What does the future hold for American business? Who will triumph and who will collapse in a cloud of debts? These are the kinds of prognostications that the Hunterdon County Chamber of Commerce addresses at its fourth annual Futurist Conference. Chamber leaders predict the event will take place on Monday, September 26, at 8 a.m. at the Stanton Ridge Country Club. Cost: $99. Call 908-735-5955.

Representatives from the non-profit, retail, entrepreneurial, and established corporate realms have been selected to round out the vision. Keynote speaker Rod McNealy, director of Johnson & Johnson’s global marketing, addresses the do-or-die adaptations of future successful businesses. A panel discussion follows with Steve Kalafer, owner of Flemington Car & Truck; John Sansky, retired education commissioner of Hunterdon County; and Anne Thornton, launcher of four successful businesses. Amy Mansue, CEO of Mountainside-based Children’s Specialized Hospital, will wrap up the conference.

"Without being trite, I feel the signpost to our future lies in our past," says keynote speaker McNealy. "There are just some basic human and business fundamentals that companies ignore at their peril." McNealy has honed and drawn these fundamentals from over 30 years in the major corporate milieu. A native of Chicago, he holds a B.A. in history from Princeton University (Class of 1972) and an MBA from Harvard. After four years with Proctor & Gamble, he joined Johnson & Johnson, where he has remained ever since.

As director of the corporation’s marketing and advertising college, McNealy’s personal radar is tuned to worldwide messages on business trends. He has written two books, each reflecting J & J institutes he founded: "Making Quality Happen," and "Making Customer Service Happen" (both from Kluwer Publishers, Boston).

As McNealy sees it, future success is primarily a matter of attitude adjustment today, accompanied by a little flexible energy.

Customer closeness. "It’s a lot like love," says McNealy. "Some things you just can’t fake." At Hearst Publications’ last Christmas gathering, one circulation manager was heard to say, "Boy, all these editors ever talk about is what kind of articles their subscribers want to read." These individuals were interested less in their product than in what the public wanted from their product.

McNealy insists that companies must have fundamental block and tackle systems that link them to customers. Tools such as client databases, market surveys, and followup call systems are easier than ever to establish, but they must be continually employed.

"Count on it. Markets are always evolving. We cannot afford the `Detroit School of Management,’ which continued making big cars right through the first gas crunch, despite public demand," says McNealy. "The Japanese won the market, not because they had a single, small-car solution, but because they were, and remain, very customer focused."

Stop whining. Many companies complain that they can only compete on price or that they can’t fight the "big boys’ volume discounts." McNealy’s response is to quit griping and stop letting the opposition define you. Instead, position your market stance based on your strengths.

Often this means actually redefining the market. McNealy cites Nike,which winched itself out of the athletic-shoe-only groove by redefining the term athlete. "Nike kept reaffirming that anyone with a body was an athlete." It became a way to live, not just equipage for an elite core.

McNealy frequently asks business owners to put their firm’s statement of principles on the table. This document should state who is your customer and what you do to serve him. Too often the business owners cannot answer those basic questions.

Customer service. Customer service is something that has been lost, or more accurately, deliberately jettisoned these past four decades. Large companies have convinced themselves that customers are not willing to pay for service, and put it on the back shelf as a mere PR frill. The myth has now spread throughout the entire commercial community.

"Having written an entire book on customer satisfaction, I admit to being biased," says McNealy, "but I have seen nearly every instance of service provide businesses with a real strategic advantage." Jamesway was renowned for big empty warehouse-like stores with no help in site. They’re gone. Wal-Mart makes a big point of flooding its store with staffers wearing signs "How may I help you?" Wal-Mart is expanding everywhere.

Nordstrom Department stores swept through the West under a corporate gospel of customer satisfaction. Interestingly, their senior management feared a move east because they felt they could not hire customer-pleasing personnel nor have their brand of service make a difference in this region. As it turned out, everyone loved their service style.

McNealy notes that service is more than customer closeness. Having your finger on the client pulse, monitoring, and adapting are all fine. But tomorrow’s leaders will go far beyond pushing product and fishing for clients with the outworn, baitless hook of low price alone.

Unfortunately, it is all too easy to let customer service sink into lip service as a shop refocuses its attentions strictly on this quarter’s sales chart. Home Depot based its success on the claim that every department was staffed by veterans of the trade. These experts were on hand not only to sell, but also to help clients through their projects. But as the firm expanded, pressures to hire quick and cheap brushed aside this policy. The service claim deteriorated, providing a truck-wide hole for competitors.

Core values. America has taken a hit in the reputation. As a steady stream of executives from Enron, Halliburton, and several major investment firms get led away in handcuffs, other nations have begun to fidget at our "all’s-fair" business approach. "Trade demands trust," says McNealy. "You need a core of ethical behavior that you stand behind. We literally cannot afford to be skittish or protective of our industry’s wrongdoers." The future, for McNealy, belongs to firms that are both ethical and intolerant of trust breakers.

With less justification, foreign firms are stereotyping American managers in the George Steinbrenner School. "Somehow, they have gotten this picture that American executives lead by intimidation. They are ever running around screaming and firing everybody," says McNealy. Much of this vision, no doubt, is fed through the fantasies of Hollywood. But the calm, precise, and knowledgeable American manager is bound to gain an advantage by bringing a fresh image to the global table.

Public-corporate wedding. Corporations on the domestic front are thinking more about civic responsibility. Manufacturing plants have opted to enhance their municipalities’ appearances by building berms, planting rows of trees, and investing in landscaping with wetlands and native plants. Many companies have established active foundations to improve not just their image, but the actual state of the communities to which they belong.

Corporate status limits individual liability in many cases, but it does not lessen the obligation to behave morally, says McNealy. A continuing rumble of public outrage has followed news of suspect labor practices and harassment. "Neither Wal-Mart, Nike, nor any company, regardless of its in-store service stance, will be able to withstand news of oppressive practices," warns McNealy.

The $125 jacket made by an undernourished child paid 13.5 cents for it is not a good long term investment, McNealy says. Customers may not want to wear this shame, and the successful firms will make sure they do not.

In 1882 railroad magnate William Henry Vanderbilt uttered his famous response to a newspaper reporter, "The public be damned!" Almost overnight it came to symbolize everything that was wrong with capitalism, particularly robber baron capitalism. But those were the best of times and the worst of times. These days, successful companies are becoming increasingly aware of needs: those of their employees, their clients, and the public at large.

How Diversity Affects Healthcare Services

Princeton HomeCare Services is offering a program exploring the ways that cultural and ethnic differences can affect how providers deliver care to their patients.

"Diversity Issues for the HealthCare Professional," a day-long event, takes place on Tuesday, September 27, at 8:30 a.m. at the Princeton Fitness and Wellness Center in the Princeton North Shopping Center on 1225 State Road in Montgomery. Cost: $65, including lunch and continuing education credits for nurses and other professionals who qualify. Call 609-497-4900 for more information.

Patients’ attitudes toward healthcare and doctors differ based on cultural and religious values and behaviors. Research studies have cited health professionals’ lack of awareness of these attitudes as among the reasons minority populations are less likely to seek timely, necessary care.

The program covers topics including culture and its influence on thoughts and behavior; the influence of culture on caregiving; cultural attitudes toward mental illness; and the demographics of the Latino, South Asian, Indian, and Chinese populations in New Jersey.

Presenters include Dale Ofei-Ayisi and Susan Schwartz of theUniversity of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey: University Behavioral HealthCare; Nancy Field of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, Division of Aging and Community Services; and Aruna Rao, Betzaida Aponte, Anurag Singh, and Xiaomei Maggie Luo of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI).

Princeton HomeCare Services, a unit of Princeton HealthCare System, provides comprehensive in-home nursing and rehabilitation, hospice care and support services. It offers temporary care for those recovering from surgery or short-term conditions, as well as extended care for individuals with chronic conditions or illnesses. Each year its nurses, allied health professionals, and homemakers make nearly 90,000 visits to patients and clients throughout the -central New Jersey region.

Trans-Continental Health Partnership: Darrah Johnson

Darrah Johnson, CEO and President of Planned Parenthood Association of the Mercer Area (PPAMA), chose "the road less traveled" in her journey to a grant from the Planned Parenthood Federation for a Global Partnership on Women’s Reproductive Health. Instead of applying for a one-on-one partnership between her agency and the Planned Parenthood Association of Africa-KwaZulu-Natal, she picked up the phone and convinced her sister affiliate, Planned Parenthood of Central New Jersey (PPCNJ), to join in.

"The work of a global partnership," she explains, "is to increase awareness and support of international family planning in the state, county, and township that you represent as Planned Parenthood." Because PPCNJ adjoins the catchment area of PPAMA, she felt that by combining resources they could reach all of Central New Jersey. "To get the most impact from the partnership," she continues, "it made sense to join together our staff and our brains and to use our collective power and wisdom in contacts with the media, donors, and supporters."

As part of the global partnership, a panel discussion on reproduction health issues will feature South African representatives from KwaZulu-Natal and Johnson. The event takes place at the Princeton Public Library on Thursday, September 22, at 7 p.m., in the Community Room. For more information, call Sheila Webb-Halperin at 609-599-4881, extension 158 or the library at 609-924-9529. Another panel presentation will take place on Tuesday, September 27, at 6:30 p.m., at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, Robertson Hall, lower level.

To achieve this collaboration, PPAMA developed a well-organized approach:

Develop the grant proposal. The public affairs staff, fundraising staff, and CEOs of both Planned Parenthood affiliates met several times to draft the grant proposal. They had to look at how to make an impact on their communities, how to educate people, what events to hold, and when and how to execute them, and they had to assess existing support in their communities – and pinpoint who their opposition might be.

At the same time, they had to learn about the organizational style of their local partners – for example, how they fundraise and interact with boards and staff. "We were bringing together two separate sets of people who had to learn about each other’s culture and from each other," observes Johnson, "but we would be making a bigger impact and were committed to doing that."

Despite the differences in working styles between the two Planned Parenthood affiliates, says Johnson, "the challenge wasn’t dealing with the negative problems, but figuring out how to pool the collective wisdom of what they do well and what our organization does well, and to have a final product that is quality and do what we’ve set out to do – to educate all of Central Jersey about the importance of international family planning."

Determine the core issues. During an intensive four days of meetings with two South African representatives who visited in August, 2004, the groups began to work out mutual needs and how to collaborate effectively. "At the end, we knew where we needed to focus our relationship," says Johnson, and they set three areas of focus for the partnership:

Because South Africa does not have a history of personal philanthropy, the U.S. affiliates will help organize both personal philanthropy and communal support. The U.S. affiliates will also work to raise awareness of why reproductive health and family planning issues are important and how U.S. policy has affected South Africa. Issues included how to get the message to people about international family planning; what websites were needed, including what software barriers they would face; and how to encourage grassroots organization. From the U.S. side, there were questions about South Africa successes with adolescent sex education.

Finally, the overall goal was to provide training to the South African affiliate’s nursing and health center staff to better educate them about efficiency, customer service, and how to provide more and better clinical services. The U.S. affiliates have shared job descriptions of their nursing staff and, while visiting South Africa, did training for doctors and nurses at a university.

Developed work plan from core guiding principles. The project involved dozens of meetings. The two local Planned Parenthood organizations divided themselves into an event work group, primarily of volunteers, and a staff work group. Work plans, which were revised five times, specified tasks to be accomplished in nitty-gritty detail: for example, sending particular information to a specific person; helping the South Africans with developing a website; making three phone calls to the press about the partnership; and rewriting the document about the South African board governance structure.

The events group was comprised primarily of fundraisers, whose job was to plan three major events over the three weeks during which a South African delegation would visit Princeton, including details of who would host the events, what they would look like, and how to get the press involved. (They ended up hosting five events.)

A Trenton native, Johnson has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s in counseling, both from the College of New Jersey. She taught in Allentown at the Upper Freehold Regional Elementary School, ultimately with the perceptually impaired in pre-K through 5th grade. "I left that because I felt I wanted to make more of a contribution to the field of women and social services," she says. Ten years ago she got a job with Planned Parenthood doing health education and working on social service issues for patients. She has been CEO for five years, overseeing an organization with a $2.8 million budget, and with 14,000 patient visits a year in Mercer County’s four health centers.

Johnson was very moved by her trip to South Africa with five other delegates. "The trip to South Africa was the ultimate example of how powerful and important a collaboration can be. When the three organizations were standing together in a room, collectively we represented a lot of power and passion for this issue," she says. "None of us could have talked about the issue as well, or made illustrations as effectively, if we weren’t a unit of one."

The delegates got to see firsthand why the partnership was valid. Johnson describes the KwaZulu province as a "deeply rural, mountainous area with pockets of metropolitan cities." Of the 8 million people, 30 to 40 percent are infected with HIV/AIDS and 60 to 80 percent are not employed.

"In the rural areas people walk for hours for basic necessities, and there is usually no sanitation, water, electabout understanding their adolescent sexuality education program in the context of seeing and feeling the HIV/AIDS epidemic. "We saw how remarkably beautiful the young people are and what they face, because some don’t have a future."

Although the partnership technically ends after the upcoming visit, Johnson believes that the friendships and professional connections developed, both between the two local Planned Parenthood affiliates and with South Africa, will continue far into the future.

"Being in South Africa was, personally and professionally, a life-changing experience for every single person in the group," she says. But beyond that, the experience of sharing with colleagues as they were changing was very powerful for her.

Looking back on the whole partnership, she observes, "It taught us that regardless of how difficult and challenging a coalition or collaboration can be, at the end of the day you ultimately find yourself really focusing on who you are serving and why you are doing it.

Beat That Deadline: Emerson Simon

Senior management’s requests are simple: they want better-than-expected quality delivered under budget – and before the due date. Somehow it becomes the project manager’s job to tether its inflated expectations to the post of reality. His lot is never an easy one, but increasingly companies of all sizes are discerning the value of the well managed project under the pinpoint guidance of an individual task leader.

Diplomacy, time, financial juggling, and personnel evaluation are among the skills addressed in "Project Management: Knowledge, Areas and Processes," a two-part course of Middlesex County College, beginning on Tuesday, September 27, at 7 p.m. on campus. Cost: $55. It is the first segment of a 15-session series that prepares students for the Certified Associate Project Manager (CAPM) exam. Cost for all sessions: $699. Call 732-906-2556.

Emerson Simon, co-founder of Peak Performance Consulting in North Brunswick, is one of the instructors. "Beyond giving students a full repertoire of managerial tools, the CAPM certificate becomes a real resume punch in getting you hired and selected for the right jobs," says Simon.

Simon’s own managerial skills were honed over 20 years of caroming from one undertaking to the next. Born the son of a West Indies welder, Simon was born in Antigua and grew up on St. Croix. He earned a B.S. in computer technology from the Rochester Institute of Technology in l985 and graduated with a B.S. in computer technology.

Teaming up with pharmaceutical giant Merck, Simon’s first professional task was to oversee the development of a labeling system for the firm’s clinical trials. During the dot-com boom, Simon worked with New York’s Logical Design Solutions. In l999 Simon and his wife launched Peak Performance Consulting. "But after 9/11, we perceived a major shift in business needs," he says. "Now we have adjusted www.peakperformllc.com to where my wife provides the sales training and I develop the business cohesion software."

The project manager is an individual who is invariably short of arms. He needs two to unite the conceivers with the doers. A few more are required to unite every individual of the team together, and three or four extra ones to lay hands on the necessary materials. "It’s one of those marvelously impossible challenges of business," laughs Simon.

Fighting scope creep. If you have 20 individuals involved in a project, you will have 20 differing levels of expectation and 20 separate ideas of the project’s scope. "People are dreamers," says Simon. "As the work progresses, these visions of the scope always seem to grow."

Simon’s solution to this scope creep is make the fixing of boundariesthe first step – and a separate step – of any project. Whether it be a micro IT job or a massive Boeing aircraft creation, everyone, he insists, must have a clear picture of exactly what is – and what is not – to be included in this piece of work. This involves not only the team members and the managers who first conceived the project, but also the upper managers and those in other departments who might be effected.

Show-me scheduling. Once the precise boundaries have been set, and the vision has been worked out within the team, metrics of measurement must be established. What ranges of quality are required and what are the tools for determining them? With this prototype mentally envisioned, the team can move onto scheduling.

"Resist the `I need a project plan tomorrow’ pressures," says Simon. The architecture of the project cannot be done hastily. "You don’t want to be laying carpet over wet cement," he says. Using blocks on a board, lay out each chore of the whole undertaking. For each chore list a best time, a medium time, and an oh-lordy-everything’s gone-wrong time. Factor in dependencies. Make sure the entire team works on this and solicit advice on short cuts.

This physical block board then can be taken to management as a selling tool for your realistic schedule. Don’t forget to factor in a few extra days for your boss to trim when conducting time negotiations.

Team selection. Some project managers have great teams at hand, some must hunt them down, and others have teams thrust upon them. If you do have the opportunity to choose, of course you will seek out the fullest range of complementary abilities. The trick is to strive not for people who work well with people, but for individuals who can work with each other.

In a major project involving 100 or more members, sometimes various outside team building activities can prove productive. Volleyball and rope climbs, for example, can help folks get to know with whom they are working. Yet Simon feels that these activities and parties are best in the middle of a project, as a type of reward, where those who have labored can let down their hair.

At the project outset, Simon has seen that nothing beats merely sitting the group down and asking the right questions. Are you a morning or afternoon person? Do you prefer E-mail, hard copy or verbal reports? If we have to work overtime, what hours are easiest for you? Do you work best alone? Are you a nay sayer?

He cites the story of one worker who grated on the entire team. Upon learning that she just plain was not a morning person, the meetings were switched to 11 a.m. and the entire project ran more smoothly.

In the thick of it. "The true project manager is the ultimate politician," says Simon. He must keep upper management informed and in line. He must keep his team focused and on track, and he must settle the arguments that invariably arise. Sometimes the manager must bring out the whip and crack it a few times just to keep the herd moving.

All of this will go better if the manager learns what motivates each individual and how to make that motivation kick in. Seldom is it as simple as taking the underperformer aside and waving cash before his nose or squeezing him with peer pressure. "The only sure thing I see work again and again is to give folks the recognition they strive for," says Simon.

Every aspect of a project holds risk. The project manager constantly juggles time, cost, procurement of materials, and personal performance. If he reaches too intently for any one, the rest of the balls will fall. The trick is to keep everything in motion. Do this, says Simon, and "you can pull off one of business’ most marvelous challenges."

Corporate Angels

Five area nurses, Victoria Meisel of Lawrenceville; Grace Asagra Stanley of Princeton; Patricia Burnett of Princeton; Camisha Wedderburn of Lawrenceville, and Vanessa Bell-Wedderburn of Audubon, Pa., recently led a two-day health fair attended by more than 150 men, women, and children in the district of Darliston in Jamaica, West Indies. The group also delivered donated medical supplies to an AIDS support group and a clinic in Darliston and to a hospital in Savanna-La-mar.

The health fair, held despite torrential rain from Hurricane Dennis, included stations for blood glucose testing, blood pressure screening, and counseling. Visitors were also given literature on various topics including breast and prostate cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, weight control, sexually transmitted diseases, and diet.

The nurses found that a significant segment of the Darliston-area population had high blood pressure, dangerously elevated blood sugar, or both. These conditions could lead to heart disease, stroke, or life-threatening complications related to diabetes.

The trip was partially funded by local donations to Nurses for International Outreach (NFIO), a new nonprofit organization founded by Meisel, an endoscopy nurse at University Medical Center at Princeton who grew up in Darliston. NFIO held a celebration with food, drink, and music at Princeton University’s Carl Field Center in June where it raised approximately $1,500.

"We would like to express our limitless gratitude to the organizations and individuals who assisted us in realizing this dream," Meisel said in a prepared statement. "Our vision for the future of Nurses for International Outreach is to continue helping educate less accessible communities throughout the world about the importance of personal health and wellbeing."

Several doctors from Kingston, Jamaica, under the leadership of Dr. Lorenzo Gordon, were originally scheduled to join the July health fair, but were delayed because of the hurricane. For them, Meisel organized a follow-up health fair in August where four doctors saw approximately 100 patients.

The group hopes to run the health fair again next year. To learn more about NFIO, contact Vicki Meisel at bvmeisel@yahoo.com.

Ice Cream Katrina

Now this is what we call taking a licking – in a good way. To celebrate its 25th anniversary in Princeton Thomas Sweet Ice Cream, at 179 Nassau Street, is rolling back prices on single cups to $1 and double cups and blend-ins to $2, on Sunday, September 25, from 1 to 4 p.m.

One hundred percent of the proceeds will go to the Salvation Army for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. We know from the Thomas Sweet outdoor film series that these guys like to give away prizes – 25th anniversary prizes will include a grand prize of an ice cream party for 25 and lots of $25 gift certificates. Live music by the Spring Hill Band, weather permitting.

For more information call 609-683-8720.

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