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.

The ‘mundane’ pieces are important, too

About a decade ago, the Jefferson Avenue Center’s campus, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, reached a maintenance crisis. The historic district hosts nonprofits in its buildings, while the Jefferson Avenue Center takes care of the maintenance and capital improvements.

“Anybody who has owned a historic house knows that’s just never-ending, and when you multiply that by 11, it’s a tremendous undertaking to stay on top of the maintenance,” says Executive Director Katharine Moore.

While the budget was balanced, relying solely on earned income, it didn’t have maintenance reserves.

The Jefferson Avenue Center, finished with buying and rehabilitating its buildings, had to get creative with funding, looking into grants and sponsorships. It also evaluated each building to create a deferred maintenance and long-range enhancement plan in order to get the buildings back in better shape.

“We tightened up foundations, we replaced roofs and we have done an amazing amount of work in the last six years on the buildings,” she says. “It has transformed the campus and bought us another 50 years, easily.”

Moore, who had started with the Jefferson Avenue Center around that time, was surprised there were no maintenance reserves, but she’s found that to be the case with many nonprofits.

It’s easy to focus on creating amazing programs, but sometimes that means the more mundane — building maintenance — gets left behind.

I think this can be the case in many for-profit companies as well. Sometimes business leaders, who are only human after all, can tunnel in on the exciting, innovative and new. They can’t forget the “building maintenance” of their organizations. It may not be as fun, but it’s just as important.

This also reminds me of a CEO I spoke with several months ago. When I asked him what was the biggest weakness he saw in his industry, he said it typically all comes back to not understanding every nuance of your business.

A lot people don’t really know their finances or inventory. They don’t do the little things that ultimately help them recognize whether their business is succeeding or failing.

Learn more about the Jefferson Avenue Center in this month’s Uniquely feature.

A true change in culture brings real results

Business executives like to talk about bringing people together, building teams and changing the culture. But I’m not always sure they’re actually pulling this off. So, the Rivers of Steel Heritage Corp., featured in the Uniquely, was a breath of fresh air in this regard.

Rivers of Steel realized early the historic significance of the Carrie Furnaces wasn’t for everybody, says Ron Baraff, director of historic resources and facilities. Many other avenues could make people fall in love with the site.

“My attitude and the attitude of the organization is that it’s not our place to invalidate someone’s experience. If they are drawn there because of the beauty of the site, because of the aesthetic, because they feel it is their creative muse, then that’s valid because there’s love of place,” Baraff says. “The first step in getting people to work together is to have a commonality, a shared sense that something is important. Why it’s important can be a multitude of shades.”

Carrie Furnaces has gone from a place of work to something more. Part of that change was generational, but it also took an open mindset.

For more than 15 years, people explored the Carrie Furnaces, often being destructive and stealing. But they also created graffiti art and sculptures.

Baraff says Rivers of Steel saved some of the art — not only because it was incredibly beautiful, but also out of self-preservation. Rather than spending time chasing graffiti artists and trying to prosecute them, Rivers of Steel wanted to find a way to work with people who loved the site as much as it did.

It set aside a few ancillary areas on non-contributing structures. That legal wall space changed the paradigm, he says. It changed the culture and allowed for dialogue.

“In the past five years, we’ve probably had about a dozen instances of illegal graffiti. That might sound like a lot, but that was a normal weekend (before),” Baraff says.

Allowing people to explore and bring their own meaning to the site made it that much stronger and more attractive, he says.

As a result, the organization created Rivers of Steel Arts in 2016, which supports artistic projects that further the interpretation of local history and re-imagine the future of familiar places.

It’s nice to see changes in action. It reminds us once again how powerful they can actually be.

Technology in the Steel City

Stefani Pashman, CEO of Partner4Work, has a unique view on Pittsburgh’s labor market. The biggest opportunity she sees won’t come as a surprise to many: technology.

Across every occupation

But that doesn’t mean we all need to become software developers or coders — although technology jobs are still one of the area’s fastest growing occupations. She says over the past few years, there also has been an overwhelming need for technology skills embedded in many occupations that aren’t even technology related.

“It’s across every occupation. So, having some comfort with technology and having a little bit of experience in that domain is really important for all of the jobs available,” Pashman says.

Partner4Work, featured in Building Stronger Communities, launched its TechHire Pittsburgh initiative to create more pathways and on ramps to technology careers. In addition to technology boot camps, TechHire developed a fun, free mobile video game in collaboration with Simcoach Games. Booeys: A Ghost’s Code is designed to gauge five aptitudes critical to technical careers.

This is just one way that Parter4Work is using its knowledge and connections to improve the Pittsburgh region’s workforce development. Other initiatives it plans to launch this year include helping people coming out of jail get better jobs and a college completion program for those who have a lot of college credits but no degree yet.

Not just for kids

Another interesting way that technology is being used in the Pittsburgh region is at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

The museum launched a new streaming series that broadcasts museum scientists to schools across the country using Facebook Live. Scientists Live has already reached an average of 50,000 students per episode.

These episodes, which certainly aren’t just for students, will feature experts sharing specialized knowledge and showing off pieces of the museum’s hidden collection. Find out more at bit.ly/Carnegie_ScientistsLive and in the Uniquely feature.

Behind the deal, culture lies at the heart

When the sale of FirstMerit to Huntington Bank was announced last year, it was big news in Ohio. As the largest acquisition in the bank’s history, it was especially relevant for Northeast Ohio, FirstMerit’s headquarters, as well as Columbus.

More than a year later, I was able to check in with Chairman, President and CEO Steve Steinour about how the integration has gone, which is this month’s cover story.

Just like many other CEOs I’ve spoken with about mergers and acquisitions, Steinour emphasized how culture is a key component. (President and CEO Rick Miley of BroadStreet Partners, a guest columnist who knows a thing or two about mergers, mentioned the same point.)

When you talk about deal making, dollars and cents — the hard stuff — can be the first thing that comes to mind. Did you get a good price? Is your company worth as much as you think it is? Is it a seller’s market? What are buyers doing these days?

If that’s the case, though, why do business leaders always speak about culture at length? That’s the “real” hard stuff, because it’s intangible, flexible and contingent on people who can’t be defined on a P&L or pro forma statement.

The Huntington executive team’s biggest challenge after the sale’s announcement was winning over the hearts and minds of the FirstMerit employees. The due diligence may have taken six weeks (and involved 500 people), but winning over employees and customers is an ongoing process.

It’s not something that has stopped at Huntington, even here in Columbus. The bank’s planned Gateway Center will be geared toward winning over the younger workforce.

Steinour says it will have a health club, outdoor dinning and meeting areas, yoga, Pilates, a basketball court, onsite medical and a Starbucks.

“It’s a cool facility, and we think the millennials and the next gen people who will be coming into the company to become colleagues some day will really enjoy this environment,” he says. “It’s got a lot of natural lighting. It’s got energy; I love it.”

Insights for more than just manufacturers

Smart Business put a special focus on manufacturing this month, but like so much in business this issue also has common themes that relate to all industries — from workforce development to emerging risks and leadership.

Unlike other areas of the state, Columbus doesn’t really have the self-image of being a manufacturing hub. But it’s still an important sector for the Central Ohio region.

All together, more than 1,700 manufacturers employ more than 85,000 people, according to Columbus 2020. Other reasons why manufacturing is thriving, include the fact that the region:

  • Is a global trade hub with excellent rail and highway connections to major ports and cargo flights. Manufacturers can reach more of the U.S. and Canada within a day’s drive from the Columbus region than from any other major metro.
  • Has one of the lowest private sector unionization rates in the country, at 3.1 percent.
  • Features over 100 manufacturing-related educational and training programs.

To learn more about Central Ohio’s manufacturing sector, check out this month’s cover story where four manufacturers discuss how they handle their workforce, and others talk about the emerging risks manufacturers face.

Workforce development isn’t just a challenge for manufacturers, though. Alvis’ Denise M. Robinson shares how her organization helps individuals who have spent time in the criminal justice system become productive employees in the Building Stronger Communities feature.

Robinson wasn’t the only strong leader featured this month. Right after Dan Creekmur, president of Columbus Gas of Ohio, stepped onto the stage at a January Columbus Chamber of Commerce event, he lost a bet — a bet that his young age wouldn’t be mentioned in the first few minutes.

While being in his 30s and leading more than 1,100 employees is unique, it also gives him a different perspective. Find out more about his views on leadership and service in this issue.

What a corporate boardroom and artist studio have in common

This month’s Smart Business focuses on women in business. We have some great stories and good advice from female executives at all stages of their careers — as well as one professional artist.

When I first got the idea to interview Lenka Clayton for Uniquely Pittsburgh, I wondered if featuring an artist in a business management magazine was too much of a stretch. I even mentioned that fear to Clayton when I was talking to her.

As our conversation progressed, though, her perspectives on work-life balance, as well as being a mother and a professional, echoed a lot of what I’ve heard from female business executives.

Clayton also mentioned that there’s so much advice out there about how to balance your home and professional lives — and so much of it is contradictory and not helpful — that she hesitates to add to that cacophony.

Who knew that the corporate boardroom and an artist studio would be so similar? Clayton pointed out that every artist who is surviving in the profession is an entrepreneur. Also, because you’re self-employed, like many entrepreneurs who are starting out, she says there’s no structure for insurance or retirement and when you’re not able to work it can be very stressful.

The issue of being both a parent and a professional, which led to Clayton’s Artist Residency in Motherhood, is one I often hear about from women in business — and strikingly don’t hear much about from male executives. (Although to be fair, I wouldn’t think to bring the subject up with a male executive.)

“There’s a whole misnomer in business of doing everything — being an incredible business woman or powerful business man and also an incredible mother (or father), and trying to do those things at once,” Clayton says.

Today, Clayton has been surprised at the robust response. Her open-source residency is even being utilized in countries that have a strong support for new mothers, like Germany, France, the Netherlands and Australia. Clearly, she found an unmet need.

Pittsburgh manufacturers sound off on the risks

Business can be tough, but manufacturing can be really tough. That was my immediate takeaway from talking to manufacturers of all sizes for this month’s special focus on Pittsburgh manufacturing’s emerging risks.

U.S. manufacturers must develop a flexible workforce in order to respond to external factors.

They also need to use technology to compete on a global level, but it’s hard to know where to invest with confidence. While additive manufacturing has caught the attention of many, it’s not widely used by those who need to do more than small or customized batches. (Don’t miss the advice on this from Albensi Laboratories, which is light-years ahead of most with its implementation of new technologies.)

Bill Starn, CEO of Starn Tool & Manufacturing Co. gave the best overview of the industry.

Historically, in manufacturing, every five years, there would be some sort of a recession, Starn says. Then, after an 18-month period of problems, a company could make it up.

“That’s just not been the case in the last 16, 17 years,” he says. “Starting with 2001, we’ve had two major recessions and a lot of instability in between.”

While Starn feels Pittsburgh has done a fantastic job of changing from the steel industry to the high-tech industry, it’s still not seeing the type of expansion that others, such as North and South Carolina, are.

But as exciting as digitalization, 3-D printing or the internet of things are, Starn emphasized that the biggest weaknesses come back to not understanding every nuance of your business.

“I’ve been a software provider to manufacturing for over 25 years, in another business, that is specifically designed to help them run their business,” he says. “And I see even today with the great technologies that we have available and the softwares we have available, people still don’t know diddly about their business.”

It’s often just that simple, whether you’re in manufacturing or another sector. Know your numbers. Know your risks. Plan accordingly.

The secret is to never stop

The theme of this month’s magazine is leadership. While you could argue that every month we focus on leadership, I wanted to highlight different sectors that are leading change. From health care, technology and education to sports, economic development and business, it’s a good mix.

As Nationwide Children’s Hospital pushes the frontiers of genomics, Air Force One makes the bold move to do away with sales commissions and Capital University ponders how the next generation can be trained to collaborate. I hope you are inspired.
Always searching

I talk to CEOs every month about how they lead their companies. While some general principles stay the same, I hear something different from everyone I talk to. For some, it’s all about the relationships. For others, it’s about having the vision and not being afraid to act on it.

But the best business leaders are always trying to learn, improve, grow and find new ways of doing things. I don’t think you ever find all the answers; it’s more important to keep looking.

Girls definitely allowed

Women in business is something I enjoy advocating for, and the Greater Columbus Sports Commission, featured in this month’s magazine, has gained a reputation for hosting women’s events. Part of that has to do with having a female executive director, Linda Shetina Logan, which is unusual in her industry.

Logan, a passionate Cleveland Indians fan who didn’t have Title IX in high school, believes she has the best job in the world — one where she gets paid to go to a baseball game.

Columbus also has a focus on women and girls that translates over to sports.

“If you think about our community, our chief of police is a woman, the head of our airport is a woman. We have all these women that naturally are in leadership roles here. It’s not just in name only, but we feel like we walk the talk,” Logan says.

The Sports Commission even started an event, the Women’s Sports Report. The breakfast, which was held in February, honors the athletic successes and achievements — both on the playing field and off — of women and girls in Central Ohio.