Finding inspiration from among the Smart 50

Once again, it’s time to honor the Smart 50. These are people who love what they do. It shows in their excitement and vision.

I know the profiles in the magazine only scratch the surface of what these amazing leaders and organizations are doing, so please take some time to visit their websites and meet them in person at the Nov. 9 event. You won’t be disappointed. You’ll be motivated, just like I am every year.

Another inspiration is Rice Energy. Founded a decade ago by a young, inexperienced management team, it is being sold to EQT Corp. for $6.7 billion. CEO Daniel Rice IV, the keynote speaker for the Smart 50 event, shared a story with me that demonstrates some of the skepticism he and his brothers met along the way.

Daniel, his brothers Toby and Derek, and their CFO — all four in their late 20s and early 30s — were riding up an elevator in New York City to their first meeting with a potential investor on their IPO roadshow. A woman gets in, who is probably in her 60s.

“She looks at us and in her New York accent, she says, ‘Are you boys here for job interviews?’” Daniel says.

Luckily, the Rices had faith and were confident in what they were doing, in spite of the doubt. That ability to press on in the face of challenges and setbacks is prevalent among many of the Smart 50 who overcome disadvantages to find success.

Even though I may never start a company, close a merger or be in charge of hundreds of employees, hearing about the great things going on the community always recharges me. We all need that sometimes. Bad news might travel faster, but good news is still worth listening to.

If you’re still in the weeds of a challenge at your company, I hope you can take heart from their example. If you’re looking to be inspired today, start with the Smart 50.

Follow the Columbus Way to the benefit of all

The energy, spirit and engagement in Columbus seems to be on the rise. That’s certainly true when talking about the Columbus Way, the collaboration between the private and public sectors.

Smart Columbus is a great example of this. Not only did our recent Smart 50 event highlight what’s going on with Smart Columbus, John Ammendola, president and CEO of Grange Insurance, who is this month’s cover, is a big fan.

Ammendola says Grange got involved because of his involvement with The Columbus Partnership, and now Grange has someone representing the company on the Smart Columbus team.

“What we’re trying to do now is say, ‘How can we help Smart City continue to move the ball along?’ We’ve offered up our resources. We’ve offered up people. We’ve offered up intelligence and insights,” he says.

Grange isn’t the only one from the private sector offering to help. In an area with a strong insurance industry, the changing face of transportation not only will impact drivers, but also these major employers.

If cars are talking to buildings and city infrastructure, then Grange, a key and large insurer in Ohio, wants to be on the front end of how and what risk begins to look like, Ammendola says. Like many, the company needs to ensure that both its policies and offerings are relevant.

The opportunity to be a big part of Smart Columbus is not only seeing how Grange can help, it’s also being ready for how Smart Columbus can help Grange.

I think these connections in our society cannot be overestimated. There’s so much overlap. What’s going on in the public sector will impact the private sector. What’s going on in the corporate sector affects the nonprofit sector. What’s happening in this industry all the way over here will eventually change industries that seem to be unrelated.

It reminds me of karma. If you help others with good deeds and intent, then it will eventually come back around. That’s why the Columbus Way is always a smart move.

Get your information from the source

Morgan O’Brien, president and CEO of Peoples Natural Gas Co. LLC, this month’s cover story, tells his employees that executives don’t make bad decisions because they’re not smart. They make bad decisions because they don’t have good information or they’re not close enough to the issue.

That sounds simple enough to change. Executives need to gather better information and/or learn more about the issue. But how?

O’Brien likes to get information directly from the lower level employees who are dealing with customers. He makes an effort to do this by trying to visit all of Peoples’ locations twice a year.

It takes time, certainly, but as he reminded me during our interview, when you believe in something, you will make it a priority. If executives believe they need to listen and learn from their employees, they’ll spend time on that in both good times and bad. They’ll consistently focus on it.

Sometimes consistency is undervalued. When your employees know what to expect from you and from the organization, and managers know what to expect from the employees, stress and anxiety decreases.

I recently spoke to my great aunt, who is more than 90 years old, at a family reunion. When I reminded her what I did for a living, she told me she doesn’t understand why people in business today are so stressed out and anxious. I didn’t have a good answer for her at the time, but not enough consistent listening is certainly part of the problem.

One organization that has spent the past several years listening is The Women and Girls Foundation. I hadn’t previously heard about its Femisphere project, which is onto its second phase. It’s an interesting concept you can read about in the feature story.

Finally, The Frick Pittsburgh, the Uniquely Pittsburgh feature, has another exciting special exhibit opening this month. I missed the last one, so I plan to get to this one. The Frick is doing lots of great things to improve its visitor experience. I’d guess a few of those ideas came from some consistent listening on their part, too.

Oh, the things that technology can do

When I talk to business leaders, usually I can determine quickly whether that person has an entrepreneurial mindset. Not everyone does, and not every company needs that type of person at the helm.

However, Yaromir Steiner, founder and CEO of Steiner + Associates, who created Easton, is clearly an entrepreneur. Our discussion on innovation got philosophical at times, but he also shared some interesting ideas about how technology could play a role in Easton’s future.

I’m not always an early adopter of new technology. Even though I’m a millennial, I’m more likely to take a wait-and-see approach. I want someone else to work out all the bugs.

But as much as we complain about technology — how hard it is to keep up with — sometimes it’s just so useful and exciting, like somehow I’ve walked into an episode of Star Trek. (I mean c’mon, the Red Sox are stealing baseball signs with an Apple Watch.)

One example Steiner gave me, which didn’t make it into the article in this month’s issue, involves delivering lunch to the 30,000-40,000 workers around Easton. They don’t want to drive to restaurants because they’ll lose their parking spots, and lunch delivery systems such as UberEATS can be confusing.

So, Steiner wants to create a system where every meal from participating restaurants might be $10 and 800 calories or less. There’s no tip, no delivery charge. You just pick what you want, pay for it and it’s delivered by golf cart, bicycle or whatever method is the most efficient.

Technology can make this idea a reality, but customers will just see the finished product that makes their lives easier. As Steiner says, it’s a matter of connecting different dots to solve problems — and technology is the tool to help you do it.

Dr. Seuss once wrote: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” Today, it may be more accurate to say, “You have brains in your head. You have apps in your hand. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

Smart 50 judging day is always a great day

Even though I spend a lot of my time listening to the stories of business leaders, asking about their challenges and discovering what their organization did to overcome those obstacles, Smart 50 judging day takes that to another level.

Every year, I discover inspiring stories that make you wish you had the passion that entrepreneur has in their little finger — it would be more than enough. Sometimes, it’s a company that I’ve already interviewed, and I fall back into their story all over again. Other times, I find myself writing a note that I want to talk to this person again for a future article. Even when I think I know what to expect from someone, I can still be surprised.

These are people who love what they do. It shows in their excitement, vision and how they can draw in the judges.

Not everyone could make it to judging day. Some were in the other room, so I didn’t hear what they said directly. So, I only got a taste of the 2017 Smart 50 winners, but what I heard was good, very good.

I know the profiles in the magazine only scratch the surface of what these amazing leaders and organizations are doing, so please take some time to visit their websites and meet them in person at the Sept. 19 event. You won’t be disappointed. You’ll be motivated, just like I am every year.

Even though I may never start a company, close a merger or be in charge of hundreds of employees, hearing about the great things going on the community always recharges me. We all need that sometimes. Bad news might travel faster, but good news is still worth listening to.

If you’re looking to be inspired today, start with the Smart 50.

Today, you can be a family business and be proud of it

The U.S. Small Business Administration reports that 75 percent of businesses are nowhere to be found in five years. This sounds bleak, but Ann Dugan, senior managing director of consulting at the Family Office Exchange, believes you need to dig deeper. Was it a failure because it was sold, merged with another company or morphed into something else along the way?

In Europe and Asia, families take a long-term view and start planning earlier, a trend the U.S. has moved toward over the past 10-15 years, she says. European and Asian family companies typically remain under family ownership, even if upcoming generations decide not to go into management. They are still going to be owners, so they educate the upcoming generation in that aspect at an early age.

“We’ve always had this fear that if I tell them too much too early, they’ll become entitled — they won’t be hard workers — so I’m not going to tell them anything,” Dugan says.

She remembers when S.C. Johnson came out with its slogan — a family company — people were shocked. Nobody wanted to admit to not being a publicly traded company. Family businesses weren’t celebrated by American culture like they’ve started to be today. Everyone doesn’t view cashing out from the family business with an IPO or selling to private equity as the best path anymore.

“Families are now saying, in order for us to do this and do it right and be in here for the long term, what we really need to do is start to pay attention to not only how we grow employees to be here for the long term, but how we grow family to be owners and in some cases managers for the long term,” Dugan says.

Not only does Dugan provide more insight in our special family business section, six business leaders shared their stories and perspectives. It was enlightening to see the similarities and differences.

Also, don’t miss the Uniquely on Thrival Innovation + Music Festival — always a can’t-miss event in September — and a companion piece on Ascender that provides a look into Pittsburgh’s entrepreneurs.

Perfection is not the goal

Interesting business challenges are all around in this month’s issue. In our cover story, Covestro’s Jerry MacCleary speaks honestly about how underwhelmed his employees were when the new name for their company was announced. Covestro LLC is a spinoff of the Bayer group.

He had to convince them that the new name — and culture — could be whatever they made it to be. So far the results have been good, but MacCleary says it’s not something they can get complacent about.

Karen Feinstein of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation was also refreshingly frank. One arm of the nonprofit, the Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative, seeks to increase quality and safety in the health care system. (It also seems to have more than a regional reach. For example, it had input into some of the Affordable Care Act’s provisions.)

The PRHI has made progress, but until the payment system changes, Feinstein believes wholesale change will be extremely difficult.

She says the U.S. health care system is good at treating acute episodes like strokes or a broken leg. But when you measure the health of our population, we get an F on just about every measure.

Often in business, especially when talking to a member of the media, leaders put a positive spin on things. While I understand the sentiment, I don’t think it’s the best approach.

Being honest with your employees and the public, accurately acknowledging the challenges, doesn’t make you weak. It makes you strong.

People today are attuned to spin, and it can backfire when business leaders use corporate speak to paint a rosy picture.

Don’t be afraid to be less than perfect. While the market is sometimes harsh, the recent lessons of Uber show that ignoring a problem — and hoping it somehow goes away — won’t endear you to your customers. As a member of the oh-so-elusive millennial population, I appreciate the truth, and so should you.

Still a business, even surrounded by all that art

An art museum special exhibition needs a compelling, fresh idea to draw interest as it seeks to borrow works of art.

As values climb, it can be challenging to borrow great pieces that fit a particular theme. It’s competitive, but Columbus Museum of Art Executive Director Nannette Maciejunes believes healthy competition lives alongside collaboration and makes projects better.

“We’re very generous lenders from our collection. We’re very fortunate to have a lot of major pictures that people want to borrow,” she says.

The CMA’s little Paul Cézanne has just gone off to Paris, before it heads to London and Washington, D.C. Maciejunes says even large museums with impressive holdings borrow from smaller institutions.

The CMA likes to mix different works and projects. The museum has put on several exhibitions grounded by one permanent-collection painting, giving it new context.

“One of the important things that art museums must do is to make the collections that they hold relevant and meaningful to the communities that they are a part of,” she says.

Museums also need to consider the market. For example, Henri Matisse shows are so popular and competition so fierce that Maciejunes wants to wait to do something — even though the CMA has great Matisse works.

Another constraint is budget. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts just displayed 340 works in a Marc Chagall exhibition. The CMA could never compete on that level. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to. People in Columbus were thrilled with the 50 works in its Pablo Picasso show, she says.

But even small projects can be fun, Maciejunes says. For example, the museum borrowed three Chagalls from Jeanie and Jay Schottenstein to hang in the gallery this summer and fall.

Does any of this sound familiar? Maciejunes says museums are still a business, even if the CMA is a notprofit. Learn more about what goes on behind the scenes in this month’s Uniquely feature.

In addition, please get to know and learn from the interesting and progressive female executives, such as Maciejunes, in our Smart Women issue. We’ve also highlighted the award winners who will be recognized at the Aug. 15 breakfast. I hope to see you there!

Willing to meet every challenge

It’s always fascinating to hear from executives who grew their companies from the ground up (or close to that). They often have a different viewpoint because when you max out your credit cards or cash in your retirement account early to grow your company in one big gamble, other business challenges can seem tame in comparison.

This month, I spoke with the CEO of DLZ Corp., Vikram “Raj” Rajadhyaksha, who did just that. He’s not ready to pass the torch to his sons yet, but he has stepped back somewhat and admits his risk appetite is different now that he’s not hungry for success. He’s already found it.

In addition, Farah Majidzadeh of Resource International Inc. had some interesting things to say in her column about passing the torch in her family business. (Cameron James is even further along on that journey, as you can read in the feature on Mills James.)
Entrepreneurs are a different breed than other businessmen or women — especially those who have successfully met challenges to create a successful company. They see the opportunity in every challenge. They have a burning desire to build something and a willingness to take risks to make it happen.

However, I wonder sometimes about all the entrepreneurs who I don’t talk to. The ones who maxed out their credit cards or spent their 401(k)s and then failed. Do they keep trying until they find success, or do they head back to working for other people?
Serial entrepreneurs who I’ve spoken to over the years often talk about how much they learned when their first business failed. It’s not unusual at all. I just hope that budding entrepreneurs who falter realize that.

Sometimes the biggest obstacle to success is yourself; so take some inspiration from the pages of Smart Business. Time to dust yourself off and step back up to the plate.

True entrepreneurs push past adversity

It’s always fascinating to hear from executives who grew their companies from the ground-up (or close to that). They often have a different viewpoint because when you max out your credit cards or cash in your retirement account early to grow your company in one big gamble, other business challenges can seem tame in comparison.

This attitude is easy to see in this year’s Entrepreneur Of The Year® finalists, as well as Thread International’s Ian Rosenberger. These men and women are doing great things and often take a road less traveled to launch companies, open new markets and fuel job growth.

Entrepreneurs are a different breed than other businessmen or women — especially those who have successfully met challenges to create a successful company. They see the opportunity in every challenge. They have a burning desire to build something and a willingness to take risks to make it happen.

However, I wonder sometimes about all the entrepreneurs who I don’t talk to. The ones who maxed out their credit cards or spent their 401(k) and then failed. Do they keep trying until they find success, or do they head back to working for other people?

Serial entrepreneurs who I’ve spoken to over the years often talk about how much they learned when their first business failed. It’s not unusual at all. I just hope that budding entrepreneurs who falter realize that.

Sometimes the biggest obstacle to success is yourself, so I hope you can take inspiration from the pages of Smart Business. If at first you don’t succeed, there’s still time to dust your self off and step back up to the plate.