How leaders can offer thoughtful feedback and support

We can all learn from the successes of others, and from their mistakes — or at least we should try. By watching how some accomplished individuals operate, we can take away lessons and try to avoid repeating errors that can cost time, money, relationships and reputations.

We can all benefit from stepping back and reviewing the interactions we have watched or participated in and ask ourselves, “How could that have gone better?” That includes asking Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

Who are your role models? What response did that business owner have when a customer expressed disappointment? When should I respond in what way? Where could I improve to make a more positive impact? Why is this important? How did these events unfold? We need to work toward being the best version of who we can be.

When we take time to watch and learn, we are better equipped to make decisions about how we will behave in a positive manner. We can model ourselves and our behaviors after those we admire and avoid the mistakes of those with undesirable ethics and/or characteristics. We also learn and improve by accepting constructive criticism from others.

Some criticisms may be practical and lead us to develop and grow as a businessperson or individual, while others may be quite terse and feel ungrounded, or even demeaning. This type of criticism is never helpful. It ruins relationships, degrades trust and reflects poorly on the person giving the direction. Constructive criticism is important — both to give and to receive.

If you are in a position of leadership, whether managing a department, overseeing a corporate headquarters, running a family or organizing a volunteer group, you have been given a gift. You are in a unique position to lead by example. You can provide constructive feedback that can be helpful to those around you. How you offer insight is nearly as important as what it is that you say. And sometimes if the who isn’t right, the what doesn’t matter.

I’ve found in business, and in my personal relationships, that you can say almost anything to give valuable direction, as long as you begin with a softening statement. This is so the recipient of your feedback understands that your insight is coming from a good place. “I mean this with no disrespect … ” “You know I care about you … ” “You know how much I respect you … ”

Direct, offensive language that insults the person you are talking to will get you nowhere. They will not understand your position and certainly will not agree with it. If you attack them with a demeaning phrase, you’ll spark defensiveness. “Why would you do something so stupid?” or, “Don’t you know better than do to this?”

Sometimes, when I want to help, I begin to offer advice before realizing that the person who is sharing a circumstance or hashing over a problem with me would rather I just listen. Regardless of if I begin with a softening phrase, my feedback is not what the other person is seeking. Determine if your advice or your open mind and listening ear are what a confidant truly wants.

We all learn by watching others. We take advice when it is respectfully offered and should use it as a way to improve upon ourselves in a positive manner. These are lessons about constructive criticism that we can all use to improve in business and in life. The intent should be to help, not to hurt.

Umberto P. Fedeli is CEO of The Fedeli Group

Just say no … thank you

We can’t be in multiple places at once. We can’t be present at an event by dropping in and quickly leaving for the next engagement. This applies to pre-COVID-19 days with in-person meetings and engagements, and our current environment with video calls for business and pleasure.

Online or in person, if you try to do it all and overbook your business and social life, you’ll struggle to find fulfillment from activities that should bring you joy. I have found myself in this position countless times. When you are blessed to have many relationships, you receive many invitations — to charitable events, dinner engagements, weddings, celebrations and other functions. If I say yes to everyone — and that is my natural inclination — I’ll disappoint everyone.

There have been many evenings when I have attended five charity events, and there were probably five more I didn’t make. I couldn’t stay long at those I did attend, which disappointed the organizers. You can’t win.

My wife and I went to two weddings in one evening, one in New York and one in Ohio. We left the first early, right as they were serving dinner. The parents of the bride and groom were visibly disappointed that we excused ourselves before the meal. I felt bad.
At the second reception, the hosts asked, “Where have you been?” Afterward, driving home, my wife said, “One family is upset you left early, and the others are upset you were late. I’m upset because we haven’t eaten and it’s almost midnight, and no one is happy.”

Getting married is a special day for the bride and groom. “It’s their special day. This is not about me.” But my desire to be in all places put a stress on the evening, and did we add value at either wedding? I’m not sure. But I believe that physically showing up — even if the travel is exhausting and the schedule is overwhelming — is more valuable than sending a card stuffed with money or an extravagant gift. You receive the invitation because your presence is desired. I try to fulfill that wish when I can.

When my children were growing up, we visited my mother and father every Sunday for dinner. We joined other family. We shared a meal and stories with laughter. After visiting, we’d drive up the street to see my grandparents and there was more food, more stories and more laughter. My children might have wanted to leave sooner, but now they appreciate the valuable time they spent with grandparents, great-grandparents and other family members. You don’t get that time back. Nothing replaces being there. Spending time with loved ones is the best gift that can be given.

But there is always that balance to strike with business, community and family commitments. There’s no way to make more time, so consider where you can really make an impact. How important is it to show up at that charity event — or to pack several functions into one evening so you can say yes to everyone? If you do say yes, do so with heart because you’ll make a contribution. If you say yes just because you don’t want to say no, who benefits?

Go out of your way to make people feel important. Be there when friends, family, clients, neighbors and others need you most. Be the one people can depend on to help, to listen. Focus on giving deeply where you can make a difference. I am grateful for the many people in my life who want to include me. I am humbled that I can be part of their efforts, their success. But I know I must be careful to only say yes when I know I can truly give the time, energy, resources, knowledge and presence they deserve. It’s OK to say no.

Umberto P. Fedeli is CEO of The Fedeli Group

Listen, don’t judge

We all have opinions, and there are plenty of times when we want to interject those thoughts into a conversation because we believe we’ll improve a person’s situation.

Maybe we simply disagree with what we see, or what we think we see. Or we don’t like what we hear, or what we think we hear. The question is, are we really listening?

Did our associate, neighbor, spouse or child actually ask for our opinion? Are we truly bringing value to the person who is investing their trust in us, perhaps even opening a vein and sharing something they have not told anyone? Or are we using the conversation as a pulpit to forward our own agenda, speak our mind and say what we feel like saying?

Many times, we forget what others are asking us to do is to simply listen. Just listen. Maybe the conversation starts with, “Can I tell you something?” Or, “I’m frustrated about … ” Or, “I can’t stop thinking about … ” Do you recognize that your role is to listen? I admit I often miss the cue. I am so quick to share, and often realize after I’ve given my opinion — and I’ve been known to have strong, direct thoughts that I do not hold back — that I would have been more helpful by letting the person know that I’m here to listen.

Listening is extremely challenging. It requires an open mind and heart, with no judging. And, sometimes, listening means seeing and being present in a situation so you can fully appreciate the scenario and embrace the gifts of others.

Here is a situation when I recognized I needed to listen with my eyes and heart. Bishop Roger Gries told me this story, and it really stuck with me. He was sitting in church during a confirmation (a sacrament in the Catholic church) and he glanced across the aisle at a younger boy who was a confirmee with very long messy hair reaching past his shoulders. Bishop Gries thought it looked shaggy and the boy should have gotten it cut for the occasion. What was this kid doing with long hair? Bishop Gries wondered why the boy’s parents weren’t pushing him to the barbershop.

After Mass, the boy asked him, “Hey, what do you think about my long hair?” He then went on, “I have a girl in my class with bad cancer. And I’m growing my hair so I can donate it to an organization that makes wigs for children who are cancer patients.”

Here was this young boy doing something so genuinely thoughtful, so selfless to benefit his friend and other sick children. He had a much greater purpose than growing his hair for some trivial reason. He was less concerned with what people thought about him and more concerned with what he was doing for a friend. Listen, don’t judge.

You don’t know what others are going through in their personal lives. In business, you don’t know everything going on in employees’ homes, what their lives are like or whether they’re struggling with an issue. People do bring their home problems and concerns to work, and their work problems and concerns home. We’re all human. We’re imperfect. We cannot compartmentalize every aspect of our lives and operate like robots.

I try to remember this in business so I can lead with compassion and be a good listener. It’s not easy to do. I remind myself constantly to try not to judge but to listen, watch and learn from others.

I have learned that sometimes we need to work on listening first, trying to be less judgmental and assisting only when asked.

Umberto P. Fedeli is CEO of The Fedeli Group

Play to your strengths

What do you do really well? What do you love to do? What skills, talents or abilities do others recognize you for? These are important questions for businesspeople, and any individual, to ask when developing their skills, talents and abilities.

The most successful people in business, investing and politics are those who play to their strengths. They are passionate about what they do and, because of that, they do it much better than others who are trying to do it all. This is called rational targeting. If you enjoy playing baseball, you’ll play the sport as often as you get the opportunity. You’ll become much better at the game than someone who really doesn’t care about being out on the diamond with a bat and a glove.

You gain a couple advantages. You will spend more time playing because you like it, and therefore, your skills will improve. And because you love baseball, you’ll want to learn everything about the sport, how to get an edge, what plays will secure a win and so on.

By playing to your strengths and doing more of what you love, you will get ahead in business and in life.

But first, you must identify your strengths, and this requires self-reflection. You may need to consider feedback from mentors, colleagues, close friends and family to tease out those strengths if you have trouble pinpointing them yourself.

By playing to your strengths and partnering with others who are strong where you are weak, you’ll form a winning team. This rule follows in business, marriage, the community and most other aspects in life. In business, I know I can’t be a technical expert on every area of insurance and benefit services that we offer. But throughout the years, The Fedeli Group has attracted talented individuals who are experts on a full range of insurance, employee benefits consulting and risk management solutions. We have built a team of strong players.

We focus on personal and professional development, identifying strengths and making sure our people are in roles where they will succeed. And we ask our associates to be committed to lifelong learning.

To be successful, you must help others to become the best versions of themselves. This includes identifying the strengths in others and giving them opportunities to use their talents and abilities.

We also encourage relationship mapping, in which you are here and with whom are our relationships strongest. Looking at this map and applying the rational targeting concept, determine where the need is. How can you help? How can you play to your strengths while leveraging the strong relationships you have? Connect the dots.

People have told me one of my strengths is networking, which is the exchange of information, ideas and resources. I enjoy meeting people, solving problems, building relationships and adding value as a businessperson and as an investor.

Throughout the years, I have discovered one way I can bring tremendous value to our organization and to others I associate with is to use the power of networking — to be the quarterback who brings together talented people. As a result, we have built a strong network of individuals with incredible strengths and talents.

These are people with high integrity that I trust, admire and respect who, in turn, trust and respect me. I introduce them to potential opportunities, so they are able to share their talents and strengths with others. When we play to our strengths, success often follows.

Umberto P. Fedeli is CEO of The Fedeli Group

Making a contribution

Continuously learning various aspects of life is an important discipline that I have committed to and asked our associates to commit to. This can include learning about your profession, community, industry, business and your clients so you can improve and provide value to them.

Learning is a process, but it’s about making the commitment to continuously learn. One way is to explore a combination of reading, listening to podcasts, going to lectures and watching interviews because we all learn differently. We have to find the best way we learn and what’s most effective. And once we have learned, why not share with others?

The foundation of The Fedeli Group was built by establishing several principles related to learning and sharing. First, we believe relationships are the most important thing in life. Second, we want to constantly add value by doing more than what is expected, going above and beyond. Third, we like to help solve problems. And fourth, we like to network, which we define as the exchange of information, ideas and resources. Continuously learning and sharing those insights is ultimately about touching lives, having an impact and making a contribution. Here are some ideas.

Playing to our strengths

By playing to our strengths, we can achieve success. Your strengths are what you are particularly good at and have an interest in, and what you are passionate about. We have to be intellectually honest about our strengths. The concept of rational targeting — identifying what we do well, what is needed and how those two intersect — is an important part of playing to our strengths.

Communicating with honesty and heart

Great communication is crucial in every part of life. This includes communicating clearly and with integrity to family, business associates, colleagues and people in our community — customers, strategic partners and suppliers. It’s important to communicate in a proactive way that is collaborative, congenial and collegial.

Communication tools are always evolving. Showing compassion and a personal touch is important. While face-to-face meetings are one of the most effective ways to communicate, we are currently limited during the pandemic. Phone calls and emails are good — but be particularly careful when putting things in writing because they last.

Sharing knowledge, information and ideas

Not since the Spanish Flu in 1918 have we experienced a pandemic to this degree. I didn’t know much about disease spread, vaccines, immunity and viruses, including COVID-19, until we faced an economic shutdown in March. I began searching for information, answers and expert insight.

I don’t have many answers, but I learn from those who do. I learn from history. I find people I can trust who have experience and knowledge. I look toward those who have established best practices and achieved the best outcomes. After dedicating time to this research, I want to share it with others. This is why we have been writing articles related to the pandemic, treatments, cures, vaccines, building immunity and the impact on our economy and the market. When we receive positive feedback from colleagues, community members, clients and friends, we know we have helped them in some way.

Learning keeps us fresh, engaged, informed — exchanging information, knowledge and resources provides value to others and builds stronger relationships. We are all a work in progress. Committing to lifelong learning gives us knowledge and tools to help others and make a difference.

Umberto P. Fedeli is CEO of The Fedeli Group

2020 Pillar Award for Community Service – Northeast Ohio

On behalf of everyone at Medical Mutual and our co-founding partner, Smart Business, we welcome you to the 23rd annual Pillar Award for Community Service.

The Pillar Awards recognize companies whose employees have gone above and beyond to invest their time and resources in supporting our community.

Last year at this time, no one thought a global pandemic would alter the world as it has. Medical Mutual, like you, had to react and adapt quickly. And like this year’s award winners, in the face of unprecedented turmoil and change, we held fast to the belief that we have a responsibility to support our neighbors in need throughout Ohio.

We are proud of the ways our company and our employees have dedicated resources to provide relief through the pandemic, but it is truly an honor to be in the company of such outstanding organizations that exemplified community commitment — organizations that gave back in remarkable ways through charitable giving, volunteering, pro bono support and more. We are pleased to join Smart Business in honoring the exceptional contributions these businesses have made, because we know that a united business community is far greater than the sum of its parts.

Clearly, this year of unexpected change has not dampened our spirit of community. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that there’s no challenge we, as a community, can’t overcome. We are all in this together.

On behalf of Medical Mutual and Smart Business, we congratulate all our 2020 Pillar Award recipients.

Rick Chiricosta
Chairman, president and CEO, Medical Mutual





Pillar Award Honorees


Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority
Jeffery Patterson, Chief Executive Officer

The Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority was established in 1933 as the first chartered public housing authority in the country. CMHA owns and manages property and administers rent subsidy programs to provide eligible low-income individuals and families quality, safe, affordable housing in Cuyahoga County and improve the quality of life for the communities it serves.

Its values govern the actions of all CMHA employees and establish a standard of excellence. Under the leadership of CEO and Chief Safety Officer Jeffery K. Patterson, CMHA embodies the values of commitment, accountability, respect, excellence and safety in its decisions, planning and activities to fulfill its mission and achieve its vision to better Cuyahoga County communities. CMHA has 60 developments providing approximately 10,000 housing units and 15,000 vouchers serving approximately 55,000 people in Cuyahoga County.

With the onset of the pandemic, CMHA pivoted to ensure its housing communities and residents were safe and receiving necessary resources, whether physical protective equipment or factual news, to combat the unknowns. CMHA has always been mission-focused in serving its residents, and employees stepped up to the challenge to serve low-income residents.

They assessed residents’ needs, shifted the organization’s focus, established new, innovative ways of offering services, found ways to provide value through digital and teleconference platforms, provided residents with free services, collaborated with community partners with like-minded missions to continue to serve residents and remained dedicated to serving residents during this crisis to survive and thrive together as a community. ●


Todd Barnhart, President

GARDINER’s intelligent team of professionals is committed to building long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships with the company’s clients. Its associates are not only dedicated to making GARDINER a great company to work with, but also to helping make the cities they live and work in better.

Founder and chairman Bill Gardiner’s philosophy is to “Do the right thing at the right time.” This has grown into a culture where associates giving back to the community is a big part of what GARDINER is. The company’s culture originated with leadership but came to life through the people.

GARDINER hosted a field trip for STEM students from Magnificat High School, in which the girls interacted with engineers and technicians and participated in a career discussion with some of GARDINER’s and its clients’ female professionals to hear advice about the opportunities and challenges for women in the industry. GARDINER associates attended, and the company sponsored the 2020 NEO Regional Science Olympiad Tournament, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of science education and increase interest in science among female, minority and all middle and high school students.

In addition, each year GARDINER fields a team of riders in The Cleveland Clinic’s VeloSano: Bike to Cure event, and associates have committed to helping 25 families a year who leave the Forbes House shelter for victims of domestic abuse.

GARDINER’s culture has always been caring and generous, and the executive leadership team continues to encourage associates to keep finding ways to reach out and make a difference. ●


W. Michael Jarrett, President and CEO

Civic responsibility is a part of the fabric of Jarrett’s culture to serve those around it. Jarrett defines civic responsibility as “giving back to our communities by donating our time, talents, energy and resources to worthwhile causes in our communities and society.” Although it always strives to help its community, it really kicks it up during the holidays.

The company partners with the Make-A-Wish Foundation through the Wayne County Children Services. Each year, Jarrett “adopts” two children who otherwise might not receive Christmas gifts that year. It puts up trees and hangs ornaments containing either a gift or monetary amount to be used toward a gift requested by the child. Employees deliver gifts to Wayne County Children Services for children to unwrap on Christmas morning.

In partnership with the Salvation Army, Jarrett employees collect canned food items, competing to see which department can collect the highest percentage of cans. The company went from 230 cans in 2017 to 4,950 cans in 2018. Also, in partnership with the Salvation Army, it provides Thanksgiving meals to families through “20 Meals for 20 Families.”

According to the company, the world doesn’t turn without generous people. Everyone is better off when we help one another. It doesn’t matter if it’s neighbors, co-workers, family, friends, or community members — the company believes we all need each other, and that our work communities need us to be as devoted to them as our home communities. When you invest in something, it grows. So, if you want your community to grow, you have to invest in it. ●


Kaulig Companies Limited / Kaulig Giving
Matt Kaulig, Executive Chairman and Owner, The Kaulig Companies;
Founder and Board Chairman, The Kaulig Foundation

Under the leadership of Executive Chairman Matt Kaulig and CEO Tim Clepper, Kaulig Cos. Ltd. has cultivated a culture of giving across the spectrum of companies they oversee. Employees are involved in philanthropic and volunteer activities, and Kaulig Cos. operates from the mantra, “The more we make, the more we give.”

Kaulig Cos. has supported more than 60 nonprofits in Northeast Ohio this year, and more than 80 since 2019. It partners with the LeBron James Family Foundation’s I PROMISE School, funding of its one-of-kind media lab and facilitating LeafFilter’s annual school supplies drive, which provides school supplies for every IPS student.

The company played a key role as a presenting sponsor for the second year in a row for the Cleveland Indians Charities Giveathon and partnered with CIC in its fundraising efforts, media creation and promotion of the campaign. Proceeds from this year’s Giveathon addressed the Digital Divide by benefiting organizations affected by and dealing with eliminating the issue in Northeast Ohio.

Kaulig Charitable Giving Programs™ and The Kaulig Foundation are on the cutting edge of philanthropic efforts in the region. The Kaulig Charitable Giving Programs include direct giving, community involvement and significant partnerships, improving Northeast Ohio and beyond. Its paramount objective is to ensure and promote the well-being of children and families in Northeast Ohio through partnerships with nonprofits.

The Kaulig Foundation serves as the grant-making vehicle for the Kaulig family and Kaulig Cos., considering grant requests from public charities in Northeast Ohio that focus on children and families. ●


MAI Capital Management
Rick Buoncore, Managing Partner

As a firm, MAI is actively involved in supporting a multitude of organizations. In 2019, MAI donated $272,000 to more than 90 local and national charities. Additionally, many MAI employees have contributed significantly as volunteers and leaders of charitable organizations. MAI also created a Young Professionals group with the purpose of educating employees on the importance of supporting their community. Each year, this group works with Business Volunteers Unlimited to identify opportunities for employees to join nonprofit boards and to help with community projects.

The MAI team’s positive energy and collective desire to get involved is a product of Managing Partner Rick Buoncore’s enthusiasm and encouragement. He consistently motivates his colleagues to volunteer for and donate to organizations that are meaningful to them and helps support their causes through company sponsorships.

Buoncore is very active in his community on an individual level. In 2016, he completed a two-year term as board chair of the United Way of Greater Cleveland. In the six years before that, he led or served on several committees, including the Strategic Planning Committee. As head of that committee, he led a team of volunteers in developing a road map to guide United Way’s work as a community change agent in Greater Cleveland.

Buoncore is deeply committed to improving the ethos and culture of the company — one that serves to “take care of their clients, each other and community.” This mantra will continue to guide Buoncore and his team as the firm reaches new levels of success. ●


Mapledale Farm
Dave Johnson, President

Mapledale Farm President Dave Johnson’s strong faith and belief that we all should serve others guides his business and volunteerism both professionally and personally.
Johnson is in charge of community service for the Chardon Rotary, which has donated to multiple entities. The Claridon community received financial help and the Rotary donated to help needy women in Geauga County through county assistance. They made a monetary donation to Geauga hospital employees and started a drive for veterans to assist them monetarily and with housing and clothing resources.

Johnson was the first Chardon member of the chamber of commerce to host the “After Hours” networking event after the pandemic lockdown ended. He knew it was important for businesses to stay engaged, be optimistic about the future and have an opportunity to network and discuss with others how to work together, work through new challenges as business owners and find new ways to do business.

He and other Rotary members donated time and monies to the Geauga Faith Rescue, which helped provide resources for the homeless in Geauga County. Johnson and his team also volunteer at Hannah’s Home, a maternity home for single pregnant women 18 and older.

His approach to running a business and working with staff is that they all need to serve the community in which they live and work. Mapledale Farm is more than just a company; it is a place where people work together as a team and a family to serve others professionally and personally. ●


Orlando Baking Co.
John Orlando, President and CEO

The Orlando Baking Co. has been heavily involved with The Hunger Network because of John Orlando. Orlando has championed goals that prioritize improving access to food, addressing food insecurity and fighting hunger.

He has been a valued member of the Hunger Network Board of Trustees for many years. He has been in leadership roles on various subcommittees, sits on the Advancement Committee and was part of the 25th Silver Anniversary Campaign. He helped with the launch of the Hunger Network’s Food Rescue program, which has expanded tremendously in just a couple of years, and has rescued over 1 million pounds of food before it went to waste.

He also commits the company to corporate sponsorships for golf outings, charity runs and other fundraising events. The Hunger Network’s largest fundraiser, the Best Party, started as the Orlando Baking Company holiday party. The event continued for 30 years with ongoing financial support from Orlando Baking Co. and over the years has brought in well over $2 million to the nonprofit.

Orlando leads the company by personally participating in the annual monthly giving campaign and has gotten numerous employees and family members involved. Because of his commitment to fighting hunger, he is responsible for generating just over $220,000 from Orlando Baking Co. through monthly giving. His generosity and leadership in the fight against hunger and food insecurity have resulted in an estimated 10 million meals for those in need. Orlando’s dedication to helping others has helped make the community a better place. ●


reLink Medical
Jeffrey Dalton, CEO

CEO Jeff Dalton started reLink Medical three years ago with his father, Ray Dalton, to reinvent the way hospitals dispose of excess and out-of-service medical equipment. Through this work, tens of thousands of medical devices are processed in its warehouse and repurposed each month.

reLink Medical and its staff focus on hospital support, employee development and giving back to the community in strategic and meaningful ways. Profits from reLink go to The Dalton Foundation, which leads and operates other reLink not-for-profit endeavors.

The insightful and strategic solutions created by Dalton — supported by his staff of more than 50 employees — have grown to support over 1,000 hospital systems throughout the country. The impact they have had on these hospitals’ supply chains has led to a new way for hospitals to safely remove and manage out-of-service medical equipment. Unsold equipment is offered for donation to global nonprofits or recycled using R2 certified and landfill-free processes.

From the profits of reLink Medical, the Dalton Foundation started and funded in response to the opioid epidemic in Ohio. Illicit drug use and overdoses were on the rise and finding resources to help a loved one was extremely difficult. was launched to solve this problem. To date, there are over 7,200 organizations in the database and 63 unique service lines listed covering all 88 counties in Ohio. The public database helps anyone struggling with addiction, caught in human trafficking, or coming out of incarceration. ●


Sober Grid, Ascent Powered by Sober Grid
Beau Mann, CEO

Based in Cuyahoga County, Sober Grid, and its subsidiary, Sober First LLC d/b/a Ascent Powered by Sober Grid, are behavioral digital health organizations. Their services are used by individuals struggling with addiction, families working to help a loved one, treatment centers, drug courts and other recovery organizations.

In 2015, Founders Beau Mann and Nick Krasucki saw a gap in the continuum of care for individuals who suffer from substance use disorder. Sober Grid provides evidence-based addiction recovery peer coaching services that offer personalized support 24 hours a day to its members. It pairs its telehealth peer recovery coaching with a mobile application, Sober Grid, so members can access the largest recovery network and have the right support at the right time. The Sober Grid app has grown to over 250,000 members in 170 countries, and its mission remains the same: To help communities fight the effects of substance use disorder.

The organization provides non-facility-based telehealth services that begin with a recovery plan customized by the client, in concert with a coach. As the client moves forward in recovery, coaches remain accessible by phone. Clients also have access to an on-call coach directly through the app anywhere and at any time. The app allows members to interface with one another and provides a network of peer support, while giving the coaching team real-time access to clients at risk. ●


Union Home Mortgage Corp.
Bill Cosgrove, President and CEO

The Union Home Mortgage Foundation was established in 2015 as the charitable arm of Union Home Mortgage Corp. The foundation exists to equip families with the tools and resources to achieve economic self-sufficiency, striving to improve their financial health and empower them for responsible homeownership.

UHM partners used 550 hours of volunteer paid time off in 2019. Each full-time nonsales partner receives 16 hours of volunteer paid time off a year, and each part-time partner receives eight hours. With this, they can volunteer in areas where they are most passionate. Many departments host department-specific volunteer events, and individuals can use their hours for virtual volunteerism, which can be even more impactful than in-person events.

The company also holds an Intern Day of Service each summer, offering interns an opportunity to make a difference in their communities. This year, the Intern Day of Service went virtual in order to keep interns and nonprofits safe and healthy.

In 2019, UHM launched its first-ever financial literacy program, pairing with the nonprofit BALANCE. The financial literacy program included a free online resource library containing podcasts, articles, videos, worksheets and more on topics such as student loans, buying a car, buying a home, how to get out of debt, improving credit and others. This year, the company is launching a new program under its career readiness pillar called uLaunch, a program for high school students focusing on professional development. The curriculum touches on interviewing skills, communication, public speaking tips, leadership skills and more. ●


Medical Mutual Share Award


Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority
Jeffery Patterson, Chief Executive Officer

The global coronavirus pandemic led The Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority to pivot its focus to ensuring its housing communities and residents were safe and receiving the necessary resources — whether it be physical protective equipment or factual news — to combat the many unknowns as a result of the pandemic. CMHA has 60 developments providing approximately 10,000 housing units and 15,000 vouchers serving approximately 55,000 people in Cuyahoga County. Its employees stepped up to the challenge during these unprecedented times, assessing residents’ needs and establishing innovative ways of offering services. For example, CMHA provided residents with free services throughout the pandemic and collaborated with community partners with like-minded missions to continue serving residents during the crisis.

CMHA also created a resident hotline and one especially geared for its senior population for any concerns that they had. Residents were encouraged to engage with their property management offices by phone or email, and regularly scheduled “virtual meetings” took place with the CEO or staff by phone. There were many challenges trying to communicate with the residents, however, as many don’t have access to affordable internet. That’s why CMHA’s mission to bridge the digital divide continues more so now than ever so everyone can have internet services either free or at a low cost.

Additionally, with the assistance of CMHA leadership, CMHA residents created the Resident Response Initiative, which is responsible for ensuring that residents have accurate and helpful information, resources and tools to address the immediate needs necessary for combating the COVID-19 pandemic. Through this initiative, members from the CMHA Board of Commissioners, the CMHA leadership team, and the resident leadership council, worked together to create a positive impact on the community.

For example, the Resident COVID-19 Advisory Council was created to work in conjunction with the CMHA Resident Leadership Council and Progressive Action Council to conduct weekly meetings to assess the impact of the COVID-19 virus at CMHA properties and to provide suggestions on activities to serve its residents.

The Resident COVID-19 Action Team worked together to provide residents with tools, resources, and materials to combat the impact of the COVID-19 virus. Activities included seniors making masks for each other. These residents referred to themselves as the “CMHA Maskateers” and they create over 1,000 masks for fellow residents in the community. They also ensured that common areas in its residential properties were sanitized, and they delivered goods, food and services to residents who were unable to do so on their own.

CMHA residents also created the COVID-19 Senior Outreach Team, which focused on the health and safety of seniors by conducting regular wellness checks and ensuring that their needs were properly met.

CMHA residents and staff, together, are building strong communities that stand tall and stand out. They celebrate success, but most important, lend a hand when needed. ●


Nonprofit Board Executive of the Year Award


Jan Gusich
Board Member, North Coast Community Homes

Jan Gusich founded Akhia Communications with a simple mission — to serve clients beyond their expectations in everything the company does. With a career spanning more than 40 years, she has faced gender bias and cultural disparity, and created the agency in 1996 as a workplace based on culture, values and mutual respect.

Nearly a decade ago, Gusich used her guiding principles, values and dedication to help lead North Coast Community Homes, a Northeast Ohio nonprofit working to develop and maintain high-quality, safe and comfortable community housing for individuals with disabilities. She joined the board of trustees in 2011 and currently serves as vice chair of the board and chairperson of the Resource Development and Marketing Committee.

Over the past nine years, she has offered her expertise in public relationship, brand development, crisis communications and cultivating culture to the organization. In 2019, Gusich led communications initiatives for the NCCH Zero Threshold design competition. The initiative focused on elevating the idea of accessibility to be a universal and beautiful design.

She serves the organization as a leader committed to the people served by NCCH, serving as a good neighbor ambassador, visiting and providing social interaction to residents of a North Coast Community Home. In her leadership tenure, she has raised funds, awareness and support for the efforts to ensure housing for individuals with disabilities in neighborhoods throughout Northeast Ohio. Everyone deserves a home and good neighbors, and Gusich is helping make that possible for nearly 650 people. ●


Chris Mapes
Chairman, Northeast Ohio Board, American Red Cross

Chris Mapes, chairman, president and CEO of Lincoln Electric, serves as chairman of the American Red Cross Northeast Ohio Board.

During his two-year tenure, he has championed numerous initiatives, including spearheading fundraising efforts to procure a new Red Cross five-bed Bloodmobile by personally engaging countless business and community leaders to garner their financial support.

As chair, Mapes oversaw two highly successful board campaigns, which resulted in 100 percent board participation and exceeded both “give” and “get” board fundraising goals. And the Northeast Ohio Chapter and the Northern Ohio Region exceeded their annual fundraising goals despite significant revenue target adjustments due to national disasters and achieved more than 118 percent of their increased revenue target in FY20.

Mapes’ passion for the Red Cross mission of preventing and alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies is evident each year as he leads his Lincoln Electric team in its annual “Sound The Alarm” event in Euclid. During these Red Cross Preparedness and Prevention events, volunteers install thousands of free smoke alarms in partnership with the Red Cross and the local fire department.

His strategic insights and thoughtful approach to managing change provided a calming influence as the Red Cross underwent significant organizational restructuring during a global pandemic and one of the most devastating disaster seasons in the nation’s history. His keen ability to reassure fellow board members has been essential to their continued support and engagement during these challenging times. ●


Cameron Miele
Board of Trustees, Western Reserve Land Conservancy; Member of the Board of Directors for NEOPAT; Member of the Northern Ohio Advisory Board for A Kid Again; President of the Cameron & Katie Miele Foundation. Managing Director, Ellsworth Advisors LLC

Cameron Miele is an investment adviser representative and Certified Plan Fiduciary Advisor and serves as a managing director of Ellsworth Advisors. His nonprofit executive work and impact on the local area and families is extensive.

Since 2019, he has been a member of the Board of Trustees and Executive Committee for the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, one of the nation’s largest private land trusts. He has also been a member of the Northeast Ohio Foundation for Patriotism Board of Directors since 2019. NEOPAT promotes patriotism and service throughout Northeast Ohio, raising money to support local military families and military support organizations, and create awareness of issues affecting service members.

Since 2016, Miele has served as a member of the Northern Ohio Advisory Board for A Kid Again, an Ohio-based organization that provides hope, happiness and healing to families raising children with life-threatening illnesses. It provides fun-filled adventures that allow children with life-threatening conditions to feel like a kid again.

Miele is also president of the Cameron & Katie Miele Foundation, a private family foundation established by Cameron and Katie Miele. It provides support for organizations dedicated to helping families with children suffering from life-threatening illnesses and developmental disorders, those supporting the military and their families, and higher education. The secondary mission is for the Mieles’ three daughters to research and select organizations to support while becoming active volunteers. Since 2015, the foundation has provided more than $750,000 in direct support to worthy organizations. ●


Philanthropist of the Year


Umberto P. Fedeli
President and CEO, The Fedeli Group

Umberto P. Fedeli, president and CEO of The Fedeli Group, a privately held risk management and insurance firm, likes to get philanthropically involved where he can add value and make an impact.

He is an outspoken advocate of the Cleveland Clinic, having served on its board since 2000, and is the chair of its Government and Community Relations Committee. Fedeli has also served on the clinic’s executive committee and for more than a decade has served as event chair for the HeartThrob Ball, the annual gala that benefits Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital. It’s an event for which he has helped raise millions of dollars. His efforts for the clinic were commemorated in 2016 when Fedeli and his wife, Maryellen, were honored as Distinguished Fellows and inducted into the 1921 Society, the clinic’s highest benefactor circle, which honors those who have made extraordinary contributions of services and resources to the Cleveland Clinic.

Fedeli is also an honorary member of the Cleveland Catholic Diocese; is currently chairman of the Northern Ohio Italian American Foundation, a charitable organization that he helped establish in 1995’ and is a member of its Hall of Fame. He is the founder of the Cleveland Chapter of Legatus and was formerly on its International Board of Directors. He is currently a member of the World Presidents’ Organization and The 50 Club.

While these involvements highlight his philanthropic involvement, it’s not an exhaustive list. He and his wife contribute broadly and have hosted many events, both at their home and in the community, to further charitable causes. He says while it’s common to think of philanthropy as fundraising or contributions, there are other ways to give. One way he expresses his charity is by being a catalyst for relationships.

For the past 30 years, he has been hosting luncheons to bring people together. Those luncheons could include community leaders, business leaders and leaders of causes who can use the opportunity to share their work and interests with others. Introductions made at one of these events could kick off a campaign or get people together who can help one another help others.

Fedeli says Northeast Ohio has a wonderful giving community filled with caring people who make a difference in the lives of others. Some of those people work at The Fedeli Group. Associates within his insurance firm also give back to their communities. For example, in March 2019, two groups of employees from The Fedeli Group volunteered at the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. The first group helped assemble 1,827 meals, and the second group helped assemble 2,067 meals.

He says the best way to encourage charity is to set the example so that other people want to participate where and in ways they think they can make an impact. Ultimately, it’s about making a difference and finding ways to help others. ●


Nonprofit Executive Director of the Year


Julie Chase-Morefield
President and CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio

When Julie Chase-Morefield first arrived at the Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio, there were three part-time employees and five full time employees. The operating budget was $617,000 distributing three million pounds of food valued at $4.7 million. Her leadership style has resulted in the growth of Second Harvest. With a staff of 26 and over 3,000 volunteers, Second Harvest currently operates on a $3.45 million budget and distributed more than 12.3 million pounds of food and grocery products. Because of her guidance, Second Harvest is now the fourth largest nonprofit in Lorain County.

In the face of COVID-19 and economic downturn, Chase-Morefield knew the operational model needed to change and that Second Harvest would have to take the lead on getting food to people. In a six-month period, Second Harvest held 100 drive-through distributions at schools, parks and fairgrounds, doubling the nonprofit’s food distribution in the same period from the previous year from 3.05 million pound in 2019 to 6.63 million pounds in 2020. Second Harvest served 32,716 unique households and 98,308 individuals during that time period. The number of new families seeking help for the first time increased 42 percent.

Chase-Morefield has created new ways to look at old problems in food banking and measures everything against impact. Second Harvest was helping about 88,000 lives per year, but since COVID-19 and the subsequent economic downturn, the nonprofit is helping about 125,000 people per year improve their food security and their overall quality of life. ●


Judy Ghazoul Hilow
Executive Director, Malachi House

Judy Ghazoul Hilow, executive director of Malachi House, is gifted in many ways. The not-for-profit is a residence for people who are diagnosed as having less than six months to live with no means to pay for their care. Hilow leads the entity in strategic, marketing, financial and all operational functions. Given that it is a single-site, stand-alone enterprise housing up to 15 residents at a time, she must be hands on in all aspects of service for this home that never closes. Sometimes people arrive and pass away in those first 24 hours. Other times, people are there for months.

For over 30 years, Malachi House has maintained operations without government support. Hilow takes the lead for sourcing funding from commercial sponsors, foundations and individual and family contributors, ensuring the nonprofit continually meets the budget day after day and year after year. Today, there are plans for expansion — Hilow is pursuing an endowment to best ensure success for years to come. While running a highly efficient operation and preserving funds as best as possible, she doesn’t skimp on resident care, nor on the staff’s requirements to do the job well. She pursues various fundraisers to generate revenue and awareness and leads tours for corporate and civic leaders, as well as people in the community.

Hilow is a light to the community ,showing awareness, empathy and love to those Malachi House serves. With her leadership and vision, she is optimizing its success today and for the future. ●


Mike Matoney
CEO, Crossroads Health and New Directions

Mike Matoney, CEO of the affiliated nonprofit organizations Crossroads Health and New Directions, has worked nearly his entire career to positively impact young lives.

In 1981, he began his career with New Directions as a chemical dependency counselor in the residential treatment and recovery housing center for adolescents and young adults with substance use and mental health challenges. He worked his way through the ranks while continuing his education, earning his MBA from Cleveland State University and assuming his role at CEO of New Directions in 1994.

By 2011, he had positioned the organization for an innovative legal partnership with Crossroads Health in Lake County, a strategic partnership that proved successful for both agencies. The affiliation increased efficiencies with a shared board of directors and senior leadership team and is a model for developing strategic partnerships. In 2017, Matoney, along with the board of directors, negotiated a merger with Beacon Health, the largest adult behavioral health service in Lake County, allowing the organization to provide a comprehensive source of mental health and recovery services to individuals and families of all ages, at all stages of life, across Northeast Ohio.

Matoney is passionate about recovery and sober living. An approachable leader, his infectious enthusiasm and sincere care for others make an indelible impact on clients, parents, caregivers, staff, colleagues, board members, donors and community leaders. He has served as a consultant, presenter and surveyor for the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, setting professional standards for behavioral health care. ●


Sondra Miller
President and CEO, Cleveland Rape Crisis Center

As president and CEO of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, Sondra Miller has a laser focus on executing strategic plans. That has allowed the organization to experience unprecedented growth, including in revenue and the number of full-time employees, locations and people impacted by its services. Miller has capitalized on these initiatives and expanded the CRCC footprint within Northeast Ohio. Under her leadership, CRCC has increased its annual revenue by 458 percent, in large part because of Miller’s efforts to secure support from the Ohio Attorney General’s Victims of Crime Act. It’s also increased the number of locations by 900 percent, expanding from one central location to offer services closer to survivors’ homes. Miller has helped Cleveland Rape Crisis Center adapt services to a digital world. In 2016, Miller led the development and launch of the first-ever online hotline and text to chat function, allowing survivors to reach out to an advocate anywhere, anytime, ensuring that CRCC is there to answer every call for services. She’s increased the number of full-time employees by more than 200 percent and increased the number of people impacted by services by 235 percent, through prevention and education programs, individual counseling, advocate programs in hospitals and justice systems.

Along with her staff, Miller is working to create lasting and impactful change, inspiring and driving organizational transformation by engaging stakeholders in a highly collaborative process. Her unique skillset is helping drive change for survivors of rape and sexual abuse, and for the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. ●


Kent Clapp CEO Leadership Award


Chris Mapes
President and CEO, Lincoln Electric
Chairman, Northeast Ohio Board, American Red Cross

As American Red Cross Northeast Ohio board chair, Chris Mapes has demonstrated selfless and inspirational servant leadership heading up the nonprofit’s more than 45-member board of directors. It’s clear, through both his attitude and deeds, that Mapes has a personal passion for the Red Cross mission of preventing and alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies.

Under Mapes’ leadership, the Northeast Ohio Chapter and the larger Northern Ohio Region exceeded annual fundraising goals, achieving well above their increased revenue target for fiscal year 2020. The nonprofit was able to accomplish that despite significant revenue target adjustments that were made as the country faced the dual challenges of one of the most devastating disaster seasons in its history and a global pandemic brought on by COVID-19. That success can be attributed in part to Mapes’ positive can-do attitude.

Overseeing the Northern Ohio Region’s busiest and most populous chapter, Mapes played a crucial leadership role this year. The chapter he chairs increased the number of counties served by 33 percent and the entire region expanded by 41 percent. His strategic insights and thoughtful approach to managing change were a calming influence during a difficult period as the Red Cross underwent significant organizational restructuring in the midst of a global pandemic. He was, through the change, able to reassure fellow board members, something that was recognized as essential in maintaining their support and engagement to achieve that goal despite myriad and sometimes unforeseen challenges.

Mapes has been the driving force behind numerous Red Cross initiatives. Recently, he led the fundraising efforts to procure a new five-bed Bloodmobile valued at more than $500,000. He personally engaged business and community leaders to get financial support for the Bloodmobile, which will collect thousands of life-saving blood products during its years of service to the American Red Cross and the community.

Mapes has also overseen two incredibly successful board campaigns that resulted in full board participation and exceeded the board’s fund-raising goals. These successes led directly to increased support from corporations and foundations that use board participation as an organizational litmus test for future funding determinations.

Mapes, who is also chairman, president and CEO of Lincoln Electric, personally led his team from Lincoln Electric in its annual “Sound The Alarm” event in Euclid. The team of Lincoln Electric volunteers installed smoke alarms in partnership with the Red Cross and the local fire department, resulting in thousands of free alarms installed, hundreds of families educated on fire safety and hundreds of homes in Euclid made safer.

Thanks to Mapes’ leadership, Lincoln Electric was the first organization to receive the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio Partnership Award. It was given because of the company’s sponsorship of blood drives, volunteerism, hosting Red Cross training classes and financial donations.

Integrity, intensity, intelligence

Five suggestions for peak performance

As leaders, the way we lead is influenced by what we read, experience and learn. We learn some from our successes, but we learn significantly more from our mistakes.

We can also learn from others who are successful in their specialties. (Why make the same mistakes when we can learn from others?) We learn by watching what we like in leaders and what we don’t like.

We may realize that the way an executive handled a situation conflicts with our values, the way we want to treat people. In life, before we figure out what we want to do, we have to figure out who we want to be. This can happen by taking these five actions.

  • Have a commitment to lifelong learning.
  • Play to your strengths.
  • Realize your weaknesses.
  • Put the right people in the right place.
  • Engage your team and customers by communicating effectively.

Of course, if peak performance were as simple as doing these five things, then we’d all be more successful. Peak performance requires balancing the many roles and responsibilities we have in life, and that is something I struggle with daily. It’s so easy to lose our balance, and then we risk developing other challenges. We may be thriving in business but straining our personal relationships. And, if we don’t pay attention to our health, how can we be at the top of our game?

According to Gerald Bell, Ph.D., founder of The Bell Leadership Institute, to be a peak performer, we have to balance seven major aspects of life — family, personal, health, financial, career, spiritual and fun/happy. I know what Bell says is true because I have not always been in balance in my own life.

No one is perfect, and we are all a work in progress. We all need to be on a journey for continuous improvement. Balance is one critical aspect for achieving peak performance. At The Fedeli Group, we identify three key characteristics that all associates should embrace. We call them the Three I’s: Integrity, Intensity and Intelligence.

  • Integrity involves being honest in dealings with co-workers, strategic partners, clients and associates. It means adhering to high ethical standards and being trustworthy. We also ask our associates to have these commitments: lifelong learning, being proactive and being collegial, congenial, cooperative and collaborative with colleagues.
  • Intensity is a focus on work, completion of projects and treating one’s tasks with a sense of urgency. Nothing happens without a sense of urgency. Deadlines help us achieve our goals.
  • Intelligence involves the knowledge of one’s discipline. And it is emotional, including self-awareness, motivation, empathy and social skills. It means being curious and seeking a deeper understanding of the industry, clients and oneself. We also need to be intellectually honest and see things for the way they really are, not the way we think they are. That is why it’s important to have mentors, advisers and friends to share knowledge and ideas, and to gain honest feedback.

Peak performance requires constant self-refection and feedback. We can improve those seven areas of our lives Bell talks about by adopting these five actions, and not allowing obstacles or egos to get in the way of doing the right thing. Keep the end goal in mind — and enjoy the journey.

Umberto P. Fedeli is CEO of The Fedeli Group

Reflect on mistakes and learn from mentors

Ray Dalio, hedge fund manager and philanthropist, started Bridgewater Associates in 1975 and has grown it to one of the most successful U.S. investment companies. His famous prescription for progress — “Pain plus reflection equals progress” — is important to remember in every aspect of our lives, in our work, family, business, investing and relationships.

We can learn far more from our failures than from our successes. This is why I’m willing to share my mistakes, and I’ll admit to making many of them throughout my life. The key is to avoid repeating your mistakes and to learn from the setbacks of others. Also, there is great value in sharing lessons learned with others so they can take away gems of experience to apply to their own lives.

I spend a great deal of time reflecting on circumstances and their outcomes, and extracting lessons from them. We must be intellectually honest with ourselves, and that is not easy. We have to see things the way they are rather than how we think they are. When we identify our mistakes, reflect on them and extract lessons, we grow as individuals.

Most of the time, when we are intellectually honest about what went wrong, the answers can be evident. Why did we lose a client? Maybe we didn’t meet their expectations. Perhaps we didn’t do ordinary things in an extraordinary way, as Mother Teresa taught. It’s possible that we dropped the ball. We neglected to do the basic blocking and tackling. The key is to ask, “What did we do wrong? And what can we do differently next time to get better results? How do we improve?”

For example, with investing, we looked at 12 years and more than 400 stock picks and discovered a pattern. My mistake, over and over again, was buying stocks that were inexpensive, but they weren’t necessarily high-quality companies. They were value traps. My other error was buying high-quality companies that weren’t growing very much. Learning from these mistakes and others and relying on the expertise of internal and external advisers have paid off in dividends.

In business, I’ve learned that we need high performers in the right roles who are a cultural fit and focus on the eight Es: Encounter. Embrace. Engage. Encourage. Empathize. Energize. Empower. Execute! I reflect on decisions and ask, “What went wrong?” When intellectually honest, the answers are more evident.

It all goes back to The Who. Our lives are only as great as the people we involve in them. If the who isn’t right, then the what doesn’t matter. In some cases, the issue is not having the right people in the right spots. Our organizations are only as strong as the team members we recruit, retain and develop. Other times, a plan failed, but more often, the problem is because of poor execution.

Figure out who you want to be, what you want to do and where you want to go. Then, align yourself with people of integrity, knowledge and experience. Learn from them, and look for opportunities to give back as a mentor to others.

In life, it’s important to seek out individuals who set a positive example, who embrace the three I’s: Integrity, Intelligence and Intensity. Mentors and advisers can fill the gaps of knowledge where we fall short. I don’t necessarily know the answers, but perhaps I know those who do have the expertise. We can help each other by sharing knowledge and experience.

Umberto P. Fedeli is CEO of The Fedeli Group

Striving for balance

Valuable characteristics for life and investing

In life, we often talk about the importance of balance. The same is true with investing.

Focus, patience, confidence and humility are valuable characteristics in business, personal relationships and investment decisions. However, being too focused can get in the way of leveraging opportunities. Being so patient that you are stubborn can result in not admitting mistakes. Here are some important yet difficult balances to strive for.

Focus and flexibility

A disciplined process is important in investing, and that includes developing a checklist to guide decision-making. Maintaining this focus is critical, but it’s just as important to be flexible, open-minded and opportunistic.

I try to focus on investing in businesses that have a durable, sustainable, competitive advantage — a three-legged stool of quality, value and growth. However, I also attempt to keep an open mind to promising opportunities, even if they don’t exactly meet these qualifications.

  • Quality. When I invest in things where price is attractive but overestimate quality, I sometimes make mistakes. Quality refers to the competitive advantages of the business, and the quality of the industry and management.
  • Value. Just because the price is low doesn’t mean it’s a good investment. I’ve had my share of value traps. The only way to avoid them is to invest in high-quality companies with strong long-term growth prospects.
  • Growth. If you invest in a high-quality company with growing earnings per share and free cash flow at a strong rate, you may do well even paying a fair price.

Patience and stubbornness

I can be too patient and hold on to a stock that is not performing as I expected. Successful investors and businesspeople admit mistakes and move on.

A stock might take a turn for the worse before it gets better, requiring patience. But there’s a fine line between patience and stubbornness. Stubbornness is holding on to a stock that isn’t performing, holding you back from opportunities to buy something better.

But being too patient can cause you to compromise your values. And, if you are stubborn, you could be viewing things as the way you want them to be, rather than the way they really are.

Art and science

There is a science to investing in the technical annual reports rich with data and research. Analyzing the numbers can reveal hidden assets or potential liabilities. It takes a thoughtful, experienced investing professional to delve into the data and provide strategic investment direction.

There is also an art to investing, where intuition, life experiences and instinct come into play. It’s the heart part, and the side I find most intriguing.

Ideally, there is a balance between making decisions based on analytics and instinct. When we only look at the quantitative factors to select investments, we might overlook qualitative factors like culture or human behavior that can significantly influence stock value. If we only make decisions based on instinct, our emotions can lead us to buy or sell when it’s not advantageous.

Even the best investors have strengths and weaknesses. Be honest about what you don’t know and enlist investment and industry experts who can share their knowledge to guide sound investment decision-making.

Umberto P. Fedeli is CEO of The Fedeli Group

Dealmakers see signs of a thaw in ice-cold M&A market

COVID-19 has thrown cold water on what was, just months ago, a white-hot dealmaking market.

The pandemic and the government-mandated business closures that followed have created widespread uncertainty that has led to a big chill. Sellers whose businesses have faced significant disruption have largely been hesitant to transact over concern that the market might demand lower-than-2019 valuations. Buyers who are chasing anything but businesses sturdy through the disruption are having trouble projecting what future-year revenues might look like given the pandemic’s effect on … well, everything.

So, where does that leave business owners who want an exit? Or buyers who are either cash-saturated or eager to put their still record levels of dry powder to work? We talked to several leading dealmaking professionals in the Northeast Ohio region ahead of the Smart Business Dealmakers Conference to find out what’s next for the M&A market.

Pause in the market

Back in December 2019 — which, in pandemic time, might as well be eons ago — the outlook was incredibly positive for M&A in 2020. Deal activity was expected to continue to be high, company revenues were expected to break record levels and any words of criticism from buyers were typically around the too-high valuations. Then came March. Shutdowns closed businesses off from customers and their supply chains, as well as travel and in-person meetings, often freezing diligence and, in many cases, dealmaking processes.

Joe DiRocco, Fifth Third Bank

“If a company was in a late-stage deal, they may have taken a pause to reassess, or the deal may have slowed, but in most cases, it is still moving forward,” says Joe DiRocco, regional president at Fifth Third Bank. “For those in early stages, it really depends on the company and their goals. Some have been cautious and choose to hold, while others look at this time as a unique opportunity.”

For some private equity firms and investors, the initial response to the pandemic was to protect current investments to help them survive. That may have also led them to pause their search processes.

“Our priority right now is to just stabilize what we have,” says Bob Campana, CEO of Campana Capital. “If a unique opportunity comes up, certainly we’ll entertain it. We’re still on offense, but stability is the most important thing.”

Bob Campana, Campana Capital

While Stewart Kohl, co-CEO of The Riverside Co., says the firm’s ability to look for deals has been relatively unaffected by the pandemic, what has been affected is the availability of new deals. Kohl says around the third week of March, about when the shutdowns began,

Stewart Kohl, The Riverside Co.

“There was an immediate chilling of the market. Sellers who had started processes, in many cases, withdrew them. People who hadn’t started the process already weren’t going to start it with that much uncertainty, and that prevailed in April and May.”


The effects of the pandemic on businesses, however, have been uneven, and that’s kept values and activity high in some sectors. Chris Adams, president and CEO of Park Place Technologies, says some businesses are booming right now, and there’s a lot of activity and M&A in those industries.

Chris Adams, Park Place Technologies

“It depended on where the business sat relative to how COVID affected them,” Adams says. “I think there was also some constriction in the debt markets. So some of the neutral deals, where they were OK businesses, I think what happened there, from talking with investment bankers, is the buyers tried to push the price down to try to take advantage of COVID. So the sellers said, ‘Let’s just sit back and wait six months to a year,’ and they often would use the debt as an explanation for that. But from what I can tell, the good businesses are still doing pretty well.”


Deals at a discount

Signs of a thaw, however, are starting to show in the frigid M&A market.

“It was absolutely dead from March through May, and we saw no transactions at all,” says Steven Ross, president of Squire Ridge Co. LLC. “We clearly saw deal activity start to pick back up in June, and we have been seeing a steady flow of deals over the past four to six weeks.”

Owners might now be more willing to sell, but there’s still the matter of at what price. There’s concern on the sell side about a potential loss of value from the disruption, and that, on the buy side, is being seen as an opportunity to find deals at a discount.

Jon Pinney, Kohrman Jackson & Krantz LLP

“The companies that can’t make it through this cycle, who probably didn’t have the right balance sheet to push through a downturn like this, those companies will be available,” says Jon Pinney, managing partner at Kohrman Jackson & Krantz LLP. “We probably won’t see distressed sales pick up until the fourth quarter and into 2021. The cycle from default to some type of distress workout or liquidation, it takes a lot longer than people think. Looking back on 2008, we were still working on a lot of distressed transactions in 2011 and 2012. But you’ll see the first real signs of it, probably the earliest signs, in the fourth quarter and then throughout 2021.”

But to determine whether a company is actually distressed or has just experienced temporary hardship requires diligence. And the diligence process, like everything else, has been challenged by the disruption.

Diligence challenges

“For companies where they have those significant challenges — an inability to forecast and an inability to leverage their historical supply chain — if they’re not able to represent that their receivables are collectible because their customers are struggling, that’s a tough situation to sell a business in,” says David Dunstan, managing director of Citizens Capital Markets.

He says when there’s a lot of uncertainty, companies are better off waiting, unless there’s a compelling reason to continue, such as teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. But for those that are somewhere in the middle, making the call is more difficult.

David Dunstan, Citizens Capital Markets

“From a diligence standpoint, it creates new challenges trying to advise,” Dunstan says. “If you’re the diligence provider to the buyer, giving them comfort that the receivables are collectible, that the inventory is saleable, that the forecast is valid, is going to be really tough unless the company has a clear path back to normalcy.”

For companies in a good position, however — those with recurring revenue, contracts, in a sector that’s less affected — there could be a clear path to diligence. But for those that aren’t, it’s expected to be very difficult, and that could manifest in the value.

“There’s no other way for a buyer to really account for some of these uncertainties except for with purchase price and then structuring earn outs and other things to make up for it once things do return to more normalized levels,” he says.

Umberto P. Fedeli, The Fedeli Group

And diligence has been affected in other ways. Social distancing protocols and restrictions on travel and occupancy have forced many deals to be done around a digital table. Teleconferencing has replaced dinners, and in at least one case, camera-saddled drones have done facility tours in place of in-person visits.

For some, deals can still get done without the handshake. But something is lost when interactions happen via the internet.

“We have learned that we can do a lot more through technology,” says Umberto P. Fedeli, president and CEO of The Fedeli Group. “But I also think we also are losing something. It’s very hard to build rapport. And in business, culture is probably among the most important ingredients. It’s hard to have that same feel when you can’t meet people and talk to them and see them face to face. Some people are fine. There are others who feel really out of place.”

Professional help

Because diligence is so challenged at the moment, there’s a more compelling reason for both buyers and sellers to get professional support before going to market.

“I say, for sellers, get the lawyers involved as early as possible,” says Jayne Juvan, chair of M&A, securities & capital markets at Tucker Ellis LLP.

Jayne Juvan, Tucker Ellis LLP

She says it’s now more important than ever for sellers to make sure that their company’s house is in order before going on the market. That means partnering with legal counsel as trusted business advisers very early on. And on the buy side, she says it’s important to do a deep dive and make sure that buyers are comfortable with the quality of the asset being targeted.

“Have you done background checks on the executives, for example, who own the business, who are selling it to you?” Juvan says. “In a heavily regulated industry, is there any misconduct that has criminal implications that, even if it’s a pre-closing liability that you’re not assuming, could cause you to get swept up in a governmental investigation? Partnering with legal counsel in order to make sure that you truly understand what you buy is key.”

Steven Ross, Squire Ridge Co. LLC

M&A has been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic in a lot of ways. Navigating these new complexities will take knowledge, patience and, in many cases, guidance, to reach a successful outcome. But even though the disruption has changed even the most basic aspects of a deal — a handshake, for instance — some things remain the same.

“Be opportunistic,” says Squire Ridge’s Ross. “If a company was a business you would have wanted to own before COVID-19, rest assured it will be a company you want to own post-COVID-19.”