If I said I am supportive of employee’s educational growth, I can’t turn them down when they come and say, ‘I’d like to take these courses that will better myself in the job,’” Siegal says. “Even though the financial environment may be difficult, you still have to be committed to the employee. You have to be consistent. You can do it within a certain degree of discretion, but for those who have been identified as high-performers within your own organization, are you really investing in their future as much as they are investing in their job?”

The consistency of being able to listen, create the environment in which education is valued and execute on those structural elements to the betterment of the individuals in your company is crucial.

“You have to do what you say you’re going to do,” he says. “If you say it and don’t do it, it’s hypocritical, and people will see that and they’ll lose hope and that’s when they’ll answer all the head-hunter calls.”

Olympic makes sure it has ways for employees to express themselves by bringing up issues or submitting ideas. The company has luncheons for new employees and regular gatherings where they’re allowed to share ideas. Olympic encourages ideas and rewards ideas through its FE Award of Excellence program. The company gives employees opportunities to come up with ideas that will help streamline the business, increase safety, work smarter, save money and be collaborative.

“We recognize it with a certain degree of reward, documentation and financial remuneration,” he says. “Within the whole organization someone can be nominated, including self-nomination, for going over and beyond their every day job by devising better ideas. We do that both on the corporate level and a local level as well. Some things are not great for all of Olympic Steel, but it may be great for your individual unit.”

These kinds of initiatives are important because they demonstrate respect for the employees.

“The hardest thing in America today, it seems, is, ‘How do I earn and get respect?’” he says. “So within the construct of what we try to do is not disrespect anyone. Most people just want to be heard. You don’t have to agree, but you have to give them the opportunity to be listened to. “We have a very personal connection with our employees. People here understand that if they have something to say most of my management will listen.”

Olympic employees take full advantage of opportunities to submit an idea or bring up an issue. From little things such as, “How do I burn the material a little bit better, faster or quicker?” to keeping processes in-house that will save money, employees are willing to be vocal to support the company.

“If you foster the environment where your ideas are listened to and respected, more ideas come from that,” Siegal says. “It is creating the environment where people are not threatened, disrespected or embarrassed by the fact that they may have an idea which won’t be accepted. You can’t say, ‘That’s a terrible idea’ or humiliate them by saying, ‘That’s stupid.’ You have to be sensitive to the fact that when people come forward that you give them the appropriate time to listen to their ideas even if the idea isn’t a good idea, because you don’t know if you don’t listen.”

Strategize for growth

Putting people first and creating a solid environment within Olympic Steel has helped the company and Siegal in the effort to become a $4 billion business. Having that reinforcement helps the buy-in stage when implementing new growth strategies.

“As we make decisions in management, we have to have more buy-in today from a bigger group of people to execute on those strategies than we did when we were smaller,” Siegal says. “The challenge is how do you communicate effectively to a broader group of people who may not have the full picture at hand and then expect them to execute well. Communication becomes more of a challenge as you get bigger.”

When communicating a new strategy, it is important to inform employees of how that new strategy will impact them.

“You’re always trying to look at the other side of the equation when you’re executing a strategy,” he says. “It’s the person on the other side of the table saying, ‘What does this mean to me? Does that mean I’ve got to work harder? Does that mean I’m going to be traveling more? Does that mean I’m going to get more money or more work for the same amount of money?’ ‘What does this mean to me’ is always an indication of fear and resistance. So what we try to do is understand that we’re not going to get 2,000 people to buy in. We need 20 people to buy in and that cascades down to the rest.”

It is nearly impossible to get a unanimous decision surrounding a new strategy, but leadership is about somebody ultimately having the final say and the responsibility.

“You want people to understand why we’re going this direction and answering the question of what this means to you,” he says. “I can answer what it means to the organization, but if that doesn’t somehow correlate to how I think it benefits me, maybe I’ll say yes, but I don’t mean yes. So we are always very sensitive to creating strategies on the expectation that this will be better for everyone if we do it. To make sure that everybody is on board to those philosophies takes a much longer time of communication and education to the change of strategy.”

Gaining buy-in for a new direction is crucial. While you don’t need everyone on board, you want to have a large majority behind your new direction.

“You have to keep everything pretty rational,” he says. “We’re going to go from here if we do these things and here’s where we’re going to get to. If we get there, this is what it means and this is why it’s better. Now you may not believe we can go from here to there, but if we go from here to there, isn’t this truly better? By and large, it’s about the destination.”

Siegal compares strategy buy-in to getting on a bus. When you get on a bus, you’ve got to know where the bus is going to take you. You choose to get on the bus to go to the destination because you’ve got to get off the bus at a certain point. If you just get on a bus and you don’t know where it’s going to go, then you’re just riding around all day hoping that something happens.

“We’ve got to be very concise in terms of where the destination is,” he says. “If you tell people, ‘Here’s the destination. Forget the journey. Here’s our starting point and here’s the destination.’ There may be different tangential ways in which we can get to the ultimate destination, but if we all agree that this destination is a better spot, I don’t find that people say, ‘No, that destination is going to be worse than where we’re at or it’s going to be too risky.’ If you tell them the destination, they’ll get on the bus with you.”

When planning a strategy Olympic typically looks out five years. Siegal says there isn’t necessarily a time frame that’s too forward-looking, but there are things that are too risky in strategizing and having a goal is vital.

“You have to have targets and goals in business,” Siegal says. “There has to be a way in which you’re trying to create the future. The goal is important to articulate. There can be lots of tactics to get you to the goal, and tactics may differ by location, process and customer. The tactics aren’t universal, but the goal has got to be. If you don’t have that same goal, you’ll be driving around in a circle.”

Siegal’s goal to grow Olympic to $4 billion is part of his strategy to double the business and then double it again.

“Outside of natural growth, there is always this construct in the back of your mind that says, ‘Double and then double again,’” Siegal says. “So if you’re at $50 million, you want to get to $200 million. If you’re a $1 billion company, you could say, ‘Let’s go buy a $3 billion company.’ But you don’t have the skill set to run it. The question is how do you get from $1 [billion] to $2 and from $2 [billion] to $4.”

Almost every CEO who doubles the sales would want to keep that growth going and see how far it can be taken. You have to ride that momentum in order to double business again.

“It will take you a lot shorter time frame to get to the second billion in sales than it took you for the first billion in sales,” he says. “Once you’re there, you understand how to maintain that level of business. It’s not hard to see the doubling. It’s hard to see the doubling again.”

Within the construct of the leadership, you have to keep everybody realistic. It’s not sensible to have an objective of going from $1 billion to $4 billion without getting to $2 billion first.

“If you have the strategies to get to ($2 billion) and you actually execute on those strategies, it’s going to propel you way past ($2 billion), because it doesn’t stop,” Siegal says. “Those things that you will do strategically to double your business will continue to foster additional growth beyond that. I find that to be a useful way to create a certain degree of momentum for growth.”

Over the last three years since the recession, Olympic has deployed a significant amount of capital into the marketplace for growth. Now the company has to focus on the execution of the growth initiatives that it’s begun.

“We’ve deployed the biggest capital that we ever have in the last three years over any 10-year period, and we have to make sure that we make that stuff work,” Siegal says. “To a certain degree, it’s about succession management. Are we populating the next level of management capable of running the organization? Do we have the good strategy initiatives and the balance sheet and capital structure to do that? You have a lot of headwinds in terms of your plans, and what you have to do is make sure that your foundation is secure based upon the things that you’ve done.”

Ultimately, it’s really about performance.

“As people look at Olympic Steel over the next couple of years, I think you’ll see a company that has positioned itself for growth, and now we’ll be executing on the growth initiatives,” he says.

How to Reach: Olympic Steel Inc., (216) 292-3800 or


Make employees your No. 1 priority.

Create an environment that fosters growth.

Implement strategies to drive your business forward.

James Wendle and EQM Technologies & Energy Inc. are largely reliant upon government spending to drive business. However, with the lack of funds and resources from the government recently, Wendle has had to resort to alternative ways to keep the company flush.

EQM is a $75 million, 240-employee sustainable solutions company that provides consulting and technology to business and government. Wendle became EQM’s president and COO in 2010 after the board brought him in to help grow the business.

“What I bring to the table is accountability and know-how in the construction and the engineering world and growing more on the engineering side and developing that part of the business to get us more diverse,” Wendle says.

That diversity is what Wendle expects will ease EQM’s reliance on government spending. His acquisition strategy is to find companies that will get EQM into different aspects of the environmental and engineering industries. Most recently, EQM, which at the time was Environmental Quality Management Inc., merged with Beacon Energy Holdings Inc. in 2011 to become EQM Technologies & Energy Inc.

“The Beacon merger was a reverse merger,” Wendle says. “Beacon Energy gives EQM an added benefit that wasn’t there before.”

EQM has five different divisions that give the company a wide range of capabilities. Now Wendle is searching for the next company that will bring added value to the business.

Here is how Wendle is diversifying EQM through mergers and acquisitions.

Look for opportunity

EQM was looking to broaden its business and get into an industry that it wasn’t in yet, but one that was similar to the work it did. The company came across Beacon Energy Corp., a biodiesel production business.

“The plant was sitting idle, and we had a strategy that we were going to restart the plant, which we did, and be in the biodiesel business, which we are, and the plant is running now,” Wendle says. “It helped diversify us.”

Wendle and EQM put together an acquisition strategy that focused on finding companies in the engineering business and environmental services business that would help the company grow.

“Growth is an expectation,” he says. “It’s not something that you just do by mistake. Growth of companies is what’s expected, and it’s expected by our board. Growing organically can be difficult, and I think a lot of companies are experiencing that.

“So with our equity partner, we have a company that is an expert at it. They’re on a constant search, and raising the capital to make the acquisitions is something that they do every day and they’re very good at.”

In today’s market, if you’re going to grow, you have to look at growing both through acquisition and organically. If you grow through acquisition, you have to understand the business you’re interested in.

“We set up a model of companies that are in a certain range of what their revenue is, what their margins are, how we can be more of a strategic acquisition and what synergies there are,” he says. “If we merged, how can both firms benefit from it? It is something that we need to know something about. We’re not going to buy a company we have very little knowledge about.”

The other part of acquiring a company is what leadership comes with it.

“That is just as important as the company itself, because we are constantly looking for leaders and leadership,” he says. “When you acquire a company, you also acquire the leadership and you have to look at how those leaders can help you grow in other areas.”

One of the most challenging aspects of the acquisition process is not losing sight of your current business.

“You have to align yourself with a private equity company that can assist you in your search, because it can be very distracting, not only for the buyer but for the seller,” Wendle says. “You have a business to run while you’re doing all this and you want to keep your eye on the ball.

“I’ve seen sellers particularly get so distracted through the process that they don’t watch their business. You have to stay focused and keep your eye on the ball. Don’t get all consumed in an acquisition potential.”

Wendle understands how difficult a merger process can be, so he makes sure he is as helpful to those involved as he can be.

“That’s the way I develop a relationship with the people, because it is a relationship,” he says. “If the process goes well, then the closure is going to go well. It can’t be adversarial. It needs to be very friendly and very professional. Instead of looking at it like you’re out there buying assets, you should look at it as you’re being an advocate of the seller’s and you’re helping them sell their business.”

Integrate the merger

Once a deal is made to move forward with the merger and you’ve gone through and agreed on terms and produced a letter of intent, then you need to go through due diligence.

“We’re really trying to understand more and more about the company and they’re trying to understand more and more about us,” Wendle says.

“The integration actually starts in the due diligence process. You want them to learn as much about you as you learn about them. You want them to learn about what your benefits program is. The key for owners selling is how are my employees that I hired going to be treated.”

EQM gets its HR department involved to look through the merging company’s benefits program and matches it up with theirs.

“Typically ours is going to be overall in a better position, so the new employees are going to benefit from it,” he says. “Then it’s integrating the financial packages or the business systems. How do we communicate financially? Rarely do the new companies coming in have the same types of systems that we have.

“From there, we really try not to make changes. Any changes we have to make we want them to go slowly. What’s working obviously has been working and the last thing you want to do is keep it from working. You want the leaders and the employees to keep on doing what they’re doing.”

In a merger process, there are two sides: a legal side and an emotional side. The due diligence process focuses primarily on the emotional side.

“The legal side is pretty cut and dry,” Wendle says. “The emotional side is more cultural. What kind of culture are they coming into and how comfortable do they feel with it? I start explaining that once I first meet a potential acquisition candidate.

“For someone who’s going to sell their business, it’s a very emotional process and they have to be very comfortable with it. You have to pay attention to how you get the cultures to integrate and whether they feel they still have autonomy.

“That’s the one thing about running your own business that’s good, but now they’re part of a much larger organization and they have more potential for growth.”

Making this transition successful relies on strong communication between the two companies, specifically among leadership.

“You cannot communicate enough,” he says. “We have town-hall meetings. We have staff meetings every week. Each business unit has staff meetings every week and you’re just trying to keep the lines of communication open. It really comes down to employee engagement and whether the employees feel that they have a say and whether they’re being listened to.”

While cultural alignment is a big part of making a merger successful, there still has to be a good fit in other aspects of the business.

“Cultural alignment isn’t necessarily more important, but it is as important,” he says. “There still has to be intrinsic value and what the company brings to the table as far as net income. There has to be value-added services that customers want to buy. What I find is if employees have the right attitude and they’re happy, then they have a pretty good customer base. They walk hand in hand.

“If the employees are not happy, customers are going to hear about it because there are close relationships between the employees and the clients. And vice versa, if our client’s employees aren’t happy, we hear about it.”

EQM’s strategy is to leave the incoming company alone to continue the work it was already doing. You have to make a judgment call whether or not to make any changes to a company you’ve acquired.

“There are two aspects of it,” Wendle says. “When we look at a company we look at the brand. Most the time the companies that we acquire have a good brand and we want them to keep that name and that brand and operate it as a subsidiary, unless it is parallel to one of our business units and our brand may be stronger than theirs.”

Develop a strategy

The key to being successful at acquisitions and mergers and with the growth of your business in general is to have a strategy with goals that you hope to achieve.

“I think the business changes so fast that you can have a five-year plan, but to really put tactics behind that strategy is very difficult to do because it changes so fast,” Wendle says. “It’s been my experience that if you look in two to three years, you’re going to have a better chance of meeting your goals and putting more realistic goals out there. We’re in a different climate now than we were in four or five years ago. We’ve all managed downturns and now we’re trying to grow.”

Wendle is looking to keep EQM doing more of the same it did with Beacon Energy Corp. He is focusing on the private side more so than the public side.

“My belief system is that private industry is not investing in itself right now so there is a pent-up demand for capital improvement and industries are hoarding cash,” he says. “And I don’t think it’s going to matter who the president is, companies will start spending money on capital and start investing in themselves again. The first companies that private owners spend money on are environmental and engineering companies. We are going to be positioned to be there when companies start spending on themselves again.”

One of the biggest aspects of laying out any kind of growth strategy is the need to constantly change to stay ahead of competition.

“Presidents and CEOs have to constantly be looking to reinvent themselves and reinvent their companies,” Wendle says. “I think that the business moves so fast in the world we are in that you cannot restrict yourself geographically and you really have to reinvent yourself every three years.”

Part of that reinvention is attracting entrepreneurial people to your business to keep ideas fresh.

“To really look at new services, one of the keys is hiring entrepreneurial leaders in your company and creating a culture and environment that allows people to think freely and say their mind and be able to put strategies together without being frowned upon,” he says. “You have to create that kind of culture of growth … and have the right kind of people to create that culture.” <<

How to Reach: EQM Technologies & Energy Inc.,

(800) 229-7495 or


-          Acquire companies that will allow you to grow.

-          Integrate the acquisition by developing a relationship.

-          Develop a growth strategy with two- and three-year goals.

The Wendle File

James Wendle

President and COO

EQM Technologies & Energy Inc.

Born: Alton, Ill.

Education: AAS degree in architectural engineering and a B.S. degree in construction management from Southern Illinois University.

What was your first job and what did you learn from that experience?

When I was 10, I swept hair in a barber shop and I also had a paper route. I was raised by parents who were born in the Depression. I was taught that if you worked hard everything would be fine. So I always had a job and I always had money. It’s about the work ethic. I knew I could get a job if I could prove I could work hard. People would want to hire me.

Who is somebody you look up to in leadership?

Abraham Lincoln. The man failed so many times. He had no way of becoming president of this country because of all his failures, but he did and he was the right president at the right time. Another man that had so much against him at the time was Winston Churchill.

What is the best advice that someone has given you?

I was taught by the CEO of the first professional job that I had to be friendly and be professional, but don’t be abused. Don’t let anyone treat you poorly. Stand up to it no matter what.

If you could do something dangerous one time without consequence, what would want to do?

I would ride my Harley through the Alps.

Sunday, 30 September 2012 20:00

Movers and Shakers

Turner Construction Co. has announced that  Jason Jones has been named general manager for the company’s Cleveland office. He most recently served as manager of Turner’s Special Projects Division in Cleveland.

Jones now leads all operations and business strategy for Turner’s Cleveland office. He replaces Mark Dent, who has accepted a position leading Turner’s offices in the Carolinas.

A native of the Cleveland area, Jones attended Cleveland State University, where he received an MBA in Finance, and the University of Akron. He has been with Turner for 15 years, serving in positions of increasing responsibility and working in a number of departments, including special projects, preconstruction, estimating, and engineering.

Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs LLP has announced that John F. Hill will join the firm’s Akron office in October as a partner in the firm’s Litigation Practice Group. He joins Buckingham from Hill Hardman LLC, where he was one of the principals.

Hill brings a wide range of clients in complex commercial cases. His work has ranged from contract litigation to shareholder disputes, including national class action litigation. Hill has been consistently selected to The Best Lawyers in America, Ohio’s Super Lawyers and Ohio’s Super Lawyers “Top 100.” In addition, he was selected by his peers for inclusion in the 2008-11 editions of “Best Lawyers in America.” He was named the Best Lawyers “2010 Lawyer of the Year” in the area of “bet the company” litigation for the Akron area.

Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs LLP also announced that associates Justin S. Greenfelder, David J. Lindner, Michael J. Matasich and Dustin J. Vrabel have been promoted to partner. Greenfelder and Vrabel are based at the firm’s Canton office, while Lindner and Matasich are based in the Cleveland office.

“It is always a pleasure to be able to reward excellence, hard work and dedication,” says John Slagter, Buckingham’s managing partner. “Buckingham is committed to its region, and it is reassuring to note that Justin, David, Michael and Dustin are all Northeast Ohio natives who have chosen to continue to live and further their careers in our region. They are fully committed to Northeast Ohio and we are committed to them.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Ohio announced that it has hired Mark R. Ruth as its director of resource development. Ruth will oversee all fund raising and volunteer based events and activities to help support the organization’s growth objectives.

Ruth can personally speak to the positive value and impact that Big Brothers Big Sisters has on children and their families due to his direct experiences with their services, both as youth and as an adult. After graduating from John Carroll University in 1978, Ruth became an active Big Brother himself. He has served as a board member for Big Brothers Big Sisters and now joins their professional staff to serve in this new capacity.

NAI Daus has announced it hired commercial real estate veteran and financial strategist, Suzanne Hamilton, as vice president of finance. Hamilton has more than two decades of experience and results analyzing business opportunities and developing valuations on commercial projects. 

Hamilton will oversee evaluating prospective and existing project opportunities for investors and clients, analyzing a property’s financial performance and value. Key responsibilities include maximizing investment portfolios, evaluating funding solutions, and helping position the firm for its next level of business growth by maximizing deal performances.<<

Please send your executive-level promotions to

Sunday, 30 September 2012 20:00

Becoming a change monster

Randy Dobbs advocates that CEOs become “change monsters,” a mythical, business beast capable of transforming even the direst business. To rejuvenate and transform a company, you can’t be intimidated by change or what may be necessary to right the ship.

As the former president and CEO of U.S. Investigations Services Inc., Philips Medical Systems North America and GE Capital, IT Solutions, Dobbs, who is now a business leadership consultant, knows what it takes to transform a company.

“My view is that transformational leadership is the key ingredient for organizational success,” Dobbs says. “Most of the businesses that I’ve run have had two very common ingredients — the first one is they are missing their financial portfolio significantly; the second one is they’ve had organizational chaos.”

As the author of “Transformational Leadership: A Blue Print for Real Organization Change,” Dobbs recently spoke at the ASLON Leadership Forum in Cleveland where he discussed advice from his book and his career for best ways CEOs can be transformational leaders.

Find your success factors

To understand how to change your business, you have to know where your success factors lie. The inverted triangle is a great tool for understanding the value of the customer and how your company serves them.

“When I go in to talk to CEOs of $100 million, $500 million or $25 million companies, the first thing I ask them is, ‘What are your success factors in your business? What are your business objectives?’” Dobbs says. “They say, ‘Well, I want to grow revenue 10 percent this year. I want EBIDTA to grow faster than my revenue. I want to get my growth’s margin up three points.’

“I look at them and say, ‘That’s not a business objective. That’s an outcome.’ Your success factors in your business are those things you want to do to drive that outcome. It could be that I want to get premium price for my product in the market. I want to grow my market share, and I want to take a share within my geography. I want to go into adjacent markets. I want to leverage my existing assets. Those are success factors.”

When you define what that success factor is, you then have to look at your strategy for accomplishing that goal.

“Even if businesses have a success factor, what I find is they don’t have strategy,” he says. “At GE, we used to have five-year plans for strategy. Jack [Welch] came in and blew that up. He said, ‘Don’t have a strategy more than 18 months.’ The world changes too much in 18 months. As every business designs and defines its success factors, it needs to have an 18- to 24-month strategy.”

If you identify your success factors and develop the right strategy, you should find gaps within your business.

“There should be a gap between where you were and the strategy it takes to get there,” he says. “If you don’t have a gap when you get through that process, then you don’t have a good plan. You’re doing something that you really haven’t defined well enough in your business solution.”

Drive change

To close this gap you have to use the sides of the inverted triangle — people and processes. Dobbs uses Southwest Airlines as an example to prove his point.

“They were trying to be the low-cost provider in air transportation and they were trying to be the fastest and the simplest,” he says. “They built a strategy that said, ‘We’ll have a spoke and a hub, we’ll use the same airlines, we’ll be very quick with maintenance, we’ll have a quick turnaround time, and we won’t assign seats.’

“With the right processes and the right people and through all this financial turmoil, they’re the only airline to remain profitable. They had good business success factors, they had a great strategy and they continue to work on processes and executing.”

Think about this relative to your business. This is where you have to be a change monster in order to truly make transformation happen.

“To close the gap you have to be a change monster, and that’s really what transformation is all about,” he says. “A good transformational leader is somebody that has overcome one failure and learned, one failure and learned and kept moving through life.”

You have to get people to a comfort level where if you’re going to transform, they believe in the leader to do the right thing.

“What really drives transformational leadership is that ability to never give up and to see where you’re going,” Dobbs says.

“And be that leader and take the organization there when everybody is standing against you and saying that it can’t be done and you have the belief that it can and you keep driving to that point and keep having that vision and keep overcoming those failures.”

Create a transformational environment

Dobbs notes that five key things are important to create a transformational leadership environment.

“No. 1 is building a culture of change,” Dobbs says. “Businesses fail for two reasons: They fail early on because they run out of cash or they fail long-term because of their inability to change. No. 2, you’ve got to improve and grow the spirit of the team or the esprit de corps.

“No. 3, you have to have very strong communications. No one wants to hear about what happened yesterday. They want to hear about where we were and where we’re going.

“No. 4 is you have to change the financial results. You can be a great speaker, you can build a great team, you can have a wonderful environment of change, but at the end of the day, the scoreboard is going to tell the real story about you and that’s how you’re going to get evaluated.

“The last thing is you’ve got to build a cadre of transformational leaders who can run that business when you’re gone.”

Building a culture of change starts with recognizing your current culture and communicating how you plan to change its structure and character.

“One of the critical things is to create a shared need,” he says. “That’s why communication is so important. Most of the people in your organization, until you explain to them why you need to change, don’t get it. When they start to get it, they’re afraid of it.

“You have to continually develop that movie in your head where this business is going. Know where you’re going to be in 18 months and start selling it every day. You have to keep selling it and selling it and selling it until, all of a sudden, people just get it.”

Driving transformation starts with people and processes on top of a vision, mission and supporting strategies. Being a change monster will help you close the gap of where you want to go.

“As a transformational leader you wear a lot of hats,” Dobbs says. “At the end of the day, your primary job as a transformational leader is to be a change agent. You are that change monster and that’s how people see you if you really want to transform.

“For me, there is no better feeling in the world for a true leader than to really try to change and see a business transform and see the people in it be successful and then see the financial results be successful.”

How to reach: Randy Dobbs, or

Sunday, 30 September 2012 20:00

Record-setting performance

Northeast Ohio companies and employees were lacing up their cleats and getting in game shape this past summer for another year of the Cleveland Corporate Challenge coordinated by Hermes Sports & Events.

This year’s Cleveland Corporate Challenge set new participation records with 117 companies from Northeast Ohio competing in the summer’s 14 events that made up the challenge and 88 of those corporations competing in the Corporate Cup divisions, which included participation in all of the events.

Those weren’t the only records set in 2012. Additional record-setting performances included: a total of 1,462 teams, 56 corporations and 181 individuals volunteered to assist in the events, more than 50 industries were represented, an estimated 10,000 players and spectators enjoyed the challenge, 18 different venues hosted the events, and 19 different charities received donations from the challenge.

The Corporate Challenge events consisted of softball, skeeball, kickball, mini golf, dodgeball, flag football, cornhole, basketball, volleyball, bowling, tug-of-war, a 10K relay, an obstacle course and a 1-mile fun walk.

Corporate Challenge was broken up into six divisions based on participating company’s employee size. The winning companies in each division were: AXA Advisors in Division I, The Blind Pig in Division II, Majestic Steel in Division III, Titan Insurance in Division IV, Hyland Software in Division V and PNC in Division VI.

The Cleveland Corporate Challenge promotes employee wellness, teamwork and business networking among companies and their employees, while helping local charities in the community. Registration for the 2013 Cleveland Corporate Challenge will be available soon. <<

How to Reach: Hermes Sports & Events, (216) 623-9933 or

As a 26-year-old with long hair and sideburns that merged into a mustache, Bob Weltman asked his father if he could be put in charge of the collection department of his law firm. His father trusted his son’s work ethic and belief that he could run the department much better than it had been, so he said, “Yes.”

From that day on, Weltman has been leading people by example at Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co., a law firm with more than 1,200 employees and annual revenue of more than $100 million. He has always prided himself on working harder and longer than anyone else to stay on top.

“My leadership style is one by example,” Weltman says. “I never ask my employees to do anything that I could not do. I always got to work before my employees. I always worked as hard as my employees and I always worked longer than my employees. I was totally dedicated to my job.”

Ever since Weltman held a job bagging groceries as a youngster, he has maintained his work-hard-to-be-successful attitude throughout college and into his professional career.

“My background in working hard was something that I adopted a long time ago,” Weltman says. “If you’re going to accept the responsibility, do it with all your energy and give it all the time that’s necessary to succeed.”

Today, Weltman has lost the long hair and his sideburns, but the mustache and work ethic remain strong. Here is what Weltman has learned in his 50 years of business.

What have been some of your biggest challenges over your career?

The challenge of running a business — profitability. That is always a challenge. Even though we’re in the service business and we’re lawyers, making a profit at the end of the day is a challenge. When you attend any meeting in this law firm and you didn’t know what we were, you would think we manufactured widgets. The meetings we have are all business-driven with business ideas.

I don’t know how you can exist in today’s world in business without taking business courses. If you’re thinking of being a doctor or a lawyer, a businessman, an accountant or anything in the business world, you’ve got to take business classes.

No. 2 is the management of people. Everybody who works here has their own set of problems. You’re trying to merge together a whole bunch of different people with a whole bunch of different problems into one and to motivate them to give their job the best.

If you get too involved in an employee’s personal problems, it can drag you down and distract from what your primary focus is. So being able to merge together people from all different types of backgrounds into one is very, very important.

You have to try to create a team effort. A team is only as good as the weakest link. You’ve got to set the bar high. Saying it can’t be done is not acceptable. I’d rather you try something and fail than say it can’t be done. Don’t be afraid to fail. When you decide to make a decision, measure the chance of success versus the chance of failure.

Don’t do something that can be fatal to the organization. If there is a higher degree of success than there is failure, measure what happens if there is failure because if the failure is detrimental to the organization, then you don’t want to make the decision. You have to learn from those failures.

You take the failures that you have had and try to build them into something that is positive. You want to teach your employees to also take some degree of risk to what they’re doing.

Throughout 50 years, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen in business?

I was a very, very rough employer. I demanded perfection. Even though I knew perfection could not be obtained, I demanded it. I was very rough on the people who worked with me. Some stuck around, and others went other ways.

I remember that I ran into a friend of mine who worked for me at one time and had left. We were reminiscing about the old days, and he told me a story about something I did to him that interfered with his personal life. I knew he was going out one night, and I gave him a stack of files to work and have ready to review the next day.

I don’t remember if I did it intentionally, but he said he had to skip his social event to work on them. I went back to the office and told my son the story. My son said, ‘You know what I would have done? I would have quit.’

There has been a shift from the job meaning everything to you to balance in life. We went from people who worked because they had to work to put food on the table to a period of time where people started making more money and a balance of life became almost as important to being dedicated to the job.

Another change in the industry has been what the clients focus on. Originally, clients came to you because you could give them the best results. Giving good service to the client along with good results used to be the motivating factor.

After 9/11, the client’s focus became security. Now we have security badges, security entrances. In some of our offices, we have security cameras. The clients became very security conscious.

More recently, since the 2008 recession, compliance is bigger. Now they want to know the procedures you’re following to keep us out of trouble. Now the focus isn’t so much on performance; it is how well you’re treating the customer. The emphasis has gone from performance to security to compliance, and those organizations that will be in compliance will get a higher rating than those organizations that have better performance quantitatively.

How important has relationship building been to you?

I feel that when a client comes to me with a problem, they’re coming to me for help. I feel honored to represent a client and help them, and I want to give them something back in return.

I treat clients like friends. I try to establish a personal relationship with them and make a connection with them and a bond so that they can come to me for help, and I’ll drop whatever I’m doing to help them. Once they come to me for help, I want to work my hardest to make sure I achieve a result.

You have to make the connection and gain the confidence of that person. You’ve got to get the client or the person to believe that what you’re doing is in their best interest. You’ve got to put their welfare ahead of any other selfish or personal motivation that you may have. You have to give the client the impression that you’re working for them to achieve the best result and that making money is secondary.

I’ve said many times to a client when they come to me with a challenging collection problem and they say, ‘How much are you going to charge me?’ I say to them, ‘I don’t want what I’m going to charge you to stand in the way of me getting you the best result. Pay me what you think I’m worth when it’s done.’

You have to let them know that money and the profit motive is not the main motivation of why you’re doing it.

When clients come and present me with their problem, I tell them, ‘You’ve now given me this problem. You have to walk out of this room and dismiss it from your mind, because if two of us worry about the problem, there’s too much energy being wasted at solving the problem. Once you come to me with a problem, I want you to divorce yourself from that problem and allow me to handle it and try to get you a solution.’

Where did your hard work ethic come from?

There was a book called ‘Bounce,’ and it was the question as to whether greatness is genetic or something you have to work hard to achieve. The theme of that book was that hard work is what makes you good at what you do. I worked very, very hard at what I do, and I still work very hard.

My day starts at night when I take home boxes of files, which I work on until 10 at night. I get to work at 6:30 in the morning, so my day is 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. In order to be good at what you do, you have to put a lot of hours in. It’s not something that just comes your way. It’s something that you got to devote a lot of hard work and a lot of time to.

With all your great athletes, people say they were born with greatness, but from LeBron James to Jimmy Brown, they worked very hard at what they did. Mark Spitz didn’t just jump in a pool and win gold medals. He worked endless hours to achieve greatness. You have to stay focused.

I’m always focused on the job. I have blinders as to anything else that’s going on around me. It’s like a sporting event — when you’re on the basketball court, you have to be able to separate yourself from the rest of the world. Or it’s like a relief pitcher in baseball — when you give up a hit or give up a home run, you’ve got to go out on the mound and separate yourself from what happened in the past because you can’t let it be the driver for what happens in the future.

What have you done to keep up with the industry as it has grown? 

Reading, listening and attending lectures is very important. When I attend seminars, I don’t necessarily go there to learn what the message of the seminar is; I go there to learn what the problems are in the industry. I try to figure out solutions for those problems. As a result, that created different departments in our firm and different ways of handling things.

If you don’t do these things, you’re missing out. When I read a newspaper, I look at what’s in that article that can help further the organization. Is that a marketing opportunity? Is that an opportunity for business? I try to always transfer what I see and hear and read into how I can incorporate that at our firm to make the firm a better organization.

I’m big on sports, so I’ll look to sports to see how management decisions are made. I look at how players are treated and the education of players and how they learn what the game is all about. It’s all about the ‘Bounce’ theory — are you given the job at the time that’s necessary to be the best at what you can do?

What have been some keys to keeping the firm a leader in its industry?

I’ve been a visionary in running the firm. We were one of the first law firms in our field to have more than one office. We were the first law firm to have a probate collection department.

I like to be the first at what we’re doing, and the reason why is if you’re the first, there is no measure of competition. If everybody is talking about it, then it’s too late. That’s why, when you go to conferences, you listen to what the underlying message is and not what is being said.

I’m also the kind of person that when I come up with an idea, I want to implement it immediately and get started on it. All of us are very busy and none of us are sitting here waiting for the client to call us or walk in the door, but when you’re presented with something new, you have to be able to start working on that problem immediately without losing any concentration on what your daily task is. A lot of people are very slow at appropriating something new. When you think of something to do, you have to start it.

How to reach: Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co. LPA, (216) 685-1000 or


- Give 100 percent to your current job.

- Build relationships with your clients.

- Be a leader and focus on solving problems.

The Weltman File

Bob Weltman

Senior partner

Weltman, Weinberg and Reis Co. LPA

Born: Cleveland, Ohio

Education: Received a BBA and a master’s in finance from the The Ohio State University and a JD from the Case Western Reserve University School of Law

What was your very first job and what did you take away from that experience?

I got a job working in a grocery store. I used to bag groceries and take them to people’s cars and then run back to beat the others in line. The average tip was a quarter. That was one of the first experiences where I realized how easy it was to be successful; you just had to work hard.

Who is someone you look up to?

My favorite baseball player is Lou Gehrig. He never missed a day of work.

What are a few of your favorite sports memories?

I went to Cal Ripken night when he set the record for most consecutive games. I was there for the Indians game when Kenny Lofton scored from second base on a passed ball. I attended the Ohio State championship game against Miami where it went into overtime at the Fiesta Bowl. I attended the World Series in 1995 and 1997 for the Indians.

What has been one of your proudest moments over your 50-year career?

It was going to my father and asking him if I could run the collection department and him having enough confidence in me to do it.

If you could invite three people to dinner, who would invite?

George Steinbrenner, Bill Gates and Thomas Edison. Innovative, creative people.

Emma Dickison knows a good business model when she sees one. As a former executive of both Blockbuster and Sylvan Learning Center, Dickison is now leveraging her business expertise to focus on growing the franchise brand of Home Helpers.

While at Blockbuster during the company’s heyday, Dickison helped grow the brand from 150 stores to 8,800 worldwide in her 14 years there. She also helped fuel similar growth at Sylvan Learning Center.

So when Home Helpers Founder and CEO Gary Green recruited Dickison to join the provider of one-on-one companion care and in-home services in 2007, he knew she would be able to help develop a strategy to grow the Home Helpers franchise.

“Gary and I started talking about Home Helpers because of my experiences and where he wanted to take the company,” says Dickison, president of Home Helpers. “I really saw it as a great opportunity to take a company that had done well and make it even better and continue to drive and build it. I think of Blockbuster and how that growth happened and I thought I’m young enough to still do it again.”

Home Helpers has more than 600 locations and has more than doubled its revenue in the past five years for 2011 systemwide revenue of $79 million.

“Home Helpers was a great company and they had just celebrated their 10-year anniversary, but in franchising, the first few years in any concept is really a strong learning curve.”

Here’s how Dickison used her past experiences to develop strategies that would allow Home Helpers to reach new heights.

Change is good

In any business that has the objective to grow its operations, change has to be a necessity that is embraced by the company and everyone in it. Dickison had to find out where to take the business next that would help it in its growth.

“After 10 years, obviously we had a foundation underneath us,” Dickison says. “Home Helpers was started as completely nonmedical services, and it did what was known as companion care, which meant serving as a companion to a client who needed meals made for them or maybe to help getting to and from the doctor.

“About two years before I joined, the industry started to transition into what is called personal care. Personal care is where you’re physically working with a client whether that’s transferring them from a wheelchair to a bed or helping them bathe, it’s hands-on care.

“From that, a year ago, we transitioned to yet another phase out of a strategic decision to continue to be able to provide a broader continuum of care to the client so they aren’t dealing with multiple agencies. We now have our offices in a position where they can provide medical services as well.”

The company then supplemented that with its Direct Link brand, which is vital sign monitoring, medication management and personal emergency response systems to allow clients to remain at home for as long as safely possible.

“So from where I started with largely a companion care business, we’ve now transitioned over the last five years into an organization that allows families to utilize one agency to be able to keep mom, dad, an ill spouse or a sick child home longer than what would otherwise be possible,” she says.

No matter what industry your business is in, change is a difficult thing to grasp and implement.

“We are all creatures of habit, and to have a bold result, you have to make bold decisions,” Dickison says. “For us, that has been strategically to be able to say, ‘What additional services do we need to provide so that families can feel comfortable about their family member?’ Change on any system is a challenge.

“There is a book by Tom Feltenstein and it’s called, ‘Change is Good, You Go First.’  There is a quote in that book that I think is powerful that says, ‘If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance a lot less.’ The reality is you have to provide a product or service that the consumer wants or needs and is willing to pay for, and that’s kind of where we are.”

The services Home Helpers provides are needed, and the company has to continue to change as the industry does and as its consumers do to stay relevant.

“We’re a strong believer in testing and listening to our consumer and our franchise offices and then making the changes, and we’re changing first because we think we need to remain relevant,” she says.

Changes in your business can’t be made without a strong reason for making them.

“You have to have a great understanding of the industry you’re in and where it’s going and how you want to position yourself in it,” Dickison says. “Secondly, you have to take risks. The alternative to not doing something can be fatal.”

Dickison compares risk to a baseball player at bat — you never want to be called out not swinging the bat.

“Some things are going to be a great success, and there’s probably going to be a few things that are not, but you can’t be afraid to fail,” she says. “You have to be willing as a leader to take that risk and step up. Then you have to be accountable for whatever the results are. I take very seriously my role in that the decisions I make as a leader impact thousands of families, and I can’t take that lightly because I know they are depending on us to be that leader.

“I also have to think of the brand and lead us into the future and know that will require and has required us to take risks to figure it out, to make it happen and to move the system forward.”


The changes that Home Helpers makes are part of forming a strategy to move the company forward. These plans have to be carefully thought out and the right people have to be involved in the process.

“The end users, which are our offices, those who deliver every day a core mission to the communities that they serve, have to have a part in shaping strategy,” Dickison says. “We are very strong in seeking feedback from our franchise offices.

“We survey them twice a year formally. We get feedback after every training session and at our national conference. We get feedback on everything, and then we take that feedback and we review it very seriously to say, ‘What is the direction we need to go?’”

Having your stakeholders, which is your staff as well as your franchise offices, have a voice in shaping that strategy is key because then you can get buy in.

“You’re never going to please 100 percent of the people all of the time,” she says. “I have to make decisions as a leader as to what’s going to benefit my brand and the majority of my franchise offices. So having them be a part of that is critical, and we’ve done that in the five years that I’ve been here.

“Our positioning to move into medical services was as a direct result of focus groups and feedback we had done with our franchise offices who were concerned long term that based on where the industry is going, that if we did not make some changes in that direction, we were going to be at a competitive disadvantage.”

Franchise business models are unique in that franchisees don’t actually work for you but with you, which can make strategy implementation tough sometimes.

“The uniqueness of it is if you’re an organization that’s not franchise-owned, it’s easier to make that strategy and communication known and carry it through,” Dickison says. “It has to be a very collaborative effort and everyone has to buy in to the direction you’re going to. That’s why it’s not as simple as it is for some organizations where we decide the strategy, we tell you what it is and you deploy it.

“In franchising, there has to be a collaboration between the staff, the owners and management to work together to realize that strategy and deliver it.”

While everybody has the opportunity to have a voice, you’re going to make some decisions that are unpopular.

“It becomes a matter of showing the value — the features and benefits — of what you’re introducing or eliminating, in some cases, as you move the system forward,” she says. “It really comes back down to including stakeholders in the decision-making process, communicating, gaining buy-in and executing against it.”

Grow your franchise

In a franchise business model, it is crucial that franchise owners are aware of the business strategy and are involved enough that they want to contribute and generate ideas to help grow the company.

“We get those ideas every day, and I’m grateful,” Dickison says. “Our franchise owners give us feedback on ideas that they think could benefit the operating system daily via email, live conversation, surveys, national meetings and any communication style you can imagine. If they could send us smoke signals, they’re willing to share. That’s the great part for me.

“Every time I go out into the field, they are just so passionate about what our mission is and the work we are doing. They are eager to support our growth and our operating system.”

To get your company employees or franchisees involved in the business, you have to make sure you are communicating to them and that they understand what it takes to grow the business.

“It comes down to communication, communication, communication — aligning the strategy, communicating it and allowing them to be part of it,” she says. “I did, when I first got here, a series of town-hall meetings. I traveled all over the country and we talked about where we were and where we wanted to go. I made it clear from that moment that we wanted feedback.

“Not only did I communicate it, I demonstrated it in my actions. Many of the changes that we have seen today are as a result of very incredibly bright business owners who live and work in the trenches every day serving hundreds and hundreds of communities that have been willing to serve and provide feedback.

“Not only did I tell them it was important, I demonstrated it because I took action on the feedback that was given.”

With a strong strategy in place to deliver on what the industry and the company’s clients are asking for and a smart and devoted team of franchisees, Home Helpers is growing to that next level.

“We’re a brand of 15 years into growth,” Dickison says. “We are in 42 states today, which means we still have markets available for owners to come in and be able to build a strong business and serve the communities that they have.”

The keys to this growth have been a couple of points.

“No. 1, it’s selecting the right franchise owner,” she says. “Are they going to have the skill set, the expertise, the working capital to be able to realize their dreams of owning a small business that we can help them support? Selection of those that you are awarding territories is key.

“Then backing them up with a great operating system and a proven operating system that can help support their growth is critical. Then it’s having the right staff in place to ensure that.”

Since Dickison has been at Home Helpers, the staff has grown by about 40 percent and has done so because the company has grown and supported that expansion.

“It comes down to four things: having the right strategy, selecting the right owners to come into the system, giving them a terrific operating system that stays relevant to the industry, and then providing them great support,” she says.

With those four helping Dickison lead the company to that No. 1 spot in the industry, she is able to focus on the future.

“We want to continue to maximize our opportunities here domestically,” she says. “We are going to continue to explore those opportunities that allow us to stay on the cutting edge and remain as a strong competitor in our industry.”

How to reach: Home Helpers: (800) 216-4196 or  


-          Embrace change; understand where you want to be.

-          Form a strategy to get you were you want to be.

-          Communicate changes and strategies.

The Dickison File

Emma Dickison


Home Helpers

Born: Ashland, Ky.

Education: She received a bachelor of arts in history and has a minor in secondary education from the University of Florida.

What was your first job and what did you take away from that experience?

My dad, in the recession of 1972, bought a small, independently owned hotel in Florida. That was going to be my parents’ retirement. They took a huge risk, invested everything they had, borrowed more and bought this hotel. At the age of 10 I was a maid. I cleaned rooms, I helped paint, I helped clean the pool and scrubbed the lounge. I learned from that experience to have an incredible work ethic and know that nothing was going to be given to me without me working hard for it.

What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?

Business is truly about relationships and how you interact with people. It’s really the golden rule — treat people the way you want to be treated. That’s true of your staff, franchise owners and vendors.

Who is a leader you admire in business?

The best leader I ever worked with is a woman by the name of Eileen Terry. She was an executive with Blockbuster. She was the first woman at the time in that role, and I believe there hasn’t been another who has held the title of executive vice president. She was incredibly gifted. She had very high standards, but she was such a great mentor. Today she is at Panda Express.

What are you excited about within the health care industry?

I’m excited about the role Home Helpers will play. Everything I read says we’re all going to need some level of care and so for us to play a part of that, culturally it’s important. Not just from a business standpoint, but how are we culturally going to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves. The fact that we get to play such a significant role in that is exciting.

Craig Clark is one of several general managers who have held the position at The Rivers Casino within its first three years of operation. But that inconsistency at the leadership role has made it hard to create programs that benefit the casino’s customers as well as its employees.

The Rivers Casino, which opened in 2009, has more than 1,800 employees and saw 2011 revenue of $434 million. Clark, who became GM in June 2011, has been focused on enhancing both the customer and employee experience to make the casino a better business overall.

“The key is really consistency of leadership so you can put together programs with the community and programs within the facility to allow team members to grow and advance,” Clark says. “I think that’s the key to my leadership. In the gaming industry some people move around, but for myself I like to be located at one facility for quite a period of time.”

Before coming to Rivers, Clark spent nearly 15 years at Turning Stone in upstate New York where he was able to develop the facility.

“That’s where I spent most of my career, and we had a complex there that we kept adding to for years and years,” Clark says. “(In Pittsburgh) we have a great complete facility that we keep creating different entertainment experiences within and reasons for our customers to come and visit.”

Currently, Rivers Casino has 80 table games, 30 poker table games and 2,970 slot machines. It also includes five different food and beverage outlets, a banquet space and three bar locations on the casino floor. All combined, there is plenty of opportunity to impress guests with customer service and create programs that motivate the employees.

Here is how Clark is driving customer- and employee-related initiatives.

Develop key programs

In an industry where excellent customer service and employee training are staples of operating a business, it isn’t enough to simply talk about having good service. To ensure customers are treated well and employees get opportunities to advance, you have to implement programs that keep service and training as a top priority.

“We have a variety of different programs here at the property,” Clark says. “We’ve introduced a 12-Star program, which is a program for our young business leaders to learn more about all operations of the facility.

“We have leadership training components within that training program. We have accounting practices. We have how to do a review and give good feedback to team members when you give them their annual review. It’s a 12 different part program.”

While one program may be aimed at learning all aspects of the casino business, other programs offer employees a chance to learn what it takes to perform specific jobs.

“We have a dealer school here where people from outside can interview and be trained as dealers and team members who are currently dealers can learn other games that they might not have perfected to date,” he says.

The casino also has programs aimed at recognizing employees who are going above and beyond the expectations of their jobs.

“We’ve put in a program for team member of the month and we have team member of the year, where both an hourly and a salaried team member are recognized for their great contributions to the facility,” he says.

“We are also putting together right now a supervisory leadership training program focusing on how to ensure our supervisors are consistent and thorough in their coaching and their mentoring of team members so we get the right consistency throughout the organization.”

While setting up a program is one thing, continuing to improve it and make necessary changes is another. The key is to view it as an on-going process.

“It doesn’t start one day and end another day,” Clark says. “It’s actually a process that you have to live and breathe and it has to be part of your business soul. You need to focus on it each day because as a leader, the team members are looking at you as the example.”

When you can listen to employees and listen to their ideas and make a positive change, that’s how these programs are developed. You have to ensure your team continues to focus on service levels because it’s not lost on clients, customers or guests.

“Our guests have such a high expectation of coming here and they all want to be treated as if they’re that special person; our goal each and every day is to ensure that we do that and they walk away with a memory and an experience of coming here to the Rivers,” Clark says.

Be well-rounded

One of the biggest reasons Rivers Casino has the amount of opportunities available to its employees is to offer them a chance to grow and learn about the whole business. This creates employees who thoroughly enjoy what they do and strive to be well-rounded.

“Sometimes people are narrowly focused and I think the more that you can explain to them or educate them on more parts of the business, the more valuable they become to your organization,” Clark says. “If a dealer understands how the marketing promotions are being created and what our goals are with those programs, they’re our salespeople that are out there each and every day and it just makes them more informed and better team members and better guest service professionals.”

To help encourage employees to become well-rounded, it is crucial that you provide outlets for them to be recognized.

“Those types of programs start from one-on-one contact with team members and ensuring that you recognize them as you walk around the facility and thank them for their hard work,” he says. “That’s something that business leaders need to continue to focus on because that pat on the back is one of the best rewards that a person can have each and every day if somebody can have that personalized recognition.”

Another way to develop your employees is to establish expected criteria and highlight the individuals who provide strong examples of the attitude, behavior and work ethic you expect.

“When you look at human resource programs, we try to create the criteria that establish what the right business behavior for a team member or team leader is,” Clark says. “We want to take those people who are examples of that behavior every day and put them on a pedestal so people look at them and say, ‘Matt is a great guest service deliverer every day. He walks the walk and coaches team members.’

“He is an example that they can look at for that consistency. Consistency is the hard part in the hospitality business because things happen in your personal life and when you come to work you have to shed anything that’s not positive and ensure you put that smile on your face and be positive and proactive in what you do at the workplace.”

Strong employee development ultimately comes down to how much employees want to help themselves become better. If you can get your employees to want to achieve greater things and you allow them outlets to suggest improvements, you create a culture that fosters continuous improvement.

“Quite often some of the best ideas come from listening to your team members,” Clark says. “Keep an open mind. I’ll walk the casino floor and some of the best ideas I get are from team members who come up to me with suggestions or ideas that were passed on from a customer. You have to take those ideas, and as a leader our job is to align the resources, when practical, to implement those great ideas.”

On a quarterly basis Clark does something he calls “communication corner” where he sets up a table in the team member cafeteria for all three shifts to get their input.

“I ask them for their ideas, suggestions and concerns because a third of the ideas come from the leadership team and their experience, a third comes from our team members who are in the workplace each day and a third comes from customers,” he says. “So I can get two-thirds of the knowledge I need by just listening to our team members.”

An outlet such as Clark’s communication corner is a great way to gain access to employee’s ideas. However, the key to continuing that practice is to show them you are acting on those ideas.

“A lot of it is listening to those ideas and then having the team members see the change,” he says. “That openness to listening as well as showing action, positive actions reinforce that behavior. It’s like anything else in life, if you’re an athlete or if you’re a business leader, you have to exercise those behaviors. As business leaders we have to exercise the behavior of listening and we have to exercise the behavior of implementing the things that are practical to our businesses and cost-effective.”

Drive customer service

The concept of customer service seems simple on the surface, but to achieve it and be a leader at it your company takes the right employees first.

“One of the keys is starting with the selection process of the team member,” Clark says. “The next most important thing is we have a two-day orientation here at the property. Part of it is going through policies and part of it is really talking about hospitality and talking about our guests and the expectations of our guests.

“Also, it’s how we ensure that we are focused on those good behaviors to make it a great experience for the guests when they come here and how all the systems work.”

An orientation program is a key way to set the tone for someone arriving in the company. It gives employees a good overview of the type of businesses that they’re entering in to and ensuring they’re the right person. The casino doesn’t stop there.

“From that, we have a 90-day checklist program which really follows the job description and what their core functions are as a team member,” Clark says. “We make sure we go through that checklist to ensure that we have good training programs set up to ensure that they focus on the job function, the quality and the service.

“Those types of things tend to work out well where team members really understand the expectation and deliver the best results.”

To measure whether employees understand their job and are delivering desired results, it is important to have some form of review in place.

“We do a 90-day review of a person who joins the organization and then an annual review,” he says. “An annual review should never really be a surprise. It should be a summary of the year’s performance of the team member. The key is to have ongoing communication and ongoing coaching and praise.

“When you have a balanced program and all those cogs of the wheel are working together, that’s where you have the best result. If there is something team members need to advance their skill on, the key is helping them out with that as soon as it’s identified. If they’re doing great things it’s recognizing them immediately because that’s where you’re going to create the best team loyalty and the best team culture.”

To keep customer service levels at their peak it is important that you use what resources you have available to you. Rivers recently implemented a secret shopper program to help test customer service.

“We have an independent party that will evaluate service levels looking at it from a guest perspective,” Clark says. “A shopper service will come in and they’ll go through experiences as if they were a guest and then give us their feedback on individual team members and the property overall.”

There are a lot of great resources, some of them free and some of them you can acquire. “You have to stay current on different practices and different education processes,” he says. “The world is changing rapidly when it comes to online training. We’ve put several tutorial programs in place this year. The key is really seeing what the most effective way is to use this technology to train team members and ensure that they are current on all their practices.”

How to reach: The Rivers Casino, (412) 231-7777 or


-          Design programs around initiatives.

-          Provide opportunity and outlets for employees.

-          Enhance the customer experience.

The Clark File

Craig Clark

General manager

Rivers Casino

Born: Endicott, NY

Education: Received an associate degree from Broome Community College in business administration. He also has a bachelor’s of science degree from SUNY Binghamton.

What was your first job, and what did you learn from that experience?

I worked with my father as a residential carpenter during high school up until I graduated with my bachelor’s degree. What I took away from that was hard work, an understanding of what you can create with your hands, and a strong work ethic.

What is some advice that has held true through your career?

One of the things I think is most important is education. Somebody should always focus on educating themselves and continue that education throughout their life.

Who is someone you look up to in the industry?

I spent most of my career at Turning Stone and I worked with Frank Riolo. He was somebody who always believed in me and continued to challenge me and give me opportunities to grow.

Do you ever gamble and what is your favorite game?

In the state of Pennsylvania, I rarely gamble. If I make a trip to Vegas, I gamble a little bit, but not very much. I like to play craps. I enjoy the entertainment experience.

What are you looking forward to at Rivers Casino?

I’m looking forward to the continued development of Rivers. I love to grow a business and I really believe in the business plan. That’s why I enjoy this job because I can see the growth of the team members and the growth of the property and the success that’s driven by both of those.