Every business begins with a marriage and launches in the whirlwind of a honeymoon. It is a frenetic, wonderful time. There is intense product research to be done, successive meetings with vendors and potential clients, and marketing campaigns to plot. Finally your product is flowing on and off the shelves and capital is at last coming back into the firm. Now it begins.
You wake up one morning, look across at the other principals in the company, and wish you’d had a better pre-nuptial agreement. The honeymoon is over.
The New Jersey Bar Foundation agrees that creating a business is exhilarating. To help entrepreneurs enter this blissful state with their eyes open a little wider, it presents “Starting a New Business” on Wednesday, February 23, at 7 p.m. at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick. Free. Call 732-937-7518. This lecture features two attorneys from Roseland-based Wolff Block, Barry Bendes and Lee Holzman.
“More important than a good lawyer,” says Bendes, “the entrepreneur getting started really must have a great accountant.” Odd remarks from an attorney, perhaps, but more understandable when one considers this speaker’s background. A born and bred New Yorker, Bendes’ father, mother, brother and sister are all accountants.
Bendes attended Queens College (Class of 1971), where he earned a triple-major in economy, political science, and speech. He earned his law degree from New York University.
Working for two small Manhattan law firms, Bendes established himself as a trial lawyer specializing in corporate law. Then stepping out from behind the attorney’s desk, he got down in the trenches and took on the administrative vice presidency of Emerson Computers in North Bergen. “It was an inventive, energetic place, and it took an awful lot to keep on top of all of the business going on,” he says.
For the two years that Bendes has been with the law firm of Wolff Block, he has specialized in business law. He is a frequent speaker for the New Jersey Bar Foundation.
“Too many people start a businesses as if it were a hobby,” says Bendes. “They either want to treat it as a part-time job or they want to delve into the intricacies of today’s problems with never a thought toward tomorrow.” The companies that endure are the ones that foresee the eventualities and have already set in place boilerplate solutions.
Assigning roles. Most businesses are launched by the combined energies of the entrepreneur/inventor and the supposedly more silent backer — emphasis on the “supposedly.” It would contradict all human nature to imagine a truly silent angel who merely opens his purse and never his mouth, quietly pouring his coin into the company coffers. Once the product is ready for market, this previously taciturn capitalist often demands a say in everything from hiring and vendor selection to the color of office furniture.
“It’s a simple matter of running through all the possible upcoming decisions and working out placement of responsibility,” says Bendes. You can model yourself on other firms, but there are no absolutes. In many firms the board holds final firing/hiring veto, in others that responsibility rests with department heads. The trick is to hammer out specific, shared duties beforehand. Think of what best makes the company run smoothly, rather than what gives you the most power.
Resolving differences. Disputes, death, and taxes: count on them. The former can prove somewhat less traumatic than the other two if there is an agreed upon dispute management plan that includes several fallbacks. “The absolute last thing you want to do,” says Bendes, “is take your problems to court. The second to last thing you want to do is air them before a strange lawyer.” Less drastic and far less costly dispute resolution methods include establishing an inter-company mediation, or arbitration, or even a grievance committee. Partner-level disputes may most easily be handled through board member or outside mediation.
Planning for succession. Unlike marriage, business partnerships are not designed to last until death do the parties part. While you are still laboring at the term-sheet level, it is wise to construct some sort of buy-out plan. Figure the tangible and non-tangible assets of ownership, then decide how partners may divest themselves of holdings while still keeping the company functioning as steadily as possible.
For partnerships that do last right up to the doors of eternity, problems may still exist for those struggling on this mortal plain. If no previous arrangement was made, the surviving company principal may find himself newly partnered with a wholly disinterested widow.
This is tough enough if the deceased functioned on the funding side of the business, but if he was CEO, he may well have carried all the basic operating secrets to the grave. “Not only must a line of succession be clearly and legally established,” says Bendes, “but all partners should take out insurance on each other.” Personal wills and corporate contracts should be checked to avoid conflict.
Slicing the pie. “Amazing as it seems,” says Bendes, “many companies start up with absolutely no contingency for handling profit. The capital at last begins rolling in and the two or three partners have made no evaluation as to whose labor merits what percent of earnings.”
Just as frequently company partners decide to give themselves salaries that are dependent on a steady income flow. If profits fluctuate for one quarter, the entire firm, even though strong, could have trouble paying those salaries. A well forged profit participation plan laced with fiscal reality contingencies may not engender more income, but it goes a long way toward keeping spending efficient and keeping everyone satisfied.
If you have enough optimism to start a company, you probably have enough faith to believe it will last into the future. So why not take all that energetic preparation you and your partners are lavishing on the honeymoon and carry it on over to planning for your business’s tomorrows. After all, yours could just be one of those seven percent of American businesses that gets passed down for three generations.
— Bart Jackson
African-American Chamber Goes Global
The Metropolitan Trenton African American Chamber of Commerce (MTAACC) commands a global clout. Ken Mehlman, recently appointed head of the Republican National Committee, gives the keynote at MTAACC’s seventh annual awards dinner on Thursday, February 24, at 6 p.m. at Trenton Marriott’s Lafayette Restaurant. International honorees include R. Yofi Grant, executive director of Databank Financial Services of Accra, Ghana, and Gail Jackson, owner of Negril Tree House Resort in Jamaica, both winging in for the night’s awards and the next’s morning’s panel discussions. Cost for the dinner event: $125. Cost for Friday’s seminars, which begin at 8 a.m.: $95. Call 609-393-5933.
Joining this impressive list of recipients are New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey; Joann Mitchell, vice president and chief of staff of the University of Pennsylvania; and Chicago-based Keith Henry, regional head of Merrill Lynch. But amid the evening’s dazzling array of rank, do not fail to take note of one other award winning achiever, a man whose life’s work has made him one of Trenton’s elder business statesmen.
Most painters of canvas would consider themselves fortunate to gain as much renown as has been earned by Trenton house painter Lawrence Ransom. In a trade rife with competitors, Ransom has never worried about fluctuating markets or beating out the other guy. Rather, for the past 45 years he has run a profitable business by following a few, old-fashioned business precepts.
At age 75, Ransom still hasn’t quite set down the tools and retired from his painting and carpentry business. “They say they’re giving me a lifetime achievement award for 45 years,” he says. “Actually it’s been a lot longer than that.” Operating throughout Trenton, Ransom’s father, who earned both a good living and local respect as a quality house painter, brought his son into the trade at age 12.
“From the beginning my daddy started me right off on the baseboards,” Ransom recalls. “Ninety percent of painting is doing the edges — and those baseboards, I guess, is where I got my steady hand.” The splashy, oil-based paints used during young Ransom’s apprenticeship seemed designed for easy error and great cleanup penalties. Yet with his father’s example, he adopted his own insistence on excellence.
Ransom’s business foundation came from Trenton High School, where he learned how to read blueprints along with the finer points of basic carpentry.
By the time he was on his own, Ransom realized that more services made you more in demand. Virtually no one wanted painting without repair. He became well known for his ability to strip away 200 years of crumbling history on Trenton’s Revolution-era structures. In addition to just decorating a wall, Ransom Painting & Contracting could build a new one, insulate it, sheet rock it, add a window — then paint it any color you wanted. All of this was done with the Ransom trademark: a fanatical insistence on quality. “I tell you what,” he says, “over the years I’ve lost money on a few jobs. But never have I had one complaint.”
Race is a factor that seldom, if ever, appears on Ransom’s business radar. Was it difficult for him, as a young black man several decades before the Civil Rights movement, to starting his own business? Waving the intent of the question aside, he responds: “I have found out one thing. It is easy for a man to get into a business if he loves what he does every day — and I always have.”
But what about changes, those things that have made businesses easier for you socially, or any other way? Ransom pauses, and then says “about 14 years ago, we got that boom that can hoist a man right up to the painting spot. So much easier than all that scaffolding.” In other words, Ransom was saying that the key to succeeding business is dealing with the business, not fretting about outside distractions.
As his company’s reputation grew, many young painters sought employment with Ransom Painting & Contracting. Generally he keeps his crews small: Five men when he painted St. Gregory the Great school, six when he was contracted to do several Princeton schools. He claims the reason for his popularity as an employer is that “Ransom pays when he says.”
Though Ransom makes this remark with a smile, he does find himself disturbed by many of today’s apprentices, who appear, as he puts it “to be in it only for the dollar.” When one of the workers fails to live up to his standards, Ransom does the job over himself.
More than an employer, Ransom has been a one-man small business generator. Dozens of his long-time workers have gone off to open their own contracting businesses. “I feel proudest of that,” he says, “and I think they come away with a lot more than how to handle a brush.” The mark of a good business leader is his ability to grow success not only for himself, but for those around him.
The great animator Walt Disney was fond of saying that “if you are absolutely the best S.O.B. out there, they have to hire you. They have no choice.” For at least 45 years Mr. Ransom has been knocking over his clients with the absolute best. His simple, exacting life’s work stands as proof that quality overcomes all barriers.
The next time you visit Nassau Inn’s Tap Room, stroll along the picture gallery of national leaders — Princeton University graduates all. Imagine if you had the responsibility — and privilege — of selecting just the right students and providing just the right human environment for the next group of leaders in every imaginable field. Such is the challenge that has fallen to Joann Mitchell, both at Princeton and currently at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was recently named vice president and chief of staff.
On Thursday, February 24, at 6 p.m. at the Trenton Marriott, the MTAACC honors Mitchell along with an impressive list of notables at its annual awards dinner. Cost: $125. Call 609-393-5933. (See article above for more details.)
For Mitchell the goal of fostering the ideal human environment has been one held since her earliest college career. Graduating from North Carolina’s Davidson College with a B.A. in psychology in l978, Mitchell earned a law degree from Vanderbilt in l981. While clerking for the general counsel of Fisk University, she worked for the Tennessee Human Rights Commission. She then joined the law firm of Manson, Jackson & Associates, where she tried civil rights cases. But academe seem to provide a better playing field, both for her aims and for her talents.
Returning to Vanderbilt, she headed that school’s equal opportunities office. The University of Pennsylvania then invited her to take over its affirmative action program, which she directed for seven years before being wooed by Princeton, where she served as associate provost for the next seven years. Penn lured her back last year, when she was appointed vice president and chief of staff.
Leaders can spring from any soil, but an Ivy League education sure doesn’t hurt. “It is from here that those who affect our society will come,” says Mitchell, “and it is our job to provide them with a rich and varied experience both in and out of the classroom.”
Affirming the action. In June 2003 the Supreme Court upheld the process of collegiate affirmative action by ruling that the University of Michigan could consider race among its admissions criteria. For those who still clung to the old l960s concepts of affirmative action this smacked of reverse discrimination.
But for Mitchell this has nothing to do with giving some ethnic group an educational leg-up in response to historical injustice. “You are trying to build a class,” she says. “You want their days to be filled with as many diverse and meaningful interactions as possible.” This enriched experience on campus is the goal.
But don’t we want to reserve our highest pinnacles of learning for only the absolute cream of young minds? Shouldn’t the Ivy League be accepting only the best students? “Emphatically yes,” says Mitchell, “but students are not numbers. They are individuals. We could populate our top schools with only valedictorians with 1600 SAT scores, and would still be turning such candidates away.” In short, you cannot quantify quality.
Mitchell’s policy has always been to examine the whole candidate, his achievements, and his life experiences. How should we, she asks, compare one applicant who has gone through the very best preparatory schools and done well, with another who has struggled up through a third rate educational system to achieve test numbers nearly as high?
Leadership unleashed. “We are looking for students who can both gain and give,” says Mitchell. “We want the best scholars who can take every advantage of the experiences offered but we equally seek people who will share that knowledge and spread their abilities throughout society.”
A large part of this preparation for giving comes from knowing where the needs lie. Is it better for a leader in pubic health to have risen from a poor section of the globe, with abominable healthcare, or is it better for him to come from a background where healthcare technology is cutting edge and research progresses daily? Mitchell’s answer is that society would be best served by individuals of each background living and studying together as roommates.
Free at last? Mitchell chuckles softly, “oh yes, people of color certainly have made great strides within our nation since I was a young woman lawyer in Nashville 25 years ago. We even have a black woman as president of Brown.” Nationwide, however, she says that women and minorities still hold too small a representation in leadership positions. Pockets of ethnic, racial, and gender resistance still abound.
She points to a study done by a colleague where written job applications were filled in first with a black-sounding name (e.g. Laticia Jackson) and second applications were made with a white-sounding name (e.g. Marcy Taylor). The “applicants” with white-sounding names made out better.
The news is not all bad, though, particularly in the business community. Perhaps it is the onset of harsher competition or the age of international communication, but Mitchell sees businesses of all sizes ignoring old barriers and encouraging diversity of staff. “Interestingly, many of the letters we got during the fight for Michigan’s affirmative action defense were from major business leaders,” she says.
Diversity has entered the corporate world and the halls of the Ivy League, as well. If Mitchell is right, the mix will forge even stronger leaders for our future.
Product Lifecycle Management
It is another case of technology boosting the smaller guys up onto the big boys’ playing field. For the past decade major corporations with far flung divisions have become obsessed with data consolidation. They sought complete and single packaging of a product’s entire information, accessible to all. They found it in a custom computer system called product lifecycle management, and it proved to be just the cost saver for which the big companies were looking.
Now a novel software is bringing this advantage to smaller companies with a wholly different set of benefits. As a preview of its May-dated new product launch, the PDXpert PLM, a product lifecycle tool, is to be demonstrated at a New Jersey Technology Council seminar, “Product Lifecycle Management,” on Tuesday, March 1, at 5 p.m. at the Rutgers Administrative Services Building III in New Brunswick. Cost: $20. Visit www.NJTC.org.
Edward Allwein, creator of the software and president of Colorado-based Active Sensing (www.acsensi.com), discusses how the PDXpert PLM aids companies with 150 or fewer users.
Allwein is an inventor entrepreneur. Following a childhood spent in several locales up and down the East Coast Allwein attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, graduating with an electrical engineering degree in l978. He also holds an MBA from Wagner College with a specialty in electronic instrumentation.
In the early-1980s, the heyday of the PC, working first for Franklin Computers and then for Tandem Computers in California, Allwein reveled in pushing new capabilities into these amazing machines. “Computers were all fun and exciting then,” he recalls. “Now so much of it is just grinding out product.”
By l993 Allwein developed his first version of Product Lifecycle Management and brought it to market by founding Active Sensing. For the next 10 years the invention took off and brought in substantial profits. Then, in 2003, Allwein set down the entrepreneurial reins for an 18-month stint as chief engineer for Eco Star Environmental Group in order to acquire research funds for PDXpert PLM. By spring Active Sensing plans to put this new business software on the shelves.
The life pattern of a given product simply does not lend itself to a consolidated history. The new product gets invented and improved by design engineers who store all that data in one set of files. The production engineers and managers keep a separate set of records on its manufacture, the necessary components, and their own necessary design changes. The finance and accounting departments each amass bulging banks of data on every aspect of cost, none of which is ever seen by anyone outside the department. In short everyone keeps his own ledger. The left hand remains ignorant of the right.
Over the years business has set up convenient, but artificial, stages of development, including design, production, and marketing. Information gets stored around the structure of the company, not around the life of a particular product. Surely in this age of increasingly smart software we can do both? Yes indeed says Allwein, even small companies integrate data — and may reap tremendous rewards.
Staff savings. Allwein pats his miracle PDXpert PLM. “Look, I’ve just given you another engineer,” he says. Consolidating the entire stream of information on a product brings about what Allwein calls “a cascade of benefits, leading to greatly compressed development time.”
When it comes time for the design crew to develop a new product, they can examine every aspect of the old one. They can create with an eye toward the use of existent parts and tools. They can swiftly determine what can’t be produced as is, and how to tweak it for production. Cost effectiveness and even customer feedback are all arrayed before the designer as he considers the new item. No time-squandering meetings, and the designer comes up a hero in every department’s eyes.
Waste retrieval. When John D. Rockefeller took over his first metalworking plant, he noted with horror all the bits of lead solder that fell to the ground during operation. Legend has it that he thriftily had the men sweep the plant floor each day and sort out this lead and recycle it. An interesting tale, but was he saving money, or actually incurring unnecessary labor costs?
Today costly amounts of such items as platinum and gold wire are employed even in small manufacturing jobs. The folks in accounting can work out a formula and tell the crew on production precisely how far a retrieval effort may go to be profitable — but only if they are sharing data from their own departments. This cost differential can then easily be processed into the sales and pricing areas.
Regulatory compliance. “I want to see every piece of paper from conception to testing results on this medical device,” a compliance inspector might say. You can almost hear senior management’s jaw hitting the floor. Even if they have exhaustive records for this device, the clerical retrieval time would be staggering.
Increasingly, the specter of government-enforced safety is going beyond final product inspection and into every aspect of its manufacture. Flaws discerned at the design, production, packaging, and even shipping stages fall under regulatory controls even for seemingly harmless consumer items. For those who have maintained the paper trail via a production lifecycle management system, retrieval becomes fast and credibility remains strong.
On the environmental front complete product history records have become actually more important. While your small company and its product may fly under the EPA radar, as a supplier you are obligated to conform to any laws affecting your larger client. If you sell Ford the computerized chip for its Lincoln Towncar carburetor, or the program for its seat adjuster, you must comply with all of Ford’s exhaustive environmental strictures.
Accelerate release. When do you shut down one product and start afresh with another? Obviously when the old one stops selling. But at what point are sales still covering production costs and this item’s share of operating costs? Determining that exact point can tell you when to assemble the design team. You can purchase fewer parts in larger volume in advance and set a precise, zero-inventory delivery schedule if you have a more accurate idea of the size of production runs, sales flow, and overall costs.
Beware over integration. “People love the idea of total access and my biggest job becomes not selling the PLM, but preventing customers from going overboard,” says Allwein. He cannot count the number of customers enchanted with the idea of storing data along with product history and then wanting to purchase five times as many linking systems as they will ever need. Yes, it is fun to have real-time visuals of every board and maintenance staff meeting. But is it cost effective, or is it a toy?
What Allwein and Active Sensing are selling primarily is a concept — a different way of not only organizing, but also of thinking about, information flow. “The customers who really make the most of it,” he says, “are those who employ PLM not as merely as a cost saving tool, but as a total revenue enhancer.”
— Bart Jackson
Public Policy Symposium
The New Jersey Chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NJ-NAIOP) hosts its annual members-only Public Policy Symposium on Wednesday, March 2, at 8:30 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick. Cost: $49. Call 201-998-1421.
Governor Richard Codey is the keynote luncheon speaker. Joining him are legislative leaders, cabinet members, and top officials from key organizations, including Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, Anthony Coscia, chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Richard Gimello of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, and John Hummer of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, who join together in a panel discussion on port growth.
Allen Magrini, vice president and counsel for Hartz Mountain Industries, moderates the panel, which focuses on logistics, transportation needs, and cleanup and revitalization of the port region.
Joseph Taylor, president and CEO of Matrix Development Group, moderates a second panel, on smart growth. The panelists include Senator John Adler, co-chairman of the Smart Growth Legislative Caucus, Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance, George Hawkins, executive director of New Jersey Future, Bradley Campbell, commissioner of the DEP, and Thomas Michnewicz, senior vice president of the Advance Realty Group.
Low Cost Legal Aid
The Lawyer Referral Service, an outreach of the Middlesex County Bar Association, provides staff trained to connect individuals with legal issues to an attorney experienced in the area of law in which they need counsel.
Callers contact the recommended attorney for an initial consultation. There is no obligation to hire the attorney, and additional referrals are provided if the initial contact is not satisfactory to the client. Referrals are free, and the fee for a 30-minute consultation is not more than $35.
In addition, the Middlesex Bar offers referrals to attorneys who offer reduced fee legal services to individuals who do not qualify for free legal assistance, but who cannot afford to pay attorneys fees at regular rates.
For more information, call 732-828-0053.
Improved Computer Services for Jurors
Three Internet stations have been installed in the jury assembly room on the second floor of the civil courthouse at 175 Broad Street in Trenton for the use of jurors.
The stations are equipped with desk space to accommodate a laptop, a free Internet connection, and step-by-step directions on hook-up.
Two new computers have also been set up in the courthouse legal library. One provides access to the Internet, while the other provides access to research websites, including Westlaw, for those who have accounts, and to the Civil Division’s Automated Case Management System.
In addition, two public access terminals at the criminal courthouse, at 209 South Broad Street, offer a browser-based search program to access case information in Promis/Gavel, the judiciary’s criminal case management system. Users can perform criminal case inquiries and can print information.
For more information, call 609-571-4360.
A new committee of the Mercer Chapter of NJAWBO has been formed to give back to the community. The committee holds a Carnivale Game Night on Thursday, February 24, at 5:45 p.m. at the West Windsor Volunteer Fire Company.
The event is designed to raise money for scholarships for Mercer Chapter members who would like to attend business-related courses to increase their knowledge of business building.
Registration for Game Night is $30. Call Linda Richter at 609-371-1466 for more information.
The Newgrange School has been awarded a grant from the Hanafin Foundation to fund the Newgrange Early Intervention Program, “Preventing Reading Failure in At-Risk Students: Early Assessment and Intervention.” The program takes place at the Slackwood Elementary School in Lawrence.
Mercer County has awarded a $300,000 grant to HomeFront to be used toward the acquisition of a permanent rental housing development for homeless families. Last year HomeFront provided 9,856 nights of emergency shelter for working families who were ineligible for government-funded emergency shelter.
The Trenton Public Education Foundation has launched the Trenton Youth Communications Partnership, which targets Trenton high school students interested in pursuing a career in media and communications. The initiative creates the opportunity for these students to learn about journalism through partnerships with media outlets and corporations.
Partners in this mentor-based internship include A-1 Limousine, Capital Health System, ETS, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Rutgers, The Times of Trenton, and The Trentonian.
Among the recipients of grants from the New Jersey Office of Faith Based Initiatives are My Daughter’s Keeper of North Brunswick, the Mount Carmel Guild of Trenton, the Mercer County Interfaith Hospitality Network of Trenton, and Community Options of Princeton.
The office awarded grants totaling $2.2 million to 56 faith and community-based organizations.
This year funding is provided in three areas, direct service, organizational infrastructure development, and training and technical assistance. Requests for funding cannot exceed $80,000 and applicants must indicate a 25 percent match.
For more information, visit www.state.nj.us/state/faith/index.html.
The 3M Foundation has awarded $45,000 in education grants to Rider University and Raritan Valley Community College to be used for innovative science and mathematics teacher education programs.
The first portion of the 3M Foundation grant is earmarked for the Science and Literacy Center at Rider, which is the lead institute for the Consortium for the New Explorations in Coherent Teacher Education.
Raritan Valley’s grant goes to support Project INSPIRE, a program that emphasizes continuing education for experienced teachers and places strong emphasis on inspiring students to become science and math teachers.
Employees of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey provided 1,100 toys and other items to the 2004 Division of Youth and Family Services gift program. Approximately 850 employees in offices throughout the state, including the Trenton office, participated.
The PNC Foundation has given a $10,000 gift to the George Street Playhouse. The grant will be applied toward the Playhouse’s arts education expenses. Through issue-oriented programming on topics such as tolerance, bullying, and substance abuse, the Playhouse’s Touring Theater for Young People teaches conflict resolution skills to more than 85,000 students across New Jersey and the Mid-Atlantic region. The Playhouse also offers teacher workshops and in-school artist residencies.