Grooming women for leadership from top to bottom

When women (and men) talk leadership, the focus is often at the top: CEOs, COOs, vice presidents and managers. That’s why it’s easy to find leadership conferences aimed at women in senior-level positions. It’s much harder to find one targeted at all businesswomen, from entry level to the corner office.

Leaders can and should be groomed from the first day on the job. That’s why I founded the Women’s Leadership Conference of Northeast Ohio, a conference meant to educate, inspire and empower all women in business.

The goal is to help women who are just entering the workforce — as well as top executives — build their network and grow both personally and professionally. It can feel overwhelming and lonely to be new — or at the top — especially in a male-dominated field. I hope this conference will allow women to share similar stories and challenges.

Covering the trends

On Oct. 29, our conference will present a dozen successful business leaders from Northeast Ohio. They’ll share their expertise in fields ranging from medicine to manufacturing to law and talk about some of the hottest trends in business.

Some of these topics include emotional intelligence and opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers. More companies are looking to improve their diversity and employ more women. Our experts will talk about finding them. For example:

  • Speaker Kristin Tull, Ph.D., president of PRADCO, is an expert in emotional intelligence. Her Chagrin Falls company educates businesses on the importance of emotional intelligence in their leaders. Studies show that women typically have a stronger emotional intelligence and companies led by these women outperform companies with only men in leadership.
  • Jill Marcotte, partner and chief supply chain officer at Dealer Tire, will talk about women in STEM careers. Men dominate these fields, but Marcotte and others are seeing more women selecting these nontraditional but lucrative careers.
  • Ariane Kirkpatrick, president of the AKA Team, will discuss separating yourself from the acronyms. Identifying yourself as a women or minority owned business can open up doors but you don’t want to be defined by that alone.

Women’s potential

We know women’s potential in the workplace is a hot topic. Some of the largest employers in Northeast Ohio have internal women’s leadership groups. A few are even creating women’s conferences and summits themselves because of the importance of women’s role in the workplace.

When I moved to Cleveland years ago, everyone suggested that I find a mentor. But I didn’t know how to do that or what to say once I found one. I couldn’t find other businesswomen to whom I could connect.

Looking back on that time, I have to laugh at myself. I realize “finding” a mentor isn’t done by searching Craig’s List or match.com. It’s more organic and natural than that.

The key is finding the right setting. My hope is that the WLCNEO can create that setting.

Robin Doerschuk is founder of the Women’s Leadership Conference of Northeast Ohio and the director of Solutions for Alliance Solutions Group in Independence. Learn more about the Women’s Leadership Conference of Northeast Ohio, visit www.facebook.com/WLCNEO. To register for the Oct. 29 event, visit http://bit.ly/1Q9lvY7.

How using a three-tier network strategy can contain health care costs

Traditionally, health insurance employee benefits have two tiers — in-network and out-of-network. But in self-funded solutions, in particular, you may have the ability to set up a three-tier benefit design.

This network strategy can help you contain cost by incentivizing and channeling your employees to lower cost facilities and doctors, says Abbe Mitze, account executive II at HealthLink.

“By influencing your employees’ behavior in a non-disruptive way, you’re using the carrot approach versus some type of punitive measure,” Mitze says. “And I’ve seen an example where a 30 percent shift occurred while employees were seeking care when this type of arrangement was introduced to them over the course of a year.”

Smart Business spoke with Mitze about setting up a three-tier benefit design.

Why is it so important to try to contain health care costs?

Health care premiums continue to increase for the 55 percent of firms that offer health benefits to at least some of their employees. The annual survey of employers by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage reached $16,834 in 2014, which is up 3 percent from the year prior. Of that amount, workers paid $4,823 on average toward that cost.

If employers want to continue to offer health plans — which can be used as a recruiting tool — they must find ways to better manage their costs.

How does a three-tier benefit design work?

A three-tier option introduces in a third tier of benefits that is based upon the cost of care with the facility or provider. A facility and provider is placed into tier I if it is a lower cost option, tier II if it costs a little bit more and then tier III is out-of-network.

Then you take the benefit design and pair that with the cost. The richest benefit option — where the employee is going to pay the least out of their pocket — is applied to tier I.

If you want to introduce this type of design typically you’re coming from a two-tier benefit network design, so tier I becomes a better benefit than employees currently have today. Tier II is the current in-network benefit level, and tier III remains out-of-network.

People can be attached to their doctors, so that’s why you let them keep their current benefit. Employees still have a choice and have access to the full network, but you reward them for going to the most cost effective providers.

In what situations does this kind of benefit design work best?

A three-tier design is important in a self-funded solution because the dollars that are being paid out for claims are the employer’s dollars. Your third-party administrator or carrier needs to be able to administer a three-tier benefit design, and not all claims payment systems can accommodate that.

This also works better in an area where you have at least two hospitals and multiple health care providers. If you live a rural town with only one hospital, there won’t be as much engagement because people don’t have as many choices.

What best practices would you recommend health plan sponsors follow when implementing a three-tier benefit design?

Quality and cost are not correlated in the health care industry, and your employees need to be educated about that. Overall, you want to be very clear in the employee communication and education. It’s all about the education of who falls into what tier, and making sure employees are aware of that.

You can even add an online tool, like a treatment cost calculator, so they can make a more educated decision. The tier is calculating some of the cost for them already, but the right technology can further enhance their selection.

In 2014, 19 percent of employers offering health benefit had tiered networks in their largest health plan, according to Kaiser’s survey. Tiered networks continue to be a compelling tool to channel your employees’ choices, which you should take time to research and consider implementing.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by HealthLink.

How to assess your company’s network architecture

Mark Giles, Wireless Design Engineer, PowerNet Global

Network reliability is vital for any business. With so many systems and departments being dependent on your company’s network, it’s vital that your systems are up 100 percent of the time.

As most of us already know, network outages can potentially cost a company thousands and, in some cases, millions of dollars. One way to prevent outages is by doing a proper network assessment and finding out where your network’s weaknesses are.

A company’s network architecture includes hardware, software, connectivity, communication protocols and the mode of transmission, such as wired or wireless. You need to assess your network architecture routinely to ensure that everything is current and in line with your ever-changing business model, says Mark Giles, wireless design engineer at PowerNet Global. If not, you’ll want to begin integrating changes to ensure your network is running efficiently. Conducting an assessment also allows you to see if your company’s security has been compromised, allowing you to fix any problems and prevent these breaches from happening in the future, he says.

“When you go through an assessment, you end up with good documentation and can find where your weak spots are,” says Giles. “A lot of companies have single points of failure, meaning there’s no redundancy if a portion of their network fails. A network assessment can help identify those single points of failure so that a plan can be put into place to fix these issues.”

Smart Business spoke with Giles about what you need to understand about a network architecture assessment and how to implement any changes.

What is involved in a network architecture assessment?

It starts with a site survey done by a network engineer or network consultant who will look at existing drawings and documentation of how the network is set up. Nine times out of 10, companies don’t have documentation or their documentation is outdated. This means the first step in the assessment will be to map out how the network is currently run.

Next, your network engineer or consultant will look at the current hardware and bandwidth utilization to see if your circuits are overloaded or your hardware is maxed out. Then they’ll review your routing to see if that’s being optimized and how your configuration is set up. This will help determine whether you need to upgrade or just optimize how traffic is flowing and configure your equipment accordingly.

Very often, it’s less likely that you need new hardware or circuits, and more likely that your current equipment needs to be configured more efficiently. This is where many companies fail to do a proper network assessment. They will pay top dollar for hardware but go cheap on the person configuring and maintaining the hardware. You could have the best hardware possible, but if the person configuring it has little to no experience, it will end up costing you more money in the long run.

What are some key items business leaders need to understand about their network architecture and implementing a plan?

A lot of it comes down to what your benefits will be and the costs associated with them to determine if it’s going to be worthwhile. If you’re going to be upgrading a piece of equipment, you need to understand why you are upgrading it and if the cost outweighs the benefit.

You’re also looking for service-impacting changes during the implementation portion while ensuring everything is designed well and that your implementation plan is solid. You should ask whether the network changes are going to be service or customer impacting. That’s the big one people want to know — who will be affected? Is there going to be an outage when you’re implementing or upgrading? How long is that outage going to be?

Who should be involved in the network architecture assessment and what are the costs?

Your network engineer or consultant should be the one doing the assessment and it should be conducted any time you’re coming into a new business environment or making changes. Then every six months to a year, depending on how rapidly your network is changing, you’ll want to go through it again. Check everything within your network and make sure the drawings and documentation are current. You’d be surprised how quickly things can change and become outdated.

The cost of an assessment depends on the size of your network and the accuracy of your documentation. It also depends on what you are looking to do. If you need new equipment, it might be more expensive than updating drawings. If you hire a consultant to run the assessment, the cost will typically range anywhere from $125 to $200 an hour.

How often should you implement changes to your network architecture and how should this be accomplished?

You should never stop making changes to your network; you should always try to improve it. According to CISCO’s model, you need to prepare your network, develop a plan to assess your company’s readiness to support any changes and create a detailed design to address any technical and business requirements. Then, implement any new technology, operate and maintain the most up-to-date network systems on a day-to-day basis, and optimize your network by making ongoing improvements to ensure that you have the most efficient network running.

Once you find you’re at the optimization stage, go back to step one. You need to go through this process continuously to make sure your network is up to date and running efficiently.

Mark Giles is the wireless design engineer with PowerNet Global. Reach him at (866) 764-7329.

Insights Technology is brought to you by PowerNet Global

How upgrading to fiber can improve your company’s telecommunications

Doak Field, Senior Director of Enterprise Sales, Comcast Business Services

The use of fiber-optic technology in businesses has spread quickly as businesses look to fiber’s scalable bandwidth to keep up with exponential increases in the amount of data they need to transmit — something legacy copper networks cannot do. According to Doak Field, senior director of enterprise sales for Comcast Business Services, many companies who could benefit from fiber’s bandwidth often don’t realize that fiber is currently available in their area or why they should consider upgrading their network.

“In today’s competitive business environment, speed and scalability are essential to staying ahead of the game,” Field says. “Network connectivity speeds have increased substantially over the past five to 10 years and will continue to increase as more businesses rely on it to successfully run their businesses.”

Smart Business spoke with Field about what you need to know about fiber and how it can take your business to the next level in terms of connectivity.

What are the advantages of using fiber-optic for telecommunications?

There are a number of benefits for choosing fiber for business telecommunications, including:

  • For a cost-effective solution, fiber provides plenty of bandwidth.
  • The high capacity of fiber provides users with access to bandwidth levels that were only a dream a few years ago.
  • Fiber carries a digital signal (rather than analog signal) which is advantageous for almost all applications.
  • Its relatively small size makes fiber convenient to use because it takes up less space.
  • It allows for much longer distances between amplifiers because there’s no need for continual splicing, which allows for less signal degradation.
  • Fiber can be installed next to utility lines, power lines and other areas where interference or crosstalk might normally occur and there is minimal impact.
  • Because it is made from glass fiber is not corrosive or susceptible to any chemical breakdowns.
  • It delivers Internet, phone, TV, security monitoring and carrying of data traffic all over the same medium efficiently and securely.

How can mid-market companies determine whether a fiber network makes sense for them?

We live in a world where speed to market, speed to respond and quick scalability is the norm. Fiber provides businesses with the speed and the security that a few years ago were reserved only for the Fortune 500. Most businesses are in business to grow and prosper and fiber offers them the ability to grow exponentially without having to make drastic changes to their infrastructure.

Fast, scalable and reliable are three areas that cannot be compromised in the competitive business landscape. Fiber networks are inherently scalable, which allows for any size company to be nimble yet able to proactively upgrade its network as changes in respective markets demand quick action. Fiber is a fast, reliable and secure form of data delivery.

No matter how small a business is, it requires a fast, reliable and secure access to the Internet. As businesses continue to grow, they need subsequent offices and/or locations to have the same access as their headquarters. Fiber provides a cost-effective and virtually seamless way for businesses to connect to as many sites as needed.

What are the important questions for a mid-market company to ask when considering this upgrade?

  • Am I still locked into traditional TDM Private Lines, Frame Relay or ATM services?
  • How quickly does my network need to transmit, upload and download data?
  • Do my bandwidth needs change often or are they fairly static?
  • How secure does my data network need to be?
  • Do I want my provider to manage my network and support it accordingly?
  • Do I need symmetrical dedicated Internet connectivity?
  • Do I need redundant paths into or out of my location?
  • Do I need and expect 24/7/365 network monitoring and support?
  • Is the company I am considering a certified member of the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF)?
  • Can my data provider provide me with local support?
  • Can my data provider provide me with Online Reporting Tools?
  • Do I need to implement Border Gateway Protocol Routing (BGP)?
  • Can I get access to Class of Service (CoS) Options?
  • Is there a limit to the number of locations my provider can provide access to?

How difficult is it to integrate fiber into a company’s existing infrastructure?

Designing a fiber network and integrating it into the existing copper infrastructure of a business is essentially seamless as there is no ‘forklifting’ of equipment involved. It’s as simple as connecting into a customer’s location with a single pair of fiber cables, one for transmitting and one for receiving, and providing the equipment necessary to convert the fiber to standard Ethernet. Look for a provider that makes the transition from copper-based transmission facilities to fiber optic facilities as simple as plugging into an Ethernet jack on their Local Area Network (LAN).

Doak Field is senior director of enterprise sales for Comcast Business Services. Reach him at [email protected] or (770) 559-2156.


Clearwire signs high-speed wireless network deal with Ericsson

NEW YORK ―  Clearwire Corp has chosen Ericsson to take over management of its high-speed wireless network to help it cut costs, the service provider said Wednesday.

The seven-year agreement is similar to an arrangement which Clearwire’s majority owner Sprint Nextel has with Ericsson, causing some analysts to suggest that it might lead to a closer tie between Sprint and Clearwire.

Under the deal, Clearwire said it will transfer 700 of its 3,600 employees to Ericsson, but will continue to own the network.

Clearwire said the agreement will help cut costs, but the company would not disclose details on the financial impact or the terms.

Handing over 700 employees could cut as much as $70 million of Clearwire’s annual expenses, according to Nomura Securities analyst Michael McCormack.

Clearwire’s adoption of a similar network management agreement to Sprint’s could mean that the companies are getting ready for a closer relationship, he said.

“While the optics of further equity investment or eventual consolidation would be likely negative for Sprint shares, we think it is the right decision,” McCormack said.

Sprint and Clearwire, which needs more funding to expand its network, have said that they have been discussing letting Clearwire use Sprint’s wireless towers to expand its service.

Clearwire did not disclose the terms of the Ericsson agreement or how it relates to the Sprint talks.

Clearwire shares were up 5 percent at $4.49 on the Nasdaq on Wednesday morning. Sprint shares were up 1.4 percent at $5.18 on the New York Stock Exchange.

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner explains how social media is changing the world

Jeff Weiner, CEO, LinkedIn

Jeff Weiner, CEO, LinkedIn

Every day, it seems the social media world is growing, making the physical world around us appear that much smaller. With those changes, the line that previously separated our personal and professional lives has blurred as websites and applications like Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr and YouTube provide the ability to connect with family, friends and business colleagues and to share information, news, videos and photos.

So what exactly defines social media, and where is this new frontier headed? More important, how can we best take advantage of what’s out there?

Who better to answer those questions than Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, the Web’s largest and most powerful network of professionals.

Social media means different things to different people as well as companies. What would be a good definition of social media?

Broadly defined, it is the creation of content, information and knowledge, distribution of it, consumption of it, and leveraging social interactions. Whether that’s a status update, sharing an image, a video or a blog post, even retweeting a headline or sharing a headline — those are all examples of social media.

I think the social interaction component, the virality, really takes what historically has been behavior we all have done offline, and when you bring it online and digitize it, it starts to scale and moves at a speed with which we haven’t seen previously. It really has the opportunity to change everything it touches.

So what do you see as the true cultural sea change that is being caused by social media?

This goes way beyond brand building and customer outreach, which is how many organizations are using social media. … Leveraging social platforms is going to fundamentally change the way we work and how business gets done. It’s going to really revolutionize and disrupt all of it. So whether it’s the way you hire people, find your dream job, transition from cold calling to warm prospecting by leveraging the power of first-, second- and third-degree relationships or whether it’s exchanging and sharing information, knowledge, insight and data that you need to derive insights to make better and more informed decisions, I don’t think people can really afford not to participate within these platforms.

Since it’s going to be everywhere, where would you start?

It starts with recognition. There are three behavioral changes we focus on the most at LinkedIn. First is the way in which we represent our professional identity. Think about that for a moment. The way in which individuals now build their professional brand starts with their profiles. And those profiles, when they’re kept fresh and relevant, are search engine optimized so that when people search for your name or the names of people like you with your experience, your skills, your aspirations, you’re the first thing they see when they do that search on Google.

This ability to carve out a piece of digital real estate that you, yourself, can control to put your best foot forward is an incredibly powerful and valuable dynamic. It’s not just the individual; it’s also your company. There are over a million active company profiles on LinkedIn. And these company profiles not only represent who you are and your company’s identity, but they enable you to build your talent brands, establish the way in which you’re going to recruit and how you recruit, and build word-of-mouth around your products and services. So identity is an absolute cornerstone.

The second is building your network. I think historically, when people hear the expression ‘professional networking,’ they think of the guy at the conference who is handing out as many business cards to people as possible, just building the Rolodex. That’s not what we mean anymore. We mean the way business gets done.

If we believe the world is getting flatter, more global, more digital, more networked, this is the way business gets done — it’s the way people are tapping knowledge, exchanging information — and if you’re not taking advantage of that and building out your network, your competition is.

And then lastly is the whole notion of sharing information and knowledge — collaborating, sharing business intelligence and competitive intelligence. To be able to really derive this kind of insight from whatever networks or social environments you’re operating in becomes an enormous advantage versus those folks who aren’t able to do the same.

You mentioned identity. How accurate do you think people or company’s identities are on the Internet? Who and what should we trust?

When you’re talking about a professional context, I think things change versus a social context. One of the first things people do when they meet in a professional setting is exchange business cards. The more your professional identity is out there, the more opportunities potentially accrue to you. It’s kind of a tried-and-true practice. So when you’re putting your profile out there for everyone to see publicly and transparently, the people who work with you and know exactly what you did, well, they’re going to call you out if you’re not telling the truth.

It’s very much self-policing in a professional context. The comments you see and the quality of interaction from people’s professional identities are very different than what’s shared outside of the professional context. It’s that important. If you’re sharing what you’ve done in a professional context or what your company is about, it’s perfectly transparent.

How to grow your business by identifying the right global opportunity

Dr. Glen Taylor, Director, MBA Programs for Global Innovation, California State University, East Bay

Dr. Glen Taylor, Director, MBA Programs for Global Innovation, California State University, East Bay

The global economy is undergoing a sea change. While American markets languish and deficits snowball, the global market has continued to grow in size and importance. Whether it is for technology or consumer products, the global market is now the best place to grow sales and profits. To fully realize the potential of these opportunities, executives must undergo a paradigm shift, strategically analyze data and build alliances before the first dollar changes hands.

“The $500 billion current account deficit and the trillion-dollar-plus U.S. budget gap are not sustainable and can’t be financed much longer,” says Dr. Glen Taylor, director of MBA Programs for Global Innovation at California State University, East Bay. “If we keep printing money to cover our debts, it will lead to inflation, devaluation of the dollar and diminished purchasing power, so our future depends on global expansion.”

Dr. Yi Jiang, Associate director, MBA Programs for Global Innovation, Callifornia State University, East Bay

Dr. Yi Jiang, Associate director, MBA Programs for Global Innovation, Callifornia State University, East Bay

“To sustain growth and allow the next generation of Americans to have a better life, we have to rethink globalization, identify opportunities and be contributors to the global economy, rather than consumers,” says Dr. Yi Jiang, associate director of MBA Programs for Global Innovation at California State University, East Bay.

Smart Business spoke with Jiang and Taylor about the process of identifying and making the most of ripe opportunities in the global marketplace.

What prevents U.S. executives from capitalizing on the best global opportunities?

Taylor: U.S. executives need a changed mindset and a different approach to analyze and select global opportunities, because our country is no longer the dominant market in the world. Our loss of supremacy means that we need to learn how to do business in other countries that don’t always comply with our culture and business practices. We must put ourselves in their shoes and see things from their perspective in order to identify and capitalize on the best opportunities.

Jiang: We’ve had a tendency to view globalization in simplified terms and think of other countries as a resource for outsourced services and cheap labor. But when executives apply a different perspective to the analysis process and develop innovative products and solutions, they stand the best chance of succeeding outside the U.S. For example, PepsiCo recognized an unmet need in India, and capitalized by identifying itself as a provider of well-being services, rather than a supplier of food and beverages. The CEO’s paradigm shift and innovative marketing approach has led to greater success than simply transferring the U.S. strategy to another culture.

What’s the first step in the identification process?

Taylor: The first step is demographic analysis, but unless executives take a deep dive into the data, they may overlook emerging trends and actually target the wrong customers. For example, a superficial analysis of Chinese demographics reveals no net population growth, but an in-depth study shows that social change is underway and people are urbanizing at the fastest rate in the world, adding tens of millions of new global consumers each year. This creates unprecedented demand growth for all kinds of products and services. The country’s rising affluence has made the Chinese auto market the largest in the world, the largest market for mobile communications technology, and the largest market for consumer products and services of all kinds.

Jiang: Don’t take a cookie-cutter approach to the analysis process, because each country has regional and generational differences that create unique opportunities. While cultural and generational differences often drive demand on the consumer side, U.S. executives must consider dynamic industry cycles and a county’s openness and resources before attempting to position each country in the holistic picture of global strategy.

What’s the next step?

Jiang: After analyzing the data, travel to the country to experience the culture, validate your hypothesis and establish strategic business partnerships and networks. You’ll need seamless collaboration to understand the cultural nuances and build a supply chain. Infusing yourself in the culture will help you identify additional opportunities, since the best ideas often come from prospective partners, suppliers and customers.

Taylor: Meeting people is an important part of the evaluation process, and business relationships are like a marriage, so prospective partners must get to know each other before making a commitment. And your travels may yield additional opportunities, especially if you view things with an eye for the innovations being developed in other markets. Even though the U.S. may not be able to compete in labor-intensive manufacturing, we have endless opportunities to develop and export intellectual property, and there’s an unmet need for clean tech infrastructure in many parts of the world.

What else must executives do to succeed in the global marketplace?

Jiang: Remember that global opportunities and situations are fluid, so what seems like a great idea today may not work tomorrow. Conduct extensive scenario analyses so you are prepared to perform under a variety of circumstances, and keep your finger on the pulse of prospective customers by garnering feedback through open source social networking.

Taylor: There’s every reason to be extremely optimistic about our future, if we make changes in the way we conduct business and get our deficits under control. The key is to search out opportunities in global markets to develop innovative products and services that build on our strengths while embracing new ideas from other countries

Dr. Glen Taylor is the director of MBA Programs for Global Innovation at California State University, East Bay. Reach him at [email protected]

Dr. Yi Jiang is the associate director of MBA Programs for Global Innovation at California State University, East Bay. Reach her at [email protected]

Robert Scharar makes connections at FCA Corp

Robert W. Scharar, founder, president and CEO, FCA Corp.

Robert W. Scharar, founder, president and CEO, FCA Corp.

Don’t be surprised to find Robert W. Scharar sewing buttons on his jacket. A boy scout since 1958 and now a board member of the Sam Houston Council, he has skills to show for his merit badges.

Scharar also credits the scouts with business networking. As founder, president and CEO of FCA Corp., a wealth management, financial planning and investment advisory firm with more than $500 million in assets, he researches potential investments. His involvement in community organizations forms connections to inform decisions.

“It’s important for businesses to participate in volunteer activities,” says Scharar, who also created four international mutual funds with assets of more than $50 million. “That’s a good way to expand your business knowledge and do something good at the same time.”

Start conversations. Just a smile and a hello and an interest will often spark a discussion. Ask about what they’re doing or ask about their country. We all like to talk about ourselves, so give a person a chance to talk about their country or their family or their job or their interests, and the conversation will unfold. It’s not always just one conversation, but it’s the continued friendliness that evolves from that.

In my BlackBerry, I write down the names of the people I meet at the counter at the airport. I can’t remember all those names, but you have no idea how helpful [it is].

Stay open to info. We’re always looking for ideas to invest in: trends of growth, trends of success, positive things that would make an investment worthwhile. Sometimes, it’s just coming up with the idea of the industry to be looking at. It may not be that particular company’s even available for sale; it just may mean that you get an idea that you had not pursued before.

Oftentimes, it’s not so much because I’m looking at their company, but I’m looking for somebody that has some technical knowledge that can explain some product I’m not familiar with.

When you open yourself to deal with people beyond your normal circles, you get great information. You can often learn a lot about the community by being willing to talk to people. Cab drivers often form that nucleus for a lot of people because they’re the only contact they have, but there’s a lot of contacts you can make if you’re willing to just reach out and look for areas of common interest.

Don’t make assumptions of people’s worth. Oftentimes, we get too hung up on titles and because of that, we don’t necessarily give people a chance to show what they can do. If you’re able to step back and recognize that people have value, you’d be shocked at what you can find out.

Keep lines open. Seeking information about what’s going on in the world that might apply to your business is generally not invasive. You can do that without people thinking you’re selling them something — because you’re really not.

Now, out of that can come opportunities because people say, ‘What do you do?’ I don’t necessarily even at that stage give them (my) card. But if it might be helpful, I’ll sometimes say, ‘I do work in that area. If sometime in the future you want to talk about it, feel free to give me a call.’

Don’t put them under any pressure, but you don’t want to be in a situation where you can solve their need and you’re not giving them the ability to work with you. You just have to be careful how you do it. We all are taken aback when somebody comes in and you feel like, if they don’t have a sale closed at the end of (30 minutes), they’re going to go on to the next activity.

Volunteerism … can lead to opportunities. If you try to go volunteer specifically to get X, that’s not going to work. But put yourself in an environment where the volunteer activities involve other people — particularly different people, not everybody who thinks the same way you do — and you just never know.

Just put yourself out there. I don’t go around handing my business cards to everybody I meet, but just let people know you’re open to questions. You’re rewarded in many ways for doing that — not always immediately, never from a particular activity — but by being engaged, you’d just be amazed at the kinds of things that evolve.

How to reach: FCA Corp., (713) 781-2856 or www.fcacorp.com

Room for growth

Mit Shah, founder, senior managing principal and CEO, Noble Investment Group

Mit Shah, founder, senior managing principal and CEO, Noble Investment Group

Mit Shah was enjoying the fruits of his labor.

As Shah, founder, senior managing principal and CEO of Noble Investment Group, a company that invests in and manages hotels, he had successfully gotten the business past the struggles that followed the Sept. 11 attacks when travel and tourism dollars fell. Everything was back on track, and the company had been growing, earning spots on the Inc. 5,000 list through the years, and in 2008, it recorded $325 million in revenue.

But things have slowed from the pace Shah and his team are used to.

“We’ve built this model over 17 years — great people, great human characteristics — but clearly the last two and a half years have created a real pause of how we approach our business,” Shah says.

One of his challenges is having extremely talented people, which most wouldn’t think is a problem, but in tough times, it proves to be.

“How do you keep a group of highly successful, highly talented, highly motivated, passionate leaders engaged and focused on the ability to manage what we have when you’re an organization that’s truly built for continuous investment and continuous growth, and that’s how you’re structured?” Shah says.

He’s also been challenged by looking for opportunities to grow the business and figuring out how the market will shake out.

“That has been a big part of my responsibility to continue to surround myself with people who internally and externally will give me good insight as it relates to how do we see opportunities going forward,” he says.

And then it’s been just hunkering down on the business basics.

“Continue to do what the books say you’re supposed to do — stick to your core values during times of great opportunity and during times of crisis, take care of people, make sure that you continue to commit to things that are part of who you are and who you espouse to be,” Shah says.

Over the past three years, by building a solid group of peers to rely on, focusing on his people and looking for opportunities, Shah was able to successfully move Noble forward — earning $346 million in revenue in 2009 — and prepare it for future growth.