A buffer zone is an important part of your merger toolbox

Transition is an intriguing topic; from old to new, from medieval to renaissance, from bankruptcy to solvency.

The topic piqued my interest when I was writing this month’s Uniquely Cleveland on the Glasshouse at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. The contrasting environments of a tropical rainforest and a desert adjoin each other, with a small room between for visitors to make the transition from an arid biome to a humid one.

That buffer zone makes the switch easier. Likewise, a transition vehicle can offer advantages during a business merger. One of our guest columnists wrote about his experience.

To retain the recognition of the other company, a transitional company was created and given a name similar to the previous one. That helped take care of the brand question, leaving the matter of current and new contracts to be resolved, along with, of course, building relationships between the two entities.

New contracts would start with the transition company while the former company stayed in existence to complete projects currently under contract and to maintain the liability for those projects.

This was necessary since contracts with existing clients can be complicated. Some clients may be unwilling to transition and cause ruffles. In fact, it may not be the best idea to discuss the situation with existing clients before the merger closes.

But by preparing a transitional company shows you are aware of potential hurdles involved with client contracts and are being proactive. It could very well keep you out of the heat.


Dennis Seeds is editor-at-large of Smart Business Magazine and co-author of An American Journey and Bootlegger’s Son, from Smart Business Books.

‘The more problems you have, the more alive you are’

This month’s Uniquely Cleveland features the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery near Rittman, a final resting place for members of the armed forces and eligible members of their families. It’s one of two national cemeteries in Ohio and in 2000 it was dedicated as a national cemetery.

Its director, Matthew Metschke, describes his role as one of compassion.

“I guess I was put on this planet to do this. It gives a lot of peace of mind to families.”

Whenever I hear the phrase “peace of mind,” it makes me think of a story by Norman Vincent Peale, the author of “The Power of Positive Thinking.” He describes how he once asked a friend how he was feeling and for 15 minutes, the man told all he had were problems, problems, problems.

“I can tell you of a place where there are hundreds of thousands of people with no problems at all,” Peale says.

The man immediately perked up and asked where that place was.

“Woodlawn Cemetery” Peale replied. “No one there has problems.”

Problems constitute a sign of life, and the more you have, the more alive you are, Peale says. He goes on to say that people will only grow strong by facing their problems and finding solutions, all the while having a positive attitude.

A CEO I once interviewed had a cash flow problem, and on a couple of occasions, she had to dip into her personal savings to meet payroll. She couldn’t take it any longer; she reviewed the problem to find a solution.

It came down to her bank’s firm position on her company’s line of credit. She saw that it wasn’t the circumstances that were causing the wrinkles in her bankbook but the size of the bank. She needed a larger bank with the ability to better negotiate her line of credit.

“So I found a larger bank that is really there for me and very supportive,” she says.

Her company is alive and doing well, thanks to realizing that problems are a sign of life.

Dennis Seeds is Editor-at-large for Smart Business Cleveland

It’s in the vision, PLEASE: A successful outcome can be traced to applying six principles

As an artist has a vision of how his work will come out, so does a CEO or business owner, right?

I got to thinking about that after reading the story about the kinetic sculpture “The Politician: A Toy,” which is the subject of this month’s Uniquely Cleveland. Vision is so important for an artist when he or she is trying to have artwork offer a message.

I recently interviewed a CEO who says he follows the acronym PLEASE to ensure the success of a vision:

P is for passion. Are you passionate about what you are doing? If you’re not, life is too short. Go find something you are passionate about.

L is for learning. Are you learning something every day? Do you understand that people should learn from their mistakes and their successes?

E is for enthusiasm. Are you enthusiastic? If you act that way, you will become enthusiastic.

A is for action. You have to have a penchant for action. A great plan poorly executed will never outperform a poor plan greatly executed.

S is for skills. Some say knowledge is what pays the bills but, rather, it is skills. The action piece plays into that because in order to convert your learning to a skill, you must take action.

E is for educate. Are you taking what you have learned and teaching other people?

PLEASE is actually a wheel — you can put wherever you want in the middle. Put the customer in the middle or your child in the middle. All of the concepts will apply to that situation.

For instance, put your son in the middle: Am I passionate about helping my son get ahead? Am I learning how to be a better dad? Am I enthusiastic about being his father? Am I taking action when he asks me to? Am I developing my skills to be a better father? Do I educate my son on what I have learned in my life?

Dennis Seeds is editor-at-large of Smart Business.

Rockefeller bought out the competition, and not surprisingly, oil spilled all over

One of the shrewdest steps John D. Rockefeller conducted, historians say, was the Cleveland Massacre of 1872. In less than six weeks’ time, he acquired 22 of his 26 Cleveland oil refinery competitors. The business move worked for Rockefeller, the subject of this month’s Uniquely Cleveland, and gave his Standard Oil Co. a corner on the market. By 1878 Standard Oil was refining 90 percent of the oil in the U.S.

Standard Oil grew to be a behemoth and by 1911 was broken into 34 companies when the U.S. Supreme Court found it violated the Sherman Antitrust Act.

But what wasn’t so shrewd in today’s terms was this: of all that oil, not a drop was for company culture.

The rapid growth of the oil company shows how mergers and acquisitions have come a long way since the time when offers were made that couldn’t be refused.

Merging cultures when companies were acquired was of no concern in Rockefeller’s scheme. He acquired to squash competition and people where expendable. Today, company culture is a top concern.

When a merger looks like it was a solid financial and strategic fit — and then fails, it’s typically the result of the human element of intangible cultural issues that affect the company’s assets.

Merging cultures is another matter from starting fresh; and the hardest job of all may be sorting out a disorganized culture.

“Trying to force a culture that doesn’t exist, from a value perspective, is impossible,” a CEO told me once. “Then you can build your culture around that.

“It’s a constant battle to make sure that your culture is right, and you have to have opinions from all levels of the company, and you have to get people to speak up on their own behalf. It’s tough. Otherwise it’s just one person’s point of view. That’s not really a culture; that’s more of a directive.”

Endless material has been written about Rockefeller, who in all fairness, became a remarkable philanthropist in his later years. There are many lessons to learn from his business strategy and operation. Perhaps he knew that his strength was to give directives and let the oil spill where it may.

Dennis Seeds is editor-at-large of Smart Business magazine.

Hidden in plain view: when you overlook the meaning of something, it takes intentional effort to restore it

Film producers Travis Pollert and Luke Frazier premiered their documentary short about the Cleveland Cultural Gardens, “Hidden in Plain View” at the Cleveland International Film Festival last year and Frazier’s opening narration resonates about how simple it is to forget the many small parts that go into a large piece of work.

“When you overlook the meaning of something, it can easily become hidden, even in plain sight,” he says.

The meaning behind the Cultural Gardens, the subject of this month’s Uniquely Cleveland, had been forgotten for a while. While vivid memories of World War I’s carnage prompted ethnic groups to honor their culture and not their warfare, there was only a mild impetus after World War II to create additional cultural gardens. Some of them suffered vandalism and decay until revitalization efforts, including a master plan that in the past few decades turned around the situation and built enthusiasm.

Now, Cleveland Cultural Gardens Federation President Sheila Crawford says up to 12 countries’ organizations are interested in garden sites, such as Spain, France, Australia, Austria, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Such interest is encouraging, and it is a testament to efforts to preserve the meaning of the gardens and the culture celebrated.

Culture isn’t only a nationality subject; it’s a company concern that’s often discussed. David Dourgarian, a guest columnist on our website, writes how by shifting aspects of his company’s culture from default mode to something that felt more intentional, the company reaped benefits in less than a year.

One of his observations: including all employees in company social events, even a flash mob, allowed customers to see that the company wasn’t fragmented at all, but united toward a common goal — helping them succeed.

“After the flash mob, our guests chatted and danced with everyone from payroll clerks to software engineers. Inviting all levels of staff shows you appreciate them and trust them,” he says.

So there is more to culture than what meets the eye. It could be hidden in plain view. But it takes intentional action to bring it out from the recesses of shadows that can pull us away.

Dennis Seeds is editor-at-large of Smart Business Magazine.

Look, up in the sky — It’s the Siegel and Shuster Society and a lesson in intellectual property

While Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster both died in the 1990s, credit for their popular creation Superman is alive and seeing the light after anonymity for many years.

The story is an old one in the entertainment world and elsewhere when a budding talent creates The Next Big Thing — and the young, naive person falls victim to unscrupulous profit-takers.

Siegel and Shuster were offered a $130 check and a limited contract. The Glenville High School classmates, seeing that this was about $2,200 in today’s money, quickly signed the check and turned over their rights to the character.

During the long legal battle over the ownership of the copyright, Siegel and Shuster and later their estates did receive some compensation but eventually lost their claim to Superman.

But outside of the legal battles, the recognition efforts won. This month’s Uniquely Cleveland describes the work of the Siegel and Shuster Society, which was formed some years ago to perpetuate the Superman story and its origins in Cleveland.

Mike Olszewski, the president of the society, says there was a lot of talk over the years to start recognizing Siegel and Shuster with an organization, but it wasn’t until 2007 when the interest and the resources — new faces, new support and new commitments — made the project happen.

Nothing kills inspiration than to be doing the same thing over and over again, a CEO recently told me. Once the effort started that had supporters who tried to make every step forward an exciting one — restoring the Siegel house, a commemorative fence at the Shuster residence site, a Cleveland Hopkins International Airport display — the inspiration grew.

That same CEO told me that he often walks down the retail aisles where his products are for sale. “The key to it is not looking at what is there; it’s looking at what is not there. And if you can fill that need, your odds of a successful product or project are much, much greater.”

And that was the case with the Siegel and Shuster Society. It was a super dream that found a way to become reality.

Dennis Seeds is editor-at-large for Smart Business magazines. Contact him at [email protected]

Parts working together effectively produce amazing results

Teamwork is one of the basic methods to get out of any jam you’re in. That’s what saved 15-year-old Morris Baetzold, the teenager in this month’s Uniquely Cleveland who was trapped in the Cleveland Metroparks’ Wildcat Cave on Oct. 5, 1965.

The teen fell headfirst into a narrow crevice and was wedged in — he couldn’t pull himself out. Many experts combined their talents and efforts to devise a system of ropes and pulleys to raise the youth and then pull him out on a glycerin-covered board.

It was teamwork that made the rescue successful. While you don’t have to be a genius to conclude that, the lesson is timeless: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

When the parts interact effectively, they will produce a result greater than each part added together.

The same goes for business. Several small businesses can collaborate under the umbrella of a larger corporate enterprise — manufacturing supplies and offering services to each other to use those strengths in a way that produces a strong corporation.

For example, a CEO I interviewed says not only does an arrangement like this build strength, it builds loyalty.

The deciding factors often vary among industries, but for this leader, who focuses on quality as a top concern, the payoff has been to make use of his corporation’s various divisions.

“Everything is in our operation,” he says, “from the architects, to the marketing, the financing, the banking, the management — everything is in-house. We are an A to Z operation.”

With everything under one roof, the chances of establishing loyalty are much greater than when you are outsourcing, he has found.

“It is much easier to manage quality because of the loyalty,” he says. “You will have control over correcting mistakes because the team is working together.

“I am not going to tell you that everything in our business works perfectly. But if it doesn’t work, you start all over again. You have to fix it. This is your foundation.”

That’s the beauty of teamwork. It’s how to execute well and achieve success.

Dennis Seeds is editor-at-large of Smart Business magazine.

Beating a path to the door: How innovation solves a requirement in a new way

The power of innovation is a strong one, and I venture to say that fighting crime with the latest innovations stands at the top of the priority list of society.

You can’t ignore the connection between crime fighting and invention. As long as there have been thieves, killers and of late terrorists  — there have been efforts to outwit them.

As the old saying, based on a quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson, goes, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.”

Witness the growing use of DNA tests in forensic investigations. Police have the ability to store the DNA profiles of repeat offenders and by using technology, can compare the profiles with DNA samples from unsolved crimes. Every person has a unique DNA profile. Once the DNA profiles are matched, it speeds up the search and conviction of the perpetrator.

On the other side of the coin, individuals convicted of crimes and serving time have been released following new DNA evidence submitted in court. Unfortunately there are backlogs of samples waiting to be analyzed. It takes years before the DNA in some cases is analyzed.

It’s easy to see that governmental entities need to develop faster methods for analyzing DNA evidence. Equipment is outdated, laboratories are understaffed and more training is needed for law enforcement officers as procedures improve.

Another technology on the increase is the use of video cameras. Surveillance, dash and now body cameras are seemingly everywhere.

Don’t forget stun guns and Tasers. The list goes on…
As I mentioned earlier, there is so much interest, rightfully so, in innovations to help fight crime. But that interest doesn’t have to be overly focused on that field. Many other industries and sectors deserve similar enthusiastic support for innovation. It just takes someone who is inspired and driven to invent and innovate. It’s amazing what one person can do.

One of our Smart Business columnists, Lois Melbourne, recently put it best:

“The true nature of innovation, solving a requirement in a new way, is taking a risk. An improvement is just doing something better, but an innovation is changing the game. Sometimes people don’t like change. Sometimes the innovation is ready before the market is ready for it.  But progress depends on innovation, so giving an environment that allows risk-taking is critical.  It is actually mandatory, to get real innovation. It is never enough to only give the R&D department the risk taking reins. Allowing voices to be heard throughout an organization fosters engagement and the comfort level that the leaders embrace innovation and the risk that comes along with it.”

Dennis Seeds is editor-at-large for Smart Business magazine.

A little input goes a long way in achieving the results you seek

William A. “Bill” Wynne, who along with his Yorkshire terrier Smoky serve as the subjects of this month’s Uniquely Cleveland, tells the story of how his highly trainable pet just wouldn’t cooperate and perform a trick to spell her name. This was just after Smoky saved the day by crawling through a culvert pulling telephone wires to get an airfield up and running.

Wynne, who was serving in World War II at the time, fashioned 14-inch letters out of cardboard that spelled her name. He wanted to impress the letter shapes on her mind so he carried her over to the letter S, held her head and traced the letter shape with her face over and over while saying “S.” Then, he repeated the steps with the other letters.

After two months of training, Smoky just didn’t get it. Wynne gave up — temporarily.

While stationed in Korea a short time later, Wynne tried the trick again. This time, Smoky performed it perfectly, sitting in front of each letter as Wynne ordered, “Next.”

“The reason for her reluctance dawned on me now,” Wynne says in his book, “Yorkie Doodle Dandy.” “I had been force-training her, and she hated it. Her revolt was her way of telling me, ‘When I am ready, master. Only when I’m ready.’

“Master? She had known all along what I was trying to teach her, but she had to remind me to keep my place.”

Have you ever had a situation that despite your high hopes and efforts to train employees on a new process, it just didn’t work? In many cases, the unfavorable results can be traced to a lack of engagement. A company initiative that tries to impose engagement on employees likely will fail if it’s mandatory. It takes away a degree of owning the new process.

By allowing employee to have input on a better strategy, they’ll be more committed to seeing it through since they helped create it. If you show your workers you respect their expertise and how they have the customer’s interests at heart, they’ll return that respect to the company, which will deepen their engagement.

Wynne and Smoky went on to be popular on stage and television. The pair worked together well — ever since she learned to spell.

Dennis Seeds is editor-at-large of Smart Business Magazine.

Whatever sage advice you impart to someone, make it short and memorable

To me, it’s all the more valuable if a person passing along some advice puts it into a short, memorable phrase.

This month’s Uniquely Cleveland focuses on the The Northern Ohio Italian American Foundation, its 20-year history and its philanthropy, including an annual gala, which this year will honor Tommy LiPuma. A Cleveland native and record producer, LiPuma has earned 18 gold and platinum records and 30 Grammy nominations in his 40-year career.

LiPuma has described the phrase he uses for what he looks for in an artist as the “chill factor.” In an interview, he gave this explanation of the nerve-tingling result of a perfect combination of song, voice and style: “I can’t always put my finger on why I know something will work. It’s more the ‘chill factor’ I look for, honing in on that artist whose music reaches inside you and takes you somewhere.”

With that phrase, the “chill factor,” you have all that’s necessary to realize how LiPuma makes his decision and perhaps how you can consider what gives you the “chill factor” when you have to evaluate a performance or product.

Decisive moment

Another phrase that says it all in a few words is the “decisive moment.” Henri Cartier-Bresson, a French photographer who is widely considered the father of photojournalism, coined this phrase, which has come to mean the perfect second to press the shutter.

To quote Cartier-Bresson, the decisive moment is “In the span of a fraction of a second, the simultaneous acknowledgement of the meaning of a fact on one hand, and on the other, of a rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that express this fact.”

So when you push the shutter on your decision, you might want to consider if it is the decisive moment.

Leap of faith

Still a third phrase that communicates so much in so few words is “leap of faith,” attributed to 19th century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. While he originally used it in a religious sense, it has been applied more broadly to indicate taking a risk and believing it will go well.

Both “leap” and “faith” are critical to the phrase’s meaning. If you change it to a “movement of little doubt,” it doesn’t convey the message nearly as well.

I first heard this used by someone I was interviewing for a position who said she left her job before she had a new one lined up. She was taking a leap of faith, she said.

I don’t know how it worked out for her but I was impressed both that she left her job without having a new one and that she called it a leap of faith — that by doing so, it was setting forces into play that would help ensure a positive outcome.

What’s your phrase? If you don’t have one at hand, give it some thought. You never know when you’ll be asked for some advice.

Dennis Seeds is editor-at-large for Smart Business Network. He is interested in the people and businesses making a difference in Cleveland.