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.

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.”