For Princeton resident Grazina Crisman, a family emergency turned out to be the necessity that became the mother of her new invention: www.SeniorsA2Z.com, a website that offers a wide-ranging indexed resource directory of categories to interest seniors and their families.
“About a year and a half ago my husband’s 91-year-old aunt, who lives in Washington State, suddenly took ill and needed a bit of help,” Crisman says. “In preparation to go out and visit her, we thought she might need a bit of home care. I tried to gather some information so that we would have a productive visit.”
So she did what every modern person would do — she looked for information on the Internet. “I did a Google search and got literally hundreds of thousands of references,” says Crisman. “But what I was looking for was specific resources, not an article about aging. I wanted information on where I could take my aunt and what were her options in Washington State. This problem just spoke to me.”
As a long time professional organizer, Crisman knew that there had to be a better way to sort and categorize such potentially vital information. “A lot of the time when people are in the position of searching for care or services for an aged parent they are frantic and in a hurry and don’t have the time to sift through such a pile of information,” she says. “I knew that a problem for me could also cause a problem for a lot of other people.”
So she decided to start a simple step-by-step process to organize the seemingly endless amount of information. “I like to organize things and am at heart an operations and process person,” she says. “But soon I realized that this is the organizing project of a lifetime. I decided to create a business that will be the comprehensive go-to source for all the sectors combined — public, for-profit, and not-for-profit resources and services for seniors.”
Officially launched in the spring, the website includes everything from more serious issues like health, financial, senior housing and legal issues for the elderly, to fun activities like travel, education, senior dating, and fitness classes. “The important thing is that we provide only relevant information to our readers because it is all sourced from our proprietary database of senior care providers and supporters,” says Crisman.
Listings are free, and Crisman is selling ads for from $40 to $100 per month. She has yet to make up her start-up costs but believes that SeniorsA2Z will eventually appeal to a wide variety of service and product providers.
She lists public services as well as commercial services and non-profits. “I would be providing a disservice if I didn’t have all three,” she says. “Truly a care-giving solution, nine out of ten times, will consist of all three.” She currently has more than 3,000 listings — about 2,000 that focus primarily on New Jersey and the remaining 1,000 aimed at the other states.
By presenting one template, through which everyone sees the information, she makes it easy to look for information on state websites. “People flail around on state websites because they have so much information,” she says. “I am trying to present a consistent format, so every state will be presented in the same way.”
In addition to using basic categories, Crisman organizes her website with something she calls Life Events. “If a parent is leaving the hospital, for instance, I tried to anticipate all the related topics — nutrition service, transportation, wheelchairs — that might be needed,” she says. “I then listed them, just to get them going.”
While Crisman, who declines to specify her own age, admits that she is not an expert in senior care, she is also quick to point out that she doesn’t need to be. “I think of myself as the Yellow Pages of senior information,” she says. “I don’t provide any of the services myself. I point to those who do.”
The thought of finding a home nursing service may seem to have little in common with finding a good yoga class for seniors, but Crisman says that the processes are really very similar. “If you want to buy a book, everyone knows about Amazon. But if you need help for seniors, there is no comparable go-to source.”
Crisman explains that SeniorsA2Z really serves three types of audiences: Caregivers (typically the baby boomers) who are caring for their elderly relatives, the actual service providers, and the seniors themselves. “Of course I qualify that by saying younger seniors because they are more tech savvy,” says Crisman. “If you are young at heart, healthy, you will proactively seek out travel opportunities or maybe ongoing work opportunities. If you are older and need some help no one wants to psychologically admit to that. So we rarely see people needing help who seek it out themselves. It is others who seek it out for them.”
Although Crisman eventually hopes to have her business serve the entire nation, she says so far she has New Jersey nearly covered and is ready to branch out into neighboring states. “I started in New Jersey because it is my backyard, and we have an elderly population,” she says. “But the ultimate goal is to be a national service because that is where the real value will come into play, because families are so spread out. If you have a parent in another state you may find that you have to call a state agency and they wind up sending you a catalog. Then you have to wait for the catalog to get to you. When you are in that state of mind, well, that is just not fast enough.”
Crisman has already posted the basic public starting points for every state. “But I lack the local information. You can’t do it all at once.”
While the odds of building a successful internet business are generally not encouraging, Crisman already has some aces up her sleeve. These include experience, temperament, and a home life steeped in business success.
A first-generation Lithuanian-American, York, Crisman grew up in Queens and Long Island. Her father was an engineer, and her mother worked for the Federal Reserve in the currency exchange department. “I remember being seven years old and my mother would tell me to go clean my room,” she laughs. “Now my room was never that disorganized, I have to say, but I would take everything out of my bookcase and reorganize it. Then I’d take a look at it and step back. I’d say to myself, even at that age, now that is a good-looking bookcase and look how well everything is organized. So it is in my blood. The process end of things is a forte of mine.”
She went to Hofstra University, Class of 1974, earned her MBA from St. Johns University, and lived in Manhattan for a number of years before moving to Princeton in 1990. Her husband, Doug, an entrepreneur himself, formerly ran Cognetics Corp., and now operates a company called Oldhorses, an enterprise that focuses on working with business owners to tangibly get to the next step (U.S. 1, March 25, 2005). Recently Crisman sold the assets of a fourth company, ITG Competency Group LLC — a provider of off-the-shelf job competency models and implementation services — to Massachusetts-based Salary.com.
Grazina Crisman has her own impressive resume of business acumen, having worked for over 25 years in corporate America for such firms as Wang, Oracle, and Logic Works, as well as in small business. As a professional organizer, she also has had a consulting company, Productivity Shoppe (U.S. 1, July 28, 2004). “I started out as an analyst and programmer in a big corporation and quickly went up the ranks,” she says. “I was always working in the area of supporting customers and sales organizations. That’s why I am very comfortable dealing with the public as well as with the different levels of corporate life.”
Another point in Crisman’s favor is that the future looks exceedingly bright for those businesses that operate with seniors in mind. According to AARP, 76 million Americans are over 50 years old, and every 50 seconds someone new joins that group. As the baby boomer generation continues to age, senior services will become all the more important for people. “The first of the boomers are turning 65 years old in 2011 and some are already calling it a ‘senior tsunami,’” says Crisman. “Seniors will be swelling the ranks of the digitally savvy for a long time to come.”
While some may balk at her description of herself as a professional organizer, Crisman says that it is just her way of using her talents. “I’ve learned over the years that organization of information is not natural to everybody and that happens to be my strength,” she says. “People would ask me, why do you think you can do it? I responded, well, why couldn’t I? I’m comfortable dealing with the range of businesses — from big companies with wonderful resources to the entrepreneur, the single person provider.”
When the idea came to her a year and a half ago, she was initially surprised that no one else had thought of it before. “It is a daunting task, and I think that is why people have shied away from it,” she says. “Some sites do small parts of what I do. For instance there are many sites that list resources for senior housing. But that’s usually where they stop. I’m the first to deal with the issue comprehensively, and that is because I am passionate about organizing and presenting information.”
The feedback has been encouraging. Says Crisman: “It is very exciting. I knew that I was doing something good. But to have a positive impact on people’s lives that I don’t even know — that has come as a real surprise to me.”
— Jack Florek
Seniors A2Z LLC, 212 Carnegie Center, Suite 206, Princeton 08540; 609-919-6392; fax, 609-520-9694. Grazina Crisman, president. www.seniorsa2z.com.
To Private Sector
The handwriting was on the wall when Governor Jon Corzine came into office, says Virginia Bauer, former CEO of the New Jersey Commerce, Economic Growth and Tourism Commission. She knew that Corzine wanted to restructure the commission — and he did, in April. “I was fully aware that my position at Commerce would dissolve,” says Bauer. Everybody else knew it too. “Many people approached me, and I had a number of opportunities.”
After Labor Day she reported to her new job as vice president of public affairs, a new position, reporting to Mitchell E. Hersh, CEO of Mack-Cali, the largest commercial real estate developer in the state. She will use her background in economic development and working with corporate leaders throughout the tri-state region.
A former financial planning and account management executive with Merrill Lynch, and a graduate of Rosemont College in Philadelphia, Bauer lost her husband in the World Trade Center and was an activist on behalf of families of 9/11 victims. From 2003 to 2004, she served as director of the New Jersey Lottery and took the commerce position in 2004. She spent the summer with her three children. Of her two lacrosse-playing sons, one is still at Georgetown and one has graduated from there, and her daughter has enrolled at Villanova University.
As Commerce CEO Bauer had worked with Hersh on what the state could offer his prospective tenants. “The business community, I believe, has been pleased with my advocacy. I think he recognized that.”
“Mack-Cali is a well-respected, well-run company, and a nice fit for my background,” says Bauer, getting in the point that her new company has more than 300 properties and 22 million square feet of commercial office space. In Princeton Mack Cali owns 400 Alexander Park, 5 Vaughn Drive, Horizon Center, 103 Carnegie Center, 3 Independence Way, and 100 Overlook.
Clearly Bauer is pleased to get a job based on what she knew, not on whom she knew. And she still has her toe in the state government waters. Just before the commerce commission was reorganized in April, Corzine appointed her to be one of six board members for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which governs the infrastructure — the tunnels, bridges, ports, and the redevelopment of the World Trade Center. “To put me on the Port Authority validated my ability,” says Bauer.
Bauer was not pushed out of the commerce department, says Brendan Gilfillan, a Corzine spokesperson. Rather, the department was reorganized to allow the department to focus primarily on attracting business and growing jobs. The duties of the Office of Travel and Tourism and the NJ Israel Commission were transferred to the Department of State. “The governor believed, and still believes, that she was an exceptional public servant,” says Gilfillan. “He appointed her to the board of the Port Authority because we didn’t want to lose her from public service entirely.”
The new head of the commerce commission, Kevin Drennan, is a graduate of the College of New Jersey and is slated to receive his master’s degree in city and regional planning from Rutgers’ Bloustein school this fall. He was a key member of the Office of Economic Growth, under “economic czar” Gary Rose, and then was Bauer’s chief of staff in the commerce department.
Bauer says her new job is not so different from what she was doing before. “In many ways, I will be continuing to be a voice, promoting jobs and businesses here and in the northeast region. My strength is my ability to communicate well with people, to clearly explain the advantages, and to always get you an answer, if not the answer you want.”
“I loved what I did,” says Bauer. “I would never have accepted another job less than cabinet level. If there were no longer an opportunity to do just that, I felt it was the right time to leave.”
From Boston To Lenox Drive
After nearly 20 years in working in big pharmaceutical firms, Shelley Spencer says she knows how to meet the needs of staffers there. “It’s about understanding the other side of the fence — what their needs are and how to drive the business,” she says.
Spencer heads not one, but two pharma marketing firms. She is moving Total Learning Concepts (TLC) from Boston to Lenox Drive, and she just took over at Arista Marketing Concepts in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. Both are owned by the Paris-based Publicis Groupe, the world’s fourth largest communications firm. They are part of the Publicis Selling Solutions group, which belongs to Publicis Healthcare Communications Group (www.psellingsolutions.com).
Founded in Boston about 20 years ago by Carol Reichert and Steve Petsch, TLC develops custom and generic training and materials for product launches for salespeople and sales managers. Most of the employees are involved in creating the materials, but TLC also employs facilitators and trainers.
TLC’s high-tech twist: To put training materials into electronic books and rev up the interaction opportunities with a choice of 32 “serious games,” complete with competition and sophisticated scoring. “It’s a Gen X/Y thing,” Spencer says, “but as a boomer, I don’t find it threatening.”
TLC’s move, set to be finished by January, was driven by the need to be closer to more of its customers. “Our client base is 95-percent New Jersey driven,” says Spencer. “When you are not in someone’s backyard, it does make a difference. If you can go to meetings more often, you add more value.”
Spencer declines to specify how many people work at TLC but those who live in this area, are already working from here. TLC is sharing the 20,000 square-foot space with its sister company, Publicis Selling Solutions, which has been on Lenox Drive since 1999. It does contract sales, telemarketing, peer influence, and other services for biopharmas. At TLC Spencer is president and COO, and she just took over at Arista with the same titles. Arista partnered with a California-based technology firm, Qube, to meet the sales needs of downsizing pharmas.
“We have the ability to have “reps on demand,” says Spencer. In the Arista office, the staff of 150 inside sales representatives use webcams to speak with doctors. “Doctors like to control how and when they get their information, and they can just log on to this site.” A pharmaceutical company can still have its live sales force, but use Arista for a vacant territory or for a product launch. Says Spencer: “It’s the future.”
Spencer grew up waitressing, in Westchester County, New York, in her father’s restaurant. After graduating from Boston College, she worked in Manhattan for Bristol-Myers Squibb and earned an MBA from Pace University. Her husband is vice president of sales for a software firm in eastern Pennsylvania, and she has two adult stepsons and a school-aged daughter.
Spencer had worked for 10 years for Bristol-Myers Squibb’s consumer division in Manhattan, launching such campaigns as the H&R Block Excedrin Tax Program, and she spent another five years building B-MS’ international businesses in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. After two years at Millennium Pharmaceuticals she came to Total Learning Concepts in 2004.
Spencer professes to control her time as she chooses. “I am really blessed,” she says. “I have an amazing little girl who wakes up happy, and my husband and I spend time away and have our own space.” In Boston she helped launch an arts program for at-risk youth, and she seeks similar opportunities here. “I live life fast and have fun and I don’t feel like anyone gets gypped. But I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe in Arista and TLC.”
Total Learning Concepts (PUB), 745 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116, moving to 2000 Lenox Drive, Suite 100, Lawrenceville 08648; 617-262-3336. Shelley Spencer, COO. www.tlconline.com.